France’s Caroline Garcia against Croatia’s Donna Vekic in the women’s singles final during day nine of the Nottingham Cup Open tennis championship in Nottingham, England, Sunday June 16, 2019. Garcia went on to win the trophy. (Tim Goode/PA via AP)
France’s Caroline Garcia against Croatia’s Donna Vekic in the women’s singles final during day nine of the Nottingham Cup Open tennis championship in Nottingham, England, Sunday June 16, 2019. Garcia went on to win the trophy. (Tim Goode/PA via AP)|Associated Press

Tennis Thursday: Abrams picks Nature Valley and Mallorca – with Osaka, Barty, Venus, Sharapova, Bencic, Garcia, Anisimova, more

Matches start at 6:30 am EDT in England and 6 am EDT in Spain

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

WTA Women’s Tour
Nature Valley Classic
Birmingham, Great Britain

Ash Barty over Jennifer Brady
Three months ago in the California dessert Ash Barty ran all over American Jennifer Brady 3 and 2 on the hard courts there. Here on grass I expect a similar result, as Barty’s varied, all-court game will prove too tough for the American. Barty’s ability to mix up spins and speeds, along with the depth of her shots, gives her a big advantage over most of the women on the WTA Tour who are used to just setting up shop on the baseline and banging groundies back and forth. Barty’s mix is not only impressive, but very effective, and should be too much for Brady.

Naomi Osaka over Yulia Putintseva
Putintseva beat Naomi Osaka 18 months ago when they played for their only time, on hard courts in Hobart, Australia. The tennis world is a different place today than it was back then, since Osaka won two straight Grand Slam titles and is the No. 1 player in the world. Osaka is especially good at banging from the baseline, as she is probably the premier Power Baseliner in the women’s game today. Her power and depth of shot should be too much for Putintseva, and I’d expect Osaka to simply overpower her opponent, now that she’s more relaxed than she’s been in ten months.

Julia Goerges over Evgeniya Rodina
German Julia Goerges has had a nice 2019. She’s seeded No. 8 here, and ranked No. 19 in the world, achieved mostly by playing a packed schedule to gather as many ranking points as possible. She should be able to hold off Evgeniya Rodina, ranked No. 76, with strong, deep groundies. Yet Goerges will also try to mix in slices and some drop shots, just to keep the 30-year-old Russian off balance, and the change of pace should be very effective on the grass. These two haven’t played since 2010, but they’ve split their two matches against each other, so this battle should be very competitive.

Venus Williams over Qiang Wang
Even pushing 40, Venus Williams is very dangerous, particularly on grass. Her serve is not the dominating weapon she had twenty years ago, but she has learned to slice it off the deuce court, which is particularly effective on this surface. She’s also adept at slicing backhands as approach shots, and when Venus is at net, she’s pretty intimidating for the other women on the Tour, because she’s 6’2” and when she stretches her arms wide she seems to be able to cover the whole court, from sideline to sideline. Wang does have a win against the older Williams, but Venus holds two wins over Wang, and the only time they played on grass, at Wimbledon in 2017, Venus pulled out a win, 6-1 in the third. I’d expect a match result somewhat like that one: a three setter, with Venus taking the last point.

Mallorca Open
Mallorca, Spain

Angie Kerber over Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova took a wild card to get a match or two in before Wimbledon, and in her first match since the Australian Open in January, she was triumphant with a win over Viktoria Kuzmova. But that doesn’t mean that she’s ready for Angie Kerber, the 6th ranked player in the world. Sharapova has had a series of injuries, mostly in her right shoulder, and her serve hasn’t been the same. Still, she’s 6’2,” and if she just gets the ball in the court, the angles she gets generally make her serve one of the more tricky ones on the WTA Tour to return. Sharapova also likes to crunch her groundies, and for some reason thinks that the louder she grunts the harder she’ll hit the ball. Unfortunately for her, she’s inconsistent off the ground, and she doesn’t come in to the net enough to have perfected that part of her game. With the lack of experience, especially lately, I’ve gotta believe that Angie Kerber will take this match in pretty easy fashion. My only concern for Kerber is that she does tend to get a bit anxious, and if she’s nervous in any way, that will hurt her game and be an equalizer.

Belinda Bencic over Shelby Rogers
Belinda Bencic, the new Swiss Miss, was playing great ball earlier this year. I remember thinking that she was going to break thorough in a Grand Slam event in 2019, as I watched her play in Indian Wells. But an injury and fatigue killed her momentum, and she’s back trying to win matches and regain her confidence in order for her to compete against the very best on Tour. With that said, she’s 30-11 so far in 2019, and it’s hard to argue with numbers. American Shelby Rogers is not on the same level as Bencic, with a YTD record of only 4-6 after her first round win over Shuai Zhang, and is not particularly good on grass. I think Bencic will win this match with little or no difficulty, as they all prepare for the Big One, which starts July 1.

Caroline Garcia over Paula Badosa
Paula Badosa, the Spanish rookie who was a world Junior champion, had a great first round win over American Alison Riske, who was coming off winning the championship in last week’s tournament in The Netherlands, where she beat Kiki Bertens in the finals after being down match points in both the finals and the semifinals! Frankly, Badosa’s win took me by surprise, but it just shows that, although Riske might have been fatigued, Badosa is ready for the grown-up Tour. Still, I wouldn’t give her much chance against the veteran Caroline Garcia, who fought through a very tough three set win over former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in her first round match here on the grass. That win against Vika is worth more than just a few thousand dollars and some ranking points. It’s good for the confidence, and Garcia should have enough now to just play her game and roll over Badosa.

Amanda Anisimova over Alize Cornet
Who would have thought that 17-year-old American Amanda Anisimova would have compiled an impressive enough resume for her to be seeded at Wimbledon this year? She just keeps surprising, and her run to the semis in Paris, where she lost to eventual champion Ash Barty, was incredibly impressive, especially for a player who is still working on her shot production, so much so, that when she gets all her shots ripe, she’ll be awfully hard to beat anywhere, anytime, on any surface. While her movement is terrific, and her groundstrokes are bombs, she needs to work on both her first and second serves and her volleys, along with an approach shot off of each side, and strategy and tactics, which will become more important as she plays the best players week in and week out. Alize Cornet, the 56th ranked player from France, will present the young American with a serious challenge, and I am anxious to see how she handles the veteran. Athletically, Anisimova should roll over Cornet, but she’s still only 17, and she’s capable at any time of throwing in a dud. I just don’t think it’ll be in this match.

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