?? MWTC Abu Dhabi, preview + prediction ?? Maria Sharapova vs. ?? Ajla Tomljanovic
Maria Sharapova will take on Ajla Tomljanovic in the annual Mubadala World Tennis Championships in Abu Dhabi. The ATP event is the star attraction with a field of 6 players including the top 2 ranked players, meanwhile, Sharapova and Tomljanovic will represent the WTA in a standalone exhibition match on Thursday evening.
There are no ranking points on the line here but this is an important match for both Sharapova and Tomljanovic, for different reasons. Sharapova won just 8 tour level matches last year, just 2 during the second half of the year, therefore every victory is important for Sharapova to gain confidence. Tomljanovic had one of her best seasons in 2019 and is seemingly well placed to perform even better in 2020. The problem for Tomljanovic has been not performing well in the biggest events and against the best players. A win over Sharapova, albeit in an exhibition match would boost the confidence of Tomljanovic heading into the new year.
Tomljanovic is ‘looking forward to facing Sharapova for the first time, an opponent she has always wanted to play.’ Indeed this is a good opportunity for Tomljanovic to play against one of the games biggest names. Sharapova is certainly past her prime and this is just an exhibition match but a win over Sharapova could be vital for Tomljanovic, a player who has rarely managed to beat the biggest names in tennis.
I’ll side with Tomljanovic here. This is surprisingly the first even meeting between the pair at any level. It is Tomljanovic who is in the prime of her career at the moment and I expect her to climb even higher in 2020. Sharapova is merely a novelty at this stage of her career. Tomljanovic is in better shape and more match tough, even during the off season. Expect Tomljanovic to ultimately be too solid for the Russian.
Prediction: Ajla Tomljanovic to defeat Maria Sharapova in 3 sets
???? WTA Finals – Shenzhen Final preview ?? (1) Ashleigh Barty vs. ?? (8) Elina Svitolina
A blockbuster championship match will conclude the inaugural WTA Finals Shenzhen as top seed and world number 1 Ashleigh Barty comes up against defending champion Elina Svitolina. It is Svitolina who heads into this match with a distinct edge given her dominant 5-0 head-to-head record over the Aussie. However, Barty has improved significantly in 2019, has the world number 1 improved her game enough to finally get the better of Svitolina?
Ash Barty has the chance to finish her greatest season on the ultimate high. Barty will end the year as number 1 and can extend the gap at the top even further by winning the WTA Finals in her first appearance at the event. Barty had a roller-coaster ride through the group stage but still managed to top the red group. Barty started the event with a 3-set win over Belinda Bencic before losing from a set and a break up to Kiki Bertens. The Aussie secured her spot in the final 4 with a straight set win over Petra Kvitova before booking a spot in the final with a hard-fought 4-6 6-2 6-3 win over Karolina Pliskova.
Elina Svitolina heads into Sunday’s final in Shenzhen on an incredible 9-match winning streak at the WTA Finals. The defending champion has been in outstanding form all week, thriving on the grind on the slow courts in Shenzhen. Svitolina topped the purple group with straight set wins over Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep and Sofia Kenin. The Ukrainian’s first lapse came in her semi-final victory over Belinda Bencic, Svitolina won via retirement 5-7 6-3 4-1. There was an element of luck to Svitolina’s win over Bencic but credit to Svitolina, she is in outstanding shape and simply incredibly tough to beat on this surface.
Svitolina has won all 5 of the previous matches between the pair. 3 of those victories were in straight sets and 4 of them were on hard courts. The most recent match between the pair was the closest Barty has come to victory, Svitolina required over 3 hours to claim a 7-6 5-7 6-4 win over the Aussie in Indian Wells earlier this year.
I have to side with Svitolina here. The head-to-head record does not lie. Svitolina has the clear edge in this match-up having won all 5 of their previous matches. Barty has admitted that Svitolina is her toughest opponent and it is easy to see why. It is incredibly tough for Barty to consistently hit through Svitolina, Svitolina is happy to engage in a scrap with Barty, the Ukrainian is consistent and disciplined and not afraid of the Barty backhand slice, Svitolina is happy to trade cross court over and over again with Barty and will come out on top more often than not. The slow hard courts in Shenzhen favour Svitolina in this match-up, expect the defending champion to be too solid on a surface that will allow her play this match on her terms.
Prediction: Elina Svitolina to defeat Ashleigh Barty in 2 sets
???? WTA Finals – Shenzhen SF #2 preview ?? (1) Ashleigh Barty vs. ?? (2) Karolina Pliskova
The top 2 players in the world will do battle in the second semi-final from Shenzhen as Ash Barty comes up against Karolina Pliskova. This is one of the tour’s most competitive match-ups, the pair have split their 4 tour level meetings and both will head into this match with confidence. Who will book their place in Sunday’s final at the WTA Finals Shenzhen?
Ash Barty has secured her spot as season ending number 1 and is now a few wins away from securing her first WTA Finals crown. Barty has probably secured her status as player of the year in 2019 and will certainly have that honour if she can go on to win the title this week. It has been an up and down week for Barty. The Aussie started the event with a comeback win over Belinda Bencic in 3 sets before succumbing to Kiki Bertens in 3 sets from a set and a break up. The Reigning Roland Garros champion secured her spot in the final 4 with a commanding straight set victory over Petra Kvitova to finish on top of the red group.
Karolina Pliskova is through to her third consecutive semi-final at the WTA Finals. Pliskova will be hoping it is a case of third time lucky as she aims to reach the final of the event for the first time at her third attempt. Pliskova’s week started in disappointment as she was beaten by Elina Svitolina in straight sets. Pliskova received a lifeline in her second group match when Bianca Andreescu retired injured. It was all or nothing for Pliskova and Simona Halep in the final match from the red group and it was Pliskova who came out on top 6-0 2-6 6-4.
Barty holds a slight 3-2 head-to-head record over Pliskova. The pair have split their last 4 meetings at the tour level, each match was reasonably tight. There has been at least 1 tiebreak set in 4 of their 5 matches and at least 1 close set in each match. It was Barty who emerged victorious in their most recent match, a 7-6 6-3 win for the Aussie in the Miami Open final earlier this year.
I’m going to side with Barty here. On a very slow court, the variety and consistency of Barty should give her the slight edge over Pliskova. The Barty slice could be especially troublesome for Pliskova on this surface, especially at the end of the season when footwork isn’t necessarily as sharp. Importantly, Barty can match the power and accuracy of Pliskova on serve, Barty’s return is slightly stronger and I would give the Aussie the edge in neutral baseline exchanges.
Prediction: Ashleigh Barty to defeat Karolina Pliskova in 3 sets
???? WTA Finals – Shenzhen SF #1 preview ?? (8) Elina Svitolina vs. ?? (7) Belinda Bencic
Elina Svitolina and Belinda Bencic will kick-start proceedings on semi-final day at the WTA Finals Shenzhen. Svitolina and Bencic were the last two players to qualify for this year’s tournament but both have continued the recent trend of late entrants having success in the season finale. This should be entertaining clash between two of the tour’s most fearsome competitors.
Elina Svitolina is now just a couple of wins away from becoming the first player to win back-to-back editions of the WTA Finals since 2014. Svitolina is on an 8-match winning streak at the WTA Finals, a truly outstanding effort from the Ukrainian. The 8th seed is once again loving the court conditions at the WTA Finals, the slow, lifeless courts in Shenzhen are perfect for Svitolina, similar to the Singapore courts where Elina captured the title last year. Svitolina went through the group stage without dropping a single set, Svitolina claimed straight set wins over Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep and Sofia Kenin to top the purple group.
Belinda Bencic has had a topsy-turvy route to the semi-finals in her first appearance at the WTA Finals. Bencic was beaten by Ash Barty in 3 sets on the opening day but responded with a 3 set win of her own against Petra Kvitova. Bencic secured her spot in the final 4 with a bit of luck on her side as Bertens retired ill midway through their crucial winner takes all clash. Bencic has nothing to lose this week and remains a big threat given her impressive record over top opponents.
It is Bencic who heads into this match with a 2-1 record over Svitolina. However it was Svitolina who came out on top in their most recent clash, a 6-2 6-4 win for Svitolina at the Rogers Cup earlier this year.
I’m going to side with Svitolina here. There is absolutely no doubt that Svitolina has been the most impressive player throughout the group stage, Svitolina is remarkably solid and just so tough to beat at the moment on these slow courts. The conditions should be favourable for Svitolina in this match-up, Bencic likes absorb and redirect pace but she won’t be able to do that easily in this match-up, instead she will be forced into a baseline scrap with many long rallies, this certainly favours Svitolina who is quicker, stronger and mentally tougher.
Prediction: Elina Svitolina to defeat Belinda Bencic in 2 sets
???? WTA Finals – Shenzhen RR preview ?? (2) Karolina Pliskova vs. ?? (5) Simona Halep
The fourth and final semi-final spot will be up for grabs at the WTA Finals Shenzhen on Friday evening as Karolina Pliskova takes on Simona Halep in the final match from the red group. The scenario is simple, the winner will finish second in the group and reach the final 4, the loser is out. It is Halep who heads into this match as the favourite given this has generally been a favourable match-up for the reigning Wimbledon champion who holds a 7-3 record over Pliskova.
Karolina Pliskova hasn’t been too impressive thus far in Shenzhen but thanks to some good fortune she can still turn things around. Pliskova was beaten by Elina Svitolina in straight sets in her opening match before defeating Bianca Andreescu via retirement to keep her hopes of reaching the semi-finals alive.
Simona Halep has played decent tennis this week in Shenzhen, especially given her fairly limited preparation. Halep started the event with an epic 3-6 7-6 6-3 win over Bianca Andreescu from set point down in the second set. Halep couldn’t get the job done in her second match where she fell to Elina Svitolina in a tight straight set match. Despite losing to Svitolina, Halep wasn’t disgraced, Svitolina is simply the best player in the field at the moment.
Halep may hold a dominant 7-3 record over Pliskova but it is Pliskova who has won 2 of their last 3 meetings. The most recent match between the pair took place in Miami earlier this year, it was Pliskova who won 7-5 6-1. This will surprisingly be the first meeting between the pair at the WTA Finals despite both regularly featuring in the event over the last 6 years.
I’m going to side with Halep here. Halep has such a favourable record over Pliskova for a reason. This is a bad match-up for Pliskova, Halep is able to read and neutralize the Pliskova serve better than anyone, once Halep gets into a baseline battle with Pliskova she is a huge favourite. The slow, lifeless court in Shenzhen will significantly favour Halep in this match-up as she will be able to get into more baseline rallies where she can expose the weaknesses in the Pliskova game.
Prediction: Simona Halep to defeat Karolina Pliskova in 2 sets
???? WTA Finals – Shenzhen RR preview ?? (8) Elina Svitolina vs. ?? (Alt) Sofia Kenin
Elina Svitolina and Sofia Kenin will go head-to-head for the fifth time in 2019 when they do battle on the final day of group stage matches at the 2019 WTA Finals Shenzhen. The pair have split their four previous meetings, each match was tight with at least 1 tiebreak being played in each of their previous matches.
The scenario heading into this match is a strange one. Svitolina has already secured top spot in the purple group and will be playing Belinda Bencic in the semi-finals on Saturday regardless of what happens in this match. Meanwhile Kenin received a late call to play as the second alternate when Bianca Andreescu pulled out of her final group stage match due to injury. Essentially this is a dead rubber as Kenin can’t progress and Svitolina is through, however there are ranking points and prize money at stake.
Elina Svitolina has made a perfect start to her title defense in Shenzhen and has easily been the most impressive player of the tournament thus far. The Ukrainian kick-started her title defense with a 7-6 6-4 win over Karolina Pliskova before defeating Simona Halep 7-5 6-3. The slow, lifeless courts in Shenzhen are proving to be a perfect surface for Svitolina, just as the similar surface was for her last year in Singapore. Svitolina heads into this match having won her last 7 matches at the WTA Finals, an amazing run given the quality of opposition.
Sofia Kenin will get one last chance to shine in 2019. Kenin has been one of the most improved players this year and deservedly gets a chance to play on the biggest stage. It has been a long season for the American who was competing at the Elite Trophy in Zhuhai last week where she failed to progress through the group stage.
The head-to-head record between the pair is split at 2 wins apiece. The most recent match between the two took place in Beijing a month ago where Svitolina won 6-3 6-7 6-3. Matches between these two are always a physical battle with many long rallies, expect the same here on a slow court.
This is a tough match to predict given circumstances. Svitolina is through and Kenin can’t progress. I’m going to side with Kenin. It is Kenin who knows this is her last match, she can give her all, whilst Svitolina knows she has to play Bencic tomorrow in the semi-finals. In a match-up that requires Svitolina to grind for victory it wouldn’t be wise for the defending champion to push too hard. If Kenin gets on top early the resistance from Svitolina may understandably be minimal.
Prediction: Sofia Kenin to defeat Elina Svitolina in 2 sets
???? WTA Finals – Shenzhen RR preview ?? (2) Karolina Pliskova vs. ?? (4) Bianca Andreescu
A critical clash from the purple group sees the second seeded Karolina Pliskova take on the fourth seeded Bianca Andreescu. Pliskova and Andreescu were both defeated in their opening group stage matches, meaning this is virtually an elimination match. Andreescu upset Pliskova in Toronto earlier this year in their only previous meeting, can Pliskova avenge that loss or will Andreescu’s variety be too much for Pliskova to handle?
Karolina Pliskova has been one of the most consistent players over the last few seasons and has won more titles than any other player in 2019. However, Pliskova continues to struggle against the very best, her poor recent record against top 10 opponent was extended on Day 2 in Shenzhen as she was defeated by Elina Svitolina in straight sets, a 6-7 4-6 loss for the Czech. Pliskova had her chances in a lengthy opening set before eventually succumbing 12-14 in a tiebreak. There were enough promising signs to suggest Pliskova can bounce back in Shenzhen.
Bianca Andreescu was extremely close to make a winning start in her WTA Finals debut. Andreescu held match point to claim a straight set win over Simona Halep but couldn’t convert and was eventually overrun by the Romanian, a 6-3 6-7 3-6 defeat for Andreescu. The Canadian complained about a back injury after her defeat to Halep but it is hard to know how much to read into that given she always seems to have an excuse after a loss. Andreescu has a strong record over top 10 opponents in 2019 so she will still have hope that she can move through the group stage.
It was Andreescu who won the only previous match between the pair, a 6-0 2-6 6-4 victory at the Rogers Cup earlier this year.
I’m going to side with Pliskova here. The Indoor conditions seemingly suit Pliskova’s game, the Czech played a good match against Svitolina but some unforced errors in critical moments cost her the match. Pliskova’s first strike tennis has the ability to take control away from Andreescu, the Canadian isn’t as strong when defending and is seemingly losing some steam as a long season comes to an end. Pliskova therefore seems in better shape heading into this match and is seemingly favoured by the conditions.
Prediction: Karolina Pliskova to defeat Bianca Andreescu in 3 sets
???? WTA Finals – Shenzhen RR preview ?? (5) Simona Halep vs. ?? (8) Elina Svitolina
Simona Halep and Elina Svitolina will reignite their rivalry when they do battle in the opening singles match on Wednesday at the WTA Finals Shenzhen. Halep and Svitolina both claimed hard-fought victories to kick-start their Shenzhen campaigns and will head into this match full of confidence. The winner of this match will be the first from the purple group to secure a spot in the semi-finals, who will it be?
Simona Halep claimed a memorable 3-6 7-6 6-3 victory over Bianca Andreescu to begin her 6th consecutive appearance at the WTA Finals. Halep fended off match point late in the second set before running away with the match in the decider thanks to her superior toughness and stamina. It will be interesting to see how Halep recovers in time for her match with Svitolina, a match that will probably be even tougher for the reigning Wimbledon champion.
Elina Svitolina made a positive start to her title defense at the WTA Finals. The Ukrainian claimed a typically gutsy 7-6 6-4 win over Karolina Pliskova. Svitolina’s trademark toughness was on display as she edged past the big-hitting Pliskova 14-12 in the opening set tiebreak, finally converting on seventh set point before sneaking through in the tight second set. Svitolina has now won an impressive 6 consecutive matches at this event and will fancy her chances of extending that streak to 7 victories against Halep.
The head-to-head record between the pair is split at 4 wins apiece, this is indeed one of the most even match-ups on tour with both players possessing similar strengths and vulnerabilities. Halep has won the last couple of matches between the pair, both in 2019. Most recently Halep won 6-1 6-3 in the final 4 at Wimbledon.
This is of course a very difficult match to predict. I will give the slight edge to Svitolina. The defending champion is probably favoured by the slow, low bouncing hard courts in this match-up. This will be a total grind and that favours Svitolina. Svitolina looked sharp in her opening win over Pliskova whilst Halep was admittedly exhausted after a very tough win over Andreescu. It feels like Svitolina is in slightly better shape heading into this match as well as being slightly favoured by the conditions.
Prediction: Elina Svitolina to defeat Simona Halep in 3 sets
???? WTA Finals – Shenzhen RR preview ?? (6) Petra Kvitova vs. ?? (7) Belinda Bencic
Petra Kvitova and Belinda Bencic will renew hostilities when they do battle in a crucial match from the red group at the WTA Finals Shenzhen on Tuesday night. Kvitova and Bencic were both defeated in their opening group stage matches meaning the loser of this match is highly unlikely to progress to the semi-finals, whilst the winner will have a fighting chance.
Kvitova is making her 7th appearance at the WTA Finals, the 2011 champion suffered a brutal loss in her opening match in Shenzhen succumbing to Naomi Osaka 6-7 6-4 4-6 despite playing a fairly good match. Kvitova battled from a set down in the second set to force a decider but was unable to get the job done in the decider in a match that followed a strikingly similar pattern to the Australian Open final earlier this year.
Belinda Bencic was also unable to get the job done in her opening match of the tournament. Bencic made a bright start to her WTA Finals debut as she won a tight opening set over Ash Barty but was eventually overrun by the world number 1, succumbing 7-5 1-6 2-6. Bencic will be disappointed with how noncompetitive she was in the final 2 sets and eager to rebound against Kvitova with a win.
Kvitova holds a fairly dominant 4-1 head-to-head record over Bencic. The pair have already gone to battle on 3 previous occasions in 2019, Kvitova defeated Bencic 6-1 6-4 at the Australian Open before Bencic defeated Kvitova for the first time in the Dubai final, a 6-3 1-6 6-2 win. The most recent match between the pair took place in Beijing about a month ago, Kvitova won 6-3 6-3.
I’m going to side with Bencic here despite Kvitova having had the better of this match-up. Kvitova is very much a momentum player, unfortunately for Kvitova that does not bode well for her here given she hasn’t won a match in almost a month. Bencic is battle-hardened and will make life tough for Kvitova on a slow, low bouncing surface. The surface will allow Bencic to get into more rallies where her greater consistency should give her the edge against a somewhat jaded Kvitova.
Prediction: Belinda Bencic to defeat Petra Kvitova in 3 sets
???? WTA Finals – Shenzhen RR preview ?? (1) Ashleigh Barty vs. ?? (3) Naomi Osaka
A blockbuster clash between Ash Barty and Naomi Osaka will kick-start singles play on Tuesday at the WTA Finals Shenzhen. Barty and Osaka both claimed hard-fought 3 set victories on day 1 of the tournament meaning the winner of this match will be the first to book a place in the semi-finals in Shenzhen.
Ash Barty battled from a set down to defeat Belinda Bencic 5-7 6-1 6-2 in her debut match at the WTA Finals. Barty’s win over Bencic means that Barty will become the first Australian woman to become the season ending world number 1. Barty’s dominance behind serve was key to her win over Bencic, the Barty serve was broken just once as she hit 10 aces and won 82% of her first service points. A similar serving performance against Osaka will give the top seed a great chance of scoring another win.
Naomi Osaka was also forced to battle hard for her opening victory in Shenzhen, Osaka fended off a strong fightback from Petra Kvitova to secure a 7-6 4-6 6-4 victory. Osaka was strong behind her first serve where she hit 12 aces and won 72% of points. However, Osaka was broken on 5 occasions and was fairly inconsistent, the Japanese star will need to produce a tidier performance if she is to knock off the world number 1 on Tuesday.
The head-to-head record between the pair is split at 2 wins apiece. Osaka holds a 2-1 edge on hard courts and has won their 2 most recent matches on a hard court. Most recently Osaka defeated Barty 3-6 6-3 6-2 in the final of the China Open earlier this month.
This is a very tough match to predict, a match that could easily go either way between arguably the 2 strongest players over the last 16 months. I’m going to give the slight edge to Barty. The main reasons for siding with the Aussie is that her serve is slightly more secure and her versatility on a slow, low bouncing surface has the potentially to frustrate Osaka in what should be a tight match.
Prediction: Ash Barty to defeat Naomi Osaka in 3 sets