The Aegon Classic Birmingham – a day-to-day account of the tournament.
Written by Jack Johnson and Edited by Tom Brown
An incredible week long taster of leading the lives of top tennis journalists came to a close on Sunday afternoon. From Monday 15th June to Sunday 21st, we were present to witness and cover events of the Aegon Classic in Birmingham, as members of the written press.
Formerly known as the ‘Birmingham Classic,’ the tournament based at Edgbaston’s Priory Club has been going for 34 years. Moreover, it has always featured some of the biggest names on the WTA tour. This year, the likes of Simona Halep, the world number three, Sabine Lisicki, former Wimbledon-finalist and winner in Birmingham in 2011, and Ana Ivanovic, last years winner at the Aegon Classic, and former champion at Roland Garros, graced the Ann Jones Centre Court. Whether based in the media centre or court-side, we were able to follow the action day-by-day up to and including the Pliskova vs. Kerber final on Sunday.
Day 1 – 15th June
There were few matches being played on the first day of the first round, but we were still kept very busy. 16-year-old British wildcard Katie Swan made her WTA debut against former Wimbledon semi-finalist Tsvetana Pironkova, and despite losing in straight sets, 6-2 6-2, she did herself proud and is certainly one to watch in the coming years.
The top four seeds, Simona Halep, Ana Ivanovic, Carla Suarez Navarro and Angelique Kerber, held pre-tournament press conferences, in which we spoke to and questioned each player. Halep discussed how she is happy to play in Birmingham, before then taking time off to focus for Wimbledon. Ivanovic stressed the importance that fitness has on the players, as much as technicalities. Navarro joked about British weather, and Kerber claimed luck has a role in grass tournaments because the surface is a “little bit tricky.”
Day 2 – 16th June
The second day saw British number one Heather Watson knocked out of the tournament in her first round match against Aleksandra Krunic. Also, the top seed Simona Halep defeated another British player, wildcard Naomi Broady, 6-4 6-2 in her second round match in the afternoon.
Other notable winners on this day included Victoria Azarenka, Jelena Jankovic and Karolina Pliskova amongst other seeded players. Although, Andrea Petkovic, the seventh seed, did not emerge victorious – she lost in three sets to Katerina Siniakova. The 19-year-old Czech who is ranked 75th in the world, won the second round meeting 4-6 6-1 7-6.
Day 3 – 17th June
This was potentially our busiest day at the tournament. A mixture of ups and downs and a couple of unpredictable, astonishing results caught many spectators off guard on Wednesday the 17th.
The 2014 champion and second seed, Ana Ivanovic, exited the tournament at the hand of first round qualifier Michelle Larcher de Brito, in a match that finished 6-4 3-6 7-6. We asked Ivanovic about her shock loss at her post-match press conference, and she explained how, ahead of Wimbledon, she had “ten days to really work hard.”
We also interviewed Larcher de Brito, who was thrilled to have reached the third round. Additionally, fifth seed Eugenie Bouchard was subject to an upset, being beaten by Kristina Mladenovic 6-3 4-6 6-0. Mladenovic also defeated Bouchard in the first round of this year’s French Open, and the Canadian is still struggling to find form in 2015, having lost 12 times in 19 matches.
Victoria Azarenka unfortunately withdrew from the tournament with a left-foot injury. She explained, in a press release, that practising did not “feel 100 percent” and that she did not want to “take a risk… before Wimbledon.”
A more positive notable event on the 17th was Sabine Lisicki’s record-breaking service performance against Belinda Bencic. The German hit 27 aces against her Swiss opponent, breaking the WTA record to advance into the third round.
Day 4 – 18th June
Despite being less dramatic than the previous day, Thursday 18th had some brilliant tennis on display. Simona Halep and Carla Suarez Navarro came through their third round matches comfortably to reach the quarter-finals. Czech players Karolina Pliskova and Katerina Siniakova also claimed their places, as did Kristina Mladenovic, Daniela Hantuchova and Sabine Lisicki.
The most anticipated match of the day was between Jelena Jankovic, seeded fifteenth, and German number one Angelique Kerber, however. It was not a close contest in the end. Jankovic, a winner in Birmingham in 2007, was unable to use her winning experience and it was a relatively easy victory in the end for Kerber, winning 6-4 6-2 in just 1 hour and 10 minutes.
Day 5 – 19th June
Quarter-finals day. Sixth seed Karolina Pliskova beat third seed Carla Suarez Navarro, but more surprisingly, Simona Halep conceded a place in the semi-finals by losing to Kristina Mladenovic. This was especially surprising considering Halep’s confidence going into the tournament and the fact she reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon last year. Some high seeds therefore getting knocked out.
Our other quarter-finals saw Angelique Kerber advance, along with Sabine Lisicki, to set up an exciting all-German affair in the second semi-final on the 20th. Lisicki said in her press conference that she was surprised to hear about her poor head-to-head against Kerber, having not beaten her in five attempts.
Day 7 – 20th June
The first semi-final began at 12:00pm, and was contested by Karolina Pliskova and Kristina Mladenovic. Pliskova started strongly; serving arguably the best she had all tournament, to claim the first set 6-2. The second set, despite Mladenovic’s best efforts, decided the match. Pliskova won the tie-break 8-6, therefore winning in two sets, 6-2 7-6, and booking herself a place in Sunday’s final.
Kerber and Lisicki’s game was more one-sided than we had expected. Kerber was getting low to all her shots and hitting everything back, and Lisicki’s 2013 Wimbledon final appearance and 2011 win at the Aegon Classic meant little, as she was defeated 6-3 6-3. This meant the final day was set. It would be fourth seed Angelique Kerber taking on sixth seed Karolina Pliskova for the tournament.
Day 8 – 21st June
Just before 13:00pm, we set up in the media centre and rushed out to the Ann Jones, ready for what we hoped would be an exhilarating final between Pliskova and Kerber. And the players certainly delivered.
Pliskova’s serve was broken in the first game of the match and Kerber held her advantage through the set. She was unable to convert any of her four set points, however, before Pliskova broke back. This eventually resulted in a tie-break which the Czech took control of, allowing her to take the first set.
Kerber made her mark in the second set. She refused to become complacent and stormed through, winning 6-3 to level the score in sets at 1-1.
The final set came to a gripping conclusion. It was close throughout and at a key moment late on, with the score at 5-6, Kerber held serve diligently to force another tie-break. In the tie-break, she then confirmed herself a first tournament win on grass, by winning 7-4, and claiming the match 6-7 6-3 7-6.
Working as media through the tournament was a wonderful experience and we thank the Edgbaston Priory Club and the LTA Media Office for making this possible. The Aegon tournament in Eastbourne is now under-way for many of the women on the WTA tour, with many out there making their final preparations for Wimbledon.