World no. 1 Ashleigh Barty leads six of the WTA’s top 10 as they start their season at the Brisbane International: We break down the draw and predict the semifinalists.
WTA Brisbane International tennis is live from 6-12 January with play starting around 11am local/1am GMT
WTA Brisbane International fast facts:
Location: Brisbane, Australia
Venue: Queensland Tennis Centre
Financial commitment: $1,434,900
Defending champion: Karolina Pliskova
Projected quarterfinal: Ashleigh Barty (1) vs Petra Kvitova (5) (3-4)
Who ordered the New Year fireworks? The top quarter of the Brisbane International draw is packed with potentially intriguing clashes which could set the tone for the Australian summer and beyond.
Not only does the tournament promise our first look at Ashleigh Barty for 2020, and hence an opportunity to evaluate how she might fare in backing up the absolutely superb season she recorded in 2019, if the seeding holds we will get a rematch of last year’s thrilling Sydney final between Barty and Petra Kvitova (they also played three more times in 2019).
First, though, Barty might have to negotiate another rematch. Wildcard Maria Sharapova faces a qualifier in the first round and, if she gets through that, will have a chance to avenge last year’s fourth-round Australian Open defeat to Barty. Sharapova only played 15 matches in 2019 as she struggled with injury but she’s been vocal about feeling fit again in the wake of shoulder surgery and if anybody can hit the ground running – and take advantage of a potentially nervy opponent – it’s Sharapova.
Kvitova, last year’s Australian Open runner-up, also has a tough draw: She opens against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who plays well on Australian hard courts, with Sloane Stephens a potential second-round opponent. Stephens is hopelessly inconsistent but Pavlyuchenkova tends to thrive in conditions like this and has a 4-6 record vs Kvitova, including winning their last encounter; I like her chances to come through to the quarterfinals.
Semifinalist: Barty (7/2 @ bet365 to win the tournament)
Projected quarterfinal: Elina Svitolina (4) vs Madison Keys (8) (2-2)
Champion at the Brisbane International in 2018, Elina Svitolina was unfortunate to go out to Aliaksandra Sasnovich in her opening match in 2019 (a rematch of the 2018 final) and the world no. 6 will hope for better things as she starts her 2020 season against Danielle Collins, who has semifinal points to defend in Melbourne and does love to take down a top player, so it’s safe to say this could be another tough opener for Svitolina in Brisbane. Big-serving Donna Vekic, a steady improver throughout 2018-19, could await in the second round.
Madison Keys had a curiously impact-less 2019 season despite winning titles in Charleston and Cincinnati, and has a 1-3 record in Brisbane despite playing some good tennis on Australian hard courts in the past. She opens against a qualifier, which with a qualifying draw of this caliber and the relative match-fitness advantage anybody who’s played their way into the main draw enjoys over a direct entrant fresh from the off-season can be very tricky, and could face 2016 Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber in the second round with Kerber opening against Australia’s own Samantha Stosur. Kerber enjoys a 9-2 record vs Keys so looks like a good pick for quarterfinalist, but is on a six-match losing streak against Svitolina.
Semifinalist: Svitolina (7/1 @ bet365 to win the tournament)
Projected quarterfinal: Kiki Bertens (6) vs Naomi Osaka (3) (1-1)
Another packed quarter, which could see both the seeds getting a very abrupt welcome back to the reality of the tour.
Reigning Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka, with new coach Wim Fissette in tow, opens against Maria Sakkari, a dogged competitor ensured of much support from the stands; if she gets through that, she’ll face either Sofia Kenin, who won their last encounter as well as a trio of titles that netted her the WTA award for Most Improved Player in 2019, or Anastasija Sevastova, the dropshot queen with the crafty game who pushed Osaka to three sets in both of their most recent matches.
I’m not sure Osaka, fresh from the off season, gets through this draw so my money is on Kenin to reach the quarterfinals. Who will she face? Kiki Bertens also has a tough path: She opens against Dayana Yastremska, now coached by former Osaka team member Sascha Baijin, and a tremendous talent who hits a storming ball; and if she gets through that, she could face a very different challenge in the form of the unpredictable Su-Wei Hsieh. Bertens might prefer to face Hsieh’s first-round opponent Anett Kontaveit, who had to shut her season down after the US Open due to injury but beat Kvitova in Brisbane last year and is a real powerhouse.
Semifinalist: Kenin (20/1 @ bet365 to win the tournament)
Projected quarterfinal: Johanna Konta (7) vs Karolina Pliskova (2) (2-6)
Defending champion Karolina Pliskova is looking for a hat-trick of Brisbane International titles this year, and the ‘ace queen’ (who will be hoping to live up to her nickname, having pledged $200 to the Red Cross for bushfire relief for every ace served) actually has a fairly decent draw.
Pliskova will open against one of two Australian wildcards, either Ajla Tomljanovic or Priscilla Hon, and while Tomljanovic is a powerful and dangerous player, Pliskova will like her chances against an injury-prone player who does not possess much variety.
Johanna Konta, who had such a brilliant season from April onwards in 2019 but shut down her year after the US Open, has an interesting first-round encounter on the books with Barbora Strycova, who denied Konta a place in the Wimbledon semifinals when it seemed like such a great opportunity for the British player to reach them again. Now 0-2 vs Strycova, Konta must surely want some revenge and the Brisbane courts might be a good place for her to get it. The winner will face either Alison Riske, who played the best tennis of her career in 2019 and will be looking to carry that momentum forward, or Karolina Muchova, a surprise Wimbledon quarterfinalist and Seoul champion in 2019.
Semifinalist: Pliskova (7/1 @ bet365 to win the tournament)
Semifinals: Svitolina d. Barty
Pliskova d. Kenin
Final: Svitolina d. Pliskova