Ubha: Eastbourne Expert Predictions
Published June 15, 2014 12:13
EASTBOURNE, England - This year, like most others, sees a stacked field compete at the Aegon International in Eastbourne. As such, a handful of appetizing first round matches await.
It's the last big tournament before Wimbledon, too, and for many the lone prep they'll get on grass ahead of the season's third major.
The biggest name? It just might be Victoria Azarenka, who makes her comeback from a longstanding foot injury. "Vika" has played one match since the Australian Open - and was clearly hampered in Indian Wells in an upset loss to Lauren Davis.
Here's a breakdown of the draw.
First Quarter: Grass To Radwanska's Rescue?
Not many will be happier than Agnieszka Radwanska to get off the clay. But with Serena Williams and Li Na out of the way at a wacky Roland Garros, the Pole still might be ruing what happened at the French Open. Ajla Tomljanovic and her massive serve sent Radwanska packing in the third round.
But another Russian, Ekaterina Makarova, presents more problems to Radwanska if they tangle in the second round. Makarova reached the quarterfinals the past two years and surged to the title as a qualifier in 2010. Her record at Eastbourne, including qualifying, stands at 23-5.
The lefty beat Radwanska - winless in her past three matches at Eastbourne - in their last head-to-head at the 2013 US Open.
There could be a few.
Second Quarter: Vika's Return
Camila Giorgi was the last woman to gain direct acceptance into the main draw, but don't let that fool you. The Italian's flat, powerful groundstrokes are a match for anyone when she's on her game, as the likes of Maria Sharapova and Dominika Cibulkova can attest.
Why mention Giorgi? Well, she faces Azarenka in the two-time Grand Slam winner's opening match.
Apart from hoping the foot holds up in tournament play, Azarenka wouldn't mind confronting a Giorgi slightly off - and the 22-year-old indeed has cooled since downing Cibulkova in Rome.
Stosur squandered a lead against fellow Aussie Casey Dellacqua in Birmingham as her grass court woes continued, with knee and wrist injuries damaging the Dane's season. Wozniacki, mind you, is a former champion in Eastbourne and appeared in the semis last year.
Errani was on the wrong end of a Golden Set at Wimbledon two years ago, and former No.1 Jankovic - who fell to Errani in an absorbing fourth round contest at Roland Garros - hasn't reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in 10 attempts.
A three-time grass court finalist, including at Eastbourne in 2004, the Slovak is eager to recover from an early exit to Kimiko Date-Krumm as the defending champion in Birmingham.
Vinci's season in singles can't be labeled a success, but the Italian owns a grass court title and can say that her only appearance in Eastbourne was a good one - achieving the semifinals as a qualifier in 2005.
Fourth Quarter: Teammates Tangle
Petra Kvitova is back on grass, where she made a name for herself at Wimbledon in 2011. Kvitova has, however, been frustratingly inconsistent since. That's no secret. If there's a Top 10 player prone to being upset, unfortunately for the Czech, it's her.
Fine performances one day are no indication of sustained success at a tournament, evidenced by Kvitova making one semifinal since the middle of January.
So, even with a 4-0 record against fellow Czech Lucie Safarova, no one will be classifying that one as a banker for Kvitova in the first round.
If Kvitova does progress, a rematch looms with Zhang Shuai. Zhang, a semifinalist in Birmingham over the weekend, defeated Kvitova in Rome.
"Grass court specialist" and Tsvetana Pironkova go hand in hand, given the Bulgarian reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in 2010, quarterfinals a year later and took sets off Maria Sharapova in 2012 and Radwanska in 2013.
Pironkova and Kvitova are possible quarterfinal foes, with the former ousting Kvitova in Sydney in January.
~ Ravi Ubha (@raviubha) has written for ESPN.com, CNN.com, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and is also a tennis broadcaster. He is based in London.