NEW MATCH-UP ALERT… The Sydney quarter-finals include a first career meeting between Belinda Bencic and Ekaterina Makarova. Bencic had a solid win in the second round against the Sydney GOAT, Tsvetana Pironkova, 6-3 6-3. It was a far more straightforward match compared to her first round win over Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, 7-6(6) 1-6 6-4. In the first set of that match, Bencic had failed to convert on set points when serving for it at *5-4 and then faced one against her in the tiebreak; Lucic-Baroni gave it away with a tame double fault. Bencic eventually won the first set, but Lucic-Baroni came back to force a decider. The Croatian player recovered a 1-4 deficit in the third set as Bencic, seemingly troubled by a foot injury, lost her way. However, as Bencic has become rather talented at doing, she weathered the storm and her emotions to get the win.
Makarova progressed into the quarter-finals after Angelique Kerber withdraw from the tournament. I’m pleased that Angie pulled out because there didn’t seem to be much benefit from going deeper in the draw and potentially drawing on reserves that will be much needed in Melbourne. Makarova’s only completed match of the week so far was a straight sets win over Lucie Hradecka, 6-2 6-1. The Russian player seems to be back to full fitness after being forced out of action after the US Open last year with a persistent leg injury.
Head-to-head record: Bencic and Makarova have never played each other before on the WTA tour.
Interesting stat: Makarova’s opponents in 2016 have been dropping like flies. She was scheduled to play Maria Sharapova in her first round of Brisbane, but the Russian player pulled out, being replaced by Margarita Gasparyan. In Sydney, Makarova faced another lucky loser in the first round and then benefitted from a withdrawal in the second round!
Analysis: This should be a close match… Makarova will obviously be the fresher of the two having only played one match this week although Bencic was only on court for 81 minutes on Tuesday. Bencic wasn’t all that impressive against Lucic-Baroni but based on the scoreline of her match against Pironkova (the match wasn’t streamed), it would indicate an improvement from BB. I think she still needs time to find her form but already this start has been an improvement of 2015. Being the week before a Slam, any niggles will most likely not be risked. Bencic may have an issue with her foot but if she’s up for this one, i’d fancy her to progress to the semi-finals.