1. Angelique Kerber v Tsvetana Pironkova (Birmingham, R2)
Angelique Kerber will play her first grass court match of 2015 up against Tsvetana Pironkova on court 1 on Wednesday. Kerber has always done well on the grass and I think she could be a dark horse at Wimbledon if the draw gods are kind. Last year, Kerber reached the final of Eastbourne, losing out to Madison Keys in a fantastic final and then upset Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon en route to reaching the quarter-finals. In Pironkova, Kerber goes up against an opponent who also enjoys the green stuff. Pironkova reached the semi-finals and quarter-finals of Wimbledon back in 2010 and 2011. Pironkova had a decent run at the French Open and won her first match of the week in Birmingham against young Brit, Katie Swan, 6-2 6-2.
Kerber and Pironkova are tied in their head-to-head at 2-2. In the most high profile of their clashes, Pironkova beat Kerber in the final of Sydney to claim her first WTA title. Later that year, Kerber well and truly turned the tables with a 6-0 6-2 thumping in Miami in what was their last encounter just over a year ago. This won’t be an easy match for Kerber, particularly as Pironkova has already played her first match and comes alive on this surface. The byes don’t necessarily help the top players out. After a slow start, I fancy Angie to roll through.
Prediction: Kerber d. Pironkova in 2 tight sets
2. Johanna Konta v Karolina Pliskova (Birmingham, R2)
The first day of main draw action at the Aegon Classic saw two of the Brit wildcards win their opening round matches. Johanna Konta was one of those, producing a superb display to defeat Jarmila Gajdosova, 6-1 6-3 in under an hour. Konta is enjoying a decent run on the grass this year after reaching the quarter-finals in Nottingham last week with wins over Magdalena Rybarikova and Monica Puig. Konta has spent the majority of the year playing ITFs and WTA qualifying events. Her best result came at an ITF $25K event in Jackson where she reached the final although she didn’t have to play anyone ranked inside the world’s top 250. On the grass and with the opportunity of wild cards playing at home, Konta is taking her chances.
Next up for Johanna is a match-up with the world number 12, Karolina Pliskova. The Czech player enjoyed a superb start to the year, winning 23 matches between Brisbane and Miami. Pliskova won her first title of the year on clay in Prague but then went wandering a little, failing to win back-to-back matches in her last three tournaments. Pliskova’s name has been earmarked for having potential on the grass although her past results on grass haven’t been anything special. After watching her at Eastbourne last year I remain unconvinced whether this will be the surface for her as she struggles to get down to the low balls. Pliskova leads the head-to-head 2-0 with wins in Preprov on clay (6-2 7-6, 2011) and Nottingham on grass (3-6 7-5 6-3, 2013). Konta has played four matches on the grass and will be able to feed off the home support. I’d fancy Konta to make a flying start, but Pliskova to eek out the win.
Prediction: Pliskova d. Konta in 3 sets