Birmingham, Second Round Previews
1. Alize Cornet (No.41) vs  Elina Svitolina (No.5)
Cornet started off her grass court season with a solid three-set victory over Ekaterina Makarova. Cornet started off shaky on serve and rusty having not played for three weeks, but settled well in the next two sets as she started to move Makarova around and use the drop shot to great effect. Cornet also served extremely well as she only lost three points on the first serve in sets 2 and 3, and won 45% of return points on the Makarova serve. Though Makarova has been struggling in singles throughout the whole year, the Russian is an extremely experienced player on grass courts so this should be a confidence-boosting win for the Frenchwoman after a largely disappointing French Open campaign.
Svitolina served up a breadstick sandwich for her first match on the grass as she played a near perfect match to outlast Donna Vekic. Svitolina was cruising up 6-1 3-1, before Vekic fought her way back with five games in a row. Svitolina was not to be denied the win though as she recovered from the mental lapse to continue her positive and aggressive play. Svitolina hit 29 winners to 16 unforced errors – if she can keep producing these numbers, she could be on her way to a first ever grass court title.
Head to head: Svitolina leads the head to head 3-2, however Svitolina has won their past three meetings, with Alize’s most recent win coming in 2013. This will be their first match-up on a grass court.
Thoughts: On any other surfaces, Svitolina should win it in two sets, but on grass things could be different. Both players are not at their best playing on a grass court, although Cornet has had more prolific wins on this surface, most famously beating Serena Williams in Wimbledon in 2014. I think Cornet’s variety can cause some problems for Svitolina if the latter’s not at her best, but if the Ukranian can pressurise Cornet and make the first move in baseline rallies, she should win this one.
Final Prediction: Elina Svitolina d. Alize Cornet in three sets
2. Magdalena Rybarikova (No.19) vs Kristina Mladenovic (No.56)
Rybarikova is once again back to her best on the grass as she caused a first upset in Birmingham with a quick 6-2 6-3 dismissal of No.3 seed Karolina Pliskova. It seemed like Pliskova was a terrible mess with her footwork, and this match-up doesn’t favour the Czech, but Rybarikova played excellent as she out-aced Pliskova and won 79% of service points in the match. Rybarikova will need more wins like this if she is to defend majority of her points and remain at the top tier of the rankings.
Down to No.56 in the rankings, Mladenovic won her first match since Madrid with a 1-6 6-3 6-4 win over Katerina Siniakova. This was a good win for the Frenchwoman who started to play more accurately and aggressively after a completely out of sorts in the first set. Mladenovic started coming forward as well which was a great tactic, as was the first serve where she notched 81% of first serve wins in the third set.
Head to head: Rybarikova leads the head to head 2-0 – the last time they met was a crazy 7-5 1-6 7-6(5) three-setter in Zhuhai, where the Slovakian needed to save match points to win. The pair has never met on grass before.
Thoughts: Mladenovic can definitely excel on grass – she has all the weapons and variety to drive her opponents crazy, but she is lacking the confidence and consistency to do so at the moment. Even on a bad day, Rybarikova’s level cannot go as low as Mladenovic sometimes does. It’s grass and it’s Birmingham too, so I will go with the more solid Rybarikova.
Final Prediction: Magdalena Rybarikova d. Kristina Mladenovic in three sets
Birmingham predictions can be found here or at the top of the page! Thanks for reading!