Porsche Tennis Grand Prix Welcomes Big Names

Petra Kvitova (photo: Porsche Tennis Grand Prix)

STUTTGART/WASHINGTON, April 18, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

The last time the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix was played two years ago in Stuttgart, the capital of southwest Germany’s Baden-Württemberg state, Petra Kvitova won the title. She defeated Anett Kontaveit in the final, 7-3, 7-6 (2). Seems like such a long time ago, doesn’t it?

Fast forward to the 44th edition of this long-standing WTA tournament that welcomes players back to Europe and begins the spring red clay season. The 28-player draw for this year’s 500-series event is full of big names and new challenges – and it begins anew on Monday inside Porsche Arena.

During her virtual Media Day press conference Sunday afternoon, Tennis TourTalk asked Kvitova, who is seeded seventh this year, what it would take for her to successfully defend her title on indoor clay, again. After all, there are 11 of the current WTA Top 20 entered – seven of the Top 10 – including World No. 1 and top seed Ashleigh Barty and World No. 3 and No. 2 seed Simona Halep.

“Well, actually, I’m already defending this title for two years. So, that’s good (laughs),” said Kvitova, who will play World No. 14 Jennifer Brady of the United States in the first round. “Well, I mean it’s so tough to defend the title for sure. As I saw the players, who are coming here, who are going to be in the draw, it’s like unbelievably strong like every year to be honest.

“Everybody really can win it here. So, for me to think about another trophy here is kind of unreal right now. But of course, when the tournament is starting you have just match by match and going day by day that can change everything. Since it is just the beginning it’s really too far ahead to think about it.”

Besides Barty and Halep, the other seeded players include: No. 3 seed Sofia Kenin, No. 4 seed Elina Svitolina, No. 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka, No. 6 seed Karolina Pliskova, No. 7 seed Kvitova, and No. 8 seed Belinda Bencic.

Tennis TourTalk also asked Kvitova, a winner of 28 career WTA titles – including two Grand Slams at Wimbledon – to assess her season to date, in which she has compiled a 9-5 win-loss record and won at Doha in early March. She said: “The whole season has been bit of a rollercoaster up until now. The Australian Open unfortunately didn’t go so well. I won Doha and then had an injury. Miami wasn’t so bad and I could have beaten Elina [Svitolina]. I wasn’t really that well prepared in Charleston as I always need a little time on clay. Things are getting better … a little bit of struggling with the health and the change and the traveling as well and so, but I am in Stuttgart and I already hit every day. I think it’s getting better but it’s still you know … I just need matches, I think.”

Another player who could benefit from more matches – maybe, even, a restart – is two-time Stuttgart champion Angelique Kerber, who won titles in 2015 and 2016, and will start the 2021 edition of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix facing lucky loser Ekaterina Gorgodze of Georgia in the first round. Tennis TourTalk asked the World No. 25 Kerber how challenging it is to win this particular tournament and if, as a German playing in a big tournament in her home country, there’s any extra pressure.

“Of course, it’s a big pressure for sure. You feel it every single day when you’re coming out on the court,” Kerber said. “On the other side, I think it’s more not the pressure, it’s more the motivation you have on court, to have the support, your fans, the family and friends on site makes for me the tournament always really special.

“I know that I have to play here even better than in other tournaments because of the pressure, the expectation and everything, but you know it’s always something special when you play at home. Even when we play Fed Cups at home it is for me always a great feeling. Of course, this year is a little bit different, but I know that the fans are maybe not here but they are still in front of the television and supporting us, and you know I will try to visualize that the fans are still by my side.”

Around the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix

• The main draw for this year’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix took place Sunday afternoon inside Porsche Arena. The top four seeds – Ashleigh Barty, Simona Halep, Sofia Kenin and Elina Svitolina – received byes into the second round. Among the more intriguing first round matches, No. 7 seed Petra Kvitova will face World No. 14 Jennifer Brady in the upper half of the draw and in the lower half there’s No. 34 Ekaterina Alexandrova taking on No. 22 Karolina Muchova.

• Six qualifiers and two lucky losers advanced to the main draw following two days of qualifying draw matches. They include five Germans – qualifiers Julia Middendorf, Mona Barthel, Anna-Lena Friedsam, and Mariana Schunk and lucky loser Tamara Korpatsch – plus Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland, Ulrikke Eikeri of Norway and lucky loser Ekaterina Gorgodze of Georgia.

• Germany’s 2020 national champion Noma Noha Akugue, 17, who is part of the Porsche junior team of the German Tennis Federation, lost in the final round of qualifying to fellow German Mariana Schunk, 6-0, 6-4.

Monday’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix order of play

Monday’s opening day of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix begins and ends with doubles, starting from 3 p.m. (Central European). In between, the singles draw commences with No. 8 seed Belinda Bencic facing qualifier Mariana Schunk not before 5 p.m. followed by Maria Sakkari against German wild card Andrea Petkovic not before 6:30 p.m.

What they’re telling Tennis TourTalk

Laura Siegemund, twice a finalist (2016-17) and once a champion (2017), on what it takes to win Stuttgart: I think it is one of the strongest tournaments on the Tour, you know, usually the field is filled with top 40 players; you usually have to play your best tennis from the first round. Usually, the atmosphere here is great, the fans are amazing, of course especially for us German players. That’s going to be very different this year, which I am prepared for but I mean it’s a great tournament. In the past, when I had good runs here, I was beating many top players, top ten players also and that’s what it takes to win this tournament.”

Angelique Kerber on if the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix is the kind of tournament that can help turn around her season and get it headed in a positive direction: “You know I hope so. It’s still a long way but I work every day really hard and I did everything what I can on court. I think that I need like a few good matches and also maybe close matches that I can win that time and then going with the flow. Still, we have to focus now on the first round and then let’s see what’s next. But, for sure, there are now a lot of good matches ahead of me.”

Petra Kvitova on the importance of the WTA formalizing its summer calendar of tournaments through the US Open, which was announced Friday: “Of course, it’s important but on the other hand we kind of know what will happen. I mean there is Olympics, there is US Open, that’s what we need to know. And I think one week before the US Open there will be for sure some tournament in the US. I mean in the end of the day, I’m for such a long time on the Tour I probably know what I can expect and that’s how it is. The Olympics are very short after Wimbledon, then is the US Open. Of course, in China I think that’s never … but nobody will know what will happen in the end of the season. But a little bit we know. It’s better than the last year when we didn’t know what will be in one month. So, it’s nice to know a little bit for sure.”