The 2017 tennis season is here! With 3 WTA events, 3 ATP events and the Hopman Cup team competition there was plenty of tennis to watch this week. With just a couple of weeks to go before the start of the first major tournament of the year in Melbourne, the stars were ready to kick off their preparation.
First stop: a WTA tournament in Auckland with Serena Williams and her big sister Venus leading the draw. What was supposed to be an easy week for the world no. 2 turned out to be… a big disappointment. Serena was ousted by the wind and her opponent Madison Brengle in the 2nd round. Venus announced her retirement due to an injury. Caroline Wozniacki who was seeded 3 was also became a heavy favourite but was knocked out in QF by an inspired Julia Georges in a 3 set thriller. Georges however didn’t do enough to win against a teenager Ana Konjuh and ended her run in the SF. In the other SF match American Lauren Davis took on Latvia’s raising star Jelena Ostapenko. Davis lost the first set but bounced back and pushed the match to 3. Ostapenko was not able to finish the match and Davis won 4:1 in the 3rd following Ostapenko’s retirement.
Davis faced Konjuh in the final and needed just 71 minutes to complete her quest for her FIRST WTA title. At 5’2 and with many players ranked above her she probably wasn't even considered to win in Auckland. But she outsmarted the heavy hitters with her game and claimed her prize in style.
Lauren Davis was not the only player to win her maiden title this week. A surprise winner Katerina Siniakova won in Shenzhen defeating Alison Riske in the final. Siniakova had an impressive run in Shenzhen defeating top 10 players Simona Halep and Johanna Konta on her way to claim the title. Her opponent in the final Allison Riske claimed a big win against no. 1 seed and the defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska in the rematch of last year’s final. In this match Riske served Radwanska a bagel in the 3rd set. Despite this impressive win and a ’’ revenge’’ on Radwanska she wasn't able to claim the final win and fell short against Sinakova, Sinakova is now 1-1 in WTA finals. "It's been a really great week for me and I'm so glad that I won this time because this match was really tough; I didn't play my best but I'm really happy that I did it," Siniakova said during the trophy presentation. "It's a great start to the year for me. I hope my performance continues to go up and get better.”
Brisbane International welcomed both ATP and WTA tours for a joint tournament. A star-packed line up featuring the defending champion Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka, Rafael Nadal, Kei Nishikori and Dominic Theim in the men’s draw and the world. no 1. Angelique Kerber, Dominka Cibulkova, Karolina Pliskova, Garbiñe Muguruza and Svetlana Kuznetsova in the women’s draw.
In the men’s draw the defending champ Raonic and no. 2 seed Wawrinka were considered heavy favourites but as it often happens in tennis we’ve witnessed an underdog to take the title. No. 7 seed met Japan’s superstar Kei Nishikori in the final match. Nishikori knocked out Wawrinka in two sets to claim a second straight win aginst the Swiss. He also beat him at the O2 arena during ATP Finals just a few weeks ago. Meanwhile no. 7 seed Grigor Dimitrov has been improving his game from one match to the next and quietly progressing in the draw. Dimitrov’s impressive way to the final included Top 10 wins over Raonic and Theim. Dimitrov and Nishikori met for the 4th time in their careers with Nishikori winning all 3 previous encounters. Dimitrov worked hard to reach the Brisbane final and didn’t want to lose to Nishikori again. He came out firing and took the fist set 6:2. Nishikori bounced back to take the second 6:2 but in the third Dimitrov was the one to come out on top and claim his first ATP title in over two and a half years. Is this the begging of the big comeback for Grigor Dimitrov? Only time will tell but his performance in Brisbane has put him in the spotlight. If he continues to play well he’ll definitely one to watch this season.
In the women’s draw all eyes were on the world no. 1 Angelique Kerber. In the absence of the defending champion Victoria Azarenka who beat Kerber in the final last year the German was favourite to win big before heading to Melbourne to defended her Australian Open crown. But Kerber seemed to be straggling a bit. She had to fight hard against Aiustralia’s wild card Ash Barty to win it in 3 set before facing Elina Svitolina in the QFs. Svitolina with her clean game and patient approach knocked out the world no. 1 from the tournament. Svitolina seems to have a recipe for no. 1 players. Remember she knocked out the then world no.1 Serena Williams from the Olympics in Rio last year. In the SF she was up against the current world no. 6 and a US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova. Pliskova’s game proved to be too much for Svitolina who was defeated in straight sets. Meanwhile in the bottom half of the draw no. 2 seed Dominika Cibulkova lost to Alize Cornet in straight sets. Cornet faced Muguruza who came victorious in her match against Kuznetsova. The Spanish player retired mid match against Cornet and in the end it was the French player who advanced to the final. In the championship match Cornet met Pliskova and had little to say. She couldn't come up with answers to the Czech’s clean strokes. She was over power and outplayed. In two sets Pliskova only lost 3 games winning the title 6:0 6:3 in little over an hour. Pliskova lifted her seventh career WTA. Pliskova has been improving and this title shows she’s all business. A strong start to the season for the Czech women's tennis with Pliskova and Siniakova both winning titles in the first week of 2017.
Can Karolina Pliskova win a major this year?
World no. 1 Andy Murray and world no. 2 Novak Djokovic started the year in Doha. As expected both won their matches to set up a 37th meeting between the two in the championship match. The players didn’t disappoint, Djokovic and Murray played amazing tennis in this 3 set thriller. Djokovic needed just one break of serve to take the first set 6:3. In the second set Murray had to save three match points to take the set when Djokovic was serving for the match at 5:4. He immediately broke Djokovic for the second time to claim the second set 7:5. As we headed into the decider it was Murray who looked fresh and seemed to be carrying the momentum but it was Novak who broke Murray to love and was able to serve it out and to finally claim the win on his forth match point. And to think this was just the first match between the world’s best players this season. It certainly felt like a major final and not just a 250 event.
After the match Djokovic said ’’Best scenario I could ask for at the beginning of the season. Playing all five matches in this tournament and then three hours against No. 1 of the world, biggest rival, and winning in a thrilling marathon match. It was a really, really thrilling performance from both of us. Just a great way to start the year.” Despite the loss Murray is feeling positive “Obviously disappointed not to win tonight, but I played pretty good the last couple of matches. “I think physically it was a good test to start the year, and I did good there.”
In this tennis packed week the Spanish player and the current world no. 14 Roberto Bautista Agut claimed his fifth career title in India. He beat 20-year-old Russian Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 6-4 in the Chennai Open final on Sunday. “I think it’s a great tournament and that’s why it’s my fifth time in a row coming here,” said Bautista Agut. “This tournament has helped me a lot to get into the Top 50 players [in the world]. I’m a much better player now than five years ago. I have more experience and I’ve improved a lot of things. There are a lot of tournaments and a lot of points coming up, but I’m happy with the start to win the first week of the year.”
In the team competition event France won the 2017 Hopman Cup in Perth. Richard Gasquet and Kristina Mladenovic beat the American team Coco Vandeweghe and Jack Sock in the deciding doubles match to take the title. The spectators in Perth also saw the return of Roger Federer to the tennis courts. Hopman Cup was the first event he participated since losing to Raonic in Wimbledon SF and taking time off the tour to recover from a knee injury