The WTA hipster match of the day on Wednesday will be in Luxembourg when Monica Niculescu and Francesca Schiavone meet in the second round.
Niculescu won 10 of the last 12 games to defeat Kirsten Flipkens in a all-slicing first round battle, 6-4 6-2. This was a seriously fun match and there were some wonderfully constructed points. An ultra-aggressive Flipkens came out the sharper, breaking to lead 4-2 with a fantastic return game where the backhand was on song. Niculescu broke straight back but Flipkens brought up more break points in the next game. However, it was Niculescu who won the majority of the mini-battles. Flipkens was sound overhead but began to lose more points up at the net at Niculescu began to find her mark. Niculescu won the last four games of the first set to win it, 6-4.
The second set was close to begin with but Flipkens lost her patience after disagreeing with a line call; her game unraveled from 2-2 as Niculescu, winning the slice battle and the more stable of the pair, reeled off the last four games again to ease into the second round.
Some have questioned why Schiavone hasn’t retired yet but if you love what you do, why would you not want to keep going and challenge yourself against the best? Schiavone has her fair share of off days but when she’s feeling the ball, it’s still a glorious sight to see her play tennis. The Italian had one of those good days in the first round, playing a sharp match to get the better of a sluggish, Laura Siegemund, 6-2 6-2.
There was a noticeable lack of intensity from Siegemund who said in press after the match that she had been ill over the weekend. Schiavone though played a clinical match as she hit with great depth and had particular joy with the forehand. When it started to get a little tight at 2-2 in the second set, Schiavone crafted a couple of superb points and broke away again to finish off the match in straight sets.
Head-to-head record: Schiavone has never lost a set to Niculescu in four previous matches. Their last encounter took place on clay in Stuttgart in 2012 where Schiavone won, 6-3 7-5.
Interesting stat: Schiavone has actually risen in the rankings this year, thanks to a title in Rio (the International on clay), and is currently ranked at #97 in the world. Schiavone is on course to finish in the world’s top 100 for the 16th year in her career.
Final thoughts: The head-to-head is relevant but since they haven’t played for over four years, it will be intriguing to see whether Niculescu can reverse the trend of losses. I really enjoy these match-ups where it’s not all about power and variety, flair and point construction all come to the surface. Niculescu struggled to do much with the ball on the slow courts of Linz against Muguruza in the second round; the faster court in Luxembourg should help her out but Schiavone looked on her game in the first round…