This post previews two first round matches from the bottom half of the women’s draw including Lucie Safarova v Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Daria Kasatkina v Victoria Duval, which will both be played on Monday. For a first round preview of Garbiñe Muguruza v Camila Giorgi, click here. Wimbledon gets underway on Monday and i’ll be blogging all during the tournament with a mix of previews, Set Point round-ups and live reports/photos so stay tuned!
1. Lucie Safarova v Bethanie Mattek-Sands
Lucie Safarova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands have built together a dazzling doubles partnership over the past 18 months and have won five titles including the Australian Open and the French Open. On Monday, they will face off against each other in singles… Draw gods, why do you have to be so mean?
Safarova’s year was slow to get going as she battled against rheumatic fever, a complication from the bacterial infection she contracted towards the end of 2015. This shut down her off-season in 2015 with the Czech player making her comeback to the tour in Doha. Understandably, it took Safarova some time to find her feet and build up her stamina following such a difficult period. She lost her first five matches on tour between Doha and Stuttgart.
Out of nowhere, Safarova reeled off five fabulous wins in a row to win her home tournament in Prague. Since then, her form has been so-so with an overriding feeling that it is still wonderful just to see Safarova back competing and healthy again; she reached the third round of the French Open, going out to eventual semi-finalist, Sam Stosur in three tight sets. This resulted in a substantial drop in the rankings to #28 as she had reached the French Open final in 2015. On grass, Safarova has gone 0-2 through Birmingham and Eastbourne. She really struggled in a 6-7(5) 4-6 loss to Anna-Lena Friedsam in Eastbourne, failing to find rhythm on her return and unable to maintain a break lead in the second set.
Mattek-Sands has had a miserable year in singles, compiling a 5-11 W-L record. The American player hasn’t won a main draw singles or doubles match since Charleston. Mattek-Sands hasn’t played any warm-up matches on the grass, but does have a game that transitions well to this surface; she played some super attacking tennis on grass last year, beating Ana Ivanovic in the second round of Wimbledon.
Head-to-head record: Safarova leads Mattek-Sands, 2-1 in their head-to-head but they haven’t played since 2010. Their last two matches both took place in Quebec City with BMS winning the most recent of them in 2010, 6-2 6-1.
Final thoughts: I don’t like this! Lucie’s form has been disappointing on the grass and she hasn’t had a chance to build momentum. She can play on grass though, as proven by her run to the semi-finals of Wimbledon. Mattek-Sands is a dangerous opponent on this surface, but her singles form just hasn’t been there in 2016. I think it is horrible for both players and I get the sense that Lucie struggles against players she has a good relationship with. Who’s going to win? Pfff who knows. I’ll just be there for the handshake!
2. Daria Kasatkina v Victoria Duval
19-year-old, Daria Kasatkina will play 20-year-old, Victoria Duval in the first round of Wimbledon on Monday.
Kasatkina has enjoyed a superb 2016 season, jumping up 41 places in the rankings since the start of 2016. It’s important to note that Kasatkina hasn’t even played a full year on the main tour yet having won her first main draw match in Bad Gastein in 2015. The highlights of Kasatkina’s year have included third round appearances at the Australian Open and French Open, semi-finals in St. Petersburg and quarter-finals in Indian Wells and Charleston. Kasatkina’s first round match against Jelena Ostapenko in Eastbourne was her first ever pro tour match on grass. Considering that, she did a bloody good job! Ostapenko won in three sets, 6-4 2-6 3-6.
Duval has had a turbulent few years but always seems to have a smile on her face whatever the situation… she’s very inspiring! Duval was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma during Wimbledon 2014 but remarkably, kept playing and actually won her first round match in the main draw. The American returned to competitive action in August 2015 and has been battling hard in her comeback. In February, she was forced to have arthroscopy on her knee due to a meniscus tear. Duval made her return to the WTA tour in Nottingham (l. to Johanna Konta, 3-6 0-6) and won her first set of the year in Birmingham qualifying, going the distance with Tamira Paszek.
Head-to-head record: Kasatkina and Duval have never played each other on the WTA tour.
Final thoughts: I’m really excited about this match and I think it will be a good one. It’s wonderful to see Duval back on the tour and I hope she can keep battling and improving. Duval has played more matches on grass than Kasatkina during their respective careers, but I think the Russian player has picked up a wealth of experience on tour this year. I worry about Kasatkina not having her coach on court for the changeovers at Slams because he helps her out so much mentally. At the same time, it may also give her the opportunity to work things out by herself and give her a confidence boost if things go to plan! I could see this going the distance but Kasatkina, a touch more solid both physically and mentally, to prevail.