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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In-Form Liudmila Samsonova Storms To Tokyo Title

Tokyo is the second tournament this year the Russian has won without dropping a set.

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Image via https://twitter.com/WTA_insider

Liudmila Samsonova has continued her rapid surge on the Tour by defeating China’s Qinwen Zheng 7-5, 7-5, to win the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo. 

 

The world No.30 dropped serve only once and hit four aces as she edged her way past rising star Zheng who is the first Chinese teenager to reach the final of a Tour-level singles event. Overall, Samsonova won 68% of her service points en route to becoming the first Russian player to win the tournament since Nadia Petrova in 2012. 

“It’s amazing, I don’t have too many words right now. I need a little bit of time,” said Samsonova, who beat Grand Slam champions Elena Rybakina and Garbine Muguruza earlier in the draw. 
“It was a really tough match. She is playing amazing. It was a nervous match, we were fighting every point. It was tough.”

Samsonova is becoming a formidable force in the women’s game and has now won 18 out of her past 19 matches. Last month she also won titles in Washington and Cleveland before reaching the last 16 of the US Open for the first time in her career at the age of 23. She is now 4-0 in tournament finals and didn’t drop a set in Tokyo this week. 

“I played a high level in all my five matches. I am incredibly happy about how I managed it,” she said.

There is also a reason for Zheng to celebrate with her run in Tokyo securing her place in the world’s top 30 for the first time on Monday when the rankings are updated. Making her the first Chinese player to do so as a teenager. She is also only the second teenager to reach the final of a WTA 500 event or higher this season after Coco Gauff at the French Open. 

Samsonova will also rise to a ranking high on Monday to just outside the world’s top 20. 

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Naomi Osaka Seeks Resurgence At Home Event After Rollercoaster Year

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Naomi Osaka training at the 2021 Madrid Open (image by Media Hub Mutua Madrid Open)

Former world No.1 Naomi Osaka admits that there have been more downs than ups for her this year but she is maintaining a positive outlook. 

 

The four-time Grand Slam champion has played 22 matches so far this season with her win-loss record currently standing at 13-9. However, at her six most recent tournaments she has failed to win back-to-back matches and is currently on a four-match losing streak. Osaka also missed this year’s Wimbledon Championships due to an achilles injury. 

Currently ranked 44th in the world, Osaka is hoping to break her slump at this week’s Toray Pan Pacific Open which will be held in Tokyo. It will be the first time she has played since losing to Danielle Collins in the first round of the US Open. 

“I think, of course, the year has (not been) the best year for me,” Osaka said during her pre-tournament press conference. “But I think overall I’ve learned a lot about myself and I’m just happy to be healthy. Because in Europe, I did injure myself, and that was like my first injury that took me that long to get healed.

“I think life is kind of ups and downs and this one was kind of more down than up, but overall I’m pretty happy with where I am now.”

Osaka is the defending champion in Tokyo, even though she won the tournament back in 2019. The event has been cancelled for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot has happened to the Japanese player since she won the title, both on and off the court. Osaka has spoken publicly about her mental health issues and took time away from the sport because of them. 

“It feels really weird to hear that I’m the defending champion because it was the last time I played in 2019,” she said. “I would love to win it again, but I think just taking it one match at a time … and also just playing in front of a crowd in Tokyo again, because the Olympics was crowdless, so it will just be nice to see people.”

This year Osaka does not have a seeding in the Tokyo draw which is in stark contrast to three years ago when she was the highest-ranked player in the tournament. She will begin her campaign against Australia’s Daria Saville and could then face fifth seed, Beatriz Haddad Maia, in the last 16. 

“I think every year for me since the first Slam, there’s been a lot of changes,” Osaka said. “But I think this year it has definitely been a real growing year for me. I think tennis-wise, I don’t really think I can go in a wrong direction. I feel like me as a player, my base is pretty solid. I can only really learn more about myself. I know that I am an aggressive player and I can only hope to keep doing that.

Away from the Tour, the 24-year-old remains one of the highest-earning players in the sport. According to a report published by Forbes in August, she earned in the region of £56.2M over 12 months with $55M of that coming from off-court ventures. She has also set up her own sports agency with long-time agent Stuart Duguid, signing Nick Kyrgios as one of her clients. 

“For everything off court, I think it’s really cool how tennis has let me get so many opportunities in things that I’m interested in, and it’s something I’m really happy and grateful for and I can only hope it keeps evolving.” She commented.

This week Osaka is seeking to win her first title of any sort since the 2021 Australian Open. 

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Simona Halep Ends 2022 Season With Nose Surgery And Mental Exhaustion

Simona Halep will return to the court in 2023.

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Simona Halep (@NewsCentralTV - Twitter)

Simona Halep has ended her season after having nose surgery and suffering from mental exhaustion in recent months.

 

The two-time Grand Slam champion has had a mixed season this year with the Romanian almost quitting the sport in February.

However the former world number one reunited with Patrick Mouratoglou and produced a world-class grass court season and US Hard court swing to get back into the world’s top ten.

Despite this, Halep has also had her troubles having had a panic attack at Roland Garros and struggled with anxiety.

This was all produced by the Romanian in her statement when she announced she would not play the rest of the season due to a nose surgery which has been linked to her breathing.

Now Halep will look to recover mentally and physically in time for January’s Australian Open as she will look to become a Grand Slam champion for the third time in her career.

Simona Halep’s 2022 Season:

Melbourne Summer Set 1: Champion

Australian Open: R4 l. Cornet

Dubai: Semi-Finals l. Ostapenko

Qatar: R1 l. Garcia

Indian Wells: Semi-Finals l. Swiatek

Madrid: Quarter-Finals l. Jabeur

Rome: R2 l. Collins

Roland Garros: R2 l. Q. Zheng

Birmingham: Semi-Finals l. Haddad Maia

Bad Homburg: Semi-Finals l. Andreescu

Wimbledon: Semi-Finals l. Rybakina

Washington: R2 l. Kalinskaya

Toronto: Champion

Cincinnati: R2 – Withdrew

US Open: R1 l. Snigur

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