The WTA First Quarter Report Card - UBITENNIS
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The WTA First Quarter Report Card

Ubitennis looks at the top performing players on the women’s tour during the first three months of the 2018 season



Examining the performances of the most notable players from the first three months of the season, as well as their prospects heading into Q2.

Caroline Wozniacki

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January in Melbourne, Wozniacki finally silenced all the doubters (myself included) who said she may never win a major title. After saving a match point and coming back from 5-1 down in the final set of her second round match, Caroline went on to defeat Simona Halep in a stellar final to win the Australian Open. This victory also brought her back atop the WTA rankings for the first time in six years. February and March were understandably a bit of a letdown following such a career high, with Wozniacki going just 6-4. Her Q3 ended in ugly fashion: after her opening round loss to Monica Puig in Miami, Caroline said fans made derogatory and threatening comments to her family during the match. Looking ahead to Q2, I expect her Melbourne hangover to continue. Though she did make the quarterfinals at Roland Garros last year, clay is not Caroline’s strongest surface.

Simona Halep

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Q1 was another wild ride for Simona Halep. At her first major as the world number one, she did not crumble under the pressure of being atop the rankings. Halep fought off both Lauren Davis and Angelique Kerber in extended third set battles, saving match points in each of those Australian Open affairs. She was just a few games away from her first major title before succumbing to Wozniacki. That match would also result in the loss of her number one ranking, but she would gain it back just a few weeks later. Simona strongly bounced back from her dramatic January, making the semis in both Doha and Indian Wells. However, the Halep of old reappeared during her Indian Wells semifinal against Naomi Osaka. Simona showed no signs of the fighting spirit that was marveled at in Melbourne, winning just three games and refusing to even speak to coach Darren Cahill during a coaching visit. The next week in Miami, Simona’s struggles and negative attitude persisted, as she was ousted by Agnieszka Radwanska in the third round. With the demons that await her in Paris surrounding last year’s heartbreaking final at Roland Garros, will Halep be able to turn her game around?

Angelique Kerber

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Kerber announced her goal for this year was to forget her dismal 2017 ever happened, and she’s been successful in putting that behind her. Kerber is number three in the Race to Singapore rankings, thanks to an impressive tally of 21 match wins in Q1. She started the year going 10-0, winning the title in Sydney and making the semifinals in Melbourne. Angelique has reached the quarterfinals or better at every tournament she’s entered in 2018. With new coach Wim Fisette by her side, Kerber has her mojo back. Looking ahead, she will look to drastically improve on her recent results at Roland Garros, where she lost in the first round in both of the last two years. With almost no points to defend on the clay, Kerber’s ranking should continue to rise and provide her with a good seeding for both Wimbledon and the US Open, where she is a former finalist and champion, respectively.

Elina Svitolina

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Q1 of 2018 was more of the same for Svitolina. She continues to rack up wins and titles outside of the majors. Elina is 18-4 on the year, and already won titles in both Brisbane and Dubai. But she’s still yet to advance passed the quarterfinals at a major. At the Australian Open, her draw to the semifinals included no seeded players. Despite this, she again faltered in the quarterfinals, winning just four games against Elise Mertens. She’s also yet to win a Premier Mandatory event, and she failed to reach the semifinals in both Indian Wells and Miami. The 23-year-old is too talented for these trends to continue. It seems only a matter of time before she gets defeats the mental pressure on these bigger stages, and I presume we’ll see her breakthrough later this year.

Petra Kvitova

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In 2017, Petra Kvitova was an inspiring comeback story. In 2018, she’s proving to again be a legitimate contender for major titles. Following a tough loss 10-8 in the third set in the first round of the Australian Open, Kvitova won two tournaments in February. Her title runs in St. Petersburg and Doha included seven victories over top 10 opponents, and brought herself back into the top 10. Her results in Indian Wells and Miami were less impressive, a reminder that Petra’s form can greatly vary from week to week. The clay is Kvitova’s weakest surface, with only two of her 22 career titles coming on the terra baute (both in Madrid). While she’s a former Roland Garros semifinalist, it’s been six years since she advanced farther than the fourth round in Paris. But when the tour moves to grass, the two-time Wimbledon Champion will be a serious threat.

Naomi Osaka

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After reaching the fourth round at a major for the first time in Melbourne, the 20-year-old put the tennis world on notice by winning the title in Indian Wells. Shockingly, that Premier Mandatory title was her first title of any kind at any level on the WTA tour. Just three days later, she followed that up by thumping Serena Williams in Miami. Osaka is fully expected to contend for majors in the near future. In Q2, I’m curious to see if she can quickly follow-up on her Q1 success, though a Q2 letdown seems more likely for a young player who will need to adjust to the new pressure and attention.

Sloane Stephens

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Following her breakout US Open victory, Stephens went on an eight match losing streak. She finally got a few match wins in Acapulco and Indian Wells, but it wasn’t until Miami that Sloane looked more like the US Open champion. In Key Biscayne, she defeated Muguruza, Kerber, Azarenka, and Ostapenko to claim the second biggest title of her career. Since August of last year, Stephens is 24-5 in North America. Can she now transfer that success to tournaments outside North America? And can she avoid another post-title slump? It’s hard to say: Sloane herself admits to struggling to stay motivated week in and week out. But there’s no reason why Stephens should not have a strong clay court season. And with no points to defend in Q2, she should easily achieve a new career-high ranking within the top eight.

Serena Williams

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Serena returned to action in March after a 14-month maternity layoff. Williams toughed out two victories in Indian Wells before running into her older sister in the third round. After her loss to Osaka in Miami, she immediately exited the tournament without talking to the press. It’s naturally going to take some time for Serena to get her game fully back, but I suspect the all-time great will find it in time for the grass court season this summer.


Stefanos Tsitsipas’ Rapid Rise On The Tour Draws Admiration From His Rivals

The 19-year-old is set to break into the world’s top 25 after climbing more than 100 places in the rankings over the past 12 months.



Prior to this year, Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas had only won four matches on the ATP World Tour in his entire career. Just eight months later, some of his rivals are already tipping him for future stardom in the sport.

Tsitsipas’ rapid rise in the sport has been one of the most impressive among the Next Generation contingent. His first breakthrough occurred at the Barcelona Open in April where he defeated Dominic Thiem and Pablo Carreno Busta on route to the final. Only to be denied the title by the formidable Rafael Nadal.

“I felt emotionally connected with the fans and the crowd and the place and the location I was playing. But that loss matured me. Made me braver and more experienced, I would say.” The 19-year-old reflected about his Barcelona run.

Since Barcelona, the Greek has managed to reach the quarter-finals or better at tournaments on three different surfaces in Estoril (clay), ‘s-Hertogenbosch (grass) and Washington (hard court). At Wimbledon he became the first ATP player from his country in the Open Era to reach the fourth round.

Blessed with a blistering forehand, Tsitsipas continues his rise this week at the Rogers Cup in Toronto. In his tournament debut, he powered through the first two rounds with straight sets wins over Damir Dzumhur and French Open finalist Thiem. The Austrian is the first top 10 player Tsitsipas has defeated on multiple occasions.

“He doesn’t really have any weakness. He’s playing fast and aggressive from both sides. I think he will be a top player in the future. I think in the next one, two years, we will see him in the top 10.” Thiem commented about his opponent earlier this week.

On Thursday, Tsitsipas recorded arguably the biggest win of his career to date. Taking on former world No.1 Novak Djokovic, he battled to a shock 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-3, win. There was no fear shown by the rising star against a player considered to be one of the greatest of the Open Era. Throughout the 139-minute encounter he only faced two break points, saving both of them. Scoring back-to-back wins over top 10 players for the first time.

“I feel very proud for me, myself, and my country. I’m putting Greece more deep into the map of tennis. So I’m pretty sure I’m making my family proud, all of those people that are watching, my coach, my father. It was a very emotional win,” Tsitsipas said during his press conference. “I’ve never felt so many emotions after a victory.”

Tsitsipas’ latest win has won praise from Djokovic himself. The Serbian, who was playing his first match since winning the Wimbledon title, refused to be disappointed about his loss. Acknowledging the performance of his opponent, who he has tipped for future success.

“He’s definitely one of the leaders of NextGen without a doubt, especially this season. He’s had some terrific results and terrific wins.” Said Djokovic.
“He’s showing a lot of commitment, a lot of discipline. He’s putting in the hours in the gym, on the tennis court, and it’s paying off. I mean, he’s very talented. He was the best junior in the world.
“If he keeps on going this way, he’s got a good future.”

Admitting that he is still learning on the tour, Tsitsipas will play in his first Masters 1000 quarter-final on Friday. He will take on defending champion Alexander Zverev for the second consecutive week. At the Citi Open in Washington, the two clashed in the semi-finals with Zverev winning 6-2, 6-4.

As a result of his latest win, Tsitsipas is set to rise to a ranking high of 23rd in the world. His win-loss for the season currently stands at 32-20.

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Italian Hopeful Berrettini Is Becoming Reality

The newly-crowned Gstaad champion is climbing the ranking with his well-contained demeanour and his hard-to-contain first serves



It was only six months ago that Matteo Berrettini was standing on Court 20 at the Australian Open hitting a ball towards the tram stop and shouting “I want to die, what the f**k did I do to deserve something like this?”. He was playing against Denis Kudla in the third and final round of the qualifying tournament and a few minutes earlier he had squandered two match points on 5-3 40-15 in the third set to end up losing the match 4-6 6-3 7-5. That was his first chance to make it to the main draw of a Grand Slam (a few months earlier he had lost to Tsitsipas in round 2 at the US Open qualifications tournament), which he was able to clinch anyway as a lucky loser.

Fast forward to July 2018, and we find him lifting the trophy at the Swiss Open in Gstaad where he conquered his first ATP title not only without dropping a set, but without ever losing his serve. This win propelled him to the 54th spot of the ATP Ranking, with not many points to defend in the last part of the season and a great chance to use his thunderous serve and blistering forehand on the hard court in North America and in Asia.

After a six-month stop in 2016 due to a knee injury and a first part of 2017 when he won his first ATP Challenger title in San Benedetto, Italy, he started feeling the pressure of his own success and missed one of the main goals for the season: in the play-offs for the Italian wild-card at the ATP Next Gen Finals in Milan, he lost in his first match as n.1 seed and overwhelming favorite to underdog Liam Caruana, forfeiting the chance to meet the best young guns in the circuit on a world-class stage. “In general, he is a very calm player – said his coach Vincenzo Santopadre, a former Top 100 player – but during the last few months of the last season he was a lot more tense, he had lost some of his usual tranquillity”.

But the golden boy who is lighting up the enthusiasm of the Italian tennis fans, still waiting for a Top-10 player since the end of the ‘70s, kept maintaining his general composure in the face of burning defeats like the one in Australia against Kudla or some of the Challengers finals lost in 2017 against top-100 players like Malek Jaziri and Sergiy Stakhovsky after having led the match on multiple occasions. “I often re-watch my matches to analyze them – declared Berrettini in an off-season interview to Tennis World Italia – I am very critical towards myself, and seeing the mistakes I’ve made can only be good for me. Vincenzo [Santopadre] was very good at making me see the positive aspects of the finals I lost, even if I was feeling quite down for having missed those chances”.

Neither Matteo nor his coach Vincenzo were not targeting a specific position at the beginning of 2018: “It’s not time to focus on ranking and points, not yet – said Berrettini – it’s more important to be healthy and work on my fitness”. “Our objective for this season is to improve on his strengths, serve and forehand, to make sure they are worth of the top 100 – commented Santopadre – but we also need to reinforce his backhand and his return. I would love for him to take the net more often, but I believe that will come with time”.

In six months Berrettini not only has consolidated his serve+forehand play, making it a Top-50-worth cornerstone of his game, but has also made significant progress on his backhand. “Last March in Indian Wells I watched [Berrettini]’s last training session with Shapovalov: on the backhand side it was one in the court and two in the net or on the fence – says Ubitennis’ technical expert Luca Baldissera – now he is incredibly more solid in the rallies and can even go for winners at times”.

During the final in Gstaad, the Italian served 11 aces in the first set alone, four of which during the tie break he won by 10 points to 8. And after his triumph in the singles final, he went on to take home also the doubles’ title with his fellow countryman Daniele Bracciali, completing a memorable week for him on the Swiss Alps.

“It’s unbelievable, it’s like a dream” he kept repeating after that triumphant Sunday, but he may have to get used to this more quickly than he expects: his 135mph serve demands it. However, anyone who has had the chance to spend an hour talking to this very balanced young man has very little doubt that his early successes will not distract him from the long term goal, which is “becoming the best that I can be”. And in order to achieve this goal, Berrettini has included in his team a mental coach (Stefano Massari) who works regularly with him when he trains at the Rome Tennis Academy, a venture launched at Circolo Canottieri Roma by Santopadre himself, whom Berrettini followed to that club when he was 14. “The time I spend recovering from the injury in 2016 was very important for me: I spent a lot of time in Rome, with my family, went on vacation, all things I hadn’t done in a while. I started dating my girlfriend and this gave me a good perspective on life. Vincenzo made me work with the kids of the tennis school and all this made me click: when I was able to return to practice I was a different player, more mature, more focused”.

The disappointment of ATP Next Gen play offs and the desperate words shouted on Court 20 at Melbourne Park are nothing but a pale memory now: Berrettini’s focus is locked in on the rest of the 2018 season now, and it sure is looking bright.

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Serena Williams Feels The Magnetic Power Of The Couch As Well

Danish sports psychologist Adam Blicher explains why commitment is more important than motivation in tennis.



When we look at Serena Williams or Novak Djokovic, we tend to believe that they are always motivated. That they are always ready to go out there and practice extremely hard and compete with all of their heart at any point in time.

We think that they do not feel that magnetic power of the couch that all of us other normal human beings feel.

However, the difference between Serena and Novak and then all the rest of us is not in the feelings we experience. If you watch the Serena documentary, you will clearly see how she is often times struggling with motivation, and if you listen to interviews with Novak Djokovic after his long anticipated French Open victory, you will get to know that he has struggled to find the motivation to keep pushing himself further.

The difference is in whether we sit back in our couch and wait for the feeling of motivation to arrive. And if it doesn’t, we will stay in the couch not putting in the necessary work to simply have a shot at fulfilling our long-term goals and acting in accordance with our values.

A lot of us believe that tennis should be fun, and if it is no longer fun, we shouldn’t be doing it.

But in reality, getting out of the magnetic field of the couch, all depends on how committed we are to achieving our goals. Being committed is much more important than being motivated.

Committed to a bigger purpose. Having a clear set of goals and values that you follow.

If you do decide to go out on the practice court instead of sitting around waiting, you might just experience the motivation that you have been looking for. You might feel it as you step foot on the court, you might feel it half way through the practice session, or in some instances you might not feel it at all. But at least you did what was necessary to achieve your goals and follow your values – key ingredients for successful players.

So remember that what is important is to not sit back and wait for the feeling of motivation to come. Instead, get out there on the practice court. You may not have a perfect practice, but you have still come a long way if you are having a good practice on the days where you have no motivation at all.

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