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.
“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.”
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.
Iga Swiatek Criticises WTA’s Reform Of 2024 Calendar
Iga Swiatek has hit out at the WTA by claiming that only a handful of players were made aware of changes being made to the Tour calendar before they came into effect.
In recent weeks there has been an increase in frustration among players on the women’s Tour with letters being sent to the head of the WTA, Steve Simon, about their concerns. Swiatek has also sent her own letter to the governing body. According to The Athletic, some of the concerns that have been raised relates to higher pay on the Tour, adjustments to scheduling to help support players, expanded childcare and calls for a member of the PTPA to be present on the WTA Player’s Council.
The WTA has also been in the firing line concerning their management of the Tour finals which took place in Cancun last month and was won by Switek. Some of those who took part complained about the court conditions and lack of preparation they had. The stadium court wasn’t fully constructed until the same weekend the tournament began.
Although, for the world No.1 her principle criticism concerns the 2024 calendar and the rules in place reagrding playing in mandatory events. Swiatek says some of the decisions have been made following discussions with ‘third parties’ and believes players are not being listened to.
“There is room for improvement,” she said during an interview with newspaper Rzeczpospolita.
“As players, we are dissatisfied with the calendar for next year and the increase in the number of mandatory tournaments and restrictions related to withdrawing from them.’
“We want to change this. We need more balance and time to get back home. Sometimes, however, we beat our heads against the wall. Some decisions seem to be the result of promises made to third parties, federations and tournament organizers.’
“We find out about them after the fact. This causes frustration. Only a handful of players were aware of the calendar reform and the WTA cannot lead to such a situation again, since it considers itself an organization created for tennis players.”
The 22-year-old argues that these changes would give players more time to rest and see their families. Although Swiatek admits that she is in a more fortunate situation than some of her peers from a financial perspective. This season the Pole has earned $9,857,686 in prize money this year which is more than any other female player.
“I hope that we will be able to change something – for example in the rules regarding withdrawing from tournaments,” she continued.
“Fortunately, I am in a situation where I can afford for my family to go on a trip with me, but not everyone can afford it. Many players rather save all their money to pay their coaches.’
“However, there is a difference between taking your family with you and returning home, when you can wash your clothes and spend time in the place where you grew up. I often miss Warsaw.”
Swiatek has won 68 out of 79 matches played this season, claiming six titles on the Tour. In the Grand Slams, she won the French Open, and reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon and the fourth round at the other two. She currently has a 245-point lead over second-place Aryna Sabalenka in the WTA standings.
‘A Long Way to Go’ – Iga Swiatek Must Improve A Key Element Of Her Game, Says Navratilova
Martina Navratilova has hailed Iga Swiatek’s winning end to her season but believes the Pole needs to continue working on a certain aspect of her game to become a better player.
Swiatek reclaimed the world No.1 ranking during the WTA Finals where she clinched the year-end title in Mexico. She closes out the year on an 11-match winning streak after also winning the China Open before playing at the WTA Finals. Overall, she has reached the semi-finals or better at 12 out of 17 Tour events played and has won 68 out of 79 matches during 2023. In the Grand Slams, she won the French Open, reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon and the fourth round at the other two.
Now sitting at the top of the WTA rankings with a 245-point lead over second place Aryna Sabalenka, Swiatek has begun her off-season which is the period that players normally use to work on their game.
As to what she needs to work on, Navratilova believes a key issue for the four-time Grand Slam champion involves her volleying technique. Speaking to wtatennis.com, Navratilova says there is ‘still a long way to go’ for the former world No.1 but adds that she will become a more formidable player on the Tour if she makes improvements.
“The thing I’d target is getting to the net. I mean, she’s gotten better but there’s still a long way to go on the volley front, particularly that first volley — the transition volley, which is probably the most difficult shot in the game,” said Navratilova.
“I think that’s where she can improve the most. Iga still has a tendency to run back to the baseline when she really should be going forward. And if she gets that going? Watch out. She can still get a few more mph on her serve, too. The groundstrokes are solid as a rock. And the drop shot — I think she had something like two drop shots all year. When she adds that and uses it at the right time — because with her topspin she really pushes people back behind the baseline — she’ll be even more deadly.”
Continuing her analysis, the 67-year-old believes Swiatek can also increase the speed of her serves even more.
“She can still get a few more mph on her serve, too. The groundstrokes are solid as a rock. And the drop shot — I think she had something like two drop shots all year. When she adds that and uses it at the right time — because with her topspin she really pushes people back behind the baseline — she’ll be even more deadly.” She added.
Navratilova has also highlighted areas that she believes other players need to work on. In her view, Sabalenka’s goal should be to work more on her movement during matches. Meanwhile, for US Open champion Coco Gauff, the development of her forehand will play an important part in her game.
Swiatek ends the season with five WTA titles to her name.
Naomi Osaka Eager To Reclaim No.1 Spot, Says Coach
Naomi Osaka is targeting a return to the very top of the women’s game when she begins her comeback, according to a member of her team.
Performance coach Florian Zitzelsberger has told tennis.com that the four-time Grand Slam champion is ‘balanced and happy’ with herself after taking time away from the sport to give birth to her first child, a baby girl called Shai. The 26-year-old hasn’t played a competitive match on the Tour since the 2022 Pan Pacific Open and currently doesn’t have a ranking due to her inactivity. She has already confirmed her intention to resume her tennis career in 2024 but it is still unclear as to what her first tournament will be.
Providing a glimpse into Osaka’s current progress, Zitzelsberger says she is setting her sights on chasing after more Grand Slam titles. Zitzelsberger is the co-founder of Integralis Physiotherapie and has worked with Osaka in the past. He has also collaborated with the likes of Kevin Anderson, Julia Goerges and Petra Kvitova.
“Where she is today is what makes working with her so inspiring,” he said. “She wants to get back to world No. 1, she wants to win Grand Slams. She gives me the impression of someone who is totally balanced and happy with herself. She’s very much grounded, mature and embracing the beauty of motherhood.”
In recent months there has been a growing trend of players returning to the sport after giving birth. Notable examples include Victoria Azarenka, Elina Svitolina and Caroline Wozniacki.
Zitzelsberger says his recent work with Osaka has been getting her back into shape and then working on certain areas of her game.
“To reach the highest performance, we start by returning stability within the kinetic chain, which is typically lost somewhat during pregnancy and birth. The kinetic chain runs through the core, stomach and belly, and for a long time, her chain wasn’t playing tennis; it was growing a baby!” He explains.
“Once that base is attained, we work on specific movement skills, whether that’s acceleration or deceleration, change of direction. The main objective is always strengthening to make the body strong, in addition to improving conditioning and mobility.”
Part of the training process has been trying to change what type of player Osaka is to adapt to the current level of the women’s Tour. After winning the 2021 Australian Open, she only reached one more Tour final which was the following year in Miami. During this period, she struggled with some injury issues and has been open about her experiences with mental health.
“She’s obviously a great offense player, but I think things have changed in the game over the last half-decade where defense is getting more and more important,” Zitzelsberger commented.
“We’re working to make Naomi into a player who can transition more effectively from defense to offense. That way, even if she’s getting pushed into a defensive position, she can still strike an offensive shot.”
Osaka has won seven WTA titles so far in her career and has earned more than $21M in prize money.
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