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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Garbine Muguruza moves into the second round in Dubai

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Last year’s Australian Open finalist Garbine Muguruza beat Irina Camelia Begu 6-3 7-5 after 96 minutes to move into the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. 

 

Muguruza hit 23 winners to just 10 for Begu. The Spaniard earned a break in the second game to open up a 3-0 lead, but Begu pulled back the break. Muguruza broke for the second time with a backhand winner down the line to open up a 5-3 lead and consolidated the break with a hold to close out the first set 6-3. 

Begu went up a break twice in the second set. She served for the set at 5-3, but Muguruza pulled back on serve with a forehand winner off the netcord on break point. Muguruza broke again to take a 6-5 lead and sealed the win with a forehand winner. 

Muguruza has improved her 2021 win-loss record to 13-4. 

“Begu and I have played before, we have also trained together, so we know each other’s games. I gave her a big battle and in important moments I tried to be focused and be smart and efficient”, said Muguruza. 

The former Roland Garros and Wimbledon champion will face Amanda Anisimova, who eased past qualifier Ana Konjuh 6-2 6-2. 

Elise Mertens came back from one set down to beat lucky loser Viktoriya Tomova 4-6 6-2 6-4. Tomova was a last-minute replacement for last week’s Lyon semifinalist Fiona Ferro. Mertens converted eight of her nine break points. Tomova broke for the fourth time in the opening set after a six-deuce game to clinch the first set 6-4. Mertens never dropped her serve and broke serve with a backhand winner down the line to seal the second set 6-2. Mertens went up a break at 1-0 and 4-2 but Tomova pulled back both breaks. Mertens broke to love to take a 5-4 lead, but she had to save two break points, as she was serving for the match. The Belgian player broke serve in the 11th game to close out the match.

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Naomi Osaka Brands Appointment Of Female Olympic Chief As Inspiration For The World

The world No.2 sees the development as one that let young girls know ‘anything is possible.’

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Four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka has hailed the recent appointment of a woman to oversee this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.

 

Seiko Hashimoto was named as the head of the Tokyo Olympic Committee last month following the resignation of Yoshiro Mori. Mori was accused of being sexist after saying women should be limited to how much they speak during meetings because they talk too much. He said that if more female members were appointed to the board they will have to ‘make sure their speaking time is restricted somewhat, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying.’

Controversy aside, Osaka believes Hashimoto’s appointment could have a significant impact on gender equality. A former professional speed skater and cyclist, Hashimoto have participated in seven Olympic Games which is more than any other Japanese athlete in history.

This is such an important moment for Japanese women, and women around the world; and I hope it’s an inspiration to a young girl with big dreams to know that anything is possible,” the world No.2 told the International Olympic Committee.

Osaka’s comments coincide with International Women’s Day which celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. Tennis is considered as one of the top sports in the world when it comes to gender equality with equal prize money being awarded at every Grand Slam since the 2007 Wimbledon Championships. Last year Forbes magazine concluded that nine out of the 10 highest paid female athletes in the world are tennis players.

“I love seeing women in leadership roles like Kamala Harris and Michelle Obama,” Osaka commented. “In sport I’ve seen progress too, with women involved in various positions even in men’s sport, like Kim Ng, who is now the General Manager of the Miami Marlins. Then you have myself and Serena [Williams] as owners of NWSL [National Women’s Soccer League] teams – so I hope these kinds of leadership positions inspire the next generation of women and reflect some level of progress and change.”

The 23-year-old is a part-owner of North American women’s football team North Carolina Courage. Whilst her direct involvement in the club will not be substantial she will be acting as a ‘strategic advisor.’

Osaka is currently on a 21-match winning streak on the WTA Tour. Last month she defeated Jennifer Brady to win the Australian Open for the second time in her career.

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Elina Svitolina Admits Cut In Prize money Due To COVID-19 Affecting Motivation

The 26-year-old says it is not easy adjusting to the changes after being ‘spoiled’ by the WTA.

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Elina Svitolina says that a decline in financial incentives at tournaments could alter her schedule over the coming weeks.

 

The world No.5 says less money available at smaller events compared to previous years are having an influence on her decision to play them. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic tournaments across the world have been forced to slash or adjust their prize money pool’s. For example at this year’s Miami Open the singles winner will take home $300,110 which is a massive 80% reduction on what was awarded in 2019 ($1.354 million).

Svitolina will be the top seed in the upcoming Dubai Tennis Championships, which has also been forced to cut their payouts. This year’s winner will walk away with 68% less than what the previous champion won ($221,500 compared to $696,860).

“I had to adjust, like for example with my team, with my daily life,” AFP news quoted Svitolina as saying during her Dubai press conference on Sunday. “Maybe be a little bit smarter and I think for everyone it’s important to readjust because right now there is definitely a significant change in the prize money,”
“I think it’s really not easy for some players to adjust and for me, personally, it’s maybe also a little bit [tough] right now, because we’re a bit spoiled from the years that the prize money was really high.”

As of the week commencing March 1st, 2020, 26-year-old Svitolina is the 18th highest earning WTA player of all time in terms of prize money won. Her earnings currently stand at $20,112,704. This is more than what Martina Navratilova, Monica Seles, Li Na and Jelena Jankovic won during their entire careers. So far the Ukrainian has won 15 titles but is yet to reach the final of a Grand Slam.

Speaking about the current situation on the Tour, Svitolina admits she now feels more inclined chose to skip lower level events.

“Now for sure it gets into your head that you know you have less motivation at some tournaments to play because the prize money is much lower and you’re playing for example a smaller tournament and you’re tired afterwards to play a big one, so you would skip it,” she explained.
“So that, for sure, plays a little role in the motivation, in my opinion. Hopefully we can step by step improve and get back to where we were before.”

Recently the ATP confirmed revealed a series of new initiatives to support players during the pandemic including the use of a ‘covid-19 protected ranking.’ Although the women’s Tour hasn’t revelled any similar measures yet and it is unclear as to if they will. The WTA has already adjusted their ranking calculations.

Svitolina will start her campaign in Dubai against Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova who she leads 4-1 in their head-to-head. It will be the fifth tournament of her 2021 season but she is yet to progress beyond the quarter-final stage.

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