Angelique Kerber produced a polished performance to see off the challenge of Petra Kvitova 6-3 6-2 in the first round of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart.
It was quite a turnaround for the German, who lost 6-2 6-2 to the same opponent on exactly the same court in the Fed Cup during her country’s 4-1 defeat by Czech Republic just a few days earlier.
In that match, Kvitova was on top form and her trademark powerful groundstrokes proved too good for Kerber.
However, the Czech was unable to reproduce that kind of performance as she made 32 errors and surrendered her serve four times.
The German played far more consistent tennis. She made very few unforced errors and won 71% of points on her first serve and 57% behind her second. She also saved three break points as she held throughout.
Both players took a while to get going at the start of the match, but they held firm on their serves initially. Then Kerber went on a charge and only lost four points in the next four games from 2-3.
She held to love and earned her first break thanks to some sloppy groundstrokes from Kvitova. The German then followed that with another easy hold to establish a 5-3 lead, before clinching the set by breaking her Czech opponent for the second time in succession.
Kvitova wastes chances
Despite the more emphatic scoreline, the games were actually closer in the second set. Kvitova had break points in Kerber’s first two service games of the set but she was unable to convert them.
And ultimately that cost her, as the German took her first chance to break to lead 3-1 and never faced another break point in the set. She sealed her victory with another break in game eight.
“I know what to expect, and it’s not an easy match,” Kerber told wtatennis.com. “I lost against Petra on Sunday, but I was trying to play my game and focus more on my side of the court, and playing aggressive. I’m happy to be in the next round.”
The German’s next test will be against Anett Kontaveit in the last 16, after the big-hitting Estonian edged out Kristina Mladenovic 5-7 7-6(3) 7-6(5) in a titanic battle that lasted over three hours.
Halep battles back
Simona Halep came through a more difficult encounter than her German rival as she fought back from a set down to beat Magdalena Rybarikova 4-6 6-2 6-3.
The Romanian received treatment for a muscle problem as she struggled for rhythm in the opening set. However, she said in her on-court interview after the match that she “didn’t want to stop”.
And the World No.1 certainly did not let her discomfort discourage her as she clawed her way back into the match after going a break down in the second set.
Trailing 2-1, Halep produced her best tennis of the match so far to break back immediately and that kick-started a run of five games in a row to take the second set.
Then the Romanian stepped things up again in the decider. After losing a tight game on serve, she put relentless pressure on Rybarikova’s serve. The Slovakian crumbled and parity was restored.
Halep looked confident at this point, and she earned the decisive break in game six. She produced a superb cross-court backhand to win the point of the match and go up 0-30, and then crunched a forehand at Rybarikova’s feet as she attempted to serve and volley.
The World No.1 sealed the break to love with a superb forehand winner and closed out the match with two comfortable holds.
Comfortable on clay
“I tried to stop missing because at the beginning of the second set I started to miss a lot,” Halep said in her on-court interview. “Then I found my rhythm and played point by point.”
“Always on clay I’m thinking about keeping the rallies longer. If we go to a third set, I feel that I’m strong enough to play good tennis. I’m not afraid to stay in the match and the rallies, so that’s why I like clay.”
Halep also spoke about her injury scare. She said, “In the first set at 3-3, I just felt my muscle, so it was really tough to keep playing, but I didn’t want to stop. And then I just didn’t think too much about the injury and kept playing.”
“It’s really tough on this court, and I’ve never played my best tennis here. But if you get used to it, you can play at a good level.”
Dayana Yastremska Heads To Australia Despite Doping Violation
Did the 20-year-old break the rules with her trip?
Tennis Australia says they are ‘investigating’ after it emerged that Dayana Yastremska boarded a plane funded by the governing body despite failing a drugs test.
Last week the International Tennis Federation issued a statement confirming that the Ukrainian tennis star has been issued with a provisional suspension after testing positive for the banned substance mesterolone metabolite. An anabolic agent prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency which can be used for the treatment of people with low testosterone. Yastremska was pictured boarding a plane to Australia on Thursday in a post uploaded by two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova which has since been deleted.
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. The world No.29 has the right to appeal her provisional suspension but according to the latest ITF statement she hasn’t done so. One way her ban can be lifted is if the appeals board accepts her contamination argument which would allow her to play right away.
“Only a very low concentration of mesterolone metabolite was detected in my urine,” Yastremska 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.”
Despite Yastremska’s plea, it is unclear as to if she or Tennis Australia has broken any rules. As of January 15h the ITF still lists her as a player who is provisionally suspended from the sport. Richard Ings, who is the former chair of the Australian anti-doping agency, points out that suspended players are not allowed to participate in any activity organised by a tournament. Raising questions as to if a Tennis Australia funded plane journey counts as one of these ‘activities.’
Yastremska is currently on the Australian Open entry list and is set to be allowed to train during her 14-day quarantine like other players unless anything changes. Tennis Australia has not made a public statement but news agency AAP has confirmed that an investigation has been launched. Should it turn out that the 20-year-old is ineligible to play, it is unclear if she would be required to pay back the cost of her plane trip.
The Australian Open starts on February 8th.
Madison Keys latest player to test positive for Coronavirus
Madison Keys ruled out of the Australian Open after testing positive for COVID-19.
The American tested positive for the first time and will miss the first grand slam of the year.
Madison Keys has officially tested positive for the coronavirus. She announced the news on social media and says she will, unfortunately, miss the Australian Open.
“Hi everyone, I just wanted to let you know that I, unfortunately, tested positive for Covid-19 before I was suppose to fly to Australia. I’m very disappointed to not be able to play in the coming weeks after training hard in the off-season and knowing Tennis Australia and the tours did so much to make these events happen.
“I am self isolating at home and will continue to follow all the necessary health precautions. I look forward to be back on tour next month.
“Thank you for all your support.
“Stay Healthy and safe.
Keys is the latest player to have tested positive after Andy Murray revealed he had a positive test while Tennys Sandgren had tested positive but was given the green light to travel.
Two players in men’s qualifying in Doha tested positive and were immediatly removed from the draw. Apparently if you test positive for the first time you are not allowed to travel but if you already tested positive and show no symptoms there is a chance you will continue to test positive before the effects go away.
Players are traveling this week to Australia and will be mandated to follow the 14 day quarantine with the exception of training five hours a day. The Australian Open begins on February 8th.
While most players will be quarantining in Melbourne both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have confirmed they will do their quarantine in Adelaide.
Unstoppable Aryna Sabalenka Storms To Abu Dhabi Title
Another clinical performance has secured the Belarusian her third consecutive title and a new career-high ranking position.
Aryna Sabalenka’s winning run shows no signs of stopping anytime soon after she powered her way to the Abu Dhabi title on Wednesday.
The fourth seed needed just over an hour to defeat Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova 6-2, 6-2, in what was a largely one-sided encounter in the Middle East. Sabalenka utilized her power to her advantage as she fired five aces and 18 winners past her opponent who was playing in her first WTA final at the age of 23. Overall she won almost twice as many points (63-37) than Kudermetova.
With both players holding their ground early on, Sabalenka started to dominate midway through the opening set with the help of a four-game winning streak. Leading 3-2 on serve, she broke her Russian rival twice in a row to clinch the 6-2 lead. Throughout the opener the world No.10 dropped just five points behind her serve.
It was a familiar pattern in the second frame with Sabalenka continuing to dismantle Kudermetova’s fragile serve. Overall, she broke six consecutive times in the final with four of those occurring in the second set alone. Easing to a game away from victory, she did experience a blunder after losing one of her breaks. However, there would be no chance of a Kudermetova comeback as Sabalenka closed out the match in the following game with her rival hitting a forehand error on match point.
“I’m really proud of the fact that I was fighting no matter what this week,” the new champion reflected on her performance. “Some matches I didn’t feel my serve and some matches I didn’t feel my backhand or forehand, but I just kept fighting and finding my shots, and this is what I’m really proud of. I’m really happy with this title.”
The win extends Sabalenka’s unbeaten run on the Tour to 15 wins. She has now won three titles in a row after ending 2020 triumphing in both Ostrava and Linz. As a result of her latest triumph, Sabalenka will rise to a ranking high of seventh in the world on Monday.
There is also a silver lining for underdog Kudermetova who defeated Elina Svitolina and Marta Kostyuk earlier in the tournament. Her run to the final will move her up the rankings to a career high of 36th. She has already scored five wins over top 10 opponents so far in her career.
“Aryna’s playing good. She played unbelievable today,” Kudermetova said. “She didn’t give me a lot of chances. She tried to keep every ball on the court, she tried to attack, and when she had her chances she went full power on the court. She also fights until the end—that’s why she’s a top player.”
Sabalenka’s surge on the Tour has sparked high expectations for her going into the Australian Open where she is hoping to break new ground in a Grand Slam.
“I was doing everything I could in each match from the beginning (in Abu Dhabi) and I’m happy to start the season with a title,” Sabalenka said. “I’m going to Australia, I’m confident with one thing, that I will do everything I can to win matches.”
Despite her success on the WTA Tour, she has only reached the fourth round of a major once at the 2018 US Open.
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