With most of the top stars of the WTA heading to Sydney for their final match practice before the Australian Open, the International-level Moorilla Hobart event offers an opportunity for lesser ranked players to hit peak form and earn valuable ranking points. The Tasmanian tournament will award 280 points, as well as prize money of $40,000, to the champion.
The top seed in Hobart is Su-Wei Hsieh, currently ranked at a career high of 25. The Taipei player won an event in her native China towards the end of 2012, and is keen to start her new season in similar vein. She faces a dangerous opponent in the first round, however: Peng Shuai. Peng was ranked as high as 14 in 2011, and reached the semi-finals in Shenzhen last week, proving that she can still put together impressive results even if her form dipped somewhat in 2012. Also in the top section of the draw is 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone. The Italian is very much in the twilight of her career and has struggled to win consecutive matches of late, but she remains a highly talented player, and could well live up to her seeding. To do that, she will have to find a way past Kirsten Flipkens in her opening match, and either Anabel Medina Garrigues or Bojana Jovanovski in the second round.
Klara Zakopalova leads the second section of the draw, and the third seed is in excellent form, having reached the final in Shenzhen last week. Blocking the Czech’s path to the quarter-finals are Timea Babos, Tsvetana Pironkova and Irina-Camelia Begu, none of whom will be favoured against the increasingly consistent Zakopalova. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the seventh seed in Hobart, will also be tipped for a place in the last eight. The Russian went on a giant-killing run in Sydney last week, reaching her fifth WTA final. Pavlyuchenkova will face a challenge from either Chanelle Sweepers or Alize Cornet, but a second week of success down under is well within her grasp.
Carla Suarez Navarro is the fifth seed at the Moorilla Hobart International, and is seeded to meet Yaroslava Shvedova in the quarter-finals. Navarro reached last eight of the Australian Open in 2009, thanks to a huge upset win over Venus Williams, and although she is most comfortable on clay courts, she has enough variety in her game to succeed on faster surfaces. Shvedova had a breakthrough season in 2012, reaching the quarter-finals of Roland Garros and the last 16 at Wimbledon. She is under pressure to live up to that promise in 2013, and will want to rebound from a disappointing showing last week. Funnily enough, she could meet her Auckland conquerer, Elena Vesnina, in the second round, and a similar result is possible.
The final section of the Hobart draw features the standout first round match-up: a clash between the fast-rising youngsters Sloane Stephens and Laura Robson. Robson has made no secret of her aim to climb into the top 50 and beyond in 2013, while Stephens, who many tip as the future of American tennis, comes into the event fresh from a fantastic run to the quarter-finals in Brisbane. Current form would suggest that Stephens will triumph, but the Brit is a savvy, powerful player who knows how to win. Both women are capable of winning through to the semi-finals in a quarter that also features number two seed Sorana Cristea and the defending champion Mona Barthel.
As is often the case with International events, almost anyone in the 32 player draw has a shot of winning the title. The Moorilla Hobart International will receive less attention than the concurrent and star-studded Sydney tournament, but there is still potential for intriguing battles and breakthrough performances.