Sunday, 22 April 2012

WTA Stuttgart: Preview and Predictions

This week's headline tournament on the WTA tour comes from Stuttgart and is set to be a cracker with all of the top 8 players taking part.  This tournament was voted by the players as the best Premier event on tour last year so it comes as no surprise to see such an exciting line-up ready to do battle in Germany.  Let's take a look at the draw...

Andrea Petkovic
Victoria Azarenka (1) v Marion Bartoli (7)
Azarenka has a bye in the first round and will face a German player in her first clay court match of 2012.  She will play either Kristina Barrois or Andrea Petkovic, who is playing her first tournament since Brisbane in January after being sidelined with a stress fracture of the lower back.  It is always difficult to predict how a player returning from injury will settle back into the tour, but I think Petkovic will win her opener.

Marion Bartoli will play a qualifier in the first round before facing the winner of an intriguing first round match between Ana Ivanovic and Mona Barthel.  Barthel has had a superb 2012 so far, but has shown fragility in trying to finish out close matches; most recently, she wasted match points in a quarter-final loss to Angelique Kerber in Copenhagen.  Ivanovic has looked solid in 2012 and demonstrated her clay court pedigree in 2008 when she won Roland Garros.  This is a tough one to call, but i'll go for a surprise with Barthel, who I think will go on to reach the quarter-finals in front of her home crowd.
My Prediction - Victoria Azarenka v Mona Barthel

Agnieskza Radwanska (4) v Li Na (8)
Radwanska is playing her first tournament since winning the Premier tournament in Miami and will be confident of picking up some big points in Stuttgart.  She has a bye in the first round and will play a qualifier in the second round.  The number one seed in qualifying, Sorana Cirstea suffered a shocking defeat yesterday to a returning Anna Chakvetadze, 6-1 6-0, who looks good for a spot in the main draw.

Li Na opens up her campaign against Lucie Safarova, who has enjoyed a rich vein of form in the last month having reached the final in Charleston.  Li and Safarova both have powerful baseline games, but it is Li who holds the edge having won their last four encounters.  The other first round match in this section will see Daniela Hantuchova take on Dominika Cibulkova; there is a lopsided record in this head-to-head too with Hantuchova having won all four of their encounters.  Hantuchova has gone a little quiet after a strong start to 2012 so Cibulkova will fancy her chances of a first win.
My Prediction - Agnieszka Radwanska v Li Na

Petra Kvitova
Caroline Wozniacki (6) v Petra Kvitova (3)
Petra Kvitova returns to action in Stuttgart after an early exit in Miami and will play Francesca Schiavone or Monica Niculescu after a first round bye.  Both Schiavone and Niculescu are tricky players, but I have a sneaky feeling Kvitova will do very well this week.  Kvitova also managed to beat Schiavone in Fed Cup action this weekend so would have that confidence going into a potential match-up in Stuttgart.

Caroline Wozniacki has continued her recent record of getting tough draws as she will play Jelena Jankovic in the first round before potentially meeting Angelique Kerber, who conquered her in Copenhagen a week ago.  Wozniacki has won her last four encounters against Jankovic, but JJ enjoys playing on the clay and won both her matches in Fed Cup action this weekend against Svetlana Kuznetsova and Nastia Pavlyuchenkova.  Kerber, who plays Roberta Vinci, has struggled in the early rounds of tournaments, but thrived against higher ranked opponents.  I think that having played two matches on the same courts for Fed Cup will work in her favour and the wins will keep coming.
My Prediction - Angelique Kerber v Petra Kvitova

Sam Stosur (5) v Maria Sharapova (2)
The number two seed, Maria Sharapova receives a bye in the first round and could face a few tough challenges along the way.  In the second round, she will meet Flavia Pennetta or a qualifier; Pennetta produced an excellent performance to shock Sharapova in the third round of the 2011 US Open.  The Italian's form has been patchy at best in 2012 so if Pennetta did progress, I would back the Russian to pass the first test.

Sam Stosur, who reached the Stuttgart final in 2010, will open up against Peng Shuai in the first round.  She will play the winner of Julia Goerges and Nastia Pavlyuchenkova in the second round.  Goerges is the reigning champion in Stuttgart after a fairytale run last year.  She beat Stosur in a stunning semi-final so a rematch would be very exciting...
My Prediction - Sam Stosur v Maria Sharapova

Final Prediction - Petra Kvitova d. Victoria Azarenka
My gut instinct this week is pointing towards Petra Kvitova winning her first title of the year and laying down her credentials for an exciting few months ahead.  Victoria Azarenka will continue her excellent 2012 but I do not fancy her to be so dominant on the clay.

Dark Horses - Last year we saw Julia Goerges, Sabine Lisicki and Andrea Petkovic all thrill the German crowds with deep runs in the draw.  This year, I think Angelique Kerber and Mona Barthel will take over the baton and have great weeks in front of the home crowd.  If Kvitova is to be upstaged by anyone, I think it could be Sam Stosur who I fancy to enjoy more success against Sharapova having won their previous match at the year ending championships in Istanbul last year.

Last year's tournament was my favourite event of the year, excluding Wimbledon and i'm excited by the prospect of this draw.  The main draw action will kick off on Tuesday but until then, here are some highlights of the fantastic action that graced Stuttgart in 2011 to wet the appetite...

2nd round - Lisicki d. Li 6-4 7-5

Quarter-Final - Goerges d. Lisicki 6-4 6-4

Semi-final - Goerges d. Stosur 6-4 3-6 7-5

Final - Goerges d. Wozniacki 7-6 6-3

You can also access my full predictions for Stuttgart and follow the progress of my picks throughout the week...

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