STUTTGART, GERMANY – Defending champion Angelique Kerber and Andrea Petkovic started strongly in their home tournament at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix.
Angelique Kerber  def. Annika Beck 4-6 6-3 6-1
It was perhaps a nervy start for the home crowd favourite, who played countrywoman Beck, as the pair traded breaks back and forth. The clay in Stuttgart is slick and this tournament has left some of the top seeds unstuck from time to time, and the thought must have crossed Kerber’s mind.
“Yeah it was a tough start but actually Annika was playing very well, and I know that she is a tough fighter and bringing a lot of balls back so she is doing less errors and I knew that the rallies were really long.
“So after the first set, I was just trying to stay positive and staying relaxed and trying to get my rhythm back, and trying to go for it.”
The differences in the surface between the clay environments she has played so far (in Charleston and at the weekend in Cluj) take some adjusting and while most players love quick matches to aid long recovery, Kerber took the opposite view.
“That’s why it’s good maybe to have a match like this, which was a little bit close and tight and now I know the court again, that it’s really slippery and I know how to move. It’s good to have a match like this for the first round for me.
Earlier in the day, Petkovic got off to a swift start, after perhaps not performing well at this tournament, as it invariably follows the Fed Cup, of which she has often been a pivotal member.
She said: “In my head is still the rollover that I had here of the ankle and I always in the beginning I’m struggling so much mentally with sliding into the right side. So, I think subconsciously I compensate. But I also played almost six hours at the weekend. So, I think even superman would feel something.
“I was actually really relaxed today. I knew I wasn’t at a 100% and I was just trying to hit every ball and be very aggressive and try to keep the points as short as possible. I was serving well. I think I did a fine job. I got a little tired in the second set there and let her back in but I feel like, all in all, it was a fine, solid match.”
It seemed to be a quick turn around for the third seed, who admitted that for her the prospect of indoor clay was going to be a tough adjustment, but coming off two good wins at Fed Cup against Italy, her confidence was up, declaring that she would rate herself ‘great’.
“I think some people will look at the score a bit like ‘ah – 6-3 6-2’ but with this kind of players that they serve very well, they hit hard and they make you feel like every moment they can turn around the match a little bit. So I had two moments in the match where I felt like ‘Hey this is the moment where I have to concentrate here, and don’t give more chance.”
The last two seeds with a bye, Agnieszka Radwanska and Simona Halep get their campaigns started – both against the home crowd favourites!
Agnieszka Radwanska  v Andrea Petkovic – H2H: Radwanska leads 6-0
Petkovic has always wanted to play well here, but will need to somehow overturn a fairly hefty deficit when the pair meet for the first time on clay. Petkovic has at least got some time on the dirt under her feet, albeit two losses (Charleston and the Fed Cup against Romania), while Radwanska admitted that it is always tricky to start on this particular slick surface, and against good players right from the outset.
There is a sense that whoever gets to grips with the surface faster will gain the upper hand, but can Petkovic close out a match against the tour’s resident magician?
Prediction: Radwanska in three sets.
Simona Halep  v Laura Siegemund [Q] – First meeting
Halep wins the prize for the latest start, and will face Siegemund who has been having a great run this week, and more importantly has really been enjoying it. She has definitely made her adjustment well to the surface and perhaps was a little unlucky to not still be in the doubles, where she was partnering Johanna Konta.
Halep admitted that her ankle roll had been a bit of a worry, but was fit and ready for this but perhaps more importantly she was just looking to get some good results under her belt but nothing more.
This is one to savour – especially if Kvitova starts in the same manner as she did in her opener. So much so, that she shrugged, laughed and said she would be happy when she gets her first game on the board.
Niculescu’s unique way of playing got her through the juniors and while she has more than her fair share of ups and downs in the rankings, she is enjoying being in the vicinity of her highest ranking (28). While some of the top players may not have faced her many a time, they all know that sabre-like slice that honestly would not be out of place in a fencing competition.
This will be a test for Kvitova but it looks as though her confidence is on the up now with a new coach. But can she play her game and still negotiate Niculescu?
Prediction: Kvitova in three sets.
Play starts in Stuttgart at 12pm (11am BST).
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