Auckland boasts its strongest ever line-up of WTA players for the 2017 edition of the ASB Classic. Both Williams sisters are present in the draw as Serena joins Venus, who has become a regular in Auckland in recent years. The main draw is bolstered with Caroline Wozniacki and Barbora Strycova, and exciting talent in Naomi Osaka and Ana Konjuh. Let’s take a look at each quarter of the draw…
Serena Williams will open her 2017 campaign at not before 18:30pm local time in Auckland (5.30am UK time) on Monday against the world number 71, Pauline Parmentier. As alluded to before, it’s always difficult to analyse Serena’s draw because at her best, she can beat everyone. Her path to the quarter-finals looks relatively clear with Parmentier or Madison Brengle unlikely to pose a threat, even for a rusty Serena.
The number seven seed, Jelena Ostapenko and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni are potential quarter-final opponents for Serena and could cause some problems although sustained form against the best has never been proven. Ostapenko will be seeking to snap a six match losing streak and win her first match on tour since August when she plays home favourite and wild card, Marina Erakovic in the first round.
The second quarter houses three Czech players and is of particular interest to me! The number four seed, Barbora Strycova opens against a qualifier; if she were to win that match, Strycova would be guaranteed to play a fellow compatriot in the second round as Lucie Safarova takes on Denisa Allertova. Safarova has always struggled against players from her home country and has won just five out of 21 matches against Czech players since the start of 2013. Furthermore, Allertova, is a huge ballstriker and very dangerous when injury-free. This will be a tough match for Lucie but i’m quietly hopeful she can start well and thrive playing more International tournaments in 2017.
The other seed in this section is Kiki Bertens, who spent much of the off-season playing IPTL. First up for the Dutch player is Lauren Davis, who ended 2016 in style with 16 match wins at her last four tournaments. Bertens has won their two previous matches including in Auckland last year. Also, keep an eye on Antonia Lottner who has received a wild card into the main draw. The talented 20-year-old has had little experience on the WTA tour but appears to be making the transition to the main tour in what is her first appearance in the tournaments down under.
As the number three seed, Caroline Wozniacki will take on Nicole Gibbs in the first round. The pair have become friendly of late after both visiting Necker Island in the off-season so we can probably expect a nice handshake from this match! While Wozniacki has been a regular in Auckland, the number six seed, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has switched her allegiance from Brisbane to Auckland and faces a tricky opener against last year’s finalist, Julia Goerges. Naomi Broady has quarter-final points to defend in Auckland and will open against Danka Kovinic; their only previous match ended in a third set tiebreak.
The fourth quarter of the ASB Classic draw is the one that excites me the most with former champion, Venus Williams as the number two seed and exciting talents, Ana Konjuh and Naomi Osaka lurking. There’s the potential for a second round match between Venus and Naomi, which would be an awesome way to kick off the new season!
Konjuh is another player i’m eager to watch in 2017 and the fact she is a seed in the draw highlights the strides she made last year. In a first time match-up, Konjuh opens her Auckland campaign against Kirsten Flipkens, who could be a tricky, rhythm-disrupting opponent. Keep an eye out for Yanina Wickmayer in this draw who has lost her last three matches in Auckland, but still has a superb record at this tournament as a former champion in 2010 and finalist in 2011 and 2013.
Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki have both become regulars at the ASB Classic and contested the 2015 final, which Venus won. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has changed up her Australian Open preparations in 2017 and is playing Auckland for the first time since 2009.
First Round Polls
Considering that Serena hasn’t played since the US Open, there’s great uncertainty as to how she will perform and more importantly, whether she will be injury-free. For that reason, I haven’t picked Serena as my champion, not that I see anyone in her path as being particularly dangerous. From this draw, I like Wozniacki to sweep up from the bottom half and for Konjuh and/or Osaka to stamp their authority early in 2017.
Champion: Caroline Wozniacki
Who do you think will win Auckland? Have your say in the tournament poll below and as always, comments are appreciated!