After four long months, it’s grand slam time again, and the draws are out. First, I analyze the women’s draw, where exciting upsets tend to be plentiful.
For each eighth of the draw, I’ve listed the seeded players and a few unseeded players I think have a real shot of reaching at least the third round. For each player, I’ve also listed a form score, which measures whether players’ recent results are better or worse than their current ranking would lead you to expect. These scores are newly updated to take into account players’ results through Thursday, January 10. Players with scores greater than 5 are playing above their ranking. See this post for an explanation of how the scores are calculated.
After breaking down the numbers, I discuss how I think the early rounds will unfold. At the very end I make specific predictions for the quarterfinals and beyond.
Victoria Azarenka says the infected toe that caused her to withdraw from the Brisbane semifinals feels much better, and she’s practicing normally. Her first round opponent, Monica Niculescu, can be a tough competitor and has a tricky, unorthodox game, but should cause Azarenka little trouble. Azarenka could meet Jamie Hampton (most likely), Urszula Radwanska, or Sofia Arvidsson in the third round—all players with the power and shotmaking ability to make the match competitive, but unlikely to upset the top seed.
Roberta Vinci faces no major obstacles before the third round, where I expect her to meet on-form Hobart finalist Elena Vesnina. Vinci has more big-match experience, and has the ability to break up Vesnina’s rhythm with her heavy spin and volleying ability, but will need to be on the top of her game to beat her. Other possible third-round opponents include Varvara Lepchenko, who hasn’t played well so far this season, and Polona Hercog, a skilled but inconsistent player who withdrew from Auckland and will be playing her first match of the season.
Predicted fourth round: Azarenka d. Vinci
Third most likely to reach the fourth round: Vesnina
Sara Errani shouldn’t have too much trouble in the first round against Carla Suarez Navarro, who is a tough counterpuncher and plays with a style similar to Errani’s, but not as well. Christina McHale is a potential threat in the second round, but her game was derailed by mononucleosis last summer, and she hasn’t won a match since Montreal. However, if a resurgent Svetlana Kuznetsova can keep her errors down and her head in the match, she has a good chance to upset the 7th seed in the third round. Hsieh Su-Wei is another potential third-round opponent, but she withdrew from doubles in Shenzhen with a forearm injury that also appeared to interfere with her singles game there.
Caroline Wozniacki faces Sabine Lisicki in one of the tournament’s most anticipated first-round matches. Lisicki leads the head-to-head 2-1 and won the two most recent matches, but a lot has changed for both players since they last played in the final of Charleston in 2009 (Lisicki’s first WTA title). Lisicki has the power to dictate most of the points, but also plays a risky, low-margin game. Wozniacki’s defensive ability might just give her too many opportunities to miss.
The winner of that match will face Andrea Hlavackova or 16-year-old Donna Vekic, both players who had outstanding breakout performances a few months ago, but lackluster results since. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who has played very well so far this year, is a much greater threat in the third round, assuming she plays consistently enough to overpower Lauren Davis, her potential second-round opponent. The 19-year-old Davis showed her defensive ability and extensive repertoire this week in Hobart, where she battled Sloane Stephens deep into a third set.
Predicted fourth round: Pavlyuchenkova d. Kuznetsova
Third most likely to reach the fourth round: Wozniacki
Not to be counted out: Lisicki, Errani
Serena Williams should have an easy first round against Edina Gallovits-Hall. Garbiñe Muguruza has the power to test Williams in the second round if she plays the way she did to reach the fourth round in Miami, but her recent form has been poor. The gutsy and powerful Yaroslava Shvedova is a greater threat in the third round—she took Serena deep into a third set at Wimbledon last year, and tends to play best in big events. On the other hand, Shvedova faces tough tests herself, from 18-year-old Annika Beck in the first round and Ayumi Morita in the second. Both are high-quality counterpunchers who have been playing well.
With her strong all-court game, Maria Kirilenko should have little trouble beating Vania King in the first round, as King’s recent form has been poor. Peng Shuai is a more powerful and formidable opponent in the second round, but her recent results are also unconvincing. Likely third-round opponent Yanina Wickmayer played well to reach the final in Auckland, but had a letdown losing to Galina Voskoboeva in the first round of Sydney this week. Wickmayer also faces a significant challenge in her first round against a resurgent and dangerous, but still inconsistent, Jarmila Gajdosova.
Predicted fourth round: S. Williams d. Kirilenko
Third most likely to reach the fourth round: Wickmayer
Not to be counted out: Shvedova
The first round match between Petra Kvitova and Francesca Schiavone will be interesting, not because they are both playing near the level that made them slam champions, but because neither of them is, and the stakes are high for both of them. Kvitova has bigger weapons and the hard courts suit her game, so she should win. But Schiavone has arguably played better than Kvitova in Australia this year, despite her close first-round loss to Kirsten Flipkens in Hobart. Whoever wins will likely face another tough test in the second round from Laura Robson, who upset two slam champions, Li Na and Kim Clijsters, in the last hardcourt slam tournament, the US Open. And the winner of that match will most likely face another powerhouse young player, Sloane Stephens.
Another possible third round opponent is powerful 19-year-old Kristina Mladenovic, who upset Pavlyuchenkova at the US Open but has missed the first two weeks of the year with wrist inflammation. Hard-fighting Simona Halep also has a chance, and will seek in the first round to avenge her Hobart loss to Stephens, whose confidence may be shaken by her own comprehensive loss to Vesnina later in that tournament.
Nadia Petrova played spectacularly well in Tokyo and Sofia late last year, but has since changed coaches and lost to Vinci in the first round of Sydney. She could be tested in the first round by Kimiko Date-Krumm, who had a great run through ITF tournaments late last year. But the 42-year-old Date-Krumm has not beaten a top-30 player since she beat Kirilenko in ‘s-Hertogenbosch in 2011. If Petrova gets past Date-Krumm, she could face a much greater challenge from Lucie Safarova. The powerful, left-handed Safarova is capable of beating nearly anyone on her day, as she proved by outshining teammate Kvitova in their victorious Fed Cup final against Serbia last year. But Safarova has started her year with straight-set first-round losses to Lisicki and Madison Keys.
Predicted fourth round: Petrova d. Stephens
Third most likely to reach the fourth round: Robson
Not to be counted out: Kvitova, Safarova
Li Na should have little trouble with the powerful but erratic and mentally fragile Sesil Karatantcheva in the first round. Her second round match against the also powerful Pauline Parmentier or Olga Govortsova could be a bit harder, but still shouldn’t be a serious test. In the third round, Sorana Cirstea could be a major threat. Cirstea upset top-16 seeds in three slams last year—Sam Stosur at the Australian Open, Lisicki at the US Open, and Li herself at Wimbledon. Cirstea likes to use her opponents’ power against them, redirecting their balls at sharp angles to seize control of points. Yet Cirstea’s game is also risky and critically dependent on timing, and her own advance to the third round could be thwarted by young powerhouses Coco Vandeweghe or Kristyna Pliskova.
Stosur has not beaten a top-50 player in her home country since 2011, and her draw will not help her confidence. In the first round she faces Chang Kai Chen, who beat her in Osaka last year. Her likely second-round opponent is Zheng Jie, who beat her in the first round of Sydney this week. And her most likely third-round opponent is Julia Goerges, who beat her in Beijing last year and holds a 3-1 advantage in the head-to-head. For her part, Goerges could face a challenge from Tsvetana Pironkova in the second round. Goerges’ form is questionable, as she was upset by journeywoman Johanna Larsson in Auckland, and she trails Zheng 0-2 in the head-to-head.
Predicted fourth round: Li d. Zheng J.
Third most likely to reach the fourth round: Goerges
Not to be counted out: Cirstea
Agnieszka Radwanska should have little trouble in the first round against Bojana Bobusic, who did well to win her wild card in an all-Australian playoff last month, but has never beaten a top-100 opponent. Irina Begu could put up more resistance in the second round, but is still unlikely to be a threat. Radwanska’s most likely third-round opponent is the powerful Mona Barthel, who has played well so far this year, but is unlikely to find the consistency or versatility to beat Radwanska. Indeed, if Barthel’s accuracy falters as it did last summer, she could easily fall to Ksenia Pervak in the first round or Heather Watson in the second. Pervak, in particular, played well in Brisbane, where she upset Wozniacki.
Ana Ivanovic should beat Melinda Czink in the first round. Czink won their last meeting, but that was in 2009 when Czink was a better player and Ivanovic was entering a major slump. She’ll facer a harder test in the second round, where she likely meets Daniela Hantuchova. But Ivanovic has a 4-0 head-to-head against Hantuchova on hard courts, and Hantuchova has been upset by Morita and Lesia Tsurenko in her last two matches. Winning those two matches would most likely set up a highly anticipated match against countrywoman Jelena Jankovic, whose game style and personality contrast dramatically with those of Ivanovic. It should be a close and hotly contested match, but based on their recent form and her 4-2 head-to-head advantage on hard courts, I expect Ivanovic to win.
Jankovic has more power and far more big-match experience than her first-round opponent Larsson, but Larsson has started the season well and could be a threat if Jankovic’s timing is off.
Predicted fourth round: A. Radwanska d. Ivanovic
Third most likely to reach the fourth round: Jankovic
Angelique Kerber is unlikely to be troubled in the first-round by Elina Svitolina, who at age 18 looks to be a rising star but has yet to beat a top-100 opponent. In the second round she face one of two tall, powerful players—Lucie Hradecka or Kiki Bertens—but neither has the speed around the court or the consistency to match Kerber.
By seeding, Kerber’s third-round opponent should be Tamira Paszek, but Paszek’s form has been very poor since last summer, and she could well have her hands full with Stefanie Voegele in the first round. If Paszek beats Voegele, I expect her to lose to 17-year-old Madison Keys in the second round. Keys proved in Sydney she has the power, control, and cool under fire to compete with top players, beating Larsson, Safarova, and Zheng and coming within a game of beating Li. On the other hand, Keys could be derailed in the first round by the all-court battler Casey Dellacqua, and her match against Li showed her game can break down against sustained resistance by a more experienced power player with a bigger repertoire, like Kerber.
Marion Bartoli’s recent form has been spotty, and she has a potentially difficult first round against the versatile and determined Anabel Medina Garrigues. But Medina Garrigues withdrew from Hobart this week with an abdominal injury, and Bartoli has a 5-0 record against her in completed matches on hard courts. Bartoli’s second round, against either wild card Olivia Rogowska or a qualifier, should be easier. Left-handed shotmaker Ekaterina Makarova might well pose a serious threat in the third round, however. Alternatively, so could the hyper-aggressive Camila Giorgi, if she happens to have a day where her shots land mostly in the court.
Predicted fourth round: Kerber d. Makarova
Third most likely to reach the fourth round: Bartoli
Not to be counted out: Keys
In the first round, Maria Sharapova faces Olga Puchkova, another tall, powerful Russian who has worked as a model on the side. Puchkova is a former top-40 player who is attempting a comeback, but her shotmaking ability, versatility, and competitive fire are not on Sharapova’s level. It will be Sharapova’s first match of the year after she withdrew from Brisbane with an inflamed collarbone, but she says that’s no longer a problem. Sharapova could face a challenge in the second round from Petra Martic, who upset Kvitova in Tokyo last year. But Martic withdrew from Shenzhen, so her form this year is an unknown.
Sharapova is likely to face a major threat from Venus Williams in the third round. Sharapova leads the head-to-head 4-3, and won their most recent match in Rome last year, the only match they’ve played since 2009. Williams proved last year she still has the ability to beat top players, but as the younger player with more consistent high-level results, Sharapova should win. If Williams’ form or energy level are off, she could also lose to the crafty Galina Voskoboeva in the first round, or the all-court fighter Marina Erakovic in the second.
Dominika Cibulkova should beat 16-year-old Ashleigh Barty in the first round without much trouble. Barty has unusually well-developed all-court skills for such a young player, but so far has been unable to match the power or competitiveness of opponents at the WTA tour level. Cibulkova should have another easy match in the second round against either Mandy Minella or a qualifier. In the third round she’s likely to face a harder test against either Shenzhen finalist Klara Zakopalova or Hobart semifinalist Kirsten Flipkens. Flipkens has improved her all-court game and shown new confidence over the last few months. Zakopalova was in excellent form last week, trading deep, high-powered groundstrokes with Li in a 3-set final, but withdrew from doubles this week in Hobart with an ankle injury after fading in a three-set singles loss to Pironkova.
Cibulkova has shown her best and worst sides already this year, using her power, courage, and footspeed to upset Kvitova and Kerber and reach the final in Sydney, where she then suffered an error-ridden 6-0 6-0 loss to Aga Radwanska. Hitting as hard and flat as she does from her modest height means her game rides on a razor’s edge. I expect her to reach the fourth round, but it she’ll probably need to have an exceptionally good day like she did against Kerber to beat Sharapova.
Predicted fourth round: Sharapova d. Cibulkova
Third most likely to reach the fourth round: V. Williams
Not to be counted out: Flipkens, Zakopalova
Unseeded Players Most Likely to Reach the Fourth Round
- Zheng J.
Azarenka d. Pavlyuchenkova
S. Williams d. Petrova
A. Radwanska d. Li
Sharapova d. Kerber
S. Williams d. Azarenka
Sharapova d. A. Radwanska
I may have gone out on a limb with a couple of my fourth-round predictions, but I’m hardly alone in predicting that:
Serena Williams will defeat Maria Sharapova for the 2013 Australian Open title.