The Week in Preview: Stuttgart & Barcelona


Nobody ever confused Maria Sharapova with Rafael Nadal, but in her own way she’s built a modest fortress of clay in recent years. Her record at this tournament is a perfect 8-0, and she’s going for a three-peat. As usual, Stuttgart boasts a strong field, but it won’t be anything like the 64-player celebration of Spanish clay-court tennis in Barcelona. For one thing, the host nation has struggled to produce Top 10-quality players since the days of Steffi Graf. For another, Stuttgart touts a 32-player draw that’s proven comfy for the top stars. A title run by a top four seed requires just four wins, thanks to the first-round byes awarded to the the elite quartet. This tournament, the baby of renowned and controversial promoter Ion Tiriac, embodies his vision of reducing draws to accommodate fewer but higher-quality players. Top Half: Agnieszka Radwanska is the top seed, but she’s been spinning her wheels lately. The former Wimbledon finalist and one-time world No. 2 hasn’t won an event since last September in Seoul. Most recently, she was unable to win Katowice in her native Poland despite being by far the highest-ranked player in the draw. Sure, the weight of expectations was heavy, but ultimately, Radwanska misfired against Alize Cornet in the semis. The good news for Radwanska in Stuttgart is that shell face either the rapidly-fading Roberta Vinci or a qualifier in her first match. The bad news for her is that she could get Sharapova—down to WTA No. 9, and the sixth seed here—in the third round. Still, Radwanska is better off getting Sharapova before the defending champion gets a chance to dial in her game. The Russian hasn’t won a tournament since this one last year, and this will be her 2014 clay-court debut. Germany’s own Angelique Kerber is the other beneficiary of the four-bye set-up. The No. 4 seed will have to contend with the likes of Carla Suarez Navarro, Caroline Wozniacki, and Sara Errani in her quarter of the top half. She won’t survive the quality.