Wimbledon 2018, Day 2 Preview: Osaka vs. Niculescu, Garcia vs. Bencic

The top half of the women’s draw will be played on Tuesday with Garbiñe Muguruza opening proceedings on Centre Court at 1pm. The top half was not quite as loaded for match-ups as the bottom half. Still, there’s so much going on and it will be another exciting day! Read on for profiles of my three favourite matches of the day. For a preview of the Wimbledon draw as a whole, check out the latest episode of the Tennis with an Accent podcast where I was a guest.

1. Naomi Osaka vs. Monica Niculescu (Wimbledon, R1)

Sporting games at complete opposite ends of the spectrum, the number 18 seed, Naomi Osaka will play Monica Niculescu in the first round of Wimbledon. Osaka reached the semi-finals of Nottingham, her best result at a WTA tour level event on grass. Osaka steadily improved on the green stuff during 2017, culminating in her third round showing at Wimbledon against Venus Williams. The Japanese player looked strong in Nottingham where she lost out to the eventual champion, Ashleigh Barty. Her progress was halted in Birmingham where she retired from her second round match with an abdominal injury. This is an injury that has affected Osaka multiple times over the last 18 months.

Niculescu has spent two months on the sidelines due to injury and was forced to pull out of the French Open with a left leg injury. The Romanian player made her comeback at the ITF tournament in Southsea last week where she lost in straight sets to Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, 3-6 2-6.

The pair have never played each other on the WTA tour. Frankly, it’s a match-up that sings to me because they are so different! I think both can be very effective on grass. Osaka’s serve is accentuated on this surface and her powerful strokes will zip through the court. For Niculescu, her forehand slice can be potent on grass because it stays so low. Osaka was asked about this match-up in her press conference and took on board the advice that the journalist gave her! (see below).

I’ll be interested to see how Osaka gets on here, particularly with the abdominal injury which forced her out of Eastbourne. She spoke in press about being more patient with injuries and didn’t imply that it will be an issue for Wimbledon. I’m going for Osaka to win in straights, mostly because of Niculescu’s lack of recent match play.

2. Caroline Garcia vs. Belinda Bencic (Wimbledon, R1)

The number six seed, Caroline Garcia faces a tricky opener against the former world number seven, Belinda Bencic. It’s been a tough few years for Bencic who has been struck down by various injuries including back, wrist and foot. The Swiss player impressed in Asia towards the end of 2017 and then scored a huge win at the Australian Open where she knocked out Venus Williams in the first round. Since then, Bencic has won just three tour level matches and most recently, retired from her first match in Ilkley.

It’s unclear as to how serious Bencic’s recent injury is but she is lining up for Wimbledon and we know she loves the grass! Garcia opted to play only Mallorca where she suffered a surprise quarter-final loss to Sofia Kenin. Garcia reached the last 16 at Wimbledon last year and has proven she can play well on this surface.

The pair have never played before on the WTA tour. This particular match-up will depend on Bencic’s fitness. I would have given the Swiss player a good shot at the upset. If she’s healthy then that is still possible. I’m uncertain so am going for Garcia who has become increasingly stable at the Slams and getting through first few matches unscathed.

3. Dominika Cibulkova vs. Alizé Cornet (Wimbledon, R1)

Dominika Cibulkova and Alizé Cornet will meet for the 11th time on the WTA tour and the third time in the last year. The pair were attracted to each other in the US draws last year as they played in back-to-back weeks in Cincinnati and New Haven.

Both players arrive at Wimbledon with a 1-2 W-L record on the grass – curiously, their lone wins have both come against Ekaterina Makarova! Cibulkova reached the second round of Eastbourne where she was defeated by Angelique Kerber in two tight sets, 3-6 5-7. Cornet couldn’t trouble Elina Svitolina in the second round of Birmingham. The Frenchwoman battled hard against Kateryna Bondarenko in the first round of Eastbourne but was ultimately outhit by the more aggressive, Bondarenko.

The pair will know each other’s games well. Neither is having a banner year but both have plenty to offer and have reached the second week of Wimbledon in the past. Cibulkova leads the head-to-head, 7-3 and has won their last two matches. I think Cibulkova looked decent in Eastbourne and i’d give her the edge in this match.

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