The women are heading to Antwerp next week for the BNP Paribas Fortis Diamond Games in Belgium. The tournament originally ran between 2002 and 2009, but this feels like a new tournament to me as I wasn’t following tennis closely then. Kim Clijsters is the tournament director and the venue looks awesome. The line-up is pretty good too with Eugenie Bouchard, Angelique Kerber, Andrea Petkovic and Dominika Cibulkova all in action. Furthermore, plenty of my favourites are here including Lucie, Belinda and Mona so i’m looking forward to it. For coverage of Antwerp next week, make sure to follow Women’s Tennis Blog and their photographer, Jimmie48 on Twitter. Let’s take a look at the draw…
Eugenie Bouchard will be the top seed in Antwerp and after a bye in the first round, will play Mona Barthel or a qualifier in the second round. Bouchard has attracted a lot of media attention in the past week, mostly negative. Bouchard opted not to play Fed Cup for Canada, leaving the inexperienced, Francoise Abanda and Gabriela Dabrowski to take the helm. Also, the big coaching news of the week saw Bouchard announce Sam Sumyk as her new coach. It was a very interesting move as it was still believed that Sumyk was coaching Victoria Azarenka. I was disappointed by the Fed Cup move, but personally, I don’t agree with some of the criticism for the coaching move. We don’t know what happened between Sumyk and Azarenka and it’s unfair to make any judgements without that information.
Bouchard’s quarter features two of the best first rounders in Antwerp with Yanina Wickmayer up against Barbora Zahlavova Strycova and the number 7 seed, Alize Cornet taking on Belinda Bencic. Wickmayer had a brilliant run in Melbourne reaching the fourth round with three set wins over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Sara Errani. Wickmayer is a much better player than her current ranking of 66 implies. She faces a tough match against BZS, who has also made a great start to the year; with seven main draw wins in 2015, this is her best ever start to a WTA year down under. Bencic against Cornet should also be a treat. Bencic went winless in Australia with two comprehensive defeats to Daria Gavrilova (Sydney) and Julia Goerges (Melbourne). In Fed Cup action this weekend, Bencic had a straightforward win over Johanna Larsson, 6-1 6-2. In a first career match-up, it’s tough to separate Bencic and Cornet with little data to go on.
Andrea Petkovic and Dominika Cibulkova are the two seeds in a pretty light second quarter. Petkovic has the bye, which will be invaluable for her after a taxing weekend in Fed Cup. Petkovic fought for three hours and 16 minutes to defeat Sam Stosur on Saturday and then had another extra time finish on Sunday, coming from a break down in the deciding set to beat Jarmila Gajdosova, 6-3 3-6 8-6. It was a magnificent effort, but I wonder how much it may have taken out of her both physically and emotionally. Cibulkova’s first match of the week will be against a qualifier. She could meet Tsvetana Pironkova in the second round. This is a delightful match-up for Domi, who has won eight of their nine matches including a 6-2 6-0 thumping in Melbourne. I’m never a big supporter of Domi in my predictions, but I like her draw this week and she should have renewed confidence after Australia. Last year, she carried that momentum forward for a time.
The third quarter is headlined by two Czechs in Karolina Pliskova and Lucie Safarova. Pliskova was in Canada this weekend for Fed Cup action. She defeated Francoise Abanda on Saturday, 6-2 6-4. It’s possible the six hour time difference could be an issue with little turnaround. She was pretty tough last year though and played Hong Kong-Seoul-Wuhan in three consecutive weeks at the back end of 2014, reaching the finals in the first two. Lucie is coming off the back of a first Grand Slam title, pairing up with Bethanie Mattek-Sands for the first time to take the Australian Open women’s doubles title. Safarova is still seeking her first WTA main draw win of the year though. She has a bye in the first round, which I don’t think will help her cause. She will play either Kristina Mladenovic or Silvia Soler-Espinosa in the second round. Mladenovic can be a dangerous customer indoors and she beat Safarova in Washington last year, 2-6 6-3 6-3. Mladenovic also had a good win in Fed Cup against Sara Errani.
Angelique Kerber bookends the draw and will play Klara Koukalova or a qualifier in the second round. Kerber has had some really tough losses already this year including a first round loss at the Australian Open to Irina-Camelia Begu. She ended her Fed Cup weekend on a high with a victory over Sam Stosur, 6-2 6-4. The other seed in this section is Carla Suarez Navarro. The Spaniard has drawn Camila Giorgi in the first round. I’ve got this feeling (always questionable whether this is a good thing) that Giorgi could have a super week in Antwerp. She has a win over CSN under her belt, which came indoors in Katowice last year. In fact, both finals that Giorgi played last year were indoors in Katowice and Linz.
1st Round Predictions: Zahlavova Strycova d. Wickmayer in 3 sets, Bencic d. Cornet in 2 tight sets, Pliskova d. Lucic-Baroni in 2 tight sets, Beck d. Knapp in 3 sets, Mladenovic d. Soler-Espinosa in 2 sets, Giorgi d. Suarez Navarro in 3 sets and Niculescu d. Flipkens in 2 sets
Quarter-Final Predictions: Bouchard v Zahlavova Strycova, Cibulkova v Petkovic, Ka.Pliskova v Safarova and Giorgi v Kerber
Final Prediction: Cibulkova d. Giorgi