Fed Cup play-off: USA leads Australia 2-0 after day 1, thanks to a formidable Keys and a solid McHale - UBITENNIS
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Fed Cup play-off: USA leads Australia 2-0 after day 1, thanks to a formidable Keys and a solid McHale

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Keys displays a powerful and confident tennis to frustrate the maiden Fed Cup rubber  of Gavrilova, whereas McHale wins a dramatic rubber against Stosur

 

 

Fed Cup play-off, day 1: Australia USA 0-2

From Brisbane Robbie Cappuccio

Australian and USA Fed Cup teams at Pat Rafter Arena, Brisbane

Australian and USA Fed Cup teams at Pat Rafter Arena, Brisbane

For sure not the result people (OK at least I) were expecting at the end of day one in Brisbane, and USA one step from victory.
Sunny, humid and 25C in Brisbane today, worth a couple of hours of plane trip from a rainy Melbourne. Sunny, but the Pat Rafter Arena (crowded with kids) is actually permanently covered with a plexiglass roof and artificial lights are on; “It’s an indoor-outdoor clay court, more indoor than outdoor, but not as fast” says Madison Keys in the after match press conference. Yes, because for the event the Pat Rafter Arena has been resurfaced with clay to give Stosur (semi-finalist in 2012 and a finalist in 2010 at the French Open) and Gavrilova (quarterfinal in Rome last year) an edge. The odds were in Keys’ favour and she did deliver, displaying a great condition and an arm that is ultimate power, whereas Gavrilova was a little bit too tense in her maiden rubber wearing green-and-gold. The result of the second single though was surprising, with Christina McHale winning over Sam Stosur, after trailing 1 set down.

 

Madison Keys (USA) d. Daria Gavrilova (AUS)  6-4 6-2

The stats describe pretty well the match: 28 winners for Keys, 4 for Gavrilova. I could stop here, but the match has been a little bit more than that.

USA wins the toss and elects to receive. Both players are tense at the beginning, with Keys hitting her forehand a couple of meters long or in the net, whilst Gavrilova – at her maiden tie in Fed Cup – playing spider/windshield wiper, running from one side of the baseline to the other spinning her web often with lobs to deter Keys’ violent hitting. And here comes the notorious 7th game with Dasha facing two break points: she double faults (talking about butterflies …) and USA takes the lead and consolidates despite Keys having to save two break points herself. Keys alternates excellent moments where she takes control of the rally, especially with the inside-out forehand to a series of unforced errors, and I mean hitting the base of the net or going 2 meters long. Regardless of her unforced errors (which we must say are helped by Gavrilova’s intelligent strategy), her stroke  is more something like a surface to surface missile: the violence with which she hits the ball is intimidating, to say the least. It’s 5-4 Keys who is on serve: Gavrilova helps her putting in the net an easy backhand volley, and the following inside-out forehand winner gives Keys two set points. Another winner (a total of 14 for her in the first set), initially called out but promptly corrected by the chair umpire gives USA the first set: 6-4.

In the second set Keys grows in intensity, whilst Gavrilova uses more a more the lob, being pushed meters outside the baseline. “I adjusted a little bit to her game in the second set, hitting high balls too often and not being aggressive enough” admits Gavrilova in the press conference. The key of the set comes early in the third game, with Gavrilova facing two consecutive break points and sending in the net an overhead from no more than one meter to the net. On 3-1 Keys, Gavrilova is again under pressure facing 3 consecutive break points, but shows her fighting spirit and holds. From that moment on though it’s a monologue by Keys hitting winner after winner: her returns to the Australian serve are as fast as deep, her inside out forehand is lethal. And with an inside out forehand, which forces Gavrilova to hit the net with her backhand, Keys takes the second set and the rubber in just over an hour and a quarter: 6-4 6-2.

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The gap today was too big, in terms of ball speed both in serve (170km/h for Keys with top of 194, 149km/h for Gavrilova who then had to face Keys’ return, twice as fast) and groundstrokes. Keys displayed great confidence which is now further boosted and puts her in a great mental position tomorrow against Stosur. “Tomorrow is another day” concludes a very disappointed Gavrilova, who was though able to smile during the press conference. “It’s a team competition, we win as a team and lose as a team. McHale plays similar to me and I defeated her last year in Rome“.

 

Christina McHale (USA) d. Sam Stosur (AUS) 3-6 6-1 7-5

Hopes to level the tie by Australia are on Sam Stosur. Ha, what’s in the mindset! What huge role the mindset played in Sam Stosur’s career?!? A chess game between the two players who play similar from a tactical point of view: long rallies, a forehand full of top spin (especially Stosur’s), often inside-out, and alternating a sliced backhand to a flat one. The first set is actually good tennis, with good court coverage by both players. Stosur’s class and experience prevail and Sam is up 5-2 and set point. Then something slowly happens and she turns into the one who is one step from victory and then gives up. McHale saves the set point to hold serve and then other three set points on Stosur’s serve. The Aussie eventually takes the set with a sort of half volley from the baseline, but foreboding signs are all there. And there you have the momentum swing: Stosur appears confused, cannot hit a ball, and makes an unforced error after the other. On 3-0 McHale, Stosur send two balls to the roof, and two to the stands, then losing the next game to love. The set ends 6-1 in less than half an hour and Stosur is so stunned that starts the third set by walking to the wrong end, realising it when she finds herself on the baseline, next to McHale!! The Aussie has to immediately face two break points, but manages to survive and refocus. The match goes back to what it was in the first set, but McHale is much more solid than before. Long rallies, great intensity and nice shots, e.g. a backhand stop volley by McHale which brings her to 2 all. Stosur is confident again, but the unforced errors (a total of 44 in the match for Stosur, against 33 for McHale) still exceed the winners (27 for the Australian, 34 for the American). The seventh game is dramatic, to say the least: 15-30 and then ace by Stosur, followed by a backhand winner by McHale and first break point. Stosur saves and then misses an easy backhand passing shot giving the second break point, which she saves in a long rally which resembles an arm wrestling fight. And so on for a total of 6 break points, which Stosur saves to then hold serve: the Pat Rafter Arena explodes in cheering and chanting for the 4-3 Australia. It’s a big momentum swing, but Stosur cannot exploit the moment. Or maybe it’s McHale who does not look too bothered. “I just tried to refocus and do not think back but forward” said McHale at the press conference. Oh boy, if she refocuses! Straight back to 4 all and then 5 all. Stosur serves so and so and two unforced errors give the game and the edge to the American. It’s a big blow and Stosur is now very tense: during the change of ends she smashes the water bottle to the ground and the patting on the leg by captain Alicia Molik does not do much. McHale has got the one occasion and does not let it slip, grabbing it quickly: 7-5.

Mary Joe Fernandez and Christina McHale at the press conference

Mary Joe Fernandez and Christina McHale at the press conference

At the press conference, Mary Joe Fernández, US captain, cannot hide her joy for the victories and the choice of McHale on Vanderweghe for the singles.”So far, so good” she says “we evaluated how the players were on the surface, how they were practicing, how they were feeling and then we took the decision” a winning decision indeed. “Now it’s an enormeous task for us” Alicia Molik realistically comments.

Fed Cup

Leylah Fernandez wins Billie Jean King Heart Award

The Canadian was recognized by the fans for her part in Canada beating Serbia in the play-off tie last month.

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Leylah Fernandez has been named the winner of the Billie Jean King Heart award voted on by the fans of the game. She played an integral part in Canada beating Serbia 4-0 in the playoff tie last month.

 

18-year-old Fernandez was involved in a poll with Elina Svitolina, Katie Boulter and Magdalena French. The award comes with $3000 which she donated to her favourite charity Table de Concertation en Securite Alimentaire de Villeray in Montreal.

” I was surprised, there were so many great players who were nominated and showed a lot of heart during the competition so I didn’t expect much from my part but I’m happy the fans voted and that I was given this opportunity to show what we are made of so I am excited,” said Fernandez.

ITF president David Haggerty commented on her award saying “Congratulations to Leylah Fernandez for her great performance at the Billie Jean King playoff in April and for being voted the recipient of the Bille Jean King Heart Award. It’s extra special to be voted by the fans and recognized for showing great courage and commitment to your team”.

Heidi El Tabakh the Billie Jean King Cup captain for Canada also reacted to Fernandez winning the award.

” I am so happy and extremely proud of Leylah (Fernandez) for winning the Billie Jean King Heart Award. It was well deserved following a spectacular performance in Serbia which she worked so hard for,” she said.
“Leylah is a fighter on the court, she always represents Canada with pride and is an incredible teammate for her fellow teammates. She is very worthy of this award”.

This is the 12th year the award has been given and it recognizes players who have represented their country with distinction, shown exceptional courage on the court, and demonstrated outstanding commitment to the team during the Billie Jean King Cup by BNP Paribas.

So far the the award winners have donated over $200,000 to charities across the world.

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Davis Cup

Tennis Stars Voice Concerns Over Staging Tokyo Olympics

After being delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, top players such as Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori still have reservations.

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The area around the Olympic Rings and Olympic Stadium - (image via olympics.com)

Japan’s top male tennis player Kei Nishikori has questioned how much preparation the IOC and local officials in his home country has prepared for a ‘worst-case’ scenario of hosting the Olympics. 

 

The four-year event has already been postponed by 12 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic and some have called for the sporting extravaganza to be scrapped. Recently governors of nine Japanese prefectures said there should be an option to suspend or even cancel the Olympics altogether if cases in the region can’t be kept under control. Three of those governors are in charge of cities set to stage Olympic events. 

Weighing in on the debate, former US Open finalist Nishikori raises doubts over how organisers plan to hold a safe event given the high number of athletes that will be present, which is an estimated 11,000. Japan has already said that overseas fans are banned and international athletes will not be able to bring relatives with them to minimise the risk.

“I don’t know what they are thinking, and I don’t know how much they are thinking about how they are going to make a bubble, because this is not 100 people like these tournaments,” Nishikori said after his first-round match at the Italian Open on Monday.
“It’s 10,000 people in the village. So I don’t think it’s easy, especially what’s happening right now in Japan. It’s not doing good. Well, not even (just) Japan. You have to think all over the world right now.”

The world No.45 expresses a view similar to the of four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka who said earlier this week that she was ‘not sure’ if the event should go ahead due to the current case numbers.  

“I’m an athlete, and of course my immediate thought is that I want to play in the Olympics,” she said.
“But as a human, I would say we’re in a pandemic, and if people aren’t healthy, and if they’re not feeling safe, then it’s definitely a really big cause for concern.”

In the latest figures published by health officials, Tokyo reported 925 news cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday which is an increase of almost 400 compared to the previous day. Although Monday figures are usually low due to the closure of testing centres over the weekend. Tuesday’s number is higher compared to this time last week (609 cases) and two weeks ago (828 cases).

Besides the COVID-19 concerns, the prospect of having to go to the Games without a member of family could result in the absence of four-time gold medallist Serena Williams. The former world No.1 says she is undecided on playing the event and hasn’t been separated from her three-year-old daughter for more than 24 hours before.

“I haven’t spent 24 hours without her, so that kind of answers the question itself,” said Williams.
“I haven’t really thought much about Tokyo, because it was supposed to be last year and now it’s this year, and then there is this pandemic and there is so much to think about.
“Then there are the Grand Slams. It’s just a lot. So I have really been taking it one day at a time to a fault, and I definitely need to figure out my next moves.”

Besides athlete concerns, Olympic organisers are also facing falling public support. A recent poll conducted by newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun found that nearly 60% of respondents wanted the Games to be cancelled. Furthermore TBS news reported 65% of people surveyed in another poll wanted the event either cancelled or suspended again, with 37% supporting the cancellation and 28% in favour of suspension.

The Olympic tennis event is set to start on July 24th. 

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Davis Cup

Top Tennis Tournaments Among 97 Events UK Sport Hopes To Host Over The Next Decade

A plan for the ‘greatest decade of extraordinary sporting moments’ in the UK has been published and tennis is among the sports officials are interested in.

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London's O2 Arena, venue of the ATP World Tour Finals between 2009-2020 (photo by Alberto Pezzali)

The government agency responsible for investing in Olympic and Paralympic sport within Great Britain has said they could submit an application to host two team tennis events over the next decade.

 

UK Sport has labelled both the Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup Finals as an ‘opportunity’ for them to host in their 10-year strategic plan which will last until 2021. Overall the country is looking at the possibility of staging 97 events across 44 sports over the next 10 years. Those behind the plan believe such a move could generate a total of £7 billion for the UK economy. A live feasibility study is already underway for bidding to host the 2030 football World Cup, 2026 European Athletic Championships and more.

“Together we have achieved so much in Olympic and Paralympic sport. Nevertheless, we are very aware there is no room for complacency and that we must build on our success to create the next exciting phase of high-performance sport,” UK Sport chair Dame Katherine Grainger said in a statement.
“One where we work even more collaboratively and inclusively to keep winning and win well, in ways that will inspire more people and have a broader impact on our society.
“Achieving on the world stage will still sit firmly at the heart of what we do. But we should not underestimate the powerful platform that provides us with, and it is our shared responsibility to better harness this for positive social change.”

When it comes to both the Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup, UK Sport has categorized them as a mega event. Meaning they are ‘seen as the pinnacle of their sport at World level and which have significant staging costs, attract more than 100,000 live spectators, entail considerable delivery complexity and require extensive public funding and guarantee commitments.’ At present they have been labelled as an ‘opportunity’ by the agency. Meaning that no decision to bid to host them has been made yet but remains a good possibility.

The government made no reference to what venues could be used, especially regarding the tennis events which will require more than one court due to the change of the tournament in recent years. The finals of the team events now last for a week or so and are done initially in a group format before turning into a knock-out stage.

This year’s Davis Cup finals are taking place across three European cities. However, the women’s equivalent remains in doubt after the ITF ended their contract with the Hungarian Tennis Association who were meant to be holding the event. Hungary recently sent a letter saying it was no longer feasible to do so due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UK is best known for its staging of the prestigious Wimbledon Championships, as well as other grass-court events. Furthermore, it also experienced great success in hosting the ATP Finals between 2009-2020 which attracted more than 2.8 million visitors during that period.

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