Day 2 of the WTA Grampians Trophy saw the first real upsets of the tournament take place. #1 seed Belinda Bencic lost in straight sets to Sorana Cirstea in one of the first matches of the day. Ann Li then upset an in-form Veronica Kudermetova and #3 seed Elena Rybakina lost a third set match tiebreak to Barbora Krejcikova. Bencic in particular seemed to be suffering from a lack of matches, having not played since September last year. Nonetheless, some mouth-watering matches lie in store in the third round. Saturday brings with it a chance for the remaining 8 players to make their first semifinal of the year. We take a look at who we think will take that chance in our WTA Grampians Trophy Quarterfinal Predictions.
WTA Grampians Trophy Quarterfinal Predictions
Jennifer Brady vs Barbora Krejcikova
Head-to-head: First meeting
Jennifer Brady is in fine form ahead of her quarterfinal clash with Barbora Krejcikova. The American hasn’t dropped a set yet in Melbourne, losing just eight games across her first two matches. In the first round she took advantage of a rusty Svetlana Kuznetsova. However, her second round opponent, Marta Kostyuk, was in much better form coming into the match. It made little difference though as Brady saved two of the three break points she faced on route to a comfortable straight sets win. If she can keep serving well Brady will like her chances in this tournament. First she must get passed a tricky opponent in Krejcikova.
I must be honest, I didn’t think Krejcikova would be here. Rybakina showed enough in Abu Dhabi that I thought the lack of matches wouldn’t matter too much. I was wrong though, and Krejcikova took the match in a deciding first-to-ten tiebreak in the third set. She also benefitted from a poor serving display by Rybakina who only made 52% of her first serves. Nonetheless, Krejcikova is in the quarterfinals and will be hopeful of another deep run here after a strong end to 2020. However, she now faces someone in the form of her life in Jennifer Brady.
If Brady continues finding the mark with her serve-forehand combination then she should win this comfortably. Krejcikova is a tricky customer but I don’t think she can keep up with Brady’s power over a full match. The Czech made the most of too many gifted points from Rybakina last round. I don’t think Brady will be so giving.
Prediction: Brady in 2
Ann Li vs Sorana Cirstea
Head-to-head: First meeting
Few would have picked Sorana Cirstea and Ann Li to be contesting a quarterfinal at the start of this tournament. However, both have played good tennis and fully deserve a place in the last eight of the Grampians Trophy. This match represents a golden opportunity for Ann Li to make her first tour level semifinal. The young American has only has played only one full match so far in Melbourne, but picked up a good win against an in form Kudermetova. Li did well to save three set points in the first set of the match before taking the second set comfortably with a 6-2 score line. She was the better player on the day and deserved the result, but was broken four times in the match will likely have to protect her serve better against Cirstea in the second round.
Cirstea did what I predicted and beat Bencic in the second round. She did so quite comfortably in the end, winning the second set 6-2 after a closer affair in the first set. Bencic was clearly lacking match fitness and was nowhere near here best in the match. However, Cirstea did well to wrap the match up quickly and will now turn her focus towards moving on to the semifinal. She hasn’t won a tour title since 2008 and will surely be desperate to change that. The Romanian has failed to do so in the two finals she has made since. However, She will view this as a golden opportunity to change that.
Ann Li is a good young player with a bright future on the tour. She has impressed so far in Melbourne and should feel confident of putting in a good showing in the Australian Open next week. However, I think Cirstea is the favourite to progress here. She has more experience in big matches on the tour and also has two full matches under her belt. Her confidence will be high after beating Bencic, who would likely still be a top 10 player if she had played more last year. Pick her to ride that confidence all the way to a semifinal berth in this tournament.
Prediction: Cirstea in 3
Victoria Azarenka vs Anett Kontaveit
Head-to-head: Azarenka 1-1 Kontaveit
Azarenka is lucky to be in the quarterfinal stage of the WTA Grampians Trophy. The 2020 US Open finalist saved two match points in the third set tie break to outlast Yulia Putintseva. The second serve issues that plagued her early on in her return to the game reared their head in this match again. The Belorussian served 6 double faults and only one 29% of her second serve points. Given that she only served 59% on first serves, it’s a surprise the match went to three sets at all. However, Azarenka is one of the best returners the women’s game has ever seen and used that talent to keep herself in the match.
Anett Kontaveit on the other hand was dominant in her second round victory. The Estonian is clearly enjoying the conditions in Melbourne and is yet to drop a set in the tournament. Her match with Bethanie Mattek-Sands was closer than expected, but she got the job done in the end. Crucially, Kontaveit has managed to keep the errors that often derail her in matches to a minimum so far. When she is able to do so she is dangerous, often hitting opponents off the court with ease. If Azarenka continues to struggle on her second serve Kontaveit will punish her for it. Unlike Putintseva, Kontaveit prefers playing on the front foot and taking the game to her opponents. A poor serving performance from Azarenka will allow her to do just that.
Azarenka’s return game means she can get away with poor serving performances against most women on the tour. However, Kontaveit possesses a good enough serve hold firm and punish Azarenka in her own service games if she is off the ball. This match has the makings of a tight one. It will be decided on Azarenka’s serve and Kontaveit’s ability to play with margin. I back the Estonian to have enough consistency to get over the line in this one.
Prediction: Kontaveit in 3
Maria Sakkari vs Angelique Kerber
Head-to-head: Sakkari 0-2 Kerber
If this match were being played last year I would have said Sakkari takes it easily. The Greek had a phenomenal 2020 and could move inside the top 20 if she lifts the trophy here. Sakkari is far more aggressive now than she has been before, finally making use of the power and athleticism she possesses to dictate points. A reworked serve has made her very hard to break and she looks set for a big year this year. She didn’t drop a set in dismissing the talented Leylah Fernandez in her first match in Australia. In fact, she only lost four games. However, she only won 39% of her second serve points and faced seven break points in the match. She will need to improve on that in the next match if she hopes to book a place in the semifinals.
By contrast, Kerber looked lost for the most part in 2020. The three-time Grand Slam champion often cut a frustrated and uncertain figure last year. Too often she relied on her court movement and counterpunching in the hope her opponents would miss. However, she seems to have rediscovered the confidence in her game she once had. Crucially, she is looking to be aggressive and play on the front foot wherever possible. That is a good sign that she believes in her game and is somewhere near her best. She certainly looked it in dismissing the dangerous Ons Jabeur in straight sets. Kerber saved 10 of the 11 break points in the match and managed to grind out the win. She will now be hopeful of a deep run in the Grampians Trophy.
Kerber looks to be improving with every match she plays. She certainly looks more like the top ten player she can be than she has done in a while. However, Sakkari looks determined to make a statement this year and is focused and full of belief. Kerber owns the head-to-head, but I think Sakkari goes some way to addressing that in this match.. The Greek should take this in a tight one.
Prediction: Sakkari in 3
Main Photo from Getty.