This match falls along a very similar frame of thought as my Kanepi-Watson preview earlier today (http://www.theprofits.com.au/tennis/wta-brisbane-qualifying-watson-vs-kanepi/#.WkiQ1lWWbIU). Those who have followed me for a while will know that I much prefer to be on the side of players who are able to dictate the majority of points throughout their respective matches.
As a result, I am inclined to back Sabalenka here in Shenzhen.
Sabalenka had a very impressive finish to the 2017 season, with 11 wins from 14 matches since the start of October. This included wins over Duan, Zhu, Errani, Stephens, Doi, Hon and Broady, as well as a tight loss to Sharapova in the Tianjin final, falling 5-7 6-7(8), having led 4-1 in the first set and 5-1 in the second set. The three losses across that period were to Sharapova, Vandeweghe and Golubic.
Niculescu was also able to finish the season with a title, winning the Limoges tournament where she was favoured in each of the 5 rounds to get the job done. Niculescu is a crafty player (easily the most unique forehand on tour and second isn’t even close. She has the ability to draw errors out of even the best of players, however if you have the power to hit through her, then you instantly have the upper hand.
If Sabalenka plays anywhere near the level she played late in 2017, then she should control this. She has the power, and she knows how to play within herself enough to limit her errors and control her power in this matchup. Look for Sabalenka to regularly find herself deep in Niculescu’s service games, and she should do enough to get the job done here.
5 units Sabalenka to defeat Niculescu at $1.75 at Pinnacle