Exclusive by Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd
Sam 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.”
By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd
Sam Stosur, whose powerful kick serve suits fast surfaces, will be aiming to return back to the world’s elite by making progress at Eastbourne.
The wildcard Australian, who only dropped out of the world’s top 10 following her 3rd Round reversal to Jelena Jankovic, has got the all-round power game to reel off victims on grass and immediately climb back up the rankings.
Former world no1 Jankovic got revenge for her 2010 French Open defeat to Stosur three years later in Paris. However, the Serbian star made controversial comments when she exited the 2010 Roland Garros semi-finals.
Jankovic claimed at the time about Stosur: “To be honest, she kind of has like almost the game of a man – that’s what it feels like.
“When I look at how the men play she has kind of a similar kick serve, which not many women have. It’s a very heavy spin and then she runs around the forehand.”
Rising French star Kristina Mladenovic, beaten by Stosur in the 2nd Round at Roland Garros, said about her opponent: “She was serving just amazing, and I would say like a man today – really. She’s the only woman player able to hit that hard and that heavy with those conditions.”
Stosur retorted: “It’s just one of those things, I don’t take offence. It all depends how it’s said and the context of it. Sometimes in print it probably sounds more harsh than it actually was.
“Most of the time it’s a compliment. I’m able to hit a kick serve. If I can do something better than the rest of the girls then that’s something to be happy with.”
Melanie Oudin’s smile lit up the AEGON Classic on Monday after the resurgent American beat former world no1 Jelena Jankovic 6-4, 6-2 to claim her first WTA Tour title.
Oudin came through qualifying and won eight matches in total. Her reward was The Maud Watson trophy, a cheque for $37,000, a jeroboam of Moët & Chandon champagne – and a wildcard into Wimbledon.
“This was a really great tournament for me and I’m definitely looking forward to coming back,” said the 20-year-old.
“It really helped me playing qualifying here, I played better and better each match. I love playing on grass.”
That certainly showed against Jankovic, who was looking for her first title in more than two years but has been back to her clean-hitting best this week.
Oudin’s forehand was particularly impressive and she combined that with a mix of power and slice off the backhand side.
“It was a great, great week for me and I definitely feel like I got better and better with each match.”
Oudin announced herself as a star of the future in 2009 when she followed a fourth-round run at Wimbledon – where she beat Jankovic – with a quarter-final appearance at the US Open.
She has had some difficult times since and she came into the AEGON Classic ranked outside the top 200.
With the title, she will move up to around the 125 mark. She learned before playing the final that she had been given a wild card into Wimbledon as recognition of her current form.
“I’m a lot more mature now and a lot smarter. I’ve learned a lot about the game of tennis, about my game and how I want to play, what I’m capable of. I’ve learned to play within myself, not try to do more than I can.”
For Jankovic, it was also a productive week, although she was disappointed to have missed out on a 13th career title.
“Overall I’m really pleased with the week. I had a lot of good matches here,” said the Serb after her 27th WTA singles final.
“I was happy to be competing and to be at this stage of the tournament. To be in the final is always great.
“Obviously I’m disappointed to lose in the final but at the same time it’s a good result for me right now. It’s just the beginning and it’s good for my confidence.”
Timea Babos and Su-Wei Hsieh won the Doubles title on Sunday evening, beating the top seeds Lisa Raymond and Liezel Huber 7-5, 6-7 (2), 10-8.
The singles final was delayed until Monday after several days of rain.
Mona Barthel will arrive at Eastbourne’s Devonshire Park keen to made amends for her poor performance on grass at Birmingham.
The German star, seeded no6 at the AEGON Classic at the Edgbaston Priory Club, was ousted by Czech Republic stunner Andrea Hlavackova in straight sets.
The 25-year-old, a Doubles specialist who won the 2011 French Open with compatriot Lucie Hradecka without conceding a set, saw off Barthel 7-6 6-2.
American teenage sensation Christina McHale, set to make her Eastbourne debut this year, was ousted 6-1 1-6 7-5 in a ding-dong battle to Russian 29-year-old Elena Vesnina.
Fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova, seeded no8, was given the runaround in her 7-6 6-3 tussle to beat Kazakhstan’s Sesil Karatantcheva.
Ex-Eastbourne champion Makarova next faces New Zealand no1 Marina Erakovic – the no9 seed – who delivered the knockout blow to Britain’s Laura Robson 6-4 3-6 6-4.
And fellow Brit Melanie South put on a brave battling display before succumbing to former world no1 Jelena Jankovic of Serbia, seeded no5, 6-1 7-6.
Serena Williams, who made her WTA Tour comeback at Eastbourne’s 2011 AEGON International to much fanfare, admits that her coach waited patiently for her return.
Williams, who missed virtually a year off the professional circuit from 2010 until competing at the 2011 Devonshire Park Wimbledon warm-up event, claims that Sasha Bazhin won’t find a better hitting partner.
According to Williams, Bazhin – her long-term hitting partner and coach – did not seriously consider switching allegiance to coach Serb Jelena Jankovic.
I heard about Jankovic’s interest, but it seems to me that he was not interested to go as he knew that I would return – and it’s unlikely that Sasha would find someone better than me!
2009 AEGON International | 13-20 June
By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd
Ailing Ivanovic doubles up
Ana Ivanovic is set to make her maiden appearance at Devonshire Park this year in both the Singles and the Doubles.
The Serbian star has been given a wildcard into the Eastbourne Doubles draw and will partner German Sabine Lisicki, world ranked no180 in Doubles.
Ivanovic is currently unranked at Doubles as she has only played once at Doubles on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour since the 2008 campaign.
Yet the 21-year-old once reached a career-high Doubles ranking of no50 in September 2006, after played tournaments with Russian Maria Kirilenko.
And Ivanovic slipped out of world’s top 10 to no13 following her tame 4th Round exit as a defending champion at Roland Garros.
She skipped the 2008 Eastbourne event due to a combination of injury and exhaustion following her French Open victory, which propelled her to world no1.
But has long been touted as a future Wimbledon champion because Ivanovic’s game is suited to grass. And she surprised even herself with a grand slam success on the clay courts of Roland Garros in 2008.
Ivanovic’s best finish at Wimbledon has been a semi-final spot, although if she can capture the 2009 AEGON International at Devonshire Park will be a force to reckoned with at SW19. And having appointed a new coach, the popular player has looked sharper, fitter, stronger and more confident.
She enthused: “I’m looking forward to playing in Eastbourne, it’s a very peaceful setting.
“It looks like the perfect place to prepare for Wimbledon. It’s also a chance to win a prestigious title, I know that the tournament has great history.”
But not all the top players opt for further match practice so close to Wimbledon, particularly as the clay court season has only just ended and Birmingham’s Priory Club takes place the week before Eastbourne.
The magnificent seven sign up
2009 AEGON International | 13-20 June
Entrants for the 2009 AEGON International were initially revealed with seven talents boasting an excellent pedigree and each have a real chance of winning the tournament.
Three teenagers, two Russians and two Serbians, are pencilled in to play at Devonshire Park this year.
Polish ace Agnieszka Radwanska makes it a hat-trick of appearances at Eastbourne and defends her 2008 crown. Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki are the other talented teenagers to enter, and have both recently climbed into the world’s top 10 with seven Sony Ericsson WTA Tour titles between them since their Devonshire Park debuts.
The formidable Russian duo of Elena Dementieva and Vera Zvonareva are due to return to Eastbourne. Both have been in red-hot form, regularly collecting 2009 singles titles on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour but fluffed their chances at Devonshire Park last year to make early exits.
Zvonareva was named in May 2009 as a ‘Promoter of Gender Equality’ by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to became the fifth ambassador of the United Nations.
Serbia’s popular pair of Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic are also planning to play at Eastbourne according to their respective coaches.
Beauty Ivanovic, the 2008 French Open champion, only missed making her debut at Devonshire Park because of her sensational exploits at capturing the grand slam in Paris beforehand.
While Jankovic, who made a dismal star to the year, is back to her best with confidence much higher after winning the inaugural Andalucia Tennis Experience in Marbella, Spain.
“I’m looking forward to playing in Eastbourne. It looks like the perfect place to prepare for Wimbledon”
– Ana Ivanovic