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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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Iga Swiatek double bagels Karolina Pliskova to win Rome

Iga Swiatek dominated Karolina Pliskova for 46 minutes to win the Rome title.

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Iga Swiatek (@InteBNLdItalia - Twitter)

Iga Swiatek is the 2021 BNL D’Italia Open champion after beating Karolina Pliskova, the number ninth seed, in 46 minutes. The Pole thrashed her opponent 6-0, 6-0 with the help of 17 winners as she lost only 13 points the entire match.

 

“I’m really happy, I’m kinda overwhelmed because at the beginning of this tournament I wouldn’t even dream of winning and it was super tough, we have to fight and obviously Karolina (Pliskova) had a great run here,” said Swiatek.

The number 15 seed got off to the best possible start having no issues in her opening service game and in the following game it was visible her Czech opponent was having issues with her serve.

Pliskova would serve a double fault to give the first breakpoint of the match and the Pole took to take an early 2-0 lead and from there it was one way traffic.

The number nine once again would double fault to gift another breakpoint at 3-0 and the 19 year old pounced with her powerful forehand to go up a double break and would break one more time to seal the first set in 19 minutes.

Fans at the Foro Italico were expecting a response in the second set from Pliskova but it was utter dominance from the Pole and again the number nine seed again struggled with her serve double faulting on breakpoint at 1-0 to once again give the early break.

There was a mini fight back from the Czech at 2-0 when she managed to earn two breakpoints to try and get back in the match but the number 15 seed would save both and hold serve.

The next game she continued to attack and play her aggressive game style earning two more breakpoints and breaking one more time to take a 4-0 lead and you could sense this match was going to be over very quickly.

Swiatek would seal the win with another one of her trademark forehand winners to take the match and the title which will boost her on Monday to number nine in the world and her first appearance in the top 10.

After the match Pliskova admitted today was not her day, “You have days like this in where things are not going your way,” Pliskova said in her trophy ceremony speech.

“That was the day today I still tried but it was not working for me. I will just quickly forget about today. I had some great matches here. Final is always a great week, great tournament.”

Both players will now head to Roland Garros with Swiatek looking to successfully defend her title.

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Iga Swiatek Completes Double Duty To Reach Rome Final

Iga Swiatek has set up a final showdown with Karolina Pliskova in Rome.

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Iga Swiatek (@InteBNLdItalia - Twitter)

Iga Swiatek reached her first Rome final with a 7-6(3) 6-3 win over Coco Gauff.

 

The Pole made her first WTA1000 final after completing her second win of the day in convincing fashion.

Swiatek will now play Karolina Pliskova in tomorrow’s final after she beat Petra Martic in the first semi-final.

The first set set the standard for the match with ridiculous shot-making from the off as both players settled into the match quickly.

It was Swiatek though who grabbed the first break of the match as she forced some unforced errors out of the young American.

Gauff’s hard hitting and athleticism meant that she was far from out of the match as she managed to hit several winners and punch holes through the Pole’s game.

Eventually the 17 year-old managed to break back as the Roland Garros champion’s power had decreased and more unforced errors crept into her game.

However in the first set the Pole won five of her six service games when she was down in the game and that mental advantage in pressure points was crucial as she ensured that the first set was heading towards a tiebreak.

More solid play from the Pole and better tactical play ensured that Gauff hit a flurry of unforced errors and Swiatek won seven of the ten points available to take the opening set in 1 hour.

In the second set, Swiatek’s confidence was on full show with an improvised forward tweener and efficient serves put the American under really pressure.

https://twitter.com/tennis_gifs/status/1393584244639797254

Inevitably the pressure told as a double fault handed the world number 15 the crucial break for a 3-1 lead.

If that was impressive then, the hold after was even more impressive as the Pole withstood some ferocious firepower especially from the backhand side to save two break points and consolidate the break.

Swiatek produced another break as her all-round consistency was too solid for Gauff’s power and ferociousness in the fore court.

The Pole produced some late jitters as Gauff did well to apply pressure on the Roland Garros champion, a double fault while serving for the match handed the American a lifeline.

However it was only a lifeline as Swiatek completed victory to move into her first WTA 1000 final.

It was a confident performance as she moves into the final in what is ideal preparation for her Roland Garros title defence.

She will now play Karolina Pliskova in tomorrow’s final after the Czech Republican reached her third consecutive Rome final with a 6-1 2-6 6-3 win over Petra Martic.

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Iga Swiatek upsets Svitolina to reach semis in Rome

Iga Swiatek beat Elina Svitolina to rack up her first top 10 win of the season to reach the Rome semi-finals.

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Iga Swiatek (@InteBNLdItalia - Twitter)

The Polish teenager upset the number five seed in straight sets to reach the final four in Rome.

 

Iga Swiatek continues to rack up the wins against the top 10 players in the world, this time against the Ukrainian Elina Svitolina beating her 6-2, 7-5 to reach the semifinals of the BNL D’Italia Open in Rome.

She got off to the best possible start using her speed and aggressive groundstrokes to hold her opening service game and the very next game went on the attack earning two breakpoints with a sublime forehand return winner.

The number five would save both before succumbing to a third when the number 15 seed pulled out a powerful forehand winner to take an early 2-0 lead.

The Odessa, Ukraine native had a chance to get back in the set earning her first breakpoint of the match at 3-1 but again it was the 19 year old would come up with the goods to save it.

When serving to stay in the first set at 5-2 the number 15 seed continued to pressure the Ukrainian serve and earned three sets points which she would convert on to take the first set.

It was the number five seed who would earn the first chance to break in the second set with a forehand winner of her very own but again was denied by the Polish teenager.

The Ukrainian would finally get the breakthrough to take a 2-1 lead but Swiatek would respond the very next game breaking right back using her backhand this time.

After holding serve the Pole had a chance to take the lead once again and the number five seed would double fault twice in a row to once again get broken and trail 4-2.

Just like earlier in the set the Ukrainian would bounce back the very next game breaking right back and it would stay on serve until 6-5 with the number five seed serving to stay in the match.

The Pole would earn two match points and convert on her first chance to take the set and the match setting up a semifinal later today against Coco Gauff who was able to finish her match yesterday.

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