As the Premier Five tournament in Canada looms, four of the top ten women hone their skills at tournaments on opposite coasts. The resort atmosphere at Carlsbad, long a player favorite, contrasts with the urban surroundings of the national capital.
Top half: World No. 3 Victoria Azarenka has not lost a match away from clay all season. Of course, Azarenka has played only four matches away from clay since winning the Doha title in February. Walkovers and withdrawals ended her campaigns at Indian Wells, Miami, and Wimbledon, so attention will hover around her battered knee this week. Azarenka’s health may attract even more attention than it would otherwise because she faces a relatively mild early slate of opponents. An all-Italian battle between Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone tantalizes only for nostalgic reasons, and Urszula Radwanska seems little more likely than her elder sister to vanquish Vika. Among the surprises of the spring was Jelena Jankovic, a semifinalist in Miami and quarterfinalist at Roland Garros. Jankovic troubled Azarenka in her prime, but the momentum has shifted in that rivalry to reflect their divergent career arcs
The most compelling first-round match in Carlsbad will pit defending champion Dominika Cibulkova against former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic. Defeating Bartoli to win last year’s title, Cibulkova exploited a much weaker draw in the week of the Olympics. Still, she will bring plenty of confidence from her title at Stanford, whereas coaching turmoil once again enshrouds the Serb. The route will not grow much smoother for whoever survives that early test. Although the second round looks uneventful, Roberta Vinci could await in the quarterfinals. This crafty Italian has domianted Cibulkova on all surfaces, winning five straight from her, and she has taken her last three outdoor matches from Ivanovic. The relatively slow surface in San Diego should help Vinci outlast the heavy serve of Bethanie Mattek-Sands before then.
Semifinal: Azarenka vs. Vinci
Bottom half: Around this time last year, Petra Kvitova caught fire with a Premier Five title at the Rogers Cup and a semifinal in Cincinnati. The somewhat slower surface in San Diego may suit her game less well than those events, and North America historically has not brought out her best tennis. A rematch of her epic Australian Open loss to Laura Robson might await in the second round. Both women have oscillated wildly in their results this year, suggesting another rollercoaster ahead. A former Carlsbad champion lurks unobtrusively near eighth seed Carla Suarez Navarro, enjoying her best season so far. That former champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, has revived her career with two major quarterfinals in 2013. An abdominal injury has sidelined Kuznetsova since Roland Garros, but she should have time to play herself into the tournament.
The fourth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska reached finals in each of her last two Carlsbad appearances. Disappointed at Stanford on Sunday, Radwanska wil aim to erase that memory with her second title here. She should outmaneuver Daniela Hantuchova, whom she has defeated here before, and may not have much to fear from Samantha Stosur unless the Aussie’s form improves dramatically. Little in Stosur’s dismal performance at Stanford boded well for her chances of escaping a challenging opener against Varvara Lepchenko. That 27-year-old American lefty could meet Radwanska in a quarterfinal for the second straight week.
Semifinal: Kuznetsova vs. Radwanska
Final: Azarenka vs. Radwanska
Top half: Overshadowed by the men’s event at the same tournament, this WTA International event did succeed in luring a top-10 player as a wildcard. World No. 9 Angelique Kerber has fallen on hard times over the last few months, so a dip in the quality of opposition could prove just what the doctor ordered. Some of the women who might face her in the quarterfinals exited early at Stanford. Formerly promising American Christina McHale continues a rebuilding campaign in 2013 against Magdalena Rybarikova. Her period of promise long behind her, Melanie Oudin hopes to stay somewhat relevant nearly four years after her illusory surge at the US Open.
Like McHale, Rybarikova, and Kiki Bertens in the top quarter, Madison Keys looks to bounce back from a disappointing Stanford loss. Anchoring the second quarter, she might meet star junior Taylor Townsend in a second-round preview of future matches on more momentous stages. The reeling but canny Monica Niculescu hopes to fluster Townsend with her distinctive style before then. More young talent stands atop the section in Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard and France’s Caroline Garcia. These impressive phenoms must navigate around Australian Open quarterfinalist Ekaterina Makarova, a lefty like Townsend. Plenty of storylines and suspense will unfold in a very short time.
Bottom half: Building on her momentum from Stanford, Sorana Cirstea eyes one of the draw’s softer sections. Home hope Alison Riske looks to prove herself as a threat outside the small grass event in Birmingham, while Heather Watson traces the same trajectory as McHale on the long, slow road back from mononucleosis. Ending her clay season on a high note, Alize Cornet won an International title in May. But she threatens much less on hard courts and might well fall victim to the enigmatic Yanina Wickmayer at the outset.
By far the most established of the home threats, second seed Sloane Stephens faces high expectations this summer. American fans know much more about the Australian Open semifinalist, Wimbledon quarterfinalist, and conqueror of Serena Williams than they did a year ago. The 15th-ranked Stephens has produced much more convincing tennis at majors than at non-majors, where she barely has cracked the .500 threshold in 2013. Her sturdiest pre-semifinal obstacle could come in the form of Andrea Petkovic, still producing results more disappointing than encouraging in her comeback from serious injuries. A relatively minor illness may blunt Petkovic’s injuries this week, though, while compatriot Mona Barthel retired from her last tournament with a sore shoulder.
Final: Makarova vs. Stephens
(July 15, 2013) Monday at the Nurnberger Gastein Ladies tournament in Austria saw one player’s nearly year-long heartbreak end in triumph. After a 17-match losing streak which ended back to August 2012, 22-year-old Aranxta Rus finally won a Tour-level match against the tournament’s No. 7 seed Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor, 7-5, 5-7, 6-4. Top seed Mona Barthel also quickly dispatched of American Chiara Scholl in just 35 minutes, as No. 3 seed Irina-Camelia Begu defeated German wildcard Carina Witthoeft, 6-3, 6-3. (Gallery at bottom)
NÜRNBERGER GASTEIN LADIES
Bad Gastein, Austria
July 15-21, 2013
Results - Monday, July 15, 2013
Singles – First Round
(1) Mona Barthel (GER) d. Chiara Scholl (USA) 60 60
(3) Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU) d. (WC) Carina Witthoeft (GER) 63 63
Arantxa Rus (NED) d. (7) María-Teresa Torró-Flor (ESP) 75 57 64
(8) Karin Knapp (ITA) d. Valeria Solovyeva (RUS) 63 62
Doubles – First Round
(1) Minella/Scheepers (LUX/RSA) d. Kostova/Shinikova (BUL/BUL) 62 64
Kapshay/Mircic (UKR/SRB) d. (2) Grandin/Martic (RSA/CRO) 63 64
(3) Olaru/Solovyeva (ROU/RUS) d. (WC) Moser/Neuwirth (AUT/AUT) 63 57 108 (Match TB)
Ferrer Suárez/Rus (ESP/NED) d. Clerico/Zaja (ITA/GER) 61 26 104 (Match TB)
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
(July 14, 2013) The Nürnberger Gastein Ladies WTA tournament in Bad Gastein, Austria kicks off main draw play on Monday, and Sunday’s draw ceremony with German Andrea Petkovic took place at picturesque Stubnerkogel, which is more than 2200 meters above sea level.
Players, media and staff took gondolas to the top of the summit and walked across one of the world’s largest suspension bridges overseeing the valley and mountains. Petkovic was joined by fellow players Elina Svitolina, Sandra Klemenschitts, and wild card Lisa-Marie Moser.
Petkovic won her first title at this event back in 2009, and the former world No. 10 will try to plow her way to the finals again after her injury-filled last couple of years with an opener against Croat Petra Martic.
“I have a 0-3 record against her, so it will be a great test, especially since I am not as stable after my “Plague Year” as I should be. But if I want to advance and live up to earlier success, I have to improve my record against Martic, and that’s what I definitely plan on doing,” said Petkovic, who had travelled from Stuttgart with her entire family. “When I have my family around me, I immediately feel more comfortable, and on top of that, Bad Gastein is one of my favourite tournaments anyway.”
The tournament’s top seed, German Mona Barthel will open up against Chiara Scholl of the US, while the second seeded Annika Beck will take on former world No. 11 Shahar Peer in the first round.
(June 11, 2013) The WTA event in Birmingham kicks off the grass season this week, and first round notable winners from Monday and Tuesday include Madison Keys, Bojana Jovanovski, Mona Barthel, Yanina Wickmayer, Kristina Mladenovic and qualifiers Alison Riske and Maria Sanchez.
Also in today’s gallery: Eugenie Bouchard, Anne Keothavong, Yulia Putintseva, Tara Moore, Melanie South, and Melanie Oudin who was the defending champion but was knocked out by Croat Ajla Tomljanovic.
Photos by Christopher Levy
As we look ahead to Day 2, three top-ten players feature intriguing tests. Let’s start with the women this time.
Li Na vs. Anabel Medina Garrigues: Facing the 2011 Roland Garros champion is a classic clay counterpuncher of a mold rarely in use anymore. Medina Garrigues came closer than anyone to defeating Serena on clay this spring, just two or three key misses from knocking off the world No. 1 to reach the Madrid semifinals. Li started the clay season encouragingly with a final indoors in Stuttgart but won one total match in Madrid and Rome. She will look to pounce on her opponent’s serve and take early control before any first-round nerves surface.
Caroline Wozniacki vs. Laura Robson: When the draw appeared, many picked this match as the blue-chip upset of the first round. Wozniacki has not won a match on red clay this year, tumbling into a slump that even has her father, Piotr, planning to relinquish his stranglehold on the coaching role. (That should suffice to show how dire her situation is.) Clay should suit Robson less well than faster surfaces, and she hits far too many double faults, but an upset of Agnieszka Radwanska in Madrid reminded everyone of her lefty weapons and her belief against elite opponents.
Mona Barthel vs. Angelique Kerber: The eighth seed drew the short straw in the form of the draw’s highest-ranked unseeded player. Barthel has won two of the three previous meetings between these Germans, all on hard courts. Nevertheless, she has won only one match on red clay this year, over the hapless Bojana Jovanovski. Withdrawing from Rome with a shoulder injury, Kerber had looked creditable if not sensational this clay season with a quarterfinal in Madrid and semifinal in Stuttgart, where she extended Maria Sharapova deep into a third set.
Simona Halep vs. Carla Suarez Navarro: Both women arrive in fine form for a rare WTA match between two clay specialists. Although Halep had not accomplished much this year until Rome, her semifinal appearance there included upsets of Svetlana Kuznetsova, Radwanska, Roberta Vinci, and Jelena Jankovic—easily the best run of 2013 by a qualifier. Suarez Navarro cracked the top 20 for the first time this year, aided in part by two clay finals. Her one-handed backhand is the only such stroke in that elite group and worth a trip to an outer court.
Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. Ekaterina Makarova: An all-Russian contest always intrigues because of the elevated volume of angst that it usually produces. Kuznetsova owns a much stronger clay resume, including the 2009 title here, but she imploded against Halep in Rome and lost easily to Romina Oprandi in Portugal. Better on faster surfaces like grass, Makarova did upset Victoria Azarenka on the surface this spring. Both Russians reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, where Kuznetsova launched her surge back to relevance.
Tomas Berdych vs. Gael Monfils: Here is the popcorn match of the day on the men’s side, featuring a contrast in personalities between the dour Czech and the flamboyant Frenchman. Both men are former Roland Garros semifinalists, even though 100 ranking slots separated them until Monfils reached the Nice final last week. His athletic exuberance could fluster Berdych, as could the volatile French crowd. The fifth seed lost to a French journeyman in the first round here two years ago and to Gulbis in the first round of Wimbledon last year, so an opening flop would not astonish. But Berdych improved steadily throughout the clay season after a slow start, becoming the only player other than Nadal to reach the semifinals at both Madrid and Rome.
Julien Benneteau vs. Ricardas Berankis: In singles, Benneteau is known for two things: never winning a final and being a persistent thorn in Roger Federer’s side. He would stay on track to meet the Swiss star again in the third round if he gets past this small Lithuanian bundle of talent. Berankis had not won a clay match until this year, while Benneteau has won only one match since February. It was a quality win, though, over Nicolas Almagro.
Carlos Berlocq vs. John Isner: This match has the potential to offer a fascinating contrast of styles between the grinding Argentine and the serve-forehand quick strikes of the American. Or it could descend into depths of ugliness that defy contemplation. Isner started the year in dismal form before finding his footing with a Houston title—and then dropping four of his next five matches. While Berlocq won a set from Nadal on South American clay, the fact that he tore his shirt in ecstasy when an opponent retired against him in February should give you a sense of how his season has gone.
Albert Ramos vs. Jerzy Janowicz: Thinking that the explosive hitting of Poland’s young star will overwhelm the Spanish journeyman? Maybe you should think again. Ramos defeated Janowicz in three sets at Barcelona this spring and should benefit from the cold, damp conditions. For all of the hubbub that he has generated at the Masters 1000 level, Janowicz has yet to leave his mark on a major. He can hit through the slowest of surfaces, though, and brings momentum from two top-ten wins in Rome.
Steve Johnson vs. Albert Montanes: The UCLA star took Nicolas Almagro to five sets in the first round of the Australian Open, where Almagro nearly reached the semifinals. The opponent here is much less intimidating, although Montanes just won Nice last week, but the surface is much less comfortable. Johnson should have chances and make it interesting before getting ground down in the end.
STUTTGART (April 28, 2013) — World No. 2 Maria Sharapova is a repeat winner at this year’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, defeating Li Na in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3. Matthias Müller, CEO of Porsche AG, handed over the keys to a new blue Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet to the winner, adding it to her white winner’s Porsche from last year.
“It was a great week for me,” said Sharapova. “I had to fight hard in every match but it was a good start to the clay court season.” One year ago after winning the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix she went on to win the French Open in Paris but, after her triumph in Stuttgart today, she did not want to look that far ahead into this season.
“I’m pretty tired,” she said. “I was out on court for almost ten hours in my four matches, that’s tough. The final against Li Na lasted only two sets but was nevertheless the “toughest match of the tournament” for her.
In the doubles final, Sabine Lisicki and Mona Barthel defeated Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Sania Mirza 6-4, 7-5 to become the tournament’s first all-German team to win the doubles title in Stuttgart.
Finals gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Moana Bauer below.
STUTTGART (April 26, 2013) — Friday at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix saw all four quarterfinal matches hit center court, and the drama and action did not disappoint. Defending champion Maria Sharapova was taken to three sets by Ana Ivanovic before finally taking it, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4. The only German to advance was third-seeded Angelique Kerber who defeated Yaroslava Shvedova, 6-3, 7-6(2). In-form American qualifier Bethanie Mattek-Sands ousted fan favorite Sabine Lisicki, 6-4, 6-2, while No. 2 seed Li Na defeated Petra Kvitova, 6-3, 7-5.
All the singles quarterfinal matches in the Tennis Grandstand gallery by Moana Bauer below, and includes select doubles match photos as well.
STUTTGART (April 22, 2013) — The Porsche Tennis Grand Prix officially kicked off today with the Opening Ceremonies on center court featuring top seeds like Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Angelique Kerber and Andrea Petkovic among others. The last of the singles qualifying matches finished up, with notables Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Nastassja Burnett, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, and Dinah Pfizenmaier all making it through to the main draw, and there were several top players who also hit the practice courts to the joy of fans.
Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Moana Bauer.
April 21, 2013 — The German Fed Cup team defeated Team Serbia in a tense fifth rubber in World Group Playoffs in Stuttgart’s sold out Porsche Arena Sunday. Ana Ivanovic gave Serbia an early lead as she defeated Angelique Kerber to go up 2-1, but Mona Barthel rallied back and defeated Bojana Jovanovski to take it to a doubles decider. There, Germans Sabine Lisicki and Anna-Lena Groenefeld routed the pairing of Vesna Dolonc and Aleksandra Krunic.
Check out all of Sunday’s action from Tennis Grandstand photographer Moana Bauer.