A Wuhan rematch awaits in the first round for Venus Williams and Johanna Konta; the pair played out a fantastic third round match in China last year with Venus saving a match point to win, 6-4 3-6 7-5. The American player went on to win the title and have a wonderful end to the year, also winning the Elite Trophy tournament in Zhuhai to finish the year inside the world’s top ten. 2016 didn’t start with the same kind of positivity; Venus was well below-par in a first round loss to the 18-year-old, Daria Kasatkina in Auckland, going down, 7-6(3) 3-6 3-6. Venus hit 73 unforced errors in that match.
Konta also comes into Melbourne without any victories; as the number five seed in Shenzhen, she lost in three sets to Qiang Wang, 3-6 6-3 3-6. It is worth noting that Wang went onto qualify for the main draw of the Australian Open, so a player in form. In Hobart, Konta lost out in straight sets to Dominika Cibulkova, 6-7(6) 5-7. In a crazy set that had seen Konta recover from a 1-5 deficit, she was unable to convert on five set points in the first set tiebreak. After such a brilliant run during the second half of 2015, winning 27 of 33 matches, there was always a concern whether Konta could keep this form up. The real indicator is when confidence drops a little and whether she can still tough out the wins mentally. While it’s still too early to tell in 2016, the early signs are not promising.
Head-to-head record: Venus leads Jo, 1-0 in the head-to-head from the match in Wuhan last year.
Analysis: This will be a particularly interesting match to see where Venus’s level is at. Uncertainty surrounds both a little with neither having any match wins in 2016. While I hope to see Konta give a solid account of herself, i’d back Venus, the more dynamic player, to come through in straight sets.
Prediction: V.Williams d. Konta in 2 sets