2017 Australian Open Women’s Preview and Predictions Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
The draw has been made, the excitement is building and the first grand slam of the year is just days from getting started. Angelique Kerber is the top seed and defending champion of the Australian Open, can she defend her title? Or will somebody else step up to the face whether new or familiar? Here is a run down of the draw.
Kerber’s start to 2017 has not be great as she faced early exits in Brisbane and Sydney, but this is a grand slam in which she is the defending champion, so the motivation will be multiplied. The German starts her campaign against Lesia Tsurenko, a player who took the top seed the distance in the build up to the tournament. Kerber’s section is full of dangerous unseeded players such as Yaroslava Shvedova and Kristyna Pliskova, both of which may fancy themselves to take advantage of an out of sorts Irina Begu in the opening rounds. The fourth round could bring on a rematch with Daria Kastakina who stunned the world number one in Sydney. The young Russian is one of the most promising players on tour, and with a good draw against Roberta Vinci in the third round, Kasatkina could find herself making the second week.
Garbine Muguruza is about as predictable as the weather in Britain. One day she looks like a future world number one, the next she barely looks top 100. Either way this is quite a kind draw for the Spaniard who will play Marina Erakovic in round one. The first seed projected is an Anastasija Sevastova who is on a seven match losing streak… ouch. Muguruza could end up facing compatriot, friend and doubles partner Carla Suarez Navarro in the fourth round. She too has a good draw to last 16 with Shuai Zhang being the biggest threat. An all Spanish affair is on the cards for the round of 16 with Muguruza looking good for at least the quarter finals.
Many fans will be hoping for a Kerber-Muguruza quarter final, and that is likely to happen. Kasatkina is perhaps the biggest threat to that match, but her vs Muguruza is no less interesting. With the seventh seed it is difficult to predict which version will show up, so the safe bet is on Kerber making the semi finals.
With the tour being so wide open, there is a good chance of Simona Halep breaking through the glass ceiling and claiming her maiden slam. The Romanian has a good draw in front of her, can she take advantage? The first real test should come in the form of Monica Puig in the third round. The Puerto Rican has the power to blast through the strong defence of Halep. Speaking of power, Venus Williams packs plenty and she will be hoping for one last shot at grand slam glory. Like Halep, the American has a good draw to the round of 16 with the third round against Kiki Bertens being the toughest challenge. The chances of a Halep vs Venus clash for a spot in the quarter finals are quite high and that would be a high profile showdown.
Svetlana Kuznetsova is a potential dark horse here and out of the four possible semi final opponents, she got the best one. The Russian is no known for remarkable consistency but on her day she can beat anyone on tour. The path to the fourth round should be simple enough with Laura Siegemund being the other seeded player in that mini section. Elina Svitolina in the last 16 is where things get real interesting. The Ukrainian is still highly touted to make a breakthrough at any time now, and this could the tournament to do it. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is her toughest test before Kuznetsova. The winner of that fourth round match may fancy their chances of making the last four.
This is a tough section to call as the two projected fourth round matches could go either way. Venus is capable of beating Halep, but on a slower surface you would favour the Romanian to get through. Svitolina vs Kuznetsova is a toss up, but the Ukrainian has beaten Kuznetsova here before so she can do it again. I feel this could be a good tournament for the youngster, and she could beat Halep and make the final four, so I am going out on a limb and predicting Svitolina to advance.
The third quarter is perhaps the most stacked of all and promises a very interesting quarter final between Agnieszka Radwanska and Karolina Pliskova. First they must get through a tough draw of players though, kicking off with Tsvetana Pironkova for the Pole. Radwanska has some tough floaters in her draw including Mirjana Lucic-Baroni who is a potential second round foe. Alize Cornet had a good run in Brisbane so comes into Melbourne with form on her side and could give Radwanska a tough match in the third round. The fourth round will likely be against Elena Vesnina, but the Russian has struggled with form in the build up to the tournament. Sam Stosur will be hoping for a good run at home, but her record in Australia is not good, so it may be a good chance for an unseeded player such as Heather Watson, Joanna Larsson or Magda Linette to make the fourth round.
Pliskova is the form player heading into the Australian Open after a good run of play saw her lift the Brisbane trophy at the start of the season. The Czech has a fair draw to the fourth round with Monica Niculescu and Yulia Putintseva being the most difficult tests. The last 16is where things get interesting as there are a number of players in this mini-section capable of making an impact. Timea Bacsinszky and Daria Gavrilova are the seeds, but will they manage to compete against each other in the third round? Gavrilova faces Naomi Broady then possibly up and comer Ana Konjuh in the second round. The Swiss faces the dangerous Camila Giorgi in the opening round so there are plenty of upset chances on the cards. However, Pliskova is expected to make it through this section, problems or not.
Radwanska vs Pliskova is difficult to call, but the match lies in the hands of the fifth seed. If Pliskova is on point with her power then it will be difficult for Radwanska to resist. If not then the Pole will win the match by virtue of consistency. Given how well Pliskova played in Brisbane, it is difficult to look past her getting through here.
Serena Williams’ dominance of the WTA tour came to an end in 2016 as she was dethroned by Kerber as the best female tennis player in the world. 2017 will see the 22 time Grand Slam champion look to not only reassert her dominance, but also make history, starting in Melbourne. Serena will still be the favourite in most peoples minds despite being the second seed, but she could have hardly asked for a tougher opening match. Belinda Bencic, a player who knows what it takes to beat her, will kick off he world number two’s campaign. It does not get much easier with former French open finalist Lucie Safarova possibly awaiting in the second round and the big serving Timea Babos the first seed Williams will likely come across. From there Serena will likely go on to face Barbora Strycova or Caroline Garcia, two talented but very different players who can cause trouble in many ways. To say Serena will have to earn her place in the quarter finals is an understatement.
Dominika Cibulkova knows what it takes to reach the final in Melbourne, and with a bit of luck she might like her chances of repeating that feat in 2017. Her draw looks pretty good with Ekaterina Makarova in round three being the toughest predicted opponent until the fourth stage. There she could meet in form Brit, Johanna Konta. The ninth seed was superb in Sydney where she captured the title so comes into Melbourne full of confidence. She has a tricky opener against Kirtsen Flipkens and a possible match with talented Japanese youngster Naomi Osaka in round two. All eyes will be on a potential round three clash with Caroline Wozniacki though. This is one of the most anticipated third round matches looking at the draw, and the winner could reach the quarter finals and a potential meeting with Serena.
Williams feels vulnerable in this section because there are plenty of players who are capable of upsetting her in every round. British fans will be interested in my predicted quarter final of Serena vs Konta, but I feel they will not like the result. Serena struggles but advances through this section to meet Pliskova in the semi finals.
Prediction: Serena def. Konta
I have gone on a limb and predicted Svitolina to make her first grand slam semi final, but it is difficult to see her progressing any further. It is likely the pressure will get to the Ukrainian, the same pressure in which Kerber thrived on last year. Their head to head is close and Svitolina did win their Brisbane clash, but this is a different stage and I see Kerber prevailing
Prediction: Kerber def. Svitolina
Pliskova pulled off one of 2016’s stunning upsets by defeating Serena at the US Open to make her maiden Grand Slam final. The question on whether she can do it again will be at large, but the thing with the American is, she always seems to win the next big meeting. I can see it being a close match, but this time I feel Serena edges it.
Prediction: Serena def. Pliskova
So it will end up being a repeat of the 2016 final as Serena faces Kerber. The German pulled off a stunning display a year a go to win her maiden slam, a performance that kicked off an incredible year for the world number one, in which she went on to make the Wimbledon final and win the US Open. She lost to Serena in that very Wimbledon final though, and the world number two had seemingly made some adjustments to counter Kerber. It is a tough one to predict, but I am going with Serena based off their last big meeting. I will not be shocked to see Kerber do it again, and I will not be shocked if Serena does not even make the final. But I am going to predict her to win Grand Slam number 23 in Melbourne.
2016 Australian Open Women’s Preview Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
The first grand slam of the 2016 is upon us and it promises to be a cracker. The tour is wide open with potential winners, so let’s get down to it.
The Australian Open has been staged in seven cities throughout Australia and New Zealand since its launch in 1905. It moved to its present home named Melbourne Park in 1988, with the tournament also switching from a grass to hardcourt surface.
Defending champion Serena Williams has the Open Era record with six singles titles. Just two behind her with four victories are Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles.
The Australian Open
Tier: Grand Slam
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Prize money: $ 40,000,000
Date: January 18th- January 31st
Top eight seeds (Ranking)
1. Serena Williams (1)
2. Simona Halep (2)
3. Garbine Muguruza (3)
4. Agnieszka Radwanska (4)
5. Maria Sharapova (5)
6. Petra Kvitova (6)
7. Angelique Kerber (7)
8. Venus Williams (10)
Lucie Safarova (injury) and Flavia Pennetta (retired) are absent from the tournament.
First round matches to watch
Camila Giorgi, Fed Cup
(1) Serena Williams vs Camila Giorgi
The world number one begins her title defence with a tough round one clash with the unpredictable yet dangerous Giorgi.
There are few players that can match Serena’s power on the court, Giorgi is one of them. The Italian is a big hitter and on her day can blast almost anyone off the court. The top seed is still a massive favourite for this match and the tournament as a whole, but if Giorgi turns up she could catch Serena off guard.
The American has not had much in terms of warm up for the first grand slam of the year, and one thing is for sure- she will not get much rhythm from the Italian.
(28) Kristina Mladenovic vs Dominika Cibulkova
There are not many potential upset matches in the opening round when it concerns the top seeds, but there is a nice match to look out for involving Mladenovic and Cibulkova.
The talented Frenchwoman is 0/2 in 2016 after back to back defeats to compatriots- she will be happy to see a Slovakian on the other side of the net. Cibulkova on the other hand has started the season well and is a former finalist at the Australian Open.
The Slovakian leads 5-0 in the head to head which is rather surprising. This one should be a lot closer than their previous meetings and It is possible that the seeded player could make an early exit.
(14) Belinda Bencic vs Alison Riske
Alison Riske (Photo: @Tennis_Shots)
60 places separate these two so if the American was to win this match it would be considered quite an upset.
In the WTA, anything is possible. Bencic is a much improved player since their last and only meeting in 2014 where Riske won in straight sets. However the Swiss lady has not looked at he best in the warm up events and there is a lingering chance of an upset.
That would require the world number 74 to bring her best tennis to the court, but big matches can often bring out the best in a lot of players. Bencic is the likely winner but it could be a close match.#
(17) Sara Errani vs Margarita Gasparyan
Errani is a very consistent retriever and a former grand slam finalist, however her gamestyle lets you play. It will be a good chance for the young Gasparyan to show her talents even if she does end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
The Italian is not as versed on hard courts as she is on clay, but she is not a player you can ever sleep on. The Russian will have to be game if she is to win the match, but it is winnable for her and a chance to claim a good scalp and make a good run.
The world number one has been dealt with a fairly tough draw in her path towards the title. Giorgi is not the type of player you want to play first that’s for sure. From there it get’s a little more predictable with Anna Schmiedlova the projected round three opponent for the world number one. Schmiedlova is a solid player, particularly on clay, but unless Serena has a nightmare then the Slovakian will likely be brushed aside. The fourth round may see her face good friend Caroline Wozniacki. The draw to the round of 16 has been kind to the Dane and she will be majorly disappointed if she does not make it this far. Given the 10-1 head to head it is difficult to see Serena not making it through this match and through this section. Unless he has a real off day somewhere there is not a player after round one that could realistically match the power of the top seed.
It is not a familiar sight seeing Sharapova next to the number five, but Radwanska’s good form has knocked the Russian from the fourth seeding. Her reward?- Drawn in a quarter with the woman she has not beaten in over a decade. Her path to the potential clash with Serena is not an easy one either. Nao Hibino should be a comfortable opener, as should round two, but the third round potentially against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is a tricky one. It does not get any easier with the possibility of Bencic waiting in round four which could be a classic match. But Riske followed by possibly Heather Watson then Svetlana Kuznetsova is not exactly a good draw either. Bencic vs Sharapova is the safe bet and the Russian making it to the quarter finals is safer still, but there are banana skins.
If Radwanska had not made the Shenzhen open final then she would have been drawn in Serena’s quarter. With her victory in the Chinese event, the Pole has taken the fourth seed and has been drawn with a potentially injured Kvitova instead. Radwanska will play America’s Christina McHale in the opening round- not the easiest of draws but one she will be expected to win. That could lead to quite the round two clash against a rejuvenated Eugenie Bouchard who is looking more like her 2014 self in the early parts of the season. Sam Stosur is projected in round three but the Aussie has had issues playing in front of a home crowd. The round of 16 will likely feature either Roberta Vinci or an in form Sloane Stephens. Either one is a huge test for whoever they play and could upset the number four seed. Vinci of course is now famous for denying Serena a calendar year grand slam at the US Open.
Kvitova was forced to withdraw early in Shenzhen, then did not compete at all in her Sydney title defence. It leaves you wondering whether she is 100% ready for the Australian Open. The Czech is unpreditable at the best of times and if bad Petra shows up then she could be heading for an early exit. Round two is where the first test will likely come against Australia’s Daria Gavrilova. She is a rising talent in the WTA and will be pumped up to play in front of the home crowd. She is coming off victory with Nick Kyrgios at the Homan Cup. Round three will not get any easier with either Mladenovic or Cibulkova likely opponents. Carla Suarez Navarro might be the biggest beneficiary if Kvitova is not up to standard. The Spaniard has a fairly comfortable ride to the third round where she will face Andrea Petkovic. She could be the one that emerges to face Radwanska in the quarter finals.
After an impressive 2015 there is a lot of hype and expectation surrounding Muguruza, and this is a tournament you would expect her to do well in. She has had good results in Melbourne before and the courts seem to fit her game nicely. The opening two rounds seem fairly simple for the third seed, but it is in the round of 32 where things could get messy. Caroline Garcia is the projected seed, the talent Frenchwoman is unpredictable but she has a big game and matches up well with the Spaniard. But if she manages to get past the 32nd seed then she will meet a resurgent Victoria Azarenka who is fresh off winning the Brisbane title. This colossal round four match will could decide the finalist so keep an eye out for this one. The former two time champion must first make her way through a difficult third round against Elina Svitolina, but the Belarusian should match up well with the 20 year old.
Kerber could not translate her Premier level success into the grand slams in 2015, but her draw to the quarter finals here looks fairly promising. Barring a huge upset, Irina Begu will be her toughest challenge en route to round four where she projected to face Timea Bacsinszky. The Swiss however has not made the best of starts to the year and could be upset potential in the early rounds. Jelena Jankovic therefore might be the favourite to meet the German in the round of 16. With Muguruza or Azarenka likely for the quarter finals however, it is hard seeing either player progressing any further than the last eight.
Halep is still searching for her first grand slam title and she will feel that 2016 might just be her year. Her grand slam season opens pretty nicely with a qualifier then either Alize Cornet or Bojana Jovanovski. The third round against Lesia Tsurenko could be tricky but it is a match that Halep should win fairly comfortably. The fourth round is where things get interesting with Madison Keys or Ana Ivanovic likely to await the Romanian. Keys has a potential banana skin round two against Tsvetana Pironkova or Yaroslava Shvedova- both can be dangerous on their day. Ivanovic’s path to the third round is a little easier but nothing she should take for granted. Jarmila Wolfe could pose a test in front of her home crowd in round two. Halep is likely to make it out of this section but Keys and Ivanovic are more than capable of causing an upset.
Venus Williams’ resurgence was one of the many stories that gripped us in 2015. The 35 looks like a genuine contender for the big events again, even if she did lose her only match of the season thus far. Joanna Konta was another player who made headlines in 2015 but has made a poor start to 2016. The Brit is capable of an upset if she can perform to her summer 2015 level, but Venus likely prevails. In fact it is a fairly packed section with the ever dangerous Sabine Lisicki projected for round three. The German however is never a safe bet and could be dumped out early be Petra Cetkovska, Bethanie Mattek-Sands or Denisa Allertova. Karolina Pliskova was another name who played well but failed to make a deep run at a grand slam in 2015. However this could be the time she can finally make in roads at grand slam level. The Czech should make it to Ekaterina Makarova in round three at the very least. The winner likely plays Venus in round four- what a match that could be. Halep is the favourite to make it out of this quarter, but as you see there are many players who could trip her up.
Niall Clarke’s 2015 Australian Open Women’s Week 1 Preview/Predictions Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
2015 Australian Open Women’s Preview
We are here at last. The first Grand Slam of the season is finally here with 128 of the best WTA players competing for the right to be known as the 2015 Australian Open Champion.
The Australian Open was launched in 1905, and has been staged in seven cities down under. The event moved to its current location, Melbourne Park, in 1988. That was also the year when the surface changed from grass to hard. The facility features two courts with retractable roofs, making it arguably the best organised Grand Slam out of the four. In 2008, the surface switched from Rebound Ace to Plexicusion and the courts switched from green to blue in order to Increase visibility. The Australian Open is also the most financially lucrative tournament on the calendar, offering the most prize money to the winner.
Serena Williams is the most successful women’s player at the Australian Open in the open era. The current world number one has won five single titles down under. Just behind her with four titles are the likes of Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles.
2014 saw Li Na win her second grand slam title in Melbourne. The Chinese star overcame Dominika Cibulkova in straight sets 7-6, 6-0 in the final. Li had previously been a finalist in 2013, where she narrowly lost to Victoria Azarenka. Unfortunately the Chinese Star won’t be here to defend her title, as she announced her retirement last year.
January 18- February 1, 2015
Prize Money: $15,561,973
Top 8 seeded players (WTA ranking in parentheses)
1. Serena Williams (1)
2. Maria Sharapova (2)
3. Simona Halep (3)
4. Petra Kvitova (4)
5. Ana Ivanovic (5)
6. Agnieszka Radwanska (6)
7. Eugenie Bouchard (7)
8. Caroline Wozniacki (8)
Only Petra Cetkovska is missing from the players who would be in the main draw. So all the top WTA players will be in action come Monday.
First round matchups to watch:
(12)Flavia Pennetta vs. Camila Giorgi
The clash of the Italians is one of the matches that could see a potential upset in round one. The big hitting Giorgi is always dangerous with her power, but the 23 year old hasn’t started the season in good. Camila was some-what of an error machine in her loss to Kurumi Nara in Hobart, but a match against a seeded player should be enough to motivate Giorgi to play her best here. Flavia Pennetta is coming off a great 2014, which saw her climb to number 12 in the world. However she lost her opening match at Sydney to Tsvetana Pironkova, so there are also question marks over the 32 year olds form. The winner is very unpredictable and the match could go either way, but with the potential upset it will certainly be one to look out for.
Sloane Stephens vs. Victoria Azarenka
You remember the last time these two met in Melbourne, right? If not, I will try my best to refresh your memory. Let’s travel back two years to the Australian Open 2013 semi finals. Stephens was coming off the biggest win of her career when she defeated Serena Williams, whilst Victoria Azarenka was the defending champion and favourite for the title. The Belarusian looked like she was heading to a routine victory over the American, but blew five match points whilst serving for the match. What followed turned out to be one of the most controversial moments in recent tennis history. Azarenka took a medical time out after blowing the match points, and when she returned to court, the Belarusian broke Stephens to win the match. The controversy surrounded the timing of the medical time out, the reasons why Azarenka decided to take it and whether it had an effect on the match. Both players have declined since then and come into the tournament unseeded, but with the 2013 controversy, it is no less interesting.
Timea Bacsinszky vs. (15)Jelena Jankovic
Another match with upset potential. Bacsinszky recently made the final in Shenzhen, beating the world number four, Petra Kvitova in the semi finals. Jankovic started her season in the worst possible way as she lost in straight sets to Ajla Tomljanovic 7-6, 6-0 in Brisbane. Both with completely opposite starts to the season, so you can see why the 15th seed might be in danger of bowing out early here. This is their first meeting so there is no head to head to reference, but this will no doubt be an interesting match to watch.
(8)Caroline Wozniacki vs Taylor Townsend
You would usually look at this match and think that Wozniacki will win, and most of the time you would be right. However, this match is different because Wozniacki isn’t 100 percent fit heading into the tournament. Townsend is 18 years old, and a player to look out for in the future, so this would be a big scalp for her at this point in her career. Wozniacki beat The American in straight sets in Auckland, so it could yet be another comfortable win for the eighth seed. Considering the injury however, Wozniacki could be the biggest casualty in round one.
(16)Lucie Safarova vs Yaroslava Shvedova
16th seed Lucie Safarova has been handed one of the biggest enigmas in the tennis for her opener in Melbourne. Slava Shvedova has produced brilliance, like her golden set at Wimbledon in 2012, and moments of complete madness like when she wasted match points at the US Open that year. Who knows what Shvedova will turn up at the Australian Open, and that is why this is a match to watch. Safarova enjoyed one of her best seasons in 2014, and will look to carry that momentum into this year. Shvedova failed to capitalise on a great run in the summer of 2012, and currently ranks at 63 in the world. They have met once, and it was in that breakthrough year for Shvedova. The Kazakh came through in straight sets on that occasion, but since then Safarova has improved, and Shvedova has declined. A match between two powerful and dangerous players, we should see some heavy hitting from both sides of the court. The big question is which side of Slava will we see?
(20)Sam Stosur vs Monica Niculescu
The home crowd favourite for this tournament will no doubt be Sam Stosur. The Aussie crowd will no doubt be gunning for a deep run from one of their compatriots, but will they get it from the former US Open champion? Stosur has failed to go beyond round four in her home slam. Not a good record considering her achievements in other grand slams. Niculescu however is statistically better in Melbourne than in any other grand slam. She has never made it past the third round, but holds a 7-7 record at the Australian Open, which is better than her negative win loss ratios in the other three major events. With the head to head 4-0 in favour of the Aussie, it looks like Stosur should advance here, but you never know how she will react to the home crowd pressure.
The upcoming Kazakh vs the less known Radwanska is one of the tightest matches in the first round. Diyas has been very steady for the past year, defeating the players she should and making the third round in three of the four grand slams including the Australian Open. Urszula Radwanska is better known for being the little sister of Agnieszka Radwanska, but she was a top 30 player once. Granted that was 2 years a go, but that shows the Pole certainly has something about her. A shoulder injury saw her slide down the rankings, as she struggled to recover, but a solid start to 2015 see’s the 24 year old in good form heading into the first grand slam of the year. These two previously met in Rome last year, and Radwanska was the winner despite her struggles. Will she sable to repeat that in Melbourne?
Serena Williams comes into every grand slam the bookies favourite, and despite poor Hopman cup form, The Australian Open is no different. The world number one has dominated the tour for some time, but she hasn’t won the Australian Open since 2010. Having said that, she is the most successful player at this tournament since the open era began; winning 5 titles in Melbourne. In round one she faces Belgian, Alison Van Uytvanck. Anything but a dominating Serena Williams victory will be shock. The 5 time champion shouldn’t drop more than 3 or 4 games in her opener, and that’s if she isn’t in good form. Interestingly, Serena could end up facing Vera Zvonareva in the second round, which would be a rematch of their 2010 Wimbledon final. On that day, Williams was the victor in straight sets, and the 18 time grand slam champion leads the head to head 7-3. Zvonareva is way past her peak though and using her Protected Ranking to get into the main draw. No matter who Serena Williams faces in the second round, you would expect her to make the third round at least. She will likely meet Elina Svitolina at the round of 32. You would expect the 20 year old to beat Jana Cepelova, and the winner of Nicole Gibbs/Olivia Rogowska as she is in good form and reached the third round here last year. Serena can be prone to an upset if she is off her game, but I don’t expect that to happen at this stage. They have met once before 3 years ago in the Fed Cup play-offs and Serena defeat the 20 year old in straight sets. I expect Williams will have too much firepower and experience for the world number 26 at this stage. I would be surprised if Williams doesn’t make the second week in Melbourne as there aren’t many challengers in her way in the first three rounds.
The number 15 seed, Jelena Jankovic has a tough opener against Timea Bacsinszky. Like I mentioned in my matches to watch, this has upset potential as the Swiss is in better form than the Serbian at this point. I predict Jankovic to be dumped out in the first round by the Shenzhen finalist in a somewhat messy affair. From there she will face the winner of Kimiko Date-Krumm/Ana Tatishvili in the second round. The Japanese star is now 44 years old, making her the oldest player in the tournament. Tatishvili came through qualifying to main draw and will fancy her chances of making the second round. Either way, I expect Bacsinszky to beat her second round opponent and make the third round. At this stage, her projected opponent is Garbine Muguruza. The 24th seed should dispatch Marina Erakovic in the first round without much trouble, but her second round match could potentially be tricky. The Spaniard will face the winner of Daniela Hantuchova and Saisai Zheng, and if the Slovak gets through her first round match, there could be an upset in round two. I personally don’t see Muguruza having any problems until round three against Bacsinszky, but this is the WTA and you never know what will happen. The third round match between Muguruza and Bacsinszky could end up being a tight encounter, but the Spaniard is overall the better player at the moment so I see her prevailing here and setting up a meeting with Serena Williams in the fourth round.
In the lower section of Serena’s quarter is the number eight seed and good friend of the world number one, Caroline Wozniacki. The US Open finalist is heading into Melbourne with a lot of doubt surrounding her fitness after a niggling wrist injury forced out to retire against Barbora Zahalova-Strycova in Sydney. However, the Dane says she is raring to go in Melbourne, and she must be as she faces Taylor Townsend in round one. Townsend may provide problems, but Wozniacki won their last meeting and has too much experience and tools for her young opponent. She’ll then have a blockbuster round 2 awaiting her, as Wozniacki will face the winner of the highly anticipated Sloane Stephens/Victoria Azarenka match. I expect Vika to come through that match as she always seems to do against Stephens, setting up a great round two with Wozniacki. The winner of this clash comes down to the Danes fitness. If the injury is no longer concerning her, I expect Wozniacki to grind this one out. Azarenka isn’t the player she was currently, and Wozniacki is recaptured some of her best form last year. If the wrist is still a problem, then I expect Vika to advance to the round of 32. With Wozniacki recently saying that it’s fine, then I will say the 8th seed advances to the third round, where I expect her to meet Strycova for the second week in a row. The Czech shouldn’t have too much trouble getting through the first two rounds, but I expect with Wozniacki now fit, her run ends in the third round.
Last years runner-up, Dominika Cibulkova will have a testing round one against Belgian, Kirsten Flipkens. The 11th seed played great tennis at the start of last year but faded in the second half of the season. Flipkens now ranks outside the top 40 after reaching a career high of 13 in 2013; the year in which she also made the Wimbledon semi final. Cibulkova is not in great form, but neither is Flipkens, so I expect The Slovak to make it through. The 2nd round will be tricky for the 11th seed as she’ll either face an in form Heather Watson or Tsvetana Pironkova. Watson might be a little tired after her Hobart heroics, but riding the great wave of form, the Brit will advance to the 2nd round. Cibulkova might be there for the taking, but fatigue might just catch up with Watson, so I predict Cibulkova to advance to the third round, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see Watson there instead. I believe, Alize Cornet will await her at this stage. The French woman is seeded 19th for the tournament, and will be expected to get through her first two matches. Cibulkova leads Cornet 3-0 in the head to head, and was a finalist last year, but I don’t trust the Slovak’s form enough to back her here. I will predict Cornet to get her first ever win over Cibulkova and make the 4th round against Wozniacki.
Wimbledon champion, Petra Kvitova will head into Melbourne off the back of a title winning effort in Sydney, thus giving her a good run of form heading into the first grand slam of the year. The Czech will face qualifier Richel Hogenkamp in the first round in what you would expect to be a dominant victory for Kvitova. Youngsters Donna Vekic and Mona Barthel will play for the right to face Petra in the second round. Barthel is talented, but out of form after coming back from injury, whilst Vekic recently lost in straight sets to Pironkova. I will say Barthel advances because despite injury she is overall the better player at the moment, but I don’t see the German troubling Kvitova much in her current form. There I expect either Madison Keys or Casey Dellacqua to await the number four seed in the third round. I can see these two making it through their first round matches, but the winner of this one is harder to predict. They met in Melbourne 2 years a go, and Keys was the winner that time, so I will predict the American to win yet again in a tighter 3 set match. Keys has a lot of power in her game, but Kvitova is arguably the most powerful player on tour. In this third round clash we will see a lot of amazing winners and a lot of easy errors. I think Petra is just the more powerful of the too and has the big match experience that Keys lacks at this stage of their careers. Kvitova advances to the 2nd week in 3 sets.
13th seed Andrea Petkovic has an interesting first round clash against Hobart finalist Madison Brengle. The German has reached the Quarterfinals here before back in 2011, but was dumped out in round one last year. Brengle comes into the tournament In good form following her Hobart run, but I believe Petkovic will be a little too much for her. The likely 2nd round opponent is Kaia Kanepi. The Estonian should ease past Irina Falconi in round one to set up this intriguing match-up against Petkovic. Kanepi has a 3-0 head to head advantage over the 13th seed and even beat her at the start of the season. I Believe Kanepi will make it to the third round against Coco Vandeweghe. The big serving American should beat a past it Francesca Schiavone, and with Sam Stosur’s home record, I back Coco to make it past the Aussie in round two. Kanepi is overall the more solid, and the more experienced of the two so I expect her to make the second week.
The other projected quarterfinalist from this section is Agnieszka Radwanska. Poland will lay their hopes on the 6th seed to bring a grand slam title to their country. Her first test will be from Japan’s Kurumi Nara. The Japanese can no doubt test Radwanska but I don’t see her beating the world number six. The Pole should sail through the third round where her likely opponent will be Vavara Lepchenko. The 30th seed is one of eight Americans in this quarter, but like most of her compatriots in this section she’ll likely bow out in the first week. Radwanska will be too crafty and too good for the left hander, and should make the second week.
While Radwanska may be the projected Quarterfinalist, many will be expecting Venus Williams to make the last eight in this tournament. The 18th seed arrives in fantastic form after winning Auckland and has more Grand slam winning experience than anyone in her quarter. The 34 year old should walk into the third round without much hassle where I see her facing 12th seed Flavia Pennetta. The Italian has a tough road to this stage with Camila Giorgi in round one and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni her likely second round opponent. Despite the difficult draw, I believe Pennetta is overall the better player, so I expect her to meet Venus in round three. It will be the American’s biggest test so far in the tournament, but the 2003 finalist should prevail if she continues her form from Auckland. That will set up a blockbuster round four match with Agnieszka Radwanska. The Pole will be the favourite as she is overall the better player at this point in time, as indicated by the world rankings. But in the form table, I would give a slight edge to Venus. It will no doubt be one of the matches of the tournament.
Halep comes into the first grand slam of the year on back of an illness that kept her out of Sydney. But with that behind her, the number three seed will be looking to show the world she has what it takes to become a grand slam champion. Simona will open the proceedings on Rod Laver against Karin Knapp on day one. It should be a comfortable win for the Romanian, as the Italian doesn’t have the weapons to really test her. Halep should also breeze past her round two opponent to set a round three date with Sabine Lisicki. The inconsistent German will be happy with her draw, and has a great shot at making round three. Kristina Mlandenovic awaits in the first round. It could prove to be difficult for Lisicki, who has shown she is very prone to random losses off of grass, but I expect the 28th seed to find a way to pass her first test in a messy three setter. Bethanie Mattek-Sands should await Sabine in the second round. The American has only just returned from injury and is in the main draw courtesy of the protected ranking system. With Mattek-sands likely rusty and not 100, I expect Lisicki to use her big serve and powerful ground strokes to not let the American find her rhythm, and therefore cement a third round place. Unfortunately for Lisicki her journey should end here at the hands of Simona Halep. The Romanian took Lisicki apart at Wimbledon last year, and we all know how good Sabine is at SW19. This surface should suit the Romanian even more, so unless Lisicki is in red hot form, Halep ill advance to the second week without many problems.
The other half of this section is very much wide open, and we could see a player make their first second week of a grand slam. 14th seed Sara Errani is best suited to clay, and with her game style of keeping the ball in play without much power, the Italian often leaves it in the hands of her opponent. I won’t predict a round one loss to Grace Min, but I do believe the Italian will fall in round two to young German Annika Beck. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will be the favourite to meet Beck in the third round, but her known inconsistency will leave a lot of question marks around her. Despite that, I will predict the Russian to battle her way past Yania Wickmayer in round one and Lara Arruabarrena/Renata Voracova in round two. With the tendency to make errors on key points, and the known steadiness of Annika Beck, I expect Pavlyuchenkova’s run to end in round three. Therefore we get a Shenzhen rematch between Beck and Halep in the fourth round.
The section to decide Halep’s potential quarter finalist should really come down to three players. Number five seed Ana Ivanovic will undoubtedly be the bookies favourite, but there are some very dangerous players in this section. The Serb should see herself easily into round three where I believe she’ll face the winner of Klara Koukalova and Belinda Bencic. I think they will get through Storm Sanders and Julia Goerges in the first round respectively to set up an enticing round two clash. Bencic is a young talent promising to do big things in the future, but right now she is too raw for a deep slam run, so I think that Koukalova’s experience will see her through to the third round. I don’t see the Czech beating Ivanovic in a grand slam, but she is certainly capable of pushing the Serb all the way so don’t be surprised to see a three setter.
The race to face Ivanovic in the fourth round will likely come down to Ekaterina Makarova and Karolina Pliskova. These two big hitters shouldn’t have many problems reaching round three where they will likely face off in a great contest. Makarova always brings her A game to the grand slams, and she showed that in New York last year where she made the semi finals. Pliskova has a huge game and showed how good she can be in her runner-up effort in Sydney last week. With Makarova’s tendency to be at her best in the big events, I will say she squeezes through in three sets. It could go either way though and will undoubtedly be a match to watch.
Given the difference in fortunes in the first week, many people have Maria Sharapova down as the favourite to win the title over Serena Williams. The world number two battled hard in typical fashion to beat Ana Ivanovic in Brisbane and will look to continue that momentum in Melbourne. The first round against qualifier Petra Martic shouldn’t be a problem at all for the Russian, and you would expect the former champion to make a statement in her opening match. The second round will be trickier, but Sorana Cirstea shouldn’t pose too many problems for Sharapova. It’s hard to predict the third round opponent for Maria. It features the interesting Zarina Diyas/Urszula Radwanska clash, and youngster Anna Schmiedlova who upset Venus Williams at Roland Garros last year. I expect the winner of Diyas/Radwanska to have too much for the young Slovak in round two. Regardless of which one it is though, Sharapova should have little trouble dispatching them and will make round four without dropping a set.
Lucie Safarova is the 16th seed and favourite to make round four, but there are lots of interesting obstacles in her way. Firstly, Yaroslava Shvedova in round one, then the winner of Monica Puig/Anastasia Rodionova in round two, then most likely Shuai Peng in round three. If Shvedova brings her A game, Safarova will be in huge trouble. But that is a huge if. I will stay safe and predict a Safarova-Puig round two with Safarova coming through her second round clash fairly comfortably. The Czech may face a big test in round three, but with head to head in favour of the Czech I will back her to beat Peng and make round four to face Maria Sharapova.
The section to decide the other quarter finalist is perhaps the most interesting in the draw. 7th seed Eugenie Bouchard enjoyed some great grand slam results last year, which saw the Canadian finish inside the worlds top 8. With the huge pressure now on her shoulders we will see how Bouchard copes in Melbourne. The seventh seed shouldn’t be troubled until the third round though, where she’ll likely meet experienced Svetlana Kuznetsova. The Russian has a tricky path to the round of 32, with Caroline Garcia her round one opponent and Stephanie Voegele her likely round two opponent. It will be tough for the former US Open champion, but I think she’ll make the third round before eventually losing to Bouchard.
The Canadian’s fourth round opponent will likely be the winner of Angelique Kerber/Carla Suarez Navarro. The German shouldn’t face many problems before round three with Elena Vesnina likely being her biggest test. Navarro shouldn’t have any troubles at all in the opening two rounds thus setting up one of the best looking potential round three matches. The head to head is dead even, so this should be a tight encounter. However their past three meetings have all been routine victories, so that could suggest that the winner will be victorious in fairly straight forward fashion. I don’t buy that this will be done in straight sets, and I am feeling a potential upset here with Suarez Navarro beating Kerber in 3 sets.
Week 1 Predictions (round of 16 matchups)
Muguruza d. S.Williams
Wozniacki d. Cornet
Kvitova d. Kanepi
V.Williams d. A.Radwanska
Ivanovic d. Makarova
Halep d. Beck
Bouchard d. Suarez Navarro
Sharapova d. Safarova
It may have been a glorified exhibition, but Serena Williams didn’t look good at all at the Hopman Cup. Add that to the fact that Muguruza beat her in their last meeting, and her ability to bring her best to the big matches, I have gone for the upset. Muguruza defeats Serena for the second straight time. Wozniacki will meet the Spaniard in the quarter finals after grinding down Alize Cornet. The Dane is the better player and will not have many problems defeating her French opponent.
Kvitova may need three sets to beat Kanepi, but I expect the world number four to overpower the Estonian in three sets. Meeting the Czech in the Quarter finals will be Venus Williams. I expect Venus to carry her form into this tournament and use it to defeat Agnieszka Radwanska in a tight two or three sets.
Makarova will provide tough opposition for Ana Ivanovic, but the Serb will out fight the Russian in a long three set battle. Simona Halep should have little trouble dispatching Annika Beck despite their close encounter in Shenzhen.
Bouchard always brings her best to the grand slams and I expect no different in Melbourne. Her match against Carla Suarez will be tight like their previous match, and I expect Bouchard to prevail again in three sets. Safarova will provide a huge test for Maria Sharapova, and I expect the Czech to take a set. However, Sharapova is arguably the best fighter on tour and it will show yet again as she prevails in 3 sets.
Picking the rest of the way
Quarters: Wozniacki d. Muguruza
Kvitova d. V.Williams
Halep d. Ivanovic
Sharapova d. Bouchard
Last year, Muguruza got the better of Wozniacki at this event. But I don’t see history repeating it’s self here. Wozniacki will eventually grind the Spaniard down in my opinion, after a strong start by Muguruza. Garbine can often blow hot and cold in the same match and this will be one of those.
Venus Williams and Petra Kvitova have often provided with some classic encounters, but the head to head doesn’t lie. 5 times out of 6 the Czech has prevailed and I don’t see a reverse in fortunes here.
Despite the 3-1 head to head advantage Ivanovic holds, I expect Halep to beat her here. Halep will be riding a huge wave of momentum after an easy run to the quarter finals, whilst Ivanovic will likely be tired after a gruelling match against Makarova.
Sharapova vs Bouchard will be a rematch of their Roland Garros semi final last year. Sharapova won in three sets on that occasion, and she will do the same here. Sharapova has made a career of winning these type of matches, so you must favour the Russian.
Semis: Kvitova d. Wozniacki
Halep d. Sharapova
Kvitova vs Wozniacki is hard to predict as we don’t know how fit these two will be at this stage. Kvitova is in the better form heading in to the tournament and has the bigger weapons of the two, so I will predict Kvitova in 3.
Simona Halep will extract her revenge on Maria Sharapova after their Roland Garros final last year which saw the Russian win yet another three setter. Halep is currently Sharapova’s pigeon, but with me predicting Halep to win the tournament in pre season, I will stick to my guns and say Halep in three.
Final: Halep d. Kvitova
Halep’s time will finally arrive in Melbourne after an impressive display against Kvitova in the final. I expect Simona to use her previous experience to not make the same mistakes as she did in the Roland Garros final and defeat Kvitova in a great three set final.