The 2016 claycourt swing leading up to the French Open officially came to a close last weekend. The closing act saw big-hitter Kiki Bertens lift the second trophy of her career at the Nurnberger Versicherungscup in the German city of Nurnberg.
Across the border in the city of Strasbourg, the seat of the European Parliament, Caroline Garcia satisfied home hopes by winning the Internationaux de Strasbourg title. Both women are assured a definite rise in their rankings with Bertens set to return to the top 60 and Garcia the top 40.
Last week's titlists
2016 has been somewhat of a renaissance for Dutch number one Kiki Bertens. Possessing powerful groundstrokes, she had her first breakthrough in 2012 where she won her first in Fes, Morocco and the following year, set a career-high ranking of number 41. She then made the round of 16 of the French Open in 2014 but her results slid since then and she finished 2015 outside the top 100.
So far this year prior to last week, the Dutchwoman already had one quarterfinal and semifinial result under her belt. Moreover, she was victorious in all four Fed Cup rubbers and came close to upsetting Angelique Kerber in the third round of Miami.
Bertens had to come through qualifying to enter the main draw. She did not drop a single set en route to the semifinals and recorded the first ever top 10 win of her career over 2015 finalist Roberta Vinci in the round of 16. She faced her toughest opposition of the week in the semifinals against local hope Julia Goerges but was on-song in the championship round, denting Colombian Mariana Duque-Mariño with the loss of four games.
All eight seeds in the German city were victorious in the opening round but the exit of top seed Vinci in the ensuing round was followed by second seed Laura Siegemund, fifth seed Sabine Lisicki, sixth seed Misaki Doi and eighth seed Yulia Putintseva. Third seed Annika Beck beat seventh seed and compatriot Anna-Lena Friedsam in the only all-German quarterfinal. The hopes of an all-German final were dashed when Goerges and Beck bowed out in the semifinals.
The last time Caroline Garcia lifted a WTA title was at Bogota in 2014 where she beat Jelena Jankovic in the final. She did reach the finals of Acapulco and Monterrey last year but finished second best on both occasions to Swiss Timea Bacsinszky.
The young and dangerous Frenchwoman has struggled with bouts of inconsistency throughout her career but gathered her act last week in Strasbourg, playing commendable tennis to book a place in her first WTA final on home soil. The tenth seed's road to the final included wins over the likes of Kirsten Flipkens and a hard-fought three-set victory over compatriot Virginie Razzano. Garcia went up against another big-hitter Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the final and put up a scintillating performance to seal the title with an ace. She became the third Frenchwoman to lift the Strasbourg title after Aravane Rezai (2009) and Alizé Cornet (2013).
The week in Strasbourg began with former champion and ninth seed Cornet along with top seed Sara Errani being ousted in the openng round. Second seed Sloane Stephens was sent packing by Pauline Parmentier in the second round.
The quarterfinal line-up this year was unique given each of the four matches featured a French player. The Frenchwomen who made the last eight were Garcia, fourth seed Kristina Mladenovic, Razzano and Parmentier. All of them were victorious in the quarterfinals except Parmentier, who lost to Lucic-Baroni. Much like Nurnberg, the homecrowd saw their hopes an all-French final came to an end when Lucic-Baroni dominated Mladenovic in a one-sided affair.
There were no movements in the top 10 rankings. The first notable rise in ranking came with Nurnberg semifinalist Beck moving up from 42nd to 39th. After Beck is Garcia who sits at 40th, rising 15 spots from 55th. Lucic-Baroni by virtue of reaching the final in Strasbourg soars 14 spots from 66th to 52nd. Goerges also moves up three places to number 57 whereas Nurnberg runner-up Duque-Mariño jumps 23 ranking positions to 75th.
Samantha Stosur who was the defending champion in Strasbourg conceded a walkover to Garcia in the quarterfinal due to a wrist injury. As a result, the Aussie drops from 23rd to 24th. 2015 Nurnberg champion Karin Knapp also sees her ranking take a dive from 75th to 118th. The Italian opted to withdraw pre-tournament. Moreover, Mladenovic who was runner-up in Strasbourg last year drops one spot to 30th after failing to reach the final. Lara Arruabarrena, who made the last four in Nurnberg last year, drops from 78th to 92nd after falling out in round one to Lisicki.
Road to Singapore
Although there are no changes in the top 10 standings in the race to the WTA Finals, changes in the top 20 see Garcia enter from 36th to 18th and Strasbourg quarterfinalist Elena Vesnina improve by five places to cap off the top 20. Bertens enters the top 40, rising from 73rd to 35th.
Lucic-Baroni and Parmentier who had good runs in Strasbourg rise from 95th to 58th and 69th to 61st respectively. This is also the case for Mladenovic and Duque-Mariño with the Frenchwoman cracking the top 100 at 86th, up 24 places and the Colombian moving up 48 spots to 77th.
This week's action
The second Grand Slam of the year, the French Open is already underway in the City of Love, Paris. It features a mega 128-player draw spearheaded by world number one and heavy favourite Serena Williams. The draw includes ten Frenchwomen led by French number one Mladenovic. Players will be looking for good results in Paris to boost their ranking and raise their chances of qualifying for the WTA Finals.