2017 ATP Auckland Preview and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
It’s time to preview and predict New Zealand’s only ATP tournament, the ASB Classic. The Women’s version of this ran all last week.
ATP World Tour 250
Auckland, New Zealand
January 9-14, 2017
Prize Money: $450,110
Top 4 seeds (Who all receive first round byes) (ATP rankings in parentheses)
1: Roberto Bautista Agut (14)
2: John Isner (19)
3: David Ferrer (21)
4: Jack Sock (23)
For a pre-slam 250, Auckland has one of the better fields it’s had in recent years.
First round matches to watch:
(8)Marcos Baghdatis vs. Adrian Mannarino
Mannarino just took a challenger title to start the year while Baghdatis was injured in his first match in Doha. Both players prefer to attack rather than defend with their tennis, Mannarino continues to alternate between challengers and the tour level with success. He’ll be the favorite in this match presuming he’s still fresh enough.
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez vs. (Q)Ryan Harrison
Harrison qualified and is 2-1 to start his season. He’s never lost to Garcia-Lopez (3-0 in the h2h), and the Spaniard is on a seven match ATP losing streak dating back to last season. Harrison spent most of his time at the challenger level last year, going 11-11 in ATP matches. He’s just inside the top 100, and could use a good run in a 250 like this to get back to tour level.
Chennai champion Roberto Bautista Agut has won Auckland before, and although Jiri Vesely isn’t the easiest round 2 opponent, presuming the Czech ousts Horacio Zeballos, RBA should still be fresh enough with the first round bye to prevail and reach the quarters. Mannarino should be opposite him, after Baghdatis, Dustin Brown or qualifier Michael Mmoh. Mannarino has lost twice at the tour level against RBA, so the Spaniard should be the favorite to reach the semifinals. Brown could also serve and volley his way to surprise success.
David Ferrer struggled in Brisbane as his decline has continued thus far in 2017. Ferrer will face qualifier Finn Tearney, a local favorite, or Robin Haase. He should win that to reach the quarterfinals opposite Albert Ramos/Joao Sousa. Facundo Bagnis and qualifier Brydan Klein are also in this section. Sousa had a down season last year (25-33 record) and is making his 2017 debut, the h2h favors Ramos beating Sousa and Klein, then falling to Ferrer in the quarters. Ramos also made the quarters in Chennai.
John Isner will kick off his 2017 season against Malek Jaziri or Diego Schwartzman. Isner posted a down 35-21 record in 2016, and will be looking to get off to a better start, most likely against Schwartzman. Fellow Yank Steve Johnson looms in the quarters, Johnson will face Stephane Robert, then most likely another veteran, Yen-Hsun Lu in round 2. Lu first has to face Karen Khachanov, another player who won a match to open his season. Johnson is good enough to beat Robert and Lu/Khachanov, but I don’t think he’ll get past Isner’s serve this time, and I have Isner reaching the semis and moving his 4-2 h2h edge against Johnson to 5-2.
Hopman Cup finalist Jack Sock went 3-1 in singles matches at the exhibition, and presuming he’s fresh and focused, he should do well in Auckland. Sock showed off his great hard court game, and his powerful forehand in Perth. He should ease past Harrison/GGL, and then win against Feliciano Lopez, who he beat in the Hopman Cup. Lopez faces Kiwi Michael Venus in round 1, with Jeremy Chardy or Artem Sitak to follow. The veteran Spaniard went 30-24 last year, while Sock went 37-22 over the same span. It should be a good week for Americans in New Zealand.
It wouldn’t shock me at all if the unseeded Mannarino got past Bautista Agut in the quarters and went as far as winning the tournament. Strange results tend to happen in tournaments held before slams, and Mannarino could use the ranking points.
Semis Ferrer d. Bautista Agut
Sock d. Isner
Ferrer has beaten RBA twice, and I think he wants and needs to make this final more than his countryman. Ferrer has had success in Auckland, and I see him fighting harder than most players in this field to get back on top. Sock has beaten Isner twice in three attempts since 2015. Isner had a clear edge in the years prior, but Jack is improving, while John has declined just a bit.
Final Sock d. Ferrer
If Sock plays like he did in the Hopman Cup he’ll be a worthy recipient of his second career ATP title. This pairing have a split h2h, but Sock won in the Auckland semis last season to reach the final.
2016 ATP Auckland Preview and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The remaining pair of ATP 250 warm-up tournaments prior to the Australian Open take place this week in Auckland, NZ, and Sydney, Australia. Both are on outdoor hard courts and feature fields that could lead to some surprising results.
ATP World Tour 250
Auckland, New Zealand
January 11-January 17, 2016
Prize Money: $463,520
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: David Ferrer (7)
2: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (10)
3: John Isner (11)
4: Kevin Anderson (12)
Auckland has an improved field compared to last season with eight top 25 players, hopefully a strong field will continue to grow interest in tennis in NZ.
A battle of big servers likely to feature at least one tiebreak. Karlovic is making his 2016 debut after a strong 2015 season where he reached multiple quarterfinals or better on hard courts. The 36 year old continues to be a tricky opponent with his sidewinding serve. Pospisil lost last week in the opening round of Chennai and looks to do better here. The younger Canadian is likely to start 0-2 heading into the AO however, as Karlovic is a tough out.
(8)Roberto Bautista Agut vs. Jiri Vesely
The defending champion Vesely faces 2014 semifinalist Bautista Agut in this cracking hard court match. Vesely is unseeded but the 22 year old is nearly into the top 40 and 4x reached an ATP quarterfinal or better in 2015. The Czech slumped late last season, and looks to get back on track now after a 1-2 result in Hopman Cup singles. RBA reached the quarterfinals in Chennai and appears to be primed for another good week.
(6)Fabio Fognini vs. Joao Sousa
A gut check match for Fognini, who beat Sousa in China late last year. Fabio had a strong finish to last season on hard courts, displaying shotmaking prowess, but his talent has never been in doubt and his focus has continually been a disappointment. Fognini should be the favorite here, Sousa is a good attacking baseliner however, and reached a remarkable four ATP finals last year, capturing one title.
Four-time Auckland champion David Ferrer should be able to cruise to the quarterfinals past Steve Johnson/Matthew Barton, as Johnson dropped his opening match in Brisbane last week, and Barton is making his ATP debut after years on the challenger tour. Ferrer was shocked in Doha by Illya Marchenko, and could run into trouble in the quarterfinals if Benoit Paire can find form.
The Chennai semifinalist continues to rise. Paire should ride his backhand to a win over wild card Michael Venus, and then beat the Guillermo Garcia-Lopez/Lukas Rosol winner. Paire just beat Rosol in Chennai, where GGL was a quarterfinalist. Paire is 2-1 against GGL, but 0-3 against Ferrer. Having never faced him on a fast surface, I’m going with Paire’s form to upset Ferrer and reach the semifinals.
Kevin Anderson sustained a knee injury that forced him to withdrawal from Chennai and now he’ll have to defend semifinal points in Auckland. The South African is in for a tricky quarterfinalist test against the Karlovic/Pospisil winner, as long as he can brush off injury concerns to beat either Pablo Andujar or qualifier Robin Haase in round 2.
Anderson is 1-1 against Karlovic on hard courts, but given the knee concerns for Anderson, I have Karlovic reaching the semifinals. Karlovic/Pospisil faces Jack Sock/Victor Estrella in round 2. Sock struggled in Hopman Cup play for Team USA, he remains talented and rising, but his form is in question. Karlovic is 3-0 on fast surfaces against Sock.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga went 19-8 in the summer and fall hard court seasons in 2015, after a slow start returning to tour from an injury. The Frenchman is back in the top 10, now as an experienced campaigner, and with his health back, the fan favorite should be able to continue his attacking brand of tennis into 2016. Tsonga is set to face a German in round 2, Benjamin Becker has qualified for both Doha and Auckland already this year, while Philipp Kohlschreiber remains a talented veteran, reaching an ATP quarterfinal or better more than a half dozen times, though he had erratic results as well. The 2008 Auckland champion should defeat Becker but fall to Tsonga, given the Frenchman’s dominant 8-0 h2h record.
Tsonga’s difficult section should continue in the quarterfinals. The Fognini/Sousa winner will be favored over either qualifier Thiemo De Bakker or Albert Ramos. Either could trouble Tsonga, but given his 3-0 h2h over Fognini, he should be the favorite to reach the semifinals.
Rounding out the semis should be two-time champion John Isner. The American #1 is bidding for the top 10 after a strong season on hard courts last year (a title, a final, and a masters semi). Isner will need to serve past either his good friend Sam Querrey, or Chennai semifinalist Aljaz Bedene in round 2. Querrey is capable of decent hard court results, while Bedene continues to show improvement but may be suffering from fatigue.
The RBA/Vesely winner is the likely quarterfinal opponent for Isner, with just Donald Young or local wild card Finn Tearney standing in their path round 2. Tearney is making his ATP debut, the former Pepperdine NCAA player has risen up the challenger ranks, while Young remains an unpredictable competitor.
Like Vesely, Sock went just 1-2 in Hopman Cup singles, however he could find his way into the semifinals or better if he can get past Karlovic/Pospisil in round 2, and likely a hobbled Anderson in the quarters. Facing big servers is always a tough ask on hard courts, but Sock has the ground strokes to compete, and this looks to be a good year for him. I wouldn’t put it past the American to find form and impress this week.
Semis Karlovic d. Paire
Isner d. Tsonga
Karlovic has a hard court h2h win over Paire, while Isner is 3-1 against Tsonga, and has winning history in Auckland. Ferrer or Paire could just as well reach the final, but I’m backing big servers.
Final Isner d. Karlovic
Karlovic leads Isner 2-1 on hard courts, but it’s a close matchup of players with similar styles. Expect tiebreaks, with Isner’s sweeping forehand against Karlovic’s net game. This sets up to be a good week for Isner, who opted to start the season in Auckland.
With the new season finally upon us, the WTA is hosting three tournaments to kick off 2016 in style. With tournaments in Brisbane and Shenzhen also taking place this week, the WTA goes to the island of New Zealand for the ASB Classic in Auckland.
The season opener started back in 1985 for the start of the 1986 season and has been a staple on the calendar ever since.
Previous champions include Marion Bartoli, Lindsay Davenport, Elena Dementieva, Jelena Jankovic, Agnieszka Radwanska, Ana Ivanovic and last year’s winner Venus Williams.
The ASB Classic
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Prize Money: $226,750
Date: January 4th-10th 2016
All the seeds ranks inside the top 50 with three former grand slam champions and a former world number one set to compete.
First round matches to watch
(4) Svetlana Kuznetsova vs Mona Barthel
Kuznetsova had the misfortune of drawing the next highest ranked player outside of the seeds in the opening round, Mona Barthel.
The German is known as an underachiever, being blessed with plenty of talent but has seemingly been unable to translate it into the desired results. Kuznetsova on the other hand is a former grand slam champion but t 30 years of age, can she reproduce that form?
An interesting round one here with two inconsistent players which means it could go either way. Don’t be surprised to see the fourth seed flounder at the first hurdle.
There is an argument that the top players are potentially most vulnerable at the start of the season having not played for a few months. Can Kovinic take advantage and claim the scalp of the former world number one?
Wozniacki did not enjoy the best of 2015’s, finishing outside the top 10. But the former world number one must not be under-estimated. She is still one of the best defenders on tour and difficult to break down.
That is the task ahead of her 21 year old opponent who enjoyed her bests season to date in 2015. The Montenegrin almost broke the top 50 last year, and a win over Wozniacki will give her a huge confidence boost to start the season.
First Quarter: Top seed Venus Williams is back to defend her title after a small resurgence in 2015. The former world number one will kick her season off against Daria Kasatkina in the opening round. If the American predictably makes round two, she will face the winner of Mariana Duque Marino vs Nao Hibino. It would be a huge shock if Venus does not make the quarter finals.
Barbora Strycova’s 2015 did not go as planned as she surrendered her top 30 place to finish just inside the top 50. The Czech however enjoyed the Fed Cup success and will be hoping to translate that form into 2016. The seventh seed opens against a qualifier, but Lucie Hradecka or Julia Goerges could throw a spanner in the works in round two.
Second Quarter: Kuznetsova on the other hand will want to re-kindle old glory in 2016 after a respectable 2015 that saw her finish inside the top 30. The Russian has a difficult round one against Barthel with round two proving much easier for the winner against a semi retired Francesca Schiavone or a qualifier.
Coco Vandeweghe is one of the many Americans in the draw, but she is still searching for her major breakthrough. She made a good run at Wimbledon last year on a surface that suits her game but the courts here are slower, will that impact her effectiveness? It is an all American round one against Irina Falconi with Bethanie Mattek Sands likely for round two- Plenty for the American fans to enjoy.
Third quarter: Wozniacki lost her top 10 status in 2015 but her quest to regain her position amongst the elite starts in Auckland against Kovinic. If there aren’t enough Americans in the draw, Christina McHale is possible for round two against the winner providing she can defeat Misaki Doi.
Talented Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck is name that may be familiar due to her quarter final run at Roland Garros last year. However she has not built on that run, will 2016 be her time to break through? Van Uytvanck faces Alexandra Dulgheru in the opening round. Home favourite Marina Erakovic or Yulia Putintseva await the winner.
Fourth Quarter: Like Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic lost her top 10 status last year, finishing 15th in the world. The Serbian will kick off her 2016 season against a qualifier before meeting Jelena Ostapenko or Joanna Larsson- a good draw for the second seed Sloane Stephens completes the American line up for Auckland as the fifth seed. She only has one title to her name, can she add a second here? Stephens opens against Hercog before meeting the winner of Witthoeft vs Maria. A decent little section here.
I have gone for the defending champion again. Williams showed superb form at the end of the season and won the title last year for a reason. A good run for Barthel to the semi finals too with Ivanovic being the defeated finalist.
2015 WTA Auckland and Shenzhen Preview and Predictions Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
Two other events will take place on the WTA tour this week to open the 2015 season, one in Auckland and the other in Shenzhen, China, as players gear up for the Australian Open by making their preparations all across Asia and Australia-Pacific.
2015 WTA Auckland Preview
A regular on the WTA calendar, the ASB classic has been part of the WTA season for the past 30 years, and the season opener for the past 20 years. The formation occurred when a gap in the marketplace was seen by Ari Hallenberg and Global Sports. They pitched the idea of an event in Auckland to Tennis New Zealand, and thus the ASB classic was created.
Previous champions include the likes of: Marion Bartoli, Lindsay Davenport, Elena Dementieva, Jelena Jankovic, Agnieszka Radwanska and the 2014 champion was Ana Ivanovic.
ASB Classic WTA International Series Auckland, New Zealand January 5-January 10, 2015 Prize Money: $250,000
Top 4 seeds (WTA ranking in parentheses) 1: Caroline Wozniacki (8)
2: Sara Errani (14)
3: Venus Williams (18)
4: Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova (25)
A fairly strong field of seeded players with the lowest ranked seed being number 42, Mona Barthel. With two former world number ones, and three young stars we have got an open field that promises excitement.
The home crowd favourite will no doubt be Marina Erakovic. The New Zealander finished a measly number 77 in the world in 2014, but picked up her form towards the end of the season. Her opponent is one of the WTA’s rising stars. 21 year old Puerto Rican, Monica Puig reached her highest ranking in 2014, but a poor end to the season saw her finish as world number 61. This will be one the hotly contested matches of round one, with Erakovic looking to please the home crowd. Puig will look to spoil the party and defeat her opponent and the crowd. Marina will want to keep the points short, and hold her serve, while Monica will want long rallies, and counter Erakovic. Expect a tight encounter here.
(7)Coco Vandeweghe vs. Roberta Vinci
The crafty Italian vs the big serving American will be one of the most intriguing matches in the season opener. The 23 year old New York native, Vandeweghe, had a career best season in 2014 which saw her reach her highest ranking of 38 and finish as the world number 39. She also won her first WTA tournament at the Topshelf Open. Across the court stands experienced Italian Roberta Vinci. The 31 year old finished at number 48 in the rankings last year, but has reached a career high of 11 in the world. Vinci’s slice will be a key shot in this match, and if Coco isn’t on form, it will trouble the American a lot. But if Vandeweghe plays at her full potential, Vinci might not be able to handle the big serve.
(2)Sara Errani vs. Daniela Hantuchova
Vinci’s doubles partner, Sara Errani has a stern test in her opening match in the form of Daniela Hantuchova. Daniela didn’t enjoy the best of seasons in 2014, finishing the year as world number 57. However if the Slovak can show any sign of the form that got her to number five in the world, she could very well upset the number two seed. Sara Errani is one of the steadiest players on tour. The former Roland Garros finalist has great movement and rarely makes an error. However, she lacks the firepower to dictate a match which often leaves the result in her opponent’s hands. If Hantuchova can be aggressive and consistent she can upset Errani, but that is a big if.
Caroline Wozniacki is the number one seed and favourite to win the tournament. The former world number one drew lucky and will face a qualifier in round one. The consistent Dane will likely cruise to a quarter final clash with Svetlana Kuznetsova. Caro will most likely prove to be too good for the former grand slam champion and should advance from this quarter.
The second quarter is an interesting one. Any one of the eight players could realistically make the semi-finals with a good run. The Favourite will be number four seed, Barbora Zahalova-Strycova. The 28 year old should pass her first round test, Chanelle Scheepers and meet either Erakovic or Puig in the second round. Both players could cause big problems for the Czech, but Strycova is coming in off her best season to date. You’d expect the other quarter finalist to be one of: Roberta Vinci, Coco Vandeweghe and Kirsten Flipkens. All three are capable of a good run here, but it’s a question of who can find their form in time. I believe Strycova will advance from this section, but I wouldn’t be shocked at all if it’s somebody else.
Number three seed Venus Williams is one of the favorites to win the tournament. The former world number one should make it through her first two matches without much hassle but if the veteran is off her game, she could easily be upset by Kiki Bertens or Kurumi Nara. The Interesting part of this section is the potential Quarter Final opponents for Venus. Mona Barthel is the seeded player and favourite, but the German has shown lack of mental strength and consistency in the past, despite her enormous talent. The 24 year old is unpredictable, and could blow the competition away or just as easily slump to a first round defeat. The key match will be the second round where Kristina Mladenovic or Elena Vesnina will await the winner. Both currently sit outside the top 50 and will be looking to kick off their season in a positive way. I feel Barthel makes it, but loses to Venus Williams in a tight encounter.
Number two seed Sara Errani would probably be more favoured on clay, but the Italian is so consistent, she won’t give any of her opponents’ free points. Errani should make it through to the quarter finals with her toughest test likely to come in round one against Daniela Hantuchova. Her opponent at this stage will likely be Sloane Stephens. The highly touted American made her breakthrough in 2013, but failed to make any improvements last year. Once touted a future number one, Sloane will be looking to live up to that potential in 2015.
Wozniacki should have no trouble getting past BarboraZahalovaStrycova in the semi-finals. Venus and Sloane will have a tight semi-final, which teases us with the end result multiple times. I am going to predict Stephens in three sets to set up a final clash with Caro.
Final: Wozniacki d. Stephens
The two pre-tournament favourites will contest the final in Auckland.In the final we will see plenty of long rallies, but Wozniacki will do what she does best and wear her opponent down in two tight sets.
2015 WTA Shenzen Preview
Shenzhen Open WTA International Series Shenzen, China January 4-January 10, 2015 Prize Money: $500,000
The Shenzhen Open is one of three events kicking off the 2015 season. It is also one of seven WTA events to be hosted in China this year. The inaugural event took place in 2013, with Li Na doing her home country proud by winning the tournament. The Chinese superstar returned in 2014 to defend her crown in an all Chinese final where she defeated Shuai Peng in straight sets. Unfortunately, Li Na won’t return to this event to defend her title once again as she has now officially retired from the game, meaning we will have a new champion at the Shenzen Open. It promises to be an exciting way to kick off the new season.
Top 4 seeds (WTA ranking in parentheses) 1: Simona Halep (3)
2: Petra Kvitova (4)
3: Shuai Peng (21)
4: Zarina Diyas (33)
First round matchups to watch:
(1)Simona Halep vs. Annika Beck
The world number three will kick off her season against young German Annika Beck in Shenzen. A lot of people will look at this and think it will be an easy win for the Romanian. They could be right, but they may also be in for a surprise. Beck offers a very solid game, and if Halep isn’t on her game right away, the number one seed may just get caught off guard. Look for lengthy rallies in this match between two solid baseliners.
(4)Zarina Diyas vs. Donna Vekic
Zarina Diyas enjoyed her best season to date in 2014, and the talented Kazakh doesn’t want stop right there. The 21 year old will face fellow youngster Donna Vekic in the first round of the Shenzhen open. The 18 year old has reached a career high of 65, so she will look to potentially break the top 50 for first time in 2015. This is a match-up you could very well be seeing more of in the future,so it will be good to familiarise with these two quickly.
The former grand slam finalist will return to face third seed and home country favourite Shuai Peng. This is perhaps the more interesting of the first round matches with the return of Vera Zvonareva being one of the hottest talking points amongst WTA fans watching this tournament. With the retirement of Li Na, Peng is now the Chinese number one and will have the weight of an entire nation on her shoulders in this event. We shall see if she can handle that pressure in Shenzhen.
Number one seed Simona Halep will be big favourite to emerge from the top half of the draw. If the Romanian is off form however, there are a few players that can upset the world number two. Simona will likely face tests from Annika Beck and Klara Koukalova on her way to the semi finals, but if Halep isn’t completely off form, she should get through this section
Number 4 seed Zarina Diyas will be favourite to advance from her quarter, but it won’t be easy. As well as youngster Donna Vekic, Diyas could face tests from the likes of Monica Niculescu. The crafty Romanian is a difficult test for anyone with her variety of shots, and could easily advance to the semi-finals. The potential quarter final between Diyas and Niculescu could be one of the matches to watch in Shenzhen.
The whole of China will be pinning their hopes on last year’s runner-up Shuai Peng to keep the title in the Middle Kingdom. She faces a stern test in the first round in Vera Zvonareva who could upset the number three seed. With the home crowd behind her, Peng should advance to the quarter finals at least here. Who will meet her there is anyone’s guess, with the talented Stefanie Voegele and number eight seed Timea Bascinzky potential adversaries. I expect Peng to make the semi finals here with the home crowd behind her.
Number two seed Petra Kvitova will fancy her chances of winning the title here, but first she must navigate her way through the bottom half of the draw.The Wild Card round one shouldn’t be a problem for the big hitting Czech who should really make the semi finals without much trouble. However, with her known ‘off days’ Petra could very well be upset by the likes of Bojana Jovanovski or Irina-Camelia Begu.
Halep d. Niculescu
Kvitova d. Peng
The top two seeds will make the final here. Niculescu’s spin won’t be a problem for Halep, who wins this one in straight sets. Kvitova has her difficulties with Peng, who takes her the distance, but the big match experience of the Czech will be enough to see her through.
Halep d. Kvitova
The final will be the one the most tennis fans will be anticipating. Haelp vs Kvitova has the potential to be one of the best matches of the year and we have only just begun! A clash of styles that could go either way, so I will solidly predict a three setter. Which player will win is a prediction I keep changing, but I am going to say Halep’s consistency wins her the title.