Firstly, Happy New Year to all readers of Moo’s Tennis Blog! The off-season is officially over and we are ready to rumble for the new season. The first week is always crazy and frantic with six tournaments and the Hopman Cup. Of the three WTA events taking place next week, Brisbane has once again attracted the best line-up. The defending champion, Serena Williams has chosen to begin her season at the Hopman Cup, but four of the world’s top ten are in attendance along with a host of the WTA “rising stars”. The draw has produced some great first round matches, which comes as no surprise with the depth of the draw. For the first time in 2015, let’s take a look at the draw… 😀
For the second consecutive year, Maria Sharapova will open her season at the Brisbane International. On this occasion, she is the top seed and approaches 2015 with much less uncertainty having been on the comeback trail at the beginning of 2014 due to right shoulder bursitis. Sharapova’s first match of the week will be against either Sabine Lisicki or a qualifier. Assuming Lisicki comes through her opener (which is never a given), this would be a testing opener for Sharapova. Sharapova’s projected quarter-final opponent is Carla Suarez Navarro. All in all, it’s a reasonable draw for the number one seed.
On the opposite side of the draw, Ana Ivanovic is the number two seed in Brisbane. 2014 was Ivanovic’s best year on the WTA tour since 2008 when she also finished at number 5 in the year-end rankings. It was a first title in over two years in Auckland that set Ivanovic up for the whole season. Ivanovic needs to start well again to maintain the momentum and confidence she did so well to sustain in 2014. Ivanovic will begin her 2015 campaign against either Jarmila Gajdosova or Zhang Shuai in the second round. I’d back Gajdosova, the big-hitting Australian, to come through that first round match. She enjoyed a return to form during the second half of 2014 and seems to be in a much better place in her life having recently got engaged and rejoining Twitter. Ivanovic’s projected quarter-final opponent is Andrea Petkovic, who has a tricky opener against Kaia Kanepi. The Estonian player has an excellent record in Brisbane having won the the tournament in 2012 and also leads Petkovic in their head-to-head, 2-0.
The second quarter of the draw could produce a Brisbane rematch between Jelena Jankovic and Angelique Kerber. The pair are seeded to meet in the quarter-finals, the same stage where they played each other last year. Jankovic outlasted Kerber in an entertaining three setter, 6-7 6-3 6-1. Jankovic played one of her best tournaments in Brisbane last year as the fast courts seemed to suit her game. Her first match of the week will be against the wildcard, Ajla Tomljanovic. Kerber’s opener is equally challenging, against Caroline Garcia. The pair are tied at 1-1 in their head-to-head; Garcia won their first match on the clay courts of Madrid via retirement, but in their most recent match on the hard courts of Montreal, a fully fit Kerber was too consistent from the baseline as she won in straight sets, 6-4 6-1.
The third quarter is where things get really interesting. The most intriguing of the first round matches will see Victoria Azarenka take on Karolina Pliskova. Vika is on the comeback trail once more and will be competing for the first time in over three months. After an injury-plagued 2014, Azarenka finds herself at number 31 in the rankings. She is unlikely to be seeded for the Australian Open unless she can go deep in Brisbane where she is defending final points. It’s likely she will be very rusty, but her competitive spirit will always give her a chance. Pliskova received a lot of support in the comments section of my WTA predictions for 2015 and it’s understandable after she ended 2014 in superb form, winning two titles in the fall season at Linz and Seoul. The 22-year-old has enjoyed success at some of the smaller tournaments, but has yet to translate that form into some of the higher stature tournaments. This will be a great opportunity for her to make some early headway in 2015 and establish herself as one to watch.
Dominika Cibulkova and Garbine Muguruza are the two seeds in the third quarter, but both players face an uphill struggle in this draw. Muguruza, who opens against Bethanie Mattek-Sands, could meet the winner of the Azarenka-Pliskova match. Cibulkova has the toughest draw of the eight seeds as she opens against Madison Keys. Cibulkova has never beaten Keys before and if she was to win that match, she could face home favourite Sam Stosur in the second round, which is a horrible match-up for her.
1st Round Predictions: McHale d. Lucic-Baroni in 3 sets, Suarez Navarro d. Pironkova in 2 sets, Kerber d. Garcia in 2 sets (1 tight, 1 easy), Svitolina d. Rybarikova in 2 sets, Jankovic d. Tomljanovic in 3 sets, Azarenka d. Ka.Pliskova in 3 sets, Stosur d. Lepchenko in 2 sets, Keys d. Cibulkova in 2 sets and Kanepi d. Petkovic in 3 sets
Quarter-Final Predictions: Sharapova v Suarez Navarro, Kerber v Jankovic, Azarenka v Keys and Kanepi v Ivanovic
Final Prediction: Sharapova d. Ivanovic