Thursday, January 11, 2018

AO Preview: Melbourne Marvels, Misery and Mayhem

Well, settle in. It's just about that time...

With all the startus interruptus moments that occur in the opening two weeks of any season, including "precautionary retirements," unexpected upsets and jittery, not-quite-yet-ready outings from some of the game's top players, it's difficult to precisely gauge the current game form of most of the potential slam contenders at the Australian Open. But by the time everyone picks up and says goodbye to all things Down Under for 2018, heading for Saint Petersburg, Taipei City or any of a slew of Fed Cup host cities in the remaining days of January, enough results will have been recorded to hang most players on tour with a "fast," "good" or "disappointing" start designation for their stage-setting opening month of the new season.

Sometimes the AO reveals all, such as when Angelique Kerber took the title two years ago and went on to have the greatest campaign of her career. Sometimes the Tennis Gods make an effort to muddy the WTA waters, though. While CoCo Vandeweghe's 2017 Melbourne semifinal run set the course for a slew of elite big stage moments from the Bannerette as the full season rolled out over the next ten months, and runner-up Venus Williams would go on to reach another slam final five months later in London, secretly pregnant champion Serena Williams wouldn't play another match all season (and still hasn't, officially), while eventual season-ending #1 Simona Halep failed to escape the 1st Round for the second straight year.

But, barring similar TG-inspired shenanigans...

...if this was the SIXTH consecutive Australian Open to produce a first-time slam semifinalist. The recent run of maiden Final Four members began with Sloane Stephens in Melbourne in 2013. It turned out to be a contagious development, as while the likes of Genie Bouchard, Madison Keys, Johanna Konta and CoCo Vandeweghe have followed in then-Current Sloane's footsteps at the last four AO's, the streak of majors featuring first-time semifinalists actually reached sixteen straight until last year's all-U.S. semifinal group at Flushing Meadows (with a now-fully-weaponized Future Sloane ultimately winning the title). As it stands, players have still broken through the slam semi threshold in seventeen of the last eighteen majors, and eighteen of twenty beginning with Stephens' initial accomplishment five years ago.
...whether yet another late-blooming vet found her greatest slam footing in Melbourne. Recent AO's have seen Angelique Kerber, Zhang Shuai, Venus Williams and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni surge to late-stage slam success with age 30 either just around the corner, or in their rear view mirror. Some candidates in 2018: maybe, once again, a comeback-minded Kerber, who'll turn 30 in the middle of the event, or her countrywoman, the on-fire (w/ 14 straight wins, and three titles in a row) Julia Goerges. She's been knocking down new career high rankings since she turned 29 last November, and is looking to rise from #12 into the Top 10 for the first time ever at the end of this AO. And, don't look now, but coming up on the outside might be Romanian Mihaela Buzarnescu. The Doctor (no, not Jodie Whittaker, Buzarnescu has a Ph.D in sports science), after a career filled with injuries (she missed most of two years between 2013-14, and half of '16) and ITF results, finally made her tour-level debut last season after starting the year #541. The 29-year old will have already climbed into the Top 50 by the time Day 1 arrives in Melbourne, where she'll face off with #2 Caroline Wozniacki in the 1st Round. Buzarnescu lost 6-1/7-5 to the Dane in the 1st Round of last year's U.S. Open in her slam MD debut.
...if 2017's "other" two slam champions settled down and finally found their form for '18. Roland Garros champ Alona Ostapenko's whirlwind offseason has so far produced zero wins in two matches (not counting that exo vs. Serena) in the new year, while Wimbledon winner Garbine Muguruza has gone out of two '18 events with injury (cramps in Week 1, then a hardly-shocking walkover in Week 2 after posting her first win of the season). While Latvian Thunder reached the 3rd Round at every major last season (including an impressive QF at Wimbledon in the aftermath of her RG run), the formerly #1-ranked Spaniard reached at least the Round of 16 at all four slams in a season for the first time in her career. Ostapenko will square off with 37-year old Francesca Schiavone in the 1st Round (and look out if Aleksandra "The Bracelet" Krunic is still around for a 3rd Round encounter), while Muguruza gets a wild card. If she's truly healthy and in her best big stage form, Garbi could be the worst nightmare for potential second week runs by two players in her quarter of the draw -- Angelique Kerber and Maria Sharapova. If not, a tendency "to Mugu could once again raise its ugly head.
...whether world #1 Simona Halep's care-free and competitive stance since the end of last season survived the mayhem of Melbourne intact. The Swarmette has seemingly said and done everything right since ending '17 atop the rankings, including winning a Week 1 title and securing her first position at the head of a major draw. The next big door to open in her career is to finally become a slam champion. She's reached the AO quarterfinals twice, but has been upset in the 1st Round the last two years, venturing to the edge of the fabled "Cliffs of Simona" and falling over the side.

It won't take long for Halep to face off with her destiny. Err, I mean her Destanee... as in 1st Round opponent Aiava, a 17-year old Aussie wild card. Meetings with Petra Kvitova (3rd Rd.) and Ash Barty (4th) -- or maybe even Sydney achiever Camila Giorgi -- could be right around the corner.
...which on-the-long-road-back player emerged as the "feel-good story" of this Australian Open. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni's "18 Years a Semifinalist" run stole the show a season ago, and there are more than a few possibilities for heartwarming stories at this AO, as well. The aforementioned Buzarnescu has already thrown her Swarmette hat into the ring, and any successes from Petra Kvitova just over a year after the home invasion attack in the Czech Republic will bring too many smiles to count. Croat/Aussie Ajla Tomljanovic continues her comeback from shoulder surgery via a wild card berth granted after Victoria Azarenka was forced to withdraw due to her neverending child custody issues. But how about keeping a watchful eye on Margarita Gasparyan? The Russian has taken the long way around from complicated (and three) knee surgeries, but will now make her first slam MD appearance since Wimbledon in 2016. Once a Hordette-on-the-rise, Gasparyan won her maiden tour singles title in Baku in August '15 and climbed as high as #41 in the rankings after reaching the Round of 16 in her last AO appearance in 2016 before going down with her injury at SW19. She'll face a qualifier in the 1st Round, with the winner getting #9 Jo Konta or Madison Brengle next.

Meanwhile, MLB's encore will begin against Shelby Rogers, who tends to lift her game in moments such as this. Rogers upset Simona Halep in the 1st Round last year.
...if Caroline Wozniacki's regular season prowess found a way to translate to the sort of slam success that has thus far eluded her. As the Dane has upped the aggression in her game (finally), she's climbed back up the rankings over the last year and a half, and will be the #2 seed in Melbourne. But she's only reached one major semifinal since playing in her second career slam final at the U.S. Open in 2014.
...whether the familiar surroundings of a slam, especially at the site of her first big success at a major, finally broke Sloane Stephens out of her post-U.S. Open title run slump. She enters this AO on a seven-match losing streak, having not won a match since her triumph in New York last September. She gets Zhang Shuai ('16 QF) in the 1st Round.
...if Generation PDQ raised its collective head once again. Alona Ostapenko put on an unexpectedly early title run last year in Paris, perhaps taking away any stigma affiliated with a lack of slam experience. A youngster doesn't *always* have to wait her turn for ultimate success at a major. Keep a lookout for the possibility of someone like Aryna Sabalenka or Ash Barty making a rush (but only one of them, as they'll face off in the 1st Round in a match virtually shaped from a block of clay for a Day 1 or 2 night session slot). When it comes to the chances for another Stephens-like, finally-getting-over-the-hump maiden title push, the spotlight may shine on players such as Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova, Caroline Garcia or Belinda Bencic.
...whether Karma Queens Kristina Mladenovic (14 straight losses) and Genie Bouchard (three wins since her attention-grabbing QF run in Madrid last spring, and now ranked outside the Top 100) were able to (at least temporarily) stopped their steep, misery-laden slides. Well, at least that's been the case with Kiki, who at least expresses her frustration and expects more of herself, while Bouchard manages to maintain the you'd-hardly-know-how-little-success-she's-actually-having existence you'd see by *only* monitoring her breezy social media presence and continued monetary opportunities off the court). The Pasty (vs. Ana Bogdan in the 1st Rd.) is just three losses away from tying the all-time WTA mark for consecutive defeats, while Bouchard's run as the top-ranked Canadian is now officially in jeopardy. She's one spot in the draw away from #1-seed Simona Halep, but would have to get past the big-and-sometimes-wild game of Oceane Dodin to make the date.
...which of the burgeoning group of good Aussie women stepped into the spotlight and "rocked the Rod" (Laver Arena, that is) in the nighttime hours. The starring role of Aussie home favorite has been passed around for the last decade. Casey Dellacqua (and her grandma) reached the Round of 16 in '08 and '14, while Jelena Dokic made her last on-court comeback with a thrilling QF run in '09. Setting the stage for her soon-to-come deep slam runs (a '10 RG semi and '11 U.S. Open title), even Sam Stosur got into the act with a Round of 16 result in 2010. New Aussie Dasha Gavrilova has brought her "Dasha Show" entertainment under the lights while posting back-to-back Round of 16 results the last two years, while Ash Barty made it a two-fer "Barty Party" in '17 with a 3rd Round run in her return to grand slam competition after her early-career sabbatical. Gavrilova is seeded #23, while Barty is #18.
...if the return of Maria Sharapova to Melbourne for the first time since her positive drug test in 2016 gave the Hordettes a better chance of getting a player into a slam semifinal. Since Sharapova's SF run at Wimbledon in 2015, there has been just one Russian to advance to a final four in a major -- Elena Vesnina at SW19 in '16.

All things considered and weighed, no matter where you stood on the whole deal, it *was* quite the eyebrow-raiser that Sharapova was chosen to participate in this year's AO draw ceremony and carry out the trophy, huh?

...whether the somewhat-less-pressurized atmosphere at *this* slam might better suit Johanna Konta than what she'll likely encounter in her return to Wimbledon later this year. Remember, the Brit's rise up the rankings has seen its most consistent success on hard courts, and she reached her *first* major career semifinal in Melbourne in 2016. Born in Sydney and having represented Australia until 2012, Konta, with new coach Michael Joyce in her corner, will have good support from the crowd without the entire weight of a nation's effort being carried on her back as it will be in London five months from now (especially considering Andy Murray's latest injury troubles). This AO might be Jo's best chance at something great in one-eight.
...if "37" continued to be just a simple number for Venus Williams. At 36, she reached the AO final in '17, then followed up with 37-year old runs to the Wimbledon final and U.S. Open semis. Without Serena in the draw at a fourth straight major, Venus is once again carrying the family's hopes entirely on her shoulders. Her twenty slam match wins (20-4) last season led the tour. She'll have a tough 1st Rounder vs. the very-in-form Belinda Bencic (which is great, but it means we can't have BOTH around in the second week).

...of course, just which player was able to take full advantage of the aforementioned absence of Serena from yet another slam draw. Even with her situation unknown (as usual, it was more complicated than we knew), most players likely expected Williams to be in Melbourne seeking to defend her title, floating around the grounds (even before the soon-to-happen reversion to a 16-seed draw) and filling the role of the package no one wants to find on their doorstep. Now, the coast is clear for another two-week stretch. A Serena-less draw is always an opportunity waiting to be grasped with both hands. Two weeks from now, someone will become the latest WTA marvel to take full advantage of such a situation, and maybe change the trajectory of the rest of her career.

But those are just a few of the things that we *know* this Australian Open will uncover and shed some additional light on. There are sure to be a slew of answers and/or revelations revealed in Melbourne that we don't even know are legitimately in the conversation at the moment. After all, who could have possibly foreseen Lucic-Baroni's 18-year slam semifinal drought ending Down under last year? A development such as that will be hard to top this time around.

Still, you'd be wise not to turn your back on this slam. Not if you don't want to be *totally* blindsided by something that's about to happen....

...because you just never know.

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
2017 AO: Serena Williams, USA
2017 RG: Alona Ostapenko, LAT
2017 WI: Garbine Muguruza, ESP
2017 US: Sloane Stephens, USA

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)
2007 Wimbledon - Marion Barotli
2008 U.S. Open - Jelena Jankovic
2009 U.S. Open - Caroline Wozniacki
2010 Roland Garros - Francesca Schiavone (W)
2010 Roland Garros - Samantha Stosur
2010 Wimbledon - Vera Zvonareva
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
2017 Roland Garros - Alona Ostapenko (W)
2017 U.S. Open - Sloane Stephens (W)
2017 U.S. Open - Madison Keys

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 (1st)
2018 Simona Halep

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

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

8...Serena Williams (7-1)
4...Maria Sharapova (1-3)
2...Victoria Azarenka (2-0)
2...Venus Williams (0-2)
1...Angelique Kerber (1-0)
1...Dominika Cibulkova (0-1)

Azarenka (W), Sharapova (RU), Clijsters/Kvitova
Azarenka (W), Li (RU), Stephens/Sharapova
Li (W), Cibulkova (RU), Bouchard/A.Radwansk
S.Williams (W), Sharapova (RU), Keys/Makarova
Kerber (W), S.Williams (RU), A.Radwanska/Konta
S.Williams (W), V.Williams (RU), Lucic-Baroni/Vandeweghe

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

*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

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
Unseeded - 2017 Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, CRO
Unseeded - 2017 CoCo Vandeweghe, USA
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
#13 - 2017 Venus Williams, USA (RU)
#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
2017 Marta Kostyuk/UKR d. Rebeka Masarova/SUI

[won Girls & Women's 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
2017 Yui Kamiji, JPN
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
2017 Jiske Griffioen/Aniek van Koot, NED/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 PARALYMPICS - #1 Jiske Griffioen/NED d. #4 Aniek Van Koot/NED
2017 AO - #2 Yui Kamiji/JPN def. #1 Jiske Griffioen/NED
2017 RG - #2 Yui Kamiji/JPN def. Sabine Ellerbrock/GER
2017 WI - Diede de Groot/NED def. Sabine Ellerbrock/GER
2017 US - #1 Yui Kamiji/JPN def. #2 Diede de Groot/NED

10..Serena Williams, USA (age 30-35)*
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)

*TEEN SLAM CHAMPS - since 1997*
1997 Martina Hingis, 16 (AO)*
1997 Iva Majoli, 19 (RG)*
1997 Martina Hingis, 16 (WI)
1997 Martina Hingis, 16 (US)
1998 Martina Hingis, 17 (AO)
1999 Martina Hingis, 18 (AO)
1999 Serena Williams, 17 (US)*
2004 Maria Sharapova, 17 (WI)*
2004 Svetlana Kuznetsova, 19 (US)*
2006 Maria Sharapova, 19 (US)
* - first-time slam winner
NOTE: Ostapenko (won '17 RG at 20 yrs, 2 days)*

AO: Sloane Stephens/USA
RG: -
WI: Kirsten Flipkens/BEL
US: Flavia Pennetta/ITA
AO: Genie Bouchard/CAN
RG: Simona Halep/ROU (RU), Andrea Petkovic/GER
WI: Lucie Safarova/CZE
US: Ekatarina Makarova/RUS, Peng Shuai/CHN
AO: Madison Keys/USA
RG: Timea Bacsinszky/SUI
WI: Garbine Muguruza/ESP (RU)
US: Roberta Vinci/ITA (RU)
AO: Johanna Konta/GBR
RG: Kiki Bertens/NED
WI: Elena Vesnina/RUS
US: Karolina Pliskova/CZE (RU)
AO: CoCo Vandeweghe/USA
RG: Alona Ostapenko/LAT (W)
WI: Magdalena Rybarikova/SVK
US: -
NOTE: 17 of last 18 slams, 18 of 20

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

[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)
NOTE: Simona Halep is '18 AO #1 seed (first at slam)

"Well, I should hope so..."

Further proof that we MUST go from 32 to 16 seeds in order to have better early-round match-ups. Ummm, or not.

#1 Halep d. #18 Barty
#9 Konta d. #6 Ka.Pliskova
#21 Kerber d. #3 Muguruza
#8 Garcia d. #17 Keys
#12 Goerges d. #31 Makarova
#4 Svitolina d. Brady
#10 Vandeweghe d. #7 Ostapenko
#2 Wozniacki d. #15 Pavlyuchenkova

#1 Halep d. #9 Konta
#21 Kerber d. #8 Garcia
#12 Goerges d. #4 Svitolina
#10 Vandeweghe d. #2 Wozniacki

#1 Halep d. #21 Kerber
#10 Vandeweghe d. #12 Goerges

#1 Halep d. #10 Vandeweghe

All for now. Day 1 awaits.


Blogger colt13 said...

Loved the Petko dance.

Had to make revisions as almost all of my preliminary picks ended up in the Group of Death-the 3rd quarter.

10 On the Up Side.

1.Siniakova- Going way off book here. Not counting that weird 3 yr stretch in the late 70's in which Reid, O'Neill and Jordan won, we haven't had an AO winner only end with one slam since Beryl Penrose in 1955. But after a year in which all 4 slam winners won their first title of the year in one, which had never happened, she is worth a look. Most likely to go full on Ostapenko, as like Alona's 2016, she went 0 for the majors, so a 5 match losing streak in it. So Top 20 here she comes. Also has a 2nd rd clash with Svitolina, in which she should be favored. Will explain why later.
2.Halep-The most sensible pick as she has already won a title this year. Plus gets Aiava, who is already showing shades of Barty 1.0 type burnout. This may get ugly.
3.Wozniacki-Has already reached a final, and is in a good section of the draw. Normally current YEC winners duplicate their best or better the next year, and Caroline has already been to the SF. Ostapenko is the big threat in her qtr.
4.Sasnovich-Has the best draw of the non seeds. Due to make a slam QF soon, but has never made it past the 2nd rd at any slam-equal result at all 4.
5.Kerber-The most difficult person to handicap in this draw. If you go by Hopman Cup-QF, by her history-4th rd, by her seed-3rd rd. 90% sure her result will be one of those 3, but you also feel that when she goes out, it will be like the Muguruza Wimbledon match-a treat. 2016 Kerber isn't coming back, but the 2018 one looks like a Top 10 player.
6.Bencic-I have to show the #1 player some love. But she isn't seeded? What do I mean? She is number 1 in the race, the quirk being that the 125's at the end of last year are part of this season's race. So until the week 2 results go in, Bencic is tied with Svitolina at 1, Tomljanovic is 7, and Sabalenka is 8.
7.Goerges-Has won her last 3 events. Only Serena and Alona have won majors without previously reaching a QF in the last 20 years, but in the new WTA, anything is possible. Also, Goerges is all in. For the first time in 9 years here, she isn't in the doubles draw. Another player from the 3rd qtr.
8.Tomljanovic-Has a popcorn match vs Safarova to open. If she makes it past that, she may reach the QF. Playing the best tennis of her career.
9.Sabalenka-Human herbicide aka kills seeds. Faces one in Barty which is hopefully as good as it should be. Also expected to have a breakout year, but with a possible rematch vs Halep here, Sasnovich should have the better slam.
10.Ka.Pliskova-No heat compared to last year. May be the seed that flies under the radar, as the court plays to her style.

Fri Jan 12, 12:00:00 PM EST  
Blogger colt13 said...

10 On the Down Side.

1.Svitolina-Her 2017 was almost Kerber's 2016 on steroids. But instead of 5 Premier titles, 2 slams and the YEC, the Halep match, the Keys match, and the Garcia match turned a great year into a good one. Has a 51/49 match against Siniakova, and I pick Siniakova because the problem cropped up again. The late match serve. Even against Pliskova last week, she was up 5-2, and it went back to 5-all before she won. If she can fix that serve she can win the title, because there isn't anybody that seems to get the early break more often.
2.Gavrilova-Has a horrible draw. Was my darkhorse pick to go deep, after going Hopman Cup-4th rd the last 2 years. But is in the bloodbath that is the 3rd qtr, so even getting to the 4th would be a miracle.
3.Barty-First seed out? Expecting her to have a good year, but Sabalenka is too much for her. Barty almost needs to hope that Sabalenka gets thrown off by the crowd, as it is her first md here.
4.Estonia-Kanepi is on form, Kontaveit is not. Both are threats to make a slam QF this year, but ended up getting the Energizer bunnies in Cibulkova and Krunic. Bad matchups for both, the could be Todd's winner as Nation of Poor Souls.
5.Stephens-We all know about the losing streak. But a slumping player drawing the highest unseeded player in Zhang is bad news. I would diagnose Stephen's forehand or backhand, but I haven't seen it. Mainly because her movement has been so bad recently, that she doesn't get to many balls. If Zhang can show any offense at all, instead of just being content to keep it in court, Stephens is one and done.
6.Keys-Surprisingly, many people are picking her to go deep. Hasn't won a match since the USO, but that is mainly due to injury. The tell is her serve. Down the T, it spins away from righties. That is the serve we saw from Stanford through the Open. Haven't seen it yet, but if she can play her way into shape, could make things interesting.
7.Suarez Navarro- I have been picking on her lately. But another person that hasn't won since the USO, having gone 0-6. Struggling so much lately that non even knowing who the qualifier is, I would favor them.
8.Konta-The most interesting woman in the draw. The WTA answer to figure skating's Ashley Wagner in that there will be drama. Part is because of her style. The NFL had a QB named Richard Todd, who was known for having "Happy Feet" meaning he would stutter step, then stutter step again and then throw. Bad for a QB, but for Konta that is a good thing. It means she has time to step in and it a winner. Also is the reason she struggles on clay, as she moves up and back better than side to side. The other factor is court placement. Serena and Sharapova is a wash. Halep, Muguruza, Ostapenko, etc will get good placements. But will Konta get a better court than Braty, Gavrilova and Stosur? For the Top 10 player most in need of the roof, that could be the difference between a SF run and a 2nd rd exit.
9.Bertens-The anti-Konta. Her footwork has really improved on hard, and in normal circumstances, even with the lousy record on hard, could be expected to make a run here. Would get Wozniacki in the 2nd rd, who has been problematic for her.
10.Sakkari-It will happen, but not here. A slow start to the season leads to low expectations. Eventually the Sakkari/Johansson pairing will pay off.

Fri Jan 12, 12:25:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Hmmm, interesting thought on a Tomljanovic run. Hadn't thought of her, or I'd mentioned her in one of the preview sections. Now that one would be a worthy, interesting follow-up to MLB's run from last year (and getting a MD spot due to Vika giving up her WC would only add to the story).

Fri Jan 12, 04:55:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

I'm all in with Human Herbicide

Fri Jan 12, 08:26:00 PM EST  
Blogger colt13 said...

How many of this week's winners played Hopman Cup :)

Great decision for Kerber and Mertens, although it cost Mertens an AO seed.

Sat Jan 13, 10:40:00 AM EST  

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