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.

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US Open Daily Preview: Carlos Alcaraz and Casper Ruud Play for the Men’s Singles Championship

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Carlos Alcaraz at the end of Friday’s semifinal (twitter.com/usopen)

History will be made on Sunday at the US Open.  In an unprecedented men’s championship match, the winner will not only earn their first Major title, but also become the World No.1 for the first time.  So much is on the line for both 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz and 23-year-old Casper Ruud.

 

Alcaraz comes from humble beginnings, growing up in a small village called El Palmar in Murcia, Spain.  His father was a semi-professional tennis player, and Carlitos picked up the game from a very young age.  In 2018, he joined the tennis academy of former world No.1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, who quickly recognized the talent and potential of Alcaraz, and has been his primary coach ever since.  His idol is fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal.

Ruud is the son of former top 40 player Christian Ruud, who also serves as his coach.  Casper grew up in Oslo, Norway, and continues to set new records for Norwegian players: the first to win an ATP title, to reach a Major final, and to be ranked in the top 10.  And like Alcaraz, his idol is Rafael Nadal.


Casper Ruud (5) vs. Carlos Alcaraz (3) – 4:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium

Alcaraz is looking to become the youngest World No.1 in history, and the first teenager to ever achieve that feat.  He is the youngest men’s finalist at a Major since Nadal at Roland Garros in 2005.  Just last year, Carlitos was ranked outside the top 100.  But since last summer, he has skyrocketed up the rankings.  He leads the tour with 50 match wins in 2022, and is 5-2 lifetime in ATP finals.

Ruud, currently ranked No.7, is looking to make the biggest rankings jump to No.1 of all-time.  This is his second Major final out of the last three, after being a surprise finalist three months ago in Paris.  In that championship match, he was routed by Nadal 6-3, 6-3, 6-0.  Overall, Casper is 9-4 in finals.

Alcaraz is 2-0 against Ruud, having claimed both those matches in straight sets.  They occurred a year ago on clay in Marbella, and six months ago in the final of the Miami Masters on a hard court. 

It’s hard to fathom Carlitos will be close to 100% physically on Sunday.  He is coming off three consecutive five-set wins that went late into the night or the morning, and even had to save a match point in his especially epic five-setter against Jannik Sinner.  As per Ravi Ubha, Alcaraz is the first player since Andre Agassi in 2005 to win three straight five-setters in the round directly before a Major final.  However, the youngster is remarkably fit, and continues to recover surprisingly well from his grueling five-set battles.

The second half of Ruud’s road to this championship match was considerably less complicated, spending over four hours less on court than Alcaraz since the fourth round.  Casper will be the much fresher competitor, yet even though he possesses previous experience in a Major final, he has much less experience in defeating top players.  He is 0-5 at Slams against top 5 opposition.

Unlike Ruud, Alcaraz has a favorable record against the top 10, having claimed seven of his last nine matches.  His incredible mix of speed and power make his game nearly impenetrable when he’s at his best.  And considering his comfortable victories over Casper in the recent past, Carlitos is the favorite to win his first Major title and become the new World No.1.


Also on Sunday, the women’s doubles championship match will be played at 1:00pm local time.  It’s Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova (3) vs. Caty McNally and Taylor Townsend.  Krejcikova and Siniakova are vying for their sixth Major as a team, and their third of the season.  This title would complete their career Grand Slam.  McNally was a finalist at last year’s US Open alongside Coco Gauff.  Townsend is a two-time Slam semifinalist, including earlier this season at Roland Garros.  This is only Katy and Taylor’s second event as a team.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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US Open Daily Preview: Iga Swiatek and Ons Jabeur Play for the Women’s Singles Championship

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Iga Swiatek during Thursday’s semifinals (twitter.com/usopen)

The championship match in women’s singles at the last Major of the year is fittingly between the two best players of 2022.  They are also two of the sport’s most likable competitors, with plenty of flair and aggression in their games.

 

Iga Swiatek 56-7 this season, with six titles, all of which were accumulated during a 37-match winning streak.  The world No.1 has more than double the points of all other players this season.  And the two-time Roland Garros champion has now achieved her first Slam final on a hard court.

Ons Jabeur is 44-13 on the year,with two titles.  She will reach a career-high ranking of No.2 based on this result, her second Major final this summer.  Ons is the first woman to achieve back-to-back Major finals since Serena Williams in 2019.


Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Ons Jabeur (5) – 4:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium

Swiatek’s best tennis has often escaped during her this event, and she’s spoken openly regarding the court speed and tennis balls not being to her liking.  But she has still advanced to this final fairly economically, dropping only two sets through six matches.  Iga has now claimed her last nine matches against top 10 opposition, and is a perfect 9-0 in tournament finals within the last two years, claiming all nine of those in straight sets.

Jabeur was only 10-8 this season on hard courts prior to this fortnight, and went just 2-3 on this surface in August after her highly disappointing loss in the championship match at Wimbledon, where she won just four of the last 16 games after securing the first set.  However, she dropped only one set in her first six rounds, and dominated a red-hot Caroline Garcia in the semifinals by a score of 6-1, 6-3.  Ons is 2-3 in finals this year, and only 3-6 lifetime.

Swiatek and Jabeur have split four previous meetings, and split their two encounters on hard courts.  They played once before at a Major, with Ons prevailing in three sets in the round of 16 at last year’s Wimbledon.  When they met this season, in the final of Rome on clay, Iga was comfortably victorious 6-2, 6-2.

Swiatek will look to dictate play from the baseline, but will need to cut down on her unforced error count.  In all of her six matches this tournament, she has struck more errors than winners, averaging a -8 differential.  Jabeur is an excellent server, especially for her height, but will need to dramatically increase her first serve percentage.  In her semifinal against Caroline Garcia, it was only 43%.  Iga’s aggressive returns would easily exploit that on Saturday.

Based on her play this year, as well as her outstanding record in finals, Swiatek is the favorite to win her third Major title.  But regardless of the outcome, if these two competitors both play anywhere near their best tennis, they could create one of the most memorable finals in recent memory.


Also on Saturday, the mixed doubles championship match will be played at 12:00pm local time.  It’s the Aussie team of Storm Sanders and John Peers (4) vs. Kirsten Flipkens and Edouard Roger-Vasselin.  Peers and France’s Roger-Vasselin have both previously won a men’s doubles titles at their respective home Slams.  Flipkens retired from singles after this year’s Wimbledon.  Her and Sanders are both vying for their first Major title.


Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

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US Open Daily Preview: The Men’s Semifinals

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Carlos Alcaraz in the quarterfinals (twitter.com/usopen)

The men’s semifinals feature four players all vying for their first Major title.  Roland Garros runner-up Casper Ruud is the only remaining man who has previously played in a Slam semifinal.  Carlos Alcaraz, Frances Tiafoe, and Karen Khachanov are all making their debut at this stage of a Major.  And both Ruud and Alcaraz have a chance to leave New York as the new world No.1 if they win the title, or if one reaches the final and the other loses in the semifinals.  Which two men will advance to Sunday’s championship match, and which one will become a first-time Slam champ? 

 

Also on Friday, the men’s doubles final will be played.  And it is a blockbuster between the top two seeds.


Karen Khachanov (27) vs. Casper Ruud (5) – Not Before 3:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium

Ruud has reached this semifinal rather efficiently, dropping only three sets.  And in the one five-setter he played, he comfortably claimed the fifth set 6-0.  Casper previously had the reputation of being a clay court specialist, but he’s now 17-6 this season on hard courts, and was a finalist at the Masters 1000 event in Miami.

Khachanov was a two-time Major quarterfinalist before this fortnight, yet those results came on clay and grass.  He had never previously advanced beyond the third round of a hard court Slam.  None of his matches at this event have been easy, as he lost at least set in each.  Karen is coming off consecutive five-setters against Pablo Carreno Busta and Nick Kyrgios.

Their only prior encounter occurred two years ago on clay in Rome, with Ruud prevailing 6-1 in the third.  And Casper looked extremely sharp in the last round against another big server, Matteo Berrettini, returning aggressively and breaking the Italian five times across three sets.  Ruud will also be the fresher competitor on Friday, despite each player having two full days of rest.  Casper should be favored to reach his second final out of the last three Majors.


Carlos Alcaraz (3) vs. Frances Tiafoe (22) – Not Before 7:00pm on Arthur Ashe Stadium

These are two of the sport’s most exciting, charismatic young stars.  But only one will reach their first championship match at a Major this week.

Tiafoe has exhilarated the New York audience, and dropped only one set through five matches.   He is a perfect 6-0 in tiebreaks during this tournament, and spent significantly less time on court than Alcaraz.

Carlitos has played consecutive epics that ended early in the morning.  In the fourth round, he came back from a set down in the fifth to defeat Marin Cilic.  In the quarterfinals, he played for five hours and fifteen minutes, and until nearly three in the morning, to overcome Jannik Sinner in what was easily the best match of the year to date. 

Tiafoe and Alcaraz have only played once, a year ago on clay in Barcelona, with Frances winning in straight sets.  Even though that was only 17 months ago, Carlitos was ranked outside the top 100 at the time, and he’s now the ATP’s winningest player in 2022.  However, while he’s one of the fittest athletes in the sport, he can’t possibly be 100% coming into this semifinal.  Even by five-hour match standards, that quarterfinal with Sinner was incredibly taxing, with an extremely high level maintained throughout the match.  And that will be a huge advantage for a confident Tiafoe, who also thrives playing in front of big crowds, and in night matches in his home country.  I like Tiafoe’s chances of becoming the first American man to reach a Major singles final since Andy Roddick.


Other Notable Matches on Friday:

Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury (1) vs. Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski (2) – Ram and Salisbury are the defending champions, while Koolhof and Skupski are easily the best men’s doubles team of 2022, with six titles.  These teams split two meetings earlier this year on hard courts.


Friday’s full Order of Play is here.

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