The French Open is over which can mean only one thing. The grass court season has arrived. For players like Alison Riske, this signals the start of a short but vital part of the season where points and tournaments come thick and fast.
The destination pencilled into the American’s calendar every year is Nottingham. She has travelled to the city for the eighth consecutive year and is seeking to go one better than last year’s runner-up spot.
“I can just step on the grass and everything kind of falls into place.”
In 2016 she fell victim to the big-serving Karolina Pliskova, losing 7-6(8) 7-5 in the final. Regardless of last year’s result, her fondness for the venue means that confidence is sky high once again.
“I’ve been here first when it was a $50k and I always enjoy playing here. Obviously its on grass which I always enjoy so its a good week for me”, Riske explained.
“It’s a funny thing because I feel like I can just step on the grass and everything kind of falls into place.”
“One of my best clay court seasons”
The 26 year old comes into the tournament in respectable form, after posting her most successful clay court season to date. The American won consecutive matches on clay on the WTA Tour for the first time in her career after back-to-back wins over Elise Mertens and Kirsten Flipkens in Nurnberger.
“It was probably one of my best clay court seasons ever”, Riske declared proudly.
“I won a few matches which was great and Roland Garros obviously didn’t got as planned – it was a tough day for me – but all in all I was definitely proud of my effort and I hope I can continue playing well through the grass.”
Alison Riske vs Heather Watson
If she is to make headway in the Aegon Open draw then she is going to have to break British hearts. The draw has pitted Britain’s Heather Watson against Riske, a player who boasts a 2-0 head-to-head advantage ahead of this meeting.
Their last match was the semi-final of Hobart in 2015, a tournament that – much like Riske in Nottingham – Watson is particularly fond of. Their career paths have travelled in opposing directions since, with Watson tumbling out of the top 100 while Riske has cracked the top 50.
“It’s been a couple of years so a lot of things have changed during that time”, admits Riske.
“Obviously shes a great player and she has a lot of experience on the grass too. Anyone you play here is going to be tough so I’m just going to focus on myself and play as hard as I can.”
Watson’s experience on the grass cannot be understated though. A string of impressive results landed her a spot in the final of the $100k Surbiton. While she eventually lost in to Magdalena Rybarikova, Watson has played her way into a good vein of form ahead of this encounter.
Pretty much the first two faces you see when you walk onto the Nottingham site.
— Sam Barker (@sambarkersport) June 10, 2017
Last year Alison Riske came to Nottingham with a different schedule meaning she was able to play, and win, a tournament in Eastbourne before arriving. This year she has not had the luxury of a warm-up event, however she has been training at the National Tennis Centre, as well as arriving in Nottingham early to practice.
Alison Riske begins her WTA Aegon Open Nottingham campaign against Heather Watson on centre court on Tuesday.