Today’s quarterfinals in Stuttgart featured well-known names and a couple of surprises. In the bottom half, the higher ranked players prevailed — whereas the upsets (on paper) continued on top.
First up were World No. 3 Simona Halep and clay court expert Sara Errani. In a match that was dominated by return and the long rallies you expect on the red dirt, the Romania was able to tough out the match, 6-4, 6-4.
“You know, I can’t comment about my serve today. I think my serve was with her. I didn’t serve my best. I just wanted to be focused for the return, and I have confidence that I will return very very well, ’till the end.”
Errani’s ball toss was well off today, and it was one of the first things she addressed in her post-match presser, saying it was all over the place. For Halep, Errani represented a real change of pace from the harder-hitting Garbiñe Muguruza from her opening round.
“It was good that I had a tough opponent in the first round — who was hitting the ball very strong — and today I had a different one. Errani is not playing bad, she’s playing good. Her balls are very heavy to play them. She’s hitting a little bit higher and you know the balls are jumping a lot and it’s difficult to finish the point. She’s moving really well and her serve is not that strong but it’s really tough to attack it.”
In Saturday’s semifinals she’ll face World No. 5 Caroline Wozniacki, who made short work of Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro, losing just three games overall. The Dane has already won as many matches on red clay as she has in the last two years and was understandably chipper in press.
“I played well today, ran a lot of balls down, played aggressively and went from offense to defense and back — which is good. I was very pleased with my performance.”
For Suarez Navarro it was a tough day — the Spaniard has been a force to be reckoned with this season, but after a late night finish on Thursday, she just wasn’t able to bring her usual clay prowess to the courts. When asked how she felt about tomorrow’s match with Halep, the Wozniacki echoed the Romanian’s sentiments, clearly happy to have gotten two matches against two quality players under her belt.
“I’m just excited to be out there again really. Hopefully I can play some good tennis again tomorrow. That’s the goal and we’ll see how it goes.”
In the first evening match, Angelique Kerber took on the higher ranked Ekaterina Makarova — a day after defeating the lefty’s compatriot, Maria Sharapova. The German went down 0-3 fairly quickly to start, but similar to Thursday’s encounter, Kerber soon got on a tear, and lost just two more games the rest of the way, sealing the match in exactly one hour.
“After 0-3, I found actually my rhythm. The first three games, I was a little bit too slow and she played actually very good from the beginning…but after that I was just trying to find my rhythm, play aggressive.”
Makarova was disappointed with today’s performance, but happy she got two wins on the clay, a surface on which she isn’t as comfortable.
“I need to improve the clay style a little bit: a little bit more spin, a little bit more slices, also the movements on the court. It’s really different than hard court and the rhythm of the shot is also different than on the hard or grass court.”
After a pair of semifinal runs at the last two Grand Slam tournaments, the World No. 10 has set expectations for Roland Garros, but doesn’t want to put too much pressure on her shoulders.
“Of course, I’m looking forward to Roland Garros,” she said with a laugh. “I want to do my best results, but my head is understanding that if it’s not going to happen, that’s fine because it’s not my favorite surface. But still, I want to show my best result there.”
Kerber confirmed her visibly strapped thigh was just a preventative measure post-match, preferring more pertinent fare like her work with famed tennis coach, Darren Cahill:
“I believe it was important for me to hear some different things and get some other opinions about tennis — from the best of the best. It’s always good to get fresh input.”
The home crowd favorite will face surprise semifinalist Madison Brengle in Saturday’s evening match. The American backed up her first Top 10 win by taking out three-time Ivanovic-conqueror, Caroline Garcia. Though the Frenchwoman blazed through the first set, she ultimately struggled to adjust to the American’s variation of spins, slices and pace.
“You never know what is going to happen with her,” Garcia admitted. “It’s just that you have weird forehand and then weird backhand and serve on the line…it’s just a mix of everything and it’s difficult to keep your timing. You have to be very aggressive but you still have a very low ball. So, it’s difficult. She’s a strange player but she’s doing great for this game.”
Brengle continued her somewhat unlikely run and, when asked whether she senses her ability to rattle opponents, she talked about what coined her unique game.
“I’m not going out there trying to annoy,” the American joked. “I’m trying to win the point. So, it is just kind of what works for me.
“I grew up playing a little bit differently. I’m from a kind of small town and I played often with the older guys that would get off work and then come and practice with me. But they didn’t want to like go out and drill, they wanted to warm up in five minutes and play sets. So, I kind of grew up playing all different game styles.
“I guess it was a little bit craftier than going out and just drilling, drilling, drilling.”
Who do you think has the edge in the Stuttgart semifinals? Sound off in the comments!