Robson revels on Centre stage

2013 AEGON International, Laura Robson, News, Players, WTA Players

By Xavier Harley-Rudd

Laura RobsonLaura Robson brushed aside Ukrainian qualifier Yuliya Beygelzimer 6-3 6-2 on Tuesday to add to the Great British contingent succeeding at the traditional Wimbledon warm-up event.

Robson was rarely troubled and has grown into her game as well as her six foot frame since picking up the Mixed Doubles silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics.

Now 19, five years since she took the limelight as the Junior Wimbledon Girls champion, Robson outclassed Beygelzimer with an array of shots that had the Centre Court crowd purring.

The Australian born left-hander improved her win-loss ratio to 4-4 for the season, which has lifted Robson to world no43 and has long been considered the future British star.

The Ukrainian, languishing at world no187, found Robson’s rip-roaring game far too tricky to suffer another straight sets defeat to the Brit in only their second encounter.

Baltacha’s blown away

Ekaterina Makarova, WTA Players
elena-baltachaElena Baltacha, the world no200, looked out-of-sorts with a tame 6-3 6-0 defeat to former Eastbourne champion Ekatrina Makarova in the opening round of the 2013 French Open.

The ex-British no1, who returned to the WTA Tour following an eight-month layoff following ankle surgery after competing in the 2012 Olympic Games, will warm-up for a shot at making the main draw at Eastbourne by competing in a couple of second tier grass court tournaments.The 29-year-old only made the main draw at Roland Garros courtesy of a protected ranking due to her lengthy injury layoff, but was totally outclassed by the gritty New Zealander in just under an hour.

Baltacha explained: “I actually retired after the Olympics. I kept it to myself but I knew I was going through the motions, I just fell out of love with tennis.

“But the things I really hated about it are the things I really missed, it was really bizarre and I realised how much I love tennis. The biggest thing I missed was the one-on-one competition.

“My world ranking hasn’t really fallen that much, but I’ve got points to defend – and July would be the last points I have to defend. I know I have to be patient and going to be in qualifying a lot on tour, but I’m happy as long as I keep improving.”

Paszek gets place in Olympics

Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki, News, Tamira Paszek, WTA Players

2012winnerpaszekTamira Paszek, the 2012 Eastbourne champion, has been confirmed by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) to enter into the 2012 Olympics Tennis tournament at Wimbledon following her successful appeal.

The appeal was made against the ITF Olympic Committee’s decision not to allow Paszek to compete at the London Games due to complications with fulfilling the Fed Cup element of the eligibility rule for the 2012 Olympics.

Yet Paszek, ranked in the world’s top 40 and the no1 Austrian on the WTA Tour, was helped by Tennis Austria to launch her appeal. Documents were produced to prove her availability and willingness to compete in Fed Cup events during 2010.

The Fed Cup element of the Olympic Eligibility Rule has been a bone of contention for many players, including world no1 Roger Federer.

Paszek’s appeal was successful as it was confirming that the vital two components of the rule were fulfilled by her, namely that she made herself available to compete in Fed Cup events during the Olympic cycle and she is a player who has a strong standing with Tennis Austria.

Paszek replaces Swiss player Timea Bacsinszky in the Olympics, and is a talent on grass having won the 2012 AEGON International with success over German Angelique Kerber and following it up with a shock success over former world no1 Caroline Wozniacki in the opening round of 2012 Wimbledon.

Kerber keen on crown

Angelique Kerber, Marion Bartoli

Angelique Kerber2012Angelique Kerber, the only player in the semi-final draw to have claimed a WTA Tour title this season, is set to serve up a warning ahead of Wimbledon and the Olympics.

The German ace has been in incredible form at Devonshire Park, scything through the opposition having taken an instant liking to the low bounce on grass.

Kerber said:

Winning gives me a lot of confidence. I just try to focus on me, try to make my game plan and to play until the end.

“It’s good to have one more match or maybe two more matches before Wimbledon – this was my goal for playing here.

But Marion Bartoli, the other in-form player throughout the AEGON International, is desperate to defend her title – and become the first at Eastbourne since Belgian Justine Henin achieved the feat in 2007.

Although rising star Kerber aims to claim her third title this term, to boast her confidence ahead of the back-to-back majors of Wimbledon and London 2012 at SW19, Bartoli will be hoping to show the French Tennis Federation (FFT) that they were foolish to ignore her for the Games.

Bartoli, the world no8, has been omitted from automatic selection for the French Olympic Team as she has not played in the Fed Cup over the past four years. And the FFT refused to nominate her for a wildcard.

Bartoli, whose unorthodox game is suited to grass, will be especially eager to win at Eastbourne and carry her impressive form into Wimbledon – where she finished runner-up in 2007 – so that she can turn round to the FFT and say ‘Zut alors!’ or words to that effect.

She explained:

I’m feeling in good form right now and this year I’m playing quite honestly as well.

“It’s good for me to have this kind of form before Wimbledon, but what I do feel on grass is my steps are very strong.”

Ivanovic aims to court success

Ana Ivanovic, News

Ana IvanovicAna Ivanovic, who made a shock early exit at Roland Garros, is kicking off her grass court season at Eastbourne’s Devonshire Park – and aiming for a decent run.

The Serbian star, who earlier this season became single after splitting up with her golfer boyfriend and then installed a new coach, will be entering the 2012 AEGON International and gain a Wimbledon seeding as the world no14.

Ivanovic has choosen not to defend her WTA Tour points at this week’s Birmingham’s AEGON Classic, having romped to the semi-finals last year with arguably some of best tennis on grass.

However, following a disappointing 2011 clay court season – especially the opening round exit at Roland Garros despite having been a previous French Open champion – Ivanovic turned on the style at Birmingham but was worn out when she came to Eastbourne, and then failed to make much of an impact at Wimbledon.

The former no1 is no longer lacking in confidence since pairing up with British coach Nigel Sears, and appears happier on the WTA Tour despite not capturing a clay court title.

Ana-and-Nigel-SearsJune2012With a new coach to advise her about exploits on and off the coach, Ivanovic is understandably picking and choosing her tournaments with the utmost care and consideration.

And the intimate Eastbourne event is going to be a chance for the darling of the court to hone her natural grass skills ahead of the back-to-back majors of Wimbledon and the Olympic Tennis Competitions – both hosted at SW19.

As usual the women’s event is littered with rising stars, former Grand Slam winners and ex-world no1 players – so Ivanovic has her work cut at Devonshire Park, but will find the Centre Court crowd very vocal towards supporting her.


Bartoli backtracks on FFT blast

Marion Bartoli, News
By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

Marion-Bartoli on OlympicsMarion Bartoli, the defending Eastbourne champion, is prepared to take on the French Tennis Federation (FFT) after the 2012 Olympics but wants to clarify their relationship.

Bartoli, who made a swift 2nd Round exit from Roland Garros, is looking forward to the grass court season that suits her unorthodox style but fuming that she isn’t getting to play at SW19 for the Olympic Tennis Competitions.

The ex-Wimbledon runner-up was reported to have informed a journalist that because the FFT refused to nominate her for the London Games, that she was not frightened to go to “war” with FFT once the Olympics have concluded.

Bartoli could have been nominated by the FFT as a wildcard because she is within the world’s top 10, but the FFT have refused to consider this.

Under Olympic Tennis rules, each player has to have represented their nation twice over an Olympic four-year cycle at either the Davis Cup or Fed Cup. And Bartoli has only played once in the Fed Cup, back in 2004.

However, Bartoli refuses to play in the Fed Cup as her father and coach Walter is not permitted to be involved under the FFT regulations for Fed Cup matches not permitting private coaches.

Bartoli blasted:

“The Olympics is last thing the FFT has. They can play their cards into the Olympics, but after that it’s going to be hard on them because then it’s my turn to criticise them.

For 15 years I haven’t been saying anything, but after the Olympics it’s going to be the start of a really big war.”

FFT boss Jean Gachassin claimed that Baroli sent a letter to the FFT apologising for her outburst.

Bartoli hit back:

“It is a good thing if we can meet so we can clarify things and start again anew, but it’s difficult for me to make any projections on this.

“You have healthy and positive relationships, and I think that is Jean’s attitude – he was sympathising with me and he supported me on a number of matches. Starting with good relationships with him we will see, then we will talk about the future.”



Ivanovic swings back

Ana Ivanovic, News, Players

By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

Ana Ivanovic keen to settleAna Ivanovic believes that she is rejuvenated and enjoying tennis more after becoming single and taking on a new coach.

The Serbian star, who burst into the world’s top 10 by winning the 2008 French Open, has suffered a topsy-turvy career on the WTA Tour but is bursting to return to her form glories – including a shot at an Olympic Tennis medal at the London 2012 Games.

The former world no1, now coached by Brit Nigel Sears, is set to compete at Eastbourne’s 2012 AEGON International for the third time in four seasons.

Ivanovic admitted: “When I started playing tournaments, it was always like a game for me.

“I loved the tennis, then people were telling me ‘That’s your work’, which completely changed the way I saw tennis and competition – it became a burden for me.

“I am now starting to enjoy tennis, just like when I first came on the Tour, which makes it much nicer to play – I move freer and I am happier.”

Since Ivanovic became single in 2012, her focus has been to break into the world’s top 10 and prepare for the London Olympics – hosted by Wimbledon’s All England & Croquet Club.

However, the 24-year-old has plans for when she retires from the Tour – having turned professional in 2003 – and admitted: “I know that one day I would love to have a nice husband and maybe two or three kids.”

Yet she has no intention of following Serbian compatriot Novak Djokovic into acting roles. World no1 Djokovic, like Russian beauty and Devonshire Park favourite Anna Kournikova before him, is making a cameo appearance in a Hollywood movie (‘The Expendables 2′).

Ivanovic explained: “I really want to do something different to Novak, because I live a public enough life as it is.”


Rising star Barthel

Marion Bartoli, News, Players, WTA Players

By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

Mona Barthel 2012German ace Mona Barthel, who has jumped up the world ranking and is on the verge of the top 30, is looking forward to the 2012 grass court season.

The 20-year-old has risen 173 places since the end of 2010 to become world no35 following her impressive showing as a Porsche Grand Prix wildcard at Stuttgart.

She shocked Eastbourne 2011 winner Marion Bartoli in Stuttgart before falling in a three set thriller to world no1 Victoria Azarenka. The Belarussian said after her victory that Barthel was “one to watch”.

Barthel, who is very likely to play in the London 2012 Olympics as a replacement for injured compatriot Andrea Petkovic, could prove to be an outsider at Eastbourne’s AEGON International if she decides to play at the pre-Wimbledon tournament.

Big-serving Barthel, who concentrated on her education before the WTA Tour, said:

“I went to normal school and completed high school in eight years instead of nine, so therefore I naturally had very long school days.

“I really only played tournaments in the school holidays. I told myself at least I have something if tennis doesn’t work out.

“When I was able to concentrate on tennis I’ve improved very quickly. That was not happening aged 18 or 19, like with many other players, but that is perfectly fine for me.

“It’s a very strenuous job that we do on Tour. It’s certainly not easy for girls at 15 or 16 without the parents to travel the world alone.”


Hantuchova’s health concerns

News, Players, WTA Players

Exclusive by Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

daniela hantuchova doubtful for EastbourneDaniela Hantuchova, who has skipped singles events on the WTA Tour since April, is a major doubt for Eastbourne and Birmingham — the two traditional Wimbledon warm-up events.

The popular Slovakian ace, whose form has dipped dreadfully after a promising start to the season, even withdrew from the 2012 French Open for “personal reasons”.

The world no18 is set be the no2 seed at the AEGON Classic in Birmingham (11-17 June) behind top seed Sabine Lisicki of Germany — who Hantuchova lost to in last year’s final.

And if Hantuchova prepares for the back-to-back majors of Wimbledon and the London 2012 Olympics at Devonshire Park (16-23 June), then she will be aiming to go further than last season when she was forced out of the AEGON International by injury on Court No1.

Hantuchova, informed Roland Garros officials that she was not ready to compete in Grand Slam event due to personal reasons. However, the 29-year-old is prone to niggling injuries and may simply be just resting ahead of the looming grass court season.

She was in formidable form at the start of the year, finishing runner-up at the season opening tournament in Brisbane but was destroyed by former Eastbourne champion Kim Clijsters in the 3rd Round of the Australian Open.

The Slovakian star shone with a pair of terrific triumphs to oust France in the Fed Cup tie and then retained her Pattaya Open title. But after poor performances in Doha and Dubai, Hantuchova was hammered in Indian Wells and Miami.

Lacking her usual confidence, she lost at singles and then bounced back to claim a win in Slovakia’s narrow Fed Cup success over Spain. Yet she has skipped the clay court season — including the French Open, the Italian Open as well as high-profile events in Madrid and Barcelona.

Since receiving the coveted 2001 Newcomer of the Year award from the WTA Tour, she remains in the world’s top 20 at singles. Only time will tell whether she returns to compete at Eastbourne this year.



Radwanska revved up

Agnieszka Radwanska, Players, WTA Players

By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd in Paris

Agnieszka Radwanska 2012 French OpenAgnieszka Rawanska, the former Eastbourne champion, has served up a scare for Venus Williams over her Olympic Tennis future.

The Pole danced past world no53 Williams with a formidable hour-long demolition of the American superstar at Roland Garros.

Radwanska, vying the world no1 slot this season, overwhelmed Williams 6-2 6-3 to ease into the 3rd Round at the 2012 French Open.

And Radwanska is aiming to reach her inaugural Grand Slam semi-final this term, with a run at Paris on the agenda, and is high on confidence with her own WTA Tour record of 38 wins in 2012 after destroying ex-world no1 Williams.

But the Pole was very charitable about the American icon, who she thrashed in March 2012: “Maybe she just had a bad day here.

“Of course when I saw the draw I wasn’t very happy, because Venus as a 2nd Round opponent is not easy.”

Yett Radwanska has lost seven times this term with six of those defeats at the hands of world no1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarussia.

Fortunately for the 2008 Eastbourne champion, Azarenka – now coached by former Devonshire Park favourite Amelie Mauresmo – is skipping the AEGON International in order to be ready for the back-to-back Championships and Olympics at SW19.

Veteran Williams, world no53 going into the French Open, needs to be in the top 56 on the WTA Tour by 11 June 2012 – and within the top four Americans – to be guaranteed an Olympic Tennis place at Singles: “This tournament was all about getting to the Olympics.

“If that happens for me, and I think the chances are good, then I come out a victor – so that is why I was here in Paris.”

But Russian-born American Varvara Lepchenko needs to just win two more rounds at Roland Garros to leap over Williams in the world rankings, which could push out the former no1 from competing at SW19 for the London 2012 Olympic Games.