The 123rd edition of the Apia International Sydney makes its debut this coming week, with six of the world’s top 10 contingent headlining the draw. World number one Angelique Kerber, a finalist from three years back, leads the pack which also features 2013 champion, Agnieszka Radwanska and defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
All 30 players in the draw will look to fine-tune their preparations before heading to Melbourne for the year’s maiden Grand Slam, the Australian Open. Notably, the tournament was hit with some high profile withdrawals, namely Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina, who were both projected the fourth and sixth seeds respectively, and also Sloane Stephens.
Focus on Sydney
Formerly known as the Championship of New South Wales and subsequently the New South Wales Open, the Apia International Sydney is the oldest tennis tournament in the whole of Australasia, with abundance of history dating back to the mid-1880s. The tournament has notable figures, among them Margaret Court, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, in its long roll of champions.
Since the turn of the decade, the tournament has witnessed a different name emerge champion each year, four of whom are Grand Slam champions, namely Li Na (2011), Victoria Azarenka (2012), Petra Kvitova (2015) and last year, Kuznetsova. The last player to score consecutive titles was Kuznetsova’s compatriot, Elena Dementieva who won in 2009 and 2010. The tournament draw sees its top two seeds, Kerber and Radwanska, receiving byes into the second round.
Having hosted the Summer Olympics back in 2000, the NSW Tennis Centre, located in Sydney Olympic Park in the suburb of Homebush adjacent to the city’s central business district, will be the centre of tennis action throughout the week here. Sydney, the most populous city in Australia, is the capital of New South Wales, also the most populous state in the country-continent.
The opening quarter of the draw witnesses top seed Kerber at the top of the list with a first round bye. The German’s potential opponent in her opening match will be one of Timea Babos or Daria Kasatkina, a clash of young guns. The tenacious Kasatkina gave Garbiñe Muguruza a run for her money in their last 16 clash in Brisbane but succumbed to the Spaniard in a third set tiebreak.
On the other side of the quarter sits sixth seed Johanna Konta who opens against lucky loser Arina Rodionova. Local hope Daria Gavrilova is a potential second round opponent for the British number one. Gavrilova suffered an underwhelming Hopman Cup campaign where Australia failed to defend their title, she only scored one win in the group stage.
Kerber and Konta both underperformed in their debut 2017 appearances in Brisbane and Shenzhen respectively. Kerber suffered another defeat as world number one in the hands of Elina Svitolina while Konta was sent packing in the last eight by eventual champion Katerina Siniakova. However, both women should rebound well this week to make the quarterfinals which Kerber should win handily, based on her past two encounters with the Brit.
Prediction: Kerber d. Konta
Third seed Dominika Cibulkova and fifth seed Kuznetsova, the defending champion are present in this quarter. After an early exit in Brisbane, Cibulkova will be looking for a deep run here but she has German Laura Siegemund, wildcard Eugenie Bouchard, and China’s Zhang Shuai in her eighth, which is no walk in the park for the Slovak. Siegemund will take on Cibulkova at the first hurdle. Of the three women, Zhang is the standout pick with a chance to upset the Slovak as she eyes revenge losing their clash in Brisbane last week.
Kuznetsova begins her title defense against the big-hitting Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu, who is looking for a win after exiting Brisbane in the first round last week. Awaiting the Russian in the second round is Aussie number one Samantha Stosur or fellow compatriot Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Stosur has never done well in Sydney before but leads Pavlyuchenkova, who is in desperate need of a win after falling early in Auckland, in their head-to-head, coming out on top in both clashes on hard courts as well.
Having made the last eight in Brisbane, Kuznetsova looks set to carry on her momentum here and is poised for a second successive semifinal appearance as she gets closer to defending a title for the second time in her career, having done so for the first time, on home turf at the Kremlin Cup last fall.
Prediction: Kuznetsova d. Zhang
Ninth seed Roberta Vinci is the highest seed in this quarter of the draw, which previously had Pliskova, Svitolina and Stephens all in it. After a decent outing in Brisbane where she reached the last eight, the Italian veteran will be looking for a similar result here and she kicks off agaisnt Greek qualifer Maria Sakkari. Her draw however does not get any easier with the likes of Ekaterina Makarova and Barbora Strycova as her probable next opponents.
10th seed Caroline Wozniacki faces reigning Olympic champion and last year's finalist Monica Puig in her opening round clash. The former world number one Wozniacki made the quarterfinals in Auckland last week and will seek to continue where she left off after a solid finish to 2016 . Should the Dane win, Kazakh Yulia Putintseva or wildcard Belinda Bencic awaits.
Though Sydney has not been a happy hunting ground for both Vinci and Wozniacki, each reaching the last eight just once, both players should live up to their seeding this time around and record a second quarterfinal appearance here. Wozniacki is in much better form of the pair and looks poised for a maiden semifinal showing here.
Prediction: Wozniacki d. Vinci
2013 champion Radwanska makes her return to Sydney, this time as the second seed. The Pole, with a first round bye, will meet the winner of a battle between qualifiers, Kateyrna Bondarenko and Christina McHale, in her first match of the week. After a puzzling loss to eventual runner-up Alison Riske in quarterfinals of Shenzhen where she was the defending champion, Radwanska will needs a good run here heading into Melbourne where she is defending semifinal points.
Across the quarter lies eighth seed Elena Vesnina who faces American Coco Vandeweghe in the first round. An upset is on the cards here as the powerful Vandeweghe will look to hand her Russian opponent a second straight opening round loss in 2017. Should she upset Vesnina, fellow compatriot and lucky loser Irina Falconi or qualifier Duan Ying-Ying looms next. Vandeweghe fared well at the Hopman Cup alongside partner, Jack Sock. Representing the United States, they reached the final but were denied the title by France.
Both Radwanska and Vandeweghe have clashed five times prior, the Pole boasting a 4-1 lead. All of her wins over the American came on hardcourts and the situation will be no different here in Sydney. The former champion and more experienced Radwanska should be able to outclass Vandeweghe and exact revenge on the American after suffering her first loss to her in Birmingham last year.
Prediction: Radwanska d. Vandeweghe
Semifinals: Kuznetsova d. Kerber, Radwanska d. Wozniacki
Since coming out on top over the Russian in the round robin stage at the WTA Finals in 2008, Radwanska has tasted victory over Kuznetsova just once, in the last eight of Madrid in 2014 where she needed a third set tiebreak to seal the win. On the other hand, for Kuznetsova, she has been able to solve her opponent’s riddle, beating her a further nine times and currently holds a commanding 13-4 lead in their head-to-head.
Kuznetsova and Radwanska have been involved in several epic encounters off late, their most recent clash being the round robin match at last year’s WTA Finals, where Kuznetsova barely made the cut for the eight-player field and was the heavy underdog. She launched a stellar comeback as she had to stave off a match point and needed three of her own to deny Radwanska the win. This final will be no different. Radwanska might be able to snatch a set off Kuznetsova but the Russian’s untiring athleticism should see her through another successful title defense and an 18th career title.