By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd
2011 AEGON International at Eastbourne
Hantuchova’s too hot for Venus
Hantuchova cruised in the opening set 6-2 and seemed on course to wrap up the match swiftly, but the American superstar – the best grass court player on the WTA Tour – played a more aggressive game and put her opponent under intense pressure at every opportunity.
Agony for retiring Azarenka
Marion Bartoli notched her maiden victory over Victoria Azarenka (left) to move into the semi-finals for a fifth successive season, courtesy of a 6-2 2-0 retired result.
A repeat of last year’s semi-final had high expectations for the Court 1 crowd, but Azarenka never got out of the starting blocks and was forced to wave the white flag after being outplayed and struggling with an injury flare-up.
In six previous meetings the Belarussian acehad dropped just a single set, but battler Bartoli – who came close to a shock exit in the second round – rewrote the record books by storming away with the opening set.
Bartoli, currently at a career-high world no9 after her forays in reaching the last four at Roland Garros, has an impressive grass court pedigree by finishing runner-up at 2007 Wimbledon and four semi-final appearances on the bounce at Devonshire Park.
And Bartoli’s unorthodox style outfoxed Azarenka throughout, resulting in frustrated shrieks prior to bowing out. Interestingly Azarenka’s past five defeats prior to today have all been to the eventual champion, which should give Bartoli some hope when she plays her sixth semi-final this year.
Smashing Stosur shoots past Zvonareva
Sam Stosur gained revenge for her only grass court defeat to the Russian top seed at 2004 Wimbledon by beating Vera Zvonareva (left) 4-6 7-6 6-4.
The ever-gutsy Australian, whose game suits grass despite the surface not being her favourite, had beaten Zvonareva in their past six matches but victory seemed unlikely after losing a tight opening set and then being forced into a tie-break.
Even the second set tie-break was fought tooth and nail at the highest quality, with Stosur triumphant. Zvonareva, who had accounted for Serena Williams in the previous round, dropped her service game once that that proved costly as she was denied a semi-final slot – having reached the last four in 2004 – by brave groundshots from the baseline from Stosur.
The Australian, who was taken unwell to bow out of the French Open, booked her third Eastbourne semi-final in four years and faces Marion Bartoli for a shot at the title.
Kvitova’s late, late show
2010 Wimbledon semi-finalist Petra Kvitova left it late, after a stuttering start, to move into a semi-final showdown with Daniela Hantuchova courtesy of a 1-6 6-2 7-6 triumph against Agnieszka Radwanska (left).
The Czech ace, making her Eastbourne debut, looked out-of-sorts as her game showed flaws and she lost the opening five games before holding her serve.
The second set was in total contrast as 2008 Eastbourne champion Radwanska was exposed time and time again. However, the decisive set became a close encounter with the slippery Pole appearing to have the edge and keen to avenge last year’s defeat at SW19 – their only previous match – but Kvitova battled away for every point and continued to push herself to seal the tie-break to take a step closer to winning a fourth WTA Tour title.