Panelist Predictions Australian Open Women’s Day 1: Including Venus Williams-Belinda Bencic

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Venus Williams

Day one of the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of 2018, means that once again a panel of Last Word on Sports writers have sat down to make their predictions on some of the days most intriguing matches. Jakub Bobro, James Cunningham, Sam Barker and Vithun Illankovan predict the results of five matches including Venus Williams against Belinda Bencic and Sam Stosur versus Monica Puig.

Venus Williams v Belinda Bencic

Jakub: I will predict the upset here. Belinda Bencic has been on an amazing run since coming back from injury last fall. To begin her year, the Swiss won Hopman Cup alongside Roger Federer, carrying her form into 2018. Venus Williams didn’t look particularly impressive in her loss in Sydney, so I think she will be primed for the upset here.

Bencic in 2

James: Belinda Bencic will be buoyed by her recent Hopman Cup win alongside Roger Federer and she has the overall game to overcome last year’s finalist, Venus Williams. If she keeps it together mentally, this will be a comfortable win for the Swiss.

Bencic in 2
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Sam: If 2017 taught us anything it’s not to underestimate Venus Williams. It is all too simple to assume that Belinda Bencic will cause the upset because of her undoubtedly impressive form over the last few months. To suggest Bencic will win here though is to ignore the 0-4 record she has against Venus and ignore Venus’ quality on the court.

Williams in 3

Vithun: I did not rate Venus Williams as much as everyone else did in 2017. She was handed easy draw after easy draw, put against players out of form constantly. Finally, she has been given hard draws and, like her loss to Angelique Kerber in Sydney, she will once again be shown up.

Bencic in 3

Sam Stosur v Monica Puig

Jakub: Both of these players are considered dangerous floaters in any draw, but aren’t in great form to start the year. I think that Stosur’s experience will push her over the line, but it will be a long, gruelling contest.

Stosur in 3

James: Both of these players have had moments of brilliance in their careers, but neither of them has quite managed to consistently do well at big tournaments. It is going to be a close match, and although Stosur is going to have the home crowd behind her, it is not going to be enough to beat the Puerto Rican.

Puig in 3
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Sam: Grand Slam champion against Olympic gold medalist. A fascinating match on paper between two players who have endured ongoing battles with consistency. Stosur has a stinking record at her home Slam in recent years, losing in the first round for the past two years. Puig might just have enough to edge this but it will be a battle.

Puig in 3

Vithun: Stosur plays awful in her home country. Anyone who plays against her is always the favourite in my books.

Puig in 3

Mihaela Buzarnescu v Caroline Wozniacki

Jakub: Caroline Wozniacki
Buzarnescu is coming in with good form from Hobart, while Wozniacki is coming in with a lot of pressure to win her first slam here. Buzarnescu has never had a win of Wozniacki’s calibre, and I don’t think it’s coming tomorrow.

Wozniacki in 2

James: Caroline Wozniacki goes into the tournament as one of the favourites, and if her form in the latter stages of 2017 is anything to go by, then this could be a straightforward affair.

Wozniacki in 2
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Sam: For the second Grand Slam in a row these two meet in the first round. At 29, Buzarnescu is competing in her first Australian Open after a meteoric rise of nearly 500 ranking places last year that slipped almost insultingly under the radar. Wozniacki meanwhile has toiled in Melbourne recently, winning just once in three years and struggling with the court speed. Hold onto your hats because this might just be the upset that propels Buzarnescu into the public’s consciousness.

Buzarnescu in 3

Vithun: In my post on the outlook for the Grand Slams in 2018, Wozniacki was a very confident pick for Australian Open champion. Whilst I am not as confident with that prediction now, a loss to this unheralded opponent would be tragic.

Wozniacki in 2

Dominika Cibulkova v Kaia Kanepi

Jakub: I predict a big run in Australia for Cibulkova. Melbourne has been her happy place and she always does well at the first slam of the year. The match against Kanepi should be intriguing, but not too troublesome.

Cibulkova in 2

James: The Slovakian has a point to prove after a disappointing year last year and although she comes up against one of the game’s greatest warriors in Kaia Kanepi, Cibulkova should have enough in her locker to see this one through in two.

Cibulkova in 2
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Sam: A real gem of a first-round match that could swing either way. Cibulkova, after a rough 2017, looked impressive in Sydney and looks to be on the comeback path. It might be a few tournaments too soon though against a rejuvenated Kanepi who has looked impressive since her run to the US Open quarter-finals.

Kanepi in 3

Vithun: This match could go either way. I will go with Cibulkova just because she is the one with more fighting spirit and better Australian Open history between the two.

Cibulkova in 3

Kiki Bertens v CiCi Bellis

Jakub: I expect Bellis to win. It’s a technical upset because she will beat a seed in Bertens, but I feel like she is definitely the favourite. The young American is on the rise, and she should have solid run here.

Bellis in 3

James: This match promises to be one of the most intriguing of the opening day. Bertens has had a poor 2018 so far, with only one win to her name. She comes up against one of the game’s most exciting young challengers, American CiCi Bellis. This will be a real test for the young American, but after a good run of results in Sydney this week, and having won their previous encounter at a Grand Slam at Roland Garros last year, Bellis will see this one through in three sets.

Bellis in 3
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Sam: A scrappy baseline brawl is on the cards between Bellis and Bertens. Bertens is ferocious on clay but does have a tendency to struggle on hard courts. On the other hand, the talented youngster Bellis is still trying to find her feet on the WTA tour. Not an easy one to call but Bellis takes a slight advantage because of the conditions.

Bellis in 3

Vithun: I don’t rate Bertens outside of clay. Meanwhile, Bellis seems like someone who will rise up the rankings in 2018. I expect a fairly straightforward match.

Bellis in 2

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