Other than the usual WTA events in Brisbane, Auckland and Shenzhen for the first week of the season, there is another exhibition tournament for players to begin their Australian Open preparations – the Hopman Cup, where eight countries consisting of one male player and one female player compete against one another in a round robin format. Let’s take a look at the eight countries participating in the 2018 edition of the tournament…
Germany – Alexander Zverev & Angelique Kerber
One of the biggest star pairings of the tournament; Alexander Zverev and two-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber will look to bring Germany a third crown at next year’s Hopman Cup. Zverev had a wonderful 2017, ending the year as ATP No.4, but it has been the polar opposite for Kerber, who dropped out of the world’s top 20 and had her No.1 German spot had been taken by Julia Goerges. Kerber has traditonally started the year at the Brisbane International, and it is a surprise that she will take part in this team event for the very first time. However, I think it is a very good move from the German as an exhibition tournament with a competitive setting would probably be able to set her up for the Australian swing very well, yet not put too much pressure on her shoulders.
Canada – Vasek Pospisil & Eugenie Bouchard
It has been a year of turmoils for Eugenie Bouchard, having dropped to a low of No.82 in the rankings, her lowest since May 2013. She will look to restart and reset in 2018, starting off with the Hopman Cup, a tournament that she has excelled and done well before, winning four out of six ties in her 2014 and 2015 participations. Her and Vasek Pospisil will look to claim a first Hopman Cup title for Canada amidst a super strong group.
Belgium – David Goffin & Elise Mertens
The Belgium team fields a super strong team with both David Goffin and Elise Mertens having career years in 2017 – Goffin reached the ATP Finals final, and ended the year as No.7. Mertens won her first career title in Hobart, and challenged the likes of Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki throughout the year, in total gaining 54 match wins. It is Belgium’s first appearance at the tournament since 2011 where they reached the final, and are definitely one of the dark horses and teams to look out for during the week.
Australia – Thanasi Kokkinakis & Daria Gavrilova
Team Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis and Daria Gavrilova round up Group A. Kokkinakis is ranked at a lowly No.212, but his year has been widely plagued by injuries and will look to pair up with Gavrilova to start 2018 with a bang. Gavrilova had another decent 2017, headlined by winning her first WTA title in New Haven. Gavrilova has been a part of the Hopman Cup, having played the tournament for the last two years, and has always performed her best tennis in her Australia.
Switzerland – Roger Federer & Belinda Bencic
Having struggled with injuries for the first part of the year, Bencic took a break and was ranked as low as No.312 – however she has come back with vengeance, winning two WTA 125K titles and producing other good results on the ITF tour. Having propelled up the rankings into the world’s top 90 once again, Bencic has put herself in good stead for the upcoming Australian swing, where she is entitled a main draw slot for the Australian Open. Partnering with Roger Federer for the Hopman Cup for the second straight year, this in-form Swiss team will be the one to beat over the week.
USA – Jack Sock & CoCo Vandeweghe
Team USA’s pairing of Jack Sock and CoCo Vandeweghe is another repeat pairing of the 2017 edition. Both players had breakout 2017 seasons – Sock won the Masters 1000 Paris title and qualified for the World Tour Finals, while Vandeweghe reached two Grand Slam semifinals and ended the year in the world’s top 10. While I must admit that these two are not my favourite players, they have shown that they have a lot of camaraderie on court, having won all of their three round robin matches last year, eventually losing in a fun final to Team France.
Russia – Karen Khachanov & Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
Karen Khachanov and Svetlana Kuznetsova were the original candidates to represent Team Russia in the Hopman Cup. However, with Kuznetsova’s lingering wrist injury which needed some surgery during the off-season, it is Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova that will be teaming up with Khachanov instead. Pavlyuchenkova had a decent 2017 season, having won two International titles, and claiming four top 10 wins in the process. She will look to bring these successes towards the 2018 season, where she is still missing something in her CV – a trip to a Grand Slam semifinal.
Japan – Yuichi Sugita & Naomi Osaka
Although Naomi Osaka claimed the best wins of her career over Angelique Kerber and Venus Williams during this season, it has been the best of years for Osaka. Starting the year at No.48, the young Japanese star only managed to make two quarterfinals and dropped 20 spots to No.68 at the end of the season. Inconsistencies and off days are always going to happen in Osaka’s career given her huge-hitting game; let’s see if she can get off to a better start in 2018 where she teams up with Yuichi Sugita in Japan’s first appearance at the Hopman Cup since 2001. In case you didn’t know: Osaka is working with Sascha Bajin, former hitting partner of Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and most recently, Caroline Wozniacki.
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