Welcome to the first WTA preview for the year, covering the tournament in Brisbane this week. This looks to be an incredibly stacked field, with the likes of Putintseva, Bouzkova, Mladenovic and Kudermetova finding themselves in the qualifying draw for the tournament, such is the strength of the tournament.
From an Australian perspective, it is nice to see an Australian entering the tournament as the top seed, with world number 1 Ash Barty taking part this week. Such is the setup, only the top 2 players (Barty and Pliskova) have the bye this week to start.
Weather conditions look to be quite consistent this week, with most days having a top of 29-30 degrees, with a bit of humidity to test players in their first top-tier tournament for the year.
Let’s split the draw in half to preview, before coming back to summarize at the end.
We start with the top seed, Ash Barty. Barty is a worthy and proven world number 1, and her game has come a long way in the last 12 months. Her variety and ability to mix up attack and defense is what separates her from some of the other top players. She is the favourite in the draw, and you cannot underestimate the importance of a first-round bye in such a loaded field. Meets Sharapova or a qualifier first up and will need to beat Petra Kvitova to get out of the quarter. Looks perhaps a little short in this field given the quality of the draw, however I won’t be going out of my way to actively oppose Barty this week. One to watch.
If there was one player in this draw that isn’t overly fond of playing in the humidity, it is Petra Kvitova. Generally, Kvitova plays better tennis as she moves further south down the east coast of Australia. Kvitova has only played the tournament once since 2013, losing in the second round to Anett Kontaveit in 2019. It was a tough start for Kvitova, taking 3 hours to defeat Collins in the heat, and it took its toll. Rather others in these conditions at the price. As with most first round opponents this week, it is a tough draw with Pavlyuchenkova standing across the net. Prefer others at their prices, although needs to be respected.
One to keep an eye on is Elina Svitolina. She finished 2019 strongly, reaching the final of the WTA Finals (lost to Barty). The champion here in 2018, Svitolina did struggle first up against Sasnovich last year. She got to Brisbane early this year due to her partner Gael Monfils taking part in the ATP Cup, which started a couple of days ago. These conditions are suited to her, and she looks to be a nice price. She looks to be suited to this section, with favorable recent form against a couple of players in this draw. Has one of the weaker first round draws, coming up against Danielle Collins, who did struggle at the end of the 2019 season with her new diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. Should be able to make it out of this quarter with something close to her best tennis.
Madison Keys is one of the great unknowns in this draw, and most draws she takes part in on tour. The difference between the best and the worst of Keys is quite large. She will face a qualifier first up, followed by potentially Kerber and Svitolina just to get out of the quarter. Given the style of Kerber and Svitolina, Keys will need to be at her absolute best in consecutive matches, and she needs to beat what will be a quality qualifier in the first round. I would prefer to see some lead-in form for Keys here before taking her at the price available, especially in such a stacked draw. Will watch and monitor with interest, as her best tennis is top quality.
I will make mention of a couple of unseeded players, such is the quality of this draw and the round 1 matches. This section is heavy on qualifiers, but they shouldn’t be taken for granted given the strength of the qualifying field.
Some standout names in this section include Donna Vekic, Angelique Kerber and Sloane Stephens. There are other quality players in the half such as Pavlyuchenkova and Stosur, however I would be a touch surprised to seem them make a big run through this draw. I would love to see Vekic take the next step this year, however I want to see her on court before committing to her in an outright capacity this year. Kerber is intriguing as I would like to see if her style has adjusted at all with a new coach, so watch this space. Stephens is another I need to see perform well before considering in any outright capacity.
In what looks to be a slightly easier half of the draw to attack at a value price, the first seeded player in the draw is Kiki Bertens. She looks a little short in the outright market, however I may look to make a play on her as an underdog in some specific matchups if they occur later in the week.
Unfortunately for Naomi Osaka, she finds herself having to play in the first round as the third seed. It comes with a tricky match-up to start, with Maria Sakkari to give her absolutely nothing for free in the heat of the day. I am keen to see how she starts the week, as I would put a second-round meeting with Sofia Kenin down as a significant danger game if they were to meet. If Osaka brings her best, she can win this week, however she looks a little too short for my liking is such a stacked field.
Johanna Konta scrapes into this draw as the seventh seed, and will be out for revenge against Barbara Strycova, who defeated her at Wimbledon last year. In a similar fashion to Bertens, I don’t feel comfortable taking her in the sense of an outright, however I think we may get some good prices in specific head to head meetings if they occur.
The defending champion Karolina Pliskova has probably the most favorable early draw, with a first-round bye before a meeting with one of the wildcards in Hon/Tomljanovic. I think she is going to start as a favourite in any match leading up to at least the quarter final, however I don’t particularly like the draw of Konta if they meet in hot and humid conditions. Like Barty/Osaka, she looks a touch short overall given how stacked the draw is overall, and I can’t bring myself to take the single figure pricing.
Of the unseeded players, I do feel as though Sofia Kenin is presenting as a bit of a value price if she can bring her best tennis. I think her 2019 fell under the radar a touch, and her best tennis could really cause some shocks in this bottom half of the draw. Others of interest include Dayana Yastremska, who looks to be starting as a favourite in round 1 against Bertens. The first-round match of Muchova and Riske also looks to be highly competitive.
This is going to be one of the toughest tournaments to predict outside of Grand Slams for the year in my opinion. I won’t be attacking anything strongly; such is the nature and unpredictability of this draw to start the season.
I will settle on one selection from each half of the draw. I will make a trading selection on Elina Svitolina and will look to play that one through until she meets Ash Barty, if it were to eventuate. If she faces Barty, I will be looking to step out of that position for what should be profit as a semi-finalist. In the bottom half I will take someone that is a little more left-of-centre in Sofia Kenin. She looks a big price and at her best can match up well with most players in this section of the draw. Again, I would look to step out of this position in some capacity if she were to meet Barty in the final.
Whilst I am keeping Barty safe, I just don’t feel there is enough value in her price to tip her as the outright selection. A Grand Slam is just around the corner, and she is coming off a shorter off-season than most thanks to the WTA Finals and Fed Cup finals. I want to watch her live first to get a gauge on her level of play.
Any number of players can win this tournament at their best level, so tread carefully this week.
Elina Svitolina (trade out if facing Barty in semi-final)
Sofia Kenin (keep an eye out for trading advice if she starts the week well)