February concluded with victories for Lucie Safarova in Doha and Timea Bacsinszky in Acapulco. Bacsinszky thrashed Caroline Garcia in the final, 6-3 6-0. Bacsinszky has continued her rise up the rankings in 2015 and is 13-2 for the season (including Fed Cup). Bacsinszky’s only losses of the year so far have come against Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza, and she will move up to a new career best of 31 in the world rankings. The 25-year-old is really going places and is another WTA player to keep a watch on in these upcoming months.
February was actually a pretty decent tennis month and I enjoyed both Doha and Dubai. We now have a pretty quiet week on the tour with Indian Wells starting in ten days. Monterrey (Mexico) and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) are the two tournaments in questions with Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki headlining the fields respectively. Let’s take a look at the draws…
Last year’s champion, Ana Ivanovic returns to Monterrey where she is the number one seed. The draw has been hit with a flurry of late withdrawals as Eugenie Bouchard, Jelena Jankovic, Coco Vandeweghe, Irina-Camelia Begu, Roberta Vinci, Monica Niculescu, Christina McHale, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, Jana Cepelova, Shuai Zhang and Yaroslava Shvedova have all pulled out… that’s quite a list. Ivanovic opens against a qualifier and if she wins, will play Aleksandra Krunic or Pauline Parmentier in the second round. An all-Serbian second rounder between Ivanovic and Krunic would be compelling. Krunic had a superb run at the US Open last year where she beat Madison Keys and Petra Kvitova, and pushed Victoria Azarenka to three sets in a gripping fourth rounder. Krunic spoke about her run at Flushing Meadows in an interview that was featured on Tennis Translations (read HERE). In 2015, she has secured three WTA main draw wins, of which two were against Anna Schmiedlova. Ivanovic is seeded to meet Alison Riske in the quarters. Riske heads up a quality quartet that includes Vera Zvonareva (her first round opponent), Kristina Mladenovic and Tereza Smitkova. It’s a toss of a coin trying to pick a quarter-finalist out of those four.
Caroline Garcia is the highest seed in the second quarter. Garcia lost in the final of Acapulco to Timea Bacsinszky on Saturday. She’s made a solid start to the year, but still has the tendency to crumble. Her loss to Bacsinszky was the first time in 2015 (not including Fed Cup) that she has lost to a player ranked below her in the rankings. Garcia’s first match of the week in Monterrey will be against Karin Knapp. She could play Francesca Schiavone in the second round, who kickstarted her year in Antwerp with five victories after a winless start down under. The other seed in this section is Magdalena Rybarikova, who opens against last year’s surprise finalist, Jovana Jaksic. You can read more about Jaksic from this piece on The Tennis Island posted last year.
The Acapulco champion, Timea Bacsinszky is in the draw for Monterrey and takes on Yanina Wickmayer in the first round. It’s a tough draw for Yanina, who began the year with a fourth round appearance at the Australian Open. She fell early in Antwerp, but was struggling with a leg injury. However, she posted on Twitter a week ago that she was “happy to be fit again”. If Timea’s not up for playing this week, it could turn out to be a good draw for Wicky. The other seed in this section also has a tricky opener; the champion in Pattaya City, Daniela Hantuchova opens against Monica Puig. It was Puig who won their only previous match in Rome last year in a beautiful and typically WTA scoreline, 6-0 4-6 6-0. This is one of those matches that really could go either way…
The final quarter is held together by Sara Errani and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Errani won on clay in Rio two weeks ago and began her week in Acapulco with a good win over Lucie Hradecka. This felt like a banana skin of a match for Errani as Hradecka can blow anyone off the court on her day. However, Errani suffered a heavy loss in her second round match against Monica Puig. Despite the win for Errani in Rio, her performances on hard courts have been a real mixed bag and i’m not getting the sense she is feeling that confident right now. Another player who could be lacking belief is Pavlyuchenkova, who is still yet to win a match in 2015. Pavs is returning to her most successful tournament on tour; in fact, Pavs has NEVER lost in Monterrey with three titles in 2010, 2011 and 2013. Her draw is very workable. If, and it’s a pretty big if, she can come through her first match, she could keep that winning streak going for a while. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but I do fancy Pavs to end her 2015 losing streak in Monterrey and I could see her reaching the final… *hides*
1st round predictions: Krunic d. Parmentier in 3 sets, Smitkova d. Mladenovic in 3 tight sets, Riske d. Zvonareva in 3 sets, Garcia d. Knapp in 2 sets, Rybarikova d. Jaksic in 3 sets, Hantuchova d. Puig in 3 sets, Rogers d. Tsurenko in 2 sets, Bacsinszky d. Wickmayer in 2 tight sets, Pavlyuchenkova d. Schmiedlova in 2 sets, Larsson d. Bertens in 2 tight sets and Errani d. Davis in 2 sets
Final prediction: Ivanovic d. Pavlyuchenkova
WTA Kuala Lumpur
The big question mark in Kuala Lumpur is whether Caroline Wozniacki is seriously up for this. The draw is such that a focussed Wozniacki should sail through the draw. The Dane showed up in Kuala Lumpur last year only to lose in the first round to the then world number 186, Qiang Wang, 2-6 7-6(1) 6-1. Wozniacki’s first match this week will be against qualifier, Yafan Wang and she is seeded to meet Klara Koukalova in the quarter-finals. Poor Kookie is on a miserable run with just one main draw win in 2015. This has been further compounded by the fact that she did so well at this stage of the season in 2014 with three final appearances in Hobart, Rio and Florianopolis (a title in the latter). She has a winnable match in the first round against Patricia Mayr-Achleitner… it’s also very losable though! Mayr-Achleitner won their last encounter in Shenzhen at the start of 2014. If Koukalova falls early, i’d banker on the winner of the first rounder between Carina Witthoeft and Misaki Doi making quarters.
The second quarter features seeds Casey Dellacqua (#34 in the world) and Bojana Jovanovski (#63 in the world). Dellacqua put in a couple of decent showings in Dubai and Doha, losing in three sets to Lucie Safarova and Venus Williams respectively. Jovanovski has had an uninspiring start to the year. She does have a have a habit of sweeping up well in weaker draws with two titles and runner-up appearances in Baku and Tashkent. The only other player in this section who raises an eyebrow is Yulia Putintseva. The feisty world ranked 111 successfully qualified for the Australian Open and won two qualifying matches in Doha, but hasn’t won a WTA main draw match yet in 2015.
Jarmila Gajdosova and Kurumi Nara are seeded to meet in the quarters of the third section. Gajdosova has already won nine matches in what has been a superb start to the year. A second round loss in Doha qualifying was almost a blessing in disguise as she has played so many tournaments and in many different locations around the world! Her first round match against Cagla Buyukakcay is not a straightforward one but if she comes through, i’d fancy her to go deep. Buyukakcay had some impressive wins in Fed Cup round-robin action a few weeks ago where she beat Elina Svitolina and Heather Watson. She also won a round in Shenzhen and Dubai. Nara has certainly had her moments on tour winning her first title in Rio last year and reaching the final in Washington. However, I wouldn’t call her a reliable player just yet. Her first match of the week against Stefanie Voegele is one that could go either way.
The final quarter features two huge hitting Germans, Sabine Lisicki and Julia Goerges. Lisicki hasn’t started the season well with just one main draw win in Dubai against Monica Niculescu (of all people!). Taking a late wildcard into Kuala Lumpur seems a smart move to try and get matches. She took a wildcard into Hong Kong last year and won the tournament, beating Niculescu, Francesca Schiavone and Karolina Pliskova along the way. Goerges started the year in fine form reaching the last 16 of the Australian Open. She looked close to another excellent win in Dubai where she had match points against Flavia Pennetta but unfortunately couldn’t get the job done. Goerges opens against Alla Kudryavtseva and Lisicki will play Alexandra Dulgheru, who beat Alize Cornet in Doha last week. My heart goes out to the German fans who have, on the most part, had a rocky ride in 2015. It would be good to see Lisicki and/or Goerges make the quarters at the very least.
1st round predictions: Wozniacki d. Wang in 2 sets, Witthoeft d. Doi in 3 sets, Mayr-Achleitner d. Koukalova in 3 sets, Dellacqua d. Hsieh in 3 sets, Nara d. Voegele in 3 sets, Gajdosova d. Buyukakcay in 2 tight sets, Goerges d. Kudryavtseva in 2 sets, Kozlova d. S.Zheng in 2 sets and Lisicki d. Dulgheru in 3 sets
Final prediction: Wozniacki d. Gajdosova