Those of us who were dying for tennis’ return got more than our fair share over 2018‘s opening week. There was so much, in so many places, that’s it’s hard to know exactly what to make of what we saw. Simona Halep, Nick Kyrgios, Gael Monfils, Julia Goerges, Elina Svitolina and even Gilles Simon all won titles. With the exception of Simon, each of those players should go into the Australian Open as a potential title—or at least a semifinal—threat.
But there’s still one more week, and four more tournaments, before we arrive in Melbourne. The seven days leading into any Slam are traditionally the calm before the ensuing storm, and that’s largely true on the ATP side this time. As far as I can tell, even Dominic Thiem isn’t in action. At this point, it’s more about avoiding injury than trying to gain last-minute momentum.
But that’s not as true on the women’s side. The WTA event in Sydney has a strong draw, led by three of last year’s major title winners, Jelena Ostapenko, Garbiñe Muguruza and Sloane Stephens. They can all use a little extra work, and a little extra confidence; none of them has won a match so far in 2018.
Sydney International (WTA)
Draw is here
This Premier WTA event is also the premier event on either tour this week. Muguruza, Stephens, Venus Williams, Johanna Konta, Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber are all here, and they’ll all be trying to maintain the same precarious balance: they’re here to get matches in before moving on to Melbourne; but they’re not here to exhaust themselves or risk making any niggles more serious than they need to be. Ostapenko, though, is already out, having dropped her opener to Ekaterina Makarova. In any tournament that’s held the week before a major, the one thing you can count on are precautionary withdrawals and retirements. We already saw a couple of them last week in Brisbane, where Stephens withdrew due to a knee problem and Muguruza retired with leg cramps. In her first match in Sydney, KiKi Mladenovic had to retire due to the heat.
Unlike many other pre-major events, though, success in Sydney often leads, either immediately or eventually, to success in Melbourne. Last year, Konta won the title and went into the Australian Open playing some of the best tennis in the field (before losing to Serena Williams in the quarterfinals). Previous winners in Sydney include Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka and Li Na.
First-round matches to watch: Kvitova vs. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni; Konta vs. Agnieszka Radwanska; Kerber vs. Lucie Safarova
ASB Classic (ATP)
Auckland, New Zealand
$501,345; 250 ranking points
Draw is here
The tournament is in New Zealand, but it has an American vibe. Three of the top four seeds—Jack Sock, Sam Querrey and John Isner—are from the States, and they’re joined by Steve Johnson, Donald Young and Ryan Harrison. Sock is the defending champion, and he also reached the final here in 2016. So far, though, deep runs in Auckland haven’t translated in Melbourne; he’s never been past the third round there. This should be the year when that changes, no? After winning his first Masters title and qualifying for his first year-end championships last November, Sock comes in carrying more expectations on his shoulders—we’ll see if he’s inspired by them, or burdened by them.
Also here: Juan Martin del Potro, who skipped the Australian swing last year. Delpo is the second seed, and could face Denis Shapovalov in his opening match.
First-round match to watch: 20-year-old Andrey Rublev vs. 19-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas
Potential second-round match to watch: Del Potro vs. Shapovalov. The Canadian started his breakout run last summer by beating the Argentine in Montreal.
Sydney International (ATP)
$468,910; 250 ranking points
Draw is here
The men’s event in Sydney doesn’t offer the money or the ranking points that the women’s does. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t have the star power, either. Albert Ramos-Viñolas is the top seed, followed by defending champion Gilles Muller, Diego Schwartzman and Fabio Fognini.
Muller’s record since upsetting Rafael Nadal 15-13 in the fifth set at Wimbledon last year: 5-6
Also here: Gilles Simon, champion last week in India. He’ll start against Jared Donaldson.
Hobart International (WTA)
Draw is here
The last and least-lucrative event of the week is in Hobart. Shuai Zhang, Elise Mertens, Sorana Cirstea and Alizé Cornet are the top four seeds. Cornet was upset in her opening match by Mihaela Buzarnescu. At No. 8 is Katerina Siniakova, who played the spoiler last week in Shenzhen when she beat Maria Sharapova in the semifinals, before losing to Halep in the final.
First-round match to watch: Naomi Osaka vs. Yulia Putintseva
JANUARY: THIS MONTH ON TENNIS CHANNEL PLUS
NEW SEASON, MORE TENNIS! Get Tennis Channel Plus now at BuyTCPlus.com
A LOT of tennis action will be played on Tennis Channel Plus from January through June
Starting with January … gear up for the Australian Open with 6 LIVE tournaments in the lead up to AO, exclusively on Tennis Channel Plus
- Mubadala – Abu Dhabi
- Hopman Cup
- ATP Sydney
- Fast 4 Sydney
- World Tennis Channel – Adelaide
- Australian Open Qualifying
- Australian Open (Best 20 Matches of AO will be on-demand)