Prague returns to the WTA calendar this year for the first time since 2011 having operated as an ITF for the last few years. It’s fully deserving of a place on the calendar with Czech women’s tennis absolutely booming right now with nine players in the world’s top 100. The only one of those not playing this week is Petra Kvitova who as a top ten player, cannot commit having already played in Shenzhen this year (thanks to All_Things_TNSS on Twitter for that tidbit). Karolina Pliskova and Lucie Safarova are the two names at the top and bottom of this draw.
Pliskova’s had a remarkable year so far with 23 victories… TWENTY THREE! This has included two finals in Sydney and Dubai, losing to top five players on both occasions in Kvitova and Halep. Pliskova has also reached the semi-finals of Antwerp and the quarter-finals of Indian Wells. There has been the odd disappointing performance, which has mainly been down to fatigue due to the sheer amount of tennis she has played this year. On the whole, Pliskova has been very consistent this year with five top 20 wins and just one loss to a player outside of the world’s top 20 which came in the first week of the year to Alla Kudryavtseva in Brisbane. Pliskova on clay will be an interesting one… I fancy her to still enjoy some good results. Last year, Pliskova reached the final of Nurnberg on this surface.
Pliskova’s first match of the week will be against Annika Beck. The pair have played twice this year with Pliskova prevailing in both, but requiring three sets in their most recent encounter in Miami. Beck hasn’t had a great year with just three WTA main draw wins in 2015. Pliskova’s quarter features Alize Cornet, who opens against Kristina Schmiedlova, the younger sister of the player she lost to last in Katowice. Cornet’s year has really not got going and Katowice was her first quarter-final of 2015. I’ve always regarded her as a very competent clay courter, but her results were disappointing last year, posting a 2-5 W-L record.
The second quarter features Svetlana Kuznetsova and Camila Giorgi. Kuznetsova’s realiability this year has been suspect as ever, but clay is her best surface and she always seems to come alive at this time of the year. Shuai Zhang is an ideal first match for her as she has never lost to the Chinese player in four previous matches. Giorgi continues to blow hot and cold and will do so into the future with such a high risk game. Still, I was surprised that she lost another final in Katowice as she is still unable to get the monkey off her back (0-3 record). Her first match against Yanina Wickmayer won’t be an easy one. Wickmayer has not been able to build on a successful run at the Australian Open where she reached the second week. Wickmayer has lost five of her last six matches but it’s fair to say she’s drawn some real stinkers since then (Radwanska in Katowice R1, Sharapova in IW R2 and Bacsinszky in Monterrey R1 just to name a few).
The third quarter, which features Irina-Camelia Begu and Barbora Strycova, is the most wide open. After a really encouraging start to the year, Strycova’s form has rather fallen off a cliff with four consecutive losses since a tough defeat at the hands of Venus Williams in a feisty second round match in Doha. Begu has done well this year, but I wouldn’t class her as reliable just yet. Other players that could fancy their chances in this section include Madison Brengle, Katerina Siniakova and Heather Watson. Stuttgart semi-finalist, Brengle faces Strycova in the most glitzy of the first rounders. I’d take Brengle for the upset if it weren’t for a shoulder injury, which seemed to be affecting her against Kerber on Saturday. Siniakova is Begu’s first opponent and the pair have split their meetings in 2015. Watson, who plays Polona Hercog in the first round, won the ITF event in Prague last year so technically, comes in as the defending champion.
The final quarter features Lucie Safarova… In a recent piece on The Tennis Island, Lucie mentioned about her excitement at playing Prague. Her draw opens against Tereza Smitkova. Their last match is one that I remember well as I stood on the roof of court 18 at Wimbledon witnessing one of Lucie’s best performances of 2014, which saw her reach the quarter-finals (and then the semis!). Safarova’s form has been unpredictable this year so I wouldn’t be surprised if she went out in the first round but equally, if she went and won the title. A second rounder against former doubles partner, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova would be an intriguing match-up (4-1 H2H in favour of Pavs, but haven’t played since 2011). Winning doubles with Bethanie Mattek-Sands in Stuttgart will have been a confidence boost.
I’m pissed the other seed in this section is Belinda Bencic. If she overcomes a qualifier, BB could be in line for a Stuttgart rematch with Julia Goerges in the second round. Bencic saved three match points to prevail in a gruelling first rounder in Germany. Goerges would first have to overcome Klara Koukalova, which screams out MESS to me. Goerges leads the head-to-head 3-2 and won their last match at the Australian Open earlier this year in three sets. Bencic and Safarova could meet in the quarters, which would be a tough one for both. After the mess that was my Stuttgart predictions (hahahaha), i’m feeling very tentative this week. Like Marrakech, i’ve gone for the top two seeds in the final but we all know at a WTA International event that’s very unlikely to happen…
1st round predictions: Pliskova d. Beck in 2 sets, Allertova d. Vandeweghe in 2 tight sets, Kuznetsova d. Zhang in 2 sets, Krunic d. Lucic-Baroni in 3 sets, Giorgi d. Wickmayer in 3 sets, Begu d. Siniakova in 3 sets, Watson d. Hercog in 3 sets, Strycova d. Brengle in 3 sets, Goerges d. Koukalova in 3 sets and Safarova d. Smitkova in 2 sets
Final prediction: Pliskova d. Safarova