Serena Williams, Coco Gauff and Caroline Wozniacki are among the stars beginning their 2020 seasons at the ASB Classic in Auckland but who will take the title?
WTA ASB Classic Auckland tennis is live from 6-12 January with play starting around 10am local/9pm GMT
WTA Auckland International fast facts:
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Venue: ASB Tennis Centre
Financial commitment: $251,750
Defending champion: Julia Goerges
Projected quarterfinal: Serena Williams (1) vs Jelena Ostapenko (7) (0-0)
You couldn’t make it up: Not only is Serena Williams in the same quarter of the draw as the widely-predicted-to-be ‘next Serena’ Coco Gauff, but she will be starting her 2020 season against probably the toughest opponent she could have drawn in the first round, Svetlana Kuznetsova.
This will be Williams’s second appearance in Auckland, having lost to Madison Brengle in 2017, and her fourteenth match against Kuznetsova as well as their first meeting since 2016.
Given Williams’s recent problems staying fit and healthy, it remains an open question whether she will actually make it to the court to face Kuznetsova, but if she does, it’s an intriguing one. While Williams leads the head-to-head 10-3, Kuznetsova is a tremendously dangerous and talented player who has no fear of the American (but a healthy respect).
The Russian hasn’t really been fit to play a full season since 2016 but when she is fit, she is dangerous even to the best (as she demonstrated with a trio of wins over top-10 opponents to reach the Cincinnati final last August).
Christina McHale or a qualifier awaits the winner of the blockbuster first-round match, with the American another one of those players who often performs above their usual level against a top player.
Seventh seed Jelena Ostapenko had a dire 2019 season but revived it right at the death with back-to-back finals, losing to Gauff in Linz and winning Luxembourg, and it’s that energy she’ll be hoping to carry into 2020 – but it will be tricky right from the start, as she opens against dropshot-happy Laura Siegemund and faces a potential Linz final rematch against Gauff in the second round, should Gauff get past Viktoria Kuzmova. It’s a wildly unpredictable quarter in which much depends on the fitness of certain players (i.e. Serena Williams) but based on how Gauff played in 2019 whenever she got into the main draw of a WTA Tour event …
Semifinalist: Gauff (12/1 @ bet365 to win the tournament)
Projected quarterfinal: Amanda Anisimova (3) vs Caroline Garcia (8) (0-0)
The incredible first half of the 2019 season for Amanda Anisimova – winning her maiden WTA Tour title in Bogota and reaching the semifinals of the French Open – was somewhat overshadowed both by the rise of the even younger Coco Gauff, and the sad death of her father midway through the year.
The 18-year-old is still an extraordinary young talent, however, and she’ll be one to watch both this week in Auckland and throughout the 2020 season. Anisimova starts against Kateryna Kozlova, who can be dangerous against a rusty player (and Anisimova has only played three matches since July), with the winner to face one of two tricky, variety-filled players: Either Carla Suarez Navarro, who will retire at the end of this season, or the badly slumping Daria Kasatkina.
Former world no. 4 Caroline Garcia, currently ranked world no. 46, went 27-27 in 2019 and will hope to improve on that in 2020. She’s up against Taylor Townsend, who impressed so much when she took out Simona Halep at the US Open but lacks consistently (to say the least) in the first round, and that’s a match that could be tricky for the erratic Frenchwoman; Belgian veteran Kirsten Flipkens or wildcard Eugenie Bouchard, currently ranked world no. 215 and trying yet again to get something going, await in the second round. It’s a quarter that’s ripe for someone to make a surprise run – could it be Townsend?
Semifinalist: Townsend (33/1 @ bet365 to win the tournament)
Projected quarterfinal: Caroline Wozniacki (5) vs Julia Goerges (4) (4-6)
Caroline Wozniacki, who announced that she will retire after the Australian Open, actually has an excellent chance of making it to the semifinals in Auckland. Runner-up to Venus Williams in 2015 and Goerges in 2018, Woznaicki opens against a wildcard and the biggest potential threat to her in the second round is Lauren Davis, the grinding American with the heavy forehand who won the title in Auckland in 2017 and can really challenge the top players but has never bothered Wozniacki.
Julia Goerges had a mixed 2019 season but still reached three finals, successfully defending her Auckland title and beating Bianca Andreescu in the final but finishing runner-up to Ashleigh Barty in Birmingham and Ostapenko in Luxembourg. But the German has a gift of the draw to the semifinals here: She’ll open against a qualifier, then face Jil Teichmann of Switzerland (more of a clay-courter) or a wildcard. Even if she does face Wozniacki in the semifinals, Goerges has a good record against the Dane, and the latter has one foot out of the sport.
Semifinal: Goerges (9/1 @ bet365 to win the tournament)
Projected quarterfinal: Rebecca Peterson (6) vs Petra Martic (2) (0-1)
Rebecca Peterson and Petra Martic both had excellent 2019 seasons. Peterson won titles in Tianjin and Nanchang and starts 2020 at world no. 44, just one place below her career-high ranking achieved last October; Martic won Istanbul and rose to a career-high world no. 15 after a series of other good results which included reaching the French Open quarterfinals.
Nevertheless, this quarter is a bit lacking in star quality. Peterson has a decent path to the quarterfinals, opening against Tamara Zidansek – lovely backhand but yet to quite develop into the player she might be – with the returning Catherine Bellis or Washington champion Jessica Pegula in the second round: Can she pick up where she left off in 2019?
Martic has the trickier route, opening against Alison van Uytvanck with the experienced and always tricky Alize Cornet in the second round.
Semifinalist: Martic (6/1 @ bet365 to win the tournament)
Semifinals: Gauff d. Townsend
Goerges d. Martic
Final: Gauff d. Goerges