Li and Pennetta win in the wind - UBITENNIS
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Li and Pennetta win in the wind

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Li Na escaped from a very tough match against Dominika Cibulkova to conquer her second Indian Wells semi-final.

The Chinese looked in full control in the first set in the rematch of the Australian Open final, but suddenly suffered Cibulkova’s comeback and had to fight from a break down in the third.

The first set started with a show of nerves from both sides of the net: the first three games were three breaks of serve. Li was the first to hold the serve and the advantage gained in the fourth game set the tone of the whole first set.

The Australian Open champion looked solid from the baseline and confident both on defence and offence, causing Cibulkova to miss many balls in the attempt to get her off balance.

With a heavy forehand winner Li closed the first set breaking Cibulkova’s serve once again and everything seemed ready for an easy second set for her.

The Slovak, who had never won against Li in five matches, started the second set with a different attitude and by hitting harder and taking the ball earlier, she started to move Li around and take control of the rallies.

Cibulkova failed to convert a break point in the first game and soon had to save one behind her own serve, but she did it with a stunning backhand down the line, which boosted her moral.

The finalist in Melbourne hold in that game and immediately broke the Chinese’s serve, flipping the momentum all to her side.

Too fast for Li to realise, Cibulkova was hitting winners left and right and went serving for the second set 5-2 up.

The Slovak let the nerves come back in the worst moment and immediately fell 0-40 down. She managed to save the first two break points, but Li broke back and went on easily holding.

At the second chance to close the set, Cibulkova hold with an impressive reaction after a bad challenge.

In the third set the Slovak tried to impose the same rhythm that gave her the lead in the second and it seemed to work at first and with the help of a double fault on the break point, she took the early break.

Cibulkova could not keep the momentum going though, and returned the favour by offering a break chance with a double fault. Li immediately took it to level the score and immediately held.

The fourth game has been the most spectacular of the match, Cibulkova started feeling the pressure and served a few double faults, but played out of her mind to save all the five break points she faced and finally held for two all.

In the seventh game, at three all, Li served two break points and handed Cibulkova two break chances, but immediately made up with two good serves and finally closed with an ace.

The missed chance clearly took his toll on the Slovak, who started to rush and suffered one another break, the decisive this time as Li went on closing easily for an important 6-3 4-6 6-3 win.

 

Her opponent in the semi-final will be Flavia Pennetta, who continues her impressive 2014 after she defeated Sloane Stephens and the win in a mental thriller lasted more than two hours and ended 6-4 5-7 6-4 for the Italian.

In a match rich of twists and sudden turns, Pennetta started very composedly and without shining too bright like she did against Camila Giorgi, still managed to keep Stephens under pressure and take comfortably the first set.

In the second, Stephens tried a reaction and thanks to a bad call, which the Italian did not challenge, captured an early break.

The Italian fought back and despite an erratic serve and a footwork far from the best days, she still obtained an important break and went up 5-4, serving for the match.

At 30-15 the Australian Open quarter-finalist let the tension get to her arm and consequently allowed the young American to break back.

Stephens could not ask for a better chance and exploited the momentum taking the next two games to equalise the set count.

All of a sudden a strong wind started to blow in the court and conditions, which were already difficult, became prohibitive.

Stephens kept the momentum alive and flew easily 3-0 up, but the experienced Italian was not ready to give up.

Pennetta battled against herself, her negative thoughts and a gusty wind to save a break point and then stop the series of games won by the American.

Quite as swiftly as the wind had come, Pennetta started to find more confidence in her shots and despite the wind was making it hardly possible to be aggressive, she started to move Stephens around.

The Italian then found herself a positive streak and tied the score at three all.

Both players managed to hold their serves, but it was clear that every ball could have changed the outcome of this battle.

More than once, Pennetta tried to be the aggressor, but the wind helped Stephens into the rallies, even though she hardly tried to produce any winner in the tempest.

Unexpectedly, the Italian managed to break the serve of Stephens in the ninth game and after the court chance tried to serve once again for the match.

With the help of a couple of lousy shots from the American, she found herself three match points up, but she simply could not close it.

After a fourth match point gone, one could sense the tension in the eyes of both players, but Pennetta suddenly found a terrific down the line backhand winner which set her to a fifth and eventually definitive match point.

When the wind blew the desperate drop-shot attempt of Stephens out wide, Pennetta finally could rise her arms to the sky and cheer for her second semi-final of the year, the first ever for an Italian in Indian Wells.

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Emma Raducanu Confident Of Full Fitness Ahead Of Grass Swing

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Emma Raducanu - Cincinnati 2022 (foto Twitter @cincytennis)

Emma Raducanu has no regrets about her decision to skip the French Open and now believes she is in a ‘really fit place’ ahead of Wimbledon. 

The former US Open champion opted to end her clay season earlier than other players to focus on fitness and training with her coach. Raducanu stated earlier this year that her primary focus in 2024 is on her health after undergoing a series of wrist and ankle surgeries last year which sidelined her for months. 

Raducanu will return to action this week at the Nottingham Open, which is the event where she made her WTA main draw debut back in 2021. Despite her lack of match play in recent weeks, the Brit is feeling good and relishing her return to the grass.

“Body-wise, physical-wise, I feel really healthy,” she said on Monday.
“I’ve done amazing work with my trainer over the last few months, since surgery. I’m in a really fit place. I’m healthy and just looking forward to starting playing.”

Shedding more light on her health, Raducanu says she has full confidence in her wrists and believes they are in top condition. Making her feel more at ease when playing matches on the Tour. 

“I think my wrists are actually in a better position than they ever were. So there’s zero doubt or apprehension whether I’m hitting the ball or designing my schedule,” she explained.
“It’s more about being proactive and not wanting to put yourself in any unnecessary situations. I don’t need to rush and try to win the French Open, it wasn’t my goal this year.
“I had to prioritise where I wanted to target and it was just a good block for me to get some physical work done.”

Raducanu has played seven WTA events so far this season with her best run being to the quarter-finals of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, where she was beaten by world No.1 Iga Swiatek. The 21-year-old is currently ranked 209th in the world. 

At the Nottingham Open, she will play her first match on Tuesday against Japanese qualifier Ena Shibahara. 

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Russian World No.78 Elina Avanesyan To Switch Nationalities

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Image via https://x.com/WTAMeridaOpen/

A week after losing her fourth round match at the French Open, a government minister has confirmed that Elina Avanesyan is in the process of changing the nationality of who she plays for. 

The 21-year-old is switching her aligence from Russia to Armenia, according to Armenia’s deputy Minister of International Affairs and communication. Karen Giloyan has told the news agency Armenpress that Avanesyan will soon be representing his country. However, the tennis player has yet to comment on the matter.  Avanesyan was born in Russia but has Armenian parents.

“Elina Avanesyan will compete under the Armenian flag, but there is nothing official yet. We are waiting for her to get the citizenship of the Republic of Armenia so that everything will be official,” Giloyan told Armenpress.

Such a development would be a massive coup for the Armenian tennis federation which currently doesn’t have a player ranked inside the top 500 on either the men’s or women’s Tour. The country has a population of less than 3M. Perhaps their best-known player is Sargis Sargsian who reached the top 40 back in 2004. Others on the Tour also have Armenian heritage but don’t represent the country such as Karen Khachanov.  

Avanesyan is currently ranked 78th in the world, which is 18 places below her career high. This season, she has scored high-profile wins over Maria Sakkari at the Australian Open, Ons Jabeur in Charleston and Qinwen Zhang at the French Open. 

She has yet to play in the final of a WTA tournament.

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Iga Looks To Be In A league All to Herself At Paris

Iga Swiatek claimed her fourth Roland Garros title in Paris.

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(@Eurosport - Twitter)

Just call her Iga. No other identification is needed.

As the years go by, Iga’s notoriety is sure to grow.

She’s probably already earned a spot in tennis’ Hall of Fame.

Yes, Iga Swiatek is a name to remember. A hero in her native Poland, a superstar in the world of sports.

IGA WAS JUST TOO GOOD

Iga just added to her stardom Saturday with an impressive 6-2, 6-1 victory over little-known Italian Jasmine Paolini to win her third straight French Open title. This was Paolini’s chance to make a name for herself, but she didn’t have the game to make it happen.

Iga was just too good. She made it look too easy.

Paolini could hit some great ground strokes, but when she looked up a bigger shot was on its way back. Iga doesn’t look like a power hitter, but she is.

WINNING 10 CONSECUTIVE GAMES

The 23-year-old Polish Wonder finished the first set winning five straight games, then started the second set winning five more games in succession. The 28-year-old Paolini didn’t seem to have a clue on how to upend Swiatek.

It took just 78 minutes for Iga to win her fifth Grand Slam title.

She’s a lot like her French Open hero, Rafa Nadal.

She takes every match seriously.

SWIATEK OWNS THE RED CLAY

No wonder Iga owns a 35-2 record at Roland Garos. Or that she has won 21 straight matches. Or that she owns a 5-0 record in Grand Slam finals.

She only dominated opponents, except for Naomi Osaka in the second round. Swiatek escaped a match point in that one and didn’t look back.

Iga’s game should be just as superb on the green grass of upcoming Wimbledon.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.

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