The second of Friday’s semi-finals in Dubai pits Barbora Strycova and Caroline Garcia against each other in an Australian Open rematch. Strycova bagged a first win over Ana Ivanovic, 7-6(5) 6-3, in the last of the quarter-finals having failed to win more than three games against the Serb in their three previous matches. Ivanovic was a shadow of the player who beat Simona Halep on Wednesday; she looked tense, tight and anxious, coming out flat and never really striking the ball with any kind of conviction. The first set was decided on the tiebreak; Ivanovic had one foot in the door at 5-3 but a double fault, followed by a delicious drop shot-volley combo by Strycova turned the tiebreak on its head.
While Ivanovic was below-par, Strycova was fully deserving of her win, winning 11 of 12 points up at the net. After a slow start in Auckland and Hobart, Strycova’s enjoyed a fruitful start to the year with runs in Melbourne and Dubai, as well as helping the Czech Fed Cup team win their first tie of the year with a win in the decisive doubles rubber with Karolina Pliskova. Strycova’s smile was infectious in her post-match interview :-).
Garcia progressed into the semi-finals with a 6-3 6-4 victory over Andrea Petkovic. The big difference between the pair was the serve; Garcia was serving at 81% first serves in the first set and dropped just two points behind it, winning 11 straight points on serve to open the match. While Garcia’s first serve percentage dropped in the second set, she was still winning 80% of points behind it. This constantly transferred the pressure to Petkovic who was forced to deuce in all but one of her service games in the second set… 10 double faults also didn’t help!
Garcia’s start to the year has been promising; while she lost in the first round of the Australian Open to Strycova, she won all of her singles matches at the Hopman Cup and Fed Cup. The Frenchwoman remains an enigma on the court; i’ve written in length about Garcia’s game before and been burnt so many times in trying to pick the match where she’s going to come good! Her game is wonderful to watch but there’s still a caveat attached to that as Garcia has had her overwhelming share of mental lapses in the crucial moments.
Head-to-head record: Strycova leads Garcia in their head-to-head, 3-1 with Strycova winning their last three matches all in straight sets. They last played at the Australian Open where Strycova won, 6-2 6-4
Final thoughts: I watched the Strycova-Garcia match at the Australian Open last month and it was clear that Strycova had Garcia’s number. Her mix of shots, always giving her opponent a different shot, is a big factor in this match-up. To her credit, Garcia has played some good ball of late and wins over Suárez Navarro and Petkovic in Dubai, two more defensively minded players, is a great, great effort. I’m still laughing that Garcia has gone on to have a deep run in one of the few weeks when I didn’t have faith in her! The WTA is a hoot so I don’t think this will be a walk in the park based on the head-to-head… just look at Strycova overturning a 0-3 head-to-head record against Ivanovic and this week in general! I’d take the variety of Strycova to prevail but an in-form and relaxed Garcia could make this a very interesting semi-final…