With just a week to go before the first Grand Slam of 2013, seven of the world’s top ten players head to Sydney, one of the most popular Australian Open warm-up events. Although the “Big Three” of Serena, Azarenka and Sharapova will be either resting or recuperating, the Apia International Sydney still promises a week of highly competitive women’s tennis.
Fresh from her success in Auckland last week, Agnieszka Radwanska leads the field and will benefit from a first round bye. Her second round match, against either Australian wildcard Casey Dellacqua or a qualifier, shouldn’t be a problem for the Pole, but she could face a stiff challenge in the quarter-finals. Radwanska is seeded to meet Nadia Petrova, who beat her in a memorable Tokyo final in October, but the Russian will first have to get past the world’s top doubles player Roberta Vinci, followed by either Tamira Paszek or Jelena Jankovic, two women who have struggled for consistency of late but who can still produce strong performances.
The second quarter of the draw is headed by another player who performed strongly in the first week of 2013, Li Na. The Chinese is determined to get back to her best this season, and with Justine Henin’s former coach Carlos Rodriguez in her corner, she appears to have regained the consistency that led her to French Open title in 2011. Li will play rising American star Christina McHale in her opening match, and will most likely face Daniela Hantuchova in the second round. On paper, Sam Stosur should be Li’s opponent in the last eight, but the Aussie continues to struggle in her native country, and was dumped out of Brisbane last week without winning a set. Both Zheng Zie and Lucie Safarova are capable of upsetting Stosur in Sydney.
Petra Kvitova enters the Apia International in desperate need of match wins. The Czech has a lot of points to defend after reaching both the Sydney and Australian Open finals in 2012, but she lost to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the second round of Brisbane, and admitted that she still has difficulty coping with the hot conditions down under. It would not be a complete surprise to see her fall to Dominika Cibulkova in the first round, but if she can get past the feisty Slovak, and then either Varvara Lepchenko or Ekaterina Makarova in the second round, she has an excellent chance of making the semi-finals, especially if third seed Sara Errani loses early. The Italian had a remarkable season last year, but matching that success in 2013 will be a tall order, and she is always vulnerable to zoning hard-hitters.
Angelique Kerber, like Errani, is under pressure to maintain her 2012 form. The German surprised many by climbing into the top five towards the end of last year, yet as one of the busiest players on tour, did she burn herself out in the process? Kerber posted two ugly three-set wins in Brisbane last week, and will have an automatic passage to the second round in Sydney. But she will probably face Auckland finalist Yanina Wickmayer in the second round, a dangerous opponent. Elsewhere in the final section of the draw, Caroline Wozniacki will be hoping to get her first win of the season when she takes on Ursula Radwanska. Should she manage that, however, she could well come up against her nemesis in the second round, Julia Goerges, a player she has never beaten.
With the possible exceptions of Li and Radwanska, the top seeds in Sydney will each be hoping to improve on disappointing performances last week. This will also be their last chance to secure vital match practice before the Australian Open, a fact that should make the Apia International an exciting and entertaining tournament.