Pennetta Tops Thin WTA Estoril Field

Posted on April 14, 2008

ESTORIL, Portugal -- The first week of the European clay court season sees several of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour's finest performers on the red dirt head to the Iberian Peninsula to contest the Estoril Open. Eight seeds, four of whom are ranked within the world's Top 40, will be among the 32 players battling it out at the $145,000, Tier IV event.

The top seed in the draw is Flavia Pennetta, who made a flying start to the year when she reached the semifinals at Hobart in January. This run Down Under was followed up by tournament victories in Vi�a del Mar and Acapulco, and as a result of these performances the 26-year-old Italian has successfully re-established herself within the Top 30. Pennetta will be returning to the Estadio Nacional for the fifth time in her career and she will be confident of improving on the semifinal finish she achieved back in 2006 -- she opens her title quest against Yvonne Meusburger.

The tournament's No.2 seed is Russia's Maria Kirilenko. The world No.32 enjoyed an impressive end to the 2007 season, capturing her second career title in Kolkatta and finishing runner-up in Seoul. However, she has endured a disappointing start to the new campaign, falling at the first hurdle at four of the seven events she has entered. In her two previous appearances on the Atlantic coast Kirilenko has failed to progress beyond the opening round, a statistic the 21-year-old will be keen to rectify this week.

Kirilenko is not the only seed in the draw struggling for form. 2005 champion Lucie Safarova has won just four matches this season and will be looking to get her season back on track this week. Last year the 21-year-old reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open as well as finishing runner-up in Paris [Indoors] and making a semifinal appearance in Estoril. The No.4 seed kicks off her challenge with a potentially difficult encounter against Belgium's Kirsten Flipkens.

Another player who has been short on form in recent weeks is No.3 seed Karin Knapp. The 20-year-old Italian made an impressive start to the year when she finished runner-up to Justine Henin at Antwerp in February, but since then has made a succession of early exits and will be desperate to return to winning ways when she makes her Estoril debut against wildcard Frederica Piedade on Monday.

The remaining seeds this week are comprised of the tenacious Italian Tathiana Garbin (No.5), this year's Vi�a del Mar runner-up Klara Zakopalova (No.6), the in-form Swede Sofia Arvidsson (No.7) and France's Camille Pin. One dark horse the seeds will have to watch out for is Portuguese starlet Michelle Larcher de Brito. The gifted 15-year-old defeated Top 20 star Agnieszka Radwanska en route to the third round in Miami recently and will be looking to claim several more scalps in front of her home crowd.

The Estoril Open is in its 10th year as a Tour event and among the players to have lifted the title in the past are Zheng Jie (2006), Loit (2004), Magui Serna (2002, 2003), Angeles Montolio (2001), Anke Huber (2000), Katarina Srebotnik (1999) and Barbara Schwartz (1998). Also on the honor roll is 2007 champion Greta Arn, although the German will not be defending her title this time around.