TENNIS – On Wednesday the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix was visited by Stacey Allaster, Chairman and CEO of the WTA, who found her way to Stuttgart once again this year. Porsche Tennis Grand Prix media spoke to the Canadian about women’s tennis today and in the future, WTA’s responsibility towards the players and the importance of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix for the WTA. From Stuttgart, Simone Kemler
Ms Allaster, the Board of Directors are accompanying you to the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. What’s the importance of the tournament for the WTA?
“The Porsche Tennis Grand Prix is very important to the WTA. Each year the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix event exhibits the vision of the WTA “to be the most inspirational and exciting sport entertainment experience on earth”. I’ve been fortunate to attend the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix a number of times over the years, and I think it sets an extremely high standard. Furthermore, and most importantly, this is a tournament the athletes love to play. The tournament’s honor roll features many of the sport’s legends – and they’ve come back year after year. It has always been a pleasure to attend the tournament.”
The WTA represents over 2,500 players from 92 nations. How important is player welfare for you and where in particular do you see the WTA’s responsibility as being?
“The health and welfare of our athletes is our number one priority. We have a world class Sports Science and Medicine team that focuses on prevention, triage and rehabilitation in and out of competition. Our Director of Athlete Assistance travels to support the athletes, their coaches and parents. And we have a dedicated team that focuses on professional development programs. These programs include: (i) WTA Rookies that provides services and professional advice to help young players transition from the juniors to professional tennis; and (ii) WTA Transitions that provides professional development for those athletes who are nearing the end of their on-court careers. The type of programs offered include university undergraduate and masters degrees, coaching certification, public speaking, real estate, financial management and media training.”
Women’s tennis has developed rapidly in the past years. What in your opinion were the pivotal strategic changes?
“The introduction of Roadmap circuit reform in 2007 was a pivotal moment for the WTA. Our vision was to build a tournament structure that increased the participation rates of the WTA’s top players, while elongating the off-season in order to help cut down on injuries and prolong careers. As of February, we have 15 players aged 30 or older in the Top 100, including our World No.1 Serena Williams, who is still reigning supreme and breaking records at 32-years old.”
Where does women’s tennis stand in 2014 and what are your plans for the near future?
“With the tennis markets in Europe and the Americas at a mature stage, it was important to seek to establish women’s tennis in emerging markets, such as China, South East Asia and Brazil. In 2008, in conjunction with the WTA’s 35th anniversary, we opened an office in Beijing, China and upgraded the China Open to a Premier Mandatory event. This year our players could compete in a two-week swing in Brazil, with a tournament in Rio de Janeiro joining the Florianopolis event, which made its debut on the calendar in 2013. We’ll have a record number of tournaments in the Asia-Pacific region in 2014, culminating in our crown jewel event – the season-ending WTA Championships – to be hosted in Singapore for the next five years.”
The expansion in recent years has come above all in Asia. Is the rest of the world maybe getting a bit of raw deal?
“Europe and the Americas have been great success stories for women’s tennis. Tennis is very popular there and many of our players come from Europe. It’s exciting to note how global tennis has become and that’s why we’re also identifying growth opportunities for women’s tennis in emerging markets. But don’t worry Europe continues to host 23 tournaments – more than any other region on the 2014 WTA calendar. And when you include Roland Garros and Wimbledon, Europe continues to be a key foundation of the WTA’s global calendar. Additionally, with an extra week between Roland Garros and Wimbledon confirmed for 2015, tennis fans can look forward to an extended European grass court swing.”
Two players in particular are presently inspiring fans all over the world: Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams. How important are such superstars for women’s tennis and who do you feel can follow in their footsteps?
“There’s no doubt that players such as Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Li Na are global superstars of our sport. They not only continue to inspire us all with their on-court performance, but they transcend the sport: whether it is building schools in Africa like Serena has done; becoming the CEO of a multi-million dollar, international company like Maria has done; or being named as one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people as Li Na has been. These players are standing on the shoulders of the women who came before them and living the dream that resulted in the formation of the WTA.”
Who can replace the superstars in the future?
“As for the future, it’s looking bright. We have 10 different nations represented in our Top 10, and a host of young players rising through the ranks and looking to make their mark on the sport. Keep an eye on players such as Eugenie Bouchard (Canada), Madison Keys (USA), Garbine Muguruza (Spain), Laura Robson (UK), Monica Puig (Puerto Rico) and Elina Svitolina (Ukraine), along with Germany’s own Annika Beck, who just turned 20 and already has a career-high of No. 46 in the world.”
What do you think about the rise of women’s tennis in Germany and just how far do you feel the top German players can go?
“I think German tennis fans should be immensely proud of the women representing them on the WTA. Outside of the US, Germany has more players ranked in the Top 100 than any other nation. To have seven women ranked inside the Top 100 (as of February) is a fantastic achievement in a global sport such as tennis. Angelique Kerber has become a fixture in the Top 10; we saw Sabine Lisicki reach her first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon last year; and Andrea Petkovic and Julia Görges have broken into the Top 10 and Top 15 respectively over the last few years. These players not only compete hard, but are some of the most popular players on tour too. It is wonderful to see the camaraderie the German girls share, the encouragement and support they give each other, and I think the sky is the limit for what they could achieve in the future.”
Back to the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix: Why do you believe the players have voted it so often as their favourite tournament?
“The WTA has 22 premier tournaments and to be named the players’ favourite Premier-level tournament five times is a credit to Porsche, Markus and Anke’s leadership. Like the Porsche brand, Markus and Anke are committed each year to providing the athletes with a world class experience that ultimately enhances their performance. Each year the Tournament Directors and Operating Tournament Director are focused on the fine details that make such a difference and they are always asking themselves, despite the high standards, how they can evolve and improve the players’ experience for next year.”
What makes the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix different to other tournaments?
“Many tournaments provide all the important services for the athletes yet what makes the difference is the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix’s commitment to precision in all of these key areas. Along with world class services, each year the tournament staff rolls out the “911” red carpet for all the athletes and their guests. There are never any problems for the tournament team, just solutions to help the athletes, and it is the passion of the fans that really shines through and lifts this event to a high performance level.” (Porsche Tennis Grand Prix)
Naomi Osaka Overcomes Second Set Scare To Reach Last 32 At Australian Open
Naomi Osaka is into the last 32 of the Australian Open where Amanda Anisimova awaits.
Two-time champion Naomi Osaka overcame a second set scare to defeat Madison Brengle 6-0 6-4 to reach the third round of the Australian Open.
Osaka overcame a second set scare as she produced another dominant display of power to reach the last 32 against the unconventional American.
The world number 14 is looking for her fourth grand slam title in Melbourne.
Next for Osaka is Amanda Anisimova who beat a physically compromised Belinda Bencic 6-2 7-5.
It was a lightening quick start from Osaka who took the opening set in 20 minutes.
A display of power, accuracy and pace saw Brengle struggling to gain points on her service games.
The American isn’t a player who is going to hit you off the court and her shots were way too conservative against a player like Osaka who hits the ball so cleanly from the baseline.
Brengle came close but no reward as Osaka reeled off seven games in a row to take a 6-0 1-0 lead.
However Brengle eventually settled into her rhythm and to her obvious delight was ecstatic to win her first game of the match.
This relaxation allowed her to play with complete freedom as she started to use a lot of depth, angles and topspin to disrupt Osaka’s rhythm, who’s level dropped slightly.
Brengle created nine break points which Osaka saved with aggression and precison but on the tenth one, the American eventually broke to go a break up in the second set.
The American’s smile said it all as she was now in command of the second set but that didn’t last long.
That’s as Osaka used her champion’s skills to grind the break back and then went on a run of eight consecutive points to seal victory and a spot in the third round.
After the match Osaka spoke about her return game and the prospects of facing Amanda Anisimova in the next round, “I honestly want to say I returned pretty well,” Osaka admitted in her on-court interview.
“Been really working on it in the off-season. I’m trying not to [rate my level] if I compare myself to the past I will never be satisfied. I’m trying to take it one day at a time.
“I think we’re both going to take our chances. It’s very interesting to play against the younger players because I remember being a younger player myself and having nothing to lose.”
Friday’s meeting between the two players will be the first time they have faced each other.
Aryna Sabalenka Survives Sanders Scare At Australian Open
The Belarussian was made to work hard during her opening match at Melbourne Park.
World No.2 Aryna Sabalenka came back from the brink of defeat to seal her spot in the second round of the Australian Open.
The two-time Grand Slam semi-finalist struggled with her consistency throughout her 5-7, 6-3, 6-2, win over wild card Storm Saunders, who is yet to win a Grand Slam main draw match in her career. At one stage Sabalenka looked to be on the verge of suffering a third consecutive Tour defeat after trailing by a set and a break to the underdog before staging an emphatic fight back. Doing so with the help of her rival who started to unravel as the match progressed.
“She played well, she’s a tough opponent and I’m happy I won today,” Sabalenka said of Sanders during her on-court interview.
Sabalenka’s roller-coaster victory is best illustrated by the match statistics. Dealing with inconsistencies in her serve, she produced a total of 12 double faults and won 43% of her second service points. Furthermore, she hit a total of 29 winners against 37 unforced errors en route to the victory.
Playing a top 10 player for only the second time in her career, 27-year-old Sanders started the match in clinical fashion as she produced a level of tennis which exceeded that of her current ranking. Three consecutive times she managed to dismantle the Sabalenka serve to open up a swift 4-1 lead. However, the second seed briefly managed to find her footing in the match to claw her way back and level the set at 5-5. Not to be disheartened, Sanders continued pressing her opponent who faltered at the worst possible moment. Granting the underdog another break before she closed out the set.
On the verge of suffering an upset, Sabalenka’s woes continued in the second set when she got broken once again three games in. Trailing 5-7, 1-3, she managed to turn her fortunes around with the help of a six-game winning streak. Exposing the inexperienced her opponent has of playing on the biggest stages of the game. Serving to level up, she triumphed on her third set point with the help of a serve down the center of the court which Sanders returned out.
Into her stride, Sabalenka charged towards the finish line by winning a further four games in the decider before Sanders managed to register another game of her own. Serving for the win, a blistering serve down the center of the court secured the victory.
“I was already (mentally) in the locker room. Maybe that was the key because I stopped thinking too much and started playing tennis. I tried to put the ball (on the court) as much as I could and I think I did it well. That’s why I came back (in the match),” Sabalenka commented on how she turned the match around.
“Now I will recover and then tomorrow I will speak with my team about my next opponent.”
Sabalenka will play China’s Wang Xinyu in the next round. She could claim the world No.1 ranking in Melbourne if one of two scenarios occur over the coming days. She reaches the final and Ash Barty loses before the quarter-finals or Barty reaches the Quarter-finals and Sabalenka goes on to win the title.
Garbine Muguruza Reaches New Milestone As Swiatek Finds Her Groove At Australian Open
The two title contenders were in impressive form during their opening matches.
Third seed Garbine Muguruza extended her perfect run of first round wins at the Australian Open to 10 with a straightforward victory over France’s Clara Burel.
The former world No.1, who is yet to lose an opening match played at Melbourne Park in her career, required just under 90 minutes to see off Burel 6-3, 6-4. Muguruza broke her rival three consecutive times during the first set to win the opener in just over half an hour. Then in the second she eased to a 5-3 lead but failed to convert three match points. Muguruza was then broken in the following game before breaking back again to seal victory.
“It felt very good. I didn’t know really who I was facing. We’ve never played before,” Muguruza told reporters afterwards. “Very tricky. You’re always nervous going out there on Rod Laver, which I love, and starting a Grand Slam campaign.’
“I’m very happy the way I played and, of course, controlling the nerves.”
On what is the ninth anniversary of her Melbourne Park debut. Muguruza is hoping to go one step further than she did back in 2020 and win the title. She has now won 27 matches at the Australian Open which makes it her second most successful Grand Slam in terms of wins. Her best is the French Open where she has recorded 29 victories.
Muguruza will next take on another French player in the shape of Alize Cornet. During her on-court interview on Tuesday she was asked about her net play which the Spaniard said is a reflection of her on-court personality.
“It’s just a journey of adapting to your character,” she said. “I’m an aggressive player on the court and I like to dominate. I train like that. I’m not like that outside but inside the court I’m aggressive.”
Swiatek and her new coach
Another winner on day two was former French Open champion Iga Swiatek who swept aside Britain’s Harriet Dart 6-3, 6-0. At the start of the match she was trailing 1-3 before fighting back by winning 11 games in a row. The Pole is playing in her 12th Grand Slam main draw and is hoping to go beyond the fourth round in Australia for the first time in her career.
“You could see that first few games were pretty tricky for me. With the sun, I know I got broken in my second service game,” said Swiatek.
“I’m pretty happy that I was patient, I found the rhythm throughout the match. That’s pretty positive.”
Swiatek is in Melbourne with her new coach Tomasz Wiktorowski who is known for his previous work with Agnieszka Radwanska. She admits the new collaboration is very much a work in progress but believes she is heading in the right direction with her new mentor.
“He didn’t change a lot at the beginning because he was good to continue the process that I’ve had. Too many changes would be really confusing,” she said of Wiktorowski.
“We’re focusing on different stuff. We’re working on my strengths, which is great, because it’s going to give me confidence. I’m going to be able to be more, like, proactive on court. We were working on some attack formations and offensive game.’
“But we also didn’t have time to work on everything that we wanted to because there is a lot to improve in terms of my volleys and maybe slice.”
Swiatek will play Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson in the second round.
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