Monday’s schedule has a mixture of qualifying and first round matches as the 2015 Generali Ladies Linz kicks into full swing. The first two matches on the Centre Court are both qualifying matches; Johanna Konta goes up against Klara Koukalova, while Kaia Kanepi plays Aleksandra Krunic. Linz had a really impressive qualifying draw and i’ll be holding off completing my full draw until the qualifiers are placed.
Konta, the new British number one, is playing her first tournament since Wuhan where she followed up her US Open exploits with wins over Andrea Petkovic and Simona Halep before losing a three set thriller to Venus Williams. Konta is into the final qualifying round following wins over Anna Tatishvili (6-4 6-7 6-3) and Julie Coin (6-4 6-2). It’s a surprise to see Koukalova in the final qualifying round because she’s had a horrid second half to the year. Her last completed WTA main draw win came in Bastad in July and that was against the world number 290. A straight sets win on Sunday over Daria Kasatkina, the talented 18-year-old who caused ripples at this year’s US Open, was an excellent result. Konta though, has shown form and more importantly, consistency over the last few months so i’d back the Brit to make the main draw.
The second qualifing match between Kanepi and Krunic will be an intriguing match between two different styles of play. Kanepi has had an injury-affected year and didn’t play between Wimbledon and New Haven. I’m sure I read something about Kanepi contemplating retirement soon. Improved fitness helped her enjoy bursts of success in 2012 and 2013 but injuries always seemed to halt her momentum. Kanepi has had two straight set wins in Linz so far over Stephanie Vogt (6-4 6-1) and Mariana Duque-Marino (6-2 6-3) and in a first career match-up against Krunic, who has also won both her qualifying matches in straight sets, i’d go for the Estonian player’s bigger strokes to see her through in three sets.
The first main draw match from Linz will feature Magdalena Rybarikova up against Anna-Lena Friedsam. While two players that aren’t particularly high profile, both have different games and are fun to watch. Friedsam enjoyed her best career result in Linz last year, coming through qualifying and reaching the semi-finals with wins over Dominika Cibulkova, Jana Cepelova and Stefanie Voegele. Friedsam injured her ankle in Bad Gastein earlier this year and suffered three consecutive straight set losses following her return to the tour at the US Open. In her last tournament, Friedsam was back to winning ways in Tashkent with two impressive wins over Elena Vesnina and Margarita Gasparyan. Rybarikova is my guilty pleasure and I love watching her chip-and-charge game. This feels like a three setter and i’d go for Friedsam after she snapped her losing streak, implying that she’s getting back to full fitness after the ankle injury.
Rybarikova-Friedsam is followed by Margarita Gasparyan up against Carina Witthoeft. Gasparyan won her first WTA title earlier this year in Baku, picking up a cult following of fans with her wonderful one-handed backhand. The title propelled her up into the world’s top 100. However, she has won just two matches since then. Witthoeft has had a decent year, knocking on the door of the world’s top 50 and rising from outside the top 100 at the start of the year. Witthoeft has three ITF titles to her name this year and her best result on the WTA tour was in Toronto where she qualified and reached the third round. The pair are tied at 1-1 in their head-to-head and instinct says Witthoeft for this match in Linz.
The third and final first round match in Linz on Monday will feature Kirsten Flipkens and Varvara Lepchenko. The pair played for the first time at this year’s US Open where Lepchenko lost just two games with Flipkens suffering in the New York heat. Flipkens hasn’t played since that match, while Lepchenko’s form hasn’t set the world alive. She endured a disappointing loss to Qiang Wang in Beijing last week. Based on the fact Flipkens hasn’t played for over a month, i’d go for Lepchenko.