As the week progresses, the 2019 Nature Valley International in Eastbourne continues to deliver high-caliber tennis. Andy Murray’s doubles cameo came to an end on Tuesday, so the women’s draw is now unquestionably the main event in Eastbourne. Here are some Round of 16 matches to watch. (And I went four for four on Tuesday’s Eastbourne picks, down to the number of sets.)
WTA Eastbourne Wednesday Predictions
Elise Mertens vs Karolina Pliskova
Head to Head: first meeting
Interesting matchup here. Pliskova, the 2017 champion, suffered a shocking defeat to her twin sister Krystina in Birmingham last week. Or not so shocking, since their head to head stands at five wins apiece. Anyway, the second seed owns one of the best serves on tour; i.e. a weapon of mass destruction on grass. Conversely, her 6’1″ in frame makes it hard for her to handle the low, uneven bounces on the surface.
Mertens, who aside from her Doha title run has had a lackluster campaign so far, needs to be sharp as a returner. Last week in Mallorca, she played near perfect tennis for a set against Sofia Kenin, taking the opener 6-1, but her precision waned thereafter. Besides, it will not be easy for the Belgian to adjust from Marketa Vondrousova’s top spin forehands to Pliskova’s flat strokes.
Prediction: Pliskova in 3
Angelique Kerber vs Rebecca Peterson
Head to Head: Kerber 1-0 Peterson
The reigning Wimbledon champion may not be enjoying her best season, but it would be foolish to rule out a return to dominance on grass, where she has owns a robust track record (69-26 in her career, per Tennis Abstract). In her debut against Samantha Stosur, the German won an outstanding 71% of her second serve return points. Peterson better make a high percentage of her first serves if she wants to make this a competitive match. It might not even matter, though, as the Swede is winless in seven matches against top 20 rivals, on any surface. Barring collapse, the quarterfinal ticket is on Kerber’s racket.
Prediction: Kerber in 2
Johanna Konta vs Ons Jabeur
Head to Head: Konta 1-0 Jabeur
The Tunisian’s success on grass at the ITF level, with three trophies, has not translated yet to the main tour. Jabeur is such a crafty player with great hands at the net. Konta is the vastly superior player from the baseline and will shred Jabeur apart if she’s able to dictate. Therefore, the 24-year-old needs to land punches via drop shots, or throw in short angled slices to drag the Brit to the net. Jabeur has completed two successive comebacks versus Evgeniya Rodina (1-6 7-6 7-5) and Mandy Minella (2-6 6-2 6-1) but fan favorite Konta is a different animal.
Prediction: Konta in 2
Simona Halep vs Polona Hercog
Head to Head: Halep 1-1 Hercog
It’s really bizarre these two have only squared off against each other twice, considering they grew up playing the same tournaments. For instance, they both participated in the European U14 Championship in Ostrava back in 2005. First seed Hercog and third seed Halep were slated to meet in the semifinals, but the Romanian fell in the round of 16 to Marta Sirotkina. For the record, former World No. 37 Ksenia Pervak took home the title.
Years later, Halep became the clear-cut top player of that age group, winning the U16 European Championship or the girls French Open among other titles. Even though Hercog was a fellow top 10 in the junior rankings, their paths never crossed until a $100K event in Bulgaria a decade ago, which the Slovenian took in three sets. We must fast forward ten years to find their most recent duel, at the Miami Open 2019. Halep barely snatched a 5-7 7-6 6-2 win in Florida.
Halep is good on grass, but far from great. She’s 28-15 on the surface, but has only reached the Wimbledon semis once, back in 2014. For her part, Hercog possesses a big serve and can rip forehands at will, but on the backhand side she relies almost exclusively on the slice. Alison Riske successfully exploited that weakness last week in s’Hertogenbosch. Halep should mimic the American’s game plan: pressure the backhand over and over until she gets the chance to pounce on a short meatball.
Prediction: Halep in 2
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