It’s finally time for the redddd clay! The European clay court swing officially starts in earnest with two small events in Lugano and Bogota. All of my focus this week will be on Lugano because the time zone is fabulous for me to watch some tennis and it’s an amazing field considering it’s just an International event. Read on for the draw preview…
Top seeds’ profiles
 Kristina Mladenovic (No.19)
Player profile: This time last year, during the clay court swing was when everyone was picking Mladenovic to be the next big thing – she had made the final in Stuttgart, final in Madrid and was flying high in the French Open, reaching the quarterfinals there… Her struggles since then had then been well-documented. After ending her 15-match losing streak, Mladenovic then made the finals in St.Petersburg and helped France to victory in the Fed Cup – we all thought she had found back her form but has since then reverted back to her disappointing ways. Mladenovic has only won back-to-back matches once in five tournaments after the Fed Cup.
Draw projections: Mladenovic’s first match of the week will be against a qualifier, before a potential match-up with Laura Siegemund in the second round. The pair played an incredible final in Stuttgart last year where it was one of my favourite matches of 2017. Mladenovic is seeded to play fellow Frenchwoman Alize Cornet in the quarterfinals.
 Elise Mertens (No.20)
Player profile: Mertens has been unable to replicate her Australian Open form since that run; it does not come across as too surprising though as maiden Grand Slam champions of late (Stephens, Wozniacki) have been unable to quickly get back to form after their Slam triumphs. Mertens has only won two out of six matches since the AO and her last match ended in a 2-6 1-6 loss to Johanna Konta in Miami. Clay has never been Mertens’ favourite surface – it’s listed that she prefers the grass, so it’ll be interesting to see how Mertens fares in Lugano.
Draw projections: Mertens will kick off her clay court swing against new mum Mandy Minella who is playing her first WTA tournament since giving birth. Marketa Vondrousova or Yulia Putintseva awaits her in the second round, and potentially Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals.
 Anett Kontaveit (No.28)
Player profile: Kontaveit’s breakthrough to the tour came during the clay court swing last year – as a qualifier she reached the quarterfinals in Stuttgart and Rome, defeating the likes of 2016 French Open champion Garbine Muguruza and then-world No.1 Angelique Kerber during her two runs respectively. Since the grass court swing last year Kontaveit hasn’t really played her best tennis – perhaps a return back to the surface where she made her breakthrough will help her regain last year’s form?
Draw projections: Kontaveit will play a qualifier in the first round. Viktorija Goluvic or a qualifier will be her second round opponent, and she is set to meet Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the quarters.
 Svetlana Kuznetsova (No.29)
Player profile: Kuznetsova is currently on a five-match losing streak having not won a match since the US Open. She suffered a wrist injury there and was only able to return to the WTA in March. Kuznetsova failed to win any matches though as she suffered comprehensive losses to Aryna Sabalenka in Indian Wells and Zarina Diyas in Miami. Being back on clay will definitely liven her spirits – she has always done well on the dirt, including claiming her second Grand Slam title at the French Open in 2009.
Draw projections: Kuznetsova has a tough first rounder in hard-hitting Mona Barthel, and could play Donna Vekic in the second round afterwards.
 Alize Cornet (No.35)
Player profile: Just like Kuznetsova, Cornet has been enduring some tough results before she was able to make a good run in Charleston just last week. She was able to reach the quarterfinals, upsetting top seed there Caroline Garcia enroute. Her game is perfectly suited on clay and will be another player to look out for during this stretch of the season.
Draw projections: Cornet could play two Swiss wildcards in her first two rounds of the tournament – Jill Teichmann is her first round opponent, and could then face Stefanie Voegele next.
 Mihaela Buzarnescu (No.40)
Player profile: Since reaching the final in Hobart, Buzarnescu has only won four more main draw matches in six tournaments played. Buzarnescu has a solid game that should be suited to the dirt and does possess a healthy 184-89 win-loss record on this surface.
Draw projections: Buzarnescu is up against it early doors as she plays the hard-hitting Aryna Sabalenka in round one. I am SO interested to see what can Sabalenka do on clay. The winner of that match could play the tricky Hsieh Su-Wei in the second round, then No.9 seed Alison Van Uytvanck, Oceane Dodin, Kristyna Pkiskova and Camila Giorgi are all possible quarterfinal opponents.
 Aliaksandra Sasnovich (No.49)
Player profile: Much like Buzarnescu, since reaching the final in Brisbane and breaking into the world’s top 60, Sasnovich hasn’t really been able to play her best tennis although she only has played four tournaments since then. Looking at Sasnovich’s career record on clay, she hasn’t really played many matches on this surface before. I don’t think her game is really suited to the dirt but we’ll see.
Draw projections: Sasnovich’s first match of the week will be against a qualifier, with either Kirsten Flipkens and Carina Witthoeft set to be her round of 16 opponent.
Let’s start talking about the bottom half. All the seeds there are in indifferent form of late and I think the Barthel-Kuznetsova battle will produce the finalist from the bottom half. It’s just instinct but I have Barthel beating Mertens enroute to reach the final.
From the top half I have Cornet as a finalist. Mladenovic has really been up and down but if she’s in good form I could see her giving some problems for Cornet in a potential quarterfinal meeting. I also have no idea why, but I see Camila Giorgi having a good run in Lugano as well!
Final Prediction: Mona Barthel d. Alize Cornet
There won’t be any match predictions this week but I’ll do match previews when I see some interesting match-ups. Thanks for reading! 🙂