GRAND SLAM TIME. The Australian Open promises to be a fascinating Slam for the women with a long list of legitimate contenders. Once again, Serena Williams headlines the draw and is the bookmakers favourite… based on the first two weeks of the 2015 season, this looks to be one of the most open Slams for quite sometime. As always, Moo’s Tennis Blog will be following the tournament with regular posts on a daily basis. You can follow me on Twitter (@MooTennisBlog) and on Facebook (Moo’s Tennis Blog page). I’d love to hear your thoughts on the draw and even more so for a Grand Slam. If you agree, if you disagree, then make yourself heard 😀
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FIRST QUARTER: S.Williams (1) v C.Wozniacki (8)
Serena Williams heads into the Australian Open after an unconvincing series of performances at the Hopman Cup. Although she managed to reach the final with John Isner, her form was erratic with losses to Agnieszka Radwanska (6-4 6-7 6-1) and Eugenie Bouchard (6-2 6-1). The Hopman Cup is essentially an exhibition, but it was still a surprise to see Serena struggling, particularly on her serve. The Australian Open hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Serena with injuries derailing her title bid for the last couple of years. Serena has won five Australian Open titles, the most recent of those coming in 2010. Despite all of this, it is hard to write off Serena and her best is still better than everyone else’s best. The question remains whether Serena will be able to bring that to table over the next two weeks in Melbourne.
Serena will open her 2015 Grand Slam campaign against Alison Van Uytvanck. Her section possesses some intrigue with Vera Zvonareva potentially awaiting in the second round. The pair’s last three matches have all been on grass. The first seed that Serena could run into is Elina Svitolina, who had a great week in Brisbane, reaching the quarter-finals and defeating Angelique Kerber. Serena’s potential fourth round opponent would come from a section featuring Jelena Jankovic and Garbine Muguruza. In her only match of the year so far, Jankovic laboured to a straight sets loss to Ajla Tomljanovic. In press afterwards, Jelena discussed that she had been struggling with a serious back injury. Jankovic’s first match will be against Timea Bacsinszky, who reached the final in Shenzhen… this has upset written all over it for me. This could open up a window of opportunities for Muguruza, assuming she’s not bothered by the ankle injury, which forced her to pull out of Brisbane and flared up in Sydney. In fact, i’ve got Muguruza going deep in my draw at the expense of Serena. I’m not sure whether this will be regarded as pure madness, but I am going on instinct!
When scrolling through the draw, the big “woah” moment was the duo of matches at the bottom of the first quarter. Victoria Azarenka was the most prominent of the unseeded players and she drew another dangerous floater in Sloane Stephens. This will be the third consecutive year that Azarenka and Stephens have played each other at the Australian Open. Their previous matches came much deeper in the tournament and were both laced with drama – Azarenka’s MTO in 2013 and back-to-back pegging in 2014 were notable highlights.
Video by AustralianOpen TV
Azarenka against Stephens has all the ingredients for a blockbuster first round match. I’d take Azarenka to win that in straight sets. The winner of this match will play either Caroline Wozniacki or Taylor Townsend in the second round. Wozniacki defeated her first round opponent in Melbourne, Townsend in straight sets in Auckland, but had to save set points in the second set. To add to her early draw woes, if Wozniacki makes it through her first two matches, she is seeded to meet Barbora Zahlavova Strycova in the third round. BZS beat Wozniacki at Wimbledon last year and nearly did the same in Auckland with Woz just about surviving, coming back from a set and a break down.
This first quarter is pretty loaded and I haven’t even mentioned the finalist from last year yet, Dominika Cibulkova. The world ranked number 11(and likely for not much longer) opens against Kirsten Flipkens. Cibulkova won one round in Sydney, but there is nothing to suggest in her recent performances that she is set for another deep run past the quarter-finals. She is set to play Heather Watson or Tsvetana Pironkova in the second round, who both went deep in the draws of Hobart and Sydney respectively. This is a killer of a draw for Woz, who may or may not be nursing the wrist injury she picked up in Sydney. I’d fancy a Wozniacki v Azarenka second rounder. Both have their concerns, but the one that bothers me the most is the lack of matches for Vika…
1st Round Predictions: S.Williams d. Van Uytvanck in 2 sets, Svitolina d. Cepelova in 2 sets, Muguruza d. Erakovic in 3 sets, S.Zheng d. Hantuchova in 3 sets, Bacsinszky d. Jankovic in 2 sets, Cibulkova d. Flipkens in 2 sets, Watson d. Pironkova in 2 sets, Azarenka d. Stephens in 2 tight sets and Wozniacki d. Townsend in 2 sets
Quarter-Final Prediction: Muguruza v Wozniacki
SECOND QUARTER: P.Kvitova (4) v A.Radwanska (6)
Petra Kvitova heads into the Australian Open with opportunities to gain a significant batch of ranking points. In 2014, Kvitova lost in the first round of the Australian Open to the then, world number 88, Luksika Kumkhum. Kvitova won the Apia International in Sydney on Friday, beating Karolina Pliskova in two tiebreak sets. Kvitova’s first match of the week will be against Richel Hogenkamp and the first seed she could meet is Casey Dellacqua. The home favourite, Dellacqua is defending last 16 points and could face Madison Keys in the second round. Keys was forced to pull out of Sydney with a shoulder injury, but if she’s fit, her brutal brand of baseline hitting could see her win at least a couple of rounds.
This eighth of the draw also features the number one ranked Australian in Sam Stosur. She faces Monica Niculescu, which is likely to be TORTUOUS. In Stosur’s favour, she has a good record against Niculescu (4-0 head-to-head lead) and the slicing Romanian has begun the year with two losses. The number 13 seed, Andrea Petkovic opens against the Hobart finalist, Madison Brengle. Perhaps of more concern is Kaia Kanepi who defeated Petko in the first round of Brisbane in a tight three setter. The pair could play each other in the second round.
The number six seed, Agnieszka Radwanska is projected to meet Kvitova in the quarter-finals. Heading into her first Slam under the watchful gaze of Martina Navratilova, Radwanska has made an impressive start to the year. A loss to Alize Cornet at the Hopman Cup was cancelled out by a first ever victory of any kind against Serena Williams. Radwanska then avenged her loss to Cornet in Sydney before falling in three sets to Garbine Muguruza. In the first round of the Australian Open, Radwanska will play Kurumi Nara, who reached the semi-finals of Hobart. In their only previous match, Radwanska defeated Nara on the hard courts of Cincy, 6-2 6-2. There are some dangers lurking for Radwanska with the first of those likely to come in the third round against Varvara Lepchenko. In their last two matches, Lepchenko has come through in three sets to win in Stanford and Seoul. In addition, Lepchenko played some brilliant stuff in Brisbane, beating two top 30 players and giving Ana Ivanovic a tough match in the semi-finals.
Venus Williams is lurking in this section and will be one to watch after winning Auckland with a succession of confident and dominant displays. Venus declared her love for Auckland, but the Australian Open remains the one that has eluded her. She hasn’t reached the quarter-finals since 2010. In a repeat of her first round match from Wimbledon last year, Venus opens against Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor. Her potential third round opponent is Flavia Pennetta; the Italian player has drawn another stinker of a first round against the unpredictable, Camila Giorgi. In her first match of the year, Giorgi served 23 double faults and needed a third set tiebreak to get past Storm Sanders in Hobart. However, write off the engimatic Italian at your peril. Pennetta hasn’t exactly started the year in vintage form and Giorgi loves an upset. A third round match-up between Pennetta and Venus would be entertaining, as would Giorgi and Venus (MAKE IT HAPPEN TENNIS GODS), but also watch out for Tereza Smitkova.
1st Round Predictions: Barthel d. Vekic in 3 sets, Stosur d. Niculescu in 3 sets, Vandeweghe d. Schiavone in 2 sets, Petkovic d. Brengle in 2 sets, Giorgi d. Pennetta in 3 sets, Smitkova d. Lucic-Baroni in 2 sets, Rogers d. Tomljanovic in 3 sets, and Radwanska d. Nara in 2 sets
Quarter-Final Prediction: Kvitova v Radwanska
THIRD QUARTER: A.Ivanovic (5) V S.Halep (3)
Ana Ivanovic will begin her Australian Open campaign against Lucie Hradecka. It was at this event last year when Ivanovic earnt her first ever win over Serena Williams in a barnstorming fourth round match. Unfortunately, she was unable to back it up in the next round as she lost to Eugenie Bouchard in the quarters. Ivanovic began the year reaching the final in Brisbane. Ivanovic struggled in the first couple of rounds, but she did something that she hasn’t always done: winning when not playing at her best. The first seed that Ivanovic could play is Belinda Bencic. In Sydney, Bencic began the year with a rough and ragged performance, losing 6-3 6-0 to Daria Gavrilova in the first round. Her first round match in Melbourne against Julia Goerges could be an awkward one if she fails to find her rhythm again.
The most intriguing aspect to this section is a potential third round match between Ekaterina Makarova and Karolina Pliskova. Makarova, aka the Bourne GOAT, has a great record in Melbourne, reaching the last 16 for the past four years including two quarter-final appearances. Of all the up-and-comers, Pliskova is the player who has made the most impression in the first two weeks of 2015. Reaching the final of Sydney and beating Victoria Azarenka in Brisbane, her composure and clean groundstrokes have convinced many that she’s destined for great things. However, she has yet to make it past the third round of a Grand Slam. As much as i’m beginning to board the Pliskova bandwagon, Makarova remains a consistently underrated player and *if* the pair were to meet in the third round, I think that would be a really tight match. I think I would even sway very narrowly towards Makarova.
As the number three seed, Simona Halep has a pretty favourable draw. Opting to start the year in Shenzhen, Halep quietly went about her business as most of the attention centered on Brisbane and Auckland. She won her first title of the year, winning ten straight sets in a row. A virus forced her to pull out of Sydney but otherwise, Halep seems to be in a good place heading into the Australian Open where she reached her first Grand Slam quarter-final in 2014. Halep will play Karin Knapp in the first round. Perhaps her biggest test before the quarter-finals could come in the second round against Jarmila Gajdosova. The Aussie world number 68 reached the quarter-finals of Sydney, beating two top 20 players and pushing the eventual champion, Petra Kvitova to three sets. When confident and healthy, Gajdosova’s ball striking abilities are up there with the best of them. Other players of note in this eighth of the draw include Sabine Lisicki, Sara Errani and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. All three players have yet to win a match in 2015. Lisicki opens against Kristina Mladenovic, meanwhile Pavs plays Yanina Wickmayer. I’d be surprised if both seeded players come out unscathed.
1st Round Predictions: Sanders d. Koukalova in 3 tight sets, Bencic d. Goerges in 3 sets, Vinci d. Jovanovski in 3 sets, Wickmayer d. Pavlyuchenkova in 3 sets, Lisicki d. Mladenovic in 3 tight sets, Gajdosova d. Dulgheru in 2 sets and Halep d. Knapp in 2 sets
Quarter-Final Prediction: Makarova v Halep
FOURTH QUARTER: E.Bouchard (7) V M.Sharapova (2)
Maria Sharapova‘s first match at the Australian Open will be against Petra Martic. The Russian world number two began the year with a first title in Brisbane, defeating Ana Ivanovic in an entertaining three set final. Sharapova displayed some stellar form during the first three rounds, but she had to work exceptionally hard to fight off Ivanovic and overcome some sticky moments in her service games. On paper, this is a good draw for Maria. There’s no-one that has particularly troubled her in the past, but the quality of opponents should steadily increase through the rounds. The first seed she could meet is Zarina Diyas, who has a bagged a seeding at a Grand Slam for the first time in her career.
Sharapova is projected to meet Lucie Safarova in the last 16. All in all, it’s a pretty respectable draw for Lucie. Although it’s been four and a half years since Lucie last earnt a win against Maria, she has pushed her to three sets in their last three matches. To get to that stage, Lucie will need to overcome Yaroslava Shvedova in the first round. Shvedova is a tricky opponent and she won through three rounds of qualifying in Brisbane. In their only previous match three years ago, Shvedova beat Safarova in straight sets in Cincy. Safarova is seeded to meet Peng Shuai in the third round. Peng snapped a four match losing streak to Safarova en route to reaching the semi-finals of the US Open. In Lucie’s favour, Peng hasn’t come close to discovering that form again. I believe that a last 16 showing would be a successful week for Lucie, but if she believes, then going deeper is certainly not beyond her.
The uphill struggle of defending 3,100 ranking points at the Grand Slams begins in Melbourne for Eugenie Bouchard. In 2014, Bouchard was the most consistent WTA performer at the Slams, beginning the year with a semi-final appearance at the Australian Open. Bouchard’s first rounder is against Anna-Lena Friedsam, who retired hurt from her first qualifying match in Sydney. Potentially looming in the second round is Daria Gavrilova. If she overcomes Kiki Bertens in the first round, this could be one of the pick of the second round matches. Building on matches from the Australian Open Wildcard Playoff in December, Gavrilova lost twice to Angelique Kerber in Brisbane and Sydney, displaying some dogged resistance in their most recent match. Speaking of Kerber, the German world number nine is projected to meet Bouchard in the fourth round. Azarenka against Stephens probably tops the bill for the best first round match, but a close second for me is the match featuring Svetlana Kuznetsova and Caroline Garcia. Both players haven’t won a match in 2015, but can be world class on their day. Of course, this is likely to be a huge mess but it should still be thoroughly entertaining…
1st Round Predictions: Bouchard d. Friedsam in 2 sets, Gavrilova d. Bertens in 2 sets, Garcia d. Kuznetsova in 3 sets, Siniakova d. Vesnina in 3 sets, Kerber d. Begu in 2 tight sets, Safarova d. Shvedova in 3 sets and Konjuh d. Rybarikova in 2 sets
Quarter-Final Prediction: Bouchard v Sharapova
The first Grand Slam is always a tough one to make valid predictions, particularly after all the shocks that happened last year. Pre-draw, Wozniacki was my tip for the title. Two things worry me though… the draw and her wrist. Draws are not the be-all and end-all though and if Caro comes through the first four rounds, then she will be stronger for it. I’m taking a risk and going with Caroline to reach the final. Sharapova comes in healthy and in good form. The thing that concerns me with Maria is whether the draw is actually tough enough in terms of giving her enough competitive matches before hitting the higher quality players later on… in the end, my head chose Maria.
FINAL PREDICTION: Sharapova d. Wozniacki