Victoria Azarenka Ends Heather Watson's Hopes In Three Set Thriller At Wimbledon - UBITENNIS
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Victoria Azarenka Ends Heather Watson’s Hopes In Three Set Thriller At Wimbledon

Joshua Coase

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Victoria Azarenka

Victoria Azarenka made a real statement in terms of her title credentials at Wimbledon as her comeback continues, defeating British hope Heather Watson in a three set thriller 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 in two hours and six minutes on Centre Court.

 

Watson made a bright start and looked to seize the opportunity to score one of the biggest wins of her career as she outplayed the former number one in the first set. Azarenka was always going to bounce back being the great champion she is and she raised her game, piling on the pressure on the Brit’s serve. The majority of the games in the second and third set were very close, with many going to deuce and lasting a significant amount of time, but it was the Belarusian who came out on top all too often as another opportunity for a huge win on home soil for Watson unfortunately passed her by.

Just as she did in her first two matches at SW19, Watson got off to a fast start back out on Centre Court for the first time since she won the Mixed Doubles title with Henri Kontinen last year. Both players looked nervy early on and the Brit found herself facing two break points in the opening game. The world number 102 saved both with big unreturned first serves before an ace brought her to game point, with the British number two closing with a forehand winner.

Azarenka looked very uptight in her first big match back since giving birth to baby Leo in December and a double fault followed by a return of serve winner from Watson earned her a first break point. After a mishit return from the Brit left the court gaping for the Belarusian to hit a winner she hit a very uncharacteristic mishit ballooned forehand to hand the first break to the home favourite. With just 10 minutes played Watson established a 3-0 lead to the delight of the British crowd.

Former world number one Azarenka faced further adversity in the sixth game down 15-30 and at deuce as Watson continued to strike fearless winners past the two-time Australian Open champion. The Belarusian was able to survive and pumped herself up having so far failed to get the match on her own terms.

Having made such a promising start, Watson’s level dipped significantly as three errors left her 0-40 down on serve. A first double fault in the match handed the break back to silence the Centre Court crowd. However, that disappointment did not last for long as Watson broke once again straight away with her first chance to create the opportunity to serve for the opening set.

There were tense moments as the Watson service game went to 30-30, but the Brit held her nerve in what was an excellent first set from the world number 102, making just four unforced errors as she sealed it 6-3.

The former world number one responded as expected and piled the pressure on the Brit in her opening service game in the second set. Watson had a game point to hold but two unforced errors on the forehand side helped Azarenka get the early strike in and swiftly establish a 3-0 lead despite her opponent having a break back point.

Azarenka had really stepped up her aggression and level as the match progressed, looking to come forward whenever possible, winning 11 out of the 14 points at the net up to this stage in the match. With the pressure on the Brit, Watson’s forehand started to break down increasingly as she faced another break point in the fourth game. On this occasion the world number 102 was able to stand firm, snuffing out the chance with a one-two punch combination before holding to get on the board.

The sixth game was a real tussle with Watson failing to secure the hold of serve despite having three opportunities. The Brit could not make a first serve on the game points and was getting burned by deep aggressive returns of serves. With Azarenka’s relentless groundstrokes continuing to pile on the pressure, making 93% of her returns of serve in over the course of the set, the world number 102 cracked as the Belarusian secured the double break with a rather fortunate dead net cord.

Watson was far closer to the former world number one in this set than the scoreline suggested and once again the Brit had a chance to break back. With the last six games going to deuce the match was finely balanced game after game, but it was the Belarusian always getting over the line and she did so again to take the second set 6-1 to force a decider.

The final set was full of adversity for Watson early on as the Brit’s opening two service games saw her have to come back from 0-30 down and survive multiple deuces to hold. By contrast Azarenka’s service games were very straightforward as she levelled at two games all.

The seventh game was a monumental tussle, lasting over 10 and a half minutes as Watson tried to hold serve to stay in front. The Brit squandered a number of game points and Azarenka eventually broke through on her second break point.

The match was far from over as Watson was able to break back immediately, but her second serve continued to get burned as she dropped serve once again to leave the former world number one serving for the match.

The nerves were clearly there for Azarenka playing in just her fifth match back on tour as she fell down two break points once again. The two-time Grand Slam champion held her nerve and reeled off four points in a row so seal a huge win for her on her comeback trail and to book her place in the fourth round.

Grand Slam

Players Face Sanctions If They Make Pro-Putin Statements At French Open, Warns Mauresmo

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The tournament director of the French Open admits there is ‘no fair decision’ regarding the participation of Russian and Belarusian players in the Grand Slam.

 

Amelie Mauresmo, who is a former WTA No.1 player herself, confirmed that players from those countries will be allowed to play during an interview with French radio. Although they will only be allowed to play under a neutral status in line with the rules which have been adopted by other governing bodies of the sport. The action has been taken in response to Russia’s military assault on the Ukraine which began on February 24th. Belarus is suspected of supporting Russia in the conflict which has already killed thousands of people.

The stance of officials in Paris is a stark contrast to that of Wimbledon who has controversially implemented a ban on those players, as well as the LTA. Making it the first time The All England Club has excluded players due to their nationality since the World War Two Era when German and Japanese players weren’t allowed to participate. The ATP Tour is reportedly considering removing the allocation of points to the event in response to the ban.

Speaking about the issue, Mauresmo confirmed that action could be taken against any player who decides to make pro-Putin statements during the tournament. Although she didn’t elaborate on what penalties could be used if such a situation occurs.

“We have thought a lot, and I have the impression that there is no fair decision, one way or the other,” said Mauresmo. “We are in line with what European sports ministers have decided, we do not welcome teams but individual athletes. Obviously if an athlete speaks in the press for example and supports Vladimir Putin, sanctions will be taken. “

Providing an update on the upcoming tournament, Mauresmo says she is confident that this year’s tournament will have an almost full attendance. Confirming that “tickets are sold at more than 90-95%” of its capacity in what she hails as a ‘real success’ for the tournament. Last year’s edition took place with a restricted capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s French Open will begin on May 22nd. Novak Djokovic and Barbora Krejcikova are the defending champions.

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French Open Prize Money Pool Up By Nearly 7% From 2019 But Singles Champions Will Win Less

More then 40 million euros will be up for grabs during this year’s tournament.

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The prize money pool for this year’s French Open will be increased by around 6.8% compared to 2019 which was the last time the event was held before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 

A total of 43.6 million euros (about $46 million) will be distributed by the French Tennis Federation (FFT) throughout the tournament with the most noticeable increase concerning first round matches. Those participating in the first round will receive 62,000 euros which is a 35% increase compared to 2019 and a 3% increase on what was offered last year. 

Another substantial rise concerns the qualifying tournaments with the money pot being 66% higher than 2019 and 30% more than 2021. The amounts on offer in the three-round qualifying tournament are €14,000,  €20,000 and  €31,000.

“The increase in prize money for the first round of the singles main draws and the qualifying competitions is designed to help the players who have suffered the most as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the FFT outlined in a statement.

This year’s singles champions will each take home €2.2M which is just slightly down on the tally of €2.3M that was offered back in 2019. On the other hand it is an increase of €700,000 compared to last year when the tournament was operating under various restrictions due to the pandemic. 

This year’s French Open main draw will get underway on May 22nd. Novak Djokovic and Barbora Krejčíková are the defending champions. 

2022 French Open Prize money breakdown

ROUNDPRIZE MONEY (€)
Champion2.2M
Runner-up1.1M
Semi-finals600,000
Quarter-finals380,000
Round 4220,000
Round 3125,800
Round 286,000
Round 162,000
Qualifying – R331,000
Qualifying – R220,000
Qualifying – R114,000

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Decision By Wimbledon And LTA To Ban Players Over Ukraine War Backed By Nordic Federations

Britain’s controversial move has split opinion in the sport but a group of four countries have endorsed the ban due to ‘the hostility of the Russian and Belarusian states.’

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Aerial view across the grounds as spectators watch the big screen on the outside of No.1 Court in the sunshine at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 7 Monday 05/07/2021. Credit: AELTC/Joe Toth

After recent days of criticism towards British officials over their decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from tournaments this year, the first tennis federations have publicly expressed their support.

 

During their spring press conference on Wednesday, Wimbledon chiefs said they have ‘no viable option’ but to issue the ban in order to prevent the possibility of “being used to benefit the propaganda machine of the Russian regime”. Russia launched a military attack on Ukraine on February 24th and it is highly suspected that Belarus is supporting them. According to the UN at least 2,729 civilians have been killed and another 3111 injured but the figures are feared to be higher.

The move has split opinion in the sport with both the ATP and WTA both criticizing the decision. Earlier this year the sport’s seven governing bodies issued a statement saying that players from the two countries will still be allowed to participate in tournaments but only as neutral players. Steve Simon, who is the head of the WTA, has hinted that there will be a ‘strong reaction’ from his organization. It is understood that both the ATP and WTA will meet in the coming days during the Madrid Open. In the most extreme scenario, they could decide to revoke their licenses to LTA events or remove their ability to award ranking points.

“We recognize that whatever decision we took, we’ll be setting a precedent,” said Wimbledon CEO Sally Bolton. “We made our judgment in the context of the scale of the response to an international war, the consequences of which reach far wider than the sport of tennis. We appreciate that this is an immensely difficult decision on which people have different views, which we respect and we understand, and we are deeply regretful of the impact that this will have on every single player who is affected.”

Ian Hewitt, who is chairman of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, says the ban was influenced by guidance given by the British government on the matter.

“We believe we have made the most responsible decision possible in the circumstances and that, within the framework of the government’s position, there is no viable alternative to the decision we have taken in this truly exceptional and tragic situation.” He said.

It remains to be seen if other countries will take similar actions in the future. It is understood that the Italian government is currently considering whether to allow Russian and Belarusian players to participate at the upcoming Internazionali BNL d’Italia. A Masters 1000 event for the men and WTA 1000 for the women.

Meanwhile, the tennis federations of four nordic countries have issued a joint-statement in support of the ban by Wimbledon and the LTA. Officials from Sweden, Iceland, Finland and Norway have backed the move. The only country from the region not to co-sign is Denmark but it is unclear as to why.

We, the undersigned federations, support the position the LTA and AELTC have taken regarding Russian and Belarusian players competing in events in Great Britain. In these exceptional times, tennis must do all it can to stand with the people of Ukraine against the hostility of the Russian and Belarusian states.” The statement reads.

Besides the statement issued from the four countries, no other tennis federations are yet to formally comment on the matter. Furthermore, there has been no statement issued by the International Tennis Federation.

The ban applies to all ATP and WTA events set to take place in Britain this year, as well as Wimbledon.

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