WTA Prague, Marrakech Previews and Predictions
Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
With the week of Stuttgart action now finalised, the WTA moves on to a pair of International clay court events in Prague and Marrakech.
The J&T Banka Prague open is a new edition to the calendar, and it’s no surprise to see the Czech capital host a tournament given their players success in recent years.
Some of the world’s best players come from the Czech Republic, and with the likes of Karolina Pliskova, and Lucie Safarova in the draw, the host country is well represented.
The J&T Banka Prague open
Location: Prague, Czech Republic
Prize Money: $ 250,000
Date: April 27th – May 2nd
The 8 seeded players (ranking)
1. Karolina Pliskova (12)
2. Lucie Safarova (13)
3. Barbora Strycova (23)
4. Svetlana Kuznetsova (24)
5. Alize Cornet (28)
6. Irina Begu (33)
7. Belinda Bencic (34)
8. Camila Giorgi (35)
All eight seeds are top 40 players making this a strong draw for an international.
First round matches to watch:
(3) Barbora Strycova vs Madison Brengle
Barbora Strycova must be damning her luck in recent weeks, as for the second straight tournament she has been dealt with a difficult opening round match. Last week in Stuttgart she drew Garbine Muguruza, and lost easily in straight sets. This week she has drawn Madison Brengle, whose form in Stuttgart saw her reach the semi-finals. The American defeated Petra Kvitova en route to the final four last week, so can she claim another Czech scalp? Strycova is a different proposition to the Wimbledon champion, bringing a craftier game than Kvitova, who looks to blow you away with her power. The Czech has the upper-hand in the head to head 2-0, including a victory on clay last year. Brengle has improved tenfold since, and with form firmly on the American’s side, the third seed could be in for an unhappy return to her home country.
(1) Karolina Pliskova vs Annika Beck
Annika Beck always provides a stern test, and that’s why you don’t want to draw her in the opening rounds. The German is hardly spectacular, but she’s consistent, hardworking and is a fighter. If Karolina Pliskova is off her game, then the German will be looking to take advantage, and will most certainly make things difficult for the number one seed. Having said that Pliskova holds two victories over Beck this season alone, and with her mental strength and remarkable consistency, the big serving Czech should rightfully be the big favourite.
Top Half Analysis
Speaking of Karolina Pliskova, the top seed is the top name in the top half of the draw. The world number 12 has shown her best tennis during the 2015 season and will be looking to cap off a great first half of the year with a victory in her home country. First, the Czech must negotiate her way through a reasonably tough quarter. It’s a section that includes Annika Beck, Alize Cornet and Tsvetana Pironkova, so there are a lot of potentially tough matches for Pliskova. It’s a quarter that Karolina will be rightfully favourite to advance from, but the question may be, how much trouble will she get along the way? If she isn’t on her game, then Beck will cause problems, although not likely enough to cause an upset. The same could be said for Pironkova too, as Pliskova should have too much fire power and mental strength to bow out early. The Czech should face Alize Cornet in the quarter finals, in what should be a good match-up. The Frenchwoman has beaten big servers before, including Serena Williams, so she’s is well equipped to step up against Pliskova. Cornet should beat Kristina (not Anna) Schmeidlova, and in these conditions, should have more than enough to get past Coco Vandeweghe. With Pliskova’s known mental strength, and the home crowd right behind her, the world number 12 should make it out of this quarter, but not without her fair share of trouble.
Former French Open champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova will be looking to pick up some good form this week heading into Madrid. The fourth seed will open up against Shuai Zhang before moving on to likely face crafty Romanian Monica Niculescu. Kuznetsova should make the quarter finals here, but with some tricky players in her section, it will likely be a tough road to the last eight. Her projected opponent at that stage is big hitting Italian Camila Giorgi. The 23 year old hits heavy, but is very inconsistent, so it is always interesting to see what side of Giorgi we will see. The Italian has been drawn a tough opener against Yania Wickmayer whose form is looking poor at the moment. Giorgi had a good week in Katowice recently, making it all the way to the finals, so you would expect her to be in good form heading into the tournament. The Italian will likely dispose an out of form Wickmayer, and the winner of Mirjana Lucic-Baroni and Aleksandra Krunic to make the final eight. That will set up a third meeting between Giorgi and Kuznetsova for the right to face Pliskova in the semi-finals. Kuznetsova leads the head to head 2-0, including a victory at the French Open second round in 2014. The Russian holds the advantage on clay, but if Giorgi can redline her game then it may be the Italian who wins their rubber match.
Bottom Half Analysis
Ranking only one place behind top seed Karolina Pliskova, Lucie Safarova is another big name Czech in the draw, and with her second seeding, the powerful leftie is one of the favourites for the title. The world number 13 has a tough ride potentially ahead of her however, with plenty of talented players who can cause an upset. Not least of which is youngster Belinda Bencic, who ranks as the seventh seed in the tournament. A Bencic vs Safarova quarter final clash will no doubt be desirable for the masses, but tennis isn’t a simple sport. Bencic must first overcome a potential 2015 rubber match with Julia Goerges in the second round, just a week after meeting in the Stuttgart round of 32. Bencic came through on that day in three sets, but the German has scored a victory over the Swiss at the Australian Open. Who will have enough to win their third meeting, and book a potential quarter final match with Lucie Safarova?
Completing the top three seeded Czech trio is Barbora Strycova. As I mentioned earlier, the third seed has a tough opener against Madison Brengle. The American is in good form after reaching the semi-finals in Stuttgart last week, and will be looking to build on that momentum this week in Prague. With the form in favour of Brengle, and Strycova not being her strongest on clay, I can easily see an upset happening here, and another deep run for Brengle. The winner of this match should make the quarter finals, but her opponent is hard to predict. Heather Watson, and Irina Begu are the favourites, but Siniakova playing in front of her home country and Polona Hercog will be looking to prove that wrong. Begu and Watson should prevail to provide us with an interesting second round clash, with the likely winner being the Romanian.
Pliskova def. Kuznestova in 2 sets
Brengle def. Safarova in 3 sets
Pliskova def. Brengle in 2 sets
Pliskova will continue to impress and please the home crowd by capturing the Prague title defeating Brengle in the final. The American will build on her good run in Stuttgart to make the final, but Pliskova will prove to be too strong and too powerful.
The lone African tournament on the calendar has arrived as the WTA tour heads to the Northern African country of Morocco. The tournament has been staged in several different cities in Morocco. Firstly it started off in Casablanca in 2001, moved to Rabat in 2005, then Fes in 2007 before settling in its current location Marrakech in 2013.
Interestingly, the GP SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem has produced a different winner every year, so will we be in for yet another maiden winner at this event? Last year, it was won by Spaniard Maria Theresa Torro-Flo.
GP SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem
Location: Marrakech, Morocco
Prize Money: $ 250,000
Date: April 27th – May 2nd
The eight seeded players (Ranking)
1. Garbine Muguruza (20)
2. Timea Bacsinszky (22)
3. Flavia Pennetta (26)
4. Elina Svitolina (27)
5. Mona Barthel (39)
6. Roberta Vinci (41)
7. Anna Schmiedlova (46)
8. Monica Puig (47)
Four top 30 players in the draw, and a lot of talent. Should make for an interesting tournament.
First round matches to watch
(3) Flavia Pennetta vs Bojana Jovanovski
Flavia Pennetta’s start to the season left a lot to be desired, but she soon turned that around and has shown some good form in recent weeks in the lead up to the clay court season. Bojana Jovanovski’s worrying form has continued throughout the year, but now we have hit the clay, the Serb will be hoping to turn that around. In this opening round match-up, you should expect Pennetta to pull through, but Jovanovski has scored a win over the Italian in the past, leading the head to head 1-0. Who will win pull through in this opening round tussle?
Kaia Kanepi vs (Q) Teliana Pereira
Pereira’s exploits in Bogota earned the Brazilian her first WTA title and Brazil’s first for over 20 years. The 26 year old is on an incredible 13 match win streak on the red clay, so it will be interesting to see if she can keep it up during the main draw of Marrakech. Kaia Kanepi hasn’t had the best of seasons thus far, but the Estonian is a former top 20 player and is very experienced. Surprisingly these two have met before on clay, and Kanepi came out victorious last year in straight sets. Can Pereira continue her excellent form, or will Kanepi put a stop to the Brazilian’s 13 match win streak?
Top half Analysis
Garbine Muguruza has proved that her talent is undeniable, and that she has potential to be a future star. The Spaniard has captured some big wins over the past year, including victories over Serena Williams and Simona Halep. However, Muguruza has struggled to put together enough back to back wins to claim a title, and has gone without a title since Hobart last year. As the top seed here, can the world number 20 claim her first title of the season? First, the Spaniard must set her sights on overcoming her first few rounds without much trouble. On her road to the final four, Kristina Mlandenovic and Monica Puig look like the biggest tests, but Muguruza should pass them without too much trouble. Neither the French woman nor the Puerto Rican are in good enough form to overcome Muguruza here unless the Spaniard has an off day, or is injured.
The draw has been fairly kind to Flavia Pennetta, who shouldn’t have many problems getting through this quarter. Bojana Jovanovski has beaten the Italian before, but right now the Serb isn’t playing her best tennis. Pennetta has been drawn with an out of form 5th seed Mona Barthel, who struggled in Stuttgart last week. Don’t be too surprised to see the German crash out early to Timea Babos, Teliana Pereira or Kaia Kanepi. No matter which player comes through that mini section, Pennetta should prove too much for them, setting up a tasty Muguruza vs Pennetta semi-final.
Bottom half Analysis
Timea Bascinszky’s comeback has been one of the top stories of the year so far, and the Swiss player will be looking to continue that good form by adding yet another title to her 2015 collection. The second seed has been dealt a good hand en route to the quarter finals, with Evgeniya Rodina being her first round opponent, and Tatjana Maria being her likely second round opposition. In the quarter finals, she will surely face Anna Schmiedlova who is fresh off a title winning effort in Katowice. The Slovak has shown good form on the clay, and will provide a stern test for Bascinszky who will be playing her first clay court tournament of the season.
Elina Svitolina has proved to be one of the more consistent players on tour, but after a disappointing loss to Pereira in Bogota, she’ll be looking to bounce back with a deep run here. The Ukrainian will face a tough round two against Daniela Hantuchova, but the fourth seed will be favourite. Roberta Vinci is Svitolina’s projected quarter final opponent, but the experienced Italian is in decline, and could lose early to Urszula Radwanska, who is in the draw as a lucky loser. With Vinci’s decline, the draw opens up to a Radwanska or a Karin Knapp to make a quarter final run, but neither will beat Svitolina is the quarter finals.
Muguruza def. Pennetta in 3
Bacsinzsky def. Svitolina in 2
Muguruza def. Bacsinszky in 3
The draw is good for Muguruza to go all the way and win the title, which will set her up nicely for Madrid. I feel Bacsinszky’s form may carry her to the final, but there Muguruza will prove too strong over three sets.