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WTA Eastbourne: Aegon International preview

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With only a week until the third major of the season at Wimbledon, eight of the world’s top ten look to hone their grass court preparation at the Aegon International in Eastbourne.

 

After the women’s grass court season kicked into full gear with big events in Mallorca and Birmingham, eight of the world’s top ten head to the sunny south coast of England for their final preparations ahead of Wimbledon at the Aegon International in Eastbourne. A star-studded field is set for the WTA Premier event on the grass courts of Devonshire Park, where besides a prestigious grass court title lay on the line, the world number one ranking is also up for grabs between current top-ranked Angelique Kerber and world number two and Porsche Race to Singapore number one Simona Halep.

First quarter

Headlining the top quarter of the stacked draw in Eastbourne is world number one and 2014 finalist Angelique Kerber, who as a seed has a bye in the first round before opening against either big-serving British wildcard Naomi Broady or Czech Kristyna Pliskova. Another potentially tough match awaits the German in the third round with 16th seed Daria Gavrilova looming as a possible round of 16 opponent before possibly facing newly-crowned French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko, who begins her grass court campaign against either Ekaterina Makarova or Carla Suarez Navarro, or Eastbourne local and fifth seed Johanna Konta, who opens against a qualifier or Katerina Siniakova, in the quarterfinals.

All makes for a very tough few early rounds for Kerber on the grass, as the already struggling German looks to begin her grass court season strongly ahead of defending her points from her runner-up finish last year at Wimbledon. If the world number one can negotiate some very tough opening three matches than it bodes well for the former finalist’s confidence heading into Wimbledon, but some big-hitters in Broady, Gavrilova, Ostapenko, and Konta could very well trouble the German here in Eastbourne.

Semifinalist: Konta

Johanna Konta hits a forehand at the 2016 Aegon International in Eastbourne/Zimbio/Steve Bardens

Second quarter

In the second quarter of the draw, it’s led by last year’s finalist and third seed Karolina Pliskova along with three of the more in-form players on the WTA at the moment in French Open quarterfinalist and Porsche Race to Singapore number six Kristina Mladenovic, French Open semifinalist Timea Bacsinszky, and Indian Wells finalist and Madrid semifinalist Svetlana Kuznetsova. Pliskova, who cannot become world number one this week due to her finals points to defend here in Eastbourne, anchors the draw, opening against either grass court specialist Alison Riske or Frenchwoman Alize Cornet.

The third seed could then face Bacsinszky, who is not at her best on grass but opens against either a qualifier or Peng Shuai of China. After a pretty comfortable opening two rounds for the big-serving Czech, a potentially mouthwatering quarterfinal could await against ninth seed Kristina Mladenovic or seventh seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, who are on a collision course for a rematch of their highly competitive Madrid semifinal in the third round here in Eastbourne.

While there are many in-form players lined up in this quarter, the clear favorite is Pliskova, who coming off a surprise semifinal showing on her weakest surface at the French Open, is pulsing with confidence heading into the grass court season. If Pliskova can navigate past another of the most in-form and talked about players on tour this season, Kristina Mladenovic, it should be the Czech world number three reaching a second straight semifinal showing on the south coast of England.

Semifinalist: Pliskova

Karolina Pliskova hits a forehand at the 2016 Aegon International in Eastbourne/Zimbio/Tom Dulan

Third quarter

Headlining the third quarter of the draw is defending champion and fourth seed Dominika Cibulkova and another former champion at Devonshire Park who’s suffered a tough year, 2012 Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska. After a bye in the first round, Cibulkova begins her title defense against either Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko or British wildcard Heather Watson. A potentially difficult third round match looms for the Slovak, with possibly 14th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who opens against Timea Babos or Elise Mertens, a round of 16 opponent for Cibulkova. For eighth seed and 2008 champion Agnieszka Radwanska, the Pole has a very dangerous opening round opponent in either big-hitting German Julia Goerges, who is into the final in Mallorca this week, or American rising star CiCi Bellis, who fell to Goerges in the Mallorca semifinals, awaiting Radwanska in the second round. If the former Wimbledon finalist can negotiate her way past her very tough opening opponent, 2016 French Open champion and 2015 Wimbledon finalist Garbine Muguruza could await Radwanska in the third round, barring Muguruza get past a tough first match for her as well against either Czech Barbora Strycova, a talented player on the grass, or 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard.

For eighth seed and 2008 champion Agnieszka Radwanska, the Pole has a very dangerous opening round opponent in either big-hitting German Julia Goerges, who is into the final in Mallorca this week, or American rising star CiCi Bellis, who fell to Goerges in the Mallorca semifinals, awaiting Radwanska in the second round. If the former Wimbledon finalist can negotiate her way past her very tough opening opponent, 2016 French Open champion and 2015 Wimbledon finalist Garbine Muguruza could await Radwanska in the third round, barring Muguruza get past a tough first match for her as well against either Czech Barbora Strycova, a talented player on the grass, or 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard.

Despite a quarter loaded with former Wimbledon finalists, this draw does present an opportunity for Spanish 11th seed Muguruza to reset following a tough French Open title defense and set herself up well for a deep run at Wimbledon. With a very tough opening match for an already struggling and ailing Radwanska, it’s tough to see the 2008 winner making it to the third round, and with possibly Cibulkova or Pavlyuchenkova awaiting Muguruza in the last eight, the Spaniard seems primed to reach the last four here in Eastbourne.

Semifinalist: Muguruza

Garbine Muguruza hits a forehand at the 2015 Aegon International in Eastbourne/Zimbio/Ben Hoskins

Fourth quarter

Arguably the most loaded quarter of them all in this jam-packed Aegon International draw, second seed and recent French Open finalist Simona Halep, 2009 champion and former world number one Caroline Wozniacki, and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova all feature in this stacked bottom quarter. For Halep, a semifinal appearance this week on the south coast of England guarantees the Romanian claim the world number one ranking regardless of Kerber’s results this week. Halep’s campaign begins against either American Christina McHale or a qualifier before a possible mouth-watering third round clash with 13th seed Petra Kvitova, who is into the final in Birmingham despite only playing her second tournament of the year in her inspiring comeback from a potentially life-threatening knife attack in her home.

For 2009 champion and sixth seed Caroline Wozniacki, the Dane has a potentially very dangerous opening match opponent, with big-hitting Japanese Naomi Osaka or a qualifier awaiting the former world number one in the second round. Wozniacki could have another tough test in the third round, with 2013 champion and defending Wimbledon semifinalist Elena Vesnina a possible round of 16 opponent for the former world number one. If Wozniacki can get past two very tough opening matches on the grass, her reward would be a possible quarterfinal meeting with Halep or Kvitova, a tough draw for all four seeds in this section.

If Wozniacki can hold off the powerful play of Osaka and crafty grass court game of Vesnina, the Dane should reach the quarterfinals, but with a strong, fresh Kvitova looming in the quarterfinals despite possibly having to play Halep in the third round, the two-time Wimbledon champion looks hard to beat on the grass, and that looks like it will continue this week at Devonshire Park.

Semifinalist: Kvitova

Petra Kvitova hits a forehand at the 2016 Aegon International in Eastbourne/Zimbio/Steve Bardens

Predictions:

Semifinals: Pliskova def. Konta, Kvitova def. Muguruza

Final: Pliskova def. Kvitova

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Garbine Muguruza Reaches New Milestone As Swiatek Finds Her Groove At Australian Open

The two title contenders were in impressive form during their opening matches.

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Garbine Muguruza - image via https://twitter.com/usopen

Third seed Garbine Muguruza extended her perfect run of first round wins at the Australian Open to 10 with a straightforward victory over France’s Clara Burel.

 

The former world No.1, who is yet to lose an opening match played at Melbourne Park in her career, required just under 90 minutes to see off Burel 6-3, 6-4. Muguruza broke her rival three consecutive times during the first set to win the opener in just over half an hour. Then in the second she eased to a 5-3 lead but failed to convert three match points. Muguruza was then broken in the following game before breaking back again to seal victory.

“It felt very good. I didn’t know really who I was facing. We’ve never played before,” Muguruza told reporters afterwards. “Very tricky. You’re always nervous going out there on Rod Laver, which I love, and starting a Grand Slam campaign.’
“I’m very happy the way I played and, of course, controlling the nerves.”

On what is the ninth anniversary of her Melbourne Park debut. Muguruza is hoping to go one step further than she did back in 2020 and win the title. She has now won 27 matches at the Australian Open which makes it her second most successful Grand Slam in terms of wins. Her best is the French Open where she has recorded 29 victories.

Muguruza will next take on another French player in the shape of Alize Cornet. During her on-court interview on Tuesday she was asked about her net play which the Spaniard said is a reflection of her on-court personality.

It’s just a journey of adapting to your character,” she said. “I’m an aggressive player on the court and I like to dominate. I train like that. I’m not like that outside but inside the court I’m aggressive.”

Swiatek and her new coach

Another winner on day two was former French Open champion Iga Swiatek who swept aside Britain’s Harriet Dart 6-3, 6-0. At the start of the match she was trailing 1-3 before fighting back by winning 11 games in a row. The Pole is playing in her 12th Grand Slam main draw and is hoping to go beyond the fourth round in Australia for the first time in her career.

“You could see that first few games were pretty tricky for me. With the sun, I know I got broken in my second service game,” said Swiatek.
“I’m pretty happy that I was patient, I found the rhythm throughout the match. That’s pretty positive.”

Swiatek is in Melbourne with her new coach Tomasz Wiktorowski who is known for his previous work with Agnieszka Radwanska. She admits the new collaboration is very much a work in progress but believes she is heading in the right direction with her new mentor.

“He didn’t change a lot at the beginning because he was good to continue the process that I’ve had. Too many changes would be really confusing,” she said of Wiktorowski.
“We’re focusing on different stuff. We’re working on my strengths, which is great, because it’s going to give me confidence. I’m going to be able to be more, like, proactive on court. We were working on some attack formations and offensive game.’
“But we also didn’t have time to work on everything that we wanted to because there is a lot to improve in terms of my volleys and maybe slice.”

Swiatek will play Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson in the second round.

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Petra Kvitova Links Lack Of Match Play, Health Issues To Australian Open Loss

The Czech reacts to her shock exit from Melbourne Park.

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Image via https://twitter.com/Petra_Kvitova/

Former world No.2 Petra Kvitova has insisted that she still has the game to compete with the best players in the world after crashing out in the first round of the Australian Open on Tuesday.

 

Kvitova, who reached the final in Melbourne Park back in 2019, only managed to win four games during her 6-2, 6-2, loss to Sorana Cirstea. The Czech looked out of sorts on court as she hit a staggering 39 unforced errors compared to only seven winners. She also only managed to win 41% of her second service points and was broken four times in the match. It is the third time in Kvitova’s career she has lost in the first round at the Australian Open after 2014 and 2018.

“I don’t have much to say. It wasn’t really going my way the whole month. That’s how it is, I think. It’s a sport, and I just have to fight through and be better at it,” said Kvitova.
“I think that she (Cirstea) likes my game, she just is going to it and she has to risk, and everything (she hit) was in. I think for her I think it’s a little bit tougher when she has to create the game, and this time it was just there and putting fast balls back.”

Kvitova’s loss comes during what has been a lacklustre start to the season. Earlier this month at the Adelaide International she suffered a shock loss to world No.221 Priscilla Hon. A week later in Sydney she managed to reach the second round before losing to Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur who had to pull out of the Australian Open due to injury.

Despite her disappointing results on the Tour, the two-time Grand Slam champion is confident she will be able to turn her season around as she outlines two reasons behind her recent performances.

“I think it’s (my game) still there. It’s just I think I didn’t play a lot of matches at the beginning of this year,” she explained. “I did have some health issues the whole month, as well, so it was tough to practice during home month.’
“It wasn’t really as easy this beginning of the season, but the season is long, so I hope that it will turn around.”

Kvitova has won 28 WTA titles in her career with the last of those occurring in March 2021 at the Qatar Open. She is now on the verge of dropping out of the world’s top 20 for a second time this season.

“I think I need the matches on the other side,” she admits. “It’s really tough to see the future right now after this loss. I know I have to, first of all, calm down and see clearly more after some days.’
“I have to have a few days off to make my rest better, so that definitely will be one of the main goals, and then for sure some preparation before the next tournaments.”

As for Cirstea, she will play Kristína Kučová in the second round.

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Coco Gauff Reacts To Shock Australian Open Exit

The American produced an error-stricken performance at Melbourne Park on Monday.

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Image via https://twitter.com/WTA_insider

Coco Gauff says ‘everything’ about her latest performance disappointed her after she suffered a surprise first round loss at the Australian Open.

 

The world No.16 struggled to find her footing on court throughout her 6-4, 6-2, loss to China’s Wang Qiang. A player who didn’t play a single match after the Olympic Games last year and started this season with two consecutive first round defeats. It is the first time the 17-year-old has failed to go beyond the first round of a Grand Slam since the 2020 US Open.

“I think today I came into the match and the first couple of games, even though they were close, I was making more errors than I was used to,” Gauff said afterwards.

Gauff’s latest experience at Melbourne Park saw her hit a staggering 38 unforced errors compared to only 15 winners. She also struggled behind her second serve where she won just 45% of the points.

The defeat is a stark contrast to earlier this month when the rising star looked to be on track to generating momentum on the Tour. In Adelaide she led world No.1 Ash Barty by a set and a break before losing. A week on from that she reached the semi-finals of another event before losing to eventual champion Madison Keys.

“I think just everything disappointed me about today,” she said. “I feel like in the preseason, like I worked really hard, and I felt like I was ready to have a good run here. Today I just didn’t perform well.
“And I think learning-wise, I think there’s a lot to learn from. I think I didn’t play as free as I normally do today. I think I was playing a little bit tighter than normal. So I think next time coming into the first round of a slam, especially after a tough week before, I think I need to just play more free and focus on the moment.”

As Gauff is left to reflect on her performance, Wang is relishing her return to the winner’s circle. The 30-year-old has been ranked as high as 12th in the world and has won two WTA titles. In 2019 she reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon.

“I lost two times against her last year so I just tried my best and focus on the court,” said Wang, who is coached by Pat Cash.

Wang will play Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck in the second round.

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