The History of the WTA Strasbourg

Back in 1973, the Women’s Tennis Association was founded by the legendary Billie Jean King and is still going strong nearly a half-century later. Naturally, the WTA would need some dedicated tournaments for its world tour. With that in mind, the WTA created a tiered system with a certain amount of points dedicated to particular tournaments. One of the nearly 50 lower-tiered tournaments (known as a WTA 250) tournament is the Internationaux de Strasbourg.

So if the winner of the WTA Strasbourg is only receiving 250 tour points, why are so many of the biggest names clamoring to get into the event? The answer is quite simple, really. WTA Strasbourg takes place one week prior to the French Open, one of the four grand slam tournaments. Players who are unfamiliar with the French Open conditions often head to Strasbourg to test their game out as the conditions are nearly identical.

Establishing Strasbourg

The WTA Strasbourg tournament has a different name than when it first started 35 years ago. Back in 1987, the tournament was created under the name of the Strasbourg Grand Prix, making it one of the longest-running tournaments on the WTA Tour. When it first began, the tournament was played at the Hautepierre, before being moved to Strasbourg Tennis Club. The venue offers 26 total tennis courts so several matches can go on at once.

Interestingly enough, the first singles tournament at the WTA Strasbourg was won by a country that’s not really synonymous with tennis: Canada. Carling Bassett-Seguso won the first finals against Italian Sandra Cecchini in two sets, 6-3, 6-4. France did take home a title in the first year of the doubles tournament, with native Catherine Suire teaming up with Czech-born Jana Novotna to defeat Kathleen Horvath (USA) and Marcella Mesker (NED) 6-0, 6-2.

It was clear from the first tournament that Strasbourg would serve as a great launch pad for the French Open the following week. That’s because the weather is expected to be almost identical (unless extreme circumstances take place over the course of a few days), while the clay courts and balls are just like you see at Roland Garros, home of the French Open.

Rounding out the rest of the 1980s, the finals winners would all end up winning in straight sets. In 1988, Cecchini would bounce back from her runner-up position the previous year to defeat Judith Wiesner. Then in 1989, Jana Novotna would find success away from her doubles partner to defeat Patricia Tarabini 6-1, 6-2. With a precedent set of being a great tune-up tournament, Strasbourg was ready to get more exposure in the following decade.

Big Names of the ’90s

With more exposure to WTA Strasbourg, there was a boom in talent during the 1990s with some names that would end up becoming some of the biggest in tennis history. The most notable of those is Lindsay Davenport. The American star made her way to France for WTA Strasbourg where she would win back-to-back tournaments in 1995 and 1996, defeating Kimiko Date (JPN) and Barbara Paulus (AUS), respectively. After her first win, the young Davenport was so excited that she actually dropped the trophy.

Davenport has a long history with Strasbourg outside of her two victories, including dropping a finals match to Claudine Schaul. For Schaul, it was her first win on the WTA Tour, and beating someone of Davenport’s stature was a milestone she’ll never forget. “It’s a dream to win a WTA tournament,” Schaul said after defeating Davenport. “I was so emotional at match point that I double-faulted several times and lost that game.”

Davenport wasn’t the only big name to take home a WTA Strasbourg title during the 1990s. Eventual hall of famers such as Steffi Graff and Jennifer Capriati would also claim top prizes. Graff defeated Mirjana Lucic in 1997 while Capriati rounded out the decade with a win over Elena Likhovtseva. Other winners from the 1990s were Mercedes Paz, Radka Zrubakova, Judith Wiesner, Naoko Sawamatsu, and Irina Spirlea.

Pair of Stars Dominates New Millennium

After being accustomed to the French Open for so long, the era of stars like Davenport and Graff didn’t return to Strasbourg much. This opened up the door for new talent, and there were two players that stood out above the rest by combining to take home six of the 10 titles up for grabs during the 2000s.

The first of these two was Silvia Farina Elia. Despite having turned pro in 1988, Elia hadn’t won a WTA tournament when 2001 came along. Her first overall title came 10 years prior at Caltagirone as part of the International Tennis Federation tour. Elia would defeat Anke Huber in 2001 for her first WTA title, then returned the following year for a repeat, this time over Jelena Dokic. Elia became the first and only player to win Strasbourg three times in a row in 2003, this time defeating Karolina Sprem before retiring two years later.

The other player to dominate Strasbourg during the decade was Spaniard Anabel Medina Garrigues. Garrigues, like Elia, won three titles, but over the course of four years instead of consecutively. Garrigues first won Strasbourg in 2005 by defeating Marta Domachowska, then won again in 2007 (Amelie Mauresmo) and 2008 (Katarina Srebotnik). The four other winners in the 2000s were Silvija Talaja, Nicole Vaidisova, Aravane Rezai, and the previously mentioned Claudine Schaul following her defeat of Lindsay Davenport.

The Modern Era

Ever since the four-year span of domination by Garrigues that wrapped up in 2008, there has only been one repeat winner at WTA Strasbourg. That distinction belongs to Australian Samantha Stosur, who won the title in both 2015 and 2017. Other winners include some familiar faces that have made their way to the top 10 in the world rankings, including some former number ones. Maria Sharapova won WTA Strasbourg in 2010 when she knocked off Kristina Barrois, and German star Angelique Kerber is the most recent winner of the tournament after defeating Kaja Juvan in 2022. The two have combined for eight grand slam titles in their illustrious careers, with Kerber holding three and Sharapova holding five. Interestingly, the French Open is the one grand slam that Kerber hasn’t won, while the same tournament is the only grand slam where Sharapova has multiple titles.

Kerber’s 2022 win at WTA Strasbourg was an absolute marathon (3 hours and 16 minutes) in the finals, as well. Kerber took the first set 7-6 (7-5), dropped the second set 6-7 (0-7) then rallied to win the final set 7-6 (7-5). “The third set, it was head-to-head, it was really close,” Kerber said of her showdown with Juvan. “Playing three tiebreaks in the final shows that it was a really close and tough battle, and I’m really happy how I played at he end, and how I played he last point, actually.”

Strasbourg Tournament Notes

Unlike the grand slams, the field for WTA Strasbourg is one of the smaller on the tour. In the singles competition, there are only 32 competitors in total. As for the doubles tournament, only 16 teams take place in the tournament, with Nicole Melichar-Martinez and Daria Saville winning the most recent bracket after defeating Lucie Hradecka and Sania Mirza. There’s a total of more than $250,000 in prize money, with the winner of the singles tournament taking home $25,000 on top of the trophy.

Each year, the WTA Strasbourg takes place in the middle of May the week prior to the French Open but wasn’t the only WTA event that took place that week for a brief period. The Brussels Open was established in 2011, but there were only three of them before the event was abolished following Kaia Kanepi’s win in 2013. In 2020, the WTA Strasbourg was delayed until September of that year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Several competitors withheld from the tournament, including top seed Karolina Pliskova after testing positive for the disease and staying in isolation.

WTA Strasbourg not only precedes a grand slam tournament but also comes the week after another prestigious event. WTA Strasbourg follows the Italian Open, which has been hosting women’s tennis since 1930. Some choose to take the week off between the Italian and French Opens since both are clay events and carry massive prize pools (the Italian Open is $2.5 million, and the French Open is a whopping $46.7 million).

In the nearly 40-year history of the WTA Strasbourg, there have only been two players that have won the singles and doubles titles in the same tournament. Lindsay Davenport was the first one to accomplish this feat in 1995 when she teamed up with Mary Joe Fernandez. Silvia Farina Elia became the second to do this in 2001, teaming up with Iroda Tulyaganova. As for finals appearances in doubles, nobody has more than Lori McNeil, who has reached the championship round four times while Nicole Provis is the only player to win three doubles titles at WTA Strasbourg.

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