Stuttgart | Raducanu and Sabalenka late-night winners

Late on Wednesday night, Emma Raducanu and Aryna Sabalenka won their opening matches at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, with more or less drama, while Coco Gauff and Ons Jabeur also advanced earlier on Day 3 of the WTA 500 indoor clay-court tournament in Stuttgart.

At any moment she [Angelique Kerber] can just turn it on and battle. In the first set, at the beginning we had some really long rallies. In the second set we had some really long games. I just remember so many long deuce games. Even though the score was 6-2, 6-1, it was a lot tighter in the game. I did really well in the crucial moments. Emma Raducanu

In a bout between two US Open champions, both of whom had received wild-cards into the draw, Raducanu continued her run of good form to beat Angelique Kerber, 6-2 6-1, in 84 minutes.

It was exactly a year ago that Raducanu played her last match before going undergoing surgery, enduring a lengthy lay-off to recover, and she lost by the same score then to Jelena Ostapenko in the 1st-round.

Now she is back at the Porsche-Arena emphatically dispatching Kerber, a two-time champion here and a local favourite, to make it into the 2nd-round.

“It’s a bit of a milestone moment for me, and I just feel like I have come a long way in that year,” Raducanu said after her win.

Since returning to competition in January, she is now 8-5 in win-losses this season, and has won 3 consecutive matches for the first time since Indian Wells in 2023, having pulled off 2 come-back wins on the clay in France to lead Great Britain to a 3-1 upset win at the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers last weekend.

“Tennis-wise I have improved because I feel, like, I am playing the best tennis of my career, and my life,” she told the BBC after leading Team GB into November’s BJK Cup Finals.

“I think my serve is more of a weapon now,” Raducanu added on Wednesday. “I think, last weekend, I played some great tennis. Obviously, it wasn’t a lot of time to turn over since last weekend.

“Going back up again tomorrow, it’s more just a challenge of the body, I’d say, but I think I’m mentally in a good place. I’m taking a lot of confidence from the training I’m doing.

“I feel, like, I can actually lean on that more so, now, because I’m actually doing the work, whereas last year it was very difficult.”

Raducanu meets the talented young Czech Linda Noskova on Thursday, who put paid to Ostapenko’s hopes on Tuesday in straight sets.

Emma Raducanu won the wild-card battle between two former US Open champions against Angelique Kerber on Day 3 of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix

Facing Kerber for the first time, the 21-year old Brit played aggressive, precision tennis to dominate the match from the get-go, pocketing the first set in 40 minutes, by striking 13 winners to just 5 unforced errors.

In fact, she broke the German’s serve 6 times in the match, winning 82.6% of Kerber’s second-serve points, and finishing with 26 winners to 11 unforced errors, and although Kerber matched her in the winner count, she made nearly three times the unforced errors, striking 29.

“At any moment she can just turn it on and battle,” Raducanu said. “In the first set, at the beginning we had some really long rallies. In the second set we had some really long games. I just remember so many long deuce games. Even though the score was 6-2, 6-1, it was a lot tighter in the game.

“I did really well in the crucial moments.”

Kerber is on a come-back mission of her own, returning from maternity leave, and the former World No 1, who swept back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016, was bidding for her 17th win in Stuttgart, which would have given her the outright lead for the most wins since the tournament shifted to clay in 2009.

Raducanu won her only previous meeting with Noskova, a soggy, gritty 6-7(4) 7-5 6-1 win at Roland Garros in 2022, and a win here would put the former World No 10 into her second Stuttgart quarter-final, having made the Last 8 on her debut in 2022.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t tired, but I would way rather be in this position, where I have played a lot of matches, and I’m feeling fatigued, than being super fresh and losing,” Raducanu said. “It’s funny, because you always want something that you can’t have.

“But I am playing some really good tennis. I feel, like, I’m playing level-wise, I knew it before I went to Fed Cup even, like, training, I was playing really well. I think everyone that I was practicing with can attest to that too.”

Aryna Sabalenka was stretched to the limit by Paula Badosa, who retired injured in the deciding set

Even later, Sabalenka, the Australian Open champion, who has been the runner-up here for the last 3 years, advanced when her close friend Paula Badosa retired from their 2nd-round encounter with a left thigh injury in the final set, after the Belarusian had clawed her way to 7-6(4) 4-6, 3-3.

It was an emotional departure for the Spaniard, who was facing the No 2 seed in Stuttgart for a third straight year.

Sabalenka shook off the late start and fended off some inspired hitting from her friend, whom she had last met in Florida under somber circumstances when the Belarusian was reeling from the news that her former partner Konstantin Koltsov had taken his own life shortly before the start of the Miami Open.

Although Sabalenka had defeated Badosa in Miami, she lost her next match to Ukraine’s Anhelina Kalinina and sat out the next few weeks of action to recover, emotionally, and focus on clay.

Badosa, who herself endured mental health struggles earlier in her career, has had to deal with physical issues since peaking at No 2 in the WTA rankings in 2022, enduring a long-term back injury that forced her out of 3 of the 4 major tournaments last year.

Looking for her first win over Sabalenka since the 2021 WTA Finals, Badosa, who began the week with a straight-sets win over Diana Shnaider, employed some clean ball-striking as the 2nd seed struggled to find her range, resulting in an early break advantage for the 26-year-old Spaniard.

Sabalenka responded with a break of her own, and held on through a tense 12th game, saving 2 set points to force a first-set tiebreak.

Badosa held the upper hand to start the breaker, only for Sabalenka to roar back, winning 6 of the final 7 points to take the first set after about an hour on court.

Undaunted, Badosa kicked off the second with an early break, and stopped a Sabalenka surge in the 6th game, turning the tables on the two-time Australian Open champion to move ahead with a double-break.

As Sabalenka chipped away at Badosa’s lead, the Spaniard called for a medical timeout to address what appeared to be a lower back injury, leaving the court for treatment.

Emerging from the pause in play with a heavily strapped left thigh, Badosa served out the set on her second opportunity, forcing a decider as the clock ticked closer to 1am local time.

The third set saw Sabalenka deal with frustration as Badosa put pressure on her serve, and out-rallied her to win a long 3rd game to nab the first break, then digging out of a 0-30 deficit to consolidate.

At 3-1 up, Badosa appeared poised to clinch the upset, her first over a Top 5 player since 2022, but the injury overwhelmed her when Sabalenka hauled herself back into the match, reeling off 2 games in a row and threatening to win a 3rd when 26-year old Spaniard made her emotional decision to retire.

Comforting her tearful friend at the net, Sabalenka will next face either 6th-seeded Czech Marketa Vondrousova or 2023 Stuttgart semi-finalist Anastasia Potapova from Russia in the quarter-finals.

“Yeah, I’m actually about to cry right now, honestly,” Sabalenka said later. “I don’t know. Feel so bad for her. And I love this girl, even after the terrible interview with Ons [Jabeur], but I still love her, and I feel really, I just, I don’t know, I don’t have any emotions right now. I’m not happy. I’m not sad.”

Coco Gauff had to overcome a severe challenge from compatriot Sachia Vickery, a qualifier, but came through in 3 sets on Wednesday

Earlier, Coco Gauff, the reigning US Open champion, needed 2 hours and 27 minutes to silence her 2nd- round opponent, Sachia Vickery, 6-3 4-6 7-5, who is ranked 134 in the world and had to qualify.

Gauff started brightly enough, rattling off the first 3 games, but then became error-strewn, double-faulting 15 times, and enabling her fellow American to muster 19 break points, of which she converted 7.

The 3rd seed converted 6 of her own, with the most important one coming in the 7th game of the deciding set, but, trailing 0-2, Vickery fought her way back to take a 4-2 lead, with Gauff then clinching the crucial game on her 4th break point.

“She gets a lot of balls back, and I was just trying to be patient, and also be aggressive,” said Gauff. “I think I got passive. She played well and I think I did a good job of staying in the match.”

In the quarter-finals, Gauff will face the winner of the match between China’s Zheng Qinwen and Marta Kostyuk, after the Ukrainian outlasted Laura Siegemund, a 36-year old German wild-card who won Stuttgart in 2016, 6-3 6-7(4) 6-4.

Ons Jabeur snapped her 5-match losing streak with a win over Ekaterina Alexandrova

Meanwhile, 9th-ranked Ons Jabeur from Tunisia snapped her 5-match losing streak by beating Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova, 2-6 6-3 7-6(1), in the 2nd-round.

After firing a forehand winner to seal the win, Jabeur turned to her boisterous box and pointed to her head.

“I have thought about withdrawing from this tournament so many times, because I couldn’t take another loss,” admitted Jabeur. “It was very, very difficult.”

The win over 16th-ranked Alexandrova was just Jabeur’s 3rd this year, and her first since beating Raducanu in Abu Dhabi.

A semi-finalist in Stuttgart last year, Jabeur’s win earns her a Round of 16 match against Dubai champion Jasmine Paolini, after the Italian dropped just one game in her 46-minute opener against her doubles partner, Sara Errani.

“I’ve got to say, definitely playing on clay really helps my knee a lot,” Jabeur said. “I’m getting the movement much better.

“So I think it’s just a matter of matches, and definitely more training, and keep being patient, because I feel like that’s the key for me right now.”



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Social Media Auto Publish Powered By :