WTA players are geting "ready" for clay - UBITENNIS
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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.

WTA

Elena Rybakina and Belinda Bencic take hard-fought wins to reach the third round in Doha

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Elena Rybakina saved a match point to beat Alison Van Uytvanck 5-7 6-2 7-6 (10-8) to secure a hard-fought 5-7 6-2 7-6 (10-8) win over Alison Van Uytvanck on his fifth match point after 2 hours and 21 minutes at the Qatar Total Open in Doha.

 

Both players went on serve in the first ten games with no breaks, before Van Uytvank earned her first break in the 11th game to win the first set 7-5.

Rybakina broke twice in the second and eighth games to win the second set 6-2 forcing the match to the third set. Van Uytvanck converted her third break point in the fifth game to take a 3-2 lead. Rybakina broke straight back to draw level to 3-3. Rybakina earned two match points at 5-4. Van Uytvanck saved two match points on her serve in the 10th game. Rybakina did not convert a match point after a double fault. Van Uytvanck failed to convert her own match point, before Rybakina won the final three points to advance to the third round, where she will face 2019 Roland Garros champion Ashleigh Barty.

Barty beat Rybakina in the third round at last January’s Australian Open.

Belinda Bencic recovered from missing a match point to beat Veronika Kudemertova 6-4 4-6 7-6 (8-6) after 2 hours and 38 minutes. Both players traded breaks in the third and fourth games. Bencic wrapped up the first set with a break in the 10th game.

Kudemertova earned an early break in the second set. Bencic pulled the break back on her third opportunity in the eighth game to draw level to 4-4. Kudemertova won the final two games with a break in the ninth game to seal the second set 6-4.

Bencic went down a break in the third game of the decider, but she broke back in the eight game to draw level to 4-4 and earned a match point in the 10th game. Kudemertova saved it and earned four break points on Bencic’s serve. Bencic saved them and forced the third set to the tie-break. Bencic won three consecutive points from 3-3 to earn three match points. The Swiss player closed it out on her third match point setting up a third round match against Yulia Putintseva.

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Elena Rybakina scores her 20th match of the season in Doha

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Elena Rybakina came back one set down to beat Sorana Cristea 3-6 6-3 6-1 to score her 20th match win of the season at the Qatar Total Open just two days after losing to Simona Halep in Dubai.

 

Rybakina has improved her seasonal record to 20 wins to 4 defeats this season. The Kazakh player won the Hobart International and reached three finals in Shenzhen, St. Petersburg and Dubai.

Rybakina went down a break in the opening game, but she broke straight back to draw level to 2-2. Cristea broke twice in the fifth and ninth games to win the opening set 6-3. Rybakina broke serve in the third game to take a 2-1 lead. Cristea broke back in the sixth game at deuce to draw level to 3-3. Cristea broke straight back at deuce to draw level to 3-3. Rybakina won the final three games with two consecutive games to win the second set 6-3. Rybakina won the first nine points of the third set including a break in the second game and got the break with a backhand return in the sixth game before serving out the win to secure her spot in the second round.

“I still have energy. I am just fighting in every match. Hopefully I can can keep making finals and finally win another. It’s my first time here, and it’s a really nice place. Hopefully I will have time to walk around, but I am enjoying Doha so far”, said Rybakina.

US teenager Amanda Anisimova cruised past last year’s semifinalist Elina Svitolina 6-3 6-3 to reach the third round at the Qatar Total Open in Doha.

 

Anisimova hit 27 winners to 31 unforced errors and fended off all three break points she faced.

 

Anisimova scored her top 10 win since last  year’s Roland Garros, where she beat Simona Halep en route to her first Grand Slam semifinal.

 

Anisimova saved two break points in the third game of the first set. The US player earned the only break of the first set and held on her serve to seal the opening set on her second set point.

 

Anisimova converted her fourth break point at deuce to take a 3-2 lead. Svitolina earned two game points as she served to stay in the match, but Anisimova won three consecutive points to clinch the second set with her second break.

 

Anisimova will face either Svetlana Kuznetsova or Polish teenager Iga Swiatek.

 

“I think the most important thing was just staying focused and clearing my head, just not putting too much pressure on myself and just trying to enjoy. I love playing here. I love this stadium and the crowd is great. I am glad I get to see everyone again in the next round”,said Ansimova.

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Epic Dubai Triumph Fuels Belief And Motivation For Simona Halep

The world No.2 reacts to the latest milestone achieved in her career.

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On Saturday Simona Halep survived a marathon encounter at the Dubai Tennis Championships to become only the sixth active player to win 20 on more WTA titles on the tour.

 

The two-time grand slam champion, who was the top seed in the tournament, required almost two-and-a-half hours to see off the in-form Elena Rybakina 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(5). A player who has reached the final in four out of her five tournaments played so far in 2020. The clash was far from easy for the Romanian, who trailed 1-3 in the decider and failed to serve the match out when leading 6-5 before eventually prevailing in the tiebreak. Earning her first WTA trophy since lifting the Wimbledon trophy last July.

“It feels great that I could win it,” Halep said. “Actually, it was amazing. She fought till the end. She didn’t give up any balls. It was really tough mentally. The pressure was very high. But I wanted it badly, so that’s why I fought till the end.”

Besides Rybakina, the 28-year-old also scored wins over Jennifer Brady, Aryna Sabalenka and Ons Jabeur in the tournament. Out of those matches, Halep’s only straight sets win was over Brady in the semi-finals.

It is the second time Halep has won the Dubai crown after 2015. She believes her latest triumph reiterates why she still belongs at the top of the women’s game. Prior to this week, she also reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open and quarter-finals in Adelaide.

“I’ve done a lot of results, many results these six, seven years,” said Halep. “I’m staying here in the top 5, top 10, which is not easy. I’m proud of my job. Also, this tournament gives me confidence that I’m still there.”

Whilst she has only won two titles over the past 16 months, it is the consistency of the former world No.1 that has enabled her to be in the world’s top 10 for so long. To date she has spent 317 weeks consecutive weeks in the top 10 since January 2014. The 10th longest streak in the history of the WTA Tour.

“I always had in my mind that I had to be consistent. I didn’t like the way you win a tournament and then don’t do anything for a few months. I like to build my power and consistency every week.” She explained.
“Since I met Darren (Cahill) I was told that we had to look at the big picture and not just this week.’
“This makes me more proud than winning titles because if you’re able to be there means that you have everything power, strong mental, physical also, very strong.” She added.

There will be no Middle East double for Halep this year after she withdrew from the upcoming Doha Open. A Premier 5 event that will feature six top 10 players in the draw this year. Halep was runner-up in the tournament last year to Elise Mertens.

“It’s a decision I took before the match … I started this tournament a little bit injured with my foot.” Halep stated.

The only active players to have won more WTA titles than Halep are Serena and Venus Williams, Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova.

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