Sharapova will no doubt be reasonably pleased with her efforts last week as she will cite lack of match sharpness for falling short in Germany. She let Kristina Mladenovic back in from a set and a break in their semi-final, and as she has done so often this season, Kiki kept her level and outhit the Russian from there on in. It was another big week reaching the final and other wins over Kerber and Suarez Navarro (who’s defo looking sharper again) will boost her confidence. I’m a big fan of the fact she has an all court game and thus a big threat at all the slams. Interestingly there was a bit of bite in the Sharapova match. Quotes were brought to Sharapova’s attention in a press conference by the media in the build up, made by Kiki after the ban took place. Mladenovic handled this well and her intensity and focus showed how much she wanted to beat the Russian! Get in there!! The week goes out to Laura Siegemund though, as Kiki said after her loss in the final ”an insane level this week”. She’s got the street fighter mentality about her, chasing down and mixing up her play and when she’s on like this, she very dangerous. Wins over Pliskova and the improving again Halep shows she beat the top players put in front of her here in Stuttgart. I have just seen she has pulled out of Rabat this week, probably no great surprise after her exertions.
Elina Svitolina dropped the second set against Victoria Kamenskaya in her opening match and then hacked up in Istanbul. The Ukranian said she was struggling emotionally from Fed Cup after the Kamenskaya match, add a bit of illness and struggling to adapt to the courts and you can see her problem. But as I have said before these are the fields you would expect her to beat as the top seed. comfortably. She looks a couple of classes above pretty much everyone in these type of competitions. Bouchard lost early, again, as did Babos. Begu got taken by the young Belgian, Elise Mertens, who is going under the radar at the moment. The 21-year-old from the Kim Clijsters academy has now had some pretty big results on the main tour. She has won Hobart this year on hard and also impressed me on the grass last year. The Belgian is rocketing up the rankings and is worth keeping an eye on. Reaching the final here adds to her CV very nicely, but sadly for her Svitolina had found her groove after the early wobble against Kamenskaya. She didn’t drop another set thereafter.
Rafa won Barcelona and there is an air of dominance starting to lurk over this clay court campaign. It looks very familiar right now and the French is looking a spot kick barring an injury. Other players have said they are struggling from last season and he looks fresh right now. Muzza lost to Dominic Thiem in the semis after having several tough matches, including revenge over Ramos Vinolas in a final set breaker. That wouldn’t have helped to play the Austrian the day after, Thiem must be praying he gets into the other half of the draw to Rafa at the French at the moment. Only the Spaniard could stop him here. Other notes made from Barca were that Kei Nishikori withdrew due to a wrist injury and Hyeon Chung put in several decent performances here. The Korean’s scalps included wins over Kohlschreiber and Alex Zverev. A certain Spaniard also saw him off.
Lucas Pouille surprised even me last week, I thought the exertions in Monte Carlo might have come back to haunt the Frenchman in Budapest. He survived a scare against Jiri Vesely in his opening match but then showed his class from there on. The top-seeded Frenchman beat off a field that included Fabio Fognini, Diego Schwartzman, Fernando Verdasco and Gilles Simon. BIG Ivo Karlovic was second seed! Pouille is consistently, week in, week out a class above this field right now, maybe an inform Fognini could have given him a game had they met. They didn’t though, so I suppose it was no great surprise that as he was physically fine he went on to capture another title. He beat Aljaz Bedene in the final, the Brit has been on quite some run, winning back to back clay court challengers and 6 matches here before running into the Frenchman.
Andy Del Potro