It hardly feels like last season ended and yet we are already into the 2020 campaign.
When January rolls around, the tennis tour belongs to Australia with a series of quality events before the first major of the year in Melbourne. This time, however, there’s a sombre mood as the country has been overwhelmed by deadly bushfires and extreme temperatures.
Many of the world’s top tennis players hail from Down Under and the sport has stepped up with a series of fundraising ventures. Nick Kyrgios is spearheading an initiative where he will donate $200 for every ace he strikes over the month. This idea has caught on with the players and Brisbane’s defending champ, Karolina Pliskova, is one of the latest to join in. The WTA’s service queen in 2019 with 488 aces, the Czech will be cheered on by all over the coming month.
Pliskova is just one star in an outstanding Brisbane field that also features world no.1 Ash Barty, Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitova, Elina Svitolina, Angie Kerber and Sloane Stephens.
These two are so close to each other that I couldn’t pick one over the other. Situated on each side of the draw, if Barty and Osaka play to their respective capacities, we’re likely to see Australia v Japan in Sunday’s final.
For Barty, this the one time of the year that she can play (almost) at home. The world no.1 grew up less than 30 miles from Brisbane’s centre and will be treated like a superstar on the grounds. It’s no more than she deserves after an outstanding 2019 campaign brought her a maiden major (Roland Garros) and the WTA Finals trophy. Expect numerous Barty Parties around Brisvegas.
Barty has a bye in her opener before a match with either a qualifier or Maria Sharapova. That’s a dreadful matchup for the Russian so I’d expect Barty to move on and survive a half that features some treacherous opponents in Petra Kvitova, Elina Svitolina and Angie Kerber.
Meanwhile, Naomi Osaka rediscovered some blistering form at the tail-end of 2019 after a dormant period mid-season. While her WTA Finals appearance was curtailed by injury, she’ll take lots of confidence from impressive victories in Osaka and particularly Beijing, where she beat Barty and Bianca Andreescu.
The Japanese finds herself in a half with Pliskova, Kiki Bertens and Jo Konta. The 22-year-old’s path to the final is difficult and she will be particularly cautious about facing Maria Sakkari (opener) and potentially Sofia Kenin, Konta or Pliskova. That said, she’s a better player than all of them when on form so it will be interesting to see where her game is.
Outsiders worth a bet
As an asthmatic who dislikes extreme heat, Kvitova has often suffered in the high summers of Australia and North America. However, the Czech had a breakthrough 12 months ago as she lifted the trophy in Sydney before getting oh so close to a first Australian Open title a few weeks later. Kvitova certainly has the game to spoil the Barty Party.
Through sheer force of will, the American has brought her unusual looking strokes to the world’s top 20. Riske is an incredible fighter who takes the ball early and has very hot streaks. The 29-year-old had plenty of early exits in 2019 but also caused serious damage in Shenzhen, s-Hertogenbosch, Wimbledon and Wuhan. She could just surprise in the quarter with Pliskova and Konta.