17-year-old Marketa Vondrousova has impressed with her run through qualifying to the semifinals of the Ladies Open Biel-Bienne, but she faces the experienced top seed and world no. 18 Barbora Strycova on Saturday.
Top seed Barbora Strycova takes on rising teenage compatriot Marketa Vondrousova for a place in the final of the Ladies Open Biel-Bienne.
It’s been a dream week for 17-year-old Marketa Vondrousova. Not only has she been named as the youngest member of the Fed Cup squad representing the very dominant Czech Republic in next weekend’s semifinal against the USA, but she’s into her first WTA semifinal at the Ladies Open Biel-Bienne in impressive style.
Winning has been very much the keynote of Vondrousova’s 2017 season so far. Ranked as low as world no. 420 when she played her first event of the year, she’s already up to world no. 222, 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.
Biel is Vondrousova’s first WTA event of the season and the first that she’s qualified for in her career (she was a wildcard in Prague last year, where she made the second round). The left-handed Czech, whose power game is instantly reminiscent of a younger Lucie Safarova, won three matches to qualify for the main draw in Biel before beating lucky loser Lina Gorjcheska – who lost to another Biel semifinalist, Aliaksandra Sasnovich, in qualifying – and then dismantling world no. 61 Annika Beck 6-1, 6-3 to make her first WTA quarterfinal. In that quarterfinal, facing off against compatriot (and fellow left-hander) Kristyna Pliskova, it was Vondrousova who consistently got the best of power exchanges from the baseline with the more experienced world no. 58, rushing Pliskova into errors and keeping her under pressure to emerge with a 6-2, 7-5 victory.
‘It's so super, because I didn't even know I could play that good!’ Vondrousova said after beating Pliskova. ‘I've had a great season so far, and I played qualies here and I'm so glad I made it through and keep playing so good.
‘I'm just trying to focus on every match, every point, and just play like I have nothing to lose. I am calm and I feel confident.’
Vondrousova will face another Czech in the semifinals, but Barbora Strycova is a much more seasoned opponent. The world no. 18, the top seed at the inaugural Ladies Open Biel-Bienne, was one of only two seeds to make it to the quarterfinals, and in a cruel twist, faced the other on Friday. Julia Goerges, the hard-hitting German, seemed poised to race away with the match when she jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but Strycova dug in her heels and used all her variety to tug back the advantage and keep Goerges guessing. Goerges still took the first set, but after a marathon hold of serve early in the second set Strycova’s resilience and variety began to tell on the German, who eventually retired one game into the third due to an arm injury.
‘I'm happy that I won, but not in this way because it's always very hard to see someone injured and have to walk off from the match,’ Strycova said.
Strycova now has an opportunity to make her first WTA final of 2017 after finishing runner-up in Dubai and Birmingham during a very solid 2016 season for the Czech. Winning titles has never been Strycova’s strong suit – the world no. 18 has just one to her name, which came back in Quebec City in 2011 – but she must like her chances, given the relative experience levels enjoyed by herself and everyone else left in the draw. That’s obviously especially true in the case of Strycova’s teenage opponent Vondrousova.
‘Another young gun from Czech! I saw her play here already and she's playing very well,’ Strycova said. "She's playing from the qualifying so she has a lot of matches under her belt. It will be a tough one because she's young and she wants to play the best tennis she can so I have to be ready so I have to play my best tennis as well.’
Strycova has been quietly playing some good tennis in 2017 so far, making a Premier-level semifinal at the Apia International Sydney and the round of 16 at the Australian Open, and she was unlucky in Indian Wells and Miami to run into two in-form players, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Karolina Pliskova. So far in Biel, she’s survived the challenge of two young players, Marie Bouzkova and Carina Witthoeft, as well as Goerges.
Strycova’s main disadvantage is that she doesn’t really have the kind of effortless power game that Vondrousova has been demonstrating in Biel – but then she’s made a career out of being able to do more things on the court than simply hit the ball hard. She’s got the experience and the junkballing variety off the ground to really disrupt Vondrousova’s rhythm. I could see the teenager taking the first set, but Strycova gradually wearing her down to win in three.
Strycova vs Vondrousova is scheduled on Centre Court in Biel on Saturday at 3.30pm local/2.30pm BST