by Ros Satar
“As so it came to pass, Queen Angelique of Kerber passed on her crown to Lady Madison of the gilded Keys…”
Okay, so perhaps we’ll indulge in hyperbole as they really do not talk in such flowery tones in Birmingham — but the British heartlands had a bit to offer this year in the Wimbledon warm-up stakes.
First, though, we have to talk about the rain. It was of biblical proportions.
Downloads of the British Met Office app went through the roof as torrential rain and weather warnings were in abundance. We had it all – accompanied by crisp polite tones asking people perhaps consider not standing under trees in a thunder storm.
While Nottingham served as a warm-up to the warm-up for many players, Birmingham boasted 13 of the Top 30 — nonetheless, it is fair to say that not many anticipated it being quite this soggy.
While we tried to avoid trench foot and our boots died the death of rain-rotted seams, we occasionally had a few corkers here in Birmingham. So, let’s take it from the top.
Top seed Agnieszka Radwanska was more on-again-off-again than most, and perhaps it showed as she bowed out to the newly crowed s’Hertogenbosch champion Coco Vandeweghe first up. Probably not best pleased that her first week on grass was mainly spent indoors, Radwanska heads to Eastbourne, where she is defending runner-up points.
“For me, was tough,” Radwanska said. “First match is always tricky pretty much without the practice on the grass. I think I needed a couple more days to adjust. Hopefully Eastbourne will be better. That was the point as well, to play more on grass, to be ready a bit earlier. I was couple times [out] in Eastbourne first round. Last year was a different story. I played Nottingham, then Eastbourne I was feeling much better. Hopefully this year will be the same story.”
For defending champion Angelique Kerber, beating the big black clouds in her match was key, but in possibly one of the matches of the tournament she came unstuck at the hands of Carla Suarez Navarro.
She fought valiantly from a set down, but even though all but Keys had to play numerous times on “Catch-Up Thursday,” somehow the Spaniard dug out the win — although confessed afterwards that she had never played so much in one day.
Kerber was understandably disappointed with her loss, but had to make the best of an impossible situation.
“I had few matches before Wimbledon. That was my goal. Of course, it was not the score I would like to have after this tough match, but still I think I find my rhythm. I’m playing good tennis. Today was close match, just one or two points decide the match. Carla won at the end. It’s always tough to play against her.
“I just take positive things from the week. I’m feeling good on grass. This is the positive thing I will take into Wimbledon now.”
In fairness though, Birmingham has thrown not just fetching wood-chip path trim at the tournament, but a great deal of investment in the court facilities for wet-weather provision and, very wisely, reduced the draw to 32.
It was left to Keys, who had looked impressive all week, even when she was tested in the quarterfinal and semifinal. She is fit, she is healthy, she has lost none of that glorious self-deprecating humor and she earned that trophy.
She has learned how to figure things out, her shot selection is getting more impressive, and she crushed the strapped up Barbora Strycova with a range of volleys any time the Czech brought her forward.
“I think I got off to a good start in the first set breaking early,” Keys said. “I think I held onto that lead pretty well. Then in the second set, she definitely raised her level. There was definitely a couple of games, especially when I was serving, that I really had to dig deep and figure it out. Luckily I was able to.
“When you’re playing someone like [Jelena] Ostapenko [in the semifinals], who hits as hard as she does, it’s very hard to come in on that. I think Barbora, her game draws you forward a little bit more. But it’s definitely something I’m working on and trying to put in my game more.”
Spare a thought for the Czech though – she too had to play through three matches – and she was being pegged behind the baseline for most of the match. But there was justice as she and Karolina Pliskova nabbed a doubles final that had to be played indoors as the rain decided to make just one more appearance.
As a marker for the top players – well, Birmingham was like the school report card we used to sheepishly present to our parents.
Radwanska, Petra Kvitova, Kerber – all could do better. Same can be said for us Brits.
Eastbourne has a reputation for being the perfect preparation for Wimbledon. It leaves the top players very little time to turn around — but given that the big names we would have expected to go deep instead went shopping for a train ticket to the seaside — we can only hope that our next pass of grass clippings has better news.
Ros Satar is the co-founder, editor and bottle-washer- in-chief at Britwatch Sports, and makes a mean Grand Slam prediction when the need arises.