AO 2015: Serena with Kvitova, Sharapova with Halep - UBITENNIS
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AO 2015: Serena with Kvitova, Sharapova with Halep

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TENNIS AO 2015 – The draw ceremony to the 2015 Australian Open women’s tournament took place on Friday. The first round features some top matches like the re-match of the 2013 Australian Open semifinal between Vika Azarenka and Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki against US rising star Taylor Townsend, Simona Halep against Karin Knapp and the Italian derby between Flavia Pennetta and Camila Giorgi. We preview the women’s draw, the possible match-ups leading to the final scheduled on 31st January, the top names in each quarter and the possible surprises. Diego Sampaolo

 

AO 2015: Interviews, Results, Order of Play, Draws

First quarter:

Top seed Serena Williams won the last Grand Slam in 2014 at the US Open and the WTA World Tour Finals in Singapore and starts as the favourite to win her 19th Grand Slam title of her legendary career but last year’s edition when she was knocked out in the fourth round for the third consecutive year proved that she is not unbeatable. She has not reached the final at Melbourne Park since 2010.

Serena was drawn with 20-year-old Elina Svitolina (World Number 26) in the third round, a potential dangerous rival before possible threats represented by either Garbine Muguruza or Jelena Jankovic in the fourth round and Caroline Wozniacki in the quarter final. Muguruza upset Serena last year in Grand Slam Tournaments: Muguruza beat the US legend with 6-2 6-2 in the second round of the French Open. The match between close friends Serena and Caroline could be a re-match of last year’s US Open final and the epic WTA Championships semifinal.

Wozniacki lost the final in Auckland at the start of the year but was forced to withdraw in Sydney due to a wrist injury last week. The Danish player, who will play against US revelation Taylor Townsend in the opening round, could face the winner of the match between Vika Azarenka and Sloane Stephens in the second round. Azarenka and Stephens who played the semifinal at Melbourne Park in 2013, will renew their rivalry in the first round. Wozniacki will have to overcome Barbora Zahlavova Strycova in the third round, last year’s finalist Dominika Cibulkova in the fourth round.

The first quarter of the draw also features some other interesting players like Heather Watson, who won Hobart this week, Kirsten Flipkens who meets Dominika Cibulkova in the first round and Vera Zvonareva

The possible quarter final in this section of the draw could be between Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki

Second round:

Last year’s Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova is the best ranked player in the second section of the draw, Kvitova started 2015 with a semifinal in Shenzhen and the title in Sydney where she beat her compatriot Katerina Pliskova.

The Czech star will debut against a qualifier before meeting either Barthel or Vekic in the second round and Australian player Casey Dellacqua, who plays well in the home tournament and could represent a tough rival. Kvitova could face another local star Samantha Stosur in the fourth round. The Aussie player could play against 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone in the second round and German Andrea Petkovic, semifinalist at the 2014 Roland Garros.

The possible quarter final could be between Kvitova and Agnieszka Radwanska The Polish player, who is now coached by Martina Navratilova and started 2015 with the win at the Hopman Cup in Perth, will make her debut against Japan’s Kurumi Nara before meeting Varvara Lepchenko in the third round and Venus Williams in the fourth round. Venus won the Auckland title in early January and could represent a threat. The US star could face the winner of the Italian derby between Flavia Pennetta and Camila Giorgi. Pennetta will have to defend a lot of points as she reached the quarter finals in Melbourne last year.

The most interesting matches in the second section of the draw will be Vekic vs Barthel, Stosur vs Nicolescu, Pennetta vs Giorgi and Rogers vs Tomljanovic.

Tomljanovic is a name to watch as she upset Radwanska in their only head-to-head match in Paris in 2014 and could represent a threat to the Polish star in the second round.

Third quarter:

Last year’s Roland Garros finalist Simona Halep is the top seed in the third section of the draw and could meet Ana Ivanovic in an intriguing quarter final match.

Halep will make her debut against Italian Karin Knapp, who posed a threat to Maria Sharapova last year in Melbourne, 2013 Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki in the third round and Italian Sara Errani or Anastasya Pavlyuchenkova in the fourth round.

Ivanovic, who lost the Brisbane final against Ana Ivanovic last week, will face a tougher task as she will have to play against last year’s US Open quarter finalist Belinda Bencic from Switzerland, the great revelation of the 2014 season and the winner of the very interesting match between Karolina Pliskova and Ekaterina Makarova. Pliskova, winner of the Australian Open Junior Tournament in 2010 lost the Sydney final against her compatriot Kvitova on Friday. The young Czech player had a breakthrough season in 2014 in which she won two titles in Seoul and Linz and finished runner-up in Pattaya (where she lost to Makarova), in Nuremberg (losing to Bouchard) and in Honk Kong (losing to Sabine Lisicki). Makarova reached the fourth round in the Australian Open and the semifinal at the US Open In 2014. The Russian player is also a strong doubles player with two titles at the 2013 French Open and the 2014 US Open with Elena Vesnina.

The most interesting first round matches are Bencic vs Georges, Lisicki vs Mladenovic and Knapp vs Halep.

Fourth round:

The possible quarter final in the fourth quarter could be between Maria Sharapova and Eugenie Bouchard, two of the most glamorous players on the circuit.

Sharapova, winner at Melbourne Park in 2008, started her 2015 season in impressive style with the win in the Brisbane final against Ana Ivanovic in three sets with 6-7 6-3 6-3 in another tight match between the two stars. The Siberian star, French Open champion in 2014, will make her debut against qualifier Petra Martic before a possible match against Sorana Cirstea in the second round and Zarina Diyas in the third round before meeting either Shuai Peng or Lucie Safarova in the fourth round. These two players reached their first semifinals last year. Peng played the US Open semifinal, while Safarova reached the top-four at Wimbledon.

Bouchard, semifinalist in Melbourne and Paris and finalist at Wimbledon in 2014, will have to overcome a tougher challenge after her first round match against Anna Lena Friedman as she will play against Angelique Kerber in the second round, Carla Suarez Navarro in the third round and Svetlana Kuznetsova in the fourth round. Kuznetsova will play against Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia in the most interesting match in the fourth quarter.

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Bianca Andreescu Reunites With Former Coach Ahead Of New Season 

How will the Grand Slam champion fair on the Tour with her latest mentor?

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BIANCA ANDREESCU OF CANADA - PHOTO: ALBERTO NEVADO / MMO

Former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu has brought a familiar face back into her team as she bids to return to her best form in 2023. 

 

Andreescu, who is currently ranked 45th in the WTA rankings, has appointed Christophe Lambert as her latest coach. Lambert had been working as the performance director at Tennis New Zealand and resigned from that position to work with the former US Open champion. He had also previously worked for Tennis Canada and during that time he was a private coach for Andreescu in 2016. 

“Bianca asked me to coach her and I accepted the job. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Lambert told sport.co.nz. 

Lambert, who has also spent time working with the Chinese Davis Cup team and for the British LTA, has stayed in contact with Andreescu ever since coaching her six years ago. 

“It wasn’t like every week or every month. It’s always good to have people calling you when you are up, but when she was down I was checking on her and giving her my opinion.” He said. 

Andreescu had been working with Dutch coach Sven Groeneveld for over a year before they decided to end their collaboration in October. Groeneveld has a wealth of experience in the sport after working with a series of top names, including Maria Sharapova. 

This season the former world No.4 has won 20 out of 33 matches played with her best performance being a run to the final of the Bad Homburg Open in Germany. However, her record against top 10 opposition was 2-5.

“I’m just taking it day by day, and it’s a great way to end off the year as well, just bringing back all the emotions that fire a lot in me,” Andreescu recently told reporters in Glasgow at the Billie Jean King Cup. “I think I’m going to have a great preseason. Next year I really think I can crack the top 10 again.”

Andreescu, who has been hampered by injury issues in recent years, hasn’t won a singles title of any sort since 2019. 

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Four-Time Grand Slam Winner Naomi Osaka Named In FTX Lawsuit 

The former world No.1 took an equity stake in the failed business earlier this year. 

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NAOMI OSAKA OF JAPAN - PHOTO: ALVARO DIAZ / MMO

Naomi Osaka is among a series of high-profile individuals who have been accused of using their celebrity status to promote FTX’s failed business model in a lawsuit filed against the cryptocurrency exchange. 

 

The BBC has reported that over one million people and businesses could be owed money following the collapse of FTX, according to bankruptcy filings. A week ago FTX collapsed into bankruptcy with its former boss Sam Bankman-Fried stepping down as CEO. A massive development in the financial for what was one of the largest crypto exchanges in the world that had the naming rights to a Formula One racing team as well as a sports arena in Miami.

According to the Associated Press, the company is being investigated by state and federal prosecutors over allegations it ‘invested depositors’ funds in ventures without their approval.’ In a lawsuit filed on Tuesday, it argues that celebrity backers of FTX such as Osaka should be held just as accountable as Bankman-Fried as they brought ‘instant credibility’ to the company. 

“Part of the scheme employed by the FTX Entities involved utilizing some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment — like these Defendants — to raise funds and drive American consumers to invest … pouring billions of dollars into the deceptive FTX platform to keep the whole scheme afloat,” the lawsuit said.

Osaka took an equity stake in FTX in March where she would be receiving compensation in Crypto. Signing what was described as a ‘long-term partnership’ to become a global ambassador, the tennis star aimed to draw attention to women joining the platform and she played a role in directing its content.

“We have seen the statistics about how few women are part of crypto by comparison, which kind of mirrors the inequality we see in other financial markets,” Osaka said earlier this year.

Osaka, who has won 14 out of 23 matches played this season, has not made any public statement regarding the lawsuit. NFL quarterback Tom Brady, comedian Larry David and basketball team the Golden State Warriors are also defendants in the lawsuit.

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WTA Targets New Multi-Year Deal For Its Premier Event If Agreement With China Fails

Will the WTA Finals return to Shenzhen in 2023?

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WTA CEO Steve Simon

The WTA say they are not willing to compromise their principles concerning the possibility of hosting tournaments in China next year amid uncertainty over the future of their season-ending event. 

 

Steve Simon, who is the CEO of the women’s Tour, says he is hopeful that a resolution can be found with the country but has vowed now to back down on its stance. Last year the WTA suspended tournaments in China over concerns about the safety of former player Peng Shuai who accused a former government official of sexually assaulting her. 

Shuai disappeared shortly after posting her statement on social media before returning a few weeks later with photos and videos of her being posted online by journalists linked to the government-controlled media. There are concerns that the former doubles Grand Slam champion, who has not left her country since making those allegations, is being censored by the government. The WTA wants an investigation to be conducted into the matter. 

“We’ve made a strong stand, and we stand behind that stance, and we’re not going to compromise our principles,” Simon said during an interview with The New York Times. “Clearly when we did it, we understood eyes wide open what it could mean.”
“We’re still in the same place. If they come forward with something else we should look at, of course we are open to it. But we haven’t seen it so far. I’m hopeful we do find a resolution. That’s the goal, to find the right resolution. What’s the truth? Then we can move forward.” He added. 

Simon said he is confident that Shuai is safe in Beijing but he has not been able to make any direct contact with her, despite trying to on multiple occasions. A letter reportedly written by Shuai to the WTA was posted online in 2021 saying that she wishes to be left alone. However, many have doubted the authenticity of that letter with some fearing that she wrote it under duress. 

One of the biggest impacts of the fallout has involved the prestigious WTA Finals, which is a round-robin tournament featuring the eight best-performing players over the past 12 months. In 2018 a lucrative deal was agreed that paved the way for the event to be held in Shenzhen for 10 years. However, the event was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic before the next two additions were moved elsewhere.

Whilst the WTA is optimistic about a return to Shenzhen in 2023, there are also backup plans in the works. Simon confirmed that it is no longer feasible for the WTA Finals to be held in a location for just one year. So it is likely that the tournament would be held in a city for two or more years in a row if it doesn’t return to China next season. 

“We’re not going to continue to do these one-year decisions,” he said. “It’s not sustainable. If it looks like we can’t go back to China or aren’t ready to go back, then I do think we will carve out a multiyear situation, because we need to for the business.”

The case involving Shuai isn’t the only barrier for the WTA. China’s zero-covid policy has made hosting international events in the region unfeasible and the ATP cancelled all of their events in the tournament this year due to the situation. 

This year’s WTA Finals has a prize money offering of $5M which is more than half of what was on offer at the 2019 tournament in Shenzhen ($14M). 

Simon didn’t provide any deadline for when an agreement must be reached with China must be reached before the WTA considers moving their event elsewhere once again. 

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