Sunday, 1 January 2017

Top Players flock to Brisbane, Perth

New Years Day 2017 and the international tennis circus has hit the shores of Australia in a big way.  On the west coast, Perth is hosting the 29th edition of the Hopman Cup, the team event won last year (yes I can legitimately say that now) by Australia.
The home nation once again will be represented by world number 13 Nick Kyrgios and world number 25 Dasha Gavrilova.
Spain will be the first opponent for the defending champs, and that tie will be decided on the first night of 2017.  Feliciano Lopez and Lara Arruabarrena carry the Spanish hopes.
Before that, the day session and opening of the competition sees the strong USA team of Jack Sock and Coco Vandeweghe take on the Czech Republic combination Adam Pavlasek and Lucie Hradecka.

Some of the other prominent names who will strut their stuff over the course of the Hopman Cup this year include Roger Federer, Richard Gasquet, Alexander Zverev, Belinda Bencic and Kristina Mladenovic.

Meanwhile, on the east coast, the Brisbane International has a wealth of the top ten players from each of the WTA and ATP Tours on show.  The WTA Premier event will feature the 2 players who battled it out for the WTA Finals title in Singapore in November - world number one Angie Kerber and her vanquisher on that occasion Dominika Cibulkova, now ranked number 5.  They are the top two seeds for this event and both receive first round byes.  Seeds 3, 4 and 5 are the worlds 6, 7 and 9 - Karolina Pliskova (2016 US Open Runner-Up), Garbine Muguruza (2016 Roland Garros Champion) and Svetlana Kuznetsova (2 time GS title winner).

Last year, Vika Azarenka defeated Kerber in the Brisbane final, before Angie turned the tables on Vika in the Aus Open quarter final en route to the title.  However, Vika has just given birth to a baby boy, so is not a threat for the foreseeable future.  This year the top seed must start favourite.  

The first days action on centre court begins with former top ten star and 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard.  The Canadian, now ranked 46, faces Shelby Rogers in an all North American contest, the USA player at 59 in the world.  My selection is Bouchard to win in three sets, but nothing should surprise in early matches in early tournaments of a new season.

Except perhaps a loss for third seed Pliskova in her opening match against Kazakhstan's Yulia Putintseva, scheduled second in the main stadium.  That would indeed be a shock.
Putintseva made the quarter finals last year at Roland Garros, while Pliskova lost first round.
2016 after that saw just 10 wins from 24 appearances for Putintseva.
Pliskova on the other hand won Nottingham and Cincinnati, was a finalist at Eastbourne and Flushing Meadows, and managed 28 match wins from 39 starts.
Can't visualise anything but straight sets entry into Brisbane's second round for the Fed Cup winning team member.

The other seed on display on day one is number seven Elena Vesnina, whose court one opposition comes in the form of French woman Alize Cornet.
Last year Cornet made the second round before winning the Hobart title, while Vesnina lost to Azarenka in the first round.  In fact Vesnina also lost in qualifying for the Aus Open 2016 and found herself languishing ranked somewhere in the hundreds.
Her revival to end the year at 16 was one of the more impressive on court achievements for 2016.

The final women's and men's qualifying matches are also scheduled for New Years Day, but the sole main draw men's match will include an Australian - wild card Jordan Thompson.  The 79th ranked Aussie has managed to claim centre court as the venue to fight it out against fellow wild card Elias Ymer, who hails from Sweden.  
While Thompson is favoured to win that match, his tournament would likely end next round where he'd have to overcome the Tomic/Ferrer victor.

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