WTA Baku Review

Bojana Jovanovski took the first WTA title of her career with a 6-3 6-1 victory in Baku defeating the American Julie Cohen. Jovanovski was broken just once in the whole match and broke Cohen’s serve five times on the way to victory to become the first Serbian to win a title this year. 

While Cohen will be disappointed to have gone down so easily in the final, it has been a great week for her. Julia Cohen’s hefty schedule has finally paid dividends with this final moving her into the top 100 for the first time. Her defensive style may not have been pleasing on the eye to some but it has been incredibly effective here.

No.4 seeds Irina Buryachok and Valerie Solovieva became the eighth doubles team of the year to win their first tournament together with a 6-3 6-2 win over the Czech/Italian pairing over Eva Birnerova and Alberta Brianti. The pairing dropped just sixteen games over the four matches where they did not drop a set.

WTA Baku Preview

Baku (International)

With the Olympics up next week, the Baku Cup is suffering from a depleted field with no seed inside the top 50 and two outside the top 100  and a last direct acceptance of the world ranked 200 player Olga Savchuk. It will be a blow for the newly formed tournament with last year’s winner Vera Zvonareva unable to compete although losing finalist Ksenia Pervak will compete as No.1 seed.

Favourite – With such a weak field it is hard to pick a stand out favourite, but Ksenia Pervak certainly makes a case having made the final here last year. She is probably the best player in the field as it is and her hard court form earlier in the year was fairly decent, with most of her defeats being in matches she had been expected to lose anyway, making the third round in Doha, Miami and Indian Wells. Along with the final here, she also made the final and won in the other Eurasian event in Tashkent without dropping a set.

Outsider – Talented but inconsistent, Bojana Jovanovski could go well here, the Serb is No.5 seed here and benefits from the being in the weaker side of the draw. She has shown glimpses of her talent on a regular occasion, most recently against Wimbledon quarter-finalist Sabine Lisicki who she took to three sets and could well have won. Panova and Bratchikova in her half are nothing special while perhaps the biggest threat in her draw Andrea Hlavackova has the Olympics on her mind and surely her thoughts will be elsewhere halfway through the week.

One To Watch – Twice a Junior grand slam finalist (W French Open 2010, F Wimbledon 2012), Elena Svitolina finally takes her first steps on to the main tour here in Azerbaijan. While clay appears to be her favoured surface, her form on the ITF Circuit last year was impressive on hard courts having took titles in Nigeria and Turkey and also making a final in a Russian 50k. She comes off a good run at Wimbledon where she was defeated in the Girls Final by Eugenie Bouchard.

Did You Know…?

Of the seeds, only Ksenia Pervak possesses a WTA Tour singles title. (Tashkent 2011)

Against the seeds she has faced (Minella, Panova, Jovanovski, Bratchikova), Akgul Amanmuradova does not have a losing record. 

There is a 20 year difference in age between the youngest and oldest competitors in Baku – Varvara Flink at 15 and Tamarine Tanasugarn at 35.

Finals Prediction – Pervak to beat Jovanovski in 3 sets

The new Centre Court in Baku

Wimbledon Gallery

On the opening day of the Wimbledon Championships, my camera was extra busy snapping the world’s best tennis players. Although Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Amelie Mauresmo got away, I still captured names such as Rafael Nadal, Kim Clijsters and Caroline Wozniacki along with a number of my favourite WTA players.

Have and browse and enjoy:

Featuring: Bojana Jovanovski, Timea Babos, Melanie Oudin, Sorana Cirstea, Caroline Wozniacki, Kim Clijsters, Christina McHale, Nadia Petrova, Rafael Nadal, Oliver Golding, Alize Cornet, Tsvetana Pironkova, Dominika Cibulkova, Sabine Lisicki and Petra Martic.

Serb Your Enthusiasm

On the day former champion Ana Ivanovic crashed out of the French Open, new talent Bojana Jovanovski showed why Serbian tennis still has a bright future.

The 19-year-old is the youngest player in the top 50 of the women’s game and in her first round match against Andrea Petkovic she showed why she’s there.

She did lose 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) but had taken several breaks and even led *5-2 in the second set before eventually being rolled over by the 15th seed. Yet I found her match enthralling and I also think Jovanovski is my new favourite player on the WTA tour.

Let me just point out, I had been subjected to Aravane Rezai’s dour show on Day 2 as well as the appallingly bad match between Patty Schynder and Sorana Cirstea beforehand so that might have played a part but I thought Jovanovski was great.

Her forehand in particular produced some thunderous shots down the line which culminated in her 31 winners but 41 unforced errors along with Petkovic turning up a gear towards the end of the match ultimately lost it for her.

My only qualm is she reminds me of Vicky Pollard (just the hairstyle and earrings). However I’m looking forward to watching her hopefully progress into a future household name.

caroline Garcia

An even younger player did make the second round though. French wildcard Caroline Garcia beat experienced campaigner Zuzana Ondraskova to set up a meeting with Maria Sharapova.

The 17-year-old had also reached the second round of the Australian Open this year and although further progress this week looks unlikely, she could improve France’s underachieving status in the sport with Mary Pierce and Amelie Mauresmo now just memories.

Heather Watson could do the same for British tennis. She’s already become the first British woman to reach the second round at Roland Garros for 17 years. Elena Baltacha may be slightly miffed having won her match against Watson’s close friend Sloane Stephens.

Fellow American prospects Christina McHale and Coco Vandeweghe also lost to Sara Errani and Maria Kirilenko respectively whilst Melanie Oudin couldn’t upset current title-holder Francesca Schiavone.

In the mens’ singles there were also some good results for the emerging players.

Kei Nishikori has reached the second round for the second consecutive year after beating Yen-Hsun Lu. He’ll have to defeat 31st seed Sergiy Stakhovsky if he’s to top his longest run at the French Open.

Ryan Harrison got a place in the first round thanks to a lucky loser spot and almost took full advantage before fifth seed Robin Soderling finished him off. The 19-year-old looked fully out of his depth when his Swedish opponent destroyed him 6-1 in the first set before the American took the second on a tiebreak.

Despite then breaking Soderling many times throughout the rest of the match he couldn’t keep his own service game together and lost a spirited display in four sets.

To summarise, it’s been a great first round for the young tennis players, especially the women. Some of the other selected results are:

MS: Carlos Berlocq (ARG) d. Bernard Tomic (AUS) 7-5, 6-4, 6-2

MS: Michael Berrer (GER) d. Milos Raonic 26 (CAN) 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4

MS: Alexandr Dolgopolov 21 (UKR) d. Rainer Schuettler (GER) 6-3, 6-3, 6-1

WS: Rebecca Marino (CAN) d. Kateryna Bondarenko (UKR) 6-3, 6-3

WS: Simona Halep (ROU) d. Alla Kudryavtseva (RUS) 6-2, 6-1

WS: Gisela Dulko (ARG) d. Irina Falconi (USA) 6-3, 6-4

WS: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 14 (RUS) d. Yaroslava Shvedova (KAZ) 7-5, 6-3

WS: Polona Hercog (SLO) d. Olivia Sanchez (FRA) 6-0, 6-1

Dark Horse Del Potro?

After his recent title victory at the Estoril Open, is it worth a punt on Juan Martin del Potro to win at the French?

Well, yes, it’s certainly worth a couple of pounds, dollars or whatever your currency may be but just don’t bet your mortgage on the 22-year-old Argentine.

Rafael Nadal is still far and away the favourite to claim a sixth crown at Roland Garros at just 24-years-old. And should he lose it’s most likely going to be to Novak Djokovic.

Del Potro is a rare breed though, being one of only four men on the tour who have won a Grand Slam since Andy Roddick in 2003.

That scenario was also true with Djokovic before his unbelievable 2011 form brought an Australian Open title, several other ATP wins and advertising deals aplenty.

Djokovic is now considered by some to be the best player in the world right now after two tour final victories over Nadal when he’d always been living in the shadows of the Spaniard and Roger Federer. So can del Potro get there also?

Another Grand Slam is definitely possible. A French Open success this year may be too much for a man still climbing the rankings after being at number 484 last February following a wrist injury.

Now at #32 the 2009 French Open semi-finalist might not have the stamina to go two weeks on clay with the extended best of five set format.

But players must be wary. A straight sets win over the 2009 and 2010 French Open finalist Robin Soderling last week proves the dark horse tag is suitable.

We’ll learn more from del Potro this week in Madrid, especially with a third round match-up with Nadal on the cards.

Del Potro

Elsewhere in the Mutua Madrid Open:

  • After disappearing from the tennis scene for a while Bojana Jovanovski returned to WTA action with a first round 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 win over Greta Arn.
  • Kei Nishikori lost his first round match to Spain’s Pere Riba 2-6, 2-6.
  • Dutch 22-year-old qualifier Thiemo de Bakker saw off world former world number one Juan Carlos Ferrero 2-6, 7-5, 6-4.
  • Doubles specialist Vania King has aided her cause for a top 100 return in the singles rankings after a 6-1, 7-6 (7-5) win over Nadia Petrova.
  • Wildcard Arantxa Parra Santonja is enjoying a resurgence in form. The 28-year-old beat Flavia Pennetta and Andrea Petkovic in the first and second round respectively.

Fed Cup 2011

An-Sophie Mestach (BEL) From April 16-17th the Fed Cup will be taking place in various locations across the globe with the World Group semi-finals pitting Russia against Italy and Belgium taking on the Czech Republic.

The event is great for the less experienced players to improve and get used to the atmosphere and pressure of high-quality matches.

Belgium in particular will be fielding a weaker team than in previous years after the retirement of Justine Henin and injury to Kim Clijsters.

Stepping in is An-Sophie Mestach, who is the world no.1 on the junior circuit, and another promising youngster in Alison van Uytvanck. Both have just turned 17 and they will join Kirsten Flipkens and Yanina Wickmayer in the Belgian line-up.

They will take on Petra Kvitova, Lucie Safarova, Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova with the latter putting in a dogged display against Caroline Wozniacki at Charleston this week.

For Russia, a strong team has been selected. World number three Vera Zvonareva and 2009 French Open winner Svetlana Kuznetsova will lead the team along with other familiar faces in Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Ekaterina Makarova.

After current French Open champion Francesca Schiavone pulled out of the Fed Cup along with Flavia Pennetta, the Italians will find it tough to hold onto the trophy they’ve held for the past two years.

Roberta Vinci, Sara Errani, Alberta Brianti and Maria Elena Camerin have been given the task of claiming a third successive final appearance in the competition.

Elsewhere in the Fed Cup:

  • A young USA team including Melanie Oudin and Christina McHale will play a strong-looking Germany side in the World Group Play-Offs.
  • Eugenie Bouchard and Rebecca Marino of Canada will face another young talent in Slovenia’s Polona Hercog.
  • Bojana Jovanovski is unlikely to repeat her Heart Award heroics against Slovakia as Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic have returned for Serbia.

The full line-ups and fixtures for the weekend are available on the Fed Cup website.

Bojana Jovanovski

Introducing the next star to come out of Serbia – Bojana Jovanovski.

Despite some dodgy questions a refreshing laid-back persona shines through.

Calling your opponent at Wimbledon “Australian girl” when being interviewed by a Brisbane-based network probably wasn’t a great move but the way she answered the final question like Ernie is obviously the correct choice redeemed her greatly.

Based on looks alone she already bears resemblance to both Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic – the two Serbians ahead of her in the rankings – whilst her victory against the former certainly shows she possesses their on-court talent too.

As the youngest player in the top 100 of the WTA rankings (currently no. 55) she’s no doubt one to look out for.

With a second round appearance at SW19 and this year’s Australian Open in the bag she is set to make the main draw at the French Open for the first time this May.

The 19-year-old has a lot to live up to. Ivanovic won at Roland Garros in 2008 but since claiming the world number one spot after her third Grand Slam final and first victory she’s fallen outside the top 20 and has been even lower.

Jankovic was a semi-finalist that year and the only player to take a set off the eventual winner. However she has yet to win a major despite making the US Open final months after that defeat to Ivanovic.

But if women’s tennis taught us anything last year it’s that anything is possible. Francesca Schiavone came from nowhere to beat fellow surprise finalist Sam Stosur in the French Open whilst Tsvetana Pironkova’s semi-final run at Wimbledon defied all previous form.

Jovanovski has arguably more potential than both Schiavone and Pironkova with youth also on her side. Having yet to add a WTA title to her four ITF crowns the Serbian does have experience at Fed Cup level, performing strongly in straight set singles wins over Canadian’s Aleksandra Wozniak and Rebecca Marino.

Jankovic should have won a Slam by now, Ivanovic should probably have won more and Jovanovski should prove this year that the Serbian production line still has plenty of juice left in it.

Ana at the ready
Can Jovanovski reach the same heights as fellow Serbs Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic?

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