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Maria Sharapova overpowers Barty in absorbing contest

Maria Sharapova maintained the form she found in Madrid with an encouraging three-set win over talented Australian Ashleigh Barty.

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Maria Sharapova produced a determined display to see off Ashleigh Barty 7-5 3-6 6-2 and set up a second round meeting with Dominika Cibulkova at the Italian Open.

The Russian found form for the first time this year during an impressive run to the last eight in Madrid, and she picked up where she left off in Rome.

After both players battled to holds in their opening service games, Sharapova forged ahead by breaking in game three.

The set then progressed smoothly for the Russian until she served for it at 5-4. She hit a backhand into the net and made a couple of forehand errors to go down 0-40. Barty took advantage. She manoeuvred her way to the net and put away an easy smash to seal the break.

However, the Australian wasted her return to parity. She made two double-faults to gift Sharapova a break point, and the five-time Grand Slam champion finished a brilliant point with a stunning cross-court forehand winner to take it, before holding to seal the set.

Barty fought back superbly in the second set. She used her extensive range of shots and her excellent court coverage to fight for every point and almost went up a break in game four.

Sharapova saved four break points on that occasion but the Australian was not deterred. She finally broke the Russian in game six before saving three break points to establish a 5-2 lead.

After Barty clinched the second set with a gutsy hold, neither player gave any quarter at the start of the decider, and consequently the first three games took 23 minutes to conclude.

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All three went with serve, although both Sharapova and Barty had to save three break points apiece to keep it that way.

After those gruelling games, the Russian seemed to free up. She unleashed some huge trademark strikes to break her Australian opponent in game four, and then blazed her way to an easy hold.

Suddenly Sharapova was just two games away from progressing. She dominated her next service game to go 5-2 up, and then produced a succession of huge groundstrokes to break Barty for victory.

Sharapova feeling content

After the win, Sharapova told wtatennis.com, “This tournament has been special in my career, and brought me some great matches. I’m a little bit more relieved this year…and just playing, and not worrying about anything else, which is nice.”

“The beauty of what we do is you don’t know until you go out and you play. Sometimes, you feel your best and you play great and you come out losing the match, and sometimes you don’t play so well and you come out winning the match.”

The Russian also praised her opponent. “It’s been a while since I played her, and she’s always been a very tough opponent for me to play. We’ve always had very difficult matches,” Sharapova said.

“She made me hit a lot of balls, and that’s the reason why she’s doing so well, seeded here and had the results that she has.”

No trouble for Svitolina

Defending champion Elina Svitolina breezed into the third round with a 6-1 6-2 demolition of Petra Martic in just 62 minutes. She dominated the match from start to finish and broke her Croatian opponent twice in each set.

The World No.4 will now play either Daria Kasatkina or Danielle Collins after the Russian thrashed Alja Tomljanovic 6-0 6-4 and the American qualifier upset Sorana Cirstea 6-3 4-6 6-4.

Elsewhere in Rome, Angelique Kerber edged out Zarina Diyas 6-2 7-6(6), Elena Vesnina beat Laura Siegemund 7-6(5) 6-2 and Timea Babos took out Sara Errani 6-3 7-6(6).

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Ekaterina Makarova Blows Past Pliskova In New Haven Upset

The No. 4 seed faded badly in both sets.

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Ekaterina Makarova (zimbio.com)

Ekaterina Makarova had her way with Karolina Pliskova, dominating the first set and storming back in the second to hand the No. 4 seed a 6-1, 6-3 loss in the first round in Connecticut on Monday.

Pliskova had rebounded from an atrocious first set to play well in the second set and generate more opportunities, but it slipped away from her at 3-4. Makarova built a 0-30 lead there, then earned break point and smashed several forehands until one down the line finally outdid Pliskova.

The Russian, ranked 49th in the world, found some trouble while serving out the match, but slammed two aces from 30-30 to book her place in the second round.

“I’m very happy that I got through,” Makarova said on-court. “Today was a very good match for me. I was a little bit relaxed. It was going good.”

Makarova had a clear edge statistically, putting 71 percent of first serves in play compared to fewer than half for Pliskova. The No. 4 seed won a putrid 32 percent of second serve points and saved only one of five break points; Makarova staved off all three break chances she faced.

The 30-year-old, who won the Cincinnati doubles title with Lucie Hradecka last week, hit 22 winners, while Pliskova was underwater with 14 winners and 21 unforced errors.

She was especially dominant in the first set, winning the final six games. Pliskova handed her an insurance break and the set — first with a forehand return the Czech didn’t bother returning, then a double fault on set point — and lost the last 10 points on her serve. Makarova won 18 of the last 20 points in the set.

She will next meet Magdalena Rybarikova, who advanced after CoCo Vandeweghe retired midway through the third set on Sunday.

Also Monday, Johanna Konta saw off Laura Siegemund with a 6-2, 7-5 win. The Briton won the first three games, faced just two break points and hit six aces. She lost an early break in the second set and failed to convert three break chances at 4-4, but capitalized at 5-5 when Siegemund paired a double fault with a bad forehand from deuce.

Konta then fended off a break point before securing the win, setting up a second round match with Carla Suárez Navarro, who beat No. 8 seed Barbora Strycova on Sunday.

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Former Champions Radwanska and Kvitova Set To Meet In Stacked New Haven Draw

Former champions Agnieszka Radwanska and Petra Kvitova will face each other in the first round of the Connecticut Open.

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Petra Kvitova (zimbio.com)

Former champions of the Connecticut Open, Agnieszka Radwanska and Petra Kvitova are set to meet in the first round of a stacked draw in New Haven. 

This year’s draw sees five of the top ten players in New Haven in a very stacked draw in Connecticut. This is the first time this has happened since 2006 as the world number one, Simona Halep leads the field.

The Romanian is having her best season of her career and is currently in the semi-finals of Cincinnati after winning Montreal. So it would be no surprise if she decided to take a week’s rest in preparation for the US Open, however if she does play she will face a qualifier in her second round contest.

Other highlights from the New Haven draw sees two former champions battle it out as Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska battles Petra Kvitova. The Czech Republican is in some sensational form as well as she is into the last four in Cincinnati.

This is completely different form to her opponent, who has been struggling with injuries and form. Despite the Pole knocking off the current world number one earlier this season, she hasn’t really pushed on from that and has only won 13 of her 24 matches this season. So how will Radwanska respond to yet another rough draw in Connecticut?

Other highlights of the draw see defending champion, Daria Gavrilova take on Kristina Mladenovic in the first round, with the winner awaiting Caroline Garcia. While 7th seed Kiki Bertens will face Anett Kontaveit in a Cincinnati rematch, which Bertens won in three sets.

Here is the full draw, with play set to begin on Sunday:

Simona Halep v BYE

Qualifier v Qualifier

Qualifier v Aryna Sabalenka

Irina-Camelia Begu v Ashleigh Barty

Karolina Pliskova v Ekaterina Makarova

Magdalena Rybarikova v Coco Vandeweghe

Qualifier v Danielle Collins

Barbora Strycova v Carla Suarez Navarro

Laura Siegemund v Johanna Konta 

Maria Sakkari v Qualifier

Agnieszka Radwanska v Petra Kvitova 

Kiki Bertens v Anett Kontaveit

Qualifier v Timea Bacsinszky 

Daria Gavrilova v Kristina Mladenovic 

BYE v Caroline Garcia 

 

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Simona Halep Secures Seventh Straight Win To Reach Cincinnati Last Eight

Simona Halep won her seventh consecutive match with a straight sets victory over Ashleigh Barty.

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Simona Halep (zimbio.com)

World number one, Simona Halep defeated Ashleigh Barty 7-5 6-4 to secure her seventh consecutive win and reach the quarter-finals in Cincinnati. 

The Romanian recovered from a break down in the first set as Barty started off the match quickly, catching her higher ranked opponent off guard. The world number one eased to holds of serve after getting back on serve as she protected her forehand angles perfectly. The Australian was looking to avoid the same outcome of their Montreal match last week as she effectively dictated points from the back of the court on her serve.

However the top seed proved too much and broke in the eleventh game much to her relief as her forehand once again paid dividends. The Montreal champion wrapped up the opening set in 46 minutes to gain a one set lead on Barty. The second set was similar as Barty gained an early break of serve with the Australian temporarily snatching the momentum back.

However the world number 16 was up against one of the best returners in the game and lost her serve twice in a row to hand the advantage back to Halep. The Roland Garros champion had to fend off a late surge from Barty but eventually sealed her place in the quarter-finals with her first match point.

A seventh consecutive win for Halep and a second victory over Barty proves that she is in her best form of her career as she believes in her ability to beat anyone. The Romanian will now face Lesia Tsurenko in the last eight later today.

In the rest of the third results on Thursday, Elina Svitolina proved too much for 16 year old Amanda Anisimova as she sealed a 6-4 6-4 victory over the American. The Ukrainian broke at the end of each set to seal her place in the quarter-finals. She will now play Kiki Bertens, who secured 6-3 2-6 6-3 victory over Anett Kontaveit serving down eight aces. It is now back to back quarter-finals for Bertens after a strong showing in Montreal.

Here is the full quarter-final line-up, with play beginning later on Thursday:

Simona Halep v Lesia Tsurenko

Madison Keys v Aryna Sabalenka

Petra Kvitova v Elise Mertens

Elina Svitolina v Kiki Bertens

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