Singapore Day 1 Preview and Predictions: Simona Halep a Favorite. All Eyes on Maria Sharapova - UBITENNIS
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Singapore Day 1 Preview and Predictions: Simona Halep a Favorite. All Eyes on Maria Sharapova

Ivan Pasquariello

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The WTA Finals are going to kick off Sunday at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova are favored by the rankings, but face immediately tough competition. All eyes will be on the Russian to see how she can play after missing all summer hard court season. Here are our predictions for day one in Singapore.

 

 

(1) Simona Halep (ROU)  vs. (7) Flavia Pennetta (ITA) 

Pennetta Leads 4-1

Simona Halep and Flavia Pennetta will find one another on each side of the net just a month and a half after fighting off in the US Open semi-finals. As we all know, Pennetta dominated that match winning in straight sets by 6-1 6-3. Despite Halep being overall a more complete player than the Italian, she always has suffered to beat Flavia on the tour. The first match was won by Pennetta in Marbella, in 2010. Then the Italian won on clay again, in three sets in Bastad, with Simona retiring down 2-0 in the third set. Those matches were played before Simona had he breakthrough summer season that same year, thus the one match that really we should consider is the one the two played at the US Open in 2013.

Pennetta was coming back from a wrist surgery, but as it happens since 2009, she once again managed to find her magic in New York playing her best tennis in Flushing Meadows. That match was won by Pennetta by 6-2 7-6, but Halep served for the second set, before rain started pouring in Queen’s. When the match resumed, Pennetta looked the freshest, as she broke the Romanian and then won the match in the tie-break.

This year the two met a first time in Miami. That was the first time Halep finally beat Pennetta, winning by 6-3 7-5, coming back from a break down in the second set. It was a very close match, well played by both players. Halep had just more fuel in the tank, and grabbed the win before the match could go to a third set.

Finally, the match played at the US Open this year was both the best performance of the Italian in the year and a non-exceptional showing from the Romanian. Simona was tired after fighting for three sets against Victoria Azarenka and was lacking the brilliancy that allowed her to climb so fast the rankings over the past 2 years.

Here are some highlights of that match:

The question is: can Pennetta repeat a performance like that? Considering how Halep hasn’t played a tournament since the beginning of the month, retiring in the only match she played in October against Arruabarrena at 5-4 in the first set, she will be the fresher player. Pennetta had to go to Tianjin, then Moscow, flying last minute to Singapore once she was sure she had qualified.

Simona last year played possibly her best tennis in Singapore, serving Serena Williams the worst defeat she faced in over a decade. That result and the run to the final means Halep likes the indoor conditions of Singapore and enjoys the big events more than anything else.

Halep is the top seed, considering how Serena Williams is out, but has already folded under pressure before and has learned the lesson. Pennetta has never qualified before for the finals, Halep is at her second consecutive appearance.

One thing Simona suffers in Pennetta’s game is the Italian’s ability to find her rhythm on Simona’s mid-height ball, which land perfectly on her mid-upper body to fire her best shot: the backhand down the line. Pennetta doesn’t love Halep’s game because it takes three shots to take a winner out of the Romanian.

Because of that, physical condition will be key. Halep has had a better preparation, is ready to go. Because of that, I take Halep in straight sets.

Final Prediction: Simona Halep Wins in straight sets

(3) Maria Sharapova (RUS) vs. (5) Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) 

Sharapova leads 12-2

Maria Sharapova has only played one match and not a single full match since ending her Wimbledon run in the semi-finals losing to Serena Williams. Struggling with a leg injury, Maria didn’t play any tournament before the US Open, but then arrived in New York to complete the first day of interviews, to then decide it would be wiser retiring from the tournament. Back on court in Wuhan, the 5-time Grand Slam champion retired in the third set against Barbora Strycova when the score was 1-2 in the set.

Since that match, Sharapova entered another hiatus and was not seen on a tennis court until arriving to Singapore. On the other end, Agnieszka Radwanska has started playing her very best tennis as the season grew closer to an end. After the defeat to Madison Keys in the third round at the US Open, Lady Aga won the title in Tokyo, reached the semis in Beijing and won another title, her 16th in the career, in Tianjin. The crying girl who entered the French Open press room after another early defeat has been gone since then, replaced by the brilliant, talented tennis player the Polish really is.

Sharapova has only lost to Radwanska 2 times in 14 matches, with the last victory for Agnieszka coming in 2012 in the final of Miami. Since then, the two faced-off 5 more times on a tennis court, with Sharapova winning all matches. In 2015 Radwanska and Sharapova have only played in Fed Cup, with the Russian winning easily by 6-1 7-5 in Krakow.

Here the match highlights:

For Sharapova to decide to play the tournament is a sign that the Russian thinks she can compete, but clearly there is no way Maria is going to play at her best. Considering that and the way Radwanska has played in the last part of the season, I hardly see the Russian grabbing the win.

Maria’s fighting spirit and Agnieszka’s nerves could be worth a set for Sharapova, but not more than that. The impression is that if Sharapova loses the first match easily, she could even consider leaving the tournament in advance.

Final prediction: Agnieszka Radwanska wins in 3 sets.

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Rafael Nadal On How He Deals With His Mental Health

The king of clay explains how he deals with the pressure of being a professional athlete.

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World No.2 Rafael Nadal has spoken out about his mental health ahead of his return to competitive tennis at the Citi Open in Washington.

 

The 20-time Grand Slam champion hasn’t played a match since losing in the semi-finals of the French Open after opting to take a break from the sport to rest. Earlier this week he confirmed that part of the reason for his absence was due to a foot injury that sidelined him from tennis for 20 days. He admits that it is unclear how long it will take him to return back to full fitness.

Nadal is no stranger to injury setbacks during his career but another issue that isn’t discussed as much is the mental toll of playing in competitive sport. The topic of mental health in sport has been placed in the limelight in recent times due to high-profile athletes speaking publicly about their struggles. Naomi Osaka revealed during the French Open that she has been dealing with social anxiety and depression since 2018. Another athlete to speak openly about her personal issue is Simone Biles at the Olympics.

Questioned about mental health during an interview with CBS, Nadal believes being an athlete can be both positive and negative.

“Everybody approaches the issues in a different way,” he told CBS. “We are under pressure because the competition makes you feel more stress. But, at the same time, we are super lucky persons, you know, because we are able to work on one of our hobbies. The most important thing in this life, in my opinion, is be happy, more than anything else.”

Although even somebody of Nadal’s calibre is not exempt from feeling anxious. He pinpoints the 2015 season as an example of when he felt stressed. During that season the Spaniard failed to go beyond the quarter-final stage at any Grand Slam tournament and dropped down the rankings to 10th place at one stage.

“One approach is stop it for a while and try to recover,” Nadal explains about how deals with pressure. “Another approach is just keep trying and accept that you have this problem. You accept that you will not win. My approach was to keep going and slowly overcome that situation. So I was doing, and after eight months I started to feel much better.”

Over the coming weeks, the 35-year-old is hoping to get back into top shape in time for the US Open which will begin on August 30th. He is currently tied with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer for most major titles win by a male player at 20 each. However, Nadal says he is not fixated on trying to surpass his rivals.

“The fact that Novak has 20, Roger have 20, I have 20 don’t increase the motivation for me, or the pressure,” he said. “My approach will not change. I always stay the same. I do my way. If Novak or Roger plays there and win, okay, well done for them. I will not be frustrated for that. I know I achieve something that I never dreamed about, and I gonna keep fighting for, keep doing things.”

Nadal will play Jack Sock in the first round of the Citi Open.

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Nick Kyrgios Opens Up About Personal Struggles, Future In Tennis

The tennis star says he was in a ‘dark place’ when he was younger and hints he could retire from the sport soon.

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Nick Kyrgios says being in the spotlight as a younger player ‘drove him into a dark place’ as he addresses his future in the sport.

 

The former top-20 player spoke out about the mental toll the sport has taken on him ahead of the Citi Open in Washington. Kyrgios started to become a worldwide name at the age of 19 when he reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon back in 2014. Although throughout his career he has been known as a controversial figure due to various outbursts on the court. At one point he was issued with a 16-week suspended ban for what the ATP described as ‘aggravated behaviour.’

“Deep down I know that I’m great for the sport,” he said. “Like, you need personalities like that. … I feel like I’m just resilient. If someone is not as resilient as me mentally, the amount of hate I got, the amount of racism I got, the amount of bullshit that I got from the tour, from fans, from everything.”

Kyrgios has hailed tennis for welcoming more unique personalities to the Tour but for him it was tough to deal with the scrutiny he was subjected to. Drawing parallels between himself and Naomi Osaka who recently took a break from tennis due to her mental health. During the French Open Osaka revealed that she has been suffering from depression and social anxiety since 2018.

“I did fall into places where people like Naomi Osaka are now speaking about mental illness where I was going through, in my personal opinion, 20 times as bad,” he said. “All they receive is good press. They don’t really receive hateful messages. They don’t really receive ridiculously historic fines for hitting balls out of the stadium or getting a code violation. I was dealing with, like, not even close to the amount of stuff that was going on.
“That’s what I think. Instead of out-casting and almost crucifying a personality, you say, Okay, this guy is different, let’s act a certain way, let’s not treat him like a Roger Federer or like a Marin Cilic. He’s his own person. I’m just saying this sport could have driven me into a place of dark, which it did for a bit, how mentally tough it was for 18, being one of the most well-known players in Australia, getting absolutely hammered with media. It’s not so easy.
“Now I’m 26, I’m old enough. I know it’s all bullshit. I feel like tennis really struggled embracing personalities earlier on in my career.”

It is unclear what the future has in store for Kyrgios. This week is only his seventh tournament since the start of 2020 after opting to not travel abroad last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So far this season he has won seven out of 11 matches played and reached the third round at Wimbledon before having to withdraw due to injury.

The Australian could walk away from the sport over the coming months with him admitting that he is playing every tournament as if it is his last. His current resume includes six ATP titles and 21 wins over top-10 players.

“Like every time I’m at a tournament, I feel like it could be my last time I’m ever going to be here,” he explained. “In Atlanta I felt the same way. Washington. I don’t know. I don’t know where I’m at. I feel weird. I feel strange about my career at the moment.”

Kyrgios is the defending champion at the Citi Open, which was cancelled last year due to the pandemic. He is unseeded in the draw and will start his campaign against Mackenzie McDonald.

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Rafael Nadal Switches Focus To US Open Following Foot Injury

The 35-year-old reveals for the first time that he had been dealing with an injury issue during his break from the sport.

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BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 25: Rafael Nadal of Spain. ATP Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell at the Real Club de Tenis Barcelona on April 25, 2021 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos/Quality Sport Images)

Former world No.1 Rafael Nadal has revealed he took a 20-day break from playing tennis due to a foot injury shortly after his semi-final loss at the French Open.

 

The 20-time Grand Slam champion hasn’t played a competitive match on the Tour since June after opting to skip both Wimbledon and the Olympics in order to give his body a rest. At the time of the announcement, Nadal gave no mention of the foot issue he was experiencing. During the first half of the 2021 season, he achieved a win-loss of 23-4 and won two ATP titles.

If I had to choose, I will never miss Wimbledon and Olympics. But I was not able to compete in these events after the clay-court season,” Nadal told reporters on Sunday.
“I had some issues in my foot, so I had to stop playing tennis for around 20 days, not touching a racket for 20 days.’
“I started slowly, practicing half an hour, then a little bit more. So I went through the whole process.”

Describing his break from the Tour as ‘the right thing to do,’ Nadal will return to competitive tennis this week at the Citi Open in Washington. He is the only top 10 player participating in the ATP 500 event and he will be making his debut in the tournament. Felix Auger-Aliassime, Alex de Minaur and Nick Kyrgios are some of the other players in this year’s draw.

Nadal will be seeking his 89th Tour title in the American capital. Although his focus isn’t on adding to his trophy collection but trying to get back into top shape.

“I don’t know how long it will take to recover everything, but the only thing I can say is I’m here just to try my best in every single moment,” he said. “I hope the last couple of days of practices keep helping me to be competitive enough for the first round.”

The hope for Nadal is that he will be back to top form in time for the US Open which he skipped last year due to travelling concerts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. He will be seeking his 21st major title at the Grand Slam which he has already won on four previous occasions.

One of his biggest rivals in New York will be world No.1 Novak Djokovic who recently missed out on a medal at the Tokyo Olympic Games. The Serbian had a chance to achieve the Golden Slam but is still on course for a calendar slam where a player wins all four major titles within the same year. Something Nadal thinks he is more than capable of doing.

“When you win three, you can win four. He’ll be playing on hard court, his best surface, so why not?” he commented.
“There will be other guys that want to achieve the last Slam of the season but he’s probably the most favored player to achieve that, to achieve something amazing.
“I really believe he can do it without a doubt.”

Granted a bye in the first round, Nadal will start his Washington campaign against either Yoshihito Nishioka or Jack Sock.

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