Anett Kontaveit over Su-Wei Hsieh
I’m sorry, I just can’t buy into Wu-Wei Hsieh’s game. I saw her beat both Osaka and Wozniaki with my own eyes and still can’t believe it. With Osaka, the world’s #1 player just got bored and impatient and eventually succumbed to being her own worst enemy. Yesterday’s match against the Dane was somewhat similar. Hsieh looked like she was drilling in practice, simply hitting shots down the line and then cross-court. Wozniaki was trying to penetrate the Hsieh defense by hitting deep with pace, but when Hsieh simply returned the balls, Wozniaki pressed, and either overhit for an error or tried to come to net, which is not her strength, and Hsieh would make her pay for an inevitable inferior volley. It almost looked like a Girls 12-and-under match where Hsieh just “pushed” . . . and won! I’m surprised Hsieh is here, and I’ll be surprised if she wins this match. Yet I’m surprised Kontaveit is here too. I figured that all the winning would eventually catch up with Canadian teen-age sensation Bianca Andreescu and she’d tire and go out to 3rd-seeded Angie Kerber, but Andreescu was able to last through that match and simply hit the wall in her next match, retiring in the second set against Kontaveit, the 23-year-old Estonian. Maybe I’m not giving Kontaveit enough credit. After all, she ran through 17-year-old American Amanda Anisimov (which isn’t easy), Ajila Tomljanovic (which isn’t easy), and then Andreescu (which isn’t easy), so she’s doing a lot of things right. And I’m surely not giving Hsieh enough credit, as I just have very little respect for the way she plays the game. But someone has to win, and Kontaveit overwhelmed the Taiwanese player easily the only time they played when the Estonian was only 19, so I’m going with the appealing Kontaveit over the annoying Hsieh.
Petra Kvitova over Ash Barty
Early in the year Petra Kvitova looked to me like she was the best player on the WTA Tour, bar none. In the Australian Open warm-up in Sydney, Kvitova took advantage of her lefty delivery and her near-perfect timing on her groundies and simply chewed up the field there, beating Barty 7-6 in the third for the title. Barty, for her part, took care of Ostapenko, Halep, Mertens, and Bertens before losing that tiebreaker to Kvitova in the championship match. The young Aussie showed the world that the Women’s Tour has a bright new star from Down Under, and she was ready to challenge all the top players. Well, Kvitova is not quite playing up to the level she was at 2 1/2 months ago, but is still strong. And Barty has continued to shine as she learns what playing with the big girls is all about. Yet Kvitova holds a 4-0 record against the Aussie, and as always, that means a lot. I’m going with the tall lefty from the Czech Republic.
Karolina Pliskova over Marketa Vondrousova
I’m picking Karolina Pliskova to take out Marketa Vondrousova simply because the Czech is 26-years-old and has more experience than her 19-year-old compatriot. I think they are both playing top-notch tennis, and this match really is a “pick-em”. Vondrousova is serving notice that she is moving into the upper echelons of the Women’s Tour, and it wouldn’t surprise me if she knocked off the 5th-ranked Pliskova. Pliskova’s win over Serena Williams in the Australian Open quarterfinals has given her a lot of confidence to go with her sterling tennis game, and I think ultimately that will be the difference. But this will be close, and exciting, and if the teenager comes out on top, it wouldn’t surprise me much.
Simona Halep over Qiang Wang
I get the feeling that someone is going to take out Simona Halep here, even though she seems determined to follow-up the egg she layed in Indian Wells with a title in Miami. For some reason, she just doesn’t look her dominating self, and that is a worry for her. Nonetheless, you can only play the players put in front of you, and she should have no trouble with Qiang Wang. Qiang won the battle of the Wangs yesterday, taking out compatriot Yufan Wang in straight sets, after dominating Johanna Konta and receiving a walkover from the rapidly aging Serena Williams. She’s a Top 20 player, and she’s in the quarters here, which is a fine achievement for the 27-year-old. Still, no matter how “off” Halep may be, and no matter how “in the zone” Wang could play, the Romanian is just the better player. Halep should roll.