Kerber Gives Solid Performance In Clay Opener

Angelique Kerber (photo: Porsche Tennis Grand Prix)

STUTTGART/WASHINGTON, April 21, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Two-time Porsche Tennis Grand Prix champion and German No. 1 Angelique Kerber won her opening-round match against 215th-ranked lucky loser Ekaterine Gorgodze of Georgia, 6-2, 6-2 in this WTA 500-series indoor event on red clay Wednesday afternoon. It was the 26th-ranked Kerber’s first match of the season on clay and, in Gorgodze, who was playing in just her third WTA main draw, she was matched against the perfect opponent for the occasion.

Kerber needed just 72 minutes to advance to Thursday’s second round against World No. 5 and fourth seed Elina Svitolina.

Playing inside an empty Porsche Arena, Kerber hit 23 winners, made just nine unforced errors and converted six of 14 break-point chances against Gorgodze, who hit 23 winners but also committed 24 unforced errors. Kerber, who saved eight of 10 break points she faced, outpointed Gorgodze 69-50 to level her 2021 win-loss record at 5-5.

“It was not an easy match and I was trying to play my game. It’s my first match on clay this season and, for me, it’s great to be back in Stuttgart,” Kerber said during an on-court interview. “It is my home tournament and, of course, it’s a little bit sad the fans are not here. I know they are in front of their TVs watching us play this week – and I think that means a lot to all of us here.”

While Kerber’s first set looked like a lot of hard work, the second set went much smoother, aided by three breaks of Gorgodze’s serve.

“[Ekaterine] played really good; she had nothing to lose,” Kerber said. “She came out and was fighting to the very last point.

“I was just trying to stay focused and play good tennis today.”

Later, during her virtual press conference, Kerber, who lifted trophies in Stuttgart in 2016 and 2016, assessed her first-round performance for Tennis TourTalk:

“I think for the first match on clay and starting the clay-court season was not too bad. I was trying to play like I planned actually before the game. You know, I think it was for the first match a good match for me. It was not an easy opponent because I think she played not bad on clay. So, I think I played a really solid match.”

Doubles gives Porsche Tennis Grand Prix an upgrade

Many of the top singles players, such as Ashleigh Barty and Angelique Kerber, are not only playing in singles, they are helping to give the competition an enormous upgrade in doubles.

“One seldom sees such a strong doubles field at a tournament in our category,” Anke Huber, the tournament’s operating director said earlier this week. “The players however wanted to take the chance in these times to go out on court and get some match practice. There hasn’t been that many tournaments this year.”

Barty, who as the world No. 1 is one of only a handful of top players who compete in doubles throughout the year and has been very successful at it, including winning the 2018 US Open with Coco Vandeweghe. “I love playing doubles,” said Barty, who is teaming with American Jennifer Brady this week in Stuttgart. “For me, doubles belong to tennis.”

Barty and Brady are into the quarterfinal round as is Kerber, who is playing with fellow German Andrea Petkovic.

“We had a lot of fun, we won and that gives you confidence. I think playing doubles helps me [in singles] for sure,” Kerber told Tennis TourTalk.

Meanwhile, among doubles specialists, No. 1 seeds Desirae Krawczyk and Bethanie Mattek-Sands, both of the United States, made their first appearance in Stuttgart a winning one on Wednesday. The Americans reached the quarterfinals with a 7-6 (1), 6-3 victory over Varvara Grecheva of Russia and Laura Ioana Paar of Romania. Next, they will face Sharon Fichman of Canada and Giuliana Olmos of Mexico.

The No. 2 seeds Xu Yifan and Zhang Shuai were also in action Wednesday against German wild cards Julia Middendorf and Noma Noha Akugue, and won 7-6 (5), 6-4. Next, they will face Barty and Brady.

Also, No. 3 seeds Hayley Carter of the United States and Luisa Stefani of Brazil were upset by St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy champions Nadiia Kichenok of Ukraine and Raluca Olaru of Romania, 7-6 (6), 6-4. Kichenok and Olaru will await Thursday’s winner between Mona Barthel and Anna-Lena Friedsam, both from Germany, versus Oksana Kalashnikova of Georgia and Alla Kudryavtseva of Russia.

Around the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix

• World No. 1 and top seed Ashleigh Barty made her Stuttgart singles debut a memorable one. She broke her opponent, Laura Siegemund, five times and won 100 percent of her first-serve points (24 of 24) en route to a 6-0, 7-5 victory in one hour and 24 minutes to move into Friday’s quarterfinal round.

Barty was in the groove from the outset in her first red clay singles match of the season, hitting six aces and 19 winners. She converted five of nine break points against the No. 58 Siegemund, who hit 13 winners and committed 28 unforced errors. Barty outpointed Siegemund 66-44 and it was the Aussie’s second straight win over the German No. 2.

“You have to give credit to your opponent and I think Laura did an exceptional job in the way she was playing,” Barty said during her on-court interview. “She made it difficult for me to feel comfortable. She’s a great competitor and, obviously, she enjoys playing on this court.”

Next, Barty will oppose Thursday’s winner between No. 6 seed Karolina Pliskova and unseeded Jelena Ostapenko.

• Unseeded Anett Kontaveit of Estonia knocked out the No. 3 seed Sofia Kenin of the United States, 7-5, 6-4, for her first Top 10 win of the season. The World No. 27 Kontaveit fired 12 aces, struck 31 winners and took advantage of the World No. 4 Kenin’s 29 unforced errors, in their first meeting. Kenin was making her Stuttgart debut.

Kontaveit converted four of 16 break-point opportunities, was broken just twice and outpointed Kenin 82-67 to move into Friday’s quarterfinals against either No. 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus or unseeded German qualifier Anna-Lena Friedsam.

“It was a very close match and I’m happy to be through,” Kontaveit told Tennis TourTalk. “I felt like the first set was a little bit on and off – I felt like I served really well throughout the whole match. That’s definitely what helped me. I had a lot of chances to get the break in the first set and I couldn’t convert. It was a little bit frustrating. It’s something I would have liked to do a little bit better today.”

Tennis TourTalk asked Kontaveit what it means to beat a quality Top 10 opponent like Kenin. She said: “It’s always nice to have a good win under your belt. Definitely, I feel like I’m playing well and I like being back here in Stuttgart. It gives me a good feeling.”

• No. 6 seed Karolina Pliskova, who won the 2018 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix title, advanced to the next round with a 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 win over 137th-ranked German lucky loser Tamara Korpatsch for her eighth win of the season. She did so by winning the opening set from a break down and lost the second set after being a break up.

After two hours and 18 minutes, the World No. 9 from the Czech Republic prevailed to set up a second-round match against 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko. The No. 52 from Latvia defeated 129th-ranked Swiss qualifier Stefanie Voegele, 6-4, 7-5.

“Super happy that I’m through. So, of course, that’s the main thing,” Pliskova told Tennis TourTalk during her virtual press conference after the match. “Other than that, I didn’t see many really good things. Maybe they were a couple of good points but, you know, it was not the best performance.

“I think [Tamara] was also playing a bit tricky, all of these high balls. I’m still getting used to the clay. … So, I was struggling a bit in the rally. I thought there were too many errors from easy balls but I thought my serve was quite OK. Maybe two games were not so good but then I was serving quite well I thought the first serve. But a lot of things have to improve until tomorrow.”

• In an all-Czech battle on Court 1, World No. 20 Marketa Vondrousova advanced to the second round with a hard-fought 6-1, 7-6 (6) victory over No. 56 Marie Bouzkova.

Vondrousova, who improved her win-loss record to 10-5, outpointed her opponent 59-54 and took advantage of five breaks of Bouzkova’s serve during the one hour and 49-minute match. Vondrousova moves into Thursday’s second round against World No. 3 and second seed Simona Halep.

“It’s always tough to play [another] Czech and we’ve never played,” Vondrousova said during her post-match press conference. “It was a tough match. I think [Marie] played a great second set. I played a good great first set. It was kind of tricky but I’m glad I got the win.”

• World No. 10 Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, who won one of her five career clay-court titles at Stuttgart in 2019, pulled out a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory over World No. 19 Maria Sakkari of Greece in two hours and 28 minutes, in their fifth career head-to-head meeting. Kvitova now leads their lifetime series 3-2. Also, it was her 13th career Stuttgart victory and advanced the defending Porsche Tennis Grand Prix champion to her second quarterfinal of the season.

On Wednesday evening, the No. 7 seed Kvitova saved 13 of 16 break points she faced from Sakkari and broke her opponent four times. Although she won just 59 percent of her first-serve points, it was her second serve that she was effective with in winning 16 of 26 (62 percent) point opportunities. Kvitova outpointed Sakkari 116-105.

Next, Kvitova will await Thursday’s second-round matchup between No. 4 seed Elina Svitolina and No. 26 Angelique Kerber.

Wednesday’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix results

Thursday’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix order of play

What they’re saying

Petra Kvitova on transitioning from hard courts to clay: “The transition to hard court to clay is for sure one of the hardest, I think with everything because it’s bouncing totally different, it’s much higher, the bounce is not every time the same.

“So, it’s holes and a little bit of clay or much of clay and lines. It’s just bouncing totally different. So, you really have to still be worried how the bounce will be and of course the movement. I think it’s the biggest change what we have from the transition, with the sliding of course it’s totally different to find the timing on it. That’s probably how tough it is to switch to clay.

“Of course, I don’t have the game for clay like with the big top spin and such things but on the other hand I think if I’m going to keep playing aggressively it’s ok and the others have to move (laughs). So, that’s how I feel it.”