The bottom half of the women's draw at the Australian Open contest their first round matches tomorrow. The seventh seeded Angelique Kerber will hope to avoid last year's fate and advance beyond her opening match. However, she mustn't underestimate Japan's Misaki Doi.
Kerber comes into the Australian Open behind a strong showing in Brisbane, where she reached the final before losing easily to Victoria Azarenka. Though a gastrointestinal illness forced the German to withdraw from Sydney prior to the second round, she has had a number of days to recover and should hopefully be physically prepared for the first Grand Slam of the year.
In contrast, Doi lost both of the matches she contested in preparation for this event. Despite finishing last year strongly, the 24 year old has struggled to regain her rhythm, failing to win a set against either Christina McHale in Auckland and Mona Barthel in Hobart.
As the world number six, Kerber is fully accustomed to playing in big stadiums. A former world number five, she has reached two Grand Slam semifinals and has collected seven WTA titles. However, she has struggled in the majors as of late, failing to advance beyond the third round of any since Wimbledon 2014. Perhaps even more worryingly, Kerber has yet to advance beyond the fourth round at the Australian Open, losing to Irina Camelia Begu in the first round last year. That being said, Kerber has demonstrated improved mental toughness on the big stage recently with only Serena Williams winning more than her four titles last year.
Doi is yet to advance beyond the third round of a Grand Slam event, at best reaching that stage at Wimbledon 2011. However, the world number 64 is improving, winning her first career title last year in Luxembourg and has defeating the likes of former world number one, Jelena Jankovic and former French Open champion, Francesca Schiavone in the past.
Kerber dominates the head-to-head 3-0 since they first played each other back in 2010.
The pair met twice in 2015, Kerber winning both in straight sets on the clay in Nuremburg and the hard courts of Toronto. The ominous 6-0, 6-1 margin of victory in Canada reflects the greater weaponry and experience of the 28 year old whose relentless baseline consistency can only be conquered by the game's very best.
At only 5 feet 2 1/2 inches tall, Doi has to rely on her ability to take the ball early and maximize her footspeed around the court. Though the hard courts appear to suit Doi, her style unfortunately plays into her opponent's hands as Kerber loves nothing more than trading fast, flat shots from the baseline.
With her lefty serve seemingly improved during the off season, this should be a nice opening match for Kerber to settle her nerves early in the tournament.
Prediction: Angelique Kerber in straight sets.