February 24, 2021

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Photo: Tennis Australia/David Mariuz

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MELBOURNE, Australia – Did you catch some of the exhibition in Adelaide Friday?

If so, the full house and the top-class tennis just had you even more excited about the real start of the 2021 season.

And during the match between Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem in Adelaide, the WTA released the draws for its first two tournaments, the Yarra Valley Classic and the Gippsland Trophy.

Since those names don’t exactly roll off the tongue for non-Aussies, we’re going to nickname them based on the type of fields they have.

The Yarra Valley Classic – which features Karolina Pliskova. Petra Kvitova, Venus and Serena Williams, Ashleigh Barty and reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, we’ll dub the “Servers’ Classic”.

With as quick as the courts appear to be this year, some of the women in that draw will be able to throw down some bombs.

Nice mix of power and skill in Yarra

The Gippsland Trophy, we’ll call the “Skillz Open”: Simona Halep, Iga Swiatek, along with big hitters Naomi Osaka and Aryna Sabalenka, Coco Gauff, Elina Svitolina and Caroline Garcia.

It’s tough to call the tougher of the two. But it feels like the “Servers’ Open” has a few more dangerous players – as would any draw that contained both Williams sisters. The Skillz Open feels … perhaps more even overall, with a little more depth.

These two events begin on Sunday. And they’ll have the Melbourne Park courts to themselves as the ATP events begin only Monday.

The third WTA event, for the players in hard quarantine, only begins Wednesday.

Servers galore

The Servers’ Classic has the following wild cards: Maddison Inglis, Daria Gavrilova, Kimberly Birrell and Lizette Cabrera.

It’s a 56-player draw, with the top eight seeds: Barty, Kenin, Pliskova, Kvitova, Serena, Muguruza, Martic and Vondrousova having first-round byes.

Here’s the singles draw.

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There are not a ton of crazy-compelling first-round matches. But there are some very good ones: Mladenovic v Pegula; Ferro v Rogers and Bouzkova vs. Samantha Stosur, who’s back at it after not playing most of 2020.

Venus Williams has a fairly tough opener against lefty Arantxa Rus. The winner of that one meets Petra Kvitova.

Serena vs. Pliskova could be a 500 quarterfinal worthy of a big final, in most situations.

Halep, Osaka in Gippsland

The Aussie wild cards in the second event are Destanee Aiava, Astra Sharma, Olivia Gadecki and Arina Rodionova.

Here’s the singles draw:

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This draw has some better first-rounders: Cornet v Tomljanovic, Ostapenko v Errani, Buzarnescu v Hercog v Gasparyan, Kasatkina and Paolini vs. Canadian Rebecca Marino.

Halep and Sabalenka are in the same half; Svitolina and Osaka in the other half.

Dabrowski and Mattek-Sands debut

On the doubles side, the new pairing of Gabriela Dabrowski and Bethanie Mattek-Sands will finally make their debut.

And because they were on Covid-compromised flights, they will barely have any time at all to practice together.

The Can-American pair are seeded No. 3 in the Gippsland draw, in the same half as the Czech top seeds, Siniakova and Krejcikova.

Here’s the Gippsland doubles draw.

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Belinda Bencic and Barbora Strycova are teaming up for doubles, as Halep joins Aussie Gavrilova to face those two in the first round.

The Yarra doubles draw has Mladenovic and Babos, and Schuur and Melichar.

It also has pickup teams like Ashleigh Barty and Jennifer Brady (who are seeded No. 8 and play Canadian Sharon Fichman and Giuliana Olmos of Mexico in the first round).

The young American team of Coco Gauff and Caty McNally take on No. 7 seeds Lyudmyla Kichenok and Jelena Ostapenko.

Here’s the Yarra doubles draw.

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