WTA s-Hertogenbosch: Ricoh Open preview

The grass court swing for the 2017 season is set for its debut, with two International-level events, in Nottingham, Great Britain, and s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, due to take place. Just one of two tennis tournaments held on Dutch soil worldwide and the sole Dutch tournament on the WTA tour, the Ricoh Open, also one of the tour’s long-standing grass court events, sees a top 10 star, its top-ranked home player and both of last year’s finalists return as tournament headlines.

WTA s-Hertogenbosch: Ricoh Open preview
This year marks the 22nd edition of the Ricoh Open, held in s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands. Photo credit: Top (Ricoh Open), bottom (Royal Dutch Lawn Tennis Association).

The WTA tour bids farewell to the clay court season as it now switches focus to the European lawns, this week at the Ricoh Open in the Netherlands. Multiple Wimbledon quarterfinalist, Dominika Cibulkova, took a wildcard into the tournament and leads the 32-player field which will also feature the likes of top-ranked Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens, defending champion CoCo Vandeweghe and last year’s runner-up Kristina Mladenovic. All four women are slated to be the top four seeds in this year’s tournament.

Focus on s-Hertogenbosch

Tennis action in s-Hertogenbosch, colloquially known as Den Bosch, first began in 1990 as a men’s tournament. In 1996, it became a joint ATP/WTA event, with Germany’s Anke Huber taking home the inaugural women’s title. The tournament has seen its sponsored name evolve five times, the most recent being 2016 where Ricoh took over Topshelf as tournament sponsor.

Several big names have been crowned champion in Den Bosch throughout the tournament’s long history, among them being Martina Hingis, Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters and Mary Pierce. Former top 30 player Michaella Krajicek holds the accolade as the only Dutchwoman to have won the title.

Traditionally played the week before Wimbledon, the tournament was moved to the opening week slot, the week after the French Open, after the revamped grass calendar in 2015 which saw it extended by a week. Played in the Rosmalen settlement of Den Bosch, in North Brabant province, the Autotron will play host to tennis action throughout the week in the Dutch town.

First quarter

Konjuh is seeking for her first title on grass since winning Nottingham in 2015. Photo credit: Al Bello/Getty Images.
Konjuh is seeking for her first title on grass since winning Nottingham in 2015. Photo credit: Al Bello/Getty Images.

Top seed Cibulkova leads the opening quarter of the draw. The struggling Slovak, riding a meagre 14-11 season record, has a huge proportion of her ranking points to defend in the upcoming months and is in need of a good run. She is slated to play qualifier Antonia Lottner in her first match of the week. Should she win the match, another qualifier, Miyu Kato, or Evgeniya Rodina awaits next.

Fifth seed Ana Konjuh is the other seed drawn into Cibulkova’s quarter, the Croat also takes on a qualifier, Tamara Korpatsch, in her opener. One of Richel Hogenkamp, one of three Dutchwomen in the draw, or Luxembourg’s Mandy Minella are Konjuh’s probable second round opponents should complete the first hurdle.

Konjuh has proven herself to be an asset on the lawns, winning Nottingham as an 17-year-old back in 2015. The feisty Croat youngster is the obvious pick to emerge out of this quarter. Top seed Cibulkova should win a couple of matches to reach the last eight, but against Konjuh, expect the Croat to knock off the Slovak and reach the semifinals.

Prediction: Konjuh d. Cibulkova

Second quarter

Shvedova was a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon last year. Photo credit: Tom Dulat/Getty Images.
Shvedova was a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon last year. Photo credit: Tom Dulat/Getty Images.

Dutch number one Bertens, seeded third, is the highest seed in this quarter and she faces German Andrea Petkovic, the 2010 runner-up, in the first round. Bertens is coming off an encouraging showing on the red dirt, where she defended her Nurnberg title, also reaching the last eight and last four of Madrid and Rome respectively. The Dutchwoman’s best showing in Den Bosch came in 2015 where she reached the semifinals.

Also present in this quarter are Kazakh Yaroslava Shvedova and Russian youngster Natalia Vikhlyantseva, both players facing the likes of qualifiers, Andrea Hlavackova and Cornelia Lister, in their opeenrs respectively. Meanwhile, on the other side of the quarter sits sixth seed Timea Babos. The big-hitting Hungarian takes on Dutch wildcard Arantxa Rus.

Shvedova, last year’s Wimbledon quarterfinalist, has been struggling for wins in 2017. However, the big-hitting Kazakh could very well turn her around her season on grass. With Babos out of form and Bertens not a fan of the lawns, this could be Shvedova’s draw to take advantage of.

Prediction: Shvedova d. Bertens

Third quarter

Pliskova will look to translate her big game on the green lawns. Photo credit: Icon Sportswire/Getty Images.
Pliskova will look to translate her big game on the green lawns. Photo credit: Icon Sportswire/Getty Images.

This quarter, the only not featuring a wildcard or qualifier, promises a couple of all-power opening round clashes as fourth seed Vandeweghe, the two-time and defending champion, goes up against German Carina Witthoeft, while eighth seed Kristyna Pliskova faces Estonian Anett Kontaveit.

Italy’s Camila Giorgi is also present in this quarter. The big-hitting Italian, the only other former champion in the draw besides Vandeweghe, gets American Varvara Lepchenko at the first hurdle. The winner facing one of Vandeweghe or Witthoeft in the following round. The other first round clash here sees 2013 runner-up Kirsten Flipkens face off against Madison Brengle.

Arguably the tightest quarter of this year’s draw, it could be anyone’s bet as to who will prevail and secure a semifinal berth. Expect Giorgi to cause a surprise upset over Vandeweghe to reach the quarterfinals and Pliskova to live up to her seeding by reaching the last eight. However, Pliskova has been the much more consistent player this season and the Czech looks poised for her second semifinal of the year.

Prediction: Pliskova d. Giorgi

Fourth quarter

Mladenovic slides on the clay during the quarterfinal of the French Open last week. Photo credit: Jean Catuffe/Getty Images.
Mladenovic slides on the clay during the quarterfinals of the French Open last week. Photo credit: Jean Catuffe/Getty Images.

Second seed Mladenovic bookends the draw, the runner-up from last year taking on Japan’s Risa Ozaki in the first round. The on-form Frenchwoman sees the likes of Aliaksandra Sasnovich and wildcard Anna Kalinskaya as probable opponents in the second round.

Seventh seed Lesia Tsurenko sits across the quarter and the Ukrainian drew Belgian young gun Elise Mertens in her opening match. Should Tsurenko prevail at the first hurdle, former world number one and 2007 runner-up Jelena Jankovic looms next. However, the Serb needs to get past a qualifier Petra Krejsova first.

Expect Mertens to replicate her quarterfinal run here 12 months ago where she upset Eugenie Bouchard at the first hurdle with the loss of the loss of just two games, only to fall to Mladenovic in the last eight. However, the on-form Frenchwoman is the clear favourite to reach the last four and in a rematch of their quarterfinal here last year, expect a similar outcome.

Prediction: Mladenovic d. Mertens

Semifinals: Konjuh d. Shvedova, Mladenovic d. Pliskova

Mladenovic has been red hot in 2017 so far, with one title and three runner-up finishes to her name so far, and is now inching towards a top 10 breakthrough. The Frenchwoman’s big game is bound to do damage on grass and it will not be a surprise to see her carry on her solid form all the way through to the grass court swing and ultimately, a deep run at Wimbledon.

Facing the equally big-hitting Konjuh for the title and having tasted defeat in the final of Den Bosch before, Mladenovic is in much familiar territory although it is Konjuh who has a grass court title. Things have changed a lot for Mladenovic over the past six months and expect the confident French player to go one win better this time around and collect the her maiden grass court title.

Final: Mladenovic d. Konjuh