2015 Aegon Classic Birmingham Preview & Predictions #AegonClassic
Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
After a frantic, fun and fantastic clay court season that culminated with Serena Williams winning her 20th grand slam title at Roland Garros, the grass season is now in full flow.
After interesting tournaments in ’s-Hertogenbosch and Nottingham, the WTA elite will begin their grass court preparation in Birmingham this week with Wimbledon just 14 days away.
The Aegon classic is held at the Edgbaston Priory Club, a 12-acre private members facility that includes 29 tennis courts, 10 squash courts and is situated less than a mile from the city centre.
The inaugural event was held in 1982, with the legendary Billie Jean King taking home the crown. She also went on to win her last WTA title at this event a year later.
Other previous champions include Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Maria Sharapova, Li Na and last year’s champion Ana Ivanovic. Pam Shriver holds the record with four titles which she won consecutively from 1984 to 1987.
The Aegon classic was upgraded from an International level event to a Premier level tournament in 2013. With the extra week of grass court tennis, Birmingham will be the only WTA event taking place this week.
The Aegon Classic
Location: Birmingham, England
Prize Money: $665,900
Date: June 15th- June 21st 2015
Top eight seeds who receive first round Bye (Ranking)
1. Simona Halep (3)
2. Ana Ivanovic (6)
3. Carla Suarez Navarro (9)
4. Angelique Kerber (10)
5. Eugenie Bouchard (11)
6. Karolina Pliskova (12)
7. Andrea Petkovic (14)
8. Sabine Lisicki (19)
All the top eight seeded players at this event are top 20 players with Lisicki being the last at 19. Of all the seeds, Caroline Garcia is the 16th and final seed ranked at 31 in the world.
First round matches to watch:
Belinda Bencic vs Mirjana Lucic-Baroni:
One of the tours brightest prospects, Belinda Bencic will look to continue her good form when she faces Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in round one of Birmingham.
Bencic kicked off her grass season in ’s-Hertogenbosch, where she made the final. The 18 year old showed decent form on the grass last season, making the third round of Wimbledon and making the main draws of Eastbourne and Birmingham. Last year Bencic made the second round, losing to Daniela Hantuchova. Look at the backhand of the Swiss to be a key shot in the match.
16 years has passed since Mirjana Lucic-Baroni made a breakthrough semi-final run at Wimbledon. Now at 33 years of age, the Croatian is back in the game and hungry to repeat that success. Her Nottingham tournament came to an end at the second round, whilst last year the Croatian lost in the opening round of Birmingham.
Fatigue might be an issue for Bencic, after her run in the Netherlands last week but I am doubting it would affect her this early in the tournament. The 18 year old comes in on better form, but if Lucic-Baroni can roll back the years and show her 1999 form when she was a bright prospect then it will no doubt be interesting.
(10) Barbora Strycova vs Monica Niculescu:
10th seeded Barbora Strycova will kick off her Birmingham campaign against the always tricky Monica Niculescu.
Strycova will be looking to put a first round loss at the French Open behind her when she hits the grass of Birmingham. The Czech made the final last year before losing to Ana Ivanovic, so will have plenty of points to defend over the next seven days. The world number 22 will also need the ideal preparation for Wimbledon where she defends quarter final points.
Monica Niculescu comes in to Birmingham off the back of a final run in Nottingham. Ranked at 61 in the world, many may under estimate the Romanian’s chances here. She has a tricky game however, and her use of the slice translates well on grass courts where the bounce is low.
Niculescu leads the head to head 3-2 including a victory in their only grass court meeting three years ago at the topshelf open. Since then, Strycova has shown huge improvements on the grass evident by her results last year. Previous meetings suggest this could go either way, so an early exit is possible for the tenth seed.
Simona Halep will be looking to put a poor clay court season behind her when she hits the grass next week. The top seed has been dealt a section of big servers however, so she could find it tricky in her attempts to advance to the quarter finals. British wildcard Naomi Broady or Alija Tomljanovic will await in round two, both of which should not be too much a problem for the world number three.
Round three will be where it gets interesting with the always unpredictable Caroline Garcia and big serving American could possibility be waiting. Both face qualifiers in round one so a meeting between two of the better servers on tour will be expected even though both could easily bomb out in the first round. Garcia has the tools to potentially upset Halep on this surface, but as usual it will depend if she can keep her mind and emotions in check.
Eugenie Bouchard will look to get off the recent slump as she continues preparations for Wimbledon, where she will defend final points. The Canadian receives a bye in round one before moving on to face her French Open conqueror Kristina Mladenovic or Alison Riske.
Riske is in good form from Nottingham but the rain delays could mean she is fatigued by the time her first round match is played. Either way, the winner will fancy their chances against a struggling Bouchard who lost to Yaroslava Shvedova in ’s-Hertogenbosch last week.
Tenth seed Barbora Strycova will be looking to benefit from a potential early exit for Bouchard. Strycova has final points to defend this week, so she will be determined to not slip up early. The Czech will face a difficult round one against Monica Niculescu, and the winner of that should really make round three with Lesia Tsurenko or Lucie Hradecka being the second round opponent. If Strycova can make it through the opening two rounds, she will fancy her chances of making the quarter finals with Bouchard’s latest slump being in full flow.
Third seeded Carla Suarez Navarro had a good clay season, highlighted by her final run in Rome. The Spaniard will however be disappointed with her third round exit to Flavia Pennetta at the French Open. Navarro will start in the second round against Roberta Vinci or a qualifier. Vinci could provide problems with her slice, but this will be interesting as they both play with one handed backhands; A rarity on the WTA tour.
British hopes will likely rest with Heather Watson who will be fairly confident in her draw. The 23 year old will face a qualifier in round one, then the winner of Karin Knapp vs Svetlana Kuznetsova in round two. Kuznetsova is not her strongest on grass, so an early exit is highly possible for the Russian. If Watson can rally with the home crowd behind her, a run to the quarter finals could be a realistic goal for the Brit with the seeds in her section being stronger on clay than on grass.
Sixth seeded Karolina Pliskova could potentially be an outsider for the title, but she faces a tough draw ahead with Victoria Azarenka a potential third round opponent. The big serving Czech’s ability to generate power rather effortlessly will translate well on to grass and the serve will be even more effective on the fast surface. Pliskova has received a BYE due to her seeding, so will kick off her tournament against the winner of the Jarmila Gadjosova and Johanna Konta round one clash. Providing she does not suffer a sudden blip in form, Pliskova should make the third round without oo many problems.
Victoria Azarenka showed signs of her old self during the clay season, but was unable to overcome Serena Williams, and Maria Sharapova. Fortunately for the Belarusian, neither Williams nor Sharapova will be in action this week. Instead, Azarenka kicks off her tournament against Varvara Lepchenko before potentially facing Saisai Zheng, who replaces Camilla Giorgi in the draw.
Defending champion Ana Ivanovic will be looking to repeat last year’s success at this event off the back of a good semi-final run at Roland Garros. Her mini section makes for good reading, with a qualifier certain for round two and Irina Begu the likely round three opponent. Begu will face Daniela Hantuchova in an interesting round one clash. The winner of that, which will be expected to be Begu should make round three. Begu showed good form on the clay, but an in form Ivanovic should be too much for the Romanian in the round of sixteen.
2011 champion Sabine Lisicki had her chances but could not convert against Lucie Safarova in Paris, but now we are in Lisicki territory; grass courts. The German’s ability on the lawn is never in question, especially at Wimbledon where is a former finalist. Despite that, she could have a tough round two against Belinda Bencic or Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, and if Lisicki is not careful she could be heading for the exit door.
The winner will likely face ninth seed Garbine Muguruza in the third round. The Spaniard is still an unknown quantity on grass, so it will be interesting to see how she performs. Muguruza needs time to set up her shots and her movement is not great, so I doubt we will see the best of her this week. However, with her draw she might not need to be near her peak to get to the last sixteen. Garbine leads Rybarikova 2-0 in the head to head, and her potential second round opponents Anna Schmiedlova and Bojana Jovanovski should not provide too many problems. Muguruza will struggle in round three, especially if it is Lisicki whose serve, power and overall ability on this surface should be too much for the Spaniard.
Angelique Kerber had an up and down clay season, but now we have hit the grass we should see her form improve. As the fourth seed, Kerber will receive a first round BYE meaning her tournament will not start until midweek. It will likely be Tsvetana Pironkova in round two, as the Bulgarian should defeat British wildcard Katie Swann.
Jelena Jankovic used a wildcard to continue her grass court preparations here. The Serb was ousted as the top seed in ’s-Hertogenbosch last week by Belinda Bencic, so she’ll be looking to build form ahead of Wimbledon. Tereza Smitkova in round one should be a victory for Jankovic, but round two is where things will get interesting. Lauren Davis will likely defeat a struggling Casey Dellacqua, even though the American’s form is not great also. But her game is more suited to grass courts, making this more interesting than the 2-0 head to head suggests. Jankovic will rightfully be the favourite though. Kerber vs Jankovic round three will be interesting, but Kerber will be the favourite on grass. The German’s counter punching style translates well on this surface, and the 2-1 head to head suggests that Kerber has a slight advantage.
Andrea Petkovic will be coming in off the back of a disappointing clay court season that ended with a straight sets defeat to Sara Errani. The German will be looking to put that behind her by claiming some valuable points during the grass court season. She will receive a first round BYE before facing the winner of Kurumi Nara vs Katerina Siniakova. With that, you would expect a round three clash against Alize Cornet. The Frenchwoman upset Serena Williams at Wimbledon last year and has a kind draw en route to round three. Christina McHale will likely be her biggest test in round one as a qualifier vs a struggling Monica Puig will decide who the winner faces in round two. A Petkovic vs Cornet round three will spark interest, however I expect Petkovic to come through despite injury concerns.
Halep def. Strycova
Azarenka def. Watson
Kerber def. Petkovic
Lisicki def. Ivanovic
Azarenka def. Halep
Kerber def. Lisicki
Azarenka def. Kerber
I went back and forth on so many matches, but in the end I went for Azarenka. I believe if she survives the Giorgi test, the run to the final is pretty good for her and with Kerber awaiting, I think Azarenka will be too much for the German.
I am not confident in that prediction however. This is truly an open field!