It’s goodbye to the clay and a hearty hello to the grass court season… i’ve been waiting for this moment for suchhhh a long time! The British grass court season actually got underway last week at the $50k ITF tournament in Eastbourne but the upcoming week will see the first WTA events on grass in 2016. The two tournaments up next week are the Aegon Open in Nottingham and the Ricoh Open in Rosmalen. This preview focuses on the former which has suffered a couple of high-profile withdrawals including Victoria Azarenka and Madison Keys. Let’s take a look at the seeds and the draw…
Nottingham Seeds 1-4
Karolina Pliskova (1): With a late wildcard, Pliskova joins the Nottingham draw. While Pliskova’s scheduling has often been haphazard in the last year, this would seem a wise move as the Czech player arrives on a three match losing streak. After a solid start on the clay in Stuttgart (quarter-finals) and Prague (semi-finals), Pliskova enjoyed just one further win as she suffered a first round exit at the French Open to Shelby Rogers. Pliskova demonstrated her grass court credentials last year by reaching the final in Birmingham. While the grass maximises her serve, i’ve always had concerns about her movement and getting down to the low bounce!
Johanna Konta (2): Heading into Nottingham last year, Konta was ranked at number 147 in the world… this time she’s the number two seed! Konta’s clay court season never really got going and there was a sense that her head was already turning towards the grass. This is where Konta’s fortunes were completely transformed last year, starting with a quarter-final showing in Nottingham. Set to play all three weeks before Wimbledon, Konta’s going all out for the grass and it’s a surface that suits her game perfectly.
Caroline Wozniacki (3): For the first time since Miami, Wozniacki returns to the WTA tour. The Dane rolled her ankle in practice back in April in training for the clay. It came at a time when Wozniacki was at her lowest ebb having failed to make it past the quarter-finals at her last six tournaments. In a strange way, it felt like it was a good time for Wozniacki to take a break from the tour as the confidence wasn’t there and the troublesome knee still seemed to be bothering her. There have been some indications in the media that Wozniacki may skip Nottingham with her ankle still not 100% but it looks like the Dane will kick off here… I really hope she’s ready and not rushing the recovery!
Monica Puig (4): After starting the year with a bang by winning seven matches in her second tournament of the year in Sydney, Puig has continued to impress in 2016. She has beaten a top 30 player in four of her last eight tournaments and has come out on the winning side in a couple of Slam classics this year. Her victory over Julia Goerges in the second round of the French Open was one of the matches of the tournament. On the grass, Puig did reach the last 16 of Wimbledon in 2013 but she has won just two matches on this surface in the past two years.
Nottingham seeds 5-8
Yanina Wickmayer (5): The 26-year-old Belgian snapped a five match losing streak in Paris to reach the third round of the French Open. It’s been another mixed year for Wickmayer who is still some way off discovering the consistency that saw her establish herself as a solid top 30 player between 2009 and 2012. Wickmayer is defending quarter-final points from Nottingham last year.
Heather Watson (6): This time last year Watson was forced to pull out of Nottingham with an elbow injury. Seemingly healthy, Watson looks in a good place to mount a decent grass court season where she has thrived in the past… remember that third round match against Serena at Wimbledon last year?! On the whole, Watson’s form has been good this year with 16 wins (compared to 12 at the same stage last year) including a 3rd WTA title in Monterrey. When she gets through the troublesome openers, she can often gather momentum at these International events and be dangerous. Fun stat… Watson has as many titles as Muguruza!
Mona Barthel (7): Injuries and health problems have plagued Barthel over the past few years. A debilitating virus forced her out of action between the Australian Open and the French Open; she finally made her comeback in Paris where she still seemed to struggle with a back injury but pushed Irina Falconi to three sets. Barthel’s recent Facebook status was very encouraging as she said she is “feeling stronger every day”. It will no doubt take a while before Barthel is back to her peak condition but it’s very encouraging to see her back competing again.
Christina McHale (8): The 24-year-old American has had an excellent start to 2016, posting a 21-13 W-L record, which has included wins over Garbiñe Muguruza, Ana Ivanovic, Karolina Pliskova and Sam Stosur. However, this didn’t translate in the first round of the French Open where she suffered a disappointing first round loss to Myrtille Georges, going down in three sets.
Pick of the first round matches
Karolina Pliskova v Anastasija Sevastova: This will be an interesting opener for Pliskova as Sevastova won their only previous encounter, 6-3 7-6(10) in a mad Moscow match where Pliskova was going all out for Singapore. It is worth noting that Sevastova hasn’t played a competitive match on grass since 2011 and has only ever won three matches on this surface (they all came in qualifying for Wimbledon in 2009). Advantage Pliskova despite her poor recent form…
Yanina Wickmayer v Zarina Diyas: In a first career match-up, this should be a close match. Diyas has won just seven matches on the WTA tour this year. However, she does have decent pedigree on grass and she reached the fourth round of Wimbledon last year with wins over Flavia Pennetta and Andrea Petkovic. Wickmayer the favourite… just.
Ana Konjuh v Laura Robson: With a wildcard, Robson takes on the defending champion in a fun first rounder. Konjuh proved her game on grass last year with a first title in Nottingham. Her game is dynamite when its on but there are still quite a few kinks to it. Her current condition is uncertain after she pulled out of the Bol semi-finals (WTA $125k) on Saturday due to a lower back injury. Furthermore, she’ll be transitioning from clay to grass in a very short space of time. Still though, any match is a tough one for Robson right now as she seeks to find some consistency in her game. Grass is a good surface for her though…
Mona Barthel v Alison Riske: Barthel faces a tough opener against the champion from the ITF tournament in Eastbourne last week, Riske. The American loves this surface and her results always improve around this time of the year. Her preparation for Nottingham is pretty perfect as she won her final in Eastbourne on Friday so has had a few days to rest up. Riske won their only previous match at the US Open in 2013 and should have the edge on grass against an opponent still coming back from illness.
Su-Wei Hsieh v Naomi Broady: This is an intriguing match between two completely different game styles who both have games suited to the grass. Hsieh qualified for the main draw of Wimbledon last year and also reached the third round back in 2012. The low bounce would seem to suit her dynamic game. Hsieh won their only previous match in Nottingham in 2012, 4-6 6-2 6-1 but Broady’s improved a great deal since then… I think this will be a close one!
Caroline Wozniacki v Cagla Buyukakcay: Wozniacki returns against one of the stars of the 2016 clay court season, Buyukakcay. The 26-year-old was the first Turkish player to win a WTA title in Istanbul and she continued that form at the French Open where she qualified for the main draw and won her first round match, another new feat for Turkish tennis. Grass though presents new challenges for Buyukakcay who has only ever won one completed match on this surface against Kristina Mladenovic at a $25k ITF event in 2009.