Caroline Wozniacki - WTA Dubai Barclays Tennis Championship - Day Four

Wozniacki vs. Peer:  Seeking her 13th consecutive victory at a Premier Five tournament, the top seed hopes to avenge her defeat to the Israeli at this Persian Gulf event in 2010.  Spurred to unexpected feats by the controversy swirling around her, Peer swept to the semifinals a year ago with victories over three top-20 players.  That burst of resolute defiance ignited her resurgence last season, during which she reached a career-high ranking and two Premier Mandatory semifinals.  On the latter of those two occasions, though, Peer fell to Wozniacki a round after the Dane had claimed the #1 ranking for the first time.  Unlikely to supply an obliging doormat for a second coronation, the Israeli competed courageously throughout the first set of a Beijing encounter riddled with service breaks.  As set point after set point slid past, Wozniacki grew increasingly frustrated against an opponent whose focus matched her own.  But, once a few rash groundstrokes decided the first set, the Israeli faded sharply.

Although Peer has forced herself to hit through her groundstrokes with greater conviction, she still lacks the baseline firepower to puncture her opponent’s Viking-worthy shield.  Nearly forced to a third set by Chakvetadze in her opener, Wozniacki pulverized Kvitova’s nemesis Morita a round later and should adapt to the medium-speed surface as smoothly as Peer.  The Dane comfortably shouldered the pressure of gaining the #1 ranking for the first time last fall, so nerves should not derail her from slipping back into shoes that have fitted her better than some had expected.

Stosur vs. Jankovic:  Soon to turn 26, Jankovic appeared a spent force throughout the second half of 2010, when she defeated no seeded opponents and mustered only a single pair of consecutive victories.  While 2011 began only slightly more auspiciously, the Serb should have accumulated confidence from a victory over recurrent hard-court nemesis Kanepi, who conquered her here a year ago.  Despite donating a disastrous first set, the sixth seed persevered and gradually settled into a rhythm rather than descending into petulance.  One suspected that she might crumble when she lost consecutive multiple-deuce games deep in the third set that featured multiple break points and game points.  To the contrary, Jankovic collected herself immediately to reel off the next four games, triggering memories of her prime when no deficit daunted her.

Justifiably weary from an Indian Wells title run, the Serb succumbed to Stosur in Miami during a match blighted by wind and questionable line calls (the latter a frequent feature in JJ extravaganzas).  Far less excusable was Jankovic’s listless performance against the Australian at Roland Garros, when she collected just three games on the surface most suitable to her style.  Early in 2011, the 2010 French Open finalist has displayed only slightly sharper form than the three-time French Open semifinalist.  On the other hand, she has progressed more smoothly this week and should hold serve much more easily than Jankovic, constantly under pressure from the Estonian on Thursday.  Curbing her defensive instincts, the Serb should hope to keep Stosur off balance by hitting behind her in rallies, a tactic that confounded the equally slow-footed Kanepi.  The Australian possesses both the strongest groundstroke of either player (her lethal forehand) and the weakest groundstroke of either player (her backhand); which shot will play a greater role?

Radwanska vs. Kuznetsova:  Perhaps buoyed by her Fed Cup heroics, Kuznetsova washed away the stains of her gallant, demoralizing loss to Schiavone at the Australian Open by conquering the Italian in another suspenseful third set.  Yet another Dubai quarterfinalist who aims to rebound from a disappointing slump, the Russian signaled her renewed intent with a Melbourne victory over Henin in which she overcame her nerves as much as the Belgian.  Outside the majors, Sveta has won five of her six meetings with Radwanska but has battled through third sets in five of her eight overall victories over the Pole.  These encounters often follow a script familiar to the famously flighty Russian, who has looked poised to proceed without ado after a capable first set before drifting out of focus in the second set and then resuming control in the decider.

Watching the Pole’s exertions at the Australian Open, spectators soon forgot about her foot injury and marveled again at her breathtaking array of spins, slices, and cunning angles.  Eager to extend the impetus from that implausible quarterfinal run, Radwanska dispatched a pair of divergent opponents in the first two rounds.  Neither the pacelessness of Sevastova nor the double-fisted probes of Bartoli unsettled a player who specializes in unsettling her rivals.  In order to fluster Kuznetsova, she must avoid a ball-bruising battle from the baseline while maintaining a high first-serve percentage.  Across the net, the two-time major champion should aim to step inside the baseline in order to take time away from the Pole, whose scintillating mind operates less clearly when rushed.  Like Stosur in the match above, Kuznetsova probably will dictate her destiny for better or for worse.

Pennetta vs. Kleybanova:  Facing scant resistance from world #3 Zvonareva, the underestimated Kleybanova spearheads the next generation of Russian stars together with Pavlyuchenkova, whom she defeated in the first round after trailing by a set and 4-2.  Unusual among her compatriots, the 21-year-old complements her characteristically Russian groundstroke might and shot-making prowess with a serve not only imposing but generally reliable.  From her doubles experience emerge an imaginative court sense in addition to forecourt skills that somehow translate graceless technique into sparkling results.  None of these advantages have aided Kleybanova against the Italian veteran, however, who won all three of their 2010 hard-court meetings in straight sets.

Extended deep into the final set against the volatile Azarenka, the equally volatile Pennetta quelled Dokic’s first-round challenge with impressive ease considering the Australian’s Paris accomplishments.  At both Sydney and the Australian Open, her tendency to veer between emotional peaks and valleys emerged.  Following a nervy, break-strewn, yet still notable victory over Zvonareva in the second round of the former event, she stumbled haplessly through a one-sided loss to Bojana Jovanovski in the quarterfinals.  Two days after a majestic rally from the brink of defeat against Peer, her Melbourne campaign ended on an angst-ridden afternoon when she squandered a one-set lead and multiple second-set opportunities against Kvitova.  One never quite knows which Pennetta will appear on any given day, but the Italian’s better self seems in the ascendancy lately with two victories over a formidable Australian squad in Fed Cup.  Can she translate her momentum from her patriotic exploits to individual competition?