First round action of the Australian Open will begin on the 15 Janurary and in this post I’ll preview two juicy match-ups in Jelena Ostapenko vs Francesca Schiavone and Venus Williams vs Belinda Bencic. Read on for the previews…
Australian Open tournament preview here
Australian Open Round 1
1.  Jelena Ostapenko (No.7) vs Francesca Schiavone [No.96]
A clash between the reigning French Open champion and former French Open champion will kick off proceedings on Rod Laver Arena as 20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko and 37-year-old Francesca Schiavone will compete against each another for a spot in the Australian Open second round. Ostapenko obviously had her breakout season in 2017, but 2018 has not started the way she has wanted as she has gone 1-4 in exhibition and WTA matches. The Latvian lost to Johanna Konta and Karolina Pliskova in a Hua Hin exhibition, and although she beat the returning Serena Williams in three sets (exho too), two more losses came her way in Shenzhen and Sydney, losing to Kristyna Pliskova and Ekaterina Makarova respectively. The loss to Makarova was extremely concerning, as she hit 11 double faults and only landed 41% of first serves in throughout the match.
While Ostapenko had her amazing 2017, Schiavone was struggling to remain in the top 100 and she managed to, ending the year at No.96 in the rankings. Schiavone had an average year, amassing a 20-18 win-loss record. Most of her wins came on clay as she won the title in Bogota and reached the final in Rabat. Schiavone ended her season at the US Open due to injuries and will be playing her first WTA main draw match since September.
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Head to head: This is the first meeting between the two players.
Thoughts: This is a really interesting match… Ostapenko has been struggling with her serve since the French Open and Schiavone is clearly an experienced player who knows what to do with the Ostapenko weaknesses. However Schiavone has not played in a while, opting not to participate in any warm-up tournaments. I think this will be a tight affair, but Ostapenko will come unscathed in two sets.
Prediction: Jelena Ostapenko d. Francesca Schiavone in two sets
2.  Venus Williams (No.5) vs Belinda Bencic (No.77)
Clearly the highlight of the first rounders was Venus Williams vs Belinda Bencic and I definitely had to write a preview about this! Bencic was ranked No.312 in September after surgery but all it took was four months for Belinda to return into the world’s top 100 and book a spot in the Australian Open main draw. This year, she has already claimed two titles – one in the Hopman Cup with Roger Federer and the other in the Kooyong Classic (exho). Bencic is in good form and having played a ton of matches, she will be a tough opener for Venus.
Williams had a much better 2017 than Bencic, reaching the finals at the Australian Open and WTA Finals, but hasn’t started 2018 as comparatively well. The only match she has played was a loss to eventual Sydney champion Angelique Kerber, where her movement and serve looked suspect. Williams is defending final points from last year and will look to gain some points here before a tumble down the rankings commence.
Head to head: Venus leads the head to head 4-0, with their most recent meeting at the 2015 US Open.
Thoughts: From all corners, this sounds like an enticing three-setter. Venus has gotten the better of Bencic everytime they’ve met, but she is still rusty having not won a match yet. Bencic has looked really good and I believe if she can use her angles and move Williams from side to side, and not have the head to head in her mind, she can win this one. It’s a gamble but I’m going for the Swiss.
Prediction: Belinda Bencic d. Venus Williams in three sets
Australian Open predictions are here, you can find them at the menu at the top of the blog as well. Thanks for reading! 🙂