The second week of the precious five-week long grass court swing consists of two events in Birmingham and Mallorca, with the former the more prestigious event which most of the top players have opted to participate in. More top players mean more exciting first rounders, and in this post I will preview my top first round matches in the Birmingham draw. I hope to post previews every day for the week…
Birmingham, First Round Previews
1.  Garbine Muguruza (No.3) vs Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (No.28)
Reigning Wimbledon champion Muguruza will kick off her grass court swing at the Edgbaston Priory Club against another decent grass courter, Pavlyuchenkova. While most Spanish players are known for their high topspin style that excels on the clay, Muguruza is one of the rare natural-surface specialists that has seen her claim two Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon and the French Open. Muguruza has been in quite a slump prior to this year’s French Open, but an inspiring semifinal run which saw her beat Svetlana Kuznetsova and Maria Sharapova enroute will likely give her come confidence coming onto the grass.
Pavlyuchenkova has also been enduring a huge slump, having lost six of seven matches prior to the clay court swing. The former French Open quarterfinalist though raised her level just in time for Europe with a quarterfinal appearance in Stuttgart and a 12th WTA title in Strasbourg where she edged past Dominika Cibulkova in an epic 6-7(5) 7-6(3) 7-6(6), three-hour and 35 minute battle. Just like Muguruza, Pavlyuchenkova is also pretty comfortable on the natural surfaces – her powerful game is a good fit for the green stuff.
Thoughts: Both players are playing their first grass court matches of the season and have been really inconsistent throughout the whole year. A wild pick, but I’m going for the upset – both have easy power but Pavlyuchenkova’s injections of variety and adept net skills could be key. Muguruza’s net advances this year have been very unconvincing and I don’t think she can maintain a solid level throughout the match.
Final Prediction: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova d. Garbine Muguruza in three sets
2.  Karolina Pliskova (No.7) vs Magdalena Rybarikova (No.19)
2015 Birmingham finalist Pliskova is also participating in her first grass court tournament of the year. Pliskova is coming to Birmingham off a very disappointing 2-6 1-6 loss to Maria Sharapova in the French Open, but she should be staying optimistic coming to the grass court swing. Pliskova has a good pedigree on grass, having reached four WTA finals on this surface, including two titles in Nottingham in 2016 and Eastbourne in 2017.
Her opponent, Rybarikova, has an even better grass court win-loss record – Rybarikova is 49-24 lifetime on the green stuff, and is a former champion in Birmingham, winning the title in 2009. Last year, Rybarikova stormed her way into the Wimbledon semifinals ranked No.87, beating Pliskova enroute there. Having compiled an 18-2 win-loss record last year on this surface, Rybarikova will be defending majority of her ranking points during this four-week span and will definitely be feeling some pressure these few weeks.
Thoughts: Last week, Rybarikova lost to Mona Barthel in the second round of Nottingham and I feel she’s feeling a lot of pressure to defend all the points from last year. In their previous meeting, Rybarikova’s variety and funky tennis brought her to a huge 3-6 7-5 6-2 win in Wimbledon last year. I think Pliskova should be ready for what Rybarikova throws at her and kick off her grass court swing relatively comfortably.
Final Prediction: Karolina Pliskova d. Magdalena Rybarikova in two sets
3. Katerina Siniakova (No.40) vs Kristina Mladenovic (No.54)
Siniakova has performed well in the last three weeks with a semifinal run in Nurnberg, a third round appearance in the French Open (defeating Victoria Azarenka enroute) and also claimed the doubles title with partner Barbora Krejcikova. Siniakova has some history in Birmingham, reaching the quarterfinals in 2015, and is a decent fit for the grass with her dynamite and aggressive gamestyle.
While Siniakova has climbed to No.40 in the rankings after the French Open, Mladenovic is lingering at a low of No.54 after failing to defend her quarterfinal points at RG. While Mladenovic showed some signs of resurgence earlier this season, the Frenchwoman has fallen back into another slump and is completely out of confidence at the moment.
Thoughts: Mladenovic leads the head to head 3-2, but her form is extremely unconvincing at the moment. Siniakova is more confident right now, and is more reliable especially with the serve – Mladenovic can produce a slew of double faults at times. Siniakova should be able to win the important points and likely edge this one out in a roller coaster.
Final Prediction: Katerina Siniakova d. Kristina Mladenovic in three sets
4. Dominika Cibulkova (No.32) vs Daria Gavrilova (No.26)
Cibulkova and Gavrilova’s recent meeting was one of the best finals of 2017 as Gavrilova’s fighting spirit and relentless defense outlasted Cibulkova 4-6 6-3 6-4 for her first ever WTA title. While this match-up will probably shape out a little different on the grass, this one should still remain an entertaining watch as both players are huge fighters and scrappy competitors.
Thoughts: Cibulkova’s recent form has been a little better, but both players will be playing their first grass court matches of the season so this is tough to predict. Gavrilova will most likely be on the defense for most of the rallies so Cibulkova will have to be accurate and find the right time to attack the lines. This could be another rollercoaster match, and I’m edging with Cibulkova for this one.
Final Prediction: Dominika Cibulkova d. Daria Gavrilova in three sets
Birmingham predictions can be found here or at the top of the page! Thanks for reading!