Edgbaston Priory Tennis Club in Birmingham took the centre stage of the WTA tour this week with the much anticipated Aegon Classic. Despite withdrawals of Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova (amongst others), the WTA’s premier event didn’t fail to impress the spectators. Yet the tournament has had little media attention, with most of the tennis focus this week on Halle and Queen’s. In fact, it wasn’t until the final – and Petra Kvitova’s remarkable journey back from her career-threatening injury – that the tournament received the credit and coverage it deserved.
Top seeds performing ahead of Wimbledon
The first WTA Premier event on the grass courts had some big names, despite heavy drop-outs. Among the seeds were Elina Svitolina, fresh from her Quarter Final appearance at the French Open, Garbine Muguruza and Petra Kvitova. Other star attractions included Kiki Mladenovic, Lucie Safarova, Dominika Cibulkova and Johanna Konta.
And while the BBC’s focus was solely on Queen’s (where the top 3 seeds all tumbled in the first round), the Aegon Classic saw some brilliant tennis by all the top players.
Elina Svitolina defeated British wild card Heather Watson in three stunning sets to record only her fifth grass court victory of her career, while the battle of the former Grand Slam finalists saw Lucie Safarova save match points to defeat 3rd seed Cibulkova in a marathon three-setter.Embed from Getty Images
CoCo Vandeweghe showed she’s ready for the grass with a stunning second round victory over Johanna Konta, while Garbine Muguruza showed signs she could mount a serious challenge at Wimbledon again with some fantastic early performances.
Safarova and Gavrilova delight crowd with Quarter Final marathon
The opening match of Quarter Final day saw Lucie Safarova take on Daria Gavrilova. Despite its early billing, it easily took the Game of the Tournament thanks to the commitment and unbelievable rallies both women played. The crowd were engrossed by the tie, with hard hitting and stunning winners from both players on display.
The first set last more than an hour and saw Safarova break Gavrilova’s serve as the Aussie was serving for the set at 5-4. Despite the revival, Dasha took the first set on the tie break, even with the Czech’s best efforts to reduce her opponent’s lead from 6-0 to 6-4 in the breaker.
After a more straightforward second set, both players showed strength in character to deliver a memorable final set worth of any Grand Slam final.
Going to a tiebreak, fans were on their feet as both players played out an epic point, with drop shots galore. Safarova won that point and, after a minute’s applause, the crowd couldn’t contain their laughter as the umpire declared the score 1-1.Embed from Getty Images
Maybe that point was decisive as Lucie went onto win the tiebreak and the match, but it’s fair to say both players won the hearts of the Birmingham crowd.
Barty makes her name on the British grass
The 2011 Junior Wimbledon champion, Ashleigh Barty, is having a breakthrough year on the WTA tour. Having won her maiden WTA title in Kuala Lumpur earlier this year, Barty surprised the Birmingham crowds by reaching the final.
She caused an upset in the second round, defeating two-time runner-up Barbora Strycova and was impressive in the Quarter Finals against Camila Giorgi (Giorgi retired at 2-5). But it was her Semi Final performance against former French Open champion and Wimbledon runner-up, Garbine Muguruza, that people started to take notice, coming back from a set down to win 3-6 6-4 6-3.
In the final, despite taking the first set, Barty didn’t have enough to beat Petra Kvitova. But this amazing run will see Ashleigh rise to a new career high ranking of 54 and with it renewed expectation on her feet.Embed from Getty Images
Whether Barty will be able to relish this is a tricky one; everyone knows her background of leaving tennis for cricket. However, with a recaptured love for tennis and the return of her formidable doubles partnership with Casey Dellacqua, Barty is looking like the real deal. Hopefully, she will head to Wimbledon with the optimism that she could pull off a Jelena Ostapenko and stun the world, as it should not be ruled out.
Kvitova fairytale has happy ending
Of course, we have to talk about Petra Kvitova. The two-time Wimbledon champion proved how much of an inspiration she is this week after taking the title. It’s hard to believe she’s been through such a career and life-threatening injury, the psychological effects going far beyond the injuries. But she did and with it proved why the WTA tour needs players like Kvitova.
Her power, serve and shot selection were impressive throughout and she looked awesome in the first set of her semi final against a heavily strapped and ultimately injured Lucie Safarova.
It was a dream to play on tennis this year. I made it
Her final performance against Barty wasn’t without nerves. She had to dig deep and show her determination to pull it around. But with a 13th ace, Kvitova took her 20th, and surely most impressive, career title. Now the Wimbledon favourite, Kvitova will no doubt have her feet on the ground and cherish such an astonishing result.Embed from Getty Images
Petra, you are a true great and inspiration to us all. Výborně!