The number 18 seed, Elina Svitolina faces one of the long list of impressive qualifiers, Sorana Cirstea in the first round of the 2016 French Open.
It’s been a while since I can remember such a strong list of qualifiers on the women’s side with quite a few players having experienced excellent clay court seasons… One of those players is Sorana Cirstea. The 26-year-old has been plagued with shoulder problems for the past two years, so much so, that she now has an abbreviated service motion to try and protect the shoulder. Fully fit again, Cirstea has been enjoying a return to form in 2016.
Cirstea has won 31 (!) singles matches in 2016. With her subdued ranking, Cirstea began the year on the ITF tour on clay and had great success, reaching back-to-back finals in Guaruja and Bertioga, and winning the latter. The most impressive aspect of her year has been the jump-up to the WTA tour again, which has been smooth. Cirstea reached the semi-finals of Rio and then successfully qualified for three WTA tournaments in Istanbul, Prague and Madrid. In Madrid, where she benefited from a wildcard, Cirstea had a wonderful week picking up wins over Jelena Jankovic (6-4 6-3), Danka Kovinic (6-3 7-5) and Laura Siegemund (6-4 7-6) before pushing the eventual finalist, Dominika Cibulkova to three sets.
I’ve enjoyed watching Cirstea this year and something feels different. In the past, she has often been labelled as a ballbasher but she seems much more measured and controlled in her play. It would seem that the break from the tour has actually been favourable for her in terms of figuring how tactics and how she wants to play. Cirstea has just cracked the world’s top 100 but still needed to qualify for the French Open (as the cut-off for singles is about six weeks prior to the tournament). The Romanian player could have felt the pressure to perform having played so well of late but she breezed through qualifying with victories over Yuxuan Zhang (6-4 6-0), Jana Cepelova (6-2 6-4) and Elise Mertens (6-3 6-0).
Cirstea faces Svitolina in the first round who has not been enjoying such a fruitful clay court season. The 21-year-old has won just one match on clay this year in Madrid and has experienced losses to Alexandra Panova (5-7 6-1 6-7, Bogota), Daria Gavrilova (2-6 6-7, Madrid) and Monica Puig (1-6 6-4 1-6). From the matches i’ve seen, Svitolina seems to be stuck in the middle of trying to be more aggressive yet still retaining the counter-punching qualities that have helped her to crack the world’s top 20. In her match against Gavrilova in Madrid, Svitolina was trying to come forward more but she did not look comfortable at the net.
Head-to-head record: Svitolina and Cirstea will be playing each other for the first time on the WTA tour.
Final thoughts: This is one of the popcorn first round matches this year and i’m going for Cirstea to prevail. The Romanian’s form hasn’t just picked up of late, it’s been solid all year and she has played a lot of matches on clay. Despite her consistency, Svitolina has looked unsure of herself in recent weeks and has never seemed comfortable on the clay. Cirstea didn’t waver at all in French Open qualifying and I think she has a great opportunity to go on a deep run in Paris this year…