Year By Year, Kontaveit Closer To Stuttgart Title

Anett Kontaveit (photo: Porsche Tennis Grand Prix)

STUTTGART/WASHINGTON, April 23, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

The Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, the WTA’s annual kickoff to the European red clay season, has reached the quarterfinal round. On Friday, there are four quality matches that will pare the field down to the final four.

Quarterfinal play begins with World No. 1 and top seed Ashleigh Barty facing World No. 6 and No. 6 seed Karolina Pliskova. Later, play continues with World No. 5 and fourth seed Elina Svitolina talking on World No. 10 and seventh seed Petra Kvitova, who won the most recent Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, in 2019.

Then, World No. 3 and second seed Simona Halep faces unseeded and 34th-ranked Ekaterina Alexandrova and the day finishes with World No. 7 and fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka taking on No. 27 Anett Kontaveit, the 2019 Stuttgart runner up.

The final quarterfinal match likely will be overshadowed by the first three. Yet, it holds a lot of intrigue. Until now, all three of the previous matches between Sabalenka of Belarus and Kontaveit from Estonia have been won by Sabalenka – all on hard courts. In their most recent match, Sabalenka prevailed in the round of 16 at Dubai, 6-3, 6-2 in March.

During Sabalenka’s virtual press conference on Thursday that followed her 6-4, 6-2 victory against Germany’s Anna-Lena Friedsam, the Belarusian admitted that the indoor red clay at Porsche Arena felt different than outdoor clay.

“Yes, I feel the clay court here is a little bit different than the clay court on other tournaments,” Sabalenka said. “It feels really comfortable. It’s a little bit slippery, but it is how it is and I’m trying to move as good as I can on this surface. It’s all very comfortable here.”

Tennis TourTalk asked Sabalenka how her attitude is faring coming into the clay season and if she’s encouraged by her transition has been going from hard courts to clay. “I actually like to play on the clay courts,” she said. “So, I [am] excited going into the clay court season. Yes, I’m enjoying playing on the clay.”

Meanwhile, as Sabalenka is making her Stuttgart debut and going after her first title on clay, Kontaveit has been a quarterfinalist (2017), semifinalist (2018) and finalist (2019) in her past three Porsche Tennis Grand Prix appearances. The last two times, Kontaveit has lost to the eventual champion – Pliskova in 2018 and Kvitova in 2019. Is this a portend of things to come for Sabalenka?

Finally, while Kontaveit is making her fourth Stuttgart appearance – and has compiled an 11-3 win-loss record – the most recent of her 12 career wins against Top 10 players came just two day ago when she beat World No. 4 Sofia Kenin in the second round.

Tennis TourTalk asked Kontaveit following her win against Kenin to assess playing Sabalenka. She said: “Aryna is a very tough competitor and she plays extremely aggressive and these courts are fast. So, I mean we’ll see what happens. But you know … I’m feeling well and I like being back here in Stuttgart as well. It is what it is. I hope it’s going to be a good match.”

Q & A with Angelique Kerber

On Wednesday evening, Germany’s top-ranked player, Angelique Kerber, lost her second-round match to World No. 5 Elina Svitolina, 7-6 (4), 6-3. Afterward, Tennis TourTalk spoke to Kerber virtually:

Tennis TourTalk: You’ve battled Elina Svitolina many times and I was wondering how would you compare tonight’s match with her against some of the others that you played?

“I think today it was actually a very good match from her, also from me,” Kerber said of her 14th career head-to-head against Svitolina, which the Ukrainian leads 9-5. “I think we played both on a really high level, especially in the first set. I think just one or two points decided the first set and then in the second set, she really played like a really solid set for two sets. I was a little bit struggling at the beginning of the second set and she felt it. So, she was there already.

“Then, I didn’t really have the chance to come back – even I tried to – but she really played like for two sets really high-level tennis. You know, I just try to take the positive things from the match because I really played also a good match. For me, on clay to play a match like this it’s always a positive thing and I just try to take the good things out of the match and to continue playing like this in the next tournaments.”

Tennis TourTalk: You played two singles matches in the singles draw and you are still alive (with Andrea Petkovic) in the doubles. How important has it been to you to get a good start to your clay season?

“It’s really important, especially for me. I need always a lot of matches on clay and to have now like two good matches. Also, my doubles matches, which also gives you confidence on clay, and also the movement. Having the competition, it doesn’t matter if it’s singles or doubles, it brings you a lot of experience now for this season. I am looking forward to playing doubles tomorrow and then looking forward to playing Madrid next week.”

Thursday’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix results

Friday’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix order of play

Around the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix

What they’re saying

Simona Halep was asked after her second-round win against Marketa Vondrousova whether there’s a particular part of her game – a certain stroke, an element of footwork – that, when a match begins, clues her to know that she’s going to have a good day, or that maybe some days she might realize she’s not going to have a good match. She said:

“Definitely, I have these feelings before matches. It depends how your body is, how your body feels and mental is very important before the matches. At this level, every match is like the final of a tournament, strong opponents. So, you have to be a hundred percent every single day.

“Today, I just felt that I missed playing match[es]. I feel the game because I practice well here and I was confident. So, when the confidence is there, I feel like everything is going okay and I have just to fight for the match.”

What they’re telling Tennis TourTalk

Simona Halep on what, if anything, her coach Darren Cahill may have said to her before or after the match in terms of encouraging her or congratulating her. What kind of a role did he play in her win against Marketa Vondrousova?

“I was a little bit nervous before the match because I played twice against [Marketa] and she beat me every time. I was a little bit scared of her drop shots. So, [Darren] told me that I have to be more aggressive today, which I did. I did it well. After the match, he said that I played a great match and that it’s very few that he saw me so aggressive. So, you know, like I did exactly what we talked before the match.”

Mertens, Kudermetova advance in Istanbul

No. 1 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium and No. 3 seed Veronika Kudermetova of Russia both reached the quarterfinals at the TEB BNP Paribas Tennis Championships Istanbul in Turkey on Thursday. However, No. 5 seed Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic was upset by No. 102 Ana Bogdan of Romania, 6-3, 6-3.

Mertens advanced over Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, while Kudermetova bested Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, 6-4, 6-3. Also, Fiona Ferro of France advanced over wild card Vera Zvonareva of Russia, 6-3, 6-3.

Thursday’s Istanbul results

Friday’s Istanbul order of play

Parma and Hamburg added to WTA 2021 calendar

On Wednesday, the WTA announced that the Emilia Romagna Open will be held the week of May 17 on red clay, and the Hamburg European Open will take place the week of July 5 on red clay.

The latest editions to the WTA 2021 calendar are both 250-series events that will take place in Parma, Italy and Hamburg, Germany.

The Parma tournament will feature a 32-player singles main draw and a 16-tea doubles draw. A 24-player qualifying draw will yield six players who will ascend to the main draw. It is being organized in collaboration with MEF Tennis Events, which in the past has been successful in running ATP Challenger events.

Meanwhile, the Hamburg European Open in Germany overlaps the second week of Wimbledon. Hamburg is a past destination for the WTA, where it held a tournament that began in the 1980s and ran through the early 2000s. This time, the Hamburg European Open will feature a 28-player singles main draw and a 16-team doubles draw. There will also be a 16-player singles qualifying draw.

In a press release, WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon said: “The WTA is committed to offering as many playing and earning opportunities for our members as possible, and we look forward to bringing the WTA Tour to Parma and Hamburg this season, enhancing women’s tennis even more this year.”

What they’re sharing on social media