Barbora Strycova ended the 2016 WTA season ranked inside the top 20 at number 20, and the 2014 Wimbledon quarterfinalist played a vital part in the Czech Republic's Fed Cup triumph by her nation, retain the title by winning the fourth singles rubber against France's Alize Cornet and defeated reigning French Open champions Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic with her compatriot Karolina Pliskova.
Lucie Safarova endured a torrid 2016 campaign although she managed to win one singles title, the 2015 French Open finalist suffered from illness which prevented her from participating in events during the first couple of months of the season, and she failed to pick up wins until April when she won her solitary title of the year in Prague.
Safarova ended 2016 at 62 in the WTA rankings, a chunk of that being caused by failing to defend finalist points at the French Open as she lost in the third round to 2011 US Open champion Sam Stosur. Nonetheless, Safarova will be pleased to be healthy and play competitive tennis again.
Strycova and Safarova are good friends, and the duo became the first pair to defeat Serena and Venus Williams in an Olympics doubles tie, and the Czech pairing went on to claim the bronze medal in the doubles event for their nation.
How they got here
The fourth seed began her campaign at the ASB Classic in Auckland against her compatriot Barbora Stefkova, and she prevailed in straight sets over her namesake, 6-4, 6-3 to reach the second round. Safarova also played a Czech in the first round and it was against Denisa Allertova, Allertova was the last player to play against Ana Ivanovic at the US Open, and the Serb has gone on to retire from professional tennis. Furthermore, Safarova portrayed a clinical performance by ousting Allertova in straight sets, 6-1, 6-2.
The Olympic bronze medalists have squared off against each other three times, and the 2015 French Open finalist leads 2-1 in their head-to-head meetings, and the compatriots have faced off on all three surfaces in their career.
Safarova won their first meeting in Valasske Mezirici, in the Czech Republic, recovering from a set down to win that match 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 back in 2003, and they would meet seven years later on the clay courts in Bastad with Safarova being victorious again 6-4, 7-6 (4), however, Strycova bested her Fed Cup teammate in their most recent meeting at the grass courts in Birmingham in 2014, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5. The tournament did the Czechs some good as both players recorded their best runs at Wimbledon, as Strycova reached the quarterfinals, and Safarova reached the semifinals, although both lost to eventual champion and fellow Czech Petra Kvitova.
This will be a close encounter between the two Czechs, and Safarova has the better serve out of the two players, along with dictating play on the baseline. However, Strycova is a good returner and she is a feisty player on court and although her serve isn't as good as Safarova's, she can use her speed around the court to help out her and throw in some drop shots to get Safarova off the baseline.
The former world number five's lefty serve can be difficult to read as Safarova places her serve out wide or down the T which keeps her opponent's guessing. Safarova will be hoping that 2017 will be a better year for her, where she can build on her low ranking and get ranked backed inside the top 32 again to ensure her seeding at Slams. In the meantime, she will be a dangerous floater in draws which no-one will want to face in the first round.
Strycova's looking to continue to rise in the rankings by going further than 20 in the world. This the second match scheduled at the ASB Classic on Centre Court, following the interrupted clash between Venus Williams and Jade Lewis due to inclement weather. The winner of this intriguing match will face Kurumi Nara or Lauren Davis in the quarterfinals.
Prediction: Safarova in three sets