The 2016 ASB Classic features on of the strongest ever fields for the Auckland event. Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki will again be among the headline acts with Ana Ivanovic, Sloane Stephens and Barbora Strycova also in action. A number of the world’s most promising young talents are also involved this week, including Daria Kasatkina, Nao Hibino and Jelena Ostapenko. A good mixture of talent, this should be a good week of tennis in Auckland
Defending Champion Venus Williams sits at the top of the draw. The American will be keen to carry her strong end of 2015 season form into Auckland as she aims to defend her title and make a strong start to the season just like she did in 2015. Venus will start her title defense with a potentially difficult encounter against talented youngster Daria Kasatkina. Lurking at the bottom of this quarter is the seventh seeded Barbora Strycova who will open her campaign against a qualifier. Venus and Barbora were involved in a very heated battle in Doha last year, a rematch would highly entertaining.
Fourth seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova headlines the second quarter, the Russian will begin her Auckland campaign with a difficult encounter against the always dangerous Mona Barthel. A bunch of Americans feature at the opposite end of this section, including the sixth seeded CoCo Vandeweghe who will start the tournament against compatriot Irina Falconi, Bethanie Mattek-Sands is a potential second round opponent for the winner. CoCo would be keen for a rematch with Mattek-Sands after her countrywoman embarrassed her at the U.S Open last year.
2015 runner-up Caroline Wozniacki will be keen to go one step better in 2016. Wozniacki was really disappointed with her 2015 results but says she is feeling fit and ready to turn things around in the new year. The Dane faces Danka Kovinic in her opening match of the tournament, a fairly reasonable draw for Wozniacki. The Dane is projected to meet either Christina McHale or Misaki Doi in the second round whilst the eighth seeded Alison Van Uytvanck sits at the opposite end of the third quarter of the draw. The always entertaining Yulia Putintseva also features in this section, the Kazakh will face Marina Erakovic in the first round.
The final section of the draw features the second seeded Ana Ivanovic and the fifth seeded Sloane Stephens who look highly likely to battle it out at the quarter-final stage. Ivanovic and Stephens both had disappointing seasons in 2015 and will be looking for much better results in 2016 starting with a strong showing in Auckland. Sloane will begin her Auckland campaign with a first round clash against Polona Hercog whilst Ivanovic faces a qualifier.
This looks like a really difficult tournament to predict at this stage, Venus Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic certainly stand out as the clear favourites however their progression through to the later stages of the tournament isn’t guaranteed. All three will face some tough opponents at the early stages of the event. I still believe one of these three will certainly emerge victorious at the end of the week.
I’m going to back Ana Ivanovic to start the year off with a bang by claiming the title in Auckland with a victory over Venus Williams