With 5 tournaments, it’s one of the busier weeks of the 2015 season. Read on as TTI previews some of the matches scheduled for Thursday – across 4 continents.
The first Premier 5 of year had to deal with several blows in advance of the action. World No. 1 Serena Willliams withdrew prior, still feeling the effects of the illness she carried through Australia and Fed Cup in Argentina; Eugenie Bouchard opted out of the tournament as well, citing an elbow issue. Three days into the event and the bottom half of the draw – at least numerically speaking – has been decimated by a mix of underdogs and rising talents. Top seed Simona Halep and fellow Top 10 players Ekaterina Makarova and Caroline Wozniacki each made it through to the quarterfinals, hoping to bring a topsy-turvy tournament towards a strong finish.
(1) Simona Halep vs. (6) Ekaterina Makarova
These two last met a few of weeks ago, when the higher-ranked Romanian saw her dreams of a first Australian Open semifinal go down in a confusing blaze of disappointment. While it was solid performance by Makarova, the newest addition to the Top 10, it was a worryingly flat showing from Halep. Makarova has shown that she can trouble many players at her best, and it will be interesting – particularly from the mental side of things – to see how focused Halep will begin, or whether the loss in Australia still stings.
Prediction: Halep def. Makarova in three.
(3) Caroline Wozniacki vs. (10) Flavia Pennetta
Both women in this match-up have already survived a scare or two during their stays in Dubai. Julia Goerges had Pennetta on the ropes in the opening round, while Wozniacki made it through a difficult three-setter against Sam Stosur. For the Italian, this week marks her first consecutive wins of the year – after two first round exits Down Under. A deep run here would surely ease her mind going into Indian Wells, where she has a title (and 1000 ranking points) to defend.
Across the net, Wozniacki has proven to be tough opponent for the 32-year-old; the World No. 5 has been struggling physically this week, but still managed to avoid a long drawn-out affair against Alizé Cornet.
Prediction: Wozniacki def. Pennetta in two.
(11) Lucie Safarova vs. (17) Karolina Pliskova
Sometimes, a match-up is simply meant to be. After meeting in the quarterfinals of Antwerp last week, this Czech pair were scheduled to meet in the second round of Dubai. Due to Cibulkova’s withdrawal, Pliskova earned the No. 17 seed and their paths were changed – until the quarterfinals. Their encounter in Belgium was a close one, but the younger Czech was ruthlessly efficient, taking advantage of ostensibly minor blips Safarova had on serve.
Pliskova has played quite a lot of tennis and traveled extensively over the last few weeks; some of her shots in the third set against Ana Ivanovic were way off, but she eked out the win anyway. Safarova survived a proper tussle with Casey Dellacqua and beat defending champion Venus Williams in straight sets Wednesday.
The question is – can she avenge her loss from just days ago?
Prediction: Safarova def. Pliskova in three.
Garbine Muguruza vs. (13) Carla Suarez Navarro
Spain’s two leading tennis ladies get along well, and form a formidable partnership in doubles – but they’ve never played each other. Muguruza has looked every bit the giant killer she has been over the past 12 months, quickly dispatching Jelena Jankovic and, more impressively, Agnieszka Radwanska this week.
Suarez Navarro, on the other hand, had to retire ahead of the Antwerp finals on Sunday with a neck injury, but was able to get through her first two matches in Dubai, albeit with a little help from misfiring Camila Giorgi and Petra Kvitova. Muguruza probably goes in as a bit of a favorite, but these encounters between friends can be awkward, to say the very least (no one is looking at you, Dominic Thiem and Ernests Gulbis).
Prediction: Muguruza def. Suarez Navarro in two.
Seriously, this is such a brilliant early round schedule. You won’t get many ATP 250s (or ATP 500s, for that matter) that could be as fun as Marseille’s Centre Court schedule Thursday.
Here are three that stand out:
Dominic Thiem vs. (6) David Goffin
Goffin was an insurmountable hurdle for the Austrian No. 1 in 2014. In each of their four encounters, Thiem found himself on the losing end of the scoreline, one of them being the finals of Kitzbühel – the second closest thing to a home tournament. Both men haven’t had the best of starts to the year; Thiem recorded his first win in Rotterdam last week but got schooled by Sergiy Stakhovsky in the next round, while Goffin lost to Gilles Muller in a match coulda/shoulda won.
When they’re playing well, they’re both entertaining to watch and great ballstrikers to boot. They question is – will they come up with the goods?
Prediction: Goffin def. Thiem in three.
(5) Gilles Simon vs. Borna Coric
Will Coric play like Djokovic or Murray? Will Simon consider him as “talented?” #men
Find out more tomorrow.
Prediction: Simon def. Coric in two.
Benoit Paire vs. (2) Stan Wawrinka
Stan Wawrinka may have failed to defend his Australian Open crown, but he’s already got two titles (Chennai and Rotterdam) and a major semifinal to start the season.
That’s a very respectable resumé.
His BFF, Benoit Paire, on the other hand seemed to have carried over his knee injury (or at least some remnants of it) into 2015, playing two smaller tournaments after losing in the first round of the Melbourne qualifying. He entered a Futures and a Challenger and won both those events, getting some matches under his belt. It seems like he might find his gear again, however slowly.
“Stanoit”‘s last three encounters have all been fun to watch. Unless it all goes all paire-shaped, anything but a clear win for Wawrinka would be a surprise. At least it won’t be boring with the enigmatic Frenchman around.
Prediction: Wawrinka def. Paire in two.
Rio + Delray Beach
I struggle to get excited about these events; the idea of watching clay tennis when the streets are still iced over does not exactly compute. Rio and Delray Beach generally feel like less star-studded alternatives to Dubai and Marseille – which is crazy because Marseille is an ATP 250 – just like Delray – and Rio is an ATP 500. Nonetheless, they should yield some interesting matches Thursday.
Well, maybe not so much Rio, unfortunately. That is a whole lot of “meh” unless you’re digging dirtball-grinding or Andreas Haider-Maurer this time of the year.
(8) Victor Troicki vs. Bernard Tomic
Both men have been in good form over the past few weeks, Troicki capping off his resurgence with a title win in Sydney, while Tomic performed well in front of his home crowd before losing to an on-song Berdych in Melbourne (like Troicki). The question is whether they’ll be able to carry this momentum across the pond and whether the Aussie will finally be able to string together consistent results outside of his home country.
This could be a close one.
Prediction: Troicki def. Tomic in three.
(Q) Yoshihito Nishioka – Marinko Matosevic
This is a complete left-field pick, but you can trust “Mad Dog” Matosevic to pull at least one silly trick per match. More interesting, however, is Nishioka. The 19-year-old Japanese lefty has climbed over 300 ranking spots in a year, all in the shadow of very successful compatriot, Kei Nishikori. At 5’7″, he is certainly on the undersized end of the spectrum but “little Nishi” makes up for it with great court coverage and a very pretty forehand. He took out Igor Sijsling fairly convincingly and you never know with Matosevic – though he he did beat John Isner in straight sets.
Prediction: Matosevic def. Nishioka in three.
What are your picks and predictions for tomorrow’s matches? Tell us in the comments.