First winners crowned in the 2018 tennis season

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    Roger Federer continued his comeback by winning Indian Wells. (Georgios Kefalas/Keystone via AP)

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    A week out from the 2018 Australian Open, some of tennis’ biggest names have warmed up with victories in Brisbane, Shenzhen, Doha, Pune and Auckland, while Switzerland claimed its first Hopman Cup since 2001.

    Elina Svitolina was the first player to mount the podium in 2018, thrashing Belarussian qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich in straight sets to claim her tenth career title and first in the Sunshine capital.

    Her path included a win over defending champion Karolina Pliskova in the semi-finals, while her quarter-final opponent, Johanna Konta, retired in the final set due to injury. In the latter match, Svitolina was two points away from defeat, but fought back before the Brit pulled the plug.

    With the win, the Ukrainian has secured the fourth seeding for the Australian Open, which starts next week, behind only Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki and Garbine Muguruza (who is currently competing in Sydney as a wildcard after pulling out of Brisbane with a thigh injury).

    The foursome, along with Karolina Pliskova and Jelena Ostapenko (who has dropped her first two matches of the season) are all in contention to become world number one at the conclusion of the tournament.

    Halep is in the strongest position to retain the world number one ranking she claimed late last season; as she lost in the first round last year, the Romanian has no points to defend and as such can earn as many rankings points as possible.

    Speaking of Halep, the 26-year-old claimed her 16th career title with a three-set win over Katerina Siniakova in the Shenzhen final, which had to be moved indoors after rain delayed the start of the championship match by six hours.

    Whether she can continue that momentum will remain to be seen, given she has lost in the first round of the Aussie Open in each of the past two years.

    The other female champion to be crowned in the first week of the new tournament was Julia Goerges, who upset former world number one Caroline Wozniacki to claim her fifth career title but just second since 2011.

    Her win over Wozniacki marked her 14th consecutive victory, having finished the 2017 season strongly winning the Kremlin Cup in Moscow and the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai.

    The German was due to play Samantha Stosur in the first round of the Sydney International, but has withdrawn from the tournament citing a knee injury. She has been replaced in the main draw by compatriot and lucky loser Carina Witthoft.

    On the men’s side of things, Nick Kyrgios claimed his fourth career title and first on home soil, defeating American Ryan Harrison in straight sets in the Brisbane International final.

    The Australian was bidding to become the second local champion of the tournament in its ten-year history (the other being Lleyton Hewitt in 2014), and did not disappoint.

    He took the opening set 6-4, despite having to face five break points, including three in his third service game. The Canberran had it much easier in the second though, a double break seeing him position himself where he could serve for the title at 5-2.

    An ace on his first championship point sealed the deal; the win will lift him back into the world’s top 20 with all the men’s and women’s seeds now locked in for the first Grand Slam tournament of 2018.

    In Doha, Gael Monfils claimed his seventh career title by defeating Russia’s Andrey Rublev in the final, while Gilles Simon took out the title in Pune, defeating Kevin Anderson in the final, and before that, top seed Marin Cilic in the semi-finals and defending champion Roberto Bautista-Agut in the second round.

    And finally, at the Hopman Cup, Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic combined to give Switzerland their first title since 2001.

    In the singles, Federer came from a set down to defeat Alexander Zverev, while Bencic lost in straight sets to Angelique Kerber in straight sets, thus setting up the deciding doubles tie.

    This year marked the second in succession in which the Fast4 format was employed in doubles matches. The Swiss won the deciding doubles rubber in straight sets to end a 17-year Hopman Cup drought.

    It was also Federer’s second Hopman Cup title, after he paired with the now-retired Martina Hingis to win it in 2001; back then, the Swiss Maestro was just 19 and yet to win a singles title.

    Hingis was the more experienced of the pair, having won five Major titles (three Australian Open titles and one Wimbledon and US Open title each) and reached world number one.

    This time around, it was Federer who played the role of master. His partner in 2018, Belinda Bencic, had – like Federer – won the junior Wimbledon title, in 2013.

    She reached a career-high ranking of number seven in the world at age 18 in the early part of 2016, before injuries saw her ranking plummet into the hundreds. However, a strong finish to last season saw her start the new year ranked 74th, and at age 20, her best tennis is still ahead of her.

    Meanwhile, the Australian Open has been rocked by the withdrawals of Andy Murray, whose troublesome hip continues to bother him, and Serena Williams, who has admitted to not being 100 per cent fit after having given birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia O’Hanian, last September.

    Former champions Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka and Victoria Azarenka all remain in doubt, with the latter locked in a custody battle involving her one-year-old son. She cannot leave California without him until it has been resolved.

    Djokovic and Nadal were reported to have trained strongly in Melbourne Park, while Wawrinka’s presence remains unclear, the Lausanne native having not played since bombing out of Wimbledon in the first round last July.

    These concerns have led to bookmakers installing Federer as the favourite to land his milestone 20th Major crown at Melbourne Park, given the impressive form he has shown over the past twelve months, as well as in the first week of the new season in Perth.

    Roger Federer hits a ball at the US Open.

    AP Photo/Kathy Willens

    On the women’s side, of the players that are not in doubt for the tournament, only Maria Sharapova (2008) and Angelique Kerber (2016) have won the title, but neither are considered favourite. Sharapova is still rebuilding her form and ranking after being wiped out for 15 months due to a doping suspension, while Kerber struggled with form in 2017 and finished the year ranked outside the top 20.

    Brisbane International
    Men’s final: [3] Nick Kyrgios (AUS) defeated Ryan Harrison (USA) 6-4, 6-2.
    Women’s final: [3] Elina Svitolina (UKR) defeated [Q] Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR) 6-2, 6-1.

    Qatar ExxonMobil Open
    [WC] Gael Monfils (FRA) defeated Andrey Rublev (RUS) 6-2, 6-3.

    Maharashtra Open
    Gilles Simon (FRA) defeated [2] Kevin Anderson (RSA) 7-6 (7-4), 6-2.

    Shenzhen Open
    [1] Simona Halep (ROU) defeated [6] Katerina Siniakova (CZE) 6-1, 2-6, 6-0.

    Auckland Open
    [2] Julia Goerges (GER) defeated [1] Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) 6-4, 7-6 (7-4).

    Hopman Cup
    Men’s singles rubber: Roger Federer (SUI) defeated Alexander Zverev (GER) 6-7 (4-7), 6-0, 6-2.
    Women’s singles rubber: Angelique Kerber (GER) defeated Belinda Bencic (SUI) 6-4, 6-1.
    Mixed doubles rubber: Federer/Bencic (SUI) defeated Kerber/Zverev (GER) 4-3 (5-3), 4-2.

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    The Crowd Says (1)

    • Roar Rookie

      January 8th 2018 @ 4:23pm
      tsuru said | January 8th 2018 @ 4:23pm | ! Report

      From an Australian point of view, the most encouraging performances were probably those of Kyrgios, de Minaur, and Kokkinakis.

      Kyrgios’ win over Dimitrov was apparently impressive – Dimitrov admitted that at times he he had no answer particularly to Kyrgios’ serve. Let’s hope Nick can keep his focus.

      Kokkinakis impressed everyone except Daria Gavrilova in Perth. Anyone who beats Sasha Zverev is playing well, even at this stage of the season. Let’s hope he can stay injury free. If so there is the chance of Oz having 2 in the top 20 be the end of 2018.

      And what has Alex de Minaur been doing in the off season? Maybe putting on some muscle? Did anyone here see him in Brisbane and can tell us how he looked and how he played? His results were great – victories over Steve Johnson, Milos Raonic, Michael Mmoh, and being within (at least) 2 points of beating Ryan Harrison and making the final – and all speak to a very promising start to the season and one that should push him 40 or so places up the rankings in a way similar to Ash Barty’s end of season sprint.

      Speaking of Barty, I give no importance to her 1st round loss. I have no Idea of what she was doing and aiming for in the “off season,” but I do know that it’s not unheard of for players to spend a lot of time and effort on off-court training in November & December and so start the season in January really fit and strong and flexible, but down on touch and on-court feel.

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