??? Roland Garros, R1 preview + prediction:
?? Danielle Collins vs. ?? (Q) Monica Niculescu
Expect a fiery encounter when Danielle Collins and Monica Niculescu go head-to-head for the first time when they meet at the first round stage at Roland Garros. It is Collins who heads into this clash with a far greater ranking and more impressive overall results over the last few years, but it’s Niculescu who enters this clash with the better form on clay having come through the qualifying draw in Paris. A tough match to call.
Danielle Collins hasn’t had much success on clay over the last couple of years, certainly not the same success she has had on hard courts at the tour level. Collins arrives in Paris in poor form having not won a tour level main draw match since the Australian Open. The American hasn’t played any matches on clay since the tour restart. Collins was last in action in New York where she suffered opening round losses at the Western & Southern Open and at the US Open, beaten by Jill Teichmann and Anett Kontaveit.
Monica Niculescu navigated her way through the qualifying draw at Roland Garros with 3 victories over a couple of reasonably tough opponents. Niculescu defeated Chihiro Muramatsu in straight sets, before requiring 3 sets to get the better of Elitsa Kostova and Vera Zvonareva.
I’m going to side with Niculescu here. The Romanian has form on her side and is better adjusted to the tricky conditions in Paris, on a surface that she is more comfortable on than her opponent. Off a limited preparation I don’t think Collins will be able to consistently execute the game required to hit through a tricky opponent in difficult conditions. Collins hasn’t played a match since the US Open and will surely need some time to get adjusted, getting adjusted against one of the most unorthodox players on her least preferred surface will be a tough ask. Expect Niculescu to be too solid here.
Prediction: Monica Niculescu to defeat Danielle Collins in 3 sets
?? Australian Open, R1 Preview
?? Monica Niculescu vs. ?? Amanda Anisimova
The hipster match-up of the day at Melbourne Park on Monday sees Monica Niculescu take on Amanda Anisimova. This match-up features a huge contrast in styles, perhaps the biggest contrast possible. The famous Niculescu forehand slice up against the powerful young American who is quickly rising up the rankings.
Niculescu and Anisimova have both made decent starts to their respective seasons. Niculescu fought through the qualifying draw all the way to the quarter-finals in Shenzhen whilst Anisimova reached the quarter-finals in Auckland. Both players claimed notable victories in their first tournament of the year. Niculescu thrashed Jelena Ostapenko in Shenzhen whilst Anisimova cruised past Barbora Strycova in Auckland in what loomed as a tricky match-up for the American.
This will be the first career meeting between Niculescu and Anisimova. This should be entertaining match-up because of the extreme contrast in styles. Anisimova is young and powerful whilst Niculescu is experienced and smart. Who will prevail?
To view my analysis / prediction for this match: Click here
Doha R3: (3) Agnieszka Radwanska vs Monica Niculescu
Aga Radwanska will continue her quest for maiden Qatar Total Open title on Wednesday when she comes up against Romanian Monica Niculescu in the third round. Radwanska’s chances to win the title in Doha increased dramatically after day 2 saw another streak of bizarre losses for seeded players at the Qatar Total Open including Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep and Belinda Bencic. Radwanska lost her most recent clash to Niculescu and will be keen to avenge that loss in Doha.
Radwanska made a reasonably positive return to competitive action in first match since a semi-final exit at the Australian Open. The Pole recorded a relatively comfortable 6-4 6-4 victory over Kateryna Bondarenko on Centre Court. It was reasonably clean performance but clearly Aga will need to improve as the week progresses. Radwanska has reached the semi-final stage in Doha in 3 of her least 4 appearances at the event, clearly the world number 3 enjoys the conditions in Doha and will be looking to go a couple of steps better in 2016.
Monica Niculescu has recorded a pair of decent victories to advance to the third round in Doha. The Romanian started her Qatar Total Open campaign with a 6-2 6-2 victory over a wayward Sabine Lisicki before winning a marathon battle against Jelena Jankovic 3-6 6-4 7-5. Niculescu twice failed to serve out the match in a drama filled deciding set but ultimately held her nerve and secured her third consecutive victory over Jankovic.
The head-to-head record between Radwanska and Niculescu is split at 1 win apiece. It was Niculescu won their most recent clash, causing a major upset at the semi-final stage in Nottingham last year by recording a 5-7 6-4 6-0 victory. Radwanska’s form has improved dramatically ever since that match which was actually a turning point in Radwanska’s season. I suspect Radwanska will be too good for Niculescu on this occasion, the Pole does pretty everything better than Niculescu and should be smart enough to win this with relative ease.
Prediction: Aga Radwanska to defeat Monica Niculescu in 2 sets
World Group R1: Romania vs Czech Republic
The Czech Republic team will begin their Fed Cup titles defense with a tricky away tie in Romania. The Czech girls have been dominant in recent years, being crowned champions in four of the last five years and again loom as one of the favourites in 2016. The Czech girls will be wary of a strong Romanian team and will know that they need to play at high level to get through this potentially difficult first round tie.
The Czech Republic’s amazing results over the last few years have been due to the dedication of the nation’s star players. Petra Kvitova has been the spearhead of every campaign and has always prioritised competing for her nation in Fed Cup. whilst Lucie Safarova, Karolina Pliskova and Barbora Strycova have been very handy support acts. The Czech team has great depth, something that most of their rivals could only dream of having.
The Czech team will be without Lucie Safarova for this first round tie with Romania as Lucie continues to recover from a bacterial illness which kept her out of the entire Australian summer. Their team is still strong, with Petra Kvitova, Karolina Pliskova, Barbora Strycova and Denisa Allertova set to take to the courts.
The Romanian team’s progression into the world group was one of the biggest shocks in 2015. The Romanian team defied the odds to win an away tie against Canada without Simona Halep in the world group play-off. The Romanian’s couldn’t have asked for a tougher introduction to the world group, coming up against the two-time defending champions. However, the Romanian team will fancy their chances at home with Simona Halep on board. The Romanian number 1 has indicated that she will undergo surgery on her nose in the coming weeks but has decided to postpone her surgery in order to represent Romania in this crucial tie. Simona Halep will be aided by Monica Niculescu, Andreea Mitu and Raluca Olaru who is late replacement for an injured Irina-Camelia Begu.
Romania’s competitiveness in this tie will depend on the form of Simona Halep. The Romanian number 1 will probably have to win both of her singles matches to give the hosts a chance in this tie. However, that seems unlikely given Simona’s rocky start to the season which saw her struggle with injury in the lead up to the Australian Open before ultimately suffering a shock first round exit in Melbourne. There will be a lot of pressure on Simona in this tie in front of her home crowd, it will be interesting to see how Simona handles the occasion given her tendency to struggle under pressure and her form concerns heading into the weekend. What is in Simona’s favour is that she has never lost to either Petra Kvitova or Karolina Pliksova, her likely opponents this weekend.
I suspect the Czech team will be too strong here and should win this tie before there is any needs for a doubles rubber. Petra Kvitova also thrives in the Fed Cup atmosphere and will see this as a massive opportunity to claim a maiden win over Simona Halep. Both Kvitova and Pliskova should win their matches against Monica Niculescu and therefore they can claim victory with one win over Halep which seems highly likely given Simona’s recent struggles.
Prediction: Czech Republic to defeat Romania 3-1
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
(1) Serena Williams vs Monica Niculescu
Serena Williams will make her much anticipated return to the Californian desert on Friday evening when she takes Monica Niculescu in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open. The world number one and two-time former champion will end a 14 year boycott of the event. Surprisingly, this will be the first career meeting between these two seasoned campaigners.
Serena Williams decision to return to Indian Wells was one of the biggest stories in the tennis world this year. The world number 1 revealing that she discovered ‘the true meaning of forgiveness,’ deciding that she is finally ready to return to the scene of her saddest memory on tour.
Serena Williams has not played a match since a Fed Cup victory in Argentina the week after she claimed her 19th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.
Monica Niculescu set up a second round clash with the world number 1 by crushing Aleksandra Krunic 6-2 6-1 in her opening round match. The Romanian has made an extremely poor start to the season, winning just 1 match prior to this event.
The world number 1 will undoubtedly be extremely desperate to win the title, she has returned to California to prove a point and will not let anyone get in her way. It would be brave decision to bet against Serena over the next two weeks.
The contrast in styles between these two players couldn’t be greater. It will be intriguing to see how the Romanian’s slice forehand holds up against the almighty Serena Williams. It may take Serena a couple of games to find her rhythm, especially considering this is her first ever meeting with Niculescu. However a part from a potential slow start it’s hard to see Serena being troubled in this match-up.
Prediction: Serena WIlliams to defeat Monica Niculescu in 2 sets