What's at Stake: What surprises will come from Aussie tune-up events?

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COURT REPORT: Riske loses Shenzhen final for third time, to Sabalenka

 

Tennis seasons don’t start with a bang; that would be too simple. They start instead with a multi-gun salute that spans three continents and five countries. From Pune to Perth to Shenzhen to Brisbane to Auckland to Doha, the first week of 2019 threw us right back into the sport’s deep end. Thankfully, the torrid pace slows a bit on Monday, as the players begin to drift toward Melbourne for the year’s first major event. But not everyone is there yet. There are four tournaments this week, one of which has a top-shelf draw.

Sydney International (WTA)

Sydney, Australia

$823,000; Premier

Plexicushion

Draw is here

How much can a tournament mean when it takes place the week before a Slam? Usually, not all that much, but the Sydney women’s event could be an exception. It has a 28-player field that’s dense with top names: Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber, Sloane Stephens, Petra Kvitova, Karolina Pliskova, Kiki Bertens, Daria Kasatkina are among the seeds, while Garbiñe Muguruza, Jelena Ostapenko, Ash Barty, Aryna Sabalenka, and Anastasija Sevastova are among the non-seeds.

Even if some big-name players fall by the wayside early—an inevitability this close to a Slam—others will survive. The last two years, Sydney has helped kick-start a successful season: In 2017, Johanna Konta won the title here and went on to crack the Top 10; last year Kerber came in unseeded, won the whole thing, and quickly vaulted back into Slam contention. Who, if anyone, might find that kind of form this time around?

First-round matches to watch:

Barty vs. Ostapenko

Anett Kontaveit vs. Elise Mertens

Bertens vs. Sevastova

Muguruza vs. her old doubles partner, Carla Suarez Navarro

Kvitova vs. Sabalenka

HIGHLIGHTS: Aryna Sabalenka d. Alison Riske in the Shenzhen final

 


Sydney International (ATP)

Sydney, Australia

$589,000; 250 ranking points

Plexicishion

Draw is here

While the WTA holds a Premier event in Sydney, the ATP stages a lower-level 250, and the draws show it—there’s no one from the men’s Top 10 here.

Still, there are two players in this field who might get there eventually: 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas and 22-year-old Daniil Medvedev. The No. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively, the Greek and the Russian look set to make significant moves up the charts in 2019. Tsitsipas may have the most interesting game among the tour’s Next Gen, while Medvedev has begun the year in strong form, beating Andy Murray, Milos Raonic, and Jo-Wiflried Tsonga on his way to the Brisbane final.

MATCH POINT: Kei Nishikori d. Daniil Medvedev in Brisbane final

 


ASB Classic (ATP)

Auckland, New Zealand

$589,000; 250 ranking points

Plexicushion

Draw is here

It’s the men’s turn to come to Auckland, and a modestly intriguing collection of players has made the trip. John Isner, Fabio Fognini, Marco Cecchinato, Pablo Carreño Busta, Hyeon Chung, Denis Shapovalov, and Gael Monfils are the top eight seeds.

Can Isner push even higher than he did in 2018, in a year when he’ll turn 34? Is Chung prepared, or even close to prepared, to defend his semifinal run at the Australian Open? And which way is the wildly talented—and sometimes just plain wild—Shapovalov heading? We’ll get tentative answers to those questions this week.

HIGHLIGHTS: Alexander Zverev d. Isner at the ATP Finals

 


Hobart International (WTA)

Hobart, Australia

$250,000; International

Plexicushion

Draw is here

Who’s not in Sydney, among the women? Caroline Garcia, Mihaela Buzarnescu, and Maria Sakkari are among the high seeds in Hobart. Buzarnescu and Sakkari are two players to watch in 2019. Each had a surprising mini-breakthrough last year; this season we’ll get a better idea of how far they can go.

First-round matches to watch:

Garcia vs. Sofia Kenin

Buzarnescu vs. Belinda Bencic

WATCH: Angelique Kerber d. Belinda Bencic in the Hopman Cup final

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