The line-up of third round matches for the 2017 China Open is so awesome that it has stirred me out my preview slumber! Thursday’s match of the day will see an all-seeded clash between the number five seed, Caroline Wozniacki and the number 12 seed, Petra Kvitova. This will be the pair’s first clash since the Olympics last year.
Wozniacki has shown flashes of brilliance during her first two rounds in Beijing, dismissing the early loss from Wuhan and carrying in the same vein of form from her terrific title run in Tokyo. The Dane began her tournament with one of her best sets of the year against Wang Qiang. Perhaps slightly under the weather, Wozniacki needed three sets to see off Wang in the end with a breadstick sandwich, 6-1 6-7(4) 6-1. In the second round, Wozniacki was at her clinical best to beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in straight sets for second time in two weeks, 6-2 6-2.
The key stat in the Woz-Pavs match was on break point conversions with both carving out eight opportunities – Wozniacki converted on four, while Pavlyuchenkova didn’t take one. The first set was routine as you like with Wozniacki showing off an aggressive streak and a desire to come forward and close points at the net. The second set, while the same scoreline, was much closer, yet Pavlyuchenkova just couldn’t convert on her chances. Wozniacki served well under pressure although it did feel like Pavlyuchenkova could have done more and forced more returns into play.
Kvitova has rebounded well after a first round exit in Wuhan with two comfortable straight set wins over Kristyna Pliskova (6-3 7-5) and Varvara Lepchenko (6-4 6-4). While the first serve percentage has been a bit on the low side (average of 55%), Kvitova has dominated when she has got the first serve in (87.5% of first serve points won). In the win against Lepchenko there were a few dicey moments, yet Kvitova raised her level at the ends of both sets and served them both out to love for an eighth consecutive win over the American player.
Head-to-head record: Kvitova leads Wozniacki, 6-5 in their head-to-head and has won their last two matches. In their most recent encounter, Kvitova beat Wozniacki on the slow hard courts of Rio, 6-2 6-4.
Interesting stats: Wozniacki has won 55 matches in 2017, already her best tally since 2011, and she has prevailed in 14 of her last 16 three set matches. For Kvitova, she’s won just one of her last five three set matches. However, she’s a big threat to the best on tour with 44 top ten wins in her career.
Final thoughts: I’m more fascinated by this match-up than usual to see whether Wozniacki can deliver the aggressive streak that has characterised her game in recent weeks through Tokyo and the first few rounds of Beijing. Kvitova is the type of player that can force Wozniacki to go into her shell. I am intrigued to see whether the Dane retreats or is able to build on the confidence from recent performances and stay aggressive.
Based on recent form, Wozniacki wins this hands down. Kvitova though, as proven by her win over Garbiñe Muguruza at the US Open, has demonstrated that sometimes you can chuck the form book out the window. Petra seems calm and relaxed in Beijing, and if she serves well then this could well go down to the wire.
The words ringing through my head… never write off Petra!