The clay court season kicks into full swing this week with two WTA tournaments including the Grand Prix de Sar La Princesse Lalla Meryem in Marrakech… that’s quite a mouthful. For an International event, it’s a reasonable draw and it should improve with the likes of Teliana Pereira, Urszula Radwanska and Alison Van Uytvanck still in qualifying. Garbine Muguruza took a late wildcard and will headline this year’s draw.
Muguruza, who reached the semi-finals of Marrakech last year, will play fellow wildcard, Daria Kasatkina in the first round. The 17-year-old, Kasatkina won last year’s French Open juniors title and will be an unknown quantity for Muguruza. Kasatkina, who won an ITF title on clay in Daytona Beach earlier this year, is playing her first WTA event of the year. Muguruza’s section features the likes of Kristina Mladenovic, Marina Erakovic, Lara Arruabarrena, Kurumi Nara and the number eight seed, Monica Puig. Muguruza has had a solid year up till now with a semi-final showing in Dubai her best result so far. Consistency was an issue last year, but there have been improvements already in 2015. All of Muguruza’s losses this years have come against top 20 players and she hasn’t lost to a player ranked below her since last year’s US Open against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the first round.
Flavia Pennetta is the highest seed in the second quarter of the draw. After losing her first two matches of the year down under, Pennetta has put together some impressive results with a 9-4 W-L record through her last four tournaments. This will be Pennetta’s first International event in well over a year. In the first round, she plays Bojana Jovanovski who won their only previous encounter in Sydney in 2011. The other seed, Mona Barthel takes on Timea Babos in the first round, which is a rematch from Charleston just a few weeks ago. Barthel won that match in straight sets (see match recap HERE). The winner of that match could play Kaia Kanepi in the second round. Both Barthel and Kanepi are tough players to judge as they have that ability to hit a hot streak and sweep up in a draw like this. Both have clay court titles to their name and could be ones to keep an eye out for this week.
The number four seed, Elina Svitolina will play Donna Vekic in the first round. Vekic has won just two WTA main draw matches this year, but it’s easy to forget she is only 18 years old. I think she could really benefit from playing more ITF events and trying to build some confidence. Svitolina’s results on clay haven’t been the best but she has a 2-0 head-to-head lead over Vekic with wins in Lagos (6-4 6-3, 2011) and Baku (6-2 6-3, 2013), and has a favourable draw. Svitolina’s section also features a first round match between Daniela Hantuchova and Christina McHale, two players who have lost their last three matches. Roberta Vinci is the other seed in the third quarter and will play a qualifier in the first round. The Italian player has won just 5 main draw matches this year. This is two more than she had racked up at this stage last year, but still a far cry from the many she stacked up in 2013 when she was close to cracking the world’s top ten.
The draw is bookended by Timea Bacsinszky who makes her return to the WTA tour for the first time since Indian Wells. The Swiss player went on a blinding run, winning two titles and 15 matches in a row before falling to the world number one, Serena Williams in the quarter-finals of IW. Eight of those wins came in three sets and many from a set down. Before Marrakech, Bacsinszky continued her stunning form with straight set wins over the Radwanska sisters in Fed Cup action. Losing just two games against Aga was a statement win. Bacsinszky has a tough opener in Marrakech for her first outing on clay against Evgeniya Rodina. The 26-year-old Russian player has had a decent season so far and is back in the world’s top 100 for the first time since 2011.
Bacsinszky’s section also features Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, who is one to watch on clay. Schmiedlova beat Venus Williams at the French Open last year and reached the final in Rio earlier this year. More pressing is that she won her first WTA title a few weeks ago in Katowice, beating Alize Cornet and Camila Giorgi along the way. It’s a tough draw for Bacsinszky and she’s untested on clay this year, but I think she has a good game for this surface and all those wins will still be at the surface in her mind.
1st round predictions: Mladenovic d. Erakovic in 2 tight sets, Arruabarrena d. Nara in 3 sets, Pennetta d. Jovanovski in 2 sets, Barthel d. Babos in 2 sets, Hantuchova d. McHale in 3 sets, Svitolina d. Vekic in 2 sets, Schmiedlova d. Soler-Espinosa in 3 sets, Witthoeft d. Maria in 3 sets and Bacsinszky d. Rodina in 3 sets
Final prediction: Bacsinszky d. Muguruza