WTA Brisbane Preview
Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
It has been a long off season, but a new year signals a new tennis season. Like the ATP world tour, the WTA calendar opens with a trio of tournaments. Along with the Hopman Cup, it is a feast of action for your tennis appetite.
The traditional season opener in Brisbane has grown in stature over the years, upgrading from a International to Premier level in 2012.
Previous champions include the likes of Victoria Azarenka, Kim Clijsters, Petra Kvitova, Maria Sharapova and two-time winner Serena Williams. Sharapova took the crown last season.
The Brisbane International
Location: Brisbane, Australia
Prize Money: $885,500
Date: January 3rd-10th 2016
The eight seeded players (Ranking)
1. Simona Halep (2)
2. Garbine Muguruza (3)
3. Maria Sharapova (4)
4. Angelique Kerber (10)
5. Timea Bacsinszky (12)
6. Carla Suarez Navarro (13)
7. Belinda Bencic (14)
8. Roberta Vinci (15)
A host of top 20 players lined up for the season opener looking to get their season off to the perfect start!
First round matches to watch
(2) Maria Sharapova vs Ekaterina Makarova
This all Russian battle will gives us the perfect start to the new year as Sharapova kicks her campaign off against former top player Makarova.
The world number three could not have asked for a much tougher draw here but she has a very positive head to head against her compatriot. Sharapova has won all six meetings including three in Australia and has only dropped a single set.
Everything points to a Sharapova victory but Makarova is a tricky opponent on her day and given it is the start of the new season, an upset is possible
(4) Angelique Kerber vs Camila Giorgi
Quite the contrast of styles here as one of the tours best counter punchers is pitted against one of the most unpredictable heavy hitters in the game.
Kerber is a staple of consistency. She absorbs power better than most and runs down almost every single ball. The German has proven very difficult to hit through over the years but Giorgi brings a tremendous amount of power to the court.
The Italian is the exact opposite of consistent but at her best she can blow almost anyone off the court and that is why this match is interesting. Kerber was the Premier queen of 2015, so can she continue her good form in these events?
(7) Belinda Bencic vs Sara Errani
One of the most interesting players to watch over the next 12 months is Bencic. The 18 year old had a breakthrough top 15 season in 2015 so there is a question on whether she can build on that this year?
Her opening match against Errani is an early test of any improvements she has made over off season. The Italian is consistent but she does not possess many weapons so Bencic will be allowed to play. We will get a small indication on where she is at in this match.
First Quarter: Top seed Simona Halep will be cursing the fact she got the banana skin ‘Azarenka draw’. The world number two receives a BYE in round one and providing Victoria Azarenka beats her qualifier opponent, we will be in for the blockbuster round two match we are all anticipating. Azarenka leads the head to head 2-1 but Halep won their last meeting at the US Open last year.
US Open finalist Roberta Vinci is the eighth seed here and she also has a difficult task in taking out former world number one Jelena Jankovic. Dominika Cibulkova has fond memories down under and will be looking to re-ignite her love affair with Australia when she faces Yania Wickmayer in the first round. The winner meets Vinci or Jankovic.
Second Quarter: Defending champion Maria Sharapova arrives in Brisbane as the third seed after an injury troubled second half of 2015. The Russian is now healthy and looking to add to her five grand slam titles in 2016. Sharapova will meet compatriot Makarova in round one then move on to face the winner of Andrea Petkovic vs Teliana Pereira- the last direct acceptance.
Bencic has also landed in this section and is very dangerous to the top seeds. The Swiss faces Errani in round one then Priscilla Hon or a qualifier in round two. It is fair to say that the winner of Bencic vs Errani should make the quarter finals. Bencic vs Sharapova could be a fascinating contest.
Third quarter: Fourth seed Kerber won five Premier titles in 2015, can she add Brisbane to her collection? The German faces unpredictable but dangerous Giorgi in the first round which is a potential upset but providing she gets through that, Kerber should make the quarter finals. Madison Brengle or a qualifier will await the winner in round two.
Timea Bacsinszky was one of the bigger success stories of 2015 having her best season after returning to the tour. The Swiss will now focus on improving further in 2016 and a perfect start will be victory over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. The winner will face the victor in the all French clash between Kristina Mladenovic and Alize Cornet.
Fourth Quarter: Speaking of 2015 success stories, Garbine Muguruza was perhaps the most improved player of the year. The Spaniard is now amongst the elite and will be aiming for a grand slam title in 2016. Muguruza is fortunate enough to receive and opening round BYE and then she will meet Varvara Lepchenko or Anna Schmiedlova, both of which she should beat.
There is a potential meeting between Muguruza and Carla Suarez Navarro providing they both make it through their quarters. Alja Tomljanovic will welcome the world number 13 to Brisbane with Sam Stosur possible for round two. Stosur maybe the best home crowd hope for an Australian winner of the tournament.
Azarenka def. Vinci
Sharapova def. Bencic
Kerber def. Bacsinszky
Muguruza def. Stosur
Sharapova def. Azarenka
Muguruza def. Kerber
Sharapova def. Muguruza
I have gone for the defending champion to retain her Brisbane crown. Now she is back and healthy again, it will be difficult to stop Sharapova. The Russian defeats Muguruza in the final who makes it through despite not playing her best tennis.