What's at Stake: The women kick off their spring swing in Stuttgart

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Simona Halep is hoping for a big clay-court season in 2018. (AP)

So far the clay season has gone according to plan: i.e., Rafael Nadal has won his 11th title in Monte Carlo, without dropping a set. This week the women kick off their own spring swing through Europe in Stuttgart, while the top men go deeper into dirt in Barcelona. Here’s a look at how those draws may play out, and who else might throw his or her hat into the Roland Garros ring.

Porsche Tennis Grand Prix (WTA)

Stuttgart, Germany

$816,000; Premier

Indoor red clay

Draw is here

As far as settings go, the WTA’s clay-swing opener can’t compete with the ATP’s. While the men look over the Mediterranean in Monte Carlo, the women are holed up in a dark and boxy arena in Germany. As far as fields go, though, the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix has a higher quality-to-quantity ratio. Stuttgart’s 28 players include four of the tour’s current Top 5: Simona Halep, Garbiñe Muguruza, Elina Svitolina, and Jelena Ostapenko. The second four seeds—Karolina Pliskova, Caroline Garcia, Sloane Stephens, and Petra Kvitova—aren’t too shabby, either. Whoever gets around the track first wins a Porsche, and grabs the early pole position in the race to Roland Garros.

Of note: Maria Sharapova, three-time Stuttgart champion, is here with Thomas Hogstedt, the man who coached her to the French Open title in 2012.

A draw this jammed is bound to have some eye-catching first-round match-ups:

Kvitova vs. Angelique Kerber

Daria Kasatkina vs. Magdalena Rybarikova

Stephens vs. CoCo Vandeweghe

Julia Goerges vs. Anastasija Sevastova

Garcia vs. Sharapova

Karolina Pliskova vs. Charleston champ Kiki Bertens

Potential second-round match to watch: Muguruza vs. Madison Keys

WATCH - Tennis Channel Live Discusses Maria Sharapova: 

Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell (ATP)

Barcelona, Spain

$3,100,000; 500 ranking points

Red clay

Draw is here

Once upon a time, the 500 event in Barcelona stood deep in the shadows of the Masters 1000 in Monte Carlo that preceded it. Barcelona, with its high percentage of Spanish players, was essentially Nadal’s backyard party. Now that the Banc Sabadell has more than $3 million in prize money to offer, though, Rafa has some high-level company. This year that will include Grigor Dimitrov, Dominic Thiem, David Goffin, Pablo Carreño Busta, Kei Nishikori, Hyeon Chung, and, for the first time since 2006, Novak Djokovic.

Will Rafa show any vulnerability at all heading to Paris? You might think, coming off five matches in as many days in Monaco, this would be the week we’d see it. But we’ve said that many times before, and then watched him steamroll through another Barcelona draw.

Potential third-round match to watch: Nadal vs. Nishikori

Potential quarterfinal to watch: Nadal or Nishikori vs. Djokovic

Most intriguingly named wild card: Pedro Martinez

WATCH - Destination Tennis looks at Barcelona Real Club de Tennis: 

Ten BNP Paribas Istanbul Cup (WTA)

Istanbul, Turkey

$250,000; International

Red clay

Draw is here

Who is the missing Top 5 player in Stuttgart? That would be Caroline Wozniacki, who has traveled to Istanbul instead—you didn’t really think she was taking the week off, did you? The Australian Open champion is the top seed at this 32-player clay event, followed by Svetlana Kuznetsova and Agnieszka Radwanska.

Gazprom Hungarian Open (ATP)

Budapest, Hungary

$850,000; 250 ranking points

Red clay

Draw is here

Lucas Pouille may have been the disappointment of the week in Monte Carlo. Playing in front of a home crowd, after getting off to a fast start in 2018, he went out in the opening round at a tournament where he had reached the semifinals in 2017. This week Pouille will try to reset in Budapest, where he’s the top seed, followed by Damir Dzumhur, Richard Gasquet, and Denis Shapovalov.












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