>> Sunday, April 22, 2012
An elite field led by world #1 Victoria Azarenka, #2 Maria Sharapova, and one of this year's top performer in world #4 Agnieszka Radwanska converge in the 2012 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in STUTTGART, Germany. The Stuttgart tennis tournament is the biggest WTA tournament on clay in Europe this season and will kick-off the major clay court preparation of top players heading into this year's grand slam on clay, the 2012 French Open at Roland Garros, France. Azarenka will be playing for the first time since losing in the quarterfinals in Miami where her 26-0 start to the season was blemished by her loss to world #7 Marion Bartoli.
Azarenka is aiming for just her second WTA clay tournament. She won the Marbella tennis tournament on clay last year, but all her other 11 career titles were on hardcourts. The world #1 will be hoping to win her 5th title this year after winning in Sydney, Melbourne, Qatar, and Indian Wells. As top seed, she received a first round bye and will be opening against one of two Germans, either Andrea Petkovic - who is playing her first WTA event since January after a back injury lay-off - or veteran wildcard Kristina Barrois.
Leading the bottom half of the draw is Sharapova who is still looking for her first title of the year after losing in all 3 tournament finals she contested. Sharapova lost to Azarenka twice in Melbourne and Indian Wells, and was surprised in her last tournament by Radwanksa falling to the #1 Polish player in straight sets at Miami. Sharapova has three titles on clay including a win at Rome in 2011. The second seed will open against either Flavia Pennetta, who has won their last two meetings, or a qualifier.
In Sharapova's section of the draw is world #3 Petra Kvitova. Kvitova begins against former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone or Monica Niculescu. After reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open in January, Kvitova's form has dipped and she lost in the early rounds of Indian Wells and Miami. She is currently competing at the Fed Cup 2012 semifinals in Italy this weekend before flying over to start her campaign in Stuttgart.
Radwanska is the fourth seed and is undoubtedly the second best performer this year after Azarenka. She won titles in Dubai and Miami and will be hoping to win her third title here at Stuttgart. Radwanska will be opening against a qualifier and she is seeded to meet Azarenka in the semifinals. Radwanska leads the WTA with the most number of matches won this year - but she has lost four times to only one player - and that player is Azarenka.
Rounding out the top eight seeds are Sam Stosur, Caroline Wozniacki, Marion Bartoli and Li Na. If the seeds all survive through the quarterfinals, the match-ups will feature Azarenka vs Bartoli, Radwanksa against Li, Kvitova against Wozniacki, and Sharapova vs Stosur. With only eight seeds and 17 of the top 20 players present, there are interesting early round matches including the first round battle between Wozniacki and fellow former No.1 Jelena Jankovic.
German players will also be in contention with Angelique Kerber, Julia Goerges, Petkovic and Mona Barthel featured in the main draw. Last year, Goerges became Germany's second home champion in Stuttgart, beating then-No.1 Wozniacki in the final for her biggest title to date. Kerber is a player to watch having won two titles already this year - in Paris and in Copenhagen where she beat Sharapova and Wozniacki on her way to the titles. Barthel remains a player to watch as the tall German almost defeated Azarenka in Indian Wells.