The Czech and Moroccan capitals, Prague and Rabat, hosted WTA tournaments last week and saw its trophy winners cap off their slow starts to the season in style. Lucie Safarova won her first title in more than a year on home soil at the J&T Banka Prague Open in Prague, while Timea Bacsinszky collected her first title on the dirt at the GP SAR La Princess Lalla Meryem in Rabat. The title runs affirm both players of their spot in the top 20 rankings.
Last week's titlists
Having had to sit out the first month of 2016 in order to recover from a bacterial infection suffered at the end of last year, it was clear the road back would be a tough one for Lucie Safarova. She was rusty in her first five matches and entered Prague with no wins in 2016 under her belt. Playing in front of a homecrowd, her circumstances took a change for the better.
After beating Mariana Duque-Mariño in three sets in the first round, she steamed past her next three opponents in straight sets to reach the championship round. Going up against the dangerous Samantha Stosur, the Czech was made to work hard, coming back from a set down to battle to victory.
This makes it three titles in Prague for her, the first two coming when it was still held at the ITF level. It was also the Czech's first WTA title on clay in more than a decade and her first trophy since February 2015.
The top seeds in Prague did not disappoint with all top four seeds making the semifinals. Fourth seed Stosur advanced to the final after top seed Svetlana Kuznetsova conceded a walkover, while second seed Safarova sent the defending champion and third seed Karolina Pliskova packing.
Much like Safarova, Timea Bacsinszky also had a slow start to the season. From January until last week, her most significant result came at the Miami Open in March where she made the last four.
The Swiss was making her second consecutive appearance in Morocco (the tournament relocated to Rabat from Marrakech beginning this year). She went two rounds better than last year by making her seventh career final, and there she took out New Zealand qualifier Marina Erakovic in a clean display to win her fourth career title and her first on clay.
Unlike Prague, the seeds in Rabat were not that fortunate. Only three seeds, including Bacsinszky, made it past the round of 16, the other two being the fifth seed, an in-form Timea Babos and eighth-seeded Yulia Putintseva. Three seeds left winless, namely top seed Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, whose 2016 slump continues, fourth seed Irina-Camelia Begu and sixth seed Annika Beck.
No members of the top 10 rankings were in action last week, hence there were no changes. Kuznetsova and Safarova go up to 12th and 13th respectively, while Bacsinszky rounds out the top 15.
Progressing down the list, Stosur improves to number 23 while Camila Giorgi who made the last eight in Prague rises from 50th to 45th. Dutch Kiki Bertens, who had a run to the semifinals in Rabat, re-enters the top 90 at number 82, an improvement of 15 ranking places. Frenchwoman Pauline Parmentier rises back into the top 100 at 92nd courtesy of a quarterfinal run in Rabat.
Elina Svitolina, who chose not to defend her title in Morocco, along with Pliskova who failed to defend her title in Prague, drop two spots to 19th and 20th respectively. Yanina Wickmayer, who was a semifinalist in Prague last year, dips 11 places to 54th after dropping out in the first round to Giorgi.
Road to Singapore
By virtue of winning the title in Rabat, Bacsinszky goes up to number 10 in the race to the WTA Finals and thus replaces Sara Errani for the second alternate spot. Timea Babos, who has enjoyed a rather steady year, improves three spots to 11th after making the last four in Rabat. Australian Stosur also rises 33 places to sit at 38th. Rabat runner-up Erakovic vaults 104 positions to 84th.
Other notable players who saw improvements in their position include Pliskova (18th to 15th), Prague quarterfinalist Monica Puig (24th to 20th) and Giorgi (78th to 68th). Most significantly, Safarova, who won matches for the first in 2016, has her fortunes in the race take a big step forward by cracking the top 100 at 82nd from her previous placing of 431.
This week's action
The already-underway Mutua Madrid Open will continue the clay court proceedings in 2016. As the third Premier Mandatory event of the year, seven of the top 10 contingent are in action and players will look to set the momentum for the following weeks to come heading into the second Grand Slam of the year, the French Open.