This post previews two first round matches from the top half of the women’s draw that will be played on Tuesday including Belinda Bencic v Tsvetana Pironkova and Elena Vesnina v Tamira Paszek. For a preview of Wozniacki-Kuznetsova, click here. I’ll be at Wimbledon today on court 3 so will try my best to get lots of photos! There will be a Set Points round-up of photos from day 1 to come on Tuesday morning. Anyway, looking ahead to day 2…
1. Belinda Bencic v Tsvetana Pironkova
In a repeat first round match from last year’s Wimbledon, the number seven seed, Belinda Bencic faces Tsvetana Pironkova.
Bencic has been on the comeback after skipping the clay court season due to a back injury. The 19-year-old returned in Rosmalen where she won three matches before losing out to BFF, Kristina Mladenovic in a super semi-final, 6-2 3-6 4-6. Bencic lost her first matches in both Birmingham and Eastbourne, and was forced to retire in the former due to a leg/hip injury after a slip on the grass. Bencic looked to be practising fine in Eastbourne but did have her leg taped up during a 6-7(4) 6-7(5) loss to Elena Vesnina. Bencic is back which is great, but her recent matches would indicate that she’s still a little way off playing the type of tennis that saw her crack the top ten.
Pironkova is one of those players to circle at Wimbledon, regardless of form. It just so happens that the 28-year-old has been playing very well of late. She reached the quarter-finals of the French Open, a stunning result considering her record on the clay; she’d only once made it past the second round of Roland Garros which happened to be in 2015. Pironkova pulled out of Nottingham with a left quad injury (via the WTA Injury report here) and couldn’t get into Eastbourne qualifying with her ranking. Therefore, Birmingham was her only tournament on grass. She needed matches and that’s what she got! Pironkova played six matches, winning three in qualifying and reaching the quarter-finals of the main draw where she lost out in a compelling match against Barbora Strycova, 2-6 5-7.
Head-to-head record: Bencic leads Pironkova, 2-0 in their head-to-head with wins at Wimbledon (3-6 6-1 6-3) and Sydney (6-3 6-3). It’s worth noting that Sydney has a pretty low bounce, like grass. You can read my recap of last year’s match at Wimbledon here where both players were struggling with an injury.
Final thoughts: This is another match where i’m cursing the draw gods! I think the winner will make the second week, but who knows which player that will be! Bencic has a good record over Pironkova but I think the Bulgarian player is in a better place health-wise. Bencic LOVES Wimbledon, but I think there is still some uncertainty about how the leg/hip is. Thankfully though, the back sounds healed and is no longer a problem. Hate to say this because i’m really fond of BB but i’m leaning towards Pironkova.
2. Elena Vesnina v Tamira Paszek
Elena Vesnina and Tamira Paszek will meet in the first round of Wimbledon on Tuesday. As former Eastbourne champions and having reached the second week of Wimbledon, both love the grass.
Paszek is a two-time Wimbledon quarter-finalist from 2011 and 2012, but her career has since been plagued by injuries and illness. Paszek tore a left adductor muscle during her first match in Eastbourne as defending champion in 2013 and was still troubled by it for some time, eventually taking time off at the beginning of 2015 (more details on Paszek in an superb article on The Tennis Island here). Paszek returned in April of 2015 and played her first WTA main draw match in… you guessed it, Wimbledon! Paszek came through qualifying but lost to Casey Dellacqua in the first round (on a separate note, come back Casey!).
Paszek began 2016 with renewed vigour, qualifying for the main draw in Auckland and reaching the semi-finals. She also qualified for the Australian Open and St. Petersburg, taking her number of match wins up to 12 through just her first three tournaments. Paszek’s good form didn’t last though, losing four straight matches and then taking time off against between March and May. I’ve researched high and low, but I can’t find out why Paszek was out during this time! She returned though in French Open qualifying and has played a full grass court season, winning a total of 12 matches. This included three wins in qualifying and a dramatic third set victory over Andrea Hlavackova (10-9 in the third set), who was forced to retire. There was wonderful sportsmanship on show from Paszek who tried to support Hlavackova at the end.
Vesnina has been on her own comeback after dropping outside of the world’s top 100 at the end of 2015. She has been winning matches left, right and centre in 2016 and has already amassed 30 victories. Vesnina has successfully come through qualifying at five tournaments in 2016 and managed to get her ranking up high enough to make the Eastbourne main draw, which is an achievement because it has such a high cut-off. This was Vesnina’s only appearance on the grass and she reached the quarter-finals, beating the likes of Heather Watson, Belinda Bencic and Madison Brengle.
Head-to-head record: Vesnina leads Paszek, 2-1 in their head-to-head. Paszek’s only win came all the back in 2005 (!) and Vesnina won their last match in Beijing in 2012, 7-6(5) 6-2.
Final thoughts: There’s no doubt that grass is Paszek’s best surface and three qualifying wins will have given her sure footing on the grass. However, she couldn’t carry that form into the main draw last year, losing out in the first round. The match against Hlavackova in qualifying sounded like a bruising affair. Vesnina was forced to withdraw from doubles in Eastbourne due to a left calf injury, but has had some good matches on grass to prepare her for Wimbledon and she gets a Tuesday start. I’d fancy a three setter with Vesnina’s superior serve helping her to the victory.