Tag: johanna konta

2021 Adelaide International: Rogers downs Konta in day of upsets

DAY 3 at the Adelaide International saw a couple more upsets make their way through to the Round of 16, with one seed disposed of in straight sets and a duo of Aussie qualifiers winning their third straight win to head to the second round.

It was Johanna Konta who fell at the first hurdle, absolutely obliterated by American Shelby Rogers 6-2 6-2 in one hour and 16 minutes. Konta retired early from the Australian Open – during the first round in fact – from injury and looked the goods heading into Adelaide, but struggled to maintain her form and failed to have an impact on serve and more so on return. With just 10 unforced errors to her name throughout the contest, Rogers was clean and clinical, registering her third career Top 10 victory. The results of Rogers’ compatriots Coco Gauff and Madison Brengle went in two different directions though, with Gauff overcoming fellow qualifier Jasmine Paolini in a two-hour and 33-minute 6-4 7-6 6-2 battle, whilst Brengle was unfortunate to draw Polish fifth seed Iga Swiatek, and was disposed of in straight sets.

Maddison Inglis fought off former champion Sam Stosur, coming back from the brink in a tight 6-7 7-5 6-4 marathon, winning in two hours and 46 minutes. Whilst Stosur was marginally more effective on serve, Inglis saved seven of her 10 break points and when it came down to overall points won, just pipped her compatriot at the post. In the other all-Australian battle it was underdog Storm Sanders who got the chocolates over Alja Tomljanovic, as Sanders’ fine recent form continued with another straight sets victory, 6-1 6-2 in 63 minutes.

Looking to seeded contests, and both Yulia Putintseva and Petra Martic head through to the second round relatively unscathed, but were both pushed by their respective opposition in Laura Siegemund and Liudmila Samsonova, coming away with 6-4 6-4 and 4-6 6-0 7-5 margins over their respective foes. The remaining matches saw Misaki Doi and Jil Teichmann also join the second round club.

Picture credit: Getty Images

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 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

WTA 500 wraps: Czechs fall as other top seeds advance

A HUGE day at Melbourne Park saw all three events – Yarra Valley Classic, Gippsland Trophy and Grampians Trophy – underway, in what was a largely predictable day, though did feature a number of upsets, particularly to top ranked Czechs.

In the Yarra Valley Classic, the two top Czech players in the world – Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova – again have fallen short of the mark, losing out to lower ranked opponents in the Round of 16. Pliskova went down in two tiebreakers (7-5 7-3) during her 7-6 7-6 loss to 13th seed American Danielle Collins, while Kvitova started well against Roland Garros semi-finalist Nadia Podoroska, before losing in three sets to the 14th seed, 5-7 6-1 7-6.

In a repeat of their US Open clash, Serena Williams defeated Tsvetana Pironkova to set up an all-American quarter final with Collins, winning 6-1 6-4 against the Bulgarian. Racing through her match like she had somewhere to be, sixth seed Garbine Muguruza had a point to prove in a 6-1 6-2 rout of 11th seed Russian, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. The result meant Muguruza now faces Sofia Kenin in the quarter finals, a repeat of the Australian Open decider 12 months ago.

Kenin took down compatriot Jessica Pegula in three sets 5-7 7-5 6-2, while world number one Ash Barty needed three sets to roll past 16th seed Czech, Marie Bouzkova in a bad day for the Czech Republic. One positive was the success of Marketa Vondrousova, with the eighth seed being the sole winner of the four in action, advancing through to the quarter finals thanks to a hard-fought 7-6 6-7 6-4 triumph over Russian Vera Zvonareva.

The quarter finals see Vondrousova taking on Podoroska for the right to play either Muguruza or Kenin, while the winner in the all-American clash between Collins and Williams will face the winner of the Barty and Shelby Rogers quarter final.

YARRA VALLEY CLASSIC ROUND OF 16 RESULTS:

[1] Ash Barty (AUS) defeated [16] Marie Bouzkova (CZE) 6-0 4-6 6-3
[2] Sofia Kenin (USA) defeated Jessica Pegula (USA) 5-7 7-5 6-2
[13] Danielle Collins (USA) defeated [3] Karolina Pliskova (CZE) 7-6 7-6
[14] Nadia Podoroska (ARG) defeated [4] Petra Kvitova (CZE) 5-7 6-1 7-6
[5] Serena Williams (USA) defeated Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL) 6-1 6-4
[6] Garbine Muguruza (ESP) defeated [11] Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) 6-1 6-2
[8] Marketa Vondrousova (CZE) defeated Vera Zvonareva (RUS) 7-6 6-7 6-4

The Gippsland Trophy also went largely to plan, with five of the seven winners being ranked higher than their opponents. It was not completely smooth sailing for anyone, with only top seed Simona Halep, and ninth seed Ekaterina Alexandrova winning without getting into an eleventh game in any set. Halep toppled 16th seed German Laura Siegemund 6-2 6-4, while Alexandrova ended the unbeaten run of sixth seed Pole, Iga Swiatek who was coming off a Roland Garros title last year.

Speaking of Grand Slam titles, second seed Naomi Osaka – fresh off a break following her 2020 US Open triumph – had to come from a set down to put away a determined Katie Boulter, 3-6 6-3 6-1. Also fighting from a set down, third seed Elina Svitolina took out Latvian Jelena Ostapenko 6-7 6-3 6-2, while the biggest upset of the day belonged to Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu who knocked off fifth seed Johanna Konta in three hours and 32 minutes, 4-6 7-6 7-6.

In the other two matches, eighth seed Karolina Muchova won in three sets over Jasmine Paolini, while Estonian Kaia Kanepi – who ended the 15-game winning streak of Aryna Sabalenka the day before – won through to the quarter finals in straight sets over Daria Kasatkina, 7-5 6-1. Now Kanepi and Muchova lock horns, with Begu to take on Osaka, and two huge all-seeded clashes between Halep and Alexandrova, and Elise Mertens and Svitolina.

GIPPSLAND TROPHY ROUND OF 16 RESULTS:

[1] Simona Halep (ROU) defeated [16] Laura Siegemund (GER) 6-2 6-4
[2] Naomi Osaka (JPN) defeated Katie Boulter (GBR) 3-6 6-3 6-1
[3] Elina Svitolina (UKR) defeated [13] Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) 6-7 6-3 6-2
Irina-Camelia Begu ROU) defeated [5] Johanna Konta (GBR) 4-6 7-6 7-6
[9] Ekaterina Alexandrova (RUS) defeated [6] Iga Swiatek (POL) 6-4 6-2
[8] Karolina Muchova (CZE) defeated Jasmine Paolini (ITA) 6-2 4-6 6-4
Kaia Kanepi (EST) defeated Daria Kasatkina (RUS) 7-5 6-1

Meanwhile the first round of action at the Grampians Trophy was completed over the first couple of days, with the remaining 10 matches adding to the two played on day one. Overall there were not a huge amount of surprises, with perhaps the biggest upset seeing teenage rising star Leylah Fernandez take down former US Open winner Sloane Stephens in straight sets.

The 6-3 6-1 victory was a convincing victory in an hour and 14 minutes, though the quickest fully completed match of the day was Sonia Cirstea‘s rout of Oksana Kalashnikova, 6-1 6-1 in just 48 minutes. To put that in perspective, local talent Ellen Perez – who was a late inclusion into the draw – had to retire eight games in against Ann Li and that match went for 43 minutes.

In other results, the three seeds in action were Estonian Anett Kontaveit (sixth), American Jennifer Brady (seventh) and German Angelique Kerber (eighth) who all won through. Both Kontaveit and Brady breezed through in straight sets, whilst Kerber took almost two hours to dispel Czech Republic’s Katerina Siniakova in three sets, 6-3 4-6 6-3.

In other results, Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk and Veronika Kudermetova both rolled through to the next round without any issues, as did Tunisian Ons Jabeur who continued her great form of the past 12 months. The other winners were United States’ Bethany Mattek-Sands, Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva and Czech Republic’s Barbora Krejcikova who all made it into the Round of 16.

GRAMPIANS TROPHY ROUND OF 32 RESULTS:

[6] Anett Kontaveit (EST) defeated Christina McHale (USA) 6-1 6-3
[7] Jennifer Brady (USA) defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) 6-3 6-0
[8] Angelique Kerber (GER) defeated Katerina Siniakova (CZE) 6-3 4-6 6-3
Bethany Mattek-Sands (USA) defeated Barbora Strycova (CZE) 7-6 6-2
Marta Kostyuk (UKR) defeated Gabriela Dabrowski (CAN) 6-0 6-3
Leylah Fernandez (CAN) defeated Sloane Stephens (USA) 6-3 6-1
Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) defeated Georgina Garcia Perez (ESP) 7-6 6-4
Veronika Kudermetova (RUS) defeated Heather Watson (GBR) 6-2 6-2
Barbora Krejcikova (CZE) defeated Lauren Davis (USA) 6-4 4-6 6-4
Ann Li (USA) defeated Ellen Perez (AUS) 5-3 RET
Sonia Cirstea (ROU) defeated Oksana Kalashnikova (GEO) 6-1 6-1
Ons Jabeur (TUN) defeated Anna Blinkova (RUS) 6-1 6-1

Note: Unfortunately due to a COVID-19 positive test from a hotel worker at the Grand Hyatt where the majority of players are staying, today’s action has been postponed.

Picture credit: Getty Images

WTA 500 wraps: Ash Barty returns to the court as 2020 Grand Slam champions make their mark

ANOTHER huge day at the two WTA 500 tournaments was had as the Round of 32 continued in the lead up to the Australian Open next week. Ash Barty made a triumphant return to the court at the Yarra Vally Classic for the first time since early 2020, while a number of seeds fell at the Gippsland Trophy in a less predictable day on the track.

At the Yarra Valley Classic, Barty led the charge as the top seed and did not disappoint with her 6-3 6-3 sweep of Romanian Ana Bogdan. She will be joined in the Round of 16 with all six other seeds from the day after a successful showing from the top talent on the park, with 2020 Australian Open winner Sofia Kenin ultimately having the easiest outing of the day with a one-set victory after Italian Camila Giorgi retired. The second seed American’s Australian Open runner up Garbine Muguruza came away with a classy 6-2 6-0 victory over Belgian Alison van Uytvanck, while Kenin’s compatriot Jessica Pegula joined the Round of 16 after disposing of German Mona Barthel. Meanwhile, Argentinian Nadia Podoroska was also successful downing Greet Minnen.

A couple of Czech Republic and Russian representatives were also successful, seeing Czech seeds Petra Kvitova (fourth) and Marie Bouzkova (16th) dispose of Venus Williams and Aliona Bolsova respectively, while Russians Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (11th seed) and Vera Zvonareva also reigned supreme, albeit in less tighter matches than the Czech duo, who were both taken to two hours before shaking their respective opposition.

YARRA VALLEY CLASSIC ROUND OF 32 RESULTS:

[1] Ash Barty (AUS) defeated Ana Bogdan (ROM) 6-3 6-3
[2] Sofia Kenin (USA) defeated Camila Giorgi (ITA) 7-5 RET
[4] Petra Kvitova (CZE) defeated Venus Williams (USA) 7-6 7-5
[6] Garbine Muguruza (ESP) defeated Alison Van Uytvanck (BEL) 6-2 6-0
[11] Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) defeated Anastasija Sevastova (LAT) 6-0 6-3
[14] Nadia Podoroska (ARG) defeated Greet Minnen (BEL) 6-3 6-4
[16] Marie Bouzkova (CZE) defeated Aliona Bolsova (ESP) 6-3 6-7 6-2
Vera Zvonareva (RUS) defeated Caroline Dolehide (USA) 6-2 6-4
Jessica Pegula (USA) defeated Mona Barthel (GER) 6-4 7-5

At the Gippsland Trophy, results were far less predictable with the big loss of the day coming from fourth seed Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, who was upset by 94th ranked Estonian Kaia Kanepi in a blistering 6-1 2-6 6-1 outing. Elsewhere, a couple of 2020 Grand Slam title-holders continued their excellent runs as Iga Swiatek and Naomi Osaka got their 2021 seasons on track straight away. Roland Garros champion Swiatek had a sloppy first set, before regaining confidence and the upper hand over Slovenian Kaja Juvan to come out victorious, 2-6 6-2 6-1 in one hour and 45 minutes. US Open victor Osaka completed her 6-2 6-2 sweep of Frenchwoman Alize Cornet in just 71 minutes, collecting her 12th straight win and her first since the US Open final last September.

Sabalenka was not the only seed to fall during the Round of 32, with young gun Coco Gauff going down to 24-year-old Brit Katie Boulter, who stands a whopping 323 ranks behind the 16-year-old American prodigy. Polona Hercog also fell to a lower ranked opposition in Russian Daria Kasatkina, while turning to successful seeds, and it was go, go, go for the likes of fifth seed Johanna Konta and 16th seed Laura Siegmund who came away with two of the quickest victories of the day over Bernarda Pera and Destanee Aiava, respectively. In other games, Carolina Garcia downed Timea Babos and Irina-Camelia Begu outlasted a hungry Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the only match of the day that went more than two hours, coming away with the 5-7 6-4 6-4 victory in two hours and 35 minutes.

GIPPSLAND TROPHY ROUND OF 32 RESULTS:

[2] Naomi Osaka (JPN) defeated Alize Cornet (FRA) 6-2 6-2
Kaia Kanepi (EST) defeated [4] Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) 6-1 2-6 6-1
[5] Johanna Konta (GBR) defeated Bernarda Pera (USA) 6-2 6-3
[6] Iga Swiatek (POL) defeated Kaja Juvan (SLO) 2-6 6-2 6-1
[12] Caroline Garcia (FRA) defeated Timea Babos (HUN) 6-4 6-4
Katie Boulter (GBR) defeated [14] Coco Gauff (USA) 3-6 7-5 6-2
Daria Kasatkina (RUS) defeated [15] Polona Hercog (SLO) 6-4 6-3
[16] Laura Siegemund (GER) defeated Destanee Aiava (AUS) 6-2 6-2
Irina-Camelia Begu (ROM) defeated Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR) 5-7 6-4 6-4

2021 Gippsland Trophy WTA preview: Grand Slam winners stack draw

IN the other WTA event running parallel to the Yarra Valley Classic, the 2021 Gippsland Trophy features three Grand Slam winners amongst the seven Top 20 players who have entered the event. With Ash Barty headlining the Yarra Valley Classic, the talking point of the Gippsland Trophy will be that the two most recent Grand Slam winners will be competing for a WTA 500 title in this draw.

The 2020 US Open and Roland Garros winners in Naomi Osaka and Iga Swiatek respectively, will play their first matches since lifting their titles aloft last year. Osaka missed the French Open due to injury, so her last match was the three-set final win over Belarusian Victoria Azarenka. Swiatek’s win on clay was one of the most stunning titles in tennis history, bolstering her all the way up inside the Top 20, having come from nowhere after an okay but not outstanding season. The 19-year-old is the future of tennis, with Osaka still a rising star on Tour, but has three Grand Slams to her name already.

Swiatek is only seeded sixth at this event, and with Osaka the second ranked player (world number three), Simona Halep comes in as top seed and world number two. The Romanian is the other Grand Slam winner in the draw, and she had plenty of rest throughout 2020 to set up for a big 2021. Always strong in Australia, she and Ukrainian Elina Svitolina (third seed) will be eyeing off strong starts to 2021.

Someone who has already had a strong start to 2021, and has remarkably not lost since October, is fourth seed Aryna Sabakenka. Now ranked inside the Top 10 for the first time, the Belarusian power hitter has a chance to prove herself against the world’s best. She won at Abu Dhabi a couple of weeks ago, and could realistically be considered favourite given her 15-game winning streak. Sabalenka has not really impacted at Grand Slam level yet, but many are hoping the recent scintillating form – which included a win over Australian Open winner Sofia Kenin – will begin her journey to taking the next step.

Great Britain’s Johanna Konta, Belgium’s Elise Mertens and Czech Republic’s Karolina Muchova round out the top eight seeds, while traditional fast-starter Ekaterina Alexandrova is the ninth ranked player. Of the quartet, Mertens showed enough at the back-end that she can have a good start, while Alexandrova has not had the chance to collect her annual trophy at Limoges in December, so she will start fresh in Melbourne.

What makes the draw at the Gippsland Trophy so interesting is the depth of it, with Jelena Ostapenko, Coco Gauff and Polona Hercog all there and inside the Top 50 ready to jump up. Throw in Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann, Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo and Belarus’ Aliaksandra Sasnovich, and even the bottom-end has some good talent. Chloe Paquet joins former top ranked players Sara Errani and Lesia Tsurenko as qualifying and lucky loser additions, whilst the lowest ranked player pre-wildcards is Russian Valeria Savinykh who comes in at 225th in the world.

Until she loses, Sabalenka has earned favouritism, but you have to consider both Osaka and Swiatek are coming off undefeated streaks at their respective Grand Slams, which makes this the pick of the tournaments in terms of form an depth.

Picture credit: Jimmie48/WTA Tour

Hopman Cup hypothetical teams: Great Britain & Russia

ONE of the most unique tennis tournaments which features both ATP Tour and WTA Tour players is the Hopman Cup. Given the world circumstance and the fact it was already skipped on the eve of last year, it looks to be either delayed later in 2021, or perhaps at the turn of the New Year in 2022. However, in this new series we wanted to look at some hypothetical Hopman Cup teams and what they might look like if there was no COVID-19 pandemic, and if the famed mixed tournament did go ahead.

We continue the series with Great Britain and Russia. The former are regulars at the event, competing nine times, while the latter have competed seven times.

Great Britain: Andy Murray & Johanna Konta

Despite the nation competing nine times in the event, they are yet to win a title, with only Andy Murray being a top-end talent competing at the event. Fellow Top 5 player Greg Rusedski never competed, while Murray competed four times at the event, twice in back-to-back years of 2010-11 and 2015-16. He would be the pick to take to the hard courts because of his love for Australia and is the most capped Brit at the event. The other two top Brit’s in Dan Evans (2017) and Cameron Norrie (2019) have both competed as well, and you would expect if Great Britain did compete, it would be one of the trio.

In terms of the WTA Tour, Johanna Konta is the far and away top player at the moment, ranked well inside the Top 20. Though inconsistent, Konta has plenty of potential at her best, and teaming up with Murray would create a formidable team and the best on that the nation had formed at the event. More likely though, they would look at Heather Watson (three-time competitor) or Katie Boulter (most recent competitor) to represent.

Russia: Andrey Rublev & Ekaterina Alexandrova

It is amazing to think that Russia has just one title to its name at the Hopman Cup considering some of the names that have graced the indoor hard courts in Perth. Marat Safin played four times, and even teamed up with the likes of Anastasia Myskina and remarkably, his sister Dinara Safina, but could not ever get the win. Instead, Nadia Petrova and Dmitry Tursunov won in 2007 who lost their first match to Australia, before going on to upset Spain in the final. While Safin is no longer around to compete, 2018 competitor Karen Khachanov is, and he could be a good chance to go again. The pick for the men would be Andrey Rublev who has shot to the Top 10 this year and has all the pace and excitement to make it an entertaining tournament.

For the women’s side it would be a little tougher, but top-ranked Ekaterina Alexandrova would be the pick. She plays well over the Australian summer time at year’s end, and is gradually improving her consistency. Russia actually has seven top 100 players which is remarkable, but none inside the Top 30. Veronika Kudermetova, Anna Blinkova and Daria Kasatkina are other young talents who could step up to the plate, or the veteran of Svetlana Kuznetsova might enjoy the tournament’s style, having played here way back in 2006.

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WTA Teenage Stars – Coco Gauff

AT only 16-years-old, American Coco Gauff has already propelled herself into recognition with her flair, talent and exciting potential out on the court. With one title already under her belt and set to complete her first top 50 season just two years into her professional career, there is no doubt Gauff is a star in the making and the type of player who could make a real mark on the WTA Tour before even hitting age 20. 

Coming from lucky loser status at Linz last year to winning the entire tournament, and coupled with her explosive debut victory over Venus Williams at Wimbledon a few months prior, Gauff carved herself a position in history books as the youngest singles title-holder on the WTA Tour since 2004, and while the Williams victory was not a record-breaker, it signified much more for the teenager who grew up admiring the Williams sisters.

“My goal was to play my best. My dream was to win. That’s what happened,” Gauff said post-match.

The then-15-year-old went on to back up the victory at the 2020 Australian Open, shocking her veteran compatriot a second time before downing reigning champion, Naomi Osaka in straight sets and finding herself in an unprecedented Round of 16 at Melbourne Park. Since then, the young American has continued to propel herself up the rankings with wins against four more top 50 players, including top 20 fixtures Johanna Konta and Aryna Sabalenka

Add in Gauff’s two 2019 doubles titles, both won alongside fellow American teenager Caty McNally, and the youngster has more titles to her name than some players who have been on the WTA Tour circuit for many years. Her current win rate is around the 60 per cent mark showcasing her already impressive skill for such a young age, although could still be higher with further development which is a daunting prospect for the rest of the Tour.

Currently ranked 48th in the world on the singles circuit and 45th in the doubles, the youngster can sometimes be unpredictable and drop matches to much lower ranked opposition. With plenty of potential and room to grow, Gauff will be a key player to watch over the next few years with her development already proving impressive, and plenty more years to prove herself on Tour.

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

2020 WTA Ostrava Open preview: Elite players return for last Premier event

CZECH Republic will play host to a brand new WTA Tour tournament designed to extend the season after the entire Asian season – including the WTA Finals – was abandoned due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead what that means is this is arguably the last chance for many players to run out on court in a a top notch WTA Tour event and the world’s best players will descend on the Premier event.

While the top two in the world – Ash Barty and Simona Halep – will be out of the event, as will US Open winner Naomi Osaka, but the overall strength of the field is incredible considering it is not a Grand Slam event. Played on the hard courts of Ostrava, the 2020 J & T Banka Ostrava Open will run from October 19-25 with 28 competitors battling it out for half a million in USD.

In an unusual set of circumstances, the Ostrava Open sought, and received exemption from the nation-wide ban of indoor sports. Transforming a multi-purpose centre – which was most recently an ice hockey centre  – into a fully functioning indoor arena, there will be plenty of atmosphere at the event despite the restrictions. Unfortunately a few more players withdrew just prior to the event including Sofia Kenin, Petra Kvitova, Johanna Konta, Marketa Vondrousova, Madison Keys, Iga Swiatek and Kiki Bertens.

The home nation will naturally have great representation, led by second seed Karolina Pliskova, as well as Barbora Strycova, Kristyna Pliskova, Katerina Siniakova and Karolina Muchova who are all competing in the event.

Amongst the in-form players at the tournament, Belarussian duo Victoria Azarenka and Aryna Sabalenka will look to make a statement, as will Ukrainian duo, Elina Svitolina and Dayana Yastremska.

Petra Martic is also there, whilst Elena Rybakina, Elise Mertens and Anett Kontaveit can never be ruled out of contention. Maria Sakkari, Jennifer Brady and Karolina Muchova are the other confirmed entries at this stage.

Second seed Pliskova might start as the favourite in the event, but her form has been inconsistent of late, with only a run to the final of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia amongst second round losses at both the US Open and Roland Garros. In fact, since her win at Brisbane and excluding Rome, Pliskova has a win-loss record of 6-6 this season which is a far shout from what a world number three should have.

The outside favourite should be Azarenka who has bolted all the way up to world number 14. Forgiving her second round shock loss to Anna Karolina Schmiedlova in Paris, the Belarusian dual Grand Slam winner has had eight top 30 wins since August 21, and went 15-1 at one stage on her way to the US Open final. Back on her beloved hard court, Azarenka is always a danger.

One thing is for sure, with only the Austrian Ladies tournament at Linz in mid-November between now and the traditional 125k event in Limoges, France, this is likely to be the last time we see the majority of the elite WTA Tour players out on court this year.

Picture: Getty Images