Angelique Kerber naturally comes into focus as the WTA clay court season kicks into gear at the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart. A two-time defending champion, the German is competing on home soil and at an event that’s presented by one of her most significant sponsors in Porsche.
Maria Sharapova will invariably dominate headlines too. The five-time Grand Slam champion is not only contesting her first event in 15 months after a doping suspension, but is also a three-time Stuttgart champion.
It’s an interest that’s reflected in the women’s respective high values in Fantasy Tennis, Kerber at $10.84m and Sharapova at $10.99m.
But it’s also wise to keep a careful eye on other Stuttgart contenders. From the first 19 WTA events of 2017, 16 different champions have emerged – and of those, only Serena Williams (Australian Open) and Karolina Pliskova (Brisbane and Doha) are top five players.
It’s arguably never been a time of such opportunity in the women’s game. As you consider whether to trade or sell, here are some players who could capitalise – or crash – on clay.
Svetlana Kuznetsova ($12.3m)
As a former Stuttgart champion (in 2009), Svetlana Kuznetsova should automatically make “must watch” lists. She might also make many Fantasy Tennis teams, considering the consistency that’s been a rare WTA commodity in 2017. A finals run at Indian Wells consolidated her top-10 ranking and history shows that the Russian readily transitions to clay.
Karolina Pliskova ($11.85m)
The Czech is a far different player to the one who exited to Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarterfinals of Stuttgart in 2016. A runner-up at the US Open and a two-time titlist in 2017, there’s a sense that bigger breakthroughs are beckoning for the talented world No.3, who is already the winner of 23 matches this season.
Johanna Konta ($11.64m)
One of just three players (beside Pliskova and Svitolina) to win multiple titles this year, the late-blooming Brit underlined her growing credentials with victory in Miami. It’s far from her favourite surface but with only a handful of rankings points to defend on clay, it will also feel like a fresh canvas for the world No.7.
Madison Keys ($9.64m)
Runner-up in Rome and a final-16 performer at Roland Garros in 2016, Madison Keys could be the big mover of the clay season. Wrist surgery delayed her start to 2017 but there were encouraging runs at Indian Wells and Miami. Coach Lindsay Davenport is among those who predict rapid improvement for the youngest member of the top 10.
Dominika Cibulkova ($8.46m)
Dominika Cibulkova can clearly play on clay – she was runner-up at 2016 Madrid – but the form she hit to win the WTA Championships has lately been elusive. Seven of eight 2017 losses were to lower-ranked opponents (including Eugenie Bouchard, Ekaterina Makarova and Yulia Putinseva). She’s still world No.4, but a dramatic turnaround is required.
Garbine Muguruza ($7.69m)
Momentum has been lacking since Garbine Muguruza made her Grand Slam breakthrough at the 2016 French Open. In 2017, that challenge is compounded by some physical issues including a thigh injury in Brisbane and illness in Miami. There’s still plenty of time for the 23-year-old Spaniard – but her supporters may require patience too.
Simona Halep ($7.53m)
A first round AO2017 loss to Shelby Rogers was partly explained when Simona Halep withdrew from several events with a knee injury. But there were signs of recovery as a Miami quarterfinalist and it’s likely to continue when the former No.2 returns to the surface that delivered a first Grand Slam final at the 2014 French Open.
An element of risk …
The losses are adding up for Agnieszka Radwanska ($6.77m), who hasn’t won consecutive matches since her finals appearance in Sydney. While a run to the 2016 Stuttgart semis will add some confidence, there is also the pressure of defending those rankings points – a significant factor considering the 28-year-old’s recent slump to world No.8.
Watch for …
With her first career title finally achieved at St.Petersburg earlier this year, Kristina Mladenovic ($11.12m) is poised for bigger breakthroughs and it’s worth remembering that Kiki upset then No.2 and reigning Australian Open champ Li Na at the 2014 French Open. And while it’s been a long time between titles for Carla Suarez Navarro ($5.27m) it’s on clay that you’d expect the Spaniard to rediscover form. The same applies to Sam Stosur ($5.6m), a semifinalist at the 2016 French Open. As with most events on the WTA this year, there’s bound to be some big surprises – and they could translate to some big gains in Fantasy Tennis.
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