WTA Hong Kong: Heather Watson battles through - UBITENNIS
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WTA Hong Kong: Heather Watson battles through

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Watson survived to progress in Hong Kong

Watson survived to progress in Hong Kong

Heather Watson passed a stern examination from Kai-Lin Zhang, the world 191, but eventually prevailed 3-6,6-1, 6-2.

Zhang had taken the first set, as Watson struggled to find her range in the first set, broken twice, in the first set. The recovery of one break was not enough to dissuade Zhang, who was looking to cause the first major upset of the day.

It seemed like the game was up as Watson emphasised the gulf in ranking in the second set. The Briton broke three times, and looked far more solid on serve, not allowing Zhang a single break point. Watson proved dominant on Zhang’s first serve, winning an impressive twelve points of a possible eighteen.

Zhang would not give up however, and a massive tussle in the first game of the third set saw Watson hold from fifteen-forty, also denying Zhang a third break point at deuce-advantage. Zhang held comfortably in her first game, before Watson was forced to endure another tough hold to thirty. With the stakes in this set far higher, Watson’s erratic play returned, giving Zhang chances. Watson herself then forced break point at deuce-advantage, but failed to return the service. A second break point fell by the wayside, as Watson pushed a backhand past the baseline. Watson created another break point by passing her opponent at the net. This time she was able to break, a return of serve that landed on the baseline forcing Zhang into an error.

Zhang though, remained competitive and forced a break point in the following game when Watson sliced into the net. Watson saved with an ace. A second unreturned serve dealt with another, but the pressure continued as she missed with another backhand. Zhang mirrored Watson, a weak backhand falling in the net. Watson showed great tenacity to recover the deuce point, but the game was far from over. Another ace was required to save another break point. Watson finally held her service with an ace to lead four-one. Both players made comparatively light work of their next service games, holding to fifteen and thirty respectively.

Zhang’s game at two-five was not easy though, Watson winners and a double fault brought up match point. Watson then secured the match with the second break of the set to progress to the second round. Watson will play Ya-Hsuan Lee in round two.

There were no shocks in early action in Hong Kong, as seeded players Jelena Jankovic, Sam Stosur, and Caroline Garcia all progressed. Jankovic beat qualifier Ana Bogdan 6-4, 6-2, Stosur defeated Risa Ozaki 6-3, 6-1, and Garcia beat Lauren Davis 6-1, 6-3.

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Casper Ruud Ends Tsitsipas’ Winning Run To Claim Biggest Title Of Career In Barcelona

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Casper Ruud has avenged his defeat to Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Monte Carlo Masters last week by beating the him in straight sets to win the Barcelona Open. 

The world No.6 rallied to a 7-5, 6-2, win over Tsitsipas who was on a 10-match winning streak coming into Sunday’s final. It is the first time Ruud has won an ATP 500 event with all 10 of his previous triumphs occuring at 250 level. In contrast, Tsitsipas is still yet to win an ATP 500 trophy after losing all 11 finals he has played at this level. However, the Greek has won more prestigious titles (three Masters and the 2019 ATP finals) than his rival. 

Ruud’s latest triumph saw him oust Tsitsipas with the use of some heavy hitting after overcoming a testing opening set. Overall, the Norweigan hit 19 winners against 15 unforced errors to become the first Scandinavian champion in Barcelona since Sweden’s Kent Carlsson in 1988. 

“Just to give it to him a little bit more than last week. In the final in Monte Carlo, I was always on the back foot and he had too much time to control the game,” Ruud told TennisTV when asked about his game plan against Tsitsipas. 
“I had a bit of a tricky start (in today’s final) but I managed to settle in. It’s been two long weeks for both of us. It’s obvious that fatigue was going to kick in and winning the first set was huge.” 

In what was their fifth Tour-level meeting, a nervous Ruud was tentative early on as he dropped serve in the first game of the final. Despite the blip, he worked his way back to draw level midway through the opener before seizing his opportunity. Nudging ahead to a 6-5 lead, a blistering backhand winner down the line followed by a forehand winner in the next point rewarded Ruud with two sets points against the Tsitsipas serve. He converted his first opportunity with the help of a slice slot that forced an unforced error from his rival. 

Closing in on the biggest win of his career, Ruud clinched his next break four games into the second set following an error-stricken performance from Tsitsipas. He then had an opportunity to get a double break but failed to convert on his chances. Nevertheless, Ruud still managed to seal victory convincingly. A Tsitsipas forehand shank rewarded him a trio of championship points. He triumphed on his first after another mistake from his opponent. 

“A lot of finals I have lost has been tough and a bit of a disappointment. But anytime you reach a final is nonetheless a good week so you can’t be too hard on yourself,” the new champion reflected. 
“This one has been a long time coming.”

The fact Ruud has claimed his biggest title yet in Barcelona is even sweeter given his history with the tournament. 

“The Rafael Nadal court is special to me. I looked up to him all my childhood and came here (to Barcelona) as a 13-year-old boy to watch him and others play. It’s a great feeling.” He said. 

Ruud has now won 29 matches this season which is more than any other player on the ATP Tour. Furthermore, he has become the fourth player in 2024 to have won an ATP trophy without dropping a set in the entire tournament. 

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Martina Navratilova Stands By Criticism Of WTA’s Move To Saudi Arabia

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Tennis legend Martina Navratilova says it is ‘egotistical’ to believe that hosting the WTA Finals in Saudi Arabia will affect the country’s policies.

The multiple Grand Slam winner has spoken publically about concerns over hosting tennis events in the country due to its human rights records, especially concerning women and those from the LGBT community. Saudi Arabia has been accused of sportswashing which is the process of hosting sports events to improve the image of a country whose reputation has been tarnished by wrongdoing. Earlier this year, Navratilova and fellow tennis icon Chris Evert co-wrote an editorial for the Washington Post opposing a move to the country. 

However, the WTA has formed an agreement with the Saudi Tennis Federation (STF) to host their season-ending event there from this year until at least 2026. A record $15.25m (£12m) in prize money will be available which will make the event the biggest annual women’s sporting event held in Saudi Arabia.

Speaking to reporters at a Laureus event in Madrid on Sunday, Navratilova says she has no plans to work in Saudi Arabia as a pundit for the upcoming event. Even though she has previously been invited to the country by STF chief Arij Almutabagani who is among those arguing that her country is making positive changes to their rules and regulations.

“We’re going to Saudi Arabia which is about as big a change as you can make, except for maybe going to North Korea,” Navratilova told reporters.
“Chris Evert and I have made our views clear on that, but the players have made their choices. We’ll see how things work out.
“I heard players say they ‘don’t want to be political’. Going to Saudi is about as political as you can get.
“Welcome to sport. Sports is political and has been at the forefront of social change. I don’t see how anything happens there without the blessing of MBS (Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi ruler).
“He decides what goes and what doesn’t. We’re a bit egotistical to think we can make a difference, but who knows?
“The players have to honour that, they’re the ones competing. We’re not affected by it. We’re not going there to play.”

Praise for tennis’ young guns

Navratilova has also shared her views about two players who have impressed on the men’s Tour in recent months. The former world No.1 paid tribute to Carlos Alcaraz by describing him as the best player who can use improvisation in the men’s game. 

“I have to say that Carlos is so complete…. Djokovic is incredible but Alcaraz takes tennis to a different level because he improvises better than anyone else”. She commented. 
“Wimbledon has given us matches for history but I think last year’s final between Alcaraz and Djokovic was the most exciting I have ever seen.”

As for Jannik Sinner, she paid tribute to his work ethic. The Italian has already claimed a trio of titles in 2024 and only two players have beaten him so far. One of those was Alcaraz in Indian Wells and the other was Stefanos Tsitsipas in Monte Carlo. 

“Jannik is unbelievable. He is the proof of how work allows you to improve and play at the highest level. I’m looking forward to the next ten years and the duels between Alcaraz, Sinner and some other player who can join.” Navratilova said of Sinner.

Navratilova is an ambassador of the Laureus Awards which will take place on Monday evening. 

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Elena Rybakina Powers Past Kostyuk To Win Stuttgart

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Elena Rybakina - Stoccarda 2024 (X @PorscheTennis)

Elena Rybakina produced a dominant performance to win the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix for the first time in her career.

The world No.4 stormed to a 6-2, 6-2, win over Marta Kostyuk who had beaten three seeded players en route to the title match. It is the second year in a row that Rybakina has won a title on the dirt after winning the 2023 Italian Open. In her latest clash, she won 81% of her first service points.

“I want to congratulate Marta for the great tournament. You’re playing amazing. Hopefully, we play many more finals,” the new champion said during the trophy presentation.
“Of course, I want to say thank you to my team. Thanks to the Kazakh Federation president for coming to support me, it means a lot. 
“To the crowd, It was an unbelievable week and it was nice to play every match here. Your energy gave me a lot during these tough matches, thank you a lot .”

Rybakina, who had only won two Tour-level titles on the clay coming into this week, got off to a dream start in the final by breaking a nervous Kostyuk to love in the opening game. The Kazakh’s power gave her opponent little time to settle into the match as the Ukrainian produced some costly errors. Illustrated in the seventh game when a Kostyuk double fault followed by a backhand error on the next point secured a double break for the fourth seed who went on to seal a 6-1 lead in exactly 30 minutes. 

It was a case of deja vu in the second frame with Ryabkina once again breaking immediately. A growingly frustrated Kostyuk did her hardest to fight back and had multiple chances to draw level at 3-3 but failed to capitalise on her opportunities. Paving the way for Rybakina to cruise to victory who closed the match out with the help of another unforced error from across the court. 

Rybakina’s latest triumph continues her solid start to the 2024 season. So far this year she has won more matches (26) and titles (three) than anybody else on the WTA Tour. On top of that, she also leads the women’s tour with the most aces produced so far this year. 

Meanwhile, Kostyuk is now on the verge of breaking into the world’s top 20 for the first time in her career as a result of her run in Stuttgart. On Monday she will rise to a ranking high of No.21. Overall, she has won seven of her last 11 matches against Top 10 players. 

“This is definitely one of the best events in the world,” said Kostyuk who was also runner-up in San Diego.
“I want to congratulate Elena and her team… she’s been having an incredible couple of seasons already. It’s always a pleasure playing against you, especially in a final.
“I also want to dedicate this final to my team. (An) incredible year so far. Thank you for being by my side.”

Both players will now head to Spain for the Madrid Open which is one of only two WTA 1000 clay-court tournaments taking place before next month’s French Open. 

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