Unlike on the ATP tour, the top of the women’s game is much more open, volatile and full of of injuries among the top players. For me, Serena Williams still remains the player to beat. However, her route towards the 2016 Australian open has been quite rough without much preparation. At the start of the Australian open, she has yet to complete a full match on the WTA tour since she lost in the semifinals at the 2015 U.S. open.
She started at the Hopman cup but had to withdraw with a knee injury. Longtime coach Patrick Mouratoglou has compared her consistent knee problems with those suffered by Nadal. If this is really true, Williams will probabaly be struggling all year and you wonder if she can stay fit and healthy for two very intense weeks during the Australian open. Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep also both withdrew during the first week of the season. As it appeared, Sharapova hurt her arm during practice while Halep was dealing with an achilles injury.
Petra Kvitova and Agnieszka Radwanska both left the Sydney international tournament on sunday. The first pulling out with a viral infection and Radwanska suffering from a leg injury. Sharapova’s withdrawal in Brisbane presented Agnieszka Radwanska with a chance to move ahead of Sharapova at number 4. A chance she grabbed with both hands winning the tournament in Shenzen. Two other top-10 players who won’t play at all in Australia are Lucie Safarova -due to a bacterial infection- and Flavia Pennetta, who retired at the end of 2015 season.
Ones to watch
On the other hand former world number 1 Victoria Azarenka looks very sharp and ready to reclaim her winning ways at the Australian open. Having won the Australian open on two occasions and fresh of a great start in Brisbane, she will be the one to watch. But being ranked number 14, she’ll face tougher matches in the first week of the tournament. Outsiders will be players like Eugenie Bouchard and Sloan Stevens, both close to the very top not so long ago but almost out of the top 40 at the end of last season. Especially Stevens had a great start with a victory at the Hobart international in Sydney. (my picks: Williams/Sharapova – Kvitova – Azarenka and Halep)
The men’s draw – first quarter
The overwhelming favorite in the men’s draw will be Serbia’s Novak Djokovic. Just missing out on a calendar grand slam in 2015 it won’t be easy to claim a sixth title but after seeing Djokovic demolish Nadal in Doha, we should expect Djokovic to cruise through the first week. The first round sees Djokovic take on rising teen Heyon Chung from South Korea. Other possible opponents on his way to the last four are Simon, Tsonga and Nishikori, although none of them have been in great form of late. (my pick: Novak Djokovic)
The men’s draw – second quarter
Roger Federer has a much tougher draw, I don’t know his first round opponent Basilashvili but Dolgopolov is a possibility in the second round followed by a likely meeting with Grigor Dimitrov. Dominic Thiem is a possible fourth round opponent. And in the quarters Tomas Berdych (a two time semi finalist), Nick Kyrgios or maybe Marin Cilic. Based on last year and his overall record at the Australian open, Federer is the man to beat in this quarter. (my pick: Roger Federer)
The men’s draw – third quarter
My favorite first round match is the the match between Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco. Back in 2009 they produced one of the best matches ever at the Australian open and you wonder if Verdasco can find some inspiration in this tough 5-sets loss. Although he isn’t as good as he used to be, I expect Nadal to reach the quarters quite easily. In the quarters there will probably be a rematch with Stan Wawrinka or maybe Milos Raonic who is definitely back on track with a victory in Brisbane.
(my pick: tough one to call… Stan Wawrinka)
The men’s draw – fourth quarter
Another intersting first round match will be the matchup between upcoming star Alexander Zverev and Andy Murray. But the 4-time finalist shouldn’t be too worried, Murray probably has the easiest draw of all the top players. There are a few hard-hitters like Groth, Isner and Janowicz but overall Murray shouldn’t worry too much. (my pick: Andy Murray)
Overall a pretty good prospect for the first week at the Australian open and really looking forward to the Djokovic-Chung and Murray-Zverev matches. Also keeping an eye on Borna Coric, Nick Kyrgios and ofcourse “the great” Lleyton Hewitt.
Author: Vincent Bons // Photography: Getty Images Sport
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