First Ball In, 6/16: Lawn Work
The ball picks up speed on grass, and the tours do, too. When a “season” consists of two weeks of tune-ups and one Grand Slam tournament, you have to make the most of it. As I was finishing my write-up on this weekend’s finals on Monday, the top seed at the women’s event in Eastborune, Agnieszka Radwanska, had been upset, and the top seed at the men’s event in 's-Hertogenbosch, David Ferrer, had withdrawn.
With most of the star attractions heading for practice sessions and sponsor frolics in London this week, it should be a (brief) time for the second tier to shine. The conventional wisdom says you can’t win the week before a major, and also do well at the major that follows. But Genie Bouchard and Ernests Gulbis proved that wrong at Roland Garros. Can anyone do the same this week and at Wimbledon?
Week in Preview
Aegon International (WTA)
Draw is here
Aga Radwanska has found an oddly effective way to get ready for Wimbledon. In 2012, she lost in the first round in Eastbourne, then reached the final at the All England Club. In 2013, she lost again in her Eastbourne opener, then reached the semis at Wimbledon. Now she’s lost early at Eastbourne for the third year in a row, this time to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. So...look out for Aga on Centre Court in about three weeks.
The Aegon International has a strong draw even without its top seed. Most intriguing will be the return of Victoria Azarenka, after three months away with a foot problem. Vika, who is currently ranked No. 8, last played Eastbourne in 2011, when she lost in the quarters to Marion Bartoli. This time she’ll start against Camila Giorgi.
Also here: Petra Kvitova, Jelena Jankovic, Sara Errani, Angelique Kerber, Flavia Pennetta
First-round matches to watch: Jankovic vs. Madison Keys; Kvitova vs. fellow Czech Lucie Safarova
Second-round match to watch: Caroline Wozniacki vs. Sloane Stephens. Sloane has to be better against Caro than she was in Miami...right?
Already out: Is the grass magic fading for Alison Riske? She lost today to Kerber.
Aegon International (ATP)
$682,688; 250 ranking points
Draw is here
Here we have a tournament. No player stands out, interest-wise. None of them appear to be serious threats next week at Wimbledon. None are returning from a major injury that I can see. None are prodigies on the rise. None are legends on their last legs. The top two seeds are Richard Gasquet and Alexandr Dolgopolov, entertaining underachievers from way back. The defending champion is Feliciano Lopez, who is 32. The young English hope, Kyle Edmund, has already been snuffed out in the first round by Sam Querrey. Even the guy whose wife is his coach, and who thus has been a subject of discussion by British journalists recently, Mikhail Kukushkin, has been eliminated. The most intriguing first-round match looks like Donald Young vs. James Ward.
But there is always Bernie Tomic to keep us guessing.
Second-round match to watch: Gasquet vs. Tomic
Best Name: Blaz Rola
Topshelf Open (WTA)
Draw is here
It’s going to be interesting to see what Simona Halep, the top seed and new world No. 3, does here, for two reasons. First, she’s coming off a momentous fortnight in Paris, and she’s struggled after successful events earlier this year. Second, she’s moving over to grass. In theory, her athleticism and easy shot-making should translate well on turf, where movement rules. But in practice that hasn’t been the case—she lost in the first and second rounds at Wimbledon the last two years. In 2013, she had to play Li Na early; this time she'll get a better draw. This week Halep starts against Olga Govortsova, and is in the same section as her semifinal opponent in Paris, Andrea Petkovic.
Genie Bouchard and Garbine Muguruza: As with Halep, these two Parisian breakouts will make their transitions to grass. They could meet in the quarters.
Doninika Cibulkova: Can the second-seeded Domi get her early-season mojo back, or did she over play?
Michaella Krajicek: The wild card won her first round today, and then accepted a marriage proposal on court. Not a bad day’s work for the 25-year-old, oft-injured veteran.
Topshelf Open (ATP)
$579,056; 250 ranking points
Draw is here
Like the Eastbourne men’s draw, this one, while perfectly blameless, lacks a certain something. With Ferrer’s withdrawal, the 81st-ranked Italian Paolo Lorenzi takes his place as a lucky loser, and Fernando Verdasco ascends to top seed.
Also here: Roberto Bautista Agut, Vasek Pospisil, Dmitry Tursunov, Jurgen Melzer
Victoria Azarenka vs. Camila Giorgi: Proceedings in Eastbourne will kick off with Vika’s return. These two have never played.
Petra Kvitova vs. Lucie Safarova: Petra is 5-0 against her countrywoman and fellow lefty.
Jelena Jankovic vs. Madison Keys: JJ won their only match, 6-3, 6-4, at last year’s U.S. Open.
On This Day
The tennis world looked toward the British Isles on Monday, and so does the literary world. June 16 is Bloomsday, the 24 hours in Dublin narrated by James Joyce in Ulysses. I loved the book in college, when I read it with a professor's help. But when I picked it up today, I found my mind wandering by the time I was halfway through the first page. There's always next June 16 to tray again.
Go here for a stream of a Bloomsday reading from Manhattan on Monday evening.