The quarterfinal line-up for the Aegon Open Nottingham is out, and here are four short previews covering all the quarterfinal matches.
1. (1) Johanna Konta [No.8] vs Ashleigh Barty [No.88]
Overview: After winning the Premier Mandatory title in Miami, Johanna Konta did not do much during the clay court swing, failing to win back-to-back matches in any clay tournament, including being knocked out in the first round of the French Open to Hsieh Su-Wei. Now into the grass court swing, on her home soil, Konta has said she is not feeling the pressure of playing in Great Britain and that has been showing as she cruised past Tara Moore and Yanina Wickmayer with the loss of just seven games.
After her brief retirement, Ashleigh Barty first burst into prominence during the grass swing last season with a semifinal appearance in the Eastbourne ITF tournament. She backed that up by qualifying and making the quarterfinals of Nottingham, showing her abilities on the grass courts. Now with much more experience with already a WTA title, she seems set to do more damage during this part of the season, beating Tatjana Maria in three sets before demolishing Jana Fett 6-2 6-1 enroute to defending her quarterfinal points.
Thoughts: Barty is a dangerous player on grass, in fact she has a 23-7 lifetime record on this surface. A shift to grass seems to be helping Konta too, her serve is more damaging on this surface having won an average of 75% of first serve points. The experience of Konta and the home advantage should help her to get through this one.
2. Magdalena Rybarikova [No.117] vs (Q) Kristie Ahn [No.131]
Overview: Magdalena Rybarikova has been in stunning form since undergoing surgery, posing a 28-4 record throughout the year. Rybarikova won back-to-back ITF titles in Japan, a 80K one in Gifu and a 60K in Fukuoka. In the French Open, Rybarikova notched a first Grand Slam win since last year’s Australian Open against CoCo Vandeweghe before falling to Mariana Duque-Marino. Back to her favourite grass, Rybarikova won another ITF title, this time a 100K in Surbiton over Heather Watson. A transition to the WTA tour seemed seamless for the Slovak as she notched wins in Nottingham over Yastremska and Alison Riske.
Kristie Ahn’s 2017 has been sort of a breakthrough year for the American. Having been playing ITFs for almost the whole of her career, she qualified for Monterrey into which was just her third WTA main draw appearance and a first WTA victory. Falling in Roland Garros qualifying to Lucie Hradecka, Ahn qualified for the Nottingham main draw with surprising demolition wins over Naomi Osaka and Magda Linette with the loss of just six games.
Thoughts: Ahn has been playing brilliant tennis in Nottingham but the grass court stalwart Rybarikova has been playing even better this season and the 2009 Birmingham champion should win this one pretty comfortably.
3. (5) Lucie Safarova [No.44] vs Tsvetana Pironkova [No.126]
Overview: Out of all the four quarterfinal matches, this is my favourite one of them all! After a tough 2016 which saw Lucie Safarova drop to No.62 in the rankings, she has done pretty well this year, her most notable results a semifinal appearance in Taipei City, a final in Budapest and a quarterfinal showing in Miami. Grass is not Safarova’s best surface, posing a 27-24 record on the grass courts, but she has reached the semifinals of Wimbledon in 2014. In Nottingham, it wasn’t vintage Safarova but she managed to get through Grace Min and Hsieh Su-Wei in three sets in windy conditions.
Tsvetana Pironkova is known for her grass court prowess, having reached the semifinals of Wimbledon in 2009. However she isn’t shabby on the other surfaces too – having reached the quarterfinals of the French Open last year. It has however resulted Pironkova’s ranking to drop significantly as she was unable to defend those points this year – and now she is at her lowest ranking since 2010 – at No.126. Now into the grass season, Pironkova will be desperate to earn some points to boost her ranking, and she has done just that – reaching the quarterfinals here with straightforward wins over Tereza Martincova and Kurumi Nara.
Head to head: Safarova leads the head to head 4-1, but they have never met on the grass before. Their most recent meeting was in 2015.
Thoughts: This is the toughest match to predict out of the whole lot – Pironkova on grass is a handful to beat but Safarova is coming into this knowing she has beaten the Bulgarian before. Safarova is one of my favourites to win the title but she has already had two three-set matches under her belt. The Czech is coming off a long trip in the French Open and I don’t know if she has anymore left in her tank – I’ll go for a Safarova escape here.
4. Donna Vekic [No.70] vs Maria Sakkari [No.98]
Overview: The last quarterfinal match-up sees two unlikely unseeded players in Donna Vekic and Maria Sakkari. Vekic has had a decent year so far with a 21-17 record, successfully qualifying for five tournaments in Sydney, St.Petersburg, Miami, Madrid and Rome. She has had some success on the grass in the past with a final appearance in Birmingham in 2013.
Maria Sakkari has put together a surprising quarterfinal run in Nottingham. Coming off a quarterfinal appearance in the WTA 125K tournament in Bol, Sakkari survived two rollercoaster matches against Jana Cepelova and Christina McHale, both matches lasting around two hours and thirty minutes.
Head to head: These two are tied at one win apiece in the HTH; Sakkari won their previous encounter in Sydney this year.
Thoughts: This is a complete toss-up for me, I have never seen both of these players play on grass before! However I know Vekic is a decent player on this surface, highlighted by a 2013 final in Birmingham – because of this I’m going for the Croatian.