For the full draw of this year’s tournament, please click here: WTA Porsche Tennis Grand Prix 2013 Draw
In 2012, the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix marked the start of Maria Sharapova’s greatest ever clay court season. The Russian powered past arch-rival Victoria Azarenka in the Stuttgart final twelve months ago to immediately announce herself as a top contender for the French Open, which she duly won six weeks later.
Sharapova is back in southern Germany this week to defend her title, and will be joined by six other top ten players. In fact, so strong is the 28-player field for the Premier event that Shuai Peng, ranked 34 in the world, has had to enter the qualifying draw. With Azarenka, Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska opting not to play, Sharapova will be favourite for the title, but she will have to be at peak form if she is to drive away in another Porsche next Sunday.
As a top four seed, the world number two receives a bye into the second round, where she will face one of two very capable competitors, Mona Barthel or Lucie Safarova. Sharapova has never played Barthel, whose form appears to have dipped again recently, but she lost to Safarova in their only previous clay court encounter in Madrid three years ago. The top seed could then face any one of Nadia Petrova, Ana Ivanovic or Andrea Petkovic in the quarter-finals. Petrova and Ivanovic have both been pretty inconsistent so far in 2013, while Petkovic, a crowd favourite wherever she plays, is on the comeback trail and needs a good result to boost her confidence.
The German number one, Angelique Kerber, is the third seed in Stuttgart, and could face a tough second round match with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a woman who has beaten her twice already this season. The winner of that clash could be pitched into a last eight meeting with Caroline Wozniacki, but clay is the Dane’s weakest surface, and she has the unenviable task of facing rising Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro in her opening match. Based on recent form, the player most likely to emerge from this section is Roberta Vinci. The Italian is at a career-high ranking of 12, following a superb run to the title in Katowice last week. Experienced, cool-headed and consistent, the 30-year-old is enjoying something of a late career renaissance, and will be confident of continuing her upward trajectory in Stuttgart.
Sam Stosur needs a good tournament. The Aussie hasn’t made an encouraging start to 2013, to say the least. A series of disappointing results were followed by an unpleasant calf injury that forced her out of Charleston two weeks ago and left her a doubt for Australia’s Fed Cup tie with Switzerland. Given that Stosur often needs an easy match to ease her way into a tournament, her prospects look bleak in Stuttgart, as she will play Jelena Jankovic in the first round. The Serb is another veteran who has been trending upwards recently, with a title win on the clay courts of Bogota, a semi-final showing in Miami and a runner-up finish in Charleston. She may be due for another implosion soon, but if Jankovic can keep her head together this week, she could well get the better of Stosur and her second round opponent, either the inconsistent Sabine Lisicki or a qualifier. The ensuing Jankovic-Sara Errani quarter-final would certainly be a fun match to watch.
The final section of the draw is headed by second seed Li Na, who has only played Miami since making the Australian Open final in January. The charismatic Chinese star might have had most success on hard courts, but she won the French Open in 2011, and is one of the few players on tour not intimated by Sharapova. Li should have a straightforward start to her Stuttgart campaign – she will play either a qualifier or Elena Vesnina in the second round – but she could run into Petra Kvitova in the last eight, provided the mercurial Czech can negotiate a way past Annika Beck and then, possibly, Julia Georges. Li versus Kvitova would be a must-see contest, worthy of a Grand Slam semi-final, and the winner would be favoured to make it all the way to the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix final.
This star-studded event is packed with intriguing match-ups and storylines. Sharapova, who hasn’t suffered a surprising loss all year, is a solid bet for the title, but the draw is littered with players who can cause her problems, especially if she is below par. Nevertheless, the defending champion has come a long way since her “cow on ice” days on clay, and a return to the Porsche Arena will bring back memories of the extraordinary success she had on the dirt last season. The desire to replicate that glory is all the motivation she needs.
Semi-final predictions: Sharapova def. Vinci; Li def. Errani
Champion: Maria Sharapova