Highlights from the finals day action at the Brisbane International.
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 has now won 35 of her last 39 matches in Australia, a stretch dating back to 2012. Can the momentum propel the two-time Australian Open champion to make it three in Melbourne this year?
The full story – here.
Agnieszka Radwanska kept her Asia win-streak alive in the new year. She defeated Alison Riske at Shenzhen, winning her 18th career title and rising to World No.4 – just in time for Top 4 Australian Open seeding.
The full story – here.
Rain delays forced Sloane Stephens to pull double duty at Auckland – she was up 5-2 against Caroline Wozniacki in the ASB Classic semifinal when rain stopped play on Friday. The American came back on Saturday and closed out the match, edging Wozniacki 6-2, 7-6(3) before facing Julia Goerges in the final later that day. Stephens held all 10 of her service games to win 7-5, 6-2 for her career second WTA title.
The full story – here.
Game, Set, Match: WTA Insider
Game: Sam Crawford makes a splash.
Where were you when you saw the 20-year-old American qualifier blast her way past Belinda Bencic and Andrea Petkovic in back-to-back matches without dropping a set, all en route to her first WTA semifinal? Crawford’s pure power was a sight to behold at the Brisbane International. Petkovic was left shaking her head and laughing towards the end of her 6-3, 6-0 loss to the American. Bencic said she had no say in her 7-5, 7-5 loss in the second round, so audacious was Crawford’s hitting. There’s still work to be done in refining Crawford’s game – Victoria Azarenka exploited her struggles when pulled wide – but hers is a name to keep an eye on. She’s now just outside the top 100.
The full story – here.
Set: Angelique Kerber looks sharp.
When looking back on Kerber’s 2015 season it’s easy to forget she was one set away from qualifying for the semifinals in Singapore. If she had been able to control her nerves and take that one set off Lucie Safarova in group play, who knows what the business end of the tournament looks like. And perhaps we would be looking back on her fantastic year – she won four Premier level titles – in an even better light.
So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that she came out firing in Brisbane, where she unveiled her improved fitness and more offensive gameplay to make her sixth Premier final in the last 12 months. She may have lost to Azarenka in the final, but there’s a lot to like about Kerber’s week in Brisbane. It wasn’t necessarily the result that impressed – after Simona Halep, Garbiñe Muguruza, and Maria Sharapova pulled out Kerber was the highest seed remaining – but it’s how she played. She was hitting a bigger ball (with some help from her new hybrid Yonex strings), serving more aggressively, and moving as well as ever. If she can commit to this more aggressive game, 2016 could be a big year for the German.
Kerber’s run earned her a Top 8 seeding at the Australian Open. She also paired up with Andrea Petkovic to make the doubles final. Along with Julia Goerges’ run to the final at the ASB Classic, this was a fantastic start for the Germans.
Read more about Kerber’s adjustments, here.
Match: What’s a New Year without fireworks?
Naomi Broady and Jelena Ostapenko provided the Week 1 drama, thanks to Broady’s incredible comeback win over the 18-year-old Latvian in the second round of the Hobart International. The Brit rallied from 5-2 down in the second set and 5-1 down in the third to win 4-6, 7-6(4), 7-5 to advance to the quarterfinals. But Broady’s gutsy comeback was overshadowed by a mid-match incident that involved a flying racket that hit a ballboy and tearful cries for a default.
Early in the second set tie-break, Ostapenko ran to track down a backhand wide and flung her racket – whether intentional or accidentally we don’t know – into the backstop. The racket ricocheted off the backstop and hit a ballboy. Broady pled her case to the chair umpire and supervisor, demanding that Ostapenko be defaulted. Instead the umpire issued a code violation. It all culminated in an icy post-match handshake and an exchange of words between the two that continued well after the match.
That’s one way to ring in the New Year!
The full story – here.
Notable singles ranking movers for the week of January 11, 2016.
Agnieszka Radwanska (POL), +1 (No.5 to 4): Radwanska captured her 18th career singles title by winning at Shenzhen and as a result moved up one spot to No.4 on Monday’s rankings, which will be used for Australian Open seeding.
Angelique Kerber (GER), +3, (No.10 to 7): Kerber started the year by advancing to the final in Brisbane where she fell short against Azarenka. However, with an appearance in the finals, Kerber moved into the Top 8 (No.7), boosting her seeding in Melbourne.
Victoria Azarenka (BLR), +6 (No.22 to 16): By winning the title in Brisbane, the former No.1 moved to No.16 in the rankings, her highest ranking since the week of August 11, 2014, when she held the No.10 ranking.
Sloane Stephens (USA), +4 (No.30 to 26): Stephens captured her second career title in Auckland moving to No.26 in the rankings, her highest ranking since the 2014 US Open.
Apia International Sydney
Premier | $687,900 | Hard, Outdoors
Sunday, January 10 – Friday, January 15, 2016
International | $226,750 | Hard, Outdoors
Sunday, January 10 – Saturday, January 16, 2016
Top 20 Player Schedules:
1. Serena Williams – Australian Open
2. Simona Halep – Sydney, Australian Open
3. Garbiñe Muguruza – Australian Open
4. Agnieszka Radwanska – Australian Open
5. Maria Sharapova – Australian Open
6. Petra Kvitova – Australian Open
7. Angelique Kerber – Sydney, Australian Open
8. Flavia Pennetta – (retired)
9. Lucie Safarova – (not competing)
10. Venus Williams – Australian Open
11. Karolina Pliskova – Sydney, Australian Open
12. Carla Suárez Navarro – Sydney, Australian Open
13. Timea Bacsinszky – Sydney, Australian Open
14. Belinda Bencic – Sydney, Australian Open
15. Roberta Vinci – Sydney, Australian Open
16. Victoria Azarenka – Australian Open
17. Madison Keys – Australian Open
18. Caroline Wozniacki – Australian Open
19. Sara Errani – Sydney , Australian Open
20. Elina Svitolina – Sydney, Australian Open
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!
Best wishes to those celebrating birthdays this week:
Raina, Ankita (IND) – January 11, 1993
Shapatava, Sofia (GEO) – January 12, 1989
Chang, Kai-Chen (TPE) – January 13, 1991
Pfizenmaier, Dinah (GER) – January 13, 1992
Wang, Qiang (CHN) – January 14, 1992
Domachowska, Marta (POL) – January 16, 1986
SYDNEY, Australia – Playing her first WTA match of the season, Karolina Pliskova was in fine form against wildcard Ana Ivanovic; the Czech star hit a whopping 14 aces to oust the former No.1, 6-4, 6-2.
Ivanovic was coming into Sydney after taking a surprisingly early loss at the ASB Classic; looking for some extra match play ahead of the Australian Open, the Serb came up against a red-hot Pliskova whom she had never beaten in two previous encounters. Though she managed to exchange breaks with Pliskova in the opening set, the 2008 French Open champion was unable to convert any of the four break point opportunities she had in the second, and fell in just under an hour and 20 minutes.
Up next for Pliskova is either qualifier Lara Arruabarrena or the unseeded and looming Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who reached the quarterfinals of the Brisbane International last week.
Earlier in the day, Caroline Garcia won her first WTA match of the season, but came in buoyed by three match wins earned at last week’s Hopman Cup. Garcia won an all-French encounter on Sunday, edging past Kristina Mladenovic, 7-6(4), 6-4. She’s slated to face top seed Simona Halep, who was forced to withdraw from Brisbane with an Achilles injury.
Two veterans also emerged victorious on Sunday; two-time major champion Svetlana Kuznetsova cruised past local wildcard Tammi Patterson, 6-2, 6-0, in just over an hour.
“I felt a bit tense, but in the end I was better,” the famously blunt Kuznetsova told press after the match.
“I have to be really prepared to play an opponent who you’ve never seen and don’t know how they play. I try to think that it’s interesting to try to figure the player out.
“I prefer to know at least a little bit, but when you know a little bit, the coach will tell you how she hits this shot, or that shot, and you’ll have this, but when you go to the court and she plays completely the opposite. I don’t have to choose!”
Kuznetsova could potentially play former No.1 Jelena Jankovic in the quarterfinals; the Serb took out Coco Vandeweghe, 6-3, 6-4.
“It’s the beginning of the season and I just want to get match tough again,” Jankovic said after the match. “I feel a little bit rusty. I have so many options in my head – I should play this or that – but it gets better over time, and it’s normal after not competing for a month and a half.
A Sydney finalist in 2007, the Serb had lost her last three matches to the American, having last beat her at the 2011 BNP Paribas Open.
“I lost to Coco the last few times we played; she has a big game and she doesn’t really let me play my game. If I’m able to absorb her power and move the ball around and not really give her two of the same ball, I’m in good shape.”
Jankovic will have a completely different opponent in the next round, one of Sara Errani or Carla Suárez Navarro.
2014 Sydney champion Tsvetana Pironkova was in fine form, defeating Lesia Tsurenko, 7-6(6), 6-2, and will play either No.8 seed Belinda Bencic or qualifier Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. The only seed to lose on Sunday was No.6 seed Timea Bacsinszky, who faded after a strong opening set against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, 1-6, 6-1, 6-3.
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?