Serena Williams Wins in Rome for the 4th Time to End a 9-Month Title Drought - UBITENNIS
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Serena Williams Wins in Rome for the 4th Time to End a 9-Month Title Drought

Serena Williams beat Madison Keys in straight sets in a historical all-American final in Rome to conquer her first WTA title since August last year, when she was crown champion in Cincinnati. The World No.1 is now the favorite approaching the French Open.

Ivan Pasquariello

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She had to wait 9 months, lose her grip on ultimate history in front of her home crowd in New York, lose a Grand Slam final when she had the chance to tie Steffi Graf in the all-time open era record of 22 majors, but then Serena Williams has finally ended her title drought winning her 4th championship at the Italian Open. The World No.1 won her 70th WTA title on Sunday in Rome, beating Madison Keys in the final in straight sets, with the final score of 7-6(5) 6-3. With a 4th crown in Rome, Serena joins Conchita Martinez and Gabriela Sabatini in the list for more titles conquered in the eternal city (Chris Evert holds the all-time record with 5 wins).

 

Serena Williams and Madison Keys were meeting for a career third time on Sunday in the final of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia 2016, in the first all-American final in Rome since 1970. With Serena leading the series 2-0, thanks to the wins conquered in 2015 at the Australian Open and US Open, the World No.1 was the clear favorite to win the match. Playing in her 4th Rome’s final, seeking a 4th title, Serena for the first time since 1998 arrived at the last act of the Italian Open without having won a title prior in the season. News of 2016 seems that the World No.1 has become fragile in finals, losing to Kerber at the Australian Open and to Azarenka in Indian Wells, both times starting the final clash as the favorite to win the title. In Rome, it seemed the new tendency for Serena would continue as soon as the match kicked off.

Keys started the match on a roll. With Serena serving in the first game, Madison got three break point chances and managed to break serve. The World No.24 then held serve and built a 2-0 lead early on. Serena responded getting on the scoreboard holding serve to 15 as Keys pushed a backhand long.

Madison managed to move Serena around the court pushing with her forehand. Williams rather rusty on her right side wasn’t conquering the rallies as seen against Kuznetsova in the quarters or Begu in the semifinals. Playing superb tennis on her service games, Madison keep the lead, up 3-1 in the set. Serving at 3-2, Keys had 2 game points, but surprisingly hit two double faults in a row. A forehand that seemed having caught the line was then judge out for Keys, who ended up getting broken with a forehand completely missed in the corridor. As the young American gave the game away, Serena hit back at 3-3.

As the quality of the match dropped a bit, with both players missing more than firing winners, Serena held serve to take the lead for the first time in the match, up 4-3. Keys responded holding at 30 to set the score tied at 4-4. Serena was challenged in the 9th game, but managed to hold serve at 30, closing with an ace to lead 5-4.

Serving to stay in the set, Keys showed all the progresses she has made in the past two years. Madison held serve firing two forehand winners, to tie the score at 5-5. Keys was called to serve to stay in the set a second time, down 5-6, and starting by hitting a double fault. Madison recovered quickly, helped by Serena’s lack of consistency. The set was to be decided by a tie-break.

The first three points in the tie-break went against serve, then Serena was the first to win a point with a first serve, to take a 3-1 lead. Keys won the best point of the set with a stunning forehand down the line winner, then managed to get back in the tie-break at 5-5. Serena followed with a forehand cross court too good for Keys to put back on court. Williams was the first player to see a set point at 6-5. Serena played a superb first serve on which Keys couldn’t return on court, conquering the tie-break and the first set 7-6(5).

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Serena started the second set breaking Keys’ serve, thanks to a stunning recovery from a drop volley played by Madison.

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Swinging free, Serena held serve quickly to lead 2-0. Williams continued to hold her grip on the match, forcing Keys to something more to win the points. The World No.1 broke again in the third game, as Madison missed a forehand in the corridor, building a 3-0 double-break lead.

Williams followed with a terrible performance on her serve, including a double fault and easy unforced errors in the net, to allow Keys with the break and on the scoreboard at 1-3. Madison held serve quickly after, setting the score at 3-2 for Williams.

The World No.1 regained her focus and finished the 6th game with an ace, to confirm the break and lead 4-2. Frustrated with her inability to take her chances, Keys let the 7th game slip away quickly, as Serena broke to 15 to grant herself a chance to serve for the match up 5-2.

Keys played a superb returning game, breaking Williams when serving for the match, to trail back 3-5. Serena reacted played aggressive in the 9th game, seeing a first match point opportunity after moving Keys around the court forcing with her forehand. On her first championship point Serena fired a deep backhand cross court return on which Keys hit a force error, pushing her backhand long.

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A warm encounter at the net followed, where Serena congratulated her opponent saying ”I am so proud of you, You are going to get to World No.1”.

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Roland Garros Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Goes for his 19th Major Title Against Stefanos Tsitsipas

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An airborne Novak Djokovic on Friday in Paris (twitter.com/rolandgarros)

In 2006 at this event, Novak Djokovic reached his first Slam quarterfinal.  15 years and 18 Major titles later, the 34-year-old has become one of the greatest players of all-time.  On Friday, in a fantastic semifinal, he became the only man to ever defeat Rafael Nadal twice at the French Open.  A win today would pull him within one Major title of not only Nadal, but also Roger Federer.  And it would make him the first man to win each Grand Slam tournament twice since Rod Laver in 1969.

 

In 2016 at this event, Stefanos Tsitsipas made his Slam debut.  Five years and four Major semis later, the 22-year-old has reached his first Slam final.  On Friday, he survived a dramatic five-set semifinal against Sascha Zverev.  A win today would make him the youngest man to win a Major since Juan Martin Del Potro in 2009.  And it would make him the first man to win in his first Grand Slam final appearance since Marin Cilic in 2014.

Also on Sunday, the women’s doubles championship will be decided, with the two most recent French Open women’s singles champions on opposite sides of the net.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (5) – Not before 3:00pm on Court Philippe-Chatrier

Djokovic leads their head-to-head 5-2, and 3-0 on clay.  After winning two of their first three encounters, Tsitsipas has now lost the last four.  Last October in the semifinals of this tournament, Djokvoic was up two-sets-to-love when Tsitsipas came storming back to even the match, yet Novak closed out the fifth set decisively.  They also met just a few weeks ago in Rome, where Djokovic won an extremely-tight three-setter, which took over three hours to decide, and was played over the course of two days.

The last time Djokovic defeated Nadal at Roland Garros, in 2015’s quarterfinals, he was upset in the championship match by Stan Wawrinka.  Will Tsitsipas play the role of Wawrinka on Sunday?  Both men played grueling matches on Friday, but Novak’s ended about five hours later, was over 30 minutes longer, and undoubtedly was more physically and emotionally draining.  And Tsitsipas should fine some confidence in knowing his last two matches against Djokovic on clay have been anything but blowouts.

Novak is 18-10 in Major finals, with four of his losses coming in Paris.  He will fully understand what a huge opportunity this is to win the French Open for a second time, after eliminating Rafa on Friday.  I expect Djokovic to be much more prepared for this moment than he was six years ago against Wawrinka, and than Tsitsipas will be in his first Slam final.  Novak Djokovic is a considerable favorite to win his 19th Major title.

Other Notable Matches on Sunday:

Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova (2) vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Iga Swiatek (14) – Saturday was the biggest day of Krejcikova’s career, winning her first Major in singles.  Less than 24 hours later, she looks to be a double champion.  Her and Siniakova were two-time Slam winners in 2018.  Swiatek was of course the champion here in singles last October, while Mattek-Sands has won all five women’s doubles finals she’s ever played at Majors, and all with her former partner, Lucie Safarova.

Sunday’s full schedule is here.

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Roland Garros Daily Preview: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Barbora Krejcikova Play for the Women’s Championship

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Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova during Thursday’s semifinals (twitter.com/rolandgarros)

10 years ago at this event, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova reached her first Major quarterfinal.  As a teenager, she was up a set and 4-1 against defending champion Francesca Schiavone, but failed to close out the match, losing 7-5 in the third.  The Russian would reach 10 more Slam quarters in both singles and doubles, yet lose every one of them.  At the age of 29, she’s reevaluated her career, and rededicated herself to training and achieving bigger accomplishments.  This week, on her 12th try, she finally broke through to the semifinals at a Major, and promptly won her semi in straight sets to reach her first Slam final.

 

Five years ago at this event, Barbora Krejcikova reached her first Major semifinal.  That was in women’s doubles, alongside her long-time partner, Katerina Siniakova.  They would go on to win this tournament in 2018, the same year they won Wimbledon.  That was a year after her coach and inspiration, Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna, sadly passed away from cancer.  On Sunday, Krejcikova and Siniakova will play for their third Major title as a team.  But this past year, Barbora has made huge strides in singles.  Last autumn, she arrived in Paris ranked outside the top 100 in singles, yet reached the second week of a Major for the first time.  Eight months later, the 25-year-old saved a match point in an epic semifinal against Maria Sakkari to reach her first Slam final.

Also on Saturday, the men’s doubles championship will be decided, with Frenchmen Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut playing for their fifth Major title.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (31) vs. Barbora Krejcikova – 3:00pm on Court Philippe-Chatrier

This will be new territory in multiple ways: not only their first singles championship match at a Major, but also their first career meeting.  They have met twice in recent years in doubles, with Krejcikova and her partner Siniakova prevailing both times in straight sets.  It took Anastasia a record-breaking 52 Slams to reach her first final, while this is only Barbora’s fifth time in the main draw of singles at a Major.  As Christopher Clarey highlighted on Twitter, this will mark the sixth consecutive year the women’s singles champion will be a first-time Slam champ.

Pavlyuchenkova has long been a dangerous draw, as she’s built a reputation for taking out top players.  Her victory last week over Aryna Sabalenka was the 37th top 10 win in her career.  As per WTA Insider, that’s the most top 10 wins ever by a player who themselves has never been ranked that high.  But it’s Krejcikova who has put together the stronger season, with a record of 24-8.  Barbora reached the final in Dubai, and is currently on an 11-match win streak, coming off a title run just two weeks ago in Strasbourg.  Between singles and doubles, she’s won 16 matches over the last 20 days.

In each of her six victories to this stage, Pavlyuchenkova has avoided having a lower second-serve-points-won percentage than her opponent.  Krejcikova did so against five of her six opponents, with the exception being Elina Svitolina, who converted only two of seven break points, and failed to protect her own serve.  The percentage of second-serve-points-won should be the key statistic to track during this match. 

That would seem to favor Pavlyuchenkova, who is the stronger and more consistent baseline player.  But this match will likely come down to who better manages the emotions of this momentous occasion.  In her 15th year of Grand Slam competition, will Anastasia be motivated or overwhelmed by the knowledge of how rare an opportunity this can be?  Based on the composed way she has handled herself through six rounds, it feels as if Pavlyuchenkova is ready to capture the moment, and win her first Major title.

Other Notable Matches on Saturday:

Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut (6) vs. Alexander Bublik and Andrey Golubev – The French team were champions here three years ago, and have narrowly escaped defeat four times this fortnight, most recently saving three match points in the semifinals against Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah.  Bublik and Golubev have defeated two seeded teams in just the fourth tournament of their partnership.

Saturday’s full schedule is here.

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Novak Djokovic Overcomes Slow Start To Stun Nadal In French Open Thriller

Djokovic has become the fourth oldest man to reach the final at Roland Garros after coming through a gripping encounter with nemesis Nadal.

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image via https://twitter.com/rolandgarros/

Novak Djokovic avenged his loss from last year’s French Open final by producing a emphatic display to defeat Rafael Nadal and reach the final in what was one of the best matches of their entire rivalry on the Tour.

 

The two tennis giants locked horns on court Philippe Chatrier for a marathon four hours and 11 minutes before Djokovic prevailed 3-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-2, in what was a roller coaster encounter. Becoming the first player in history to have defeated Nadal at the tournament on multiple occasions. In his latest match the Serbian fired a total of 50 winners and broke eight times en route to what he later described as one of the most memorable wins of his career.

“It was a privilege to be on the court with Rafa ( Nadal) and this incredible match, it is probably the biggest match of my life here in Paris, that’s for sure, and also with the best atmosphere for both players,” Djokovic said during his on-court interview.

The world number one started to apply the pressure from the word play and earned the first breakpoint of the match in the opening game and managed to have two looks but the Spaniard saved both with his booming serve. Nadal responded the very next game earning his first breakpoint and breaking the Belgrade native to take an early 2-0 lead and at 3-0 managed to go up a double break in just 20 minutes. Which was enough for him to take the first set.

Djokovic once again respond at the beginning of the second set earning three breakpoints at 1-0 and breaking to take a 2-0 lead before the Spaniard would bounce back breaking back to go back on serve. The Serb had another chance to take the lead at 3-2 when he had three chances and broke to take a 4-2 lead. That break proved crucial as Djokovic would serve out the second set to level the match at one set apiece.

The third set was a much tighter affair and at 1-1 it was Djokovic who had the first chance to break but Nadal saved and held serve. At 2-2 the world number had another chance to get the crucial break and at the third time of asking he broke the Spaniard serve but relinquished it the very next game.

The Serb would break again the following game and managed this time to hold serve and had a chance to serve for the set at 5-4 but Nadal came up with some crazy forehand winners to set up a breakpoint and break back.

The Serb had two chances again to get the break back but the world number three saved both and held serve before applying pressure once again. Earning a set point on the world number one serve but he managed to save and force a tiebreaker.

The breaker was just as tight and at 4-3 Nadal missed a crucial put away at the net and that break was enough for the Djokovic to win the breaker and the third set.

The Spaniard had the better start to the fourth set earning a breakpoint in the opening match and broke to take an early 1-0 lead but at 2-1 the world number responded once again earning two chances to break and breaking to level the match at 2-2. At 3-2 Djokovic had more chances to break and he earned the crucial one once again. Going on to serve out the match to book his spot in Sundays final against Stefanos Tsitsipas.

After the match in his post match on court interview Djokovic was asked how he was able to handle the pressure and focus on his game in a match like that.

“Evidently if you want to beat Rafa (Nadal) on his court you have to play your best tennis and tonight was the night of my best tennis, the pressure to play against him is quite special”.

Djokovic currently holds a 5-2 record against his Greek opponent and they most recently played a couple weeks ago in Rome with the world number one winning in three sets.

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