The first European clay court tournament gets underway at the Porsche Grand Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart. Seven of the top 10 players will be participating in Stuttgart with 470 points on offer for the winner at the Premier event.
Radwanska's notable results to date
Last year's semifinalist Agnieszka Radwanska has struggled for form in 2017 with a poor 9-7 win-loss record, which the former world number two knows herself that she can do better. The 7th seed has failed to win back-to-back matches at a tournament since Sydney back in January. Moreover, she advanced to her solitary final of the year, losing to a red hot Johanna Konta in that final. The world number eight lost to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni twice in the second round of the Australian Open and the third round at the Miami Open which was her last tournament to date. Radwanska suffered losses to Caroline Wozniacki and Catherine Bellis in Doha and Dubai respectively with more misery not far, by losing to Peng Shuai in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells. Radwanska will be hoping that her fortunes turn around in Stuttgart but clay is by far her weakest surface, and she may endure a torrid season on the red dirt.
Makarova's notable results to date
The seventh seed's campaign in Stuttgart begins against two-time Grand Slam semifinalist Ekaterina Makarova. The Russian is currently ranked at 43 in the world but Makarova is better than that and is a top 20 quality player at the minimum as she is a consistent player at Grand Slam events. However, the leftie has a level 8-8 record in 2017. Makarova lost to Misaki Doi and Barbora Strycova in Brisbane and Sydney respectively but she rebounded at the Australian Open, where reached the semifinals in 2015 and the quarterfinals on two other occasions Down Under. Her best result of the year was upsetting 2014 finalist Dominika Cibulkova in the third round but once again, for the second successive year, Konta sent Makarova packing in the fourth round. Makarova was winless during the back-to-back North American Premier Mandatory swing in Indian Wells and Miami losing to Sara Sorribes Tomo and Anett Kontaveit respectively. The former world number eight won her first match in almost two months as she defeated Denisa Allertova in the first round in Monterrey but lost to Heather Watson in the second round.
Radwanska and Makarova have met on eight occasions, and the former world number two has a commanding 6-2 in their head-to-head. Their meetings have predominately taken place on hard courts with the Pole boasting a 6-1 record on that surface, whilst Makarova won their solitary meeting on a grass court.
The former world number two won their first three meetings in straight sets in Tokyo in 2009, the second round of Miami in 2010 and in New Haven in 2011. However, Makarova would cut the deficit in their rivalry by winning their next two encounters in the fourth round of the US Open in 2013, 6-4, 6-4 and a comprehensive, 6-3, 6-0 victory in the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2014. Surprisingly none of their meetings have gone to three sets with the Pole winning their next three encounters in the semifinals of the Coupe Rogers in Montreal, 7-6 (1), 7-6 (3) and their two meetings last year in Wuhan, 6-4, 6-1 and Beijing, 6-3, 6-4.
Makarova is an established doubles player as she has won two Grand Slam doubles titles with her compatriot Elena Vesnina along with an Olympic Gold medal and WTA Finals title in her cabinet. The Russian also has a Grand Slam mixed doubles title with Bruno Soares, therefore, Makarova is very good at the net and she will come to the net in this match with Radwanska to finish off points quickly. The world number 43 also is a good volleyer. Makarova uses the angles on the court to perfection by using passing shots to win the points against her opponents. Her leftie serve has a slice on it, which puts her opponents in an uncomfortable position on the court, and she doesn't hesitate to mix up hr play. Both of her forehand and backhands are strong weapons which she will look to exploit Radwanska's weakness on the clay and try to get winners down the line.
However, Radwanska will look to target Makarova's forehand in the ad court, where the Russian is uncomfortable at times. Moreover, the 2012 Wimbledon runner-up is sometimes known as "The Ninja" because she mixes up her play a lot by throwing in drop shots, lobs, producing outstanding winners from positions that look to be impossible to find a winner from. One of the weakest aspects of Radwanska's game is her serve as it lacks the power needed to hurt her opponents. Therefore, the former world number eight will look to step into the court and return the Pole's serves with authority.
This will be the fifth match scheduled on Centre Court on the clay courts at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart. This will be their first encounter on clay courts so it will take a while for both players to get used to each other on clay. This is a tough section of the draw and the winner of this match will face 2015 US Open runner-up Roberta Vinci or Makarova's compatriot and three-time former champion Maria Sharapova, who will be competing in her first event since the Australian Open in 2016, as her suspension for doping will end. Both players have struggled for form in 2017 but this could be a good platform for the Pole to kickstart her season.
Prediction: Radwanska in straight sets