World No 1 Ash Barty opened her account at the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart on Wednesday, winning 6-0 7-5 against Laura Siegemund, but Sofia Kenin, the No 3 seed, was upset by Anett Kontaveit, 7-5 6-4.
It’s a natural progression. Each tournament, the clay gradually gets more and more similar to Roland Garros. Here in Stuttgart, it’s something I’ve never played on before. I’ve never played on indoor clay, it’s a bit different. It’s pretty quick here, and you get rewarded for serve and first strike, which is a little bit unusual on certain clay courts. Ash Barty
Other winners included Karolina Pliskova, Jelena Ostapenko, Angelique Kerber, and Marketa Vondrousova.
Such are the vagaries of tournament scheduling that Simona Halep, the 2nd seed, and 4th-seeded Elina Svitolina do not play a match until Thursday.
Barty, the top seed, stormed through her opening set and then found herself down a break at 2-1 in the second against Siegemund.
The German won the biggest title of her career at Stuttgart in 2017, and all 3 of her career Top 5 wins have been here, too.
“She’s got the ability to manoeuvre the ball all around the court,” Barty said. “She’s got variety—she’s got multiple assets she can go to, and you could see that early in the second set.
“She adjusted how she was playing, took more risks and got more aggressive with her court positioning.
“It was obviously a challenging match. I felt like I had to find some really good stuff tonight.”
While Barty played on green clay of North American in Charleston a fortnight ago, reaching the quarter-finals, this is the Australian’s first event on European red clay since winning her first Grand Slam title at the 2019 French Open.
“It’s a natural progression,” she said. “Each tournament, the clay gradually gets more and more similar to Roland Garros.
“Here in Stuttgart, it’s something I’ve never played on before. I’ve never played on indoor clay, it’s a bit different. It’s pretty quick here, and you get rewarded for serve and first strike, which is a little bit unusual on certain clay courts.
“Then, once you move through Madrid and Rome, it’s probably more and more similar each week to what the conditions in Paris are like.
“It’s certainly no stress or concern if I don’t feel 100% comfortable now. We look to keep building over the next month or so, and then once we hit the Parisian clay, we want to feel comfortable.”
The Aussie was perfect behind her first service, winning all 24 of the points when she got her first delivery into play, and backed this up with 19 winners, compared to 13 winners from Siegemund, the World No 58.
After her 84 minute opener, Barty now gets a day off ahead of her quarter-final match against the No 6 seed, Pliskova, or Jelena Ostapenko, who play their second-round match on Thursday.
Earlier in the day, 2018 Stuttgart champion Pliskova needed 3 sets to knock out German lucky loser Tamara Korpatsch, 7-5 3-6 6-3.
“First of all super happy that I’m through,” the frustrated former No 1 told the press. “So, of course, that’s the main thing.
“Other than that I didn’t see many really good things. Maybe they were a couple of good points but it was not the best performance.”
The Czech has struggled to find her range this year, and her path in Stuttgart doesn’t get any easier as she next faces 2017 French Open champion Ostapenko, who was a 6-4 7-5 winner over Swiss qualifier Stefanie Voegele.
“Of course, first rounds are always a bit nervous, especially fist match on clay,” Pliskova said. “So, I didn’t really expect an amazing match today but yes, I’m just going to hope it’s going to be better.
“Of course, the opponent is also playing a different style, different tennis and I know her which also helps a bit that I know what she’s going to play.
“This girl [Korpatsch], I never played, I never practiced with her, so then it’s always a bit tricky. So, let’s hope for a better match.”
Meanwhile, 3-time Grand Slam champion Kerber breezed into the second round, sweeping aside Georgia’s Ekaterine Gorgodze in a 6-2 6-2 victory.
“That wasn’t a bad way to start the clay-court season,” said the German. “She wasn’t an easy opponent and I had a solid game.”
The 33-year-old, who has dropped to 26 in the world rankings, expects a tough match on Thursday against Svitolina, who has won all of their last 6 meetings.
Vondrousova, the runner-up at the 2019 French Open, got past fellow Czech Marie Bouzkova, 6-1 7-6(6), and now meets Simona Halep for a place in the quarters in a match between two of the best clay court players on the women’s tour.
Kontaveit continued to rack up wins in Stuttgart, as she notched a 7-5, 6-4 upset of No.3 seed Sofia Kenin and became the first player into the 2021 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix quarterfinals.
“It was a very close match and I’m very happy to be through,” Kontaveit said, in her post-match press conference. “I felt like the first set was a little bit on and off. I feel like I served really well throughout the match and that’s definitely what helped me.”
World No.27 Kontaveit has emerged as a Stuttgart specialist over the past few editions of the indoor clay event. She has now reached the quarterfinals or better in all four of her main-draw tournament appearances, including a runner-up showing at the most recent edition in 2019.
The Estonian has now improved to 11-3 at the event with her 94-minute victory over last year’s Australian Open champion Kenin, in the first meeting between the combatants.
Kontaveit’s win over World No 4 Kenin is the twelfth Top 10 win of her career, and her first of the season.
The Estonian was aggressive throughout, striking 31 winners to just 20 unforced errors against Kenin’s 29 miscues that outweighed her 19 winners, as the American suffered a third straight defeat.
Kontaveit did not face a break point in the first set, but Kenin stayed with the Estonian nearly the whole way through by fending off 9 break points in total up to 6-5 when the Estonian finally converted her 10th on set point after Kenin sent her backhand wide.
The American tightened her game up at the start of the second and earned her first break of the day with a winning backhand, eventually edging ahead 2-0, but the errors kept mounting and Kontaveit took control, breaking Kenin twice in a row and reeling off 5 straight games to lead 5-2.
Sturdy returning by Kenin helped her save a match point at 5-3 and the American grabbed a break back, but, at 5-4, Kontaveit chased down 2 drop-shots for winners, and finally converted her 3rd match point after another long forehand by the No 3 seed.
Kenin was making her Stuttgart debut, while Kontaveit was the runner-up at the indoor clay event in 2019 and she channelled her experience and memories through the 94-minute victory on Center Court.
Kontaveit will next face either No 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka or German qualifier Anna-Lena Friedsam.
Wednesday’s final match saw No 7 seed Petra Kvitova win a 2 hour, 28-minute battle against Maria Sakkari, 6-3 3-6 6-3.
The Czech may have finished the match with twice as many unforced errors as Sakkari, 48 to 24, but she also hit more than twice as many winners, 42 to 20.
“I knew that with Maria it’s always tough, especially on the clay,” Kvitova said. “She loves to play on it, and she has a great game for it.
“It was a really tough match today. I needed to play aggressive.”
Kvitova needed just a single break of serve in the opening frame, which came at 2-1, as she eased to the one-set lead, staving off the 3 break points she faced in the process, firing 9 winners while Sakkari could only muster up 2 winners.
The Greek turned the tables by going up an early break in the second, and though Sakkari allowed Kvitova back on serve at 4-3, the unseeded player moved back ahead by breaking for 5-3 after a gruelling tussle where she converted her 8th break point of the game with a drop-shot winner.
A routine hold in the following game allowed Sakkari to level the match.
The decider started with Kvitova ahead after breaking for 3-1 with a backhand crosscourt winner, but Sakkari struck right back to pull back on serve.
Another titanic game followed at 4-3, which Kvitova took on her 4th chance after an ill-timed double-fault by the Greek, and the Czech ultimately found more fiery winners down the stretch to power her way into the last eight.
Like Barty, Kvitova will also have a day in between her next contest and, in the quarters, she awaits the winner of Thursday’s match between Svitolina and two-time Stuttgart champion Kerber.