2014 Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova will be looking to carry on her momentum from winning the biggest title of her career at the WTA Finals in Singapore last October, by defeating world number one Angelique Kerber in the final. This part of the season is a special one for Cibulkova as she reached her maiden Grand Slam final at the Australian Open back in 2014, falling short to Li Na.
Cibulkova's second round opponent at the Apia International Sydney is Eugenie Bouchard, and the Canadian also reached her first Grand Slam final in 2014, at Wimbledon but she was completely outplayed by Petra Kvitova, who went on to win her second title at SW19. This part of the season is also special for Bouchard as she reached her first Grand Slam semifinal at the Australian Open in 2014, and she backed it up by reaching the semifinals at the French Open losing to eventual champion Maria Sharapova. Unfortunately, Bouchard has struggled to back up her results during the last two years, which has seen her ranking fall to 46 in the world currently, despite being ranked as high as five in 2014.
Both players competed at the Brisbane International last week with mixed fortunes, the third seed won her first match of 2017 against last year's Australian Open quarterfinalist Zhang Shuai in the second round but she fell to eventual finalist Alize Cornet in straight sets in the quarterfinals which were a disappointing result for the Slovakian. However, Bouchard lost to last year's French Open quarterfinalist Shelby Rogers in three sets in the first round.
How they got here
Cibulkova began her campaign in Sydney against Germany's Laura Siegemund, who reached the quarterfinals of the Rio Olympics, and won the mixed doubles title at the US Open last year, moreover, it was a clinical performance by the Slovakian who ousted the German, 6-2, 6-0 to advance to round two in Sydney.
Bouchard finally recorded her first win of the 2017 WTA season, which was confidence-boosting for the Canadian as she looks to rise up the rankings again, and she will be a dangerous floater in the draw at the Australian Open as an unseeded player. The former world number five defeated Zhang Shuai in straight sets, 7-6 (1), 6-2.
The two Grand Slam finalists have competed on four occasions, and Bouchard leads their head-to-head 3-1 with their meetings taking place on hard courts and grass. Bouchard is unbeaten on hard courts leading 3-0, and Cibulkova leads 1-0 on grass, whilst they are tied at 1-1 at Grand Slams.
The 2014 Wimbledon finalist won their first encounter in the third round of the US Open in 2015, which was an extraordinary battle between the pair of them, prevailing 7-6 (9), 4-6, 6-3, and she followed this up with another three-set victory in the semifinals of the Hobart International, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 in 2016. However, Cibulkova halved the deficit by defeating Bouchard for the first time on the hallowed turf at Wimbledon in the third round, 6-4, 6-3, and the Slovakian went on to reach her second Wimbledon quarterfinal and the first one since 2011. Furthermore, Bouchard thrashed Cibulkova at her home event in the second round of the Coupe Rogers in Montreal, 6-2, 6-0 a few weeks later.
Despite trailing 3-1 in their meetings, Cibulkova will be the favourite to progress into the quarterfinals at the Apia International Sydney, and the diminutive Slovakian has been playing the better tennis out of the two players in the past 12 months. Cibulkova doesn't have the best serve, therefore, Bouchard will step into the court and return her serve back at her with heavy groundstrokes. The Canadian's a good returner and she likes to dominate play from the baseline and she is very aggressive, and she likes to take the ball on early with heavy groundstrokes.
The world number six is an aggressive player in her own right with her racquet head-speed that generates a lot of power with her forehand and backhand. Both players excel in long rallies, and this encounter between the pair has the potential to be the match of the day. Both players don't hesitate to come to the net to finish off points early, and both players are not afraid to show their emotion in their matches.
This will be the first match scheduled on Day 3 of the Apia International Sydney on Show Court 1 at 12 pm local time, and the winner of this match will play the defending champion and fifth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the quarterfinals.
Prediction: Cibulkova in straight sets