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WTA players are geting "ready" for clay

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TENNIS – In 2013, Serena Williams closed her season on clay with 28 wins and no losses, but in Charleston she lost to Cepelova. So what is going to happen in the next couple of months, with her and the other ruler of the past clay seasons, Maria Sharapova, looking far from their best? Giulio Gasparin

 

In 2013, Serena Williams closed her season on clay with 28 wins and no losses, something remarkable not only for the numbers, but also for the clay-court game she was able to bring to the table.

On the green clay of Charleston, the most suitable to the powerful American, Williams started her new year on the dirt being unable to defend her title. Her campaign actually started with a straight sets loss to Jana Cepelova.

So what is going to happen in the next couple of months, with her and the other ruler of the past clay seasons, Maria Sharapova, looking far from their best?

It is fundamental to state that the general level of the women’s tour on clay is suffering quite a lot lately. Mostly due to the small number of tournaments being played on it, more and more players seem to feel awkward and out of place on clay, trying to make their hard-court game plan work on the dirt.

For that reason, it is quite common to see strange results in the leading to the Roland Garros and often the seeding means quite little on the single match up.

One other reason why to expect Serena Williams not to show the same commitment on the dirt as last year could be the desire of winning Wimbledon again, hence a focus on grass rather than clay.

Maria Sharapova is coming back from the shoulder injury that forced her out of the season finale last year and despite the semi-final in Miami, she still looks vulnerable, especially on her serve.

The physically more demanding clay could prove a test too difficult for the Russian, who might even find it hard to hang in the top 10 by the end of the Parisian slam.

This year’s Australian Open and 2011 Roland Garros winner Li Na could be the one to pick up the pieces once again.

However, the world number two is currently struggling with a knee injury that forced her out of Stuttgart. For that it is hard to know whether she will be able to raise her game once again when it matters, especially given her game, which is forcedly adapted to clay, despite her past success on it.

World number three and four do not seem to be the suitable candidates for the dominance of the clay season either.

Agnieszka Radwanska lacks the power to hit through the clay and her touch skills work better on faster surfaces, while Victoria Azarenka is still struggling with injuries, besides that even at her best, clay was surely her worst surface.

World number five and last year’s biggest surprise Simona Halep could easily be the name to appear in most of experts’ lists of Roland Garros favourites. The Romanian started her breakthrough on the clay of Rome in 2013 and is a former junior champion in Paris.

A mix of smart game, powerful counterpunching and natural aptness to the red clay is what seems to lack to most of her fellow top 10 players.

The only other player to share a similar quality is Jelena Jankovic. The former world number one is looking particularly solid and tenacious lately and has always loved the red clay. However, the loss in Bogota’s final to Caroline Garcia is raising some doubts on her chances to be a real contender for the Roland Garros.

The only true clay specialist in the top 15, Sara Errani, looks far from her best in this 2014 and wins are struggling to come regularly.

It will be hard for her to achieve the same results as in the past two seasons, but her fighting spirit and smart game will make her tough to beat.

Apart from the already mentioned Sharapova, the group of players from five to 15 have all big question marks next to their names.

Petra Kvitova has never excelled on the red clay and with the horrible physical preparation showed during this season, it will be hard for her to shine in the next months.

Angelique Kerber has showed solid results at the beginning of the year, but similarly to Radwanska her game is not suitable for the slow red clay.

Same can be said for the revelation of 2014 Dominika Cibulkova, whose aggressive baseline tennis does not match with the ideal standards of clay tennis. Nonetheless, the Slovak has reached the semi-final in Paris in the past and could look for a similar run if her form keeps up.

Despite her Roland Garros title in 2008, Ana Ivanovic does not seem a real competitor for the title this year. Her improved form is still far from reliable and it would not be surprising to see her struggling to back up the good results so far.

Indian Wells champion Flavia Pennetta has never passed the Roland Garros fourth round in the past and despite the numerous WTA titles won on red clay, the Italian has proved to be a bigger threat on hard courts.

The already named Garcia could well be one of the names to keep an eye on in terms of surprises. The young French player has had a successful past as a junior, but never quite transferred it to the pro circuit, ever since failing to close her match against Sharapova at Roland Garros a few seasons ago.

Her win in Bogota followed a series of nice wins and good results, including a three sets loss to Serena Williams, in which she tested the world number one until the very end.

Another couple of names to keep under the radar are Jana Cepelova, Andrea Petkovic, Eugenie Bouchard and Alize Cornet.

The first three all showed great things in Charleston, especially the young Slovak, who was capable of winning against Serena Williams with ease.

Petkovic’s form has been coming and going, but the confidence boost she received after the win of her first ever premier title could prove important for a streaky player like she is.

As for the French number one, she demonstrated a new attitude on court, especially in the way she deals with her own temper.

The talent that pushed her as high as number 11 a few years ago following a dream run in Rome has always been there, but Cornet has been more concrete this season and has started to win long, tough mental battles, with the latest being on the final of Katowice.

If she is able to keep these progresses up, she could easily be one of these dark horses for the next few weeks on red clay.

For quite the opposite reason, an eye should be kept on some of the top players, who might find the roughly two months of red clay a nightmare.

Caroline Wozniacki will find it very hard to do any worse than in 2013, when she managed to win a single match on red clay and it was at her very last attempt in Paris. The Dane surely does not like clay, but given her mediocre season so far, it is hard to expect anything much better.

Sabine Lisicki has just suffered from the “hard-worker” of team Germany the worst loss of her career score-wise, as she was left with a single game to her bag by Petkovic in Charleston.

Lisicki’s game and mind are all projected to the grass swing and her poor form and confidence might play a big role too in the coming weeks.

Finally, Sloane Stephens, the great hope of American tennis, seems to be lost in a status of confusion between aggressive and defensive inputs, tactics and instinct. In a word: confused.

She comes from two awkward losses on clay and it is hard to believe she can suddenly find the plot on a surface where her lazy footwork can be easily exposed.

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Former Tennis Star Reveals 2016 Retirement Was Linked To 18-Month Ban

The former world No.66 says she was suspended from the sport after engaging in a fight with another player following one of her matches.

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Ekaterina Bychkova (image via Wikicommons)

A top 100 player who stunned Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first round of the 2005 US Open when she was the defending champion has made a shock revelation about the reason why she retired from the sport.

 

Ekaterina Bychkova, who peaked at a ranking high of 66th in her career, was a familiar face on the women’s Tour that played in 15 Grand Slam main draws between 2005-2011. During her career, she won 10 ITF singles titles and five in the doubles. She hung up her racket in 2016 after playing one qualifying match in St Petersburg but the decision to retire wasn’t entirely her choice.

In a recent interview Bychkova revealed for the first time she was slammed with a 18-month suspension from the sport after engaging in a fight with another player. The incident took place following her match against Slovakia’s Kristina Kucova at an ITF $100,000 event in Nanjing, China.

“In the third set Kuchova began to suffer from convulsions (cramps). But according to the rules, you cannot call a doctor for convulsions and you cannot lie on the court for five minutes. However, she lay on the court for several minutes, then the supervisor came, who said that it was not a seizure, which means that a break was needed. He clearly sympathized with her,” she said during an interview with website Bookmaker Ratings.
“Kuchova returned to the match and immediately began to serve powerfully, kick the ball and move well. She was released psychologically, but on the contrary, I was shackled.”

A furious Bychkova ended up losing the first round match 7-5, 6-7(1), 3-6, to Kucova who is currently ranked 149th in the world. Although the incident between the two players didn’t take place on the court. It occurred later on that day when they crossed paths again.

“I was asked to take a walk for 20-30 minutes. Suddenly this beauty floats past me, cheerful. I broke down and started a fight,” she said.
“Two days later, the supervisor announced to me that our fight was on camera. It was a hostel on the court grounds, not an official hotel, and in fact the fight did not take place on the territory of the tournament.”

Reflecting on her actions, which was caught on CCTV, the Russian says they were in no way justifiable and she regrets how she reacted. Not only did she end up with a 18-month ban from the sport, she was also fined $3,150.

At the time Bychkova said she had the option to appeal the decision but opted not to do so because she didn’t want to go through the process of hiring lawyers and travelling to London for an ITF hearing. Claiming that the fight didn’t actually occur on the tournament site but at a hostel located on the surrounding grounds. She also said her decision to not to appeal was because she was ‘tired of tennis.’

Now at the age of 35 she has decided to give playing professional tennis another go. This week she played her first match in five years at an ITF event in Moscow where she lost in the first round to world No.611 Anastasia Tikhonova.

There has been no public comment from Kucova regarding Bychkova’s account of what happened in China.

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Naomi Osaka Dedicates Latest Grand Slam Win To Those Affected By Hardship

The tennis star has issued a statement to her fans in Japan and around the world following her latest triumph.

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Naomi Osaka hopes her Australian Open victory will help inspire tennis fans around the world as she aims to continue her surge in form on the Tour.

 

The world No.2 clinched her fourth Grand Slam title at Melbourne Park on Saturday after defeating Jennifer Brady in straight sets to clinch her 21st consecutive win on the Tour. At the tournament she also scored wins over former world No.1 players Garbine Muguruza and Serena Williams. She is the first woman to have won her first four major finals played since Monica Seles during the 1990s.

In the wake of her latest triumph, the 23-year-old issued a statement through her management company in which she said her win is dedicated to those still recovering from the 2011 Japan earthquake.

“I would like to thank everyone in Japan for their continued warm support,” she said. “Since I heard there was another large quake in Japan recently, I also want to dedicate this win to those whose lives have still yet to be fully put back together following the ravages of the Great East Earthquake and Tsunami.”

The 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami devastated the country on March 11th with more than 15,000 people being killed. It also caused the worst nuclear accident in Japan’s history after a reactor released radioactive material. Last week a 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck the same region in what scientists described as an ‘aftershock’ from 10 years ago.

Continuing her tribute to those who have faced difficult times, Osaka has also dedicated her victory to those who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s Australian Open took place under strict rules with all players having to go through a 14-day quarantine upon aerial into the country.

“Seeing as we are still contending with the coronavirus on a daily basis, I would like to dedicate this victory to the people around the world who are doing what they can to help us escape its shadow,” she continued in her statement.
“Although there has been a lot of sad news lately regarding the coronavirus and earthquakes, I think that we need to remember the importance of life and have an open heart to help one another in times like these.”

Given her recent dominance on the Tour, Osaka has been backed for even more future glory in the future with Mats Wilander saying she will win at least 10 major titles. Something has only ever been achieved by five women in the Open Era. However, Osaka insists that she will not be thinking too far ahead.

“I like to take things not big-picture. For me, I like to live in the moment,” she explains.
It’s an honour that he said that, of course. But I don’t want to weigh myself down with pressure and expectations.
“I know that the people that I’m playing against are the best players in the world, and, you know, if my time comes to win another Grand Slam, it will come.
“But for right now I can only control what I can control, and that’s working hard and giving myself opportunities.”

Osaka is only the fourth active player to have won a quartet of major titles after the Williams sisters and Kim Clijsters.

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Naomi Osaka Downs Brady For Fourth Grand Slam Title

Naomi Osaka won her second Australian Open title with a straight sets win over Jennifer Brady.

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Naomi Osaka (@BJKCup - Twitter)

Naomi Osaka won her fourth grand slam title after a 6-4 6-3 win over Jennifer Brady in the Australian Open final.

 

Osaka was too good for the first time grand slam finalist as she prevailed in a relatively comfortable straight sets win.

The victory means it is her fourth grand slam title, second Australian Open victory and now 21 wins in a row.

It was easy to tell who was the more experienced player under these circumstances as Osaka settled into the match quickly with two aces contributing to a love hold.

As for the American, she needed a bit longer to settle in a grand slam final with a 29% first serve percentage in her first two service games.

That is not going to get it done in a grand slam final as two double faults in the fourth game handed the break to the 2019 champion for a 3-1 lead.

However the American didn’t get to her first grand slam final without a bit of resilience and some nice forehands mixed with some sloppy Osaka play , saw Brady break straight back.

As the forehand gained consistent power and shape, the backhand was also good in attacking situations as she forced the third seed to use some difficult angles from static court positions.

This match turned into an enjoyable contest with Brady hitting some amazing shots to get the Rod Laver Arena crowd into the match.

After a gritty hold from break point down, Osaka used her champion qualities to rally from 40-15 down to break and take the first set 6-4 after an easy forehand into the net from Brady.

The momentum was now firmly with Osaka as she looked more and more confident on return as she continued to use the angles and deep shot-making to force the errors from Brady.

Although the American tried to be aggressive as possible, there was no control when constructing points against a dominant Osaka.

Two breaks of serve in quick and convincing fashion saw a 4-0 lead as a second Australian Open title was in sight.

A mini fight back, saw Brady restore some competitiveness in the contest, with some good serving and controlled aggression from the baseline as the score was reduced to 4-2.

However, unable to take advantage of a half-opportunity in the next game, it wasn’t to be Brady’s day.

Winning two of the next three games, a forehand unforced error from Brady sealed Osaka’s fourth grand slam title and second Australian Open.

It is now 21 victories in a row since the Cincinnati tournament in New York last year.

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