Simona Halep brings a remarkable winning streak in pursuit of a fourth straight International title. This week, a bit more competition might await her than at the three others.
Top half: The second-ranked Maria Sharapova spent a brief holiday in Sweden this month, but world No. 1 Serena Williams will mix at least some business with pleasure. One would not have expected to see Serena at an International event on clay rather than her usual US Open Series stop at Stanford. But her undefeated clay record this year will go on the line against an overmatched group of opponents—on paper, at least. Sure to collect a huge appearance fee in Bastad, Serena may or may not play with her usual intensity at a tournament that means nothing to her legacy. The top-ranked junior in the world, Belinda Bencic, stands a win away from facing the top-ranked woman in the world shortly after earning the girls’ singles title at Wimbledon. Serena’s own disappointment on those lawns may motivate her to bring more imposing form to Bastad than she would otherwise.
The player who came closest to defeating Serena on clay this year, Anabel Medina Garrigues, might await in the quarterfinals. On the other hand, Medina Garrigues won just two games from projected second-round opponent Dinah Pfizenmaier in Palermo last week. Also suffering an early exit there was Lara Arruabarrena, a Spaniard who shone briefly this spring. Arruabarrena joins Lesia Tsurenko among the women vying with third seed Klara Zakopalova for the right to face Serena in the semifinals. At a similar level of tournament in 2009, Zakopalova outlasted a diffident Serena on the clay of Marbella.
Bottom half: Grass specialist Tsvetana Pironkova holds the fourth seed in a quarter free from any dirt devils. Almost anyone could emerge from this section, perhaps even one of Sweden’s top two women. Johanna Larsson will meet Sofia Arvidsson in the first round, an unhappy twist of fate for home fans. The lower-ranked of the two, Arvidsson has accumulated the stronger career record overall.
Riding a 15-match winning streak at non-majors, Simona Halep seeks her fourth title of the summer. She went the distance in consecutive weeks just before Wimbledon, on two different surfaces no less, so an International double on clay would come as no great surprise. One aging threat and one rising threat jump out of her quarter as possible obstacles. After reaching the second week of Wimbledon, Flavia Pennetta may have gained the confidence needed to ignite her stagnating comeback. Assigned an opening test against clay specialist Alexandra Dulgheru, young French sensation Caroline Garcia looks to unlock more of her potential. And Serena’s notorious assassin, Virginie Razzano, cannot be discounted entirely.
Final: Serena vs. Halep
Top half: To be frank, this tournament boasts one of the least impressive fields on the WTA calendar (if “boasts” is the proper word). On the bright side, Bad Gastein should feature some competitive, unpredictable matches from the first round to the last. The only top-50 woman in the draw, Mona Barthel will seek her third final of 2013 but her first on clay. Barthel wields more than enough power to hit through the slow surface, but her patience can be ruffled in adversity. Her most notable pre-semifinal challenge might come from Kiki Bertens, who won a small title on clay last year. Barthel has dominated their history, though, including a victory this year.
As she builds on an encouraging Wimbledon, Andrea Petkovic holds the fourth seed in a tournament near home. Her family traveled with her from Germany before the draw ceremony, images of which appear elsewhere on this site. A finalist on clay in Nurnberg last month, Petkovic drew one of the tournament’s most notable unseeded players in her opener, Petra Martic. Just as injuries have undermined Petkovic for many months, mononucleosis has hampered Martic’s progress. But her balanced game and keen feel for the ball still emerges, making her a greater threat than other players in the section. Palermo semifinalist Chanelle Scheepers, who solved Martic there, might test Petkovic’s consistency. Nor should one ignore elite junior Elina Svitolina in the draw’s most compelling section.
Bottom half: Romanians enjoyed strong results last week, highlighted by Halep’s extended winning streak and semifinals from Alexandra Cadantu and Victor Hanescu. This week, third seed Irina-Camelia Begu seeks to echo the success of her compatriots as she rebounds from a first-round loss in Palermo. While her only career title came on a hard court, Begu reached two clay finals in 2011, her best season so far. Near her stands home hope Yvonne Meusburger, who surprised by reaching the Budapest final. The star-crossed Arantxa Rus simply hopes to halt the longest losing streak in WTA history, although she has drawn a seeded opponent in Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor.
Yet another rising German, second seed Annika Beck has reached the quarterfinals or better at three International tournaments on clay this year. Beck can look forward to a second-round meeting with doubles specialist Lucie Hradecka with resurgent Italian Karin Knapp awaiting the winner. Knapp returned to the top 100 when she exploited an imploding section of the Wimbledon draw to reach the second week. Her skills suit clay less smoothly than some of the women around her, such as Palermo semifinalist Cadantu.
Final: Petkovic vs. Beck
The sunny island of Sicily hosts the more notable of the two small women’s tournaments in the week after Wimbledon. Palermo will host both of the leading Italian stars, who eye one more chance to capitalize on their best surface.
Top half: Bounced from Wimbledon in the first round, Sara Errani returns gratefully to clay after a one-match grass season. The world No. 6 took a wildcard into one of her home tournaments, where she has won two titles. In search of her second 2013 title defense, Errani can look ahead to a second-round meeting with fiery Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova. Two other clay specialists join her in a section filled with hyphenated names. Mariana Duque-Marino impressed with her shot-making during a tight loss to Marion Bartoli at Roland Garros, while Silvia Soler-Espinosa has become a fixture of Spain’s Fed Cup team.
Neither of the most intriguing players in the second quarter has a seed next to her name. Two of the Italians in this section emerged from irrelevance at Wimbledon and will hope to dazzle their compatriots. Both Flavia Pennetta and Karin Knapp reached the second week on grass, their least effective surface, despite rankings outside the top 100. The evergreen Anabel Medina Garrigues, who bageled Serena Williams in Madrid, could meet Pennetta or Knapp in the quarterfinals. Much less intriguing are the two Czech seeds, Klara Zakopalova and Karolina Pliskova. Still, Zakopalova reached the second week at Roland Garros last year, for the slow conditions suited her counterpunching style.
Bottom half: Unfortunate to draw Maria Sharapova in her Wimbledon opener, Kristina Mladenovic gained some consolation by winning the mixed doubles title with Daniel Nestor. Almost overnight, she travels to Palermo as the third seed. Mladenovic will have some breathing room as she adjusts from one surface to another, situated in an especially forgiving section. Young French star Caroline Garcia might face Irina-Camelia Begu in a second-round contrast of styles. A quarterfinal between Garcia and Mladenovic could offer some insight onto the future of women’s tennis in France after Bartoli.
Second seed Roberta Vinci joined Pennetta and Knapp in the second week of Wimbledon but struggled in the first week and fell heavily to Li Na. All the same, Vinci remains within striking distance of the top 10 at the age of 31 while continuing to shine in doubles with Errani. This Italian veteran could meet Wimbledon surprise Eva Birnerova, who almost reached the second week as well. The canny Lourdes Dominguez Lino then would confront Vinci in a battle of traditional clay specialists.
Final: Errani vs. Vinci
Top half: The Hungarian Grand Prix does not look particularly grand this year with not a single entrant from the top 25. Leading the pack is Lucie Safarova, whose 2013 campaign has lurched from signs of hope to unmitigated disasters. Safarova has defeated Samantha Stosur twice this year and reached a clay semifinal in Nurnberg, but she won one total match at three more important clay events in Stuttgart, Madrid, and Paris. Ripe for an upset, she might fall victim to the promising Petra Martic. Despite a horrific start to 2013, Martic recaptured some of her form at the challenger level and reached the third round of Wimbledon, where she won a set from Tsvetana Pironkova. South African No. 1 Chanelle Scheepers holds the other seed in this section.
Doubles specialist Lucie Hradecka will look to bomb her way through a section that includes young German star Annika Beck. The fourth seed in Budapest, Beck reached a quarterfinal and a semifinal at International events on clay earlier this year. Perhaps she will have gained inspiration from her compatriot Lisicki’s breakthrough at Wimbledon. Lara Arruabarrena won a challenger earlier this year and gained attention for reaching the fourth round of Indian Wells, where she upset Vinci. The 80th-ranked Spaniard will hope to outlast erratic fifth seed Johanna Larsson with her consistency.
Bottom half: Probably the favorite for the title, third seed Simona Halep seeks to extend a ten-match winning streak at non-majors. Even before that romp through Nurnberg and s’Hertogenbosch, Halep reached the semifinals at the Premier Five event in Rome. That quality passage of play should have primed her for a deep run in Budapest, although the heavy serve of home hope Timea Babos could pose an intriguing threat. Seventh seed Maria Teresa Torro-Flor would meet Babos before Halep, hoping to build on clay victories over Francesca Schiavone and Daniela Hantuchova this spring.
Finishing the clay season in style, Alize Cornet won a title in Strasbourg and took a set from Victoria Azarenka in Paris. She will look to rebound from a massive collapse against Pennetta at Wimbledon against Hradecka’s doubles partner, Andrea Hlavackova. The faded Shahar Peer joins an alumnus of the Chris Evert Tennis Academy, Anna Tatishvili, elsewhere in the section.
Final: Unseeded player vs. Halep
Profiting from more cooperative weather, Roland Garros produced a Day 4 replete with action. Here’s the review of how it all went down.
Match of the day: Ah, the French in Paris. Sometimes they dazzle, sometimes they implode, sometimes they puzzle, and sometimes they do all three. Julien Benneteau achieved the trifecta in a five-set victory over Tobias Kamke, completing his first pair of consecutive victories since February. En route to the third round, Benneteau a) won a 20-point tiebreak b) blew a two-set lead c) ate a bagel in the fourth set and d) won anyway. Richard Gasquet, it’s your move.
Worth the wait: After a 14-game fifth set, the epic between Horacio Zeballos and Vasek Pospisil finally ended a day and two sets after Zeballos could have ended it in a third-set tiebreak. A young Canadian talent, Pospisil showed grit by rallying from the brink of a straight-sets loss to the brink of a five-set victory. But Zeballos, who defeated Rafael Nadal to win a South American clay title this spring, relied on his greater experience to get the last word.
Comeback of the day: Dutch heavy hitter Igor Sijsling looked ready to knock off the lowest men’s seed when he swept two tight sets. Continuing a surprisingly solid clay campaign, Tommy Robredo surged through the next three sets for the loss of five total games. The pattern of the scores recalled Roger Federer’s comeback over Juan Martin Del Potro here last year.
Surprise of the day: Surely elated by his upset over Berdych in a first-round epic, Gael Monfils might have fallen victim to a hangover against the dangerous Ernests Gulbis. Although he dropped the first set for the second straight match, Monfils outlasted his fellow erratic shot-maker for another quality win that jangled the nerves of his compatriots a bit less. Up next is a more compelling test of his consistency against Robredo. Check out the more detailed recap of Gael’s win on this site by colleague Yeshayahu Ginsburg.
Gold star: A few of the less notable home hopes fell today, but all of the leading French men prevailed. Like Monfils, Benoit Paire completed a comeback from losing the first set to win in four. Gilles Simon hurled three consecutive breadsticks at clay specialist Pablo Cuevas after he too spotted his opponent a one-set lead. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga roared through in straight sets for the second consecutive match, as did Jeremy Chardy. And don’t forget the wacky win by Benneteau explored above. Plenty of reason remains for French patriots to return as the third round unfolds.
Silver star: Struggling to win matches this year, Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor Troicki both survived potentially tricky encounters. Tipsarevic cruised past local hero Nicolas Mahut, perhaps helped by the schedule shift away from Court Philippe Chatrier after the rain. Troicki weathered five taxing sets and two tiebreaks against clay specialist Daniel Gimeno-Traver, who had upset 17th seed Juan Monaco.
Marathon man: For the second straight round, Andreas Seppi prevailed in five sets. Halfway to defending his fourth-round points from last year, Seppi seemed to have a stranglehold when he bageled Blaz Kavcic in the first set. He later would allow a two-set lead to escape before regrouping when the match hung in the balance.
Stat of the day: All 15 men’s seeds in action today advanced, eight in straight sets.
American in Paris: After winning just one match in his first six Roland Garros appearances, top-ranked man Sam Querrey has won two in his seventh trip here without losing a set.
Question of the day: Second seed Roger Federer entered this tournament as a distant third favorite for the title after Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Looking at least as sharp as either of them, Federer now has lost just 12 games in two matches, albeit against weak competition from two qualifiers. Should we start taking his title hopes more seriously?
Match of the day: After Victoria Azarenka outlasted her in a long match at the Australian Open, Jamie Hampton secured a happier ending to another three-setter at a major. Hampton stunned 25th seed Lucie Safarova after winning the first set in a tiebreak, withstanding Safarova’s second-set surge, and closing out a 9-7 final set. That 16-game affair was the longest set of the women’s tournament so far.
Worth the wait: Delayed by rain, world No. 3 Azarenka did not start her Roland Garros campaign until Wednesday. Needing to issue a strong statement, as all of her rivals had, Azarenka delivered with a resounding victory over former doubles partner Elena Vesnina. None of the top four women has lost more than five games in a match so far.
Comeback of the day: For the second straight tournament, Svetlana Kuznetsova ate a first-set breadstick from an unseeded opponent. Whereas the Rome breadstick from Simona Halep preceded another breadstick, the Roland Garros breadstick from Magdalena Rybarikova spurred the 2009 champion into action. Kuznetsova dropped just four games over the next two sets, responding much more forcefully to adversity.
Surprise of the day: Surviving a first-round flirtation with disaster boded well for Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova’s chances here. She almost always has ventured deep into draws this year when passing her first test. This time, though, Pavlyuchenkova fell short in the second round to Petra Cetkovska in another tight three-setter. The victim of painful losses here as well, coach Martina Hingis can empathize.
Unsurprising surprise of the day: Unseeded 2012 quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi continued her momentum from winning a Premier title in Brussels last week. Kanepi dispatched 23rd seed Klara Zakopalova in straight sets on a difficult day for Czechs.
Gold star: Famous forever after what happened last year, Virginie Razzano technically surpassed that performance this year. Razzano more than justified her wildcard by reaching the third round, perhaps bolstered by the memories of her landmark victory over Serena Williams.
Silver star: In the first match of her career at Roland Garros, promising Australian teenager Ashleigh Barty made her presence felt. Barty stunned last week’s Strasbourg runner-up Lucie Hradecka in three sets, overcoming dramatic disparities in power, experience, and clay expertise.
Marathon woman: Eight of Petra Kvitova’s last nine matches have reached a third set, the latest against the fossilized Aravane Rezai today. That recent capsule from clay reflects a trend typical for Kvitova overall, for she has played 18 three-setters this year and a staggering 39 in 2012-13. Whether caused by slow starts or mid-match hiccups, those rollercoasters illustrate her unreliability.
Stat of the day: Bojana Jovanovski has won three matches since January, two of which have come against Caroline Wozniacki. The Dane predictably became the first top-ten woman to lose at Roland Garros as Jovanovski accomplished what the more talented Laura Robson could not.
Americans in Paris: Blasting past Caroline Garcia today, Serena Williams has lost just four games in two matches and 18 games in seven matches since Rome started. While the top seed continues to look every inch the title favorite, several other American women acquitted themselves well. Varvara Lepchenko notched a second straight routine victory, while women’s wildcard Shelby Rogers swiped a set from 20th seed Carla Suarez Navarro despite the gap between their relative credentials. On the other hand, Madison Keys dropped a winnable match to Monica Puig, and Mallory Burdette could not find any answers to Agnieszka Radwanska.
Question of the day: All of the top four women have roared through their early matches, confirming their elite status. Outside that group, who has impressed you the most so far?
Here’s the breakdown of matches to watch as the first round concludes.
Novak Djokovic vs. David Goffin: The baby-faced Belgian spurred a flurry of headlines last year when he reached the second week of Roland Garros and took a set from Roger Federer there. Goffin has mustered barely any quality wins since then, losing to Grega Zemlja in Dusseldorf last week. An enigmatic Masters 1000 clay season behind him, Djokovic hopes to resemble the man who defeated Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo more than the man who lost to Grigor Dimitrov in Madrid.
Nicolas Mahut vs. Janko Tipsarevic: Just about anyone has managed to knock off Tipsarevic this year, from Dmitry Tursunov to Guido Pella. Struggling for confidence and fitness, the Serb briefly slumped outside the top 10 before currently returning to its edge. Mahut has not won a main-draw match at the ATP level all season, losing to such unremarkable figures as Laime Ouahab and Romain Jouan. An ugly encounters on both sides could ensue, in which Mahut could gain strength from the vigorous show-court crowd. A second top-ten upset by a Frenchman in two days still seems like a long shot.
Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Thiemo De Bakker: An untimely muscle tear in Wawrinka’s thigh cast his participation here into doubt. The Madrid finalist has defeated four top-eight opponents on clay this spring, and his high volume of matches might have contributed to his injury. De Bakker should not challenge a healthy Wawrinka, so this match will offer a barometer for the Swiss No. 2’s health.
Jack Sock vs. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez: On Sock’s shoes are written the names of two friends who recently passed away, extra motivation for him this fortnight. He will look to extend the encouraging and unexpected trend of American success here against Bucharest finalist Garcia-Lopez, less of a clay threat than most Spaniards. Big servers also have fared well here in general from Querrey and Isner to Milos Raonic and Kevin Anderson.
Bernard Tomic vs. Victor Hanescu: Without his father to monitor him relentlessly, Tomic enjoys his first taste of independence. Off-court distractions should undermine his focus on his weakest surface, though, and he is still nowhere near the player outside Australia that he is on home soil.
Mikhail Youzhny vs. Pablo Andujar: On the heels of reaching the Madrid semifinals as a wildcard, Andujar reached the semifinals of Nice as well. He did not defeat anyone more notable than Gilles Simon at either tournament, but he will hold the surface advantage against Youzhny. The Russian did win a set from Djokovic in Monte Carlo before recording consecutive victories over clay specialists Fabio Fognini and Nicolas Almagro in Madrid.
Alejandro Falla vs. Grigor Dimitrov: Despite the increasing threat that he poses to the ATP elite, Dimitrov never has won more than one match at a major. Questionable fitness may cost him in the best-of-five format, or these events may expose his lack of experience more starkly. A duel with a Colombian dirt devil could test Dimitrov’s resilience two rounds ahead of a rematch with Djokovic.
Elena Vesnina vs. Victoria Azarenka: With the other top-four women’s seeds advancing so convincingly, Azarenka needs to keep pace with a statement of her own. After a 10-1 start to 2012, Vesnina has cooled off and lost in the first round at three of four clay tournaments. Azarenka started cooling her off by dismissing her in the fourth round of the Australian Open, where Vesnina lacked the weapons to threaten her. Never past the quarterfinals in Paris, Vika should conserve energy with some quick early wins in a weak section of the draw.
Petra Kvitova vs. Aravane Rezai: Three long years have passed since Rezai won the Premier Mandatory title in Madrid over Venus Williams. The fiery Frenchwoman with a fondness for flamboyant outfits has won just one main-draw match since last year’s clay season. Kvitova has made a habit of struggling at the most unexpected moments against the most anonymous opponents, so a three-setter would not surprise in this slugfest of wildly erratic shot-makers.
Jelena Jankovic vs. Daniela Hantuchova: This match struck me as the most interesting of the women’s first round, partly because of the history between them. Meeting more than once in the fraught environment of Fed Cup, the two have collaborated on several tight encounters and have played their last five matches on clay. Jankovic has regained traces of her vintage clay form by winning Bogota and upsetting Li to reach the Rome quarterfinals, while Hantuchova upset Kvitova in Madrid. Both lost to Simona Halep in the wake of those top-ten ambushes, though, showing how much they struggle to sustain momentum as they age.
Kristina Mladenovic vs. Lauren Davis: After American women posted a perfect record on Day 2, Davis hopes to continue that trend despite winning just two clay matches this year (one against Christina McHale). That task will prove difficult against a Frenchwoman who shone on home soil in February, reaching the semifinals of the Paris Indoors. Mladenovic has struggled almost as much on clay as Davis has, but she won sets from Maria Kirilenko and Dominika Cibulkova in difficult early-round draws.
Klara Zakopalova vs. Kaia Kanepi: A tireless counterpuncher with a vulnerable serve, Zakopalova has extended both Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova to final sets at Roland Garros. She came closer than anyone to threatening Sharapova’s surge to the career Slam, and her retrieving should test Kanepi’s patience as well. Returning impressively from injury last month, Kanepi won Brussels on Saturday after collecting six wins at her two previous tournaments. To continue defending her quarterfinal points, she will need to take control of rallies immediately with serve and return.
Jamie Hampton vs. Lucie Safarova: The small American won three consecutive three-setters over higher-ranked opponents, including Roberta Vinci, to earn a semifinal berth in Brussels. Limited in her clay experience, Hampton attracted international attention by severely testing Azarenka in the first week of the Australian Open. Flaky Czech lefty Safarova also arrives with momentum after winning her home challenger in Prague and taking a set from Sharapova in Stuttgart.
KATOWICE (April 8, 2013) — Main draw play of the BNP Paribas Katowice Open kicked off today with not only first round matches, but also the Opening Ceremony as well as a doubles exhibition match which featured Poland’s top doubles players pairing up with top wheelchair players, Marcin Matkowski partnering with Kamil Fabisiak while Mariusz Fyrstenberg teamed with Albin Batycki.
Full WTA Monday Results below:
SINGLES – FIRST ROUND
Petra Martic (CRO) d Elina Svitolina (UKR) | 6 (2) – 7 | 6 – 3 | 6 – 2 |
 Klara Zakopalova (CZE) d Kristyna Pliskova (CZE) | 7 – 6 (2) | 6 – 2 |
Annika Beck (GER) d Marta Domachowska (POL) | 6 – 3 | 7 – 5 |
Lourdes Dominguez Lino (ESP) d  Laura Robson (GBR) | 5 – 7 | 7 – 6 (7) | 6 – 1 |
Karolina Pliskova (CZE) d Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor (ESP) | 6 – 1 | 3 – 6 | 6 – 0 |
SINGLES – QUALIFYING – FINAL ROUND
Maria Elena Camerin (ITA) d Katarzyna Piter (POL) | 6 – 2 | 6 – 4 |
 Alexandra Cadantu (ROU) d Raluca Olaru (ROU) | 6 – 0 | 6 – 0 |
Anna Schmiedlova (SVK) d  Shahar Peer (ISR) | 6 – 4 | 6 – 1 |
Jill Craybas (USA) d Irina Buryachok (UKR) | 6 – 3 | 6 – 2 |
DOUBLES – FIRST ROUND
R Olaru / V Solovyeva (ROU/RUS) d M Linette / K Piter (POL/POL) | 6 – 4 | 6 – 1 |
On a busy Monday in Miami, all of the women’s fourth-round matches unfold. You can find a preview of all eight here in addition to a few of the remaining men’s third-round encounters.
Garbine Muguruza vs. Li Na: Into the fourth round for the second straight Premier Mandatory tournament, the Spanish rising star continues to consolidate her position as a player to watch this year. Indian Wells finalist Caroline Wozniacki became the latest player to learn about Muguruza’s ascendancy the hard way, thoroughly dismantled on Sunday. A day later, the youngster trains her weapons on Li Na, who has produced consistently outstanding tennis in the few tournaments that she has played this year. The Australian Open runner-up has lost only to Agnieszka Radwanska and Victoria Azarenka in 2013, although a knee injury sidelined her for several weeks after Melbourne. When she returned this week, her ball-striking looked as clean if not as audacious as it had in January. Never at her best in Miami, Li could turn a page now.
Serena Williams vs. Dominika Cibulkova: Awaiting the winner of the previous match in the quarterfinals is the world No. 1, assuming that she can survive the test posed by the shortest woman in the top 30. Cibulkova vanished from relevance after reaching the Sydney final, where Radwanska double-bageled her, but she pushed Serena’s predecessor in the spot to the brink in the same round here a year ago. That match against Azarenka, for which she served twice, revealed how much her explosive forehand can threaten taller opponents with more effortless power. Against a server like Serena, who struck 20 aces against her at Wimbledon in 2010, Cibulkova’s short wingspan may prevent her from creating pressure in return games and exploiting the erratic baseline play that Williams showed in the last round.
Grigor Dimitrov vs. Andy Murray: The memory of what unfolded when he faced Novak Djokovic at Indian Wells may reverberate through Dimitrov’s mind if he takes a lead against Murray. Serving for the first set that time, he conceded four double faults in a painful display of nerves. Dimitrov also took Murray to a first-set tiebreak wen they met in the Brisbane final this year, only to lose the tiebreak decisively and fade thereafter. Much more impressive than he looked at Indian Wells, Murray showed minimal mercy to another rising phenom in Bernard Tomic. His two-handed backhand should break down Dimitrov’s one-hander unless the Bulgarian enjoys an excellent serving day that allows him to dictate points with his forehand.
John Isner vs. Marin Cilic: Among the stranger statistics of the ATP is Cilic’s undefeated record against Americans, which includes victories over playesr like Roddick and Querrey. That perfection might continue against a giant exhausted from his epic victory over Ivan Dodig in the sweltering Miami heat. Mired in a slump for the last several months, Isner will have gained confidence from winning the type of close match that he so often plays, but he generally does not recover well after winning them and does not have an impressive history in Miami. The slow surface will blunt the serves of both men, a greater concern for Isner than the more balanced Cilic.
Maria Sharapova vs. Klara Zakopalova: The only woman in the lower half of the women’s draw who has defeated Sharapova on a hard court, Zakopalova halted the other Russian Maria in the wake of the latter’s strong fortnight at Indian Wells. That sole victory came a decade agao at the Australian Open, however, and the Czech subsided uneventfully when they met in Doha this February. Sharapova struggled on serve when Zakopalova took her to a third set at Roland Garros last year, and she struggled on serve again on the windy afternoon of her previous match. But she should break Zakopalova’s serve frequently with her rapier-like returns, keeping this counterpuncher on her heels from the outset.
Richard Gasquet vs. Mikhail Youzhny: These two men have developed a reputation for suffering ignominious meltdowns, including an occasion here when Youzhny drew blood from his head by smashing his racket against it. Another of those occasions featured the Frenchman surrendering a two-set lead to his fellow headcase at the Australian Open. Well past his prime, the Russian still can uncork one-handed backhands scarcely less lovely than Gasquet’s signature shot. Moreover, Youzhny has won four of their seven career meetings, surprising considering his opponent’s superior weapons.
Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Sloane Stephens: The defending champion has suffered a lull in form since winning consecutive titles to start 2013, dominated by Li and Petra Kvitova before Kirilenko upset her at Indian Wells. Radwanska dropped a set in the third round to Magdalena Rybarikova, a talented player but still a journeywoman, so she must raise her level against an Australian Open semifinalist. That said, Stephens ate a bagel from Olga Govortsova in her first set of the tournament, and she had lost four of her previous five matches before that victory. At Cincinnati last summer, she extended Radwanska to a third set despite lacking the firepower that normally troubles the Pole. Something similar could happen here in a match filled with long rallies.
Milos Raonic vs. Sam Querrey: Meeting for the fourth time since the start of 2012, these two giants play essentially the same styles in a matchup determined by execution on the day. In that regard, one must give the edge to Raonic, who defeated Querrey comfortably at San Jose last month in avenging two losses to the American last year. The slow outdoor courts of Miami favor the Canadian’s massive weapons and preference for short points much less than does the indoor arena in San Jose. In rallying past former nemesis Lukasz Kubot, Querrey continued to look vulnerable in a year when few victories have come easily. (Or, the more pessimistic might say, at all.) This match should come down to first-serve percentage and focus, critical in a match that hinges upon a tiny handful of points and in which any mistake can prove fatal.
Ajla Tomljanovic vs. Kirsten Flipkens: Recovered from a serious issue with blood clots last year, Flipkens reached the second week of the Australian Open and upset Kvitova yesterday in an oddly oscillating three-setter. Some of her better results have come on grass, which showcases her biting slice and her fine hands at net. Aligned opposite her is a Croat who clawed past Petkovic in a third-set tiebreak after upsetting Julia Goerges in the previous round. Like Flipkens, Tomljanovic has struggled with sporadic injuries, and she has played only a handful of WTA tournaments in the last several months. Transitioning overnight from the underdog to the favorite, the Belgian should fancy her chances to reach the most significant quarterfinal of her career.
Roberta Vinci vs. Alize Cornet: In a section that imploded, either of these women plausibly could reach a semifinal and collect the valuable ranking points that come with it. The main question regarding this match concerns whether Cornet can recover in time from a three-set victory that forced her to leave the court in a wheelchair. On the other hand, Vinci needed plenty of energy to grind through a three-setter of her own against Suarez Navarro, testing the veteran’s stamina. Her backhand slices could prove vital in testing the patience of an ever-edgy Cornet.
Sara Errani vs. Ana Ivanovic: After the Serb had won their two previous meetings, the Italian turned the tables at Roland Garros last year in a match that Ivanovic controlled initially before letting it slip away. The steadiness of Errani has allowed her to outlast streaky shot-makers like the former Roland Garros champion over the last year, but the latter displayed her best form in several months during her two victories here. For her part, Errani has lost just five games in two matches, the fewest of any woman left in the draw. If Ivanovic bursts to a fast start and sustains it, as she did against Kuznetsova, she could overwhelm this opponent before she settles. If Errani can find her footing and extend the rallies, meanwhile, she could complicate the plot for a woman who prefers her matches straightforward.
Sorana Cirstea vs. Jelena Jankovic: Until Jankovic won their most recent encounter in Dallas last summer, Cirstea had swept all of her meetings against an opponent consistently ranked higher than her, although each stretched into a final set and none came on an outdoor hard court. The Romanian brunette managed to upset Kerber a round after barely eking out a victory over Silvia Soler-Espinosa, a pair of results that illustrates how wide her range of form extends. Almost as impressive as the Kerber upset was Jankovic’s victory over Nadia Petrova, her seventh win in her last eight matches with the only loss coming in an airtight clash with Kuznetsova. Both women thus should enter this match with confidence, and they eye a similar opportunity to Vinci and Cornet, the winner of whom would meet the winner of this match in the quarterfinals.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Come back tomorrow before the start of play in the men’s draw to read a similar breakdown!
Mutua Madrid Open, Madrid – Maria Sharapova was the first to open up play at La Caja Mágica on Tuesday and ousted Klara Zakopalova in straight sets 6-4, 6-3 to progress comfortably into the third round.
Throughout the match the Russian No.2 seed showed her all-court brilliance during their encounter and despite admitting in the press conference that she found the clay court ‘slippery’ she was not hesitant in sliding on the blue dirt and comically joked:
“It is slippery, yes it is. You just have to work on your balance a little bit more!”
Work is exactly what she made Zakopalova do having never fully recovered from an early service break and could not sustain momentum for long enough to make an impact. Her serve was her biggest downfall today as she let loose seven double faults. By contrast Sharapova found her range and speed on her serve today which put her in good stead to consistently line up a string of winners from both wings.
Sharapova was pleased with her performance today and called it a ‘high quality match’ despite the weather conditions threatening rain this morning and the roof was closed as a result:
“The good thing about indoors is you know pretty much what you are going to get. You don’t have to worry about the weather!”
In most press conferences the players have been asked about the blue clay court and today was no exception. Maria Sharapova agreed with Serena Williams on the colour of the clay not really being the issue:
“I don’t think it’s so much about the colour, it’s fine, it’s nice, it looks good. Playing-wise I feel that it does play a little bit different [due to] the amount of clay that’s on the court. The bounces were off, especially on the first couple of days of practice, but I feel that it has gotten better and settled in a little bit. At the end of the day it is the same for everybody. Your opponents are still playing on the same stuff.”
Aside from the issue with the change of colour in Madrid, the scheduling has also come under heavy criticism as a lot of WTA matches have not been televised and the matches in the Manolo Santana Stadium have featured the women opening up the day’s play and closing it in the evening, resulting in very few spectators watching their matches:
“The scheduling is a little bit tough here this week. The women usually play the first two matches and then play the last match at night. There is not a lot of switching. It’s strange for us, but it is the way it is. I’ve never played a match at 10:50 – that’s a first for me. Maybe soon we will be playing at 8am! The power of television.”
Lisa-Marie Burrows is currently in Madrid covering the Mutua Madrid Open and will be at the Rome Masters next week. Catch her as a regular contributor for TennisBloggers.com and on Twitter: @TennisNewsViews.
Follow professional tennis photographer Rick Gleijm as he covers the Open GDF SUEZ WTA Tour event in Paris this week. The gallery below includes singles action from day four of the tournament, including Maria Sharapova, Alize Cornet, Christina McHale, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Yanina Wickmayer, Klara Zakopalova and Varvara Lepchenko among others. For full singles results, go here, and for full doubles results, go here.
Check out Rick’s previous Paris photo galleries: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and stay tuned as he covers the ATP Rotterdam tournament next week! Make sure to also check out his in-depth feature “Paris Tennis Diary: From the Photo Pit.”
Ever wonder what it’s like to be a professional tennis photographer covering the ATP and WTA tours, scrambling to capture the top players, racing back to edit and post your photos and catching the best angle on tennis? Our resident photographer Rick Gleijm has been in Paris all week covering the WTA Open GDF Suez tournament featuring players such as Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic, and Na Li. This is his personal and candid feature “Tennis Diary: From the Photo Pit.”
Sunday, February 4, 2012
Yesterday really wasn’t my day. I woke up at 2 am to make my way to Paris on the icy roads, but it had already been a terrible winter’s day the day before. I arrived to the Stade de Coubertin in Paris just to find out the tournament wasn’t ready to receive press. Wrong accreditation, no press center, no internet connection and worst of all, no parking spot. Since I didn’t fancy to leave most of my belongings in my car in a very expensive, but public garage, and also didn’t like the prospect of lugging around 20 kilos of equipment (and $20,000 in value as well!) I decided to check into my hotel early and try it again in the morning. Some things are just unexpected bumps in the road!
Sunday February 5, 2012
6:30 am: Woke up this morning to a very white world! As if I didn’t have enough problems getting to Paris yesterday, I have to drive a few kilometers to the tournament site from my hotel. Usually I am happy to stay a little further away from the site, in a quieter place, but now that means I have to travel over snowy roads. Roads? Well, there were some cars driving on a white plain, so I guess I must be on the road… Luckily the circumstances meant even the French will drive carefully.
9:45 am: Arrived at the venue without any more scratches or dents. I even found a safe and guarded parking spot right across from the entrance of the Stade de Coubertin. As I approached the accreditations desk, I noticed the staff was happily waving my prepared media card, the press center was open, the Wi-Fi was working — the tournament could start for me now! First up is to take a few shots from the second-round qualification matches before I go to the draw ceremony at 11:oo am.
[singlepic id=3377 w=320 h=240 float=right]1:05 pm: Quickly went to see a couple of points of the first two qualifying matches of the day and tried to take a couple of shots on court, but discovered the lighting is horrendous. On center court, there is a strange yellow/red glow around everything, while on court one everything is green. I took some time to adjust my camera settings but totally forgot about the time and thus, the draw ceremony. I quickly made my way to the VIP-village for the draw ceremony, but got completely lost in the corridors of the Stade de Coubertin. Thanks to a very nice hostess, I managed to arrive in time, just to find out everything was delayed for 15 minutes. After the draw, it was back to court one for Lepchenko versus Domachowska. I still had trouble getting my camera settings right, so that means there will be a lot of post-processing on my part to adjust for the color shift. The next match I’ll shoot will be Mattek-Sands, so that leaves me with a bit of time to edit some work.
4:55 pm: Shot the last three matches. After a time, the ligh on Center Court becam very decent after all. I will be doing some post-processing for Tennis Grandstand first and see if I can upload the pictures, before trying to slide back to the hotel where I can make a back-up of the portfolio. I do need to find some place to eat though — noticed there is a big M nearby so perhaps I’ll try that. I have survived a tournament or two just on junk food, so that’ll be no problem — although I may then easily star in the sequel to the movie “Supersize Me”. Starting tomorrow though, the tournament will offer full hospitality, so that’s one less worry.
Monday, February 6, 2012
[singlepic id=3407 w=251 h=188 float=left]9:30 am: Matches start at 12:00 pm today, so I was able to stay in bed a little longer, but that rarely happens at tournaments. Usually the qualification tournament finishes in the morning to make way for first-round matches in the afternoon. In Paris though, today will only feature the finals of the singles qualification tournament and one main draw doubles match with Lucie Safarova and Klara Zakopalova. Anyway, made myself a cup of coffee and went on my way to the site!
11:55 am: As luck would have it, I arrived at Stade de Coubertin together with Jelena Jankovic, but regrettably had my gear in my trunk so no candid photo opportunity with the Serbian. Some parking problems again, but I was saved by the lovely girls in the press center. Thank you ladies! Dumped my gear in the press center and went for my first match, Arn versus Muguruza Blanco. Hope I have plenty of time to catch before the end of the match between Brianti and Barrois.
[singlepic id=3380 w=215 h=161 float=right]1:05 pm: Checked the score on Center Court: Barrois is having Brianti for lunch! At the first possible change-over, I left Arn-Maguruza, just to witness the last couple of points by Barrois. Unable to get a decent shot of Brianti, I decided to wait it out on center court and stay for the start of Mattek-Sands versus Craybas.
2:15 pm: Went back to the press center to start editing the first three matches, but am keeping an eye out on the scores — don’t want to miss out on the last two matches. I’m hoping Craybas can make it a three-setter, and Barthel seems to have an easy start against Lepchenko.
3:05 pm: Time to get out of the press center and shoot the last two matches of the day. Everything turned out just fine: when Barthel was finished, I left for center court and the doubles teams were just being introduced.
5:05 pm: Back in the press center now to finish the pictures for Tennis Grandstand. Funny story: as I was walking back to the press center, I went by the WTA players’ desk where I saw Julia Goerges and Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova explaining that they were really players and that they were on the entry list. “Look right here, that’s my name on the list, Julia.”…….. It was quite a site to witness.
7:00 pm: Finished for the day, time to go back to the hotel.
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
10:55 am: Today is sure to be busier. I arrived at the tournament, set up my laptop, readied my photo gear, and went to see Cetkovska versus Brianti. When the second set of Zahlavova-Strycova versus Barthel began, I moved over to center court.
12:25 pm: Back at the press center. Started post-processing pictures of first two matches, and have some time as Pironkova versus Li is not to start before 1:00 pm.
1:15 pm: The Pironkova vs. Li match has begun, but I have decided to go for the second set after Jankovic’s scheduled press conference – which should start soon. While waiting, I’m continuing work on photos.
[singlepic id=3421 w=100 h=75 float=left]2:00 pm: Jelena Jankovic arrived for her press conference to announce she was withdrawing from the tournament due to a left thigh strain she sustained in Fed Cup last week. I decided to then make my way over to the Pironkova vs. Li match. [singlepic id=3432 w=150 h=112 float=right]But, as irony would have it, at the change-over when I could finally enter the court, Na Li needed a medical timeout on her back. I took a couple of shots of Pironkova as she waited and tried to stay warm, bundled up in towels. When Li returned, I decided to stay with the Bulgarian for the game and then switch to Li. At 40-0, Li decided she couldn’t continue and had to retire from her match. So, no pictures of Li in action.
5:05 pm: With all that has happened, I almost forgot to update this! Not much currently happening though, just processing my pictures, uploading them etc., taking a few new ones along the way. Just when I nearly finished my editing, I noticed that I have to hurry if I want to take some photos at Goerges’ match. That girl is in a hurry to win!
[singlepic id=3420 w=150 h=112 float=left]5:45 pm: Got my pics. Am trying to finish them and upload them. There’ll be a post match interview which I’ll try to be present for as well. When I’m done with those I’ll call it a day.