TENNIS US OPEN — We called her the Woz, a word play on the Wiz, and on a court Caroline Wozniacki certainly looked like a wiz, a winner, even if she didn’t own a Grand Slam. There wasn’t a shot she couldn’t chase down, wasn’t a ball she couldn’t return. Art Spander for bleacherreport.com
She was No. 1 in the women’s rankings for 67 weeks, and in 2009 she made it to the final of the U.S. Open. A loss to Kim Clijsters seemed only a blip, a hiccup as the tennis people say. The Woz was 19, and had to get better.
Instead she got worse.
Maybe it was because the way she played, defensively—defense wins in football, but not necessarily in a racquet sport—or maybe it was because of her now severed relationship with Rory McIlroy, to whom she became engaged before as the world knows he broke it off.
Her ranking kept falling, all the way to 18th this past March. So, in a way, did her reputation as a competitor. She never quit trying or working. She just quit winning.
Until this summer. Until she stepped up from the mystery and the misery.
Wozniacki may not easily or quickly regain the top spot, not with her friend Serena Williams implanted there, however on Sunday she regained a great deal of esteem.
In a match that given the time, place and result has to be Wozniacki’s most impressive of the year, she beat Maria Sharapova, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, to move into a Grand Slam quarterfinal for the first time in the last 11 Slam appearances.
And given the destruction of the women’s draw, the second, third, fourth, fifth—that was Sharapova—and sixth seeds all having been eliminated, it’s quite possible the Woz will make the final on Sunday. Against Williams.
Yes, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, but why not? Tennis needs some anticipation. Right now, all it has, other than Serena, who’s in the other half of the draw, is a great deal of unpredictability.
Like Wozniacki slipping before doing a U-turn. She had raised herself to No. 10 before this Open and will climb even more when the new rankings are released.
“This hard court season has been amazing for me,” said Wozniacki. She next plays No. 13 Sara Errani, who Sunday ended the comeback tale of 32-year-old Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, the one-time teenage protégée, with a 6-2, 2-6, 6-0 win.
“I actually started already feeling good on court since Eastbourne,” said Wozniacki, referring to one of the mid-June grass court preludes to Wimbledon. “I have just been building on my game since then. You know today I just kept thinking to myself, just stay in there. Try and take the initiative. It was really hard.”
What was Hard was for Sharapova, one of the sport’s personalities, a five-time Slam winner, including this year’s French Open, was to keep up with Wozniacki. Suddenly the Woz was aggressive. Suddenly Sharapova was making errors.
“She made me hit a lot of balls,” said Sharapova. “That’s always been her strength. But she did it extremely well today. She’s a great retriever.
“I think I just stopped doing what helped me get advantage of the points, in the second set. I hit a good shot, and I allowed her to get back in the point instead of looking to come in . . . Caroline is more consistent. Sometimes players look to improve their weaknesses. I think her strength has improved incredibly well.”
So has her distance running. Apropos of nothing but perhaps since her sport demands the ability to race after balls for hours—it was 90 degrees Sunday, and players were allowed 10-minute heat breaks—Wozniacki is training for the New York Marathon in September.
“I’m serving well,” said Wozniacki after the win. “I’m running well.” In this instance she meant around a court, as opposed to a 26.2 mile course. She’s taking on that one for a charity. Wozniacki took on Sharapova to prove she again was a contender.
“Beating her here at the U.S. Open,” Wozniacki said of Sharapova, “it’s a tough task. I’m happy to be through and have another chance to play in the next round.
“I’ve had a great summer. I told Serena I’m pretty tired of her. Twice (Montreal and Cincinnati this summer) she beat me in three sets. I said, ‘Can you just get out of my way?’ We laugh about it. Maria, again, is a good player. This one was a great win for me. I think mentally as well to get that in my pocket is kind of nice.”
It also has to be reassuring. In tennis, as golf, doubters are prevalent. Even when she was No. 1, the critics said her game wasn’t complete enough to get a Slam. She couldn’t dictate play. Yet her belief was not shaken.
“I think my greatest strength is I can go from defense to offense and offense to defense,” insisted Wozniacki. “I think I have done a good job these last few months finding the balance between those two.
“I think I have served really well and returned well. And I never give up. You now even when it looks impossible for me to get to a ball, I’m still going to try.”
A few months ago it looked impossible that Caroline Wozniacki would go this far in the U.S. Open. It doesn’t any more.
Karolina Pliskova Faces Race Against Time To Be Fit For French Open
The Czech has less than a week to recover from a thigh problem before the next Grand Slam gets underway.
World No.4 Karolina Pliskova says she is ‘hopeful’’ that she will be ready in time to play at the French Open after suffering a setback in her preparations on Monday.
The Czech tennis star was forced to retire during her clash with Simona Halep in the final of the Italian Open after falling behind 0-6, 1-2. During the match she wore tape on her left thigh and also has work done on her back during a medical time out. However, Pliskova said afterwards that the issue was her thigh and playing a series of matches within a short period.
“I think it’s a combination of just playing every day and tough matches. Of course I played some two-set matches, but it’s still clay, which I was coming to play on quite fast from the hard court’s. There is a lot of sliding and running,” said Pliskova.
Due to the Tour being stopped by the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year players are playing a more compact schedule with two Grand Slams taking place within a month. Only 14 days separates the last day of the US Open from the first day of the French Open.
Despite her injury, 28-year-old Pliskova is optimistic that she will be able to play at Roland Garros with her first match possibly taking place on Sunday. She is a former semi-finalist in Paris back in 2017 but has lost in the third round two consecutive times since then. Overall her main draw record at the tournament stands at 11 wins against eight losses.
“I hope to be ready, there is a week so I think that’s plenty of time,” she said.
“I know I might play on Sunday in Paris but there are a couple days which I hope is gonna help a lot.
“I really want to be100% ready because if I want to go far in a Grand Slam. It’s going to be, like, two weeks of tennis, which I’m not sure today I can do. I just need to see what the doctors say,”
One of Pliskova’s biggest rivals at the major will be former champion Halep who has won back-to-back clay court titles within the past month. The Romanian is now in a 14-match winning streak and has reached the quarter-finals of better at every single tournament she has played in so far this year. The Czech believes her rival is the key contenders to lift the French Open trophy this year.
“Now she’s won two tournaments on clay, so I think she’s confident enough and she’s done well there,” Pliskova said. “She’s going to be dangerous.
“And she had big success in Paris, so I think she’s going to be one of my favourites to go for the title.”
Pliskova will be the second seed at Roland Garros.
World No.1 Ash Barty Impresses At Golf Club Championship
The 24-year-old is still winning trophies but this time it isn’t in tennis.
After deciding to pull the plug on her season due to concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic Ash Barty has once again illustrated that tennis is not the only sport she can excel in.
The world No.1 has won the Brookwater Golf Club women’s champion on Sunday with a seven and five triumph in the match play final. Following in the footsteps of her father Robert who once represented Australia as an amateur golfer. Although Barty is playing down the significance of her latest sporting win.
“It’s not a big deal,” she told the Australian Associated Press.
It is not the first time Barty’s golfing abilities have impressed. During a promotional event last December ahead of the Presidents Cup she earned praise from Tiger Woods after hitting wedge to a makeshift green on the Yarra River. After that shot Woods commented ‘she’s got a great swing, are you kidding me?’ Barty’s boyfriend, Garry Kissick, is also a PGA trainee professional at Brookwater. The place where they first met back in 2016.
Louis Dobbelaar, who won the men’s competition at Brookwater, believes Barty has what it takes to become a professional in the sport should she wish. The 24-year-old is also an avid cricketer and played professionally between 2014-2015 during a break from tennis. Playing in the Women’s Big Bash League Barty enjoyed stints with teams Brisbane Heat and Queensland Fire.
“She’s got all the tools if she wants to pursue it. If she put her mind to it, I’m sure she could,” he told the AAP.
“I’ve seen quite a lot of golfers come from different sports and she’s the one that stands out the most – by far actually. Her ball-striking’s really good. She just gets that naturally from tennis, the hand-eye stuff.”
Barty hasn’t played a match on the WTA Tour since the Qatar Open back in February where she reached the semi-finals. She will not be defending her title at the French Open next week due to concerns related to the pandemic. Besides worldwide travel, she has been unable to train with her coach due to local restrictions.
The Australian has made more than $17.5M in prize money so far in her career.
Maturing Simona Halep Closing In On Rome Milestone
The Romanian is hoping that it will be third time lucky at the Foro Italico this year.
Top seed Simona Halep survived a roller-coaster encounter against Spain’s Garbine Muguruza to progress to the final of the Italian Open on Sunday.
The world No.2 required more than two hours to disposed of Muguruza 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, in what was the seventh meeting between the two Grand Slam champions on the WTA Tour. It was a far from straightforward win for the Romanian who lost her serve three consecutive times during the second set. However, she managed to bounce back in the decider with the help of a four-game winning streak as she edged towards victory despite facing some late resistance.
“Against Muguruza she’s a very, very difficult player and a good player. It’s always good vibe and a good feeling when I win against her,” Halep told reporters after.
“I know I had so many chances to maybe finish the match a little bit faster and easier, but she doesn’t give up.’
“Credit to her that she fought till the end. I am happy that I was a little bit stronger in the end and I could be more aggressive when I needed to.”
There is still room for improvement for Halep who won only 48% of her service points and converted nine out of her 18 break point opportunities. She also hit 21 winners alongside 22 unforced errors.
The latest victory was the first singles match at this year’s Italian Open to take place in front of fans. Due to a recent decision by the local government, a maximum of 1000 spectators has been allowed to attend the Foro Italico on its last two days. A move that has been hailed by Halep even though she admits that it was her opponent who was getting more cheers.
“It’s been nice to see people in the crowd, even if they were all not supporting me today. They were with Muguruza, but I understand,” she said.
“But I was happy to see them and I felt the energy.”
Halep now moves into her third Rome final where she will have a shot of achieving a unique milestone of winning three major clay events on the WTA Tour along with the French Open and Madrid Open. Something only Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova have achieved.
Standing in her way of the title will be the winner of the all-Czech clash between Karolina Pliskova or Markéta Vondroušová. Somewhat of a relief for Halep who lost her two previous finals in Rome to Elina Svitolina.
“I’m not playing her so I have a plus,” she joked.
“It’s a final, so I have to manage it a little bit better than previous years. It’s gonna be a tough match.’
“Now I’m more mature. So let’s hope that I can be better tomorrow and to win it.”
Halep will be playing in her 18th WTA final on the clay and is currently on a 13-match winning streak.
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