This post previews six of the first round matches from the 2016 Brisbane International main draw including Sunday’s matches featuring Timea Bacsinszky v Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Alizé Cornet v Kristina Mladenovic. In case you missed it, you can read a (newly revamped!) preview of the full main draw on mootennis.com HERE.
1. Maria Sharapova (3) v Ekaterina Makarova
A rematch of last year’s Australian Open semi-final between Maria Sharapova and Ekaterina Makarova is one of many intriguing first round clashes at the Brisbane International. Sharapova missed a large chunk of the 2015 season between Wimbledon and Wuhan, but returned in time to end the year in spirited fashion with five top 11 wins in Singapore and Prague. Makarova’s year was also cut short due to a persistent leg injury; after reaching the second week of the US Open, she did not play again in 2015.
H2H Record: Sharapova leads Makarova in their H2H, 6-0, with her last five wins all coming in straight sets. Three of those wins came down under in Melbourne at the Australian Open with Sharapova winning their last match at the 2015 Australian Open, 6-3 6-2, in a one-sided and predictable affair.
Analysis: On paper this is a really brutal opener for both players with Makarova occupying a spot in the world’s top ten during parts of 2015. While Makarova continues to float under the radar as one of the most competent hitters on tour, she never seems to get up for this match-up, allowing Sharapova to dictate both physically and mentally. Sharapova’s normally quick out of the blocks and I think she will come through this match in relatively routine fashion.
Prediction: Sharapova d. Makarova in 2 sets
2. Belinda Bencic (7) v Sara Errani
This time last year, Belinda Bencic was still limited in the tournaments that she could play because of her age. One year on, 18 years old, Bencic has free rein and even greater expectation on her shoulders after a dazzling second half to 2015 that saw her notch up six top ten wins; so much so, Bencic is the seed in this all top 20 match-up against Sara Errani. The Italian player had her lowest ranking finish since 2011 but is still one of those players that normally upsets your favourite player…
H2H Record: In their only previous match-up, Bencic surprised Errani in Charleston, coming from a set down to prevail, 4-6 6-2 6-1 en route to reaching her first WTA tour semi-final.
Analysis: Bencic took a while to get going in 2015 so it will be interesting to see how she starts this year. A long stint in the IPTL may give her the early edge. While fast surfaces like Brisbane never suit the clay-loving Errani, she is never one to be written off lightly. I’d go for three sets with Bencic pulling through.
Prediction: Bencic d. Errani in 3 sets
3. Angelique Kerber (4) v Camila Giorgi
In 2015, Angelique Kerber opened her year in Brisbane against one of the biggest hitters on tour, Caroline Garcia. One year on, Kerber is faced with a similar task as she will play Camila Giorgi. Kerber had an excellent 2015 season, qualifying for the WTA Finals in Singapore by virtue of her four Premier titles on four different surfaces. Giorgi remains an enigmatic character on tour; her flat, aggressive strokes can unsettle any player on tour but her lack of a Plan B and top spin (!) make her a consistent flight risk.
H2H Record: In their only previous match-up, Kerber defeated Giorgi in straight sets in Wuhan last year, 6-2 6-4.
Analysis: While there is no doubt that Giorgi’s best is good enough to overwhelm Kerber, I think this is a decent match-up for the German player. Her ability to defend, get to balls that most players can’t imagine retreiving, and redirect pace, should give her the edge. I’m going for a tight two setter.
Prediction: Kerber d. Giorgi in 2 sets
4. Timea Bacsinszky (5) v Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
While her year ended at the same time of most players, Timea Bacsinszky’s last tournament in Luxembourg concluded in miserable fashion with a retirement due to a knee injury. Social media updates would imply that the knee has healed well although there is still a sense of uncertainty going into 2016. Bacsinszky has a challenging opener against the 2013 Brisbane finalist, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. The Russian player had a super end to 2015, reaching finals in Washington and Moscow, and winning her 8th WTA title in Linz.
H2H Record: Bacsinszky leads Pavlyuchenkova in the head-to-head, 2-0; however those matches took place in 2007 and 2008.
Analysis: Bacsinszky had a brilliant 2015 season which most people, even Timea herself, couldn’t have dreamt of. Backing up such a big year will be tough; this match-up will not only give an indication of whether the knee injury is healed but also Timea’s current mental status. Pavs often struggles to beat the players she is expected to beat, but rises to the occasion against the seeded players. I’m going for the upset…
Prediction: Pavlyuchenkova d. Bacsinszky in 2 sets
5. Alizé Cornet v Kristina Mladenovic
During the course of the 2015 season, Kristina Mladenovic overtook Alizé Cornet to become the number one ranked Frenchwoman on tour. The pair will kick off 2016 with a fascinating first round match-up. As the rankings suggest, both players went in opposite directions in 2015; Mladenovic had a breakthrough year in singles, cracking the world’s top 30 in singles and reaching her first Grand Slam quarter-final, while Cornet struggled for wins, unable to tough out the three set wins that epitomised her 2014 season.
H2H Record: This will be a first career match-up between Mladenovic and Cornet.
Analysis: This is a tough one to call; Mladenovic played an exhausting IPTL schedule, barely taking an off-season. While this could make her more match ready, it could also have increased her likelihood of risking injury. While Mladenovic is known for being more erratic, she has the weapons that could make a difference against Cornet on the quick hard courts of Brisbane.
Prediction: Mladenovic d. Cornet in 3 sets
6. Roberta Vinci (8) v Jelena Jankovic
Two of the veterans on the WTA tour, Roberta Vinci and Jelena Jankovic, will play for the eight time on tour in the first round of Brisbane. It may come as a surprise that Vinci is the seed in this one; the Italian player went hurtling up the rankings after a run to the US Open final, which included the shock upset of Serena Williams in the semi-finals. Jankovic secured her 12th consecutive top 30 finish on the WTA tour and ended it with two titles in Guangzhou and Hong Kong, beating Venus Williams and Angelique Kerber back-to-back at the latter.
H2H Record: Jankovic leads Vinci in the H2H, 5-2; the pair played each other three times in 2013 with Vinci securing a third set tiebreak victory in Sydney and Jankovic winning their last two matches including their most recent encounter in Cincinnati, 6-0 6-4.
Analysis: The pair have played a few close matches and this being the first match of the year, with plenty of rust expected, i’d fancy to follow that theme. Vinci can play some wonderful tennis but i’d have a bit more faith in Jankovic displaying the more consistent performance and therefore, bagging the win.
Prediction: Jankovic d. Vinci in 3 sets