Preview: Australian Open Women’s Draw

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Copyright © 2016. No duplication is permitted without permission from Bob Larson Tennis.

Australian Open Tennis News

Australian Open

Writing Slam previews is always painful for us; you’ve probably already looked at the draws, and perhaps seen two or three other previews that people have written while we had to sit here doing rankings calculations. And, besides, what is there to say that doesn’t boil down to “so-and-so will face so-and-so in round X”? — which you can read off the draw anyway!

But there is the fact, hanging over this Australian Open, that Serena Williams is hurting — and so is everyone else. That raises the interesting question, “If not Serena, then who?” Is there anyone in this field who is ready to stand up and win a Slam? And if she’s emotionally ready, is she physically ready? Simona Halep has a bad leg. Garbine Muguruza hasn’t really been able to play this year. Agnieszka Radwanska is the one top player who is playing and winning — yes, she bailed out of Sydney, but that was because she had al the warmups she wanted. Maria Sharapova hasn’t played. Petra Kvitova is sick again. Angelique Kerber… just doesn’t do it on big stages. Flavia Pennetta is retired. Lucie Safarova isn’t here. Venus Williams is among the oldest players still active. And that’s the entire Top Ten! Then we have Carla Suarez Navarro, who has nerves, and Karolina Pliskova, who doesn’t win the big ones, and Belinda Bencic, who is hurting.

Thinking about how the draw could come out, we made up a list of top players dark horses, then categorized them:

Proven but injured: Serena, Sharapova, Kvitova

Semi-proven but injured: Halep, Muguruza

In form but not proven (and perhaps not powerful enough): Radwanska, Kerber

Proven and in form but seeded very low: Azarenka, Kuznetsova, Bouchard (who isn’t seeded at all)

Proven but not in form: Venus, Wozniacki

Just plain not in form: Ivanovic

Just plain not proven: Pliskova, Bencic

Even Darker Horses — players who have surprise upset abilities: Keys, Stephens, Svitolina, Pavlyuchenkova, Mladenovic, Gavrilova

Maybe they should just hold a lottery.

If Serena is going to earn another Slam title, she’ll have to work for it. She opens against Camila Giorgi, who just missed seeding and is a good upset artist. The first seed she’s supposed to face is fast-rising #27 Anna Karolina Schmiedlova — although Schmiedlova hasn’t looked good so far this year. But if it isn’t Schmiedlova, then it will be one of the promising youngsters, either Daria Kasatkina (who beat Venus two weeks ago) or Ana Konjuh. Then comes #16 Sara Errani or Serena’s friend Caroline Wozniacki, both of whom get enough balls back to really test Serena’s knee. Then, if the draw holds, last year’s finalist Sharapova, seeded #5 (bad news for Sharapova, given her record against Serena), or #12 Bencic, or #23 Kuznetsova — who is on a red hot streak — or #26 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who is good at upsets. In the semifinal, Serena is supposed to face #4 Radwanska — normally a match where Serena could be expected to crush her opponent, but again, there is the question of Serena’s knee.

On the whole, we’d say that #2 seed Halep — who in theory ought to be the #2 favorite, although we frankly don’t even have a #2 favorite in our heads — has an easier draw. She might face Alize Cornet in the second round, but the first seed she is up against is #31 Lesia Tsurenko, who has made great strides in the last year but isn’t really a big threat. Then comes #15 Madison Keys, who has failed to back up her semifinal last year, or #20 Ana Ivanovic, who is sinking fast. It gets more interesting after that, with #8 Venus or #9 Pliskova or #21 Ekaterina Makarova or #30 Sabine Lisicki to follow — but all of them have problems.

#3 seed Garbine Muguruza had the best second half of 2015 of anyone other than Serena, but she comes in under an injury cloud. The only good news is an easy first few rounds; the first seed she would face is #32 Caroline Garcia, and there doesn’t seem anyone else in the section who is a threat. But then comes either #14 Victoria Azarenka or #18 Elina Svitolina. Azarenka is, of course, the most successful Melbourne player in the field, other than Serena, and she won Brisbane; if we just go on form and history, she might be the genuine #2 favorite. Then comes #7 Kerber or #11 Bacsinszky (who has, however, looked awful this year) or #19 Jankovic or #29 Begu.

#4 seed Radwanska, as we already mentioned, is the first healthy player in the field, and her confidence is high after winning the Singapore championships last year and then Shenzhen to start this year. If ever she is to break through, this is surely the year. On the other hand, she has to face Eugenie Bouchard in the second round, and Bouchard has shown that she is back. Then, potentially #25 Samantha Stosur, then either #13 Roberta Vinci or #24 Sloane Stephens, who had to bail out of Hobart but who likes playing here. And then comes #6 Kvitova (or #10 Suarez Navarro or #22 Petkovic of #28 Mladenovic). Kvitova hasn’t managed to complete a match this year — but if she gets over whatever this latest bug is, she can overpower Radwanska. So Radwanska is going to need every trick shot in her arsenal if she’s to get through all this.

Looking at some of our dark horses, #16 Wozniacki has two easy rounds, then faces Errani, then Serena, then Sharapova or Bencic or Kuznetsova or Pavlyuchenkova. Her only hope appears to be that Serena is really hurt.

#5 Sharapova has two easy rounds, but then Pavlyuchenkova, then Bencic or Kuznetsova, then Serena. That just doesn’t seem like it will work.

#28 Mladenovic has to open against against Cibulkova, who just missed seeding and defends well. Two rounds later comes Kvitova. A nasty, nasty draw. Probably too much diversity for a player who seems to have adjustment troubles.

Unseeded Gavrilova faces Kvitova in round two, then Kvitova, then Mladenovic, then Suarez Navarro or Petkovic, then Radwanska. Too much too soon.

#14 Azarenka has two easy rounds, then Svitolina (which, based on current form, probably means we can cross Svitolina off our list), then Muguruza, then Kerber, then Halep. Azarenka is stronger than any of them. If she stays healthy, it really is an opportunity.

#8 Venus will play her third round against #30 Lisicki, one of the few players who can out-serve her. That could be tough. Then comes another big server, #9 Pliskova. Then Halep. If all those players are healthy, that’s a very tough route.

Bottom line: We’re just as confused after looking at the draw in detail as we were before!

Anybody want to share in some lottery tickets?

The Rankings

If you have enough knowledge of tennis even to be breathing, you probably know who is the defending Australian Open champion: Serena Williams took the title last year. Not that it matters, she would still be #1 even if you took off one whole slam and the last six rounds of a second! So she’ll stay on top. But there is plenty of potential for movement below that. Maria Sharapova was last year’s finalist, meaning that she is down around #10 in safe points. Madison Keys and Ekaterina Makarova were semifinalists; they are around #30 and #33 in safe points. (Good thing Makarova is back. Not much sign of life from Keys lately, though.) Quarterfinalists were Dominika Cibulkova (who could easily lose the Top Fifty spot she has been fighting to regain), Venus Williams (who, interestingly, would still be around #11 if those points came off), Simona Halep (still at #2 without those points, although her margin would be a lot smaller), and Eugenie Bouchard (who, like Cibulkova, is in danger of losing all the ground she’s recently regained). Making the Round of Sixteen were Garbine Muguruza, Victoria Azarenka, Agnieszka Radwanska, Madison Brengle, Julia Goerges, Yanina Wickmayer (the latter three of whom are likely to lose their Top Fifty spots), Irina-Camelia Begu (certainly at risk of falling out of the Top Forty), and Peng Shuai (who, so far, has been limited to doubles in her comeback and isn’t in the singles draw). Of the rest of the Top Twenty, Petra Kvitova, Karolina Pliskova, Timea Bacsinszky, Sara Errani, and Elina Svitolina went down in the third round; Roberta Vinci and Caroline Wozniacki lost in the second round; and Angelique Kerber, Lucie Safarova (who of course isn’t playing), Carla Suarez Navarro, Belinda Bencic, and Svetlana Kuznetsova lost their openers. Flavia Pennetta also lost her opener, which presumably means she’ll stay Top Ten despite being retired!

It is amazing to realize that, if Serena’s knee injury causes her to lose early and Simona Halep wins Melbourne, Halep would actually have a shot at #1 this spring (a title at Sydney would have put Halep in spitting distance in the above scenario; Halep’s Sydney loss makes it harder, but she would still be within about 425 points). But that’s a very big if. There is more danger of Halep falling — although her lead of more than 750 points on Garbine Muguruza means that Muguruza is surely going to need a final or better. Agnieszka Radwanska and Angelique Kerber also have theoretical shots at #2, although they surely need titles (Kerber probably can’t make it, in practice, even with a title). Muguruza and Radwanska are close enough together that a semifinal might take Radwanska to #3.

It’s interesting to see Kerber at #5 in safe points, followed by Pennetta and Safarova (who aren’t playing), with Kvitova a mere #8. But the gap between Kerber and Kvitova is less than 200 points. Sharapova is more than 250 behind that.

What that appears to mean in practice is that Serena, Halep, Muguruza, and Radwanska are safe in the Top Five, with Kerber and Kvitova the primary contenders for #5 and Sharapova, Suarez Navarro, Venus, Bencic, and a few others on the fringes of the race.

Safe in the Top Ten are Serena, Halep, Muguruza, Radwanska, Kerber, Pennetta, Safarova, and Kvitova. Sharapova’s chances look good but she’s not clinched. The #10 spot is wide open — from Suarez Navarro, #10 in safe points, through Venus, Bencic, Pliskova, Bacsinszky, Vinci, and Azarenka, #16 in safe points, is only about 650 points, or less than the value of a semifinal.

Keys is the only player in clear danger of losing her Top Twenty spot, with Jankovic and Ivanovic the leading contenders to take her place. Makarova is in grave danger of falling below #30, with Lisicki the player “next in.”

Our very rough cut on the “zero round” rankings looks like this:
1..(1) SWilliams ……… 7945
2..(2) Halep …………. 5535
3..(3) Muguruza ………..4861
4..(4) ARadwanska ………4430
5..(6) Kerber ………….3700
6..(8) Pennetta ………..3611
7..(9) Safarova ………..3580
8..(7) Kvitova ……….. 3512
9..(5) Sharapova ……… 3242
10.(11) Suarez Navarro …..3165
11.(10) VWilliams ……… 3081
12.(13) Bencic ………….3020
13.(12) KaPliskova ………2960
14.(14) Bacsinszky ………2824
15.(15) Vinci …………. 2755
16.(16) Azarenka ………..2505
17.(18) Wozniacki ……… 2501
18.(20) Kuznetsova ………2465
19.(22) Jankovic ………..2435
20.(19) Errani ………….2395

In doubles, Sania Mirza will stay #1 and Martina Hingis #2 (Hingis will become co-#1 in a few weeks), but defending champion Bethanie Mattek-Sands could well lose the #3 spot and her partner Lucie Safarova seems sure to lose the #4 ranking, although with #5 Casey Dellacqua also unable to play, it’s hard to guess who will move up.

Copyright © 2016. No duplication is permitted without permission from Bob Larson Tennis.