Two weeks down in Australia and the two most important to go as we arrive on the eve of the first Slam of 2017. The Australian Open will kick off on Monday in Melbourne in what promises to be a fascinating Slam for the women. The Australian Open is always the trickiest for me to follow with the time difference but i’m feeling buoyed by having Eurosport coverage so it will be a treat to watch whatever match I want. The only downside will be waking up.
This is a BUMPER draw preview, dissecting the draw into 16 sections. I really wanted to go all in with plenty of detail so I hope you enjoy! As always with the first Slam (and any WTA tournament for that matter 😂), deciding a winner is not clear-cut and i’d love to know your thoughts. I hope you’ll stick with me for the next few weeks as I tackle tiredness to bring you coverage of the Australian Open on Moo’s Tennis Blog.
For the first Slam of the year, let’s take a look at the draw!
Quarter 1, Section 1
The defending champion, Angelique Kerber heads up her first ever Slam draw as the number one seed. Kerber arrives in Melbourne without a great deal of rhythm having gone 1-2 through Brisbane and Sydney. I think the draw was crucial for Kerber and all in all, I think she’s done well with the cards she has been dealt with. Kerber will play Lesia Tsurenko in the first round; the Ukrainian ended 2016 on a high as she won her second WTA title in Guangzhou. Tsurenko’s start to 2017 has been marred by a viral illness which forced her out of Brisbane (before her first round match) and Hobart (before her semi-final match).
The first seed that Kerber could meet is Irina-Camelia Begu in the third round – Begu is a danger based on previous match-ups with two wins to her name against Kerber, but not so much on recent form with a 0/4 record in sets played in 2017. In fact, three of the four players in Begu’s quartet have yet to win a match in 2017 with Kristyna Pliskova, showing signs of promise over the past six months, the only player to have won a match this year after reaching the quarter-finals in Shenzhen.
Quarter 1, Section 2
Roberta Vinci is the highest seed in this section, but the name i’m looking out for is Daria Kasatkina. The 19-year-old has made a bright start to the year; she pushed Garbiñe Muguruza to the brink in Brisbane, missing out on a match point in a thrilling third set tiebreak. The talented Russian returned in Sydney, grabbing the biggest win of her career over Kerber.
Kasatkina plays Peng Shuai in the first round and *could* meet Sydney semi-finalist, Eugenie Bouchard in the second round. If this were to happen then it would be a tasty first-time clash between two different styles. I’d be more inclined to pick Kasatkina with her variety – when it’s going well for Bouchard she looks impressive but otherwise, a lack of a Plan B is still worrisome. Also worth a mention is Bouchard’s first round opponent, Louisa Chirico, who is a decent up-and-comer. The American is still searching for a first win of 2017 and a first ever win in the main draw of the Australian Open.
Vinci has drawn CoCo Vandeweghe in the first round which will be a tricky opener for the Italian. Vandeweghe won their last match at Wimbledon although the green stuff is the American’s favourite surface. Vandeweghe was serving well at the Hopman Cup so i’m perched on the fence with this match-up. Misaki Doi will be aiming to reach the second round of the Australian Open for the first time since 2013. Doi was one point away from doing it last year but… Angelique Kerber.
Quarter 1, Section 3
This is one of the weaker sections of the draw with Carla Suárez Navarro leading the way. No offence to Carla but the Spaniard arrives in Melbourne with some doubts after being forced to pull out of her first two tournaments of the year with a shoulder injury. Her first round opponent, Jana Cepelova, was forced to withdraw before her second round qualifying match in Sydney due to illness. Watch out for Cepelova who is a well-known giant-killer having won three of her last four matches against top ten players.
Zhang Shuai returns to Melbourne after her fairytale run to the quarter-finals in 2016 which was one of the storylines of the entire year. I’m undecided as to how she will fare a year on; one thing’s for sure is that the draw actually provides a decent opportunity to defend most, if not all those points. I’m flagging up a potential second round match with Alison Riske which could be one to watch – the pair last played in Beijing where Zhang barely prevailed, 6-3 4-6 7-6(4).
Quarter 1, Section 4
Garbiñe Muguruza tops the fourth and final section from the first quarter in what looks like a neat section for the Spaniard. Of course now is the time to mention the caveats of the draw – it might look good on paper but if you’re reading this, then you know the WTA and pretty much anything goes 😂. Muguruza could play the 2017 ASB Classic champion, Lauren Davis in the second round. Davis’s run to the title in Auckland may have come out of the blue considering Serena and Venus headlined the draw, but Davis won 16 of her last 20 matches to end 2016.
Anastasija Sevastova nabbed the final seeding and to be honest, it doesn’t feel like a secure one! The Latvian player had a wonderful run at the US Open last year, but has won just one match since that tournament and gone 0-2 in 2017. The player to watch in this quartet is probably Christina McHale. The American player has already racked up five wins in 2017 and beat her first round opponent, Kristina Kucova, handily in the first round of Sydney qualifying, 6-2 6-1 last week. McHale is prone to some bizarre losses although i’d still favour her to make the third round in this section.
Quarter 1 – First Round Polls
Quarter 2. Section 1
There’s plenty of talent in the first section of the second quarter with Simona Halep as the highest seed. I felt high on Halep pre-season, but things didn’t go to plan in Shenzhen. Admittedly she was defeated by the eventual champion, Katerina Siniakova, but something didn’t quite seem right physically. First up is Shelby Rogers who has made a positive start to the year with two top 50 wins. A clash of the B’s will await the winner with Annika Beck looking for her first win of 2017 and Ashleigh Barty looking to excite the home crowd.
Monica Puig will always be a relevant name after what happened at the Olympics but it’s fair to say she hasn’t pushed on from that life-changing week in Rio. There have been snippets of that form, but it’s never been sustained to make an impact; Puig has won back-to-back matches at just two of her last seven tournaments. Granted, she’s had some tough draws in 2017 against two top 20 players. In Melbourne, she has the chance to start on a clean slate with a more-than-winnable opener against Patricia Maria Tig. The 16-year-old Aussie wildcard, Destanee Aiava opens against qualifier, Mona Barthel. I’d circled Aiava to do well, yet i’m now undecided as Barthel is one of the stronger qualifiers.
Quarter 2. Section 2
Venus Williams will be playing her 17th Australian Open as she takes on Kateryna Kozlova in the first round for the second consecutive Slam. Venus battled hard to get the win at the US Open, coming through in three tough sets, 6-2 5-7 6-4. Venus will know Kozlova’s game, but she remains a tad vulnerable having pulled out of her first tournament of the year in Auckland because of a right arm injury.
This section of the draw looks open with number 19 seed, Kiki Bertens not exactly lighting it up so far in 2017. To be fair, her two losses this year have been to the eventual champions in Auckland and Hobart. The player to watch out for in this section is Duan Ying-Ying, who won Nanchang last year and won five matches to reach the quarter-finals in Sydney last week.
Quarter 2. Section 3
The two seeds in this section, Elina Svitolina and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, have never made it to the second week of the Australian Open – i’d be surprised if that doesn’t change during this tournament! Francesca Schiavone plays her last Australian Open, while Vania King and Galina Voskoboeva are both on the comeback after spells on the sideline; King missed a year from the tour between 2014 and 2015 with a hip injury but is competing well and back in the world’s top 100. Voskoboeva has struggled with various injury complaints and won her first WTA main draw match in nearly three years in Hobart last week. King is the only player I see with the capability of upsetting a seed. For me, it’s a Svitolina v Pavs R3 match with the former in line for her best Slam run.
Quarter 2. Section 4
Svetlana Kuznetsova’s quartet looks as routine as it comes; her first round opponent, Mariana Duque-Mariño hasn’t won a tour level main draw match since June last year. Anna Tatishvili is playing her first match since Wimbledon last year, while Jaimee Fourlis plays her first ever Slam main draw having won the Australian Open Wildcard Playoff in December.
The other side of this section is fascinating – the number 26 seed, Laura Siegemund faces Jelena Jankovic in an Australian Open rematch. The pair played in the second round of the AO last year where Siegemund scored the (then) biggest win of her career against the world number 22. It proved to be a kickstarter for a tremendous breakout 2016 season for Siegemund. One year on and the tables have well and truly turned as Siegemund is now the seed.
The winner will go on to play either Katerina Siniakova or Julia Goerges which is in my top three of first round matches. Siniakova is undefeated in 2017 having won her first WTA tournament in Shenzhen with two top ten wins over Simona Halep and Johanna Konta. Goerges had a pretty good start herself in Auckland after producing a PEAK comeback to beat Caroline Wozniacki in the quarter-finals. In what is likely to be a pressure-packed first rounder, I think that Goerges might just nick it.
First Round Polls
Quarter 3, Section 1
Karolina Pliskova attracted a lot of attention after a series of brilliant displays to win the Brisbane International. While she was almost flawless against Alizé Cornet and Elina Svitolina in the last two rounds, it was actually the quarter-final against Roberta Vinci that most impressed me as she came from a set down against a player she’d never won a set against before.
Pliskova is one of those players that when in the zone, can bulldoze her way through any draw. I don’t anticipate Sara Sorribes Tormo providing much opposition in the first round but Hobart finalist, Monica Niculescu certainly could. The Romanian player can cause all kinds of problems for the big hitters. Niculescu has won two of their three previous matches although i’ve always though competent net play can neutralise Niculescu’s strengths and Pliskova has definitely looked good in that department so far this year. Before a possible Pliskova-Niculescu match, i’ve got my eye on the qualifier, Anna Blinkova who plays Niculescu in the first round.
This is the hipster section of the draw as Niculescu is joined by two more star draws, Jelena Ostapenko and Yulia Putintseva. Ostapenko and Putintseva could play in the second round… HOLD ME. Their last match in Beijing was all kinds of awesome as Putintseva saved a match point to prevail. Putintseva celebrated like she had won the career Slam and Ostapenko dished out an almighty stare and an ice-cold handshake. Based on first round opposition, I think there’s a good chance that we will see the rematch.
Quarter 3, Section 2
Quarter 3, section 2 = fun. Timea Bacsinszky is yet to play a competitive singles match in 2017 as she was forced to withdraw from Shenzhen and Sydney with a left abdominal injury. Bacsinszky was supposed to play Camila Giorgi in the first round of Shenzhen and the draw gods were obviously furious that match didn’t go ahead as they are drawn once more in the first round. Giorgi can blow Bacsinszky off the court with power but Bacsinszky can disrupt Giorgi’s rhythm with variety so i’m currently undecided.
Daria Gavrilova is seeded for the first time at a Slam and quite comfortably at number 22, highlighting how well she ended 2016. First up is Naomi Broady with the head-to-head currently tied at 1-1. One of the highlights of the first round is an all-unseeded match-up between Kristina Mladenovic and Ana Konjuh. Mladenovic has talent although she has been very erratic of late; while she won the Hopman Cup with Richard Gasquet, her singles results were a wacky bunch. Konjuh didn’t really show up in the Auckland final, buttt she made the final which was an excellent start to the year. I’m anticipating a big move from Konjuh in 2017 and this draw is solid for her.
Quarter 3, Section 3
You could make a case for any of the eight players in this section reaching the second week. The two seeds, Elena Vesnina and Sam Stosur are both winless in 2017. Stosur showed much promise in her first match in Brisbane against Garbiñe Muguruza but couldn’t hold on for the win. She went down rather quickly to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the first round of Sydney in what was an eighth consecutive loss on the tour.
Vesnina lost a heartbreaker on the first day of the season to Alizé Cornet in Brisbane from a set and a break up and was then forced to retire from her first singles match in Sydney due to a lower back injury. I was keen on the qualifiers in this section but after placement, i’m not entirely convinced that either Ana Bogdan or Jennifer Brady will go on a deep run.
Quarter 3, Section 4
While there are potential pitfalls for sure, I like this draw for Agnieszka Radwanska. The number three seed reached the final in Sydney before being blown away by a stunning performance by Johanna Konta in the final. Radwanska will play Tsvetana Pironkova in the first round; Pironkova has three wins against Radwanska including a smash-and-grab comeback in their most recent match at a miserable French Open. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni is always a dangerous player for the seeds at the Slam but i’d guess Radwanska will have enough to negate the threat of the Croatian player if they were to meet in the second round.
By virtue of her run to the final of Brisbane, Alizé Cornet bagged a seeding. Cornet is projected to play either Maria Sakkari or Anett Kontaveit in the second round who meet in one of the more intriguing first round matches – the pair played three straight setters in 2016 with Kontaveit winning two of three. Notably, this will be Kontaveit’s first match of the year.
First Round Polls
Quarter 4, Section 1
The two seeds stand out in the first section with both having previous AO history – former finalist, Dominika Cibulkova and former semi-finalist, Ekaterina Makarova. Cibulkova is 2-2 for the year and has yet to really get going. Pre-2017, I liked Cibulkova for the Australian Open as a dark horse and in this section, i’d be surprised if she doesn’t make the second week. Denisa Allertova could be a difficult opener (yes I have a thing about Allertova) but it’s hard to ignore that she has won just six games in her first two matches.
Makarova is probably the biggest threat based on her previous record at the Australian Open. The Russian player has made the second week of the Australian Open for the last SIX years. However, she has endured a dodgy start to 2017 and hasn’t won a set in first round losses to Misaki Doi and Barbora Strycova in Brisbane and Sydney respectively. Despite the form, Makarova is still a name to respect in Melbourne. First up is another Ekaterina in Ekaterina Alexandrova who won the tournament in Limoges at the end of 2016.
Quarter 4, Section 2
The Sydney champion, Johanna Konta has definitely made people sit up and take notice with her fantastic early season form. However, there’s no getting past that this is a stinker of a draw. Konta plays Kirsten Flipkens in the first round, who won their last match in Monterrey in 2016. Next up could be the bold talent of Naomi Osaka who, thwarted by a wrist injury through the first two weeks of 2017, has shone at the Slams before. Anddd in the third round in the most enticing of all the *potential* third rounders, Konta could play Caroline Wozniacki in a first-time match-up.
Wozniacki’s start to the year has been so-so in terms of results but she has had plenty of match-play which I think will have all been positive, win or lose. Wozniacki lost in the first round of the 2016 Australian Open, which rounded off a curious pattern stretching back to 2011 where her record at the tournament regressed each year by a round.
The draw just gets more challenging past the third round… if Konta plays like she did in Sydney and brings the consistency that has been present for the last six months, then she’s a contender.
Quarter 4, Section 3
Barbora Strycova just keeps on getting better… while the Czech player will be defending last 16 points at this year’s Australian Open, her superb 2016 season has propelled her into the slot of number 16 seed. Strycova shows no signs of slowing up either with a quarter-final showing in Auckland and a semi-final appearance in Sydney getting her season off to a good start. First up for Strycova is one of the more dangerous qualifiers, Elizaveta Kulichkova who advanced through a spiky qualifying draw including Lucie Hradecka and Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Kulichkova made an excellent start to 2016, reaching the third round of the Australian Open, but a back injury thwarted her for much of the year.
The winner of Strycova/Kulichkova will play Andrea Petkovic or Kayla Day. Strycova against Petkovic would be a fun one with Petkovic leading their head-to-head, 3-2. Petkovic’s first round opponent, Day, is a player I expect we’ll hear more of in the next year or two. Strycova is seeded to meet Caroline Garcia in the third round; the Frenchwoman ended 2016 on a high in Fed Cup action, but is yet to play a competitive match in 2017 so far due to a back injury. Her first rounder against Kateryna Bondarenko feels like a match that could go either way – both can get nervy and Bondarenko likes an epic three setter.
Quarter 4, Section 4
The two unseeded players that I was looking for when I scrolled through the draw for the first time were Lucie Safarova and Belinda Bencic. As I got to the end I knew we were in trouble haha! I’d actually joked to my brother about Serena playing Belinda in the first round… Andd here we are as the 64th match-up in the draw is the pick of the first round matches. Serena drew Camila Giorgi in the first round in 2016, which was the highest ranked player she could have played and this time, she’s drawn one of the most dangerous floaters in the draw. Serena will know that she needs to hit the ground running against Belinda.
Serena began her year in Auckland where she went 1-1, losing a shocker of a second rounder against Madison Brengle in gusty conditions. Bencic showed some promise at the Hopman Cup but a broken toenail forced her to retire from her first WTA tournament of the year in Sydney. The pair have history with Bencic beating the then world number one in Montreal in 2015, 3-6 7-5 6-4 in the semi-finals. I’m a big fan of Bencic, both game and personality, and while I think she can give Serena an early test, i’m not sure if she’s quite back to the necessary level to beat Serena after an injury-plagued 2016. Bencic spoke positively in press about the opportunity so i’m hopeful of a great contest.
The winner of that match will play the winner of another first round match between Lucie Safarova or Yanina Wickmayer – this isn’t an easy match for Lucie but winnable for sure. The other seed in this section is Timea Babos who opens against Nicole Gibbs. Despite not winning a match in 2017, Babos has a decent opportunity to make back-to-back third rounds at a Slam having never previously achieved that feat before last year’s US Open.
First Round Polls
WWW Australian Open Poll
Records in Melbourne
Australian Open Media
I wasn’t so bothered about Kerber’s lack of form pre-AO and I do think she’s a draw winner. However, i’m sticking with my original though that I just don’t see her backing up what was an absolute dream run in 2016. I just can’t see it. Pliskova looked great in Brisbane but i’m concerned by her draw with Niculescu and Radwanska projected in the second round and the quarter-finals respectively. Head-to-head records are there to broken but i’d still lean towards Radwanska in the quarter-finals. Konta’s one to watch out for but I can’t get over that draw. Her Sydney level will see her through it all but switching to a new court and new surroundings and defending semi-final points sounds like a real challenge.
The three names that stood out for me from the draw: Muguruza, Cibulkova and S.Williams. For Serena, there are so few data points since the US Open and her performance against Brengle in Auckland was shaky to say the least. The draw looks tough but still, I find myself struggling to write Serena off. Last year she came into the AO with injury concerns and tore through the field to make the final with arguably some of her most dominant displays of the whole year. And a tough draw, in my opinion, is actually a blessing in disguise because I think it will improve her focus and bring her up to match speed quickly – she raises her level with the calibre of her opponent lke Giorgi last year, and Bencic will no doubt provide a stern test. If she does win her first round match then it gives her a great base to build from.
Sooo I think i’ve convinced myself in picking Serena but i’m still deliberating! Full predictions will go up in the usual place soon. I’m ready for two weeks of tennis and no sleep. Come at me, AO. I’m just about ready for all you’ve got…