2015 WTA Antwerp (@WTAdiamondgames) and Pattaya City Previews and Predictions
Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
The WTA tour took a week long break following the conclusion of the Australian Open, so the first round of the Fed Cup could be played. And after an exciting weekend of nationalistic action, the tour is back with visits to Belgium and Thailand, both are hard court events with Antwerp indoors and Pattaya City outdoors.
The tour returns to Antwerp for the first time since 2008 for the BNP Paribas Fortis Diamond games. The tournament director is none other than Belgian tennis legend Kim Clijsters, who won this title 11 years ago. Other previous champions include former grand slam champions: Venus Williams, Justine Henin, and Amelie Mauresmo. So who will join them on the honours list this year?
BNP Paribas Fortis Diamond Games
WTA Premier Series
Feb 9-Feb 15, 2015
Prize Money: $731,000
Top 4 seeds (Who receive first round byes) (WTA ranking in parentheses)
1. Eugenie Bouchard (7)
2. Angelique Kerber (9)
3. Andrea Petkovic (12)
4. Lucie Safarova (15)
Four top 15 players get byes into the second round making it a fairly strong field.
First round matches to watch:
(5)Carla Suarez Navarro vs. Camila Giorgi
These two met in Katowice last year, and it was the big hitting Italian who came out on top 7-6,6-4. Despite that, Suarez Navarro will head into this match as the bookies favourite as she’s the higher ranked player and more experienced of the two. The Spaniard is a rare player in that she plays with a single handed backhand. It’s a shot that will be crucial if she is to overcome Giorgi as the Italian is one of the biggest hitters on tour. The 23 year old will look to dictate from the baseline with her powerful ground strokes, whilst on the other side of the net, Suarez Navarro will look to use her variety to move Giorgi around the court and not let her slip into any rhythm. A contrast of form, and style here, so this should be an interesting match the follow.
(7)Alize Cornet vs. Belinda Bencic
Bencic hasn’t had the best of starts to 2015. In fact she has yet to win a single set so far this year, but don’t let that stat fool you; the girl is still very talented. The world number 37 faces world number 19 Alize Cornet in the opening round in Antwerp. Cornet has lost 2 tour matches this year to Agnieszka Radwanska and Dominika Cibulkova, but unlike her opponent she has also won two matches, both of which at the Australian Open. The two met in the Fed Cup last year with Cornet coming out on top, but the landscape has changed since then. Bencic has improved, meaning this match has potential to be a good one, if the Swiss’ form has improved of course.
The number one seed Eugenie Bouchard has the fortune of a bye to the second round. She will meet either Mona Barthel or a qualifier in her first match under new coach Sam Sumyk. It will be too early to see any improvements, but it’s still interesting to see where the Canadian’s form lies after the Australian Open. Barthel can be dangerous, especially from the backhand side, but she’s still finding form after an injury. In the second section of this quarter, Cornet will be the bookies favourite, but there’s a lot of talent who could send the Frenchwoman packing. Belinda Bencic is in terrible form, so it’s hard to back her against the 7th seed, Cornet. Awaiting her will be the winner of Yania Wickmayer and Barbora Zahalova Strycova. The Belgian is in good form after making the fourth round in Melbourne, and will no doubt have the backing of the crowd. Strycova is the better player overall however, and has made a positive start to the season. With the home crowd behind her, I can see Wickmayer defeating her higher ranked opponent in the first round. But the Belgians will be disappointed to see her lose to Cornet in round two. Bouchard should make the quarter finals without much trouble to face the Frenchwoman for a semi final spot. Power players seem to give Bouchard the most trouble, but Cornet isn’t a big hitter. I feel Bouchard will make the semi final from this quarter.
Third seed Andrea Petkovic headlines the second quarter, and like Bouchard, The German has a bye to the second round. She will face either wildcard Alison Van Uytvanck or Magdalena Rybarikova in round two in a match the 27 year old should expect herself to win, no matter who she faces. Sixth seed Dominika Cibulkova is the other seeded player in this section. The 2014 Australian Open runner up will face a qualifier in round one before likely meeting Tsevtana Pironkova in round two. The Bulgarian met Cibulkova at the Australian Open, but unfortunately it was rather a blowout for the Slovak. 6-2,6-0 was the final result, so I will favour Cibulkova to make the quarter finals here. The German leads the head to head 2-1, with their last two meetings ending in straight sets wins for Petkovic. But Cibulkova is in far better form at the moment, so I feel she should make the semi finals.
Second seed Angelique Kerber is the only other top 10 player in the draw, and the German receives a bye into round two. Klara Koukalova will likely await the world number nine there, as the Czech faces a qualifier in round one. Koukalova has only won one match in 2014, and with Kerber being overall the stronger player, the German should make the quarter finals without much fuss. Fifth seed Carla Suarez Navarro finds herself in this quarter, and has a tough round one prospect in Camila Giorgi. The Italian is in the better form, and won their last meeting so I can see the Spaniard taking an early exit. Belgium will pin their hopes on former Wimbledon semi finalist, Kirsten Flipkens to take the title in Antwerp, but she faces crafty Romanian Monica Niculescu in round one. Only two places separate them in the rankings, but with the head to head 2-0 in favour of the Belgian I will go with Flipkens to make round two with the home crowd backing her. Giorgi vs Flipkens will be interesting, as the Belgian has the fans and the head to head on her side. In good form, Giorgi is just very powerful and dangerous so I will predict the Italian to make the Quarter Finals. That will set up the first meeting between Camila Giorgi and Angelique Kerber. This match will be the classic big hitter vs counter puncher encounter and therefore it will be interesting to see which style wins. I think this one has three sets written all over it, and I will predict a come from behind win for Kerber. Something we have come to expect from the German recently.
Number four seed Lucie Safarova receives a bye into round two where she’ll face either Kristina Mladenovic or Silvia Soler-Espinosa. Mladenovic shouldn’t have many problems dispatching her Spanish opponent to meet Safarova in round two. Safarova lost to Yaroslava Shvedova in Melbourne so isn’t in great form, but she should have enough about her to power through the Frenchwoman and reach the quarter finals. Rising star Karolina Pliskova will look to make it a great two weeks for the family. Her sister Kristyna won the Glasgow ITF event this week, and Karolina will look to do the same in Antwerp. The 8th seed faces experienced Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the opening round. If Pliskova can show the form that lead her to the Sydney final then she shouldn’t have much trouble making the quarter finals. It will likely be Annika Beck in the second round, who is a good solid player, but the German doesn’t really have many weapons to trouble the Czech. I believe we will see an all Czech quarterfinal, which will undoubtedly be a big hitting contest. My prediction will be Pliskova because she showed better form in Australia, and Safarova is very inconsistent.
Cibulkova d. Bouchard in 3 sets
Kerber d. Pliskova in 3
Cibulkova showed good form at the Australian Open, and I expect her to continue her good play here. Cibulkova hits the ball hard and Bouchard has shown she can be prone to players who can over-power her.
Pliskova defeated Kerber in Sydney, but I can’t see that performance being replicated here. The likely outcome is that the German grinds down the Czech for a three set win.
Kerber d. Cibulkova in 3
This is a good chance for Kerber to win her first title of the season, and I believe she will take it. The German lost early in Melbourne, so she’ll use this tournament to put herself back on track.
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WTA Pattaya City
the Thailand open has grown in stature since its debut on tour in 1991. In 2009 the event was upgraded to an International from a tier IV tournament. Previous champions include the likes of Cochita Martinez, Daniela Hantuchova, and Vera Zvonareva. Last years edition was won by Ekaterina Makarova.
PTT Thailand Open
WTA International Series
Pattaya City, Thailand
Feb 9-Feb 15. 2015
Prize Money: $250,000
Top 4 seeds (WTA Ranking in parentheses)
1: Shuai Peng (21)
2: Elina Svitolina (26)
3: Zarina Diyas (33)
4: Kurumi Nara (44)
No top 20 players, but a list of dangerous players who will all benefit from a title winning run here.
First round matches to watch:
(3)Zarina Diyas vs. Daniela Hantuchova
Third seed Zarina Diyas could have hardly asked for a tougher draw in round one than Daniela Hantuchova. The pair met in Hobart, and Diyas was victorious in straight sets, however Hantuchova’s form has improved since, and she’s a former champion here, so this one should be a closer encounter. Diyas has stagnated since making a climb up the rankings last year, with her main issue being her incapability to beat higher ranked opponents. The young Kazakh is fairly good at handling lower ranked players though, so I think she’ll win yet again, but it will be harder than last time.
(2)Elina Svitolina vs. Kimiko Date-Krumm
Not all matches to watch are on the basis on how competitive they are. The story of Date-Krumm just keeps going on and on, just like her career. The Japanese start turns 45 this year, and yet she is still playing in the main draws at WTA events. Her opponent Elina Svitolina is young enough to be her daughter, and the Ukrainian leads the head to head 1-0. Svitolina should win this comfortably on her title quest, but it’s always great to see Date-Krumm on court.
Headlining the top half of the draw will be world number 21 Shuai Peng. The 29 year old should have no problems reaching the quarter finals, as none of her potential opponents before that stage should offer any problems. The other seeded player in this quarter is young gun Monica Puig. The number seven seed showed some promise in 2014, but like Diyas, hasn’t kicked on since. The Puerto Rican has a tough round one against talented Swiss Stephanie Voegele. The head to head is 2-1 in the favour of Puig, so it’s hard not to back her here. A Voegele win wouldn’t be any sort of surprise however. The likely round two opponent will be Elena Vesnina, who has fallen down the rankings since reaching a career high 21 in 2013. Puig is currently the better player, so I expect her to reach the quarter finals. I don’t see the young star going any further though, as she’ll likely fall to top seed Peng in the quarter finals.
Fourth seed Kurumi Nara will start her tournament against local wildcard Nicha Lertpitaksinchai. I predict Yulia Putintseva to meet the Japanese in round two, where I’d expect Nara to be too good for the Kazakh. Jarmila Gadjosova is the sixth seed and will face a qualifier in round one. Facing a qualifier is always a lottery because there are a lot of dangerous players who are lower ranked on the WTA tour, but I am not sure there are many who could beat the Aussie. Ajla Tomljanovic wil be her probable round two opponent. This will be interesting as it’s an all Aussie clash, and there’s a fair chance of an ‘upset’ here. Either way both like to strike the ball hard, and it should be a tight battle. I believe the winner would beat Nara, who has a steady game but lacks real weapons. If I had to predict a winner from this quarter I will go for Gadjosova, as she is in good form after the Fed Cup.
Second seed Elina Svitolina is the favourite for the title in many people’s eyes. She should beat 44 year old Kimiko Date-Krumm in the opening round without too much trouble. In the second round I believe she’ll face Marina Erakovic. The New Zealander won their last meeting in 2013, but Svitolina is much improved since then so I expect the young Ukrainian to make the quarter finals at least. The other seed in this section is Shuai Zhang. She’ll face an out of sorts Donna Vekic in the opening round, and with the Croatians recent form at the Fed cup, I predict Zhang to win comfortably. Former Wimbledon finalist Vera Zvonareva has received a Wildcard into the main draw, and she hasn’t got a bad draw. I’d actually make her the favourite to reach the quarter finals where she will likely loose to the consistent Elina Svitolina.
Zarina Diyas is the third seed here, and the favourite to advance from her quarter, but there is some tough competition for her in this section. Firstly the Kazakh must work her way through Daniela Hantuchova. As I touched on in my matches to watch section, this should be closer than their previous meeting, but I expect Diyas to be too consistent for the Slovak. Sasai Zheng will await in the second round. Zhang played well in Shenzhen, even defeating Diyas in the quarter finals. The Chinese player hasn’t won a match since however. Their last match was close, so I will go with Diyas in three to make the quarter finals. There I predict her to meet fifth seed Yaroslava Shvedova. The talented Kazakh is one of the most dangerous players on tour, and recently had a decent run in Melbourne. In this all Kazakh clash we will see a mix of styles as Shvedova looks to be aggressive whilst Diyas will look to be consistent and counter Slava. With Shvedova’s recent form I believe she will have enough about her to beat Diyas on this occasion.Embed from Getty Images
Gadjosova d. Peng in 2
Svitolina d. Shvedova in 3
Gadjosova pushed the Germans to their limits in the Fed Cup, so comes into this tournament in good form. Peng is consistent, but Gadjosova possesses the bigger weapons so I will predict the Aussie to win in 2 sets. Shvedova vs Svitolina will likely be a close battle, but with Shvedova’s tendency to struggle to close matches out from winning positions, I expect the Ukrainian to prevail from a set down.Embed from Getty Images
Svitolina def. Gadjosova in 2