High Hopes For Heather In Birmingham
Published June 05, 2011 05:52
BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom - She might not be seeded, but Heather Watson will enjoy her first real taste of life as a WTA headliner this week at the AEGON Classic. After a string of good results the steadily rising Brit makes her Top 100 debut this week at No.93, raising hopes for a strong showing on home turf. However, with players of the caliber of Kaia Kanepi and Ana Ivanovic in the 56-player field, the task facing the 19-year-old is even bigger than her image on the tournament posters.
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Indeed, it was Kanepi who beat Watson in the second round of the French Open. Currently ranked No.17, the powerful Estonian has grasscourt pedigree, having reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon last year. Like all of this week's top eight seeds, she receives a first round bye, but if she looks ahead in the draw she won't fail to notice her prospective quarterfinal opponent is Ekaterina Makarova - the reigning Eastbourne champion, and the player who beat her in the third round at Roland Garros.
Ivanovic, meantime, is the No.2 seed having been granted a wildcard. As well as being a former French Open champion and world No.1, the 23-year-old Serb has been a Wimbledon semifinalist, and may relish the switch to a faster surface after her first round loss in Paris. In-form Peng Shuai, who was runner-up to Caroline Wozniacki at Brussels two weeks ago - and is closing in on a place in the Top 20 - is seeded No.3 in Birmingham, while Daniela Hantuchova, hot off her defeat of Wozniacki in Paris, is seeded fourth.
Roberta Vinci, best known for her clay court exploits, is the No.5 seed, Makarova is seeded sixth, Sara Errani is the No.7 seed and Aravane Rezai is seeded No.8 on a ranking of No.41. The second tier of seeds features 2009 champion Magdalena Rybarikova, at No.14, and Watson's first round opponent, No.15 seed Chanelle Scheepers.
Watson and Scheepers are first up on center court on Monday; others on the schedule include last year's semifinalist, Alison Riske, against Urszula Radwanska, and Sabine Lisicki, who tackles Kimiko Date-Krumm.
As well as Ivanovic, the $220,000 International event has awarded wildcards to Brits Melanie South and Samantha Murray. Another UK player, Naomi Broady, secured a main draw berth by defeating Sloane Stephens in the final round of qualifying on Sunday; the other qualifiers are Arina Rodionova, Shuko Aoyama, Sarah Gronert, Alexandra Stevenson, Ajla Tomljanovic, Rika Fujiwara and Conny Perrin.
Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond, both former doubles world No.1s (Raymond was also the singles champion here in 2000), are top seeds in the team event.
This traditional Wimbledon warm-up is marking its 30th staging in Birmingham. Former champions include Billie Jean King - who won the last of her 67 career singles titles here in 1983 - Pam Shriver, Maria Sharapova and Martina Navratilova, who lifted the Maud Watson trophy twice and will be in town later in the week to take part in the anniversary celebrations.