Tacos With a Side of Camilla Giorgi: Where’s my Swedish Meatballs?
Tacos With A Side of Camilla Giorgi: A Dream Tennis Tournament in the Bronx Steve Fogleman in the Bronx
Last night I dreamt that I was in a glassy, air-conditioned Ikea, dining in the megastore’s cafe, dutifully waiting out my spouse’s shopping spree. But the weird part was that they were serving tacos instead of swedish meatballs. Or maybe I was in the waiting room of a brand new maternity ward waiting for news on the delivery of a child. Better yet, I may have been in the international flights terminal of an airport waiting for my plane to a dream vacation. Dreams fade fast, but wherever I was, the strangest thing happened next. I looked out on the tarmac (or the Ikea parking lot) and saw a professional tennis match being played in front of no one in particular. One player looked exactly like Andrea Petkovic, and the other player was a doppelganger for Zhang Shuai. It was a pleasant distraction from whatever I was doing, especially since I couldn’t find those meatballs drowning in lingonberry sauce anywhere.
It sure looked like Andrea Petkovic out there on the tarmac/Ikea Parking lot
This is the 2019 Bronx Open at the Carey Leeds Center in Crotona Park. Crotona Park is famous from “Fort Apache, The Bronx”, a lugubrious flick from the ’70s. This event is bound to have a happier ending. I’ve been to a tournament like this one before: the 2011 WTA Citi Open in College Park, Maryland. Then, like now, I considered it to be my private tournament and I mean that as a compliment. At least the Citi Open became a permanent moniker in Washington sports. Move the Bronx Open anywhere else and it just wouldn’t sound the same. And there’s talk of this being a temporary shelter for the tournament as they figure out how to keep it in the U.S. Just as Memphis took safe harbor in Long Island, this little tournament is also on life support in the Big Apple. It’s like a baby New Haven, and it means outrageous opportunities for fans to interact with top players. Did I say fans? I meant a fan.
You didn’t even need to come into the tournament to see Monica Niculescu. She was hanging around out front.
It’s also free. So free that you didn’t even need to enter the grounds to watch main draw matches yesterday. You could just heel your dog and watch Alison Van Uytvanck or Monica Niculescu win a match. The fun thing about a WTA international level event is that they’re fighting it out to make the quarterfinals–on a Tuesday. Come out and soak this one in before it’s gone.
After a terrible 2015, Bouchard comes into the new year with a point to prove. 2014 was excellent, but was it just a fluke?
We will get some early signs of where she is at against Vekic in her opening match at Shenzhen. The Croatian is still wildly inconsistent and has yet to find her game, but the 19 year old has time on her side.
If the Canadian plays to her 2014 level then she should get it done in two, but does that Bouchard exist anymore?
(2) Petra Kvitova vs Saisai Zheng
You may look at this and think ‘this should be easy for Petra, what are you talking about’ and on paper you are right. But may I remind you that this is Kvitova we are talking about. When she is on she is unstoppable, but when it goes bad it goes beyond disastrous.
With the potential rustiness and the home crowd with Zheng, this could get interesting. The Chinese player poses little threat offensively but she is a consistent player, and if bad Petra shows up who knows what may happen.
This should be easy pickings for the Czech, but stranger things happen on the WTA tour and a home crowd can inspire a player to play way beyond their normal level.
First Quarter: Top seed Agnieszka Radwanska will look to start this year the way she end the last- lifting a trophy. The Pole came back from near certain elimination to win the WTA finals in October, leading many to believe that this might be the year she claims her first grand slam title. Radwanska will face Aleksandra Krunic in the first round, with the winner meeting home favourite Shaui Zhang or Irina Khromachea.
Fifth seed Joanna Konta had a marvellous second half to 2015 that saw her rise to British number one. Can she continue to improve in 2016? Konta will face China’s Qiang Wang in round one with Vania King or Magda Linette awaiting in round two.
Second Quarter: Irina Begu’s consistent 2015 saw her finish just outside the top 30. She will be looking to seal an Australian Open seed in the coming weeks before furthering her progress. The Romanian faces Lara Arruabarrena in round one. Bojana Jovanovski and Ana-Lena Friedsam will have an interest battle to meet the winner.
Zarina Diyas had a disappointing 2015, falling outside the worlds top 50. The Kazakh will look to get back in track his year which starts with a qualifier opener. 19 year old prospect Katerina Siniakova or Andreea Mitu will await the winner in the following round.
Third quarter: Fourth seed Monica Niculsecu will undoubtedly bring her bags of tricks to the court for another year in which she will frustrate many opponents. The first of which is Anastasija Sevastova. The winner gets Evgeniya Rodina or Timea Babos, which is a good opening round match.
Bouchard vs Vekic will be one to watch with both players keenly looking to make an impact in 2016. The winner gets a qualifier in the second round, so you would expect one of them to make the quarter finals.
Fourth Quarter: Kvitova in theory should make it past Zheng and then her round two opponent which is either a qualifier or Anett Kontaveit, but this is Petra after all. The second seed has still not found her consistency but the big titles will be her main focus this year.
Annika Beck has a tough opener against Alison Riske which could go either way. The German is another player who has failed to make a breakthrough in 2015 after a promising 2015. Su-Wei Hsieh is another un-orthodox player in the draw and faces Ying-Ying Duan of China first up.
Ana Konjuh, 17, has won her first WTA title beating Monica Niculescu in the final of the Nottingham open.
The final was delayed due to numerous weather disruptions last week, so the players took to the court this Monday morning in the UK.
The teenage Croatian was forced to come from behind after dropping her first set of the tournament in lopsided fashion. The experienced Niculescu raced to a 5-0 lead before closing out the set 6-1.
Courtesy of @AnaKonjuh
In this situation you would expect the Romanian to run away with it, but Konjuh had other ideas. The 17-year-old broke early in the second set, and soon found herself serving to level the match at 5-3.
But a combination of nerves and the experience of her opponent meant that Niculescu soon broke back. However, Konjuh soon rallied and after failing to serve it out, the Croatian finally sealed the set with a break, 6-4.
The momentum was now with the youngster, and after saving a break point in the opening game of the third set Konjuh began to run away with it.
A break for 2-0 was quickly followed by another to seal the victory for the 17 year old, who claimed her first WTA title in the process.
Despite it being an International event, this was a big coming out party for Konjuh who has announced herself as one of the brightest prospects on tour. To beat a player as crafty and unique as Niculescu at such a young age shows her talents.
Konjuh also beat Alison Riske, and Casey Dellacqua en route to the title which are good victories in themselves. She is certainly one to watch in the upcoming weeks, and indeed for years to come.
For Niculescu she has had a good tournament that saw her beat top seed Agnieszka Radwanska. The Romanian will be one to watch at Wimbledon as her unorthadox game can cause a huge variety of problems.
Konjuh will now move to her highest ever ranking #55 after enjoying junior success, winning the Australian Open and US Open junior titles.
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.
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.