Teenager qualifier Marketa Vondrousova has impressed all week at the Ladies Open Biel-Bienne, but can she beat Anett Kontaveit and win a maiden title at just her second WTA event?
It’s a Ladies Open Biel-Bienne final of rising stars as Anett Kontaveit and Marketa Vondrousova face off for the title at the inaugural WTA Biel event.
Kontaveit, who is 20 years old and ranked world no. 99, was first into the Biel final after a dramatic three-set win over qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich. The Estonian was a talented junior and Orange Bowl champion and had her first real breakthrough on the WTA Tour in 2015, when she won the ITF $50k Eastbourne event and qualified for the US Open before beating Casey Dellacqua, 31st seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Madison Brengle to reach the round of 16 before losing to Venus Williams. As a result she finished 2015 inside the top 100, but didn’t manage to defend those points in 2016 and fell back outside the top 100 despite WTA semifinals at International events in Monterrey and Guangzhou and a quarterfinal showing in Nottingham.
Transitioning from ITF events on to the full-time WTA Tour is tough and is clearly still a work in progress for Kontaveit, but wins at any level are still wins – a crucial factor in how well both she and Vondrousova have performed in Biel this week – and Kontaveit has been collecting them in 2017. After losing in the first round of the Australian Open to Maria Sakkari, the Estonian put the second week of the first major of the year to good use by playing and winning the $60k ITF Andrezieux Bouthon event. She qualified successfully for Budapest, Indian Wells and Miami and got one round further at each, culminating in wins over Kurumi Nara and Ekaterina Makarova at the Miami Open to make the third round.
In Biel, where the courts and conditions seem to suit her game very well, Kontaveit beat Heather Watson and Evgeniya Rodina in straight sets before surviving a rollercoaster against Hobart champion Elise Mertens in the quarterfinals. The semifinal against Sasnovich was another dramatic one, taking two hours and 23 minutes before Kontaveit finally edged the Belarusian qualifier, who has been on great form, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 to make her first WTA final.
Kontaveit may be just 21 and breaking new ground in her career but she looks like an old stager next to 17-year-old Marketa Vondrousova, the teenager who is having a dream week in Biel.
When Vondrousova was named as a member of the Fed Cup squad representing the Czech Republic in next weekend’s semifinal against the USA, it was a bit of an eye-opener to see a player ranked world no. 233 in the squad for the most dominant Fed Cup nation in recent years. But whatever the Czechs are doing when it comes to women’s tennis is seriously working, with Vondrousova proving this week that she’s the latest powerful, impressive player to come from that nation.
This is just Vondrousova’s second WTA Tour event – she played Prague last year as a wildcard, where she made the second round – but the left-hander already has plenty of wins under her belt in 2017. World no. 233 may not sound that impressive, but Vondrousova was ranked world no. 420 at the start of the year and has already climbed almost 200 places thanks to winning 14 of her first 15 matches of 2017 to claim titles at the Stuttgart $15k and the Grenoble $25k before finishing runner-up at the Perth $25k. Vondrousova made another final at the Clare $25k in February before moving up a level to the Croissy Beauborg $60k where she made the semifinals.
Vondrousova looked to be going out in qualifying for Biel, when she dropped the first set to first Tessah Andrianjafitrimo and then third qualifying seed Aryna Sabalenka, but went on to win the next 12 sets after dropping that first set to Sabalenka. Beating Jasmine Paolini to reach the main draw, Vondrousova went on to beat lucky loser Lina Gorjcheska and then frankly dismantled world no. 61 Annika Beck 6-1, 6-3. Fellow Czech left-hander Kristyna Pliskova found herself constantly under pressure on serve in the quarterfinals and Vondrousova got the best of a number of first-strike exchanges to record a 6-2, 7-5 win and make her first WTA semifinal.
Taking on yet another Czech, world no. 18 Barbora Strycova, Vondrousova initially looked like the occasion – not to mention her much more experienced opponent – had got the best of her as she fell behind 2-5. But after saving set point on her own serve, Vondrousova started to find the same audacious power tennis she had played the rest of the week and Strycova took her foot off the gas just infinitesimally. It was enough for Vondrousova to break back and she eventually took the first set to a tie break where Strycova fell behind early after an ill-timed double fault. Again, it was all the invitation Vondrousova needed as she took the first set 7-6(3) with a backhand up the line that forced a volley error from Strycova. As the latter became increasingly frustrated, Vondrousova just kept reeling off winners and dominated the second set before closing out a 7-6(3), 6-2 win to make her first WTA final.
Vondrousova’s dream week would enter the realms of pure fantasy with a first WTA title in just her second event – but it’s really not unimaginable, particularly when facing an opponent who also hasn’t played a WTA final before. Vondrousova has been a lot less seemingly nervy than Kontaveit this week and although both are powerful players, she’s found it a little easier to hit winners on these courts. Could the 17-year-old really be headed for a first WTA title?
Kontaveit vs Vondrousova is scheduled on Centre Court in Biel on Sunday at 3pm local/2pm BST