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
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
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.
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.
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.
Why Peng Shuai’s Video Call With The IOC Has Failed To Ease The Concerns Of The WTA
The WTA said the video hasn’t changed their stance on the matter.
The governing body of women’s tennis says they still have concerns about the welfare of former world No.1 doubles player Peng Shuai despite her appearing in a video call with the International Olympic Committee on Sunday.
Shuai attended a video call with IOC president Thomas Bach in what was her first public interaction with an international official since making allegations of sexual assault against China’s former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli. On November 2nd Shuai published a post on her Weibo account detailing the alleged assault and revealed she had an on-and-off affair with the former influential political figure for a decade. The post was removed less than an hour after it went live and her Weibo account is still restricted.
In a statement issued by the IOC, Shuai was quoted as saying that she is ‘safe and well’ and would like some privacy. It is understood that the video call lasted roughly 30 minutes, which also included IOC Athletes’ Commission Chair Emma Terho and IOC Member in China Li Lingwei. However, in the statement there was no mention of the sexual assault allegations which was made by Shuai.
“This video does not change our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern.” The WTA told Reuters in response to the video.
There are fears by the WTA that Shuai is under the control of the state and is restricted as to what she can and can’t say. Lingwei, who participated in the video call, is a former athlete who has since worked with the Chinese government and is a member of the people’s congress.
Recently China’s media, which is controlled by the Communist party, has posted a series of photos and videos of Shuai. However, the WTA confirmed at the weekend they will have been prevented from getting in contact with her despite making numerous efforts.
“It was good to see Peng Shuai in recent videos, but they don’t alleviate or address the WTA’s concern about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion,” a WTA spokeswoman said.
China’s Global Television network, which is owned by state media, hasn’t posted a single article about Shuai in recent weeks following her allegations. However, for the first time on Monday they published a story about her meeting with the IOC but made no mention of the allegations.
Hu Xijin is the editor of the Global Times newspaper. He claims that the world wouldn’t believe what Shuai is saying unless they are in line with the Western media who he accuses of trying to damage the reputation of his country. Hu is an influential political figure in his country, whose publications have been used to send messages to the outside world. He has also been accused by some of being a political propagandist for the community party.
“As long as what Peng Shuai said doesn’t accord with the expectation of the Western media, they won’t believe it. They only believe the story about China that they imagine. I’m surprised that they didn’t say the lady who showed up these two days is a fake Peng Shuai, a double,” Hu wrote on Twitter.
“For those who truly care about the safety of Peng Shuai, her appearances of these days are enough to relieve them or eliminate most of their worries. But for those aiming to attack China’s system and boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics, facts, no matter how many, don’t work for them.” He later added.
Like all of the Chinese state-run media and their journalists, Hu has made no mention of the allegations concerning Mr Gaoli.
The WTA have said they are willing to withdraw tournaments from China if their concerns of Shuai’s welfare are not properly addressed.
REPORT: China Censors Naomi Osaka’s Weibo Account Over Peng Shuai Support
It has emerged that followers are being prevented from commenting on her posts as the WTA warns China they are prepared to stop doing business with them if they can’t guarantee Shuai’s safety.
Restrictions have been placed on the official Weibo account of former world No.1 Naomi Osaka after she posted a statement expressing concern about the whereabouts of Peng Shuai, according to a leading financial newspaper.
Nikkei Asia confirmed on Thursday that they have found ‘censoring activity’ on Osaka’s account less than 24 hours after she spoke out about her fellow tennis player. It is understood that comments have been disabled on her latest post even though it is unrelated to Shuai. Weibo is the main social media service in China which is used by millions every day but it is regulated by the country’s strict laws. Other sites such as Twitter is officially banned in the country.
In her post, Osaka wrote on Twitter that ‘censorship is never OK at any cost’ and that she hopes Shuai is safe. It has since been retweeted more than 19,000 times.
On November 2nd a post was uploaded on Shuai’s Weibo account in which she said she was pressured into sex by the former vice-premier of China, Zhang Gaoli, and she had an on-and-off affair with him over a intermittent period of 10 years. The post was removed less than an hour after it was uploaded but observers took screenshots of it which was then reposted online. Since then, Shuai hasn’t been heard of or seen in public.
There are now mounting concerns over Shuai’s current whereabouts after the international branch China’s state-broadcaster published a letter which they claimed the tennis star wrote to the WTA. The letter says that the tennis star denies making the accusations and she is not missing. However, Steve Simon, who is the head of the WTA, has expressed serious concerns about the authenticity of the letter.
“The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts,” Simon said in a statement. “I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believe what is being attributed to her.”
In recent years China has been a crucial location for the WTA Tour and has generated millions in revenue for the sport. No tournaments have taken place in the country this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic but 10 are expected to resume next year, including the prestigious WTA Finals. Nevertheless, the WTA has stated that they are prepared to cut ties with China if they can’t guarantee Shuai’s safety.
“If at the end of the day we don’t see the appropriate results from this, we would be prepared to take that step and not operate our business in China, if that’s what it came to,” Simon told The New York Times.
In 2014 Shuai became the first Chinese player in history to top the world rankings in doubles. During her career, she has won two major titles with Hsieh Su-wei and has been ranked as high as 14th in singles.
Garbine Muguruza Beats Kontaveit To Win Season-Ending WTA Finals
Muguruza caps off what she describes as her ‘best year’ on the Tour by becoming the first Spanish woman to win the season-ending title.
Garbine Muguruza is the 2021 WTA Finals champion after beating the world’s number eight Anett Kontaveit 6-3, 7-5 in one hour and 38 minutes in Guadalajara, Mexico.
The Spaniard hit 16 winners while the Estonian hit 38 unforced errors in a match that went back and forth during both sets before the Caracas native was able to secure the win.
” I want to congratulate Anett (Kontaveit) on her amazing year and managing to qualify for the finals in the last event of the year,” Muguruza said during the trophy ceremony. ”I want to thank everyone who made this possible to play in Latin America and it was a dream come true to play”.
Two-time Grand Slam champion Muguruza got off to an aggressive start by looking for the early break in the first game of the match but the world number eight held her ground and managed to hold serve.
At 1-1, the Spaniard had three more chances to take the lead and she was able to break serve at the third time of asking but failed to consolidate it as Kontaveit broke right back the following game.
Once again at 3-3, it was the world number five who got another break and this was able to hold serve the following game. She then broke serve for a second time to take the first set.
The 28-year-old was put under pressure early in the second set and faced two early breakpoints at 1-1 but dug deep and saved both. At 3-3, it was Kontaveit’s turn to apply pressure, and this time she was able to get the break. The 25-year-old had a chance to serve out the second and force a deciding third set but cracked under the pressure as Muguruza broke right back to even the set at 5-5.
At 6-5, Muguruza found herself with three match points on her opponent’s serve and broke one last time to seal the victory and the title.
“I’m just very happy I proved to myself once again I can be the best, I can be the ‘maestra,’ like how we say in Spanish,” Muguruza said in press. “That puts me in a very good position for next year, a good ranking.”
Muguruza ends her season with three WTA titles to her name after triumphing in Dubai and Chicago earlier this year. Making it the first time in her career she has won a trio of WTA events within the same year. Overall, she has won 42 out of 69 matches played during 2021.
“Overall I think it’s the best year for me. I might not have won a Grand Slam, but I deeply feel like I’ve been happier and more stable, less dramatic, and in general very happy about it.” She concludes.
The former world No.1 takes home a whopping 1.6 million dollars for winning the tournament and her ranking will go up to number three when the new world rankings come out on Monday.
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