Jelena Ostapenko produced her best tennis in patches to overcome the challenge of Elina Svitolina 7-6 7-6 and reach her second Premier Mandatory semi-final at the Miami Open.
After her breakthrough year in 2017, this is the first time in 2018 that the Latvian has reached the last four of an event. She will face either Venus Williams or Danielle Collins.
For much of the quarter-final, it was attack against defence as Ostapenko, 20, unleashed a torrent of her trademark huge groundstrokes. However, while she hit 44 winners, she made almost as many errors (42) as Svitolina sought to make her play extra shots.
It was also a match dominated by the excellent returning abilities of both players as it featured a remarkable twelve breaks over the course of the two sets.
A Rollercoaster First Set
Initially, Ostapenko managed to hang onto her serve more frequently than Svitolina to move into a 4-3 lead, which she extended to 5-3 with another hold.
After Svitolina then held for 4-5, she summoned her coach in a bid to save the set but looked miserable as he told her to take the ball earlier and go for her shots more.
But as it turned out, all the Ukrainian had to do to level the score was get the ball back in play as Ostapenko made four unforced errors to effectively break herself to love. Svitolina then became more fluent on her serve and held easily to lead for the first time in the match.
Game twelve summed up the talented Latvian as she hit four big winners and made two wild errors. And while everything is fine when the ratio is like that as she wins more games than she loses, she is always liable to make more errors than winners and that is when she gets into trouble.
Ostapenko started the tie-break in style with a deft volley and a brutal backhand. Svitolina battled back to lead 3-2 but the Latvian hit a backhand winner down the line and then produced a delightful backhand-forehand combination to tip the score in her favour.
Then she took control, drilling a deep forehand that Svitolina could not return before coming up with two more winners to earn three set points. She only needed one, as she smacked down a powerful serve that the Ukrainian could only deflect towards the stands.
Momentum Swings One Way Then The Other
Ostapenko made a sloppy start to the second set on serve and, when she hit a forehand long to gift Svitolina a break point, the Ukrainian ensured she took advantage by hammering a forehand winner down the line.
The World No.4 struggled to find her serving rhythm but dealt with the pressure well by hitting two forehand winners when the score was 30-all to go 2-0 up.
For the first time in the match, a predictable pattern emerged in the next three games as both players held easily to move the score on to 3-2 in Svitolina’s favour.
However, chaos soon returned as Ostapenko wasted one break point before taking a second with an emphatic cross-court backhand winner to level the set. She then handed the advantage straight back to her Ukrainian opponent by making three errors on serve.
At 2-3 in the first set, Svitolina had called for the doctor and taken a tablet of some kind. Now at 4-3 up in the second set, she told her coach Andrew Bettles that her stomach was really hurting, and her discomfort was clear in game eight as she made two uncharacteristically loose errors to gift the Latvian the break back.
Despite her pain, the Ukrainian fought hard on Ostapenko’s serve to try and restore her advantage. However, the Latvian held firm to earn a chance to break for the match.
Svitolina was having none of it and stayed resolute on her serve to make it 5-5. And she dialled up her aggression to hit two winners en route to a break in the next game.
Ostapenko Wrestles Back Control
Ostapenko responded by summoning her coach David Taylor. And the pep talk worked as she hit a couple of winners and, crucially, only one error as she broke to force a second set tie-break.
As in the first set, the tie-break situation suited the Latvian as she hit two winners and forced two errors to open up a 4-1 lead. Svitolina fought her way back to 6-5 with the help of an error and some good hustling, but Ostapenko still had one match point left.
She took it with two superb backhands in succession. The first forced the Ukrainian to block it back and then the Latvian drilled the second behind Svitolina as she moved to cover the other side of the court.
“It was an incredibly tough match today and I’m really happy with the way I played,” Ostapenko said in her on-court interview. “(My coach) came on court and told me to be really aggressive. It doesn’t matter if you miss sometimes because if you are aggressive you will win the match.”
She continued, “It was 6-3 in the (second set) tie-break and then it was 6-5. I don’t know what was going through my mind; I just really pushed the second serve and hit another winner. I’m really happy with the way it finished.”
Simona Halep Ends Six-Year Collaboration With Coach Cahill
One of the longest coaching partnerships on the WTA Tour has come to an end.
Former world No.1 Simona Halep is on the lookout for a new coach after unexpectedly announcing her split from Darren Cahill on Wednesday.
The two-time Grand Slam champion has been working with the Australian mentor for most of the time since 2015. There was a brief period where Cahill stepped away from his duties to spend more time with his family before later returning. Under his guidance, the Romanian reached the top of the world rankings and featured in the final of three major tournaments, winning two of those.
“After six wonderful years working together, Darren Cahill and I have decided that it’s time to end our working relationship,” Halep wrote on social media. “Thank you D for everything, for making me a better tennis player and a better person.”
55-year-old Cahill is a former player himself who has also worked with a series of top players prior to Halep. In the past, he has coached both Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi to world No.1 at different stages of their careers. Doubles specialist Horia Tecău reportedly told Romanian TV that it was rumoured Cahill received an annual salary in the region of one million euros during his time with Halep. Although this has not been verified.
The announcement comes a week after Halep married Macedonian businessman Toni Iuruc. One of those who attended the event was Illie Nastase who was one of the world’s best tennis players during the 1970s, winning both the French Open and US Open.
“I didn’t know anything about Simona’s intention to break up with Darren Cahill. It took me a little by surprise. But Simona Halep has proven she knows what she’s doing. As I did not know, I do not see what I could comment. But there is no question of collaborating (with her),” Nastase told playsport.ro.
I didn’t talk to her about this or to anyone else in her entourage… I think only Simona knows who her future coach will be. I trust her choices.”
So far in 2021 Halep has achieved a win-loss record of 15-7 during what has been a rollercoaster season. An Achilles injury forced her to miss both the French Open and Wimbledon, as well as the Tokyo Olympics. Since returning to the Tour from her injury she has won back-to-back matches in one out of three tournaments played. Reaching the fourth round of the US Open.
There has been no official word on who may replace Cahill as Halep’s coach.
Venus Williams Explains Met Gala Photo With Maria Sharapova
The former world No.1 says she and her sister Serena have ‘respect and love’ for Sharapova.
Seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams says there are no hard feelings between her, her sister Serena and Maria Sharapova after the trio took a photo together at the Met Gala.
The former world No.1s was seen smiling and laughing together at the New York fundraising event with both of the Williams sisters uploading a photo of them all on their Instagram story. Prompting surprise from some fans considering the at times icy rivalry between Serena and Sharapova that dates back to the 2004 Wimbledon Championships.
In her 2017 autobiography, Unstoppable: My Life So Far, Sharapova mentioned Serena’s name more than 100 times. She says the American hated her for beating her at Wimbledon that year and that the two were ‘not friends.’
“What I heard when I came in to the locker room was Serena Williams bawling,” Sharapova wrote.
“Guttural sobs. I got out as quickly as I could, but she knew I was there.
“I think Serena hated me for being the skinny kid who beat her, against all odds … I think she hated me for seeing her at her lowest moment.
“But mostly I think she hated me for hearing her cry. She’s never forgiven me for it.”
Responding to the claims, Serena hit back at the book in 2018 by describing it as ‘hearsay’ and said she never had any ‘negative feelings’ towards Sharapova. The two clashed on the Tour no fewer than 22 times with Serena winning 20 of those meetings.
“So I don’t have any negative feelings towards her, which again, was a little disappointing to see in that hearsay book,” Williams commented back in 2018. “So I have always, you know, and especially having a daughter, like, I feel like negativity is taught. One of the things I always say, I feel like women, especially, should bring each other up.”
Three years later and it now seems that all parties have put their disagreements behind them. At the Met Gala they were seen getting on pretty well. Besides posing for a photo together, they were also seen together in the bathroom at the event. A photo taken by pop star Anitta and rapper Saweetie which showed them in the background.
Speaking about the event for the first time, 41-year-old Williams said she wishes Sharapova was still playing before adding that they still ‘respect and love’ each other.
“First of all, Serena and I were talking about Maria the day before,” the 41-year-old explained on Instagram.
“We were like, ‘Damn, I wish Maria was still playing.’
“And we saw her, and we both told her separately, ‘Oh my gosh, we were just talking about you yesterday, we wish you were still on tour.’
“We were so happy to see each other. There was hugs, there was laughing, there were stories, and there was a photo.
“So the backstory is that even though us players compete really hard of the court for years, we still respect and love each other, and love Maria.”
Williams, Serena and Sharapova have won a total of 35 Grand Slam singles titles between them.
Emma Raducanu Launches Own Weibo Account With Viral Video
In her first video, the teenage sensation promised to play in China next year.
British tennis sensation Emma Raducanu is gaining a rapidly growing fan base in China with her first video on the social media account Weibo surpassing one million views in less than two days.
The 18-year-old has become one of the most talked about athletes in the world of tennis following her unprecedented run to the US Open title. At the Grand Slam she didn’t drop a single set in 10 matches played to become the first qualifier in history to ever win a major title. Even more remarkable was the fact Raducanu was playing in a Grand Slam main draw for only the second time in her career.
In her native UK bookmakers are already tipping the youngster as a strong contender to win this year’s prestigious BBC Sports personality of the Year award. Although it isn’t just Britain where she is proving to be a hit. Raducanu was actually born in Canada to a Romanian father and Chinese mother who both work in the finance section. The family moved to the UK when Raducanu was two-years-old.
“My mum comes from a Chinese background. They have very good self-belief. It’s not necessarily about telling everyone how good you are, but it’s about believing it within yourself. I really respect that about the culture,” she said.
“She’s always instilled a lot of discipline and respect for other people into me, so I think that having parents like I do, they always push me, they have high expectations so I’ve always tried to live up to that. And I just hope I did them proud this week and I’m going to keep trying to go, keep going.”
Shortly after her US Open win, the world No.23 delivered a message in mandarin which was posted on the tournament’s Weibo account. SportsPro Media reports that the video generated more than 11 million impressions.
Now Raducanu has launched her own Weibo account with a video message to her fans. Shine.cn, which is a website powered by Chinese newspaper Shanghai Daily, said that the British player has promised to play in the country next year. This season’s Asian swing has been cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Shine also said she spoke with a slight ‘accent from northeast China’ where her mother is from.
According to the latest view count, the video has been watched more than 1.22 million times since it was published. The view count may look impressive but it is by no means a one off. The Guardian newspaper recently reported that two hashtags related to Raducanu on Weibo have been viewed at least 200M times each as a result of her US Open win. These hashtags were ‘18-year-old ethnic Chinese young player wins US open championship‘ and ‘Raducanu.’
Despite her relative inexperience on the Tour, many are tipping Raducanu to become one of the most marketable athletes in the world. Her ability to interact with the Chinese market will play a significant role in those considering the country has invested millions into the sport and hosts a series of prestigious women’s events. However, in the immediate future the teenager says her focus is on the tennis.
“I have a few days’ rest and recovery – I think needed after the last seven weeks,” she told CNBC’s Closing Bell earlier this week.
“But then I am straight back to training and hungry to get better and come back out and play some more tournaments.”
Besides Weibo, Raducanu also has over 583,000 followers on Twitter, 1.9M Instagram followers and 63,000 followers on her official Facebook page.
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