After two weeks on the green clay in Charleston, the tour moves back to Europe for the red clay season. Once again, the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix features a tough field that will test the tour's best clay-courters from the early rounds.
Here's what you need to know about this week's WTA 500 event in Stuttgart:
1. The Porsche Tennis Grand Prix always features one of the toughest draws at a WTA 500 event
Into its 43rd year, the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix is a notoriously tough draw. A favorite tournament stop among the top players, Stuttgart is the first WTA 500 event on European clay and features just 28 spots in the singles draw. The tournament is played indoors at the Porsche-Arena and will use the Wilson Roland Garros ball.
The winner will receive 470 ranking points. The finals will be played on Sunday, starting at 11:30 a.m. local time.
2. Seven of the Top 10 are in action
World No.1 Ashleigh Barty is making her Stuttgart debut and leads a field that includes No.3 Simona Halep and defending champion Petra Kvitova.
Top Eight Seeds: 1. Ashleigh Barty, 2. Simona Halep, 3. Sofia Kenin, 4. Elina Svitolina, 5. Aryna Sabalenka, 6. Karolina Pliskova, 7. Petra Kvitova, 8. Belinda Bencic.
Four returning champions are in the draw, with Kvitova, Pliskova, 2017 champion Laura Siegemund and two-time champion Angelique Kerber.
2. The Main Draw was done on Sunday
Main Draw @PorscheTennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart. Ashleigh Barty, Simona Halep, Sofia Kenin, and Elina Svitolina are the top seeds.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) April 18, 2021
Defending champion Petra Kvitova opens against Jennifer Brady. pic.twitter.com/RplaKvMvwc
3. Petra Kvitova has the toughest opening draw
Kvitova lost just one set en route to her title in 2019 and she could face a brutal draw for her title defense this week. Already a champion this year in Doha, the Czech will open against Australian Open finalist Jennifer Brady, who is looking for her first win since Melbourne, before either facing Miami semifinalist Maria Sakkari or Andrea Petkovic.
Either No.4 seed Elina Svitolina or Kerber could be waiting in the quarterfinals, with top seed Barty or Pliskova looming as possible semifinal opponents.
4. Simona Halep is chasing a complete set of European clay titles
No one is happier than Halep to be back to sliding on European red clay. The Romanian sits firmly at No.1 on the WTA Insider Clay Court Power Rankings and has won every big European clay event on the calendar except one: Stuttgart.
In her pre-tournament press conference Monday, Halep shrugged off any concerns about the shoulder injury that has plagued her since the Australian Open and forced her to withdraw after the second round in Miami three weeks ago. Out of precaution, Halep also withdrew from Romania's Billie Jean King Cup tie against Ukraine this past weekend and says she's been able to practice pain-free in Stuttgart.
The No.2 seed this week, Halep has an opening bye and will face either Marketa Vondrousova or Marie Bouzkova. Vondrousova, the youngest player in the draw, has caused Halep plenty of problems in the past. The Czech lefty won their two previous matches, both played in 2019, in three tough sets (2019 Indian Wells: 2-6, 7-5, 6-3; 2019 Rome: 6-2, 3-6, 6-2).
5. Clay could be a salve for Karolina Pliskova
Pliskova has proven herself to be an all-surface threat over the course of her career. While her success on clay may have come as a surprise, Pliskova has evolved into one of the most reliable clay-courters in the game.
A champion in Stuttgart in 2018 and finalist in Rome last year, Pliskova returns to Stuttgart still in search of her best form. Since making the US Open final in 2016, Pliskova has been a steady presence in the Top 10. The 29-year-old has not been shy about her struggles since the tour restarted last summer - since making the Rome final she has won back-to-back matches just once - but a new surface could trigger a resurgence.
Pliskova has been drawn into the top half of the draw and will face lucky loser Tamara Korpatsch. The winner will face either Jelena Ostapenko or Stefanie Voegele.
6. One to Watch: Maria Sakkari
The Greek comes off her biggest result in Miami, where she ended Naomi Osaka's 23-match winning streak and narrowly lost in the semifinals to Bianca Andreescu in a third-set tiebreak. Now she's on her favorite surface and full of well-earned confidence. Sakkari's sole title came on clay in Rabat in 2019.
7. Karolina Muchova returns
The surprise Australian open semifinalist has not played since Melbourne because of an abdominal injury. The World No.22 is making her Stuttgart debut this week and will open against Ekaterina Alexandrova.
8. Two Americans chasing form
You can forgive No.4 Kenin and No.14 Brady for not clicking into their best over the past six weeks. Kenin, the 2020 Roland Garros runner-up, underwent an emergency appendectomy in Melbourne after the Australian Open. Brady got right back on the court after her run to the Australian Open final and may come to regret not taking a deserved break to rest and process her trip Down Under.
Seeded No.3 in Stuttgart, Kenin has a bye in the first round and will face either 2019 finalist Anett Kontaveit or German qualifier Julia Middendorf in the second round.
Brady, who spends her off-seasons in Germany to train with her German team, has a big opening-round opportunity against Kvitova.
9. How does the field stack up on clay?
Based on the WTA Insider Clay Court Power Rankings, here are the 10 best on clay in Stuttgart:
1. Simona Halep: 6591.5
2. Karolina Pliskova: 3133.75
3. Petra Kvitova: 2828.00
4. Elina Svitolina: 2824.00
5. Ashleigh Barty: 2699.75
6. Marketa Vondrousova: 2428.00
7. Laura Siegemund: 1867.25
8. Jelena Ostapenko: 1854.00
9. Sofia Kenin: 1808.75
10. Anett Kontaveit: 1624.75
10. Doubles on deck
Desirae Krawczyk and Bethanie Mattek-Sands have teamed up for the week in Stuttgart and are seeded No.1, with Xu Yifan and Zhang Shuai seeded No.2. One team to watch this week are No.3 seeds Hayley Carter and Luisa Stefani. The duo have had a strong season, with three finals under their belts, but no title to show for it yet.
Notable singles pairings include Barty/Brady, Bencic/Kenin, and Kerber/Petkovic. For the full doubles draw click here.