Alizé Cornet gritted out a tight victory over up-and-coming Denisa Allertova, while No.2 seed Camila Giorgi was made to battle against Zarina Diyas at the Hobart International.
SYDNEY/HOBART, Australia – With the Brisbane International and ASB Classic in the books, one week stands between the WTA stars and the Australian Open, giving fans the chance to see how their favorites are shaping up ahead of the first major tournament of the year at the Apia International Sydney and the Hobart International.
Sydney’s top seed is Simona Halep; the World No.2 led the field at the Brisbane International, but was forced to withdraw before her heavily-anticipated second round match with Victoria Azarenka due to a recurring Achilles injury. Looking strong in practice with coach Darren Cahill at the helm, Halep will have to hit the ground running in Sydney, with her first match of the year against Caroline Garcia. Garcia has yet to lose a match in 2016, winning her opening round on Sunday against compatriot Kristina Mladenovic to go with three wins at the invitational Hopman Cup.
Halep’s hopes of coming into the Australian Open with a title under her belt went up significantly when news of Petra Kvitova and Agnieszka Radwanska’s withdrawals hit. Kvitova is still struggling with the GI illness that took her out of Shenzhen while Radwanska, who went on to win the tournament in China, is opting not to push a lower leg injury sustained in practice.
Looming for the Romanian in the quarterfinals, however, is the big hitting Karolina Pliskova. The Czech boomed 14 aces in her first round against wildcard and former No.1 Ana Ivanovic, 6-4, 6-2, and played Halep tough in the final of last year’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Experienced veterans in Svetlana Kuznetsova and Jelena Jankovic are also in Halep’s half of the draw, as well.
The bottom half of the draw features the young and talented Belinda Bencic, who outlasted Halep in the final of last year’s Rogers Cup after defeating World No.1 Serena Williams in the semifinals. A potential quarterfinal opponent for Bencic is Angelique Kerber, who comes to Sydney after a successful week in Brisbane that saw her reach the final. Look out for another youngster in Daria Gavrilova; the hometown favorite just won Australia’s first Hopman Cup title since 1999 with the help of Nick Kyrgios, beating Elina Svitolina in the final.
Over in Hobart, the women’s draw lost top seed Sloane Stephens, who came down with a viral illness after winning her second career title at the ASB Classic, but nonetheless sports several names to know. No.2 seed Camila Giorgi is a threat on any given day with her booming ground game; the Italian is already in the second round after surviving Zarina Diyas in three sets.
In her half of the draw is Dominika Cibulkova; the 2014 Australian Open finalist is still getting her rhythm back after leg surgery took her off the tour for much of last year. She’ll be in for a tough battle against Johanna Konta in the first round; Konta was one of the biggest stories of the second half of the season, rising from relative obscurity to make the second week of the US Open and take out Halep at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open.
Though unseeded, Eugenie Bouchard played some of her best tennis in months to reach the quarterfinals of last week’s Shenzhen Open. Feeling no pressure, the Canadian is just happy to be back on the court after missing much of the fall due to a concussion.
Which WTA star will gain precious momentum heading into Melbourne?
BRISBANE, Australia – Victoria Azarenka stormed past Angelique Kerber to win the 18th WTA title of her career – and first WTA title in almost two and a half years – at the Brisbane International.
Azarenka had been on fire all week – she lost a total of just 13 games in her four matches leading up to the final – and she maintained that form against the No.4-seeded Kerber on Saturday night, facing some early resistance but taking complete control from 3-all in the first set to win, 6-3, 6-1.
The match numbers told the story – Azarenka finished with a +14 differential of winners to unforced errors, 23 to 9, while Kerber was a slightly negative -2 on winners to unforced errors, 25 to 27.
The Belarusian also improved to 6-0 lifetime against Kerber and to 60-59 against Top 10 players.
Kerber was the first to take the microphone during the trophy presentation after the match.
“I would like to say congratulations to Vika – you had an amazing week and you’re always a tough opponent,” the World No.10 said. “I was hoping to win one time against you. I think I’m now 0-6 against you! But hopefully we’ll play many more times, and next time you’ll give me a chance to win!”
Azarenka gave the props right back. “Congratulations to Angelique and thank you for pushing me – you always push my limits. I hope we get to play more matches soon and good luck the rest of the year.”
The former World No.1 had some particularly powerful words for the fans, too. “Every time I play in front of this crowd I couldn’t be happier,” she said. “My dreams come true whenever I step on the court, and I want to thank you all for showing up, motivating us so much and inspiring us so much.”
Her 2014 and 2015 seasons ravaged by various injuries, Azarenka – who finished 2012 at No.1 and 2013 at No.2 behind Serena Williams – is already looking back to her best in 2016. This is her first WTA title since Cincinnati all the way back in August 2013, where she defeated Williams in the final.
And even more daunting for her rivals going into the Australian Open? Azarenka – a two-time champion in Melbourne – has now won 35 of her last 39 matches in Australia, a stretch dating back to 2012.
Can the Belarusian make it three at Melbourne Park this year? Stay tuned on wtatennis.com…
Finish off the week with a group dab, @Vika7 Azarenka & the @BrisbaneTennis ball kids! #WTA pic.twitter.com/xA5p9BIzVF
— WTA (@WTA) January 9, 2016
MELBOURNE, Australia – After winning the biggest title of her career at the WTA Finals at the end of the 2015 season, Agnieszka Radwanska made a big declaration – that she would do everything in her power to win a Grand Slam title in 2016 (check out the full interview with CNN Open Court here).
But Radwanska hasn’t just been talking the talk of a future Grand Slam champion – she’s been walking the walk, big time. Since losing early at the US Open she’s been doing a heck of a lot of winning, capturing four of the six tournaments she’s played – Tokyo [Pan Pacific], Tianjin, the WTA Finals in Singapore and Shenzhen this past week – and putting together a more than impressive 22-4 record.
And by winning Shenzhen, Radwanska also secured a rise from No.5 to No.4 on the WTA Rankings, meaning she’ll have a Top 4 seed at the Australian Open, which, in turn, means she won’t have to play Serena Williams until at least the semifinals – a good break given she’s 0-8 against the World No.1.
But the question remains: Why could the Australian Open be Radwanska’s first Grand Slam title?
Well, there’s actually a very good reason Radwanska could make her breakthrough at the Grand Slam of the Asia-Pacific – she’s won 10 of her 18 career WTA titles in the Asia-Pacific**:
2016 – Shenzhen
2015 – Tokyo [Pan Pacific], Tianjin, WTA Finals [Singapore]2014 – Montréal
2013 – Auckland, Sydney, Seoul
2012 – Dubai, Miami, Brussels
2011 – Carlsbad, Tokyo [Pan Pacific], Beijing
2008 – Pattaya City, Istanbul, Eastbourne
2007 – Stockholm
Radwanska was asked why she always does so well in the Asia-Pacific during her week in Shenzhen.
“That’s a good question – I’m not sure!” she replied. “I’m always feeling good on the court here, and I’m always playing great tennis. And you can’t ignore the results – that’s really a lot of tournaments.
“Hopefully there will be even more tournaments to play in the Asia-Pacific in the future!”
Many would pick Wimbledon to be Radwanska’s best major – she reached her first Grand Slam final there in 2012, after all – but she’s been to the quarterfinals or better at the Australian Open just as many times as at Wimbledon (five). Her best result in Melbourne was the semifinals back in 2014.
Can the World No.4, a former World No.2, go all the way this time? Stay tuned on wtatennis.com!
** The general definition for Asia-Pacific is East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and Oceania