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What to Watch in the WTA This Week: Bastad and Bad Gastein Previews

Serena says hello to her new favorite surface.

Simona Halep brings a remarkable winning streak in pursuit of a fourth straight International title.  This week, a bit more competition might await her than at the three others.

Bastad:

Top half:  The second-ranked Maria Sharapova spent a brief holiday in Sweden this month, but world No. 1 Serena Williams will mix at least some business with pleasure.  One would not have expected to see Serena at an International event on clay rather than her usual US Open Series stop at Stanford.  But her undefeated clay record this year will go on the line against an overmatched group of opponents—on paper, at least.  Sure to collect a huge appearance fee in Bastad, Serena may or may not play with her usual intensity at a tournament that means nothing to her legacy.  The top-ranked junior in the world, Belinda Bencic, stands a win away from facing the top-ranked woman in the world shortly after earning the girls’ singles title at Wimbledon.  Serena’s own disappointment on those lawns may motivate her to bring more imposing form to Bastad than she would otherwise.

The player who came closest to defeating Serena on clay this year, Anabel Medina Garrigues, might await in the quarterfinals.  On the other hand, Medina Garrigues won just two games from projected second-round opponent Dinah Pfizenmaier in Palermo last week.  Also suffering an early exit there was Lara Arruabarrena, a Spaniard who shone briefly this spring.  Arruabarrena joins Lesia Tsurenko among the women vying with third seed Klara Zakopalova for the right to face Serena in the semifinals.  At a similar level of tournament in 2009, Zakopalova outlasted a diffident Serena on the clay of Marbella.

Bottom half:  Grass specialist Tsvetana Pironkova holds the fourth seed in a quarter free from any dirt devils.  Almost anyone could emerge from this section, perhaps even one of Sweden’s top two women.  Johanna Larsson will meet Sofia Arvidsson in the first round, an unhappy twist of fate for home fans.  The lower-ranked of the two, Arvidsson has accumulated the stronger career record overall.

Riding a 15-match winning streak at non-majors, Simona Halep seeks her fourth title of the summer.  She went the distance in consecutive weeks just before Wimbledon, on two different surfaces no less, so an International double on clay would come as no great surprise.  One aging threat and one rising threat jump out of her quarter as possible obstacles.  After reaching the second week of Wimbledon, Flavia Pennetta may have gained the confidence needed to ignite her stagnating comeback.  Assigned an opening test against clay specialist Alexandra Dulgheru, young French sensation Caroline Garcia looks to unlock more of her potential.  And Serena’s notorious assassin, Virginie Razzano, cannot be discounted entirely.

Final:  Serena vs. Halep

Bad Gastein:

Top half:  To be frank, this tournament boasts one of the least impressive fields on the WTA calendar (if “boasts” is the proper word).  On the bright side, Bad Gastein should feature some competitive, unpredictable matches from the first round to the last.  The only top-50 woman in the draw, Mona Barthel will seek her third final of 2013 but her first on clay.  Barthel wields more than enough power to hit through the slow surface, but her patience can be ruffled in adversity.  Her most notable pre-semifinal challenge might come from Kiki Bertens, who won a small title on clay last year.  Barthel has dominated their history, though, including a victory this year.

As she builds on an encouraging Wimbledon, Andrea Petkovic holds the fourth seed in a tournament near home.  Her family traveled with her from Germany before the draw ceremony, images of which appear elsewhere on this site.  A finalist on clay in Nurnberg last month, Petkovic drew one of the tournament’s most notable unseeded players in her opener, Petra Martic.  Just as injuries have undermined Petkovic for many months, mononucleosis has hampered Martic’s progress.  But her balanced game and keen feel for the ball still emerges, making her a greater threat than other players in the section.  Palermo semifinalist Chanelle Scheepers, who solved Martic there, might test Petkovic’s consistency.  Nor should one ignore elite junior Elina Svitolina in the draw’s most compelling section.

Bottom half:  Romanians enjoyed strong results last week, highlighted by Halep’s extended winning streak and semifinals from Alexandra Cadantu and Victor Hanescu.  This week, third seed Irina-Camelia Begu seeks to echo the success of her compatriots as she rebounds from a first-round loss in Palermo.  While her only career title came on a hard court, Begu reached two clay finals in 2011, her best season so far.  Near her stands home hope Yvonne Meusburger, who surprised by reaching the Budapest final.  The star-crossed Arantxa Rus simply hopes to halt the longest losing streak in WTA history, although she has drawn a seeded opponent in Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor.

Yet another rising German, second seed Annika Beck has reached the quarterfinals or better at three International tournaments on clay this year.  Beck can look forward to a second-round meeting with doubles specialist Lucie Hradecka with resurgent Italian Karin Knapp awaiting the winner.  Knapp returned to the top 100 when she exploited an imploding section of the Wimbledon draw to reach the second week.  Her skills suit clay less smoothly than some of the women around her, such as Palermo semifinalist Cadantu.

Final: Petkovic vs. Beck

What to Watch in the WTA This Week: Previews of Acapulco, Florianopolis, and Kuala Lumpur

Can Errani carry her success from one surface and hemisphere to another?

While eight of the top ten men are active in the week before Indian Wells, only two of the top ten women have chosen live matches over practice sessions.  Two clay tournaments in the Western Hemisphere accompany an Asian hard-court tournament as the last chance to reverse or extend momentum before the March mini-majors.

Acapulco:  One of those two top-ten women playing this week, Errani hopes to begin repeating last year’s success on red clay while extending her success from reaching the Dubai final.  Little about her section suggests that she should not, although she stumbled unexpectedly on clay against Lepchenko in Fed Cup.  Considering that mishap, she might find Arantxa Rus a worthy test in the quarterfinals.  Rus once upset Clijsters at Roland Garros and owns a lefty forehand smothered with topspin that cause damage on this surface.  She might struggle to survive an all-Dutch encounter in the opening round against Kiki Bertens, though, who broke through to win her first career title at a clay tournament in Morocoo last year.

Gone early in Bogota, where she held the second seed, Alize Cornet will hope for a more productive week in a draw where she holds the third seed.  The Frenchwoman lacks weapons to overpower her opponents but will find few in this section who can overpower her.  The most notable name here (probably more notable than Cornet) belongs to the returning Flavia Pennetta, who got through one three-setter in Bogota before fading in a second.  Tiny Lourdes Dominguez Lino hopes that this first-round opponent still needs to shake off more rust.

An odd sight it is to see an American, a Croat, and a Swede all playing on clay during a week with a hard-court tournament, and yet all of them occupy the same section in Acapulco.  Perhaps more notable than Glatch or Larsson is Ajla Tomljanovic, a heavy hitter from a nation of heavy hitters who once looked like a sure rising star before recent setbacks.  Facing this Croatian wildcard in the first round, fourth seed Irina-Camelia Begu knows better how to play on clay, as 2011 finals in Marbella and Budapest showed.  Begu won her first career title last fall in Tashkent, which places her a notch above the other seed in this quarter.  Spending most of her career at the ITF level, Romina Oprandi recorded a strong result in Beijing last fall.

Handed a wildcard to accompany her sixth seed, Schiavone searches for relevance after a long stretch in which she has struggled to string together victories.  The sporadically intriguing Sesil Karatantcheva should pose a test less stern than second seed Suarez Navarro, who shares Schiavone’s affinity for the surface.  Humiliated twice in one week at Dubai, where she lost resoundingly in both the singles and the doubles draws, the small Spaniard owns one of the loveliest one-handed backhands in the WTA since Henin’s retirement.  Schiavone owns another, which should make their quarterfinal pleasant viewing for tennis purists.

Final:  Errani vs. Begu

Florianopolis:  In the first year of a new tournament, the presence of a marquee player always helps to establish its legitimacy.  The outdoor hard courts at this Brazilian resort will welcome seven-time major champion and former #1 Venus Williams as the top seed, and her draw looks accommodating in its early stages.  While young Spaniard Garbine Muguruza showed potential at the Australian Open, the American’s sternest challenge may come from a much older woman.  Extending Venus deep into a third set at Wimbledon in 2011, Kimiko Date-Krumm could unsettle her fellow veteran with her clever angles and crisp net play, although her serve should fall prey to her opponent’s returning power.

In the quarter below lies Kirsten Flipkens, who lost early as the top seed in Memphis after reaching the second week of the Australian Open.  Also a potential semifinal opponent for Venus, Caroline Garcia possesses much more potential than her current ranking of #165 would suggest.  Unlike most of the counterpunchers in Florianopolis, she will not flinch from trading baseline missiles with the top seed should she earn the opportunity.  Another young star in the eighth-seeded Annika Beck might produce an intriguing quarterfinal with Garcia.

Counterpunchers dominate the third quarter, bookended by Medina Garrigues and Chanelle Scheepers.  When the two met at the Hopman Cup this year, endless rallies and endless service games characterized a match filled with breaks.  The heavy serve of Timea Babos might intercept Scheepers in the second round, while Medina Garrigues could encounter some early resistance from the quirky Niculescu or Shahar Peer.  With her best years well behind her, the Israeli continues to show her familiar grittiness in attempting to reclaim her relevance.

Midway through 2012, the second-seeded Shvedova climbed back into singles prominence by reaching the second week at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon.  Starting with her three-set loss to Serena at the latter major, she has suffered a series of demoralizing setbacks in early rounds since then, often in tightly contested matches that hinged on a handful of points.  Shvedova once led the WTA’s rankings for overall pace of shot, though, and her power might overwhelm those around her.  Aligned to meet her in the quarterfinals is Kristina Mladenovic, the surprise semifinalist at the Paris Indoors who delivered the first signature win of her career there over Kvitova.

Final:  Williams vs. Mladenovic

Kuala Lumpur:  With a direct-entry cutoff even lower than Florianopolis, this tournament features only eight players in the top 100.  Headlining the list, however, is a former #1 who still occupies the fringes of the top 10.  After she produced solid results in the Middle East, reaching a quarterfinal in Doha and a semifinal in Dubai, Wozniacki should feel confident in her ability to secure a first title of 2013.  Few of the names in her quarter will strike chords with most fans, although some might remember lefty Misaki Doi as the woman who upset Petra Martic in Melbourne before eating a Sharapova double bagel.  Aussie lefty Casey Dellacqua sometimes can challenge higher-ranked foes but has struggled with injury too often to maintain consistency.

Doi’s highest-ranked compatriot, the double-fister Ayumi Morita holds the fourth seed in Kuala Lumpur.  Like Wozniacki, she could face an Aussie in the quarterfinals, and, like Wozniacki, she should not find the test too severe.  Although she has won the Australian Open wildcard playoff twice, Olivia Rogowska has stagnated over the past few years since winning a set from then -#1 Safina at the US Open.  Evergreen veteran Eleni Daniilidou rounds out this section with one of the WTA’s more powerful one-handed backhands—and not much else.

Surely pleased to recruit another player of international familiarity beyond Wozniacki, Kuala Lumpur welcomes Pavlyuchenkova as a third-seeded wildcard entrant.  The Russian often has excelled at this time of year, reaching the Indian Wells semifinals before and winning consecutive titles at the Monterrey tournament that has shifted after Miami.  This year, Pavlyuchenkova has shown a little of her promising 2011 form by reaching the final in Brisbane to start the season and much more of her dismal 2012 form by dropping three straight matches thereafter.  She could end her four-match losing streak here in a section filled with qualifiers.  But yet another Aussie in Ashleigh Barty hopes to continue what so far has become an encouraging season for WTA future stars.

When not conversing on Twitter with our colleague David Kane, 16-year-old phenom Donna Vekic has compiled some notable results.  Seeded at a WTA tournament for the first time, she will look to build upon her final in Tashkent last year, a win over Hlavackova at the Australian Open, and a solid week in Fed Cup zonal play.  Vekic does face a challenging first-round test in the powerful serve of American wildcard Bethanie Mattek-Sands, but no match in her section looks unwinnable.  While second seed and potential quarterfinal opponent Hsieh Su-wei won her first two titles last year, the late-blossoming star from Chinese Taipei still does not intimidate despite her presence in the top 25.

Final:  Wozniacki vs. Pavlyuchenkova

(Actually, can we just combine these last two draws and have Venus play a super-final against Caro?)

 

 

Caroline Wozniacki: a true tragic heroine at the US Open

Former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki goes down in flames during the first round of the US Open on Tuesday. (Photo via USOpen.org)

By David Kane, Special for Tennis Grandstand

How fitting that Caroline Wozniacki’s disastrous first round loss should take place beneath a full moon.

After all, three years ago “Sunshine” had her breakthrough Grand Slam victory at a US Open night match. Two years ago, she entered the tournament as the #1 seed under the shadow of Serena Williams’ absence, and took out Maria Sharapova in full shade, and last year she was thoroughly outhit under the lights by Williams, who definitively denied Wozniacki the opportunity to prove to pundits that she belonged at the top of the women’s game. Throw in today’s new low and one can trace Caroline’s time in Flushing and discover her to be a true tragic heroine.

The fight that had been Wozniacki’s trademark appears to have completely disappeared; even in matches against much stronger players, the image of a scrambling Caroline doing everything she can to keep the ball in play is a familiar one, and one we constantly witnessed as she grinded her way to the top of the world rankings. Seriously, when was the last time you remember Caroline Wozniacki not running down even the most surefire winners?

It was a game style that, devoid of power, rubbed most the wrong way, mostly because it didn’t seem fair that a “better” ballstriker or shotmaker could be undone by a “pusher” who did little besides putting the ball back in play. There were many moments where Wozniacki seemed destined to laugh last (on the court, at least), but ultimately I would argue that her hyperdefensive game, the very thing that helped her skyrocket to #1, kept her from the Grand Slam title she needed to validate her high ranking.

The general mood in the uncharacteristically empty Louis Armstrong stadium was one of befuddlement, and the spell didn’t break during the Dane’s medical timeout her knee. It failed to wane as Irina Camelia Begu, who also hadn’t beaten a top 10 player this year, smacked aces and winners past the “The Danish Wall.” And even the plaintive cries of children shouting, “Come on, Caroline!” were silenced when their player began shanking badly on her much maligned forehand side.

It was hard to get a read on the audience witnessing Caroline’s tragedy unfold, and why the audience hadn’t grown when the whispers of a potential upset got louder. Did everyone expect Wozniacki to make a miraculous comeback? The idea isn’t too farfetched, given her consistency and Begu’s complete lack of experience when it came to dealing with the situation in which she found herself. Perhaps, after the fall from number one, the first round loss at Wimbledon and the recent knee injury that ended her New Haven winning streak, this wasn’t the upset that it seemed to be.

She was injured; she hasn’t been playing that well. We can come up with a few excuses and move on.

The most tragic answer of all? Maybe whether it was an upset or not is irrelevant, that even if Wozniacki was 100% or playing better, she was never going to win this tournament anyway. The player who vowed to improve her game to win Slams at the start of the year is a shadow of her former self, true, but even her former self ostensibly lacked the firepower to take matches out of the hands of the best players, so while people may have expected her to beat an unknown from Romania, *where* she loses isn’t nearly as important as the sinking feeling that a loss was always on the cards for the latest victim of the Slamless #1 curse.

David Kane is an avid tennis fan reporting from the grounds of the U.S. Open. You can follow him on Twitter @ovafanboy.

WTA Bad Gastein gallery – Petra Martic ousted by local favorite Yvonne Meusburger

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By Romi Cvitkovic

The WTA tournament in Bad Gastein has been getting surprised with seeds crashing out just as much as the rain delaying play. And today was no different.

In a rain-interrupted Wednesday, fifth-seeded Petra Martic who had just come off of her career-best showing at a Slam by making the fourth round of the French Open last week, was ousted by local favorite Yvonne Meusburger who saved four match points to win with a score of 6-1, 4-6, 7-6(5).

Another seed, number three Ksenia Pervak saved five match points during her 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(3) victory against opponent Lara Arruabarrena-Veci.

Sixth-seeded Irina-Camelia Begu was forced to three sets and saved six-of-eight break points in the final set to beat her German opponent, Kathrin Woerle, 7-5, 1-6, 6-3.

Eighth-seeded Johanna Larsson also defeated qualifier Jana Cepelova, 6-4, 7-6(1).

16-year-old Austrian wildcard Barbara Haas saw her WTA tournament debut come to an end as she was defeated by qualifier Dia Evtimova, 5-7, 6-1, 6-3. Still active on the juniors circuit while reaching the finals of $10,000 ITF tournaments, expect to see the name “Haas” (no relation to Tommy Haas, supposedly) appear again in the future.

Other results:
Patricia Mayr-Achleitner (AUT) d. (WC) Nicole Rottmann (AUT) 6-2 6-3
Jill Craybas (USA) d. Nina Bratchikova (RUS) 7-5 6-3
(Q) Chichi Scholl (USA) d. Zuzana Ondraskova (CZE) 6-3 6-0

Check out the day’s matches in our full gallery below by Tennis Grandstand photographer Rick Gleijm!

Strasbourg day 1 roundup and photos

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By Romana Cvitkovic

Tennis Grandstand photographer Rick Gleijm is in Strasbourg, France covering the WTA Internationaux de Strasbourg tournament live all week. Main draw action kicked off today with top seed Sabine Lisicki on court, as well as number eight seed Tamira Paszek. The last day of qualification also concluded today. Full results and photo gallery below.

Top seed Sabine Lisicki toppled in the first round of the Internationaux de Strasbourg on Monday, as she was defeated by French player Pauline Parmentier, 6-4, 6-4. Eight seed Tamira Paszek survived a second set bagel to come back and win in three against Alberta Brianti, 6-4, 0-6, 6-4. Converting on only 4 of 15 break points, the Austrian barely held her first serve in the second set.

Elena Baltacha also saw her time in Strasbourg cut short by another French player, Stephanie Foretz Gacon, with a score of 6-4, 6-0 for Foretz Gacon. Su-Wei Hsieh of Taipei came out victorious over Irina Camelia-Begu of Romania, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-1. Both women struggled to hold their second serve in the first set, with Begu continuing to struggle for the rest of the match, winning only 7 of her 32 second serves.

The last day of qualification also wrapped up with a few surprises. Number eight seed Mirjana Lucic of Croatia ousted the top seed Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain in a tough two-and-a-half hour battle, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4. 18-year-old American Lauren Davis fought back from a set down to claim the win over Mandy Minella, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. Number two seed Alexandra Panova defeated Stephanie Dubois, 6-3, 6-4, as Anastasija Sevastova ousted Lenka Jurikova, 6-0, 6-1.

Check back each day to catch all new action direct from the courts by our photographer Rick Gleijm! Scroll down for the full gallery below.

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ORDER OF PLAY – TUESDAY, MAY 22, 2012

CENTRAL start 11:00 am
Alexandra Panova vs. Mona Barthel
Anabel Medina Garrigues vs. Anna Tatishvili (tbc; NB 12.00hrs)
Alexandra Cadantu vs. Francesca Schiavone
Sloane Stephens vs. Maria Kirilenko
Alizé Cornet vs. Olga Govortsova (NB 17.30hrs)

COURT 1 start at 11:00 am
Mandy Minella vs. Lucie Hradecka
Timea Babos vs. Anastasija Sevastova
Marina Erakovic vs. Ayumi Morita (tbc)
Virginie Razzano vs. María José Martínez Sánchez
Cadantu/Keothavong vs. Minella/Parmentier

COURT 2 start at 11:00 am
Johanna Larsson vs. Lauren Davis
Mirjana Lucic vs. Anne Keothavong
Shahar Peer vs. Aleksandra Wozniak
Brianti/Foretz Gacon vs. Gámiz/Hermoso
Babos/Hsieh vs. Perrin/Shamayko

COURT TBA Not Before 5:00 pm
Jurikova/Kucova vs. Adamczak/Bengson (NB 17.00hrs)

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