The Aegon Classic in Birmingham will be next week’s star attraction on the WTA tour. Also worth a mention is the new tournament in Mallorca, which has a wonderful looking centre court. I’m loving this time of the season when all my grass court pictures are actually relevant! As a Brit, i’ll be keeping the main focus on Birmingham which has a pretty decent line-up, bolstered at the last minute with a pair of wicked top 12 wild cards. Let’s take a look at the seeds and the draw…
*Note – this post has been updated to reflect Simona Halep’s withdrawal – I knew I should have waited until Sunday to post this preview!*
Agnieszka Radwanska (1):
Overview and recent form: With a late wildcard, Radwanska will be the number one seed in Birmingham. After scaling back her clay court season by skipping Rome, Radwanska signaled her intentions to add another grass court tournament to her schedule… and she’s done just that. Radwanska had a more-than-respectable result at the French Open, reaching the fourth round; however her exit was riddled with controversy after she lost in three sets to Tsvetana Pironkova in miserable Parisien conditions having been up a set and a break. At home on the grass, Radwanska will be looking to time her run to perfection in time for Wimbledon.
Draw Projections: Radwanska’s first match of the week will be against Rosmalen finalist, CoCo Vandeweghe. Radwanska leads the head-to-head, 4-0 and has never lost a set to the American player.
Birmingham previous best performance: 2nd round (2007)
Birmingham 2015 performance & points: Did not play (in fact, Radwanska hasn’t played this tournament since 2007)
Angelique Kerber (2):
Overview and recent form: Kerber has changed up her grass court season this year, opting to play just Birmingham. On a purely selfish level, i’m disappointed to see her skip Eastbourne but this comes in line with her intentions at the start of the year to play less tournaments and peak for the Slams. While she snapped out of her mini post-Slam lull with a trio of excellent results in Miami (semi-finals), Charleston, (semi-finals) and Stuttgart (champion), the clay court season turned sour for Kerber with first round losses in Madrid, Rome and Paris. A shoulder injury seemed to be a nagging problem but three weeks off should have helped along the recovery. Kerber loves the grass and will want matches before Wimbledon. The first match will be key to starting afresh…
Draw Projections: Kerber will be thankful of this draw as she opens up against Peng Shuai, who is still coming back from a back injury that sidelined her for about nine months. Kerber and Peng are tied at 1-1 in their head-to-head.
Birmingham previous best performance: Champion (2015)
Birmingham 2015 performance & points: Champion (470 ranking points)
Belinda Bencic (4):
Overview and recent form: Bencic made her much-awaited comeback on tour in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and reached the semi-finals. The Swiss player hasn’t been playing at her best but she’s already displayed the mental toughness which has seen her somersault up the rankings in the past few years. Bencic was forced to shut down her clay court season due to a back injury, but didn’t seem to have any issues in Rosmalen. This is Bencic’s favourite surface and there’s still a sense (for me at least) that her best tennis is still to come. Whether it will come in Birmingham is uncertain as Bencic played some tough matches in Rosmalen. Yes, she’s fresh after not playing since Charleston, but the week may have taken its toll having not played competitive tennis for a few months.
Draw Projections: Bencic opens against one of the stars of the clay court season, Irina-Camelia Begu. The winner of that match will fancy their chances in the second round against Lesia Tsurenko or a qualifier.
Birmingham previous best performance: Second round (2014 and 2015)
Birmingham 2015 performance & points: Second round, lost to Sabine Lisicki (30 ranking points)
Petra Kvitova (5):
Overview and recent form: PETRA’S BACK ON GRASS… I’m beaming like Petra in the picture above! Kvitova began to turn around a sorry start to the year with a solid performance in Indian Wells and her best showing of the year in Stuttgart; she saved match points to defeat Monica Niculescu and then dropped a third set bagel on Garbiñe Muguruza in the quarter-finals. Since then, it’s gone a little pear-shaped again! In one of the most befuddling scores of the year so far, Kvitova lost to Shelby Rogers in the third round of the French Open, 0-6 7-6(3) 0-6. But now we’re onto the grass, with Petra, literally anything is possible…
Draw Projections: After the draw reshuffle, Kvitova plays Lucie Safarova in the first round… excuse me while I throw various objects out of my window.
Birmingham previous best performance: 1st round (2008)
Birmingham 2015 performance & points: Did not play (Petra’s only appearance in Birmingham resulted in a first round loss to Sunitha Rao…)
Carla Suárez Navarro (6):
Overview and recent form: I’ve repeated myself for every preview on Carla’s clay court performance… solid, yet unspectacular. The Spaniard went one round further than last year at the French Open but stuttered in a disappointing straight sets loss to Yulia Putintseva. Grass has never been Suárez Navarro’s friend and her last result on this surface was a 2-6 0-6 loss to Jelena Ostapenko. Against a zoning big hitter on grass, the Spaniard is vulnerable.
Draw Projections: In an all-top 20 first rounder, Suárez Navarro takes on Elina Svitolina. The Ukrainian leads the head-to-head, 2-1, winning their last two matches in three sets in Cincinnati (4-6 6-4 6-4, 2014) and Zhuhai (6-7 6-1 6-3, 2015).
Birmingham previous best performance: Quarter-finals (2015)
Birmingham 2015 performance & points: Quarter-finals, lost to Karolina Pliskova (100 ranking points)
Madison Keys (7):
Overview and recent form: Keys had a brilliant clay court season having headed in with little optimism. It was the case that reaching the second week of the French Open was almost a disappointment having previously reached the final in Rome and situated in a Kerber-less quarter. Keys still enjoyed a trio of excellent wins, but was ousted by Kiki Bertens. Keys hasn’t been quiet about stating that she likes grass (see her Facebook post below haha). Last year, Keys never quite found her A-game on grass but showed an impressive quality of gutting out wins at Wimbledon to reach the quarters. Keys is one player that i’ve already circled for Wimbledon, but I think it will take a few matches before everything clicks.
Draw Projections: Keys will play Timea Babos for the second time in Birmingham. Interestingly, Babos won for the loss of just three games back in 2014. Keys won their most recent encounter in Rome in two tight sets.
Birmingham previous best performance: Quarter-finals (2013)
Birmingham 2015 performance & points: 2nd round, lost to Timea Babos (30 ranking points)
Karolina Pliskova (8):
Overview and recent form: Pliskova has righted the ship after a ropey clay court season by reaching the final in Nottingham. The Czech player lost her first set in Nottingham to Anastasija Sevastova, but powered back to win in three and hasn’t look back since. Pliskova was forced to play two matches on Saturday and produced two excellent displays, beating Ashleigh Barty and Monica Puig. When Pliskova gets a rhythm on the serve, she’s going to very tough to stop…
Draw Projections: Pliskova faces an all-Czech opener against Barbora Strycova… I had high hopes for both in Birmingham so i’m disappointed they meet so early!
Birmingham previous best performance: Finalist (2015)
Birmingham 2015 performance & points: Finalist, lost to Angelique Kerber (305 ranking points)
Birmingham tweets and videos
Trying to pick out a final from this draw is… challenging! It’s hard not to look past the likes of Kvitova and Keys on grass, but I think both will take a little bit of time to find their rhythm so i’m not feeling big on their chances of being crowned champion. It’s all about timing it perfectly for Wimby! It sounds boring but i’ve gone for the top two seeds. Radwanska will be well rested and has a decent draw to start with, assuming she keeps up her dominance over Vandeweghe. Kerber comes in on a heavy losing streak but her draw looks great and she dealt with the pressure well in Stuttgart as defending champion. I think grass is a great surface for her…
Final Prediction: Kerber d. Radwanska