By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd
2011 AEGON International at Eastbourne
Semi-final Preview: Kvitova vs Hantuchova
Czech star Petra Kvitova faces Daniela Hantuchova in their second showdown this season, having already dismissed the Slovak star on a hard court in the Federation Cup in their previous only meeting.
World no8 Kvitova is the highest ranked player remaining and has impressed on her Devonshire Park debut, which was expected after she showed her new-found silky grass skills by racing to the 2010 Wimbledon semi-finals despite having previously never won a match on the green stuff.
The 21-year-old left-hander has only recently broken into the world’s top 10, courtesy of four titles this year including her terrific run to claim the Madrid Open by defeating Vera Zvonareva, Li Na and in-form Victoria Azarenka.
Monaco-based world no25 Hantuchova, who burst onto the singles scene almost a decade ago before concentrating on doubles, is a rejuvenated player and seems set to keep on improving with a top 10 place her personal aim.
The 28-year-old returned to the top of her game with a shock success over top seed and ex-Eastbourne champion Caroline Wozniacki at 2010 Roland Garros, and followed this success with a powerful display at Birmingham to overwhelm Ana Ivanovic and finish runner-up on grass.
This is the seventh visit to Eastbourne for Hantuchova, who is keen to improve on her Devonshire Park runner-up slot in 2004, and she is hoping to face Sam Stosur in the final in order to avenge last year’s second defeat at Eastbourne.
Hantuchova is back to her best, reflected by this week’s victories over French Open champion Li Na and American superstar Venus Williams to reach back-to-back singles semi-finals on the WTA Tour for the first time in four seasons.
Hantuchova’s advantage is not just the fact that she has realms of experience and being unseeded faces no pressure, but that she has ironed out any flaws by becoming a major success at doubles and possesses an all-round game including exceptional serve and volley skills.
Semi-final Preview: Stosur vs Bartoli
Sam Stosur and Marion Bartoli will meet for the first time on grass as both bid to capture their maiden title of the year, and in the devastating form they are both in this tie promises to be a firecracker of a face-off.
The gutsy Australian claims that grass is not her favourite surface, but having spent most of her career winning at doubles her net and volley skills are second to none that gives her a huge advantage.
World no10 Stosur stormed into the final four with aplomb, her third semi-final this season, and was only tested in her quarter-final tie against top seed Vera Zvonareva.
Surprisingly Stosur has yet to claim a grass court title despite this being the 27-year-old’s third semi-final on the bounce at Eastbourne in five visits to the English south coast event.
Unorthodox Bartoli (right) plays two-handed on both sides and arrived at Devonshire Park on a career-high ranking of world no9 following her heroics at Roland Garros, where she became the first Frenchwoman since 2005 to reach the semi-final stage.
Battling Bartoli has been in emphatic form this season, having reached two finals and six semi-finals, but has tumbled in her previous four Eastbourne semi-finals encounters in as many years.