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Five Things To Watch Out For On The WTA Tour This Week

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Elina Svitolina (zimbio.com)

With the high-profile American hard court swing looming next month, the WTA Tour stops off in Malaysia and Mexico this week. Both tournaments will provide the lower ranked player’s a chance to grab a crucial confidence boost as well as ranking points. With so much occurring at these two WTA $250,000 events, here are the five things to follow throughout the week.

 

Can Svitolina continue her winning momentum?

Elina Svitolina enters the Malaysian Open as both the defending champion and headline act. This season the Ukrainian has proven her credentials as a future star by winning back to back titles in Taiwan and Dubai (a premier tournament). Last week Svitolina denied Angelique Kerber the chance to regain the world No.1 position, defeating her for the second time this season. She then followed up on the win by defeating another former world No.1 in the final, Caroline Wozniacki.

Svitolina enters Kuala Lumpur win a win-loss record of 17-2 this season. Currently on a 12-match winning streak (counting the Fed Cup), the world No.10 is hoping she can live up to the current hype surrounding her.

Svitolina’s potential route to the title

R1 – Jang Su-jeong (KOR)
R2 – Nao Hibino (JPN)/Maryna Zanevska (BEL)
QF – Elise Mertens (BEl)
SF – Peng Shuai (CHN)
F- Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP)

How will Lucic-Baroni cope with a No.1 seeding?

A month has passed since Mirjana Lucic-Baroni produced a dream run at the Australian Open. The 34-year-old stunned players such as Agnieszka Radwanska and Karolina Pliskova to reach the semifinals in a major tournament for the first time since Wimbledon 1999. It was a fairytale outcome for a player who spent time away from the tour during her career due to personal and financial problems.

The Croat will play her first tournament since Australia at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel in Acapulco. She will be bidding to win her first title since the 2014 Coupe Banque Nationale, but the task won’t be easy. In the first round she faces a tough encounter against former top-10 player Belinda Bencic, whom she has lost two twice before in 2015 and 2016. Further in the draw, Lucic-Baroni could face matches against Andrea Petkovic, Jelena Ostapenko and Kristina Mladenovic.

Is Suarez Navarro back on track?

The start of 2017 has been far from perfect for the injury-stricken Carla Suarez Navarro. So far this season the Spaniard has only been able to play two matches on the tour due to a shoulder injury, which forced her out of tournaments in Brisbane, Sydney and Dubai.

“It has been tough for me dealing with the shoulder injury so early in the season. I am still working on the recovery,” said Suarez Navarro recently said on Facebook.
“However, I have been practising through my rehab to get back stronger,” she later added.

Returning to action in Malaysia, Suarez Navarro will be the second seed. She will start her campaign against Japanese qualifier Miyu Kato with the hope she can stage a comeback similar to that of Roger Federer at the Australian Open.

Can Bouchard end her title drought?

Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard has always been classed in the top half of the women’s tour, but her lack to trophies suggests otherwise. The world No.46 has only ever won one title on the WTA Tour, the 2014 Nuremberg Cup in Germany. She has the ability to defeat top-10 players, most recently Dominika Cibulkova last month, but consistency has been the problem.

This week Bouchard is seeded sixth in Acapulco. Rewarded a relatively favourable draw for the first two rounds, her biggest challenge could occur in the quarter-finals where she is set to play France’s Kristina Mladenovic, who won her first WTA title in St. Petersburg earlier this year.

Monica Puig targets improvement in Mexico

The last time Monica Puig played a tournament in South America, she made history by becoming the first female Puerto Rican athlete to win an Olympic gold medal. This time round, the objective is different for Puig.

“My goal is to continue improving my game, I’m looking a little more objective than a simple result, that will help guide me in the right direction where I want to go.” she told Economia Hoy on Sunday.
“I want to be remembered as a respectful and affectionate player by everyone and always Gave the best on the court.”

Puig hasn’t reached the final of a tournament since the Rio Games. Recently she has enjoyed some encouraging results on the tour with a run to the semifinals in Doha (losing to Wozniacki) followed by the third round in Doha a week later (losing to Kerber).

In Mexico she will be seeded fourth and begins her campaign against Italy’s Francesca Schiavone.

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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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