From Simona Halep's hunger to the Czech Republic's unending fountain of talent, rounding up the best insights from Porsche Tennis Grand Prix Media Day.
The World No.3 is happy to report that she has been able to practice pain-free in Stuttgart, after a shoulder injury flared up in Miami and forced her withdrawal. After finally winning Rome last year, Halep has now won every big European clay title on the WTA calendar.
Except for Stuttgart. A two-time semifinalist in 2015 (l. Wozniacki) and 2017 (l. Siegemund), Halep is hoping this year is her moment to complete her set.
"Yes, I want it," Halep said, laughing. "I want it badly. It’s a nice tournament, nice conditions, the people are very nice to me here and, yes it’s one of my goals to win this tournament as well. I want to win all the clay-court tournaments if possible."
The quicker indoor conditions have been tricky for the Romanian in the past, and the tough 28-player draw has meant there is little margin for error in the early rounds.
"All the opponents are very strong from the first match," Halep said. "So, it’s kind of tougher than the other tournaments and also the clay indoor probably is not my favorite. But I did semifinals, I played good matches here, I have won against top players. So I cannot say I don’t like it. I like it but it’s a little bit tougher to win the tournament of course."
The 2018 champion has not posted the results she would like since the tour restarted last summer, but Pliskova comes into Stuttgart knowing that her best result over the past year has come on clay, where she made the Rome final (l. Halep).
With titles in Stuttgart and Rome, and a semifinalist run in Roland Garros, the big-serving Czech has proved she's a force on clay.
"I’m from Czech Republic, so I grew up on clay. So, it’s not like I would have very very far away from the surface. I spent a lot of time on clay when I was very little and maybe as a junior, too. But of course, maybe my game for some people would seem that it’s maybe not the best for clay.
"But I think what I did a bit wrong in the beginning on the clay, when I started playing professional tournaments, I tried to play a different game because it was clay. I tried to spin more and maybe play a clay court game. I stopped because I can see also many girls who are hitting big, I feel like the clay is not the slowest anymore and you can still play aggressively and beat the girls who are running, like Simona and all of these girls.
"That’s what’s working in the last couple of years and to be honest, I think Stuttgart has always been a bit faster tournament because also it’s indoors, so it’s not like Spanish clay. So hoping for some good results here and also during the next couple of weeks."
Asked how her partnership with coach Sascha Bajin has been going since they paired up during the off-season, Pliskova said she is pleased with their work.
"I think everything is working well," Pliskova said. "Of course, I didn’t play that great but nothing is his mistake. I think that’s just -- sometimes you don’t even know the reason why things are happening. So, that’s maybe the case.
"But he’s trying his best, I’m trying my best. Hopefully we’re going to have more success in the future. But everything is working well."
The World No.1 is making her Stuttgart debut this week and set to play her first match on European red clay since winning 2019 Roland Garros. After her statement-making run to the title in Miami two weeks ago, Barty began her clay-court transition at the Volvo Car Open, where she tallied two good wins over Misaki Doi and Shelby Rogers before running out of gas to Paula Badosa.
Asked about her form, Barty offered the level-headed perspective that has been key to her strong season so far.
"It’s always a funny question talking about form, I think," Barty said. "Often, from the outside, it’s judged on results which a lot of the time can be inaccurate. There have been times throughout my career where I have felt like I am in great form but haven’t been winning matches, and vice versa other one’s where I haven’t been able to find anywhere close to the middle of the racket, but you find your way through the matches.
"So, I think the confidence comes from the practice and the work you do in preparation and before you play. I think it’s important not to be completely results-driven when you come to thinking about your form and things like that. I think it’s more just going out there each time you have the opportunity and having a crack and that’s all you can ask."
The defending champion returns to Stuttgart in good form once again, after grabbing a title in Doha back in February.
The top-ranked Czech was asked about 15-year-old Linda Fruhritova's recent success at the MUSC Health Women's Open, where the teenager earned her first WTA main-draw win and advanced to the quarterfinals.
"In the pandemic when we didn’t have tournaments, we had some team exhibitions in Czech and I had her in my team, actually," Kvitova said. "She was very nice and she was always able to play, so this was good.
"I hit with her just a little bit I would say but from the [little bit] you can’t really see anything. But as I see now when she won two matches in Charleston, overall she is a very talented player.
"In Czech Republic everybody knows her even before and she’s always been with her sister as well. Talented players who can play very well."