Tennis, why can’t you slow down? Dubai is barely in the books (Match Points coming soon!) and yet Doha is already on our doorstep with main draw action starting on SUNDAY. At least on this occasion, all the qualifiers have been placed so we know the entire draw. This post covers two first round matches on Sunday’s schedule including Karolina Pliskova against Margarita Gasparyan, and Ekaterina Makarova playing Andrea Petkovic. The winners of these two matches will play each other in the second round.
1. Karolina Pliskova v Margarita Gasparyan (Doha, R1)
In a flashy-sounding first rounder, the number 10 seed, Karolina Pliskova will look to get back on track when she plays Margarita Gasparyan. Pliskova lost her first match in Dubai, going down in straight sets to CoCo Vandeweghe, 6-7(5) 1-6. It was a very disappointing performance from the Czech player who wasn’t at the races, particularly in the second set where she put up little resistance; perched way behind the baseline, Pliskova allowed Vandeweghe to dictate play and come through rather comfortably. My opinion about Pliskova constantly fluctuates; this though was another example of her failing to get up for matches.
Gasparyan rose 155 places in the rankings between the ends of 2014 and 2015; she has continued her impressive form into 2016 where she is currently at a career best, 41. While her funky one-handed backhand draws in the fans, it’s her forehand that is slightly more effective. The serve though is still a weakness and can break down. Gasparyan’s last showing on the WTA tour was in St. Petersburg where she lost out to Ana Ivanovic in a high-quality two setter.
Head-to-head record: The pair will play each other for the first time on the WTA tour.
Final thoughts: This is my favourite of all the first round matches and Gasparyan’s recent form suggests she is in with a shot. I hope Pliskova shows a little more commitment in this match, particularly if she does go down a set. Gasparyan’s serve is attackable and if Pliskova can keep a high percentage of first serves on her own, she should rebound from last week’s first round loss in Dubai.
2. Andrea Petkovic v Ekaterina Makarova (Doha, R1)
Separated by just three places in the rankings, Andrea Petkovic and Ekaterina Makarova will meet in the first round of Doha. The pair experienced contrasting fortunes in Dubai; Makarova lost in the first main draw match of the tournament, going down in straight sets to Madison Brengle, 4-6 5-7. It was a shocking loss for Makarova because she has become so reliable over the past two years in beating players ranked below her. In windy conditions, she was unable to take advantage of being a break up in both sets. In fact, Makarova was 4-0 40-30 up in the second set before a determined Brengle mounted a courageous comeback, getting a blizzard of balls back into play and forcing Makarova to go for too much. The Russian player continues to look fraught with stress on the court.
Petkovic had a much more encouraging week, securing decent wins over Camila Giorgi and Jelena Jankovic, before going out to Caroline Garcia in the quarter-finals. Petkovic served up 10 double faults in a 3-6 4-6 loss to Garcia, but on the whole, it was a good week. Beating Giorgi for the loss of just three games, even if she was having an erratic day, was a big win considering it’s a match-up that has troubled Petko in the past.
Head-to-head record: Surprisingly, Petkovic leads their head-to-head, 3-0. The pair played in the first week of the year down under in Brisbane where Petkovic prevailed, 7-5 6-4.
Final thoughts: The head-to-head gives Petkovic an early advantage. Content with her game at the moment, Petkovic seems to be in a much better place than Makarova whose year has gone slightly sour. After the Bourne-GOAT looked like making another appearance in Melbourne, a tight loss to Johanna Konta in the fourth round has sparked the beginning of a three match losing streak. I think this will be similar to their most recent encounter in Brisbane with Petkovic edging a tight two setter…