Australian Summer Preview

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The 2018 season is here, starting with the Australian Summer, one of the more enjoyable periods of the season. The 2018 WTA season looms as one of the most open and exciting years to date. The depth in the women’s games at the moment is extremely impressive. We are likely to see similar results to 2017 where certain players peaked during certain times of the year and we had different champions at each of the major tournaments. Let’s take a look at a few predicted player trends during the first period of the 2018 season…

Reliable Counterpunchers:

CAroline Wozniacki and Elina Svitolina are two players that I expect to thrive during the first month of the year. Two of the best athletes on tour, two of the most consistent and reliable players, both now have made a commitment to being more aggressive and head into 2018 more dangerous than ever.

Caroline Wozniacki ended 2017 on the ultimate high, winning the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore, the former world number 1’s biggest title to date. Wozniacki ended 2017 at number 3 in the world, the Dane won more matches than any other player on the WTA tour in 2017, winning a whopping 60 matches.

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I have always been a strong critic of Wozniacki but there is no doubt that she has improved all areas of her game and is more in control of her own destiny these days given the improvements she has made. Most notably, Wozniacki’s first serve has improved considerably, to the point where her first serve is actually a weapon. Wozniacki served the 10th most aces in 2017. The 27-year-old is no longer just a ‘wall’ at the back of the court. Wozniacki is more aggressive and has drastically improved her forehand, which has always been her biggest weakness.

There are little chinks in the Dane’s armour and I think she is one of the favourites heading into the Australian Open. Wozniacki is certainly the greatest player to have not won a Grand Slam title but I think that will change in 2018, I believe Wozniacki’s best is yet to come so keep a close eye on her during the Australian summer. The conditions during the Australian swing are perfect for Wozniacki.

Elina Svitolina is another reliable counterpuncher that has really improved her game. I expect Svitolina to have a big Australian summer. Svitolina won 5 titles in 2017, more than any other player on tour. The Ukrainian now has a very complete game. A good first serve, a world class backhand and a solid forehand. Svitolina is also one of the best movers on tour and one of the best competitors. A great evolution from a primarily defensive player to a more complete player, willing to be much more aggressive.

Like Wozniacki, Svitolina is a supreme athlete and will thrive in the warm conditions during the Aussie summer. Svitolina’s consistency from the baseline means that she will be tough to beat right from the get go in 2018. With a proven ability to consistently win titles, don’t be surprised to see Svitolina add to her tally in January.

Top 10 debutants facing new pressure:

Jelena Ostapenko and Caroline Garcia both reached new heights in 2017. Ostapenko shocked the tennis world to win Roland Garros whilst Garcia won Wuhan and Beijing back-to-back. Both Ostapenko and Garcia ended 2017 in the top 10, both will head into 2018 with a new sense of pressure.

Whilst Ostapenko and Garcia ended 2017 in the top 10, I don’t think either of them are complete, consistent top 10 players heading into 2018 and I think both will struggle to live up to their ranking during the Australian summer.

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Ostapenko and Garcia both have flashy games, good when they are on but poor when they are off. The difference between their best and worst is great. Of course, this is more true with Ostapenko who is very hit or miss. These types of players can often struggle at the start of the year, because without a good match rhythm, they are prone to unforced errors and losing to inferior opponents. I expect Ostapenko and Garcia to be vulnerable against much lower ranked players early in the year.

Youngsters ready to make an impact:

Catherine Bellis and Aryna Sabalenka are a pair of teenagers ready to cause some damage in the new year. Both are feisty competitors who display fearlessness that will make them dangerous to higher ranked opponents.

Catherine Bellis reached a career high ranking of 35 in 2017. At the age of 18 there is a lot to like about Bellis. The American has a solid, all-court game and a good attitude. Bellis made herself known to the tennis world in 2014, when the then 15-year-old caused a huge upset by beating Dominika Cibulkova at the U.S Open. Three years later, Bellis has a heap of experience on the WTA tour, much more than a regular 18-year-old. It seems Bellis is primed to take the next step and consistently compete with some of the best players in the world.

Aryna Sabalenka is one the most exciting prospects heading into 2018. Sabalenka made her name known to the tennis world at the end of the 2017 season. In Tianjin the Belarusian reached her first WTA final where she held her own against Maria Sharapova, ultimately succumbing in two very tight sets. Sabalenka ended her season in perfect fashion, winning her biggest career title at the WTA 125K level event in Mumbai.

It was in Fed Cup action where Sabalenka really shinned bright in 2017. Sabalenka was a critical component of the Belarusian team that made it all the way to the final against all odds. Most notably, Sabalenka defeated reigning U.S Open champion Sloane Stephens in the Fed Cup final, displaying great courage and determination to keep her nation in the tie in front of a huge crowd in Minsk.

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Sabalenka has a huge game, the 19-year-old possess a huge amount of power and a strong attitude to compliment her game. At her best, Sabalenka is already capable to matching most of the top players in the world. I expect Sabalenka to cause a few upsets in January.

Let me know what you think, who do you think will have a big Australian summer? Who will struggle?