Damien Kayat previews selected fixtures from the WTA Ladies Palermo Open and the ATP ITC Stella Maris.
Ladies Palermo Open
Country Time Club (Outdoor Clay-Courts)
Selected Round of 32 Match- 20th July
Danielle Collins 1/10 | Katharina Gerlach 58/10
This looks like a done deal before a ball has even been served. But every now and again you have to hunt down huge upset potential. Maybe I’m just riding high after picking Collin Morikawa at 35/1 for last week’s Open Championship. But this could be a time to pick up a huge win. Katharina Gerlach is really not a tour-level player. She largely plies her trade on the ITF tour. She has won four ITF titles, all of them on clay. She actually reached her career-high singles ranking of 233 in November 2019 (she lost four ITF finals in 2019). But she hasn’t really been able to kick on since then. She employs a one-handed backhand that- while aesthetically pleasing- can be overwhelmed from the baseline. Gerlach has looked solid in her two qualifying rounds, holding both her opponents to less than 60% of their first serves won. This could prove a vital statistic heading into this match against the fancied American Danielle Collins.
Danielle Collins really burst onto the scene with her remarkable semi-final run at the 2019 Aussie Open. She followed that up with a quarterfinal run at last year’s French Open. But 2021 has been a much tougher year for the American. She reached the semi-final of the Phillip Island Trophy at the beginning of the year. But this has been followed by indifferent form and injury issues (she retired in Adelaide due to a lower back injury). She seemed to be back to her best in Budapest last week, using her huge groundstrokes and commanding serve to reach the semi-final. But she had to withdraw from a tight semi-final due to a persistent arm injury. She only won 49% of her first serve points in that semi-final against Anhelina Kalinina. This shows that her usually rhythmic serving style was seriously impaired by her injury. Collins hits a lot of errors in general and this was only exacerbated by her injury. It’s hard to imagine that Collins will be 100% for this match.
Verdict: Gerlach win at 58/10
This will be the first meeting between these two. Obviously, Collins is the huge favourite to win this tie. She has far more power and depth to her game than Gerlach. But that injury offers a glimmer of hope for the German. Kerlach has shown in her victories that she can be a menace on her opponents serve. Collins could be vulnerable to sustained return pressure with her arm issues.
ATP 250 Series
ITC Stella Maris (Outdoor Clay-Court)
Selected Round of 32 Match- 20th July
Marco Cecchinato 74/100 | Aljaz Bedene 21/20
This looks set to be a gruelling clay-court battle between two clay-court specialists. Marco Cecchinato is one of the more mysterious players on the tour. A surprise semi-finalist at the 2018 French Open, Cecchinato has actually reached five ATP Finals (all on clay). That includes three ATP titles, including a victory in this very event in 2018. Cecchinato clearly has the game to dominate on clay. But his swings in form are volatile. His 2021 win-loss ratio stands in the negative at 13-16. Having said that, the Italian reached his 5th ATP career final in Parma earlier this season. Cecchinato reminds me to some extent of Jelena Ostapenko. He goes big or goes home. But he does carry a huge threat in these smaller tier clay events. Could he possibly repeat his Parma exploits this week?
Aljaz Bedene has generally saved his best tennis for the clay over the years. It is the only surface on which he possesses a winning career record (his record stands at 62-58). The Slovenian is yet to claim his maiden ATP title, reaching four finals thus far. Two of those finals have been on clay courts (the most recent being a 2018 Argentina Open defeat to Dominic Thiem). That clay-court form extends to his accomplishments on the Challenger Tour, where the Slovenian has won 16 of his 21 Challenger titles on clay. He has endured a middling year, reaching the quarterfinals in Cagliari and Lyon. He has two quarterfinals to his name in this very event. Crucially, he also possesses a win over Cecchinato at this venue. In fact, Bedene has an extremely good head-to-head record against the Italian.
Verdict: Cecchinato to win at 74/100
Bedene leads the Italian 7-1 at all levels. On the tour, Bedene’s lead is more modest at 3-1. But that is actually slightly deceptive, as Cecchinato won their last encounter at this year’s Parma event. Bedene is probably the more consistent, reliable player. But Cecchinato has a streak of magic in his game that Bedene simply doesn’t possess. I also think that the Italian will draw confidence from his previous victory here. Cecchinato to win.