With barely a second to breathe following the brilliant women’s tournament at the Australian Open, the WTA Tour moved on to its next stops last week, a Premier event in St. Petersburg and an International tournament in Taipei City.
The St. Petersburg tournament is in its third year and is growing in stature each year. This year’s entry list included the world’s top two players – Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep – as well as top 10 players Jelena Ostapenko and Caroline Garcia. Unfortunately her Melbourne exploits (culminating in a brief stay in hospital due to dehydration) proved too much for Halep, who withdrew, but Australian Open champion Wozniacki showed up and was awarded the world number one trophy in an extravagant ceremony, including singing, dancing and lots of lights.
In terms of actual tennis, Wozniacki played surprisingly well, given that she began her tournament just five days after the final in Melbourne, and had a fly-in visit to Denmark en route to St. Petersburg. She convincingly beat young Russian wild card Anastasia Potapova before succumbing in a tight quarter final to Daria Kasatkina, in a result that was far less surprising than it looked on paper. Wozniacki will next play in Doha, where the world number one ranking will once again be on the line.
Kasatkina once again played well in her home country but came up short in the semi finals against a resurgent Kristina Mladenovic. The defending champion hadn’t won a singles match since Wimbledon in July but won the Australian Open doubles title last week alongside Timea Babos, and made a surprising run to the finals, beating Dominika Cibulkova, Katerina Siniakova and Kasatkina along the way.
In the final, her winning run was stopped in its tracks by Petra Kvitova, whestenno, throughout the week, played some of her very best tennis, thrashing Elena Vesnina and Jelena Ostapenko, as well as beating in-form Julia Goerges in straight sets. The final was an extremely one-sided affair, with Kvitova nailing winners from all over the court to beat Mladenovic, 6-1 6-2. This was Kvitova’s 21st WTA title and sets her up to climb back up the rankings in 2018.
In Taipei City, two former Wimbledon finalists went on increasingly rare but welcome winning runs, with Eugenie Bouchard making the quarter finals and Sabine Lisicki reaching the semis. Both have struggled for form in recent seasons, while Lisicki has had to contend with a multitude of injuries. The tournament lost its biggest name when defending champion Elina Svitolina withdrew with injury prior to the draw being made, before the top three seeds – Shuai Peng, Shuai Zhang and Sam Stosur – all lost in straight sets in the first round.
In the end, neither Bouchard nor Lisicki made it as far as the finals, where fourth seed – and aforementioned Australian Open doubles champion – Timea Babos took on surprise finalist Kateryna Kozlova. It was the more experienced Hungarian who triumphed, picking up her third WTA singles title.
The tour now takes a week off for Fed Cup, before heading to the Middle East for the Premier 5 tournament in Doha and the Premier tournament in Dubai. As mentioned earlier, Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep will battle for the world number one ranking once again, with the pressure on the Dane who made the final of both events last year. She is only due to play Doha this time round, while Halep has signed up for both events and has no points to defend having played neither event in 2017.
Story of the week: Mladenovic snaps losing streak.
Having played brilliantly in the first half of 2017, winning in St. Petersburg and making the finals of Madrid, Stuttgart and Acapulco, Mladenovic’s form nosedived after the grass court season, culminating in her losing 15 consecutive singles matches. With lots of ranking points to defend after winning the title last year, few would have expected Mladenovic to turn this round this week, but she did and in impressive style, beating a clutch of tough opponents en route to the final.
Shock of the week: Rybakina beats Garcia.
In a pretty stacked draw, world number seven Caroline Garcia seemed to have it pretty easy, drawing qualifier and world number 450 Elena Rybakina, an 18-year-old with only two previous WTA main draw matches to her name. Despite being the massive favourite, Garcia was a shadow of the player who won Beijing and Wuhan at the end of 2017, losing from a set and a break up, as well as relinquishing a 4-0 lead in the second set tie break. Match point was decided on a dodgy call from the umpire, but it was ultimately Garcia’s fault for being unable to put away the match when she had many chances.
Player of the week: Petra Kvitova
On her comeback from her horrific hand injury, Kvitova’s form has been very up and down. She won the title in only her second tournament back in Birmingham, but other than decent runs at the US Open and Beijing, struggled for the rest of 2017. Her 2018 season also began on a downward note, losing early to Camila Giorgi in Sydney and Andrea Petkovic at the Australian Open. In St. Petersburg, however, she was resurgent, dropping only one set in victories over Vesnina, Begu, Ostapenko, Goerges and Mladenovic. If she can hold on to that kind of form, with no points to defend until May, she could be back in the top 10 in no time.