Annika Beck the one to beat at Pro-Series Barnstaple tennis
Defending the Dartington Vase has proved beyond previous champions in the short history of Barnstaple’s international tennis tournament.
But can anyone stop Annika Beck doing just that at the AEGON GB Pro-Series Barnstaple next week?
The 19-year-old German is ranked the 48th best player in the world after reaching the final of the WTA tour event in Luxembourg, where she lost to former world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki on Sunday.
That success makes a repeat of Beck’s 2012 Tarka Tennis Centre triumph the most likely outcome this year – even if she would be the first player to retain the title.
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Beck cruised through the rounds 12 months ago, not dropping a set until the final when she came from behind to beat Eleni Daniilidou, of Greece, 6-7(1), 6-2, 6-2 in the final.
The scampering teenager had too much energy for an opponent 12 years older and exhausted by lengthy three-set battles in earlier rounds.
It was part of a remarkable year for Beck who had won the French Open junior title. Barnstaple was her fifth win in six tournaments on the ITF circuit and the final was the 20th match she had won in a row.
Success has been harder to come by this year as she has focused on the WTA tour, but Beck is likely to enjoy the step down in quality when she comes to North Devon.
Alison Riske, the next highest-ranked player in the draw, knows how hard it is to retain the Dartington Vase. In the 2010 final, the American beat reigning champion Johanna Larsson, of Sweden, in a straight-sets demolition. But a year later she crashed out in the first round with an equally emphatic defeat to Andrea Hlavackova.
Riske had seemed set for big things three years ago but she seems to finally be fulfilling her potential and made headlines with her run to the last 16 at the US Open in September.
Only Anne Keothavong, the former British No 1 who retired this year, has won the Barnstaple tournament twice – but even she could not do it in successive years.
After winning in 2008, Keothavong missed the 2009 tournament through injury and was knocked out in the first round in 2010. She won again in 2011 but last year suffered a second-round defeat to surprise semi-finalist Constance Sibille.
The British challenge this year will be led by Heather Watson and Johanna Konta.
Konta last week supplanted Watson, struggling for form and fitness, as the British No 2 behind Laura Robson.
Richard Joyner, the tournament director, said: “This year’s line-up is especially exciting with Heather and Jo leading the British challenge, and Alison and Annika returning as former champions.
“The number of players returning each year is reflective of the high esteem in which Barnstaple is held. At other events the players often talk fondly of the venue, town and people.’’
Qualifying begins on Sunday, with the main-draw action getting under way on Tuesday. The finals will be played on Sunday, November 3.