Italian Open Monday Preview: The Men’s and Women’s Match of the Day - UBITENNIS
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Italian Open Monday Preview: The Men’s and Women’s Match of the Day

There are some big clashes in Rome as preparation for Roland Garros continues in the ‘Eternal’ city.

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Victoria Azarenka (zimbio.com)

By Matthew Marolf

Coming out of last week in Madrid, there are many questions heading into this week in Rome. Can Rafael Nadal start up another winning streak and take his eighth Italian Open title? Will the big-hitting men and women who dominated in the altitude of Madrid be able to carry that success over to Rome? And can other top names who have struggled to gain momentum on the clay step up this week? With Roland Garros just two weeks ago, the answers to these questions will have a significant impact on the next Grand Slam event.

Naomi Osaka vs. Victoria Azarenka
Osaka appears to be a future major champion in the making. Since her big breakthrough title in Indian Wells, and her subsequent victory over Serena Williams in Miami, Osaka’s results have understandably dipped a bit. That’s a lot for a 20-year- old take in. A very different story is unfolding on the other side of the net, as a two-time former major champion tries to make her comeback after the birth of her child, and the ensuing custody battle that kept her away from tennis. Azarenka impressively made the semi-finals in Miami, just her second tournament since last July. But Vika ran into a hot Karolina Pliskova in Madrid, though she pushed her all the way to 7-5 in the third. Azarenka easily her only previous meeting with Osaka at the 2016 Australian Open, but obviously both players are in much different places today. Based on Azarenka’s hunger and experience, and I give her the edge in this one.
Fabio Fognini vs. Gael Monfils
The night session will be headlined by two of the most entertaining players on tour. But they can also be two of the most frustrating to watch, as their play doesn’t always live up to their supreme talents. Neither player has picked up many wins thus far on the European clay. Monfils is just 1-2 since returning from a back injury that kept him out for about a month. Fognini is on a three-match losing streak dating back to Monte Carlo. Both will be looking to get some wins ahead of the French Open. Their career head-to- head is fairly tight at 4-3 Monfils, with Gael winning their last two matches. They have played a few epic encounters previously on the clay of Roland Garros. Fognini prevailed 9-7 in the fifth in 2010, while Monfils got revenge in another five-setter in 2014. One would think playing in his home country would inspire Fognini, but logic doesn’t often apply to either of these men. Let’s hope they both up their level from recent weeks, and showcase the shot making, athleticism, and personality that has earned both of them so many fans.

 

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WTA Finals Draw: Kerber And Wozniacki Lead Unpredictable Field In Singapore

Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki lead a red-hot Singapore field that provides unpredictability and intrigue.

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The WTA Finals line-up

The WTA Finals draw has been made with Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki leading the field in Singapore in what could be the most unpredictable WTA Finals yet. 

The showpiece event may be without world number one Simona Halep, after her back injury, but this year’s line-up in Singapore is just as compelling and unpredictable.

The field is being lead by Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber and Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki as eight of the world’s battle it out to become the year-end champion.

In this unique round-robin format, anyone of the eight could claim the title with the WTA tour always lacking in predictability and consistency.

In the Red Group, which starts on Monday, top seed Angelique Kerber leads proceedings after claiming her third grand slam title and playing some of the best tennis of her career. Although she has parted ways with coach Wim Fissette she will look to end the year strong and build momentum towards 2019.

Joining Kerber is US Open champion Naomi Osaka, who is making her WTA Finals debut, fifth seed Sloane Stephens as well as Cincinnati champion Kiki Bertens.

In the red group, only Sloane Stephens has a winning head-to-head record against her group rivals in what certainly should be an intriguing and balanced group.

The other group sees Australian Open champion, Caroline Wozniacki lead proceedings as the Dane will look to defend the title that she won last year.

Joining the second seed sees fourth seed Petra Kvitová, who is making her first appaearance at the WTA Finals since 2015. The Czech is the leading titles winner on the tour in 2018 having won five titles this year.

Completing the white group are 6th seed Elina Svitolina and 7th seed Karolina Pliskova, who have both had average seasons this year.

The white group is full of opportunity although you would have to pick Petra Kvitová as favourite given her form in 2018 as well as having an 18-6 record against her group rivals.

So action begins in Singapore on Sunday, with the WTA Finals moving to Shenzhen next year expect a lot of high-quality tennis as Singapore looks to end its WTA Finals stint with a bang. Here is Sunday and Monday’s schedule:

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Federer introduces Barilla to tennis in the USA

After sponsoring many tennis tournaments around the world, Barilla makes its debut at a US event. Their agenda for 2019 could see them present at Flushing Meadows

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Barilla at the 2018 Laver Cup in Chicago (photo Barilla USA)

The big tennis “bonanza” that took place in Chicago during the last Laver Cup saw the debut of Italian pasta brand Barilla as a sponsor of an important tennis event in the United Stated. The company, whose American headquarter is situated a mere half an hour North of Chicago in Nortbrook, Illinois, followed the lead of its Global Brand Ambassador Roger Federer and set up a large activation point in the commercial area outside the United Center to introduce American tennis fans to pasta cooked “the Barilla way”.

Barilla at the 2018 Laver Cup in Chicago (photo Barilla USA)

We caught up with Prita Wadhwani, Barilla’s marketing director for the Americas, to discuss the pasta-maker’s involvement in tennis and their future plans for the US market.

How long did it take to organize the activation point for the Laver Cup? How many people have been involved?

It’s been a wonderful experience for us. We started talking about Laver Cup back in March. We like the concept of sportsmanship, it’s really fun to see the camaraderie the players have together with them being really competitive. So about eight months beginning to end to bring our Barilla experience to tennis fans.

Is your team based in Chicago?

Yes, our American headquarter is just outside of the Chicago area, about 30 miles north in a town called Northbrook and it is responsible for the operations in North and South America.

How did the involvement of Barilla’s Global Ambassador Roger Federer?

We truly admire Federer and what he has achieved in his field of expertise. And we believe that Barilla is to the culinary art world what Federer is to the tennis world. Furthermore, Roger lives his life in a very simple way and our core product is simple as well, flour plus water. That’s where we found a great fit.

Barilla is active in a number of tennis events around the world: we have seen you in Canada at the Rogers Cup, at the Australian Open… were you at the US Open?

No, not this year…

Not this year?… Are there surprises in the works for 2019? I see you are smiling, so I guess we have our answer… Moving on, what is the difference in preparing the activation during events that last 2 weeks and have 600-700,000 people coming through the doors and a much more concentrated event like the Laver Cup, lasting only three days?

There isn’t a big difference really: the hardest part is to build our activation point. Once that is done, we have such an amazing culinary crew with our own on-site kitchen that allows us to prepare our pasta the way we want it. We are completely self-sufficient: we have our own generators, our own water tanks, so we can prepare up to 3,000 servings of pasta per day.

So do you have a full-time “culinary crew” that travels all the time to all the events you participate?

We have chef Lorenzo Boni, who is our executive chef. He has two people working for him who are full-time Barilla employees, and they have identified a number of chefs throughout the USA who have already been vetted and are already trained in how to cook “the Barilla way” and they are brought in for specific events as needed. We are obviously very dedicated to the quality, the taste and the flavor of every single meal we serve.

Barilla at the Laver Cup 2018 in Chicago (photo Barilla USA)

Aside from Laver Cup and tennis, how is Barilla perceived in the American market and what is Barilla’s vision in America?

Pietro Barilla, the father of Guido, Luca and Paolo Barilla, the current generation at the helm of the company, had a motto: “Go forward with courage”. That is still instilled in our culture, that drive for innovation is still very present in Barilla’s culture. Our culture also states that “what is good for you should be good for the planet”: we support the sustainability of the ingredients that we put in our food. These are the principles that have inspired out growth: I was lucky enough to have been for the company for over 20 years, and I remember that when I first joined we has a roughly 9% market share in the US, while nowadays we have over one-third of the market. Our success is strictly link to the innovation that we still strive to maintain, from the products that we have to the way we communicated to our consumers. From a product standpoint we always try to offer our consumers what they want: we have recently introduced “legumes pasta”, a pasta made entirely of legumes, where we try not to sacrifice taste for the experience of eating good food. We also try to educate our consumer that it is not necessary to sacrifice taste to eat something that it’s good for you and good for the planet.

What are the challenges that you face in the US with the way that your consumer prepares your products? How do you “educate” the American pasta eater on how to properly cook and eat your products?

Barilla at the 2018 Laver Cup in Chicago (photo Barilla USA)

It is a journey, it’s not something that happens overnight. When I first joined Barilla we run a “store check” and all consumers knew about pasta were spaghetti and elbows, that is the macaroni for the “mac and cheese”. Now the average consumer is much more educated about the various shapes of pasta, and we like to believe that we had a role in this journey. We have also made some research using the NHANES data (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) which is the dietary gold standard for data in the USA, and we have found out that people eating pasta in the Mediterranean way, with healthy oils, vegetables, lean meats and proteins, have better body metrics than those consuming pasta in a more luxurious fashion. This is very important for us because we try to promote “eating well” rather than “eating a lot”. In our activations we have a pasta recipes-holder to promote the good way of eating pasta in a fun way. A portion of pasta should be two ounces (approximately 60 grams), which needs to be combined with vegetables and lean proteins, and it can create a filling, satiating meal for less than 500 calories, without sacrificing taste.

How is the market for sauces?

Americans are very used to having pasta with red sauces, so we are trying to introduce something different like the “pasta al pesto”. Boredom is one of the big enemies of the frequency of pasta consumption, so we are offering alternatives that may be unknown to the American public and as such need a longer education process. Americans are accustomed to using a jar of sauce for every dish of pasta: pesto isn’t like that, but it allows to add flavor to pasta without adding to many calories. Again, in our philosophy “less is more”, so we try to encourage the use of less sugar.

What other events does Barilla include in its promotional activities in the USA?

Food and wine festivals are very popular in the USA, so we are present at quite a few of those. Our 2019 schedule is still in the works and we hope to be at many more tennis events next year.

Barilla at the 2018 Laver Cup in Chicago (photo Barilla USA)

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Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal Recieve Caution Over Saudi Arabia Exhibition

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have been cautioned by Amnesty International UK over playing in an exhibition match in Saudi Arabia.

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Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal (zimbio.com)

The two best players in the world, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have received a caution by Amnesty International about their participation in an exhibition in Saudi Arabia. 

The duo will compete in Jeddah on the 22nd of December in an exhibition match, where they will both receive at least one million dollars.

However the event has caused a lot of controversy and Amnesty International have called on the duo to use their global popularity to speak out on Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record.

When announcing the event both Djokovic and Nadal received a negative response from their fans after the event was announced a day after the disappearance and alleged murder of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

The event is being used by the Saudi government to enhance its regime through sport and protect its reputation. There are other events which have been held in Saudi Arabia to do this, including Brazil v Argentina in a friendly a few days ago as well as the WWE Wrestling event.

Speaking to The Times, Allan Hogarth of Amnesty International offered a caution to Djokovic and Nadal, “It’s not for us to say which countries should and shouldn’t be hosting sporting competitions, but it’s also clear that countries like Saudi Arabia are well aware of the potential for sport to subtly ‘rebrand’ a country,” Hogarth said.

“It’s up to Nadal and Djokovic where they play their lucrative exhibition matches, but if they go to Jeddah we’d like to see them using their profiles to raise human rights issues. Tweeting support for Saudi Arabia’s brave human rights defenders would be a start.”

Since announcing the event, both Djokovic and Nadal have refused to comment further on the event as they face a battle against each other for the year-end world number one spot.

The next tournament for Nadal and Djokovic will be at the final masters 1000 event of the season in Paris in two weeks time.

 

 

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