Errani withdrawal promotes Stosur

2013 AEGON International, Agnieszka Radwanska, Ana Ivanovic, Caroline Wozniacki, Ekaterina Makarova, EXCLUSIVE, Li Na, Maria Kirilenko, Marion Bartoli, Nadia Petrova, Petra Kvitova, Players, Sam Stosur, Sara Errani, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Tamira Paszek, Yaroslava Shvedova

Exclusive by Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

Sam Stosur Sam Stosur has been elevated to the no8 seeding as Italian Sara Errani withdrew from Eastbourne on Thursday afternoon.

Errani, who reached the semi-finals at the French Open but only picked up a single game against eventual champion Serena Williams, is suffering from a foot strain and an abductor strain.

The Aussie ace, who only opted for late wildcards at the grass court tournaments in Birmingham and Eastbourne instead of practice.

Her trademark kick serve is exposed to daze and confuse opponents, with the rest of the seeded players probably breathing a sigh of relief that they won’t have to face her in the opening round.

And with an incredible line-up for this year’s pre-Wimbledon tournament at Eastbourne, it is probably the best place to watch grass court tennis outside of The Championships at SW19.

Six former champions – Agnieszka Radwanska, Caroline Wozniacki, Marion Bartoli, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Tamira Paszek and Ekatrina Makarova – face stiff competition from the world’s leading ladies.

German Anglique Kerber, who let five match points slip in last year’s final, will be amongst the favourites to be crowned 2013 AEGON International champion.

Petra Kvitova, the Czech Republic’s 2011 Wimbledon winner, has the ability to go all the way on grass whereas top 10 ace Chinese no1 Li Na does not have the style of game particularly suited to grass.

However, grass court experts Stosur and Serbian star Ana Ivanovic will be relishing the opportunity of competing against the top players ahead of Wimbledon, although neither are likely to lift the crown on 22 June 2013.

There are an intriguing trio of Russians also in with a chance of making the final. Maria Kirilenko will be joined by relative veteran Nadia Petrova on their respective hunt for glory.

Players to watch, but who won’t be crowned 2013 Eastbourne champion, include British youngsters Laura Robson and Heather Watson.

America’s rising star Sloane Stephens and Kazakhstani’s Yaroslava Shvedova have withdrawn from the event.

Seeds are:

  1. Agnieszka RADWANSKA
  2. LI Na
  3. Angelique KERBER
  4. Petra KVITOVA
  5. Caroline WOZNIACKI
  6. Maria KIRILENKO
  8. Sam STOSUR

Stephens skips stellar draw

EXCLUSIVE, News, Players, Sara Errani, Sloane Stephens, WTA Players, Yaroslava Shvedova

Exclusive by Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

Sloane Stephens 2013America’s rising star Sloane Stephens and Kazakhstan’s Yaroslava Shvedova have withdrawn from Eastbourne’s 2013 AEGON International, both citing injury.

It means, as it stands, that there will be no Americans in the Ladies Singles main draw of the grass court tournament at Devonshire Park for the first time ever – with Russians continuing to dominate in Singles on the professional circuit.

Stephens is suffering from an abdominal problem while Shvedova has an on going right arm injury. Both players have opted to practice and rest ahead of The Championships.

Stephens, who has yet to reach a Singles final on the WTA Tour Singles final, has hit the headlines this year because of her brushes with world no1 Serena Williams.

Williams was stunned by her compatriot at the 2013 Australian Open quarter-final stage, and Stephens apologised – via her Twitter account of @sloanetweets – for her war of words with Williams.

Stephens’ form nosedived after her exploits in Melbourne (and the previous event in Brisbane), but returned to cause problems against opponents during the clay court season beginning at the Madrid  Masters.

She concluded the gruelling season on clay with a run to the 4th Round at the 2013 French Open for the second season on the bounce, bowing out to defending champion Maria Sharapova of Russia.

Yaroslava_Shvedova 2012Doubles expert Shvedova will also miss the traditional Wimbledon warm-up event, which has the usual stellar field in the Ladies Singles.

Although Russian-born Shvedova continues to live and train in Moscow, she switched her Russian nationality in 2008 as part of Kazakhstan boosting its profile on the sporting arena.

Shvedova, twice a quarter-finalist at Roland Garros, came to prominence at Singles during 2012 Wimbledon when she achieved a Golden Set success over Italian Sara Errani. And last year she started to sport prescription sports glasses due to a nervous tic in one eye.

Subdued Stosur selects return

EXCLUSIVE, News, Players, Sam Stosur, WTA Players

Exclusive by Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

Samantha Stosur of Australia serves duriSam Stosur, who will drop out of the world’s top 10 for the first time since 2011 coming into Eastbourne, has made entering the 2013 AEGON International priority over training.

The Australian has been granted a wildcard entry to Devonshire Park, the traditional warm-up event for Wimbledon, and is relieved to see the gruelling clay court season come to a halt.

The current world no9 exited the 2013 French Open to former world no1 Jelena Jankovic in the 3rd Round and in recent seasons competed in the grass court tournaments at Eastbourne (2011) and ‘s-Hertogenbosch (2012) ahead of Wimbledon.

Stosur, who has not been past the 2nd Round at SW19 since 2009, refused to finalise her schedule until she weighed up all her options and was no longer involved in the French Open Ladies Doubles with the London-based Italian Francesca Schiavone.

But she is desperate to end her string of indifference results and is seeking to gain momentum, having overcome a calf injury that disrupted her build-up to Roland Garros. The Australian ace has also been granted a wildcard entry at the less prestigious but nevertheless testing tournament at Birmingham, the AEGON Classic, which starts next Monday.

The 2011 US Open winner’s career has not taken off as expected since her maiden Grand Slam success.

Stosur said: “I decided last year that I’d maybe try something a little bit different ahead of preparing for Wimbledon.

“I have assessed the time I’ve got to get stuck into the practice and my aim is to try and have a good Wimbledon.

“I am starting to feel better about my tennis after having a very stop-start first five months of the year. I guess the clay court season is over for the moment and then I head onto the grass, and we’ll see what happens there.

“It’s a challenge going onto the grass for me, it’s another opportunity to turn my form around.”

Wozniacki set for early arrival

Caroline Wozniacki, EXCLUSIVE, WTA Players

CarolineWozniacki2012Exclusive by Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

Caroline Wozniacki is likely to be an early visitor to Eastbourne’s Devonshire Park following her disappointing clay court season.

The 2009 AEGON International champion suffered a shock 90-minute two set defeat to Serbian star Bojana Jovanovski at the 2013 French Open.

The former world no1 has tasted six defeats in her past eight matches on clay, so understandably is eager to return to grass.

And she has been restricted by WTA rules to compete at Birmingham’s AEGON Classic, as top 10 players are not permitted to enter more than two International Series events a season.

Wozniacki, 22, revealed: “I guess it’s good that it’s the last tournament on clay because it hasn’t been the best clay season this year for me. So now I shall just go back and practice again as I try to prepare for Wimbledon.

“I will most likely go to Eastbourne a bit earlier to get some longer practice on grass. I really like it there and it’s a great tournament – I love playing on grass.

“It’s one of my favourite tournaments atmosphere wise, so I don’t mind going a bit earlier. Every time I go to Eastbourne I always feel happy, so I’m excited to go and play on it.”

Li likely for wildcard

Li Na, News, Players

Exclusive by Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

li-na china's no1Li Na, whose controversial comments to Chinese media following her earliest ever French Open exit, is going to request a wildcard for the 2013 AEGON International according to sources close to

Li, twice a Wimbledon quarter-finalist and 2011 French Open champion, hasn’t entered the grass court event in Birmingham so is expected to be at Devonshire Park for what promises to be a tough draw in the Ladies event.

The Chinese no1 was questioned after her three set defeat to American ace Bethanie Mattek-Sands but did not take kindly to this.

Li retorted: “Do I need to explain? It’s strange. I lost a game and that’s it. Do I need to get on my knees and apologise to them?”

Zhang Rongfeng, a journalist for China’s official press agency Xinhua News, has controversially reported: “Her bad temper and losing the game and were direct triggers of her episode at the presser.

“But if we take a closer look, her unfriendliness has a lot to do with her lack of professionalism. As a successful athlete, Li Na may be very professional with her training, game experience, PR team operation, and so on – but she is not with her attitude towards the media. She’s impatient and not respectful enough to the media.”

Li arrived at Roland Garros having easily dispatched Mattek-Sandsen route to the final in Stuttgart last month, but following a second break for rain lost seven games on the trot that cost her the chance of progressing into the French Open 3rd Round.

Li was swift to defend this lapse at the press conference and said: “I know for sure I lost seven games in a row. But to go back to the court three times is a very tough condition, you know.”

Should Li return to Eastbourne’s Devonshire Park this summer, then no doubt the unpredictable English summer could also upset her and result in more excuses as well as controversial comments that are seeing the Chinese no1’s popularity starting to slip.

Great expectations for Kvitova

EXCLUSIVE, Petra Kvitova

Exclusive by Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

Over ‘n out: Petra Kvitova beaten at Eastbourne

Petra Kvitova, who sensationally lost her opening match in Eastbourne, admits that high expectations at Wimbledon will not daunt her.

The Czech Republic ace, who followed up her Devonshire Park debut as runner-up to France’s Marion Bartoli last year to then claim the Wimbledon crown, looked sluggish at Eastbourne.

It was the first grass court match that the 22-year-old has played since storming to her maiden Grand Slam at SW19.

The Wimbledon winner said about retaining her title:

“The expectation at Wimbledon is very big, so the pressure is there and it’s normal – but without pressure it would be boring.

“I’m glad that my team and me are not really thinking about the pressure too much.

“I’m just so honoured to return to Wimbledon as defending champion and I’m really looking forward to the first match when I step onto the Centre Court.

“I think that I’ll have goosebumps again when I go through those famous gates for the first time this year.”

Wozniacki’s shin dig

Caroline Wozniacki, EXCLUSIVE, News

Exclusive by Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

caroline wozniackiCaroline Wozniacki has hit out at David Nalbandian following his disqualification at Queen’s Club for injuring a linesman – which is now being investigated by the police after a complaint from a member of the public.

The Argentinian kicked at the advertising boards after losing a game in the final to Marin Cilic, which resulted in the wooden hoarding injurying the official’s shin.

Great Dane Wozniacki, a former world no1, said:

“It’s unfortunate that it had to happen and they had to default him. Under the circumstances, it was the right decision.

He went up to the linesman, and apologised to him. The only thing he can do is to apologise, there’s not much he can do about it afterwards.

There’s really not too much to say about it. I saw it on TV quite a few times. I’m just thinking to get something over your shin must hurt, and that looked like it really hurt.”

Zvonareva return in doubt

EXCLUSIVE, News, WTA Players

Exclusive by Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

Vera-ZvonarevaHeadVera Zvonareva has had a torrid season with niggling injuries, but the Russian star’s participation at Eastbourne is in severe jeopardy due to a recurring shoulder injury.

The 27-year-old practised at Roland Garros but pulled out of the French Open on the opening day just ahead of her match, because of her right shoulder problem.

Although she is set to compete at Devonshire Park, it is highly unlikely she will risk her shoulder and is not entered in next week’s Birmingham grass court tournament.

The two-time 2010 Grand Slam finalist – runner-up at Wimbledon and the US Open – said:

“My shoulder injury has still not healed. It is part of the sport, and I have to find a way to get back so I can compete without pain.

“I have had some issues with it before and it’s been bothering me at the end of last year and early this year as well.

“I have not seen a specialist and I have not made any decision about the injury, but it is definitely not the best year.”

And Zvonareva has played only eight tournaments this year ahead of Wimbledon, although kicked off the 2012 season in fine form by capturing the Australian Open Doubles title with compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova.

But she retired with a hip injury at the Pattaya Open and the Qatar Open in February, followed by desert flu and then she skipped Stuttgart in April due to her shoulder injury.

Although she bounced back to make a brief appearance in Madrid, Zvonareva missed Rome and then Roland Garros with the same shoulder problems.


Tennis Tours set to net courtside cheats

EXCLUSIVE, News, WTA Players

Exclusive by Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

exclusiveEver since staff were mistaken by police as leading a team of Russian online gamblers during the 2010 event at Devonshire Park, tennis officials have been trained to spot betting scams on the ATP and WTA tours.

Two tennis fans have been ejected from the respective ABS Classic WTA and Heineken Open ATP tournaments in 2012, within a week at January’s annual pre-Australian Open event in Auckland, New Zealand.

ATP Tour supervisor Tom Barnes said:

“On some European betting sites you can bet on a first serve and whether it will be a fault.

“These people are very crafty. Somebody sitting in the stands with a cell phone can transmit this information to someone in Europe and the person who is making the bet will have the information before anybody else – they are actually cheating in that respect.”

A Spanish man was removed from the 2012 ABS Classic, and the following week a New Zealand man was ejected from the Heineken Open.

There was a mad rush on tickets for these two events in London, England, with more than £1,500 (US$2,000) spent – much higher interest than previous years.

Barnes explained:

“The chair umpires, linesman and myself, we all look around for that. We have been trained in how to spot these people and it is pretty obvious, if everybody in the stands is standing up applauding and one guy is sitting there with his hands in his pockets. They show up everywhere.”

The Tennis Integrity Unit is now set to net any potential illegal betting and will fully investigate after these two incidents when the respective spectators were using a handheld device, believed by tennis officials to be used to specifically bet on points in order to take advantage of the delay of few seconds that online betting websites and live television take to transmit.

Barnes admitted:

“We do not want to be tarnished with the brush that people are cheating in that way. This is our way of trying to protect the integrity of the sport.”


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.