A belated Happy New Year to everyone! I’ve been watching the tennis all week but didn’t have time to do daily posts so I have condensed my favourite moments from week 1 of the 2020 tennis season into this summary post. The opening week featured three tournaments in Brisbane, Auckland and Shenzhen. Despite the craziness, I still missed the Hopman Cup 😥.
Top stories 📚
1. Pliskova defends Brisbane title
Karolina Pliskova defended her Brisbane title to become the first player in the tournament’s history to win it three times. Pliskova looked to be tiring in the third set of the final against Madison Keys but managed to serve out the match at the second time of asking, winning, 6-4 4-6 7-5. It was a decent final but not one that particularly hooked me despite the close finish.
I’m pleased to see Keys start the season so well. I found myself getting frustrated watching Keys last year because of the wild errors she would produce. I thought she was mostly contained and level-headed this week, much like her run in Cincy last year. One to watch for Melbourne for sure. For the past five Slams, Pliskova has won a Premier event in the two weeks leading up on four occasions. Pliskova is always going to be there or thereabouts in contention for a Slam but i’m still not convinced she’s going to be the last one standing in three weeks time.
2. Serena wins Auckland
Serena Williams won her first title since the 2017 Australian Open AND becoming a mother, beating Jessica Pegula in the final of Auckland, 6-3 6-4. The final was much tougher than the scoreline suggested. Serena made a nervy and sluggish start, eventually saving four break points at *0-2 down in the first set. Serena was very vocal early on and managed to find her intensity. The serve remained a constant throughout and her footwork improved as the match wore on, as well as looking more confident in the forecourt.
I think this was a huge victory for Serena. Even being at an International tournament and beating Pegula (who had a superb run), I think it sets her up well for Melbourne having experienced being in the winners circle again. There’s still room for improvement heading into the Australian Open where she will obviously be one of the favourites.
3. Alexandrova wins first WTA title in Shenzhen
I barely watched anything from Shenzhen this week but credit to Ekaterina Alexandrova who won her first WTA title, beating Elena Rybakina in the final. Alexandrova is now on a ten match wining streak (!) having won the $125K Limoges tournament in the off-season. A big hitter in-form that no one will want to play in Melbs.
4. Naomi Osaka’s eventful week
I ended up watching all of Osaka’s matches in Brisbane. There was a time when she was rarely embroiled in three setters but all four of her matches in Brisbane went the distance. She faced adversity in all of them and reset impressively in the first three matches. In her second round match against Sofia Kenin, Osaka missed four set points in the first set, but rallied to win in three sets, 6-7(3) 6-3 6-1. When I think to myself on the tennis court having missed opportunities and the frustration and thoughts that go through my head (it’s over, i’m useless etc 😂), it gives me so much respect for Osaka and her mental resilience.
The tournament sadly ended on a negative for Osaka with a semi-final loss to Pliskova from match point up (more on that later in this post). Generally though I don’t think it will have a significant impact considering how Osaka has come back from these situations in the past. The serve was ON, the groundstrokes were sharp and I like the partnership with Wim Fissette so far. Pre-draw, Serena and Naomi are my two faves for the Australian Open.
5. Ones to watch
With the Australian Open just a week away, i’m on the look-out for players who impressed but haven’t yet peaked. On my list so far…
Sofia Kenin: Readers of the blog will know i’m high on Kenin as I had her at number two in 2020 season-ending predictions. The 21-year-old American looked sharp in her opener against Anastasija Sevastova and won the opening set against Naomi Osaka in the second round before falling in three sets.
Kiki Bertens: I was impressed with Bertens’s start to the year as she toughed out a pair of top 30 wins over Dayana Yastremska (6-4 1-6 6-3) and Anett Kontaveit (6-3 2-6 7-5). Bertens has established herself as one of the most consistent and steady players on tour, and I thought she was moving great.
Garbiñe Muguruza: Starting her second stint with Conchita Martinez, Muguruza reached the semi-finals in Shenzhen. While she didn’t play anyone ranked inside the world’s top 50, I would still mark it as an encouraging start to the season for Muguruza who won three matches in a row for the first time since last year’s French Open.
Amanda Anisimova: Despite a nervy semi-final performance against a sensational Serena, I thought Anisimova looked good in Auckland. The 18-year-old had a tough end to the 2019 season, losing her father, but started strongly. I’m still in love with her backhand which she was timing beautifully in her second round win over Daria Kasatkina.
Sam Stosur: An honourable mention for Stosur who is really inspiring. I bet she’s had to deal with the “when are you going to retire” question but she keeps plugging away and I say good for her. Stosur played a terrific opening match to beat a slow-starting, Kerber in the first round. You’ve got to play well to get the win against Kerber and Stosur looked really up for it. She lost in the second round to eventual finalist, Madison Keys in what was a high-quality contest.
Best match 🎾
There was no doubt in my mind that the best match of the week, year and decade so far was the Brisbane semi-final between the number two and three seeds, Karolina Pliskova and Naomi Osaka. Pliskova saved a match point to beat Osaka, 6-7(10) 7-6(3) 6-2 victory in two hours and 48 minutes.
Through the first two sets, I thought this was going to be tough to beat as the match of the year. It was a no-frills contest of sensational quality. Both players were clutch when challenged on serve in the first two sets and the pair combined for a total of 105 winners to just 65 unforced errors (Pliskova 52W 28 UE, Osaka 53 W, 37UE). While likely to still be up there as a contender for MOTY, it petered out in the third set as Osaka’s frustration boiled over and her energy dipped after failing to serve out the match in the second set. A resilient-as-always, Pliskova came through strongly in the end.
Honourable mentions go to Wednesday’s night session in Brisbane as both Osaka-Kenin and Bertens-Kontaveit wre compelling matches. The third set of the Anisimova-Bouchard quarter-final in Auckland was very entertaining.
H&H moment 🤗
Keys and Kvitova were all smiles before and after their semi-final encounter in Brisbane 😊.
LOL moment 🤣
This made me laugh out loud!
Favourite snap 📸
Nice shots of Serena and Caro who teamed up in the doubles in Auckland and contested the final.
Top Tweet 🦅
Jo confirmed for the Stand Up to Cancer Bake Off special. Can’t wait for this!
Press highlight 📰
I’ve missed listening to Naomi Osaka in press. Her opening press conference included a dramatic tale from her off-season travels.
Recommended media 📺
The Auckland trophy ceremony was very memorable and is likely one we’ll look back at come the end of the 2020 season. A nice touch from Serena to donate all her prize money to the bush fire appeal.
Recommended reading 📚
Awesome from Ash. Nice to see so many of the players post about donating to the bush fire appeal on social media. My favourite pledge was from Belinda Bencic who will donate money for her double faults (and tagged Sascha Zverev) 😲😜.
Recommended listening 🎧
Loved the NCR 2020 season opener with Barbora Strycova.
WTA TV is no longer available for me in the UK so i’m now on Amazon Prime and loving it so far! All the matches i’ve wanted to see have been up and they are on catch-up almost instantly. You can skip back and forward ten seconds which helps to catch up quickly. I’m so relieved to not have to use the utterly dreadful WTA TV anymore.
I hate to go on but I did miss the Hopman Cup in this first week. It’s such a unique event and I remain eager to hear of news about whether it will be reappear on the calendar. The most high-profile event of the first week in Brisbane felt different at the start as the women’s tournament was essentially dumped out onto their newly named “Stadium” court as the cup that shall not be named (😂) got Centre Court billing up to Wednesday. On a plus note, the Pat Rafter Arena was packed for the WTA-only days.
There are discussions about a WTA Cup for next year but i’m hoping it won’t happen. It doesn’t seem fair to me as there will be cases where top players are excluded because some countries (e.g. USA, Czech Republic) have so many quality players.