Wimbledon Ladies' Draw Preview: A battle for number one and another wide open field - UBITENNIS
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Wimbledon Ladies’ Draw Preview: A battle for number one and another wide open field

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After the grit and grind of the French Open and an intriguing three weeks of grass court lead-up events, the third major of the season is here with many storylines surrounding Wimbledon this year in London.

 

The most prestigious tennis tournament of the year is here at the All England Lawn Tennis Club as Wimbledon begins with many storylines surrounding the ladies field in London. Following a wide open French Open that saw 20-year-0ld Jelena Ostapenko claim a shock maiden Grand Slam title and an interesting three weeks of grass court lead-up tournaments, the number one ranking is yet again in play on the hallowed grass of Wimbledon, with the third major of the season providing another prime opportunity for many women to step up and take advantage of another open field at SW19.

First quarter

The top quarter is led by world number one and defending finalist Angelique Kerber, who is fighting to keep her top ranking following a tough 2017 season so far. Joining Kerber in the first quarter is seventh seed of Russia Svetlana Kuznetsova, a struggling ninth seed and 2012 runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska, and fourteenth seed 2016 French Open champion and 2015 finalist here at Wimbledon, Garbine Muguruza.

For Kerber, the German begins her Wimbledon campaign against American qualifier Irina Falconi ahead of a possibly tricky second round against either 2013 semifinalist Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium or Japanese left-hander Misaki Doi. 2014 semifinalist and 32nd seed Lucie Safarova looms as a potential third round opponent for the world number one, with big-hitting Muguruza a possibly very difficult round of 16 for Kerber assuming she gets there. For Muguruza, the Spaniard has a very good draw until the fourth round, where given Kerber’s form of late the 2015 finalist would be favored to beat the defending runner-up for a spot in the quarterfinals against possibly Kuznetsova or Radwanska.

In Kuznetsova’s section of this quarter, the two-time major winner, who has never excelled on grass at Wimbledon, has a pretty comfortable early draw, with dangerous lefty Ekaterina Makarova of Russia looming as a potential roadblock for the seventh seed in the second round. If Kuznetsova could navigate past big-hitting Makarova, she should reach the quarterfinal meeting with Muguruza, given that the next seed below her in this section, Agnieszka Radwanska, who opens against former world number one Jelena Jankovic, has struggled mightily this season,

With Muguruza and Kuznetsova both possessing fairly good draws to the last eight, it would be no surprise to see these two meet in the quarterfinals, and with the Spaniard’s previous success at Wimbledon, expect Muguruza to reach her second semifinal at the All England Club.

Semifinalist: Muguruza

Garbine Muguruza hits a forehand volley during practice at 2016 Wimbledon in London/Zimbio/Clive Brunskill

Second quarter

The second quarter of the draw is headlined by third seed and recently-crowned Eastbourne champion Karolina Pliskova the woman she beat to hoist the trophy on the grass of the Aegon International, former world number one and fifth seed Caroline Wozniacki. For Pliskova, the Czech has the possibility to become number one following Wimbledon, and she begins her quest for a first Grand Slam title against Evgeniya Rodina of Russia. The world number three could face a tricky second round against Magdalena Rybarikova, who won a title at a grass court lead-up on the ITF circuit earlier this month. If Pliskova can navigate her way past the crafty game of Rybarikova, she could then face big-hitting German Julia Goerges, who reached the final in Mallorca, in the third round, ahead of a possible fourth round with 16th-seeded Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Despite some potentially difficult matches against Rybarikova or Goerges, Pliskova does have a decent draw to reach the quarterfinals here at SW19.

In the other section of this quarter is former world number one and Eastbourne finalist Caroline Wozniacki, who has a tough early draw with a possible second round meeting against grass court specialist Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria and a dangerous third round against arguably the best unseeded player at Wimbledon this year, ‘s-Hertogenbosch champion Anett Kontaveit of Estonia. Given Wozniacki’s average results at Wimbledon, having never made it past the fourth round, and big-hitting opponents like Kontaveit or tricky Pironkova in her way, it’s tough to see the Dane reaching the second week.

If Kontaveit can keep up her red-hot form of the last two months, the Estonian would be the favorite to reach the round of 16 where she could face one of the in-form players on the WTA this season, 12th seed Kristina Mladenovic, or big-serving American Coco Vandeweghe, who could meet in what would be a blockbuster third round despite Americans Alison Riske or Sloane Stephens as possible second round opponents for Mladenovic. If the Frenchwoman can keep up what she’s been doing so far in 2017, she should be able to beat Riske or Stephens in the second round and make her way past Vandeweghe in the third to book a place with Kontaveit in the round of 16. With Mladenovic and Kontaveit being two of the best players this season so far, that would be a toss-up fourth round, but expect Kontaveit to book a quarterfinal meeting with Pliskova, where the powerful Czech’s experience and dominant serving would likely send her into a first Wimbledon semifinal.

Semifinalist: Pliskova

Karolina Pliskova hits a forehand at 2015 Wimbledon in London/Zimbio/Clive Brunskill

Third quarter

In the third quarter of this draw is fourth seed Elina Svitolina, 10th seed and five-time champion Venus Williams, and the most recent Grand Slam winner, the 13th seed of Latvia Jelena Ostapenko. For Svitolina, many question marks surround the Ukrainian, given that only a week ago following an early exit in Birmingham, she said she wasn’t even sure if she would play Wimbledon due to a foot injury. Only to add insult to injury, the fourth seed drew one of the toughest unseeded opponents out there, Birmingham runner-up Ashleigh Barty of Australia. It’s tough to see Svitolina making it out of the first round also due to her own grass court struggles, but for either her or Barty, the winner will have a pretty clear road to the fourth round despite big-hitting German Carina Witthoeft a possible third round opponent in this section.

Also in this section are two dangerous seeds, the aforementioned winner at Roland Garros Jelena Ostapenko and 2014 Eastbourne champion, big-serving American 17th seed Madison Keys, who has struggled this season due to two minor wrist surgeries. For Ostapenko,  the 20-year-old Latvian has a very clear draw to the third round, where she could meet Keys, who has a  dangerous second round matchup against either Camila Giorgi or Alize Cornet. If Barty can keep up her form from the grass of Birmingham earlier this month, she should take advantage of a good draw against possibly Witthoeft in the third round to reach the round of 16, where likely Ostapenko will face her after beating Keys in the third round. Despite previous first-time Grand Slam champions having trouble backing it up, the big-hitting Latvian still possess a pressure-free mindset, one that should help her to reach the quarterfinals here at the scene of her only junior major crown.

In the other section of this draw is the most accomplished player on The Championships lawn in this ladies draw, five-time winner Venus Williams. The 10th-seeded American does have off-court distractions surrounding her though, with news that the 37-year-old was involved in a fatal car crash that killed a 78-year-old man earlier this month in Palm Beach taking up much of Williams’ time ahead of the third major of the season. Despite that, Williams does have a comfortable early draw, with her first big test likely coming against tricky Czech Barbora Strycova, the 22nd seed and two-time Birmingham finalist, looming in the third round. If Williams can navigate past the variety of Strycova, the American would be the favorite in the round of 16 as well, where she could meet returning 2013 finalist and grass court specialist, Sabine Lisicki of Germany in the fourth round.

If Williams can play the powerful tennis that saw her win five Venus Rosewater Dishes and reach the Australian Open final earlier this season, the American should be the favorite to come through matches against Lisicki and Ostapenko to reach a second straight Wimbledon semifinal.

Semifinalist: Williams

Venus Williams hits a forehand at 2016 Wimbledon in London/Zimbio/Adam Pretty

Fourth quarter

In the bottom quarter of the draw are many big names, second seed and 2014 semifinalist Simona Halep, sixth seed and British hope Johanna Konta, and two-time champion Petra Kvitova. For Halep, the Romanian is still recovering from a heart-breaking defeat to Ostapenko in the final in Paris, but the second seed begins her Wimbledon campaign against qualifier Marina Erakovic of New Zealand. Halep could face a dangerous second round against big-serving Brazilian lefty Beatriz Haddad Maia or another lefty in British wildcard Laura Robson. The draw doesn’t get any easier from there for the former semifinalist, with possibly 2014 runner-up Eugenie Bouchard or another big-hitting lefty, Market Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, awaiting the Romanian in the third round. That will be a difficult task for Halep to reach the fourth round, but given her form from the clay court season, she could definitely grind her way there.

Also in this section is 15th seed and last year’s semifinalist Elena Vesnina, who could face two-time Grand Slam champion and former world number one Victoria Azarenka, who is playing only her second tournament in the last year due to giving birth and opens against American rising star Cici Bellis in a blockbuster first round. Whoever makes it out of there would most likely be an underdog against Vesnina, who has a proven grass court pedigree, and could face potentially Mallorca champion Anastasija Sevastova or Eastbourne semifinalist Heather Watson of Great Britain in the third round, both players Vesnina should beat. This section should come down to Vesnina and Halep in the fourth round, and with Halep’s inconsistent record on grass and Vesnina’s game suited well to the lawns of Wimbledon, the Russian should reach the quarterfinals.

In the other section of this quarter is Kvitova and Konta, with both players having received good draws to the round of 16, where they could meet. The only real question around a Konta and Kvitova fourth round match is the British hopeful’s spine injury sustained in Eastbourne, where she took a hard fall to the ground on her head and back, forcing her to withdraw from the semifinal there to recover in time for Wimbledon.

If Konta and Kvitova do reach the round of 16, the two-time Wimbledon champion and newly crowned winner in Birmingham should be the favorite to reach the quarterfinal, where a meeting against Vesnina would favor the Czech 11th seed to reach the last four yet again at the All England Club.

Semifinalist: Kvitova

Petra Kvitova hits a forehand at 2016 Wimbledon in London/Zimbio/Clive Brunskill

Predictions:

Semifinals: Pliskova def. Muguruza, Kvitova def. Williams

Final: Kvitova def. Pliskova

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[EXCLUSIVE] Brandon Nakashima: “I Love Federer, But My Game Resembles More Djokovic’s”

Nakashima speaks to UbiTennis about his liveliest memory of training with Nadal at Wimbledon. The duels he had with Lorenzo Musetti and Tseng Chun-Hsin, the high praise for Sebastian Korda and Hugo Gaston. Why he doesn’t like clubbing and what his new coach Pat Cash has been advising him to do.

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The latest instalment of UbiTennis’ video series sees Ubaldo Scanagatta and Steve Flink speak with Brandon Nakashima. An 18-year-old American tennis star born on August 3, 2001, who goes by the nickname B-Nak.

 

He is at No.220 in the ATP Rankings (with a career best at 218) and is second-best among those who were born in 2001, trailing only Jannik Sinner. His surname is of Japanese origin, but it was his Vietnamese maternal grandfather who initiated him to the game of tennis when he was three. He is 1.85 metres tall and weighs 78 kilograms. He was born in San Diego, and his father Wesley was also born in California – his parents are both pharmacists. He played for the University of Virginia, where he was the Freshman of the Year for the Atlantic Coast Conference, before moving on to the pros.

Since Delray Beach, in February, he’s been working with Pat Cash, immediately reaching the quarter finals and beating four Top 100 players. His best shot is his two-handed backhand, and his favourite player is Federer. A superb athlete, he is considered the best American prospect. He is self-described as shy, but he actually isn’t that much, once he gets going. He loves sushi, but also admits to having a sweet tooth. Given the status of some of his victims, it can be assumed that he’s already better than his ranking.

VIDEO SCHEDULE

Minute 00:00: Introduction and recap of his highest-profile wins.

03:40: His behaviour during the Covid-19 pandemic: “I wear a mask whenever I’m outside. I’ve been trying to stay cautious as much as possible in public areas”. He also appreciates the chance of being able to train at some local private courts.

05:07: The special relationship with his grandfather: “My mom’s dad is from Vietnam. He first started to get me out on the court when I was about three and a half years old, just feeding me balls at a local park and from that time onward I started practicing more and more everyday”.

06:45: Bonding with his main coach, Pat Cash, during the pandemic.

07:38: Cash claims he noticed immediately Brandon’s “extraordinary racquet control” – does he think that this is his best quality too?

08:42: Their first meeting: “We had a couple of mutual friends; at the time I had just turned pro and I was looking for a good coach…”

11:53: His idols growing up: “I always liked to watch Federer play, but I think now my game is more similar to Djokovic’s”.

12:40: The experience of hitting with Nadal: “A couple of years ago I was playing the junior Wimbledon tournament…”

14:36: His thoughts on the best future prospects…

17:20: His transition as a pro aged only 17: “It was crucial on and off the court for me to go to college and to then play a full season at 17 [Editor’s Note: at the University of Virginia], it helped my game and made me mature as a person. I’d advise most players to go to college and get that experience…”

19:45: Recapping his best junior Slam results.

21:25: Developing his game with Pat Cash: “During these training blocks here in California, we definitely decided to work a lot on the transition and net game to add more variety into my game…”

23:55: What are his current plans? “It’s tough to plan tournaments right now since we don’t know when or if they’re even starting…”

25:35: How does he feel about the issue of playing behind closed doors? “It will be interesting, everybody is so used to people watching, so I think most players will find it maybe a little weird at the beginning…”

26:47: His off-court life: “I try to relax and have fun. I like playing other sports, on days off I play golf with friends or relax at home watching TV, just getting the mind away from tennis. I don’t like going to dance or clubs, it never was my type of feeling of going out; I like a more chill state with my friends.”

30:04: His knowledge of tennis history.

31:30: Where does Brandon see himself in 2022/23? “The goal is to keep improving my results and my rankings, and maybe…”

33:20: After the Big Three era, who is his pick to become the next world N.1?

36:10: Pat Cash’s most frequent tip: “I have to train to get ready for the Slams…”

Article written and translated by Tommaso Villa

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Prague set to host new WTA Tournament next August

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Prague will host a new WTA tournament from 10 to 15 August. It will be one of of the WTA tournaments to be held after the coronavirus pandemic. The Prague Open will be held on the Sparta clay court in Prague with a prize money of $ 225.000.

 

The Prague Open will feature the top two Czech players Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova.

Kvitova has won two Wimbledon titles and is currently ranked world number 12. She won a Czech exhibition tournament last May behind closed doors at a time when Czech Republic was already easing measures against the spread of coronavirus.

“The WTA was looking for venues and organizers to quicly prepare for a quality tournament in these strange times. We took advantage of the references we had obtained from the first tournament of the post coronavirus era, which took place on the Sparta courts and turned out to be a  success”, said Ivo Kaderka, Director of the Czech Tennis Federation.

Up to 2000 fans a day will be able to attend the Prague tournament.

“We are already in talks with the top Czech players. We will prepare mobile stands with a capacity of 2000 seats”, said tournament director David Trunda.

Tournament spokesman Karel Tejkal said that the Prague event is not a postponed version of last May’s Prague Open which did not take place because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

“This is a new tournament that is now part of the provisional WTA schedule for this year”, said Tejkal.

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Is It Acceptable For Novak Djokovic To Remain As ATP Player Council President After Adria Tour Fiasco?

Regarded as one of the greatest of all time, Djokovic’s recent antics raises the question as to if he is the right person leading the ATP Tour on a political front.

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Novak Djokovic is a household name and role model for thousands around the world. The world No.1 has won more prize money than any other player in the history of the sport and is known for his charitable donations. However, his recent role in the Adria Tour could have big repercussions for him in the coming weeks.

 

Djokovic founded the Adria Tour that took place in Belgrade, Serbia and Zadar, Croatia before it was cancelled. Over the weekend the worst possible scenario occurred when Grigor Dimitrov tested positive for COVID-19, which forced the final to be scrapped. The following day, three others at the event also tested positive, including Borna Coric. Meanwhile, Viktor Troicki also turned out to be positive, but only played in Belgrade.

More than 40 hours after Dimitrov’s confirmation on Twitter, Djokovic then announced he and his wife also have the virus. The Serbian opted not to have a test in Croatia and instead chose to travel to Belgrade and do so. A controversial decision given the situation, but one he was allowed to do according to regional COVID-19 rules.

“Everything we did in the past month, we did with a pure heart and sincere intentions. Our tournament was meant to unite and share a message of solidarity and compassion throughout the region,” he said in a statement.
“The Tour has been designed to help both established and up and coming tennis players from south-eastern Europe to gain access to some competitive tennis while the various tours are on hold due to Covid-19.”

The 17-time grand slam champion said that his event was organised at a time when ‘the virus was weakened.’ Yet it was visible to many that the Adria Tour was a ticking time bomb in the midst of a pandemic. A lack of social distancing occurred throughout, players attended parties or functions, and played basketball.

It was stunning watching a video of their press conference that took place last Friday. All players sat shoulder-to-shoulder in a room whilst speaking to reporters. In a way it is a shock (but a big relief) that Alexander Zverev didn’t catch COVID-19. He sat next to Dimitrov throughout as the two shared a microphone. At one stage he took the microphone from the Bulgarian, answered a question, passed it back and then immediately rubbed his eye. Maybe the saving grace in that incident was that he held the microphone in his right hand and rubbed his eye with his left.

“In hindsight, it’s not something that should have gone ahead,” former world No.1 Andy Murray commented about the event. “It’s not surprising how many people have tested positive after seeing some of the images of the players’ party and the kids’ day. There was no social distancing in place.
“I don’t think it has been a great look for tennis. The only positive is that, until it is safe to do so, we have no fans at the event to reduce the risk as much as possible.”

Djokovic always had good intentions for his event and for years he has been trying to bring something like this to the region. I remember speaking to him two years ago during a press conference in Madrid where he said he planned to do such a thing. Although this is not what is under scrutiny.

As the president of the ATP Players Council, Djokovic is held to a higher accountability than most of his rivals. He is the leader of a panel who represents hundreds in the sports and reports their views of the ATP Board when it comes to critical decisions being made. During an era of COVID-19 many players have voiced their concerns over the Tour resuming during a global pandemic. In an unfortunate case of irony for Djokovic, the Adria Tour perfectly illustrated why they are worried.

“Prayers up to all the players that have contracted Covid- 19,” critic Nick Kyrgios said, retweeting a video of the players dancing shirtless in Belgrade.
“Don’t @ me for anything I’ve done that has been ‘irresponsible’ or classified as ‘stupidity’ – this takes the cake.”

The lack of accountability

Djokovic and his team have fully apologised for the incident that has happened, but they have stopped short of taking full responsibility. Incredibly Djokovic’s father Srdjan has accused Dimitrov of causing ‘great damage’ to Serbia, Croatia and his family. It was alleged that the former top 10 player didn’t undergo testing when given the option after feeling unwell.

“Why did it happen? Because the man probably came sick, who knows where. He didn’t get tested there, he was tested somewhere else… I don’t think that’s right. Well, what can we do now… He inflicted great damage to Croatia and to us as a family and to Serbia,” Srdjan told RTL.

Those comments directly inflicting responsibility for the fiasco onto one person is poor to say the least. First, it is unknown as to who at the event contracted the virus first or where. Dimitrov could have even caught it from Coric, who is experiencing no symptoms and is therefore asymptomatic. In Serbia there have been outbreaks of COVID-19 among football teams and recently a national basketball training camp was cancelled. Srdjan like any other parent is defending his son, but his argument to divert the blame solely on Dimitrov is a very weak one.

Goran Ivanisevic, who is Djokovic’s coach and tournament director of the Zadar event, said yesterday that critics were trying to score ‘political points against them.’ At the same time one the most prestigious Serbian sports websites even suggested that Dimitrov deliberately announced his positive test at a time to force the final to be cancelled. The blame game is very much an ongoing theme.

As for Djokovic, in his statement there was no admission that the protocols in force in his events could have been improved or the lack of social distancing was problematic. Without a doubt he regrets what happened, but it is enough of a move from somebody who is a world No.1 heading the Players Council during a worldwide pandemic? To an extent, no it isn’t.

Some will argue that the backlash is typical given Djokovic’s at times unfair treatment in the media by some publications in the past. A valid point, but focusing solely on this incident the criticism was always inevitable. Furthermore, Djokovic isn’t the only person being singled out. The Croatian Tennis Federation is also under heavy fire. The director of the WTA Bol Open, Feliks Lukas, has publicly called for the head of the federation to reign due to his involvement.

It has been suggested that the Adria Tour could have a negative impact on Djokovic’s legacy. I would say that this is very unlikely given his extraordinary achievements on the court. One that thousands of players could only dream of achieving. However, in terms of his ATP Player Presidency, it looks doubtful that he will continue in this role for much longer. Whenever he will inevitably speak out over his colleagues’ concerns about COVID-19 in the future, he will be accused of hypocrisy and rightfully so.

Of course, this opinion of mine is irrelevant, it is the players who are the kingmakers. One journalist has already reported that an unnamed player has already called for Djokovic to resign from his ATP Council president position (UbiTennis can’t confirm this).

Djokovic has done a lot of good during his time as ATP President, but during the time of COVID-19 may be the best option for him is to step aside. Unfortunately, one of the sports greatest athletes of all time has unintentionally cast a very dark cloud on tennis.

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