A Player And Entertainer, Siegemund Misses Fans

Laura Siegemund (photo: Porsche Tennis Grand Prix)

STUTTGART/WASHINGTON, April 19, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

As this year’s 44th edition of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix gets underway in Stuttgart, one player who is happy to be playing is Germany’s Laura Siegemund – even though this year’s WTA 500-series event is taking place bereft of spectators.

“It’s still Stuttgart and it’s still great,” the World No. 58 Siegemund, who twice has been a Porsche Tennis Grand Prix finalist and won the title in 2017, said Sunday afternoon during a WTA all-access session with international media.

After recovering from a knee injury, which has limited Siegemund’s appearances this year to just 14 matches (she’s 7-7) and forced her to pull out of last month’s Miami Open before facing Victoria Azarenka in the second round, the Stuttgart resident is healthy and fit and ready to go in her hometown tournament. She’s one of 28 players comprising the singles main draw.

“I had a problem in my knee. It’s difficult to say what it exactly was,” said Siegemund, who received a wild card into this year’s main draw and will play 186th-ranked German qualifier Mona Barthel (7-5) in her first-round match on Tuesday. If she wins, she will oppose No. 1 seed Ashleigh Barty in the second round. “It was the same knee that I ruptured my cruciate. I feel fine now and I think we’ve done well to get the knee back into shape after such a short time. The last few practice sessions were pretty good and I am definitely able to play.”

Siegemund, whose last match on clay was at last year’s French Open, admitted that while she’s grateful that the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix has returned after a gap year sabbatical caused by the global coronavirus pandemic, she’ll miss the fans. It’s the fans, she feels, that creates a great environment inside Porsche Arena.

“It really is one of the biggest differences in the current situation,” the 33-year-old Siegemund said. “At the last few tournaments, it was always very quiet, and strange. Even when fans were allowed, there were hardly any there and there was no real atmosphere.

“I have to say for myself that it is increasingly difficult for me to play under these conditions, and I just hope and look forward to a time when we … well, I just play for the audience,” Siegemund said. “I also see myself to a certain extent as an entertainer. Of course, I want to perform, but this contact and feedback from the audience, too, is missing enormously and I have to admit myself that I have my difficulties with it over time. …

“At the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, I’ve always been a special player since my tournament win, and one the crowd looks looked forward to seeing. It was always a fantastic atmosphere. It’s currently not possible to keep the intensity up and to feel the same kind of adrenalin. It’s nevertheless an incredible court, it’s cool with all the light effects. It would have been obviously better with a crowd. It’s still fantastic and I’m now simply looking forward to my first match.”

What Laura Siegemund is saying

On living sealed off from the public in a pandemic bubble:

“You get used to everything. The alternative is after all that we don’t play at all. I think it’s something none of us players want. It’s just as much fun as it was before. The contact to the fans and enjoying the travel and going into town, that’s all missing. We just have to get through it. We’re all hoping that it’ll be better soon.”

On this year’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix field:

“You know it’s a tad weaker in the back but it’s still pretty strong I would say and, you know, with this coronavirus, it’s always affecting where people play right now. The scheduling this year is even more difficult than it usually is already. So, I think there are few more withdraws, few more changes in the draws, not only here but in general at the tournaments and that’s the reason also here.”

On the WTA confirming its summer schedule post-Wimbledon through the US Open:

“To be honest I haven’t really had a look at that yet. I also had my plan until Wimbledon but of course it helps us. The sooner we know the better we can make a schedule and the better we can plan and prioritize also our tournaments and our schedule for the whole year. In tennis, it is never easy anyway because pretty much you can play every week but you’ve got to find your own prioritization and you’ve got to be smart with it. If you don’t know what’s coming the second half of the year it kind of makes it difficult. So, the sooner they are always able to tell us the better. It’s understandable that in these times also tournaments and the WTA are having trouble, you know, knowing what’s going on, what’s going to be possible and what not.”

On assessing her own season thus far:

“There are always things to improve, yes, that’s for sure. No, I mean I’ve been pretty happy. So far, I’ve had some good results, I had some good consistency. Of course, also for me it wasn’t easy this year. It’s been lots of travelling pretty much since Christmas which is not unusual for the first part of the year but with the quarantine system also in Australia – that we had for corona reasons – it was just very different. So, I didn’t know how I’m going to play with that or how I’m going to do with that.

“You know, it’s not as enjoyable as usually playing on the Tour but I’m pretty happy with my results. Of course, I wanted to have a good finish for the first part of the hard-court season in Miami, but it wasn’t great because I got injured. Now, I’m looking forward to go on clay and that’s really kind of my time, my surface. I recovered well and I’m looking forward to it.”

Monday’s Porsche Grand Prix results

Tuesday’s Porsche Grand Prix order of play

Around the Porsche Grand Prix

Monday’s order of play began with a pair of doubles matches bookending the start of the singles draw.

First, the dream team of Ashleigh Barty of Australia and Jennifer Brady from the United States defeated Kaitlyn Christian and Sabrina Santamaria, both of the United States, 6-3, 6-1, in 52 minutes, to advance to the quarterfinal round of the 16-team doubles draw.

Barty and Brady combined to hit 17 winners to just six unforced errors and they converted seven of nine break points. Barty and Brady outpointed Christian and Santamaria 56-26.

“Doubles is fun and it’s a game we both love to play,” Barty said during an on-court interview after the victory. “We enjoy each other’s company and enjoy coming out here and competing hard and doing it with a smile on our face.”

Brady said winning wasn’t as easy as it may have looked. “No definitely not. Sabrina and Kaitlyn are very good doubles players. We definitely had to fight for every single point, especially at the end in trying to finish off the match.”

Asked if they plan to play together in other tournaments later this season, Barty said, “Absolutely, if [Jennifer] will put up with me. We haven’t been able to get on the court as often as we would like, but we’re happy to be playing here in Stuttgart. [Jennifer] understands my humor. She understands the Australian humor. She’s a good person, has good banter and always has a smile on her face.” As for Brady? “I would say the same things about [Ashleigh].”

Also, No. 8 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland beat 927th-ranked German qualifier Nastasja Schunk from Mannheim, 6-4, 6-2, in one hour and 28 minutes, needing six match points to win. Next, she will face the winner of Tuesday’s match between Ekaterina Alexandrova and Karolina Muchova.

The World No. 12 Bencic hit 19 winners and 14 unforced errors and broke Schunk four times in 10 opportunities. The 17-year-old Schunk finished with 17 winners, committed 27 unforced errors and was outpointed 72-51.

Asked if she was surprised by how well Schunk, who was appearing in her first WTA main draw, played, Bencic said during an on-court interview following the match: “No, definitely I was not surprised. I knew she was a very good player, a young talent. I was prepared. Of course, she played great. I had trouble with her game. She reads the game well and has good spin, which was uncomfortable with me. She still has a long way, but I think if she keeps going like this, I think we’re going to hear more.”

Later, No. 19 Maria Sakkari of Greece defeated 103rd-ranked wild card Andrea Petkovic of Germany, 6-2, 6-2, in 67 minutes. Sakkari hit six aces, won 81 percent of her first-serve points and broke Petkovic six times. She outpointed the Darmstadt resident 56-32 to advance against the winner of Tuesday’s match between No. 7 seed Petra Kvitova and Jennifer Brady.

“I played pretty solid. I felt good on court,” Sakkari said her victory. “I’m never satisfied because I think I’m too hard on myself sometimes. I’m satisfied with some things, and I still have to work on some other things for my next match, but overall, it was a good performance.”

The evening concluded with a doubles match won by Vivian Heiden of Germany and Wang Yafan of China over Ulrikke Eikeri of Norway and Ekaterine Gorgodze of Georgia, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6), to advance to the quarterfinals.

What they’re telling Tennis TourTalk

Simona Halep on the importance of knowing the WTA schedule post-Wimbledon through the US Open, which the WTA confirmed last Friday:

“Well, yes, it’s very important because the last months were a little bit tough because we didn’t know what is going to happen next week actually, not next month. It’s good that we have now a clear schedule and for me it’s tournament by tournament. So, hopefully I’m healthy. Hopefully, I can play every tournament I plan and then we’ll see in the end.”