Women's Australian Open Day Two: Drama After Drama, Niculescu and Babos Out - UBITENNIS
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Women’s Australian Open Day Two: Drama After Drama, Niculescu and Babos Out

Bottom half of the women’s draw brought great exciting matches. In this article we will focus on the matches that might have gone under your radar outside of the top players.

Jakub Bobro

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Match of the Day… so far

 

Match of the day has to go to the clash between Yanina Wickmayer and Lucie Safarova. The two experienced players faced off at Show Court 3, knowing that they would most likely face Serena Williams in their next match. Wickmayer was the better player until 6-3 5-4, when Safarova also stepped her game up. Wickmayer had the psychological advantage, having Safarova serve to stay in the match twice. She did well enough at 4-5, but at 5-6, Wickmayer gained access to her first match points. The Czech proved her mental fortitude and sent the second set into a tiebreak. Wickmayer was up in the tiebreak, giving her even more match points, but Safarova rallied back and won the second set tiebreak 9-7. The final set was dominated by Safarova, who won with the final scoreline 3-6 7-6(7) 6-1. Even more impressive than that, was the fact that Lucie Safarova saved NINE match points in the second set. It is easy to forget that Safarova was a Top 5 player just 2 years ago, and she certainly still has the quality.

The Upsets

There were two main upsets today, Nicole Gibbs beating 26th seeded Timea Babos 7-6 6-4 and more surprisingly Anna Blinkova getting the win over Monica Niculescu. Gibbs came into the match almost a favorite, as Babos could be marked as the weakest seed in the draw. The American has had a breakout year in 2016, and is showing that she can be a contender in 2017. Her second round opponent is another American, Irina Falconi with whom she has a 0-3 head-to-head.  Monica Niculescu was seen as a possible upset threat to Karolina Pliskova, over whom the Romanian has a 2-1 lead in head-to-head and is generally a bad match-up for the Czech. However these plans would be destroyed by the 18 year-old Russian star Anna Blinkova. Blinkova put together a great performance which was enough for Niculescu, but didn’t look okay throughout the match. She could have often been seen leaning against the fence and limping when walking to serve or return. One can only guess if it was the Australian heat, or something else that caused the Russian to act this way.

Seeds are through

Nine out of ten seeds so far has advanced, even outside the stars that are Pliskova, Konta and Serena Williams. 6th seed Dominika Cibulkova has gone past her first hurdle, Denisa Allertova with a comfortable 7-5 6-2. win. 21st seed Caroline Garcia managed to keep Kateryna Bondarenko at bay, in what was a very tricky first round. The French took the match in straight sets 7-6(4) 6-4, but it definitely wasn’t a straightforward match. If Garcia gets past her countrywoman Oceane Dodin in Round of 64, she will have a good shot of beating the other seed in her section, Barbora Strycova, and set up a possible 4th round showdown against Serena Williams. 28th seed and Brisbane finalist Alize Cornet has had a bit of unexpected struggle in her first round against Myrtille Georges. Cornet looked on her way to win the match in straights, but it was a 6-3 4-6 6-1 win instead. 31st seed Yulia Putintseva had a great match with Lara Arruabarrena, who had a great Hopman Cup run. Putintseva took the match in two close tiebreaks 7-6(7) 7-6(10).  14th seed Elena Vesnina passed comfortably to second round with a 7-5 6-2 win over Ana Bogdan of Romania. 30th seed Ekaterina Makarova, who has made Australian Open semifinals in the past got a dramatic start to this year’s edition against Ekaterina Alexandrova, her countrywoman. Makarova won after 1 hour and 25 minutes and a curious scoreline- 6-0 4-6 6-1.

 

Who is still in?

There are many exciting unseeded players still in the draw after the first round, and here are some that made it out after today. Naomi Osaka of Japan is through to the second round after a tough opener against Luksika Kumkhum, winning 6-7(2) 6-4 7-5. Thus Osaka has set up a blockbuster second round against 9th seed and Sydney champion Johanna Konta. Osaka’s fellow WTA Rising Star Jelena Ostapenko reaches second round after a quick 6-4 6-0 win over Lin Zhu. Former Top 10 player Sara Errani is still going strong in Melbourne, after defeating Risa Ozaki of Japan 7-5 6-1. Rest of the players that won today are the following: Irina Falconi, Donna Vekic, Oceane Dodin, Maria Sakkari and Su-Wei Hsieh.

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Tereza Martincova and Belinda Bencic reach the quarter final in Ostrava

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Czech wildcard Tereza Martincova upset Roland Garros Anastasya Pavlyuchenkova 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (8-6) after 2 hours and 19 minutes to advance to the quarter finals at the J&T Banka Ostrava Open. 

 

Martincova claimed her third top 20 win of her career and reached her second quarter final on home soil this season after finishing fourth in Prague. 

Pavlyuchenkova earned the first break to take a 4-3 lead and served for the first set in the 10th game, but she never reached a set point. The Russian player came just two points away from winning the first set at 5-4 30-15, but Martincova won four consecutive points before winning the tie-break 7-5. 

Martincova dropped just eight points in the first six games of the second set. The Czech player fended off two break points to consolidate her lead for 2-0. She raced out to a 7-6 (7-5) 5-1 lead, but Pavlyuchenkova saved two match points to hold serve forcing Martincova to serve for the match. Martincova dropped four consecutive points. Pavlyuchenkova got another break, when Martincova was serving for the match for the third time at 6-5. Martincova went up a 4-1 lead in the tie-break, but Pavlyuchenkova drew level to 4-4 before saving a third match point. Martincova won the final two points to claim the tie-break 8-6. 

Martincova set up a quarter final match against Maria Sakkari, who beat last week’s Luxembourg finalist Jelena Ostapenko. 

This year’s Olympic champion Belinda Bencic cruised to a 6-2 6-3 win over Sara Sorribes Tormo in just 88 minutes. Bencic claimed her 15th win in her last 18 matches. Bencic broke six times and reeled off eight consecutive games from 2-2 in the first set to cruise through to a a straight-set win. Sorribes Tormo saved a break point to win her first game for 1-4 and pulled one break back in the sixth game, but Bencic sealed the win with her third break in the ninth game. “I think I prepared well for this match tactically, and also mentally, because it’s very tough. You have to win the point many times against her, especially on this surface, where it’s very slow. I am happy that I stayed disciplined for the whole match”, said Bencic. 

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Naomi Osaka Withdraws From Indian Wells, Unclear If She Will Play Again This Year

There is no official word but it looking increasingly likly that the world No.8 might have pulled the plug on her 2021 season.

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Japan’s Naomi Osaka has officially withdrawn from the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells just weeks after saying she will take a break from the sport due to personal reasons.

 

The former world No.1 hadn’t played a match since her loss to Leylah Fernandez in the third round of the US Open. Speaking to reporters in New York, Osaka said she didn’t know when she would play another match on the Tour. Earlier this year she opened up about her mental health struggles after revealing she has been suffering from social anxiety and depression. Osaka also took time away from the sport during the summer after pulling out of the French Open before deciding to skip Wimbledon.

“This is very hard to articulate. Basically I feel like I’m kind of at this point where I’m trying to figure out what I want to do, and I honestly don’t know when I’m going to play my next tennis match. Sorry,” she said following her loss to Fernandez.
“I think I’m going to take a break from playing for a while. How do I go around saying this? I feel like for me recently when I win I don’t feel happy. I feel more like a relief. And then when I lose, I feel very sad. I don’t think that’s normal. I didn’t really want to cry.”

Osaka’s withdrawal from Indian Wells was confirmed by the tournament who published an announcement on social media. Although they didn’t specify what reason she used to withdraw from the tournament which is one of the biggest events outside of the Grand Slams in terms of ranking points and prize money on offer.

It was Indian Wells where Osaka won her first prestigious title back in 2018 after defeating Daria Kasatkina in straight sets. The following year she was the top seed in the draw but lost to Belinda Bencic in the fourth round.

There has been no official comment from Osaka or her team about Indian Wells and if she will play again this season. Although it looks increasingly unlikely. She is in with a chance of qualifying for the WTA Finals in November but even if she does make the cut it is unclear if she will attend the event which has been relocated from China to Mexico.

This year Indian Wells will get underway on October 4th which is more than six months later than usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Simona Halep Ends Six-Year Collaboration With Coach Cahill

One of the longest coaching partnerships on the WTA Tour has come to an end.

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Former world No.1 Simona Halep is on the lookout for a new coach after unexpectedly announcing her split from Darren Cahill on Wednesday.

 

The two-time Grand Slam champion has been working with the Australian mentor for most of the time since 2015. There was a brief period where Cahill stepped away from his duties to spend more time with his family before later returning. Under his guidance, the Romanian reached the top of the world rankings and featured in the final of three major tournaments, winning two of those.

“After six wonderful years working together, Darren Cahill and I have decided that it’s time to end our working relationship,” Halep wrote on social media. “Thank you D for everything, for making me a better tennis player and a better person.”

55-year-old Cahill is a former player himself who has also worked with a series of top players prior to Halep. In the past, he has coached both Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi to world No.1 at different stages of their careers. Doubles specialist Horia Tecău reportedly told Romanian TV that it was rumoured Cahill received an annual salary in the region of one million euros during his time with Halep. Although this has not been verified.

The announcement comes a week after Halep married Macedonian businessman Toni Iuruc. One of those who attended the event was Illie Nastase who was one of the world’s best tennis players during the 1970s, winning both the French Open and US Open.

I didn’t know anything about Simona’s intention to break up with Darren Cahill. It took me a little by surprise. But Simona Halep has proven she knows what she’s doing. As I did not know, I do not see what I could comment. But there is no question of collaborating (with her),” Nastase told playsport.ro.
I didn’t talk to her about this or to anyone else in her entourage… I think only Simona knows who her future coach will be. I trust her choices.”

So far in 2021 Halep has achieved a win-loss record of 15-7 during what has been a rollercoaster season. An Achilles injury forced her to miss both the French Open and Wimbledon, as well as the Tokyo Olympics. Since returning to the Tour from her injury she has won back-to-back matches in one out of three tournaments played. Reaching the fourth round of the US Open.

There has been no official word on who may replace Cahill as Halep’s coach.

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