Watch List: Final Aussie Open tune-ups
The Watch List spotlights the must-know storylines for the upcoming week in tennis. With only a week to go until the first Slam of the year, here's how the players will be spending their time.
Apia International Sydney -- Sydney, Australia:
Sydney sees a strong field of 32 that includes seven of the top 10 women, sans the WTA Big Three of Victoria Azarenka, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. Auckland champion Agnieszka Radwanksa and Shenzhen champion Li Na will look to keep their winning streaks alive. They are in the same half of the draw. Caroline Wozniacki and Sam Stosur look for her first wins of the season, as both lost in the first round of Brisbane. Other players looking for a boost: Petra Kvitova, who has a tough first-round match against Dominika Cibulkova. If these three can't string together a few wins in Sydney, they'll be looked at potential early-round crash outs at the Australian Open.
Potential women's matches to watch: Jelena Jankovic vs. Tamira Paszek (first round), Li Na vs. Christina McHale (first round), Sam Stosur vs. Zheng Jie (first round), Petra Kvitova vs. Dominika Cibulkova (first round), Angelique Kerber vs. Caroline Wozniacki (third round), Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Nadia Petrova (third round).
The men have a much weaker field -- why is it that the women have two Premier tournaments in Australia yet the men can't bother to field one tournament with a strong top-10 presence? -- that got weaker with the withdrawal of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga due to a groin injury. That leaves No. 14 John Isner as the top seed with Gilles Simon, Andreas Seppi and Fernando Verdasco rounding out the top four.
The two men to keep an eye on in Sydney are Isner and Bernard Tomic. Isner went winless at the Hopman Cup before withdrawing before his third match with a knee injury. Tomic went 3-0 at the exhibition event -- including a straight set win over Novak Djokovic. His performances in each match made people sit up and take notice. Is the 2013 Tomic for real? We should get closer to answers this week. Tomic opens up against the man who took his spot as Australia's No. 1, Marinko Matosevic.
Potential men's matches to watch: Feliciano Lopez vs. Jeremy Chardy (first round), Grigor Dimitrov vs. Fabio Fognini (first round), Bernard Tomic vs. Marinko Matosevic (first round), John Isner vs. Roberto Bautista Agut (second round), Bernard Tomic vs. Florian Mayer (second round).
Heineken Open: Auckland, New Zealand:
The last time we saw David Ferrer he was getting routined by a resurgent Nikolay Davydenko in Doha, losing 6-2, 6-3. That's a rare scoreline for the tenacious Ferrer, so he'll be hungry to tear through the field this week in Auckland, where he's the top seed. Philip Kohlschreiber, Tommy Haas and Sam Querrey round out the top seeds. Auckland will offer the first look at Querrey in 2013. With few points to defend in the first half of the season, I fully expect Querrey to make a charge and take over the American No. 1 spot from Isner. That campaign could begin in here.
Moorilla Hobart International -- Hobart, Australia.
Hsieh Su-Wei, Sorana Cirstea, Shenzhen finalist Klara Zakopalova and Yaroslava Shvedova are the top seeds, but it's the undercards that bring relevance to this WTA International event. Most notably, Sloane Stephens and Laura Robson are set to meet in the first round Sunday, a much-anticipated battle between two youngsters whose rivalry could preview the future of the WTA. Based on Stephens' strong performance in
Sydney Brisbane last week, where she forced Serena to raise her game, I'm tipping her to beat Robson. If she does, there's absolutely no reason she can't win this tournament.
Australian Open draw ceremony: The draw ceremony will be conducted on Friday. The biggest questions surround the No. 3 seeds in both draws. Will Serena land in Azarenka's half or Sharapova's? Similarly, will Andy Murray land in Novak Djokovic's side or Roger Federer's? Come back on Friday for a full draw report.