By Ros Satar at the Nature Valley Classic, Birmingham
- Heather Watson [WC] v Barbora Strycova | Strycova leads H2H 3-2
- Johanna Konta  v Anett Kontaveit | Konta leads H2H 2-0
BIRMINGHAM, UK – After the sogginess of Nottingham, the grass season picks up gear with Heather Watson and Johanna Konta opening their accounts at the Nature Valley Classic.
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Heather Watson [WC] v Barbora Strycova | Strycova leads H2H 3-2
It has been a year of ups and downs for Heather Watson, as she hovers just outside the magical cut-off for Wimbledon Main Draw direct entry. She wisely dropped back down to the ITF levels to build up a little confidence, but failed to get out of French Open qualies, before making the quarter-finals of Surbiton.
With a wildcard into Nottingham she had a tough opening draw in Nottingham against Maria Sakkari, and the draw is pretty tough here too as she comes up against tour veteran Barbora Strycova, a former finalist here twice in Birmingham.
It has been a couple of years since they met each other, with Watson getting the win at Eastbourne, and they have split their wins on the green stuff with Strycova taking the honours in Birmingham the year before, on her second trip to the final.
Strycova will come in a little colder than Watson, having bowed out in the first round of Roland Garros with no grass under her feet at the moment, which might give Watson a slight advantage from that all important but super-quick transition from the dirt to the grass.
However, Watson’s struggle with form this year makes the higher ranked Strycova perhaps more of a favourite – but we can surely expect a Watson rollercoaster of three sets.
Prediction: Watson in three sets.
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Johanna Konta  v Anett Kontaveit | Konta leads H2H 2-0
All eyes will be on the British No. 1 Johanna Konta as she wisely ducked out of the Nature Valley Open in Nottingham after her great run at Roland Garros. Although much has between made of her breaking her duck at the French Open, it was her growing confidence going back to the March Fed Cup heroics that has seen a steady upswing in the Brit’s fortunes.
She will be up against Anett Kontaveit, the Estonian with as solid a British accent you will ever hear, under the tutelage of Nigel Sears. There is not much between them in the rankings but with both of them venturing onto to grass for the first time, there might be a little more jostling for position in the early stages of the match.
Certainly, Kontaveit is not an easy start for Konta but the Estonian’s form since reaching the Stuttgart final at the start of the clay court season has seen her searching for back to back wins, while Konta comes in both with confidence and the home crowd on her side.
Kontaveit plays with some pleasing variety and can make things very awkward for opponents but the conditions tend to lend themselves well to Konta’s aggressive baseline game. However, with both of them looking for their grass-feet, this could be a tough opener.
They have yet to finish a match in straight sets. This will be no different.
Prediction: Konta in three sets.
Watson & Strycova are scheduled not before 1pm on Court 1, and Konta & Kontaveit is scheduled on Ann Jones Centre Court, not before 2:30pm (All times BST).
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