The 2021 WTA Abu Dhabi Open will feature 12 matches of main draw action on Day 1. We predict all of those matches, with four of them in this article. The other eight can be found in two other articles, one featuring Daria Kasatkina vs Qiang Wang, the other headlining Maria Sakkari vs Anastasia Potapova.
Who will advance to the second round?
WTA Abu Dhabi Open Day 1 Predictions
Laura Siegemund vs Kirsten Flipkens
Head-to-head: Siegemund 1-1 Flipkens
It was only fitting that the WTA Abu Dhabi Open draw would throw up at least one veterans match-up in the first round of the Abu Dhabi Open. And ironically, it is a first meeting between these two players in five years which is enough homework for their coaches as they lay down the final preparations.
Siegemund is certainly the more accomplished of the two players right now and has maintained a decent spell of good health. The consistency of playing week-in week-out after her injury nightmares has had a positive effect on her results. She made her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the French Open last autumn and she will look to build on from that achievement. The German should be favorite to win here against the crafty Belgian.
Prediction: Siegemund in 2
Donna Vekic vs Bernarda Pera
Head-to-head: First meeting
Donna Vekic will fondly be remember as the first player to win a match post-shutdown, but had a torrid time to close out the 2020 season. In fact since hiring the services of Sam Sumyk as her new coach, she has played three and lost all three matches. There is no cause for concern in the Vekic camp just yet, and the Croatian is adamant their partnership will be successful. But can she post a first win under the tutelage of the French coach?
American Bernarda Pera lurks in her way. In fairness, Pera, the 26-year-old lefty, hasn’t fared any better. She is currently also on a three-match losing streak and posted a meagre 10 match wins throughout the 2020 season. Vekic is the superior player from the baseline and the conditions in Abu Dhabi should suit her game. Pera tends to hit flat and will look at every opportunity to open up the court with her trademark forehand. Still, I expect the the higher-ranked Vekic to have the answers.
Prediction: Vekic in 2
Ajla Tomljanovic vs Zhu Lin
Head-to-head: Tomljanovic 1-0 Lin
It was a challenging season on many levels last year and particularly for Chinese players. The Chinese Tennis Association (CTA) organizes a series of domestic events across China, which players like Zhu Lin participated towards the end of the 2020 season in an effort to stay competitive during these testing times. Lin has two Top 20 wins in her career, including a dramatic three-set victory over Elise Mertens in Dubai in 2019. She certainly has the quality and the levels to keep up with the best.
Ajla Tomljanovic had a shocker in 2020. Her last match win came in Doha last February. She did well to stay inside the Top 100 after her shoulder issues in the past, but she has looked precariously second best in almost every match she played in the last six months. I think she will win here, but the struggles will be evident.
Prediction: Tomljanovic in 3
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs Ons Jabeur
Head-to-head: Pavlyuchenkova 0-1 Jabeur
The turnstiles won’t open for the fans to walk in and you feel for Ons Jabeur, who thrives on that sort of atmosphere getting support from the Arab faithful. Last year, being cheered so loudly, she pushed Simona Halep in the second round of the Dubai Championships and squandered a match point in a three-set defeat. There is a change of venue this time, and with it Jabeur will hope for a change in fortune when she faces Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Pavlyuchenkova is 29, but she will be playing in her 13th year on the WTA tour which is quite remarkable. And as a consequence, she has maintained a strong presence at the top of the game for some time despite her unfulfilled potential as a promising junior player.
This will be tight just as it was in their only tour-level meeting in Dubai in 2017. Pavlyuchenkova likes to take the ball early and will fight fire with fire. But Jabeur’s uncanny style can have a tendency towards players pushing the panic button. This could go either way, but I am picking the Tunisian trailblazer to have an edge.
Prediction: Jabeur in 3
Main Photo from Getty.