What promises to be a thrilling spring and summer of tennis for the WTA begins this week for the ladies in Stuttgart for the start of the clay court season.
This much-anticipated segment of the calendar begins with a bang as 17 of the Top 20 players in the world are entered in the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. Madrid and Rome will also host Premier events during the month of May as preparation for the second Grand Slam event of the year at Roland-Garros.
Over the past few years, the expectations and results on the red dirt for the women have been highly unpredictable and 2012 will be no different. Gone are the days of dominant clay court specialists on the WTA like Justine Henin or Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. Instead, today’s Tour is all about parity making it anyone’s game, especially on clay. Case and point, the French Open has crowned a different champion each of the last four years. It will be interesting to see if World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka can continue her dominance this season on a different surface or whether Maria Sharapova will finally breakthrough with some titles after finishing as the runner-up at the three biggest tournaments of the year so far. Can Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova kick-start her season after a slow start? Will Caroline Wozniacki claim that elusive Grand Slam crown? Can Na Li repeat in Paris? Will a resurgent Ana Ivanovic be a threat again on a surface that brought her Grand Slam glory in 2008? All of these questions will be answered over the next few weeks with a few unexpected twists thrown in for good measure.
Don’t be surprised if a player outside of the Top 10 makes some noise at the big tournaments and look for Agnieszka Radwanska to make a serious run at her first Grand Slam title at Roland-Garros. Her all court game is well-suited for clay. Not to mention, she is enjoying the best season of her career.
It’s impossible to discuss a pending Major without throwing the name of Serena Williams into the mix. She played the Australian Open on one ankle, but comes into the clay court season in much better shape especially after rolling through the draw in Charleston a few weeks ago to win her 40th career title. Williams is driven to continually overcome health obstacles for another opportunity to add to her Grand Slam tally. The expectations may be low heading into Roland-Garros considering her recent results at the Majors and the fact clay is her worst surface. However, tennis fans have learned over the years to never discount Serena and it would be very much her style to triumph in Paris when everyone least expects her to.
Clay court season
Nikolay Davydenko was involved in a very interesting match against Ivo Minar in the Estoril Open round of 16.
Clay court season is now upon us and there is no-one in better form than Davydenko who’s superior movement and baseline play ensures he as no trouble in adjusting to the dirt.
He got the job done here surprisingly in three sets 26 62 64 against the world number 72 and I felt that in 90 percent of the match he played well but in the other 10 percent he was a bit shaky.
In the first set he was dominated by the hard hitting and serving of Minar and only won a pathetic 5 out of 21 points when receiving. When serving the Russian number one only won 50% of points which is another very poor statistic. A very ‘off’ set.
But predictably Minar was never going to be able to keep up this domination and Davydenko raised his game and played some excellent tennis from the back of the court in the second set as he began to take control of the match.
He then breezed into a 4-1 lead in the third set, a double break of serve and it looked as if he would cruise into the next round. However Davydenko completely lost his way in the next three games, being broken twice by the plucky Minar and it was back to 4-4.
The Russian no longer had the ability to hit a first serve in the games he was broken and I think he showed a certain degree of mental weakness here when in such a commanding lead. This should not be happening to the number four player in the world.
Fortunately for Davydenko he is such a skilled player off the ground that he broke Minar in the next game and then had a much smoother service game to move in to the quarter finals.
I find it weird how he seemed to switch on and off in this match and this wasn’t a brilliant performance however a world class player has the ability to win even when not playing his or her best and Davydenko certainly used that skill here.
He appeared to have particular problems on his second serve today with only 9 out of 28 points won and also 4 double faults.
This match displayed a slight dip in form however he still played some very good shots against Minar, who kept fighting even when two breaks down and nearly came back from the most unlikely situation.
Despite this below par performance I think Davydenko could advance into the final where he will surely play Federer who has no player of any note in his half. A potential tricky semi final against Giles Simon awaits the Russian however on his current match winning form he can defeat anyone. If the ideal final takes place between the number one and two seed, Davydenko has the momentum to win his second title this year.