By Ros Satar, in Birmingham

  • Johanna Konta v Petra Kvitova
  • Heather Watson v Lesia Tsurenko
BIRMINGHAM, UK – Johanna Konta and Heather Watson get their campaigns underway in Birmingham.

 

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Johanna Konta v Petra Kvitova [4] | H2H: Kvitova leads 2-1

Johanna Konta in the second round of the Nature Valley Open, WTA Nottingham 2018

Johanna Konta in the second round of the Nature Valley Open, WTA Nottingham 2018 | (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

After all the drama of the Nottingham final where Johanna Konta let her frustration come t the fore at the end of what had been a thrilling final, we are back to business at Birmingham. What we have a step up in the Premier level field, and as such there are no easy matches as Konta draws defending champion Petra Kvitova.

The Czech had a remarkable clay court swing, going for 13 matches unbeaten before bowing out in the third round of Roland Garros. It left Kvitova spent ahead of her favourite surface.

She said, in her pre-tournament press conference: “It was pretty… good (smiling) and tough clay season for me this year. I felt really exhausted a little bit, physically and mentally as well. So, I needed a little bit of [a] break to be ready for the grass. You know if I’m not really enjoying tennis it’s really tough to play then, so being on the grass and not enjoying the tennis will be very interesting (laughs), so I’m happy it’s not happening.”

Last year she won the tournament in just her second tournament back after a horrific knife attack almost ended her career, but now the circle is complete, and the mind-set is both thankful that she was able to resume her tennis career, but also business as usual.

Petra Kvitova at the 2017 Aegon Classic WTA Birmingham © Jimmie48 Photography

“This time it’s different than compared to last time. You know last time I was really just enjoying being on the grass playing tennis. I [wasn’t] really thinking about anything else so it was just the pure happiness. This time it’s a little bit different of course. I mean the pressure is there, I played well so far this season so far, so of course the expectation is a little bit different but I’m still thinking like it’s a good preparation for ‘Wimby’, it’s great to be on the grass again.”

 

Although she is a two-time Wimbledon champion, her only encounter with Konta was on the grass in Eastbourne two years ago, where she lost in three sets – and it is not something sge hasw forgotten.

“I wish I can’t remember anything, but I do remember something… (laughs). Well I do remember that she served really well, which I can’t do anything against. So I’m going to need to be focusing on myself and waiting for some chances, if they come. Hopefully they will, but I think that she’s really playing kind of good tactics, playing what she can from the base line. She doesn’t give any time to the opponent, so this probably will be the same tomorrow.”

Konta, with the benefit of hindsight, could at least take some positives from the match on Sunday, battles with umpires notwithstanding.

“I know she’s playing very well. She’s been having an incredible season so far. So, I’m going to playing against a very in-form Petra, which is a great challenge for me, great opportunity as well to really see well I can compete and just leave it all out there.”

They both have decent serves, although Konta’s leftie serve is maybe a little more troublesome to deal with. Konta has been coming forward a lot more and that was noticeable in Nottingham, and Kvitova acknowledged that perhaps Konta’s movement might give her the edge.

This is a tough one to call – Konta is a lot more match fit that Kvitova, who has looked relaxed during her training. The edge probably should go to the No. 4 seed who has the confidence of a lot of match wins this year, while Konta has maybe turned a corner in Nottingham but it might not be enough.

Prediction: Kvitova in three sets.

 

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Heather Watson v Lesia Tsurenko | Tied at 1-1

Heather Watson in the second round of the Nature Valley Open, WTA Nottingham 2018

Heather Watson in the second round of the Nature Valley Open, WTA Nottingham 2018 | (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images for LTA)

Hot on the heels of reaching the doubles final, while British No. 2 Heather Watson is still hunting for some form, she picked up another win after a bit of a bleak streak since the start of the year.

Grass is a surface that suits Watson down to the ground. While she can defend ably, her more aggressive play gets rewarded and her movement and agility can work wonders as we have seen before. Although the pair are tied, Watson’s win was on grass last year in Eastbourne in a tough three setter.

This is Lesia Tsurenko’s first tournament since she had to withdraw after pulling up injured just two games into her fourth-round match. She can swing from focussed to downright temperamental and if Watson can frustrate her, it could open the door for a couple of wins here.

Prediction: Watson in three sets.

 

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