August 5, 2015

Paire, Stosur, Thiem, Tsurenko and Tomic Win Tennis Titles This Week

Samantha Stosur

Samantha Stosur

(July 26, 2015) Benoit Paire, Samantha StosurDominik Thiem, Lesia Tsurenko and Bernard Tomic were the singles winners on the tennis tour this weekend.

France’s Paire joined the winner’s circle for the first time, claiming the ATP World Tour title at the SkiStar Swedish Open in Bastad when he turned back Spain’s Tommy Robredo 7-6(7), 6-3. Paire is the sixth first-time winner on the men’s tour this year.

“It’s a perfect week,” Paire said. “The conditions today were not easy, but I’m really happy to win against Tommy. He’s a very good player. To play against him in the final and to beat him is a dream, so I’m very happy.

“It was a lot of pressure…  I hope it’s not the last one for me.”

Samantha Stosur rallied to win her second WTA title of the year and eighth overall after defeating Karin Knapp of Italy 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-2 in the final of the Gastein Ladies on Sunday. The Australian and former US Open champion also won the Strasbourg event back in May.

In a final which featured two unseeded players, Lesia Tsurenko won her first WTA title, besting Urszula Radwanska 7-5, 6-1 to win the Istanbul Cup.

“I’m so happy I could win here and show good tennis,” said the Ukrainian.

“That’s my goal, getting good results and showing good tennis.”

Austria’s Dominik Thiem won his second career ATP World Tour title, besting Joao Sousa of Portugal 6-4, 6-1 to win the Croatia Open

“Today was very special day,” Thiem said. “We were watched by world’s number one Novak Djokovic,” Thiem said. “Usually he is the one who entertains us with great tennis and today we turned it around.”

“It is really special to win here after playing juniors matches in this stadium,” said Thiem who became the first Austrian to win this title since Thomas Muster did it twenty years ago. “I will have a nice dinner with my friends tonight to celebrate. It won’t be a big party for me as I have to drive eight hours to go to Gstaad tomorrow.”

Second seed Bernard Tomic defended his Claro Open Colombia title in Bogota, beating Frenchman Adrian Mannarino 6-1, 3-6, 6-2.

“It’s been a very good year,” Tomic said. “I started at No. 70 and am now close to No. 20. It’s been a good seven months. I’ll try to play well the next three months and have the chance to be in the Top 15.

“Every title you remember. I’m very happy to have won my third title and to defend it here was amazing. I’m really happy with myself… This is my most consistent year.”

The 22-year-old Australian, ranked 29th,  is now 9-0 at the tournament.

 

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Ram, Schmiedlova and Larsson Win Tennis Titles This Week

Rajeev Ram won the Van Alen Cup for the second time in his career today. The trophy is named for International Tennis Hall of Fame founder Jimmy Van Alen, who invented the tennis’ tiebreak system. Photo by Jennifer Carter

(July 19, 2015)Three surprise winners took titles this week on the tennis tour – Rajeev Ram, who knocked out top seed John Isner on Tuesday took home his second Newport title. The top Swedish woman took home her country’s  title in Bastad while Anna Karolina Schmiedlova knocked out top seed Sara Errani to win in Bucharest.

Ram stopped No. 2 seed Ivo Karlovic 7-6(5), 5-7, 7-6(2), the 31-year-old American ranked 161st coming into this week will move into the top 100 as of Monday. He became the third American to win multiple titles at this ATP World Tour grass-court event, this includes John Isner 2011-12 and Bryan Shelton 1991-92.

“To say that I felt like I’d be the winner at the end of the week… I had no idea,” Ram said. “The first one was more elation, this one is more satisfaction just because I did it again.”

Ram also won in Newport in 2009.
Seventh seeded Anna Karolina Schmiedlova upset No. 1 seed Sara Errani 7-6 (3), 6- to win the Bucharest Open final on Sunday.

The 20-year-old Slovak won the match in 97 degree heat, avenging a loss to the Italian in the Rio Open earlier this year.

“I still cannot believe I won, because it was a really tough match and Sara Errani is an amazing player,” Schmiedlova said to media. ”

“It’s tough to play against her anywhere, but especially on clay.” she said.

Johanna Larsson made her home country proud collecting the title at the Swedish Open, downing defending champion Mona Barthel 6-3, 7-6(2) for her first WTA title.

“I’m extremely happy,” Larsson said after the match. “I think I played really well today and I tried to concentrate on taking it point by point.

“I’m just really living in the moment right now and I’m happy with this victory today. Hopefully this can pay off later in the season, but right now I am just going to enjoy my first career WTA title.”

 

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Kerber edges Pliskova to win Birmingham Aegon Classic

Angelique Kerber

By Ros Satar

(June 21, 2015) BIRMINGHAM, England – Angelique Kerber dug in against WTA Rising Star Karolina Pliskova in a taut three-set 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-6 (4) final to win her first grass court title, and her third title this year, having won in Charleston and Stuttgart.

 

The first set could not have started any better for the German, who broke Pliskova in the opening game. As nerves settled for the pair, the set ticked on with Kerber looking threatening, especially as the looked to break to take the first set at 5-3, but squandered four set points against the Czech, after being 0-40 up.

 

The missed opportunities looked to weigh heavy on her mind, as she as was broken straight back, losing her advantage she had held since the start of the match, although she regrouped to hold to love to force a tie-break.

 

With momentum shifting a little in the tie-break it was Pliskova who brought up two set points to claim the first real blow.

 

The second set started with the pair trading breaks , but Kerber kept pressing and pushing Pliskova to always be hitting one last shot, earning a second break, as she kept that advantage through to level the match.

 

First blood in the decider went to the German, who converted on her first break point to open out her second 3-1 advantage of the match, but the nerves are never far behind at times, where Kerber is concerned.

 

Serving out for the title at 5-4, a couple of flat errors handed Pliskova the break back and once more the pair battled to keep things on even terms into a tie-break.

 

Trading mini-breaks for the first four points, Pliskova was the first to hold at the start of the tie-break, but giving up a mini-break ahead of Kerber’s two serves gave the German match point. Pliskova’s return found the net and with it her third loss out of four finals this year.

 

Prior to this week, Pliskova had never even won back to back matches before her tear into the final here, while Kerber picks up her first grass court final, although she has been to the final in Eastbourne once before.

 

Pliskova admitted in her post-match press-conference that there were still areas for improvement, saying:

 

“Is really tough, especially for me because I’m quite high. So it’s tough. I’m not used to go in the knees that often, but I’m trying. Especially with Angie, she’s playing so flat balls so you have to go even lower than normally. That’s why I think she’s playing this good on grass. It’s tough, but I’m definitely trying. I think I did a good job this week.”

 

With the grass court season as short as it was, adding titles to your list was no mean feat, as Kerber now adds that to her list of titles, with Eastbourne still to follow.

 

She explained: “That’s feeling very good. I think this one is really special for me because it’s the first title on grass for me, and here in Birmingham I had a great week. Everybody is so friendly. And the fans on the centre court, was amazing to play with the support. I’m really proud about my game.

 

“I don’t have a lot of expectation also here. I mean, I came here to have a lot of matches before Wimbledon. That’s also my goal in Eastbourne, you know, going there and have like few more matches. Let’s see how many, and then going to Wimbledon with a lot of confidence. So that’s my goal.”

 

Both Kerber and Pliskova are in the main draw for Eastbourne, which begins on Monday.

 

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist covering tennis, and can also be found at Britwatch Sports.

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Karolina Pliskova and Angelique Kerber Reach Birmingham Final

 

Angeligue Kerber

Angelique Kerber

By Ros Satar

(June 20, 2015) BIRMINGHAM, England – It was touch and go what was the bigger adversary on Saturday – the opponents facing each other over the net, or the weather conditions that varied frustratingly from blue skies and the hint of sunshine, to thundering rain that sounded like wild applause within the confines of the media centre.

 

First up on a heavily disrupted schedule was Kristina Mladenovic and Karolina Pliskova, who had charmingly paired up to practice ahead of their match. Mladenovic admitted that the pair had known each other for years and enjoyed each other’s company off the courts.

 

It was Pliskova who was the more business like, breaking straight away, consolidating for a 3-1 lead before the first of the rain interruptions. Despite neither player being keen to try and play through a steady drizzle, it took a while before they were brought off for a spell.

 

Coming out for the restart, Pliskova wasted no time in breaking again swiftly, and served out the first set to love.

 

Mladenovic was net ready to give up without a fight though, lifting her level despite another extremely heavy downpour, which resulted in a few hardy souls being asked to vacate the stands for fear of on-coming thunder and lightning.

 

It was the Frenchwoman who took the early break this rime, only to relinquish it straight away. The pair stayed tight together through to the middle of the tie-break where she even built up three set-points but a run of five points on the bounce saw Pliskova seal a place in her fourth final this year 6-2, 7-6 (6), and her first grass court final.

 

In fact before this week she had struggled to even put together back to back wins on grass, despite having a solid game for the surface.

 

“I think my game is good on grass. I don’t know why I didn’t have any good results before this,” she said. “I’m happy it’s coming now. For me it’s really important to play like this, especially ahead of Wimbledon. Hopefully I can have some good results there as well now.”

 

“The conditions were hard, and Kristina was playing really well, so the second set wasn’t easy at all,” Pliskova continued. “I started the match feeling great, and as it went on it was getting worse, actually. She was starting to play better and better, too, so I couldn’t be happier to make it through in two sets.”

 

She is now a win away from breaking the Top 10, when she faces Angelique Kerber, who extended her head-to-head against Fed Cup teammate Sabine Lisicki to 6-0 with a straight sets win 6-3, 6-3, despite the crowd largely pulling for the 2011 champion.

 

 

Kerber is on her best run at Edgbaston, having made it to the third round twice, and while Pliskova is in her first Premier-level final, Kerber will be gunning for her fourth Premier title.

 

The pair are tied in their head-to-head 2-2, although Pliskova has won their two most recent meetings – Nurnberg 2014 and Sydney 2015.

 

She said: “Pliskova is also playing very well, very tough, deep, and strong. So I think it will be like maybe similar like today, the match tomorrow. But of course every single match start from zero and it’s another day, another match. She has a strong serve as well, so I must be ready to return it very well.”

 

Kerber and Pliskova are scheduled on the Ann Jones Centre Court, at 1pm.

 

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist covering tennis, and can also be found at Britwatch Sports.

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After 17 Months Laura Robson Makes her Return to the Court

EASTBOURNE, ENGLAND - JUNE 20:  Laura Robson at Devonshire Park on June 20, 2015 in Eastbourne, England.  (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images for LTA)

EASTBOURNE, ENGLAND – JUNE 20: Laura Robson at Devonshire Park on June 20, 2015 in Eastbourne, England. (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images for LTA)

(June 20, 2015) Former British No. 1 Laura Robson returned to the court after a 17-month absence due to a wrist injury. The 21-year-old who received a wild card was demolished 6-0, 6-1 in less than an hour by Russian Daria Gavrilova in the qualifying tournament of the Aegon International in Eastbourne.

Gavrilova defeated Maria Shrapova earlier in the year.

Robson who was at one time as high as No. 27 in the world was happy to be back on court.

 

“I’ve definitely felt worse, but also felt better, to be honest I think in a way it was a victory to just finish a match and be back on court, back playing tournaments and I’m very happy.”

 

As for being on the sidelines for so many months, Robson said: “Not easy, that’s for sure! It has been a lot of hard work, a lot of patience and I’ve had some great people helping me out the whole time in my coach and my team. I think as a team we’ve really worked through it together.”

 

“I think the hardest part for me was after I came out of my cast and I started to hit and I then had pain again, it was just such a downer, to have to go through that all over again. I don’t know if you’ve been following Del Potro, but he’s having the same issue. It’s a horrible, horrible feeling for anyone.”

 

“My coach made a joke, he was saying, ‘You know, so proud that you’ve played a match that you’re back in the tournament. Now there’s just one little thing that we need to work on…’ he just dead panned it and said, ‘everything’. I totally agree, the timing, the match rhythm, just hitting some back, reading shots that before I wouldn’t even think about but now I’m not sure where it’s going to land, so it’s a totally new start but a very exciting one.”

 

“I still went out there with the intention of winning, you never go out there just hoping to get through, but it was a lot closer than the score suggested, that’s the way I thought anyway, and I’ve come out, I know what I can do and I still have so much work to do.”

 

Robson, a former Wimbledon Junior champion, would love to play in her home country’s major.

 

“I haven’t heard about a wildcard yet, I would obviously love to play, it’s my home tournament, it’s my favourite tournament of the year for sure, so I would love to get a chance to play but we’ll see, I haven’t heard anything.”

 

Asked about what it would be like to to play Wimbledon this year she said: “I would be very excited I would have the next week to play more matches. I’ve noticed everyday I’ve been playing points and getting better and better and it will continue to do so. So I’ll have another week of practice and go out there with the best intention. I think it’s everything when you’re playing a match, it’s very different from playing points, and hopefully it will improve.”

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Federer Reaches Tenth Halle Final, Murray-Troicki Semi Rained Out in London

(June 20, 2015) Roger Federer is looking for a record eighth Gerry Weber Open title on Sunday when he takes on Andreas Seppi. Seppi reached the final when Kei Nishikori retired from their match with a left calf injury. Nishikori said he hurt yesterday and felt a bit of pain today and did not want to take a chance with Wimbledon approaching.

 

In London, rain has forced the Andy Murray Victor Troicki match to be completed on Sunday morning. The match was at 3-3 when Troicki fell and injured his left shoulder, received treatment but the rain stopped the contest.

Gerry Weber Open

Halle, Germany

RESULTS – SATURDAY, 20 JUNE 2015

Singles – Semi-finals
[1] R. Federer (SUI) d [8] I. Karlovic (CRO) 76(3) 76(4)
A. Seppi (ITA) d [2] K. Nishikori (JPN) 41 ret. (calf injury)

Doubles – Semi-finals

[2] R. Bopanna (IND) / F. Mergea (ROU) d E. Butorac (USA) / S. Lipsky (USA) 76(10) 46 13-11
SCHEDULE – SUNDAY, 21 JUNE 2015

STADION start 13:00
[1] R. Federer (SUI) vs A. Seppi (ITA)
16:00
R. Klaasen (RSA) / R. Ram (USA) vs [2] R. Bopanna (IND) / F. Mergea (ROU)

 

 

Aegon Championships

London, Englnd

RESULTS – SATURDAY, 20 JUNE 2015

Singles – Semi-finals
K. Anderson (RSA) d [7] G. Simon (FRA) 63 67(6) 63
SCHEDULE – SUNDAY, 21 JUNE 2015

CENTRE COURT start 11:00 am
[1] A. Murray (GBR) vs V. Troicki (SRB) 33

Not Before 2:25 pm
[1] A. Murray (GBR) or V. Troicki (SRB) vs K. Anderson (RSA)
[4] P. Herbert (FRA) / N. Mahut (FRA) vs [3] D. Nestor (CAN) / L. Paes (IND) or [2] M. Matkowski (POL) / N. Zimonjic (SRB)

COURT 1 start 12:00 noon
[3] D. Nestor (CAN) / L. Paes (IND) vs [2] M. Matkowski (POL) / N. Zimonjic (SRB)

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Catching up with Jelena Jankovic

Jelena Jankovic

Jelena Jankovic

By Ros Satar

(June 20, 2015) BIRMINGHAM, England – It has been something of a turbulent year for the always-entertaining Serbian, Jelena Jankovic. She had laughed and joked her way to the Indian Wells final earlier this year, a venerable ‘old woman’ against the young 20-somethings that litter the top rankings, before injury crumbled her clay court season to dust.

 

Returning to a surface that has not always been her friend, despite providing her one and only Grand Slam title to date (Mixed doubles with Jamie Murray in 2007), she put together a run to the semi-finals of ‘s-Hertogenbosch before bowing out to fourth seed Angelique Kerber in the third round in Birmingham this week. Ironically that was also the year that she won the title in Birmingham (beating Maria Sharapova) and made the final of Den Bosch (losing to Anna Chakvetadze).

 

We caught up with her after her loss to Kerber, which seemingly hung on a pivotal point in the sixth game of the first set.

 

She said: “I was playing quite well in the first set, and you know I lost my focus a little bit. Kerber is quite solid. She does not give you any mistakes, she’s not going give you any gifts, so while I was being aggressive and hitting my shots, all of a sudden I got into a bad rhythm and I started making all these mistakes.”

 

In true Jankovic form, she proceeded to give an in-depth analysis complete with laughter and trying to demonstrate how frustrated she was at balls refusing to bounce.

 

She elaborated: “It was unbelievable, it was 3-2 and I had many break points and she’s a leftie and she kept serving that serve out wide and I would return at times a really good return and she would just kind of block it and the ball wouldn’t bounce, and I would have trouble reaching the next one.

 

“It was just unfortunate. She did really well you know, she came up with the good answers. I tried hitting down the line, cross court and somehow she would get those balls back and the ball wouldn’t really bounce for the next shot.

 

“I would run there and I would be at the ball and I couldn’t dig it out. And that game was quite crucial. If I went up a break, you know who knows what would happen. It would of course make a big difference.”

 

It is the first time Jankovic has put together a couple of tournaments in a row, and picked up some solid wins, opting to stay here in Birmingham as the field dwindled to practice, and can often be heard in peals of laughter from the players’ lounge, just across from the media centre.

 

She told us: “This is the first time that I’ve played two tournaments in a while and we’ll see. I know what I need to improve, the little segments, the little things that will make a big difference in my game.

 

“I asked for a wildcard [to Birmingham]. I was not supposed to play here, because in the previous years I only played Wimbledon, or barely one tournament if not. This year I decided to play a little bit more so that I would give myself a chance to play well at Wimbledon.

 

“You know I think played some really good matches, I played quite a lot of tennis for so long there has been sitting on the sidelines for maybe five/six months of the season. So you know, I have to take care of my body, I’m not at the stage where I can play really a lot, so I have to play, be smart do the rehabilitation, recover my body and then start fresh again.”

 

Since that decent run in 2007, Jankovic and grass have not necessarily been a good mix, but that has not deterred her from trying to conquer the slick surface this year.

 

She mused: “Actually I think I have pretty good shots to play on grass. I have a ball that’s quite flat, I move quite well, I can slice, I can drop-shot, I can play pretty good volleys, there’s no reason for me not to play decent on grass. Of course it’s not my favourite surface, because I like to construct my points and be a little smarter than just slapping the ball.

 

“It’s just that sometimes the ball digs in (laughs) I cannot get it up from the ground and yeah you have to have strong legs, a low centre of gravity. You’ve got to have strong quads to keep up with those shots. Not just today, day after day and that’s a big difference.”

 

Jankovic is currently ranked 29 in the world.

 

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist covering tennis, and can also be found at Britwatch Sports.

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Birmingham Day 4 – Weeding Out the Field

 

By Ros Satar

(June 18, 2015) BIRMINGHAM, England – With seeds and home favourites having stumbled over the past few days in the Midlands, the championship is now largely on Simona Halep’s racquet to lose. Having come through a good brace of results now, she is putting what was ultimately a disappointing clay court season behind her and pushing on impressively on the grass.

 

After dashing British hopes in the second round, beating Naomi Broady 6-4, 6-2, she eased into the quarter-finals with a 50 minute workout over Klara Koukalova, 6-1, 6-3.

 

Having been usurped over the clay court season, where she was expected to shine, Halep was taking nothing for granted.

 

She said, after the match: “I expected a tough match because she plays very hard on grass with her type of game. It’s difficult to play her on this surface but I didn’t really want to think about that – I just came out here and played my game, played my style, stayed aggressive and especially served very well in the match.”

 

She later joined British No. 1 Heather Watson, who was edged out in her opening round in straight sets, and looking for some wins under her belt – but it certainly was not looking likely as the pair were swiftly battling against a 0-5 deficit in the opening set.

 

The first time pairing got themselves together in the second set, breaking for the advantage, and although they were pegged back, another break to the scratch twosome meant they could serve out for the set.

 

It was nip and tuck throughout the match tie-break until Watson and Halep close out a 1-6, 6-3, 10-7 win.

 

She said: “It was difficult at the beginning because, [it] was my first match on grass, doubles on grass. It’s not easy. The ball was coming very fast and I didn’t know where to hit because I saw both of them there. So it was really difficult, and I’m really happy we could win this match. It’s really important. It’s good we played first time together, so it’s a nice game.”

 

She continued: “I have no expectation from me this grass season, so I just want to go on court and play what I know. On clay I had pressure and I couldn’t handle it. I played bad and I couldn’t feel like relaxed on court. So that was the bad thing.

 

“So I just took some days off home and I said that I have to relax my mind and just going on court to play.”

 

With third seed Carla Suarez Navarro also posting a solid win today, the field looks set for a high quality finale, as the pair were joined by Angelique Kerber who got the better of former champion Jelena Jankovic, and fresh from her record breaking ace haul, Sabine Lisicki looks to be returning to the kind of grass form that put her in her maiden Grand Slam final.

 

The quarterfinals start on Friday at 11am.

 

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist covering tennis, and can also be found at Britwatch Sports.

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Birmingham Day 3 – Seeds Blow in the Breeze

By Ros Satar

(June 17, 2015) BIRMINGHAM, England – After the sunshine of the second day, the clouds, the rain and the drizzle brought a little bit of havoc to the draw on Wednesday.

 

After her battling win on Tuesday, Victoria Azarenka had to withdraw with a left foot injury, handing Zarina Diyas a walkover into the third round. It completed a pretty dismal day for the organisers as defending champion Ana Ivanovic was edged out in a deciding set tie-breaker against Michelle Larcher de Brito, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (6), despite serving for the match in the decider, and saving two match points.

 

Ivanovic said, after her match: “It’s tough playing someone who already had few matches on the grass. Today I started really bad until I found my rhythm and so on. Her ball was staying very, very low, so I struggled with it a little bit at times.

 

“I was really disappointed I couldn’t hold my serve in the third set. I think getting a win and moving on to the next one, it would be different game next match. But it’s always tough, that change.”

 

Swiftly following her out of the tournament was Victoria Azarenka, before she had even taken to the court, withdrawing from the final planned match of the day with a foot injury.

 

She said, in a statement: “It’s very disappointing for me to make this decision but I tried to practice and it just doesn’t feel 10-0 percent. I don’t think it’s the best time for me to take a risk right now, especially right before Wimbledon, and I need to make sure I have the best preparation possible.”

 

Eugenie Bouchard

Eugenie Bouchard

Eugenie Bouchard continued her troubling lack of form, despite a spirited attack after a rain delay, which helped her cause somewhat when it came to the second set, where she leveled the match. However, that relief was short-lived, after Kristina Mladenovic steamed through the final set without letting up a game 6-3, 4-6, 6-0.

 

“I think I played okay,” said the despondent Canadian. “A little bit up and down. I was trying to be more aggressive than I’ve been in the past, so I felt I did that okay in the first and second set. Then I don’t know what happened in the third.”

 

When asked how she would describe her mood overall: “Every negative adjective you could think of, I would use that. Just very, very frustrated.”

 

It was not all doom and gloom on a day disrupted with drizzles over day. 2007 champion Jelena Jankovic was not following Ivanovic on the train down to London, as she advanced to the third round, where she will meet Angelique Kerber.

 

We caught up with the German after her victory over Tsvetana Pironkova, as she assessed her performance so far this year after collecting titles in Charleston and Stuttgart.

 

Kerber said: “After Stuttgart and Charleston, and the clay season, I think I’m playing good again, I’m really comfortable, and I’m looking forward now to playing the grass season.

 

“Of course I was a little bit disappointed after my third round loss in Paris, but clay was never my favourite surface, so in the end I think played a good clay season, and so overall I was happy.”

 

Kerber has a decent track record on the grass, and feels ready for the new season, saying: “I play very well the last few years. I reached the semis of Wimbledon, twice Eastbourne the finals, so it’s always nice to play on grass some tournaments, but of course the first matches on grass is always a little bit tricky but that’s why I’m here, to have a lot of matches before Wimbledon.”

 

Home hopes lay with British No. 2 Johanna Konta, as she carried on her strong momentum from reaching the Nottingham quarter-finals with another Top 100 win in the opening round against Jarmila Gajdosova, before starting well against sixth seed Karolina Pliskova. With the rain causing havoc to the schedule, it suited the Czech a little more, as she leveled the match, before the players came off once more.

 

As the clouds darkened, they came out once more in an attempt to finish, with Pliskova taking an early lead, but the heavens opened one more time with the Czech serving at 4-3 15/30.

 

Play will resume at 11am BST on Thursday.

 

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist covering tennis, and can also be found at Britwatch Sports.

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First Timers shine in the Birmingham sun

Victoria Azarekna

Victoria Azarekna

By Ros Satar

(June 16, 2015) The Birmingham field this year has been boosted by a couple of debutantes who certainly shone on a rare sunny day in the Midlands. First up was a pumped looking Victoria Azarenka, and if her exertions while waiting to walk out onto court were anything to go by, the former World No. 1 was more than up for this challenge.

Except her opponent Varvara Lepchenko had other ideas, racing out to a 4-0 lead, as Azarenka perhaps was over-pushing in her eagerness to make her mark, before Azarenka finally started to find the court, to put it bluntly.

From 4-0 up to coming out on the wrong side of a momentum-switching tie-break must have been galling to the American, as Azarenka powered on, and although she was pegged back by Lepchenko after she surged out to a 3-0 lead of her own, it was not enough to stop Azarenka making a winning start 7-6, 6-4.

The Belarusian can always be counted upon to give a full and frank assessment of her time out on court.

“I felt that I didn’t really start well. I wasn’t really there. I was missing too much,” Azarenka said. “Of course she played well and forced me to do a lot of things but I just didn’t feel that I put in enough energy or concentration. Something wasn’t quite working.”

She continued: “I just tried to stay positive as much as possible and try and fight through it. I think that was one thing that I did really well today. I made something happen in the important moments and tried to change the flow of the match in my favour.

Azarenka has been marching back up the rankings but there are still signs of rustiness, in closing out matches for example.

“I think I still have to sharpen my game, and as a perfectionist I’m always looking to improve.”

Meanwhile Simona Halep needed to sharpen up her own game after a clay court season she would have reasonably expected to sail through, Instead though, save for her run to the semi-final of Stuttgart, it was nowhere near a par with her run to the Madrid and Roland Garros finals. She was bounced out of Madrid, yet dealt with the loss maturely. She did better in Rome, but her French Open points were lost in the red clay as she fell in the second round.

She was up against British wildcard Naomi Broady, hoping to lift the crowd’s spirits after British No. 1 Heather Watson was ousted in two tight sets by Aleksandra Krunic, whose match sharpness coming through qualifiers proved to be too much for Watson on her comeback from injury at Roland Garros.

Give Broady her credit, she hung tough with Halep, making the top seed work hard for the break, but once she did, the Romanian went on a sprint through the next six games in a row. It was too much for the Brit to come back from, although she managed to at least get back on the board in the second set.

“I had a really tough opponent today. She played really well and her first serve is very big – it’s not easy to return her serve,” Halep said. “The first set was really tough, and I can say I was a little bit lucky to get the break in the end, but overall I’m happy how I did and that I could win this match today.

“It’s the first tournament of the year for me on grass, and it’s not easy to adapt my game on grass, but last year I had good results on it and I come here with confidence. I believe I have my chances.”

Play continues in Edgbaston from 11am BST.

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist covering tennis, and can also be found at Britwatch Sports.

 

 

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