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WTA: Race To Singapore, Muguruza strengthens claim

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Muguruza and Bacsinzsky were the big winners this week

With the news last week that Serena Williams has elected to end her season early, forgoing the final major events of the year, the race to be involved in the premier season-ending event is no less exciting. The WTA event in Beijing saw a number of contenders fall early, as a select few pulled away.

 

This week has seen Garbine Muguruza continue to assert her claim to be involved for the first time, as she moved up to No.4 in the race last week. She plays in the final of Beijing after defeating another contender in Agnieszka Radwanska in the semi-finals. Radwanska will move back into contention after her strong semi-final showing.

She will play Timea Baczinszky, who will also improve her bid, by moving into the Top ten for the first time. She came back from a set down to beat Ana Ivanovic. Ivanovic meanwhile, looks like joining Serena Williams as a player who qualified for last year’s event who may not appear this year. A good week in Beijing has aided her cause, but she still needs to perform in the final weeks to get back into the reckoning. Eugenie Bouchard will also not appear after suffering a season of poor form and injury problems. Caroline Wozniacki is also struggling to replicate the form that saw her take her place in Singapore last year. She only managed a third round in Beijing this week.

Simona Halep has already qualified again, whilst Maria Sharapova looks well placed to join her. There are just two more weeks of events before the season-ending finale, and Sharapova  would have to be displaced by a number of rivals if she is not to qualify. Petra Kvitova saw her strong position weaken significantly, suffering a shock early exit to Sara Errani. Madison Keys, Flavia Pennetta, and Carla Suarez Navarro, all fell in the third round.Venus Williams suffered a setback in her early defeat to Ana Ivanovic in the second round. She will drop from eleventh in the race. Karolina Pliskova will also fall out as she in the opening round. Belinda Bencic was forced to withdraw with a right hand injury, and Lucie Safarova did not play this week’s event in Beijing.

Angelique Kerber will continue to keep her destiny within her control, a strong quarter-final run saw her put further ground between herself and many of her rivals.

 

 

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Aryna Sabalenka Survives Sanders Scare At Australian Open

The Belarussian was made to work hard during her opening match at Melbourne Park.

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Aryna Sabalenka (Darren Carroll/USTA)

World No.2 Aryna Sabalenka came back from the brink of defeat to seal her spot in the second round of the Australian Open.

 

The two-time Grand Slam semi-finalist struggled with her consistency throughout her 5-7, 6-3, 6-2, win over wild card Storm Saunders, who is yet to win a Grand Slam main draw match in her career. At one stage Sabalenka looked to be on the verge of suffering a third consecutive Tour defeat after trailing by a set and a break to the underdog before staging an emphatic fight back. Doing so with the help of her rival who started to unravel as the match progressed.

“She played well, she’s a tough opponent and I’m happy I won today,” Sabalenka said of Sanders during her on-court interview.

Sabalenka’s roller-coaster victory is best illustrated by the match statistics. Dealing with inconsistencies in her serve, she produced a total of 12 double faults and won 43% of her second service points. Furthermore, she hit a total of 29 winners against 37 unforced errors en route to the victory.

Playing a top 10 player for only the second time in her career, 27-year-old Sanders started the match in clinical fashion as she produced a level of tennis which exceeded that of her current ranking. Three consecutive times she managed to dismantle the Sabalenka serve to open up a swift 4-1 lead. However, the second seed briefly managed to find her footing in the match to claw her way back and level the set at 5-5. Not to be disheartened, Sanders continued pressing her opponent who faltered at the worst possible moment. Granting the underdog another break before she closed out the set.

On the verge of suffering an upset, Sabalenka’s woes continued in the second set when she got broken once again three games in. Trailing 5-7, 1-3, she managed to turn her fortunes around with the help of a six-game winning streak. Exposing the inexperienced her opponent has of playing on the biggest stages of the game. Serving to level up, she triumphed on her third set point with the help of a serve down the center of the court which Sanders returned out.

Into her stride, Sabalenka charged towards the finish line by winning a further four games in the decider before Sanders managed to register another game of her own. Serving for the win, a blistering serve down the center of the court secured the victory.

“I was already (mentally) in the locker room. Maybe that was the key because I stopped thinking too much and started playing tennis. I tried to put the ball (on the court) as much as I could and I think I did it well. That’s why I came back (in the match),” Sabalenka commented on how she turned the match around.
“Now I will recover and then tomorrow I will speak with my team about my next opponent.”

Sabalenka will play China’s Wang Xinyu in the next round. She could claim the world No.1 ranking in Melbourne if one of two scenarios occur over the coming days. She reaches the final and Ash Barty loses before the quarter-finals or Barty reaches the Quarter-finals and Sabalenka goes on to win the title.

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Andy Murray Battles Past Basilashvili In Three Hour Marathon At Australian Open

Andy Murray produced a resilient performance to reach the second round at the Australian Open.

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Andy Murray (@the_LTA - Twitter)

Andy Murray battled past 21st seed Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-1 3-6 6-4 6-7(5) 6-4 to reach the second round of the Australian Open.

 

It was another typical Andy Murray grand slam match as a three hour marathon was won by the Brit to reach round two.

The three-time grand slam champion has beaten Basilashvili twice in the space of seven days and will now face Taro Daniel on Thursday.

Murray dominated the opening set against an error-prone Basilashvili as his defence was already peaking.

Three consecutive breaks gave Murray the set lead after taking the first set 6-1.

Basilashvili would return the favour in the second set as the Georgian continued to hammer his shots off of both wings.

A 4-1 double break lead was established as we would get the first frustrated mutterings from Murray.

The former world number one would get one of the breaks back but Basilashvili’s consistent firepower would prove too much for Murray’s stubborn defence as another break sealed the second set 6-3.

Into the third set, Murray would control the dynamic of the set on serve as he made bold patterns of play on big points.

An exchange of three breaks in a row saw Murray come out on top as he looked to use a mixture of power and defensive solidity to outmanoeuvre Basilashvili.

The Georgian saved three set points to force Murray to serve out the set but that didn’t matter as the Brit closed out the set comfortably for a 2 sets to 1 lead.

Nothing was easy for Andy Murray in grand slam tennis though and although he recovered a break deficit and saved set point, a poor start to the tiebreak saw Murray playing catch-up.

Basilashvili held his nerve and closed out the tiebreak 7-5 to force a deciding set.

In the final set Murray set a fast tempo winning the first eight points and being the aggressor taking 3-0 and 4-1 leads.

Once the Brit took his foot off the gas that allowed Basilashvili to get back into the match and continue to hit winners that would outpower Murray’s defence.

4-1 was 4-4 and Murray had to rely on his good returning skills when it really mattered to come through.

A 99th unforced error from the Georgian sealed Murray’s emotional delight in clinching another five set triumph at a grand slam.

After the match a delighted Murray reflected on his journey, “It’s been a tough three or four years but I’ve put in a lot of hard work to get here,” Murray said in his on-court interview.

“I’ve played on this court many times and the atmosphere is always incredible. It is where I thought I had potentially played my last match but to win a five-set battle like that, I couldn’t have asked any more.”

Murray will now return on Thursday to play Japanese qualifier Taro Daniel.

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Tennis Australia To ‘Review’ Handling Of Djokovic Fiasco But Not Until Australian Open Ends

The governing body says they are ‘always lessons to be learned’ but has praised CEO Craig Tiley.

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Tennis Australia has broken their silence for the first time since Novak Djokovic was deported from the country after his visa was cancelled.

 

The governing body, who is in charge of running the Australian Open, issued a statement on Tuesday saying ‘recent events have been a significant distraction’ and they ‘regret’ the impact it has had on players. However, they made no direct reference to Djokovic who has previously said that Tennis Australia had told him that he could enter the country due to a prior COVID-19 infection despite being unvaccinated.

Border force officials deemed that reason to be insufficient and refused Djokovic’s entry which led to a 11-day fiascothat featured two separate court appeals. The 20-time Grand Slam champion initially managed to overturn the decision to cancel his visa after the judge ruled the procedure conducted wasn’t appropriate. Following that, immigration minister Alexs Hawke used his executive power to cancel Djokovic’s visa for a second time and the legality that decision was upheld by the Federal court. Resulting in the tennis star being deported on Monday.

Despite the controversy and allegations of poor management by Australian Open CEO Craig Tiley, Tennis Australia has ‘commended’ him for his work.

Tennis Australia has been working closely with both the Federal and Victorian government for the past year to deliver a COVID safe Australian Open for the players, staff, and fans,” a statement reads.
“Embarking on a major international sporting event during a global pandemic that continues to evolve and challenge us all, is profoundly demanding for all stakeholders.
“The board and member associations commend the Tennis Australia CEO and the entire Tennis Australia team for their hard work and dedication to delivering a spectacular summer of tennis.”

A review will be conducted into the build-up to the Australian Open but it appears that this will be a routine procedure and nothing any more substantial. Despite the controversy which has arisen following Djokovic’s visa controversy. Another player, Renata Voracova, was also deported from the country after it was deemed that her visa was not valid. Even though the Czech was in the country for a few days and played in a tournament. Voracova is now seeking compensation from Tennis Australia over the ordeal.

“There are always lessons to learn, and we will review all aspects of our preparation and implementation to inform our planning – as we do every year. That process always starts once the Australian Open champions have lifted their trophies,” the statement continues.
“Australia has a strong and proud tennis tradition, and it has been fantastic to see the crowds out cheering for the world’s best players in the lead up to and over the opening days of the Australian Open.
“We, like the players, and all tennis fans here and around the world, are keen for the focus to now be on the game we are all so passionate about.”

Tiley has not spoken publicly since Djokovic departed Australia as some are questioning the management of Tennis Australia. Former president Steve Healy has criticised the board’s silence over the matter and has called for clarity over what they knew about the controversy.

“Surely the board were aware of this? They should have been,” Healy told Nine. “It’s such a large reputational risk, not just in terms of the tournament but the relationship with government. If it’s just been run by management, I’d say, why weren’t the board involved?”

Tennis Australia says they respect the decision of the Immigration Minister and the finding of the Federal Court regarding Djokovic.

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