BRISBANE, Australia - The draw for the first Premier tournament of the 2020 WTA Season is out at the Brisbane International, which features six of the World's Top 10, including No.1 Ashleigh Barty, No.2 and defending champion Karolina Pliskova, and No.3 and Australian Open defending champion Naomi Osaka. With the overall strength of the draw - Barty could face Maria Sharapova in the second round - no path to the title is easy in Brisbane. Who will walk away with the biggest title on offer in the first week of the season?
Main draw play begins on Monday, January 6th. For the full draw, click here.
Top eight seeds: No.1 Ashleigh Barty, No.2 Karolina Pliskova, No.3 Naomi Osaka, No.6 Elina Svitolina, No.7 Petra Kvitova, No.9 Kiki Bertens, No.12 Johanna Konta, No.13 Madison Keys
Top Half: Barty, Svitolina, Kvitova, Keys
Bottom Half: Pliskova, Osaka, Bertens, Konta
Projected Round of 16: Barty-Sharapova, Kvitova-Stephens, Svitolina-Vekic, Keys-Kerber, Bertens-Hsieh, Osaka-Kenin, Konta-Riske, Pliskova-Tomljanovic.
2019 Final: Karolina Pliskova d. Lesia Tsurenko, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.
Barty, Sharapova, Kvitova, Stephens comprise toughest quarter.
This time last year, Ashleigh Barty was ranked a career-high No.15 and had yet to make a major quarterfinal. Now, the World No.1 and 2018 WTA Player of the Year returns to her home tournament under the bright spotlight of a nation, with an eye towards becoming the first Australian woman to win the Australian Open in 42 years.
With a draw that could see her face two major champions in her first two matches of the season, Barty will have to test and fine-tune her game right out of the blocks.
Barty has a bye into the second round, where she will face either late wildcard Maria Sharapova or a qualifier. Waiting in the quarterfinals could be either Petra Kvitova or Sloane Stephens, with Elina Svitolina, Madison Keys, Angelique Kerber, or Donna Vekic looming as potential semifinal opponents.
If she can run the table in Brisbane, the Queenslander would be the first Australian to win a tour-level title on home soil since Jarmila Wolfe in 2011 (Hobart).
Karolina Pliskova debuts new team in title defense.
World No.2 Karolina Pliskova has won Brisbane in two of the last three years, compiling a 12-1 record over that span. This year she has a new coaching team in place comprised of veteran ATP coach Dani Vallverdu and former WTA player Olga Savchuk, after splitting with Conchita Martinez over the off-season.
Pliskova leads a wide-open bottom half of the draw and has a bye into the second round, where she will face the winner of the Aussie wildcard duel between Ajla Tomljanovic and Priscilla Hon.
From there, Pliskova must be prepared for any number of varying styles across the net. From bang-bang hitters like No.3 Naomi Osaka, Johanna Konta, Dayana Yastremska, and Alison Riske, to more all-court players like Kiki Bertens, Maria Sakkari, and Sofia Kenin, to some of the most creative shot-makers in the game in Hsieh Su-Wei and Karolina Muchova.
Regardless of results, here's hoping Pliskova is able to run up her ace count:
Heyy Aussies! I love your country so I decided to join the— Karolina Pliskova (@KaPliskova) January 4, 2020
Aussies players and donate 200 dollars for every ace I hit during my stay in Australia to support and help all the victims of the fires. Let’s get some aces going! pic.twitter.com/5adQTWrcCR
Naomi Osaka faces stern opening test against Maria Sakkari.
The defending Australian Open champion has had plenty of time to prepare herself for her second straight major title defense and the attention and pressure that will come over the next month. Osaka can ease some of the tension with another quality run in Brisbane. Last year, in her main draw debut, Osaka made the semifinals, serving as perfect preparation for her title run in Melbourne.
Osaka opens against Maria Sakkari, a tough opponent for her in the past. Osaka leads the H2H 2-1, but both her wins came in three sets, while Sakkari's lone win came in straight sets. Awaiting in the second round could be Sofia Kenin, with Kiki Bertens, Dayana Yastremska, Hsieh Su-Wei, or Anett Kontaveit a potential quarterfinal opponent.
Angelique Kerber, Sloane Stephens looking for a quick rebound.
Australia has been kind to 2016 Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber and 2013 Australian Open semifinalist Sloane Stephens. After sub-par 2018 campaigns, No.20 Kerber and No.24 Stephens are ready to wipe the slate clean and start anew. Stephens reunited with coach Kamau Murray late last summer, while Kerber has teamed up with Dieter Kindlmann for the start of the 2020 season.
Both women landed in the top half of the draw. Kerber opens her season against Samantha Stosur and will face either Madison Keys or a qualifier in the second round.
Stephens opens against a qualifier and will face either Kvitova or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the second round.
Notable first-round matches: Osaka-Sakkari, Kvitova-Pavlyuchenkova, Bertens-Yastremska, Kerber-Stosur, Konta-Strycova, Riske-Muchova, Hsieh-Kontaveit.