1. Dominika Cibulkova v Jelena Jankovic (Beijing, R1)
The final match on the National Tennis Stadium in Beijing on Sunday will feature an all unseeded clash between Dominika Cibulkova and Jelena Jankovic. JJ leads the head-to-head, 3-1 although the pair haven’t played since 2009 when Jankovic won 6-1 6-1 on the clay courts of Stuttgart. Jankovic has done well in Asia, winning her two titles this year in Nanchang (125K) and Guangzhou. The latter of those was just a few weeks ago where Jankovic beat the likes of Elena Vesnina, Francesca Schiavone, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Yanina Wickmayer and Denisa Allertova to win her 14th WTA title. The Serb has had some decent results in 2015 but is more prone these days to throwing in an absolute shocker and losing to pretty much anyone. I’m still chucking that Jankovic’s best Slam this year was Wimbledon.
Cibulkova’s on the comeback trail and is already back into the world’s top 40. Her aim for the next few weeks must be to try and grab a seeding for next year’s Australian Open. Cibulkova had surgery on her achilles in February and has been playing every tournament under the sun since June to get back to her top 10 level. Slowly but surely, the results and performance level are improving. Cibulkova reached the third round of the US Open after defeating Ana Ivanovic in the first round and then, secured another win over Ivanovic in Tokyo en route to the semi-finals. A first round loss in Wuhan to Madison Brengle was surprising although it may have been down to little recovery time between the two tournaments. Brengle’s form has improved after a mid-season slump so there’s that too.
Jankovic has done well in Beijing before, reaching the final two years ago. Her head-to-head record over Cibulkova is also favourable. For some reason or another, I think Cibulkova might scrap her way to a win in this one. It’s one of those ones that I can’t really explain but instinct is telling me Domi.
Prediction: Cibulkova d. Jankovic in 3 sets
2. Karolina Pliskova v Sloane Stephens (Beijing, R1)
As performance byes were given to the four semi-finalists from Wuhan, it resulted in some of the top seeds not getting a bye in the first round and therefore, a couple of really intriguing early matches. Karolina Pliskova, in the hunt for a place at the WTA Finals in Singapore, faces a potentially tricky opener against Sloane Stephens. The American player has had a few shaky losses in Asia; Stephens lost to Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the quarter-finals of Seoul and won just three points in the second set of a crushing 6-2 6-0 loss to Garbiñe Muguruza in Wuhan. End-of-season vibes are certainly setting in…
Pliskova competed well in Wuhan, winning a pair of three setters against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni and Elina Svitolina, playing some clutch tennis that was reminiscent of how she was playing at the start of the year. After dropping the first set of her quarter-final against Roberta Vinci, her spirit faded and she fell in straights. Scheduling has been an issue for Pliskova this year who has shown signs of burnout. I hope that next year she takes accounts of her improved performances and doesn’t play as many tournaments. I’m still baffled that she is playing doubles again in Beijing when surely the priority should be getting in the top eight for singles in Singapore!
In their only previous match, Stephens defeated Pliskova, 6-2 6-2 at Wimbledon in 2012. Pliskova’s got more to play for although Stephens should want to erase the memory of her last match in Wuhan. Stephens’s form has dropped off a tad, while Pliskova seems to be back on the way up after a shaky summer hard court season. For that reason, i’d back Pliskova, who still has a pretty dicey draw, to keep her Singapore hopes alive. The winner of this match will play Svetlana Kuznetsova in the second round.
Prediction: Pliskova d. Stephens in 2 sets