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Pliskova Serves A Nightmare, Mirza Passes The Torch And More From Week 1 In 2017

WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen | Relive a busy first week from the WTA's 2017 season, including highlights from Madison Brengle, Elina Svitolina, and champions from Brisbane, Auckland, and Shenzhen.

Published January 10, 2017 12:15


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Karolina Pliskova is ready to hit the ground running.

The World No.5 won the Brisbane International with just the lost of a set, and while her road to her 7th career title wasn't a minefield -- she did not face a Top 10 opponent -- what impressed was her business-like efficiency. In a week that saw nine of the Top 10 women in action and only Pliskova make the final weekend, Pliskova never looked like she was playing her first tournament of the season.

Having finished her 2016 late by helping the Czech Fed Cup team continue their dynasty, Pliskova said she did not have much off an off-season. While some might see that as a negative, Pliskova said her minimal time off the courts meant she did not lose much of her base fitness. "I feel like normally that I would be in the [middle of the] season, like everything is going well, my body is fine."

Pliskova was the 2010 girls' champion at the Australian Open. While she's quick to remind you that she has yet to make it past the third round, her run to the US Open final last fall should banish those Slam speedbumps. Hers is a game that can render her opponents as spectators. Keep an eye on her in Melbourne.

Sania Mirza is all class.

You could imagine a situation where this could get awkward: World No.1 partners with Player X, only to find out that if they win the tournament then Player X will supplant her at No.1. But Mirza and Bethanie Mattek-Sands are professionals and they are, even more importantly, friends. And no one was happer for Bethanie than Sania when the two beat the No.2 seeds Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova and Mattek-Sands became the new doubles World No.1.

"Junking" Serena Williams could be a useful tactic.

En route to her three-set upset of Serena Williams in the second round of the ASB Classic, Madison Brengle joked, "I think she's surprised how bad I am." It was the on-court coaching timeout heard round the world, as Brengle discussed with her coach and fellow player Nicole Melichar, that Serena seemed to have no problem cracking winners off the returns Brengle felt she hit well.

Of course, the tactic isn't entirely without merit. Rewind to the 2015 US Open semifinal when Roberta Vinci's slice-and-dice game kept Serena off-balance. Other players, like Alizé Cornet, have also found success against the American by playing an unpredictable style

But as tour veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova said, it's an obviously risky gambit. "I mean, sometimes you do play like you see some players, the better you play, the better they are playing," the Russian said in Brisbane. "The worse you play, they start to play worse.

"So, I mean, that's an interesting thought of the match from her. I would not do that, for sure, but it's really interesting, I think. It's something different and very funny."

Agnieszka Radwanska has switched up racquets.

Week 1 saw two fairly significant on-court sponsor changes. Sania Mirza confirmed to me that she is no longer with Adidas and now wears her own line with a signature "SM" logo.

But the big news was Radwanska abandoning her beloved Babolat and switching to Srixon, a Japanese manufacturer whose primary focus is golf. Radwanska told me she spent the entire off-season trying different racquets and working with Srixon to make sure she still had her trademark feel and touch, while adding some more power if possible. She finally settled on a racquet around Christmas time.

"It was a hard decision after 15 years playing with one racquet," Radwanska said. "There was a long preparation for that. I tried a lot. They made for me a special racquet that suits me well so far."

So far, so good:

It's dangerous to read too much into Serena's loss.

It wasn't the Auckland debut she wanted, but as Serena said after the match, there's not much to take away from her two matches at the ASB Classic. The swirling wind was a predominant factor in her inability to control the ball, and her power game unraveled quickly. She won't see those conditions in Melbourne, and it's worth emphasizing that she's done perfectly fine at the Australian Open without sufficient lead-up.

The Czech bench is deep and Katerina Siniakova is one to watch.

The 20-year-old hits a big flat ball but has struggled with her consistency and emotions on court. But it all finally came together for Siniakova, as she blasted past Simona Halep, Johanna Konta, and then Alison Riske to win her first title at the Shenzhen Open. It was an impressive and resilient week for Siniakova, who had to battle hard to beat both Halep and Konta in three sets, before cruising in the final.

Siniakova made two finals last season, in Bastaad and the Japan Open, so her win in Shenzhen did not come out of the blue. But with most of the attention on the likes of Madison Keys, Belinda Bencic, Daria Kasatkina, she's been under the radar for much of the last two years. That could end this year. With her big hitting, she could do some damage in the early rounds of the Australian Open. Siniakova is the definition of "unseeded and looming."

Lauren Davis can piece it all together.

An American won Auckland, it just wasn't the American everyone expected. The 23-year-old Davis lost just one set on her way to her first title at the ASB Classic, tallying wins over Barbora Strycova, Jelena Ostapenko, and Ana Konjuh.

Garbiñe Muguruza is ready to move on.

On its face, it's odd to hear a player say they want to put a year in which they won their first major title behind them. But that's precisely what the Spaniard told reporters in her first press conference in Brisbane and it makes sense. Outside of her incredible two weeks in Paris, Muguruza grew frustrated in her inability to find a good streak of momentum throughout the season.

Her Brisbane campaign ended in a retirement in the semifinals, when she found herself struggling with a leg injury and too fatigued to keep up with Cornet's crafty, grinding game. But up until that point, Muguruza was putting together the most impressive campaign of the week. Given the toughest draw of any seed in Brisbane, she dug deep to beat Sam Stosur in three sets, saved match point to beat Daria Kasatkina in the best match of the first week, and then handled an in-form Kuznetsova in straight sets.

Muguruza's tennis was cleaner than it had been in months and her grit and willingness to get down and dirty and battle for wins was impressive. This is the Garbi to be reckoned with.

This could be Elina Svitolina's breakout year.

In the last six months, the Ukrainian has more wins over No.1 players than anyone on tour. She beat Serena at the Olympics, Angelique Kerber at the China Open, and last week she repeated the feat in a fantastic match, beating Kerber 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to make the Brisbane quarterfinals.

Having shown gradual improvements year-over-year, so long as she stays healthy I would expect Svitolina to be knocking on the door of the Top 10 this year (if not busting through it herself).

Pliskova's serve is "a nightmare".

At least that's what Cornet said after getting trounced 6-0, 6-3 in the Brisbane final. Here's how Cornet felt trying to defend against the Czech's signature shot:

"She's serving really, really well. I mean, I played Serena a few times, and I could always be able to return a first serve. Like, somehow I could return.

Against Karolina, it's impossible to read it. That's the toughest thing ever. She has always the same toss. She just guide it with the wrist wherever she wants, and, I mean, the serve is minimum 175, 180 each time. And very precise, and, yeah, deep and powerful.

"I mean, well, when you have a serve like this, it's such a weapon. And then the other one gets so stressed on her serve, because you have the feeling you're serving so bad compared to her, and she puts so much pressure on your second serve. Yeah, it's pretty much nightmare, actually."

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