While much of the attention this weekend is focused on Fed Cup and the Monte Carlo Masters, play got underway at the WTA Premier event in Stuttgart today. Saturday featured a total of 16 matches and with many familiar names in action, there was plenty to choose from at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix: with mixed results for the seeded players.
With the doors opening as early as 9.30 am local time, Saturday’s schedule of play at the Porsche Arena was packed to the rafters, to say the least. Both Courts 1 and 2 featured a total of eight matches starting at 10 am, which saw play extend well into Saturday evening.
Croatian Ana Konjuh, seeded No. 7 in the qualifying draw, was among the first winners of the day. Konjuh managed to overcome a late charge in the first set by Poland’s Paula Kania to prevail, 7-6(2), 6-3. Half a world (well, one court) away, the veteran Kateryna Bondarenko faced German wildcard Katharina Gerlach and the vast difference in experience at this level showed as the Ukrainian took the match, 6-2, 6-1.
Gerlach, who turned 17 years old in February, comes into the net quite regularly and possesses a nice one-handed backhand that could appeal to a lot of tennis aficionados in the future — but it’s also the sort of style that often takes a while to fully gel and grow into.
Gerlach wasn’t the only German who struggled. On the whole, the opening day wasn’t too kind to the local hopes in qualifying as the national team slumped to an 0-2 start in the Fed Cup semifinal in Sochi. While the losses of Gerlach and fellow wildcard Lena Rueffer might not have been too shocking, No. 4 seed Annika Beck’s straight-forward loss at the hands of Petra Martic was more surprising. The Croatian, who reached the fourth round of Roland Garros in 2012, certainly knows how to work a clay court but she often displayed a habit of being too up-and-down in matches as well as recent seasons. When Martic is on the “up,” she plays a beautifully flowing all-court game that was in full force today.
Having been double bageled by Beck a season ago, the 24-year-old Croatian turned the tables this time, needing less than 50 minutes to advance to the next round with the loss of a single game.
All hope was not lost for the locals, however, as Anna-Lena Friedsam and Katharina Hobgarski were able to buck the trend and make it to the second round of qualifying. Friedsam benefited from the retirement of fellow German Dinah Pfizenmaier after taking the first set, 6-1, while the young Hobgarski made quick work of Patricia Mayr-Achleitner, 6-2, 6-0. The 17-year-old possesses a very nice, quick wrist on her forehand and moved her much more experienced Austrian opponent across the court with great efficiency.
As the day wore on, one of the most anticipated matches featured top seed Tsvetana Pironkova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands. The American is working her way up the rankings again after she missed six months due to a knee injury and despite early losses in Indian Wells and Charleston, she’s capable of playing well above her ranking. A semifinalist at this very event in 2013, it’s certainly a surface that suits the 30-year-old – unlike noted grass (and Sydney) expert Pironkova. The top seed’s flat strokes don’t have the same effect on the red dirt and it was Mattek-Sands’ mixture of controlled aggression and occasional slices and drop shots that proved to be the Sydney semifinalist’s undoing. In the form she displayed today in a 6-3, 6-4 win, the American could continue playing spoiler — and not just in qualifications.
All of Yulia Putintseva’s antics weren’t enough against Alexa Glatch, as she too made it through the first round like her compatriot by overpowering the Russian-born Kazakh. During a tight first set, the Kazakh’s grinding play and the American’s flatter, more powerful shots balanced each other out but after wrapping up the tie-break, the 25-year-old from California powered through the second set. She played the match more as if it was held on a hard court, hitting through her feisty opponent on many occasions.
Beyond the action on court, the main draw was released mid-way through the afternoon. In a bracket led by Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep, several tasty opening rounds are on the schedule: particularly matches like Jelena Jankovic/Ekaterina Makarova, Ana Ivanovic/Caroline Garcia, Andrea Petkovic /Carla Suarez-Navarro and Barbora Strycova/Garbiña Muguruza.
In a loaded main draw, one name was conspicuously absent: Eugenie Bouchard. The Canadian was scheduled to play the Premier event in the “Schwabian metropolis” but despite being on the entry list and on the tournament website, she did not appear in the draw. Speculation and assumptions as to why she decided to sit out the event have already been ripe, but there has been no official explanation as of yet. After her third loss in a row, the World No. 7 admitted in Charleston that she was struggling and, in a last minute decision, signed up to play Fed Cup in Quebec. Irrespective of Bouchard’s current form, the switch from hard court in Canada to clay in Germany within less than 72 hours would have been a difficult task to undertake, to say the least.
Looking ahead to tomorrow in the Porsche Arena, Court 1 looks like certainly the place to be. The feisty Czech teenager and No. 3 seed Katerina Siniakova will take on Bondarenko, while the thunder will rumble under the roof as Sesil Karatantcheva takes on Martic. The Germans will close out the card on Court 1, as Friedsam faces Mattek-Sands and Hobgarski battles No. 5 seed Evgeniya Rodina.