First round action continued at the China Open in Beijing with 13 singles matches on the schedule for Sunday. In a trio of matches starting at 12:30pm local time, all three were wrapped up in straight sets. Zhang Shuai continued her excellent recent form with a 6-4 6-4 win over Yulia Putintseva. Zhang saved a break point when serving for the match with a brilliant get to a short ball after an extended rally. Putintseva has now lost her last four matches, while Zhang has won eight matches since the US Open.
Winning her first match since coming back from a hand injury, Sam Stosur defeated Katerina Siniakova, 6-3 6-2. Magdalena Rybarikova also got an early win, beating Eugenie Bouchard, 6-4 6-3. Rybarikova won eight of the last ten points with Bouchard serving up a double fault on match point.
Caroline Wozniacki needed three sets to see off Qiang Wang, 6-1 6-7(4) 6-1. Wozniacki had played a sensational first set with 86% first serves in and was very aggressive, really going after her shots when the opportunity arose.
Wozniacki was up a set and a break in the second set but lost her serve with some bizarre backhand errors. There was talk on Twitter about Wozniacki not feeling well and she did look red-faced on the changeovers. At the same time, Wang Qiang grew in confidence and was playing up on the baseline, dictating more points. The Chinese player didn’t have a good return day overall, yet managed to get more in play at the end of the second set, which she won on the tiebreak.
Even if Wozniacki was not feeling well, she played a super smart decider as she backed off a little and stuck to high-percentage shots and solid baseline hitting. Wang Qiang had no answers and faded rather rapidly in a sea of unforced errors. A good win for Wozniacki – the backhand had its moments but it was the forehand that was rock solid all day. On the whole, it has been a much improved shot in 2017.
More good news for Caroline – she’s now officially confirmed for the WTA Finals in Singapore.
Karolina Pliskova was never really troubled in a 6-3 6-4 win over Carla Suárez Navarro. I caught a few games but can’t say I was too enthused! Pliskova threw in a pair of sloppy games when up a break in the second set, but quickly regained her ascendancy by breaking back in the next game and riding it to the end.
In the evening session, Elina Svitolina won her first match since the US Open with a 6-3 6-2 victory over the Chinese wildcard, Zhu Lin.
Monica Niculescu needed just 64 minutes to beat Johanna Konta, 6-1 6-2 – this was Konta’s five successive loss on the tour. It was one of the most awkward watches of the entire year as Konta just had an absolute shocker. Firstly, all the credit to Niculescu who put 86% of first serves in and hit just six unforced errors. The Romanian player barely put a foot wrong.
Konta hit a whopping 38 unforced errors, many of them into the net as she never adjusted to Niculescu’s spin. I think a lot of it does come down to confidence as she has played and beaten Niculescu before so it wasn’t as if her game was a surprise or anything. The Brit struggled with her footwork at times, particularly on another ropey smash like the one in her last match against Barty in Wuhan.
Konta looked to come forward and close the net, which I think is actually an effective tactic against Niculescu and was a key factor in her 6-2 6-2 win over the Romanian player in Miami last year. However, she never looked sure of herself, often making unconvincing ventures forward with Niculescu clinical with the passing shots. There were some really bad volley misses. This is a case of a match to forget about for Konta and lock away! Chin up, Jo.
Singapore still looks very much a possibility for Konta with her nearest challengers, Kuznetsova and Mladenovic, also out of Beijing, but I am concerned by this recent run of form. Konta is scheduled to play the tournament in Hong Kong next week.
The number seven seed, Svetlana Kuznetsova also went out in the first round – Lara Arruabarrena came from a set down to win, 6-7 7-5 6-1. This was Arruabarrena’s second top ten win of 2017 and her best career win to date (i’m not counting a retirement win over Halep!). For Kuznetsova, she’s clearly still bothered by a wrist injury and was hitting one-handed backhands!
In other matches…
The number 11 seed, Agnieszka Radwanska battled past Carina Witthoeft in straight sets, 7-5 6-3.
Ekaterina Makarova needed less than an hour to beat the qualifier, Jennifer Brady, 6-3 6-3 – next up is Maria Sharapova who she has a 0-7 head-to-head record against.
Julia Goerges needed an extra-time finish to beat Madison Brengle at the French Open earlier this year. This time round, it was a straight sets win in Beijing, 6-4 6-3.
Alizé Cornet beat the Chinese wild card, Wang Yafan, 6-3 7-5 – next up is the number 10 seed, Angelique Kerber.
Andrea Petkovic maintained her 100% record over Kiki Bertens with a super win, 6-4 6-0.
In doubles action, Sloane Stephens and Heather Watson recorded a first round win.
Garbiñe Muguruza will begin her tournament on Monday against Barbora Strycova. It wouldn’t come as a surprise to see her withdraw/go out early in Beijing…
Kristina Mladenovic has pulled out of next week’s Hong Kong tournament.
Loved these pictures on Petra’s social media from the China Open party.
And finally, I made Millionaire’s Shortbread yesterday for my week 4 bake from GBBO 2017. My attempts at caramel were pretty disastrous (I ended up finding an easier recipe) but happy with how they turned out in the end!