Serena closes in on History with 20th major at the French Open - UBITENNIS
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Serena closes in on History with 20th major at the French Open

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Serena Williams reasserted her dominance in the sport of women’s tennis with a comprehensive victory over Lucie Safarova in the final of the 2015 French Open 6-3 6-7(2) 6-2 for her 3rd French title, 2nd major title of the year and 20th overall major title. Despite illness and having to fight her way through this tournament against many resilient opponents, Williams further cements her place in the annals of tennis history. Cordell Hackshaw

 

The match had a rather calm opening as everyone wondered what shape Williams would be in for the final. For the past several days, she had been battling the flu which was clearly visible during her most recent practices and matches particularly in her semifinal match against Timea Bacsinszky on Thursday. However, Williams started off well enough and it was Safarova who appeared understandably tentative. The Czech was in her first major final playing against Williams, a 19-time major winner, an opponent she had never beaten in their 8 previous meetings. Safarova was broken in the 4th game as Williams showed her championships experience and took charge of the match early. Williams consolidated the break and raced out to a 5-2 lead, forcing Safarova to serve to stay in the match. Safarova faced a set point on her serve but she save it and made Williams serve out the set at 6-3 in about half an hour.

Williams’ momentum continued into the 2nd set and for a while, it looked like the match was going to be over in under an hour. Williams was up 4-1 with double game points to go up 5-1 and be a game away from her 20th major title. Safarova had come into this match without dropping a set through 6 rounds of play, she was not about to leave this tournament in straight sets. She earned her first break point of the match as Williams double faulted twice in the 6th game. Not only did Safarova break the Williams serve once, she broke it twice to go up 5-4 and force Williams to serve to stay in the set. Williams held for 5-5 and broke Safarova to serve for the match. Down 5-6, Safarova went for broke on all her shots particularly with Williams 2 points away from the match at 30-15. Safarova produced incredible winners with inch perfect accuracy and soon it was 6-6 and a 2nd set tiebreaker was needed. “My first serve abandoned me … Once she saw that I got a little tight, she started playing really a lot better,” said Williams.

Safarova was now in the ascendancy and quickly jumped out to a 6-2 lead in the breaker. One expected Williams to make a comeback at some point but it never happened in the set. Safarova took the breaker 7-2 points and carried this momentum into the 3rd set with a 2-0 lead. “I’m proud that I fought back in the second set, because it was looking like it will be an easy match.  Serena was really strong out there. I just pushed myself to step up the level,” said Safarova after the match.

As for Williams, this was a regular occurrence in her matches here at the French Open, being down a set and a break.  This was the fifth 3-setter Williams was playing at these championships and battling the flu, it looked as Williams’s chance at the history books was about to closed. However, this is Serena Williams who has found her way back from the brink of defeat so many times. As she did against, Azarenka in the 3rd round, Williams began her comeback and she was unstoppable.

Williams held serve for 1-2 and asked the question of Safarova of whether she could maintain the lead. Up 2-1 and 30-0, Safarova looked as though she was going to handle the pressure well but she lost 4 straight points, double faulting on break point to level the match 2-2. This slight hesitation on Safarova’s part allowed Williams back into the match and made Safarova near look pedestrian across the net. With each game that Williams won, Safarova’s confidence began to dim. “When she was on, she was just serving amazing and going for the returns, pressuring me right away … It’s just hard to do anything with that,” said Safarova.

Williams broke again for 4-2 and held serve for 5-2. Safarova who looked poised to claim her first major about 20 minutes ago up 2-0, was now serving to stay in the match, having lost 5 straight games. “I just couldn’t find any weapon that could stop her.  I was trying to mix up the serve, trying to mix up the rhythm, trying to go for risk shots,” said Safarova. The pressure of facing Williams on the other side of the net proved to be too daunting for Safarova.  Williams broke the Czech with a searing forehand return of serve that Safarova could not keep in play. Williams won 6-3 6-7(1) 6-2.   

This is the first time a woman has captured the first two majors of the year since Jennifer Capriati in 2001. Williams has now won the last three majors stretching back to the 2014 US Open.  Speaking on the match, Williams had this to say, I got so frustrated. I was just so angry at myself. I pretty much gave the match away … I just had to, like, try to pull it together.”  Williams had 34 winners and 42 errors including 11 aces and 9 double faults compared to a 16:17 ratio from Safarova. When asked if she would be partying after her win, Williams replied that she was going to bed as she was tired.

Williams has a chance at the calendar grand slam if she can win both Wimbledon and the US Open later this year. She is also 2 major wins away from Steffi Graf’s open era record of 22 major titles and 4 wins away from Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24.As for Safarova, she still has a chance at winning a major title in Paris as she will play the final of the women’s doubles with her partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands against the team of Casey Dellacqua and Yaroslava Shvedova on the final day of the tournament.

Grand Slam

‘A Class Act’ – Players Hail Wimbledon Following Decision To Hand Out £10m From 2020 Championships

The All England Lawn Tennis Club has announced that players who would had qualified to play this year’s tournament will receive payouts of up to £25,000.

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There has been an outpouring of praise from the world of tennis after the Wimbledon Championships announced they will hand out prize money to those who would have played in this year’s championships.

 

620 players are set to benefit from a prize money pool of £10M despite the event being cancelled for the first time since 1945 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike the other Grand Slams, Wimbledon was covered by pandemic insurance. The payments from players ranges from £5000 for those who would have played in the quad wheelchair events to £25,000 for those who would have played in the singles main draw (based on their current ranking).

“Immediately following the cancellation of The Championships, we turned our attention to how we could assist those who help make Wimbledon happen,” AELTC chairman Richard Lewis said in a statement.
“We know these months of uncertainty have been very worrying for these groups, including the players, many of whom have faced financial difficulty during this period and who would have quite rightly anticipated the opportunity to earn prize money at Wimbledon based on their world ranking.’
“We are pleased that our insurance policy has allowed us to recognise the impact of the cancellation on the players and that we are now in a position to offer this payment as a reward for the hard work they have invested in building their ranking to a point where they would have gained direct entry into The Championships 2020.”

The move comes after other governing bodies of the sport created their own funds to help support players during the pandemic. Unlike team sports, those on the Tour rely on prize money to fund their careers unless they have any sponsorship deals. For those lower ranked players, they have been unable to earn an income since March.

In the wake of the announcement, many top names in the sport praised Wimbledon for their gesture. Kim Clijsters, who played her first Grand Slam main draw match at the Wimbledon back in 1999, describes the move as a ‘class act.’

“Amazing news — always a class act and leader of our sport !! Well done Wimbledon – can’t wait to be back next year!” She wrote on Twitter.

Others to speak out from the WTA Tour includes Kristina Mladenovic, who wrote on social media ‘Amazing gesture Wimbledon, you have always been classy.’ Sachia Vickery said the donation shows the grass-court event is ‘leading by an amazing example’ by supporting all players. Meanwhile, Kirsten Flipkens called it a ‘nice gesture.

On the men’s Tour, Slovakia’s Lukas Lacko made a jibe at the US Open during his response to the news. The US Open is still going ahead as planned amid a rise in COVID-19 in some areas of the country. The event will be held behind closed doors for the first time in history.

“Hats off to Wimbledon. This is how you take care of your players. US Open should follow instead of pushing this nonsense. We can resume the tour later when conditions are better,” Lacko wrote.

Feliciano Lopez, who is also the tournament director of the Madrid Open, was another to pay tribute.

“Incredible gesture from Wimbledon with the players. We appreciate this comprehension and generosity in these times of uncertainty. Hats off to you once again,” he said.

Players are not the only group to receive charitable donations from the All England Lawn Tennis Club. In recent weeks they have also donated £1.2M to charities and organisations supporting vulnerable people during the pandemic.

The 134th Wimbledon Championships are expected to be held from 28 June to 11 July next year.

Breakdown of payouts

  • £25,000 for the 256 players in the singles main draws
  • £12,500 for the 224 players in singles qualifying
  • £6,250 for the 120 players in main draw doubles
  • £6,000 for the 16 players in the wheelchair events
  • £5,000 for four players in the quad wheelchair events

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Grand Slam

Wimbledon Throwback: Fairytale Triumph For Maria Sharapova

Before Wimbledon 2004, Maria Sharapova was virtually unknown. Over the next two weeks, her life changed, and so did women’s tennis.

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Maria Sharapova (foto FABRIZIO MACCANI)

One day in June 2004, I came home from school, switched on the Wimbledon coverage and was transfixed by Maria Sharapova – a 17-year-old Russian who played tennis with an intensity I had never seen before.

 

Unfortunately I don’t remember which of her matches I saw first – her second-round win over Anne Keothavong or her third-round victory over Daniela Hantuchova – but I do remember that she blew away her opponent (and me) with her sublime ball-striking ability.

Sharapova’s serene progress continued until the quarter-final, when she faced her first real test against Ai Sugiyama. At the time, the Japanese player was a top-20 player. And she had plenty of experience to draw on after over a decade on tour.

Initially, Sugiyama’s maturity shone through as she won a tight opening set 7-5. However, her young Russian opponent gave many people their first glimpse of one of her defining qualities – fighting spirit. She clawed her way back into the match by coming out on top in an equally close second set. Having broken through the Japanese player’s resistance, Sharapova romped through the decider 6-2 to reach the semi-final.

Against All Odds

Despite her exceptional run to the last four, many observers believed it would come to an end when she faced Lindsay Davenport. It is clear from Sharapova’s autobiography that she agreed.

“I was a kid. Lindsay was a woman. I was weak. Lindsay was strong. I was stringy and narrow. Lindsay was powerful and solid. As I said, in many ways our games were alike. We went by power, played from the baseline, hit flat and low, without much spin, a style that both of us learned from Robert Lansdrop.

“She was twenty-eight years old, so far along there was talk of her retirement. She was not number one just then – that was Serena – but had been number one, off and on, for ninety-eight weeks. So she was one of the greatest tennis players in the world.

“In other words, I’d hung on and hung on till I’d advanced myself right out of my league. I mean, how was I supposed to beat Lindsay Davenport? She was just like me, only bigger, stronger, older, and more experienced. She was just like me, only way more.”

As if that was not already enough to make Sharapova’s task extremely difficult, she also found herself a bit overwhelmed by the occasion. She said she felt as though the crowd would see she was a kid “who did not belong there”, and that the first serve she hit “fluttered over the net like a butterfly”.

Rain Saves Sharapova

Maria Sharapova (foto ART SEITZ)

Just as the Russian expected, Davenport overwhelmed her to begin with. She won the first set 6-2 in just 26 minutes and then went up a break in the second. But just when it seemed like all hope was lost, fate intervened. Rain came pouring down and Sharapova retreated to the locker room to regroup.

Not that the Russian saw it that way. “In my mind, I was already on the plane, heading home,” she said. Thankfully, her father Yuri had other ideas. He told her he had seen it in a dream that she would turn this match around and go on to win the tournament.

And he seemed so certain that Sharapova believed him. It had a strong effect on her. She explained, “In that minute, I went from feeling like I had absolutely no chance, being beaten before I even went back out on the court, to believing I would have the prize if only I could summon the will to take it.”

To her immense credit, that is exactly what the Russian did. She came out after the delay and played exceptionally well. She returned well, drilled her trademark, flat groundstrokes into the corners for seemingly countless winners and even came to the net sometimes to finish points. It was a remarkable turnaround.

Showdown with Serena

I do not have many clear memories of Sharapova’s run to the championship match of Wimbledon 2004. But the final itself will stay in my mind forever.

I remember sitting down to watch it with my mother and thinking, I really hope this spirited Russian underdog can win, but I don’t really believe it. I mean, this is Serena Williams she is facing after all.

If Sharapova had any doubts, they did not show. She came out onto Centre Court and demolished the best female tennis player on the planet. She sent down ace after ace when she served and hit a thrilling succession of winners to finish rallies when they had scarcely begun. And the Russian attacked Serena’s serve in a way I had never seen before and remained calm and focused throughout.

Consequently, the match was over in about 70 minutes and Maria Sharapova – the 17-year-old Russian who most viewers barely knew before the tournament – was the Wimbledon champion. She had produced an extraordinary performance that stunned the sporting world and changed her life forever.

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French Open Chief Hoping To Ease COVID-19 Related Restrictions In Coming Weeks

Former world No.4 Guy Forget says he hopes to learn from the controversy caused by the recently cancelled Adria Tour.

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The man in charge of organising this year’s French Open has said he is optimistic that there will be more flexibility in the restrictions placed upon his event as it nears its launch.

 

Guy Forget has told Reuters News Agency that he believes the clay-court major will be nowhere as strict as the US Open, which will take place a couple weeks prior. The US Open is taking place behind closed doors for the first time in history and players will be subjected to various measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Including regular temperature checks and being limited to how many members of their team they can bring with them. It comes as parts of America reports a rapid rise in cases of the virus.

However, Forget believes that the COVID-19 restrictions set to be implemented in New York will not apply to his tournament because the current situation in his country is not as bad. According to the BBC, more than 29,000 people have died from COVID-19 in France compared to an estimated 132,000 in America.

“Luckily things are a bit more flexible in Europe and in France, especially,” Forget told Reuters. “Hopefully, what we’re going to announce will probably be even more flexible than what we did.”

Despite Forget’s optimism, there is also a lot of caution given recent events that have happened in the sport. The Adria Tour, which was founded by world No.1 Novak Djokovic, was cancelled after an outbreak of the virus among players. Djokovic, Grigor Dimitrov, Viktor Troicki and Borna Coric all tested positive, as well as some coaching staff. The event was criticised for a lack of social distancing with players attending parties, however it all took place in accordance with local government rules. Meanwhile, at the DraftKings All-American Team Cup in Atalanta Frances Tiafoe withdrew due to testing positive for the virus, but the event continued.

“Maybe some people were overconfident there,” Forget commented on the Adria Tour.
“Luckily no one got hurt really bad but even a few cases is too much and we want to avoid that as much as we can.
“We want to reassure everyone that having people getting ill will be terrible for us. Let’s be really careful, really cautious.”

At present, the French Tennis Federation plans to allow up to 20,000 people to attend the French Open daily with 10,000 on the final day. Equating to roughly 60% of its maximum capacity which is a figure based on ‘health-related information and the projected guidelines.’ Those attending will be required to wear masks whilst walking around the venue but not when sitting courtside.

“We all see soccer on television, it’s wonderful but something is missing without the crowds,” Forget said about the importance of a crowd.
“We are working closely with the administration, the government, to make sure we can provide some crowd while still following very strict security measures.”

The French Open is set to get underway on September 27th. Ash Barty and Rafael Nadal are the defending champions.

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