international tennis

Will the 2017 Australian Open bring a variation to the Kerber-Serena predictability?

The two top players in the world, Angelique Kerber and Serena Williams, are expected to take to the opposite sides of the net on the second Saturday.

There will be two storylines running parallel to each other in the women’s field at the 2017 Australian Open. That of Angelique Kerber and Serena Williams, who had had a fateful encounter with each other in the final at the same venue last year.

A year on, the Australian Open proffers considerable inducement to both players. For Kerber, it’s the chance to defend her title and extend her continuity atop the rankings, while for the American, it’s an opportunity to restate her dominance and reclaim her place as the world No. 1.

The rest of the participants in the event are then bracketed within this duopoly with each player’s roadmap in the draw posing an interesting tangent. Here’s then previewing the singles arena for womenin the first Grand Slam of 2017:

Top half

First quarter:

Play

Bidding for her title defence in Melbourne, top seed and world No. 1 Angelique Kerber hasn’t really picked up her pace to start the year. The German played in Brisbane and Sydney as part of her preparations for the Australian Open, but her participation in both events ended almost as soon as they began. As the defending finalist in Brisbane, Kerber was ousted in the quarter-finals by Elina Svitolina, while in Sydney, Daria Kasatkina ended her run in her opening round. The 28-year-old will play her first match at Melbourne Park on Monday evening against Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko and could meet 27th seed Irina Camelia-Begu in the third round.

Daria Kasatkina, seeded 23rd, is also in Kerber’s section in the top quarter and could have a rematch with her in the fourth round. The Russian will open against Shuai Peng of China and could meet 15th seeded Italian Roberta Vinci in the third round.

Seventh seed Garbine Muguruza has been slated to meet Kerber in the quarter-finals. This will be the Spaniard’s first tournament since she was forced to pull out of her semi-final in Brisbane against Alize Cornet with an injury to her right thigh. Though the injury raises questions about her being fully fit for the Australian Open, she still remains a potent threat in the draw. Muguruza will play her first-round match against Marina Erakovic of New Zealand and could face countrywoman and former doubles partner, Carla Suarez Navarro, in the fourth round. The 10th seeded Suarez Navarro will play Slovakian Jana Cepelova in the first round.

Second quarter:

Play

The two top seeds in this quarter, who have been drawn to play the quarter-finals, are the fourth seeded Romanian Simona Halep and eighth seeded Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova. And while both started on a promising note in the preliminary events they participated in the new season, each ended up faltering too soon.

Halep lost to eventual champion Katerina Siniakova in Shenzhen in the first week of 2017 in the second round, which clouded her prospects for the Australian Open, where she will take on American Shelby Rogers in the first round. Monica Puig, the 29th seed, is Halep’s drawn opponent for the third round. The Puerto Rican rose to prominence after her unexpected win at the 2016 Rio Olympics but has had sub-par results thereafter. Her performances haven’t really lived up to expectations at the start of this year too, with her losing in the first round in both Brisbane and Sydney to Elina Svitolina and Caroline Wozniacki respectively.

Thirteenth seed Venus Williams could play Halep in the fourth round. Williams, who played in Auckland in the opening week of 2017, withdrew from the tournament before her second-round match against Naomi Osaka with an injury to her right arm. Williams’s initial couple of rounds, starting with her opener against Ukraine’s Kateryna Kozlova, will be a good indicator of how well she has recuperated from her injury before she takes on the gritty 19th seeded Dutch player Kiki Bertens in the third round.

In the latter part of the second quarter, Kuznetsova has been drawn to play the 13th seeded Ukrainian Elina Svitolina in the fourth round. Kuznetsova will play her first match against Marina Duque-Marino of Colombia and could meet 26th seed Laura Siegemund of Germany in the third round.

Svitolina, who reached the semi-final in Brisbane in the starting week of the new season, however, withdrew from the Sydney Open in the following week with illness that could affect her game in the early stages in Melbourne. Svitolina will play Galina Voskoboeva in the first round and could meet the 36-year-old Francesca Schiavone, who is playing her last year on the WTA Tour, in the second round. Twenty-fourth seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is Svitolina’s likely opponent in the third round.

Semi-final prediction: Daria Kasatkina vs Elina Svitolina

Bottom half

Third quarter:

Play

The bottom half of the women’s draw is quite similar to the men’s draw in that it too has a concentrated presence of tricky players. In the third quarter, fifth seed Karolina Pliskova and third seed Agnieszka Radwanska are the potential quarter-finalists.

Pliskova was quite dominant in her Brisbane Open win and has been expected to carry the same form over to the Australian Open. The Czech is no stranger to such high expectations after having made it to the US Open final in 2016, but will need to maintain her intensity throughout the two weeks to try and get to her first Major win. Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo will be Pliskova’s first round opponent at Melbourne Park, while 31st seed Yulia Putintseva could face the Czech in the third round.

Radwanska, who reached the final of the Sydney Open this week and the quarter-final of the Shenzhen Open the week before, will be eager to shrug off the manner of her upsets in the deciding stages of both tournaments. Also, given that Radwanska hasn’t been able to convert her successes in the WTA tournaments in the Slams, she will want to make a difference this time around. The world No. 3 will, however, have a slightly tougher start to her tournament campaign against Bulgaria’s Tsvetana Pironkova.

Fourth quarter:

Play

In her quest to win her seventh Australian Open title and 23rd Grand Slam, world No. 2 Serena Williams has some difficult matches to get through, from the start right until the end. The 35-year-old, who suffered a shock upset at the hands of compatriot Madison Brengle in the second round in Auckland, will play Belinda Bencic in the first round on Tuesday. While on paper Williams looks to be the favourite, she will still need time to get the rhythm of her game that looked to be disrupted in Auckland.

Williams could play the 25th seeded Hungarian Timea Babos in the third round and the 16th seeded Czech player Barbora Strycova in the fourth round.

At the top of this quarter is the sixth seeded Dominika Cibulkova. The winner of the 2016 WTA finals, Cibulkova has had truncated runs in the two WTA tournaments she played before the Australian Open, in quite a contrary start to what she must have wanted for herself in the new season.

While she should have no problems against her first-round opponent Denisa Allertova, Cibulkova’s route gets progressively harder with a likely third round clash against 30th seed Ekaterina Makarova, before a possible fourth-round matchup against either 17th seed Caroline Wozniacki or the ninth seed Johanna Konta.

The Briton, who won the Sydney Open on Friday, made her breakthrough in the WTA circuit last year at the Australian Open by reaching the semi-finals. She played excellently throughout the week in Sydney and if she continues to play in the same manner in Australia, she can be expected to go the distance. The 25-year-old will start against Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens on Tuesday.

Semi-final prediction: Karolina Pliskova vs Serena Williams

Final prediction: Elina Svitolina vs Karolina Pliskova

Champion prediction: Karolina Pliskova

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