Johanna Larsson - February
Johanna Larsson from Sweden is our featured player for this month. 19-year-old Johanna competed in two ITF Women’s Circuit tournaments during the month and successfully won the singles titles at both tournaments.
The first tournament saw Johanna playing in an indoor hard court tournament held in Sutton, Great Britain. Named the top seed in the qualifying event she managed to win through to the main draw without losing a set, defeating players from Great Britain and Sweden on the way.
Her opponent in the first round of the main draw hailed from Luxembourg and was soundly beaten 60 62. Johanna followed this up with a fantastic victory over the 2nd seed, Estonian Margit Ruutel, in the second round in straight sets 64 61. Yet to drop a set at this tournament, Johanna next faced Ana Savic from Croatia for a place in the semi final. Although Johanna took the opening set 64, her opponent fought back to level the match, winning 61 in the second. Losing the set by such a score could easily have caused a loss in confidence but Johanna showed great spirit in reversing this score in the deciding set to secure the match 64 16 61.
Her opponent in the semi final, Anastasia Poltoratskaya of Russia, had, like Johanna, earned her place in the main draw after coming through the qualifying event without losing a set. Coming into this semi final match, Anastasia had already dumped two seeded players out of the tournament. Anastasia won the opening set 63 and it looked like this could be the end for Johanna in Sutton. Was Johanna aware of Anastasia’s conquests over seeded players earlier in this event and allowing this to affect her play? If this was the case, Johanna did not let it show in the following set as she edged a closely fought set 64 to level this semi final encounter. Johanna was now just one set away from a first appearance in a singles final of a $25,000 prize money level tournament. The deciding set was another closely fought set with both players so close to the final now and it was Johanna who would claim the spot in the final here after taking the third set 63.
The final here in Sutton saw Johanna up against the Czech Republic’s Andrea Hlavackova who had so far dropped just the one set during the tournament and had also knocked out the 4th seeded player in the second round. The opening set of the final proved a tense affair, almost going to a tiebreak, and Johanna took the advantage in this final by taking the set 75. Was Johanna about to claim her first singles title at this prize money level at the first attempt? The answer was yes. Anyone anticipating another close set would have been left disappointed as Johanna took the set 60. Certainly not disappointed was Johanna as she claimed her first singles title since October 2007. Here in Sutton, Johanna also took part in the doubles event where she partnered the British player, Anna Smith. Unseeded, the pair won through to the final without losing a set and also defeating the 4th seeds in the first round and a close win over the 2nd seeds in the semi. The final, against the top seeds, who featured Johanna’s singles final opponent, was to prove one match to many as they went down in straight sets 63 63.
The next tournament again played indoors on a hard court and at the $25,000 prize money level, saw Johanna returning to Sweden’s capital, Stockholm. It was in Stockholm in October 2007 that, prior to her triumph in Sutton, Johanna won her last singles title. Johanna made it into the second round after a hard fought 75 46 64 opening round win over Neuza Silva from Portugal. After this tough match, Johanna had a far more comfortable match in the second round, winning 60 61 against Croatian Ivana Lisjak to book her place in the quarter final and a match with the top seed, Britain’s Anne Keothavong. As was to be expected when playing the top seed, Johanna had a tough first set but she was to win it on a tie break before rounding off victory 76(3) 62. Another seeded player provided the semi final opposition, 7th seed Yulia Fedossova from France. Following on from her win against the number one seed in the previous round, Johanna again won in straight sets to move into a second final of the month. Just as with the final in Sutton, Johanna faced a player from the Czech Republic. This time, Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, the 2nd seed here in Stockholm.
After having already defeated seeded players in the previous two rounds, including the number one seed, Johanna was probably going into this final full of confidence. Over confident perhaps as the first set came and went quickly 60 in her opponents favour. To her credit, Johanna recovered from this quickly and perhaps it was Barbora’s turn to experience a feeling of over confidence as the match was levelled at a set apiece with Johanna taking the second set 61. Following two one-sided sets won by each player the spectators could have been wondering what to expect in the deciding set of this final. What they got was a close set that went all the way to having to be decided on a tiebreak. The match and with it the title was eventually won by Johanna 06 61 76(1). Once again Anna Smith partnered Johanna in the doubles event. As an unseeded pair they again reached the final, and unlike in Sutton the previous week, they went one better and took the title.
Johanna now has a career record of six singles titles from nine finals and three final appearances to her name already in 2008 alone. In doubles, she has a record of seven titles from ten finals and like her singles record she has three final appearances so far in 2008. The latest WTA singles rankings released on March 3rd show that Joanna is now ranked at 203, just one place off her career best of 202 and if she can maintain the form she has shown so far she should expect to soon be breaking into the top 200.