2014 Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova had a poor start to the year in Brisbane and Sydney losing to Alize Cornet in the quarterfinals at the former and to Eugenie Bouchard. The sixth-seeded Slovakian will be looking to go one step further, than her finish from 2014. However, she is placed in a tough side of the draw with Johanna Konta, Caroline Wozniacki, Serena Williams and Karolina Pliskova, are all lurking on that side of the draw.
30th seed Ekaterina Makarova is Cibulkova's third round opponent, and the Russian-lefty has a love affair in Melbourne. Since 2011, Makarova has reached the fourth round or better, including a semifinal finish in 2015, when she lost to compatriot Maria Sharapova. Injuries intervened during last season which caused Makarova to slide down the rankings, nonetheless, she has got herself back inside the top 32, and will be looking to carry on her journey in Melbourne.
How they got here
Cibulkova began her Australian Open campaign against Denisa Allertova, the Czech is capable of beating top players at Grand Slams. She defeated former world number one Ana Ivanovic in the Serb's last professional tennis match in the first round of the US Open last year. Meanwhile, the WTA Finals champion ousted Allertova, 7-5, 6-2. In the second round, the sixth seed recorded a straight sets victory over Hsieh Su-Wei, 6-4, 7-6 (8) to reach the third round in Melbourne for the first time in two years.
Meanwhile, Makarova's progress to the third round has been slightly tougher than Cibulkova's. The former top ten player defeated compatriot Ekaterina Alexandrova in three sets, 6-0, 4-6, 6-1. In the second round, Makarova was up against 2012 French Open finalist Sara Errani, who's ranking has slid down the rankings towards the tail-end of last season. The Russian won the first set 6-2, but an injury forced the Italian to retire in the second set at 3-2 down.
The two-seeded players have met on three occasions with all three of their meetings taking place on hard courts. The 2014 finalist leads their encounters 3-0. The sixth seed came back from a set down to defeat Makarova in their second round meeting at the Kremlin Cup in 2012, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2. Cibulkova would win a three-set thriller in their second round meeting on the Australian hard courts of Sydney in 2013, prevailing 7-6 (3), 1-6, 7-6 (1). The Slovak would go on to reach the final but she was thrashed by former world number two Agnieszka Radwanska without winning a solitary game. However, in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells in 2014, Cibulkova would defeat Makarova for the first time in straight sets, 6-4, 7-5.
Both players will sense this section of the draw is a good chance to get into the quarterfinals. The winner of this match will face ninth seed and last year's semifinalist Johanna Konta or 17th seed and a former semifinalist in Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round on Monday. The Slovak will enter this match as the slight favorite, purely due to her ranking, and her head-to-head advantage over Makarova. However, the "Pocket Rocket"'s serve is not the strongest aspect of her game, and Makarova is a talented returner. Furthermore, Cibulkova will try to dictate play from the baseline, and she is a good mover, and she has the ability to extend the points in long rallies.
The 30th seed's forehand is a good weapon, and since she is an established doubles player, winning two Grand Slams with compatriot Elena Vesnina. The Russian will be comfortable at the net, hoping to finish the points off quickly. Makarova also has the ability to be aggressive with her backhand, and she likes to maneuver her opponents around the court, finishing off the points down the line.
Both players have good groundstrokes, and the sixth seed also likes to come to the net to finish off points. Cibulkova will continuously let Makarova know that she is up for a fight with plenty cries of "POME".
This will be the first match scheduled in the Rod Laver Arena to kick-off Day Six action of the Australian Open at 11 am local time, and this match could go either way, it all depends on who can keep their unforced errors down.
Prediction: Cibulkova in straight sets