EASTBOURNE, England - Beware the Czech lefties. Both Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova are back on the tour at the Aegon International Eastbourne this week. Safarova is of course coming off a final showing at the French Open, while Kvitova is a two-time Wimbledon champion.
Here's a look at the packed draw - 10 of the world's Top 14 are in the field - with yours truly hoping his picks are somewhat better than last week for Birmingham.
First Quarter: Tough Opener For Kvitova?
Kvitova hasn't played a match for three weeks and when she finally takes to the court on the south coast of England following a bye, her start could be a difficult one: It'll be Camila Giorgi if the Italian beats a qualifier. Giorgi's powerful, flat strokes mirror Kvitova's and thus can do plenty of damage on grass. Her first title came on the grass a week ago.
Sloane Stephens made more progress at the French Open - she was one of those who almost eliminated Serena Williams - and if the American downs British wildcard Naomi Broady, Carla Suárez Navarro awaits in an intriguing second round match. Stephens with the edge on grass?
How the British would love one of their own to linger in the draw, and Heather Watson is the top hope. But Watson hasn't won back-to-back matches since Indian Wells and might confront French Open quarterfinalist Elina Svitolina in round two.
Prediction: Stephens def. Kvitova
Second Quarter: Lucie's Grass Court Return
With Safarova's standout performance at Roland Garros, some might forget she achieved the semis at Wimbledon last year - where Kvitova finally stopped her. So playing on grass shouldn't faze Safarova in the slightest. How, though, will she recover from her exertions in Paris - both physically and mentally? The extra week between the French Open and Wimbledon is sure to help, yet Safarova probably meets a dangerous player in the second round in Dominika Cibulkova, a Grand Slam finalist herself. Complicating matters for Cibulkova is this: The Slovak hasn't competed since Antwerp in February due to a left leg injury.
Karolina Pliskova and her big serve prospered in Birmingham, and the Czech might encounter Wimbledon finalist and 2008 Eastbourne champion Agnieszka Radwanska in the third round. It was one of those good week-bad weeks for the Pole in Nottingham. She advanced to the semifinals but then was upset as the top seed by Monica Niculescu - falling in the third, 6-0.
Prediction: Pliskova def. Safarova
Third Quarter: The Defending Champion & Eastbourne Favorite
Ekaterina Makarova can't get enough of Eastbourne. In seven trips, the Russian has only failed to make the quarterfinals once - in 2011. And it took quite the player to beat her that year in Kvitova. A few weeks later Kvitova would go on to win her first Wimbledon crown. Makarova posted her best result in 2010, winning the event as a qualifier.
Giant killer Garbiñe Muguruza is, on paper, due to battle Makarova in the third round; the Spaniard is looking to bounce back from a surprise first round exit in Birmingham.
The top half of the quarter includes last year's winner in Eastbourne, Madison Keys. Her path to the quarterfinal could see the hard-hitting American baseliner meet Den Bosch finalist Belinda Bencic in the second round and Eugenie Bouchard in the third. Bouchard's first opponent after a bye will be tricky, either the grass court savvy Alison Riske or Alizé Cornet. Bouchard topped Cornet at Wimbledon last year but that was a different time for the seventh seed.
Prediction: Makarova def. Keys
Fourth Quarter: Wozniacki And The Germans
Like Makarova, Caroline Wozniacki must have fond memories of Eastbourne. It was in Eastbourne last year where the Dane began her renaissance by reaching the semifinals. She's also a former champion, having claimed the title in 2009, so while she might prefer hardcourts, Wozniacki isn't shabby on grass.
Wozniacki begins against a qualifier before running into, potentially, veterans Svetlana Kuznetsova or Flavia Pennetta in the third round. Who would Wozniacki prefer? Probably Pennetta, since she is 7-1 against the Italian as opposed to 5-4 versus Kuznetsova. And Kuznetsova has won their last two matches.
Just as in Birmingham, pals Angelique Kerber and Andrea Petkovic landed in the same quarter. But a last eight pairing between the Fed Cup teammates didn't materialize Friday after Petkovic was upset by rising young Czech Katerina Siniakova. If they do tangle in Eastbourne, it would on this occasion come in the third round. Kerber, who made last year's final, will likely have to deal with the big serve of CoCo Vandeweghe right away.
Prediction: Wozniacki def. Kerber
Semifinals: Pliskova, Wozniacki