Saturday, January 14, 2017
Defending champion Kerber has tough task ahead of her in Melbourne
World number 1 Angelique Kerber, winner of the 2016 Australian Open, will have her work cut out for her at this year's event. In the first round, she meets Lesia Tsurenko, a good but inconsistent player who may try to take advantage of an apparent recent Kerber slump-funk (I had to make up a word). Let's assume, however, that Kerber deals with Tsurenko (who is recovering from a viral illness). She has a potential round of 16 clash with Daria Kasatkina, who will most definitely go after the German.
But--assuming Kerber pulls herself together--I like the world number 1's chances against the talented young Russian. Draw "wisdom" dictates that Kerber would face off against Garbine Muguruza in the quarterfinals. And since Muguruza has begun her season with a fresh attitude, that quarterfinal is indeed likely to take place. And--should it occur--it has the potential to be very, very good. Muguruza is 4-3 against Kerber career-wise, but they have split their hard court meetings at two apiece.
Also lurking in that first quarter are Genie Bouchard and the unpredictable CoCo Vandeweghe. If Bouchard beats Kasatkina in the third round, then it would be she who would face Kerber in the round of 16.
Simona Halep anchors the next quarter. For the Romanian, the Australian Open is not the "Happy Slam"--she has a tendency to make a very quick exit in Melbourne. She starts with Shelby Rogers, and that could be (but probably won't be) an easy Halep win. All sorts of danger lurks in Halep's quarter, which contains the likes of Monica Puig, Kiki Bertens, Venus Williams, Elina Svitolina, Anastasia "You Never Know" Pavlyuchenkova, Katerina Siniakova, and Svetlana Kuznetsova.
If it comes down to Halep and Svitolina in the quarterfinals, that would prove to be a mighty test for the world number 4, but given her history, she may have already left Melbourne by then.
The third quarter features Karolina Pliskova, arguably the hottest player on the tour right now, and a favorite to win the Australian Open. The top anchor of this quarter, however, is Agnieszka Radwanska, who, as they say "owns" Pliskova. She does. In seven matches, the long, tall Czech has yet to win a set because she has not figured out the puzzle that is Radwanska. When Pliskova said her New Year's resolution was to "bend my knees more," she may have been anticipating yet another matchup with The Ninja.
There are dangers to get past in this quarter, though, before anyone reaches the business end of the tournament. Players who can deliver said danger are Daria Gavrilova, Kiki Mladenovic, Timea Bacsinszky, and Alize Cornet. Radwanska plays her first round against Tsvetana Pironkova, whose mysterious power in majors has waned somewhat, but who knows what the Bulgarian Woman of Mystery has in store? A few more potentially dangerous players in Radwanska's quarter are Monica Niculescu, Yulia Putintseva, Ana Konjuh, Camila Giorgi, Elena Vesnina, and Heather Watson.
A first round to watch is probably an unfortunate one for qualifier Anna Blinkova. The young Russian, playing in her first major, will go against Niculescu, and she probably isn't prepared for what she's going to get.
The last quarter's top player is world number 2 Serena Williams, who has won the event six times. This is one tasty quarter, which includes 2014 runner-up Dominika Cibulkova, Ekaterina Makarova, Caroline Wozniacki, Johanna Konta, Lucie Safarova, and Belinda Bencic. And if that isn't edgy enough, that quarter also features Barbora Strycova, Caroline Garcia and Timea Babos, troublemakers all. You could have a thrilling tournament with just this quarter.
Williams' first match will be played against Belinda Bencic, which is certainly not a prospect that pleases either of them. Both players have had a lot of injury issues in the past several months, but Williams, of course, has been known to win major events while injured, so she perhaps has an edge in the health department. If Bencic is healthy (and she appears to be), she'll do her best to flummox Williams; she's done it before. I think, though, that the real danger resides on the rackets of Cibulkova and Konta. Also, look for Strycova to shake things up in this quarter.