PLEASE welcome Gavin Mair (@gavinnightmair) to WLB. Gavin will be sharing his knowledge with us on tennis Tour events. Here he starts by looking at this week's Taiwan Open.
WTA Taiwan Open | 30th January – 5th February 2017
Taiwan’s WTA tour event has moved from Kaohsiung to the Taipei Arena for its 2017 edition, and with that comes a change in surface from outdoor hard court to indoor conditions similar to those found at Katowice between 2014 and 2016.
In recent years the venue has hosted ITF 125k tournaments (a level below the WTA International status of this year’s event) played on a slick carpet surface, but the conditions will play a slow to moderate speed.
By taking a statistical overview of this event and analysing the draw quarter by quarter it is possible to determine potential contenders for the title this week.
Elina Svitolina heads the draw in Taipei and despite an underwhelming Australian Open singles performance it is hard to see an opponent having the wherewithal to hit through her solid defences.
The Ukranian player values International Level events and those held in Asia, unlike many of her Top 20 ranked contemporaries who tend not to pursue the same hard working schedule of Svitolina.
First up is the ITF 125k November champion Evgeniya Rodina. Had it been on Carpet then Rodina might have a chance, but even then her victory would be an unlikely outcome. A handy indoor player, the unseeded Russian will be cursing her luck at being drawn immediately against the outright favourite.
Of the other players in Svitolina’s quarter perhaps Ons Jabeur poses the most tantalising challenge. The Tunisian has decent ability indoors and has made a solid start to the season. However, she will not have the stability to live with Svitolina should they meet.
The second quarter has the unreliable Caroline Garcia as its top seeded player. The French player was once touted by Andy Murray to become the world’s premier talent but her career trajectory has so far struggled to fulfil his prediction.
Renowned coach Nigel Sears identified that Garcia’s father, who also happens to be her coach, is becoming a barrier to his daughter’s development.
That said, Garcia does have the best 8-week form of all players in the draw, and whilst it provides some weight to Murray’s statement it is counterbalanced by her historic underperformance at this venue, an underwhelming record indoors and a poor three year record indoors.
Garcia is favourite to come through her section but looks a shaky proposition to do so. It is possible that she will not get out of the starting blocks as her first round opponent Marina Erakovic advanced through qualifying, holds a 4/1 head to head record against Garcia, made the semi-final at the venue in November and has a stronger long term record at Asian events.
The likely route to the semi final does not get any easier as she would then be scheduled to meet Magda Linette. The Polish player has a good record in Katowice – although it is possible that she benefits from the rub of being a home player there.
On her only previous visit to Taipei Linette made the quarter-finals and she has a strong record at Asian events to suggest she would adjust to any climate problems.
Should Garcia overcome those two obstacles she will then face Jelena Jankovic, who after a few problematic years has shown signs that she is returning to something like her old form. Jankovic will be competitive and should look at this event as a chance to build some points for the season ahead.
Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova holds the highest seeding in the 3rd quarter. Sevastova retired from tennis due to injury problems in 2013 before re-emerging on tour in 2015 and climbing the rankings to a current world ranking of 32.
Despite a high standing in the sport, her week-to-week results are hit and miss and consequently even when she holds a favourable spot it ishard to trust that she will fulfil her duty.
Australian Open ladies doubles champion Lucie Safarova has accepted a wildcard into this event and with her reputation will be considered the favourite to go far in Taipei. However, the Czech has bumpy singles form and her three year indoor form is far from impressive, as are herlong term results in Asia.
Misaki Doi is a player familiar with Taipei and has finished as a finalist and a semi finalist on two of her past four visits. At this time last year Doi finished as a runner up in Kaohsiung.
Furthermore, Doi has a track record of at least making the final of an indoor International Leveltournament in the past two seasons. The downside to the Japanese player is form, as she has won only one of her four matches this season.
Sam Stosur has taken a wildcard into this tournament, but there seems little reason to believe that she will have a good week here – even in this rather limited field. Stosur has long-term form issues and has been identified by astute tennis commentators to be a player that is in decline.
The Australian has a strong historic record in indoor tournaments but that has been untested since 2013 when she last entered an event of this nature. It lacks logic to suggest that the declines noticed when playing on other surfaces has not transferred to events that take placeunder a roof.
A popular choice to do well in this quarter is Katerina Siniakova, who has already won an International tournament at Shenzhen in 2017. Contrary to Stosur, Siniakova has been identified as a player that could make big strides forward this season, and her early season form shows that.
I am reluctant however to believe that she backs up her Shenzhen performance based upon her indoor performance statistics of the past 12 months.
Another veteran lurking in this part of the draw is Francesca Schiavone. The Italian turned professional in 1998 and although her level is far from that in her better years she has shown an ability to still grind out results indoors against players of a similar ability.
Of players in the draw, Schiavone holds one of the only positive indoor records in the past three years and has done well at Katowice previously.