Auckland and Shenzhen are hosting WTA International events in a packed first week. Here are my predictions for both tournaments.
International events on the WTA draw have always been somewhat of a lucky dip when trying to call who will be the champion and Auckland is certainly that with no clear front runner. Roberta Vinci is the top seed, but few will be backing the Italian to win. Vinci opens against the 17-year-old, Ana Konjuh, who won the Australian Open juniors title earlier this year. Vinci could meet Jamie Hampton in the quarter-finals. As much as I enjoy watching Hampton play, I think she will make a slow start to the season after she missed the Asian Swing earlier this year due to injury. Watch out for Yanina Wickmayer who always performs well in Auckland with two appearances in the final (inlcluding last year) and a victory in 2010.
The second quarter features Sorana Cirstea and Mona Barthel, who are projected to meet in the quarter-finals. Barthel has started the last two seasons in stunning form and will be looking to replicate that as she plays Yvonne Meusburger in the first round. Barthel struggled during the off-season with a shoulder injury and could meet Venus Williams in the second round. Venus always has a question mark against her name although she proved in Tokyo that when she is fully fit and healthy, she can compete with the best of them. En route to the semi-finals of Tokyo, Venus defeated Barthel and I predict she will do the same again in Auckland.
The third quarter features Karin Knapp and Kirsten Flipkens and by quite some distance, is the weakest of all four quarters. Flipkens will have a tough opener against Monica Puig, which is the toughest of all the first round matches to call. The fourth quarter features the number two seed, Ana Ivanovic, who is playing Auckland for the first time in her career. In the first round she will play Alison Riske. Ivanovic seems like an obvious choice for the winner; however she remains title-less since 2011 and mentally fragile in trying to close out tight matches if her last tournament in Sofia is anything to go by.
1st Round Predictions: Vinci to beat Konjuh in 2 sets (1 tight, 1 easy), Erakovic to beat Davis in 3 sets, Hampton to beat Paszek in 2 sets, Muguruza to beat McHale in 3 sets, Venus to beat Hlavackova in 2 sets, Knapp to beat Goerges in 3 sets, Flipkens to beat Puig in 3 sets and Ivanovic to beat Riske in 2 sets
While Auckland is difficult to call, Shenzhen looks far more straightforward although the draw gods have thrown up an interesting first round match. Li Na, who won the inaugural event in Shenzhen last year, returns and will play blast-from-the-past, Vera Zvonareva in the first round. Zvonareva hasn’t played since the Olympics in one of the worst matches I have ever watched live, a 6-1 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Serena Williams. It is fantastic to see her back on tour fit and healthy, and hopefully she will be afforded a bit more luck with future draws.
The remainder of the draw isn’t particularly enthralling. Sara Errani bookends the draw and plays a wildcard in the first round, Saisai Zheng. Her route through looks pretty favourable and she could meet Zheng Jie in the quarter-finals. Unsurprisingly, all the Chinese players are here and Peng Shuai heads up the third quarter with Bojana Jovanovski. I like the Serb’s chances at progressing deep into this draw. The second quarter features last years finalist, Klara Zakopalova, who is likely to struggle defending those points as she has been paired with talented teen, Donna Vekic in the first round.
1st Round Predictions: Li to beat Zvonareva in 2 sets, Vekic to beat Zakopalova in 3 sets, Beck to beat Tomljanovic in 3 sets, J.Zheng to beat Peer in 2 sets, King to beat Martic in 2 tight sets and Errani to S.Zheng in 2 sets