Returning to the Californian desert for the seventh year in a row, Coco Vandeweghe begins her campaign at the 2016 BNP Paribas Open with a first round encounter against Kiki Bertens. The winner of this match would go on to play the 16th seed, Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Vandeweghe and Bertens, both aged 24, have met just once on the WTA tour. This match was played last year at the 2015 TopShelf Open, where Bertens, the home favorite shocked Vandeweghe, the defending champion 6-4, 6-1. Despite the first set being full of service breaks, Bertens did an excellent job of keeping the ball low, which is something Vandeweghe certainly struggles with, especially on a surface like grass where lateral movement is most required. The second set saw Bertens in total control, breaking the American's serve to close out the match 6-4, 6-1.
A Recap of the Players' 2016
Without a doubt it's been a tough first month of the year for Coco Vandeweghe. She commenced her season at the 2016 ASB Classic where she was the seventh seed but lost to her compatriot and good friend Irina Falconi in the first round 7-5, 4-6, 3-6, despite being up a break in the final set. An alternate for Sydney, Vandeweghe lost in the first round to Jelena Jankovic 3-6, 4-6. The American then travelled to Melbourne to compete at the 2016 Australian Open. She drew her countrywoman Madison Brengle in the first round, again losing 3-6, 4-6. However, Vandeweghe enjoyed some success in women's doubles, where she and her partner, Anna-Lena Grönefeld, reached the quarterfinals and losing to world number ones Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis in three sets.
Vandeweghe teamed up with Romania's Horica Tecau in the mixed doubles event where they made the final, falling just short to Elena Vesnina and Bruno Soares. Vandeweghe's next tournament was the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, where CoCo scored her first win of the year, blasting 13 aces to beat last year's finalist Karolina Pliskova 7-6(5), 6-1. She went on to reach the quarterfinals of Dubai, with another strong win over Kristina Mladenovic, before losing to Elina Svitolina three sets. At the 2016 Qatar Total Open, Vandeweghe made it to the third round, with straight set wins over Kirsten Flipkens and Belina Bencic, obtaining her first top ten victory of 2016.
Vandeweghe's opponent today, Kiki Bertens, is currently ranked 110 in the Women's Tennis Association. Like Vandeweghe, Bertens started off her season in Auckland and was seeded 8th in the qualifying rounds. She triumphantly qualified for the main-draw without losing a set, cruising past Rebecca Peterson, Richel Hogenkamp and Lauren Davis. In the main-draw, she took on 7th seed Barbora Strycova, losing 2-6, 4-6. Her next tournament was in Hobart, which was a great tournament for Kiki. Successfully qualifying for the main-draw again, she reached her first quarterfinal of the year bowing out to Dominika Cibulkova 5-7, 3-6. With already eight wins under her belt she then participated at the 2016 Australian Open, losing to Germany's Laura Siegemund 4-6, 5-7. Playing for the Netherlands Fed Cup team along with Richel Hogenkamp, Cindy Burger and Arantxa Rus, Bertens shocked Ekaterina Makarova and Svetlana Kuznetsova to move the Netherlands into the semifinals of the Fed Cup, where they will play France in April. Bertens' next event was the 2016 Abierto Mexicano Telcel, where she was able to qualify for the main-draw but subsequently losing to Naomi Osaka 2-6, 4-6. Bertens paired up with regular partner Johanna Larsson in Acapulco, where they made the final losing to top seeds Anabel Medina Garrigues and Arantxa Parra Santonja 0-6, 4-6.
Due to this encounter being played on a different surface, the points are expected to be longer with extended rallies. Yours truly thinks Vandeweghe's kick serve out wide will be very effective as the ball tends to bounce high at Indian Wells. Both players prefer to attack with their forehands and will be looking to move forward once they see a short ball. Between the two, Bertens possesses the more consistent groundstrokes and this was a decisive factor when they played in 's-Hertogenbosch. Having said that, Vandeweghe's power and precision is going to be difficult for Bertens to handle, which is why yours truly thinks it's important for both players to play aggressive tennis.
Prediction: Vandeweghe in three sets