When I first heard rumours that Majorca was to host a prestigious new WTA tournament, I thought they were joking. Especially when they added it was to be played on grass. I’d never even seen a grass court on the island. I remember a young Rafa Nadal bemoaning that with no grass courts in Majorca to practise on he was forced to leave the island to practise.
However, as I walked through the entrance of the Tennis Country Club Santa Ponsa (opposite the old Santa Ponsa Country Club) there was a real buzz of excitement as final preparations were under way for the second WTA Mallorca Open that starts today.
A warm-up for the ladies before the Wimbledon Grand Slam. Under the supervision of the All England Lawn Tennis Club the courts looked like emerald velvet, perfectly manicured to the exact millimetre of Wimbledon’s Centre Court.
Little wonder fresh from his incredible tenth French Open victory, Rafael Nadal was seen practising last week. Adjusting from his favourite clay surface has always proved a challenge. Thus, with such quality grass courts virtually on his doorstep he is taking every opportunity to practise in Santa Ponsa. Indeed, Rafa fans please note: he is expected to be at the tournament practising on Monday.
On doctor’s orders Rafa has reluctantly pulled out of playing in London at Queens this week, disappointing those who have bought exorbitantly priced tickets in the hopes of seeing him in action. However, with his coach, uncle Toni Nadal, being WTA Mallorca Tournament director, it is expected that Rafa will be offering frequent guest appearances during the week. An added bonus for tennis fans on the island coming to see the great matches that look set for this week.
"The start of the grass court season is always exciting. But it’s even better starting in Majorca," exclaimed last year’s winner French Caroline Garcia. Caroline told me she was delighted to be back to defend her title. "Although I’m still waiting to have my trophy," she added good-naturedly. I thought she was joking but somehow in all the excitement she really had returned home to Lyon in France without her cup.
"Winning last year at the first Mallorca Open was wonderful. It gave me confidence on grass and it was a great preparation to Wimbledon. To change from clay to grass takes time as the ball bounces differently. Often faster and lower. To be able to play a tournament here on grass courts in such a beautiful place and with good weather is great."
Certainly the attraction of good weather and our glorious island has proved the perfect backdrop for a top tennis tournament and drawn some of the womens’ top players. Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, who last year made no secret how much she enjoyed playing here in Majorca, is back again as promised.
Spanish players Carla Suarez and Lara Arruabarrena lead the local hopes. Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who has reached the quarter finals in all Grand Slams and has five WTA titles, will be playing for the first time here. While 19 year-old Croatian Ana Konjuh is hoping to convert her success from the junior circuit. Konjuh already has a grass title after winning Nottingham in 2015, becoming the youngest woman on the WTA circuit since 2006.
The many Germans on the island will be happy to see fellow countrywomen Lisicki, Julia Goerges, Annika Beck and Mona Barthel who no doubt will have plenty of followers. Number one player German Angelique Kerber has been rumoured to have bought a house on the island and is expected to pop in to practise.
Former number one Victoria Azarenka, winner of two Austrian Open singles titles, has also chosen Majorca for her preparation for Wimbledon this year. After an extended maternity break from tennis, the new mother now takes her baby son on tour with her, so having a pool on site may have its advantages.
I was delighted to hear that one of my favourite players and in my mind one of the most talented, Martina Hingis, will be playing doubles this week. The Czech-born Swiss player, fresh from winning the French Open, is currently ranked number three in the world. At the age of 22 she had won 40 singles titles and 36 doubles titles and held the world number one spot for 209 weeks. She retired in 2007 but returned to the game in July 2013 to make a magnificent comeback. Now 36 she is always an absolute pleasure to watch.
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