Caroline Wozniacki advanced to the quarter-final of the Italian Open for the second time in her career thanks to a hard fought 6-2 5-7 6-3 victory over Anastasija Sevastova.
The World No.2, who revealed earlier today that she struggles with allergies at the Foro Italico venue, reached the semi-final stage in 2011 but has failed to repeat that feat ever since.
Maybe this year will be different for Wozniacki. She started brilliantly against Sevastova and dominated the opening set with great movement and excellent shot-making.
The tricky Latvian raised her game in the second set and, after trading two breaks apiece with the Dane, she earned a crucial third break in game eleven to take the match into a decider.
Any final set against Wozniacki is always likely to be difficult because of the Dane’s exceptional fitness. And so it proved, as the World No.2 ran her Latvian opponent ragged to win it 6-3.
It was a high-quality encounter throughout and Wozniacki had to produce some of her best-ever clay-court tennis to come through it. She hit a clutch of stunning drop shots that we probably would not see from her on another surface.
On the other hand, Sevastova is known for her varieties and she made use of her full range of shots. From 5-5 in the second set, she hit a succession of unerringly accurate winners as she won 8 out of 10 points to ensure the match went the distance.
Wozniacki’s reward for coming through this testing encounter is a last-eight clash with Anett Kontaveit. In round three, the Estonian beat Venus Williams for the second consecutive week and she will almost certainly make life difficult for the Dane.
In the other half of the draw, Maria Sharapova marched on to a quarter-final showdown with Jelena Ostapenko by easing past Daria Gavrilova 6-3 6-4.
The Australian was back on court less than 15 hours after defeating Garbine Muguruza in a three-hour epic. And she struggled to cope with the Russian’s powerful ball-striking early on as she went 4-1 down.
Gavrilova got into the match in game six by forcing Sharapova to battle for over 11 minutes to hold serve. She then earned her first break of the match in game eight, only to lose her serve (again) and the set immediately afterwards.
In truth, neither player served well and it got even worse in that regard in the second set. Gavrilova, who failed to win a single point on her second serve, lost serve four times and Sharapova, whose first-serve percentage was just 56%, dropped serve on three occasions.
Fittingly, the five-time Grand Slam Champion wrapped up victory with a break in the tenth game to reach her second successive Premier quarter-final.
Sharapova feels good on court
“I like the way I’m competing,” Sharapova said in her press conference. “I like the way I feel out there and I think that’s really important. It’s an inner feeling, sometimes maybe not something you can put into words.”
“But I just like the attitude I am playing with,” she continued. “I might have physical limitations going deep in the tournament. That’s normal for all players. We have to handle it the best that we can, playing back to back.
“But I like the intensity that I’m bringing. I like that, no matter the small ups and downs that I’ve had, I’m still able to deliver and be aggressive. I like that attitude – I think that’s the most important thing that’s come out of these matches.”
Impressive Garcia marches on
There was much better serving on display in another of the last-16 matches in Rome. Caroline Garcia had a first serve percentage of 75% and won 78% of points behind those serves as she beat Sloane Stephens 6-1 7-6(7).
The Frenchwoman has reached two successive semi-finals during a superb clay season so far, and she looked in total control as she blazed her way to the first set in just 26 minutes.
Stephens knuckled down and fought for every point during an infinitely tighter second set. However, it was Garcia who held her nerve in the tie-break to wrap up a straight-sets win and book a last-eight meeting with Simona Halep.
[Also published on womenssporthub.com]
Kim Clijsters Still Capable Of Top-Level Wins, Says Former world No.1 Murray
Murray gives his verdict on Clijsters’ current form and if she can return to the top of the game.
Andy Murray believes it is only a matter of time before Belgium’s Kim Clijsters is able to return to her winning ways on the Tour.
The 38-year-old is currently in the process of her latest comeback which has been hampered by both injury and the COVID-19 pandemic. Since returning to the Tour at the 2020 Dubai Tennis Championships, Clijsters has only played in five tournaments and is yet to win a match. Her most recent defeat was at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells where she was ousted 6-3, 5-7, 6-3, by Hsieh Su-Wei.
It was in Indian Wells where Clijsters held a hitting session with Murray who says he was impressed by her level of play. Speaking to reporters in Antwerp where he is playing in the European Open this week, the three-time Grand Slam champion believes she is heading in the right direction.
“She still hits the ball fantastic. I think the decision-making and things like that will come with more matches,” atptour.com quoted Murray as saying. “I think physically she can get stronger. I think that was probably one of her biggest strengths when she was at the top of the game and as successful as she was.
“With more time, more matches, more time on the practice court, physically she’ll keep getting better. It’s not easy after such a long time out of the game, but I’m sure she can still win matches at the highest level, judging on how she’s handled herself so well.”
Following her most recent match, Clijsters said she is progressing well on the Tour given her lack of match play in recent times. She has only played two matches this year. The other took place in Chicago where she lost to Keterina Siniakova in three sets.
“I think for me the most important thing is that, what I talked with my coach and my trainer about, my fitness coach, was physically being able to get through these matches without big concerns. That was the main goal,” Clisjters said following her loss to Su-Wei.
“I came close, but still have a good feeling about, you know I’ve made progression and I think that’s the most important thing.”
Clijsters has won 41 WTA titles during her career with the last of those occurring a decade ago at the 2011 Australian Open. She has held the world No.1 spot for 20 weeks and has earned more than $24.5M in prize money.
It is unclear as to what tournament Clijsters will be playing next.
Aryna Sabalenka Believes Experience Is The Key To Grand Slam Glory
The world No.2 reflects on her year so far as she aims to end the season on a high.
This year has been full of mixed emotions for Aryna Sabalenka when it comes to playing in the four most prestigious tournaments of the sport.
In the Grand Slams the world No.2 achieved the best performances of her career to date by reaching the semi-finals at both Wimbledon and the US Open. A breakout run for the Belarussian who had never gone beyond the fourth round of a major until this season. She was denied a place in her maiden final by Karolina Pliskova and Leylah Fernandez with both of those matches being three-set encounters.
Whilst Sabalenka has a lot to be proud of when it comes to these results, does she have any regrets as well?
“I would go back to my semifinal matches at the US Open and Wimbledon. I would have tried to do everything differently – maybe I would have been less nervous,” she told reporters during her pre-tournament press conference at the Kremlin Cup. “The game was very nervous, and I would have returned to these matches to worry less.”
The 23-year-old believes her experiences will place her on a strong footing going into future Grand Slam events. In recent years she has also turned to the help of a sports psychologist but says it doesn’t fully prepare her for the real thing.
“I have been working with a psychologist for a very long time. In fact, if you look at me 4 years ago and now, I have improved my psychological condition,” she said.
“It seems to me that no psychologist will prepare me for these situations (in Grand Slams). You need to go through it yourself, feel it, get nervous, understand this situation for yourself.’
“I’m more than sure that the next semifinal at the Slam I won’t be so nervous. I will act more confidently, I won’t make the stupid errors that I made in important moments in the last semi-final. It’s a matter of experience, you need to go through it. I don’t think a psychologist will be able to prepare for this.”
So far this season Sabalenka has contested three Tour finals, winning titles in Abu Dhabi and Madrid. Overall, she has won 43 matches on the WTA Tour which is the third highest tally after Barbora Krejcikova (44) and Ons Jabeur (48). She is also currently at a ranking high of second in the world and has defeated three top 10 players – Krejcikova, Ash Barty and Simona Halep.
However, Sabalenka believes there is still room for her to improve further. She is currently coached by Anton Dubrov who previously worked as her hitting partner for 18 months.
“I think I played very consistently this year, but, of course, it is possible to be more consistent. I have to keep working on myself, be more consistent. I think I’m moving in the right direction, I just need to keep working on myself.” She states.
This week’s Kremlin Cup will be the first tournament Sabalenka has played since the US Open. She was forced to miss Indian Wells after testing positive for COVID-19 which left her bed bound for four days. Whilst admitting she is yet to reach her full fitness since being ill, Sabalenka is not letting that get in her way.
“I’m not in my best shape, but I know that I need the upcoming matches in the Kremlin Cup, because I haven’t played for almost a month. Maybe I haven’t returned to 100% of my physical form, but psychologically I am at my maximum and ready to win no matter what.” She concludes.
Sabalenka is the top seed in Moscow and will begin her campaign against Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic.
Leylah Fernandez Overcomes Pavlyuchenkova To Reach Indian Wells Fourth Round
It was a tough day at the office for the US Open runner-up.
Leylah Fernandez pulled off one of her famous comebacks in the Californian desert beating the number nine seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 in two hours and 41 minutes.
The Canadian hit 24 winners in the win while the Russian hit 46 unforced errors in a match that went back and forth before Fernandez was able to pull through in the end.
“What I am most proud of is the way that I fought and honestly today wasn’t my best performance,” Fernandez said afterwards. “But I fought for every point and I was trying to figure things out. I was proud I was able to find a way to get back in the match and get the win”.
After holding serve in her opening service game the world number 28 started putting the pressure right away on the Russian by getting two early break points but failed to convert.
At 3-3, it was Fernandez facing the pressure on her serve and the world number 13 had four looks at a breakpoint. On the fourth the Canadian cracked and double-faulted for the first break of serve of the match.
The Russian lead didn’t last long as the Canadian responded right away in the following game and the next four games went with breaks of serve as both players were struggling to hold serve.
Pavlyuchenkova eventually served for the set at 6-5 and was able to serve it out to take a 7-5 lead.
Pavlyuchenkova carried the momentum into the second set and broke Fernandez’s serve in the first game of the set but at 2-1 got broken once again and the set went back on serve.
It stayed on serve until 4-3 when Fernandez managed to get the crucial break of serve and that was enough for her to serve out the second set.
The first four games of the third set went on serve and at 2-2 again it was the Montreal native earning a breakpoint and breaking once again and despite facing pressure from the Russian was able to serve out the match.
After the match in her on-court interview, Fernandez was asked about all the support she has been getting recently and what it means to her to play on such a big stage.
“I got goosebumps,’ she said. “I was super excited to play here in Indian Wells for the first time and to play in a stadium where so many legends played who fought and won so it’s an honor to be here. I can’t wait to play my next match”.
Fernandez will next face the American Shelby Rogers in the round of 16 on Tuesday after she beat the Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu 6-0, 6-2.
Simona Halep cruises through to the second round with a straight-set win over Anastasia Potapova in Moscow
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Jenson Brooksby upsets Reilly Opelka to boost his chance to qualify for the Next Gen Finals in Milan
Ekaterina Alexandrova moves into the second round at the Kremlin Cup after Ons Jabeur’s retirement due to injury
Kim Clijsters Still Capable Of Top-Level Wins, Says Former world No.1 Murray
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