Istanbul Showcasing Mertens And Kudermetova

Elise Mertens (photo: @TennisChampIst/Twitter)

ISTANBUL/WASHINGTON, April 24, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

No. 1 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium and No. 3 seed Veronika Kudermetova of Russia, who coincidentally are partnered this week in doubles, will meet in Saturday’s singles semifinals of the TEB BNP Paribas Tennis Championships Istanbul in Turkey. Then, if all goes accordingly, they will team up later in the day in the doubles semifinals against No. 4 seeds Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Anastasia Potapova, both of Russia.

On Friday, the 17th-ranked Mertens defeated No. 69 Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic, 6-4, 6-4, and No 29 Kudermetova ended the run of Romania’s 102nd-ranked Ana Bogdan, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, to set up their semifinal clash. Mertens’ 16th victory of 2021 improved her career head-to-head against Siniakova to 4-0 and it’s her third semifinal since January, while for Kudermetova, it was her ninth straight win on clay and 20th victory of the season overall.

Also, No. 67 Sorana Cirstea of Romania advanced to the semifinals after her opponent, France’s 57th-ranked Fiona Ferro retired after one set. Cirstea was leading the match 6-4. The day began with No. 85 Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine going the distance to defeat No. 241 Ana Konjuh of Croatia, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3, to reach her second semifinal of the season.

After her win, Mertens told Tennis TourTalk in a virtual interview that she feels she’s been able to play her game more on clay than she was able to two weeks ago on green clay in Charleston at the Volvo Car Open, where she lost in the opening round to Alizé Cornet.

“This one, I feel better,” Mertens said. “I’m feel like I’m playing my game more. In the first match, it was a mental adjustment coming from hard courts. I had to play really aggressive. Now, I have to find the points and find the opportunities. Now, I’m managing that better.”

Mertens also expressed that the Turkish weather this week in Istanbul, which has included a variety of rain, heat and windy conditions has made it challenging. “You never know what the weather is going to be these days,” she said. “Much later in the day, the ball doesn’t really bounce that high anymore. Clay courts are slower. I thought I did better to come from 1-4 down in the second set to take advantage of my opportunities.”

Indeed, Mertens trailed Siniakova 4-1 in the second set of her Friday quarterfinal before reversing the tide and winning five games in a row to pull out a straight-set victory to set up her semifinal showdown with Kudermetova, who won the Volvo Car Open two weeks ago in Charleston, S.C. on green clay. She said during her on-court interview she was happy with her quarterfinal performance, but knows she can always do better.

As to the awkwardness that may come about from teaming with Kudermetova after facing her for a berth in the singles title match, Mertens smiled at the question, then said: “It is what it is, that’s tennis. It will be just another match for me. Of course, if we have to play against each other, it’s no problem. We’re professionals.

“I’ve enjoyed playing with her. She’s a different personality than Aryna (Sabalenka, Mertens’ regular partner, who is playing in Stuttgart this week). So, it’s nice to get to know her.”

Only Top 10 players remain in Stuttgart

As the 44th edition of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany, has reached semifinal Saturday, the final four of Ashleigh Barty, Simona Halep, Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka represent a who’s who of Top 10 talent: World No. 1 Barty, No. 3 Halep, No. 5 Svitolina and No. 7 Sabalenka.

Barty will face Svitolina in the first semifinal followed by Halep and Sabalenka. Break out the popcorn because these are definitely popcorn-worthy matches in this WTA 500-series event that’s kicked off the European red clay season leading up to Roland Garros next month.

By the time Barty had come off court, following her 2-6, 6-1, 7-5 victory over World No. 6 Karolina Pliskova, it was already April 24 back home in her native Australia. So, technically, she won on her 25th birthday back home in Ipswich, Queensland, and she told reporters who attended her virtual press conference that she had received birthday greetings by phone from her parents, who stayed up late to watch her match on TV.

“It’s exciting to be playing on my birthday,” Barty said, beaming a big smile as she spoke. “I mean, it’s what I love to do. Playing against another tough opponent, there’s no better challenge and there’s no better way for me to celebrate.”

Because of the time difference between Australia and Germany, Barty will get to celebrate her birthday with another quality match, this time in the semifinal round against Svitolina on Saturday. Barty has accumulated four Top 10 wins this season – and has won her last eight Top 10 matches overall. Although Svitolina owns a 5-2 lead in their career head-to-head, Barty beat Svitolina last month at the Miami Open, 6-3, 6-3, in the semifinals, and before that in the 2019 WTA Finals.

“It forces you to bring your best to try and compete every single time you’re on the court,” Barty said Friday. “With a lot of the girls in the Top 10, we’ve had plenty of matches, plenty of matches gone either way. Each time I love that challenge of testing myself against the best.”

Halep was asked after her straight-set win against 34th-ranked Ekaterina Alexandrova Friday evening about the challenge of facing Sabalenka.

“I’ve played Sabalenka many times and I know what to expect,” Halep said during her virtual press conference. “She’s hitting very strong. She’s very powerful. So, I have to just against focus on my game and try to push her back and be aggressive if I can.”

Around the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix

What they’re telling Tennis TourTalk

Simona Halep on coping without fans in Porsche Arena during this year’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix: “They are amazing all the time. The crowd is very loud here and very passionate. They have a lot of p assign for tennis. So, we miss them and it’s a little bit sad on court without anybody. But we take it as it is. It’s really good that they could actually make the tournament. So, we should be very thankful.”

Friday’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix results

Saturday’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix order of play

Rafael Nadal: Efficiency personified

On Friday, Rafael Nadal became the only player in the Open Era to win 450 matches on two different surfaces (hard, 490; clay, 450).

Benoit Paire: No Summer Olympics

The executive committee of French Tennis Federation on Friday, given the repetition of “deeply inappropriate behavior” on the part of Benoit Paire, announced it has decided to exclude him from a possible selection for the French Olympic team for the upcoming Summer Games in Tokyo.

What they’re sharing on social media

Leylah Fernandez / Thank you, Rafael Nadal Academy

Serena Williams / Training in Nice ahead of Rome, Roland Garros