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Vika Leads Quickstep To Spanish Clay

Victoria Azarenka, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Dinara Safina headline this week's Andalucía tennis Experience.

Published April 03, 2011 10:32

Vika Leads Quickstep To Spanish Clay
Victoria Azarenka

MARBELLA, Spain - With barely a moment to savor her triumph at the Sony Ericsson Open on Saturday, Victoria Azarenka's staying power and surface switch-ability will be put to the test this week as top seed at the Andalucía Tennis Experience. The $220,000 International event, being held for the third time, also heralds the start of the European clay court season.

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After a slow start in Miami, where she was taken to three sets in her first three matches, Azarenka was in devastating form as she cast aside Kim Clijsters, Vera Zvonareva and Maria Sharapova. At 21, the Belarusian now holds six WTA singles titles - but all of them won on hardcourts (and two of them indoors). This week is her chance to claim bragging rights ahead of the bigger clay court tournaments to come, including Roland Garros at the end of May.

On the other side of the draw, Marbella's No.2 seed has already proven her credentials on the red stuff - by winning the French Open two years ago. By contrast, 2010 was filled with many disappointments for Svetlana Kuznetsova, but so far this year she has improved her ranking from No.27 to Top 15, thanks in part to a runner-up finish at Dubai. Playing on a wildcard, the Russian powerhouse is sure to contend this week.

France's Aravane Rezai, who made a name for herself by winning at Madrid last year, is seeded No.3 on a ranking of No.24, with quiet achiever Alexandra Dulgheru seeded No.4. With the Warsaw Open, where she would have been a two-time defending champion, no longer on the calendar, the Romanian will be keen to find silverware elsewhere. Clay is her best shot.

Wimbledon semifinalist Tsvetana Pironkova is seeded fifth - and the only seed at Marbella still hunting a maiden WTA title. Dangerous Czech Klara Zakapolova is the No.6 seed, with Italy's Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani, who is ranked No.40, rounding out the seedings at No.7 and No.8, respectively. The two Italians are also the top seeds in the doubles.

As well as Kuznetsova, wildcards have been awarded to former world No.1 Dinara Safina, who has shown signs of her old self of late, and Spain's Estrella Cabeza Candela, who plays Rezai first up. Tournament director and national icon Conchita Martínez has, in fact, attracted five Spaniards to the main draw (not including qualifiers). Anabel Medina Garrigues leads the charge, but unfortunately Carla Suárez Navarro, runner-up in each of the last two years, has been forced out by a right elbow injury.

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