The grass season got underway this week with the Aegon Surbiton Trophy. While this is a low-tier tournament, we’ve had lots of drama and surprises (Four British ladies made the Quarter Finals!). And while this tournament comes to an end, we look forward to the official launch of the grass court season on the WTA tour.
Nottingham set for first British champion?
The stage is set and Nottingham is ready to host a WTA international event for the third year running. And while the line-up is not as strong as last year (we were spoilt with Karolina Pliskova, Caroline Wozniacki and Monica Puig), the genuine prospect of a British champion will make for an exciting tournament.
Johanna Konta will begin the week as a strong favourite. Despite hitting a rocky patch on the clay, Konta has become a household name in Britain over the last 18 months, having reached the Quarter Finals of the Australian Open and winning the Miami Open earlier in the year. But Konta’s record in Nottingham isn’t great.
In 2015, during the start of her career breakthrough, Konta reached the Quarter Finals as a wild card before losing to eventual runner-up Monica Niculescu. Not bad at all considering the low expectations.
But when the British number one returned last year, optimism was high. After brushing aside the returning Victoria Duval, Konta laboured to a disappointing 6-4 7-5 loss to Zheng Saisai. That being said, this is a beatable field and Konta has an excellent record at her home tournament in Eastbourne. So maybe it’s time for Konta to deliver Nottingham its first ever British winner.
Riske aiming to go one better
Out of the main draw entrants, one name that sticks out has to be Alison Riske. Last year’s beaten finalist, the American has an excellent record in Nottingham. Having reached the semi finals in 2015, where she lost to eventual champion Ana Konjuh, Riske made the final last year before falling to Karolina Pliskova.
But can she go all the way this year?
Well, like Johanna Konta, Riske had a disastrous Roland Garros campaign. A 6-3 6-0 loss to the seeded Barbora Strycova ended an underwhelming clay season and despite making the final at Shenzhen way back in January, Riske has been far too inconsistent this year. Yet, in Nottingham, Riske has enjoyed her greatest form on grass, so she has to be taken seriously.
The other challengers
Former French Open finalist Lucie Safarova is certainly a household name and she has to be a contender. A former Wimbledon semi-finalist, Safarova has the ability to beat anyone on her day. But like so many in this tournament, Safarova had a terrible campaign in Paris, losing in straight sets against Veronica Cepede Royg. Can she recapture her form in Nottingham?
Second seed Anastasija Sevastova will be relishing the opportunity to maintain Latvia’s purple patch. But Sevastova’s history on grass is poor. Having never won a Wimbledon main draw match, Sevastova lost in the first round (albeit to Pliskova) at last year’s tournament. Despite being in good form, it’s difficult to see the Latvian being a major contender.
Elsewhere, Australian Ash Barty has been in excellent form this year, winning her maiden WTA tour title in Kuala Lumpur back in March. She also has a solid grass game making her one to avoid for the seeded players. Naomi Osaka must also have a mention as well as the most unpredictable player on the tour, Tsvetana Pironkova. Watch out for Oceane Dodin, too. The French player has had a good tournament in Surbiton and should be able to take this form into the tournament.
All to lose for Britain’s Tara Moore
It’s great to see Tara Moore receive a wild card this year, but she has a lot of pressure going into the tournament. Having reached the Quarter Finals as a qualifier last year, Moore has failed to kick on after an impressive grass season. With points to defend and her ranking starting to drop, Moore really has to perform to her best.
Moore suffered a disappointing first round defeat in Surbiton against fellow Brit Naomi Broady, meaning she will drop out of the top 200. An early defeat here would be disastrous.
The grass season is unpredictable, especially since it’s so short-lived. Without seeing the draw, I’m going to predict Ash Barty to bring it home for the Aussies. I think this summer could define Barty as the top 20 player we know she can be. Let’s see if Nottingham can kickstart a successful grass campaign!