Kirsten Flipkens

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Wimbledon Rewind: Thoughts on the Semifinals in Women’s Singles and Men’s Doubles

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At the end of a chaotic fortnight, a Wimbledon women’s final has emerged that almost nobody expected.  Here is a look at how it took shape on Thursday, and some key facts about the matchup, plus a detour into men’s doubles.

A tale of two semifinals:  Notching her sixth consecutive straight-sets victory, Marion Bartoli surrendered just three games to Kirsten Flipkens en route to her second Wimbledon final. Far more drama awaited in the three-set sequel, which brought Wimbledon patrons their money’s worth.  Extending to 9-7 in the third set, the epic clash between Sabine Lisicki and Agnieszka Radwanska twisted through several ebbs and flows from both players.  Each woman let opportunities slip away, and each extricated herself from danger more than once before Lisicki slammed the door.

A tale of two routes to the final:  A rare opportunity awaits Bartoli to win a major without facing any top-16 seed, any major champion, or any former No. 1.  The highest-ranked opponent to meet the world No. 15 this fortnight was No. 17 Sloane Stephens, much less experienced on these stages.  For her part, No. 23 Lisicki has upset three top-15 opponents, including two members of the top four in Serena and Radwanska.  All three of those victories came in three sets, exposing her to much more pressure than Bartoli has felt so far.

Back from the brink, again:  For the second time this tournament, Lisicki won the first set from a top-four opponent, played a dismal second, and fell behind early in the third.  For the second time, she erased that 0-3 deficit in the decider, held serve under duress late in the set, and scored the crucial break before closing out the match at the first time of asking.  The key break came at 4-4 against Serena and at 7-7 against Radwanska, both of whom played well enough to win their final sets against most opponents.  But not against this woman at this tournament.

Still Slamless: This loss may sting Agnieszka Radwanska for some time, considering the magnitude of the opportunity before her.  Not many Slam semifinal lineups will feature her as the only woman in the top 10.  The world No. 4 stood two points from a second straight Wimbledon final with Lisicki serving at 5-6 in the third set.  Radwanska would have entered that final as the clear favorite on account of her 7-0 record against Bartoli.  For all of her consistency, and all of her titles at lesser tournaments, that one major breakthrough continues to elude the Polish counterpuncher.  Once again, she will watch from the sidelines as someone with a much less impressive resume does what she cannot.

No time like the first time:  First-time major finalists have achieved some stunning results on the women’s side over the last few years.  Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka shone on their first trips to the second Saturday, both against the more established Maria Sharapova, while few can forget what Francesca Schiavone achieved during a memorable fortnight in Paris.  On the other hand, others have not risen to the occasion as well as they might have hoped in their first major final:  Sara Errani, Samantha Stosur, and Li Na among them. (Stosur and Li would find redemption with their second chances, though.)  Only a slight underdog, if an underdog at all, Lisicki should embrace the moment with her relaxed demeanor and fearless ball-striking.  She might start slowly, but she probably will not go quietly.

The magic number 23:   Both of Bartoli’s finals at majors, Wimbledon in 2007 and in 2013, have come against the 23rd seed after she defeated a Belgian in the semifinals (Henin, Flipkens).  Last time, the legendary Venus Williams held that seed, so the then-No. 18 Bartoli reached the final as a heavy underdog notwithstanding her ranking.  The double-fister has plenty of reason to fear this No. 23 seed as well, however, having lost to Lisicki at Wimbledon two years ago.

Stat of the day:  Saturday will mark just the second Wimbledon final in the 45 years of the Open era when both women seek their first major title.  The adrenaline will flow, the nerves will jangle, and somebody will walk off with the Venus Rosewater Dish who never expected to hold it a few weeks ago.

Dream alive, barely:  Switching to doubles for a moment, Bob and Mike Bryan stayed on course for a calendar Slam by reaching the Wimbledon final after winning the first two majors of 2013.  The inseparable twins have profited from the instability besetting many other doubles teams.  Nevertheless, they have won Wimbledon only twice in their career and needed five sets to escape the 14th seeds, Rohan Bopanna and Edouard Roger-Vasselin.  Even if the Bryans do not win the US Open, they would hold all four of the major titles and the Olympic gold medal simultaneously with one more victory, for they won their home major last fall.

Flavor of the fortnight:  Pitted against the history-seeking twins are the 12th seeds Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo, who upset Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek in a five-setter of their own.  Wimbledon has featured plenty of surprise doubles champions in the last several years, such as Jonathan Marray and Frederik Nielsen, so one should not underestimate Dodig and Melo.  The latter also defeated the Bryans in Davis Cup, albeit with a different partner on a different surface.  And Dodig has enjoyed an outstanding Wimbledon fortnight, having reached the second week in singles as well.

 

 

Kirsten Flipkens’ Fairytale

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For the better part of a decade, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin battled each other for major titles and the World No. 1 ranking while simultaneously putting Belgium on the international sporting stage. Who would’ve ever imagined that a nation that covers just under 12,000 square miles with a population of just over 11 million people would produce not one, but two of the greatest champions in the history of women’s tennis?

Unlike other nations which have traditionally produced the game’s greats, including the United States, the Czech Republic and Russia, Belgium did not have a strong championship pedigree in tennis prior to Clijsters and Henin’s success. The pair took a comparatively small nation and turned it into a powerhouse; in addition to holding 11 Grand Slam singles titles between them, the two were ranked No. 1 in the world for a combined 137 weeks and single-handedly led Belgium to a Fed Cup title in 2001 and a final in 2006. With Clijsters and Henin both retired, the future of Belgian tennis looked bleak. A nation that once enjoyed an embarrassment of riches courtesy of two players now only boasts just three in the top 300, with the most talented players still years away. Yanina Wickmayer made a shocking run to the semifinals of the US Open in 2009 at 19 years old, but a lingering back injury and patches of inconsistent play have dimmed her once-bright promise. In Fed Cup, Belgium will compete in Europe/Africa Zone Group I in 2014 following their defeat to Poland in the World Group II Playoffs this year, the first time Belgium will compete in zonal play since 1995.

When the Belgians were looking for someone to fly their flag, they probably weren’t expecting someone who was born in the same decade as both Kim and Justine to take it up. She’s been right under their noses the whole time.

In a tournament riddled with shocks and stunners, the Cinderella story of the 2013 Wimbledon Championships is more than just that. Ten years ago, Kirsten Flipkens won the junior Wimbledon title. The Belgian defeated well-known WTA players Alisa Kleybanova, Ana Ivanovic, Jarmila Gajdosova and Anna Chakvetadze in the final en route to the title and the No. 1 junior ranking. At the end of that year, Flipkens was named the ITF Juniors Girls’ Singles World Champion. A late bloomer of sorts, Flipkens did not play in the main draw of a women’s grand slam event until the 2006 French Open, and reached back-to-back third rounds at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2009.

After ending both 2009 and 2010 inside the top 100, Flipkens dealt with a wrist injury which resulted in a year-end ranking of No. 194 in 2011. Her troubles continued in April of 2012, as Flipkens’ doctors discovered blood clots in her legs and she was sidelined for two months. Despite recovering, Flipkens learned it was a genetic problem and she still needed to wear compression socks and take blood thinners before flying. As a result, her ranking continued to free fall and she slipped to No. 262 in the world prior to last year’s Wimbledon Championships – a ranking not even high enough to contest the tournament’s qualifying event.

There were few left who believed in her, as the Flemish Tennis Federation withdrew their support from a player ranked No. 262 at 26 years of age. In a matter of a few years, Flipkens went from junior standout and 2003 Belgian Talent of the Year, to top 100 player, to another ‘what could’ve been.’ The one person who never stopped believing, however, was Flipkens herself. “Because I knew, my highest ranking then was 59 and I was 100 percent sure that I would get into the top 50 one day. So that was the main thing that kept me up,” she said earlier this year.

Up she’s gone, and she’s refused to look back. With assistance from Clijsters’ former team and Kim herself, Flipkens’ first WTA title came in Quebec City last year, and she passed her career-high of 59 by one spot as a result. After ending 2012 at 54, she made her top 50 debut after reaching the semifinals in Hobart in January. She reached the second week of a slam for the first time at the Australian Open, and made her top 30 debut after Indian Wells. She arrived in the top 20 after Roland Garros and came to Wimbledon as the No. 20 seed.

With straight set wins in her first four matches, Flipkens has played her steadiest tennis in a tournament where nothing’s been certain. In her first major quarterfinal, no one would’ve batted an eyelash had she been overwhelmed and bundled out by former champion Petra Kvitova. No one talked about or expected her to make it out of Victoria Azarenka’s depleted quarter of the draw, yet here she is. Following both her fourth round win over Flavia Pennetta and the quarterfinal win against Kvitova, Flipkens fell to her knees and kissed the grass courts – a symbolic measure of just how far she’s come.

For all that Clijsters and Henin accomplished, neither of them managed to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish at Wimbledon; Henin came the closest, as she reached the final in 2001 and 2006. At this time last year, Kirsten Flipkens was en route to winning an ITF $25,000 title in Middelburg, Netherlands. She’s been around the world and back with a game that would’ve looked at home a decade ago. 12 months later she has the chance of a lifetime, one that no one could’ve ever expected her to have, on the biggest stage in tennis. She still the biggest underdog remaining, but after all she’s overcome, there’s no doubt she’s primed for another fight.

Wimbledon Rewind: Thoughts on the Women’s Quarterfinals

Maybe blondes do have more fun.

For the second time in three years, Wimbledon will crown a first-time champion on the women’s side.  That development seems fitting in view of the upsets that have riddled the draw.  Here are some thoughts on the women’s quarterfinals.

Match of the day:  It spanned three and a half hours, including rain delays, medical treatment, and multiple squandered leads.  At the end of it, Agnieszka Radwanska needed eight match points to close out world No. 6 Li Na and move within one victory of a second straight Wimbledon final.  The only woman in the top 10 to reach the semifinals, Radwanska cannot expect to get a better opportunity to join the elite club of major champions.  Despite a right leg injury that bothered her enough to call a medical treatment, she will do whatever it takes to secure these last two victories.

Upset of the day:  A year ago, Kirsten Flipkens did not even make the cutoff to play Wimbledon qualifying.  Now, she has moved to the brink of the final as the 20th seed after knocking off the only former major champion left in the draw.  Down a set to Petra Kvitova, Flipkens did not crumble under the onslaught of her opponent’s superior power.  An underrated serve and a surprising poise in tight moments helped the 27-year-old Belgian topple the world No. 8 in her Centre Court debut.  Her mentor, Kim Clijsters, would be proud of how crisply she played in the final set, committing just one unforced error.

Maid Marion immaculate:  Remember when Marion Bartoli struck nearly 20 double faults in a loss to Coco Vandeweghe this spring?  Or the coaching turmoil when she dismissed her father from her team before quickly summoning him back?  That same woman has won all ten sets that she has played at Wimbledon to reach her first major semifinal since Roland Garros 2011.  By defeating a top-20 opponent, Sloane Stephens, Bartoli legitimized a hot streak that previously had scorched only third-rate challengers.  Six years have passed since Bartoli’s only major final, which also came on these lawns.  A bit of déjà vu will await if she can solve Flipkens on Thursday.

Li’s lost chance:  Serving for the first set, the world No. 6 appeared to clip a line with her serve on set point but declined to challenge.  Li ultimately lost that set in a tiebreak and received the grim news in her press conference that the serve in fact did clip the line.  A correct challenge would have given her the first set and perhaps completely changed the trajectory of the second week.

No hangover for Lisicki:  Just 24 hours after she astonished the world, the woman who halted Serena Williams recorded a more routine victory over Kaia Kanepi.  Lisicki transitioned smoothly from heavy underdog to clear favorite, reaching her second Wimbledon semifinal in three years.  Like Flipkens, and arguably like the other semifinalists as well, her game suits grass better than any other surface.  Wimbledon lacks star power near its climax, but it should feature plenty of drama and high-quality tennis as these four women vie for a prize that most thought beyond the reach of any of them.

Petra, the enigma:  She looked like a serial major champion and perennial contender when she won Wimbledon two years ago, becoming the first woman of her generation to break through at a major.  But Kvitova has not reached a major final since then and has regressed even further over the last year, losing by the quarterfinals at her last five majors.  Unlike Radwanska, she could not overcome a physical issue that forced her to seek medical attention (an apparent breathing problem).  Kvitova has the weapons of a champion but not the mind or the will at the moment.

Americans in London:  With Stephens gone, we’re down to the legendary doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan.  The ageless twins moved within two victories of their third straight major title with a triple-tiebreak victory over the No. 8 seeds.  Keep an eye on the Bryans’ quest for a calendar Slam.  If they go to New York with a perfect record at majors this year, doubles could get some real attention.

Stat of the day:  The four semifinalists have reached four total major semifinals among them (Bartoli has two, Flipkens none) and two major finals (one each for Bartoli and Radwanska).

Question of the day:  Are you excited by the wide-open women’s semifinal lineup ahead?  Or uninspired by the absence of stars?

Wimbledon Rewind: Serena Stunned, Djokovic Dominant, Radwanska Resilient, Li Lethal, Ferrer Fierce on Manic Monday

The grass snake stings, then smiles.

Monday got manic in a hurry with a titanic upset in the women’s draw, only to settle down into more predictable outcomes for most of the day.  Catch up on any of the fourth-round action that you may have missed with the daily Wimbledon rewind.

ATP:

Match of the day:  Twists and turns pervaded the clash of rising star Jerzy Janowicz and grizzled veteran Jurgen Melzer.  In the intimate surroundings of Court 12, Melzer started the match on fire but gradually lost his momentum in the second set and later trailed two sets to one.  Able to rally in the fourth, he secured a clutch break in the tenth game to force a deciding set.  With his first major quarterfinal on the line, though, Janowicz refused to let the opportunity escape him as he edged across the finish line 6-4 in the fifth.

Comeback of the day:  The other half of an all-Polish men’s quarterfinal, Lukas Kubot trailed Adrian Mannarino by a set and later by two sets to one in the most important match of his career so far.  Nobody would have expected Kubot to reach a major quarterfinal in singles, yet he wrested away this five-set encounter from his fellow journeyman.  His semifinal chances may hinge on whether Janowicz or he can recover from their draining victories more efficiently.

Upset of the day:  None.  Tomas Berdych deserves credit for snuffing out the most plausible upset threat in Bernard Tomic.  Splitting the first two sets in tiebreaks, Berdych gradually asserted himself against the Aussie talent in the next two sets and avoided the nerve-jangling scenario of a fifth set.

Gold star:  Before 2013, Juan Martin Del Potro never had reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.  This year, he has reached the quarterfinals without losing a set.  Del Potro overcame a knee injury to defeat Andreas Seppi after wondering whether he would be fit to play on Monday.  Despite all of the surprises at Wimbledon this year, all of the top-eight seeds in the men’s top half reached the quarterfinals.

Silver star:  Winless in two previous grass meetings with Tommy Haas, Novak Djokovic seized control of the third from the outset and never let the veteran catch his breath.  Like Del Potro, Djokovic has not lost a set en route to the quarterfinals, but this victory impressed more than those that came before because of his history against Haas.  He will seek his fourth straight Wimbledon semifinal, not bad for a man whose worst surface is grass.

What doesn’t kill you…:  …makes you stronger?  World No. 4 David Ferrer has not won any of his four matches in straight sets, three of them against unseeded opponents.  Struggling with a painful ankle injury, Ferrer fell behind early again on Monday before dominating the latter stages of the match, as he had in the third round.  Wimbledon is the only major where he has not reached the semifinals, so he will aim to end that futility by repeating last year’s victory there over Del Potro.

Foregone conclusion of the day:  Even with Nadal’s early exit, two Spaniards reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals.  Joining Ferrer there was Fernando Verdasco, who rolled past Kenny de Schepper in straight sets.

Stat of the day: In addition to Agnieszka Radwanska in the women’s draw, the quarterfinal appearances of Kubot and Janowicz gave Poland more Wimbledon quarterfinalists than any other nation.

Question of the day:  World No. 2 Andy Murray again took care of business efficiently today, dispatching 20th seed Mikhail Youzhny.  Can Murray continue his uneventful progress to the final, his path barred only by Verdasco and one of the Poles?  Or will the escalating pressure of the second week lead to some unexpected drama in the bottom half?

WTA:

Match of the day:  One of the greatest grass specialists in WTA history, Sabine Lisicki reached her fourth Wimbledon quarterfinal by shocking heavy title favorite, defending champion, and world No. 1 Serena Williams in three sets.  Serena had not looked as sharp in the first week as she had at Roland Garros, but one expected her to prevail once she recovered from a dismal first set.  The defending champion dominated Lisicki in the second set and rolled to an early lead in the third, at which point many underdogs might have surrendered.  Lisicki is a different player on this court than she is anywhere else, though, and she swung freely with the match in the balance at 4-4 in the final set.  Hitting through her nerves and a staggering Serena, she scored perhaps the biggest upset in an upset-riddled draw.

Comeback of the day:  When Tsvetana Pironkova claimed the first set from Agnieszka Radwanska, Wimbledon suddenly looked in danger of losing all of the top five women before the quarterfinals.  But grass specialists would split their two meetings with top-four seeds on Monday as Radwanska ground through a second straight three-set victory.  As has been the case with much of her 2013 campaign, she has not shown her best form while doing just enough to win.

Gold star:  Li Na had survived consecutive three-setters to end the first week, including an 8-6 epic against Klara Zakopalova.  She needed to fasten her teeth into the tournament more firmly, and she did by losing just two games to the 11th seed, Roberta Vinci.  Having defeated Radwanska in a quarterfinal at the Australian Open, Li will hope to repeat the feat in a Tuesday match between the two highest-ranked women remaining in the draw.

Silver star:  Only one woman has reached the quarterfinals without losing a set or playing a tiebreak.  Take a bow, world No. 15 Marion Bartoli, who has threatened only occasionally at majors since reaching the Wimbledon final in 2007.  Granted, Bartoli has faced no opponent in the top 50 to this stage.  She participated in a bloodbath of Italians by ousting Karin Knapp for the loss of just five games.  (None of the four Italians who reached the fourth round won a set on Manic Monday.)

What doesn’t kill you…:  …makes you stronger?  The only former Wimbledon champion left in the women’s draw, Petra Kvitova had dropped sets in both of her first-week victories and easily could have done so again on Monday.  Former nemesis Carla Suarez Navarro took Kvitova to a first-set tiebreak and the brink of an emotional meltdown, but the Czech steadied herself once she survived it.  Kvitova can look ahead to a quarterfinal against Kirsten Flipkens, also fortunate to avoid losing a first set for which her opponent served twice.  Flipkens won their previous meeting this year in Miami.

All eyes on Andy:  A round after she upset Angelique Kerber, Kaia Kanepi sent home local darling Laura Robson in two tight sets.  The match could have tilted in either direction, so Kanepi’s experience probably proved vital in securing her second Wimbledon quarterfinal appearance.  She also earned the last laugh on British tabloids that lampooned her burly physique before the Robson match.

Americans in London:  In the wake of Serena’s loss, the United States plausibly might have gone home without a single quarterfinalist in either singles draw.  Sloane Stephens averted that disappointment by winning a second straight three-setter, this time against Monica Puig.  Trailing by a set, Stephens showed resilience in battling through a tight second set and then dominating the third.  She has won twelve matches at majors this year, more than many higher-ranked women.

Stat of the day: In Lisicki’s last four Wimbledon appearances, she has defeated the current Roland Garros champion every time.  Her repeated denials of Channel Slams protect a record held by compatriot Steffi Graf, who completed the Roland Garros-Wimbledon double four times.

Question of the day:  The first three majors will crown three different women’s champions for the third straight year.  With all of the top three gone before the quarterfinals, who becomes the new title favorite?  One might favor Kvitova, the only woman who has won here before, but conventional wisdom has taken it on the chin all fortnight.

 

Wimbledon Ladies Quarterfinals Preview: Will History Be Made?

WTA Wimbledon Quarterfinals Lisicki, Radwanska, Kvitova, Li

(July 1, 2013) What a week at Wimbledon. If your women’s draw predictions have somehow upheld to the quarterfinal stage, sincere congratulations. If your draw includes only two of the eight correct names, like mine, don’t worry. You’re in the majority. The shake-up at this year’s Wimbledon Championships has been an unprecedented event, and the draw has opened up drastically to allow a first-time winner to take the title.

Current oddmakers have Sabine Lisicki as the top contender for the title, followed by 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and 2011 French Open champion Li Na. Last year’s Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska and 2013 Australian Open semifinalist Sloane Stephens round out the top 5.

Let’s take a further look at the four quarterfinal matchups and how the ladies stack up against each other.

Sabine Lisicki vs Kaia Kanepi Wimbledon[23] Sabine Lisicki vs Kaia Kanepi

  • First career meeting
  • Plays winner of Radwanska-Li
  • Best previous Wimbledon result - Lisicki: 2011 SF (as a wildcard); Kanepi: 2010 QF (as a qualifier)

With Lisicki’s surprise defeat of Serena Williams in the fourth round, the German is now 17-4 at Wimbledon (compared to 16-15 at the other Slams). She also now has the distinct honor of having beaten the reigning French Open champ at the last four Wimbledon Championships she has played, including Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2009, Li Na in 2011, Maria Sharapova in 2012, and Williams this year. She did not play in 2010.

Lisicki has been looking sharp all week on her favorite surface, overpowering with her serve and improving her footwork and movement with each match. She only lost seven total games in the first two matches against Francesca Schiavone and Elena Vesnina. Sam Stosur pushed her in the third round, but she rallied back from a 6-4 first set deficit to take the next 12-of-15 games.

Kanepi, though the underdog, is in her fifth Slam quarterfinal over the last five years. She was mere points away from being defeated by Angelique Kerber in the second round here at Wimbledon, but came back to win 6-3 in the third. While two of Kanepi’s matches were against wildcards ranked outside of the top 100, Lisicki has had to come through two singles Slam champions (Schiavone and Stosur) and one doubles Slam champion (Vesnina).

Result: Lisicki in straight sets

Agnieszka Radwanska vs Na Li Wimbledon[4] Agnieszka Radwanska vs [6] Na Li

  • Li leads 6-4, but Radwanska leads 2-1 on grass
  • Plays winner of Lisicki-Kanepi
  • Best previous Wimbledon result – Radwanska: 2012 F; Li: 2006, 2010 QF

Despite many of the women’s top seeds falling early, this quarter is the only one with its top seeds still intact, and last year’s finalist, Radwanska, comes in as a slight favorite. The Pole was not tested until her last two rounds against Madison Keys and grass-court specialist Tsvetana Pironkova, which both went the full three sets. Her execution and court coverage have stayed consistent, and her crafty game has taken full advantage of the low bounce.

Though Li was pitted by some as crashing out early, she has kept her composure while many seeds fell and is the oldest player left in the draw. Her rollercoaster match against newly-resurgent Simona Halep in the second round gave way to another topsy-turvy match against No. 32 seed Klara Zakopalova, before she finally easily closed out Roberta Vinci in 55 minutes. She hasn’t had any remarkable play thus far and has flown under the radar, but it could be a tight match.

Results: Radwanska in three sets

Marion Bartoli vs Sloane Stephens Wimbledon[15] Marion Bartoli vs [17] Sloane Stephens

  • Bartoli leads 1-0, on hard
  • Plays winner of Kvitova-Flipkens
  • Best previous Wimbledon result – Bartoli: 2007 F; Stephens: 2012 Third Round

Other than Kirsten Flipkens, Bartoli is the only other player left in the draw that has yet to lose a set this Wimbledon, the Slam where she saw her best results by reaching the final in 2007 losing to Venus Williams. Her quirky game has been relegated to the smaller outside courts this week, but she is sure to give the American trouble with her variety especially in the spotlight. The French woman is making her 47th Slam appearance which dates back to 2002, and is in her third quarterfinal at Wimbledon. When on, her game can trouble even players at the top of the game, as evidenced by her brutal defeat of Petra Kvitova at last year’s US Open, so Stephens needs to come out swinging.

As the last American left in the draw (who would have guessed that last Monday?), Stephens has reached the fourth round or better in her last three Slams. Three of her first four matches went the distance, with two coming down to the wire against Andrea Petkovic and Petra Cetkovska. Her game is powerful yet still developing, and her play in the third set against Monica Puig on Monday was on another level. Stephens has risen to the challenge and her focus and endurance will surely be tested against Bartoli.

Results: Bartoli in three sets

Petra Kvitova vs Kirsten Flipkens Wimbledon[8] Petra Kvitova vs [20] Kirsten Flipkens

  • Flipkens leads 2-1, all on hard
  • Plays winner of Bartoli-Stephens
  • Best previous Wimbledon result – Kvitova: 2011 Winner; Flipkens: 2009 Third Round

Kvitova may be the only past winner left in the draw, but she has not been looking as sharp over the last year. Her play at time has been questionable, but she managed to overcome a near-upset in the first round here against world No. 108 CoCo Vandeweghe, with a 7-5 win in the third set. Since then, she has shown flashes of her tennis genius but it has been wildly inconsistent.

Flipkens, possibly the biggest surprise quarterfinalists, had never been past the third round of a Slam before this year’s Australian Open. With new mentor Kim Clijsters in tow and a renewed fitness and ball-striking ability, the Belgian came from being ranked 175 during this time last year and not even playing Wimbledon, to reaching her first Slam quarterfinal and sitting at a career-high No. 20. Despite the strong showing, her draw has been rather light, playing No. 90 Yulia Putintseva, No. 97 Vesna Dolonc, No. 39 Bojana Jovanovski and No. 166 Flavia Pennetta who used her protected ranking. It may just be the end of the road for her.

Results: Kvitova in straight sets

Roland Garros Fast Forward: Sharapova, Li, Stosur, Nadal, and More Set to Shine on Day 5

Flying under the radar, Stosur owns one of the tournament's biggest forehands.

Our Thursday preview discusses eight matches from each singles draw, starting this time with the WTA.

WTA:

Kristina Mladenovic vs. Samantha Stosur:  Her opening victory over Kimiko Date-Krumm looked impressive on paper with the loss of just two games.  Now, however, Stosur must face a Frenchwoman much more worthy of her steel.  Mladenovic caught fire on home soil in February when she reached the semifinals of the Paris Indoors, although she faces an uphill battle against an opponent more accomplished on clay and much more experienced at this level.

Maria Sharapova vs. Eugenie Bouchard:  Teenagers have troubled Sharapova in the first week of majors before, from the Melanie Oudin catastrophe at the US Open to a hard-fought encounter with Laura Robson at Wimbledon and a narrowly avoided stumble against Caroline Garcia here.  Bouchard reached the semifinals of Strasbourg last week, where she threatened eventual champion Alize Cornet.  On the other hand, the 19-year-old Canadian eked out only two games from the woman who designs her Nike outfits when they met in Miami this spring.

Francesca Schiavone vs. Kirsten Flipkens:  Logic suggests that the second round marks the end of the road for Schiavone, who faces a seeded opponent there.  Her history at this tournament suggests that we should not lean too heavily on logic and give her a fighting chance against a young Belgian more successful on faster surfaces.

Li Na vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands:  When they met in Stuttgart this spring, the 2011 Roland Garros champion eased past her fellow veteran.  Mattek-Sands pulled off a series of impressive victories that week, reaching the semifinals as a qualifier.  The indoor conditions in Stuttgart fit her game better than the outdoor terre battue here, and Li looked much crisper in her opener against Anabel Medina Garrigues than she had earlier this clay season.

Marion Bartoli vs. Mariana Duque-Marino:  Surviving the grueling three-hour trainwreck in her first-round match may have liberated Bartoli to swing more boldly henceforth.  Or Colombian clay specialist Duque-Marino might finish what Govortsova started, capitalizng on the double faults that continue to flow.  Bartoli cannot count on the Chatrier crowd to rescue her this time.

Ashleigh Barty vs. Maria Kirilenko:  Both women enter this match in excellent form, the Australian teenager having scored her first career victory at a major and the Russian having yielded just a single game.  This tournament has offered a fine showcase for some of the WTA’s rising stars, although Kirilenko’s consistency should leave Barty few options.

Jelena Jankovic vs. Garbine Muguruza:  Continuing her clay success this spring, Jankovic won more of the key points than she often does in fending off occasional nemesis Daniela Hantuchova.  A heavy-hitting Spaniard awaits in Muguruza, who knocked off another Slam-less No. 1 this year in Caroline Woznacki.  Consecutive fourth-round appearances at Indian Wells and Miami suggested Muguruza’s readiness to take the next step forward on a hard court, but her clay results have lagged behind.

Petra Kvitova vs. Peng Shuai:  Yet another three-set rollercoaster defined Kvitova’s path to the second round.  While she looks invincible at her best, seemingly anyone will have a chance against her on her vulnerable days.  Far from just anyone, Peng won a set from Kvitova on a hard court this year and another set on grass last year.  Last week, she reached a Premier final in Brussels, by far her most notable result since her career year in 2011.

ATP:

Lucas Pouille vs. Grigor Dimitrov:  Never has Dimitrov advanced past the second round of a major.  Barring unforeseen circumstances, that streak of futility should end here.  Ranked outside the top 300, Pouille has spent most of his limited career at the challenger level, although he did win his first match in straight sets.  Dimitrov aims to set up a third-round rematch of his Madrid meeting with Novak Djokovic.

Rafael Nadal vs. Martin Klizan:  Unable to deliver a strong opening statement in his first match, Nadal instead revealed some notable signs of frailty.  He should settle into a groove more smoothly against a less explosive opponent, using the opportunity to reassert his clay supremacy.  Few players bounce back from a shaky effort better than Nadal.

Fernando Verdasco vs. Janko Tipsarevic:  In their most significant match to date, Tipsarevic held match points against Verdasco at the 2011 Australian Open before tanking the fifth set when the fourth slipped away. The Serb remains an enigmatic competitor who has struggled through a barren season, but he did win their two meetings since then.  Also in dismal form for most of 2013, Verdasco appeared to raise his confidence over the last month.  He demolished his first opponent and should hold a clear surface edge.

Tommy Haas vs. Jack Sock:  The raw American won his first main-draw match at Roland Garros in scintillaing fashion after notching three wins in qualifying just as easily.  Fourteen years his senior, Haas shares Sock’s preference for faster surfaces.  He has produced some solid clay results this year, though, whereas his opponent lost five straight matches before arriving in Paris.  If Sock maintains a high first-serve percentage, this match could become very competitive but still probably not an upset.

Lukas Rosol vs. Fabio Fognini:  With the winner almost certianly destined to face Rafael Nadal, this match bears the whiff of intrigue over the possibility of a Wimbledon rematch.  Fognini’s superior clay game should snuff out Rosol’s hopes for another chance at the Spaniard, especially across a best-of-five match.  The Italian reached a Masters 1000 semifinal in Monte Carlo, although his results have tapered since then.  For his part, Rosol won his first career title in Bucharest, defeating Gilles Simon en route.

Ryan Harrison vs. John Isner:  Rare is the all-American match in the second round of Roland Garros, created this time by an odd quirk of the draw.  Harrison defeated Isner at Sydney just before the older American withdrew from the Australian Open, the start of a disastrous season for him outside a small title in Houston.  Nor did the upset launch Harrison’s season in style, for he fell outside the top 100 this spring and has won just two main-draw matches since that January victory over Isner.  The latter can draw inspiration from his five-setter here against Rafael Nadal in 2010.

Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Horacio Zeballos:  One of these men barely finished off his match on Tuesday, while the other needed to return on Wednesday for two more sets.  Both Wawrinka and Zeballos defeated marquee Spaniards to win clay titles this spring, Zeballos stunning Nadal in Vina del Mar and Wawrinka dominating Ferrer in Portugal.  The Swiss No. 2’s achievement marked merely one episode in a general upward trend, though, whereas the Argentine’s breakthrough has remained an anomaly.

Robin Haase vs. Jerzy Janowicz:  Haase recently collected the ATP record for consecutive tiebreaks lost, halting at the same number as Roger Federer’s record of major titles won.  The floundering Dutchman might play a few more tiebreaks against a man who can match him hold for hold.  The clay-court savvy of both men languishes relatively low, causing them to battle the surface as well as each other.

 

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.

 

Tuesday in Total: Every Sony Open Match Previewed!

Novak trains his backhand on a 34-year-old veteran in Tuesday's night session.

One day after the women arranged their quarterfinal lineup, the men do the same in a day that features all of the fourth-round ATP matches in Miami as well as the first two women’s quarterfinals.

David Ferrer vs. Kei Nishikori:  While their most recent meeting swung decisively in the veteran’s favor, the Japanese star won two of the previous three.  Among them was Nishikori’s breakthrough victory at the 2008 US Open, a pulsating five-setter in which the similarities between the two men became apparent, such as their fitness and their high-percentage shot selection.  Both can struggle to finish points at times, and both possess underrated weapons in crisp, streamlined two-handed backhands.  Neither bombs huge serves, despite improvements in that area, so their solid returning could produce plenty of service breaks on this slow surface.  The often-injured Nishikori recently won his third career championship in Memphis, while Ferrer already has claimed two titles this year.

Serena Williams vs. Li Na:  Muddling through her previous match, the top seed will need to raise her level significantly—or at least sooner—when the level of competition soars.  Li has stayed torrid for longer than she usually does, following her Australian rampage with three straight-sets victories here that revealed minimal rust after her injury.  Although she has won only one of their seven meetings, the six tiebreaks and three three-setters prove that she can trouble Serena with her pinpoint groundstrokes and penetrating first serve.  The Chinese star has moved much more alertly and sustained a more even level in matches than her quarterfinal opponent, who has traced the opposite of her usual progression through tournaments.  Instead of growing more intent with each round, Serena has looked increasingly disinterested, never a fault of which one could accuse Li.

Andreas Seppi vs. Andy Murray:  Having defeated two rising stars in Grigor Dimitrov and Bernard Tomic, Murray now faces someone on the opposite end of his career.  Lacking real weapons to hurt the Scot, Seppi can neither outhit him nor outlast him from the baseline, and his tepid second serve should allow his opponent to showcase his stinging return.  Murray lost his first meeting with Seppi on his home soil in Nottingham, but he has won all eight of their sets since then with one match on each of the four main surfaces (outdoor hard, indoor hard, clay, grass).  In one caveat, he has not faced the Italian since the latter’s surge that started a year ago and propelled him into the top 20.  This year has proved less successful for Seppi, who has not in fact defeated anyone in the top eight during his renaissance.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Marin Cilic:  A stark contrast to the preceding match, this clash of two heavy servers marks just the second hard-court meeting between them at an ATP tournament.  Tsonga moved past Cilic routinely at Cincinnati two years ago, but that much faster court played to his strengths more than the slow court does here.  Whereas he looks for chances to step inside the court and approach the net, Cilic remains tethered to the baseline and uses his steadier, symmetrical groundstrokes to stretch his opponents laterally.  He has won all seven of his tiebreaks at ATP events this year, a testament to this calm, lanky Croat’s poise when sets hang in the balance.  Also stellar in that area recently, the more flammable Tsonga won a small title in February two weeks after Cilic did the same.  Just three ranking spots separate them despite the Frenchman’s clearly more impressive career resume.

Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Kirsten Flipkens:  The Miami tournament has produced plenty of surprises, few more notable than the quarterfinal appearance of this Belgian.  Her mentor, Kim Clijsters, won this title twice with a more athletic, balanced game than what Flipkens needed to deploy in upsetting Petra Kvitova and backing up that statement with a victory over the raw Ajla Tomljanovic.  This match would not seem unduly concerning for the defending champion, although she faces an opponent who can take time away from her, shorten points, and cut off angles at the net.  Only once have they met, in Fed Cup three years ago, so both players may need time to adapt their distinctive styles to each other.  Each woman has played a series of three-setters lately, suggesting ebbs and flows in their form.  Having found the belief to win a set from Azarenka at Indian Wells, Flipkens needs to find it and keep it against the resilient Pole.

Novak Djokovic vs. Tommy Haas:  The German has troubled the Djoker occasionally, defeating him at Wimbledon in 2009 and extending him to a final set at the Rogers Cup just last year.  In three previous meetings at Masters 1000 hard-court tournaments, though, the world #1 has prevailed every time.  He looks far more focused and purposeful this week than he did at Indian Wells, mirroring the trajectory that he traced at the twin events in 2012.  That said, neither of his first two opponents approached the talents of the 18th-ranked Haas, who has drawn additional motivation this week from the presence of his daughter, Valentina.  Djokovic relishes the spectacle of playing under the lights, so an upset looks less probable than he might have if Miami had scheduled the match before Valentina’s bedtime.  The Serb’s consistency should undo the mercurial Haas on these slow courts as he extends the veteran into too many long, physically grinding rallies.

Albert Ramos vs. Jurgen Melzer:  Not the fourth-round match that anyone anticipated in this section, it unfolds amid the wreckage left behind by Juan Martin Del Potro’s early exit.  As one might expect, it marks the first career meeting between these two lefties, for either of whom a Masters 1000 quarterfinal would mark a substantial accomplishment.  After winning the Dallas challenger last week, Melzer carried his confidence through two comebacks from losing the first set here.  Ramos also weathered peaks and valleys in his form through consecutive three-setters against Juan Monaco, the second-highest seed in the section outside Del Potro, and home hope James Blake. Melzer owns the more imposing weapons, so the Spaniard should find himself in a counterpunching role.  But that role may be the easier to play on these courts with so much at stake.

Richard Gasquet vs. Nicolas Almagro:  For the second straight match, Gasquet faces a fellow practitioner of the one-handed backhand art.  The florid sweep of Almagro’s swing should contrast elegantly with the elongated but more explosive swat that Gasquet produces.  Like Tsonga and Cilic, these Europeans stand almost adjacent in the rankings, but the similarity in their backhands is echoed by other parallels in their playing styles.  Both can forget to put substance before style with their fondness for spectacular shot-making displays, and both have proven themselves vulnerable when the time arrives to finish matches.  Whereas Almagro spent last month on South American clay, Gasquet remained on hard courts in Europe.  That preparation might prove more meaningful in Miami, although he lost their only meeting on hard courts in 2011.

Sam Querrey vs. Tomas Berdych:  Flirting with disaster in each of his first two matches, Berdych lost the first set in both, rallied to win the second set in a tiebreak, and then established control early in the final set.  He even saved two match points against Alejandro Falla yesterday, one with an audacious second-serve ace, and displayed some uncharacteristic patience in constructing the rallies that turned the momentum.  Receiving a walkover from Milos Raonic, Querrey may have needed the respite after he too rallied from losing the first set to win the only match that he has played here.  He defeated Berdych at the 2008 US Open, but the Czech has sezied command since then with three straight victories in the second half of last year.  Once infamous for losses to anonymous opponents, the fourth seed has improved his consistency dramatically and rarely has lost to anyone outside the top eight over the last several months.  The last American man standing will enjoy the support of the home crowd as he attempts to outslug Berdych in a match of staccato serve-forehand combinations.

Gilles Simon vs. Janko Tipsarevic:  The world No. 9 trails the overall head-to-head 6-2 in a rivalry that has developed only recently.  Five of the matches have reached a final set, where Simon’s superior fitness has reaped rewards, and the surface speed appears to have played a role.  Tipsarevic’s two victories came on two of the fastest courts where they have met, the blue clay of Madrid and the fall Tokyo tournament, while Simon won here two years ago.  Almost comically dismal at Indian Wells, the Frenchman has sharpened his game considerably through the first two matches—but so has the Serb, who surprised some by defeating the recently more dangerous Kevin Anderson.  This match should feature plenty of long rallies, but Tipsarevic will try to redirect his groundstrokes down both lines to keep Simon on his heels.

Leading Reasons to Cheer: Preview of Miami Saturday Matches

Bernard Tomic and Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders

There are fewer matches that capture the imagination on Friday, but those that do offer plenty to discuss.  Here’s a look at the end of the men’s second round and the start of the women’s third round.

Tomic vs. Murray:  The Aussie prodigy has all of the elements that should make him a future star:  a balanced but distinctive and aesthetically pleasing game, a personality oozing with charisma, and more than a whiff of controversy.  All of the elements, that is, but competitive toughness, although Tomic has begun to remedy that flaw this year with somewhat more consistent results.  He has yet to leave his mark on a Masters 1000 tournament, however, unlike a few of his fellowing rising stars, nor has he scored a signature win over one of the Big Four somewhere other than an exhibition.  Such an opportunity might await against Murray, who was fortunate to avoid an exit earlier than the quarterfinals at Indian Wells amid notably scratchy form.  Since both men know virtually every shot and tactic in the book, a display of all-court tennis should ensue that suits this notably slow surface.

Venus vs. Stephens:  The past and future of American women’s tennis collide in a match of two women separated by over a decade.  Having just turned 20 this week, Stephens may have catapulted into celebrity a little too early with her victory over Serena at the Australian Open.  She now attempts to echo what Kerber did last year by sweeping the two Williams sisters on hard courts, a task probably within range considering the arduous evening to which Kimiko Date-Krumm subjected Venus in her first match.  The contrast in their serves should boost the veteran’s chances, albeit less than it would on a faster hard court.  And Sloane also has looked mortal as she has struggled to find her best form in the wake of that Australian accomplishment.  She will rely on her consistency to extend the points longer than the erratic Venus can harness her weapons.

Kubot vs. Querrey:  Now the top-ranked American man, Querrey has some work to do in justifying the expectations associated with that label.  His results this year have toed the line between mildly disappointing and unremarkable, and he lost his only previous meeting with Kubot in a five-setter at the 2011 Australian Open.  The doubles specialist from Poland kept Querrey’s serve at bay with penetrating returns and took time away from him by capitalizing on short balls to approach the net.  But these are the types of matches that the top-ranked American man is supposed to win, and the excuses for Querrey’s apparent lulls in motivation will grow less convincing with the increased spotlight on him.

Bellucci vs. Janowicz:  A fairly straightforward lefty, the leading man from Brazil had lost five straight match before rallying from losing the first set to oust lucky loser Daniel Brands here.  Curiously, considering his clay origins, he defeated Janowicz on the indoor hard courts of Moscow last fall, near the time that the latter launched himself on his charge through the Paris Masters 1000 draw.  The superior server and arguably superior competitor, the youngster from Poland should fear little if he can unravel the wrinkles of a lefty’s game and put a reasonable number of returns in play.  An intriguing rendezvous with Murray could await in the next round.

Petkovic vs. Tomljanovic:  Reaching the Miami semifinals in her last appearance, two years ago, Petkovic justified her wildcard at this tournament by not only winning her first match but also upsetting top-15 opponent Bartoli (admittedly, by retirement).  Since she played only a tiny handful of matches in the first half of 2012, she certainly would relish the opportunity to collect more points to boost her ranking.  Petkovic will enter this match as the favorite, but Tomljanovic enters with plenty of momentum as well.  The 19-year-old Croat defeated both Pervak and Goerges in straight sets to justify her own wildcard, producing a level of form well above her ranking of #242.

Wozniacki vs. Muguruza:  Virtually unknown before the last few months, Garbine Muguruza raised a few eyebrows when she slugged groundstrokes fearlessly against Serena in Melbourne.  Then she raised many more eyebrows by reaching the fourth round of Indian Wells as a qualifier, the best result that any qualifier had garnered in the desert for nearly a decade.  Armed with much more potent weapons than most of her compatriots, Muguruza aims to duplicate that achievement at a second sraight Premier Mandatory tournament.  Consecutive three-setters in the first two rounds may have sapped her energies for a physical matches ahead, although Wozniacki also opened the tournament with a taxing battle.  Extended to a final set in her Indian Wells opener too, she hopes to bounce back again from that uninspired start but has no more margin for error on the eve of collisions with Li Na and then Serena.

Flipkens vs. Kvitova:  Never at her best at the spring North American tournaments, the former Wimbledon champion has struggled with the heat and her breathing in previous appearances.  An Indian Wells quarterfinal appearance struck a more hopeful note, although her serving debacle at that stage did not.  Opponents who can disrupt her baseline rhythm with something unexpected tend to trouble the Czech more than those with straightforward styles, and Flipkens can offer some unconventional looks with her backhand slice and occasional forays to the net.  Those tactics should work better on a faster, lower-bouncing surface, though, while the Miami court should present Kvitova with balls at a comfortable height and time to target the lines.

 

Their Just Deserts: The Mega WTA Indian Wells Draw Preview

Will Vika hang on to her hardware here as well as she did in Melbourne?

Read about what to expect from the first Premier Mandatory tournament of 2013 as we break down each quarter of the WTA Indian Wells draw in detail!

First quarter:  For the second straight year, Azarenka arrives in the desert with a perfect season record that includes titles at the Australian Open and the Premier Five tournament in Doha.  Able to defend those achievements, she eyes another prestigious defense at Indian Wells on a surface that suits her balanced hybrid of offense and defense as well as any other.  In her opener, she could face the only woman in the draw who has won multiple titles here, Daniela Hantuchova, although the more recent of her pair came six long years ago.  Since reaching the second week of the Australian Open, Kirsten Flipkens staggered to disappointing results in February, so Azarenka need not expect too stern a test from the Belgian.  Of perhaps greater concern is a rematch of her controversial Melbourne semifinal against Sloane Stephens, who aims to bounce back from an injury-hampered span with the encouragement of her home crowd.  Heavy fan support for the opponent can fluster Azarenka, or it can bring out her most ferocious tennis, which makes that match one to watch either way.  Of some local interest is the first-round match between Jamie Hampton, who won a set from Vika in Melbourne, and Kuala Lumpur runner-up Mattek-Sands.

The most intriguing first-round match in the lower section of this quarter pits Laura Robson against the blistering backhands of Sofia Arvidsson.  In fact, plenty of imposing two-handers highlight that neighborhood with those of Julia Goerges and the tenth-seeded Petrova also set to shine.  The slow courts of Indian Wells might not suit games so high on risk and low on consistency, possibly lightening the burden on former champion Wozniacki.  Just two years ago, the Dane won this title as the world #1, and she reached the final in 2010 with her characteristic counterpunching.  Downed relatively early in her title defense last year, she has shown recent signs of regrouping with strong performances at the Persian Gulf tournaments in February.  On the other hand, a quick loss as the top seed in Kuala Lumpur reminded viewers that her revival remains a work in progress.  She has not faced Azarenka since the latter’s breakthrough in mid-2011, so a quarterfinal between them would offer fascinating evidence as to whether Caro can preserve her mental edge over her friend.

Semifinalist:  Azarenka

Second quarter:  Unremarkable so far this year, Kerber has fallen short of the form that carried her to a 2012 semifinal here and brings a three-match losing streak to the desert.  Even with that recent history, she should survive early tests from opponents like Heather Watson and the flaky Wickmayer before one of two fellow lefties poses an intriguing challenge in the fourth round.  For the second straight year, Makarova reached the Australian Open quarterfinals, and her most significant victory there came against Kerber in a tightly contested match of high quality.  Dogged by erratic results, this Russian may find this surface too slow for her patience despite the improved defense and more balanced weapons that she showed in Melbourne.  Another woman who reached the second week there, Bojana Jovanovski, hopes to prove that accomplishment more than just a quirk of fate, which it seems so far.  Also in this section is the enigmatic Safarova, a woman of prodigious talent but few results to show for it.  If she meets Makarova in the third round, an unpredictable clash could ensue, after which the winner would need to break down Kerber’s counterpunching.

Stirring to life in Doha and Dubai, where she reached the quarterfinals at both, Stosur has played much further below her ranking this year than has Kerber.  A disastrous Australian season and Fed Cup weekend have started to fade a bit, however, for a woman who has reached the Indian Wells semifinals before.  Stosur will welcome the extra time that the court gives her to hit as many forehands as possible, but she may not welcome a draw riddled with early threats.  At the outset, the US Open champion could face American phenom Madison Keys, who raised eyebrows when she charged within a tiebreak of the semifinals in a strong Sydney draw.  The feisty Peng, a quarterfinalist here in 2011, also does not flinch when facing higher-ranked opponents, so Stosur may breathe a sigh of relief if she reaches the fourth round.  Either of her likely opponents there shares her strengths of powerful serves and forehands as well as her limitations in mobility and consistency.  Losing her only previous meeting with Mona Barthel, on the Stuttgart indoor clay, Ivanovic will seek to reverse that result at a tournament where she usually has found her most convincing tennis even in her less productive periods.  Minor injuries have nagged her lately, while Barthel has reached two finals already in 2013 (winning one), so this match could prove compelling if both silence other powerful servers around them, like Lucie Hradecka.

Semifinalist:  Ivanovic

Third quarter:  Another woman who has reached two finals this year (winning both), the third-seeded Radwanska eyes perhaps the easiest route of the elite contenders.  Barring her path to the fourth round are only a handful of qualifiers, an anonymous American wildcard, an aging clay specialist who has not won a match all year, and the perenially underachieving Sorana Cirstea.  Radwanska excels at causing raw, error-prone sluggers like Cirstea to implode, and she will face nobody with the sustained power and accuracy to overcome her in the next round either.  In that section, Christina McHale attempts to continue a comeback from mono that left her without a victory for several months until a recent breakthrough, and Maria Kirilenko marks her return from injury that sidelined her after winning the Pattaya City title.  Although she took Radwanska deep into the final set of a Wimbledon quarterfinal last year, and defeated her at a US Open, the Russian should struggle if rusty against the more confident Aga who has emerged since late 2011.  Can two grass specialists, Pironkova and Paszek, cause a stir in this quiet section?

Not much more intimidating is the route that lies before the section’s second highest-ranked seed, newly minted Dubai champion Kvitova.  Although she never has left a mark on either Indian Wells or Miami, Kvitova suggested that she had ended her habitual struggles in North America by winning the US Open Series last summer with titles in Montreal and New Haven.  Able to enter and stay in torrid mode like the flip of a switch, she aims to build on her momentum from consecutive victories over three top-ten opponents there.  The nearest seeded opponent to Kvitova, Yaroslava Shvedova, has struggled to string together victories since her near-upset of Serena at Wimbledon, although she nearly toppled Kvitova in their most recent meeting at Roland Garros.  Almost upsetting Azarenka near this time a year ago, Cibulkova looks to repeat her upset over the Czech in Sydney when they meet in the fourth round.  Just reaching that stage would mark a step forward for her, though, considering her failure to build upon her runner-up appearance there and the presence of ultra-steady Zakopalova.  Having dominated Radwanska so thoroughly in Dubai, Kvitova should feel confident about that test.

Semifinalist:  Kvitova

Fourth quarter:  Semifinalist in 2011, finalist in 2012, champion in 2013?  Before she can think so far ahead, the second-seeded Sharapova must maneuver past a string of veteran Italians and other clay specialists like Suarez Navarro.  Aligned to meet in the first round are the former Fed Cup teammates Pennetta and Schiavone in one of Wednesday’s most compelling matches, but the winner vanishes directly into Sharapova’s jaws just afterwards.  The faltering Varvara Lepchenko could meet the surging Roberta Vinci, who just reached the semifinals in Dubai with victories over Kuznetsova, Kerber, and Stosur.  Like Kvitova, then, she brings plenty of positive energy to a weak section of the draw, where her subtlety could carry her past the erratic or fading players around her.  But Sharapova crushed Vinci at this time last year, and she never has found even a flicker of self-belief against the Russian.

Once notorious for the catfights that flared between them, Jankovic and Bartoli could extend their bitter rivalry in the third round at a tournament where both have reached the final (Jankovic winning in 2010, Bartoli falling to Wozniacki a year later).  Between them stands perhaps a more convincing dark horse candidate in Kuznetsova, not far removed from an Australian Open quarterfinal appearance that signaled her revival.  Suddenly striking the ball with confidence and even—gasp—a modicum of thoughtfulness, she could draw strength from the memories of her consecutive Indian Wells finals in 2007-08.  If Kuznetsova remains young enough to recapture some of her former prowess, her compatriot Pavlyuchenkova also has plenty of time to rebuild a career that has lain in ruins for over a year.  By playing close to her potential, she could threaten Errani despite the sixth seed’s recent clay title defense in Acapulco.  Not in a long time has anyone in this area challenged Sharapova, though.

Semifinalist:  Sharapova

Come back tomorrow before the start of play in the men’s draw to read a similar breakdown!

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