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James Peeling previews the Brisbane International which takes place at the Queensland Tennis House.

The first week of the tennis season is an absolute feast for fans who have been twiddling their thumbs for the 42 days of the off-season.  There are six tournaments across the WTA and ATP, and an exhibition event.  For this preview, I will be focusing on the Brisbane International at the Queensland Tennis Centre, which hosts a WTA Premier event and an ATP 250 event.

Serena Williams headlines a high quality Brisbane draw.  After a bye in round one, she will play either Andrea Petkovic or Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the second round.  Her projected quarter-final opponent is Caroline Wozniacki, who is playing her first tournament under the watchful gaze of new coach, Thomas Hogstedt.  Wozniacki takes on Dominika Cibulkova in a potentially tricky opening match; the pair have played three matches down under in the last five years and Cibulkova has enjoyed some success against Wozniacki.  On this occasion, I think Wozniacki will win and make a promising start to the year.

Maria Sharapova makes her first appearance on the WTA tour since Cincinnati in August.  She has been dealing with right shoulder bursitis and there are question marks around her in 2014.  I am particularly intrigued to see how the serve, which was already one of the most fragile dimensions of her game, holds up.  I think Maria has a favourable draw in Brisbane and she has proven in past years that she is a quick starter.  In 2012 she was coming back from an ankle injury and with no warm-up matches, tore through the field in Melbourne to make the final of the Australian Open.  Sharapova’s first match in Brisbane will be against Caroline Garcia.

Angelique Kerber and Jelena Jankovic headline the third quarter which is likely to be the most competitive.  Kerber opens against Kristina Mladenovic, meanwhile Jankovic takes on Francesca Schiavone.  Jankovic and Schiavone have played some fantastic matches in recent years and their last three matches have all gone the distance.  Lurking in this section is last year’s finalist, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.  Excluding the top five players, Pavlyuchenkova is a match for anyone on the tour and after meeting a qualifier in round one, will fancy her chances against Kerber, who she beat on her way to the final last year.  I predict Pavlyuchenkova will also beat Jankovic in progressing to the semi-finals.

The final quarter features Victoria Azarenka and Sabine Lisicki.  Azarenka has a bye in the first round and will have a straightforward opener against Galina Voskoboeva or Casey Dellacqua.  This should allow the Belarusian, who finished 2013 with just one win in her last six matches, to find her range and shake off any early season rust.  Lisicki opens her 2014 campaign against Magdalena Rybarikova and could then play Stefanie Voegele or Madison Keys in the second round.  Many pundits and tennis fans have been tipping big things of the American, Keys.  Lisicki and Keys are both hard hitters and huge servers and that could be a humdinger of a match, if both players win their opening encounters.

The ATP draw does not have the same depth or quality as the womens, but will still draw the crowds with star attraction, Roger Federer as the number one seed.  After a bye in the first round, Federer will play either James Duckworth or Jarkko Nieminen in the second round.  Federer has a very favourable draw and it was a smart move to open his season in Brisbane.  It would be a real surprise if he didn’t at least make the final.

The bottom half of the draw should be more interesting than the top with Kei Nishikori, Grigor Dimitrov and Gilles Simon all present.  Nishikori will face an Aussie in the second round, either Matt Ebden or the promising teenager, Nick Kyrgios.  Nishikori could then meet last year’s finalist, Grigor Dimitrov in the quarter-finals.  Dimitrov, who is now coached by Roger Rasheed, is once again carrying a heavy weight of expectation on his shoulders.  First up for him in Brisbane will be Robin Haase before a potential second round tie with Marin Cilic or Denis Istomin.  Cilic was a fringe top 10 player before last year’s drug ban and his current ranking of 37 doesn’t reflect his quality so expect big movements from him right from week one.

On the womens side, we could potentially see some big match-ups in week one; however Brisbane has suffered from a spate of retirements and injuries in recent years so we will have to wait and see whether the top three make it to the semi-finals unscathed.  In my opinion, it is hard to look past Serena winning and I think she will beat Azarenka in the final.  In the mens draw, I think Federer will start the season with a title, beating Cilic in the final.  Whatever happens, it should be a great week of tennis to kick off the 2014 season.

Pundit Arena, James Peeling.


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