Osaka, Kvitova Lead A talented But Injury-Riddled Porsche Tennis Grand Prix Field

Naomi Osaka (photo: Porsche Tennis Grand Prix)

STUTTGART, April 23, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

Although the World No. 1 ranking is in play this week at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, a couple of last-minute withdrawals are making headlines as the European clay-court season gets underway in Stuttgart, capital city of southwest Germany’s Baden-Württemberg state.

On Tuesday morning, World No. 2 and second seed Simona Halep withdrew from the tournament due to a left hip injury she sustained in a fall during the Fed Cup semifinals in Rouen, France, on Sunday. Then, 19th-ranked Garbiñe Muguruza withdrew because of an gastrointestinal illness.

According to the WTA Tour website, Halep said, “It was against (Caroline) Garcia in the first set when I fell down. I felt the pain the in the hip. I’m not ready, and if I’m not 100 percent, I don’t want to step on the court. I have to take care of my health first.

“The body feels bad because I gave everything and I really wanted to win this Fed Cup. I was very sad the last two days. It’s normal. I’ve been through these moments many times, so I know how to handle it. But I need to recover mentally and physically and then start again.”

World No. 1 and top seed Naomi Osaka said she hopes Halep recovers soon. “I think it affects the tournament a lot because she’s a really great clay court player.

“Personally, it affects me because she was really close (to catching me). Phew! I feel like I dodged a bullet there.”

With Halep and World No. 6 Elina Svitolina (knee injury) not competing in Stuttgart, five of the top seven-ranked players are featured in the 28-player draw of the WTA Premier event at Porsche Arena, including: Osaka (No. 1), two-time semifinalist Petra Kvitova (No. 3), defending champion Karolina Pliskova (No. 4), two-time (2015, 2016) champion Angelique Kerber (No. 5) and Kiki Bertens (No. 7).

Besides Kerber, other Germans in the main draw include: 2011 champion Julia Goerges, ranked 17th; No. 71 wild card and 2011 quarterfinalist Andrea Petkovic, who advanced over No. 75 qualifier Sara Sorribes Tormo, 6-3, 6-4; No. 99 wild card and 2017 champion Laura Siegemund, who won her first-round match over No. 26 Lesia Tsurenko, 6-2, 6-2; and qualifier Anna-Lena Friedsam, ranked No. 681, who lost her first-round match to Bertens, 7-5, 6-2, Tuesday evening, after winning three qualifying matches to reach the main draw.

Osaka’s last main draw appearance in Stuttgart came in 2017, where she lost to Johanna Konta in the first round after coming through the qualifying draw. She was ranked No. 46. Now, she arrives this week having secured the No. 1 ranking for 13 straight weeks going back to her defeat of Kvitova in the Australian Open final in January, which was her second consecutive Grand Slam victory. Stuttgart is also the site for Osaka’s much-anticipated debut wearing Nike attire, after signing a lucrative contract with the iconic American sports apparel company earlier this month.

“I’m honestly just focusing on the round I have to play next, not really anything beyond that because I don’t have the best record here,” said Osaka on Tuesday, during a WTA All Access Hour, as quoted by the WTA Tour website. “I’m just coming into this tournament hoping to have a lot of fun and I kind of want to experience the German fans because everyone seems cool. 

“The last time I was here I was kind of a nobody. I’m just here for a good time.”

With the main draw revised following the withdrawals of Halep and Muguruza, Osaka’s road to winning Stuttgart became much easier. The earliest she might face a seeded player is the semifinals, when she could face either No. 4 seed Pliskova or No. 8 Anett Kontaveit. Kvitova figures to get No. 7 seed Anastasija Sevastova in the quarterfinals. It could lead up to a possible semifinal showdown between Kvitova and No. 5 seed Kerber, who was moved to Halep’s No. 2 seed position.

At stake is first-prize money of 662,078 euros and a Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet for the winner, plus 470 WTA Rankings points.


• According to WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen, with Simona Halep’s withdrawal, Naomi Osaka can maintain her World No. 1 ranking simply by winning her opening round match. She will play the Hsieh Su-Wei/Wang Qiang winner on Thursday. Otherwise, if No. 3 Petra Kvitova wins the Stuttgart title, she would climb to No. 1 next week.

• No. 7 seed Anastasija Sevastova and No. 22 Daria Kasatkina were among Tuesday’s first round winners. Sevastova beat No. 29 Jelena Ostapenko, 6-2, 4-6, 6-0, in an all-Latvian matchup, and Kasatkina upset No. 18 Elise Mertens, 7-6 (8), 7-5. It was Kasatkina’s first win at Stuttgart in three tries as well as her first victory against Mertens.

What they’re saying

• Simona Halep on the upcoming clay season, as quoted by “Every time I start the clay season it’s different. I’m one year older, but I’m with more experience. I love playing on clay, this is the most important thing. I think I have the right game for this surface. So I’m going with confidence into this season, but it’s always tough.

“I’m disappointed that I cannot play Stuttgart because it’s a great tournament and it’s good for my clay court season, but I played three matches on clay already and I saw my level is high.”

• Angelique Kerber, on the difficulty of winning Roland Garros, the only Grand Slam that has eluded her, as quoted by “You know clay and me, you know the story. Of course, it is the greatest challenge. It’s a tough challenge, but I will not put too much pressure on my side because I know how it is with the pressure. I will right now focus on the tournaments ahead, and then when I’m in Paris I will think about the Paris situation.”

Tuesday’s results

Singles / first round
Daria Kasatkina d. Elise Mertens, 7-6 (8), 7-5
No. 7 Anastasija Sevastova d. Jelena Ostapenko, 6-2, 4-6, 6-0
WC-Laura Siegemund d. Lesia Tsurenko, 6-2, 6-2
Q-Greet Minnen d. WC-Dominika Cibulkova, 7-5, 6-3
No. 6 Kiki Bertens d. Q-Anna-Lena Friedsam, 7-5, 6-2
WC-Andrea Petkovic d. Q-Sara Soriribes Tormo, 6-3, 6-4

Doubles / first round
Daria Jurak/Raluca Olaru d. No. 1 Nicole Melichar/Kveta Peschke, 5-7, 7-5, 12-11
WC-Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/Lucie Safarova d. Lyudmyla Kichenok/Nadiia Kichenok, 7-6 (5), 6-4

Wednesday’s order of play

Centre Court / From 11:30 a.m.
Q-Mandy Minella vs. Belinda Bencic
Not Before 1:30 p.m.
LL-Vera Zvonareva vs. Victoria Azarenka
Caroline Garcia vs. No. 8 Anett Kontaveit
Not before 6:30 p.m.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs. Julia Goerges
Q-Greet Minnen vs. No. 3 Petra Kvitova

Court 1 / From 11:30 a.m.
Donna Vekic vs. LL-Giulia Gatto-Monticone
Wang Qiang vs. Hsieh Su-Wei
Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez/Sara Sorribes Tormo vs. Belinda Bencic/Alicja Rosolska
Kaitlyn Christian/Vera Zvonareva vs. WC-Mona Barthel/Anna-Lena Friedsam
Gabriela Dabrowski/Jelena Ostapenko vs. No. 2 Anna-Lena Groenefeld-Demi Schuurs
Shuko Aoyama/Lidziya Marozava vs. Anna Blinkova/Oksana Kalashnikova