Worsley at the Aussie Open: Auckland champions fall to Melbourne bogey

OPINION: Succeeding at the ASB Classic may be more of a curse than a blessing, when it comes to achieving desired results at the Australian Open. 

Three of the four finalists at this year's Auckland women's and men's tournaments have fallen in the first round at Melbourne, so let's roll out the conspiracy theories and recognise that winning in the first couple of weeks of the year doesn't necessarily help with results in the first Grand Slam of the season.

Women's champ and Australian Open 14th seed Julia Goerges was gone in three sets on day one, then ex-Kiwi/South African/Brit Cameron Norrie lost to American Taylor Fritz, whom he had previously beaten at Auckland, followed by American Tennys Sandgren to a Japanese opponent in four sets.

German Jan-Lenard Struff, who won the doubles and was a singles semifinalist at Auckland, was also out on day one.

Only Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu, a surprise Auckland women's finalist, was a first-round Melbourne winner and that was in three sets over an inexperienced American wildcard. That was also the first Grand Slam singles win of Andreescu's career.

As much as we like to take pride and enjoyment from the players who have starred at the ASB Classic, an Auckland final doesn't alway translate into top performances at the Australian Open of late.

Goerges lost in the first round this year and second round last year. Lauren Davis, the 2017 Auckland champion, was a first-round loser in Melbourne that same year and Sloane Stephens did the same after her 2016 Auckland win.

Only Venus Williams, in 2015, had a result to take home and brag about. She reached the quarter-finals in Melbourne, after winning the Auckland title two weeks earlier.

Men’s winners haven't exactly gone on to cover themselves in glory either. The last six Auckland champions have seen early exits in the first round (Sandgren 2019, Roberto Bautista Agut 2018, Jiri Vesely 2015, John Isner 2014), third round (Jack Sock 2017) and fourth round (Bautista Agut 2016).

Of course, the glaring exception to this rule was 2018 women's runner-up Caroline Wozniacki, who parlayed her extended Auckland run into a maiden Grand Slam crown three weeks later.

So is it a curse? Is it a too much to win a title before the Open? Or are we just over-analysing statistics to make them fit an argument?

In this particular case, it was probably too much of a quick turnaround mentally, rather than physically, for Norrie, Sandgren and Struff, plus they were all up against tough competitors. For Goerges, her serve was hot and the rest of her game, at times, was not.

If playing in Auckland is so detrimental, then surely the players wouldn’t want to take part in the tournaments.

But they also know they need matchplay and a good start to the year, and of course gaining early confidence should be a benefit going into the Aussie Open.

But you don't want to tire yourself out too much either, so it's a risk that players are willing to take and fans in Auckland should be happy to accept.

And, hey, if Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and a heap of others win the title in Melbourne, we can claim them too, as they have featured on the Stanley St courts at some stage in their careers.

We can't claim Novak Djokovic - he's never played in New Zealand - but just about everyone has, so they're OK.

Dave Worsley is a Newshub sports reporter, covering his 21st Australian Open.

Contact Newshub with your story tips:
news@newshub.co.nz