The St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy has produced a solid slate of quarter-finals which will all take place on Friday. First up will be the number two seed, Roberta Vinci against one of four unseeded players in the last eight, Timea Babos. This will be Babos’s first Premier quarter-final and she’s enjoying a decent year so far. In the first round, she defeated Katerina Siniakova, 7-6(0) 7-5, coming back from 2-5 down in the first set and saving a set point in the process. Babos then upset the number nine seed, Monica Niculescu in the second round, rallying from a set down to win, 4-6 6-1 6-3. It was Babos’s second win of the year over Niculescu having failed to win a set in their pre-2016 encounters.
Vinci saved two set points in her first match of the week against Yanina Wickmayer, eventually prevailing, 6-2 7-6(2). It was a very strange match… Wickmayer made absolutely no impression on Vinci’s serve throughout much of the match. After a wild and ineffective first set where she looked devoid of answers against Vinci’s varied game, the Belgian player cleaned up her act and stayed in front on serve in the second set. Up 5-4 and out of nowhere, Wickmayer brought up two set points. On the second one she was in control of the rally but Vinci was EVERYWHERE and hung on with yet another backhand slice winner (see video below). The second set progressed into a tiebreak after Vinci failed to serve out the match at *6-5. Despite the mini-wobbles, Vinci was good value for her 7th consecutive win over Wickmayer. Babos is gaining momentum this year and has beaten Vinci before, but I would fancy the Italian player to have all the answers.
In the second match on Friday, Ana Ivanovic takes on the qualifier, Kateryna Kozlova. The 21-year-old Ukranian player has had a brilliant week, qualifying for the main draw (saving one match point in her second qualifying match) and beating Barbora Strycova, 6-3 6-4 in the first round. I watched the end of that match and Kozlova played well, hitting consistently, much more so than Strycova, but with enough force and depth to make an impression. She backed it up with a three set win over Elena Vesnina in the second round. Kozlova is the queen of qualifying; in 2015 she successfully qualified at 11 out of her 14 tournaments. She’s defending no points after Miami having spent six months on the sidelines last year for a doping ban…
Ivanovic enjoyed her best win of the 2016 season on Wednesday, beating an in-form, Margarita Gasparyan, 7-5 6-2. It was a high quality match and the second set was much tighter than the scoreline suggested. Ivanovic won the last six games having quickly gone down 0-2. The turning point was a hold from *0-40 at 2-2. Gasparyan faced the same situation in the very next game and was unable to repeat the feat, surrendering her serve and never recovering after. For Ivanovic, she made a woeful start to the year but has improved with every match played. I’d expect Ivanovic to come through comfortably against Kozlova.
Dominika Cibulkova and Daria Kasatkina play each other in an engaging third match of the day. Cibulkova produced the biggest upset of the tournament so far, defeating the number three seed, Caroline Wozniacki, 6-4 7-5. While I did go for the Dane, I don’t think anyone was really surprised by that result. The poll in the preview was pretty close with 56% going for Wozniacki. I thought the Dane would come out rejuvenated and with a point to prove… *tumbleweed*… but it didn’t happen! Cibulkova played a superb match, dictating the majority of rallies and looking almost untouchable on serve. I say almost as the Slovak player did stumble at the end…
Cibulkova missed two match points at 6-4 5-3 in a game that saw Wozniacki completely done over by an umpiring call. She requested the supervisor (i’ve NEVER seen a point overturned by the supervisor!) as Caro often does but on this occasion, she had a point; Wozniacki won that game though. Cibulkova hadn’t faced a break point through nine service games so it was pretty standard that serving for the match, she was broken! Wozniacki was given a lifeline but didn’t take up the opportunity and was promptly broken straight back. Cibulkova was clearly tight and started missing groundstrokes but Wozniacki did nothing, just sitting back and reacting to Cibulkova’s shots.
Cibulkova played a great match but I couldn’t help but be disappointed by Wozniacki’s level and inability to do much with the ball. There were a couple of extended rallies and it was Wozniacki who was missing first which you don’t often see. The second serve points won was the stat that really stood out between the pair; Wozniacki won 79% of first serve points but just 29% of points on her second serve. Cibulkova kept it steady, winning 66% of both first and second serve points. Wozniacki has just pulled out of Dubai so it’s not looking great right now… I will say though that I think she will come back to form but it’s going to be a bit of an uphill challenge for now at least.
Kasatkina continues to blossom on tour as she beat Laura Siegemund in straight sets, 6-3 6-4. While she failed to serve out her first round match against Kirsten Flipkens at the first time of asking on Wednesday, Kasatkina had no such problems on Thursday to book her place in another Premier quarter-final in Russia. Kasatkina reached the semi-finals in Moscow at the end of last year; winning all these matches is no fluke and she’s certainly a player to keep tabs on this year and going forward. I’m very intrigued by Cibulkova v Kasatkina… Cibulkova tightened up at the end of her match against Wozniacki but I think her baseline game could overwhelm Kasatkina on this occasion.
The four quarters are probably ordered in terms of intrigue; the final match of the day features Belinda Bencic and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Bencic battled from a break down on multiple occasions in the first set to eventually see off Annika Beck, 7-6(3) 6-3. Bencic was far from her best in the first set but still came out the winner; that’s one of the reason why I hold BB in such high regard. While Beck was ahead in the scoreline for most of the set and even served for it at *6-5, it always looked like Bencic would come back.
Bencic will need to up her game in the quarter-finals against Pavs who beat Carina Witthoeft, 6-1 7-5. The German player was nowhere to be seen in a lopsided first set but came back stronger in the second set. This could have easily gone the distance but Pavs competed well, toughing out her final two service games which both went to deuce and saw her save break points. Bencic v Pavs should be a good one and i’d fancy the winner of this match to go on and win the title. I’ve said it many a time but i’m on the fence! Peak Pavs wins in straights but Bencic has a habit of hanging in there. I think it’s too close to call…