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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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Krejcikova Comes Alive With Her Serve To Win 12th Grand Slam Title At Wimbledon

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image via x.com/wimbledon

It must have seemed like the whole world was against her when Barbora Krejcikova served for the match for a third time against crowd favorite Jasmine Paolini.

But Krejcikova was only going for her 12th Grand Slam title. She was well prepared.

So, she released her patented way-out-wide serve to the smallish Paolini’s backhand, and the best the Italian could do was get her racket on the ball enough to return the serve far off the court, long and wide.

ARMS UP FOR A CHAMPION

The weight of the world was gone as Krejcikova threw her arms over her head and calmly walked to the net to greet the Wimbledon runner-up.

Now, Krejcikova was half-way home to a career Grand Slam in singles. She already owns a career Grand Slam in doubles among her dozen Grand Slam titles that also include one mixed doubles Grand Slam title.

She has won the hard ones, the French Open on clay and Wimbledon on grass.

At 28 years old, anything must look possible to this 5-10 Czech.

KREJCIKOVA COMES THROUGH UNDER PRESSURE

Paolini simply was out played in a second straight Grand Slam final, on clay and on grass. Now she faces the real tests, two straight Grand Slam tournaments on hard surfaces that might not be overly friendly to the 5-4 Paolini.

But there it was, a 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 victory for Krejcikova on Wimbledon’s famed Center Court.

After what might be called a throw-away second set for Krejcikova, she came alive in the third set, pinning Paolini to the deep corners while nailing low hard-hit balls to both corners.

Krejcikova got off to 40-0 starts on her first four service games of the decisive set and ended all four with service winners to take a 5-3 lead (with the aid of the only service break of the third set). She yielded only one point in those four service games, a double fault at 40-0 that was followed by an ace.

Of course, it was the serve again that saved the day for Krejcikova and gave her set points two and three, then sealed the deal for a spot in Wimbledon history.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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Wimbledon Finalist Jasmine Paolini – ‘I’m A Little Bit Scared To Dream Too Much’

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After coming close to her maiden Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, Jasmine Paolini believes consistency is key to having another shot at glory.

The 28-year-old dropped only one set en route to becoming the first Italian woman to reach a Wimbledon final. However, she was denied the title by Barbora Krejcikova, who won in three sets. Paolini was broken once in the decider which was due to a double fault from the Italian following an unsuccessful hawk-eye challenge made on her first serve. Then she failed to convert two break points when down 4-5 before Krejcikova held to seal glory.

“I started bad,” she reflected afterwards.

“I took some time and try to relax and to come back in the second set stronger to try to push the ball more because I was a little bit controlling too much, and I missed a lot of shots.

“She was playing, honestly, very good the first set. She was serving really, really good. High percentage of first serves.

“It was tough but I think I did better than the last final (at the French Open), but still it’s not enough.”

Prior to Saturday, Paolini had scored wins over former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, Medison Keys (via retirement) and a marathon victory over Donna Vedic. She has now won 15 Grand Slam matches in 2024 compared to just one last season.

The defeat comes less than two months after the French Open where Paolini contested her first major final but lost in two sets to world No.1 Iga Swiatek. Since the start of this season, she has risen more than 20 places in the rankings and will reach No.5 on Monday.

Despite being in her late 20s, the Italian is producing some of her best tennis on the Tour. Something she credits to a combination of things. 

“I improved my game a little bit. I believe more in myself. I improved my serve. I think I improve the return.” She explained.

“I think physically I’m better than two years ago. I’ve been working with a new fitness coach for one-and-a-half years.

“There are many things, I think. Not just one. I think also winning matches helps a lot.”

Whilst she is heading in the right direction on the Tour, Paolini has vowed not to get too ahead of herself.

“Sometimes I’m a little bit scared to dream too much.” she said.

“I’m going back, trying to practice and stay in the present. This is the goal for me and my team, to try to keep this level as much as possible.

“If I keep this level, I think I can have the chance to do great things.

“Today I was dreaming of holding the (Wimbledon) trophy but it didn’t go well.

“I’m just enjoying the position where I am right now.”

Paolini has won 30 out of 43 matches on the Tour so far this season.

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Jasmine Paolini’s Wimbledon Run Hailed By Italian Prime Minister

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The Prime Minister of Italy has praised Jasmine Paolini for lighting up the hearts of others during her Wimbledon run. 

Paolini missed out on her first Grand Slam title to Barbora Krejcikova, who prevailed in three sets to capture her second major trophy. Despite her defeat, she has made history at the tournament by becoming the first female player from her country to reach the final. Until this year, she had never won a Tour-level main draw match on the grass. 

Whilst disappointed about missing out on the biggest title of her career, Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni posted a tribute to Paolini on social media just moments after the final had concluded.

“Proud of Jasmine Paolini,” The Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (ANSA) quotes Meloni as saying. 

“The first Italian tennis player to reach the final of the prestigious Wimbledon tournament. 

“Despite the defeat, you lit up the hearts of the Italian people, succeeding in conveying grit and passion to all of us who supported you”. 

Paolini is the first player ranked outside the top five to reach the final of both Wimbledon and the French Open within the same year since the ranking system was introduced in 1975. She is also only the fourth female player in the Open Era to have reached her first two Grand Slam finals in the same year at Roland Garros and Wimbledon after Chris Evert (1973), Olga Morozova (1974) and Steffi Graf (1987). 

Should she win three or more matches at the US Open later this year, she will also set a new Open Era record for the most Grand Slam wins achieved by an Italian female player in a single season. 

“The last two months have been crazy for me. I want to thank my team, and my family. They always support me and I wouldn’t be here without them. The crowd have been amazing. I received a lot of support. Just incredible to feel the love from them, I enjoy it so much.” Paolini said following her Wimbledon defeat. 

The 28-year-old will rise to a ranking high of No.3 on Monday. 

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