Contrary to earlier reports, the Upper Austria Ladies Linz tournament gets under way today, Saturday, with the qualifying rounds ahead of the main draw headlined by World No 11 Aryna Sabalenka that begins on Monday at the Linz Tips-Arena.
The other week in Cherbourg was another positive week for me. It’s probably some of the best tennis I’ve played. I got a few really good wins. I want to get into Grand Slam qualies and I want to get my ranking up to top 200. That’s what I’m aiming for. Jodie Burrage
Jodie Burrage, ranked 261, is the sole Briton in the qualifying draw, and she is in action today against the No 4 seed from the Czech Republic, Tereza Martincova.
The 21-year old British No 7 is one of the strongest Brit performers this year, with impressive results on the ITF Women’s World Tour as well as in various British events held during lockdown.
An ankle injury sustained at the ITF event in Surbiton last summer saw her out of the game for three months after she had reached her career high of 233 in the WTA Rankings, and she missed the rest of the grass court summer in Britain as a result.
“It was a tough time to have the injury,” she said:. “I was having a good year.
“It wasn’t really a great half of the year after my ankle injury. I struggled to find my level and my confidence with moving. On the court I didn’t really trust myself that much and when you’re doubting yourself it’s not the best.
“My mindset totally changed going into 2020. I started working with my new coach David Felgate and we ran through what I wanted at the start of the year.
“We tried to start with a clean slate for 2020 and that worked really well at the start.”
She made the final of a W15 event in Tunisia and the semi-final of a W25 event in Thailand before her season ground to a halt due to Covid-19.
With ITF events cancelled, Burrage was holidaying with her boyfriend, rugby player Ben White, in Cornwall when the UK was placed in lockdown and ended up staying with his parents.
“It was tough and annoying for me as I had started to get my level back, but it was the same for everyone,” Burrage added. “My fitness trainer did an amazing job in setting a fitness plan. I really took the chance to work on my fitness.
“It turned out to be quite an important period for me. It really helped me. I took advantage of it.”
As lockdown eased, the LTA arranged several British tour events and Burrage was of the most successful players in those events, picking up an array of match wins and demonstrating some of the best form of her career.
The highlight for her was the ‘Battle of the Brits’, organised by Jamie Murray and held at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton, where she defeated British No 1and former Grand Slam semi-finalist Johanna Konta and played mixed doubles with Andy Murray.
“I beat Jo on the first day, which was very unexpected to be honest,” she recalls. “It really showed me what I could do and what I could play like. It opened my eyes and opened a few other people’s eyes I think.
When ITF events returned, Burrage reached the final of a W25 event in Portugal and a further semi-final of a similar event in France.
“They definitely helped so much. If I hadn’t played those 30 or 40 matches I definitely don’t think I would have been playing the past few months like I had been.
“The other week in Cherbourg was another positive week for me. It’s probably some of the best tennis I’ve played. I got a few really good wins.
Now ranked 260th in the world, Burrage has clear goals set for 2021.
“I want to get into Grand Slam qualies and I want to get my ranking up to top 200. That’s what I’m aiming for.”
Originally scheduled for October, the WTA International event in Linz has been played since 1991, with past winners including Lindsay Davenport, Justine Henin, Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber, while last year’s champion Coco Gauff became the youngest WTA tournament winner in more than 15 years.
This year, the tournament features a 32-player singles draw and 16-team doubles draw and offers $250,000 in prize money.
Tournament Director Sandra Reichel originally planned to welcome 1,000 spectators per day, but due to rising coronavirus cases in the country, the Austrian government has decided to implement a second lockdown and the event is being be held behind closed doors.
Sabalenka has been given a wild card into the main draw and is joined by 5 more Top 50 players: World No 21 Elise Mertens from Belgium, Dayana Yastremska (29) from Ukraine, Russians Ekaterina Alexandrova (33) and Veronika Kudermetova 946), as well as Nadia Podoroska (48) from Argentina, who became the first qualifier in the Open Era to reach the semi-finals at Roland Garros after shocking third seed Elina Svitolina a few weeks ago.
Italy’s Camila Giorgi, the 2018 Linz champion, returns alongside home favourite Barbara Haas, who has also been awarded a wildcard into the main draw, while fellow Austrian Mira Antonitsch is wild-carded into the qualifying event.
“It’s great that the only WTA tournament taking place next week will be played here in Linz,” World No.146 Haas said. “I am very grateful that I have the chance again to be in the main draw thanks to a wildcard,”
Sabalenka, the 22-year-old from Belarus, is making her first appearance in Linz and is looking to add to her 8 career titles, two of which have come this season after lifting the trophies at the Qatar Total Open in February as well as the Ostrava Open last month.