Sunday, 24 April 2016

Siegemund the story of Stuttgart

Predictably, Rafa Nadal and Kei Nishikori won their semi finals, both losing only five games for the match, and will pit their wits and skills against each other in the Barcelona final.

Bucharest semis saw the last of the seeds exit, Fernando Verdasco disposing of fellow Spaniard and fourth seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, and improving Frenchman Lucas Pouille signing extradition papers for Argentina's third seed Federico Delbonis.

In Istanbul, the Turkey fans are thrilled to have one of their own in the final after unseeded Cagla Buyukakcay ousted Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland in one semi.  Cagla will face fifth seed Montenegrin Danka Kovinic who outlasted the Ukraine's Kateryna Kozlova in the other semi.

All that is rather uninteresting compared with the news from Stuttgart where the final will be contested between two German girls for the first time in the tournament's history.
First played in 1978, but a hard court event until it became red clay in 2009, it is the only indoor clay tournament on the calendar.
It has been awarded the WTA's Premier Tournament of the Year six times, since and including 2007, so it is easy to see why the top players have signed up to play again in 2016.

The extra thrill of an all German final comes because of the lack of local success previously.  Apart from Angie Kerber being the defending champion, only Anke Huber twice in the early nineties has raised the Stuttgart trophy for Germany.  Navratilova has won six, Hingis four, Sharapova and Davenport each three, but now it seems is Germany's time to take control of its own.

Angie Kerber took one more step to a successful defence of her 2015 title with a hard fought three set victory over Petra Kvitova 6-4 4-6 6-2.  Although left empty at the last four, Petra should feel better about her tennis after this because she showed much more mental steel than at other points of the season, and if the trajectory of progression continues, Roland Garros could be her best yet, and we know how the Wimbledon grass is like Popeye's spinach for her.

The best is for last and that is Laura Siegemund, the unexpected other German finalist in Stuttgart.  The now ranked 71, but soon to be top 50 player, has been hitting the courts for years without much success at WTA singles events, but doing sufficiently ok at ITF events to be able to manage a tennis existence.  Ranking low to match a low profile.

Then 2015 and enough points to break into the too 100, and 2016 a second round victory over Jelena Jankovic at the Australian Open.  At 28, a career was taking a significant turn.  Laura was now entering WTA events with thoughts of not just contesting qualifying, but winning through to main draws.

That she did in Stuttgart, having to win three successive matches to qualify for a first round main draw match with 27th ranked Russian Anastsia Pavlyuchenkova. Although not in her best form Anastasia has been ranked as high as 13, and would have been expected to account for a qualifier.  Instead she was smashed 6-0 by Siegemund in the opening set and although improving as the match evolved could not catch up and lost in straight sets.

If that was a warning signal to second round opponent Simona Halep, then it wasn't heeded.  The fourth seed was another straight sets victim, as too sixth seed Roberta Vinci.

The win over Vinci earned a semi against top seed Aga Radwanska, and this surely was a mountain too high.  With the early break of serve and a point away from consolidating at 4-1, it seemed that the world number two was on track to finally show the gap from the elite to the rapidly improving mid range.

The scoreboard wasn't reflecting the court action though as the match was closer than the score indicated.  Laura employed some power tennis punctuated with several delicate drop shots to rattle Aga and break back, then hold and break again for 4-3.  Her backhand was producing winners on key points, and when Aga tried to cover that, the forehand would create its own damage.

The extra service break was enough and Laura Siegemund held comfortably for a 6-4 opening set win.  Her record of not dropping a set all tournament was intact.

Set two was a runaway train which Aga had no hope of retrieving.  86% of first serves from Siegemund found their mark, and she won 62% of points on serve for the set compared with just 42% for Radwanska.

The clean winners were consistently pouring off the hot German racquet and fairly early in the set it was clear to Aga that her day was done, despite all her best efforts.
34 winners to 17 unforced errors is a wonderful stat.  One break back for Aga was merely a token and totally against the tide.  The overall trend continued and the 6-4 6-2 victory must rate as the very best of Laura Siegemund's career.

Now who do the German spectators support in the final ?  The glamour girl and Aus Ooen champ, with all the fame and titles - Angie Kerber, or the underdog who has won all hearts with her upset wins over the 1, 4 and 6 seeds - Laura Siegemund.

Either way should be a great final for Stuttgart and a boost for already strong German tennis.

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