First Ball In, 6/19: Counter Intelligence
Caroline Wozniacki knows her way around Eastbourne—she won the title in 2009 and relaxes by running various routes along the sea. Today, Wozniacki used her sharp sense of re-direction and strong finishing kick to rally past Camila Giorgi, 6-7 (7), 6-4, 6-2.
It was an entertaining match featuring crackling rallies, spirited comebacks, both women chirping at chair umpire Alison Hughes after overrules, and a sudden suspension of play for several minutes as medical staff attended to a fan who fell ill in the stands.
The medical time-out came with Giorgi leading 4-3 in second set. When play resumed, the lithe Italian, so light on her feet it sounds like she was playing in ballet slippers, glided to net and dipped a backhand volley for break point. Wozniacki whipped a second serve into the body, jamming Giorgi to deny the break, and eventually held with a forehand winner. Giorgi hits harder, but Wozniacki plays cleaner.
Wozniacki won six of the next seven games after play resumed to take charge. The flashy Giorgi hit more than twice as many winners (47 to 22), but committed three times as many errors (42 to 14) than the steady Dane.
Giorgi, a fine volleyer who was 26 of 33 at net, has all-court skills, but dumbs down her game trying to strong-arm her way through problems with one blast. She stubbornly refused to alter her aggressive return position, crouching a few feet inside the baseline to return Wozniacki's second serve. The eighth seed made her pay for that predictibility, shrewdly banging the body serve on crucial points, in saving seven of eight break points.
Wozniacki was also resourceful from the baseline—she used a lob-drop volley combination to break for 5-4 in the second set—served 78 percent, and won 77 percent of her second serve points in avenging a 2013 U.S. Open loss.
Joao Sousa started June searching for his first career grass-court win. Now he's one win from his first grass-court final in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
The Portuguese qualifier did not drop serve in drilling Dutch wild card Thiemo de Bakker in 58 minutes to score his fifth victory of the week. It's quite a run for a player who stranded on the scrap heap of eight straight first-round losses earlier this spring. Sousa earned his first lawn win 10 days ago in Halle, then took the opening set from Roger Federer before falling to the six-time champion. Survival skills helped Sousa make history nine months ago as he saved match point to become the first Portuguese to win an ATP title.
Sousa's grass game has looked sharper than Portugal's World Cup team, overwhelmed in its opener by Germany. He will meet 83rd-ranked German Benjamin Becker, the 2009 champion, for a spot in the final.
Playing against good friend and frequent practice partner Lauren Davis, Keys commanded play with her serve and finished with her forehand, surrendering just three games. Keys, who beat Jelena Jankovic for her second Top 10 win in the opening round, faces British wild card Heather Watson in Friday's semifinals. Watson took a walkover from Petra Kvitova to become the first British semifinalist in Eastbourne since Jo Durie in 1982.
Vandeweghe was down 2-5 and later faced set point at 5-6, but won 10 of the last 12 games to defeat Roland Garros quarterfinalist Garbine Muguruza, 7-6 (3), 6-1, to reach her first semifinal since 2012. The world No. 69, who leads the WTA in first-serve points won (75 percent), permitted only four points on her first serve. Including an ITF Challenger in Nottingham, Vandeweghe has already played 10 matches on grass this month, and it shows on serve. She's averaging 14 aces a match and 82 percent first-serve points won during her run to the semifinals, where she'll face Klara Koukalova. The No. 8 seed came back from a set and 3-5 down to edge Vandeweghe, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4 in Birmingham last week.
(5) Angelique Kerber vs. (8) Caroline Wozniacki: Quick counter-punchers meet for the first time on grass. The left-handed German, a 2012 Eastbourne finalist and Wimbledon semifinalist, should be confident after breaking Ekaterina Makarova six times in a 64-minute win. Kerber will want to hit her forehand up the line at times to test the 2009 champion's weaker wing. Wozniacki, who has served with precision this week, will try to use her down-the-line backhand to change direction in running rallies. Kerber has won four of their seven meetings; they've split the last two.
(1) Richard Gasquet vs. Denis Istomin: Two-time tournament champion Gasquet possesses more variety, which he'll want to use to displace Istomin, and is typically more effective in the front court. A two-time Eastbourne semifinalist, the world No. 49 from Moscow is a rangy player who has broken seven times in his last two victories.
Magdalena Rybarikova vs. Zheng Jie: Neither woman likes to give up much ground behind the baseline, so court positioning is key. The 39th-ranked Slovak won their only prior grass-court match, 7-6 (10), 6-4, in Birmingham five years ago. The 5'4" Zheng hits the flat blasts that play well on grass: She reached the 2008 Wimbledon semifinals and swept successive grass-court doubles titles at 's-Hertogenbosch and Wimbledon in 2006.