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Yarra Valley Classic 2021: Women's singles draw analysis, preview & prediction

Serena Williams
Serena Williams
Rudra Biswas
ANALYST
Modified 29 Jan 2021
Feature

The WTA tour is back after a short break, with several top players featuring in the two 500 level events at Melbourne leading up to the Australian Open. The first of those - the 2021 Yarra Valley Classic - will be played on outdoor hardcourt from 31 January to 6 February.

The tournament will see World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty returning to competitive action for the first time since February last year. Barty had decided to sit out the US Open and the French Open in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns.

Defending Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and the Czech Republic's Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova round out the top four seeds. Kenin was named the WTA Player of the Year in 2020, and she will be hoping to produce another strong run Down Under in 2021.

23-time Major champion Serena Williams is also making a return to the tour after a fairly long hiatus. The fifth seed at the Yarra Valley Classic, Williams was last seen on the court at the French Open last year, where she withdrew from her second round match due to injury.

With main draw action set to commence on 1 February, let's have a look at how the players are likely to fare at the Yarra Valley Classic:

Top half: Serena Williams could face a familiar foe in Melbourne

Ashleigh Barty makes her return to tennis at the Yarra Valley Classic
Ashleigh Barty makes her return to tennis at the Yarra Valley Classic

Top seeds: [1] Ashleigh Barty, [3] Karolina Pliskova, [5] Serena Williams, [7] Petra Martic

Expected semifinal: Ashleigh Barty vs Karolina Pliskova

Dark horse: Shelby Rogers

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Analysis: Ashleigh Barty is coming into the tournament with a point to prove, as several fans have questioned lately whether she deserves the No. 1 WTA ranking. Barty hasn't played since February, but given her previous results, coupled with the fact that she will enjoy the lion's share of the crowd support in Melbourne, the Aussie will still start the Yarra Valley Classic as the favorite.

Having received a bye in the first round, Barty could face Ana Bogdan in the second round and either Marie Bouzkova or fellow Aussie Samantha Stosur in the third.

In the other part of this quarter, seventh seed Petra Martic will face one of Kirsten Flipkens or Yaroslava Shvedova to kick off her campaign. But her likely next opponent - Shelby Rogers - could be one of the sleeper picks to go deep in the draw.

Fifth seed Serena Williams spearheads a relatively easy second quarter. The American will not face a big threat until the quarterfinals, where she will most likely meet World No. 6 Karolina Pliskova.

Pliskova has already played in 2021, at the Abu Dhabi tournament a couple of weeks ago. However, she was knocked out in the second round by Russia's Anastasia Gasanova.

If it happens, the clash between Williams and Pliskova would be one to watch out for. Williams last met the Czech in the quarterfinals of the 2019 Australian Open, where she lost after blowing a 5-1 lead in the decider.

Predicted semifinal: Shelby Rogers vs Serena Williams

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Bottom half: Sofia Kenin looking for form ahead of Australia Open defense

Sofia Kenin reacts after winning the 2020 Australian Open
Sofia Kenin reacts after winning the 2020 Australian Open

Top seeds: [2] Sofia Kenin, [4] Petra Kvitova, [6] Garbine Muguruza, [8] Marketa Vondrousova

Expected semifinal: Petra Kvitova vs Sofia Kenin

Dark horse: Venus Williams

Analysis: In the bottom-most quarter of the draw, second seed Sofia Kenin has a potentially tough opener as she could face the mercurial Camila Giorgi. If Kenin is able to beat the Italian, she will likely face another talented player - Kristina Mladenovic - in the third round.

Kenin had played in Abu Dhabi earlier this year, where she crashed out to Greece's Maria Sakkari in the quarterfinals. The 22-year-old will be looking to go one better this week, but she might need to beat the unpredictable Garbine Muguruza to reach the last four.

Muguruza has a relatively safe section, and will be looking to set up a rematch of last year's Australian Open final against Kenin.

Fourth seed Petra Kvitova finds herself in a tricky section of the draw, which is littered with several former greats and promising young players. A blockbuster clash between Kvitova and Venus Williams might be on the cards in the second round itself.

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If Kvitova is able fight past the eight-time Major champion, she will likely face French Open semifinalist Nadia Podoroska or promising teen Olga Danilovic.

Eighth seed Marketa Vondrousova, who enjoys playing on slower surfaces, is expected to face Kvitova in the quarterfinals. But with two-time Slam finalist Vera Zvonareva, 10th-seeded Shuai Zhang and talented 20-year-old Varvara Gracheva looking to challenge her, Vondrousova might be in for an early upset at the 2021 Yarra Valley Classic.

Predicted semifinal: Venus Williams vs Garbine Muguruza

Prediction for the final

Serena Williams vs Garbine Muguruza

Predicted champion

Garbine Muguruza

Published 29 Jan 2021, 18:24 IST
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