The first day of the 2016 Australian Open will cover the top half of the women’s draw with the likes of Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki and Belinda Bencic all in action. A first round preview of Serena’s first round match against Camila Giorgi can be found HERE. This post focuses on two matches from the second quarter of the draw.
1. Kristina Mladenovic v Dominika Cibulkova (AO, R1)
As first round matches go at this year’s Australian Open, you can’t get much more brutal than the number 28 seed, Kristina Mladenovic, going head-to-head with Dominika Cibulkova. Just seven places separate the pair in the rankings. Cibulkova fell out of the world’s top ten at the start of 2015 following a spell on the sidelines for an achilles injury which needed surgery. The Slovak player has been on the comeback trail since then and started the year with a tough three set victory over Yanina Wickmayer in Brisbane. Optimism was soon swiped away with a crushing 1-6 1-6 defeat to Roberta Vinci. Cibulkova improved in Hobart and was digging out wins, beating Johanna Konta, Kimberly Birrell and Kiki Bertens all in straight sets before losing out to Eugenie Bouchard in the semi-finals.
Mladenovic is yet to win a singles match in 2016. The Frenchwoman has been on the end of some rough draws, playing fellow compatriots in both Brisbane and Sydney. Mladenovic was unable to win a set, going down in straight sets to Alizé Cornet, 3-6 4-6 and Caroline Garcia, 6-7(4) 4-6. The 22-year-old spent much of her off-season playing the IPTL and after a breakthrough 2015 season in singles, needs a good result to kick-start her 2016 season.
Head-to-head record: Cibulkova has never lost to Mladenovic, racking up five consecutive wins between 2012 and 2015. Their last match was their closest to date with Cibulkova coming from a set down in New Haven last year, eventually surviving, 2-6 7-6(1) 7-5.
Analysis: This is such a tough match-up, particularly compared to some of the other first round matches in the draw. Cibulkova has had more matches and while not playing at her best level, has been slowly playing her way into form. Mladenovic has the bigger serve and strokes, but there’s also more that can go wrong! Cibulkova has the edge in the head-to-head and has had a couple of superb Australian Open campaigns, reaching the final in 2014 and the quarter-finals in 2015. In this one, i’m edging towards Domi.
Prediction: Cibulkova d. Mladenovic in 3 sets
2. Roberta Vinci v Tamira Paszek (AO, R1)
It’s wonderful to see Tamira Paszek, fit and healthy and picking up wins again on the WTA tour. Ranked as high as world number 26 and a two-time Wimbledon quarter-finalist, Paszek was sidelined for much of 2014 and has struggled to get back to the level she achieved in 2013. She has finished the last three years ranked outside of the world’s top 100 and is currently ranked at number 126 in the world. Spending much of 2015 on the ITF circuit, Paszek had an encouraging result last October in Poitiers where she came through qualifying and won a total of six matches en route to reaching the semi-finals.
Paszek has continued that decent form with a promising start to 2016. In her first tournament of the year, she successfully progressed through three rounds of qualifying in Auckland and went all the way to the semi-finals, beating Francesca Schiavone, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Kirsten Flipkens. Paszek’s 7-6(3) 4-6 6-3 victory over Schiavone in the second round was probably my favourite WTA match of the year so far, a blast from the past, and a welcome one at that.
Paszek notched up three more wins in successfully qualifying for the Australian Open main draw, beating Kateryna Kozlova, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez and Barbora Krejcikova all in straight sets. Paszek’s reward is a first round match against the number 13 seed, Roberta Vinci. The Italian player made a strong start to her final year on the tour, beating Jelena Jankovic and Dominika Cibulkova en route to the Brisbane quarter-finals. In Sydney, she lost out in the first round to Sam Stosur in an entertaining three setter.
Head-to-head record: Paszek leads the head-to-head against Vinci, 2-0, with straight set wins in Hobart (6-4 6-3, 2010) and Wimbledon (6-2 6-2, 2012).
Analysis: I always have high hopes for the qualifiers in the draw with three matches under their belt and confidence obviously high. The Australian Open hasn’t been a particularly happy hunting ground for Vinci as she has never made it past the third round in ten previous attempts. Vinci can be a difficult player to come up against but the fact that Paszek has secured wins against her, even if the last one was over three years ago, is a promising sign for the Austrian player. Furthermore, she’s already come to terms with the varied games of Schiavone and Flipkens this year so she should be up for this one. I’m throwing caution to the wind and going for the upset…
Prediction: Paszek d. Vinci in 3 sets