The Australian Open starts tonight and it is set to be a scorcher in more ways than one. I have put down my semi final predictions by section below but WOW was it hard with such an open field. My favourites to win are Williams, Konta, Kerber, Pliskova, Cibulkova… (how many am I allowed?!) but the draw has something to say about that so here is how I see it shaping up.
My semi final predictions
Not in form and desperate for rhythm, the enforced break over the off season was not ideal for Angie. She will need to find it quickly but I am sure walking on to site has already brought back all the joyful memories from last year. She really did play at an incredible level and players tend to find form at events with good memories. This is her first slam as the top seed but I doubt that will bother her, she will be more concerned with hitting as many balls as possible so would ideally like some tough early rounds.
This section is pretty open but Svitolina has some big wins under her belt and seems about ready to kick on this year. A shake up to the coaching team will give her some fresh drive and confidence to start stringing these big results together. Slams are long and grueling, so Elina cannot afford to lose control of her emotions as that will drain her energy before going deep in the tournament. If she isn’t so unnecessarily hard on herself she will be making regular appearances in the second week of the big events.
The ranking graph for Pliskova would show a pretty steady rise over the past few years. Now well settled as a top ten player, Pliskova has often under performed in slams until she blasted through to the US Open final last year. Even with a few poor slam performances she is sitting at number 5 in the rankings which reflects her seriously consistent level throughout the year. Matching her more than 500 aces in 2016 will make life a little easier, so I fully expect her to go consistently deep in slams from now on.
Of course the favourite for any tournament she enters Serena will be looking to capture her 23rd Grand Slam. Don’t be put off by an early exit in Auckland, Serena doesn’t normally compete before the Australian Open so lets just put that down as an experiment that she may not repeat next year. Grand Slams bring out the best in her, and with the opportunity to regain the number one ranking, I expect nothing less than to see Serena in the mood to add to her collection. Konta in the quarter finals will be an almighty challenge and an extremely exciting prospect, but Serena rarely loses by being outplayed, in fact Azarenka and Venus are the only ones who have ever managed it so I still think this match will be on her terms.
Look out for these…
The surprise semi finalist from last year, Jo had one of the best years on tour in 2016 and is just getting better and better. She produced her best performance ever to beat Radwanska and win in Sydney so I don’t think that her tough draw in Melbourne will phase her. She has mastered sport psychology and nothing seems to bother her anymore apart from the ball in front of her, but I think the magnitude of playing Serena may have an impact on her textbook mentality.
Fresh off the plane from Shenzen with her first title in the bag, Siniakova is looking to replicate her stellar junior career on the senior tour. She is a fiery player, always looking to be aggressive but not glued to the middle as she is very athletic. Give her some time to learn a few more bits and pieces about competing against the best, but it is just a matter of time before we see her in the top 20 and higher.
One of the most talked about young players on the tour, Kasatkina possesses the forehand and the swagger most suited to the men’s game. Her weapon has enough weight and accuracy to push anyone around but if she gets dragged in to a slogging match she can begin to unravel. Such a fabulous game to watch, everyone is willing her to the top 10 to see more of it. 2017 has her name written all over it.
It has been a long time coming for Genie but in Sydney she really put in some great performances. Her game impressed as she maintained her aggression but just added in the extra attention to detail on the decision making which has not been reliable for some time. This brings back the perfect balance which took her to the top ten and the final of Wimbledon a few years ago. I think she will be pushing top 30 again later on this year.
I’ll be commentating each night on Eurosport 2 so fire me any opinions or questions as the tournament pans out.