Week in Preview: A look at the final tune-ups before the Aussie Open

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Dominika Cibulkova defeated Laura Siegemund, 6-2, 6-0, in the first round in Sydney. (AP)

The 2017 tennis season broke out of the gates quickly in its opening week. Now it’s time to pull in the reins and make sure no one gets hurt before the year’s first major event, the Australian Open, which begins next Sunday. Here’s a look at the last tune-ups before Melbourne. It’s a quieter week on the men’s side than it is on the women’s.

*****

Apia International Sydney (WTA)

Sydney, Australia
$776,000
Plexicushion
Draw is here

It’s often said that no one who wins a tournament the week before a major goes on to win the major itself. And for the most part this has proven to be true. But that hasn’t stopped two of the most serious contenders for the women’s Aussie Open title, world No. 1 Angelique Kerber and No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska, from playing in Sydney this week.

Each has won this tournament in the past—Aga in 2013 and Angie in 2014—and each is the prohibitive favorite to reach the final from her side of the draw. Of the two, though, Radwanska has the smoother path. She’ll start against either Christina McHale or Kateryna Bondarenko, and now that Karolina Pliskova has withdrawn, the highest seed on her side is No. 8 Elena Vesnina. Meanwhile, Kerber will open with talented teen Daria Kasatkina, and will have to negotiate her way through a half featuring three Top 10 players, Dominika Cibulkova, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Johanna Konta.

Either way, it may not matter who wins once we get to the big dance next week. Last year’s Sydney champ, Kuznetsova, lost in the second round in Melbourne.

Second-round match to watch: Kerber vs. Kasatkina

*****

ASB Classic (ATP)

Auckland, New Zealand
$508,360; 250 ranking points
Plexicushion
Draw is here

This year’s ASB Classic feels like an updated version of the Spanish-American War. The Spaniards are represented by top seed Roberto Bautista Agut, No. 3 David Ferrer, No. 5 Albert Ramos-Viñolas and No. 6 Feliciano Lopez. On the U.S. side, there’s No. 2 John Isner, No. 4 Jack Sock and No. 7 Steve Johnson.

Ferrer is a four-time champion here, but Bautista Agut and Sock would seem to be the players to watch most closely. They reached the Auckland final in 2016, and they’ll both be dark horses next week in Melbourne.

*****

Apia International Sydney (ATP)

Sydney, Australia
$495,630; 250 ranking points
Plexicushion
Draw is here

One name stands out in the men’s draw in Sydney, for two reasons, and that’s Dominic Thiem. First, the Austrian is the top seed, and by far the highest-ranked player in the tournament. Second, he’s in the tournament. Thiem, who faded down the stretch in 2016, has been criticized for overplaying, and he has said that he would take that into consideration this season. So far, though, he hasn’t pared anything back. Thiem played last week in Brisbane, he’s playing this week in Sydney and he’ll try to play for two straight weeks in Melbourne. Not surprisingly, no one else in the Top 10 is joining him.

*****

Hobart International (WTA)

Hobart, Australia
$250,000
Plexicushion
Draw is here

Hobart is a relaxed event, and it seems to be getting more chill by the minute. Over the weekend, three seeded players withdrew—No. 4 Alison Riske, No. 6 Alizé Cornet and No. 8 Ana Konjuh had all reached tournament finals the previous week. On Sunday, the No. 2 seed, Anastasija Sevastova, was sent packing by Shelby Rogers, and the No. 5 seed, Misaki Doi, was knocked off by Aussie wild card Lizette Cabrera.

Who’s left, you ask? Monica Niculescu and the two Kikis, Bertens and Mladenovic, are the only seeds standing.

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