In the week before a major, players hoping to launch deep runs there eye a last opportunity to build momentum at a smaller tournament. The WTA Sydney draw features every woman ranked between 4th and 10th, some of whom hope to defend large quantities of Melbourne points and others of whom seek to turn around their recent fortunes more generally. We break down each of the eight seeds and what they can hope to accomplish here.
Radwanska: A champion in Auckland last week, she started the first half of 2013 with the crisp hard-court tennis that defined her first half in 2012. That said, Radwanska did not face any opposition remotely near her level at this International event where she held the top seed. While she will feel grateful to avoid Azarenka in the Sydney nemesis, her second nemesis of last season on hard courts—Li Na—could lurk in the semifinals. The Pole has proved herself capable of winning consecutive tournaments before against sterner competition, though, sweeping Tokyo and Beijing in late 2011. And she becomes a much more dangerous player when confident, as she must feel following Auckland.
Kerber: One of the WTA’s leading workaholics, she dwindled in production when fatigue caught up to her late last year. Some of that fatigue appeared to linger in Brisbane, mentally more than physically, when Kerber scraped through two gruesome three-setters against anonymities and then dropped two tiebreaks to Pavlyuchenkova. While she has little to defend during the Australian season, she needs to rediscover her form before the larger quantities of points that she must protect during the spring. Starting with a bye, Kerber’s draw looks reasonably accommodating, although she could open against Auckland runner-up Wickmayer.
Errani: Falling in an epic battle of momentum twists against Hantuchova last week, the Italian must defend quarterfinal points in Melbourne, the site of her first significant breakthrough. Like Kerber, Errani may continue to battle the aftermath of fatigue from her most productive season to date, which included nearly 150 total matches in singles and doubles. Her projected quarterfinal opponent, Kvitova, crushed her on a hard court in New Haven last summer, while a potential match against fellow doubles specialist Kirilenko intrigues. Errani will not outhit anybody, so she will need help from erratic opponents to justify her seeding by reaching the semifinals.
Li: A titlist in the inaugural Shenzhen event last week, Li nearly threw away that golden opportunity to shine on home soil by squandering multiple leads in the final against Zakopolova. On the other hand, she displayed impressive fortitude by regrouping to win that tense three-setter anyway, and in a resounding victory over compatriot Peng. Reaching the final in Sydney last year, where she threatened Azarenka, Li may feel too emotionally drained to repeat that feat this week. Although she has struggled against Stosur, she may not need to oust the Aussie in the quarterfinals (see below), and her 2012 success against Radwanska (see above) should infuse her with confidence if that semifinal happens.
Kvitova: The question remains when, not if, she will regain the blistering offensive barrage with which she won her first major in 2011. Kvitova needs to dispel the doubts surrounding her sooner rather than later, however, especially since she must defend semifinal points in Melbourne to avoid falling further down the top 10. A woman who stood on the threshold of #1 in her last appearance here, she should overpower counterpunchers in her quarter like Cibulkova and Errani if she can find her range from the baseline. If she does, and it is a big if, she could build momentum through the first few matches that could carry this most unpredictable competitor to the title.
Stosur: Toppled in her first Brisbane match, she did not exactly justify the hyperbole of a Youtube video that proclaimed her (nonexistent) mastery over the “ovas” nor of a Brisbane tournament that invited fans to celebrate New Year’s Eve while watching her (nonexistent) opening triumph. Stosur routinely falls flat on her face in front of Aussie audiences, crashing out of Melbourne in the first round last year as well. While her draw looks unintimidating on paper, then, she should find a way to make it eventful. Note the presence of hot-and-cold Czech lefty Safarova as a possible second-round opponent who can summon the serve to keep the pressure on Stosur late in sets, when she could crumble.
Wozniacki: While it did not overly please her father, her first victory of the year on Sunday marked a step in the right direction after she had dropped her Brisbane opener in alarmingly dismal fashion. The path grows much steeper for the Dane henceforth as she tries to build confidence before defending Melbourne quarterfinal points, a task that looks a bit beyond her reach unless the draw falls in her favor. Lurking in her vicinity is Julia Goerges, who always seems to play her best tennis against Wozniacki, and another recent German nemesis of hers in Kerber, who defeated her more than once last year. She will be favored in no match for the rest of the week if the rest of the field plays to form.
Petrova: Ending the 2012 season in style, the Russian veteran won titles in Tokyo and Sofia that placed her tied for sixth in career titles among active women. Those accomplishments rewarded her for persevering through repeated health issues that once seemed likely to end her career. Now seeded in a draw where the last player to receive direct entry ranked #33, she may have a chance to build upon her strong finish to last year if she can repeat her Tokyo upset of Radwanska in the quarterfinals. Before then, the quirky style of Roberta Vinci should test Petrova’s patience, never her strong suit.
This year marks the start of my contributions to a variety of websites, such as Tennis Grandstand (tennisgrandstand.com). Go there to read a feature article about Pavlyuchenkova and Tomic, and return early next week for more articles as the Australian Open awaits. You also can find my match previews of the Sydney tournament and other articles on it at the Sydney website (apiainternational.com.au), starting Monday in Australian time. My next set of articles on this site will cover the ATP and WTA contenders and dark horses for the first major of 2013.