The finalists from the last two trophy matches in Auckland, Venus Williams, Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki headline a reasonably strong line-up for the International event in Auckland with all eight seeds from the world’s top 45. Always attracting excellent crowds, Auckland is one of the best International events of the year and a fun one to follow. Let’s take a look at the draw….
Talking points of the draw
1. Tough openers for the top seeds: Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki both have testing openers to their 2016 campaign; Venus takes on one of the contenders for the 2015 WTA Newcomer of the year, Daria Kasatkina, while Wozniacki opens against the gutsy, Danka Kovinic.
2. Watch out for the ‘rising stars’: Many of the promising up-and-comers are here in Auckland which make it a very engaging draw. As well as Kasatkina and Kovinic, the likes of Nao Hibino, Jelena Ostapenko and Carina Witthoeft are also present in the main draw.
Venus Williams (1): It comes as no surprise that last year’s Auckland champion, Venus Williams has chosen to defend her title in 2016. Last year she gave a wonderful speech in the trophy ceremony, looking completely at ease and loving her time in Auckland. Venus opens against the world number 75, Daria Kasatkina. The 18-year-old Russian player enjoyed an excellent end to 2015, reaching the third round of the US Open and the semi-finals of her final event of the year in Moscow. It won’t be a straightforward start for Venus…
Ana Ivanovic (2): The first match of Ivanovic’s 2016 season will be against a qualifier with a potential second round match against Johanna Larsson or Jelena Ostapenko. Ivanovic has never lost before in Auckland, having beaten Venus to the title in 2014 in an entertaining three set final. After an injury-affected 2015 and admitting towards the end of last year that her mind was already focused on off-season preparations, optimism should be much higher for Ivanovic in 2016.
Caroline Wozniacki (3): The Dane returns to Auckland after reaching the final in 2015. While the season started in reasonably high spirits, it petered out with a second half that was dominated by injuries. Pictures from Wozniacki’s social media accounts suggest she had an encouraging off-season. Wozniacki’s first match of the year will be against Danka Kovinic, a talented young player, whose best results have been on clay; however she did reach her first WTA final at the end of 2015 in Tianjin.
Svetlana Kuznetsova (4): The Russian player finished in the world’s top 30 for the 11th time in the last 12 years. Of the eight seeds, Kuznetsova has drawn the most challenging first round match against Mona Barthel who was the first player to miss out on a seeding in Auckland. In their only previous match, Kuznetsova beat Barthel in Marbella in 2011, 4-6 7-6(4) 6-4. It is worth noting that Kuznetsova suffered first round losses in Auckland in 2013 and 2015, and is generally a little slow out of the blocks after a lengthy break from the tour.
Sloane Stephens (5): Sloane will play Polona Hercog in the first round of Auckland. It was recently announced that she has stopped working with her coach, Nick Saviano, which came as a surprise considering they had a generally successful 2015. The impact he had on Stephens’s game, particularly her mental application in matches, was evident. While Stephens is still very inconsistent, it would still come as a surprise to see her not reach the quarter-finals. If she reaches the second round, she will play either Carina Witthoeft or Tatjana Maria.
CoCo Vandeweghe (6): An all-American first rounder is set between CoCo Vandeweghe and Irina Falconi. Vandeweghe finished 2015 with her highest season-ending ranking, propelled by a wonderful run to the quarter-finals at Wimbledon. Vandeweghe will have to overturn a 0-2 head-to-head record against Falconi although they haven’t played since 2012. If Vandeweghe wins, she could face a US Open rematch with Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the second round.
Barbora Strycova (7): A semi-finalist in Auckland last year, Strycova will open her 2016 season against a qualifier. After a super start to 2015 that saw her win the most matches she has ever done down under, the wins didn’t come so easily in the second half of the year. Strycova is projected to play a big hitter in the second round; either Julia Goerges or Lucie Hradecka, who meet in a helmets-at-the-ready first rounder.
Alison Van Uytvanck (8): Sneaking the final seed in Auckland, Alison Van Uytvanck will play Alexandra Dulgheru in the her first main draw appearance in Auckland. AVU spoke about her 2015 year in a VAVEL article written by Max Gao (see HERE). She could play Yulia Putintseva in the second round who she has won just four games against in two previous encounters.
International draws are always a little wacky so expect upsets. I like Yulia Putintseva‘s chances of reaching the quarter-finals, opening against Marina Erakovic who is making her comeback following several months out due to a knee injury. In the second quarter of the draw which features Svetlana Kuznetsova and CoCo Vandeweghe, i’d fancy an unseeded player to come through… at the time of writing (waiting for the placement of qualifiers) i’m favouring Bethanie Mattek-Sands. BMS rose over 100 ranking places in 2015 after being sidelined the year before for a hip injury. Towards the end of 2015, it finally started to click for the American player who reached the third round of the US Open and concluded the year in Beijing with five match wins. BMS will play a qualifier in the first round.