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The Series Is Open: Previewing WTA Stanford (and Baku)

Can anyone bring Radwanska to her knees at Stanford?

The women’s US Open Series launches in California with one of the oldest tournaments in the WTA.  In the tranquil setting of Stanford University, the Bank of the West Classic a particularly cozy and rewarding tournaments.  Here is a look ahead at what to expect this week at Stanford and at the International event half a world away in Azerbaijan.

Stanford:

Top half:  Rarely do Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, and Victoria Azarenka all spurn Stanford.  Their absence this year offers world No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska an opportunity as the only top-10 player in the draw.  The top seed probably still can taste the bitter disappointment of a greater opportunity squandered at Wimbledon.  Radwanska will seek to bounce back on a relatively fast hard court, where she has reached the semifinals before.  She should reach that stage again with no pre-semifinal opponent more formidable than Varvara Lepchenko, just 2-9 away from clay this year.  A potentially intriguing first-round match between youthful energy and veteran cunning pits Stanford alum Mallory Burdette against Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone.

Sandwiched between two unimpressive seeds, Madison Keys should showcase her power on a court suited to it.  American fans will enjoy their glimpse of the woman who could become their leading threat to win a major in a few years.  Keys will look to deliver an opening upset over eighth seed Magdalena Rybarikova en route to a possible quarterfinal against compatriot Jamie Hampton.  Climbing into relevance with an Eastbourne final, Hampton holds the fourth seed and may face another Stanford alum in Nicole Gibbs.  Hampton stunned Radwanska at Eastbourne last month, while Keys took a set from her at Wimbledon.

Semifinal:  Radwanska vs. Keys

Bottom half:  The third quarter features another unseeded American hopeful—and another Radwanska.  Stanford’s depleted field allowed Agnieszka’s younger sister, Urszula, to snag the seventh seed, while Christina McHale looks for momentum on the long road back from mononucleosis.  Still elegant as she fades, Daniela Hantuchova brings a touch of grace that should contrast with the athleticism of first-round opponent Yanina Wickmayer.  Often a presence but rarely a threat at Stanford, third seed Dominika Cibulkova has not won more than two matches at any tournament since January.

The only US Open champion in the draw, Samantha Stosur might face a challenging test against Julia Goerges.  This enigmatic German has won three of their four meetings, including both on hard courts, although the last three all have reached a third set.  Of course, a 14-17 record in 2013 does not bode well for her chances of surviving Olga Govortsova in the first round.  The road might not get any easier for Stosur in the quarterfinals, though, where she could meet Sorana Cirstea.  A product of the Adidas training program in Las Vegas, Cirstea upset Stosur at last year’s Australian Open.  None of the women in the lower half ever has reached a final at Stanford.

Semifinal:  Cibulkova vs. Stosur

Final:  Radwanska vs. Stosur

Baku:

Top half:  Not one of these women will hold a seed at the US Open unless their rankings rise between now and then.  Holding the top seed is Bojana Jovanovski, who owes many of her poitns to a second-week appearance at the Australian Open.  Jovanovski has two victories over Caroline Wozniacki but few over anyone else since then.  Former junior No. 1 Daria Gavrilova and fellow Serb Vesna Dolonc offer her most credible competition before the semifinals.

At that stage, Jovanovski might meet Andrea Hlavackova, the runner-up in a similarly weak draw at Bad Gastein a week ago.  Although she has fallen outside the top 100, meanwhile, Shahar Peer will hope to rely on her experience to stop either Hlavackova or third seed Chanelle Scheepers.  The speed of the surface may determine whether a counterpuncher like Peer or Scheepers overcomes the heavier serve of fifth seed Karolina Pliskova.

Bottom half:  Unheralded players from the home nation often play above expectations at small tournaments like Baku.  Wildcard Kamilla Farhad, an Azerbaijani citizen, will hope to echo Yvonne Meusberger’s astonishing title run in Bad Gastein.  Surrounding her are clay specialist Alexandra Cadantu and the stagnating Polona Hercog.  A tall Slovenian, the later woman seems the best equipped to win on hard courts from this section.  Cadantu will need to blunt the explosive serve of Michaella Krajicek to survive her opener.

The 18-year-old Elina Svitolina showed promise in Bad Gastein by reaching the semifinals.  That experience will have served her well heading into another International event with an open draw.  She even holds a seed here, as does another rising star in Donna Vekic.  Nearly two years younger than Svitolina, Vekic already has reached two WTA finals.  A quarterfinal between the two teenagers might offer a preview of more momentous matches in the future.

Final:  Pliskova vs. Vekic

Fashion Review: Fila Introduces Stylish, Durable and Comfortable New Tennis Shoe, The Sentinel

Julia Goerges Fila Sentinel_1

(June 21, 2013) Long time tennis and sports brand Fila has just released its first tennis shoe in years, the Sentinel, and we at Tennis Grandstand were given a sneak peak into the brand’s newest creation.

Fila has marketed the Sentinel as a “modern silhouette with comfort, durability and traction in mind and engineered to endure the rigors of match play” for all levels of tennis players, from juniors to professional. I’ve been on the market for a good tennis shoe, so naturally I wanted to test it out for myself.

(Available directly from Fila.com for $100, shop the women’s or men’s Sentinel shoe now.)

Fila Sentinel shoe review, Tipsarevic, Goerges, Jankovic, Tursunov

When I first took my white/Hawaiian ocean blue test pair out of the box, I was immediately captivated. The sleek lines, seamless pattern shifts of the varying mesh materials, and incorporation of color were perfectly in balance. By the look and feel alone, it felt like a sturdy and durable shoe. Design-wise, this is one of my favorite shoes on the market currently, and it comes in three color combinations for women and four for men. Time to put it on and really test it out!

Style – 5/5 stars

***

Fila Sentinel Shoe review_1My feet haven’t always easily and comfortably fit into all the differing Nike and adidas tennis shoes on the market over the years. So, when I put these bad boys on for the first time, it fit like a glove. The inside cushioning has a slight upward deflection around the heel area, as well as the inner and outer arches, allowing your feet to almost mold with the design. The cushioning also has a slight give, letting your feet rest comfortably in the shoe.

Taking my new kicks out onto the tennis courts, I was ready to play. Running up and back, and laterally, I felt that there was sufficient room for my feet to be comfortable, and nothing was pinching. The tongue also has an internal elastic strap, which prevents it from moving around, and it was a really nice addition. By the end of match play, my feet didn’t feel tired or cramped, and I could still feel the welcome extra cushioning of the memory foam lined heel collar.

Comfort – 5/5 stars, but I would like to give it more stars!

***

Fila Sentinel Shoe review_2The true test of any shoe is not only comfort, but for the tennis-centered mind, a durable shoe that performs well and let’s you play your tennis as opposed to hindering or distracting you.

The modified herringbone outersole provided good traction on the hard courts, and though Fila offers a 6-month guarantee on it, based on my use, I would expect a longer life than that for the average club player. The extra toe protection that Fila also incorporated doesn’t overwhelm visually, but gives those who like to slide, enough material to do so without wearing the shoe down quickly. The same goes for the inner (medial) and outer (lateral) support on the sides of the shoe, which provides good foot stability, as well as durability for sliding or quick stops. My movement didn’t feel hindered by the shoe in any way, and it is lightweight measuring at around 12.3 ounces for the women’s shoes, and 14.6 ounces for the men’s shoes. The shoe is also fairly true to fit, not really expanding with use, and if anything, is perhaps a half-size big.

Performance – 5/5 stars

***

Truth be told, I was really trying hard to find something wrong with this shoe over time because it seemed too good to be true. But I failed miserably in my endeavor. The durability, comfort, breathability, style and performance of the Sentinel were worth the wait since Fila’s last tennis shoe years ago.

The Fila tennis pros themselves have already been testing out the Sentinel for months now, so don’t take my word for it. See what Janko Tipsarevic, Andreas Seppi, Julia Goerges, Dmitry Tursunov and Marina Erakovic have to say!

Janko Tipsarevic
“Tennis shoes are very important to professional players. It is important that the shoe is lightweight so we can be quick on our feet, yet stable so we do not slip or slide on court. The Sentinel feels low to the ground without sacrificing comfort and cushioning.  The traction is excellent and the shoe is very durable for the hours that I put in on the tennis court.  All in all, this is my favorite Fila tennis shoe in recent years.”

Andreas Seppi
“I have been wearing the Sentinel since late last year and I really like the shoe because they are light, extremely durable and very comfortable on-court. The Sentinel is now my favorite Fila shoe that I have worn in all the years we have been together on tour!”

Julia Goerges
“The Sentinel is very light, but at the same time, the shoe is very stable which is important for your ankles! It is so comfortable wearing these shoes!”

Dmitry Tursunov
“I have been wearing this shoe during the clay court season and it’s an extremely lightweight shoe but this benefit does not come at the cost of comfort. The Sentinel is very stable and gives good feedback. It’s one of the best shoes Fila introduced in recent years.”

Marina Erakovic
“The Sentinel is very lightweight, supportive and has great cushioning, but my favorite thing about the Sentinel is the secure fit on my feet. I don’t think about slipping or rolling because the Sentinel is so stable on my feet.”

WTA Nürnberg Gallery: Petkovic Ousts Goerges; Jankovic and Beck Thru to QFs

Jelena Jankovic WTA Nurnberg_600

(June 12, 2013) World No. 18 and the top seed this week at WTA Nürnberg, Jelena Jankovic reached the quarterfinals without much resistance. She finished her darkness-delayed first round match against Arantxa Rus 6-4, 6-2, and followed it up with another breezy 6-2, 6-0 win over Johanna Larsson.

The Serb will next take on No. 6 seed Lourdes Dominguez Lino who ousted Mandy Minella, and the winner will face either Andrea Petkovic or Annika Beck in the semifinals.

In the bottom half of the draw only two seeds remained, No. 5 Lucie Safarova and No. 7 Simona Halep. Galina  Voskoboeva defeated No. 3 seed Alize Cornet and Polona Hercog rounded out the quarterfinals.

Doubles – First Round Results
(1) Groenefeld/Peschke (GER/CZE) d. Beygelzimer/Bratchikova (UKR/RUS) 61 62
Krunic/Piter (SRB/POL) d. (2) Goerges/Minella (GER/LUX) 61 62
(3) Panova/Thorpe (RUS/FRA) d. Pegula/Plipuech (USA/THA) 63 63
Olaru/Solovyeva (ROU/RUS) d. (4) Birnerova/Buryachok (CZE/UKR) 62 62
Duque-Mariño/Pereira (COL/BRA) d. Craybas/Savchuk (USA/UKR) 60 46 108 (Match TB)
Klemenschits/Klepac (AUT/SLO) d. Muhammed/Will (USA/USA) 62 76(4)
(WC) Barrois/Friedsam (GER/GER) d. Kichenok/Linette (UKR/POL) 75 62

Wednesday match play gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Rick Gleijm.

WTA Nürnberg Gallery: Goerges, Safarova, Petkovic, Minella Advance

Mandy Minella_600

(June 11, 2013) The first day of main draw play at the WTA International event in Nürnberg was plagued by rain interruptions, but all but one match was able to finish when the sun returned.

After winning a close first set against Alexandra Cadantu in 55 minutes, German Julia Goerges and her opponent were forced to wait out a delay caused by heavy rain.

“It’s very difficult to go in and out and not knowing when the match will go on again,” said Goerges.

Goerges eventually won in straight sets, as did countrywoman Andrea Petkovic over Sofia Arvidsson. The results mean that the two friends will now face each other in the next round.

 “This is a toughest thing,” said Goerges. “But I’m looking forward to the second round.”

Tuesday gallery at bottom by Tennis Grandstand photographer Rick Gleijm features Mandy Minella, Lucie Safarova, Annika Beck, Jessica Pegula, Nina Bratchikova, Yuliya BeygelzimerSesil Kratantcheva, Sofia Arvidsson, Julia Goerges, Alexandra Cadantu, and Andrea Petkovic.

Results - Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Singles – First Round
(3) Alizé Cornet (FRA) d. Pauline Parmentier (FRA) 63 64
(4) Julia Goerges (GER) d. Alexandra Cadantu (ROU) 64 75
(5) Lucie Safarova (CZE) d. Sesil Karatantcheva (KAZ) 62 76(9)
(6) Lourdes Domínguez Lino (ESP) d. Mariana Duque-Mariño (COL) 75 63
(8) Annika Beck (GER) d. Nina Bratchikova (RUS) 62 62
Johanna Larsson (SWE) d. (LL) Yulia Beygelzimer (UKR) 63 67(3) 75
María-Teresa Torró-Flor (ESP) d. Teliana Pereira (BRA) 46 64 64
Mandy Minella (LUX) d. Jessica Pegula (USA) 75 46 63
Galina Voskoboeva (KAZ) d. (Q) Alexandra Panova (RUS) 62 62
Karin Knapp (ITA) d. (WC) Dinah Pfizenmaier (GER) 26 76(0) 75
Julia Cohen (USA) d. (Q) Tereza Smitkova (CZE) 76(2) 63
(WC) Andrea Petkovic (GER) d. Sofia Arvidsson (SWE) 63 62

Suspended due to darkness
(1/WC) Jelena Jankovic (SRB) leads Arantxa Rus (NED) 64

Doubles – First Round
Hrdinova/Irigoyen (CZE/ARG) d. (WC) Siegemund/Zander (GER/GER) 64 76(3)

Andrea Petkovic: Brief Flirt with Retirement After French Open Loss; Overcoming Fear of Injury

Petkovic_Int_001m_600

(June 10, 2013) After failing to qualify for this year’s French Open, former world No. 9 Andrea Petkovic admitted to briefly contemplating retirement after her loss in Paris.

“I sat on the bench next to my coach and said, ‘I quit,’” stated the 25-year-old in Nürnberg on Monday.

In the summer of 2011, Petkovic broke into the top 10 for the first time and her career finally seemed to be on track after injuries had plagued her earlier in her life. But unfortunately for the German, the success once again halted there.

Petkovic was forced to miss much of the first half of the 2012 season with a back injury, and then in just her second match back, she suffered a horrible ankle injury in Stuttgart in April. After three-and-a-half months of rehabilitation, Petkovic returned and played seven tournaments to end the season. Then at the Hopman Cup exhibition at the end of December, she suffered a meniscus tear in her right knee which kept her off the tour for another two months.

After scraping for points and wild cards since her ranking had taken a plunge, Petkovic’s optimistic attitude took her to the third round of both Miami and Charleston this year. But the progress ceased again as she withdrew from Charleston with a calf strain, admitting to “disappointment and anger” at the situation, and then lost in the first round of Stuttgart and the first round of qualifying in Madrid.

She then went on to lose in the second round of qualifying at the French Open to China’s Yi-Miao Zhou in three close sets, which caused her to briefly contemplate retirement.

Luckily for Petkovic, her long-time coach, Petar Popovic didn’t take her seriously.

“He just laughed and a few days later [I] picked up my racquet again,” commented the German.

On Sunday, Petkovic won the ITF tournament in Marseille without dropping a set against her higher-ranked opponents, even dishing out a double bagel to young Puerto Rican Monica Puig in the semifinals.

“I am very relieved that my body has been able to survive those five matches in a row,” said Petkovic of her results in Marseille. “Everything has held up, even the knee. I have refueled myself with a lot of confidence, especially in my body. I can say that I have overcome the fear of injuring myself again. The fact is that I feel that I am now moving again as in my best moments.”

Petkovic takes on Sofia Arvidsson in the first round of Nürnberg, and if she wins, will take on compatriot Julia Goerges in the next round.

The 24-year-old Goerges has overcome her own share of injuries, most recently the wrist problem that continued into her first round loss at the French Open. But there is good news on the horizon.

“The wrist is stable,” Goerges said before her first round match against Romanian Alexandra Cadantu. “I’m on a good path. It’s almost strange to be able to hit the ball normal again, without having any pain.”

Photos from Monday’s WTA Nürnberg joint pre-tournament press conference with Julia Goerges and Andrea Petkovic by Rick Gleijm for Tennis Grandstand. Stay tuned all week for daily player and match galleries.

The Three Tiers of Triumph at Roland Garros

Carla.Suarez.Navarro.2013.French.Open.Day.kozhi2Q0unbx

At the start of every major tournament, a draw of 128 randomly placed names can be daunting to even the most experienced of tennis fans. It helps to know how to separate the melting pot of names into three categories, thereby organizing them by expectation.

The favorites and the also-rans make up the extreme ends of this three-tiered cake gauging Slam success. The favorites, small in number, backload the pressure they might feel if they enter the event with sufficient confidence in the belief that they will have to eventually defeat a co-favorite for the title.

The also-rans make up the majority of the draw, though most will be gone within the first few days of any given event. Free from expectation of any kind, winning seven matches in two weeks is rarely on the menu for this kind of player, but that freedom can catalyze a good story and an even better run if things go right early on.

As in tennis draws as in families, the middle tier is where a tournament experiences most of its angst. Occupying a space just above the also-rans (but significantly below the favorites) the darkhorses arguably have the most pressure from the get-go, as by definition these are the players tagged to do that which often contradicts their ranking or prior results. However, if they can get on a roll, that seemingly insurmountable weight of expectation lifts with each match won, and finds itself more and more on the favorites’ shoulders, whose mettle will finally be tested after a week-long warm-up.

The best part about the early rounds of a Slam, then, is getting to see all three kinds of player compete not only at once, but against one another, and how each deal with the presence (or lack) of expectation.

One potential darkhorse who appeared not ready for primetime in Paris was German sensation Julia Goerges. The former Stuttgart champion, tapped by many as a legitimate contender for the title in 2011, has been struggling with bouts of dizziness and a GI illness, both of which hampered her progress throughout the clay court season. Faced with the opportunity to play an unranked veteran in the first round, Goerges must have liked her chances despite the cloud of misfortune that had followed her into the event.

But Zuzana Kucova had other ideas. Playing Roland Garros as a way of saying goodbye to tennis (the 30-year-old Slovak plans to retire by tournament’s end), Kucova played inspired tennis, first to out-gut Goerges in an extended first set tiebreak, then to bagel the German, who failed to find much of a rhythm on her extreme-gripped forehand. In her last tournament, Kucova finds herself in the second round of a Slam main draw for the first time, and while the win hardly elevates her to “darkhorse,” it makes for a great story, and what makes the Grand Slams so special.

Another player exhibiting few signs of pressure was defending champion and second-favorite to repeat (behind nemesis Serena Williams) was Maria Sharapova. Playing a similar warm-up schedule to last year, the Russian has felt at home on the terre battue in the last few years in a way that feels both shocking and refreshing. Once a “cow on ice,” Sharapova has conquered a surface that once gave her fits. If the draw suddenly lacked Williams, she would be the overwhelming favorite to defend the title that earned her the career Slam a year ago.

The American’s presence in the draw serves two purposes for Sharapova. While it decreases her eventual odds of winning, the accompanying decrease in expectation frees her up to play (dare I say it?) Kucova-like tennis. Against a familiar opponent in Hsieh Su-Wei, Sharapova played a perfect match, holding serve throughout, cracking more winners than errors, and led the star from Chinese Taipei in all stats except double faults; in what was the biggest upset of the day, Sharapova served none.

For all of the “feel good” stories a Slam brings, however, there must always be some element of tragedy. Such was the case for two darkhorses, Carla Suarez Navarro and Simona Halep. Both had fantastic results coming into Paris, the former with a run to the finals of Oeiras and the quarterfinals in Rome. By contrast, Halep had saved all of her magic for the Foro Italico where, as a qualifier, she stunned three current and former top 2 players (Kuznetsova, Radwanska, Jankovic) to reach the semifinals. Both were expected to do big things at the second Slam of the year provided, of course, one defeated the other in their first round match.

In what was ultimately the bad luck of the draw, the two darkhorses came out on a non-televised court, played three sets of high quality tennis (both hit more than 20 and less than 30 errors over three sets), only for Halep to find herself on the losing end of the tussle. Suarez Navarro evidently played stunningly perfect clay court tennis, but sympathy must lie with the Romanian who, on Day 2 of Roland Garros, is out of a tournament where she was expected to do well with nothing tangible to show for it.

This dynamic of favorites, darkhorses and also-rans may seem complicated, but how all three forces come together over a two week span is what gives a Grand Slam tournament much of its “epic” qualities. While the field may decrease with each passing day, the three tiers of triumph help serve both dramatic tennis and compelling stories.

The End of the Red Brick Road: WTA Brussels and Strasbourg Previews

Success on clay has remained a bit beyond Caroline Wozniacki's reach so far.

One Premier tournament and one International tournament complete the Road to Roland Garros within striking distance of Paris.  None of the women involved are in serious contention for the clay season’s ultimate prize, but the absence of those elite names could lead to some tightly contested matches in playing fields without clear favorites.  I forwent predictions this time because your guess is as good as mine.  (Feel free to opine in the comments, as always.)

Brussels:

Top half:  Seven of the Brussels seeds will receive seeds in Paris next week, a strong statement considering the tournament’s placement on the eve of Roland Garros.  In need of a strong statement herself is top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, who took a wildcard into the tournament following opening-round losses in Madrid and Rome.  Wozniacki has struggled on clay for most of her career but should aim to halt her skid before dropping outside the top ten.  Unfortunately for her, recurrent nemesis Julia Goerges lurks in the quarterfinals.  This German notably defeated Wozniacki to win the Stuttgart clay title two years ago, and she has added two more victories over the Dane since then.  Since she has impressed hardly more than Wozniacki has recently, though, one can’t entirely discount Swiss clay specialist Romina Oprandi or the qualifiers who litter this section.

None of the women in the second quarter has distinguished herself consistently on clay, although Arantxa Rus does own a Roland Garros victory over Kim Clijsters.  Having reached the second week of Roland Garros last year, the fourth-seeded Sloane Stephens looks to build upon her modestly encouraging effort in Rome.  There, Stephens won consecutive matches for the first time since defeating Serena Williams at the Australian Open.  Her depleted confidence resurfaced in a lopsided loss to Maria Sharapova, but a small tournament like Brussels offers a useful venue to rebuild that strength.  With fast-court specialists like Tsvetana Pironkova and Magdalena Rybarikova around her, Stephens might face her stiffest resistance from Peng Shuai.  The Chinese double-fister won their only previous meeting, also on clay, but Stephens has improved markedly in the two years since then.

Bottom half:  By far the most intriguing first-round match of the draw pits third-seeded Dominika Cibulkova against Kaia Kanepi.  This battle of 2012 Roland Garros quarterfinalists will feature a contrast of styles between the compact, agile Slovak and the robust, heavy-hitting Estonian.  Never have they met on clay, while Kanepi has won two of three matches overall.  Of some lesser note is a potential second-round clash between Varvara Lepchenko and Stefanie Voegele.  The American upset Schiavone at Roland Garros last year and has continued the clay success atypical among her compatriots this year with two victories over Roberta Vinci.  For her part, Voegele reached the semifinals of Charleston on green clay, although she has won only one match on red clay.   Kanepi defeated Lepchenko last fall before the injuries that sidelined her for several months, so an upset of Cibulkova could open her draw.

Probably disappointing many Belgian fans, their two leading women would meet as early as the second round in their home tournament.  Both have achieved more success on grass and hard courts than on clay, and both open against rising American stars.  Having upset Li Na in Madrid as a lucky loser, Madison Keys will aim to snuff out home hope Kirsten Flipkens in a match of baseline first strikes against all-court craft.  Belgian No. 2 Yanina Wickmayer faces a somewhat easier assignment in the form of Jamie Hampton, who has not won a match in a clay main draw this year.  Awaiting one of the Belgians in the quarterfinals is second-seeded Roberta Vinci, an artisan of traditional clay-court tennis.  Vinci has not found her best form for much of the spring but did win a small event in Katowice, Poland.

Strasbourg:

Top half:  Atop the draw is French No. 1 Marion Bartoli, who has emitted the occasional burst of inspiration on home soil.  The eccentric double-fister reached the Roland Garros semifinals two years ago, although clay usually hampers her style of staccato points and quick strikes.  Two rising stars could challenge her in this section, compatriot Caroline Garcia and Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard.  The former just won a clay challenger at Cagnes-sur-Mer, while the latter notched a significant victory over Laura Robson on the green clay of Charleston.  First-time champions in 2013, Memphis titlist Marina Erakovic and Florianopolis titlist Monica Niculescu will seek to end spring losing streaks when they meet in the first round.  Neither can match Bartoli’s talent, but either could befuddle one of the youngsters.

Another Frenchwoman holds the highest seed in the second quarter, and world No. 30 Alize Cornet’s game suits clay more effectively than Bartoli’s style.  The mixture of qualifiers and fellow Frenchwomen surrounding her will turn few heads, while Chanelle Scheepers will not overpower Cornet.  The latter two women bring similar patterns of results to Strasbourg.  Before she fell to Melanie Oudin in Rome qualifying, though, Scheepers did reach a clay semifinal in Marrakech and upset Jelena Jankovic on the surface in Madrid.  Last year’s runner-up here, Cornet reached a somewhat more significant clay semifinal in Acapulco this February but suffered a loss to an Italian wildcard in Rome.

Bottom half:  Following a mid-career surge, Hsieh Su-Wei has embedded herself within the top 50 and holds the fourth seed here.  An opening match against promising German talent Annika Beck intrigues, as does a possible quarterfinal meeting with the elegant Daniela Hantuchova.  Handed a wildcard into Madrid, Hantuchova made the most of the opportunity by upsetting Petra Kvitova en route to the final 16.  Also in this section is Karolina Pliskova, a heavy server who nearly won her first title this year at Kuala Lumpur and defeated Kanepi on the clay of Portugal.

Perhaps worth more attention than the seeds in the lowest quarter, some of the unseeded entrants could score an upset or two.  For the rest of her career, Virginie Razzano will struggle to trump the achievement of defeating Serena Williams at Roland Garros, which probably resulted in her wildcard here.  Aligned against Czech doubles specialist Lucie Hradecka in a first-round match to watch, Garbine Muguruza aims to notch her first clay main-draw win in a season when she has reached the fourth round at both Indian Wells and Miami.  In the shadow of compatriots like Stephens and Keys, sixth-seeded Christina McHale continues to seek traction in her comeback from mononucleosis.  Second-seeded Tamira Paszek has lost 11 of her last 12 matches and seems unlikely to increase that total suddenly here.

***

Capsules on the Roland Garros contenders will follow this week before the draws appear on Friday.

 

French Open Fashion: Fila to Debut New Collection with Jankovic, Goerges, Tipsarevic

Fila Roland Garros_600

With the tennis season’s second Slam just around the corner, Fila gave Tennis Grandstand a sneak peak at their Roland Garros Spring 2013 line which will be worn by Janko Tipsarevic, Andreas Seppi, Jelena Jankovic, Julia Goerges and Nadia Petrova. Fila sticks to their signature combination of simplicity and comfort, while introducing a feminine mesh design to the “Baseline” women’s collection and unique contrast piping to the “Tour” men’s collection.

Women’s Baseline Collection worn by Jankovic, Goerges and Petrova

Baseline is a youthful runway-inspired collection which has been reinterpreted for tennis. The fresh color palette combines pink shock with navy and white, and the collection is highlighted by laser cut performance mesh details. The fabrication features laser cut holes in an abstract diagonal pattern and gradation of sizes. This detailing gives each style added movement and a subtle 3D effect.

The baseline dress worn by Jankovic features an athletic cut racer-back silhouette, with a slim fit though the torso and drop waist peplum-inspired skirt. A contrast under the mesh on the circle skirt adds a feminine twist.

The same added pop of color under the mesh continues through the collection with the baseline fashion skort which includes Fila’s new Forza ball short with excellent compression. The skort itself sports diagonal contrast taping from the hips to the back bottom hem for a flattering fit, and will be worn by both Petrova and Goerges.

The collection includes a complementary navy hooded jacket and pant combination in stretch jersey performance fabric which will be worn by Jankovic and Petrova. These pieces are reminiscent of tennis styles from Fila’s rich history and include contrast stripes in white and pink. The navy hooded jacket incorporates the laser cut mesh on the hood with an inside lining in pink.

The collection is also comfortably priced and retails from $54 – $76, available on www.fila.com.

Men’s Tour Collection worn by Tipsarevic and Seppi

Tour is a youthful, body conscious collection which features ebony, white and lemon color patterns. The design of the collection, specifically the contrast piping and taping, was inspired by the movement of the body during a tennis match.

The Tour piped polo worn by Seppi features piping on the back and side of the shirt to highlight the shoulder blades and torso.

The short sleeve crew in ebony/lemon worn by Tipsarevic has curved piping from the arm to the bottom back hem which also highlights the placement of the jacquard mesh panels. Contrast taping on the shoulder emphasizes the serving motion.

The Tour piped short worn by both players is a peached poly twill performance fabric with jacquard mesh panels down the side of the short. The contrast piping leads down the front side of the short and curves back to the side seam just above the bottom hem.

The Tour collection retails for $45 – $55 and is available on www.fila.com.

Photos courtesy of Fila. Follow Fila Tennis on Twitter for more brand and player updates!

Opening the Magic Box: WTA Madrid Draw Preview

Serena didn't feel blue on the blue last year.  Will she see red on the red?

Rare is the non-major that features every woman in the WTA top 10, but Madrid can lay claim to that honor this year.  In another rare quirk, all of the top three women arrive there on winning streaks.  Only one of those streaks can survive Madrid.  Whose will it be?  Or none of the above?  We take a look at each quarter of the draw.

First quarter:  Clearly the best women’s player of the last decade, Serena Williams won this title on blue clay last year but has not reached a final on red clay since she completed the career Grand Slam in 2002.  With her world No. 1 ranking somewhat at stake, Serena has landed in the more challenging half of the draw.  Her first two rounds should allow her to find some rhythm on the surface, for the green clay of Charleston offers only partial preparation for the European terre battue.  Seeking her third straight title, Serena could meet Maria Kirilenko in the third round, or perhaps Klara Zakopalova.  Both of those counterpunchers have troubled her on clay before, each extending her to three sets at Roland Garros.  Stiffer competition will arrive in the quarterfinals, though, where the draw has projected her to meet Stuttgart finalist and 2011 Roland Garros champion Li Na.

The fifth seed must overcome a few notable obstacles of her own to reach that stage, such as a second-round match with Serena’s sister.  Not at her best on clay, Venus Williams still should have plenty of energy at that stage, but she has lost all three of her career meetings with Li.  Surrounding world No. 10 Caroline Wozniacki are heavy hitters Yaroslava Shvedova and Mona Barthel.  If neither of those knocks off the Dane, who lost her Stuttgart opener, she could attempt to build on her victory over Li last fall.   While Serena has dominated her head-to-head meetings with both Wozniacki and Li overall, she often has found them foes worthy of her steel.  On red clay, Li’s counterpunching talents and ability to transition from defense to offense could prove especially dangerous.

Semifinalist:  Li

Second quarter:   Returning from yet another of her injury absences, Victoria Azarenka barely has played since winning the Doha title from Serena in a memorable three-set final.  That February achievement preceded a shaky effort at Indian Wells curtailed by a sore ankle, so Vika enters Madrid with less match play than most other contenders.  Her bid for a third straight final here will take her through the teeth of some formidable early tests, including Portugal Open finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in her opener.  The Russian took sets from Azarenka in two of their three previous meetings, while second-round opponent Lucie Safarova took her the distance here two years ago and impressed in a three-hour loss to Sharapova at Stuttgart.  Twice a finalist and once a champion at Roland Garros, Francesca Schiavone should pose less resistance to the third seed as her consistency has dwindled.  Nevertheless, an unexpected title in Marrakech might carry Schiavone to their projected clash in the fourth round, for the higher-ranked Marion Bartoli tends to struggle on clay.

Relatively open is the lower area of this quarter, where Sara Errani looks to rebound from an early Stuttgart exit.  Last year’s Roland Garros finalist will appreciate the absence of a powerful shot-maker in her vicinity, allowing her to slowly grind down opponents vulnerable to erratic stretches.  Rising stars Urszula Radwanska and Sorana Cirstea fit in that category, as does enigmatic German Julia Goerges.  Eranni has faced doubles partner Roberta Vinci in two key matches over the past several months, a US Open quarterfinal and a Dubai semifinal, emerging victories both times on those hard courts.  Clay could prove a different story, especially with Vinci’s recent fine form.  But Errani’s veteran compatriot will meet last year’s Madrid quarterfinalist Varvara Lepchenko in the first round a few months after losing to her in Fed Cup.

Semifinalist:  Azarenka

Third quarter:  In the section without any of the WTA’s three leading ladies, the eye pauses on two unseeded figures who could produce deep runs.  One of them, 2009 Roland Garros champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, submitted indifferent results in Portugal last week and has played little since a strong start to the year.  This Russian has collected many of her best victories on clay, including Roland Garros upsets of Serena and Radwanska, building on the affinity of her athletic, forehand-centered game for the surface.  Less impressive is Kuznetsova’s focus, which undermined her in a fourth-round match in Paris against Errani last year and could cost her in a third-round meeting with Angelique Kerber.  While the indoor clay of Stuttgart differs significantly from outdoor clay conditions, the world No. 6 still may have gained confidence from nearly reaching a final on her worst surface.  The eleventh-seeded Nadia Petrova has generated few headlines of late, and slow-court specialist Alize Cornet rarely makes a statement in a draw of this magnitude.

The other unseeded player of note here, former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic, burst back into prominence when she reached the Miami semifinals this spring and backed it up with a finals appearance in Charleston.  Jankovic defeated no opponent of note there or in her Bogota title run a month before, but she did win a set from Serena and generally looked at ease on her favorite surface.  Looming for her is yet another clash with her compatriot and fellow former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic, who also showed encouraging recent form by defeating Kerber in Fed Cup and testing Sharapova in a Stuttgart quarterfinal.  The Serbs have split their two meetings on red clay, both of which lasted three sets, but Ivanovic prevailed comfortably in their only encounter from the past two years.  Scant reward awaits the winner, aligned to face fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska in a matchup that has befuddled both of them through long losing streaks to the Pole.  Like Kerber, Radwanska would consider clay her worst surface, so a quarterfinal between them could tilt either way.

Semifinalist:  Radwanska

Fourth quarter:  The majors, Premier Mandatory tournaments, Premier Five tournaments, and year-end championships form a group of fourteen elite events that overshadow the WTA calendar.  Accustomed to (literally) overshadowing her opponents, Maria Sharapova has reached the final at thirteen of those—all but Madrid.  This year’s draw offers the world No. 2 some assistance in correcting that omission, for only one player who has defeated her in the last twelve months appears in her half.  And that player, grass specialist Sabine Lisicki, hardly poses a formidable threat on clay.  By contrast, potential third-round opponent Dominika Cibulkova has defeated Sharapova on this surface before and seems a more plausible candidate to end her red-clay streak.  Injuries have troubled Cibulkova during her most productive time of the year, however, whereas Sharapova has evolved into a far more dangerous clay threat since that 2009 loss.

One of two one-time major champions stands poised to meet Sharapova in the quarterfinals, but their uneven form this year opens this section for one of its several unseeded talents.  A champion here two years, eighth seed Petra Kvitova could meet ninth seed and 2010 Roland Garros finalist Samantha Stosur in the third round.  Troubled by a leg injury in recent weeks, though, the latter faces a difficult opening assignment in rising Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro.  This clay specialist with an Henin-esque one-handed backhand will bring momentum from reaching the Portugal Open final, while Stosur fell to Jankovic in her Stuttgart opener.  Mounting a comeback from injury is 2012 Roland Garros quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi, who also produced solid results last week.  Flavia Pennetta’s comeback has progressed less promisingly, but she too has plenty of clay skills.  Meanwhile, can Sloane Stephens rediscover some of the form that took her to the second week in Paris last year?  Many questions arise from this section that only matches can answer.

Semifinalist:  Sharapova

Final:  Li vs. Sharapova

Champion:  Li Na

Check back tomorrow for a preview of the ATP draw in Madrid.

WTA Stuttgart Gallery: Ivanovic, Lisicki, Petrova Through

WTA Stuttgart Sabine Lisicki_600

STUTTGART (April 23, 2013) — Tuesday at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix featured some great matchups as Ana Ivanovic defeated good friend and sometimes doubles partner Andrea Petkovic, 6-3, 6-2, No. 8 seed Nadia Petrova defeated German qualifier Dinah Pfizenmaier 7-6(2), 6-4, Sabine Lisicki overcame qualifier Nastassja Burnett 6-3, 6-4, and Croat Mirjana Lucic-Baroni defeated Elena Vesnina 6-0, 6-4.

Full Tuesday gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Moana Bauer of all the day’s singles matches above, and also includes practice sessions of Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic and Kirsten Flipkens.

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