Wickmayer’s fightback from jaws of defeat

2013 AEGON International, Maria Kirilenko, News, Yanina Wickmayer

Yanina Wickmayer quarter-finalsYanina Wickmayer scraped through to the semi-finals with a marathon three set 6-2 1-6 7-5 win over Maria Kirilenko on Thursday.

The Court 1 contest, watched by only a sprinkling of fans, saw the out-of-sorts Russian world no10 make have a potential victory snatched from her.

Wickmayer was staring defeat in the face, trailing 5-4 in the final set, but stuck to her guns of power play from the baseline to reel off three games on the bounce and progress.

The Belgian ace surprised Kirilenko with an industrious opening set display, soaring away with a solid lead.

But the blonde Russian bounced back in style, dispatching Wickmayer with a series of flawless drives to square matters.

In the decisive set it was Kirilenko who appeared to be heading into the final four, only to lose her composure and her serve to leave the battling Belgian one game away from victory.

Wickmayer made no mistake on her service game to overturn the odds and collect a narrow win in a topsy turvy contest, with the grass title now a viable reality.


Hot-shot Wozniacki guns down Makarova

2013 AEGON International, Caroline Wozniacki, Ekaterina Makarova, Ladies Singles

Caroline Wozniacki quarter-finalCaroline Wozniacki bounced back to reel off an impressive 4-6 6-0 6-3 victory in a three set thriller over Russian Ekatrina Makarova to set up a semi-final showdown with American qualifier Jamie Hampton.

And the Dane completed the rout to continue with a 100% winning career record against Makarova by registering her sixth success, on the back of three hard court triumphs last year against the world no25.

The world no9, who admits to having a soft spot for Devonshire Park after 10 seasons at the sleepy seaside resort outperformed the left hander. She following up her grinding straight set success over British teenager Laura Robson with another polished performance.

The no5 seed, whose plans to pitch up early at Eastbourne for practice after her 2nd Round exit at Roland Garros were scuppered by an airport strike, has a game perfectly suited to grass.

The semi-final spot overshadowed her indifference clay court displays, and leaves the ex-world no1 brimming with confidence ahead of SW19 – where last year she was bundled out in the 1st Round by newly-crowned Eastbourne winner Tamira Pazsek of Austria.

Wozniacki, yet to win a Grand Slam but settled for runner-up at the US Open, appeared with a blackened out racquet for the third time at the tournament. She is experimenting with the Yonex racquet, seeking extra power and spin to propel her way back up the world rankings.

And on the evidence of today’s triumph, it won’t be much longer before the Dane becomes great again on the WTA Tour and challenging for honours on the circuit rather than making up the numbers.

Wozniacki’s destruction of defending champion Paszek and Robson gave notice to the rest of the WTA Tour that she is back in business, and is surely a potential champion at Eastbourne.

Makarova was the litmus test for Wozniacki, with the former Devonshire Park winner having not dropped a set in her thrashing Russian compatriot Olga Puchkova and then stunning no3 seed Angelique Kerber of Germany.

The 22-year-old fell for a sixth successive match to Wozniacki, who remains on course to collect her first trophy since last October.

Wozniacki made a nervous start, with the pace of the opening set dictated by Makarova to snatch the lead, but nine successive games on the trot turned the tide for the ex-world no1 to stay on course for a shot at a second Eastbourne title.

Makarova fell apart in the second set, unforced errors brought an end to her challenge, with the Danish ex-world no1 hitting a purple patch of penetrating play in sudden cruise control.

With a third set to decide which former Eastbourne winner would progress, Makarova’s errors suddenly vanished and she returned to the sort of form displayed earlier in the tournament with such devastating effect.

But it was Wozniacki who was firing all the shots and confidently gunned down the Russian with aplomb.

The Dane reeled off the first three games and progressed to a 4-1 lead. Then nerves set in for Wozniacki as Makarova fought back to trail 4-3, only for the Russian to rush her service game that she lost.

With victory in sight, Wozniacki kept calm and took her time to serve out the match and claim a tough victory.With Wozniacki broken three times in the first set, the impressive manner in storming back with her counterpunching abilities proved too hot to handle for Makarova and a bagel set.

The great Dane said: “She came out very aggressively today, it was a very good match as she plays flat and fast.

“I’m just so happy to have won today and look forward to returning to the Centre Court.”

Full steam ahead for Seppi

2013 AEGON International, Andreas Seppi, Fabio FOGNINI, Ivan DODIG, News, Radek STEPANEK

Andreas Seppi quarter-finalsAndreas Seppi made it three successive semi-final appearances at Eastbourne, his latest victim was Czech veteran Radek Stepanek in a one-sided encounter on Thursday.

The Italian no7 seed avoided his traditional stuttering start, which has given him a few worries earlier in the tournament, digging deep to produce penetrating winners at will.

But the tie was so dreary, without the passion and power of the previous match when Fabio Fognini was overturned by Ivan Dodig, that the Court 1 crowd left in their droves.

An insipid 73-minute contest lacked the verve and vitality of the rest of the 2013 AEGON International, Stepanek employing his well-known tactic of net charging and spoiling tactics to unnerve opponents in order to get the points decided as swiftly as possible.

Stepanek clearly no longer has the legs for long rallies, but it was an uninspiring display with Seppi mixing up the match with superb slices, volleys and powerful winners to finally notch his first victory over Stepanek in their sixth encounter.

Vicious Vesnina downs Li

2013 AEGON International, Alize Cornet, Ana Ivanovic, Elena Vesnina, Li Na
By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd
Elena Vesnina quarter-finalsElena Vesnina put a dent in Li Na’s warm-up for Wimbledon to reach the semi-final stage at Eastbourne and become the latest in a long line of Russian blondes changing the face of ladies tennis.
Vesnina notched a 7-5 6-3 success against the wildcard, who had a torrid time during the clay court season including a poor performance at Roland Garros – where she had previously triumphed.
The world no6 was overwhelmed by American ace Bethanie Mattek-Sands in last month’s French Open, which upset the Chinese media with her attitude about losing. And Li was aiming to warm-up for next week’s Wimbledon with a solid run at Devonshire Park.
But 26-year-old Vesnina had other plans and after snatching a tight tiebreak reeled off the second set with aplomb.
Vesnina said: “I’m really excited and I’m really enjoying this surface.”
In contrast, Li clearly did not enjoy competing on grass and only entered Eastbourne in a desperate bid to find her form ahead of SW19.
Li didn’t get much practice, drawn against two French stars. The Chinese no1 destroying Alize Cornet and was given a walkover over unwell Marion Bartoli to race into the last eight.
The world no36, ranked 30 places behind Li, had a tough route to reach the semi-finals. She dismantled Serbian Ana Ivanovic in her first contest and then saw off Guernsey girl Heather Watson before finding Li the easiest opponent in the draw so far.

Vesnina, in only her second main draw appearance at Eastbourne, is in with a real shot of collecting only her second WTA Tour title come Saturday afternoon and has made winning look effortless.

Fognini slips up to Dodig

2013 AEGON International, Fabio FOGNINI, Feliciano LOPEZ, Ivan DODIG, Martin KLIZAN

Ivan Dodig quarter-finalsIvan Dodig marched past Fabio Fognini, to send the hapless Italian crashing out of a tournament that has been full of surprises.

The Croatian was expected to meekly surrender to the no8 seed on Court 1, but in a battle of the big hitters it became an intriguing tie of the highest quality – but over in just under an hour.

With moisture in the air – and on the court – Fognini slipped up and although he produced some divine shots he was outclassed by Dodig.

A very sparse crowd were treated to some terrific baseline battles, but Fognini was clearly frustrated at the lower than usual bounce because of the light drizzle and came close on occasions to smashing his racquet into the grass.

Fognini had also made a slow start in his previous match before bouncing back to see off Slovakian Martin Klizan.

Last time he trailed he altered tactics by approaching the net, totally opposite of his natural instinct to stay back with penetrating deep shots employed as his weapon of choice. But for some reason Fognini stuck with his guns but misfired in the baseline battle.

Fognini preserved his energy to scramble around the court in vain attempts to return thunderous drives and sliced backhands from Dodig, who will be relying on his solid serve in his second semi-final this year when he faces Spaniard Feliciano Lopez for a place in Saturday’s final.

Dodig’s best finish at a grass court event was as runner-up at the 2011Topshelf Open in the Netherlands, but if he can overturn Lopez then will face a golden opportunity to better that result.

Verdasco’s parting shot

2013 AEGON International, Feliciano LOPEZ, Fernando VERDASCO, News, Players

Fernando Verdasco quarter-finalsFernando Verdasco, narrowly defeated by his Spanish team-mate Feliciano Lopez, has blasted the light drizzle and slippery conditions for bowing out of the 2013 AEGON International.

The Spanish star fumed: “I tried my best with the conditions how they were, but the conditions were not right to play even before the match.

“The ball was slippery and I played well, but the conditions were better for him. The court was dangerous for both of us, we had to be careful.

“I noticed that at the end of the first set there was soft rain there, but they just wanted me to play no matter what.

“If I had said that I don’t want to play then I would get fined. I wanted to go from the court because I didn’t feel good. I wasn’t in the situation to say that I’ll go, but I would have liked to have been in the semi-finals.

“His sliced backhand bounced even lower because of the conditions, making it very difficult to attack him.

“But if someone gets hurt then who is responsible? Not the ATP Tour for the conditions of the court. I just kept playing and trying.

“I thought to myself, if I win I win. But if I lose then I’ll just go to Wimbledon because I know I am playing well.”


Hungry Hampton has recipe for success

2013 AEGON International, Agnieszka Radwanska, Klara Zakopalova, Lucie Safarova, News, Players, Sam Stosur, WTA Players
By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd
lucie safarova quarter-finalsLucie Safarova missed out on a second WTA Tour semi-final spot on the trot, upset by battling American qualifier Jamie Hampton in three sets on Thursday.
The world no41 bounced back from losing the opening set, when she was slipping and sliding around the No1 Court, but a gutsy display earned her a 3-6 7-6 6-4 success.
Initially the Czech ace’s thunderous forehand with formidable top spin was the real difference between the players, but once gutsy Hampton read her opponent’s tactics then the tide turned in an intriguing clash.
Hampton, who will move into the world’s top 30 next week courtesy of her incredible exploits at Eastbourne, made it back-to-back victories over Safarova after her impressive win at last month’s French Open.

Hungry Hampton had come through three qualifying matches and two main draw rounds with aplomb, having caused a sensation shock to dismiss top seed and world no4 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland in the 1st Round.

But the 23-year-old Hampton was initially troubled by the high bouncing shots from Safarova that resulted in a set of unforced errors and was staring at defeat going into the second set tiebreak.

Hampton confidently took the game to the Czech, storming to a 7-1 tiebreak success and maintained the momentum going into the final set.

Hampton said: “Last year’s Wimbledon was my first match on grass, and everyone told me that I would have a ton of fun on grass – it turns out everyone was right!”

Safarova arrived at Eastbourne in tip-top form, having carved her way to the Nurnberg semi-final but suffering a shock reversal to Romanian Simona Halep.

She had impressed on grass, following up her win over compatriot Klara Zakopalova to then upset Australian wildcard Sam Stosur, only to fail to fend off the challenge of Hampton in her fifth shot at an Eastbourne title.

Whether history will repeat itself at Devonshire Park with a qualifier being crowned the ladies champion for a second season on the trot remains a question that only Hampton can answer.

Grass act Lopez enjoys Centre stage

Feliciano LOPEZ, Fernando VERDASCO, News, Players

Feliciano Lopez quarter-finalsFeliciano Lopez raced into the semi-finals after rolling past Spanish Davis Cup team-mate Fernando Verdasco 6-4 7-6 in Thursday’s opening Centre Court clash – their inaugural encounter on grass.

But it was grass court expert Lopez who outfoxed the former top 10 ace with a clinical display of power tennis and deft volleys to be in first Eastbourne semi-final thanks to a clinical display in their first meeting since 2009.

The world no39 couldn’t be kept at bay, reverting to his aggressive serve and volley style that worked to great effect against baseliner Verdasco and has earn him three Wimbledon quarter-final berths.

It was sweet revenge for Lopez to end a run of three defeats on the bounce to Verdasco, all on hard courts.

Lopez said:

“I’m very happy with my performance and looking forward to tomorrow’s semi-final.”

The left hander had an excellent run at Queen’s last week, winning five matches on the grass courts in London – including three qualifying ties – before bowing out to at runner-up Marin Cilic, the Croatian giant.

Lopez delivered the knockout blows to Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen and Argentine Juan Monaco to set up an all Spanish contest that entertained the Centre Court with such contrasting styles of play and tactics.

Verdasco stunned no6 seed Alexandr Dolgopolov of the Ukraine in his opening match and then had few problems in dismissing compatriot Albert Ramos.

But Verdasco was narrowly dispatched by Lopez in a tight contest, losing his service game just once to concede the first set and then edged out 8-6 in what proved to be the decisive tiebreak.

Lopez has yet to drop a set at Devonshire Park, and if he can continue to mix up his shots and play as exquisitely as he has performed all week then not only is he in with a shot of taking the Eastbourne crown but also of making an impact at next week’s Wimbledon.


Stuttering Simon edges past Edmund

2013 AEGON International, Gilles SIMON, Players

By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

gilles simon 2013Gilles Simon breathed a sign of relief after narrowly eclipsing tricky teenager Kyle Edmund courtesy of two tiebreak sets on Centre Court.

The world no17 got so much more than he bargained in Wednesday’s final Singles match against the rising British star.

Yet it was only the vast experience gleaned from playing on the ATP circuit that booked the French ace a quarter-final spot 7-6 7-6.

No2 seed Simon, in his opening match of the grass court event, faced a set point in the opening set but ably dealt with the danger to snatch the tiebreak 7-5 away from the wildcard.

Simon was broken early in the second set before rescuing his position and forcing another tiebreak out of the 18-year-old, 10 years his junior, which he won 7-3.

Simon’s style of trying to outwit opponents through variation in his shot making has never translated to grass, with his success over Edmund only his 21st on the surface in a lengthy career.

Maybe the ambiance was not ideal for Simon, who won’t be easily erased from the memory of British tennis fans for his very vocal swipe at governing bodies in respect of the Ladies being entitled to equal prize money for winning the Grand Slam at SW19.

Controversy struck a raw cord with sections of the packed Centre Court crowd, who were eager to cheer on the latest Brit in the making – albeit born overseas, like so many of the prominent British players.

Yorkshire-based South African-born Edmund, with just one ATP Tour main draw success to his credit, said: “I remember two years ago hitting with him in Stoke Park and he beat me 6-0 in a set. Two years on I got there and, although I am disappointed I lost, I am still pleased.

“I played well the other day, so I just thought if I put my game on court like I did on Monday that would be the best way of giving myself a chance to win.

“I served well again and he was a completely different player to the guy I played on Monday, so it was a different game style. But I was delighted with my performance because I put everything out there and even though I lost I was still very happy with the way I played.”

Wozniacki outshines rising star

2013 AEGON International, Angelique Kerber, Ekaterina Makarova, Elena Baltacha, Elena Vesnina, Laura Robson, Maria Kirilenko, News

By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

Laura RobsonCaroline Wozniacki scored a 6-4 6-4 success in scorching Centre Court sunshine on Wednesday, outshining British teenager Heather Watson.

The former world no1 broke in the ninth game of the intriguing contest and never looked back, notching up a second victory over the 19-year-old in a matter of weeks.

Left hander Robson suffered a humiliating defeat at last month’s French Open, when her feet were like clay on the red soil. But the Australian-born youngest had learned her lessons from that hefty reversal so put up a decent fight against Wozniacki.

With both players possessing an attacking style of game suited to grass, and having each been crowned Junior Wimbledon Singles champions, the contest was always going to one of high quality and entertainment – not just because of the British interest.

The surprisingly quiet set of supporters were divided on who to cheer as the great Dane was a former champion at Devonshire Park and a regular popular figure, whilst Robson is the rising British star yet to shine on the big stay despite cracking the world’s top 50.

Wozniacki, the world no9 whose career nosedived following her well publicised romance with professional golfer Rory McIllroy, made a stuttering start but once ahead there was only one winner.

Wozniacki said: “I love it here and I love playing on grass. I’ve been here 10 years in a row now, including junior tournaments, and I really enjoy the homely feel to Eastbourne.

“Laura served really well today and she put a lot of pressure on me, which made it a really good match to watch.”

With the bit between her teeth Wozniacki eased into a 2-0 second set lead, only to face a temporary blip when the resilience of Robson overpowered her to break serve.

It appeared that Robson got stage fright and started to look jittery, unforced errors costing her dearly. And on match point Robson hit a return long to whimper out of the contest.

Wozniacki added: “It wasn’t a comfortable win. I felt that the crowd were supporting, which was nice because I have a soft spot for Eastbourne.

“I’m just tinkering a little bit with my racquet. I’m still under contract with Yonex, so we’re just trying to figure out a racquet that can help me a little bit more with my game. I just feel like I needed a little bit more power and the racket will help.”

Robson said: “I defended better than I did in Paris and got myself into a lot better positioning in the court.

“But it’s just a couple of shots here and there, and a couple of missed first serves on big that makes a big difference against a top player – it’s frustrating to miss easy shots.”

Two other British wildcards faltered to blonde Russians in three sets. Elena Baltacha put up a battling display on Court 2 to world no10 Maria Kirilenko but Heather Watson was second best to Elena Vesnina.

Baltacha grabbed the opening set off no6 seed Kirilenko but was ousted 4-6 6-4 6-3. Watson made a dreadful start against Vesnina but squared matters to force a third set only to fall apart and suffer a 6-1 3-6 6-2 reversal.

Another Russian, former Eastbourne champion Ekaterina Makarova caused a sensation by overturning German Angelique Kerber – last year’s runner-up – 6-3 6-4.