Other than in-depth profiles of players, TTI is also going to provide “Stuttgart Express,” recaps of matches combined with straightforward assessments and quotes from the players. In the leadoff edition, we’re taking a look at the first round match between German qualifier Carina Witthöft and 2014 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix finalist Ana Ivanovic.
When Ana Ivanovic took Centre Court on Tuesday evening, there was one main goal — making it one step further than last year when she crashed out in the first round against her 2015 nemesis Caroline Garcia. Carina Witthöft, on the other hand, was hoping to build on her three wins in qualifying and catch her 28-year-old opponent off-guard, considering it was Ivanovic’s first match on clay this year.
For a long time of the opening set, Witthöft was the dominant player — the German dictated play by peppering Ivanovic’s backhand, whereas the Serbian never really managed to employ her forehand properly. The 2008 Roland Garros champion appeared tentative during the initial stages of the match and her forehand kept misfiring at several junctures in the first eight games of the opener.
At *4-3, Ivanovic’s coach Nigel Sears came on court to talk to his charge, encouraging her to take the initiative. The more the Serb stepped up to the baseline, the earlier she was able to hit her groundstrokes and apply some pressure. Witthöft, who let Ivanovic do most of the running up until that point, suddenly found herself on the stretch far more often and the Serb started to exploit the German’s slightly weaker lateral movement.
Ivanovic leveled the match to a tiebreak and stayed too solid from there on out. With the exception of the second game of the second set — Witthöft had multiple opportunities to break back here — it was Ivanovic who pulled ahead and sped off out of reach for the German, who struggled with her movement later in the match due to some foot issues.
In the end, the former World No. 1 was able to improve and settle after a scrappy start and secured her place in the 2nd round, where she’ll face the winner of Karolina Pliskova and Lucie Safarova — which is going to be a tricky challenge considering how often she’s been on the receiving end of a “Czechmate” from both players.
In their own words
On falling back early in the first set and turning the opener around after talking to Nigel Sears at 4-3 in the first set:
“I felt like I wanted little bit to feel her game because I didn’t know her much and then she played really well, deep, heavy — she was not missing, so I struggled a little bit to find my rhythm…I was always a step too far and then my coach came on court and he actually asked me to step in a little more and be more aggressive and I felt that made the difference. Once I was aggressive, she started to aim for more and I could get more free points and I think that was the key.”
On her practice regimen in the past few weeks:
“Definitely [happy to get off to a better start than last year] and also I’ve been practicing really hard last couple of weeks — I put in a lot of work, many hours on court and in the gym, so it’s nice to see that actually helped me to go through today; also, my serve is improving so overall, I’m so happy to actually be healthy and consistent — you know, hopefully, I can keep my level and raise it.”
On trying to stay healthy after an injury-ridden 2015:
“It is a battle always, you come to the age when you don’t really recover so fast — it sounds weird but it feels like that. At the moment I feel good, my knee is still a little bit in and out since America [the US hard court swing], but I feel good — y’know as I said, I put in lots of work in the last couple of weeks and it hasn’t been getting worse and I’ve been improving so I’m happy about that.”
On her immediate goals for the 2016 clay season:
“I really feel like I need more consistency. I worked so well on practice and the gym — I just feel like I need to win some matches also for confidence and sort of get me through tournaments. It’s always like one, two matches and then again and seems like always stop and start — I’d love to be able to build and now there is lot of tournaments coming up, lot of big draws, so y’know that’s in a way good cause I’m going to get more matches hopefully and that’s the main goal!”
How the first set slowly slipped out of her hands:
“Yeah, it’s hard to say, I lead 5-3, but there were a lot of tight games, then I was serving for the set and that was a long, tight game — if I can remember correctly and I lost that one. Yeah, that was frustrating but she also found her way into the match better, found her footing. However, I’ve annoyed that I ended up with a 0-6, that wasn’t necessary. My foot hurt after 3-0, no idea why — that kinda inhibited me but still, that 0-6 didn’t have to happen.”
On taking the positives out of Stuttgart after getting three matches under her belt in qualifying:
“Definitely, wins always feel good and yeah, I mean I’m kinda dissatisfied today but I’m trying to see the positive and that was definitely the opening set and I’m trying to take that into the next few matches.”
On goals for the clay season after a difficult start in January and February:
“Trying to go from one week to the next, from one match to the next actually and during the last few matches I always picked up kind off where I left off — but this time where I left off in the first set, not the second set; that’s my goal!”