This preview covers two more second round matches from Friday’s order of play at the 2016 BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells including Madison Keys v Nicole Gibbs and Jelena Jankovic v Carina Witthoeft. For a full preview of arguably the best women’s match of the day on Friday between Agnieszka Radwanska and Dominika Cibulkova, click HERE.
1. Madison Keys v Nicole Gibbs (Indian Wells, R2)
A first career match-up between two Americans, Madison Keys and Nicole Gibbs, is 4th up on Stadium 4 on Friday’s schedule at the BNP Paribas Open.
Gibbs has become a WTA fan favourite after she endeared herself with a poignant, honest and frankly fabulous post on social media at the end of last year (see below). As Gibbs highlighted in her post, she picked up some confidence on the ITF circuit at the end of 2015, reaching three finals in Kirkland, Waco and Carlsbad. In 2016, the 23-year-old has continued in much the same vein; Gibbs has already won 15 matches this year with the highlight being a second WTA quarter-final in Monterrey. Up to number 95 in the rankings, Gibbs is knocking on the door of her previous career best ranking of 84.
Gibbs scrapped through her final qualifying round match in Indian Wells against the number one seed, Anna-Lena Friedsam, 6-4 5-7 7-5 in two hours and 30 minutes. The American had led 6-4 *4-1, but needed three sets to get the job done. While there was a concern about fatigue with no break days between qualifying and the main draw, Gibbs expelled those fears by thrashing Alexandra Dulgheru, 6-1 6-0, and breaking the Romanian’s serve on all seven occasions.
Keys has played just one tournament in 2016, reaching the last 16 of the Australian Open. She didn’t play any warm-up events in Australia due to an elbow injury and then lost to Shuai Zhang in gut-wrenching fashion, aggravating a previous leg injury. Before that match, Keys had been impressive, defeating Yaroslava Shvedova and Ana Ivanovic in three sets. The win over Shvedova was particularly noteworthy as she recovered from a set down, not by playing pure-power tennis, but with solid tactics and staying mentally in the moment.
Head-to-head record: Keys and Gibbs have never played each other before on the WTA tour,
Interesting stat: Gibbs is a perfect four out of four in WTA qualifying tournaments in 2016; she has successfully qualified for the main draws in Shenzhen, Melbourne, Monterrey and Indian Wells. Furthermore, she’s won at least one main draw match at each tournament.
Final thoughts: Keys is the type of player that is very vulnerable early on but if she can get a win, may-be two under her belt, she becomes a real threat in a draw. For that reason, Gibbs stands a good shot in this one. Keys played well at the Australian Open but there are not enough data points in 2016 to make a fair assessment of her game and where she is heading this year. Gibbs is on the rise and the confidence is there right now… with a positive attitude, she will likely continue to reap the benefits as the year progresses. However, Gibbs’s results have shown that she has struggled to contend with the big hitters this year. While Keys comes in undercooked, she should find a way through…
2. Jelena Jankovic v Carina Witthoeft (Indian Wells, R2)
Jelena Jankovic returns to the desert with a shedload of points to defend having reached the final last year. On Friday, she opens her account against the 21-year-old German, Carina Witthoeft.
The Serb has always saved some of her best tennis for Indian Wells having previously won the title back in 2010. Despite a poor start to the year, the former world number one has proven in the last six months that, bolstered by a much-improved serve, she can get it together. Hong Kong was a prime example where she beat Venus Williams and Angelique Kerber en route to the title. However one of her greatest strengths, being consistent and toughing out wins, is no longer the asset it once was. It’s fair to say that JJ is prone to the odd (or more frequent!) mental implosion.
I had the pleasure of watching Witthoeft’s match against Irina Falconi… it was one of those matches that was so bad, I was almost compelled to keep watching! Witthoeft eventually defeated Irina Falconi, 0-6 6-4 6-4. Witthoeft was terrible in the first set, hitting a ton of errors long and trying to be aggressive, but not with any sense of control. She was visibly tearful on a changeover towards the end of the first set.
Witthoeft buckled down in the second set as Falconi offered up some errors of her own. Witthoeft needed four set points to force the decider and then carried that momentum into the third set. It looked like a seven-deuce game at 3-3 would ultimately determine the outcome of this match. Falconi eventually broke on her sixth break point, having missed the first five with some inexplicable decision making. However, in a slightly surprising turn of events, Witthoeft won the last three games to secure a vital win. The stats weren’t kind to either player… Witthoeft hit 20 winners to 48 unforced errors, while Falconi hit 17 winners to 40 unforced errors. It wasn’t an impressive performance by any means, but Witthoeft showed plenty of fighting spirit, and got stuck into the rallies in a tight third set.
Head-to-head record: Jankovic and Witthoeft have never played before on the WTA tour.
Interesting stat: Both players are looking to win back-to-back matches for the first time in 2016. Witthoeft has a 4-6 W-L record for the year, while Jankovic is at 4-7.
Final thoughts: This is the type of the match that you expect Jankovic to win, but she somehow finds a way to lose! Witthoeft showed some heart in her win over Falconi but it was not a strong performance and if she continues at that level, she will find it hard to get the win here. I’m actually going to give JJ the benefit of the doubt despite her recent results and customary hiccups; she has the stronger game and should be able to build on her continued love affair with Indian Wells.