The Porsche Tennis Grand Prix kicks off in Stuttgart this week, and will see the return of World No 1 Iga Swiatek after her recent rib injury, and British No 1 Emma Raducanu, back from her injury setbacks this season.
We’re delighted to be able to present our crowd with a superstar like Iga. She was 2022’s outstanding player, and deservedly tops the world rankings. As the defending champion, she’s definitely one of the big favourites, especially after showing at the Qatar Open in Doha that she is back in top form after getting off to a slow start to the season. Markus Günthardt, Porsche Tennis Grand Prix Tournament Director
The WTA 500 tournament features 9 of the Top 10, including defending champion Swiatek, and two-time runner-up Aryna Sabalenka, along with recent tournament champions Ons Jabeur, Petra Kvitova and Elena Rybakina competing on indoor red clay at the Porsche Arena in the 32-player singles draw and 16-team doubles draw using the Wilson Roland Garros ball.
Swiatek enjoys a bye into the 2nd-round, but still faces a potentially tricky opening match against either rising American talent Alycia Parks or the ever-improving Zheng from China in her opening match.
‟We’re delighted to be able to present our crowd with a superstar like Iga,” said Tournament Director Markus Günthardt. “She was 2022’s outstanding player, and deservedly tops the world rankings.
“As the defending champion, she’s definitely one of the big favourites, especially after showing at the Qatar Open in Doha that she is back in top form after getting off to a slow start to the season.”
Meanwhile, 2021 US Open champion Raducanu faces a bigger challenge in 2017 Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko from Latvia, to determine the first opponent for No 3 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia.
It is a brutal draw for the 20-year old from Bromley, who received a wild-card entry to play in Stuttgart, and has been practising with Jabeur this week.
Ostapenko is the World No 22, whom Raducanu faced in the semi-final of last year’s Korea Open when the Brit had to retire in the final set while trailing 4-6 6-3, 3-0.
Both have experienced sudden success on the biggest stage in the sport, and dips, but the Latvian, now aged 25, has the greater experience on the tour, having won the French Open just days after her 20th birthday, the first unseeded woman to win Roland Garros since 1933.
Raducanu, who won the US Open as a qualifier, reached the quarter-final here in Stuttgart last year, when she defeated Storm Hunter and Tamara Korpatsch before falling to Swiatek, and she will be defending 100 of her 839 ranking points here.
Swiatek’s possible first opponent, Zheng, was the only player to win a set off her during the top seed’s run to the Roland Garros title last year.
If the Pole can secure her passage into the Last 8, potential quarter-final opponents include No 8 seed Maria Sakkari from Greece or 2018 champion Karolina Pliskova from the Czech Republic, who face each other in the 1st-round, with their head-to-head deadlocked at 3 wins apiece.
The second quarter is led Jabeur, whose path to the Last 4 is littered by tricky Grand Slam champions, with 6th seed and Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina from Kazakhstan likely to emerge in the quarter-finals.
Rybakina faces German No 1 Jule Niemeier to kick off her Stuttgart campaign in the 1st-round.
The highest-ranked player in the third quarter is No 4 seed Caroline Garcia from France, who will play either German No 2 Tatjana Maria, a wild-card, or Swiss qualifier Ylena In-Albon after her 1st-round bye.
Also in this quarter, 5th-seeded Coco Gauff faces one of the highest-ranked unseeded players, No 13 Veronika Kudermetova, in her opener, the Russian having defeated the American in their only previous meeting, in Doha earlier this year.
World No 10 and 2019 champion Petra Kvitova was originally in this section, but she withdrew from the tournament due to a right foot injury, and her spot in the draw is filled by Croatian qualifier Petra Martic.
Fans were eagerly anticipating Kvitova’s 1st-round match against Russia’s Anastasia Potapova, especially in light of the recent tensions surrounding their political views.
Kvitova believes that Russian players should not participate at Wimbledon or in the Olympics, leading to a back-lash from former WTA player Svetlana Kuznetsova, who accused the Czech of ‘Russophobia’.
Potapova, for her part, made her own statement at Indian Wells by wearing a Spartak Moscow jersey, so the stage was set for an electrifying showdown in Stuttgart, but, in an announcement, Kvitova, the two-time Wimbledon champion, expressed her regret for not being able to compete in Stuttgart due to her foot injury.
“I’m really sorry I can’t play in Stuttgart this year,” she stated. “Unfortunately, I’m a bit injured and I need to take care of my foot, but I hope that I’m gonna be here next year.
“I came here to Stuttgart hoping to be ready to play but, unfortunately, the pain in my right foot is still bothering me, and I know that I won’t be able to complete at 100 per cent.
“I wish everyone here a great tournament and hope to be back to full health soon.”
Meanwhile, in the fourth quarter, 2nd-seeded Belarusian, Sabalenka, who finished as the runner-up in Stuttgart over the last 2 years, is guaranteed to face a Top 15 player after her bye, awaiting the winner of the 1st-round match between Czech Barbora Krejcikova and Liudmila Samsonova from Russia.
At the other side of the quarter is an opening-round contest between No 7 seed Daria Kasatkina from Russia and former World No 2 Paula Badosa from Spain.
Kasatkina holds a 2-1 lead over Badosa in their rivalry, with all 3 of their meetings coming last year.
Clay has been used at the indoor Porsche Arena since 2009, but there is a new kind of court for the event in Stuttgart this year
Rebound Sports, a Hungarian company, has developed portable and highly sustainable tennis courts, explaining: “The first step involves laying 15-millimetre-thick foam mats on the bare ground. These then serve as shock absorption.
“Then large wooden boxes are driven into the arena by a forklift truck. They contain 2.14 x 1.07-metre plywood panels weighing 90 kilos.
“It is covered by a two-centimetre-thick mixture of red brick dust and a binder.
“A court consists of a total of 483 panels and weighs approximately 50 tons. It takes about 12 hours to lay the jointless surface.
“The clay court in Stuttgart consists of two layers made of ground red tiles – first of all a layer of two-millimetre grains and then ones only half as thick are laid on top. A binder is added for improved moisture retention.
“It is also the reason why the court does not have to be watered during the course of the tournament and only has to be dragged.
“The five-centimetre lines marking the playing area are pre-cut and accordingly pre-glued in the panels.
“Whilst the courts were previously shredded and recycled after the tournament, Rebound Sports’ courts are disassembled the day after the final and stored.
“A total of six 40-tonners then transport the panels back to Hungary. A seventh truck transports the red clay which is then donated to tennis clubs in Hungary.”
The champion following the singles final on Sunday, 23 April, will drive away a Porsche Taycan Turbo S Sport Turismo in addition to pocketing $120,150 and 470 points to kick off their European clay court season.