Australian Open first round preview: Johanna Konta vs Kirsten Flipkens

Ninth seed Johanna Konta has made a good start to her 2017 campaign by reaching the semifinals of Shenzhen and claiming her second WTA title in Sydney. The 2016 semifinalist was one of the surprise packages in Melbourne in last year, and she is playing inspired tennis with a lot of confidence at the moment. 

The Brit is now looking to win a Grand Slam singles title for the first time in her career. Appointing Belgian, Wim Fissette, the former coach of Kim Clijsters, Victoria Azarenka, and Simona Halep has the potential of being a successful partnership.

On the other side of the net will be Fissette's compatriot, Kirsten Flipkens. The Belgian is currently ranked at 70 in the world but she has the game to cause the Brit a few problems. Flipkens defeated former world number one Venus Williams in the first round of the Rio Olympics back in August, and she reached the semifinals of Wimbledon in 2013.

Konta's results leading up to Melbourne

The ninth seed began the year in Shenzhen, defeating Turkey's Cagla Buyukakcay, 6-2, 6-0, followed by a comeback victory over Vania King, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2. In the quarterfinals, Konta defeated Kristyna Pliskova, 6-4, 6-7 (11), 6-3, but, she lost to eventual champion Katerina Siniakova in three sets in the semifinals.

Immediately, Konta traveled to Sydney, the city of her birthplace, and she played emphatic tennis throughout the week with a loss of a set in the tournament. The British number one defeated two Russian-born Australians, Arina Rodionova and Daria Gavrilova in the first two rounds, followed by a quarterfinal victory over Daria Kasatkina, who upset world number one Angelique Kerber in the previous round. In the semifinals, Konta dispatched former world number five, Eugenie Bouchard, and outclassed Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-4, 6-2 to clinch her second WTA title.

Konta holding her second WTA title in Sydney (Photo by Matt King / Getty Images)
Konta holding her second WTA title in Sydney (Photo by Matt King / Getty Images)

Flipkens' results leading up to Melbourne

The former top 15 player began her 2017 season in Auckland. Flipkens lost to last year's US Open quarterfinalist and eventual finalist, Ana Konjuh, in three sets. She then traveled to Hobart, where she picked up her first win of the new year against Jaimee Fourlis but once again lost to the eventual finalist, Monica Niculescu in the round of 16.

Their history

Konta and Flipkens have met on three occasions, and the Brit leads 2-1 in their head-to-head meetings. Moreover, the Belgian won their only meeting on the WTA tour in the quarterfinals of Monterrey last year, 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-1. Konta won their first two meetings at a 25k event in Clermont-Ferrand in 2011 in straight sets, and in 2015 at a 100k event in Vancouver, also in straight sets.

Flipkens will provide a stern test for Konta (Photo by Mark Metcalfe / Getty Images)
Flipkens will provide a stern test for Konta (Photo by Mark Metcalfe / Getty Images)

Who wins?

The ninth seed is the clear favorite in this match as Konta is playing some scintillating tennis right now. Last year's Australian Open semifinalist is one of the most consistent players in the top ten currently. Furthermore, Konta possesses the power from her forehand and backhand, whereas, Flipkens has the ability to neutralize Konta's power. The Belgian will throw in slices, in order to make Konta's time on the court difficult, and she likes to throw in drop shots, and occasionally, comes to the net. 

The weakness for Flipkens is her serve, and the British number one has the ability to return her serve with authority. Konta is placed in a difficult section of the draw in the bottom half. A projected third-round meeting with 17th seed Caroline Wozniacki is on the cards. 2014 finalist Dominika Cibulkova could await in the second round, and potentially, a quarterfinal clash with six-time champion Serena Williams over the horizon. Konta will have to deal with the pressure of defending semifinalist points, and if she was to do it again this year, it would be even more impressive but winning the title in Sydney, has slightly alleviated some of the pressure.

This will be the first match scheduled in the Margaret Court Arena at 11 am local time to kick-off Day two action of the Australian Open, and the winner of this first round encounter will face Luksika Kumkhum or Naomi Osaka

Prediction: Konta in straight sets.