Moscow R2: (3) (wc) Flavia Pennetta vs Daria Gavrilova
Flavia Pennetta’s Kremlin Cup campaign will begin on Wednesday when she comes up against Daria Gavrilova in the second round of the Kremlin Cup. Flavia Pennetta is one of four ladies in Moscow that are fighting for the two remaining positions at next week’s WTA Finals in Singapore. Pennetta’s destiny is in her own hands, she is currently 8th in the live race and must keep winning to remain ahead of the chasing pack, otherwise she will be relying on other results to qualify.
Flavia Pennetta has struggled since the U.S Open. The Italian stunned the tennis world by claiming her first career Grand Slam at flushing Meadows but was unable to make an impact during the Asian Swing. Pennetta laboured through to the third round in Beijing before losing to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Things got much worse for Pennetta in Tianjin, suffering a humiliating straight set loss to the world ranked 414 Lyudmyla Kichenok. With a good amount of time to prepare in Moscow, Pennetta should be much closer to her best this week as she looks to reach the WTA Finals for the first time in her career.
Daria Gavrilova’s form has deteriorated in the later stages of the season, arriving in Moscow having lost 7 of her last 10 matches. Daria did make a positive start to her Kremlin cup campaign on Tuesday, picking up an extremely hard-fought 3-6 6-3 7-5 victory over Alize Cornet. Gavrilova seems to rise to the occasion when she comes up against a better credentialed opponent, she will enjoy having a crack at the reining U.S Open champion and potentially ending her career.
This will be the first career meeting between the pair, it promises to be an entertaining match. I suspect Flavia Pennetta will be good enough to get the job done here, this is a critical match for the Italian who would have been very embarrassed by her loss in Tianjin and will be desperate to rectify that result and keep her Singapore chances alive. Pennetta does most things better than Gavrilova and her maturity could be a big factor in what should be a close match.
Prediction: Flavia Pennetta to defeat Daria Gavrilova in 2 sets
Moscow R1: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs Monica Niculescu
Defending Champion Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will begin her title defence at the Kremlin Cup with a first round encounter against Monica Niculescu. Pavlyuchenkova arrives in Moscow full confidence having won her eight title of her career last week in Linz. The Russian should continue her winning ways in Moscow when she comes up against Niculescu, an opponent who she has never lost to.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has now won 15 consecutive matches at indoor events, including three titles (Paris, Moscow and Linz). It was no surprise to see Pavlyuchenkova perform so well in Linz last week, given the Russian’s impressive form in Beijing the week before where she defeated Flavia Pennetta and Elina Svitolina on route to the quarter-finals. Pavlyuchenkova was rarely troubled in Linz, dropping just 1 set on her way to the title. The only concern for Pavlyuchenkova heading into Moscow is her tiring body, the Russian has played a lot of tennis in the last couple of weeks and admitted that she was struggling towards the end of the week in Linz.
Monica Niculescu’s form during the Asian swing was unspectacular. The Romanian arrives in Moscow on the back to two consecutive losses, including a crushing straight set loss to Sam Stosur in the first round in Beijing. Niculescu will arrive in Moscow fresh after a couple of weeks off, which could be hugely important.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova holds a perfect 2-0 head-to-head record over The Romanian, including a 3-6 6-2 6-4 win in Monterrey in their most recent encounter back in 2013. Niculescu is always a tricky customer to play, however Pavlyuchenkova has the game to punish the Romanian’s weak groundstrokes. The Russian should begin her title defence with a convincing victory, unless she succumbs to injury.
Prediction: Pavlyuchenkova to defeat Monica Niculescu in 2 sets
Moscow R1: (6) (wc) Karolina Pliskova vs Alexandra Dulgheru
Karolina Pliskova accepted a late wild card into Moscow in an attempt to secure one of the remaining positions at the upcoming WTA Finals Singapore. Pliskova will start her Kremlin Cup campaign with a first round clash against Romanian Alexandra Dulgheru, this will be the first career meeting between the pair.
Karolina Pliskova must reach at least the final this week in order to qualify for her first career WTA Finals campaign. Karolina will need to improve her recent form quite dramatically if she is to do so. Pliskova started the year off so well and seemed a certainty to reach Singapore for much of the season, however her recent form has been unspectacular, highlighted by an embarrassing first round loss in New York. Karolina’s form during the Asian swing was unspectacular, suffering disappointing losses at every event. Pliskova seems to be struggling both physically and mentally after such a long season, however she did show some signs of life last week in Tianjin where she reached the semi-finals before succumbing to Agnieszka Radwanska in straight sets.
Alexandra Dulgheru’s recent form has been quite disastrous. The Romanian has lost 8 of her last 9 matches, including 6 first round exits. Dulgheru failed to win a match during the Asian swing, suffering 3 straight set first round losses.
This will be the first career meeting between Pliskova and Dulgheru. All signs points to a comfortable straight set victory for Karolina Pliskova who will be desperate to keep her Singapore chances alive. The indoor conditions in Moscow should suit Pliskova.
Prediction: Karolina Pliskova to defeat Alexandra Dulgheru in 2 sets
Moscow R1: Daria Gavrilova vs Alize Cornet
A first career meeting between two of the most entertaining characters on the tour will take place in the first round of the Kremlin Cup when Daria Gavrilova comes up against Alize Cornet. This is the final chance for these two ladies to make an impact in season 2015. The two have had contrasting seasons, Gavrilova has risen rapidly up the rankings whilst Alize Cornet has steadily slipped down the rankings. However the two arrive in Moscow in very similar form, it will interesting to see how this match pans out.
It has been the greatest season of Daria Gavrilova’s young career, however Daria has struggled in recent months. Daria arrives in Moscow having lost 7 of her last 10 matches. Gavrilova suffered a disappointing first round exit in New York and was unable to create any momentum during the Asian swing. Gavrilova did record back-to-back victories last week in Hong Kong for the first time since the Rogers Cup. The Russian reached the quarter-finals in Hong Kong where she suffered a crushing loss to the eventual champion Jelena Jankovic. This is likely to be Gavrilova’s final tournament in Russia where she will be representing Russia.
Alize Cornet also arrives in Moscow having lost 7 of her last 10 matches. Alize also recorded back-to-back victories last week in Hong Kong for the first time since the Rogers Cup. Alize was thumped by Venus Williams at the quarter-final stage, the tournament did end well for Frenchwoman, claiming the doubles title alongside Yaroslava Shvedova.
This is a really tough match to call, both ladies arrive in similarly disappointing form and both have quite similar games. We can expect to see a number of gruelling rallies between the two, whoever steps up and is able to be aggressive and finish the points more effectively will prevail. I suspect Alize will get the job done, she will have gained some confidence in Hong Kong and her experience will probably be a big factor in this match-up.
Prediction: Alize Cornet to defeat Daria Gavrilova in 3 sets
Moscow R1: Dominika Cibulkova vs (wc) Elena Vesnina
The first main draw match of the 2015 Kremlin Cup sees former champion Dominika Cibulkova take on Russian wild card Elena Vesnina. Given the depleted and tiring field in Moscow, Dominika Cibulkova is certainly one of the main contenders to claim the title this week at the Kremlin Cup. However, Dominika will need to overcome a negative head-to-head record against Vesnina if she is to advance past the first round in Moscow, recent form suggests she should be able to do just that.
Dominika has been gradually building towards her best since returning to the courts midway through the season. The Slovakian has shown glimpses of her best, but has been unable to maintain a high level long enough throughout tournaments. Dominika’s best run came in Toyo where she defeated Ana Ivanovic and Suarez Navarro on route to the the semi-finals, Domi was unable to carry that winning form into Wuhan and Beijing where she suffered disappointing early round exits. After a couple of weeks off, Dominika looks perfectly poised for a deep run in Moscow.
Elena Vesnina’s recent form has been quite horrendous, losing 5 of her last 6 matches. Elena did pick up a surprise straight set victory over Elina Svitolina last week in Tianjin but was unable to back-up the victory as she lost to Jovanovski in the second round. Vesnina can take some confidence into this match, knowing that she has defeated Cibulkova on numerous occasions.
Elena Vesnina holds a 3-2 head-to-head record over the Slovakian, however all three of the Russian’s victories came way back in 2009. Dominika won the most recent encounter between the pair, a 6-0 6-2 win in Moscow in 2011. Dominika should see this event as a great opportunity to win another title, given the recent form of the pair, Dominika should win this match quite comfortably, it would be surprising to see her drop a set.
Prediction: Dominika Cibulkova to defeat Elena Vesnina in 2 sets
(4) Lucie Safarova vs (5) Svetlana Kuznetsova
A number of high profile, pre-tournament withdrawals have meant that interest levels in this years Kremlin Cup have been relatively low. However Friday’s quarter-final between Lucie Safarova and Svetlana Kuznetsova certainly stands out as a match to look forward to.
After receiving a bye into the second round, Lucie Safarova defeated Ajla Tomljanovic 7-6 6-2 in an impressive performance. Lucie served 15 aces and saved all 7 break points that she faced. This certainly wasn't a one off, Lucie has been serving well and saving break points throughout what has been one of her most consistent seasons on tour.
Svetlana Kuznetsova reached the quarter-finals in Moscow after surviving a real scare against Ukrainian youngster Kateryna Kozlova. Kuznetsova dropped the opening set 3-6 before a taking a lengthy break between the first and second sets. Kuznetsova managed to turn things around, eventually prevailing in marathon match 3-6 6-3 6-3 in 2 hours and 40 minutes.
Kuznetsova has a 4-3 head-to-head record over Lucie. Svetlana gained that positive head-to-head record by winning their most recent encounter, a 6-3 6-4 victory earlier this year at Roland Garros. Lucie has been refreshingly consistent this season; I suspect her newfound consistency will give her the edge in this match.
Prediction: Lucie Safarova to defeat Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2 sets