With the Nature Valley Classic main draw just around the corner I took an in-depth look into the chances of some of the players going far on the grass this week.
Johanna Konta looks to kick on after a stellar clay court season.
Johanna Konta will be one of the main talking points of the grass-court swing, especially now that she has had a good clay-court season under her belt. In years gone by the Brit has often come into the grass with very few matches to work with, but it has been anything but this time around. She made the final in Rabat, where she lost out to Maria Sakkari of Greece, missed out in the Rome final, which was her biggest final to date, and then went on to make the semi-finals of the French Open. This marked the first time she’d made the second week of a major since her Wimbledon semi-final run a couple of years ago, and it was the first time she’d even managed to pick up one victory in the French Open main draw.
Is there a real reason to be optimistic about Konta excelling during this grass swing? I believe so. The Brit is one of the British players that tends to perform well in front of her home crowd and has the benefit of knowing she can do well under the biggest of pressure at Wimbledon, and now we are starting to see the Brit emerge from the tennis wilderness after two disappointing years on the whole. The difference now is that Konta is starting to see her commitment and dedication off the court translate into match wins on the court. The overall influence of her new coach Dimitri Zavialoff cannot be overlooked too. Zavialoff is a calming, reserved individual, who really allows Konta to really learn on the job and make those small mistakes in order to get better in the long run. Konta has mostly talked in recent weeks about accepting things on court but also trusting her overall game management within matches and we saw a lot of that during the semi-final run at the French Open.
Konta does go into Birmingham with a lot of expectation, but there is no reason why she can’t have another very successful run on the grass and potentially make her way back to where she belongs in the Top-10.
Naomi Osaka aims to rebound after a difficult stay in Paris at the French Open
A lot has changed for Naomi Osaka since she last appeared at the Nature Valley Classic. Since her Round of 16 showing this time last year she has since became a household name, winning two Grand Slam titles back-to-back and making her way to the top of the WTA rankings as a result. Osaka and grass hasn’t always been a love at first sight thing. The Japanese player has sometimes struggled with the adjustment of the lower bounce on this surface, but also mentally she’s still trying to get better and having a bit more belief in executing her game on a surface she’s not entirely comfortable with at present. Osaka starts her Birmingham campaign against World No.33 Maria Sakkari.
Ashleigh Barty begins her grass court campaign as she rides a seven match winning streak.
The second seed at the tournament in Birmingham is Australia’s Ashleigh Barty. Fresh from her French Open singles triumph she’ll be aiming to do more of the same as she digs her heels in the grass courts of the Edgbaston Priory Club. The Australian has played extremely well on these courts in the past having losing out in the final to Petra Kvitova two years ago, and she’s one of the seeds that will fancy her chances of going deep at Wimbledon. Barty’s variation on the backhand side is something that has always matched up well with the quicker grass courts. Not only does she have the different options at her disposal from the baseline, but she can serve her way out of danger regularly with a potent first serve and a strong forehand to go with it. The explosiveness of Barty’s game, but also the discipline she can often fall back on are two reasons why she’ll be tough to beat this week. Barty’s first round opponent will be Croatia’s Donna Vekic, who is more than capable of holding her own on a grass court and is doing well in Nottingham this week, a tournament she’s also won back in 2017.
Pliskova opens up against tricky left-hander Buzarnescu in Birmingham opener
The 3rd seed this week is Czech’s Karolina Pliskova, who took a late wildcard into the event just days ago. It will be ever so interesting to see what we get from Pliskova not just throughout this week but over the course of the grass court season. The Czech is one of the tallest players on tour and has often talked about her dislike of the tricky and low bounces on a grass court, but even then has still managed to bag a couple of grass court wins along the way, having won the Nottingham title in 2016 and won Eastbourne a year later. The question for Pliskova is really about how often she can get matches under her own control from the baseline. She can dominate and dictate play with her aggressive, flat groundstrokes that translate well all the time to the grass, but her main issues lie in being able to turn points around that aren’t necessarily in her own control. Trust in movement is always something that is key on this particular surface.
Fourth seed Svitolina in desperate need of match-confidence in Birmingham
The last of the seeds to talk about is Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina. The Ukrainian has had quite the torrid time of late on a tennis court, injuring her knee in February, then playing through it during the clay court phase and she’s posted some dismal results. She failed to get past the opening round in Madrid and Rome, where she was the two-time defending champion, and then only won a couple of rounds at the French Open. That would have disappointed Svitolina, who really banks on playing well during that time of the season, but now she moves onto the grass in Birmingham. Svitolina has struggled big time to get any momentum going on the grass and even last year she had second thoughts of playing Wimbledon to prioritise the hard-court swing. Svitolina is probably the most unlikely of the seeds to do well here because of her lack of match-wins on the grass, but she does have big match experience to fall back on to get her far. Svitolina has only won ten grass-court matches to date and plays Tashkent champion Margarita Gasparyan in the opening round this week.