Watching England’s Sonay Kartal play Bianca Andreescu in the first round of the Bad Homburg Open, her ability on grass was obvious as she pushed last year’s finalist to three sets over 147 minutes.
She has now been rewarded for her recent efforts on lawn courts with the fifth and final British women’s wildcard at Wimbledon. She had already received a wildcard into qualifying but it was upgraded to direct entry to the main draw.
A contemporary of Emma Raducanu, Kartal has experienced years of injury issues – a wrist problem and two abdominal tears – that have delayed her progress.
Through a wildcard, she played her first WTA tour match at last year’s Nottingham Open, losing in straight sets to Camila Giorgi.
Shortly after, Kartal experienced her first Slam via a main draw wildcard at Wimbledon. She was scheduled to play Danka Kovinić but that match was cancelled and she instead met Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove, who defeated her in three sets.
In 2023, another wildcard got her into the ITF W100 in Surbiton where she easily defeated Viktória Hrunčáková, before falling 6-3 3-6 4-6 to Katie Boulter, who went on to win the title. (Boulter would also win the WTA 250 Nottingham Open the following week).
Then she ventured to “the Wimbledon of the North”, as West Yorkshire locals call the ITF W100 on the grass of Illey, where she made the most of her wildcard by breezing through three rounds. In doing so, she made her first semi final of a W100.
Against Emma Navarro (now in the semis of Bad Homburg), she could only manage three games but could console herself with her improvement.
Ranked 264 and having earned her wildcard, Kartal faced No. 51 in the world Andreescu, seeded 5, on the centre court of the Bad Homburg Open. Andreescu, of course, is used to the intense atmosphere of a centre court, not least as the winner of the 2019 US Open.
The 6-2 scoreline of the first set in Andreescu’s favour was deceptive, as Kartal played well and there were many deuces. It took six attempts for Andreescu to take advantage of a break point in the opening game. Kartal won her first game with an ace, despite her awkward looking serve, for 1-4.
The next set also featured countless deuces. Nice running by Kartal and a smooth forehand winner down the line got her break point. She converted to go up 4-2 and then held for 5-2.
Andreescu had a medical time out for wrist taping but it didn’t stem the flow of the set and Kartal took it, 6-3. She had saved all the breakpoints against her in second set.
In the deciding set, Andreescu went up 3-0 with a brilliant forehand winner off Kartal’s smash.
Kartal’s own forehand got her back in the match, coming from 1-4 down to level at 4-4.
More deuces followed. In the final game, Kartal saved three match points before an error gave her opponent the match, 6-2 3-6 7-5.
The statistics showed that Kartal served better and won more service points; they each had 25 break points; but ultimately, Andreescu won four more points for the match.
Kartal received a huge ovation for her skill and perseverance from the packed crowd as she departed.
By now, Sonay Kartal knows that she has drawn Madison Keys in her opening match of Wimbledon and another challenge awaits.
Title photo of Sonay Kartal playing in Bad Homburg by the Lawn Tennis Association
Madison Keys defeated Sonay Kartal in the first round of Wimbledon 6-0 6-3.