The first weeks is in the books (barely) and we’re straight onto week two of the 2017 season with main draw action for Sydney and Hobart both starting on Sunday. This is the final week before the first Major of 2017 in Melbourne, which starts in NINE days time. Sydney has once again attracted a stellar line-up and produced some fantastic first round matches. Six of the world’s top ten are here including the world number one, Angelique Kerber. Let’s take a look at the draw…
*Please note that this post has been updated to reflect Karolina Pliskova’s withdrawal from Sydney*
*Please note (again!) that since writing this preview, Elina Svitolina and Sloane Stephens have both pulled out of Sydney and caused yet another reshuffle of the draw. Caroline Wozniacki has taken Svitolina’s place in the draw in the third quarter as the number ten seed*
After a bye in the first round, Angelique Kerber will play either Daria Kasatkina or Timea Babos in the second round of the Apia International. It was a surprise pre-season to see the world number one commit to both Brisbane and Sydney, but after a quarter-final exit in her first tournament of the year, more matches before the Australian Open sounds ideal. Kerber lost out to Elina Svitolina in an entertaining quarter-final where her serve looked suspect at times.
Kerber is seeded to meet Johanna Konta who has flown in from Shenzhen. Konta lost out in the semi-finals to eventual champion, Katerina Siniakova. She played some tough matches and overall, looked pretty decent. This section features Dasha squared with Kasatkina opening against Timea Babos in a first-time match-up and Gavrilova taking on a yet-to-be-determined qualifier. The 22-year-old Aussie will be playing her first WTA matches of the year after starting the year in Perth at the Hopman Cup where she went 1-2 in singles.
A potential Singapore semi-final rematch is on the cards if Dominika Cibulkova and Svetlana Kuznetsova live up to their seedings and reach the quarter-finals in Sydney. Cibulkova opens against the feisty, Laura Siegemund (1-0 H2H record) and could play Zhang Shuai again in the second round; Cibulkova came from a set down to defeat Zhang in the second round of Brisbane last week, 2-6 6-4 6-4.
Kuznetsova made a solid start to the year in Brisbane where she reached the quarter-finals and arrives in Sydney as the defending champion. In her first match of the week she will play Irina-Camelia Begu in what will be their first ever encounter on hard courts.The Sydney draw is high-quality all over and there are so many even first round matches. The final match from this section features Sam Stosur and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova; separated by just six spots in the rankings and with Stosur leading the head-to-head 3-2, it’s tough to separate the pair.
The third quarter is definitely my favourite of the draw with four super first round matches set. The new number nine seed, Roberta Vinci (after Karolina Pliskova’s withdrawal) will play Sloane Stephens in the first round. Sloane will be playing her first match since August last year (!) at the Olympics. Information has been pretty scarce but I think it has been a foot injury.
Also to look forward to in this quarter is a case of déjà vu with Elina Svitolina and Monica Puig locking heads once more having played in the first round of Brisbane; Svitolina won, 6-3 6-3 but Puig did reach the final in Sydney so obviously likes these courts. Set your videos and timers for Belinda Bencic v Yulia Putintseva which could be a delightful slice of WTA drama. Bencic started the year at the Hopman Cup where she recorded singles wins over Heather Watson and Andrea Petkovic, and suffered a three set loss to BFF, Kristina Mladenovic. The final match in the quarter will see Ekaterina Makarova take on Barbora Strycova. Once again, I quite like this draw for Makarova.
Agnieszka Radwanska and Elena Vesnina are the seeds in the fourth and final quarter, while Caroline Wozniacki is also lurking. It’s a testament to how well Vesnina played in 2016 that she’s bagged a seed here and she will be looking to score her first win of 2017 after a three set loss to eventual finalist, Alizé Cornet in Brisbane. Vesnina had been just two games from the win up 6-3 4-1 before Cornet mounted a stirring comeback. Wozniacki and Vinci will both open against qualifiers after quarter-final showings in their first tournaments of the year. Wozniacki will be looking to put a tough loss to Julia Goerges in Auckland behind her.
Records in Sydney
The top five seeds in Sydney have all reached at least a final in the last four years. Kuznetsova will be returning for the 12th time and as the defending champion. Radwanska is also a former champion but skipped last year’s tournament due to injury, as did Cibulkova who chose to play Hobart instead. Johanna Konta will be playing the Sydney main draw for the first time in her career, while Elina Svitolina will be bidding for her first ever win at the Apia International.
First Round Polls
The week before a Slam always throws up some surprises as the main focus of the players will be on the Australian Open. I’ve gone for Radwanska – she has a habit of making deep runs after disappointing results and when i’ve written her off in the past, she comes out of nowhere and wins a big title. I think she’ll want more matches playing with her new racquet.
I’m not so sure Kerber will be intent on going all the way in Sydney but rather get a few matches under her belt to fine tune her preparations for the AO – therefore, I don’t see her as a title contender in Sydney.
Final Prediction: Radwanska d. Cibulkova
Who do you think will win Sydney? Have your say in the tournament poll below and as always, comments are appreciated!