The first main draw has been released and the 2017 tennis season is finally upon us! I was ready for the off-season but equally, i’m ready to dive right in with another season of WTA goodness. This post previews the 2017 Brisbane International which includes the world number one, Angelique Kerber and five of the world’s top ten. I feel a bit sorry for Brisbane as the tournament has suffered a spate of noteworthy withdrawals in recent years and in 2017, their entry list has been somewhat trumped by Auckland. However, it is still a stacked draw with plenty of engaging first round match-ups.
Are you ready for the tennis overload to begin?! Let’s take a look at the draw with a slightly revamped preview…
Angelique Kerber has become a regular at the Brisbane International in recent years and this will be her fifth consecutive appearance at the tournament. Unfamiliar for the German player is that this time around she will start at the top of the drawsheet as the number one seed. Kerber was the shining light of 2016 as she soared to world number one thanks to two Slam titles. 2017 marks the start of a new year with the slate wiped clean and Kerber as the one to beat. After a bye in the first round, Kerber will open her campaign against either the 20-year-old wildcard, Ashleigh Barty or a qualifier.
If Kerber advances to the quarter-finals, she’ll face the winner of a tricky quartet of young players. The world number one is seeded to meet the number six seed, Elina Svitolina, who is sporting a new team behind her in 2017 including Gabriel Urpi, Thierry Ascione and Andrew Bettles. Svitolina opens against the Olympic gold medalist, Monica Puig in arguably the most fascinating of all the first round matches. The winner of that match will play the winner of another first round match between Eugenie Bouchard and Shelby Rogers, who are set to meet for the first time since Rogers dished out a double helping of bagels in a 6-0 2-6 6-0 victory in Montreal back in 2014.
Karolina Pliskova begins against the feisty, Yulia Putintseva in the second quarter of the draw. The draw looks reasonable at first glance but features some subtle pitfalls as all five players (sixth is a qualifier yet to be determined) have beaten Pliskova before.
Two even-looking match-ups are set for the first round; the number eight seed, Roberta Vinci who decided in the off-season to continue playing having previously hinted she may retire in 2016, opens against Lesia Tsurenko. The Ukrainian player has lost her two previous matches to Vinci but ended the 2016 season in excellent form, winning 15 out of her last 19 matches. The number 30 and 40 ranked players in the world, Ekaterina Makarova and Misaki Doi respectively, will also clash in the first round. Like the other wildcard in the draw, Donna Vekic has drawn a qualifier first up.
A Singapore round-robin rematch is on the cards if projected quarter-finalists, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Garbiñe Muguruza navigate their way through their first two matches. Muguruza will take on home favourite Sam Stosur in the first round, while Kuznetsova has a potentially challenging opener against the up-and-coming American, Louisa Chirico.
Kuznetsova had previously been a slow-starter on tour but in 2016, she became a dab hand at getting past the first hurdle and hasn’t lost her first match at a tournament since June in Eastbourne. This quarter also features a pair of qualifiers playing each other in the first round and an all top 30 clash between Irina-Camelia Begu and Daria Kasatkina.
Dominika Cibulkova bookends the Brisbane draw as the number two seed and will play either Zhang Shuai or Laura Siegemund in the second round after a bye. This is uncharted territory for Cibulkova to be seeded so high at a Premier tournament; Zhang’s clean ball striking or Siegemund’s dynamic nature and variety will likely provide an early challenge.
Elena Vesnina is the number seven seed, but doesn’t stand out in a quartet that features Alizé Cornet, Christina McHale and Sara Errani. This time last year Vesnina was ranked outside of the world’s top 100 and barely got into Brisbane qualifying, let alone the main draw. The Russian player faces off against Cornet in the first round; Cornet has won four of their six encounters but Vesnina prevailed in their most recent match in Strasbourg in 2015, 3-6 6-0 6-3. Errani and McHale will meet in another sure-to-be tightly contested first round match.
Records in Brisbane
This year’s Brisbane International is guaranteed to produce a first-time champion. Of the eight seeds, Angelique Kerber has the best record in Brisbane as the only player to have reached a final. Garbiñe Muguruza hasn’t played a completed match in Brisbane, while Kuznetsova is making her first ever appearance at the Brisbane International in her 16th year on the main tour. Karolina Pliskova’s only win in Brisbane was the best match of the 2015 tournament as she saved a match point in a first round thriller against Victoria Azarenka.
First Round Matches – Three to Watch (or follow on live scores 😂)
Svitolina (6) v Puig – The pair are tied at 1-1 in their head-to-head with Puig winning their most recent encounter in Rome in 2016, 6-1 4-6 6-1. This will be a stern test of Svitolina’s credentials against a more powerful player on a speedy court. My instinct when I first saw this match-up was that Puig’s fearlessness might grab an early upset.
Muguruza (4) v Stosur – From a Slam semi-final to a Premier first rounder, this is a match-up that highlights the quality of the Brisbane draw. Stosur will be seeking to snap a six match losing streak from the end of the 2016 season. Muguruza will be hoping to get off to a more encouraging start than 2016 as she was forced to retire from her first match in Brisbane due to a foot injury. Even with Muguruza’s 2016 inconsistencies, it would be quite the upset if Stosur could sustain a high enough level in front of a home crowd to topple the number four seed.
Pliskova (3) v Putintseva – In a first match-up on the WTA tour (the pair have played previously on the ITF circuit back in 2012), this should be a zany clash of polar-opposite styles. Pliskova’s game is the far superior and the court surface should suit her game better; however, I think that early season rust and Putitnseva’s doggedness and intensity might get her a set.
First Round Polls
In a high-quality draw, my overwhelming feeling looking at the early match-ups is to expect some upsets! I like Kerber’s draw as she will likely get a workable first match to shake off early rust before what will be a testing quarter-final to bring her up to speed. My dark horses in this draw are Zhang Shuai and Ekaterina Makarova.
Final Prediction: Kerber d. Zhang
Who do you think will win Brisbane? Have your say in the tournament poll below and as always, comments are appreciated!