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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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Venus Williams Explains Met Gala Photo With Maria Sharapova

The former world No.1 says she and her sister Serena have ‘respect and love’ for Sharapova.

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Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams at the 20201 Met Gala (image via Instagram)

Seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams says there are no hard feelings between her, her sister Serena and Maria Sharapova after the trio took a photo together at the Met Gala.

 

The former world No.1s was seen smiling and laughing together at the New York fundraising event with both of the Williams sisters uploading a photo of them all on their Instagram story. Prompting surprise from some fans considering the at times icy rivalry between Serena and Sharapova that dates back to the 2004 Wimbledon Championships.

In her 2017 autobiography, Unstoppable: My Life So Far, Sharapova mentioned Serena’s name more than 100 times. She says the American hated her for beating her at Wimbledon that year and that the two were ‘not friends.’

“What I heard when I came in to the locker room was Serena Williams bawling,” Sharapova wrote.
“Guttural sobs. I got out as quickly as I could, but she knew I was there.
“I think Serena hated me for being the skinny kid who beat her, against all odds … I think she hated me for seeing her at her lowest moment.
“But mostly I think she hated me for hearing her cry. She’s never forgiven me for it.”

Responding to the claims, Serena hit back at the book in 2018 by describing it as ‘hearsay’ and said she never had any ‘negative feelings’ towards Sharapova. The two clashed on the Tour no fewer than 22 times with Serena winning 20 of those meetings.

“So I don’t have any negative feelings towards her, which again, was a little disappointing to see in that hearsay book,” Williams commented back in 2018. “So I have always, you know, and especially having a daughter, like, I feel like negativity is taught. One of the things I always say, I feel like women, especially, should bring each other up.”

Three years later and it now seems that all parties have put their disagreements behind them. At the Met Gala they were seen getting on pretty well. Besides posing for a photo together, they were also seen together in the bathroom at the event. A photo taken by pop star Anitta and rapper Saweetie which showed them in the background.

Speaking about the event for the first time, 41-year-old Williams said she wishes Sharapova was still playing before adding that they still ‘respect and love’ each other.

“First of all, Serena and I were talking about Maria the day before,” the 41-year-old explained on Instagram.
“We were like, ‘Damn, I wish Maria was still playing.’
“And we saw her, and we both told her separately, ‘Oh my gosh, we were just talking about you yesterday, we wish you were still on tour.’
“We were so happy to see each other. There was hugs, there was laughing, there were stories, and there was a photo.
“So the backstory is that even though us players compete really hard of the court for years, we still respect and love each other, and love Maria
.”

Williams, Serena and Sharapova have won a total of 35 Grand Slam singles titles between them.

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Emma Raducanu Launches Own Weibo Account With Viral Video

In her first video, the teenage sensation promised to play in China next year.

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Emma Raducanu reacts after winning a Women's Singles semifinal match at the 2021 US Open, Thursday, Sep. 9, 2021 in Flushing, NY. (Darren Carroll/USTA)

British tennis sensation Emma Raducanu is gaining a rapidly growing fan base in China with her first video on the social media account Weibo surpassing one million views in less than two days.

 

The 18-year-old has become one of the most talked about athletes in the world of tennis following her unprecedented run to the US Open title. At the Grand Slam she didn’t drop a single set in 10 matches played to become the first qualifier in history to ever win a major title. Even more remarkable was the fact Raducanu was playing in a Grand Slam main draw for only the second time in her career.

In her native UK bookmakers are already tipping the youngster as a strong contender to win this year’s prestigious BBC Sports personality of the Year award. Although it isn’t just Britain where she is proving to be a hit. Raducanu was actually born in Canada to a Romanian father and Chinese mother who both work in the finance section. The family moved to the UK when Raducanu was two-years-old.

“My mum comes from a Chinese background. They have very good self-belief. It’s not necessarily about telling everyone how good you are, but it’s about believing it within yourself. I really respect that about the culture,” she said.
“She’s always instilled a lot of discipline and respect for other people into me, so I think that having parents like I do, they always push me, they have high expectations so I’ve always tried to live up to that. And I just hope I did them proud this week and I’m going to keep trying to go, keep going.”

Shortly after her US Open win, the world No.23 delivered a message in mandarin which was posted on the tournament’s Weibo account. SportsPro Media reports that the video generated more than 11 million impressions.

Now Raducanu has launched her own Weibo account with a video message to her fans. Shine.cn, which is a website powered by Chinese newspaper Shanghai Daily, said that the British player has promised to play in the country next year. This season’s Asian swing has been cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Shine also said she spoke with a slight ‘accent from northeast China’ where her mother is from.

According to the latest view count, the video has been watched more than 1.22 million times since it was published. The view count may look impressive but it is by no means a one off. The Guardian newspaper recently reported that two hashtags related to Raducanu on Weibo have been viewed at least 200M times each as a result of her US Open win. These hashtags were ‘18-year-old ethnic Chinese young player wins US open championship‘ and ‘Raducanu.’

Despite her relative inexperience on the Tour, many are tipping Raducanu to become one of the most marketable athletes in the world. Her ability to interact with the Chinese market will play a significant role in those considering the country has invested millions into the sport and hosts a series of prestigious women’s events. However, in the immediate future the teenager says her focus is on the tennis.

“I have a few days’ rest and recovery – I think needed after the last seven weeks,” she told CNBC’s Closing Bell earlier this week.
“But then I am straight back to training and hungry to get better and come back out and play some more tournaments.”

Besides Weibo, Raducanu also has over 583,000 followers on Twitter, 1.9M Instagram followers and 63,000 followers on her official Facebook page.

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World No.1 Ash Barty May Skip WTA Finals Over ‘Ridiculous’ Conditions, Says Coach

The decision to move the event to Mexico could result is the loss of the wortld No.1.

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Ashleigh Barty (AUS) celebrates defeating Barbora Krejcikova (CZE) in the fourth round of the Ladies' Singles on No.1 Court at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 7 Monday 05/07/2021. Credit: AELTC/Florian Eisele

The season-ending WTA Finals could take place without the world’s highest ranked player due to the change of venue and its conditions, according to her coach.

 

Ash Barty is the reigning champion of the event, which was cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is usually held in the Chinese city of Shenzhen but this year’s edition has been relocated to South America. Earlier this week the WTA confirmed that it will be hosted in Guadalajara, Mexico during the early part of November.

Reacting to the latest development, the mentor of reigning Wimbledon champion Barty has hit out of the new location. Craig Tyzzer has voiced his concern over the decision to use pressure-less balls at the event which will be played at high altitude. Going as far as describing the situation as ‘ridiculous.’

“We only just found out it’s in Mexico at 1500 metres (above sea level) and they’re using pressure-less balls,” Tyzzer told the Australian Associated Press.
“Pressure-less balls absolutely fly. It’s a ball that, if you use it in normal conditions, it doesn’t bounce. It’s not the greatest advertisement for the best girls in the world to be playing something they’ve never done before.’
“In conditions they’ve never played, in a country they don’t play and at altitude, I just feel it’s ridiculous. As a spectacle, it’s just frightening.”

Guadalajara already hosts a WTA 250 event during the first quarter of the season. In this year’s tournament no top 20 players were present in the main draw which was won by Canada’s Leylah Fernandez.

Barty is currently taking a break from the Tour following her third round loss at the US Open. Tyzzer said the chances of the world No.1 playing in the WTA Finals is up in the air due to the current travel restrictions in place. When Barty returns to her native Australia she is required to spend two weeks in isolation. Therefore the later she leaves it to go home, the less time she will have to prepare during the off-season.

“Indian Wells (next month) is still on the radar but she just needs a rest. So I told her to just get away and have a holiday,” he said.
“It certainly isn’t easy for us to get there and to play that event in Mexico and then to come back and have to do two (more) weeks (in quarantine) and then your summer is sort of ruined as well. It’s a decision we’ll have to sit and mull over quite a bit.”

So far this season Barty has registered a win-loss record of 42-7 and has won a total of five Tour titles. Besides Wimbledon, she has also triumphed at two Premier Mandatory and two Premier 700 events.

The WTA Finals features the eight highest ranked players in the world with a multi-million dollar prize money pool. This year will be the first time in it’s 49-year history that the tournament will take place in South America before returning to the scheduled home of Shenzhen in 2022.

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