With a cut-off ranking of 32, the Apia International Sydney has been considered one of the best tournaments on the tour all year long, especially considering the fact that the tournament is just one week before a Grand Slam. Seven Grand Slam champions headline the draw, with the return of the legendary Venus Williams being the most notable star player of the week.
First quarter: Tricky section with Australians leading the pack
There are seven players in the first section — three of them are Australians. Wildcard Samantha Stosur opens her Sydney campaign against the in-form Julia Goerges, and the German comes into the tournament with a fantastic run to the final at the ASB Classic, where she would face Caroline Wozniacki there. She is also currently on a 13-match winning streak, and she stands a decent chance of producing another deep run.
Another player to watch out for is Daria Gavrilova, who faces compatriot and wildcard Olivia Rogowska in the first round. Also in this section is the top seed and late-addition Garbine Muguruza, who received a bye and her first opponent will most likely be Kiki Bertens, who would have to get past a qualifier in her first match. Muguruza owns a 0-3 head-to-head record against the Dutch, and it would be a tricky encounter for the world number two, who could top the rankings with the title in Sydney.
Prediction: Goerges d. Muguruza (NOTE: After this article was uploaded, Julia Goerges was announced to have withdrawn with Carina Witthoeft taking her place as a lucky-loser)
Second quarter: Ostapenko leads the draw
Third seed Jelena Ostapenko will not be too happy with her draw as she received a tough one — former world number eight Ekaterina Makarova awaits in the opening round. Makarova entered the main draw only after her compatriot Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova was forced to withdraw. The path certainly doesn’t get smoother as the week progresses, with the winner of yet another blockbuster meeting looming.
Daria Kasatkina and Barbora Strycova, who have had contrasting starts to 2018 after the Russian was shocked 2-6, 2-6 in Brisbane by Kaia Kanepi while the Czech reached the quarterfinals in Auckland, will face each other in an intriguing encounter. This is their third opening-round meeting in seven months.
The highest-ranked unseeded player in the draw is Ashleigh Barty, and she will look to impress the home fans with a good run after being drawn against a qualifier in the first-round before a potential meeting with fifth seed Kristina Mladenovic awaits. The Frenchwoman is on a 13-match losing streak but should be able to grab a win this week as her opponent would be the local wildcard Ellen Perez ranked 343.
Prediction: Barty d. Kasatkina
Third quarter: Rematch of the 2017 final
The highlight of this section is definitely no other than the intriguing first-round encounter between Agnieszka Radwanska and Johanna Konta. Who could have expected that the 2017 final will be an opening-round encounter in 2018? The winner of the match will go up against either a qualifier or Wimbledon semifinalist Magdalena Rybarikova.
The other side of the section is equally as tight, with sixth seed Sloane Stephens looking to grab a perfect start to her 2018 season. She faces a qualifier in the opening round before a hard-hitter awaits — either Australian Open semifinalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni or two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.
Prediction: Konta d. Kvitova
Fourth quarter: High-quality draw with quality players
The last section is the best quarter of the draw, with all seven players being part of the top-20 either in the past or currently. Eighth seed Anastasija Sevastova, who was seeded because of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova’s withdrawal, will have a tough opener as the 2016 WTA Finals and former world number five Dominika Cibulkova awaits. The winner of this encounter would go up against either Elena Vesnina or Peng Shuai, an interesting encounter which would take place on the first day of the tournament.
In a battle between two-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber and former top-five player Lucie Safarova, they would face off for the fourth time in their careers and the winner would earn the opportunity to go up against the legendary Venus Williams, who makes her return to Sydney after 20 years, in the second round. The dream match-up would be between the in-form German and the evergreen American, but Safarova is never a player to underestimate.
Prediction: Kerber d. Sevastova