Cirstea Plays Once, Wins Twice In Strasbourg

Sorana Cirstea (photo: @WTA_Strasbourg/Twitter)

STRASBOURG/WASHINGTON, May 27, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Sorana Cirstea arrived at the Tennis Club de Strasbourg on Thursday knowing that if she could win her second-round match, it would catapult her directly in the semifinals of the WTA 250-series Internationaux de Strasbourg clay-court event in northeastern France.

How is that possible, one might ask? That’s because the winner of the Cirstea-Zhang Shuai match would earn a quarterfinal win by walkover into Friday’s semifinals as a result of the withdrawal by top seed Bianca Andreescu. After Andreescu’s second-round win over Belgian qualifier Maryna Zanevska, the Canadian withdrew from the tournament after citing a slight abdominal tear that she revealed during her virtual press conference.

Thus, with the looming incentive of an automatic quarterfinal win by walkover, Cirstea went to work against the No. 6 seed Zhang from Tianjin, China. In a matter of one hour, the Bucharest, Romania native won convincingly, 6-2, 6-1, in back of an all-around solid performance. The victory advanced Cirstea, who last month won her first WTA tour-level title in 13 years at Istanbul, to face No. 8 seed Magda Linette of Poland.

Against Zhang, the 61st-ranked Cirstea hit 16 winners and won 77 percent (24 of 31) of her first serves. She faced no break points from the No. 45 Zhang and converted four of her five break-point chances. Cirstea outpointed Zhang 57-31 and improved her 2021 win-loss record to 13-6.

“I’m happy to be back in Strasbourg. Initially, it was not in my plans,” Cirstea told Tennis TourTalk during a virtual interview. “After Instanbul, I sustained an injury in my wrist. I had a partial ligament tear. I was out for two weeks just doing rehab. I had 10 days to get ready. To be able to come here and still get the form I had in Istanbul, it’s been great. I came with no expectations, but it’s much better than I thought.”

Tennis TourTalk asked Cirstea about the importance of having a successful week was in preparing for next week’s Roland Garros. “Definitely, that was the idea to get a good tournament in before Roland Garros, to have some matches, again,” she said. “To play 100 percent, again, so far, so good. I’m very happy.

“I had a tough match in the first round against Venus [Williams]. It was up and down, but today I raised my level and it was quite good from beginning to the end. It gives me a lot of confidence going into the next round, but also going into the French Open.”

Linette’s calmness translates into victory

During No. 8 seed Magda Linette‘s 6-3, 6-3 upset victory over No. 4 seed Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan, the 48th-ranked native of Poznan, Poland, parlayed her ability to remain calm during big moments unlike her volatile opponent. Her 75-minute win over the No. 43 Putintseva represented the highest-ranked player she had beaten this year.

Linette’s serve was in danger just twice and she broke Putintseva four times in seven opportunities. The Polish No. 2 outpointed her opponent 63-42 to advance against unseeded Sorana Cirstea of Romania. The triumph was Linette’s third straight on clay and improved her season win-loss record to 4-5.

“I just wanted to make sure that I’m choosing the right shots to go for. I did not really want to rush,” Linette told Tennis TourTalk after her victory during a virtual interview. “It’s really important to me to be able to build up the point and stay calm in the shot. [Yulia] most of the time was playing good tennis. I felt I needed to stay calm and wisely choose my shots.”

Tennis TourTalk asked Linette what her success on clay in Strasbourg has meant to her. She said: “I think it’s been really important to me. I’m finding my shots and I’m really happy with how things I worked on last week – small things – have made such a big difference in my tennis. It’s given me so much more confidence. I’ve come out and played really good, I’m winning tough matches – getting out of trouble – and today was a very solid win for me.”

At No. 5, Krejcikova highest remaining seed in Strasbourg

Fifth seed Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic has navigated her way clear to the semifinal round by winning three times this week in Strasbourg. In doing so, not only is the Grand Slam doubles champion improving her singles game, she’s now the highest seed remaining in the singles draw.

“With every single match I’m improving,” the 38th-ranked Krejcikova told the Patrice-Dominguez crowd following her 7-6 (4), 6-1 win over No. 3 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia. The one hour and 37-minute victory improved Krejcikova’s record on clay to 6-3 this season, and she’s also a very respectable 17-9 overall.

After winning a close tie break 7-4 to capture the first set, Krejcikova went to work and broke Alexandrova in each of the Russian’s last three service games to wrap up the second set and garner the victory.

Although the Czech star hit just eight winners, she took advantage of Alexandrova’s 46 unforced errors and outpointed her opponent 71-61 to advance against qualifier Jule Neimeier of Germany.

Tennis TourTalk asked Krejcikova if winning the tie break was a turning point in the match. She said: “I think it was very important,” she said. “I’ve played her many times and I always start really bad in the first set and she’s always improving really well. I just felt like this time I had to start the first set very well. The tie break was really deciding for the match.”

With a three-match winning streak on clay to build upon, which included earlier wins against a pair of Frenchwomen, Oceane Dodin and Caroline Garcia, Krejcikova said she’s enjoying playing in the tournament because it’s affording her to get match experience while enabling her to improve her singles game. “Now I’m in the semifinals, I’m trying to play carefree. Next week [at Roland Garros] it’s going to be different,” she said.

“Here, I’m really happy I’m getting some matches, gaining some confidence and experience. Every week is different.”

Germany’s Niemeier gains first Top 50 win

It took 21-year-old German qualifier Jule Niemeier two days to reach her first WTA quarterfinal, but she did it. The 216th-ranked Niemeier from Dortmund upset seventh seed Shelby Rogers 6-4, 7-6 (6) in one hour and 12 minutes to advance in just her second WTA main draw.

The victory over the No. 46 Rogers from the United States was the German’s first career win over a Top 50 player.

“I’m very happy, it was a tough match for me,” Niemeier said during an on-court interview after her victory against Rogers. “I’m leading 6-4, 2-1 before the match got suspended. I’m happy I got the win in two sets today.

“I am confident, yes. Every match I play I have to adapt [to the opponent]. I’m happy I won.”

Niemeier’s second-round win over Rogers advanced her to play unseeded Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands, ranked 84th, and nine years her senior. Niemeier came on court energized from her earlier win against Rogers and played as well if not better in beating Rus, 6-4, 6-1, in one hour and 13 minutes. The victory lifted her into Friday’s semifinals against No. 5 seed Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic. It will be her first WTA semifinal experience – and it comes after just three WTA tour-level main draw wins.

Neimeier hit five aces and 29 winners, faced no break points, and outpointed Rus 64-44.

“Yes, I’m surprised [by my results] but I’m obviously happy I won both matches today,” Neimeier told Tennis TourTalk during a virtual interview after her quarterfinal win against Rus. “I’m just really happy about playing happy right now. I know what I’m capable of [achieving].”

Thursday’s Internationaux de Strasbourg results

Around the Tennis Club de Strasbourg

Yang Zhaoxuan of China and Makoto Ninomiya from Japan advanced to the doubles final with a 3-6, 7-5, 10-4 come-from-behind victory over Elixane Lechemia of France and Ingrid Neel from the United States.

Friday’s Internationaux de Strasbourg order of play

What they’re telling Tennis TourTalk

Sorana Cirstea on the impact and importance of playing in front of tennis fans, again: “Definitely, it’s amazing with the public again. I’m so happy to see everyone. Even if everyone is following the protocols, people are slowly getting back to normal life. It’s amazing that fans can come to sporting events, again. For us. it’s great to hear them cheer. From the first day I came here, it’s been a great feeling.”