TENNIS – The 2013 Miami finalists, Serena Williams (1) and Maria Sharapova (4) are both on the same side of draw this year and if the seeds hold true to form, they are expected to meet in the semifinals. However, coming into their 4th round match ups, neither player has showed anything that might indicate that they may even get to the semifinal. Cordell Hackshaw
The 2013 Sony Ericsson Open women’s finalists, Serena Williams (1) and Maria Sharapova (4) are both on the same side of draw this year and if the seeds hold true to form, they are expected to play each other in the semifinals. They are the biggest names in all of women’s tennis today. They have a much touted rivalry which in fact is no rivalry as Williams dominates the head to head at a staggering 15-2 with those two losses coming far back in 2004. Nonetheless, their meeting in a match is always a hot ticket for fans. However, coming into their 4th round match ups, neither player has showed anything that might indicate that they may even get to the semifinal much more win the title.
Sharapova was up first against Kristin Flipkens (19) of Belgium. Sharapova did not have much to fear from this matchup as she has a 4-0 lifetime record over Flipkens having never dropped a set in any of the encounters. However, with the Russian looking vulnerable so far this tournament and having failed in spectacular fashion to defend her Indian Wells title last week, conditions seemed ripe for an upset. Flipkens, it seemed also sensed this moment. She jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the 1st set. Sharapova was unable to get any rhythm from her opponent as Flipkens threw “junk” her way; off speed shots, high loopy forehands as well as her infamous slice backhand. This forced the Russian to generate her own pace, which ultimately made her very erratic. Sharapova got one of the breaks back but could not mount a comeback as errors continued to pour off her racquet. Flipkens took the set 6-3.
However, this is Maria Sharapova and her competitiveness is far more renowned than her game at times. She put the fact that she only had one winner and five double faults in the 1st set behind her and raced out to a 4-0 lead in the 2nd set. Flipkens was unable to call upon the game plan she had successfully employed earlier in the match but yet the determination to get this first win over Sharapova remained. She called recently retired ATP tour player, Xavier Malisse who was now her coach on court. Malisse’s advice seemed to have done the trick as Flipkens broke and was had break point and a 2nd serve to play with to get back on serve 4-4. However, the tennis gods, if they do indeed exist, were not on her side. The chair umpire’s microphone system chose that precise moment to go on the fritz. This gave Sharapova a much needed reprieve and another 1st serve because of the unintended delay between serves. Sharapova did not waste this gift and edged ahead 5-2. Flipkens broke Sharapova as she served for the set 5-3 and was serving to even the set at 5-5. Yet again, the Belgian’s A game deserted her giving Sharapova 3 set points. The Russian only needed one; 6-4 Sharapova.
In the 3rd set, Sharapova finally found her range and greatly cleaned up her game. She got an early break and was up 3-0. The serve was in full effect winning 78% of her first serve and 60% of her 2nd serve. Flipkens had four break points at 1-3 to get back on serve but Sharapova was determined to not relinquish another of her service game. She held serve, broke Flipkens again and served it out 6-1. Sharapova 3-6 6-4 6-1.
This was far from Sharapova’s best and if she wishes to win this title for the 1st time after 5 previous failures in the finals, this level of play will not change her luck. She herself noted, “I wasn’t doing too much from my end and made a lot of mistakes from the first ball, which gives your opponent that confidence and the time they need to do whatever they want.” Sharapova’s next opponent in the quarters will be Petra Kvitova (8), 2011 Wimbledon Champion who won that title over Sharapova. Kvitova is looking to be in fine form as she completely dismantled her 4th round opponent here Ana Ivanovic (12) 3-6 6-0 6-0.
Williams took the court after the Sharapova’s victory against fellow American Coco Vandeweghe. This was their third meeting, first since the summer of 2012. One needs not speak of Williams’ many accomplishments from that point onward but Vandeweghe has been lost in the depths of tour since then. Ranked outside the top 100, Vandeweghe was given a wild card last week at Indian Wells. She lost in the 1st round but came through the qualification rounds in Miami and took out Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (21) and Sam Stosur (16) along the way to set up this 4th round meeting with Williams. However, this was not the same Coco Vandeweghe from 2012. She now possessed a massive serve capable of popping it up to the 120mph range and a deadly backhand particularly the one down the line.
In the early parts of the match, Vandeweghe was hanging tough with the top ranked Williams. She was keeping her honest and not letting Williams get any early advantage in the match. However, this match was vital to Williams to send a message that she was indeed here to retain her title. Williams broke to go up 4-2 but soon faced break point to get back on serve. No sooner had she saved it to get back to deuce than the infamous Florida rain came to disrupt play.
When play resumed just over an hour later, it appeared as though the rain had washed away any impediments to Williams’ game. She served out the game and lead 5-2. Vandeweghe was able to make the scoreline in the 1st set respectable by forcing Williams to serve it out 6-3. However, in the 2nd set, it was all Williams. She was ready for the Vandeweghe first serve and the younger American was only able to win 46% of her 1st serve in the set compared to 77% in the 1st set. Williams on the other hand only dropped one point on serve for the entire 2nd set and thus took the set 6-1. Williams 6-3 6-1.
Williams was very complimentary of her compatriot in her on court interview, commending her serve and even noting that “It was a much tougher match than the scoreline showed.” Vandeweghe should not be disheartened by this loss. With her performance here this week, she is back in the top 100 and giving her automatic main draw entry into both the French Open and Wimbledon draws. Hopefully, this level of play continues and improves throughout the year. She also has the added bonus of Williams’s open invitation to play doubles together; providing of course big sis’ Venus Williams is not around and she has the time, Williams added. Vandeweghe is very stoked by the idea and ready whenever Williams is ready.
In-Form Liudmila Samsonova Storms To Tokyo Title
Tokyo is the second tournament this year the Russian has won without dropping a set.
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.
Naomi Osaka Seeks Resurgence At Home Event After Rollercoaster Year
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.
Simona Halep Ends 2022 Season With Nose Surgery And Mental Exhaustion
Simona Halep will return to the court in 2023.
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
Cincinnati: R2 – Withdrew
US Open: R1 l. Snigur
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