February 8, 2016

Rafael Nadal Wins Grass-Court Edition of Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart

(June 14, 2015) Rafael Nadal captured his first title on grass since 2010 Wimbledon on Sunday when defeated Viktor Troicki 7-6 (3), 6-3 to win the Mercedes Cup for the third time in an hour and 27 minutes. Nadal claimed the title in Stuttgart in 2005 and 2007 when it was played on a clay court.

“I’m really, really happy. It’s my second win this year and it gives me a lot of confidence,” said Nadal of his 66th career tournament title.

“It was a great week for me,” he said.

“It’s a very special title,” said Nadal. “Since 2011 I didn’t play a final on grass, so win a title here is very good news for my game and for my mentality too. Congrats to Viktor for a great tournament. He’s playing great and will have some positives for the week.

“At this point of the season, every victory is important and every title means a lot to me. I’m happy for that.”

“In important moments my focus was not 100 per cent,” said Troicki. “He served very well the whole match. Even though it was a great week in reaching the final, I’m disappointed to lose this match. I had my chances and didn’t use them. I lost to a great champion. He served better and congrats to him.

“It’s a good result. I’m now going to London and we’ll see. I have high expectations for the grass season and this gives me a lot of confidence.”

“In important moments my focus was not 100 per cent,” said the 28th-ranked Troicki. “He served very well the whole match. Even though it was a great week in reaching the final, I’m disappointed to lose this match. I had my chances and didn’t use them. I lost to a great champion. He served better and congrats to him.

“It’s a good result. I’m now going to London and we’ll see. I have high expectations for the grass season and this gives me a lot of confidence.”

This was Nadal’s second tournament title this year, he also won in Buenos Aires.


Angelique Kerber Stops Caroline Wozniacki for Stuttgart Title

Angelique Kerber

German Angelique Kerber rallied in the third set to upset Dane Caroline Wozniacki 3-6, 6-1, 7-5 in the final of Stuttgart for her second straight title, lifting her win streak to 11 straight.

“It was small things today that made the difference,” Wozniacki said of the 2-hour and four minute match. “I had 5-3 in the third set and 30-all, and it could have gone both ways, but she took her chances and it went her way. We’re great friends, we hang out a lot and practice a lot together, and it’s always nice to play a friend in a final. You obviously want to win, but if you don’t win, it’s still nice that your friend does.”

“A few days ago I said clay is actually not my favorite surface, but right now I think I will change my mind,” said Kerber. “I’ve played very well on clay the last few days and weeks. I feel good that I have had so many matches on clay, and now I’m looking forward to the next tournaments before Paris. Of course I’m a little bit tired – I’ve had a lot of matches the last few weeks, and also a lot of travel. So that’s why I’m for sure taking the next few days off, just relaxing a little bit before I go to Madrid.”

On the way to the final, Kerber defeated three-time defending champion Maria Sharapova in the second round and also took out second seed Simona Halep in the semifinals.

For Kerber she won her the fifth WTA title of her career and second of 2015. She also won Charleston earlier in the month.


Maria Sharapova Three-Peats in Stuttgart


(April 27, 2014) It was a three-peat for Maria Sharapova in Stuttgart on Sunday. Sharapova came back from 3-6, 1-3 down to stop Ana Ivanovic 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 to win her third straight Porsche Grand Prix crown. She is now on a 13-match winning streak at the event.

It’s the Russian’s 30th career WTA title, the first of 2014. She is now third in titles among active players behind Serena and Venus Williams. With her eighth WTA clay court title win, Sharapova now trails just Anabel Medina Garrigues (10), Serena Williams (10) and Venus Williams (9) for most WTA clay court titles among current players.

“For the first half of the match I thought it might not be my day today, but somehow I turned it around,” Sharapova said. I had quite a slow beginning to the year, but me and my team have been working hard to get in the position to win titles again, and I’m so happy to be able to do it in Stuttgart.”

“From the first moment it was always a close match. It was always a few close balls to decide each game, and it went on the whole match. In the second set she definitely went for those big shots, though, and she made some amazing point,” Ivanovic said. “She’s just a great player, and that’s what happens when you play against great players in big matches like this. You need to use your opportunities.”

Sharapova joined boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov in the winner’s circle on Sunday. Dimitrov won the title in Bucharest, his third career ATP title.


Fognini Wins First ATP Title with Stuttgart Victory


(July 14, 2013) Italy’s Fabio Fognini joined the ATP winner’s circle for the first time taking the clay court event in Stuttgart defeating German Philipp Kohlschreiber 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 for the title.

“Finally, after two finals, I have won,” Fognini said. “I played great, great tennis this week. I am really happy to have beaten Philipp in the final. I was focused on my game and I think I felt fresh physically. The tension increased at the end, but then I got some luck. I just thought about my serve and playing solid. This gives me a lot of confidence. I will never forget my first title. It would be great to play on hard courts like this.”

“It is always tough to lose in the final, especially in Germany, in front of a home crowd,” Kohlschreiber. Maybe it was not the best final ever, but intensity wise it was tricky. Fabio played a great tournament and I can also be happy. There was great support. I think I started badly in the second and third sets. After winning the first set, I should have relaxed more.”

Fognini became the sixth first-time ATP World Tour titlist of 2013. The Italian took home €74,000 and a Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG, ‘Edition 1’ car for his efforts.


Sharapova Defends Stuttgart Title with Victory Over Li Na

Sharapova Porsche

By Tumaini Carayol

(April 28, 2013) STUTTGART – Maria Sharapova arrived in Stuttgart as merely the defeNding champion. One Porsche mega-deal later, the Russian had almost assumed home-crowd support as fans and staff alike cheered the Russian on passionately throughout the week.


After her perilous struggles in the rounds before, Sharapova saved her most impressive victory for last, showcasing a performance of the highest quality to refuse Li Na her title 6-4, 6-3. The Russian struck the ball cleanly and with precision, while her movement improved dramatically overnight as she closed out the match in two impressive sets.


“I definitely thought it would be the toughest match of the tournament because, you know, she’s the second seed and someone I lost to last time I played against her,” she said.


“Probably because I knew she’d be the freshest of both of us. I tried to do the right things from the beginning and not have a let-down like I did in the other matches. I’m extremely happy that I pulled through.”


Sharapova’s afternoon was most succinctly summed up by a break point in set two. Chasing from side to side, the Russian found herself on the back foot as Li attempted to dominate. Eventually she stretched for a last-ditch left-handed forehand which barely trickled over, but as the Chinese number one attempted to put away the weak reply, Sharapova had already begun sprinting back to her forehand side, into the open court. A stunning on-the-run forehand down the line passing shot followed as she wrestled the break from her opponent’s grasp and hammered the final nail into the coffin that held Li Na’s title hopes.


“I think the main thing (in the earlier rounds) is the way that I fought,” said Sharapova later. “The way I came back from being down from, you know winning the first set.


“Losing the second could have been tough and easy to let the third set go but I kept fighting to give myself a chance to get into the next round. And then I played my best tennis today. So no matter how difficult those matches were, no matter how tired I was.”


On the question of pressure after recording a breathtaking 20th straight victory on red clay, Sharapova showcased a relaxed outlook to her outstanding previous 12 months on the red dirt.


“It’s more exciting. I really feel like I deserve to be in that position where I’m considered one of favorites because I needed to work to be in this position for many years. I’ve worked on getting stronger. I’ve worked on getting patient. I’ve worked on getting my game to adapt a little more on clay. There’s a reason why I’ve got myself there. It didn’t take a day, it didn’t take months, it took many years.


It remains difficult to name the players who will figure as the top favorites for Roland Garros as the second Grand Slam draws ever-nearer, but if one thing is for sure, it’s that Sharapova will top them all.


Sharapova Survives Another Three-Set Match to Move into Stuttgart Final

By Tumaini Carayol

(April 27, 2013) STUTTGART – In a world where the phrase “counterpuncher” has become maimed and warped beyond reason and measure, Angelique Kerber epitomizes the word in its simplest form. The difference between Kerber and the numerous defensive retrievers the phrase is tossed indiscriminately at is clear; while the German too attempts to initiate points with consistency and high margin, Kerber’s ultimate aim isn’t simply to await errors and grind her opponents into submission. In stark contrast, she surrenders the initiative to her opponent in the hope they they will arm her with pace to allow her to attack.

It’s a strange and unique approach to tennis, and made even more bizarre by the manner in which she achieves it. For one, she isn’t even a particularly consistent player. Her faulty technique often leads to both forehand and backhand easily breaking down under pressure, particularly when static. However, her speed deceitfully creates an environment in which her opponents feel it imperative to take risks, inadvertently tossing the advantage straight to German. Conversely, against players who offer her zero pace, the German almost always struggles.

Moreover, conventional wisdom states that players whose strength is to redirect the opponent’s pace are usually armed with pin-point footwork and smooth, seamless technique in order to properly deal with the qualities thrown at them. Kerber, meanwhile, can be found contorting her body into unimaginable positions and taking large and awkward steps that put her only roughly in the direction of the ball. Despite that, over the past eighteen months, the German has proven herself the most spectacular in the world when on the run, with her ability to change directions and create spectacular angles and shotmaking on the run the driving force behind her ascension to the top five.

During the early stages of her battle against Maria Sharapova in Stuttgart, however, such spectacle was far from view. After two lackluster matches which far more readily showcased her mental strength clearly than anything resembling her best tennis, the Russian arrived with much to prove. From the very first game, she attacked with brutal depth, precision and weight of shot. As is often the case with Sharapova, it’s that precision and weight of shot that sets her apart from the crowd rather than her often overrated power, and during the early exchanges, she simply overwhelmed her opponent and left the German incapable of countering or punching in any capacity.

But there was something strange about Sharapova’s start. It was almost as if, after defeating Ana Ivanovic a round earlier, she had absorbed the Serb’s game as her serve and forehand dominated proceedings. It’s no secret that both strokes are so often the undoing of the Russian, so when the forehand did begin to unravel, nobody bothered to feign surprise. Meanwhile, Sharapova’s famously majestic backhand was nowhere to be seen as she alternated between spraying errors and avoiding her backhand-down-the-line at-all-costs, which only created yet more problems. With her trademark weapon missing in action and the rest of her game following in its wake, shortly after securing the first set 6-3 Sharapova was suddenly struggling to win games.

Much of the blame rested on Kerber’s shoulders, however. As Sharapova’s length slowly declined in the second half of the first set and offered the home favorite breathing space, the German snatched her opportunity and began to weave her web, transforming the match from what resembled a one-sided boxing match into a track meet. As is often the case in her matches, the match began to closer resemble a training drill as Kerber expertly used the the angles of the course to force Sharapova on the run, the Russian having no choice but to reply with desperate down-the-line shots. A couple of spectacular Sharapova shots followed, but there’ is usually only ever one victor of such drills, and it isn’t the slow player covering more ground and taking greater risks. As Kerber eased through the second set 6-2 and established a 2-0 third-set lead with seven straight games, it was clear the scoreboard agreed.

It was here that the most interesting moment of the match occurred Down 0-2 in the third set and staring into the abyss of defeat, Sharapova briefly departed from the previous two sets of the match. Suddenly she was rolling her serves in and opted for more topspin and height on her groundstrokes, re-establishing the depth and regaining her timing. Though this brief interlude lasted a mere game, it was enough to right Sharapova’s turbulent ship and send her powering through the following three games. Such an adjustment from the world number two would not happen on a hardcourt.

As the momentum tipped heavily back in the defending champion’s favor, the battle reached its glorious peak. Out of nowhere, both reverted back to what they do best. Sharapova’s backhand finally arrived in Stuttgart as she uncorked an assault of brutish winners from that side. Meanwhile, Kerber desperately and gallantly defended her serve, absorbing and redirecting the immense pressure Sharapova was inflicting on her, and amassing some impressive winners in the process. Against all odds, it was Kerber who emerged victorious in that lengthy game, leveling the match at three-all.

This proved only a momentary set-back for Sharapova,however, as she powered though the following two games to establish a 5-3 lead. Similarly to Ivanovic’s semi-comeback a day earlier, Kerber took her final stand and leveled back the match at 5-5, but Sharapova once again exhibited the resilience that made her a champion as she broke back immediately and finally closed the contest out.

Afterwards, when asked whether she was prepared for a potential fourth straight three-setter in the title match, three words from Sharapova summed up exactly why she has achieved such great and undeniable success over the course of her career.

“Whatever it takes,” she said. “Whatever it takes.”


Tumaini Carayol is in Stuttgart covering the Stuttgart tournament for Tennis Panorama News. He is a contributing writer at On The Baseline, and writes about professional tennis at his site Foot Fault.

Sharapova and Ivanovic Turn Back the Clock in Stuttgart


Maria Sharapova

By Tumaini Carayol

(April 26, 2013) STUTTGART – Six years ago, this battle was fought in the penultimate round of the greatest clay court event on the planet. As Ana Ivanovic dispatched forehand winner after stone cold forehand winner, the victor of the duel became abundantly clear long before the final ball was struck.


An hour later, with only three games relinquished, Ivanovic had waltzed into her first ever Grand Slam final over Maria Sharapova. The one unarguable implication this demolition exposed was the clear and seemingly immovable gulf in class between the pair on red clay and the superiority it was assumed Ivanovic would hold over Sharapova for years to come.


Over the course of those six years, this infallible truth slowly but surely unraveled. Despite arriving on the WTA as one of the most comfortable, natural and eventually best female claycourters on the planet, the years that followed brought more hardships on the surface than anywhere else. Before this week, Ivanovic’s form on clay court had sunk so low that her last quarter-final finish on the surface occurred in 2010. Since then, the faster hardcourts have proved her most successful surface, the quick courts supplying her thinner frame and more timing-reliant forehand with that crucial extra pop.


Conversely, Sharapova’s found her greatest early successes as a teenager on the hallowed lawns of England whilst famously dubbing herself a “cow on ice” when addressing her annual clay woes. Since her return from shoulder surgery, however, she has amassed a stellar 43-6 record on the surface as the red dirt has unarguably become. Thus, a gulf between the pair on red clay remains, but it has transformed far beyond logic.


Despite that, all that separated the pair on the day was a mere six points as Sharapova barely escaped a resurgent third-set comeback from the Serb, gritting out the match 7-5 4-6 6-4. Meanwhile, a disappointed but satisfied Ivanovic was more than aware of her changing fortunes on clay.


“You know, when I got back to play this year. I was training and I really, really was so happy and felt so good on clay,” she said. “And I love performing and it’s my favourite surface. You know, I grew up on it. So I really am really happy I have an opportunity to compete on it again. And I really find my best tennis there.”


Though the champion ultimately triumphed, the match serves as an important reminder that, in the game of tennis, only the present matters.


Tumaini Carayol is in Stuttgart covering the Stuttgart tournament for Tennis Panorama News. He is a contributing writer at On The Baseline, and writes about professional tennis at his site Foot Fault.



Kvitova Rallies Past Goerges in Stuttgart

Petra Kvitova

By Tumaini Carayol

(April 25, 2013) STUTTGART – Julia Goerges and Petra Kvitova put on a three-set exhibition of power in Stuttgart on Thursday at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix.


As expected, the battle between the two ball crushers was fought on the front line. Both women attempted to wrestle the initiative from the other, but early on it was surprisingly Goerges who easily assumed control of the match. Five games in, the home favorite found herself cruising up 6-2, 1-0 with a set and a break. Her serve provided her with free points and the opportunity to finish numerous points by her second shot, but it was her return that mostly impressed early on.


Once upon a time, it was Vera Zvonareva who exhibited exactly how to return the Czech’s hefty serve. The Russian notched up an impressive record over Kvitova by using her footwork to step in and intercept Kvitova’s trademark lefty swinger, neutralizing one of the best serves in women’s tennis.


Goerges’ movement around the ball was uncharacteristically precise and it afforded her the same freedom on return. The difference was, unlike Zvonareva who simply attempted to neutralize the effects of the Kvitova serve, Goerges attacked both first and second deliveries indiscriminately, either crushing clean return winners or else winning the initiative immediately with deep, penetrative returns which allowed her to put the ball away within two or three shots.


Essentially, during the early stages of the match, the German was the overwhelming victor of the “first strike” battle as she triumphed both on service and return – quite literally the first strike of every point. In no time at all, the set and break lead was hers.


After the turbulent last eighteen months, it’s easy to forget the mental strength Kvitova showed during the brief time she was hyped as the best of her generation. It was this mental strength that she drew on as she willed her game together and began to mount her comeback.


First she addressed the ease at which Goerges had dealt with her serve, implementing more variety in her delivery which relinquished Goerges’ grip on her serve. She then surprisingly began to attack with higher percentage, planning the majority of her offense either cross-court or straight down the middle, utilizing brash angles. The result was immediate. After breaking straight back, a series of quick and easy holds for Kvitova followed as Goerges service games lengthened and were subjected to immense ‘scrutiny. In reality, the Czech No. 1 should have leveled the match under far more straightforward surfaces, but when Goerges double faulted at 4-5 in the tiebreaker to hand over two set points, nobody was surprised.


From then onwards, Kvitova fell into cruise control as she shackles on her game were unbound. Big serves flowed into raucous winners, and before long the final ball had been struck and the match had been won 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-2. A quietly confidence-boosting win for Kvitova, as she continues her struggle to regain her form of old.


Tumaini Carayol is in Stuttgart covering the Stuttgart tournament for Tennis Panorama News. He is a contributing writer at On The Baseline, and writes about professional tennis at his site Foot Fault.


Sharapova Survives Safarova in Three Hour Battle in Stuttgart

Maria Sharapova with media

By Tumaini Carayol


(April 25, 2013) STUTTGART – Wednesday afternoon, Maria Sharapova could be found in the Porsche Arena, practicing on court two. Pitted against a young male German junior, the French Open champion was in devastating form.


A brief set of points saw the Russian so dominant over her opponent that coach Tomas Hogstedt found himself continually bursting unto sporadic laughter at the sheer brutality of his charge against this nameless child. More relevant still was the manner in which Sharapova moved around the ball during her practice session – skipping around the ball with precise, quick and measured footwork.


Twenty four hours later, the Russian’s game had descended. In place of the silky footwork and assured movement around the court was a sluggish, labored attempt at moving into position and navigating the clay, and the confident and supreme ball striking had been substituted for a copious amount of errors – 46 in total.


Still, she advanced. It may have taken over three hours, but she advanced over Lucie Safarova 6–4, 6–7(3), 6-3.


“I played a really good opponent that’s had tremendous results on a claycourt,” she said later. “I think this is one of her favorite surfaces. And in general she’s not an easy player to play against. I needed to be ready and no matter how I played today, I’m just happy to have got through this match.”


In that would have seemed laughable half a decade ago, her face lit up when discussing her new preference for red clay, a surface she has amassed an impressive 42-6 record on since her return from shoulder surgery and, for various reasons, has unarguably become her best surface by a considerable distance.


“Over the years I’ve really started to enjoy it,” she smiled. “I used to dread practicing the weeks the before. The movement and the preparation – I really enjoy that now. Before it used to be a bit physical and quite difficult (…) but now I’m really quite comfortable on it.”


There may not have appeared to be much love lost between Sharapova and red clay today in the messy heat of battle, but somewhere in Stuttgart is a junior still nursing deep mental wounds from the uncompromising beating he received at the hands of the reigning French Open champion. He’ll agree.


Tumaini Carayol is in Stuttgart covering the Stuttgart tournament for Tennis Panorama News. He is a contributing writer at On The Baseline, and writes about professional tennis at his site Foot Fault.


Ivanovic and Petkovic Duel in Stuttgart

Ana Ivanovic


By Tumaini Carayol


(April 23, 2013) STUTGART – Despite what the order of play suggested, Monday evening marked the true beginning of the Porsche Grand Prix. As Andrea Petkovic and Ana Ivanovic marched the court, it was the first time the spectators filled the stadium to the absolute brim. The first time the sharp intake of one person’s breath was simultaneously mirrored by the rest of the grand stadium. And the first time that even the quietest mutter was met with a flurry of angry shushing noises.


It was understandably a highly-anticipated affair. On one side stood Andrea Petkovic who, despite her current ranking, has charmed the German crowds beyond repute since she rose to prominence during 2010 and 2011. Accompanying her was her Serbian friend who herself had enamored the entire tennis world and beyond five nostalgic springs ago.


Still, the result was never in doubt. In spite of a two-game interlude which saw Petkovic immediately seize a break to lead 2-1, suffocating the Ivanovic backhand with uncompromising depth before knelling the finishing blow off both sides, any positive play from Petkovic was merely a footnote in a match that was closer epitomized by the four errors in succession committed by the German from the very first point.


A smiling but disappointed Petkovic was quick to agree.

“I got a little overexcited and I was too aggressive,” she said. “I was going for the lines and I was missing everything a little. I didn’t really build up the points and Ana was consistent.”


Ivanovic once again dealt with her opponent superbly. In addition to serving at 73% and shutting the door on every possible entry back into the match for Petkovic, she was acutely aware of Petkovic’s struggles on high forehand and adjusted by ensuring that, whenever on the defensive, she simply looped the ball up to the German’s forehand and awaited the almost inevitable error.


The most noteworthy moment came at 6-3 4-1 to Ivanovic as Petkovic attempted to throw a spanner into the works with a successful net foray followed by an exquisite dropshot to force 15-30 on the Ivanovic serve. Two well-placed service winners and an ace later, Ivanovic had confidently held for 5-1, uncharacteristically dousing out the remaining fire in Petkovic with minimum hassle. That was to be Petkovic’s final stand. Five minutes afterwards, Ivanovic had closed her friend out and moved seamlessly into the second round.


For Petkovic, the loss brought immense frustration, but even in defeat she was still able to showcase her trademark sense of humor.


“I’m hopeful that everything will come together in the future and I’ll be as good as I was before. And if not, I’m going to shoot myself..I’m joking!”


Tumaini Carayol is in Stuttgart covering the Stuttgart tournament for Tennis Panorama News. He is a contributing writer at On The Baseline, and writes about professional tennis at his site Foot Fault.