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Serena and Maria move one step closer to a semis clash

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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.

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Andy Murray’s ‘Tennis In 2020’ Caption Praised By Rising Star Gauff

Why a recent Instagram post from the three-time Grand Slam champion has been hailed by the teenage sensation.

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Coco Gauff has branded Andy Murray a ‘great ally’ for diversity after the former world No.1 highlighted an article about the lack of members from non-white backgrounds at the Lawn Tennis Association and All England Club.

 

The former world No.1 uploaded a screenshot of an interview conducted by The Times newspaper with MaliVai Washington who is the last black man to reach a Wimbledon final back in 1996. The article reported that none of the 24 board members of the two organisations are Black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME). In Murray’s Instagram along with the picture he wrote the caption ‘Tennis in 2020’ followed by a confused emoji.

16-year-old Gauff has hailed the Brit for speaking out on the issue. Speaking to reporters following her 1-6, 7-6, 7-6(2), loss to Aryna Sabalenka in Ostrava on Thursday, the world No.55 said it was important to have people like Murray commenting on these issues.

“Nothing’s wrong with asking for more diversity. For him to say that is definitely inspiring, especially with him being a man and white,” Reuters news agency quoted Gauff as saying.
“For someone like him to call for diversity, it shows how great an ally he is… I love what Andy is doing on and off the court. He’s one of my favourite players to watch.
“It’s important we do have diversity, because there are people from all over the world from different backgrounds and areas and I think representation is important. At least for me, as a girl… seeing yourself being represented means a lot.”

Murray is renowned for speaking out about equality issues in tennis and was one of the first top players on the ATP Tour to hire a female coach when he collaborated with Amelie Mauresmo. In an article written for the BBC back in 2017 he said ‘anyone who has spent any time with any of the top women will know that they make those same sacrifices and are as determined and committed to winning as any of the top men on the tour.’

More recently Murray has also come out in favour of renaming the Margaret Court Arena at the Australian Open due to the former player’s controversial statements about the LGBT community.

Despite her young age, Gauff has also been vocal about social issues and addressed a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally in her home town of Delray Beach, Florida earlier this year where she called for change.

Coincidentally during the same week as Murray’s post, Wimbledon has appointed its first ever BAME member to its main board. The Daily Mail has confirmed that former player and Fed Cup captain Anne Keothavong will join the board in a bit to increase diversity. The 37-year-old was born in the London borough of Hackney after her parents left Laos in the 1970s.

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Iga Swiatek Explains How Work With Sports Psychologist Aided Her Rapid Rise

The 19-year-old speaks to reporters for the first time since her Grand Slam milestone in Paris.

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Iga Swiatek (@rolandgarros on Twitter)

Recently crowned French Open champion Iga Swiatek believes work on her mental game was key to her shock run.

 

The 19-year-old Pole stunned the field at Roland Garros as she eased to the title by dropping only 28 games in what is the fewest amount dropped by a female player at the event since Justine Henin back in 2007. En route to the title she beat top 10 players Simona Halep and Sofia Kenin. Prior to the tournament Swiatek was yet to win a title on the WTA Tour and had never gone beyond the fourth round of a major.

Reflecting on her breakout, the teenage rising star believes her work with sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz has been pivotal as she encourages other players to follow the same route as her.

“She understands me and she is a sports psychologist, so both on court and off court she is doing, with me, a great job,” Swiatek told The Associated Press.
“The mental side of tennis is really important,” she added.

Swiatek has been labelled as a future star of the sport after winning the 2018 Wimbledon girls’ title. Since then she has steadily risen up the rankings but had never scored a victory over a top 10 player until this year’s French Open. So far this season she has recorded 16 wins on the Tour with 12 of those taking place across the three Grand Slam tournaments.

“I realized that it doesn’t have a good impact on my tennis and I’m not able to play as good tennis on match(day) as on practice (days), so we tried to change that and we did a great job and I’m really happy that the result of that job is (a) Grand Slam,” she commented on working on her mental game.

Speaking about Swiatek’s rise, Abramowicz said she has managed to ‘use her resources and potential magnificently.’ Dr Abramowicz conducted postgraduate studies in sports psychology at SWPS University of Humanities and Social Sciences in Warsaw.

“Iga is very mindful, despite her young age. She has used her resources and potential magnificently. It wasn’t an easy time though,” she told reporters on Wednesday.
“What you have seen on television is only a fraction of the work done. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t a metamorphosis, but rather an evolution. The doubles proved very helpful in sticking to one’s routines. Iga withstood excellently the difficulties of this tournament.”

Already the first player from her country to win a major title, Swiatek says her ultimate goal is to win every Grand Slam tournament, as well as a medal at the Olympic Games. Her father is a former rower who participated in the 1988 Olympic Games.

She is currently at a ranking high of 17th in the world.

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Is 19-year-old Iga Swiatek bound for greatness?

Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper tennis columnist James Beck reflects on the potential significance of the French Open women’s final.

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Paris is always magical.

 

The City of Love must be.

Iga Swiatek is the French Open women’s singles champion.

Always talented, always athletic.

But until this fortnight the Polish 19-year-old had never demonstrated any true greatness in  women’s tennis. All of a sudden now, even the great John McEnroe is predicting greater greatness from the latest new star of women’s tennis.

A STRANGE YEAR FOR WOMEN’S TENNIS

What a strange year this is in women’s tennis. Sofia Kenin wins the Australian Open before the coronavirus took over the entire world. Kenin came out of nowhere to achieve this amazing feat.

So, just when it appeared Kenin was ready to keep her amazing success story afloat, another surprise arrived with the name Iga Swiatek. It wouldn’t be real surprising that when this coronavirus disappears, hopefully early in 2021, that Swiatek keeps winning Grand Slam titles. It also wouldn’t be surprising if she retires with just one major title.

Swiatek seems to be just that unpredictable.

DID SHADOWS PLAY A KEY ROLE IN THE WOMEN’S FINAL?

Perhaps this time, Swiatek’s glorious day was achieved due to the uncontrollable nature of nature itself. The sun and its shadows appeared to play a major role in how this Grand Slam final started.

Shadows dominated one end of the court at match time on Saturday in the newly covered Court Philippe Chatrier Stadium.

Visibility was dreadful on the TV screen, and it must have been much the same way in Kenin’s eyes when she played the second and third games of the match on the “shadow end” of the court. The 21-year-old American looked out of sorts as if she was playing in darkness and she couldn’t find the ball while falling behind, 3-0.

SHADOWS BRING BACK MEMORIES OF NADAL-SODERLING

The scene brought back memories of Rafa Nadal’s fourth-round match against Robin Soderling in 2009 at Roland Garros. Going into the 2020 final on Sunday against Novak Djokovic, Nadal has suffered only two losses in 88 matches on the red clay of Roland Garros.

Of course, Nadal’s loss to Djokovic in the 2015 quarterfinals at the French Open wasn’t a show stopper, especially when you consider that Djokovic is now slipping up on Nadal’s 19 Grand Slam titles and Roger Federer’s 20 in the all-time major title race.

But for Rafa to lose to the big-hitting Soderling was shocking at the time. Rafa also looked like he was playing in darkness that summer day in 2009. He couldn’t find the ball, either.

KENIN WASN’T NORMAL SELF

Seeing what happened on Saturday in the shadows at Roland Garros, it’s now easier to understand what happened to Nadal that day against Soderling.

Kenin had a miserable day on Saturday. She wasn’t herself, maybe due to the shadows or maybe to her heavily bandaged left thigh. Kenin is a better player than the one audiences around the world saw in her 6-4, 6-1 loss to Swiatek.

FANS FORTUNATE TO CATCH THEM BEFORE THEY BECAME STARS

Watching this French Open women’s final made me acknowledge once again how great it is to reside in a great tennis town that brings the ITF world-wide circuit to your city. It happens all over the world, to large cities and small cities.

Of course, Charleston also has the WTA Tour’s Volvo Car Open where the world’s best current players perform for large crowds of paying viewers.

The ITF Circuit is different.

Swiatek, Kenin and Cori Gauff all played in the $100K ITF tournament at LTP Tennis in Charleston during 2018 or 2019. All free of charge for everyone to view in person or even to enter  the current boundaries of social distancing. Autographs, yes. But autograph seekers were rare for these three young stars even that recently.

James Beck has been the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.

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