With the drama and intrigue of the Australian Open behind us, the 2021 WTA Tour is under way in earnest. Iga Swiatek picked up the second trophy of her bright young career in Adelaide last week. Now all eyes turn to Doha and Lyon, with two quality fields of women hoping to add their names to the short list of 2021 champions. Sofia Kenin is not defending her title at the tournament, so we will see a new champion crowned in France next weekend. We take a look at who should take their first steps towards lifting that trophy in our WTA Lyon day 1 predictions.
WTA Lyon Day 1 Predictions
Greet Minnen vs Katarzyna Kawa
Head-to-head: Minnen 2-1 KawaCamilla
Both Minnen and Kawa will be hoping to pick up some valuable ranking points and move closer to a place inside the top 100 with a decent run in Lyon. The field is somewhat weakened this week given the fact that Doha is being played at the same time. As such, the tournament is a perfect opportunity for fringe players such as these two to make some headway on the tour.
Minnen will undoubtedly feel more comfortable on indoor hard courts than Kawa. The Pole rose to prominence on the tour with a scintillating run to the finals of the Baltic Open in 2019 and has managed to stay in and around the top 100 courtesy of the protected ranking system currently in place. Minnen on the other hand has shown promise on hard courts since the end of 2019. The Belgian qualified for the Australian Open this year and looks to have the game to crack the top 100 on the tour at some stage with a kind draw in a WTA event. She has that in Lyon and also has the bigger game which should pay dividends on these courts. This could go the distance, but Minnen should come through.
Prediction: Minnen in 3
Timea Babos vs Varvara Gracheva
Head-to-head: First meeting
Gracheva is another young and promising talent starting to make inroads on the women’s tour. The 20-year old Russian is ranked inside the top 100 on the back of a strong 2019. In Babos she faces tough opposition in the first round. The Hungarian has become something of a doubles specialist in the last two years on the back of some stellar results with Kiki Mladenovic. Despite this, Babos remains a more than competent singles player and has a big game and power off both wings when she is firing on all cylinders.
This is sure to be another close matchup in the first round, with many of the matches featuring two players in and around the top 100 on the tour. I think Gracheva may just have the edge here on the basis that she has played far more singles tennis in the last twelve months than Babos has. However, if the Hungarian is on she could well blow Gracheva off the court. I don’t normally pick against the person who’s racket a match is on, but match fitness matters this year more than ever, so take the Russian to advance here.
Prediction: Gracheva in 2
Viktoria Kuzmova vs Camilla Giorgi
Head-to-head: Kuzmova 2-1 Giorgi
Two players who had relatively disappointing years in 2020 will hope to get their careers back on track in Lyon. Kuzmova sits outside the top 100 looking in whilst Camilla Giorgi is now #80 in the world after being inside the top 30 at the end of 2018. Both have talent and have perhaps underperformed in their careers relative to their respective abilities. When Camilla Giorgi is on she is quite literally unplayable. She hits winners from anywhere on the court and paints lines for fun. However, a weak serve that she has done little to correct and a tendency to redline her game regardless of whether she is making her shots or not make her very vulnerable when she is off.
For Kuzmova, the issues appear to be more mental than anything. The Russian often puts herself in position to win matches before falling away. The talent she displays when she is playing well suggests she is capable of far more than she has produced so far in her career. As I said before, I don’t like picking against the person who controls the match. This time I’m not going to. Giorgi has the game to mix it with the best on the women’s tour and Kuzmova is far from being one of those players at the moment. Giorgi may take a while to find her game but will do enough damage when she does to win.
Prediction: Giorgi in 3
Clara Tauson vs Ekaterina Alexandrova
Head-to-head: First meeting
What a horrible draw this is for Ekaterina Alexandrova. The #1 seed faces on of the brightest young talents in the women’s game in Clara Tauson. Tauson is far from a household name, but would be far better known than she is were it not for the adjusted rankings still in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tauson is ranked #146 in the world at just 18 years old. The Danish star won two ITF tournaments last year and has already picked up another two titles this year and march hasn’t even started yet. She is more than deserving of a shot on the main tour and will undoubtedly make her way in to the top 100 eventually.
However, I think this tournament is Alexandrova’s to lose. The Russian is lethal on hard courts, particular indoor hard courts. She hits hard and flat off both wings and has a quality serve to boot. She made the third round of the Australian Open and nearly gave Ash Barty trouble despite being massively off her game. I think this year could be a big one for the Russian and I think it may well start with a title here. Tauson is a tough first test, but one Alexandrova should pass.
Prediction: Alexandrova in 3
Main Photo from Getty.