THE GRASS COURT SEASON IS HERE. HIP HIP HOORAY! I could not be more excited that June has arrived and tennis is coming to the UK. Moo’s Tennis Blog will be covering EVERYTHING during the next four weeks so please stay tuned! I’ll be at the AEGON International in Eastbourne for three days next week and will also be at Wimbledon on both Mondays. I’ll be posting reports from both events here at mootennis.com and plenty of photos and hopefully, interesting snippets on my Twitter account (@MooTennisBlog) and the blog. For any new readers to Moo’s Tennis Blog, you can read about my experiences from previous grass court seasons HERE.
Birmingham has seen a flurry of late withdrawals; Jelena Jankovic, Sabine Lisicki, Eugenie Bouchard, Sorana Cirstea, Garbine Muguruza, Yvonne Meusburger, Peng Shuai, Tsvetana Pironkova and Karin Knapp have all pulled out. It’s a real shame to see. In its first year as a Premier event, Birmingham hasn’t attracted a great line-up. I’m very intrigued to see if this trend changes next year when Birmingham will be positioned in the middle week of the new extended grass court season in 2015. Personally, I think most players prefer Eastbourne to Birmingham and having attended both tournaments, I can understand why. Anyway, I’m digressing… let’s take a look at the draw. Note the top eight seeds all have byes into the second round.
The first week on grass always throws up surprises and particularly so in Birmingham where recent winners in the past five years have included Daniela Hantuchova, Melanie Oudin and Magdalena Rybarikova. Ana Ivanovic is the top seed and will open her grass court season against either Ajla Tomljanovic or Mona Barthel. Ivanovic last played Birmingham in 2011 when she reached the semi-finals. She posted on Facebook recently about joining the line-up for the AEGON Classic…
I really enjoy my time in England and love the challenge of playing on grass, even if I haven’t quite mastered it!”
Ivanovic has never played her best tennis on grass although she comes into this tournament having enjoyed her most consistent year since winning Roland Garros in 2008. Her draw is tricky and Tomljanovic or Barthel are the kind of players who could quite easily cause a big upset in Ana’s first match on grass. Ivanovic is projected to meet Caroline Garcia in the third round; this would a be a rematch of their first round match at Roland Garros which Ivanovic won comfortably as Garcia could not find her best form (or the court). Klara Koukalova is seeded to meet Ivanovic in the quarter-finals and hosts a section that is bound to spring up some upsets. Karolina Pliskova has enjoyed some great results this year including reaching the finals in Pattaya City and Nurnberg, and has a game that should suit the grass well. Zarina Diyas, who reached the final at the AEGON Trophy ITF event in Nottingham, is also a name to watch out for in this draw.
Sloane Stephens heads up the second quarter of the draw. This year, Sloane has failed to do anything noteworthy (other than suck) at the big tournaments. She has a reasonably tricky draw with Zheng Jie or Francesca Schiavone awaiting in the second round. Zheng and Schiavone are both experienced WTA players, who have had excellent results on the grass. Zheng has made the semi-finals at Wimbledon and perhaps surprising to some, Schiavone reached the quarter-finals before back in 2009. It’s baffling the pair have only ever played once in their career, all the way back in 2005 at the French Open… Zheng v Schiavone should be a great first round battle.
Alison Riske, the true Birmingham GOAT, is also in this section. At this stage of the season last year, Riske had never won a WTA main draw match at any event other Birmingham. Since reaching the semi-finals of the AEGON Classic last year and racking up a total of 11 main draw wins at Birmingham in her career, she has gone on a tear up the rankings over the past year and is now ranked in the top 50. Alison is capable of going all the way at this tournament. Another grass lover, Magdalena Rybarikova, who won this event in 2009 and has reached at least the quarter-finals on three occasions, will be dangerous. Rather surprisingly, Rybarikova has never won a match Wimbledon before.
Two players who I thought could go deep in this line-up were Lucie Safarova and Madison Keys. I was therefore disappointed to learn they could meet in the third round. Keys played the grass court season for the first time in 2013. After a very shaky start in Birmingham, she started to find her feet on this surface during Wimbledon and pushed Agnieszka Radwanska deep into a third set in a high quality third round match at SW19. I have a feeling this could be Madison’s break-out tournament. The weakest eighth of the draw features Kurumi Nara and Kirsten Flipkens as seeds. Flipkens recently posted this on Twitter…
Flipkens will be defending semi-final points at Wimbledon so I really hope she can find some form after a shaky clay court season. She could meet Camila Giorgi in the second round, who loves knocking out seeds. I’m also hopeful that Heather Watson, who meets a qualifier in round one, could make the third round. If she wins her first round match, Hev will play either Kurumi Nara or fellow Brit, Johanna Konta. Great chances…
The final quarter features the best first round match and a potential rematch of the 2013 final in just the second round! Last year’s finalist, Donna Vekic, who won her first title in Kuala Lumpur earlier this year, will play Belinda Bencic in a fascinating first rounder. The winner will go through to take on the defending champion, Daniela Hantuchova. The Slovak had a tremendous tournament at Edgbaston last year and played one of the matches of the year against Francesca Schiavone in the quarter-finals, which I was lucky enough to watch live. Hantuchova has been terribly inconsistent this year and is capable of losing to anyone; however I would expect her previous successes to give her a boost of confidence. Hantuchova is projected to meet the number two seed, Sam Stosur in the quarter-finals. Stosur hasn’t played in Birmingham since 2008 and could meet fellow Aussie, Casey Dellacqua in the third round. This would be a very interesting match, particularly for the Tennis Days podcast!
This is a wide open draw. Despite the withdrawals, I think it will be a intriguing week. This draw always seems to break down in Birmingham so I’m going completely wack-a-doodle with my predictions. I’m laughing as I type this. I’d love to hear your final predictions in the comments sections. Are you expecting a surprise winner like me? Have I lost the plot… again?
1st Round Predictions:
Tomljanovic d. Barthel in 2 tight sets, Jovanovski d. Wickmayer in 2 sets, Diyas d. Vandeweghe in 3 sets, Ka. Pliskova d. Razzano in 3 sets, Zheng d. Schiavone in 3 sets, Mladenovic d. Peer in 2 tight sets, Cetkovska d. Cadantu in 2 sets, Zahlavova Strycova d. Broady in 3 sets, Keys d. Pereira in 2 sets, Nara d. Konta in 3 sets, Vekic d. Bencic in 3 sets, Date-Krumm d. Ormaechea in 2 sets, Puig d. Voegele in 3 sets, Dellacqua d. U.Radwanska in 2 sets, Lepchenko d. Van Utyvanck in 2 tight sets and McHale d. Schmiedlova in 3 sets
Ivanovic v Ka. Pliskova
Riske v Rybarikova
Keys v Giorgi
Hantuchova v Stosur
Final Prediction: Keys d. Riske