As qualifying began in Birmingham, Mallorca, Queens and Halle, there were seven tournaments to try and keep up with on Saturday! I decided not to go to Birmingham qualifying in the end although i’m glad to see they got most of the matches were completed without few interruptions. I’m saving myself for Eastbourne and Wimbledon… this time next week i’ll be watching live tennis :-D. Considering the forecast, Nottingham actually did pretty well to get all of their matches completed. Note a shedload of previews will be coming for Birmingham tomorrow. I’ll be multi-tasking while watching England in the football tonight! Read on for Saturday’s Set Points.
Starting with Nottingham… the quarter-finals were all wrapped up in straight sets although the first of the quartet featuring the number one seed, Karolina Pliskova and Ashleigh Barty needed two tiebreaks and could have easily gone the other way. Pliskova prevailed, 7-6(2) 7-6(7) saving two set points in each set in what was a high-quality grass court affair.
Barty was very impressive, considering this is just her second tournament back in her comeback. Her game suits grass with her ability to hit slices and she was very effective on serve. She was the more dominant player in the rallies, dictating with the forehand, but just failed to take her opportunities. There were 9 break points in the first set (6 for Barty and 3 for Pliskova) but it went to the tiebreak. Barty was unlucky as on one of the break points she had, the replay showed VERY CLEARLY that one of Pliskova’s shots was out. Despite Barty playing the better set, Pliskova was superb in the tiebreak.
Barty got the elusive break of serve at the start of the second set and despite getting broken back midway through, she broke again to serve for the set. However, she chucked in a pretty lacklustre game at *5-4. The Aussie got to the tiebreak again and even had set points, but Pliskova produced some magnificent scrambling. You don’t often see Pliskova on the defence but she did so, so well to get balls back in play. On multiple occasions, she got the error from Barty. And add to that, a whopping 20 aces! It was a decent display from Pliskova.
The number one seed took it up another level in the semi-finals, powering past Monica Puig, 6-2 6-2 in just 54 (!) minutes. Pliskova won 25 out of 26 points on her first serve and sent down another nine aces. This was a really impressive day for Karolina and she seems to have put the clay season well and truly behind her. She can do things on the grass…
Pliskova will play Alison Riske in the final after the American defeated Anett Kontaveit (6-3 6-3) and Saisai Zheng (6-1 7-5). Riske had led Zheng 6-1 5-2 in the semi-finals but the Chinese player changed her tactics and started coming forward. Riske twice failed to serve out the match but broke again at 5-5, nailing two passes. Zheng though looks tidy at the net and her game has come such a long way in the two years.
Zheng had overcame an error-strewn Tara Moore in straight sets, 6-2 6-4 earlier in the day. The Brit had taken a medical time-out for an elbow injury after the first set. I loved Zheng’s interview at the end of her quarter-final match where she was asked about playing several Brits and against the crowd. When asked whether she was hoping the crowd would get behind her for the semi-finals she responded with a “yesss pleaseeee”! The crowd definitely did that but Riske was too strong in the end.
Over in Rosmalen, the final will be contested between the number three and six seeds, Kristina Mladenovic and CoCo Vandeweghe. Vandeweghe defeated fellow American, Madison Brengle, 6-4 6-2 while Mladenovic overcame her best friend, Belinda Bencic, 2-6 6-3 6-4 in a thoroughly entertaining match.
At 4-4 in the decider, Mladenovic went up 30-0 on Bencic’s serve with two lucky net cords. But overall, Mladenovic’s variety and boldness gave her the edge. For Bencic, it was nice to see *that* backhand firing again and I think this was a perfect first week back on tour. She got some wins, but there’s still plenty to work on.
And that hug at the net was everything!
So that’s a Pliskova v Riske final in Nottingham and a Mladenovic v Vandeweghe in Rosmalen. No surprises that all four love the grass! If Pliskova gets that serve going again then i’d fancy she’ll be too strong for Riske. Vandeweghe-Mladenovic is a tougher one to call; Vandeweghe leads the head-to-head, 3-0, but I love Mladenovic’s game and it’s magic when confidence is high. I think both will be very dangerous at Wimbledon.
In Birmingham qualifying, the most notable result was a victory for Laura Robson! The Brit secured her best win since returning to the tour following wrist surgery, beating Varvara Lepchenko, 6-4 6-1. Robson will play Katerina Siniakova in the second round of qualifying on Sunday. There were also wins on Saturday for Christina McHale, Naomi Osaka and Olga Savchuk, who saved two match points to defeat Louisa Chirico, 4-6 7-6(9) 7-6(5).
It’s good to see there is now a stand for court 1 in Birmingham. It’s a lovely venue, but i’m not a massive fan of the outside courts in Birmingham as you can’t get in between them!
The Birmingham main draw is out and as expected, it’s thrown up some crackers. I’m most excited about Halep v Safarova (ahhhhhh!) and Pliskova v Strycova in the first round.
Mallorca is also out and has thrown up a Roland Garros rematch of Goerges-Puig in the first round. I’m super intrigued to see how Muguruza fares…
On an ATP level, Dominic Thiem continues to impress! He came from a set down and saved match points to defeat Roger Federer, 3-6 7-6(7) 6-4. There were some wonderful points in this match.
And finally, Madison sums up how i’m feeling about the grass too.