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Osaka vs Cibulkova tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Can Osaka beat Cibulkova twice in two weeks?

Hannah Wilks in WTA Tour 15 May 2019
  • Naomi Osaka faces Dominika Cibulkova in the second round of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia
  • Osaka vs Cibulkova is live from Rome on Thursday at 10am local/9am BST
Naomi Osaka (PA Sport)

Naomi Osaka takes on Dominika Cibulkova for the second straight week as the world no. 1 battles to hold on to her ranking in Rome.

For the second week in a row, Naomi Osaka takes on Dominika Cibulkova at a major clay-court event – can the top seed repeat her straight-sets victory over Cibulkova in Madrid in the slower conditions at Rome’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia?

This match was originally scheduled to be played on Wednesday 15 May but has been rescheduled to Thursday 16 due to rain - the winner will face Mihaela Buzarnescu or Julia Goerges in the third round. That match will take place on the Pietrangeli court, probably not before 4pm local/3pm BST.

Naomi Osaka lost to Beinda Bencic in Madrid (PA Sport)
The identity of her second-round opponent isn’t the only thing that’s reminiscent of last week for Osaka – she once more has her world no. 1 ranking under threat. After she failed to make the semifinals of the Mutua Madrid Open, losing to Belinda Bencic in the quarterfinals despite serving for the match, Osaka could have been displaced this week by Simona Halep – but Halep’s defeat by Kiki Bertens in the final meant that Osaka holds on to the top spot. However, Halep can once more overtake Osaka this week by winning the Internazionali BNL d’Italia title – if Osaka fails to make the quarterfinals.

Osaka has already won as many matches on clay in 2019 as she managed in the entirety of her 2016-18 seasons, compiling a 5-1 win-loss record in Stuttgart and Madrid after making the first clay-court semifinal of her career at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, where she was forced by an abdominal injury to give a walkover to Anett Kontaveit. In Madrid, she beat Cibulkova, Sara Sorribes Tormo and Aliaksandra Sasnovich for the loss of one set – to Sorribes Tormo – and came very close to getting the win over Dubai champion Belinda Bencic, a win she clearly wanted very badly after Bencic had beaten her in straight sets at Indian Wells.

Too badly, one suspects: Osaka said that with the ranking implications and wanting to beat Bencic, she was ‘thinking about too many things’ and there was ‘so much drama in [her] head’. She looked to have established superiority in what was an unbelievably tightly contested match against the Swiss player when she held from 15-40 at the beginning of the decider and went on to break, but a big unforced error for 0-15 when she served for the match at 5-4 opened the door for Bencic, who played an absolutely flawless returning game to break and then won the next two matches to secure a 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 win.

There were lots of positives to take from Stuttgart and Madrid for Osaka, who more than anything needs clay-court experience after not having played many matches on the surface at all so far (although she has made the third round of the French Open twice). But her clay-court game definitely remains a work in progress. 

‘I feel like I had a big training block in L.A. before I went to Germany. I think that definitely helped a lot,’ Osaka said about her comfort level on clay.

‘Yeah, I feel more comfortable on it. I also feel like I'm more sort of accepting the fact that it's not my greatest surface, so I'm more willing to do, like, different things to learn. … [S]ince clay is bumpy compared to hard court, you don't really know how the ball is going to bounce. I think that's the most difficult part.’

The conditions in Rome are much slower and more similar to the ones prevailing at the French Open, so it should be interesting to see whether Osaka can reproduce her Madrid victory over Dominika Cibulkova.

Dominika Cibulkova (PA Sport)
A former Grand Slam finalist and WTA Finals Singapore champion, Cibulkova was ranked as high as world no. 4 in 2017 but she comes into this tournament as the world no. 33. The Slovakian player, now 30, was a quarterfinalist in Rome in 2012 but hasn’t won back-to-back matches there since 2013 when she reached the round of 16. 

Cibulkova had some great results in 2018, most notably making the quarterfinals of Wimbledon and the round of 16 at the US Open, reaching finals in Budapest and Strasbourg and recording quarterfinal finishes in Sydney, Wuhan and Beijing, beating Simona Halep and Sloane Stephens at the latter two events. But she’s just 4-7 in 2019, with two of those wins coming against Brazilian players ranked well outside the top 100 during Fed Cup; before this week, her only WTA Tour win for the year was over Lara Arruabarrena in Dubai, before beating Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-2, 6-3 in the first round in Rome.

A semifinalist at the French Open back in 2009, Cibulkova is an excellent clay-court player, and I do think that the conditions in Rome will suit her combination of fantastic movement around the court but lack of outright power and explosiveness in a way that Madrid didn’t (although she is a former Madrid finalist). Osaka has won all three of their encounters in straight sets but Cibulkova was close to taking her to a third in Madrid; in these slower conditions, Cibulkova should take a set at least from the world no. 1.  

Osaka vs Cibulkova Internazionali BNL d’Italia tennis is live from Rome on Thursday at 10am local/9am BST

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Osaka vs Cibulkova tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Can Osaka beat Cibulkova twice in two weeks?

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