Thursday’s match of the day in St. Petersburg will see a first clash in over three years between Caroline Wozniacki and Dominika Cibulkova. The pair have played 12 times before but had avoided each other in draws since the end of the 2012 season. While the number 3 seed, Wozniacki had a bye in the first round, Cibulkova has already played her first match of the week in Russia; the world number 66 (!) was never troubled in a 6-3 6-0 victory over Evgeniya Rodina. Cibulkova finished the match with 18 winners to 16 unforced errors, and dropped just six points in the second set. It was a much needed win for the Slovak player who had fallen at the first hurdle in Melbourne to Kristina Mladenovic.
Wozniacki arrives in St. Petersburg after a pretty crushing first round loss at the Australian Open. The Dane had been in control of her match against Yulia Putintseva, up a set and a break, but let her feisty opponent back in. Resorting back to her naturally defensive mindset, Wozniacki was desperately unclutch on the big points and lost, 6-1 6-7(3) 4-6. A telling stat was that Wozniacki was 5 out of 18 on break point conversions. I’d always regarded Wozniacki as one of the best closers on tour, but this hasn’t been the case in the last six months or so…
Zhuhai (November, 2015) – Wozniacki led Kuznetsova 5-2 first set… retired down 5-7 2-2
Linz (October, 2015) – Wozniacki led Lucic-Baroni 5-1 third set… eventually won 6-4 in the third set
Beijing (October, 2015) – Wozniacki led Jovanovski 6-2 5-1… eventually won 6-2 6-4
Wuhan (September, 2015) – Wozniacki led Schmiedlova 6-1 4-1… eventually lost 6-1 4-6 6-7(6)
While Wozniacki was hugely disappointing throughout most of 2015, I think that a lot of this comes down to the injuries that she suffered and her continued doggedness to keep playing on. It all seemed to come together in a whirlwind of negativity and the results, in particular her inability to close out sets, indicated that she had lost some confidence. Wozniacki’s loss to Putintseva was the first time that she had ever been defeated at the first round stage of the Australian Open. Wozniacki was extremely frank in press afterwards, admitting that letting her opponent back in the match was her own fault and described it as a “pretty shitty start to the season”.
Wozniacki has had nearly a month off since that loss and has committed to a tournament every week up till Miami. You never quite know with the Dane but I am hoping this is a sign she’s fit, healthy, and ready to compete.
Head-to-head record: Wozniacki leads the head-to-head, 9-3; Cibulkova’s last win over Wozniacki came back in 2011 on Magic Monday at Wimbledon where she scrapped her way to a superb, 1-6 7-6(5) 7-5 victory. Since then, Wozniacki has won their last three matches and prevailed in their last match in Moscow in three sets, 6-2 6-7(7) 6-1.
Interesting stat: Cibulkova is at her lowest ranking since 2007! Going in her favour is that she will be constantly adding ranking points up to Eastbourne after she missed several months to have surgery on her achilles this time last year.
Final Thoughts: Losses to Sloane Stephens and Putintseva have felt like one step forward and two steps back for Wozniacki and show that it will be a challenge to override last year’s misery. Cibulkova’s results have been so-so in 2016 and with a potentially open draw, she stumbled in Melbourne against a player she had previously owned. This particular head-to-head between Wozniacki and Cibulkova shows that Cibulkova will have to play a very good match to beat Wozniacki. While the Dane isn’t exactly riding high on confidence right now, her base level is normally pretty steady and Cibulkova can contribute plenty of errors when it’s not going to plan. I’m slightly on the fence because Cibulkova is certainly capable of the upset and one match on this court will give her an advantage. However, I think that Wozniacki will be eager to come back rejuvenated after the loss in Melbourne and give a decent account of herself…
Prediction: Wozniacki d. Cibulkova in 3 sets