Sunday, January 15, 2017

Aussie Open Preview: 17 IQ for the '17 ΛO

All right, first one to Melbourne gets a plane ticket to D.C. and a job at the Trump White House.

Hey, where's everybody going?

Well, here we are, ready (or not) for the first major of the 2017 season. As we learned a season ago, what happens in Melbourne can set the tone for an entire season.

Right, Angie?

So, who will be the early WTA bird who'll catch the worm and feast on the experience until (at least) November this time around? Well, the "usual suspects" are always in the mix, and are certainly the favorites to be the last woman standing two weeks from now. Unless, of course, it's finally time for the hungry flock of eager slam-less would-be contenders to stage a takeover that seeks to change things forever.

Time waits for no one, after all.

Years ago, I used to begin the year with a rundown of the season's "Most Intriguing Questions." I thought it was time to change the format (temporarily or not, we shall see) of these slam preview posts, and the old IQ format seemed to offer a slightly different way to dispense some of the same information.

So, here's a quick overview of the women's draw, quarter-by-quarter (and question-by-question):

Well, let's just say we might have to take on faith the prospect of the defending champion putting up a successful (or near it) run at her third slam title run. Her play in the first two weeks of the '17 season hasn't presented any uncorrectable issues, but her string of service-related problems and ill-timed errors en route to a pair of losses to Elina Svitolina and Daria Kasatkina showed that the German wasn't quite yet in form. And, remember, she was very nearly bundled out of Melbourne in the 1st Round a year ago, saving a MP in her opening match vs. Misaki Doi before going on a career-changing (and defining) run. Her opening '17 AO match vs. Lesia Tsurenko, under the lights on Laver, could be tricky. Then there's Kristyna Pliskova or Yaroslava Shvedova in the 3rd, possibly a rematch with #23 Kasatkina in the Round of 16, and #7 Garbine Muguruza in the QF. Buckle in, Angie.
Ummm, yeah. It's not likely, and probably won't happen. But Kerber's 1st Rounder vs. Tsurenko has upset potential, and Muguruza's match vs. Marina Erakovic could be even more dangerous. The Kiwi has posted 1st Round upsets of Petra Cetkovska and Sorana Cirstea in Melbourne in the past and, well, we never know whether Muguruza is going to be brilliant or frustratingly catatonic when she hits the court.
Maybe. But for some reason the timing doesn't seem QUITE right. Still, the Russian nearly upset Muguruza in Brisbane (she had MP), then DID take out Kerber in Sydney. So she's in form, coming off an impressive offseason training regimen and is riding a confidence wave after finally getting over a major hurdle vs. the German. She reached the 3rd Round in her debuts at all four slams from the '15 U.S. Open to the '16 Wimbledon, but fell in the 1st Round in her return to NYC last summer. She'll open against Peng Shuai in Melbourne, and it wouldn't be a shock (not by a long shot) if the Chinese veteran pulled off the win at the Asia/Pacific slam where her countrywoman Li Na shined so often. Peng has reached the Round of 16 in Melbourne twice, including in her last AO appearance in 2015. If Kasatkina wins there, Genie Bouchard could be up next in the 2nd Round.
Hmmm, since I just mentioned her, how about Bouchard, fresh off her semifinal run in Sydney. If she's feeling good, we'll soon be reminded that she reached the Aussie semifinals in 2014. Or, if she rides the rollercoaster back down after a good '17 start, we could be reminded that the Canadian's AO results have gone from SF to QF to 2nd Round the last few years, and that Louisa Chirico would like to continue the trend in the 1st Round this year. Also, #20 Zhang Shuai returns to Melbourne one year after her delightfully unexpected QF run from a year ago. Alison Riske (2nd Rd.) and #10 Carla Suarez-Navarro (3rd) might stand in her way of pulling off a successful "year after."
Aside from the matches previously mentioned, #15 Roberta Vinci vs CoCo Vandeweghe will likely have the most overtly demonstrative celebrations this side of a Putintseva/Ostapenko clash (though that little potential dandy can't happen until the 2nd Round of the Radwanska quarter).

After back-to-back QF in Melbourne, #4 Halep was upset in the 1st Round by Zhang last year. The hope is that she won't be haunted by that memory if a potentially difficult stretch arrives vs. Shelby Rogers in the 1st Round. Match play isn't exactly on her side two weeks into the new season. The Romanian has only played two warm-up matches in '17, losing in Shenzhen in a 7-5 3rd set vs. Katerina Siniakova. Halep has made progress under coach Darren Cahill's instruction over the past year, at times seeming to break free of the shackles of the tight, self-doubting issues that combine with her perfectionism tendencies to sometimes cause the Swarmette to "freeze" at all the worst moments on a big stage, being unable to loosen up, move her feet and play with any sort of flow or plan of action. She should have a few rounds to get into some sort of groove in Melbourne, though, and then might get to see if she can survive an encounter with #13 Venus Williams in the 4th Round. Williams leads their head-to-head 3-1, but they've only faced off once on hard courts (a Williams win in Tokyo in '13).
If she's healthy, and the heat/weather doesn't become an issue that she has more trouble dealing with than her opponent (because of her Sjogren's, of course, but also because she's yet again the oldest player in the singles draw). We've only seen her in one match this year (vs. Jade Lewis), after which she pulled out of play in Auckland to avoid a second match on the same day. She fell in the AO 1st Round a year ago, but was a quarterfinalist in 2015.
Oh, don't we want to know. And we just might, too, since they COULD meet in the Round of 16. That said, Shenzehn champ Siniakova has a tough road to get to that match: Julia Goerges, Jelena Jankovic and #8 Svetlana Kuznetsova are in her path. #11 Svitolina, fresh off her third #1 win since last summer, by comparison, gets Galina Voskoboeva, (possibly) Francesca Schiavone and #24 Anastasia Palvyuchenkova. Not easy, but she'd be the favorite in each match. After flashing her potential, and seeming to "get it" when it comes to improving herself while putting into operation a plan to become a champion (having the ear of Justine Henin for a year helps on that front, apparently), this slam is the Ukrainian's first BIG test of the season. She's only posted a pair of Round of 16 or better results in majors, and both of those came on the clay in Paris. Again, as was the case when she was searching for a momentun-gathering win in Week 1 (which she got with her second victory over a #1-ranked Kerber), a deep run in Melbourne would open the door for EVERYTHING to be possible for Svitolina in 2017.
Well, if you're prone to such displays of nostalgia and emotional attachment when it comes to the inevitable passing of a tennis era, then, yes, it'd be appropriate. This will be the former Roland Garros champ's final Australian Open, as she's set to retire at the end of the '17 season, making her the second of the famed Italian Quartet to hang up her racket (Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, after the latter decided against calling it a career after '16, play on). Schiavone opens vs. qualifier Julia Boserup, and a win there would likely put #11 Svitolina on the other side of the net. Oh, if only the draw had lined up so that Schiavone and her usual co-star in drama could play another slam marathon (was their 16-14 3rd set really SIX years ago in Melbourne?) before she exits the stage. Well, it COULD happen at this AO, but it's unlikely. They'd both have to reach the 4th Round to set the date.

Well, the Czech surely has the temperament for it, doesn't she? Pliskova's run to the U.S. Open final, which included wins over BOTH Williams Sister, ended her oh-for-career string of slam failures. Since then, she's led the Czech Republic to yet another Fed Cup title and opened 2017 in sterling out-of-the-box form while winning the Brisbane title. Now she enters her first slam as one of the hunted, rather than as the oh-she'll-lose-early-like-she-always-does non-hunter. And her place in the Radwanska quarter means that, even as the #5 seed, she's actually the favorite to reach the semifinals. But will she? Umm, I'm going to say yes.
No, I'm not going to say #3 Aga Radwanska, though the Pole DID reach the semifinals in Melbourne last year, and has (so far) never lost to Pliskova. Aga has looked like a work in progress in the opening weeks of '17. She should be able to put up her usual 4th Round/QF-type result, but might need someone else to upset the Maiden if she's going to put up another slam final four result. Oddly enough, the one player in Pliskova's section that might have the best shot of knocking her off might be the LAST (well, one of them) player Radwanska might want to see in her path at a third straight slam. Croatian teen Ana Konjuh should have beaten Aga at Wimbledon, but a bad step on a tennis ball ended her SW19 dreams and essentially handed Radwanska a win. A few months later, though, Konjuh got another shot at the Pole in a slam, and blew her off the court at the U.S. Open to reach her first slam QF. Konjuh has a tough road in front of her -- Kristina Mladenovic in a crazy-good 1st Round match-up, then a possible clash with Aussie fave #22 Dasha Gavrilova, who won the "Dasha & Kiki Show" match on Laver vs. Mladenovic a year ago en route to the Round of 16 -- but is just the sort of player who could hit with Pliskova in what could be a classic AO battle.
After a somewhat rough Week 1, Radwanska's run to the Sydney final in Week 2, even with her being handled quite easily there by Johanna Konta, at least gives some hope that the Pole will find her game in time for an Aussie run. She'll open with a sequel to the old "Monster Movie Matinee" -- Radwanska vs. Pironkova, as Aga leads the head-to-head 11-3, but lost the last meeting on that rainy day match in Paris after which Aga blamed the heavy conditions for her losing the final ten games and blowing a 6-3/3-0 lead -- with the likes of contests with #28 Alize Cornet and #14 Elena Vesnina/#18 Samantha Stosur down the line. As is usually the case with Radwanska, if things fall the right way...
Oh, this is an easy one. Yes, yes and most definitely, yes! Radwanska/Pironkova may not live up to its potential, but Konjuh/Mladenovic probably will. The winner of that one vs. Gavrilova could be a doozy, too, as no '16 AO match begs for a "II" added to its description than Gavrilova vs. Mladenovic. #31 Yulia Putintseva could face Jelena Ostapenko in the 2nd Round (remember the Ostapenko glare after Putintseva vociferously celebrated a win over her last season?), qualifier Anna Blinkova gets Monica Niculescu in the 1st and drama-prone Cornet could face excitable Greek player Maria Sakkari in the 2nd. And that's not even counting #12 Timea Bacsinszky vs. Camila Giorgi in the opening round, which could end up being the best of them all if both play their "A" game.

Well, it'll surely tell us SOMETHING. Pretty quickly, too. The Tennis Gods have presented Williams with the sort of challenge that she should relish, if she's up to putting her two '16 slam final losses and fall to #2 behind her, keep the WTA wolves outside the door at bay and prove that she still has some history to make. She'll open with Belinda Bencic in probably the toughest 1st Round match on the board, and could see Lucie Safarova a round later, then #25 Timea Babos, #16 Barbora Strycova/#21 Caroline Garcia and #6 Dominika Cibulkova/#9 Johanna Konta just to escape from this section and reach her eighth career AO semifinal. Her Auckland loss to Madison Brengle was just her second to a U.S. player younger than herself, joining the '13 AO defeat at the hands of Sloane Stephens. The only other times that Williams has lost a match before the start of the Aussie Open came in 2007, '09 and '10. She won the AO title in all three years. So, history SAYS she's about to put her seventh AO (and 23rd major) title on her career ledger, as she'll likely know that her draw will require her focus to be sharp from Day 1. But, make no mistake, the future IS whispering in Serena's ear. Williams' "aura" took a slight hit in '16 with her slam defeats, she'll turn 36 later this year (Martina Navratilova reached her last slam final at age 37), and she recently announced her engagement to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. Even Serena can't go on forever, so the question for her '17 season is how much longer she can stay in Top 2 or 3 form? And if she can't QUITE maintain that level, how much longer will her heart be in trying to do so? We should have some real answers to those questions by the end of this summer... or maybe even by the end of this month.
Her late '16 surge brought her a Top 5 ranking and a WTA Finals title, but is the Slovak already showing signs of a step back in '17? #6-seeded Cibulkova has already lost in straight sets this season to Alize Cornet and Genie Bouchard, and didn't appear quite as driven to prove herself as she did in the latter stages of '16 as she completed her comeback from Achilles surgery. But was she just getting in some match play, knowing that the proverbial "real bullets" start flying in Melbourne? A former AO finalist (2014), Cibulkova will likely get her first test in a possible 3rd Rounder vs. #30 Ekaterina Makarova, who's reached at least the Round of 16 at six straight Australian Opens, including a semifinal in '15. After that could come #9 Johanna Konta and Serena. So, we'll soon see just what Domi has brought with her Down Under, or whether she left it back in Singapore.
Suddenly, British tennis is blessed with quite a few riches. And while Andy Murray is the #1-ranked player on the ATP tour, he wasn't the only player from the U.K. to reach the final four in Melbourne a year ago. #9 Konta broke the ice on what became a string of first-time slam 2016 semifinalists with her surprise AO semifinal result last January. She's 8-1 so far in '17, with a no-sets-lost title run in Sydney this weekend providing her with the momentum to make her even more dangerous on her favored hard courts. While this section of the draw is loaded, a good case can be made that Konta is the #2 favorite behind Serena to reach the semis. Much like Williams, she'll face something of a gauntlet -- Naomi Osaka in the 2nd, #17 Caroline Wozniacki in the 3rd, Cibulkova in the 4th -- to make another deep run, but she's got the game to match her '16 result... and maybe even do it one round better.
Aside from the expected (Konta/Osaka) early-rounders, or holding-their-seeds later round matches (anything involving #16 Barbora Strycova), I'll throw my lasso around a 2nd Round all-Pastry match that would pit #21 Caroline Garcia against countrywoman Oceane Dodin. They collected a combined three tour singles titles in '16, but they've never played each other. It's hard to imagine their first match-up under the bright lights of a major wouldn't be extremely entertaining, or at least newsworthy. You know, depending on which parts of their "French tennis psychology" decide to show up that day. I know I'd like to see what the spinning wheel of French fate reveals.

2014 RG: Maria Sharapova, RUS
2014 WI: Petra Kvitova, CZE
2014 US: Serena Williams, USA
2015 AO: Serena Williams, USA
2015 RG: Serena Williams, USA
2015 WI: Serena Williams, USA
2015 US: Flavia Pennetta, ITA (ret.)
2016 AO: Angelique Kerber, GER
2016 RG: Garbine Muguruza, ESP
2016 WI: Serena Williams, USA
2016 US: Angelique Kerber, GER

2003 Serena Williams (W)
2004 Justine Henin-Hardenne (W)
2005 Lindsay Davenport (RU)
2006 Lindsay Davenport (QF)
2007 Maria Sharapova (RU)
2008 Justine Henin (QF)
2009 Jelena Jankovic (4th)
2010 Serena Williams (W)
2011 Caroline Wozniacki (SF)
2012 Caroline Wozniacki (QF)
2013 Victoria Azarenka (W)
2014 Serena Williams (4th)
2015 Serena Williams (W)
2016 Serena Williams (RU)
2017 Angelique Kerber

74...Serena Williams*
60...Margaret Court (w/ pre-Open era wins)
56...Lindsay Davenport
52...Martina Hingis
52...Maria Sharapova*
47...Steffi Graf
46...Martina Navratilova
45...Venus Williams*
* - active singles

1977 Kerry Melville-Reid, AUS
1978 Chris O'Neil, AUS
1979 Barbara Jordan, USA
1980 Hana Mandlikova, CZE
1995 Mary Pierce, FRA
1997 Martina Hingis, SUI
2001 Jennifer Capriati, USA
2006 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
2012 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2016 Angelique Kerber, GER

7...Serena Williams (6-1)
4...Maria Sharapova (1-3)
2...Victoria Azarenka (2-0)
1...Angelique Kerber (1-0)
1...Dominika Cibulkova (0-1)
1...Venus Williams (0-1)
NOTE: Hingis (3-3 in singles)

2005 S.Williams (W), Davenport (RU), Dechy/Sharapova
2006 Mauresmo (W), Henin-Hardenne (RU), Sharapova/Clijsters
2007 S.Williams (W), Sharapova (RU), Clijsters/Vaidisova
2008 Sharapova (W), Ivanovic (RU), Jankovic/Hantuchova
2009 S.Williams (W), Safina (RU), Zvonareva/Dementieva
2010 S.Williams (W), Henin (RU), Li/Zheng
2011 Clijsters (W), Li (RU), Zvonareva/Wozniacki
2012 Azarenka (W), Sharapova (RU), Clijsters/Kvitova
2013 Azarenka (W), Li (RU), Stephens/Sharapova
2014 Li (W), Cibulkova (RU), Bouchard/A.Radwanska
2015 S.Williams (W), Sharapova (RU), Keys/Makarova
2016 Kerber (W), S.Williams (RU), A.Radwanska/Konta

Unseeded - 1978 Chris O'Neil, AUS
Unseeded - 2007 Serena Williams, USA
#12 - 2001 Jennifer Capriati, USA
#7 - 2005 Serena Williams, USA
#7 - 2016 Angelique Kerber, GER
#5 - 1979 Barbara Jordan, USA
#5 - 2008 Maria Sharapova, RUS
#4 - 1995 Mary Pierce. FRA
#4 - 1997 Martina Hingis, SUI
#4 - 2014 Li Na, CHN

Unseeded - 2000 Jennifer Capriati, USA
Unseeded - 2007 Serena Williams, USA (W)
Unseeded - 2010 Zheng Jie, CHN
Unseeded - 2015 Madison Keys, USA
Unseeded - 2016 Johanna Konta, GBR
Wild Card - 2010 Justine Henin, BEL (RU)
#32 - 2004 Fabiola Zuluaga, COL
#30 - 2014 Genie Bouchard, CAN
#29 - 2013 Sloane Stephens, USA
#22 - 2004 Patty Schnyder, SUI
#20 - 2014 Dominika Cibulkova, SVK (RU)
#19 - 2005 Nathalie Dechy, FRA
#16 - 2010 Li Na, CHN
#12 - 2001 Jennifer Capriati, USA (W)
#11 - 2012 Kim Clijsters, BEL
#10 - 2000 Conchita Martinez, ESP
#10 - 2007 Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
#10 - 2015 Ekaterina Makarova, RUS

2005 Victoria Azarenka/BLR d. Agnes Szavay/HUN
2006 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS d. Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
2007 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS d. Madison Brengle/USA
2008 Arantxa Rus/NED d. Jessica Moore/AUS
2009 Ksenia Pervak/RUS d. Laura Robson/GBR
2010 Karolina Pliskova/CZE d. Laura Robson/GBR
2011 An-Sophie Mestach/BEL d. Monica Puig/PUR
2012 Taylor Townsend/USA d. Yulia Putintseva/RUS
2013 Ana Konjuh/CRO d. Katerina Siniakova/CZE
2014 Elizaveta Kulichkova/RUS d. Jana Fett/CRO
2015 Tereza Mihalikova/SVK d. Katie Swan/GBR
2016 Vera Lapko/BLR d. Tereza Mihalikova/SVK

[won Girls & Ladies titles]
Evonne Goolagong (1970 Jr. Champion; 1974-77 Women's Champion)
Chris O'Neil (1973 Jr. Champion; 1978 Women's Champion)
Victoria Azarenka (2005 Jr. Champion; 2012-13 Women's Champion)
Lindsay Davenport (1992 Jr. Runner-up; 2000 Women's Champion)
Maria Sharapova (2002 Jr. Runner-up; 2008 Women's Champion)

2002 Esther Vergeer, NED
2003 Esther Vergeer, NED
2004 Esther Vergeer, NED
2005 Sharon Walraven, NED
2006 Esther Vergeer, NED
2007 Esther Vergeer, NED
2008 Esther Vergeer, NED
2009 Esther Vergeer, NED
2010 Korie Homan, NED
2011 Esther Vergeer, NED
2012 Esther Vergeer, NED
2013 Aniek van Koot, NED
2014 Sabine Ellerbrock, GER
2015 Jiske Griffioen, NED
2016 Jiske Griffioen, NED
2004 Maaike Smit/Esther Vergeer, NED/NED
2005 Florence Gravellier/Maaike Smit, FRA/NED
2006 Jiske Griffioen/Esther Vergeer, NED/NED
2007 Jiske Griffioen/Esther Vergeer, NED/NED
2008 Jiske Griffioen/Esther Vergeer, NED/NED
2009 Korie Homan/Esther Vergeer, NED/NED
2010 Florence Gravellier/Aniek van Koot, FRA/NED
2011 Esther Vergeer/Sharon Walraven, NED/NED
2012 Esther Vergeer/Sharon Walraven, NED/NED
2013 Jiske Griffioen/Aniek van Koot, NED/NED
2014 Yui Kamiji/Jordanne Whiley, JPN/GBR
2015 Yui Kamiji/Jordanne Whiley, JPN/GBR
2016 Marjolein Buis/Yui Kamiji, NED/JPN

2013 AO - #1 Aniek Van Koot/NED d. #2 Sabine Ellerbrock/GER
2013 RG - Sabine Ellerbrock/GER d. #2 Jiske Griffioen/NED
2013 US - #2 Aniek Van Koot/NED d. #1 Sabine Ellerbrock/GER
2014 AO - #1 Sabine Ellerbrock/GER d. #2 Yui Kamiji/JPN
2014 RG - #1 Yui Kamiji/JPN d. Aniek Van Koot/NED
2014 US - #1 Yui Kamiji/JPN d. #2 Aniek Van Koot/NED
2015 AO - Jiske Griffioen/NED d. #1 Yui Kamiji/JPN
2015 RG - #2 Jiske Griffioen/NED d. Aniek Van Koot/NED
2015 US - Jordanne Whiley/GBR d. Yui Kamiji/JPN
2016 AO - #1 Jiske Griffioen/NED d. Aniek Van Koot/NED
2016 RG - Marjolein Buis/NED d. Sabine Ellerbrock/GER
2016 WI - #1 Jiske Griffioen/NED d. Aniek Van Koot/NED
2016 PARA - #1 Jiske Griffioen/NED d. #4 Aniek Van Koot/NED

*BACK-TO-BACK US/AO TITLES - since 1988*
1988-89 Steffi Graf
1989-90 Steffi Graf
1991-92 Monica Seles
1992-93 Monica Seles
1993-94 Steffi Graf
1997-98 Martina Hingis
2002-03 Serena Williams
2003-04 Justine Henin-Hardenne
2008-09 Serena Williams
2010-11 Kim Clijsters

1997 U.S. Open - Venus Williams
1999 U.S. Open - Serena Williams (W)
2004 Wimbledon - Maria Sharapova (W)
2004 U.S. Open - Svetlana Kuznetsova (W)
2008 U.S. Open - Jelena Jankovic
2009 U.S. Open - Caroline Wozniacki
2010 Roland Garros - Francesca Schiavone (W)
2010 Roland Garros - Samantha Stosur
2011 Wimbledon - Petra Kvitova (W)
2012 Australian Open - Victoria Azarenka (W)
2012 Roland Garros - Sara Errani
2012 Wimbledon - Aga Radwanska
2013 Wimbledon - Sabine Lisicki
2014 Australian Open - Dominika Cibulkova
2014 Roland Garros - Simona Halep
2014 Wimbledon - Genie Bouchard
2015 Roland Garros - Lucie Safarova
2015 Wimbledon - Garbine Muguruza
2015 U.S. Open - Roberta Vinci
2016 Australian Open - Angelique Kerber (W)
2016 U.S. Open - Karolina Pliskova
NOTE: Hingis (1997 AO - W)

9...Serena Williams, USA (age 30-34)*
3...Martina Navratilova, USA (age 30-33)
3...Margaret Court, AUS (age 30-31)
2...Billie Jean King, USA (age 30 & 31)
2...Chris Evert, USA (age 30 & 31)
1...Flavia Pennetta, ITA (age 33)
1...Virginia Wade. GBR (age 31)
1...Ann Haydon Jones, GBR (age 30)

*CAREER SLAM #1 SEEDS - active*
20...Serena Williams
6...Caroline Wozniacki
4...Maria Sharapova
3...Victoria Azarenka
1...Venus Williams
1...Jelena Jankovic

[since end of Evert/Navratilova era]
1991 Monica Seles (Roland Garros)
2002 Jennifer Capriati (Australian Open)
2002 Serena Williams (U.S. Open)
2004 Justine Henin-Hardenne (Australian Open)

#1 Kerber d. #23 Kasatkina
#7 Muguruza d. #20 Sh.Zhang
#13 V.Williams d. #4 Halep
#11 Svitolina d. Siniakova
#5 Ka.Pliskova d. Konjuh
#3 A.Radwanska d. #14 Vesnina
#9 Konta d. #6 Cibulkova
#2 S.Williams d. #16 Strycova

...whew! There would be a lot of desirable match-ups here.

#7 Muguruza d. #1 Kerber
#11 Svitolina d. #13 V.Williams
#5 Ka.Pliskova d. #3 A.Radwanska
#2 S.Williams d. #9 Konta

...I couldn't quite place the bet on Konta here, but at least I thought about it.

#11 Svitolina d. #7 Muguruza
#2 S.Williams d. #5 Ka.Pliskova

...the greatest Ukrainian player ever. Officially.

#2 S.Williams d. #11 Svitolina

...step aside Steffi (err, I mean "Stefanie"... but more on that on the Daily Backspin on Day 1). Margaret, you're next.

All for now. Day 1 awaits.


Blogger colt13 said...

Like the new format.

10 On the Up Side.
1.Konta-the pick to win it all. Azarenka in 2012 is the last to do the Sydney-AO double and Konta has a good chance to be the next. A Sydney born Brit, she should have every match on a main court, and possibly avoid the heat related problems she had in New York. I must really believe in her, because even though in recent years we have had first time slam winners(Mauresmo, Azarenka, Kerber), every AO winner since the O'Neil/Jordan era ended in 1979 has won multiple slams. In fact, the last 30 yrs, the only finalists not to make multiple slam finals are Anke Huber and....
2.Cibulkova is the other. She also follows a different trend. Of the non perennial YEC finalists, you will notice something. Mauresmo 05 YEC-W/06 AO-W, Radwanska 15 YEC-W/16 AO-SF, even Zvonareva 08 YEC-F/09 AO-SF. Can Domi do the same?
3.* The asterik is my way of saying I would have put Kvitova here. Always starts the season well, and won her last tournament in Zhuhai. But if I was rewarding her for winning, who did she beat? That would be the real #3 in Svitolina, who has had an incredible last 6 months. Beat #1 Serena. Check. Beat #1 Kerber. Check. Started season strong with SF. Check. Either she wins this or whoever beats her becomes the favorite. Why? Because she lost to Pliskova/Brisbane, Kvitova/Zhuhai, Kuznetsova/Moscow, Radwanska/Beijing, Kvitova/Wuhan. That's right, she has lost to the eventual winner in her last 5 tournaments.
4.Kerber-Returning #1's normally do well here. No real reason to pick her, but no reason to go against her either.
5.Ka. Pliskova-I don't know if it will happen here, but it will happen this year.
6.Bouchard-Getting a spotlight because she has changed her game. Lake late career Dementieva, who didn't have serve issues, Bouchard has beefed up hers. The groundstrokes look awkward, but seem to be more effective. And like UCONN Women's basketball-91 wins in a row, teams can lose and go up in the polls. Getting destroyed by Konta right now doesn't hurt her at all.
7.Kuznetsova-The only person in the field with an A game higher than Serena's. Ironically-see Toronto vs Halep-she can play at that level for 6-7 games and still lose the match. Always a threat for a QF run.
8.Cornet-Kuznetsova lite. At least on the regular tour. Best player without a slam QF. One reason she has a losing record in finals(5-6) is her Kuznetsova like tendency to win 3 setter after 3 setter, then have nothing left for a final. Similarly, Sveta is 17-22 in finals.
9.Pavlyuchenkova- Even with a bad draw, deserves some notice. Seems to be in better shape and is one of those players that can have a random QF run out of nowhere.
10.Hozumi-This is to win one match. She did this the hard way as she was ranked so low(219) that she wasn't even in the original qualy draw. Wasn't at Brengle territory yet, but had failed to make it through qualies the first 15 times. Has a winnable match against Witthoeft(87), but it wouldn't be her highest. Beat Bertens when she was 86. Should be noted that if she shocked the world and made it to the 3rd rd-in Kerber's section, she could face Kr. Pliskova, who at 117 is Hozumi's only other Top 120 win.

Sun Jan 15, 12:19:00 PM EST  
Blogger colt13 said...

10 On the Down Side.

1.Konta. I'm kidding, it is actually Kontaveit. I like the Estonian's game, but she is supposedly so injured that she didn't bother to enter qualies, and only got into the draw a week ago. Most likely to get Diatchenkoed out 6-1, 6-0- if it goes to completion.
2.Gavrilova-The AUS/RUS player normally plays her best in both countries, plus Madrid, but a disappointing Hopman Cup performance and a bad matchup against hardcourt specialist Broady is a problem. Broady is a specalist because what else would you call a Brit that was 0-4 on grass, didn't have consecutive wins on clay, yet beat in one tournament(Auckland) Siegemund, Kozlova, Rybarikova, Ivanovic, Ostapenko.
3.Gibbs-She could win a round, but if Broady is a hardcourt specialist, Gibbs is a US one. Case in point-the US Open Series/IW/Miami account for 56 pct of Gibbs' points for the year. In comparison, clay court queen Bertens gained 7 pct form the like.
4.Bencic-Was on this list before the draw because she is the new Petrova. The original just retired. That is both bad and good. The bad? Gastro illness, low back, right thigh, wrist, low back, toenail. Those are her mid match retirements since the start of 2016. The good? Like Petrova used to, Bencic can beat anybody in the field. Has already beat Serena(1-1). Petrova beat Serena 3 times(3-7), with the last 5 matches going 3 sets. Also had 9 QF or better runs at slams. Even if Bencic were to pull off the upset, it will take too much out of her. Longterm, she gets the Hopman Cup bounce. Only good things came out of practicing and playing with Federer.
5.Riske-Only on this list because she has lost 10 straight slam matches.The last 2 years, the often injured Diatchenko has 1 more slam win than Riske. Gets the human backboard in Brengle. The one thing that may help is that Brengle is a slow starter. If Riske can get out to a 4-1 lead, it might be enough of a cushion.
6.Muguruza- Her slam finals are on clay and grass. Making the QF hare would be good, and has a decent draw. One of the quirks of last season is that she won 7 matches at the French, but no more than 3 anywhere else. Surprisingly, not only is that somewhat common, it isn't the strangest of the last 5 years. Bartoli gets that. She won Wimbledon not beating a higher ranked player. She actually didn't beat a higher ranked player in a played match that whole season-beat #1 Serena due to walkover. Didn't have a winning streak longer than 2 except for Wimby.
7.Petkovic-On the downside of her career, and that 2014 F SF obscures the fact that it is the only time since 2011 that she made it past the 3rd round of a slam.
8.Bertens- It isn't clay, so 3rd rd is good. The sliver lining for her is that the 14th seeded team of Bertens/Larsson is YEC caliber. They may benefit from some walkovers, as of the top 8 seeds, the Chan sisters are the only ones who aren't expected to have either partner make a deep run in singles. Also Liesel Huber is back, Hradecka/Hlavakova have new partners, and there is an opportunity.
9.Suarez-Navarro- Here because she is only one of 2 top 16 seeds here not to have played a match-Bacsinszky is the other. Seems to have no heat.
10.Sevastova- I could put Latvia as a team entry. Liga Dekmeijere-Thomas had as many slam wins last year as Ostapenko- none. Ostapenko has lost her last 5 slam matches, Sevastova has lost her last 7 matches. Both are too talented to have this go one much longer. Last fun fact-Dekmeijere was a doubles specialist. So much so that she tried to qualify for WTA main draws in singles 69 times. Made it through once in Morocco-and lost to Gagliardi.

Sun Jan 15, 12:51:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

* - ah, so someone did step out on the limb that I suggested was there to (precariously) walk on regarding Konta. I really could see it happening, At this slam, especially.

* - oh, I wish I'd realized that earlier about Svitolina. The road to victory leads through Elina. She needs to construct a road BLOCK. But, like everything in her career so far, she's going about things in a decided, naturally even-paced way. Hopefully, when she gets to where she's going that path will mean she's more likely to maintain that level, since it won't be the result of a talented spike in results, and rather a case of the "tortoise" being crowned champion over one of the many talented "hares."

* - just trying to figure out Pavlyuchenkova makes my brain hurt. Even more so than Sveta. At least with Kuznetsova, it's sort of "fun." With AP, it's just frustrating.

* - "Diatchenkoed" :D

* - Bencic would be such a popular dark horse second week pick for so many if, well, you know why. ;)

* - #10.5 - Hingis/Vandeweghe. If they lose early, CoCo might not get so much as a "see ya, it was nice knowin' ya" text.

* - poor Liga. :(

Sun Jan 15, 01:44:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

colt, you're onto something with the Petrova-Bencic comparison. Will Todd and I end up having to call her Oh-Belinda?

Sun Jan 15, 05:57:00 PM EST  

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