WTA action now shifts its focus to Stuttgart, Germany for the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. This year, German number one Angelique Kerber returns as the second seed and defending champion. She will be joined by fellow top 10 stars Agnieszka Radwanska, Garbiñe Muguruza, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova and Roberta Vinci.
Focus on Stuttgart
The Porsche Tennis Grand Prix is the tour’s biggest tournament in Germany and its sole indoor clay court event. The tournament began in 1978 on hardcourts in Filderstadt, a suburb south of Stuttgar and then relocated to its current location in 2005 before switching surfaces to clay in 2009. Throughout its 39-year tenure in the WTA has seen a German win the title for the first time when Anke Huber triumphed over Martina Navratilova in the 1991 final and she did so once again in 1994, this time beating Mary Pierce for her second Stuttgart crown.
Julia Goerges ended Germany’s long wait for a title by winning in 2011, defeating Caroline Wozniacki in the final. To date, Navratilova still holds the tournament record for most titles won, winning five times in the past seconded by Martina Hingis who has four to her name. All the top four seeds of the tournament receive a bye into the second round.
The tournament will take place at the Porsche-Arena located in the Veielbrunnen area of Stuttgart, the fourth largest city in Germany, located in the southern state Baden-Wurttemberg.
An interview with WTA’s CEO Steve Simon earlier this week is something worth a read. He acknowledged the role Porsche, the event’s main sponsor, has played not just in promoting the sport but also the WTA as a whole, hailing the tournament as a flagship event.
Top seed Radwanska who has enjoyed an excellent 2016 thus far spearheads the draw. This time last year, the Pole was struggling with her form but launched a late-season revival which saw her win three titles, one of which was her maiden WTA Finals crown.
The second highest seed in this quarter is the eighth-seeded Lucie Safarova who is on the comeback trail after sitting out the month of January to recover from her bacterial infection suffered at the end of last year. She opens her campaign against compatriot Karolina Pliskova. It is no easy task for Safarova who has yet to win a match.
The quarter also features the likes of Andrea Petkovic, Ana Ivanovic and Kristina Mladenovic. Petkovic or Mladenovic who clash in round one will face Radwanska should they win that match. Ivanovic's results on clay the past years have been decent, most notably the semifinals of the French Open last year. In 2014, the Serb garnered a 13-4 record on the surface as well. Despite an up-and-down 2016 thus far, Ivanovic looks like the better player on this surface and should reach the last eight.
Radwanska, who withdrew from Katowice and the Fed Cup to nurse a shoulder injury, enters the tournament with an injury cloud. Clay has never been the world number two’s favourite surface but once fully fit and taking into account her consistency this year, it is not plausible to see her falter early in Stuttgart for the second year in a row.
Prediction: Radwanska d. Ivanovic
Halep leads the second quarter which also features the likes of sixth seed Vinci, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Ekaterina Makarova. Overall, it looks like a manageable draw for the Romanian who thrives on this surface. She could clash with Pavlyuchenkova in the second round while Vinci and Makarova face off in their opening match. Goerges, who was handed a wildcard, faces Alizé Cornet in the other opening round match in this quarter.
Halep who reached the last four here a year ago looks set for another deep run. Her clay results outside of Stuttgart last year were not impressive with winless appearances in Madrid and the French Open but she did however reach the semifinals in Rome. The world number six will want to make reparations for those results and consecutive quarterfinals in Indian Wells and Miami last month could be a good incentive for her to do well here.
Prediction: Halep d. Goerges
The top two seeds in this draw are Muguruza and Kvitova. Third seeded-Muguruza who had an inconsistent 2016 thus far will look to steady the 2016 train when she arrives on her favourite surface. She missed out on a quarterfinal spot last year when fell to Halep in three sets. Her first opponent of the week will be either Sabine Lisicki or Timea Babos.
Petra Kvitova has endured a tough start to 2016. She finally achieved her most significant results in almost five months by reaching the quarterfinals at the BNP Paribas Open. Other than that, she failed to win back-to-back matches in her other tournaments. With an enigma in the Czech, you just never know when her game clicks and she goes on to a title run. Her best result in Stuttgart came in 2012 where she reached the semifinals. She did leave the tournament winless the last two years though.
Other players to watch out for in this draw are Monica Niculescu and Caroline Garcia who could face fifth seed Kvitova in round two. With an enticing quarterfinal clash in the cards between Muguruza and Kvitova, the Spaniard who is more comfortable of the two on clay should not face much troubles reaching the last four in Stuttgart for the first time.
Prediction: Muguruza d. Kvitova
The concluding quarter of this year’s draw is loaded with Germans namely Kerber, Annika Beck and wildcard Anna-Lena Friedsam. Kerber and Beck could clash in the second round should Beck overcome her first hurdle. Friedsam draws Brit Johanna Konta who has been ever improving since the middle of last year, having rose to a career-high ranking of number 21 recently. The red dirt has not really favoured Kerber but she defied the odds last year by becoming the only player to win tournaments on red and green clay when she won Charleston (played on green clay) and Stuttgart.
The other seed present is Carla Suárez Navarro. Should she win her first round match, she faces the winner of the match between Konta and Friedsam for a place in the quarterfinals. The seventh-seeded Spaniard enjoyed a bright start to the year by reaching the semifinals in Brisbane, the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and winning her biggest title in Doha. After withdrawing from Indian Wells with an ankle injury, she bowed out in the opening round of Miami.
Kerber and Suárez Navarro should live up to their seeding by reaching the quarterfinals. However, back on her favourite surface, expect the crafty Suárez Navarro to do some damage here and upset German hopes.
Prediction: Suárez Navarro d. Kerber
Semifinals: Halep d. Radwanska, Muguruza d. Suárez Navarro
Halep and Muguruza are one of the best competitors on the red dirt and their results in the past have proven so. Neither a Romanian nor a Spaniard has ever reached the final here in Stuttgart let alone win the title therefore both will want to create history.
This is particularly a good match-up for the powerful Muguruza who has beaten Halep twice despite the wins coming on hard courts. The loss to Halep last year was a tough one for her and she will be eyeing revenge. If Muguruza plays herself into form throughout the week like what she did in Asia last year, a third WTA title (her first on clay) does not seem far-fetched for the Spaniard.