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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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In-Form Liudmila Samsonova Storms To Tokyo Title

Tokyo is the second tournament this year the Russian has won without dropping a set.

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Image via https://twitter.com/WTA_insider

Liudmila Samsonova has continued her rapid surge on the Tour by defeating China’s Qinwen Zheng 7-5, 7-5, to win the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo. 

 

The world No.30 dropped serve only once and hit four aces as she edged her way past rising star Zheng who is the first Chinese teenager to reach the final of a Tour-level singles event. Overall, Samsonova won 68% of her service points en route to becoming the first Russian player to win the tournament since Nadia Petrova in 2012. 

“It’s amazing, I don’t have too many words right now. I need a little bit of time,” said Samsonova, who beat Grand Slam champions Elena Rybakina and Garbine Muguruza earlier in the draw. 
“It was a really tough match. She is playing amazing. It was a nervous match, we were fighting every point. It was tough.”

Samsonova is becoming a formidable force in the women’s game and has now won 18 out of her past 19 matches. Last month she also won titles in Washington and Cleveland before reaching the last 16 of the US Open for the first time in her career at the age of 23. She is now 4-0 in tournament finals and didn’t drop a set in Tokyo this week. 

“I played a high level in all my five matches. I am incredibly happy about how I managed it,” she said.

There is also a reason for Zheng to celebrate with her run in Tokyo securing her place in the world’s top 30 for the first time on Monday when the rankings are updated. Making her the first Chinese player to do so as a teenager. She is also only the second teenager to reach the final of a WTA 500 event or higher this season after Coco Gauff at the French Open. 

Samsonova will also rise to a ranking high on Monday to just outside the world’s top 20. 

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Naomi Osaka Seeks Resurgence At Home Event After Rollercoaster Year

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Naomi Osaka training at the 2021 Madrid Open (image by Media Hub Mutua Madrid Open)

Former world No.1 Naomi Osaka admits that there have been more downs than ups for her this year but she is maintaining a positive outlook. 

 

The four-time Grand Slam champion has played 22 matches so far this season with her win-loss record currently standing at 13-9. However, at her six most recent tournaments she has failed to win back-to-back matches and is currently on a four-match losing streak. Osaka also missed this year’s Wimbledon Championships due to an achilles injury. 

Currently ranked 44th in the world, Osaka is hoping to break her slump at this week’s Toray Pan Pacific Open which will be held in Tokyo. It will be the first time she has played since losing to Danielle Collins in the first round of the US Open. 

“I think, of course, the year has (not been) the best year for me,” Osaka said during her pre-tournament press conference. “But I think overall I’ve learned a lot about myself and I’m just happy to be healthy. Because in Europe, I did injure myself, and that was like my first injury that took me that long to get healed.

“I think life is kind of ups and downs and this one was kind of more down than up, but overall I’m pretty happy with where I am now.”

Osaka is the defending champion in Tokyo, even though she won the tournament back in 2019. The event has been cancelled for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot has happened to the Japanese player since she won the title, both on and off the court. Osaka has spoken publicly about her mental health issues and took time away from the sport because of them. 

“It feels really weird to hear that I’m the defending champion because it was the last time I played in 2019,” she said. “I would love to win it again, but I think just taking it one match at a time … and also just playing in front of a crowd in Tokyo again, because the Olympics was crowdless, so it will just be nice to see people.”

This year Osaka does not have a seeding in the Tokyo draw which is in stark contrast to three years ago when she was the highest-ranked player in the tournament. She will begin her campaign against Australia’s Daria Saville and could then face fifth seed, Beatriz Haddad Maia, in the last 16. 

“I think every year for me since the first Slam, there’s been a lot of changes,” Osaka said. “But I think this year it has definitely been a real growing year for me. I think tennis-wise, I don’t really think I can go in a wrong direction. I feel like me as a player, my base is pretty solid. I can only really learn more about myself. I know that I am an aggressive player and I can only hope to keep doing that.

Away from the Tour, the 24-year-old remains one of the highest-earning players in the sport. According to a report published by Forbes in August, she earned in the region of £56.2M over 12 months with $55M of that coming from off-court ventures. She has also set up her own sports agency with long-time agent Stuart Duguid, signing Nick Kyrgios as one of her clients. 

“For everything off court, I think it’s really cool how tennis has let me get so many opportunities in things that I’m interested in, and it’s something I’m really happy and grateful for and I can only hope it keeps evolving.” She commented.

This week Osaka is seeking to win her first title of any sort since the 2021 Australian Open. 

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Simona Halep Ends 2022 Season With Nose Surgery And Mental Exhaustion

Simona Halep will return to the court in 2023.

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Simona Halep (@NewsCentralTV - Twitter)

Simona Halep has ended her season after having nose surgery and suffering from mental exhaustion in recent months.

 

The two-time Grand Slam champion has had a mixed season this year with the Romanian almost quitting the sport in February.

However the former world number one reunited with Patrick Mouratoglou and produced a world-class grass court season and US Hard court swing to get back into the world’s top ten.

Despite this, Halep has also had her troubles having had a panic attack at Roland Garros and struggled with anxiety.

This was all produced by the Romanian in her statement when she announced she would not play the rest of the season due to a nose surgery which has been linked to her breathing.

Now Halep will look to recover mentally and physically in time for January’s Australian Open as she will look to become a Grand Slam champion for the third time in her career.

Simona Halep’s 2022 Season:

Melbourne Summer Set 1: Champion

Australian Open: R4 l. Cornet

Dubai: Semi-Finals l. Ostapenko

Qatar: R1 l. Garcia

Indian Wells: Semi-Finals l. Swiatek

Madrid: Quarter-Finals l. Jabeur

Rome: R2 l. Collins

Roland Garros: R2 l. Q. Zheng

Birmingham: Semi-Finals l. Haddad Maia

Bad Homburg: Semi-Finals l. Andreescu

Wimbledon: Semi-Finals l. Rybakina

Washington: R2 l. Kalinskaya

Toronto: Champion

Cincinnati: R2 – Withdrew

US Open: R1 l. Snigur

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