Czech number one Karolina Pliskova and defending champion Lucie Safarova, alongside their fellow compatriots Barbora Strycova and Katerina Siniakova are all set to compete in this year’s edition of the J&T Banka Prague Open, in what will be the tournament’s third overall edition. Other notable names in the draw include former world number one Caroline Wozniacki and last year’s runner-up Samantha Stosur.
Focus on Prague
The J&T Banka Prague Open is the WTA’s only event in the Czech Republic. Initially an ITF tournament first held in 2010, it gained promotion to the WTA as an International tournament in 2015. Through its first two years of its young tenure, the tournament appears to have brought out the best in its local stars as it witnessed the likes of Pliskova and Safarova crowned champions, the former winning the inaugural edition.
The city of Prague, famous for its numerous architecture styles, dates its roots back to the 6th century. Tennis action throughout the week in the Czech capital will be focused at the TK Sparta Praha, located in the northern corner of the city along the western bank of the Vltava river.
Top seed Pliskova saw herself handed a tough opener as the big-hitting Czech gets the equally powerful Italian Camila Giorgi. Sitting across the quarter is sixth seed Zhang Shuai of China, who drew a qualifier in her opener. Should she win that match, Annika Beck or Oceane Dodin are her next probable opponents. Other names present include Wang Qiang, who goes up against Greek player Maria Sakkari in the first round, the winner due to face Pliskova next.
Pliskova is fresh from a second successive quarterfinal showing in Stuttgart. Despite what could probably be a stern test at the first hurdle against Giorgi, the top-ranked Czech, who is having a solid 2017 season thus far, should prevail over her opponent and go on to record her third semifinal appearance in a row here on home soil.
Prediction: Pliskova d. Beck
This quarter, the only quarter with more than one qualifier placed, is headlined by third seed Strycova. The Czech number three was also handed a tough start as she faces German Julia Goerges. Eighth seed Siniakova is seeded to meet elder compatriot Strycova in the last eight, and the younger Czech gets Danka Kovinic in her opening match. Meanwhile, both Magda Linette and Viktorija Golubic face qualifiers in their respective openers.
Strycova’s two prior appearances in Prague has seen her sail to the quarterfinals. The Czech has won at least a match in all her tournament appearances this year and should keep up that consistency to see off Siniakova, in a rematch of their quarterfinal clash here two years ago, for a maiden semifinal berth at the tournament.
Prediction: Strycova d. Siniakova
Fourth seed Stosur takes her place as the highest seed in this quarter. The Aussie, who dropped her opener in Stuttgart last week, is need of wins on the dirt as she takes on Russian Evgeniya Rodina in the first round with American Christina McHale looming next. Across the quarter, fifth seed Lucie Safarova takes on Slovak Kristina Kucova, the winner facing either Kristyna Pliskova or wildcard Jelena Jankovic in the second round.
Defending champion Safarova has had a decent 2017 thus far, winning back-to-back matches in her last five tournaments, which has seen her reach the final in Budapest, the semifinals in Taipei and the quarterfinals in Miami. In the quarterfinals against a struggling Stosur, a rematch of last year’s final, the Czech should advance to the last four once again without much problems.
Prediction: Safarova d. Stosur
Second seed Wozniacki leads the closing quarter and the Dane faces Japanese lefty Misaki Doi in her opener, with a possible clash against Jelena Ostapenko, who faces Lesia Tsurenko in her opener, looming in the second round. Another name that stands out is Czech youngster Marketa Vondrousova who most recently won her maiden title in Biel. She gets Carina Witthoeft at the first hurdle. Meanwhile, seventh seed Ana Konjuh and wildcard Jana Cepelova face off in their opening encounter.
Wozniacki’s last loss on tour came in Charleston, where she fell in the quarterfinals to eventual runner-up Ostapenko. Ostapenko already has an extra tournament on clay under her belt, having successfully qualified for Stuttgart, and looks poised for another win over the former world number one en route to the last four here in Prague, her third semifinal of 2017.
Prediction: Ostapenko d. Konjuh
Semifinals: Pliskova d. Strycova, Ostapenko d. Safarova
Both Pliskova and Ostapenko were part of an epic clash in the third round of the Australian Open this year which saw the Czech come back from a three-game deficit in the decider, winning eight of the last eleven games to overcome the Latvian, en route to her first quarterfinal showing of the tournament. Should this all-power final materialise, it will mark the pair’s first meeting on clay.
Being a former champion and the top seed on home turf, Pliskova will see herself in a familiar situation as opposed to Ostapenko, who has yet to win a title after three prior runner-up finishes. The more experienced Pliskova, with the home support on her back, will look to overpower the Latvian player en route to reclaiming the title and her second trophy on clay.
Final: Pliskova d. Ostapenko