Elina Svitolina Ends Osaka’s Winning Run - UBITENNIS
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Elina Svitolina Ends Osaka’s Winning Run

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Elina Svitolina produced a superb performance to beat Indian Wells champion Naomi Osaka 6-4 6-2 in the second round of the Miami Open.

 

It was the Japanese player’s first defeat in nine matches, but after a run to glory in the desert that included wins over Agnieszka Radwanska, Karolina Pliskova and Simona Halep and a first-round win over Serena Williams in Miami, she can be very proud of what she has achieved.

For Svitolina, this convincing win was an ideal demonstration of the progress she has made in the last 18 months. In that time, the Ukrainian has won seven WTA titles (including five at premier level) and risen from 18 to 4 in the world rankings.

And Svitolina showed exactly why she holds that lofty position in the rankings with a dominant display on stadium court. She won a tight first set by breaking Osaka in game seven, and then raced to a 4-0 lead in the second set before finally winning it 6-2.

One of the ways the Ukrainian achieved victory was by consistently outmanoeuvring Osaka and creating opportunities to hit a raft of typically precise winners. She also kept unforced errors to a minimum to ensure she made life as difficult as possible for the Japanese.

Furthermore, Svitolina served well throughout. She hit five aces, had a first serve percentage of 74% and won 78% of points behind it, and saved five of six break points faced.

And to top off an excellent all-round showing, the Ukrainian underlined her status as one of the best returners in the women’s game by earning nine break points against Osaka’s serve and taking four of them.

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“I’ve always known that she can produce a great game,” said Svitolina in her press conference. “We’ve played quite a bit now. I knew that I would have to always be on my toes and be ready for her strong shots and strong serve.”

Svitolina continued, “She can take the game in her hands. I was just trying not to give her any opportunities. I think I was playing pretty solid, serving good. This was the key for today, as well as making it physical.”

The Ukrainian was asked what it was like facing such a tough opponent in her first match at a tournament. She said, “I was like, okay, this is going to be challenging. For a second round, normally you don’t get these kinds of matches.”

Svitolina continued, “It was actually quite exciting. I like to go into tournaments with a little bit of stress. Then you’re straight into the matches. Of course, this kind of player was a little bit too much because, after winning Indian Wells, she was pretty confident. I’m very happy with the way I handled this match today and the way I was playing.”

In her press conference, Osaka described the World No.4 as “one of the most consistent players”. When Svitolina was asked to explain what makes her so consistent, she said, “All my career, growing up, my parents were always telling me that I have to take one step at a time and not rush things. This is the key I think for me.”

She continued, “Even when I have tough times, I just try to break it down into small pieces, take one step, and then move forward. I don’t put so much pressure on myself. It’s life, and it’s the process of learning, as well. Every week you have a chance to play well.”

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Kvitova overcomes Sabalenka

Svitolina will be joined in round three by Petra Kvitova after the Czech withstood a strong challenge from Aryna Sabalenka to win 7-5 3-6 6-3.

The first set was frantic and could have gone either way. The Belarussian broke Kvitova’s serve three times but the two-time Grand Slam champion managed four breaks to edge it.

Sabalenka possesses massive groundstrokes on both wings and she was going for everything most of the time. In the second set her approach paid off as she broke the Czech twice and stormed to a 5-1 lead before eventually taking it 6-3.

Kvitova drew on all her experience to hold serve throughout the decider. She earned the one break she needed in the sixth game and held her nerve for the rest of the set to seal victory.

Elsewhere in Miami, Donna Vekic earned an impressive 6-3 6-7(4) 6-1 win over 24th seed Elena Vesnina, Ashleigh Barty eased to a 6-0 7-6(0) triumph over Claire Liu and Daria Gavrilova beat Andrea Petkovic 7-6(3) 6-4.

 

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The Slow And Successful Rise Of Veronika Kudermetova

Let us look at the long path to success at high levels of the current Russian number two, who just finished as the runner-up in Abu Dhabi.

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Veronika Kudermetova - Roland Garros 2019 (foto Roberto Dell'Olivo)
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While waiting for the end of the Australian quarantine, UbiTennis continues our analysis of the players involved in the first tournament of the year, the WTA 500 in Abu Dhabi.

After the article dedicated to Ekaterina Alexandrova, I shall continue with the Russian line by discussing Veronika Kudermetova. For her, the week in the Emirates was a very positive one, given that for the first time in her career she managed to reach the final of a WTA 500 event (the new denomination of the Premier tournaments, which assign 470 points to the winner). During the tournament, Kudermetova defeated Kontaveit, Turati, Badosa, Svitolina and Kostyuk, losing only to Aryna Sabalenka (who, between the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, has an active winning streak of 15 matches). Veronika’s excellent moment is validated by the best ranking she achieved this week at N.36 – had she won the final, she would have become the Russian N.1, overtaking Alexandrova. 

 

It should be emphasized, however, that all the talk about the rankings is muddled by the rules introduced with the pandemic, rules that tend to maintain the status quo, and in fact disfavour up-and-coming players like Kudermetova. Had only the results obtained in 2020 been counted, Veronika would have ended the season ranked 29th instead of 46th. Then, by factoring in the final reached in the UAE last Wednesday, her spot in the Top 30 would have been cemented even further. It might seem senseless to keep referring to a virtual ranking based on past rules (which are slated to come back in March, though), but I think it helps to identify the players who are doing better, despite the many difficulties of the current period. In fact, we know that we are playing less than usual, and this makes it more difficult to build that momentum which, thanks to above average conditions of form and enthusiasm, translates into significant leaps in quality and standing.

As for Kudermetova, there are at least two aspects of her career that, in my opinion, make her particularly interesting: the difficulties she faced to find financial support in her teenage years, and the comparison with her peers born in 1997, a special year for women’s tennis. In fact, Veronika was born in the same year as successful and precocious players such as Bencic, Ostapenko and Osaka, as well as Konjuh (unfortunately stopped by injuries) and Kasatkina, her Russian “twin” with whom she shared the years on the junior tour. Let’s start from those years.

On page 2, Kudermetova’s beginnings 

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Dayana Yastremska Out Of Australian Open After ITF Upholds Provisional Ban

The attempt by the 20-year-old to play in the first grand slam of 2021 has failed amid speculation of another appeal to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

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It’s official Dayana Yastremska will not be competing at the Australian Open this year after an appeal to a provisional doping ban was rejected.

The world No.29 has travelled to Melbourne hoping she would be able to play the first grand slam of the year but now is out of the tournament. She had earlier tested positive for a banned substance Metabolite Mesterlone but was given a chance to appeal a provisional suspension. Explaining why she was able to board a flight organised by Tennis Australia in spite of ITF rules. The rulebook states that players serving a provisional ban are not allowed to participate in activities organised by a tournament.

 

An application by Dayana Yastremska to lift the provisional suspension imposed on her on 7 January 2021 under Article 8.3.1(c) of the 2020 Tennis Anti-Doping Programme has been denied by the Chair of the Independent Tribunal convened to hear her case,” the ITF said in a statement.
“This decision is subject to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport by Ms. Yastremska, WADA and the National Anti-Doping Center of Ukraine.”

Yastremska has denied any wrongdoing and says she has ‘scientific evidence’ that her positive test was a result of contamination. Although she didn’t elaborate any further as to what that evidence is.

Only a very low concentration of mesterolone metabolite was detected in my urine,” she wrote in a statement. “Given that low concentration and my negative test two weeks earlier, I have received scientific advice that the result is consistent with some form of contamination event.”

The 20-year-old is among 72 players who have been placed into strict isolation in Melbourne following a series of positive COVID-19 cases detected on flights en route to the country. She is not allowed to leave her room for 14 days and even then she will be prohibited from entering Melbourne Park, home of the Australian Open, following to the latest ruling.

The announcement is a major blow to the beginning of Yastremska’s season. She will have to wait to see what happens next and if she is able to make another appeal before the next event after the first grand slam of the year.

There have been no official statement from Yastremska or her team following the ITF’s decision.

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Ash Barty Draws Inspiration From Olympic Great In Return After 11-Month Break

After spending time away from the tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a determined Barty weighs up her chances at next month’s Australian Open.

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For Ash Barty her main focus is on ‘doing the right things’ instead of winning titles as she nears her return to professional tennis after almost a year on the sidelines.

 

Despite being the highest ranked player in women’s tennis, the 24-year-old hasn’t played a match on the Tour since her semi-final loss to Petra Kvitova at the Doha Open on February 28th 2020. Shortly after that match, the sport came to a halt for weeks as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world. Making the running of professional tournaments near impossible. Then when the sport resumed in the summer with a series of COVID-19 restrictions implemented, Barty was one of the few who decided to not travel internationally.

The inevitable question is how much will the break have an impact on the Australian and her game when she takes on the best in the world? The first public glimpse of Barty’s form will be displayed in less than a week’s time when she plays an exhibition event in Adelaide along with the likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep. The top three ranked players of the Tour’s have been quarantined in Adelaide in part of a deal struck by Tennis Australia.

“I feel like I’ve done all the work,” Barty told ABC News on Saturday.
“I feel like we’ve ticked the boxes and I’m feeling like every single year we continue to develop my game and it’s better and better.
“Obviously I haven’t played competition tennis for a year now so it’s going to be a challenge but we also know that hopefully again it will be a long season and we don’t have to panic if we don’t get the perfect start.”

Whilst taking it all in her stride, Barty hasn’t got long to tune up her game before the Australian Open commences on February 8th. A later than usual start date due to the pandemic. A semi-finalist of the tournament 12 months ago, she is seeking to end her country’s drought of a home champion. The last to do so was Chris O’Neil in 1978.

Due to her ranking, Barty will be the top seed in Melbourne Park but she is refusing to get ahead of herself when it comes to her chances of Grand Slam glory. She has reached the fourth round or better at the last six majors she has played in.

“It’s about doing the right things right from the start, from the very first match, and whether I win the match or not, if I go through the right processes and do things the way we’ve always done it, I’ll sleep well at night regardless of the results,” Barty explains.
“That’s a really important part of our make-up with our whole team. Everyone plays a role and we try and do a job to the best of our ability on that given day.
“If it’s good enough, it is. And if it’s not, it’s not. But that’s okay.”

As to how she will handle the pressure in the coming weeks, the Grand Slam champion plans to follow the example set by compatriot Cathy Freeman. A former 400 meter runner who won a gold medal in front of her home crowd at the 2000 Olympic Games.

“I think her analogy, particularly through the Sydney Olympics, was one of the best I have ever heard,” she said.
“Her picturing herself as a young girl inside a house and seeing the storm outside, you can see it but you don’t hear it. That is really effective and incredible.
“For me it is about accepting that there is noise and extra attention and talk but ultimately that doesn’t change how I hit a tennis ball, that doesn’t change how I prepare.
“As long as I do all of my processes the right way and make decisions for the right reasons then regardless of whether it is a win or a loss, I sleep well at night knowing we have done everything possible to try and give ourselves the best chance.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time Barty has returned to the sport following a lengthy break after taking a 18-month leave back in 2014 where she even briefly played another sport before returning. Barty played cricket in the Women’s Big Bash League. Since returning, she has won eight WTA titles, including the WTA Finals and French Open during 2019.

The one-day Adelaide exhibition, which is where Barty will kick-off her return, will take place on January 29.

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