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Briefs from Birmingham 2014: Big wins for Bencic and Duval

Belinda Bencic pumps her fist after winning a point during her opening round Juniors match.
by Michael Beattie
Monday 9 June 2014

The first match on a grass court after two months spent sliding on clay is perhaps the trickiest proposition on the tennis calendar. Day one of the Aegon Classic spelt out exactly what that challenge entails as last year’s finalist fell in the first round, and Great Britain’s Katy Dunne succumbed to injury as the shadows lengthened. Wimbledon.com reports...

Major headlines

An upgrade to WTA Premier status appears to have upgraded the weather at Edgbaston as the rain just about held off during the first matches out on court. Not that Donna Vekic was happy about the patchy conditions. The 2013 finalist turned to her team to complain about the grass as she struggled to contain fellow 17-year-old Belinda Bencic in the first match on Ann Jones Court. Coach David Felgate’s advice: “Grow up!”

It was Bencic who showed composure beyond her years, however. The Swiss world No.77 dubbed the ‘Next Martina Hingis’ refused to cave when Vekic broke back to level at 4-4 in the first, breaking once more before serving the set out and moving ahead early in the second set en route to a comfortable 6-4 6-4 win.

Bencic’s reward is a second-round tie with Daniela Hantuchova, the defending champion at Edgbaston – not that she’ll be intimidated by the occasion.

"I try not to be anymore,” she said. “I had a lot of experiences where I played like Serena or Venus Williams, so I know already now what I have to do. I just have to be focused on my game and just play aggressive. 

It was a fine day for the Americans in Birmingham, with wins for all six in action on day one. After a slow start, Varvara Lepchenko raced clear of Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck to win 6-4 6-0 in the first result of the day, and was soon joined by Lauren Davis – a 6-3 3-6 6-2 winner over Tamira Paszek – and Coco Vandeweghe, who beat Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan 6-4 7-5. Alison Riske, Victoria Duval – more on them later – and Madison Keys rounded off the sweep, Keys seeing off Brazil’s Teliana Pereira 6-3 6-3.

On Ann Jones, former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone eased to a 6-3 6-4 victory over China’s Zheng Jie before Mona Barthel booked a showdown with top seed Ana Ivanovic with a 6-1 6-4 win against Croatia’s Ajla Tomljanovic. Kristina Mladenovic looked to be on course for the second round before Shahar Peer turned the match on its head to advance 4-6 6-2 6-2.

The day ended on a sad note as British qualifier Katy Dunne’s impressive week in Birmingham was cut short by a hip flexor injury. Having won the opening set of her first ever match in a WTA main draw event, Dunne struggled to keep moving against Italy’s Camila Giorgi, who led by a break when Dunne called it quits trailing 4-6 6-1 2-1.

Able to smile afterwards, Dunne said: “Before the match I knew it would be very tough. No one could see it but I had a lot of tape on to try and hold it together.

“I never expected to get the first set so I didn’t think it would be a three-set match, and once it went into the third set, the smart decision was to pull out. I don’t want to make it worse before Wimbledon.

“I expected to be rolled over a little bit - I was a bit surprised! But I’m really starting to believe I belong with the girls out there. I just need to do a lot more hard training, and hopefully I can do what I’ve done this week one a hard court or clay court.”

Biggest upset

Victoria Duval – remember her? The Haitian-born American teen who stunned Samantha Stosur at the 2013 US Open traded Flushing Meadows for leafy Edgbaston on Monday, taking down 13th seed Caroline Garcia 6-2 6-4.

On her second service point of the match, Duval flubbed the first delivery into the bottom of the net, only to follow it up with a second-serve ace. That set the tone for a frustrating afternoon for Garcia, who tried all she could think of to throw Duval off her game. Time and time again, however, the 18-year-old responded.

After racing through the first set, Duval faced the best Garcia had to offer at the start of the second, surviving a string of break points to hold at 1-1. The game knocked the wind out of the Frenchwoman, who gave up consecutive breaks to leave Duval on the brink of victory. There was a hiccup when serving for the match at 5-2 before Duval duly closed out at the second time of asking, treating the crowd to that New York hop and smile as she ran to meet Garcia at the net 

Duval faces compatriot Lauren Davis in the second round on Tuesday. 

Best match

A towering performance from former Aegon Classic finalist Yanina Wickmayer, who rolled back the years to make Bojana Jovanovski the first seeded casualty at this year’s tournament in a tight 6-4 6-4 defeat.

The Serbian 10th seed spent most of the match blunting the power of a Wickmayer, who set up the crucial first-set break with a stunning forehand pass on the run before moving 4-3 ahead. Jovanovski fought to the last but could not find a way to break down the fired-up Belgian after she hit the front in the second set, striking the ball with a fluidity that has so often been lacking this season. Wickmayer faces Coco Vandeweghe in the second round as she bids to post back-to-back WTA Tour wins for the first time since Doha.

Unsung hero

When the qualifiers were added to the main draw on Sunday, Nadiia and Lyudmyla Kichenok surely could not have believed their luck. The Ukrainian twin sisters, identical in all but racket, were scheduled to play at the same time. What’s more, had both won, a second-round showdown beckoned.

“I thought, ‘if we both win today, one of us will be in the third round’,” said Nadiia, taking the positives from the potential showdown. “We haven’t played since a very long time ago, and it could have been an exciting match.”

Sadly, it was not to be. Lyudmyla, world No. 172, stayed in touch with two-time Edgbaston semi-finalist Alison Riske in the first set but faded to a 7-6 6-3 defeat. Moments later two courts away, Nadiia lost her first set in a tie-break against Canada’s Sharon Fichman.

“I was creating the chances in the first set, but I was not finishing them,” Kichenok admitted later. “The next two sets, that was my goal.”

In that case, mission accomplished. Nadiia refused to go lightly, breaking back after slipping behind to earn a second tie-break. Having won that, she snatched her only break point of the final set to seal a 6-7 7-6 6-3 victory in two hours 39 minutes.

It was a gutsy performance, and one that gives Nadiia the chance to settle two scores in the second round – one for her sister, and one for herself. “I played Alison in Miami this year – I just didn’t close the match out then. I was 6-1 5-1 up and I lost the 1-6 7-5 6-2. I just need to do what I was doing in that match and be more determined on the crucial points.”

Another bonus: her coach, whom she shares with Lyudmyla, will be back in her corner when she returns on Wednesday. “It was tough for him today – he thought he should have been broken apart!”

They said

“I didn’t want karma to bite me in the bum” – Katy Dunne explains why she remained low key after winning her first set in a WTA main draw match against Italy’s Camila Giorgi. The British qualifier came into the match nursing an injured hip flexor, which forced her retirement at the start of the third set.

“Our matches are nervous between the two of us, because we want to win, it’s normal. But for our parents it’s relaxed. One of us is going to win” – Nadiia Kichenok says there were no family feuds when she played twin sister Lyudmyla in the past 

Best tweet

Tomorrow’s action

Dunne may have fallen valiantly but the Brits return with a vengeance tomorrow. Heather Watson takes on Canadian qualifier Aleksandra Wozniak in the second match on Ann Jones Court, while Court One kicks things off with Johanna Konta facing Kurumi Nara of Japan, followed by Naomi Broady’s showdown with Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.

After Watson-Wozniak on Ann Jones, top seed Ana Ivanovic makes her return to the Priory for the first time since 2011. The Serbian will face Germany’s Mona Barthel before defending champion Daniela Hantuchova takes on Belinda Bencic

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