Top 20 aces to grace Eastbourne

Ana Ivanovic, Legends, News, WTA Players

by Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

anaKEBAlthough there have been some truly greats to have played singles at Eastbourne’s Devonshire Park, there have been so many doubles experts as well as well-known crowd-pleasers who failed to make a real impact despite all the hype.

Fans have been extremely vocal towards the stars that have shone in the annual event, held a stone’s throw from the seafront at the ppular British resort. with Russian babe Anna Kournikova especially popular with both male and female fans despite never winning a singles title throughout her career.

And although fans have adored these aces, there have been a number of tennis stars who were due to play at the prestigious Devonshire Park International Tennis Centre and disappointed the crowds with their non-appearance.

ana-ivanovicIn recent years, both Russian ace Maria Sharparova and Serbian starlet Ana Ivanovic have been pencilled in to play at Eastbourne. Sharparova won the Edgbaston event so skipped Eastbourne and went on to win become a Wimbledon champion.

Ivanovic pulled out of making her Eastbourne debut last year, partly because of injury and partly because of exhaustion following her unexpected French Open triumph, missed out on playing at Devonshire Park in 2005 because of an injury but is set to make it third time lucky in 2009 despite not being the force she was.

Appreciative fans have been treated to superb strokes and thrilling matches as well as a number of upsets on both Centre Court and the intimate No1 Court.

We have served up what we believe is the ultimate top 20 aces to grace Devonshire Park in terms of results, commitment to playing the pre-Wimbledon tournament and how the fans really reacted to their presence.

Our leading ladies | listed alphabetically

Tracy Austin, Kim Clijsters, Lindsay Davenport, Chris Evert, Justine Henin, Martina Hingis, Andrea Jeager, Anna Kournikova, Conchita Martinez, Amelie Mauresmo, Martina Navratilova, Jana Novotna, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Monica Seles, Pam Shriver, Betty Stove, Virginia Wade, Serena Williams and Venus Williams.

tracey-austinatEastbourneTracy Austin

Ex-world no1 American teenage prodigy who exploded onto the sport aged 14. In 1979, aged 16, Austin became the youngest player to win the US Open. She added the 1981 US Open for 30 career titles, but never got further than the semi-finals of Wimbledon. Retired aged 21, made two comebacks and now works as a commentator for American TV. Austin’s record in the UK was pretty impressive, with two Eastbourne titles and became Wimbledon’s youngest ever competitor aged just 15.

Kim ClijstersKim Clijsters

Ex-world no1 Belgium who won the 2005 US Open. Finished runner-up at the Australian Open and the French Open although never got further than the semi-final stage at Wimbledon despite her runner-up spot at junior Wimbledon in 1988. Retired from the sport aged 24 in 2007 and had a baby the following year but is going to give it another shot on the Sony Ericssson WTA Tour after 2009 Wimbledon.

lindsaydavenportatEBLindsay Davenport

Ex-world no1 American who has won all the grand Ssam titles except the French Open, including the 1999 Wimbledon Championships. Took a 11-month break from the sport to give birth to her son, Jagger, in 2007. Is expecting her second child in 2009, and is unlikely to ever return to the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour.

chris-evertatEastbourneChris Evert

Ex-world no1 American in 1976 became the female athlete to win over $1m in career earnings. Evert won 18 grand slams, comprising seven French Open titles, six times a winner of the US Open, a trio of Wimbledon triumphs and two Australian Open successes. Retired in 1989, runs her own tennis academy in the USA and is almost as famous for her many marriages – to British tennis no1 John Lloyd but is currently married to veteran golfer Greg “The Shark” Norman.

JHenin2007EBsemiJustine Henin

Ex-world no1 Belgian who in 2007 became the first sportswoman to earn over $5m a year in prize money. Henin won her fourth French Open and second US Open in 2007, adding to her 2004 Australian Open title. She reached all four grand slam finals in 2006 but only won the French Open. Made shock retirement aged 25 in 2008.

MHingisEBMartina Hingis

Ex-world no1 from Switzerland who dominated the sport in 1997 by winning three grand slam titles and added two more grand slams in her career. The prodigy, named after Martina Navratilova, retired between 2002 and 2006 following injuries. Hingis was banned for two years from January 2008 after testing positive to cocaine during 2007 Wimbledon but is unlikely to return to the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour.

andrea-jaegeratEastbourneAndrea Jaeger

American whose promising career was curtailed by shoulder injuries, but won 11 titles. Jaeger reached two Grand Slam finals, the 1982 French Open and Wimbledon in 1983. Retired aged 22 in 1987, and in 2006 took the vows to become an Anglican Dominican nun so is now known as Sister Andrea.

anna-kournikovainsunnyeastbourneAnna Kournikova

Russian doubles specialist who was famous for never winning a singles title. In 1997, she became only the second woman – following Chris Evert – in the open era to reach the semi-final on her Wimbledon debut. Retired from the WTA Tour in 2004 but still plays in high-profile celebrity matches for charity.

Hana MandlikovaEastbourneHana Mandlikova

Czech Republic ace who played in four consecutive grand slam singles finals, from the 1980 US Open to Wimbledon in 1981, Mandlíkova won all the grand slam titles except Wimbledon, and finished runner-up in four grand slam singles events. Retired aged 28 after struggling with injuries.

conchita_martinez_mylife-retConchita Martinez

The only Spanish woman to have won the Wimbledon, after shocking Martina Navratilova in the 1994 final. Finished runner-up at the 1998 Australian Open and 2000 French Open. Became the only player to win the Italian Open singles title in four consecutive years (1992-1996). Retired from the WTA Tour in 2006.

AMauresmo2007EBQFAmelie Mauresmo

Ex-world no1 French ace who won her only two grand slam titles in 2006, the Australian Open and Wimbledon, following the disappointment of losing the 1999 Australian Open final to Martina Hingis. One of only three women to be crowned world no1 without first winning a grand slam singles title. W,on the 2009 Paris Indoors event. Won Eastbourne once and finished runner-up once.

Martina-NavratilovaHSMartina Navratilova

Ex-world no1 Czech-born American who dominated the women’s tennis in the late 1970s and 1980s. In 1982, she became the first player to win over $1m in a single year. Reached Wimbledon final 12 times, including nine consecutive years from 1982 through 1990, and won the title a record nine times. Won Eastbourne a remarkable 11 times, though was disappointed by having to play the qualifying event at Devonshire Park in 2004.

jana_novotnaJana Novotna

Doubles specialist from the Czech Republic whose only grand slam success was the 1998 Wimbledon Championships. Twice finished runner-up at Wimbledon, in 1993 and 1998. Famously burst into tears at SW19 after she narrowly lost to Steffi Graf, and was comforted by the shoulder of the Dutchess of Kent.

arantxa-sanchez-vicarioArantxa Sanchez Vicario

Ex-world no1 Spaniard who won four grand slam titles, which included a hat-trick of French Open victories in 1989, 1994 and 1998. Finished runner-up in eight grand slams, including the 1995 and 1996 Wimbledon finals and three French Open finals. Retired from the WTA Tour in 2001.

monica-selespracticeatEBMonica Seles

Former world no1 American-Yugoslavian who collected seven grand slam titles between 1990 and 1992. Forced out of the sport for two years after a crazed fan of rival Steffi Graf stabbed her in the back on court. On her return Seles won the 1996 Australian Open and retired after the 2003 French Open but suffered weight problems until 2008.

pamshriverPam Shriver

American doubles expert who reached just one grand slam singles final, the 1978 US Open, where as an unseeded 16-year-old amateur she beat Martina Navratilova but lost to Chris Evert. Currently is a sports presenter for television stations in the United States.

BettyStoveBetty Stove

Dutch doubles specialist who failed to win any singles titles throughout her career, but came closest in her 1977 Wimbledon final defeat to Virginia Wade. After she retired she coached Hana Mandlikova for 10 years from 1980.

virginia-wadeEBVirginia Wade

Last British player to win a Wimbledon singles title, brilliantly triumphing during the centenary year of the Championships in 1977 in front of Queen Elizabeth II. Captured three grand slam titles during a 26-year career, which included the end of the amateur era. Works as a tennis commentator for BBC TV.

Serena-WilliamsatEastbourne-Serena Williams

Ex-world no1 American who helped revolutionise women’s tennis with her powerful style of play. Is the most recent player to hold all grand slam titles simultaneously and has an incredible tally of nine grand slams to her credit, including Wimbledon in 2002 and 2003. Still a major force on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour and believes that she is really the world no1.

venus-williamsatEastbourneVenus Williams

Former world no1 American who has help redefined the women’s game with her sheer strength and athleticism. Collected seven grand slam titles, including a remarkable set of five Wimbledon triumphs in 2000, 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2008. She was the voice who championed equal prize money for men and women at both the French Open and Wimbledon. Still on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour and a true champion on and off the court with her genuineness and stylish plat.

Jovanovski’s jackpot joy

News, Varvara Lepchenko, WTA Players

Bojana-JovanovskiEB2012

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.

Varvara_LepchenkoHSBut 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.

Wozniacki served up dangerous draw

Agnieszka Radwanska, Ana Ivanovic, Angelique Kerber, Ekaterina Makarova, Klara Zakopalova, Lucie Safarova, Marion Bartoli, News, Players, Sorana Cirstea, Tamira Paszek, WTA Players

2012 AEGON International draw | By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

Caroline WozniackiCaroline Wozniacki, the former world no1 and ex-Eastbourne champion, has been set a stiff task at the AEGON International – her first return to Devonshire Park since triumphing in 2009.

The no3 seed has been drawn against tenacious teenager Christina McHale, widely regarded as the next best thing on the WTA Tour and expected to soon fill the big shoes of ailing veterans Serena and Venus Williams as the American no1.

The winner of this highly anticipated contest is pitched in the same quarter as another ex-world no1 in the shape of Ana Ivanovic, who is on the comeback trail under recently appointed British coach Nigel Sears. But the Serbian star, seeded no4, has a game that is suited to grass despite having never made much of an impact at Wimbledon.

However, Ivanovic faces a qualifier in the 1st Round then, if successful, the winner of China’s in-form Jie Zheng and the stunning Czech Republic ace Klara Zakopalova.

Petra Kvitova2012EBWhoever comes out of that quarter potentially faces Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, the Czech Republic star who finished runner-up at last year’s Eastbourne final.

Kvitova was ousted by new world no1 Maria Sharapova at Roland Garros, so will be keen to obtain some grass court practice ahead of defending her title at SW19.

But Kvitova has been handed a nightmare opening round opponent in the form of Ekaterina Makarova, as the Russian is a former Eastbourne champion courtesy of a thrilling two set victory over Belarussian Victoria Azarenka in 2010.

In the same quarter there could be a 2nd Round clash between two talented young Germans, seeded Angelique Kerber and Mona Barthel. Both are deemed dark horses in the race to win the AEGON International, although South African Chanelle Scheepers will be planning a possible quarter-final showdown with Kvitova if she can see off Barthel in the opening round.

Marion BartoliMarion Bartoli, the defending Eastbourne champion, is set to face Romanian beauty Sorana Cirstea in the 1st Round.

The French ace, if she wins, would face the winner of Aleksandra Wozniak and Galina Voskoboeva. Bartoli is seeded for a quarter-final clash with Czech Republic’s Lucie Safarova.

Agnieszka Radwanska, the world no3 and top seed, leads a tough looking top quarter. The Pole, a former Eastbourne champion, is drawn against Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova – who is known on the WTA Tour for causing upsets. The winner faces either Petra Cetkovska or Carla Suarez Navarro in the 2nd Round.

Daniela Hantuchova, who surprisingly slipped up in her 1st Round match on grass at Birmingham, has been handed an opening round showdown against Brit Anne Keothavong. And the Slovakian will already be eying up her potential 2nd Round opponent out of New Zealand no1 Marina Erakovic and Austrian ace Tamira Paszek, who for the tournament is based at her Godparents who live in Eastbourne.

 

McHale set to fill Williams’ shoes

Caroline Wozniacki, Marion Bartoli, News, Svetlana Kuznetsova, WTA Players

Christina McHale 2012Christina McHale, widely tipped as the American to fill the void soon to be left by Serena and Venus Williams, is hoping to hone her skills ahead of the Olympic Tennis stage at Eastbourne.

McHale, 19, is expected to crack the world’s top 10 over the next few seasons on the WTA Tour and has already claimed scalps of the leading players over the past year.

The American teenager recently beat 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, added to victories over Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki, France’s Marion Bartoli and Russian ace Svetlana Kuznetsova.

McHale admitted that she was fast becoming a victim of her own success and said:

“Now everyone knows my game, because when you’re ranked everyone comes at you – but I know their game too.

“But putting a ranking on myself is one of the things I don’t like to do. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing by continuing to work hard and competing then. I’m working hard to get to the next level, and my coaches know I have to get stronger.”

McHale cracked the top 200 in 2010 but has become stronger on the court since then by being more tactically evolved. McHale’s game plan has been successfully adjusted by her coach Jay Gooding, staying close to the baseline and adding killer shots when approaching the net.

“It feels like things are moving steadily. I mostly played well all last year, but I need to concentrate on what’s ahead of me and continue to improve.”

 

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.

 

Single Ivanovic fully focused

Ana Ivanovic

By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

Ana Ivanovic, the former world no1, lies just outside the WTA Tour top 10 having worked her way back up the ranking after she slipped badly after being crowned 2008 French Open champion.

The 24-year-old returns to Eastbourne for the 2012 AEGON International despite having suffered early round defeats to American Venus Williams (2011) and Russian Nadia Petrova (2009).

When Ivanovic surprised herself by beating Russian ace Dinara Safina to win Roland Garros, improving on her runner-up spot at the 2007 French Open, then it looked as though another tennis star was born. Ivanovic had also finished runner-up at the 2008 Australian Open.

However, her aggressive style of play was soon sussed out and she has surprisingly claimed just 11 WTA Tour singles titles since she turned professional in 2003.

With British coach Sears now guiding her, then both Ivanovic’s mother Dragana and her father Miroslav – who regularly attend their daughter’s matches – will be expecting an upturn in form along with more singles titles.

A cautious Ivanovic said:

A few months ago I decided I needed to appoint my own coach, but the most important thing was that I chose the right one. I was prepared to wait for that, and I’m fortunate that I am working with Nigel (Sears) with half of the season still to go.

Although I’m excited about the months ahead – including Eastbourne – I have to be patient because it is going to take time for the hard work to pay off.

When you have a new coach there is extra motivation in the beginning that can create some good results. But the changes together take time to flourish, and it could be some time when I am in a position to really reach my potential.

The Serbian is confident about the grass court season and has set her goals without the distraction of a boyfriend.

It’s better not to mix professional life and personal life, although that’s hard. If you’re happy in your private life then that will affect your tennis, and that will actually help you.

Scott’s parting shot claimed:

It was disappointing that Ana and I are longer together, and it was tough when her and I broke-up. It wasn’t always easy seeing we both had our respective sporting careers.

But in the time we had together we had a great time and I really enjoyed her company. Ana is an amazing person and tennis player, I learned a lot from being in her company.

Ivanovic serves up a warning

Ana Ivanovic

By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

Ana Ivanovic, the former world no1, is set to warm-up for a shot at winning an Olympic medal by competing at the pre-Wimbledon event in Eastbourne.

The Serbia star, who impressed at the 2011 Birmingham tournament before bowing out to Venus Williams in the opening round at the 2011 AEGON International said:

The Eastbourne tournament is one of the most competitive on the WTA Tour as the field always strong.

I enjoy Eastbourne, the grass is beautiful and I appreciate this tournament even more now that I have a British coach.

Ladies – Saturday 18 June 2011

Marion Bartoli, Petra Kvitova, Results, WTA Players

By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

2011 AEGON International at Devonshire Park, Eastbourne

bartoli2011championBattler Bartoli takes Eastbourne title

Unorthodox Marion Bartoli captured her first Eastbourne title, having never got pass the semi-finals before in four previous attempts, with a hard-fought 6-1 4-6 7-5 success over Petra Kvitova.

Kvitova impressed on her Eastbourne debut with a two tremendous fightbacks in a day but bowed out in an enthralling final to Bartoli. Battling Bartoli got off to a cracking start to thunder past traditional slow-starter Kvitova, breaking serve on the fourth game for a comfortable 3-1 lead.

The French ace, who impressed with a swift semi-final triumph over gutsy Australian Sam Stosur, played consistently and Kvitova made numerous unforced errors to surrender the opening set with just one game to her credit.

However, the second set was a different ball game with the world no8 starting to measure up to Bartoli’s powerful drives. But Bartoli broke Kvitova and held her serve for another 3-1 lead.

Rise from the dead

The Czech star looked dead and buried on Centre Court, finding the transition from this morning’s semi-final victory over injured Daniela Hantuchova on Court 1 too tricky initially.

Then Kvitova, the no5 seed, moved up a few gears to take the game to Bartoli with a string of impressive groundstrokes to outwit the clever two-hander and break back to level matters at 3-3. With Kvitova suddenly find her confidence to hit winners from all over the court, and no longer scared to dictate at the net, she broke in the 10th game to level matters with a 6-4 advantage.

The decisive set was neck and neck with neither player keen to relinquish the chance to claim a confidence-boasting title going into 2011 Wimbledon.

Games went with serve in a cagey affair, with Bartoli fending of! f break point to survive the scare and keep the result in the balance at 3-3. Kvitova let out a trademark joyous shriek after her neat dropshot gave her a 4-3 advantage.

With games going with serve at 5-5 it appeared that a tie-break would have to divide the pair of seeded players until Bartoli broke to lead 6-5 and served out for the title.

Kvitova kills off injured Hantuchova

Petra Kvitova bounced back from a stuttering start to overcome in-form Daniela Hantuchova (pictured) 7-6 4-2 when the Slovak star retired with a left abdominal injury.

The Czech ace was outplayed initially, losing the opening three games against rejuvenated Hantuchova, but gathered her nerves to work her way back into an intriguing tie.

With Hantuchova’s overpowering serve working to her advantage and a string of solid groundstrokes, Kvitova played a cagey game and fought back to trail 4-3 before the Slovak ace required a treatment break for an injury flare-up.

On her return the world no8 bounced back and did well to force a tie-break, but the pair were well matched and it took a marathon 11-9 result to hand Kvitova the opening set.

With Hantuchova’s movement fast deteriorating it came as no surprise that the no5 seed dominated play and dictated! from the baseline with occasion forays to the net to put away volleys and smashes.

Much to the disappointment of the enthusiastic Court 1 crowd, Hantuchova, playing her first back-to-back semi-finals for many years, had little choice but to wave the white flag and bow out graciously with her injury. Kvitova, the highest ranked player in the final four, will need to start well in this afternoon’s final if she is claim the Eastbourne title on her Devonshire Park debut.

Bartoi blasts past stuttering Stosur

Marion Bartoli reached her maiden Eastbourne final after a convincing 6-3 6-1 success over out-of-sorts Sam Stosur on a very blustery Centre Court, which affected the serving ability of the pair of seeds.

Bartoli bounced all over the court from the beginning and behaved like a prize-fighter throughout, swinging her racquet to practice shots at every opportunity. The unorthodox two-handed French ace was in formidable form to run away with the opening set,

Stosur uncharacteristically playing a defensive game and staying on the baseline. Bartoli moved through the gears in the second set, following a three minute break for a short shower to pass, and thundered drives from all corners to leave Stosur looking lost and unable to cope.

Although the crowd were desperate for a third set and very supportive of Stosur, the Australian simply could not find her rhythmn and appears lost to suffer a heavy defeat.

“Marion was hitting the ball very hard out there, and the conditions were worse than the other day – but it was just one of those things. I’ve had a great week overall and got some competitive matches on grass behind me to take to Wimbledon.

“I didn’t see Serena (Williams) play here but I think she came back too soon, she had a year out so we’ll see how she gets on next week”

– Sam Stosur

Finals Day preview: What to expect at Eastbourne

World no8 Petra Kvitova faces Slovak ace Daniela Hantuchova in the first semi-final showdown.

2010 Wimbledon semi-finalist Kvitova, the highest ranked player left, has impressed on her Devonshire Park debut and the Czech star possesses natural grass skills despite having never won a match on the surface prior to last year’s heroics at SW19.

The 21-year-old left-hander has a battle on her hands against world no25 Hantuchova, who is a rejuvenated player on her seventh visit to Eastbourne.

The 2004 Devonshire Park runner-up has registered impressive wins over French Open champion Li Na and American superstar Venus Williams to reach back-to-back singles semi-finals on the WTA Tour for the first time in four seasons.

Eastbourne regulars Sam Stosur and Marion Bartoli will battle it out for a place in the final for the first time on, and have high top form this season. World no10 Stosur stormed into her third semi-final this season, and saw off top seed Vera Zvonareva in the quarter-finals.

Unorthodox Bartoli is in her fifth successive semi-final at Devonshire Park, having bowed out graciously in the past four encounters. The French ace plays two-handed on both sides and arrived at Devonshire Park on a career-high ranking of world no9 following her heroics at Roland Garros.

Ladies – Friday 17 June 2011

Ana Ivanovic, Caroline Wozniacki, Marion Bartoli, Petra Kvitova, WTA Players

By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

2011 AEGON International at Eastbourne

Semi-final Preview: Kvitova vs Hantuchova

Czech star Petra Kvitova faces Daniela Hantuchova in their second showdown this season, having already dismissed the Slovak star on a hard court in the Federation Cup in their previous only meeting.

World no8 Kvitova is the highest ranked player remaining and has impressed on her Devonshire Park debut, which was expected after she showed her new-found silky grass skills by racing to the 2010 Wimbledon semi-finals despite having previously never won a match on the green stuff.

The 21-year-old left-hander has only recently broken into the world’s top 10, courtesy of four titles this year including her terrific run to claim the Madrid Open by defeating Vera Zvonareva, Li Na and in-form Victoria Azarenka.

Monaco-based world no25 Hantuchova, who burst onto the singles scene almost a decade ago before concentrating on doubles, is a rejuvenated player and seems set to keep on improving with a top 10 place her personal aim.

The 28-year-old returned to the top of her game with a shock success over top seed and ex-Eastbourne champion Caroline Wozniacki at 2010 Roland Garros, and followed this success with a powerful display at Birmingham to overwhelm Ana Ivanovic and finish runner-up on grass.

This is the seventh visit to Eastbourne for Hantuchova, who is keen to improve on her Devonshire Park runner-up slot in 2004, and she is hoping to face Sam Stosur in the final in order to avenge last year’s second defeat at Eastbourne.

Hantuchova is back to her best, reflected by this week’s victories over French Open champion Li Na and American superstar Venus Williams to reach back-to-back singles semi-finals on the WTA Tour for the first time in four seasons.

Hantuchova’s advantage is not just the fact that she has realms of experience and being unseeded faces no pressure, but that she has ironed out any flaws by becoming a major success at doubles and possesses an all-round game including exceptional serve and volley skills.

Semi-final Preview: Stosur vs Bartoli

Sam StosurSam Stosur and Marion Bartoli will meet for the first time on grass as both bid to capture their maiden title of the year, and in the devastating form they are both in this tie promises to be a firecracker of a face-off.

The gutsy Australian claims that grass is not her favourite surface, but having spent most of her career winning at doubles her net and volley skills are second to none that gives her a huge advantage.

World no10 Stosur stormed into the final four with aplomb, her third semi-final this season, and was only tested in her quarter-final tie against top seed Vera Zvonareva.

Marion BartoliSurprisingly Stosur has yet to claim a grass court title despite this being the 27-year-old’s third semi-final on the bounce at Eastbourne in five visits to the English south coast event.

Unorthodox Bartoli (right) plays two-handed on both sides and arrived at Devonshire Park on a career-high ranking of world no9 following her heroics at Roland Garros, where she became the first Frenchwoman since 2005 to reach the semi-final stage.

Battling Bartoli has been in emphatic form this season, having reached two finals and six semi-finals, but has tumbled in her previous four Eastbourne semi-finals encounters in as many years.

Ladies – Thursday 16 June 2011

Agnieszka Radwanska, Marion Bartoli, Petra Kvitova, WTA Players

By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

2011 AEGON International at Eastbourne

Hantuchova’s too hot for Venus

Daniela HantuchovaSlovak star Daniela Hantuchova registered her first ever win in 11 meetings over world no33 Venus Williams in a three set thriller 6-2 5-5 6-2 on a very blustery Centre Court.

Hantuchova cruised in the opening set 6-2 and seemed on course to wrap up the match swiftly, but the American superstar – the best grass court player on the WTA Tour – played a more aggressive game and put her opponent under intense pressure at every opportunity.

Agony for retiring Azarenka

Victoria AzarenkaMarion Bartoli notched her maiden victory over Victoria Azarenka (left) to move into the semi-finals for a fifth successive season, courtesy of a 6-2 2-0 retired result.

A repeat of last year’s semi-final had high expectations for the Court 1 crowd, but Azarenka never got out of the starting blocks and was forced to wave the white flag after being outplayed and struggling with an injury flare-up.

In six previous meetings the Belarussian acehad dropped just a single set, but battler Bartoli – who came close to a shock exit in the second round – rewrote the record books by storming away with the opening set.

Bartoli, currently at a career-high world no9 after her forays in reaching the last four at Roland Garros, has an impressive grass court pedigree by finishing runner-up at 2007 Wimbledon and four semi-final appearances on the bounce at Devonshire Park.

And Bartoli’s unorthodox style outfoxed Azarenka throughout, resulting in frustrated shrieks prior to bowing out. Interestingly Azarenka’s past five defeats prior to today have all been to the eventual champion, which should give Bartoli some hope when she plays her sixth semi-final this year.

Smashing Stosur shoots past Zvonareva

Vera ZvonarevaSam Stosur gained revenge for her only grass court defeat to the Russian top seed at 2004 Wimbledon by beating Vera Zvonareva (left) 4-6 7-6 6-4.

The ever-gutsy Australian, whose game suits grass despite the surface not being her favourite, had beaten Zvonareva in their past six matches but victory seemed unlikely after losing a tight opening set and then being forced into a tie-break.

Even the second set tie-break was fought tooth and nail at the highest quality, with Stosur triumphant. Zvonareva, who had accounted for Serena Williams in the previous round, dropped her service game once that that proved costly as she was denied a semi-final slot – having reached the last four in 2004 – by brave groundshots from the baseline from Stosur.

The Australian, who was taken unwell to bow out of the French Open, booked her third Eastbourne semi-final in four years and faces Marion Bartoli for a shot at the title.

Kvitova’s late, late show

Agnieszka Radwanska2010 Wimbledon semi-finalist Petra Kvitova left it late, after a stuttering start, to move into a semi-final showdown with Daniela Hantuchova courtesy of a 1-6 6-2 7-6 triumph against Agnieszka Radwanska (left).

The Czech ace, making her Eastbourne debut, looked out-of-sorts as her game showed flaws and she lost the opening five games before holding her serve.

The second set was in total contrast as 2008 Eastbourne champion Radwanska was exposed time and time again. However, the decisive set became a close encounter with the slippery Pole appearing to have the edge and keen to avenge last year’s defeat at SW19 – their only previous match – but Kvitova battled away for every point and continued to push herself to seal the tie-break to take a step closer to winning a fourth WTA Tour title.