Their clash is the second on the National Tennis Stadium, the biggest tennis arena in Beijing. Given that there are more intriguing second round matches in the women’s draw, such as Kuznetsova-Petkovic and Kvitova-Errani, the decision to schedule this one on the main stage says much about Ivanovic’s worldwide appeal. Despite slipping form her early-career peak, when she won Roland Garros and climbed to the top of the rankings, the Serb remains one of the most marketed of modern players, with a large and fervent fanbase.
And she produced some admirable tennis during her opening match in China. Facing the highly dangerous US Open semi-finalist Flavia Pennetta, she fought back from 5-1 down to take a 61-minute first set 11-9 in the tie-break; she then cruised through the second 6-2. It was a gutsy display from a player not renowned for her mental strength. Ivanovic has pushed the elite players on many occasions this year – most notably Maria Sharapova in Stuttgart and Victoria Azarenka at the US Open – but has ultimately failed to step it up in the crucial moments. The clutch performance against Pennetta will give her confidence a boost.
Polona Hercog came through the qualifying tournament in Beijing and beat rising star Monica Puig in the first round. She was particularly dominant on serve in that match, landing 74% of her first deliveries in court and winning 87% of first serve points. Having missed most of the first half of the season with a right wrist injury and falling to 133rd in the rankings, the Slovakian has climbed back to 76th thanks to strong results in several ITF tournaments. She also reached the quarter-finals in Nurnberg and Quebec City, and in Tokyo had Lucie Safarova on the ropes before falling in a final set tie-break.
With losses to the likes of Ayumi Morita and Timea Babos this year, it’s not unheard of for Ivanovic to stumble against lower-ranked journeywomen. Her army of fans, used to fretting their way through her early round matches, will tremble further when they realise that Hercog has beaten Ivanovic’s top 20 peers Kirsten Flipkens and Dominika Cibulkova this year. But if she is in decent form and keeps her concentration levels high, the 14th seed’s superior power and talent should see her through in straight sets.