As I write on the first Tuesday of the Australian Open with the first round completed, last week’s tournaments in Sydney and Hobart are already old news. Monday saw an unprecedented exodus of big name Americans, with US Open semi finalists Venus Williams and Coco Vandeweghe, and champion Sloane Stephens, all falling at the first hurdle. Tuesday was less shocking, with all of the big names surviving, but world number one Simona Halep’s hopes are in the balance after she sustained an ankle injury in her first round match. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with a full review of the year’s first Grand Slam, but, for now, back to Sydney and Hobart.
In Sydney, a stacked draw saw defending champion Jo Konta fall to Agnieszka Radwanska in the first round, in a reversal of last year’s final, while Angelique Kerber edged out Venus Williams in a marquee three setter in round two. In the end, it was to be Kerber’s week, as she picked up her first title since the 2016 US Open, beating home favourite Ash Barty in the final. Coupled with her form in the Hopman Cup in the previous week, the German goes into the Australian Open as many people’s, myself included, favourite for the title.
Across the sea in Hobart, Elise Mertens made tournament history, becoming the first two-time champion of the event in the tournament’s 25 year history. Along the way, she beat 2015 champion Heather Watson, before seeing off in-form Mihaela Buzarnescu in the tournament’s first three set final since 2003. Not content with a second singles title, Mertens then went on to win the doubles title alongside Demi Schuurs, becoming the first player to win both the singles and doubles titles at the event since Zheng Jie in 2005 – an impressive week’s work!
Story of the week: Kerber is back!
Starting out with tough three set victories over Lucie Safarova and Venus Williams in rounds one and two, Kerber eased her way through the latter rounds with straight sets wins over Dominika Cibulkova, Camila Giorgi and, in the final, Ash Barty. It was clear that the shackles that constrained her in 2017 have gone, and she’s found the perfect balance of attack and defence that brought her huge success in 2016.
Shock of the week: Camila Giorgi’s Sydney run.
Anyone who follows the WTA Tour knows just how easily Camila Giorgi can cause an upset – she’s had eight wins over top 10 opposition in the past – but it was great to see her put a good run together in Sydney, beating distinguished opponents Sloane Stephens, Petra Kvitova and Agnieszka Radwanska in three consecutive straight sets wins. She fell to Kerber in the semi finals, but if she can keep up this kind of form over the coming weeks and months, she’ll be a force to be reckoned with.
Player of the week: For grabbing her own small slice of tennis history, Elise Mertens.
Obviously Angelique Kerber came through a far tougher field to win the Sydney title, but for her historic week in Hobart, I’m giving it to Elise Mertens. While she has a tricky draw in Melbourne, I believe she has the game to become a consistent top 20 player in 2018 and beyond.