It’s Grand Slam time! The women’s draw is out with Serena Williams standing tall at the top of the drawsheet. As ever, the draw has thrown up some interesting first round matches. Here are my thoughts and predictions for the 2014 Australian Open women’s draw. Your opinions are widely encouraged in the comments section and please vote in the polls!
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FIRST QUARTER: S.Williams (1) V S.Errani (7)
Serena Williams comes into the Australian Open with a clean bill of health and once again, will be the favourite to lift the Daphne Akhurst trophy in two weeks time. The world number one won Brisbane for the second year in a row, but hasn’t enjoyed success at the Australian Open since winning the title in 2010. Serena will open up her tournament against the young Australian, Ashleigh Barty, who impressed in Brisbane before having to pull out with a left adductor tear injury. On paper, Serena’s first projected seed is Daniela Hantuchova and she is projected to meet the Auckland champion, Ana Ivanovic in the last 16.
This is a particularly intriguing quarter for many reasons. Firstly, Tsvetana Pironkova. The Bulgarian went on a tear winning Sydney and posting eight straight wins. She is now only three victories away from matching her tally of wins in 2013! I guess many will fancy Pironkova to carry that Sydney form into Melbourne, but I am not so sure. The Sydney conditions obviously suited her and Melbourne is likely to play much slower. Pironkova has played a lot of tennis and is likely to be hurting after such a gruelling week. After squaring off with Silvia Soler-Espinosa in round one, Pironkova could play the winner of a first round match between Sam Stosur and Klara Zakopalova, a rematch of the Hobart semi-final, which Zakopalova won. Stosur was building confidence in the intimate venue of Hobart; however after losing in straight sets to Zakopalova and now moving to Melbourne where expectations will be bigger, she’s going to struggle to overturn that result.
Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani are the highest seeds in the bottom half of the first quarter. Neither has impressed so far this year and both face testing openers. Vinci takes on Zheng Jie, who has 3-1 head-to-head lead, meanwhile Errani takes on hit-it-and-see-what-happens, Julia Goerges. This could give the opportunity for a trio of talents, Madison Keys, Eugenie Bouchard and Laura Robson, to shine through. Keys, who made the semi-finals in Sydney, could play Vinci in the second round, meanwhile Bouchard is projected to meet Errani in third round. Robson’s chances are much more uncertain as she has not yet finished a match in 2014 as she struggles with a wrist injury. First up for her is the consistent, Kirsten Flipkens. Flipkens has made a reasonable start to the year albeit lacking some intensity. It is worth noting that Vera Zvonareva lurks in this section, playing her first Grand Slam since 2012 Wimbledon, and I have a strange feeling she is going to do really well.
1st Round Predictions: Serena to beat Barty in 2 sets, Watson to beat Hantuchova in 2 tight sets, Zakopalova to beat Stosur in 2 sets, Ivanovic to beat Bertens in 2 sets, Zheng to beat Vinci in 3 sets, Zvonareva to beat Dellacqua in 3 sets, Flipkens to beat Robson in 3 sets and Errani to beat Goerges in 3 sets
Moo’s Quarter-Final Prediction: Serena v Bouchard
SECOND QUARTER: N. Li (4) V P.Kvitova (6)
In another strong section, Na Li will face an uphill struggle to defend her finals points from last year. The Chinese world number four, who retained her title in Shenzhen last week, plays Ana Konjuh in the first round, who showed a great deal of promise in beating Vinci in Auckland. Li could then face youth again, or experience, against winner of an engaging first round match between Kimiko Date-Krumm (43 years old) or Belinda Bencic (16 years old). Venus Williams is also in this section and has drawn a right old stinker. She plays Ekaterina Makarova in round one, the dangerous leftie who has reached two Grand Slam quarter-finals in Melbourne. It is said she is the Bourne-GOAT as Eastbourne is another one of the tournaments where she rather curiously, always does well. The winner of that match would be likely to meet Sabine Lisicki in the third round with Li a likely opponent in the fourth round for whoever comes through the Venus-Makarova-Lisicki section. I do like Lisicki’s chances of progressing despite only getting one match under her belt in Brisbane.
In the other half of this quarter, a blockbuster fourth round clash between Angelique Kerber and Petra Kvitova would be something to get excited about. Kvitova played some great matches in Sydney, but looked incredibly flat in a surprising loss to Pironkova in the semi-finals. Melbourne is supposed to be very hot next week and that will definitely go against Petra. Fortunately her draw looks reasonable with Luksika Kumkhum in the first round and the likes of Mona Barthel, Monica Puig and Flavia Pennetta nestling around her in the draw, who are either struggling for form or struggling with injuries. Kerber opens up against Jarmila Gajdosova and doesn’t have too many thorns in her section, which is a good thing, because she looked to be struggling in the Sydney final with an injury. Still, I have more faith in Kerber over Kvitova for this particular draw and with the likely playing conditions.
1st Round Predictions: Li to beat Konjuh in 2 tight sets, Bencic to beat Date-Krumm in 3 sets, Venus to beat Makarova in 2 tight sets, Niculescu to beat Peer in 2 tight sets, Lisicki to beat Lucic-Baroni in 2 tight sets, Pfizenmaier to beat Wickmayer in 2 sets, Kerber to beat Gajdosova in 2 sets
Moo’s Quarter-Final Prediction: Li v Kerber
THIRD QUARTER: J.Jankovic (8) V M.Sharapova (3)
The third quarter is less intriguing than the first two, but still respectable. I must say that the women’s draw this year is very even unlike the men’s. Maria Sharapova made a promising start to 2014 at Brisbane and she should be a contender all the way. Her first match is against Bethanie Mattek-Sands; she has a 5-0 head-to-head lead, but Mattek-Sands is a crafty and dangerous player, and more capable than ever of giving a big player a run for their money. Alize Cornet, Carla Suarez Navarro and Dominika Cibulkova are all seeds in this section and I predict all will avoid upsets. Cibulkova has a potentially sticky draw with Francesca Schiavone up first and then either Kristina Mladenovic or Stefanie Voegele in round two. Buoyed by a solid start to the year, I think Cibulkova should make at least the third round.
Jelena Jankovic opens up her Australian Open campaign against Misaki Doi and is projected to meet Magdalena Rybarikova in the third round. Rybarikova hasn’t started 2014 well and she takes on Andrea Petkovic in the first round. Rybarikova beat Petkovic in the Washington final last year, but I expect a role reversal this time round. Peng Shuai is also lurking; it is hard to judge Peng because she is a very competent player as she proved in making the Shenzhen final, but is also incredibly injury prone. Simona Halep is nicely cushioned in a favourable section of the draw. She plays Katarzyna Piter in the first round and like the other seed in her section, Sorana Cirstea, is yet to win a match in 2014. Overall, I was really impressed with Jankovic in Brisbane and she has avoided any real danger. Therefore I could see her have a superb Australian Open.
1st Round Predictions: Jankovic to beat Doi in 2 sets, Peng to beat Nara in 2 sets, Petkovic to beat Rybarikova in 2 sets, Cirstea to beat Erakovic in 2 sets, Lepchenko to beat Tsurenko in 3 sets, Suarez Navarro to beat King in 3 sets, Voegele to beat Mladenovic in 2 tight sets, Cibulkova to beat Schiavone in 2 tight sets, Cornet to beat Hercog in 3 sets and Sharapova to beat Mattek-Sands in 3 sets
Moo’s Quarter-Final Prediction: Jankovic v Sharapova
FOURTH QUARTER: A.Radwanska (5) v V.Azarenka (2)
The fourth quarter is headlined by the defending champion, Victoria Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwanska. Vika opens her defence against Johanna Larsson and could meet Jamie Hampton in the third round. Azarenka and Hampton played a brilliant third round match last year in Melbourne where the crafty American had the Belarusian on the ropes until an injury ended her chances of causing an upset. Azarenka’s fourth round opponent comes from a section of uncertainty. Sloane Stephens picked up a wrist injury at the Hopman Cup. In such a crucial tournament for her with semi-final points to defend, the American is in a race against time to be fit.
Svetlana Kuznetsova is in Stephen’s section but I don’t think she has had enough matches this year to be a legitimate threat. Therefore my wild punt is for Ajla Tomljanovic to do well, another talented prospect for the WTA tour. The Croatian 20-year-old beat Daniela Hantuchova in Sydney and took Keys to a third set tiebreak too. A big server and with as much talent as the likes of Keys and Robson, this may be her time to break through in a section of the draw that could been prone to collapse.
Agnieszka Radwanska and Caroline Woziacki are the star names in the other side of this quarter. Both players have been troubled somewhat with injuries. Wozniacki had to pull out of Brisbane with a shoulder injury and was a little sluggish in Sydney where she lost in the second round to Safarova. Radwanska lost in the first round of Sydney to Mattek-Sands and was looking very laboured on the serve as she continues to nurse a persistent shoulder complaint. Radwanska’s first seeded opponent is likely to be Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, meanwhile Wozniacki’s is Kaia Kanepi. The toughest first round match to call features Kanepi, who will play the Hobart finalist, Garbine Muguruza in round one. The Spaniard, who spent six months on the sidelines after ankle surgery, has made a tremendous comeback to the tour with a quarter-final appearance in Auckland and losing just 18 games in 7 matches on her way to the final in Hobart. It is likely that tiredness could be an issue, but I think she could at least upset Kanepi in the first round.
1st Round Predictions: Radwanska to beat Putintseva in 2 sets, Muguruza to beat Kanepi in 3 sets, Wozniacki to beat Dominguez-Lino in 2 sets, Stephens to beat Shvedova in 3 sets, Kuznetsova to beat Svitolina in 3 sets, Hampton to beat Cepelova in 2 tight sets and Azarenka to beat Larsson in 2 sets
Moo’s Quarter-Final Prediction: Wozniacki v Azarenka
As ever, I will be providing match preview through the two weeks as the draw unfolds. I am going for a few shocks along the way including good runs for Vera Zvonareva, Eugenie Bouchard and Ajla Tomljanovic; however I don’t see any shocks in the final line-up. Perhaps the biggest surprise I am going for is Jankovic to make the semi-finals over Sharapova. I believe we will get another final between Serena and Azarenka, and that is not a bad thing at all!