1. Flavia Pennetta v Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Beijing, R1)
The 2015 US Open champion, Flavia Pennetta (still can’t get over this) returned to action in Beijing where she has won her first two matches. In the first round, Pennetta overcame a game effort from the Chinese wildcard, Xinyun Han, 7-5 4-6 6-4. Pennetta also needed three sets in the second round to get past Teliana Pereira who had won just one match on hard courts all year prior to Beijing. Pennetta remains in the hunt for Singapore (currently at #8 in the live rankings with Serena removed) and will need a win against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the third round to keep her chances alive.
In a high quality match, Pavlyuchenkova defeated Elina Svitolina in the second round, 6-4 1-6 6-3. This was some of the best tennis that Pavlyuchenkova has played all year and supports her recent upturn in form after a miserable first half of 2015. There were two crucial moments in the deciding set; Pavlyuchenkova saved four break points in a eight deuce game to hold to 2-1 and she produced some bold and attacking play to break at 4-3 to bring up an opportunity to serve for the match. Pavlyuchenkova double faulted on her first match point but managed (I was waiting for it to all come crashing down) to seal the win.
I’ve written before that I think Pavlyuchenkova is one of the cleanest ball strikers on the tour and I stand by that premise. Unfortunately, her focus and consistency have frequently let her down. In the past couple of years, Pavlyuchenkova has been capable of losing to pretty much anyone. However, she still has the game, *when* its firing, that can threaten most of the current top ten players.
In their current head-to-head, Pennetta leads 2-0, with three set victories at the French Open (2008) and Cincy (2011). There’s no doubt who played the better match in the second round but Pennetta is one of those players who can gather pace and momentum if she can get through the first few rounds of a tournament. I’m slightly wary that Pavlyuchenkova took a medical time-out during her match against Svitolina, but i’m going to take a chance and go for Pavs in this one.
Prediction: Pavlyuchenkova d. Pennetta in 3 sets
2. Ana Ivanovic v Svetlana Kuznetsova (Beijing, R3)
It’s been a disappointing year for Ana Ivanovic, particularly when you compare it to what she achieved in 2014. On Tuesday, she produced one of her best displays in a longgg time to defeat the Wuhan champ, Venus Williams, 7-6(3) 6-2. Despite being obviously fatigued after Wuhan, Venus showed her class by going up a break of serve in the first set; Ivanovic though, surprisingly unperturbed, broke straight back, won the tiebreak, and then fought back from an early break down in the second set to seal just a third win over Venus. The way this draw has opened up, Ivanovic has a prime opportunity to go deeper and end 2015 on a high note.
Ivanovic will play Svetlana Kuznetsova on Thursday in what will be a 14th career meeting. The pair have played at least once every year since 2010. Kuznetsova somehow managed to eek out a win over Sloane Stephens in the second round, 3-6 6-3 6-4. Normally Kuznetsova is the player who gets a case of the yips deep in a third set but on this occasion it was Stephens. The American player was twice up a break in the decider and had two break points to lead 5-3. She failed to convert and promptly lost in a shower of unforced errors.
Ivanovic leads Kuznetsova in the head-to-head, 10-3, and has won five of their last six encounters. I would have expected this to be a close head-to-head but Ivanovic has dominated in recent years. For that reason and based on her performance on Tuesday, i’d expect Ivanovic to win this one.
Prediction: Ivanovic d. Kuznetsova in 2 sets