You can read all five of today's clubgowi tennis previews below, four have already been played, but the final match is taking place in a few hours time.
It is a good chance to see how we approach a standard event and we will have two weeks of similar coverage at the French Open which starts on Sunday week and you can sign up to receive the full two week coverage of that for just 49€ on the "join now" tab under "tennis.....next event".
Daria Gavrilova - Svetlana Kuznetsova
Daria Gavrilova looked in trouble again yesterday versus Caroline Garcia, after the Frenchwoman took the second set and looked on top entering the decider, she has a little steel about her and is looking to improve the mental side of her game, as I wrote in my pre match notes ...................
Daria Gavrilova battled really well to see off Madison Keys in three sets yesterday, but it was a match where neither player could hold serve through the last two sets and it was all about who made fewest errors and that is never going to be Keys, who is the superior player, but is not at her best right now . Gavrilova is a lovely mover and has spent a lot of timeworking with a sports psychologist, something I feel is good and which Team Australia are very keen on, maybe that helped her at key moments, but it was hard to see where until the very end. She is tough and has already come through 3 matches here (two going the distance), two in qualifying, last year she beat Simona Halep here in 3 and then lost to Kuznetsova in a decider. Clearly she does not go down easily.
Today she meets a player of similar toughness and one battle hardened after 16 years on the main tour and 13 since her first slam win and in perhaps her most consistent form of recent years. A proven winner on clay and hardcourts, Kuznetsova is looking to win her third Italian Open this week.
Svetlana Kuznetsova leads the h2h 4-0, dropping just 11 games across the three hardcourt meetings, but the other match was played here in Rome last year and was decided in three sets. That is one of just two losses Gavrilova has suffered in the Italian Open boasting a very fine 13-2 record and including some big name scalps, her other defeat coming in the 2015 semi final to champion Maria Sharapova in 21 games, the Russian having not lost more than six games to anyone up to that point. Another lengthy encounter in prospect, with both prepared to win, or be carried out on their shield (racquet).
1.5 units "over" 21 games 1.96 Pinnacle/Sportmarket.
0.75 units Svetlana Kuznetsova to win 2-1 in sets 3.75 general quote.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova - Simona Halep
I have previewed both of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova's matches this week and you can read each in full in yesterday's tennis notes (edit: see below) should you wish.
She started slowly against Anastasija Sevastova, but eventually won 7-6 6-2, playing some flawless tennis in the tie break/final set, on top form she hits the ball as well as anyone and yesterday hit maybe 30 flawless technical strokes in a row on 3-4 separate occasions. Today she faces Simona Halep, with the world number 5 ranked Romanian holding a 6-0 h2h advantage. However, none of those meetings have come on clay, which I read often is Halep's best surface and she won in Madrid last week, but that is unlike any other european clay event and she has not gone really deep in one of those at top level for three years or more and rarely in premium events on the surface.
The pair have not met for 18 months, but AP is much improved in the interim and whilst she has to get over the mental issue of never having beaten Halep, she looks better equipped than ever. Halep has dropped at least a set in 4 of her 6 matches here in Rome against top 20 ranked players and was taken to a decider in three of her wins in the altitude of Madrid last week where she is a two time winner, three time finalist , but has struggled here next time out on each occasion she has gone deep there, not making it beyond this stage.
1.5 units Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to win a set +1.5 sets 2.07 Pinnacle/Sportmarket.
Johanna Konta - Venus Williams
Ahead of Johanna Konta's opening win over Yulia Putintseva I wrote .............
She (YP) faces a kind of upgraded Puig today in the #7 ranked British player, but one far less happy on the surface and these feel like huge odds for Putintseva. Konta spoke at Miami about almost writing off the clay court season and that making her very focused for that US swing. Easy to see why, lifetime, I have to repeat that, lifetime ,she is 2-6 on outdoor clay in WTA events , she has won the odd match on dirt indoors, or at a lower level, but has never felt fully comfortable sliding and her thoughts will already be on grass (Eastbourne is her home town event) and then the return to hard courts. I doubt she would be playing here or even Roland Garros unless she had to and her focus is very much elsewhere.
A quick look at her social media pages tells you plenty, ahead of Miami, it was all pure excitement,"tickets for Miami", "got my accreditation", "so pumped", "really looking forward to it", not a single mention ahead, during ,or after the three clay court tournies !
She is a top ten player with eyes on #1, so she can win, but is her chance today bigger or lesser than 69% ?
Konta won 3 & 0 which sounds very easy and eventually it was, but the opener was as close a set of tennis as you could wish to see and could easily have played out very differently, the match too. Konta was not sliding, but has apparently been practicing that in build up to the event, she played basically a hard court game and shots on clay. She comes into this holding a 3-1 record over Venus Williams, all on fast courts, including a 6-4 7-5 win in the Miami Masters semi final a tournament where the Brit looked close to unplayable. Venus already has two wins here this week, so will have a match fitness edge in these conditions and whilst clay is her least favourite surface, she has some 170 career wins on it and is a seven time quarter finalist and former winner in Rome and will give the substance underfoot far less consideration than her opponent and I think she should be a coin flip at best today.
1.5 units Venus Williams to beat Johanna Konta 2.52 Pinnacle/Sportmarket Pro.
Ekaterina Makarova - Kiki Bertens
Kiki Bertens had a golden run on clay last year, reaching the semi finals of Roland Garros, winning Nuremburg and going deep in a couple of other events, picking up a whopping 64% of her ranking points on the surface, that puts her under enormous pressure over the next month, but she is not defending many here, so could lift much of that, by a big run in Rome and she looked incredibly focused since losing her first round opening set to Monica Niculescu, winning the four she has played subsequently for the loss of only 7 games. She has a 3-0 record over Ekaterina Makarova which includes a 6-1 7-6 win in Madrid last week, conditions here are different, but in truth should suit Bertens even better.
Makarova opened with a win over a hopelessly out of form Roberta Vinci, yesterday she beat Dominica Cibulkova in a very strange match, losing the first set 6-1 as she did to Bertens , but findind a way back, she was at times awful, others good, with little in between, but it is also true that Cibulkova's level dropped considerably, to enable the Russian to raise hers a little. Makarova has a losing record lifetime against top 50 ranked taller players and a losing one versus all, when her own is 21+ and she is 9-19 on clay v top 20 like Bertens, with 9 of the last 12 losses coming in straight sets. I spoke about her poor form ahead of her match with Vinci and Makarova has not won three times at any tournament since Wimbledon last year.
I expect the very motivated Dutchwoman to win and if Makarova again starts slowly, it might not take too long and I have other recent days in mind for the Russian !
1.5 units KiKi Bertens -3.5 games 1.92 Pinnacle/Sportmarket.
Timea Bacsinszky - Karolina Pliskova
Ahead of her match with tiny Lauren Davis yesterday, I spoke about Karolina Pliskova's record on the surface and how she felt about clay .............
Pliskova spoke in similar terms (negatively) to Konta about the clay court swing and is 2-3 on the surface this year, 21-4 on fast surfaces. She has lost in her first round here in Rome in two previous visits and is 2-5 at Roland Garros and has twice lost to players ranked circa 300 in Paris. She is not a clay courter.
Lauren Davis has 50 wins on the surface and showed her well being with a 7-6 in the third set loss to Kristina Mladenovic in Madrid and defeat of Carla Suarez Navarrro yesterday where she played well. We see the long and short of the WTA tour here, with the 1.57m US player facing the 1.86m Pliskova, that will be a similar look that Davis had against Mladenovic and she also has a 2-0 record against KP, both were in qualifiers, but on surfaces which would favour the Czech.
Pliskova has played ten matches in the last year against players who are under 1.7m tall and 7 have gone to at least 21 games and she has lost four, none were on clay, now on dirt her least favourite surface.
Pliskova wiped the floor with her opponent, who simply didn't show up, or try anything different to mix things up and it was a very disappointing performance from the US player. Timea Bacsinszky will be asking far more questions and is a clay court specialist making the last 8 at Roland Garros in each of the last two years (semis in 2015) and winning 17 matches on the surface last season, also reaching the last 8 here losing only to Garbine Muguruza who was about to become FO champion. TB avenged that loss in Madrid last week, but was unlucky to run into KikI Bertens (see above) early, she has seen off Babos and Strycova here in double quick time and really ought to win this, repeating her 4& 0 win over Pliskova here in Rome of two years ago.
1.75 units Timea Bacsinszky -1.5 games 2.06 Pinnacle/Sportmarket Pro.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova -Anastasija Sevastova (written May 17th)
I previewed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova's match with Sam Stosur on Monday and that is reproduced immediately below the "good luck" sign off.
She took the first set and looked in charge, before dropping the second on a tie break, before winning the third 6-1. She served well 10 aces (!), especially the big points and her game looks in great shape, I accept she doesn't look like an athlete, some female players just don't, but I understand that she has worked incredibly hard on this side of the game and feels she is at her fittest ever and three set wins over battling players like Cibulkova and Kerber (in a final) this year highlight that.
She holds a 4-0 h2h lead over Anastasija Sevastova, but three were before the Latvian returned to the game after coming out of retirement and all were on fast surfaces. However, AP's win in Linz late last year was noteworthy IMO, as she served so very well and put up some incredible stats, winning 88% on FS, 77% on second and dropping only 9 on serve, not allowing a break point, that gives her a big mental advantage coming into this, epecially as we know her game and serve is in good current shape. Sevastova has a solid clay court record at first glance but is barely ahead against top 100 players, is losing versus top 50 and today she meets a top 20 player who has top 5-8 ability and who is "hungry" for perhaps the first time in her professional career and getting rewards for a lot of hard work.
1.5 units Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova -2 games 1.98 Pinnacle/Sportmarket.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova - Samantha Stosur (written May 15th)
Two players heading in different directions, Stosur is 25-15 in the last 12 months , 11-12 in 2017 and over the last year, is 3-8 versus fellow top 20 players , winning just one of the last nine. She is now back on her favoured clay, but it is five years since she beat anyone truly comfortable on the surface here in Rome.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is finally starting to fulfill some of her potential and is 21-8 for the year, making the last 8 at the Australian Open and winning on a hard court in Monterrey beating world #2 Angelique Kerber in the final and on clay in Marrakech just a couple of weeks ago. In Melbourne I wrote about signs of this coming, her huge potential and all court game as a junior (I have highlighted this morning a couple of lines of extra relevance)..............
I just wonder if this could finally be Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova's year. It has been a long time coming, but she has been increasingly knocking on the door and was close to the big breakthrough in 2015 and was unlucky with the draw at some slams last year, taking Serena close in the last 8 at Wimbledon, running into her (then) nemesis, Svetlana Kuznetsova, at Roland Garros for example and if it will ever happen for her, consistent top 10-20, you do feel it has to be this year. I championed her early in her career, when I was certain she would be a multi major title winner, I spoke about this ahead of that loss to Kuznetsova, who is one of my favourite all time sportspeople for almost entirely financial reasons (!), in Paris ............
She leads the h2h with Pavlyuchenkova 4-1 , but the Russian pair have never met on clay and the younger player has huge (untapped) potential, she made four junior slam finals inside 13 months as a youngster, winning three, but losing here at RG to a much older Agnieszka Radwanska.
I was convinced that Pavlyuchenkova was the real deal and six years ago, you would not have been able to convince me that in 2016 she would still be without a grand slam title, let alone never have been ranked inside the top 10 ( she did make #13 in 2011) ,She is still only 24 yo and I guess could still make the big breakthrough, but she lacks consistency and you are never quite sure what you will get with her. The last two h2h meetings with Sveta says everything, she won 0 & 1 in Wuhan late in 2015, with Kuznetsova only winning 22 points, four weeks later in Moscow she lost 2 & 1 with Sveta being similarly dominant, but perhaps that says more about her opponent.
She lost that easily, which was good for us, but met and beat Kuzzy in straight sets yesterday and had previously seen off home favourite Samantha Stosur 3 &1 with Pavly all over the Aussies serve. They are good wins back to back and beating Kuznetsova, who she has long looked up to and who was defending champion here, will have given the Russian huge confidence for today and the rest of these championships, which are there for the winning. She spoke after her win yesterday on the tournament website :“I’m really happy, especially because she’s not only defending champion but my fellow (countrywoman) and she’s top 10 and she’s had a really incredible year last year.”So I knew it would be a really tough match and I was just trying to do my own thing and play good tennis.”
Last week Pavlyuchenkova began her season with an opening-round loss in Auckland and asked to explain the turnaround in her fortunes this week, the Russian said the difficulties in finding form in the first match of the year ,plus cold, windy conditions meant we shouldn’t read too deeply into her result there.
That win over Stosur was incredibly convincing and she was seeing the serve, which has long been one of the Aussies big weapons like a basketball, especially that kick second serve, which so many players have had trouble with in the past. It was on a hard court, but the pair met on clay here in Rome on their only other recent h2h clash and AP also won that in two sets, it was closer, but when Stosur did not serve an ace (she had ten of them), she was in trouble and the this year's meeting in Australia was just an extension of that. I am struggling to make a case for Stosur to be able to turn things around and I have to again favour Pavlyuchenkova to win in two.