The huge headline news on Friday came in Barcelona as Rafael Nadal was upset by Nicolas Almagro in the quarter-finals, losing 2-6 7-6(5) 6-4. A whole heap of credit must go to Almagro, who was actually able to close out the match! Almagro has endured some crushing blows in his career (2013 Australian Open QF vs. David Ferrer springs to mind) and I really didn’t expect a result like this. This marks a second surprising defeat on clay for Nadal, continuing the trend for what has been a very unpredictable start to the 2014 clay court season. Personally, I think it’s great and both tours are looking completely wide open going into Madrid and Rome. Focus turning back to Stuttgart now with an all-Serbian semi-final!
1. Ana Ivanovic v Jelena Jankovic
In a strange twist of fate, we WILL get to see Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic go head-to-head in Stuttgart with a place in the final up for grabs. Last Saturday, the pair were drawn to play each other in the marquee first round match; however the draw was reshuffled with Ivanovic being bumped up to the number nine seed when Dominika Cibulkova pulled out of the tournament. I was pretty bummed to see that clash disappear from the schedule; however the draw gods are rejoicing as the pair will now meet in Saturday’s semi-final (NB 5.30pm in the UK).
Ivanovic is doing pretty great in 2014. The turning point appeared to come in the first week of the year when she overcame Venus Williams in three tight sets to win Auckland, her first title since winning Bali in 2011. It was a huge monkey off her back and she went on to win her second title in Monterrey a few weeks ago. In the last couple of years, Ivanovic has always looked very fragile mentally. However this year, she’s coping with things so much better. Ivanovic has won 9 of the 12 three set matches she has played this year and even more impressively, has won 6 matches this year having lost the opening set. On Friday, she stayed calm and composed to edge out Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarter-finals, 6-3 2-6 6-4, breaking at 4-4 in the decider and closing out the match with convinction.
Jankovic has had an eventful week which began with an epic first round match where she saved four match points to defeat Mona Barthel. She was also a set down to Flavia Pennetta in the second round before prevailing in three sets. In the quarter-finals, Jankovic was made to work hard in two competitive sets against the surging Alisa Kleybanova, 6-4 6-3. When a player survives match points and wins, it normally gives them a boost of confidence for the rest of the tournament. This has been a great week for JJ and a much needed one too after a few disappointing results in Miami, Charleston and Bogota.
Ivanovic has won 8 of 11 previous clashes with Jankovic including their last two which both came on hard courts. The last of those was at the Australian Open in 2013, which Ivanovic won, 7-5 6-3. Their matches haven’t all been of the highest quality, but they’ve always been entertaining. The best match they played was the Roland Garros semi-final from 2008 (see 1st video), which is one of the most memorable WTA matches I have ever watched. Jankovic and Ivanovic haven’t always appeared the best of friends (see 2nd video) but they seem to be on much more friendly terms these days. This could be a huge mess of a match with so much to play for, but I think it’s going to be a really fun watch. So who’s going to win? When I thought they were playing in the first round, I went for Ivanovic and after watching the action this week, I’m still inclined to go for Ana.
Prediction: Ivanovic d. Jankovic in 3 sets
WTA Stuttgart Semi-Final Prediction
Maria Sharapova d. Sara Errani in 2 tight sets
ATP Barcelona Semi-Final Predictions
Nicolas Almagro d. Santiago Giraldo in 3 sets
Kei Nishikori d. Ernests Gulbis in 3 sets