Petra Kvitova kicked off her 2016 clay court campaign at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix with a dominating 6-0, 6-0 demolition of Louisa Chirico in the opening round. She goes up against Monica Niculescu for a place in the quarterfinals and will seek to avenge her loss to the Romanian while on Fed Cup duty earlier in February.
Kvitova entered Stuttgart as the fifth seed with just six wins under her belt after what has been a challenging start to 2016, her lowest number of wins entering the transition to clay since the turn of the decade. The Czech lefty brought that tally to seven and overturned a two-year winless streak here by winning her opening round match against Chirico and will now seek to replicate her 2012 and 2013 at this tournament where she reached the semifinals and quarterfinals respectively.
Niculescu has enjoyed a rather steady 2016 and unlike her opponent, she has won at least one match in all her tournaments thus far. Her recent results include round of 16 appearances in Doha and Miami and it has seen her edge close to a top 30 return in the rankings. She was on Fed Cup duty last weekend, playing one rubber for her country against Andrea Petkovic where she came close to beating the German but could not capitalise on a bagel-set lead, faltering in three sets in the end. In her opening match here in Stuttgart, the 28-year-old Niculescu dispatched Caroline Garcia easily with the loss of just four games.
Both women are tied 1-1 in their career meetings. Kvitova won their first meeting three years ago on the lawns of Eastbourne which is her best surface with the score line 6-4, 6-1. Their last meeting came in the Fed Cup in February where Romania hosted Czech Republic in the opening round tie. Kvitova who was still struggling to find her form at that time fell convincingly to Niculescu in straight sets. It turned out to be a forgettable Fed Cup experience for the two-time Wimbledon champion who lost both her singles rubbers for the first time in her career, to Niculescu and then Simona Halep.
Kvitova was convincing in her first round win but has been unable to maintain her best form from match to match and even on a weekly basis. She also faces a different type of opponent in Niculescu who not only has the unorthodox forehand slice which every player is weary about, she is equipped with decent net skills and is one who defends well too. Kvitova's first-strike tennis along with the lefty serve out wide needs to work in this upcoming match if she wants to finish off points early and avoid getting into rallies with Niculescu, something the Romanian has the upper hand in.
Conventionally, Niculescu will seek to use the forehand slice to her advantage. She will want to create rallies and catch her Czech opponent off-guard, come into the net and finish off the points. The shot also has the ability to divert pace away from Kvitova and cause the world number seven problems. Moreover, on clay, which is a surface Niculescu has done well on (although her French Open results show otherwise), the surface seems to favor the Romanian as well.
Although Kvitova has yet to achieve a significant result in 2016 by her standards other than a quarterfinal run at the BNP Paribas Open last month, with a new coach in her box and the will to put her recent dire results behind, she should come into this match with new-found confidence and belief that she can play like the multiple Grand Slam champion she is and book a quarterfinal berth in Stuttgart where she faces third seed Garbiñe Muguruza who confirmed her place in the last eight late Wednesday evening.
Prediction: Petra Kvitova in straight sets