A marvelous two weeks in China for Garbine Muguruza was capped off with a 7-5, 6-4 victory over Timea Bacsinszky to claim the Beijing crown.
Hampered by an ankle problem in the Wuhan final loss to Venus Williams the previous week, Muguruza was doubtful to even make the tournament let alone win it.
The initial goal was to secure her place in Singapore beyond any doubt, which she successfully did against Mirjana Lucic Baroni in round three.
Seeing the top seeds fall around her and feeling the ankle was well enough to play on, Muguruza battled on to the final, beating Bethanie Mattek Sands and Agnieszka Radwanska en route.
Her opponent, Bacsinszky, had struggled post Wimbledon herself and was looking to rekindle her early season form. Wins over Carla Suarez Navarro, Sara Errani and Ana Ivanovic secured the Swiss’ place in Sundays final.
Muguruza had be a thorn in Bacsinszky’s side this season, winning their two previous meetings at the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year.
It would provide a fine appetiser for an action packed day of tennis in Beijing with both players exchanging backhands in the opening moments.
The Spaniard got off to a fast start with a break, but it was quickly overturned by Bacsinszky who raced to a 5-2 lead. The play was largely erratic with both players suffering physically after battling semi-finals.
But Muguruza found that extra gear she needed just in time, overturning the deficit to take the first set 7-5.
The Swiss responded with an early break in the second set, but the fifth seed quickly brought it back level. The margins were slim with neither seemingly able to run away with the set. The Wimbledon finalist, however, upped the pressure in the latter stages and earned a break at 4-4 to put herself within one service game of the title.
Muguruza had struggled to close out her semi-final against Radwanska after leading 5-1 in the third set, but she had no such trouble this time. A missed backhand by Bacsinszky spelled the end as Muguruza felt to the court in triumph.
Embed from Getty Images
It was her biggest title yet, and first crown since Hobart in 2014. The biggest win of her career has been topped off by a new career high ranking of four, with potential to finish the year as the world number three.
Another big effort from The Swiss has brought her into the world’s top ten for the first time in her career. Remarkable given she turned her back on the game a few years ago.
“I actually want to dedicate this tournament to someone. I came from really, really far away, I almost retired two years ago, and this man over there, my coach, Dimitri, thank you for helping me every day. You brought Stanislas to Top 10, and now you’ve brought me to Top 10. Thank you for every day.”
“I want to congratulate Timea of course – Top 10 is an amazing achievement,” Muguruza said.
“For me, to be able to come and win the tournament after losing in the finals of Wuhan last week is a great achievement. It’s amazing, and I can’t wait to come back and defend my title next year.”
The Spaniard is certainly a player to watch next year. Now amongst the elite, she will be amongst the favourites for Singapore and for the Grand slams next year. Sky is the limit. But for now she will celebrate a week in which she turned 22, secured a place in Singapore, achieved a career high ranking and won her biggest title to date.
It was a big week in the doubles too. Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza claimed their eighth title of the year with a three set victory over the Chan Sisters. The world number one doubles team came through 6-7(9), 6-1, 10-8 in a dramatic final.
The Chan sisters’ run secured their place in the Year End Championships. They joined the team of Caroline Garcia and Katarina Srebotnik who also confirmed their participation this week.
There is only one spot left in the doubles finals. Hingis/Mirza will be there with Lucie Safarova/Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Casey Dellacqua/Yaroslava Shvedova, Elena Vesnina/Ekaterina Makarova, Timea Babos/Kristina Mladenovic, Garcia/Srebotnik and the Chan sisters.
It has been a week of sunshine, surprises, and strawberries at Wimbledon, and after six days of the most gripping tennis you will ever see, the players will now rest on the middle Sunday and prepare to do it all again next week.
We are three rounds in and now have four more to go as we reach the last 16 of the women’s draw. As always we have had the drama, upsets and occasional brilliant tennis that we have come to expect from the best the WTA has to offer.
It started with bang on the opening day with Margarita Gasparyan looking like she could challenge Serena Williams for a few games. The Russian was a break up in the first set, but as is usually the case the world number one found her feet and stamped her authority. From there it was only heading in one direction- 6-4, 6-1 to the American.
There were a few blowouts for the likes of Andrea Petkovic and Venus Williams who both cruised through without losing a game, but the most surprising of which saw Carla Suarez Navarro say her farewells to SW19 after winning only two games against 2014 girls champion Jelena Ostapenko.
The upsets poured in on day two, with Eugenie Bouchard and Simona Halep continuing their recent struggles. Just when you thought Bouchard could not sink much further, she goes and loses her final points by falling to qualifier Ying-Ying Duan 7-6(3), 6-4. Halep fared slightly better, but the end result was the same- A first round defeat. The world number three was defeated by Jana Cepelova 5-7, 6-4, 6-3.
Ana Ivanovic would be the next casualty as temperatures soared on the third day. The Serb could not stand the heat of Bethanie Mattek-Sands as he lost 6-3, 6-4. Karolina Pliskova would also make her exit as the seeds continued to tumble. In a big serving battle against Coco Vandeweghe the Czech came up short, and lost 7-6(5), 6-4. Sara Errani would be another seed to drop out after losing to Aleksandra Krunic 6-3, (3)6-7, 6-2.
With the seeds falling faster than Bouchard’s ranking, you just knew there would be another surprise on day four. Ekaterina Makarova, Elina Svitolina, Alize Cornet and Svetlana Kuznetsova would be the next victims of the ‘upset bug’ than had plagued the first week.
The tournament would really pick up on Friday, where an unlikely source gave the world number one an almighty scare. Britain’s Heather Watson rallied to a double break lead against Serena in the final set, but as many times before the five time champion showed why she is labelled ‘the best’. The world number one rallied back to take the set 7-5, and end the British involvement in the draw. But despite the loss, Heather was labelled as a hero by the British press the following morning.
It was labelled as the best match of the tournament thus far on the women’s side, but it soon got a run for its money when Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza took to court on the Saturday. The clash in styles made for an excellent contest which included a 33 shot rally at the start of the first set tiebreak. It was long, but the mental fortitude of Muguruza shone as she saved nine set points to take the tiebreak 14-12. The Spaniard dropped the second set 6-1, but ran away with the third to book her ticket in to the second week.
In a week of upsets, none was more shocking than the one that took place on centre court on Saturday evening. Petra Kvitova had not broken a sweat in the first two rounds, barely losing any games. But she soon found herself in a three set battle with Jelena Jankovic who had come from a break down to level the match. The Serbian’s pressure was soon rewarded at 5-4, where she to the Kvitova serve to claim victory and the biggest upset of the tournament so far.
Sabine Lisicki, often a contender at Wimbledon, also found herself heading for an early exit. In her worst performance here since 2008, the 2013 finalist was ousted by Timea Bascinszky 6-3, 6-2.
After six days of intense tennis, we have gone from 128 women to 16. That will be halved to eight on Manic Monday where all the round four matches will be played.
Round of Sixteen Matches:
(1) Serena Williams vs (16) Venus Williams:
It is the main event of manic Monday. Serena vs Venus XXVI will capture the intrigue of every tennis fan around the world as they collide on centre court yet again. It is their first meeting here since the 2009 final where Serena overcame her older sister to be crowned champion. The world number one leads the head to head 14-11 overall and 3-2 at Wimbledon, but Venus was the winner the last time they met which was in Canada last year. Serena has had her struggles thus far, especially in round three against Watson where she pushed to the brink. Things have been a little easier for Venus who has not dropped a set thus far.
Will Serena remain on course for the calendar grand slam? Or can her older sister reel back the years to end all hopes of the Serena slam?
(23) Victoria Azarenka vs (30) Belinda Bencic:
For all the talk of the Williams sisters’ showdown, many will overlook this potentially exciting round four match-up. Bencic has found her form on the grass by winning the title in Eastbourne a week prior to The Championships. The 18 year old is touted as a future star of the WTA tour, and she could claim the scalp of a former two time grand slam champion in Azarenka. The Belarusian has not dropped a set in the tournament as her mission to rebuild her ranking continues. Bencic has been made to work for her fourth round place after being taken to three sets twice. There was a knee injury concern for the Swiss against Bethanie Mattek-Sands, so it will be interesting to see if that has an impact on this match.
(4) Maria Sharapova vs Zarina Diyas:
Not many people have talked about Sharapova as a possible title contender, but the fourth seed has still quietly (well not quietly, but you get what I mean) gone about her business during the first week. Sharapova has barely been tested in the first three rounds, and she will be hoping not to join boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov on the Wimbledon exit list when she faces Diyas on Monday. The Kazakh has made the fourth round for the second year in a row, and she has played well thus far, only losing one set in the first week. It is hard to see Diyas springing an upset, especially given how their last meeting went. Sharapova raced through 6-1, 6-1 in Melbourne earlier in the year.
(6) Lucie Safarova vs Coco Vandeweghe:
Last year’s semi-finalist Safarova, has not quite been at her French Open form so far, but she has done enough to squeeze past some very tricky opponents none the less. The Czech has defeated two Americans in three sets to get to the second week, and she will have to defeat another one if she is to make the quarter finals. Vandeweghe has shown excellent form during the first three rounds, not dropping a set on the way to defeating the likes of Karolina Pliskova and Sam Stosur. The American’s big serve and powerful ground strokes suits the grass, but will it be enough to defeat last year’s semi-finalist?
(5) Caroline Wozniacki vs (20) Garbine Muguruza:
With Kvitova out, the bottom half has opened up for a surprise finalist. Both Wozniacki and Muguruza will fancy their chances of a first Wimbledon final, but first they must get past the other. Wozniacki was troubled by Saisai Zheng in the opening set of their first round encounter, but since then it has been plain sailing for the Dane. Muguruza has struggled on the grass prior to this tournament, but her three set victory over Kerber in round three shows she has adapted well. The mental fortitude of the Spaniard was particularly impressive in that match. Muguruza leads the head to head 2-1, but Wozniacki won their last meeting in Tokyo. A great clash of styles here in the fourth round which will pit the consistency of Wozniacki vs the power of Muguruza.
(15) Timea Bascinszky vs Monica Niculescu:
If you were told that Bascinszky vs Niculescu will contest for a quarter final place you may have looked at me funny. However, that is exactly what we have got with the early exits of Lisicki and Halep. Niculescu is the last Romanian standing, and she has shown good form on the grass court with her unique game suiting the surface. Bascinszky has been untouchable so far, and unbreakable. The dissection of Lisicki was stunning, and her fairy tale comeback continues to wow the tennis community. Can she now find a way to deal with the unusual style of Niculescu?
(21) Madison Keys vs Olga Govortsova:
One name nobody expected to see in the second week is Govortsova. The Belarusian came through qualifying to make the second week, beating Alize Cornet along the way. Keys will be one of the favourites to make the final with her big game, and proven record on this surface. The American has not been at her best so far, but it has still been enough for her to make the second week. It will be a surprise if she does not make the quarter finals at least here.
(13) Agnieszka Radwanska vs (28) Jelena Jankovic:
Jankovic’s reward for her efforts in beating Kvitova is a round four match with an in form Radwanska, who seems rejuvenated on the grass after a poor start to the season. The Pole has cruised through her opening three rounds without dropping a set. Jankovic was taken to three in all her matches here so far, but will be full of confidence after beating the defending champion. Radwanska is on her best surface and has a 5-2 head to head record over her opponent, but Jankovic will fight all the way to the end.
Predictions: Round Four:
Serena def. Venus in 3
Azarenka def. Bencic in 3
Sharapova def. Diyas in 2
Safarova def. Vandeweghe in 3
Muguruza def. Wozniacki in 3
Bacsinszky def. Niculescu in 2
Keys def. Govortsova in 2
Radwanska def. Jankovic in 2
Serena should have too much for Venus at this stage of their careers though Venus will take a set. I feel Bencic’s injury will hinder her against Azarenka so she will lose in three. Sharapova will overwhelm Diyas, and Safarova will survive Vandeweghe. I feel Muguruza’s form will be too much for Wozniacki which will set up a quarter final with Bacsinszky who should defeat Niculescu. Keys will overpower Govortsova, and Radwanska will be too much for Jankovic on this surface.
Serena def. Azarenka in 3
Sharapova def. Safarova in 3
Muguruza def. Bacsinszky in 3
Radwanska def. Keys in 3
Serena and Vika will have another epic, but on this surface it should be the world number one who comes through. Sharapova’s form will be enough to see her past Safarova. Muguruza vs Bacsinszky was the hardest to predict, but I feel second week grass will give the Spaniard an advantage. Radwanska’s consistency will shine through against Keys.
Serena def. Sharapova in 2
Radwanska def. Muguruza in 2
Serena has not lost to Sharapova in 11 years and I do not see it changing here. Muguruza will be out of energy after four straight three sets battles which will allow Radwanska to come through in straights.
Serena def. Radwanska in 2
With Kvitova out it is hard to see anyone stopping the world number one here. The title is on her racket, and unless she defeats herself I cannot see Williams letting it slip.
Bacsinszky Completes Mexican Double, Wozniacki Wins Kuala Lumpur Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
With the Indian Wells and Miami double just around the corner, many of the top players decided to take a week off to prepare for two of the biggest tournaments on the WTA tour.
The lack of star power didn’t hinder the excitement though, as the tournaments in Monterrey and Kuala Lumpur provided some tense and dramatic matches, with the two best players of the week coming out on top.
WTA Monterrey Embed from Getty Images
Timea Bacsinszky can now call herself the queen of Mexico, as she claimed the Monterrey title to go with her Acapulco crown from last week.
It felt like deja vu in Mexico, but the stars were Timea Bacsinszky and Caroline Garcia this time, not Denzel Washington. In a rematch of the Acapulco final a week prior, Garcia and Bacsinszky took to the court for the right to be called Monterrey champion. On the previous occasion, the Swiss was too strong for Garcia as she romped to an easy 6-3,6-0 victory in Acapulco. This time, it would be the same result, albeit a hell of a lot closer.
Fresh off her upset victory over Ana Ivanovic in the previous round, Garcia looked like she was ready to extract revenge on her opponent. Despite being broken in the opening game of the match, The French woman rallied back to take the first set 6-4; breaking the Swiss’ serve to seal it.
Garcia couldn’t carry that momentum into the second set, as Bacsinszky started to find her range. An early break for the world number 31 had the Swiss on a roll, but a rain delay soon halted the momentum. Four wet hours passed before play was allowed to resume, meaning this one was going to carry on after midnight. When play restarted, it seemed like the fourth seed never left the court. Bacsinszky swung freely from both wings, and soon leveled the match by taking the second set 6-2.
Unlike Garcia though, The Swiss was able to carry the momentum into the next set, breaking at 1-1. The number three seed continued to fight towards the back end of the match, having numerous opportunities to break back at 4-3. Despite having six attempts at leveling the match, Garcia couldn’t convert, allowing Bacsinszky to roll on and closeout the match 4-6, 6-2, 6-4.
The Monterrey title is her second in as many weeks, and third overall as Bacsinszky’s amazing comeback continues. After an injury plagued start to the decade, the 25 year old is happy to be back and playing her best tennis.
“I’m just really happy to play so well at the beginning of the year,” a tearful Bacsinszky said in her post-match press conference. “I’m going to keep trying to push my limits in the next tournament I’m playing. I hope to keep improving all parts of my game, doesn’t matter if I’m winning or losing. I always just want to be a better tennis player, and be a better person too.”
Garcia’s runners-up efforts over the past few weeks shouldn’t get her down. The French woman has shown why she is one of the brightest rising stars on the WTA tour. She’ll be hoping to go one better next time around.
In the doubles, fourth seeds Gabriela Dabrowski and Alicja Rosolska defeated third seeds Anastasia Rodionova and Arina Rodionova 6-3, 2-6, 10-3 to claim their first doubles title together.
WTA Kuala Lumpur
Caroline Wozniacki has finally won her first title of 2015 at the BMW Malaysian Open, coming from behind to defeat Alexandra Dulgheru 4-6,6-2,6-1.
Wozniacki was the pre-tournament favourite but people (including myself) wondered if the top seed would preserve her energy for Indian Wells and Miami. The Dane did aim to preserve her energy, but she went about it in a different way; not dropping a set on the road to the final.
Her opponent Dulgheru had upset second seed Sabine Lisicki in the opening round and had used the momentum to carry herself all the way to the final.
That momentum got the Romanian off to a great start, as she broke early to establish a 3-1 lead. The break advantage was soon relinquished, but the heavy top spin strokes of the world number 72 proved tough to deal with. Dulgheru broke at 4-4 and served out the set to give herself a 1-0 lead.
If anything, dropping the first set seemed to motivate Wozniacki further. The world number five was on fire in the second set, breaking in the second game and then again to seal the set. The former world number one only dropped three points on serve throughout the set.
It was all Wozniacki in the third set, as she began to show the world why she is a former world number one player. Wozniacki raced into a 5-0 lead in the third and had match point on the Dulgheru serve, but couldn’t convert. The Romanian avoided a bagel, but couldn’t avoid the break stick, as Wozniacki easily served out the match to take the Kuala Lumpur title.
Despite the lopsided second and third set, Wozniacki praised her opponent’s approach.
“I think she played well the whole match,” Wozniacki said. “She tried to play aggressive and take the ball early. But I knew she had a tough match yesterday, so I just kept playing my game and kept trying to put pressure on her. I think I stepped it up in the second and third sets, and it paid off.”
This was Wozniacki’s 23rd WTA title, and the latest triumph has put her in good form heading into Indian Wells, a tournament she won back in 2011.
“I think things have been going my way. Things are great,” Wozniacki said. “I’m excited for Indian Wells. It’s one of my favourite tournaments of the season, so hopefully I can play well there.”
The doubles title went to Liang Chen and Wang Yafan, who beat third seeds Yuliya Beygelzimer and Olga Savchuk in the final, 4-6, 6-3, 10-4.
That wraps up the WTA tour of the Asia-Pacific. Now we will head to North America and Europe until the summer. You can follow it all on Tennis Atlantic.
From Dubai to Doha, and from Rio to Acapulco, the WTA tour of the world continued this week with a Premier and International event, featuring some the of biggest names on tour. However, it would be two outsiders that would walk away with titles this weekend.
Lucie Safarova has won her biggest title to date, as she ended Victoria Azarenka’s 14 match winning streak at the Qatar Total Open, with a straight sets victory.
The Czech got off to the best possible start; breaking in the opening game, but Azarenka remained head strong to break back at *3-2. The match stayed on serve until 4-4, where Safarova re-established her lead. The world number 15 then served out the set, taking her second set point with a big serve out wide. That set the tone for the rest of the match, as Safarova started walking away with it. The Czech served well in the second set, not being broken once, and saving multiple break points. She established a set 2 lead, breaking Azarenka at 1-1. The former world number one found herself facing three match points whilst serving to stay in the match, but she saved the first two. Third time would be a charm for Safarova though, even if it needed hawk-eye to seal it. Azarenka appeared to hit a forehand wide, but the line judge called it in. Safarova proceeded to challenge the call, and hawk-eye showed that the ball was way wide thus granting the Czech her first Premier level title.
The world number 15 found herself going through a host of seeded opponents before even making the final. The Czech disposed of number 5 seed Ekaterina Makarova, number 6 seed Andrea Petkovic and number 9 seed Carla Suarez Navarro en route to the final stage of the tournament, and even though she out-ranked Azarenka, don’t let that lull you into believing that it would have been easy for Safarova. Azarenka is a former two time Grand Slam champion, a former world number one and had won all six of their previous meetings. Not like it mattered to Lucie.
“I felt really good all week here and my performances were better and better, and I just wanted to use the opportunity to really go for it and take the title,” Safarova said post match. “I think I just really enjoyed it out there tonight, the atmosphere, the crowd and just really went for every point.”
This was Lucie’s sixth WTA title, but the Doha crown is the biggest of her career thus far. The achievement has been crowned by a new career high ranking of 11 next week as she edges closer to the top 10.
“I’m really excited and happy about this because it took me quite a few years to get to this point,” Safarova said. “I hope it’s not a finish point and I can still improve. My game improved a lot the last couple of years. I think me and my coach, Rob Steckley, have been doing a great job together. It’s just hard work and also maturing a little bit. I think it’s just everything coming together right now.”
Azarenka had previously won this tournament in 2012, and 2013, but unfortunately missed the event last year due to a foot injury. The former world number one had a great week however, as she continues her climb back up the rankings after an injury plagued 2014. This was her first WTA final since last January.
“It’s been a long week for me. It’s been a while since I had that many matches in a row,” Azarenka said post match. “Sometimes the body needs to get back into that rhythm. It wasn’t my best today, but I tried my best.”
The Belarusian still remained positive about her progress despite the loss.
“And there’s been a lot of progress this week. A lot of good things happened, a lot of great matches. There are a lot of things I can take with me and can keep working on. I’m still really motivated. I’m obviously disappointed for losing the final today, but I just have to move on from this quickly.” She added.
In the doubles, unseeded pair Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears defeated top seeds Su-Wei Hsieh and Sania Mirza 6-4, 6-4 to claim to win the title.
Timea Bacsinszky’s incredible comeback hit its highest point yet, as she defeated Caroline Garcia 6-3, 6-0 to win the 2015 Abierto Mexicano Telcel Open title.
The Swiss may have been a little fortunate that Maria Sharapova withdrew from the tournament before her semi final match with eventual runner-up Caroline Garcia, but that shouldn’t take anything away from the fifth seed.
Facing third seed Garcia in the final was never expected to be easy, but Bacsinszky didn’t get the memo. It was Garcia that appeared to be in the better form, judging by the first two games, as she held easily and had numerous break point opportunities in the second game. The French Woman would rue her missed chances however, as her opponent would soon find her game. At 1-1, Bacsinszky would earn the first break of the match, and that would only set the tone of what was to come. After Garcia held at 2-4, Bacsinszky didn’t lose another game in the match. A quick hold was followed by a break to wrap up the first set 6-3. The dominance continued in the second set with The Swiss in fine form as Garcia faded. The world number 30 failed to win a single game in the second set, which was wrapped up by The Swiss in less than 30 minutes.
Once one of the rising stars on tour, Bacsinszky found herself winning her first title in Luxembourg 6 years a go. Unfortunately, her career was then plagued by injuries that saw her fall outside the top 500 in 2012. Her climb back up the rankings started last year where she rose from 237 to 48 in the world. And now her comeback as hit its highest point, with her second career title in Acapulco.
“Maybe I’m like a good wine – with time, I’m better!” Bacsinszky joked to the press afterwards.
“But seriously, I almost stopped playing in 2013. When I decided to play again, at the French Open in 2013, I got a new team around me – new coach, new fitness coach, I’ve been working a lot with Swiss tennis. The road was long, and it’ll still be long, but I’ve been working hard. I wasn’t just expecting the results to come right away, I was patient. I knew I needed time to build everything up.”
She added. “I’m really proud. And knowing what I’ve been through, I’m even prouder.”
Despite the crushing final loss, Caroline Garcia had a good week as she still bids for her second WTA crown. The 21 year old will be around for a while yet, so if you are not yet familiar with her talents, you will be soon enough. With her final appearance in Acapulco, Garcia has strengthened her bid to claim a seeding position at the French Open.
The doubles title went to second-seeded Spaniards Lara Arruabarrena and Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor, as they beat number one seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka, 7-6(2), 5-7, 13-11.
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.