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Bethanie Mattek-Sands (zimbio.com)

By Cheryl Jones

 

When Bethanie Mattek-Sands first made an appearance on the professional tennis scene, she was something of a “freak-show”. It was the beginning of the new century. There was something about her though that was more trying to be hip and cool. She had managed to toss together outfits that were quite different from virtually anyone else on the tour. At first glance, it was the knee socks that are actually compression socks that older folks often wear to deal with swelling that might be a precursor to serious health issues for anyone – young or old. Then, there were the outlandish shorts or skirts and blouses that more than made a statement on their own.

It was more than fifteen years ago and she didn’t have a clothing contract. From the looks of things, that’s likely the case today. She was with Under Armour for a number of years and often played wearing decals that advertised the company, utilizing cheek bone black lettering – just like football players. Manly looking, she’s not. She’s not very tall by today’s tennis player standards. She’s just 5’6” tall and fit as can be.

This time out she’s been wearing a top emblazoned with giant strawberries. She has tattoos; but then these days, it’s the oddity to not have one if one is under the age of forty. She has received a good deal of publicity and has been called the “Lady Gaga” of tennis. (There haven’t been any beef steaks used for Malttek-Sands’ tennis garb, but I don’t want to give her any ideas.) A pre-Wimbledon party in 2011 gave her a chance to be decked out in a fluorescent green dress that was from designer Alex Noble. It was festooned literally covered with tennis balls.

Lest the world think that she is only out for a laugh; that’s not the case. She has been an outstanding doubles player who is now ranked Number One. Her singles ranking has been up and down repeatedly. Now it’s at 117 and she had to qualify to receive a place in the singles draw. Today, in her second-round match, she managed to eke out a win in two sets over a much more highly ranked player, Petra Kvitova, who had the horrendous injury to her playing hand after being attacked by home invaders. She had to work hard during both sets to take the match 7-6, 7-6.

Mattek-Sands spoke after the match and said, “I saw Petra before the tournament started. I gave her a big hug and I was really happy to see her back. You know she’s an inspiration. That’s what I told her at the end of the match (today). She not only came back from all of that; she came back playing well.” She followed that up with, “You know, we’re both competitors out on the court.” And that’s the thing with Mattek-Sands, she is all business when it comes to competition.

She plays mixed doubles, doubles and singles. That’s a tiring schedule for anyone, but as she said today, “You know what? I’m a competitor. I love playing matches.” She is a stickler for practice and beyond that, she loves to hear the fans while she marvels at the stadium in which she’s competing. She is a young lady from Minnesota, and she is hungry to see the world. She’s done it. And she’s done it her way; via a tennis court.

She loves Paris. She loves it in the spring when it drizzles as it did last year, and this year she loves it in the heat. She actually gushed with a litany of praise for the city that loves tennis and everything about it. And, to quote her once again, “I love red clay. I feel comfortable on it. I feel comfortable sliding.” And it’s apparent she does. She will face Sam Stosur in the next singles match. It won’t be easy for her, but with determination, she may just reach the Round of Sixteen that could lead her as far as she’s ever traveled in the singles bracket in Paris.

Reflecting on Stosur and the upcoming match, she said, “She’s coming off a win in Strasbourg. So she’s feeling confident on the red clay. Hits a big heavy ball. I’ll be ready for it.” And if the past is any indicator, she certainly will.

 

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Danielle Collins blasts past Iga Świątek and into the Australian Open final

Danielle Collins comprehensively beat Iga Swiatek to reach the Australian Open final.

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Danielle Collins (@AustralianOpen - Twitter)

American Danielle Collins made light work of Iga Świątek to move into her first Grand Slam final.

 

The Pole looked exhausted, particularly in the second set, after her exploits in the quarter finals against Kaia Kanepi, and was no match for the explosive Collins. Świątek going down 6-4, 6-1.

Collins will face Ash Barty in the title match, who also came through in a comfortable straight sets, against another American, Madison Keys, 6-1, 6-3.

It’s looking to be a procession for the world number one in Melbourne, who has yet to drop a set.

On Saturday, the two-time Grand Slam winner will look to become the first Australian women to win on home soil for 44 years.

Having recovered from endometriosis last year, Collins’ run to the final is even more spectacular.

She immediately stamped her authority, breaking Świątek in the opening game.

This was backed up with a comfortable hold, that was sealed with a barnstorming backhand drive. Collins soon nabbed the double break and raced into a 4-0 lead.

But Świątek, to her credit, battled back, holding serve and breaking the American with some explosive hitting.She now trailed 4-2.

A topsy-turvy set of tennis saw Collins break the Pole for the third time, but the drama was only just getting started.

Świątek miraculously saved three set points, the second with a sublime backhand volley, to the delight of Rod Laver Arena, and broke the American, again.

This was backed up with a hold serve, to beg the question, could Collins serve it out and she did, converting her fourth set point in a marathon rally, 6-4.

The 27th seed had all the momentum going into the second set and clinically broke the Pole with some irresistible hitting.

More power tennis flowed from the American’s racquet and she secured the double break, moving into a 4-0 lead.

The seventh seed simply had no answer to Collins’ dominance, and although she saved a match point, the American was far too strong and made no mistake on her second.

After the match she spoke to the crowd.

“It feels amazing. It’s been such a journey and it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s been so many years of hard work and hours at an early age on the court,” she said.

“Yesterday I was talking about all the early mornings where my dad would get up with me and practice before school.

“It’s just incredible to be on this stage, especially with the health challenges, and I’m just so grateful. I couldn’t be happier.”

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Nick Kyrgios Refuses To Engage With Doubles Player’s Criticism After Reaching Doubles Final With Thanasi Kokkinakis

Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis are into the men’s doubles final at the Australian Open.

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Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis (@AustralianOpen - Twitter)

Nick Kyrgios has refused to engage in criticism from Michael Venus after he reached the Men’s doubles final with Thanasi Kokkinakis.

 

The controversial Australian reached his first grand slam final with good friend Thanasi Kokkinakis as they defeated third seeds Horacio Zeballos and Marcel Granollers 7-6(4) 6-4.

The Australian duo have also knocked out top seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic as well as sixth seeds Tim Puetz and Michael Venus.

Speaking of Michael Venus it was the New Zealander who had a problem with Kyrgios’ behaviour in their match branding him as ‘an absolute knob’ as well as stating he has the maturity of a 10 year-old.

After the match Kyrgios refused to hit back at the doubles specialist as he wanted to focus on the victory, “Michael Venus, I’m not going to destroy him in this media conference room right now,” Kyrgios said in his post-match press conference.

“But Zeballos and Granollers are singles players. They’ve had great careers. I respect them a lot more than I respect Michael Venus. I think the balance was there today. The quality of tennis was amazing. I think the festival atmosphere was still there. I think they embraced it. They knew it was an incredible atmosphere.

“Zeballos took a selfie with us before we walked out. That’s how you embrace an atmosphere. You’re not losing a match and then getting salty about it afterwards. It’s ridiculous.”

Kyrgios and Kokkinakis’ reactions have caused a stir among opponents with their over-the-top celebrations after points.

However Kokkinakis told journalists that they are not disrespecting their opponents, “I think for the most part it’s not us trying to disrespect the opponents,” Kokkinakis said.

“It’s us trying to get the crowd going to just increase the atmosphere. Sometimes the opponents take it personally. That’s what happened with the Croatians that we played, the No 1 seeds. That’s obviously Michael took offence to that.

“We’re not doing anything directly to them to try and disrespect. We’re just trying to get the crowd even more hyped, and then some of them take it personally.”

Regardless of their reactions, Kyrgios and Kokkinakis have put a lot of attention on doubles as they bid to win their first grand slam title.

On Saturday they will have an all Australian final with Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell after they knocked out second seeds Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury 6-3 7-6(9).

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Ash Barty Storms Into Australian Open Final, Ends 42-Year Wait For Home Country

The world No.1 said it is ‘unreal’ that she now has a shot of winning the title.

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Ash Barty has broken new ground at the Australian Open by producing an emphatic win over Madison Keys to reach the final for the first time in her career.

 

Bidding to become the first Australian women to reach the title match in Melbourne Park since Wendy Turnbull back in 1980, the top seed powered her way to a 6-1, 6-3,win over her below-par American rival. Keys is a former top 10 player who was aiming to reach her first major final since the 2017 US Open. Barty dominated play with the help of 20 winners as she impressively won 78% of her first points. It is the third time in her career she has reached a Grand Slam final.

“It’s unreal. It is just incredible. I love this tournament and I love coming out here and playing in Australia,” Barty said afterwards. “As an Aussie we are exceptionally small but we are a Grand Slam nation and get to play in our backyard.’
“I’m just happy that I get to play my best tennis here. I have done well before and now we have a chance to play for a title – it’s unreal.”

Despite carrying the hopes of her nation on her shoulders, Barty settled into her semi-final clash instantly and displayed no sign of either nerves or tension. She launched her first attack in the opening game by using her slice to apply pressure directly onto Keys’ serve. A drop shot from the American was punished by Barty who hit a cross-court winner to break. She went on to secure a double break for a 4-1 lead by hitting a shot towards the baseline which forced an error from her opponent.

As for Barty’s own serve, she dominated throughout the opener by winning 15 out of 20 points played. It took just 26 minutes for the Australian to secure a 6-1 lead after she returned a tentative Keys serve with a forehand winner down the line.

Inevitably, as the match progressed, Barty looked more tight on the court with the prospect of ending Australia’s long wait for a home player in the final of their biggest tennis event. Nevertheless, she continued to weather the storm before going on to secure a vital break midway through the second frame. After saving a break point in the previous game, a winning Barty passing shot secured another break in her favour to move ahead 4-2. Storming towards the finish line, a serve out wide that was returned out by Keys set her up with two match points. She prevailed on the first of those with yet another forehand winner.

“The conditions were different tonight. It was humid and the ball was a little bit heavier off the strings. I just tried to run and adapt, make as many balls as I could and keep Maddie (Keys) under the pump on her serve,” Barty reflected.
“It was important to stay point-by-point and do the right things each and every time.”

There is a silver lining for Keys who exits Melbourne with a surge in confidence after what was a troublesome 2021 season marred by injury and a loss of form. Last year she only managed to win 11 matches on the Tour compared to this month where she has been able to win 10 alone. Keys has been ranked as high as seventh in the world.

“It’s nice to see her back where she belongs. She is an amazing human being. You see the way she carries herself out on the court,” the two-time Grand Slam champion said of Keys.
“The thing I love most about Maddie is that she is a great person no matter what happens on the court.”

Barty run to the final is yet another success story for Australian tennis this year. Nick Kyrgios and Thanassi Kokkinakis are through to the men’s doubles final where they will play compatriots Matthew Ebden and Max Purcerll. Australia also has representation in the mixed doubles final with Jamiee Fourlis and Jason Kubler. However, Barty says the highlight of her country’s success is that of wheelchair tennis star Dylan Alcott, who played his last match today before retiring.

“Dylan for me is in front of that. He’s inspired a nation and the whole globe,” she said.
“The way he and the Australian Open have worked together to open up the opportunities for more disabled people around the world to play tennis is exceptional and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”

Barty will take on either Danielle Collins or Iga Swiatek in the title match. She leads Collins 3-1 in their head-to-head and has won both of her previous Tour meetings against Swiatek.

The last Australian woman to win the Australian Open was Chris O’Neil in 1978.

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