The women’s singles draw of the 2018 Qatar Total Open brought us some blockbuster encounters in the opening round, and the highly-anticipated match-up between former top-five player Dominika Cibulkova and the talented Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova certainly isn’t an exception.
With the field full of quality players, the draw was even more cruel with the fact that the winner of this match will face the seventh seed Caroline Garcia in the second round. Cibulkova and Pavlyuchenkova also faced off in Doha last year, with the Slovakian triumphing in the high-quality encounter. However, this time the players return to the tournament with the Russian being the higher-ranked player.
Form in 2018: Pavlyuchenkova
Starting the year ranked inside the top-15, Pavlyuchenkova now surprisingly finds herself outside the top-20 following a series of disappointing results. Her decision to start the year at the Hopman Cup backfired as she lost all three of her singles matches, and an injury forced her to withdraw from the Sydney International, where she was defending quarterfinal points.
Moving onto the Australian Open where she was tipped to produce a deep run especially after receiving a favorable draw, she powered through her opening-round opponent Kateryna Kozlova with an incredible recovery from 0-3 down in the final set. Unexpectedly, she was stunned by Kateryna Bondarenko in straight sets, looking lackluster throughout the tournament.
Furthermore, her woes continued when she fell to yet another disappointing defeat, this time against compatriot and former top-10 player Ekaterina Makarova in the first-round of the St. Petersburg Ladies’ Trophy, being defeated in straight sets once more. She comes into Doha with an astonishing 1-5 win-loss record (including Hopman Cup).
Form in 2018: Cibulkova
Cibulkova has planned to play a lighter schedule to allow her body to recover better, and she started her 2018 at the Apia International Sydney where she stunned higher-ranked players to reach the quarterfinals. Ousting Anastasija Sevastova and Elena Vesnina in straight sets, the Slovakian put up a tough fight before falling to eventual champion and the in-form Angelique Kerber.
Entering the Australian Open with high hopes after her confidence-boosting run in Sydney, she was given a tricky opener with Kaia Kanepi awaiting. Thought to be a close match, things went all wrong for Cibulkova as she was totally outclassed 2-6, 2-6 and looked nowhere near her best.
Similar to Pavlyuchenkova, Cibulkova continued her season in St. Petersburg, where she clinched an excellent victory over Sorana Cirstea before succumbing to an inspired Kristina Mladenovic, the eventual finalist who finally broke a 15-match losing streak with this win.
Match Analysis: Hard-hitting contest
Both players have an aggressive style of tennis and will look to dictate play whenever it is possible. Having been low in confidence recently, the win would be extremely important to either of them, and the key factor in this match-up is consistency. Cibulkova has the angles on her solid groundstrokes while Pavlyuchenkova’s variety of shots has always been her forte.
2018 hasn’t been Pavlyuchenkova’s year and she has been struggling with her misfiring baseline game, something Cibulkova could pounce on. To increase her chances of prevailing, the Russian would have to step up her play and also utilize her world-class hands at the net more often.
Cibulkova leads their head-to-head 6-3 and has won four of their past five meetings. Furthermore, this is also a rematch of their topsy-turvy encounter in Doha from last year, a match which the Slovakian triumphed in.