By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd
The Belgian, who slipped out of the world’s top 50, continued her impressive record of never dropping a set to McHale in only their third encounter on the WTA Tour.
Wickmayer moved down to the ranking to no51 following her 2nd Round exit to Croatian Mirjana Lucic-Baroni on grass in Birmingham.
The reward for Wickmayer will be to face the winner of the tie between Czech ex-Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and the Romanian Monica Niculescu.
And former ATP professional Stefan Wauters has taken over from Slovak Vladimir Platenik as Wickmayer’s coach – the 12th in the role in the past decade for the Belgium.
She explained: “Stefan will bring me a lot with his experience as a player, this is a great feeling as Stefan and I are clearly on the same wavelength.”
2012 AEGON International
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2012 AEGON International
Heather Watson lost 6-7 1-6 to Lucie Safarova
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova won 7-5 3-6 6-4 v Christina McHale
Angelique Kerber won 6-3 6-2 v Chanelle Scheepers
Laura Robson lost 4-6 5-7 to Ekaterina Makarova
Tsvetana Pironkova won 6-0 4-6 6-4 v Stephanie Dubois
Marion Bartoli won 6-2 6-2 v Aleksandra Wozniak
Tamira Paszek won 6-4 3-6 6-1 v Daniela Hantuchova
Petra Cetkovska lost 1-6 6-1 2-6 to Klara Zakopalova
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova edged past resilient US ace Christina McHale in three fiercely fought sets.
The Devonshire Park were treated to high quality play, Russian star Pavlyuchenkova wrapping up a 7-5 3-6 6-4 triumph over yesterday’s conqueror of former world no1 Caroline Wozniacki.
By Roger Hudson
I’ve formulated an ambitious plan for Tuesday at the 2012 AEGON International, I’m going to try to watch at least some of the matches played by the top three seeds in the WTA draw – Agnieszka Radwanska, Petra Kvitova and Caroline Wozniacki. In the end, I watch as all three are dismissed by lower-ranked opponents.
Kvitova, the defending Wimbledon champion, opened the day’s play on Centre Court against Ekaterina Makarova – a former Eastbourne champion who has beaten seven Top 20 players on these courts over the years.
Kvitova started beautifully to serve for the set at 5-4, but her early fluidity and confidence disappears, and her forehand leaks errors to be broken back. A couple of games later the Czech Republic puts a down-the-line backhand long to lose the opening set 7-5.
Having been played into the match by her opponent’s many errors, Makarova is quick to seize her opportunity. Pressed hard on serve early in the second set, the Russian unerringly targets Kvitova’s forehand whenever she is break-point down, eliciting errors. Kvitova looks increasingly miserable and is broken in short order.
While she finds a flurry of those magnificent winners to break back as Makarova serves for the match, a double fault and poor backhand in Kvitova’s next service game open the door again.
After scampering in to wrong foot Kvitova and a strong return, Makarova eventually wins 7-5 6-4, sending the Wimbledon champion off to SW19 a little earlier than expected.
Over on Court 1 Radwanska fell to Tsvetana Pironkova. Russian star Pironkova had never progressed beyond the 2nd Round here in six attempts, which is surprising as she’s beaten Venus Williams twice at Wimbledon (to reach the quarter-finals in 2011 and the semi-finals in 2010).
The dainty-looking Pironkova has always struggled with slicing her forehand rather than hitting through it. But she had no problems using that side to dictate play today.
As I arrived Radwanska was serving at 2-3 in the first set, as the Bulgarian ran her from side to side. The world no3 is generally considered a crafty player with a bulging bag of tricks, but it was Pironkova who took the initiative by throwing in a short slice and volleying behind it to take the first break of serve.
Two games later Pironkova struck a clean forehand winner for a set point, then a return winner down the line to take the opening set 6-2.
After a brief resurgence in the second set, Radwanska’s poor serving lets Pironkova – who won 6-2 6-4 – dominate the rallies and break back immediately for 2-2.
But I can’t stay because over on Centre Court there’s another upset brewing as Wozniacki has lost the first set to Christina McHale 6-1.
Joining the match at the beginning of the second set I can see how McHale, who already had one win over Wozniacki, managed to dominate the first set so conclusively.
The two are similar in so far that both are more conspicuous for a tireless work ethic and competitive spirit than a particular big shot.
But McHale today did one thing that Wozniacki can’t, or won’t, do – taking the ball early on her forehand, flattening it out, driving the ball deep, and going for winners.
The American is also consistently attacking down the lines, something Wozniacki does reluctantly, if at all.
Watching how a similar player has improved her forehand and aggressive instincts underlines the lack of similar improvement in Wozniacki’s game since she reached world no1. But the Dane is still a top player, and she plays a delightfully cagey rally to break and lead 3-2.
There was a noticeable change in Wozniacki’s service stance today, placing her right foot further behind her to widen her stance and obliquely change the angle at which she stands to the baseline.
McHale was quick to pick up on the change, landing deep forehand returns to break back for 5-4, but also making more unforced errors. It’s one too many, a backhand wide, that loses her the second set 9-7 on a tiebreak.
One thing that McHale did magnificently was to stick to her guns.
Breaking early in the third to lead 2-1, the American continued to go for her shots, even when a poor game leads to Wozniacki recovering the break.
At 4-4 McHale dragged Wozniacki into the net and passes her, then plays another punishing rally and puts the ball too low for the Dane to handle to earn three break points. McHale breaks, but it’s a struggle to serve out the match, as Wozniacki finally hits out on her forehand whenever she is down match point.
On McHale’s fourth match point, earned with a pair of blinding winners, she crosses the finish line to win 6-1 6-7 6-4 for the third big upset of the day.
2012 AEGON International
Jie Zheng lost to 3-6 6-4 3-6 Klara Zakopalova
Ekaterina Makarova won 7-5 6-4 v Petra Kvitova
Angelique Kerber won 3-6 6-0 7-5 v Elena Vesnina
Agnieszka Radwanska lost 2-6 4-6 to Tsvetana Pironkova
Su-Wei Hsieh lost 2-6 0-3 to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
Christina McHale won 6-1 6-7 6-4 v Caroline Wozniacki
Laura Robson won 3-6 6-2 6-2 v Maria-Jose Martinez Sanchez
Timea Babos lost 6-3 3-6 6-7 to Lucie Safarova
Petra Cetkovska won 3-6 6-2 6-1 v Andrea Hlavackova
Marion Bartoli won 6-2 6-2 v Sorana Cirstea
Greta Arn lost 3-6 4-6 to Heather Watson
Stephanie Dubois won 6-4 6-4 v Carla Suarez Navarro
Christian McHale claimed the prized scalp of former world no1 Caroline Wozniacki in three sets to add to the day’s shocks.
The American ace, touted as the next big thing, lived up to the hype by thundering away with the opening set against Wozniacki.
But the Dane, who was unbeaten before today at Devonshire Park after winning the 2009 crown, showed a spirited comeback to force a tiebreak – that she edged 9-7.
With a battling decisive set keeping the vocal Centre Court on the edge of their seats, neither player wanted to lose so played safety shots rather than the swashbuckling tennis of the previous sets.
Yet it was the tenacious talent of McHale, whose gritty determination and hunger for success, made her a worthy winner 6-1 6-7 6-4.
Delighted McHale beamed:
“I am really excited to have pulled that one out – I thought I played well today so I’m really, really happy.”
Wozniacki, the world no7 who had been practising at Eastbourne since last Thursday, was witnessed losing in front of golfing professional boyfriend Rory McIlroy.
But she isn’t going to rush away from the seaside town and explained:
“Obviously I would have liked to have won that match, but at least I got some points in.
“I started off not really well, especially on my serves – I didn’t get any advantage out of those and felt the pressure straightaway.
“She was serving and returning well.
In the second set I felt like I found my game and started to play much better. But the third set could have gone either way.
“She played a good match, and I had some chances and I didn’t take them -on grass you get punished for that.
“Obviously I want to be in the tournament, but there’s still a lot of girls out there I can practice with and you can play sets with them – that’s just what I’m going to do.
“I’m now just trying to work on a few things before Wimbledon. It’s not really going to be a setback. I didn’t play any matches last year on grass before I went to Wimbledon – and this year I can win there.”
Courted success: Petra Kvitova
Petra Kvitova, the Wimbledon winner, is due to play her first grass court match since being crowned champion at SW19 when she opens up Centre Court proceedings against Russian Ekaterina Makarova.
But the 22-year-old Czech Republic ace faces a stern task as Makarova won the 2010 Eastbourne title.
Caroline Wozniacki, another former Devonshire Park champion, has a tricky task in her 1st Round clash against American Christina McHale second on Centre Court.
The great Dane has a new bite about since installing a coach to guide her back to her not so distant former glories. The ex-world no1 will be aiming to emulate her 2009 run to the title on her first return to Devonshire Park since that triumph.
The all-American clash between the big servers is a mouth-watering tie, third on Centre Centre. Andy Roddick, a three-time Wimbledon runner-up, and Sam Querrey are playing well below their usual standard with a run at the AEGON International needed by both to boost much-needed confidence.
Agnieszka Radwanska, the 2008 Eastbourne winner and top seed, has a battle against Bulgarian beauty Tsvetana Pironkova in the second match on Court 1.
Marion Bartoli will begin the defence of her title by bringing her unorthodox French flair against Romanian Sorana Cirstea for the third match on Court 1.
Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland (no1 seed), Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic (no2), ex-world no1 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark (no3) and defending champion Marion Bartoli of France (no4) have no luxury of a bye during the 1st round at Eastbourne.
The ‘group of death’
Whenever you have last year’s SW19 Queen Kvitova and the highest seed after the top four slotted in the same quarter-final then you’ve got a ‘group of death’.
Kvitova gets Russian and former champion at Eastbourne winner Ekaterina Makarova, who pushed her to two tiebreaks last season at Devonshire Park on grass before falling.
German ace Angelique Kerber (no5) lays in the Czech’s path possibly during the 3rd Round.
Two qualifiers, another German, another Russian and Spaniard are also situated in this tricky section of the draw.
1st Round knockout
By no means is Kvitova safe but neither is (no3) Wozniacki, who now has her own underwear line so won’t want a pants performance against American Christina McHale.
McHale dismissed the great Dane in straight sets at Cincinnati last year, but Wozniacki got revenge in two sets when they met last summer. McHale comes right back at Wozniacki to try to go back ahead in the head-to-head series, attempting to shake off a rough loss in Birmingham last week.
Top three forecasts
- British sensation wildcard Heather Watson will win her first match against a qualifier.
- Bartoli, a two-hander on both wings, will beat her first two foes convincingly.
- Kerber will go the furthest of all the seeds in what I’m declaring to be one hell of a Wimbledon tune-up.
AEGON International final pick
Kerber to take crown from defending champion Bartoli.
Jovanovski discovered on Thursday that she had been handed a place in the main draw at The Championships, and capped an incredible turnaround of events with a wondrous win at Eastbourne – albeit in the qualifying round.
Lepchenko and compatriot Christina McHale are widely regarded as the future of America’s tennis once stalwarts Serena and Venus Williams hang up their racquets.
But after Russian-born Lepchenko lost the tiebreak in a cat and mouse opening set, the Serb stylish dispatched her 7-6 6-3.
Lepchenko, 11 years after leaving troubled Uzbekistan for the USA, is now on the brink of representing her new nation at the Olympics – although the 26-year-old will have to improve her grass court tactics if this display, in blustery conditions, is anything to go by.
However, joyous Jovanovski seems a force to be reckoned with on the fast service – and appears to be a handful for even the top players in what is again a very strong draw.
Jovanovski took the place of injured German Andrea Petkovic, who skipped Eastbourne this year because of a persistent right ankle problem that also resulted in her missing the French Open.