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TTI Talks: The State of the WTA (Australian Open 2017 Edition)

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Welcome to the land Down Under as TTI returns to preview the first Grand Slam of 2017! Island residents Victoria Chiesa, Jeff Donaldson and Nick Nemeroff teamed up with Ros Satar of BritWatchSports to preview this year’s men’s and women’s draws — from lines one to 128 and everyone in-between. To view our ATP picks, click here.

Of the WTA, who is/has:

1. The biggest darkhorse?

JEFF

I always have a tough time with dark horse picks with the ladies. Given the glaring absences of multiple Grand Slam champions (Victoria Azarenka, Petra Kvitova and Maria Sharapova) from the draw, any of the seeds here are capable of making a deep run at this year’s tournament.

Caroline Wozniacki has touted a change in her pre-season training regimen, and looked good in the matches she won leading up to Melbourne. Most notably, she’s playing closer to the baseline, which was a grave problem for her in her loss to Yulia Putintseva in the first round last year.

With it being impossible for her to continue her depressing run of losing-one-round-earlier each year since 2011, Wozniacki could be primed to make a good run on the mid-paced hardcourts of the Happy Slam.

VIKA

Can a player within striking distance of the top 10 be a true dark horse?. I must admit — I haven’t been a buyer of Elina Svitlona stock as the Ukrainian’s put together her steady rise up the rankings, but it gets harder and harder to see any weaknesses in her game. Over the past year, she’s put in more effort to attack when given the right opportunity on court, but her mental and emotional maturity in match has been her biggest transformation.

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The Brisbane semifinalist and World No. 11 is in prime position for a quarterfinal run based on her draw — and after that, with confidence flowing — who knows?

ROS

Much has been said and written about Daria Kasatkina — and we saw a little of what she is capable of this year already, as she flummoxed newly minted World No. 1 Angelique Kerber. With a seed next to her name for this fortnight, let’s see what she can do.
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NICK

Alizé Cornet reached the finals in Brisbane, beating WTA Finals champ Dominika Cibulkova along the way. I’m a proponent of picking players with strong recent form as a dark horse, so Cornet obviously fits that description. Additionally, her section of the draw could see her facing Aga Radwanska and Elena Vesnina before the quarterfinals, which in my eyes, are winnable matches for her.  It would be a nice time for Cornet to tur around her 1-7 record against the Pole. She would likely face Karolina Pliskova, who beat her in the final of Brisbane, in the quarters.

2. The Early Exit?

JEFF

Although all eyes will be on Serena Williams given her wind woes in Auckland and her tricky draw, Agniezska Radwanska has a few landmines in her early rounds. Tsvetana Pironkova knocked her out of the French Open last year and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni has a knack for powering through counterpunchers on the biggest stages. Plus, the Pole is still adjusting to a new racquet, which could come with a few fluctuations in her overall level — at least until she has fully adjusted to it.

VIKA

I’m predicting we’ll lose a Top 4 seed early — and that could very well be Simona Halep. The Romanian drew American Shelby Rogers, who is playing some strong tennis in the first few weeks of the year, in the first round — and a fair few unseeded players can cause havoc in this section of the draw as well. Her seeded players include Monica Puig and Venus Williams — and that’s just to reach the quarterfinals.

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Phew.

ROS

There are a bunch of undercooked ‘stars’ coming in to this fortnight — yes, Serena was not impressive in Auckland and Kerber has yet to record back-to-back-wins — but neither has Halep. If I had to pick a shocker, I’d agree and go for the Romanian. She looks as though she ought to have a breakthrough — but I still think her moment is a way off.

NICK

Garbine Muguruza has not done well in recent grand slams that she hasn’t won. Lauren Davis, the Auckland champion and a potential second round opponent for Muguruza, likely knows this and will be looking to take full advantage if they do end up meeting in Melbourne. This match would have upset alert written all over it.

3. The Toughest Road?

JEFF

It’s hard not to go with Serena Williams on this one. Former Top 10 Belinda Bencic in the first round, Lucie Safarova in the second and hard-serving Timea Babos in the third, and crafty Sydney semifinalist Barbora Strycova in the fourth. That being said, Serena at her best (or even close to her best) would be able to navigate past these players — but there are question marks over her form and fitness, having only played one two matches since her defeat at the US Open to Karolina Pliskova.

VIKA

A lot of people said that the in-form Karolina Pliskova was a winner when it came to the draw, but I think the exact opposite. While the Czech should have little trouble on this surface with Sara Sorribes Tormo in the first round, a potential second round date against the maddening Monica Niculescu awaits — and their last meeting in Fed Cup in 2016 was one of the year’s best tussles. From there, she could see Yulia Putintseva or Jelena Ostapenko in week one — and her “nemesis” Agnieszka Radwanska looms at the bottom of the quarter.

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If Pliskova’s going to make waves in Melbourne, she — and her running shoes — will have earned it.

ROS

My compatriot Johanna Konta has challenges. While some are calling her draw an unmitigated disaster — she will have to, quite simply, play as befits a World No. 10 to get past Wozniacki as a possible third round, and Dominika Cibulkova in the fourth round to reach at least the quarterfinals.

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NICK

Have to agree with Jeff here: Serena Williams faces Belinda Bencic in the first round, could face Lucie Safarova in the second round and could face a seeded player in every round following.

Not easy.

4. The Most Exciting R1?

JEFF

There are so many hipster options for most exciting first round match, from Konjuh-Mladenovic to Flipkens-Konta to Wickmayer-Safarova – but provided both are fit and ready to go: Bencic-Serena is the main ticket, without a doubt.

VIKA

I absolutely love this women’s draw from top to bottom; there are so many first round matches that I would love to be courtside for, and I truly think both sides are as balanced as they come. I love the all-unseeded tilts that Jeff mentioned, but I think Timea Bacsinszky vs. Camila Giorgi is a cracker of a first round. With two contrasting styles on display, and Bacsinskzy playing her first match of the season, that one could go either way.

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ROS

Serena Williams against Belinda Bencic is potentially tricky — Bencic has had the better of the former World No. 1 before, but her injury woes leave her a bit of an unknown – but if her toenail has grown back and she plays as she did before, it’s a popcorn match for sure.

NICK

Serena has only lost one first round grand slam match in her entire career. Amazing, right? This match against Bencic could very well be No. 2. It’s not a frequent occurrence for Serena to be facing a player of Bencic’s quality in the opening round.

5. The Unheralded Opposition?

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JEFF

I’m looking at you, Jelena Jankovic.

VIKA

My pick is Shenzhen champion Katerina Siniakova. The Czech teenager took out both Halep and Konta en route to claiming her first career title, and much like Svitolina, her volatility held her back in the past.

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While still prone to the occasional slip-up, I thought Siniakova did a great job keeping it together for much of her run in Shenzhen, even when the going got tough — and she came away with the title. If it was a learning moment for her…well, she can make a little run in Melbourne.

ROS

After having experienced the hospitality of the Mebournites, I would give a nod to the homegrown talent — in particular, after watching Ash Barty make her comeback in Brisbane, I’d like to see her have a ‘Big Bash’ through the draw.

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(On her own, she could beat our cricket team… #OhDearDear)

NICK

I really, really like Lauren Davis‘ chances of causing a stir in the first week. If she can make it past Muguruza, she will have very winnable matches up until the quarterfinals, where she would probably face No.1 seed, Angie Kerber.

6. The Semifinalists?

JEFF

Given the state of affairs with the WTA’s Top 8 these days, I might have more luck predicting the semifinalists if I picked from a hat. If Garbiñe Muguruza has recovered from her arduous run in Brisbane, she’s my pick. If Simona Halep plays with the same intensity that she did in her US Open loss to Serena last year, she’s my pick.

I’m picking Jelena Ostapenko to come out of that third section because we need an unseeded player in the semifinals (it’s 2017, after all) and Johanna Konta to come through on the bottom half because that hype train is just too easy to hop on to (and, of course, she played brilliantly in Sydney.)

VIKA

I think Angelique Kerber will struggle to the second week in her title defense, but she’ll play her way into form and eventually meet Elina Svitolina, who’ll grind through my “theoretically vacated” Halep quarter.

On the bottom half of the draw, I think Serena Williams will be sharp from the get-go, as she always is when the names that stand in her way are notable — and she’ll face Agnieszka Radwanska, who’ll find her way through slowly but surely.

ROS

Much as Jeff said, I could pin the draw up and throw darts at it to pick my women’s semifinalists — but my Aussie AirBnB owner won’t be happy. I think Angelique Kerber will make life hard for herself but will get there in the end — and I wonder whether Elina Svitolina can make a run in that section. For the bottom, I see Karolina Pliskova and….probably Dominika Cibulkova.

NICK

Angelique Kerber vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova
I don’t see Kerber having any problems at all reaching the semifinals. If seeds hold out, Kuznetsova would face Halep in the quarterfinals, a match that would be a coin toss for me, but I’ll go with experience here and pick Sveta.

Serena Williams vs. Karolina Pliskova

Karolina Pliskova is going to beat extremely difficult to beat in this tournament. Like Kerber, I see her gliding through to the semifinals, where she would face Serena, who I think she will take out, just like she did in New York. Serena will have a tough time of it early on, but I think she will be Serena and make it work as she always has.

7. The Champion?

JEFF

Me side-stepping the difficult choice: tennis will be the champion. I have a feeling we’re going to see some incredible storylines and some unlikely heroes throughout the Melbournian fortnight, which will set the tone for an exciting 2017 season.

Me making the difficult choice: ok, I’ll go with Garbiñe Muguruza.

VIKA

I think we’ll be singing a familiar song by the end of the fortnight — one that involves Serena Williams winning it all. The thing about the World No. 2 is this: the tougher the early draw, the better she plays. Her opponents in the first two rounds will force her to be dialed in right from first ball, which will only help her later in the tournament. When that happens, she’s usually the one lifting the trophy.

ROS

In a draw of surprises, I would not be at all surprised to see Karolina Pliskova lift her first major title.

NICK

Karolina Pliskova is going to win this tournament and she is going to have a massive year, where she wins multiple slams. That’s my sizzling 2017 hot take.

TTI Picks:

ttiaowta2017

Ros Satar is a British journalist who recognized that Brits love watching sport, and are occasionally good at it — find her ramblings at britwatchsports.com or @britwatchsports.

Who are your WTA Australian Open picks? Sound off in the comments!

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About Victoria Chiesa (114 Articles)
One time, Eva Asderaki told me I was lovely. It was awesome. @vrcsports

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