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.

 

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.”

 

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.

 

Rejuvenated Radwanska

Agnieszka Radwanska, News, Players, WTA Players

By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

Agnieszka Radwanska off court 2012Agnieszka Radwanska, whose finesse and determination came to fruition on the grass courts at Devonshire Park in 2008, is gunning for world no1 spot.

The Polish ace, the Eastbourne champion four years ago, had been hanging on to the tennis top tails of the leading stars until this season.

Now she is a force to be reckoned with.

Radwanska will return to the AEGON International as top seed in a highly competitive draw that features a number of former world no1 players.

But Radwanska, yet to claim a Grand Slam title, could edge nearer that coveted world no1 slot – her ambition – when the grass season begins.

The Pole dances and glides on grass during the grass court season, her classic game perfectly suited to the fast surface.

And this year Radwanska competes in back-to-back events at Eastbourne, Wimbledon and the Olympic Games following an enduring clay court season.

With neither Victoria Azarenka nor Maria Sharapova set to play at Devonshire Park, Radwanska will be eager to collect more WTA Tour points and claim the Eastbourne crown ahead of the two big tests at SW19.

But first she faces the 2012 French Open, where six years ago in Paris she was the Junior champion: “Clay is not really my favourite surface, but I’ve had some good results on it.

“I hope I can do better than last year when I reached the 4th Round at Roland Garros.

“I am trying my best and I am just happy that this year I have been able to play a couple of good matches on clay.

“But at Paris whether it suits me or not depends on who is standing on the other side of the net.”

Asked whether she preferred to win a Grand Slam or the Olympic Tennis gold medal, Radwanska said: “You cannot compare, they are two separate things – it is like winning a Grand Slam or being world no1.”

 

Wozniacki will return

Agnieszka Radwanska, Ana Ivanovic, Caroline Wozniacki, EXCLUSIVE, Marion Bartoli, Petra Kvitova, WTA Players

Exclusive by Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

Caroline Wozniacki, who claimed her first grass court WTA Tour title by taking the 2009 AEGON International crown, is set to return to Devonshire Park.

The great Dane, a recent world no1, proved to be a popular winner at Eastbourne. But she has not been back to warm-up for Wimbledon since her triumph.

Wozniacki and Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska were the two up and coming aces at the 2009 Eastbourne event, both delighting the Centre Court with their incredible talents.

Ex-Eastbourne champion Radwanska is back at Devonshire Park and so far in 2012 is the in-form player alongside Belarussian Victoria Azarenka. However, Azarenka – who made her Eastbourne debut last year – has risen to world no1 since her grunts were heard all over Devonshire Park, and she has not entered the 2012 AEGON International.

Top 10 player Marion Bartoli is scheduled to defend her title, although the former Wimbledon finalist has been dealt a cruel blow by the French Tennis Federation by being denied an Olympic berth for not playing in Fed Cup ties.

Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitova and Russian Vera Zvonareva, the former world no2, are returning to grace the grass courts at Eastbourne – with both in with a shot of claiming the 2012 crown.

Although rejuvenated Serb star Ana Ivanovic – an ex-world no1 – will be aiming to win her first title under new coach Nigel Sears, having impressed on the 2011 grass court season and aiming to return to her former glories.

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.

Agony for retiring Azarenka

Marion Bartoli, News, Players, WTA Players

Victoria Azarenka off court 2012A repeat of last year’s semi-final had high expectations for the Court 1 crowd, but Victoria 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 ace had dropped just a single set, but battler Marion 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.

 

Ladies – Wednesday 15 June 2011

Agnieszka Radwanska, Ana Ivanovic, Ekaterina Makarova, Marion Bartoli, Petra Kvitova, WTA Players

By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

2011 AEGON International at Eastbourne

Williams wilts to top seed Zvonareva

Top seed Vera Zvonareva battled past wildcard Serena Williams in a three set thriller 3-6 7-6 7-5.

The Russian star always held the upper hand in what became a baseline battle of attrition with neither player looking jolly on Centre Court.

It was a dour encounter, miserable-looking Williams seemed determined to fight from the back of the court and try to end points swiftly on her service games then wearing her opponent out on their serve.

Williams possessed the power strokes when she needed it but chased a ball all match, determined to preserve her energy.

Her tactics resulted in the opening set without breaking a sweat but she lost the second set on a tie-break 7-5 after taking a tumble on set point. Zvonareva’s array of weapons from the baseline carved out a 5-3 lead but the American superstar fought back to 5-5 before bowing out 7-5.

Click here for VIDEO of Zvonareva v Williams

Bartoli blasts past Martinez-Sanchez

Seeded Marion Bartoli looked formidable as she taught Spanish star Marie-Jose Sanchez-Martinez (left) a lesson on how to win on grass with a comfortable 6-3 6-3 triumph.

The unorthodox French ace, an Eastbourne regular, stared defeat in the face yesterday but survived to tell the tale and lifted her game to easily despatch her opponent.

Bartoli started to rally in the opening set, but with the advantage and Sanchez-Martinez struggling near the net she cleverly mixed up her game to run out a worthy winner.

Radwanska races past Schiavone

AgnieszkaRadwanska2012Exhausted looking French Open runner-up Francesca Schiavone succumbed to 2008 Eastbourne champion Agnieszka Radwanska in straight sets 6-3 6-2.

The Polish ace was in total control from the start and breezed past the London-based Italian courtesy of an attacking game plan that paid dividends.

Radwanska’s speed around court and string of winners from the baseline gave Schiavone a lesson in grass court tactics as she cruised into the quarter-finals of arguably the toughest tournament ever at Devonshire Park.

Kvitova kills off Russian star

Seeded Petra Kvitova ousted defending champion Ekaterina Makarova in two tight tie-breaks to book a quarter-final berth.

The Russian star, who was the last direct entry into the main draw and who almost did not defend her title won so majestically, seemed on course to continue her exceptional Devonshire Park run until Kvitova sneaked the first tie-break 10-8.

The second set was neck-and-neck with another tie-break required, that the Czech ace won 7-4 for 7-6 7-6 result.

Stosur storms past qualifier

Gutsy Australian Sam Stosur overwhelmed qualifier Bojana Jovanski 6-3 6-2 in blustery conditions and stays on course to equal her best Eastbourne run of a semi-final spot.

The up-and-coming Serbian star seemed to run out of energy after an impressive run at Devonshire Park and wilted without much of a battle. Stosur’s all-round game, preened from years of playing doubles, produced excellent winners and good volleying although her suspect backhand was again exploited.

Venom of Venus sees off Ivanovic

Unseeded Venus Williams overpowered ever-improving and slim-lined Ana Ivanovic (left) 6-3 6-2 despite having problems with her serve.

The American ace was eager to swiftly end rallies and stayed predominately as the baseline, but Ivanovic was in cruise control on her service games until an umpire overrule resulted in the Serbian star denied the chance to level matters and instead lost her serve to trail 3-1.

Williams applied the pressure to seal the opening set in 33 minutes. Ivanovic foolishly changed tactics for the second set, which became a basement battle that Williams won with a string of thunderbolt drives.

Brave Baltacha bounces out

free mobile alertsBritish no1 Elena Baltacha fell in straight sets 6-1 7-6 to no3 seed Victoria Azarenka on Court 1, ending her hopes of equalling last year’s Eastbourne run to the quarter-finals.

The Belarussian was in formidable form to give the battling Brit the runaround from the start to cruise in the opening set. With the supportive crowd looking for more of a contest Baltacha lifted her game a few gears and forced Azarenka into making errors.

A one-sided tie-break followed but the adventurous Azarenka showed no fear and overpowered her opponent with a string of brave winners without dropping a single point.

No waltz for Williams

Marion Bartoli, News, Players, WTA Players

By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd

Serena-Williams 2011 EastbourneSerena Williams overpowered Tsvetana Pironkova in the opening round, much to the delight of the Centre Court crowd and on-watching sister Venus.

The wildcard made an stuttering competitive comeback, having not played on the WTA Tour since winning 2010 Wimbledon, and gained some revenge over the slim and sultry Bulgarian for beating Venus at SW19 last year.

The delicate 5’11″ Bulgarian is certainly no slouch on grass, having reeled off a string of fantastic results to reach last year’s Wimbledon semi-finals – her best run on the WTA Tour – and she tested Williams to the hilt in the early stages.

Williams looked lost on grass and her usual risk game plan failed to pay dividends, with unforced errors leaving her staring a swift exit in the face at 5-0 down in the first set. Although she then held her serve was unable to fight back and fell a set behind in what was arguably her worst ever grass court performance.

However, the comeback queen was not yet dead and buried so rallied herself back into the tie by playing a more consistent – and cautious – game against her talented opponent. She steamed into a comfortable 3-0 advantage and soon levelled matters to silence any would-be critics of her in the packed stands.

Fashion entrepreneur Williams turned on the style in the third and decisive set, though did not produce as many unforced errors as she tidied up her usual game plan determined to move into the next round, and served out victory at 6-4. Williams said:

“I love winning – I’m just here to do the best I can and I’m here not to lose!

“I’m just taking everything one day at a time and I’m not putting too much expectations on myself or on my game.”

Williams could face in-form Sam Stosur or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the quarter-finals and probably Victoria Azarenka or Marion Bartoli in the last four.