The third of the WTA warmup events got underway in Melbourne on Wednesday. Things went as planned for the higher ranked players in the tournament. As such, Day 2 of the WTA Grampians Trophy looks set to be a fine day of tennis with numerous high quality matches throughout the day. We’re also predicting the day’s other four matches in a separate article.
Editor’s Note: All play on Thursday has been postponed due to a positive COVID test by a hotel employee. We are offering predictions for the matches originally scheduled for Thursday under the assumption they will be played Friday or a later date. We will update this post as necessary if the situation changes.
WTA Grampians Trophy Day 2 Predictions
Sorana Cirstea vs Belinda Bencic
Head-to-head: First meeting
Sorana Cirstea was handed a very easy first round draw in the form of Oksana Kalashnikova. Cirstea made sure to capitalise and wrapped up the match in straight sets for the loss of just two games. The match only lasted 48 minutes. However, it was still an opportunity for Cirstea to get some match minutes under her belt ahead of what will be a tough second round matchup with Belinda Bencic. Cirstea has been around for a long time and has finished inside the top 100 in the world every year since 2008 with the exception of 2015. She is a veteran of the tour and rarely an easy opponent. The Romanian is fiery and competitive and possesses a real weapon in her down-the-line backhand when everything is clicking for her. She will certainly like her chances against an opponent who must surely be lacking match fitness.
Bencic hasn’t played on the WTA Tour since the Italian Open in September of last year. 2020 was a disappointing year for the Swiss star. After winning her fourth tour title and climbing as high as #4 in the world, Bencic now sits at #12 and failed to make it past the quarterfinal stage of any of the tournaments she played in last year. However, her appearance in the WTA Finals in 2019 was no fluke. Bencic is one of the best players on the women’s tour. Her backhand is particularly lethal if somewhat unorthodox, and she will surely harbour aspirations of climbing back inside the top ten in the world with some strong results in Melbourne. Australia hasn’t been her happiest hunting ground, but she will be looking to turn that around by getting off to a winning start in 2021.
Cirstea certainly has the game to make this hard for Bencic. The Swiss lacks form and match fitness and will likely be low on confidence after a poor 2020. If she can shrug all those issues off and play at her best she wins. However, I think that is too much to ask of Bencic. Cirstea is too tough an opponent to allow Bencic time to find her game. Bencic will hope to rise back to the top of the women’s game soon, but that climb won’t start here.
Prediction: Cirstea in 2
Ann Li vs Veronica Kudermetova
Head-to-head: First meeting
Ann Li avoided a tough test in the first round when Alison Riske pulled out of the Grampians Trophy. Instead, the young American faced Ellen Perez. Li then only had to play eight games before Perez retired hurt. Ordinarily an easy route to the second round would be a welcome bonus for a player hoping to move up the WTA rankings. However, Li was put in hard quarantine on arrival in Melbourne and will be desperate for match practice given the minimal amount of tennis she has played prior to this tournament. Li is currently ranked #99 in the world and must take advantage of every opportunity she gets on the tour if she wants to avoid slipping out of the top 100. Making the second round will help her cause there, but moving on to the third round will be a far tougher ask.
Li will face Veronica Kudermetova in the second round. The young Russian will surely be full of confidence after her run to the finals in Abu Dhabi before travelling to Melbourne. She certainly looked good in her dominant win over Heather Watson in the first round. The Brit was enjoying something of a resurgence on the women’s tour but could only manage to take four games off Kudermetova in what was never a close match. Kudermetova won both sets 6-2 despite a poor first serve percentage of 51%. She faced no break points in the first set and saved all four she faced in the second. The match was over in an hour and 20 minutes and the emphatic win will have boosted Kudermetova’s confidence further still ahead of her third round clash with Ann Li.
Kudermetova looks to be a safe pick to win this. The Russian is in great form and currently has a career best ranking of #36. She has also played more tennis this year and played a full match in the first round. The combination of form, match fitness, superior ability and experience make it hard to pick against her. Ann Li is certainly talented, but this tournament looks like a chance for Kudermetova to make another statement of intent early on in the year.
Prediction: Kudermetova in 2
Maria Sakkari vs Leylah Fernandez
Head-to-head: First meeting
This could be the match of the day on day two of the Grampians Trophy. Two players who had stellar 2020 campaigns will battle it out for a place in the third round. Maria Sakkari followed up a strong 2020 season with a great start to 2021. She made the semifinals of the Abu Dhabi Open before falling to an inspired Aryna Sabalenka. The young Greek sits just outside the world’s top 20 and will look to change that with a strong showing here. A much-improved serve, coupled with newfound confidence in her game make her one of the 2021 players to watch as the tour kicks off in earnest. Sakkari enjoys Melbourne’s hard courts, having made a fourth round appearance in the Australian Open last year. She is surely be determined to build some momentum ahead this year’s version of the event.
Standing in her way is another promising young Canadian looking to make a mark on the tour this year. Leylah Fernandez moved inside the top 100 for the first time in her career in 2020 after making the finals of the Mexican Open. She lost the final to Heather Watson but displayed great ability throughout the tournament. Fernandez got her Melbourne campaign off to a great start with a straight sets win over Sloane Stephens. She dropped just four games in dismissing the former US Open champion. However, Sloane Stephens is a shadow of her former self and hasn’t been able to buy a win on the tour in over a year. She is also a passive counterpuncher. This allowed Fernandez to play attacking tennis and hit through her. Sakkari will not be so accommodating.
I’m expecting big things from Sakkari this year. That being said, I do like Fernandez. The young Canadian has a powerful game and huge upside considering she is just 18. However, Sakkari looks determined to make a statement this year and prove she belongs well inside the top 20 on the women’s tour. A win here will go a long way towards making that happen. It may be a close match, but Sakkari takes this.
Prediction: Sakkari in 2
Victoria Azarenka vs Yulia Putintseva
Head-to-head: First meeting
Tournament #2 seed Victoria Azarenka gets her 2020 campaign under way against Yulia Putintseva in the second round of the Grampians Trophy. The Belarusian had one of the feel-good seasons on the tour last year. She shrugged of struggles to return to her best and lifted the Cincinnati Open trophy. She followed that up with a run to the US Open finals, nearly upsetting Naomi Osaka to win her third Grand Slam. All but one of Azarenka’s 21 career titles have come on hard courts. Two of them have come on the hard courts of Melbourne at the 2012 and 2013 Australian Opens. Melbourne is a happy hunting ground for Azarenka. She will feel confident of being in the mix for titles here if she finds that form again. However, Yulia Putintseva is a tough first match for her.
Putintseva came through her first round match against Georgina Garcia Perez in straight sets. The match was tighter than expected, with the first set going to a tie break. However, extra playing time isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a tournament full of players desperate for match fitness. Nonetheless, Perez was an opponent Putintseva should have put away relatively easily. The Kazak is a brilliant counterpuncher and moves well around the court. However, she is occasionally found wanting when trying to take the game to her opponents. It is fortunate for her then that she is playing and aggressive ball striker in Azarenka this time around.
This is a tough first test for Azarenka, who hasn’t played a competitive match since October last year. However, she rediscovered her best form in 2020. That best form is enough to win Grand Slams and she’s won two of them right her in Melbourne. It may take her a while to get going, but she should find her feet quickly enough to come away with a win here.
prediction: Azarenka in 3
Main Photo from Getty.