After a two week break, probably the longest blogging silence of the year, I’m ready to launch back into the joys of tennis for the last time in 2015. I had a wonderful holiday in Switzerland and France… The scenery, the weather, the food, the bakeries, the CHOCOLATE. Oh it was all good. The highlight was going up the Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix which was such an amazing experience and I would recommend to everyone if you get the chance. My phone photos (still need to process my fancy ones!) don’t really do it justice but here are my best attempts...
Before this turns into a travel blog… tennnnnnnis! I was burnt out after the US Open so the break has done me good. I’ve been following the tennis scores over the past few weeks and managed to watch bits and bobs with varying success depending on wi-fi connections in European hotels. Tokyo had a stunning line-up of quarter-finals with seven of the eight seeds making the last eight. The one time I don’t do predictions and I would probably have had a lot of green in my draw! I watched Bencic-Wozniacki on Saturday morning and was so impressed by how BB played and essentially dismantled Caro’s game.
So onto Wuhan… Simona Halep is the number one seed in Wuhan and arrives following a quarter-final loss in Guangzhou to the eventual finalist, Denisa Allertova. While the loss was surprising, I don’t think much can be read into it. Personally, I was more baffled that Halep opted to play Guangzhou with Wuhan and Beijing coming up in consecutive weeks and her place in Singapore already confirmed. Halep’s first match of the week in Wuhan will be against a Russian player; either Svetlana Kuznetsova or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Kuznetsova leads Pavlyuchenkova in their head-to-head, 3-0 although the pair haven’t played since 2010. Kuznetsova had a respectable run on the clay and grass, but failed to carry that form into the two subsequent Slams. A leg injury curtailed her summer hard court season but she returned last week in Guangzhou where she reached the quarter-finals. Pavlyuchenkova lost in the second round of the US Open and later posted on her Facebook page that it “was not fun being sick”. After a miserable first six months, Pavs turned it around somewhat in the summer with a semi-final in Baku, a final in Washington and a quarter-final in Cincy. Pavs hasn’t played since New York and I’d back Kuznetsova to be the stronger player in this match-up.
Carla Suárez Navarro, Agnieszka Radwanska, Venus Williams, Andrea Petkovic and Victoria Azarenka are all located in a packed first quarter of the draw. Azarenka, who opens against a qualifier, Lauren Davis, has beaten a top 10 player at her last three tournaments. She reached the quarter-finals of the US Open where she lost out in an entertaining three setter to Halep (a potential third round opponent in Wuhan). It’s been a decent year for Azarenka but she has yet to have that big breakthrough tournament following a fall in the rankings after an injury-ravaged 2014 campaign. In one of the marquee first round matches, Venus and Aga will meet in the first round. The pair both experienced losses at the hands of Caroline Garcia last year in Wuhan. Venus leads Aga in their head-to-head, 7-4. Aga claimed three straight set wins in a row, but Venus has won their two 2015 match-ups in Melbourne and Doha. Radwanska has had one of her best weeks of the year in Tokyo, sailing through to the final without dropping a set.
Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova are seeded to meet in the quarter-finals of Wuhan. Kvitova is the defending champion after beating Eugenie Bouchard in the Wuhanbledon final last year. Petra’s had a strange old year; a bout of Mononucleosis was confirmed after Wimbledon. After a couple of first round losses, Petra won New Haven for the third time in the last four years, making a characteristically dazzling run from literally nowhere. She continued her solid form with a first ever US Open quarter-final. Kvitova will play Daria Gavrilova or Teliana Pereira in the second round of Wuhan and is seeded to meet the US Open finalist, Roberta Vinci in the third round. Random thought… I dreamt last night that Vinci won the US Open!
Pliskova reached the quarter-finals in Tokyo last week; she played a really positive match against Kurumi Nara, winning 6-2 6-4, but suffered her fourth straight sets loss in a row to Agnieszka Radwanska. There’s definitely a sense of burn-out with Pliskova who has played 21 tournaments this year and went down to Anna Tatishvili in less than an hour at the US Open. Her section of the draw features Sam Stosur and Elina Svitolina; the latter has made a steady rise up the rankings in 2015 from 29 to 16. The next step will be the hardest for Svitolina and she’s yet to have that really big breakthrough tournament with multiple wins over top ten players.
The third quarter could yield a third match-up in a month between Dominika Cibulkova and Ana Ivanovic. The Serb was thwarted three times by Garcia in the first few months and now it seems Cibulkova is her latest nemesis. Cibulkova defeated Ivanovic at the US Open, 6-3 3-6 6-3 and then won again last week in Tokyo, 7-6(5) 6-3. The pair could play in the second round if they both win their opening matches; Cibulkova plays Madison Brengle, while Ivanovic takes on Alexandra Dulgheru.
Garbiñe Muguruza, Caroline Wozniacki and Madison Keys are also dwelling in the third quarter. Muguruza’s first match of the week will be against Sloane Stephens or Alison Riske. Muguruza recently started working with Sam Sumyk and has won just two matches since Wimbledon, hitting a barrage of unforced errors in her recent matches. If it were to happen, Muguruza v Stephens would be a first career match-up. Stephens has had a significantly improved season, posting a 30-17 W-L record in 2015 (compared to 20-19 W-L record in 2014). However, there are still ups and downs with the American player who lost to Aliaksandra Sasnovich, 6-3 6-2 in the quarter-finals of Seoul last week.
Keys and Wozniacki are seeded to meet in the third round which would be a first ever match-up. Keys has played the big tournaments very well this year (14-4 W-L record at the Slams) but been slightly underwhelming elsewhere (13-12 in all other tournaments). In my opinion, Keys is a future Slam champion because she has that ability to zone at an individual tournament. Her consistency is still very questionable and the top ten still seems some way off. Wozniacki enjoyed her best win since May in defeating Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals of Tokyo but couldn’t keep building, going down in comprehensive fashion to Belinda Bencic. Wozniacki’s first match of the week will be against Mariana Duque-Marino or Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, the latter who has won 18 tour matches since Wimbledon.
The draw is bookended by Maria Sharapova who is set to make her first appearance on tour since Wimbledon. A leg injury has kept her out since then but the request of a wildcard for Wuhan is a positive sign for Sharapova who has already qualified for Singapore. Sharapova’s second round match will be against Barbora Strycova or Timea Babos. Her draw looks decent with Sara Errani a projected third round opponent. Errani opens against Caroline Garcia who had an excellent run in Wuhan last year. This first rounder is bound to be eventful…
Angelique Kerber is the number 6 seed and will play either the Guangzhou champion, Jelena Jankovic or Heather Watson in the second round. Kerber’s had a good year, breaking her duck from last year in Premier finals to win four titles on four different surfaces in 2015. It would have been a great year if it hadn’t been for the Slams where she failed to make it past the third round. Bencic is also lurking in this section of the draw and she is arguably the form player on tour. At the time of writing, Bencic has posted a 29-6 W-L record since the start of the grass court season including titles in Eastbourne and Toronto (and potentially Tokyo). Bencic’s dismantling of Wozniacki in the semi-finals of Tokyo was a supreme display, one that keeps Bencic firmly in the running for Singapore which would be a magnificent achievement after making such a slow start to the year.
I’ve gone for Maria… she hasn’t played for a long time but the draw is there for her to shake off early rust. I think she’ll be refreshed and ready to go, especially as she opted for the wildcard. Petra always does well in China but of course she’s always prone to a shocker. If Maria falls, Angie or Belinda look to be the most convincing players for a deep run.
Final Prediction: Sharapova d. Kvitova
Once Tokyo and Seoul have concluded, i’ll post some full predictions…