Tag: bianca andreescu

2021 WTA Tour Qatar & Lyon previews

DESPITE losing four Grand Slam winners to-date, the 2021 WTA Tour Qatar Ladies Open still looms as a quality event to take place next week. Top five players, Ash Barty, Simona Halep and Sofia Kenin, as well as US Open winner Bianca Andreescu and Roland Garros runner-up Marketa Vondrosova all withdrew from the 500 tournament, but four Top 10 players still remain.

Elina Svitolina has been upgraded to the top seed with the world number five taking advantage of Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka also not attending the event, while Karolina Pliskova, Aryna Sabalenka and Petra Kvitova round out the top four seeds. Both Pliskova and Kvitova have been in a funk of late, and need to find a way to get back into form. Sabalenka, on the other hand has had nothing but scintillating form, going on a massive winning streak that included a couple of titles late last year, and will look to pick up that again after again falling short of the target at the Australian Open.

Kiki Bertens returns to the Tour at Doha as the fifth seed, while Belinda Bencic has hit her straps in Adelaide and will look to face a host of reinvigorated talents of late. Jennifer Brady is fresh off an Australian Open final to head into the event, while Victoria Azarenka made a Grand Slam final just last year, has rekindled her career-best form and is back inside the Top 20.

The lower end of the draw is still yet to be determined, but the likes of Jelena Ostapenko, Ons Jabeur, Amanda Anisimova and Yulia Putintseva are all expected to take to the court in the 2021 event. Sabalenka is the reigning champion, but Kvitova (2018) and Pliskova (2017) are both past winners here in Doha. Azarenka is a back-to-back winner, having lifted the trophy in 2012-13.

 

Lyon Open:

A second-time event after last year’s debut, the Lyon Open does not quite have the prestige of the Qatar Ladies Open, with world number 33, Ekaterina Alexandrova the top seed. She loves to beat up on lower ranked tournaments and should really get the job done here against a weakened and predominantly European field in France. Though in saying that, there are some good talents here that will push her all the way.

The top two that jump off the page are Argentinian Nadia Podoroska who reached the semi-final at Roland Garros, while rising American teenager Coco Gauff will cause headaches. French trio, Fiona Ferro, Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic are also among the Top 50 players at the event, as is Slovenian Polona Hercog.

Lower down the order, United States’ Shelby Rogers, Romanian Sorana Cirstea, Italian Camila Giorgi and Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich are all among the bigger dark horses that could surpass their lower rankings against Top 50 opponents in France.

2021 Adelaide International WTA preview: Barty Party not over down under

THOSE Australians wanting more Ash Barty will get what they wished for after the world number one made a surprise late charge at the 2021 Adelaide International WTA 500 event. The tournament was initially featuring a stacked field, but with many of them reaching deep into the Australian Open, withdrawals had left the tournament without a Top 10 player. Then came Barty.

The Australian reached the quarter finals of her home Grand Slam during the week, and has opted to play another tournament Down Under having missed out on so much tennis in the past 12 months. Unsurprisingly, the tournament committee was more than happy to hand her a wildcard alongside fellow Australians Olivia Gadecki – coming off a stunning win over Grand Slam winner Sofia KeninSam Stosur and Ajla Tomljanovic.

The field for the Adelaide International is not the strongest one, but still features some great young talent alongside some players really hoping to build better form in 2021. Roland Garros reigning champion Iga Swiatek could loom as one of the main threat’s to Barty’s crown, with the 17th ranked Pole coming in as the fifth seed. Fellow young gun, Yulia Putintseva is seventh seed and one of seven Top 30 competitors at the event.

Elise Mertens is the one to watch, with the tricky Belgian flying under the radar at times, but has the capacity to push for a Top 10 spot, currently ranked 16th and coming in as the fourth seed. Belinda Bencic and Johanna Konta round out the top four players at the event, with both the Swiss up-and-comer and British talent looking to have better outings than their third and first round exits at Melbourne Park. Sixth seed Petra Martic is in the same boat, exiting the first Grand Slam of the year in the Round of 128 and now the world number 19 is hoping to impress here.

The withdrawals from the tournament include Australian Open runner-up Jennifer Brady, and young guns Bianca Andreescu, Elena Rybakina, Dayana Yastremska and Marketa Vondrousova. Instead a number of Chinese and French hopes have come into the tournament, with Zhang Shuai, Zheng Saisai and Wang Qiang joining eighth seed Qiang Wang in the draw, as well as Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic. American duo Danielle Collins and Shelby Rogers are also among the inclusions following the withdrawals.

While the Australian Open did not go to plan for the world number one, the Barty Party is predicted to roll on in Adelaide, with the Australian star a winner her 12 months ago and is clearly the best player in the draw. Mertens and Swiatek are the biggest threats to her crown based on their form, while one of the other seeds could finally click into gear in 2021 and cause some headaches.

Picture credit: Getty Images

Australian Open Women’s Round of 64 wrap: Cirstea stuns Kvitova as Halep holds on

A COUPLE of massive upsets and an almost even bigger upset were the talking points on day three of the Australian Open women’s competition. Eighth seed Bianca Andreescu‘s second match back from injury did not go to plan, losing in straight sets to Chinese Taipei’s Su-Wei Hsieh, while ninth seed Petra Kvitova‘s lacklustre form of late continued, losing out to unseeded Romanian Sorana Cirstea in three sets.

The world’s best doubles player – but ranked 71st in singles – Su-Wei showed no mercy against the Canadian US Open winner, claiming a 6-2 6-3 win in just 83 minutes on court. Su-Wei hit four less winners (16-20), but had 11 less unforced errors (14-25), as she broke six times from nine chances compared to Andreescu’s two from four. It meant that in the past 18 months, the Canadian young gun has played just the two matches – both here at Melbourne Park and back-to-back – for a net result of 1-1.

The more disappointing of the two results was Kvitova’s three-set loss to world number 68 Cirstea. Whilst making it a battle, Kvitova faded out in the deciding set to lose 6-4 1-6 6-1 in two hours and three minutes. One of, if not the best left hander in the world, the Czech has not been herself of late, and needs to rekindle the form soon or she could slip right outside the Top 10. Full credit to Cirstea who broke six times from 16 chances – compared to five from 13 – whilst hitting 14 less unforced errors (30-44) and only four less winners (17-21).

Almost witnessing the biggest upset of the tournament to-date, fans on Margaret Court Arena could hardly believe their eyes when Australian Ajla Tomljanovic was serving for the match against second seed Simona Halep. The home nation support tried to will on their competitor who won the first set, and then was 5-2 up in the third set. Unfortunately for Tomljanovic, that is where it all swung in the world number two’s favour, as Halep won the last five games of the match – crucially breaking in the ninth game of the set and booking her spot in the third round. After losing every singles match in the second half of last year – not an exaggeration – Tomljanovic has shown good form in 2021, winning two from five, with losses to Halep, Aryna Sabalenka and a three-set defeat to Alize Cornet last week.

Speaking of Sabalenka, she continued her great form of the past six months to post a straight sets win over Russian Daria Kasatkina. She joined other Top 10 players, Naomi Osaka, Sabalenka and Serena Williams in the next round without dropping a set. Other seeds to win in two sets were last year’s Australian Open runner-up Garbine Muguruza, reigning Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek, 2019 Roland Garros runner-up Marketa Vondrousova, and the resurgent Tunisian, Ons Jabeur.

In an all-Russian battle, 32nd seed Veronika Kudermetova booked her spot in the Round of 32 courtesy of a 5-7 6-2 6-2 win over Varvara Gracheva. She joined Anastasia Potapova in the next round after the Russian took care of Hungarian qualifier Timea Babos, 6-2 6-4. The only other seed to drop out at the second round stage was Elena Rybakina with the rising Kazakh talent unable to repeat her early form last year, going down to France’s Fiona Ferro, 6-4 6-4.

One could have been forgiven if they thought they had time travelled 10 to 15 years. Italian qualifier and former Top 5 player Sara Errani easily overcame an injured Venus Williams 6-1 6-0, in what was a battle of the veterans. A much younger Ann Li continued her unbeaten run in 2021, defeating Frenchwoman Alize Cornet in straight sets, while Kazakhstan’s Zarina Diyas also made it through to the Round of 32.

The match of the third round has to be third seed Osaka up against 27th seed Jabeur, with the winner likely to play Muguruza in the Round of 16. The stunning upsets of Andreescu and Kvitova has opened the draw wide open for Vondrousova, who could easily make a quarter final if she can play at her best as the only Top 60 player in her section. Sabalenka takes on Li, whilst a potential fourth round clash between the power punchers in Sabalenka and Serena Williams would be a dream, much like a similar clash if Halep and Swiatek win their respective third round matches.

Looking ahead to today, and top seed Ash Barty is back on court up against compatriot Daria Gavrilova in a must-watch for the home nation. Forget not dropping a set, Barty is yet to drop a game after her double-donut performance against Montenegro’s Danka Kovinic in the first round. Other matches that could provide some highlights include 11th seed Belinda Benci up against Russian veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova, while Karolina Pliskova and Sofia Kenin take on Danielle Collins and Kaia Kanepi respectively. The match of the day is most likely fifth seed Elina Svitolina clashing with young gun Coco Gauff in a head-to-head not to be missed.

ROUND OF 64 RESULTS:

[2] Simona Halep (ROU) defeated Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS) 4-6 6-4 7-5
[3] Naomi Osaka (JPN) defeated Caroline Garcia (FRA) 6-2 6-3
[7] Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) defeated Daria Kasatkina (RUS) 7-6 6-3
Su-Wei Hsieh (TAI) defeated [8] Bianca Andreescu (CAN) 6-3 6-2
Sorana Cirstea (ROU) defeated [9] Petra Kvitova (CZE) 6-4 1-6 6-1
[10] Serena Williams (USA) defeated Nina Stojanovic (SRB) 6-3 6-0
[14] Garbine Muguruza (ESP) defeated [Q] Liudmilla Samsonova (RUS) 6-3 6-1
[15] Iga Swiatek (POL) defeated Camila Giorgi (ITA) 6-2 6-4
Fiona Ferro (FRA) defeated [17] Elena Rybakina (KAZ) 6-4 6-4
[19] Marketa Vondrousova (CZE) defeated [Q] Rebecca Marino (CAN) 6-1 7-5
[27] Ons Jabeur (TUN) defeated [LL] Anna Schmiedlova (SVK) 6-3 6-2
[32] Veronika Kudermetova (RUS) defeated Varvara Gracheva (RUS) 5-7 6-2 6-2
Zarina Diyas (KAZ) defeated Bernarda Pera (USA) 6-4 3-6 6-3
Ann Li (USA) defeated Alize Cornet (FRA) 6-2 7-6
Anastasia Potapova (RUS) defeated [Q] Timea Babos (HUN) 6-2 6-4
[Q] Sara Errani (ITA) defeated Venus Williams (USA) 6-1 6-0

Picture credit: Getty Images

Australian Open Women’s Round of 128 wrap: Barty dominates as Sherif first Egyptian woman to make it to grand slam second round

A flurry of exciting players joined the Australian Open fray on Day 2 of proceedings at Melbourne Park, with world number one Ash Barty making her Open return in smashing fashion, while the likes of Sofia KeninElina Svitolina and Karolina Pliskova all came out flying as the top seeds of the day. In a highly competitive day of action – with nine matches going to three sets and four of those hitting the two-hour and 30-minute mark – just a couple of seeded competitors fell, with 12th seed Victoria Azarenka leading the pack after an excellent outing from American Jessica Pegula, while Johanna Konta retired from her 6-4 0-2 encounter with Slovenian Kaja JuvanPetra Martic struggled to maintain composure after Serbian qualifier Olga Danilovic took out the first set tiebreaker, eventually going down 7-5 3-6 6-4, while Maria Sakkari was error-ridden in defeat, and 31st seed Zhang Saisai was exposed by American Ann Li who hit 22 winners to Zhang’s two to come away with a 6-2 6-0 victory in 47 minutes.

But while a 47-minute victory was one thing, Barty’s 6-0 6-0 utter domination of Danka Kovinic was another, with the Australian disposing of the world number 82 in just 44 minutes. Collecting 10 winners for five unforced error’s compared to Kovinic’s three and 28, Barty dismantled her opposition on home soil and proved far too good for the Montenegrin, who spent 20,120 minutes in hotel quarantine in Melbourne for a devastating 44 minutes of play. Barty is joined by a couple of compatriots in the second round, as Daria Gavrilova and Sam Stosur were both successful on their opening day. World number 387 Gavrilova stunned 64th ranked Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo on return with a 6-1 first set setting up a straight sets 6-1 7-5 victory, while Stosur downed compatriot Destanee Aiava 6-4 6-4. Kenin’s outing against fellow Australian Maddison Inglis may not have been quite as dominant, but she still came away with a classy 7-5 6-4 victory over the Australian who is still yet to win an match on the WTA Tour, while a duo of green and gold wildcards in Astra Sharma and Arina Rodionova will join Inglis and Aiava on the sidelines.

Mayar Sherif became the first Egyptian woman to make it past the first round at a Grand Slam with her 7-5 7-5 victory over Frenchwoman Chloe Paquet, joined by Danilovic and Liudmila Samsonova as the only qualifiers to make it through the day, while young gun Coco Gauff continued her running grand slam form with a 6-3 6-2 sweep of Jil Teichmann to head into yet another second round at a major tournament. Powerhouses Pliskova and Svitolina may have had supremely different playing times – 47 minutes and two hours, respectively – but both also head into the second round, after disposing of Jasmine Paolini and Marie Bouzkova, while the seeded duo is joined in the second round by a flurry of top talent as 2020 Australian Open runner up Garbine MuguruzaBelinda BencicElise Mertens and Anett Kontaveit all came away with excellent wins, as did Jennifer Brady, Karolina MuchovaYulia PutintsevaDonna Vekic and Ekaterina Alexandrova with all bar five seeds making it out alive on Day 2 of the Open.

The second round of action begins at Melbourne Park today, with the day session headlined by the likes of Serena Williams and Bianca Andreescu, while the night session will see Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep take the court against unseeded opposition in Caroline Garcia and Ajla TomljanovicVenus Williams will look to continue her run when she takes on Italian qualifier Sara Errani, while Iga Swiatek will take on Errani’s higher ranked compatriot Camila Giorgi.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN WOMEN’S ROUND OF 128 RESULTS:

[1] Ash Barty (AUS) defeated Danka Kovinic (MON) 6-0 6-0
[4] Sofia Kenin (USA) defeated [WC] Maddison Inglis (AUS) 7-5 6-4
[5] Elina Svitolina (UKR) defeated Marie Bouzkova (CZE) 6-3 7-6
[6] Karolina Pliskova (CZE) defeated Jasmine Paolini (ITA) 6-0 6-2
[11] Belinda Bencic (SUI) defeated Lauren Davis (USA) 6-3 4-6 6-1
Jessica Pegula (USA) defeated [12] Victoria Azarenka (BLR) 7-5 6-4
Kaja Juvan (SLO) defeated [13] Johanna Konta (GBR) 4-6 2-0 RET
[14] Garbine Muguruza (ESP) defeated [LL] Margarita Gasparyan (RUS) 6-4 6-0
[Q] Olga Danilovic (SRB) defeated [16] Petra Martic (CRO) 7-5 3-6 6-4
[18] Elise Mertens (BEL) defeated Leylah Fernandez (CAN) 6-1 6-3
Kristina Mladenovic (FRA) defeated [20] Maria Sakkari (GRE) 6-2 0-6 6-3
[21] Anett Kontaveit (EST) defeated Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR) 7-5 6-2
[22] Jennifer Brady (USA) defeated Aliona Bolsova (ESP) 6-1 6-3
[25] Karolina Muchova (CZE) defeated Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) 7-5 6-2
[26] Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) defeated Sloane Stephens (USA) 4-6 6-2 6-3
[28] Donna Vekic (CRO) defeated Wang Yifan (CHN) 4-6 6-3 6-4
[29] Ekaterina Alexandrova (RUS) defeated Martina Trevisan (ITA) 6-3 6-4
Ann Li (USA) defeated [31] Zhang Saisai (CHN) 6-2 6-0
Coco Gauff (USA) defeated Jil Teichmann (SUI) 6-3 6-2
[WC] Daria Gavrilova (AUS) defeated Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP) 6-1 7-5
Danielle Collins (USA) defeated Ana Bogdan (ROU) 6-3 6-1
Nao Hibino (JPN) defeated [WC] Astra Sharma (AUS) 2-6 6-3 7-5
Madison Brengle (USA) defeated [WC] Arina Rodionova (AUS) 6-1 6-2
Kaia Kanepi (EST) defeated Anastasija Sevastova (EST) 6-3 6-1
Heather Watson (GBR) defeated Kristyna Pliskova (CZE) 7-6 7-6
[Q] Liudmila Samsonova (RUS) defeated Paula Badosa (ESP) 6-7 7-6 7-5
Nadia Podoroska (ARG) defeated Christina McHale (USA) 6-4 6-4
Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) defeated Barbora Strycova (CZE) 6-2 6-2
Zhu Lin (CHN) defeated [Q] Whitney Osuigwe (USA) 6-1 6-1
[WC] Sam Stosur (AUS) defeated [WC] Destanee Aiava (AUS) 6-4 6-4
[Q] Mayar Sherif (EGY) defeated [Q] Chloe Paquet (FRA) 7-5 7-5
Alison Van Uytvanck (BEL) defeated [Q] Clara Burel (FRA) 4-6 6-3 6-4
Shelby Rogers (USA) defeated [Q] Francesca Jones (GBR) 6-4 6-1
Mona Barthel (GER) defeated [Q] Elisabetta Cocciaretto (ITA) 3-6 6-4 6-4

Australian Open Women’s Round of 128 wrap: Top seeds skate through to second round as former Australian Open champion Kerber falls

THE Australian Open started with a bang on Monday, with the Grand Slam women’s circuit showcasing a heap of intriguing results in the Round of 128.

A number of the obvious candidates head through to the second round after excellent day one efforts, with top three seeds Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka skating through completely unscathed. While the second and third ranked players in the world produced almost identical wins, it was the ease with which both disposed of their opposition, seeing Halep defeat Australian wildcard Lizette Cabrera 6-2 6-1 in 59 minutes, and Osaka needing just 10 minutes more to down Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1 6-2. Serena Williams proved she is still on track for an equal record 24 singles Grand Slams, outstanding in her 6-1 6-1 sweep of Laura Siegemund in 56 minutes. The quick victory was only beaten by Anastasia Potapova who blew Williams’ compatriot Alison Riske out of the water, obliterating the 24th seed 6-2 6-1 in just 51 minutes to be the quickest victor of the day.

Bianca Andreescu made her triumphant return to the circuit after 15 months away from the court, and while her opposition in lucky loser Mihaela Buzarnescu put her through her paces in a tighter second set, the Canadian eighth seed survived the test to come out with the 6-2 4-6 6-3 victory – something she will be happy about after pulling out of last week’s Grampians Trophy to focus on her Australian Open return. The ever-consistent Petra Kvitova relished being back on Australian soil with a 6-3 6-4 sweep of qualifier Greet Minnen, while Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka and Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek both came away with solid victories to head into the second round.

But it was not all fun and games for seeds, as former Australian Open champion and 23rd seed Angelique Kerber was overcome by a fast-starting Bernarda Pera, as the American world number 63 disposed of the German champion in straight sets, 6-0 6-4.  An uncharacteristically down-and-out Qiang Wang could not compete with qualifier Sara Errani, with the 131st ranked Italian far cleaner than last year’s Australian Open giant slayer in the 2-6 6-4 6-4 win.

In other games, Tunisian 27th seed Ons Jabeur and a couple of Kazakhstan representatives head through to the second round with 17th seed Elena Rybakina joined by Zarina Diyas, while Russia boasted four more winners to join Potapova in the next round, but also saw four compatriots fall at the first hurdle. Venus Williams reigned supreme against Kirsten Flipkins, proving once more that age is just a number at 40 years old.

The women’s Round of 128 continues today at Melbourne Park, with world number one Ash Barty hitting the court following her maiden 2021 title on Sunday, while 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin also enters the draw, as does in-form Belarusian Victoria Azarenka and exciting young gun Coco Gauff.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN WOMEN’S ROUND OF 128 RESULTS:

[2] Simona Halep (ROU) defeated [WC] Lizette Cabrera (AUS) 6-2 6-1
[3] Naomi Osaka (JPN) defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) 6-1 6-2
[7] Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) defeated Viktoria Kuzmova (SVK) 6-0 6-4
[8] Bianca Andreescu (CAN) defeated [LL] Mihaela Buzarnescu (ROU) 6-2 4-6 6-3
[9] Petra Kvitova (CZE) defeated [Q] Greet Minnen (BEL) 6-3 6-4
[10] Serena Williams (USA) defeated Laura Siegemund (GER) 6-1 6-1
[15] Iga Swiatek (POL) defeated Arantxa Rus (NED) 6-1 6-3
[17] Elena Rybakina (KAZ) defeated Vera Zvonareva (RUS) 4-6 6-4 6-4
[19] Marketa Vondrousova (RUS) defeated Rebecca Peterson (SWE) 2-6 7-5 7-5
Bernarda Pera (USA) defeated [23] Angelique Kerber (GER) 6-0 6-4
Anastasia Potapova (RUS) defeated [24] Alison Riske (USA) 6-2 6-1
[27] Ons Jabeur (TUN) defeated Andrea Petkovic (GER) 6-3 3-6 6-4
[Q] Sara Errani (ITA) defeated [30] Qiang Wang (CHN) 2-6 6-4 6-4
[32] Veronika Kudermetova (RUS) defeated Marta Kostyuk (UKR) 6-2 7-6
Venus Williams (USA) defeated Kirsten Flipkens (GER) 7-5 6-2
Ajla Tomljanovich (AUS) defeated Misaki Doi (JPN) 6-2 6-1
Zarina Diyas (KAZ) defeated Tamara Zidansek (SLO) 6-2 7-5
[Q] Rebecca Marino (CAN) defeated [WC] Kimberley Birrell (AUS) 6-0 7-6
[LL] Anna Karolina Schmiedlova (SVK) defeated [Q] Mayo Hibi (JPN) 7-6 6-4
Camila Giorgi (ITA) defeated Yaroslava Shvedova (KAZ) 6-3 6-3
[Q] Timea Babos (HUN) defeated Ysaline Bonaventure (BEL) 7-6 6-4
Alize Cornet (FRA) defeated [Q] Valeria Savinykh (RUS) 6-2 4-6 7-6
Hsieh Suwei (TPE) defeated [Q] Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL) 7-5 6-2
Nina Stojanovic (SRB) defeated Irina Camelia Begu (ROU) 6-3 6-4
Varvara Gracheva (RUS) defeated Ana Blinkova (RUS) 6-1 3-6 7-6
Daria Kasatkina (RUS) defeated Katie Boulter (GBR) 6-1 6-4
Fiona Ferro (FRA) defeated Katerina Siniakova (CZE) 6-7 6-2 6-4
Caroline Garcia (FRA) defeated Polona Hercog (SLO) 7-6 6-3
Sorana Cirstea (ROU) defeated Patricia Maria Tig (ROU) 6-2 6-1

2021 Grampians Trophy preview: Stacked lineup as players come out of hard lockdown

THE next in a line of WTA 500 events opening the year is the Grampians Trophy, yet another competition added to the womens’ tournament list purely for players forced into hard lockdown once landing in Australia. But while the tournament is new for 2021, the calibre of players certainly is not, with a number of familiar faces and high-calibre talent taking the court. Of the 28 competitors, initial confirmation was that 11 top 30 players will compete, headed up by Bianca Andreescu – who would return to the court with a protected ranking after well over a year away – and fellow top 20 players Belinda BencicVictoria Azarenka and Elena Rybakina. But a late withdrawal from Andreescu sees a last minute change to the draw, with Georgian alternate Oksana Kalashnikova brought into the lineup.

The lone Australian tournament without any homegrown talent – for obvious reasons, given very little were in hotel quarantine – will see a host of top notch players, with the United States boasting six competitors and ultimately leading the charge, with Jennifer Brady and Alison Riske amongst the top 10 ranked on the list, while Russia and Czech Republic will both field three players apiece in a stacked draw.

Joining the aforementioned players in the seeded positions are the likes of Maria Sakkari – who thanks to Andreescu’s withdrawal will now receive a first round bye as the fourth seed – Anett Kontaveit, and Angelique Kerber, with all three boasting plenty of winning experience and form on Australian soil, making for an intriguing field at Melbourne Park, especially given the lack of courttime for all participating athletes.

Adding to the stacked lineup are the likes of Yulia Putintseva and Ons Jabeur, who are more than capable of taking on the top echelon of talent and are both around the top 30 mark, while there is no shortage of quality in the mix either with a plethora of tournament winners taking the court. Youngster Leylah Fernandez will hope to follow in her compatriot Andreescu’s footsteps and push to elevate her game ahead of the Australian Open next week.

While all players will realistically be slightly off their game given the limited court time in recent months, plus the enforced hard lockdown when landing in Australia two weeks ago, expect the usual suspects to be right up there, while Azarenka had an excellent 2020, as did Rybakina. Whilst the likes of Kerber and Brady can sometimes be inconsistent, when they are on, they are on, making for interesting contests across the board.

WTA Tour hypothetical: What if they had WTA Finals this year?

THE ATP Finals event is one of the top competitions of the ATP Tour each season, featuring the top talent from across the world and playing a round robin pooled between the top eight seeds. The WTA Tour itself does not have the same style of competition to pit the top talent against each other, so Draft Central is asking the question: What would a WTA Finals event look like?

Looking at how the WTA Tour compares to the ATP Tour and there is one significant difference between the two competitions; the women’s rankings are much more fluid than the men’s, seeing players swap and change across seasons and ultimately seeing a lot of moving parts that could contribute to an intriguing WTA Finals series.

The next piece of the puzzle would involve availability and willingness to compete, with the current world number one Ash Barty currently out of action and home in Australia due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so would be unlikely to compete in the hypothetical event. The top seed status would then fall to current second ranked Romanian Simona Halep, with Japanese US Open champion Naomi Osaka coming into second and Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin slotting in at third.

Halep cuts an imposing figure coming in as the top seed, holding the longest active streak in the WTA Top 10 at 336 consecutive weeks and with three titles under her belt in 2020 would be the top prospect despite not playing since her Round of 16 exit at the Roland Garros in September-October. Halep’s experience is paramount to her success, continuously developing her game and impressing with her exceptional 23-3 win-loss ratio for the 2020 season allowing her to make a run at the WTA Finals title and be a fairly predictable front-runner.

Osaka’s excellent run of form in 2020 sees her in at second seed, finishing within the top three in the world for the second straight year. While she has only won the one title this year, she was a consistent fixture on the Tour and took out the US Open in the process, returning to the Top 5 despite hovering around the tenth mark for much of the interrupted year. Still relatively young, Osaka can be unpredictable at times which lends to her explosiveness, though can also see her falter unexpectedly. Like Halep, she has not competed since earlier in the year, with her US Open victory her most recent competition back in August-September.

Looking to Kenin in at third and it is a similar story for the American, who is an unpredictable but exciting young talent, still developing her craft and completing her maiden season within the Top 10 after finishing at fourteenth in 2019. Kenin is a force to be reckoned with when she gets going, and has won two of the three finals she made this season – two of which were Grand Slams. Kenin’s breakout performance at the Australian Open back in January catapulted her into the spotlight, and the 22-year-old has showcased a real ability to impress under pressure.

Fifth ranked Ukrainian Elina Svitolina would be next in line, with the 26-year-old more than capable of holding her own given her consistency and recent experience, coming in as one of the only players who has participated consistently since the return to court. Svitolina’s win-loss ratio for the season sits at 19-9 seeing her trail only Halep and Kenin for wins – keeping in mind Barty’s absence from the Tour and Osaka only playing the United States-based competitions – and overall she has been a constant fixture with two title wins this year.

Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova take up the next two spots on the list in at fifth and sixth seeds respectively, given Bianca Andreescu‘s absence from the Tour in 2020. The two Czech talents are some of the most threatening names out there, with the former collecting a title back in early January at the Brisbane International, and the latter only making the one final in Doha, in late February, but recording an excellent 20-6 winning ratio for 2020. While not the most successful players on Tour in 2020, neither Czech talent can ever be ruled out given their explosiveness and respective aggressive work-rates.

Andreescu has successfully navigated a year away from the sport with injury and remained within the Top 10 due to the pandemic and her excellent 2019 form, and the Canadian would be an expected top performer if she did take the court. That being said, Andreescu’s lack of competitive court-time in 2020 lends to her not competing here, opening up positions to the ninth and 10th ranked players in the WTA Rankings.

Coming in for Barty and Andreescu would be the likes of Kiki Bertens and Aryna Sabalenka, with the ninth and tenth ranked WTA Tour players rounding out the playing field nicely. While Bertens has had an inconsistent year to say the least, with her lone title coming in Russia in February and dealt first round exits at both the Internazionali BNL d’Italia and Internationaux de Strasbourg, she has been fairly consistent and lucked out with the disrupted season to, like Andreescu, benefit off the extended break in the middle of the year.

For Sabalenka, her entry to the event would be especially exciting, finishing a season within the top 10 for the first time and knocking Serena Williams out of the 10 with her most recent title victories at the Ostrava Open and Upper Austria Ladies Linz in the past few weeks and seeing the 22-year-old take her 2020 title-count to three. Intriguingly, while Sabalenka would come in as the lowest seed, she comes in with the form and confidence to fly out of the blocks and be a top contender here given her consistent court-time this year with 29 wins for 10 losses.

2020 WTA Tour Hypothetical WTA Finals:

Simona Halep
Naomi Osaka
Sofia Kenin
Elina Svitolina
Karolina Pliskova
Petra Kvitova
Kiki Bertens (replacing Ash Barty)
Aryna Sabalenka (replacing Bianca Andreescu)

Suffice to say, there are plenty of exciting competitors amongst the top WTA rankings, and one could argue the way of any of the eight potential competitors to win the hypothetical WTA Finals event. As said above, one cannot argue the recent form of Sabalenka, though the winning ability through thick and thin of the likes of Halep and Kvitova is always tough to surpass. Factor in the Grand Slam winners Kenin and Osaka, and there’s a hugely versatile field which could ultimately go any way depending on the day and opponent, making for an intriguing and exciting battle if it were to go ahead.

WTA Tour hypothetical: What if they had Next Gen Finals this year?

THE ATP Tour’s Next Gen Finals are a highly sought after event to show off the best young talent coming through the men’s competition. In past years, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Jannik Sinner have triumphed, leading them onto successful years the following seasons and beyond. As it stands, the WTA Tour does not have a Next Gen Finals tournament, so in today’s WTA Tour hypothetical, Draft Central asks the question: What would a Next Gen WTA Tour Finals look like?

If we take the same approach as the men’s with eight players aged 21-years-old or younger and play it in Italy, this looks at the top seven ranked players born in 1999 or after. Under the same rules for it to be hosted in Italy, an Italian wildcard would gain automatic entry. Looking at the names in the top eight, it would be a blockbuster event that would be highly watched with seven Top 50 players involved at its peak.

The top ranked player would be Bianca Andreescu, with the tennis world perhaps forgetting just how good last year’s US Open winner could be in such a short space of time. Injury wiped out her 2020 season, and with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadian talent decided to sit out the rest of the year and gear up for a big Australian summer. Whilst the Top 10 ranked talent would be the clear standout at the event, the fact she has not played all year means if this event was to go ahead later this month, she would bypass it, allowing another player to take her place as an alternative.

It is somewhat fitting that with the unavailability of the 2019 US Open winner, that the 2020 French Open winner becomes the first seed. Poland’s Iga Swiatek broke her tournament drought in the best way possible when the 19-year-old claimed the Flushing Meadows title in remarkable style. Swiatek would be favourite at the event given her title, but it is easy to forget that she actually did not play that much tennis in 2020. She finished with a 13-5 record from six tournaments, as well as three Fed Cup wins.

Elena Rybakina would be the next highest ranked talent coming through, and she has the talent to really capitalise at this event. Her 2020 season was as good as anyone else’s, finishing with a 18-6 win-loss record. She made five finals, but unfortunately only won the one title in Hobart, falling to Ekaterina Alexandrova in Shenzhen, and then Top 10 players, Kiki Bertens, Simona Halep and Elina Svitolina in St. Petersburg, Dubai and Strasboug respectively. Her start to 2020 was unbelievable and she is one to watch in 2021.

Rounding out the top four would be 2019 Roland Garros runner-up Marketa Vondrousova. The Czech talent unfortunately had a disappointing year in 2020, with a poor 8-10 record at 44.4 per cent, the worst season of her career. A semi-finals run at Rome picked up half of her wins this year, but outside of Rome, she was 4-9 including a first round exit to Swiatek at Roland Garros. She only had the one Top 40 win – against Svitolina in Rome – and otherwise had a year to forget. Next year will be a big one for the 21-year-old to see if 2019 was a fluke or if 2020 was impacted by the various world issues on Tour.

Into the bottom four, Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska makes it in ranked inside the Top 30. Unfortunately her year was a bit up and down, not able to string more than two wins together. She had a good win over Amanda Anisimova in Rome, but did not make it past the third match in any tournament. Still only 20-years-old, Yastremska still has a big future ahead of her, but will just need to improve her consistency because she has the potential and started the Australian summer well this year.

Anisimova is the next one who qualifies, and while she also had an up-and-down year, the teenage American gets more than a pass considering the family tragedy of her father passing away in 2019 impacting her game. She managed to finish the year with a better-than-50 per cent win-loss record of 11-10, and while there was only a couple of Top 20 victories in there, a nice break off will do her good to reset and recover for 2021.

Coco Gauff the teen sensation is by far the youngest in this list and will be eligible to play at this event for the next five years if it happened. Turning 16 in March, Gauff won 10 of 18 matches in 2020, and claimed some big scalps over Ons Jabeur (twice), Naomi Osaka and Johanna Konta, whilst also having Aryna Sabalenka on the ropes at Ostrava before the Belarusian stepped up. Gauff is still young and her semi-final run at Lexington was her best effort, though third rounds at the Australian Open and Ostrava were also impressive.

Rounding out the eighth spot is the Italian wildcard in Elisabetta Cocciaretto who is the highest ranked player from the hypothetical home nation who fits the bill. The question mark is on her work outside of clay, because she is an incredibly talented clay courter, but struggles on the hard court. She only played the eight matches on the WTA Tour, breaking through for her maiden WTA Tour victory at Palermo in August where she reached the quarter finals, before going all the way to winner a Challenger event in Prague. Still raw, Cocciaretto will only build on her already impressive effort having claimed back-to-back Top 50 wins this year.

They are the top eight qualifiers for the hypothetical event, though with Andreescu more than likely to pull out, it would allow the next highest player to compete in fellow Canadian, Leylah Fernandez. A run to the Acapulco final this year saw the qualifier bolt up 64 places, and by year’s end she was in the Top 100 following a second round and third round effort at US Open and Roland Garros. Respectable losses to Top 12 players Sofia Kenin and Petra Kvitova at those events did not lose her any fans as she upset Top 40 players, Magda Linette and Polona Hercog in Paris before opting to head home and finish her year at the Grand Slam.

2020 WTA Tour Hypothetical Next Gen Finals:

Iga Swiatek
Elena Rybakina
Marketa Vondrousova
Dayana Yastremska
Amanda Anisimova
Coco Gauff
Leylah Fernandez (replacing Bianca Andreescu)
Elisabetta Cocciaretto

It would be predicted Rybakina for pure consistency would take it out, with Swiatek hoping to continue her form at Roland Garros, while Gauff would be the wildcard. Yastremska, Anisimova and especially Vondrousova just did not have the form in 2020 that would see them likely win here, whilst Fernandez and Cocciaretto are just that step down in that edge of the Top 100 rather than Top 50.

Picture: WTA Tour

Three top 12 seeds out, but Italy International still stacked with talent

THE Internazionali D’Italia or Italy International might not feature world number one, Ash Barty or top 12 players Bianca Andreescu and Aryna Sabalenka, but there are still plenty of top 10 talents running around on the Rome clay courts. The lead-up event to Roland Garros, players such as Serena Williams and Simona Halep will be keen to perform strongly.

Last year’s Roland Garros winner Barty will not be there, but world number 14 and French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova will attend and hope to build up towards another big Grand Slam performance. Halep will enter the tournament as the top seed after foregoing the chance to play in the United States, joined by world number three Karolina Pliskova who is in poor form, winning just one of three matches since the COVID-19 pandemic postponement. Pliskova knows how to win in Rome though, defeating Johanna Konta 6-3 6-4 here in 2019.

World number four Sofia Kenin will be seeded third at the event, with Elina Svitolina, Kiki Bertens and Belinda Bencic – seeded fourth, fifth and sixth respectively – returning after deciding to stay in Europe the past month. Grand Slam winners Williams and Osaka, and the two European Petras in Kvitova and Martic.

Some players, such as Garbine Muguruza and Alison Riske will be keen to put their US Open campaigns behind them and return to clay. Muguruza in particular is someone more than capable of performing on clay having won the French Open back in 2016. Other French Open winners here are Halep (2018), Jelena Ostapenko (2017), Williams (2002, 2013 and 2015) and Svetlana Kuznetsova (2009).

Prior to Pliskova’s win last year, Elina Svitolina had won back-to-back titles at the Italy International, with Williams winning three of the past four prior to that, and four overall. In an example of just how durable she is, Venus Williams has been handed a wildcard and is a past winner back in 1999 when she was a teenager. Another veteran and Grand Slam winner is Victoria Azarenka who has rekindled some of her best tennis of late.

It is no surprise to see Italy having a strong presence through the tournament, with Camila Giorgi and Jasmine Paolini the top ranked hopes for the home nation. Elisabetta Cocciaretto still remains a threat, particularly on clay, while former top five player Sara Errani can never be discounted.

Tournament officials will have their work cut out for them fixturing players around their busy schedules with some only just arriving back from the United States in time to take to the court at Rome. Those who reached the semi-finals of the US Open – Williams, Azarenka, Osaka and Jennifer Brady – will all receive first round byes in a floating draw.

Who is in the best position to take out the WTA Tour US Open trophy?

WHICH player is in the best position to take out the WTA Tour US Open title? In a compromised season of tennis action, really anything could happen here with the reigning champion out of the draw and plenty of the top talent missing out due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns. But with rankings on the line and many itching to get back on the court, expect some huge battles over the coming weeks.

Looking at the draw, a number of things stick out – many of which were brought up in our US Open preview yesterday – such as some key withdrawals in terms of rankings and a heap of American competitors will take the courts at Flushing Meadows. With a couple of shock losses at the Western and Southern Open last week expect the women’s draw to have some interesting results given the inconsistency of court time and overall unknown of the competition this year. Six of the top 10 ranked in the world have withdrawn from the competition with the top two in Ash Barty and Simona Halep leading the pack as a huge 27 players from the United States contend for the title.

With such a mix of competitors and little warm-up for many of the entrants, there is really no certainty of who will hold up well against their respective opposition. Looking at the first quarter of the draw, the is no doubt that Karolina Pliskova has lucked out with her top seeding but will come up against a couple of well-prepared players who have tried their hand at both the Prague Open and Western and Southern Open in recent weeks, whereas Pliskova only played at the latter. While she should get the chocolates over her first opposition in Anhelina Kalinina, with the Ukrainian ranked just within the top 150 and no more recent time on court than Pliskova. But with the likes of Carolina Garcia or Jasmine Paolini next up – and the chance of Alison Riske further down the line – Pliskova cannot afford to rest on her laurels, especially given the amount of homegrown United States talent that will hope to bring home the trophy.

Looking further the down the line, names like Petra Martic and Marketa Vondrousova also stick out with a couple of highly seeded players in the mix. Past US Open champion Angelique Kerber is also in this quarter of the draw and while the German talent has not been a huge threat in recent years with her form somewhat dropping she comes in as 17th seed at the US Open and will want to take advantage of that especially against Australian Ajla Tomljanovic in the first round.

While Naomi Osaka has been in the news for different reasons this week, she had to withdraw from the Western and Southern Open final on the weekend citing injury prior to taking the court which could really put her US Open chances in jeopardy. While her form ahead of the extended break was somewhat shaky, she had a very good run at the W&S Open and could be a huge threat here at the US Open if she competes – especially with 2019 victor Bianca Andreescu out – and could nab a second title. Sitting at fourth in the seeding, Osaka will take on compatriot, Misaki Doi in the first round and is likely to run out winner with little issues, but if she makes it past the early rounds could set up a huge battle against Petra Kvitova, who comes in as sixth seed but like many, has only taken the court once since the break in proceedings back in March.

Anett Kontaveit has also been in solid form but will take on American Danielle Collins in the first round potentially setting up some intriguing battles with Anastasija Sevastova and Coco Gauff also among that grouping, with the Latvian the second last seeding in at 31st but 16-year-old Gauff able to beat anyone on her day.

Leading the next quarter of the draw are Americans Madison Keys and Serena Williams, with this quarter having a fair few top-seeded Americans making for a tantalising couple of battles. Australian Open finalist Garbine Muguruza and Greek Talent Maria Sakkari are among this draw while former US Open champion Sloane Stephens is also in the mix. This quarter of the draw looks like it could be one of the tougher ones of the entire competition given the calibre of young and experienced talent and potentially setting up some huge matches down the track. If everything goes to plan, expect a huge battle between Stevens and Williams potentially in the third round, which would see one of the two Americans down and out and potentially put a huge hole in Williams’ plan to reach 24 Grand Slam titles.

Expect youngster Iga Swiatek to put in a tough batter in her match against 29th seed Czech talent Veronika Kudermetova, and while Swiatek has really stepped up her game recently Kudermetova is no easy beat and will benefit off Swiatek not having a great return at the W&S Open, bundled out in the opening round by then-qualifier Christina McHale – who will hope to continue on her good string of form when she takes on Romanian Sorana Cirstea in the opening round – while Belarusian Victoria Azarenka has a handy 2020 W&S Open title behind her – that she earned by default but still deserved given her fine form in the lead-up – so is no easybeat.

One of the headlines of the draw is second seed Sofia Kenin, with the 21-year-old American aiming for back-to-back grand slam titles, owning the Australian Open title back in February and still the most recent grand slam champion in 2020 given the lack of competition this year. Kenin seems to have a fairly straightforward draw when it comes to her competition with wildcard Kim Clijsters among the mix but only if the former champion can get over the line against Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova, while Elise Mertens and Johanna Konta are also in the mix and should make it through the first round also with relative ease. Based on the rankings of Kenin’s fellow seven players in the bottom of the draw, expect her to at least make it to the Round of 16 with relative simplicity given 27th seed Ons Jabeur looks to be the toughest battle of the lot but ranked 31st in the world overall compared to Kenin’s placement in fourth on the world rankings.