Comment: Simona Halep's Tenacity Too Much For Stephens' 'Easy Power' - UBITENNIS
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Comment: Simona Halep’s Tenacity Too Much For Stephens’ ‘Easy Power’

Tennis columnist James Beck looks back at the French Open women’s final.

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Sloane Stephens (zimbio.com)

Sloane Stephens looked invincible, her game not penetrable by Simona Halep’s smaller tennis game. Stephens was totally in her comfort zone as she appeared to be headed for a second Grand Slam tournament championship in less than a year. She was up 6-4, 2-0 in Saturday’s French Open women’s final. What could Halep do with her smaller package of dynamite? Stephens’ armor appeared to be too strong. When Stephens needed to win a big point, she could just ramp up her “easy power”, and Halep was virtually helpless.

EASY POWER TOO EASY

Stephens made things look so easy. Her ground strokes were flawlessly deep and penetrating. She didn’t have to go for winners. Stephens glided around the court, seemingly unflappable as she appeared to be wearing Halep into submission when she came up with a service break to start the second set. At that time,  Stephens simply appeared to be the best player in the women’s game.

Then, it happened. Stephens netted a backhand that snapped her four-game winning streak.

Just like that, Stephens snapped. She no longer could win the pressure point. When she tried to turn up the amps, her feet, and hands and arms wouldn’t cooperate. They were getting the wrong messages from Stephens’ mental side. Everything looked tired.

THE TIDE CHANGES

The tide had changed for Stephens. The 25-year-old American suddenly didn’t get set up for backhands. Backhand balls started to consistently fly left off her racket, outside the lines. She even missed an open court to two.

Plus, Stephens’ somewhat lazy habit of reaching out in front of her without moving her feet forward to set up had  looked a bit suspect in the first 10 games. And now that habit became a liability for Stephens.

The footwork had been good enough to keep Halep pinned deep on the baseline until Stephens could find an opening to exploit. That habit started producing balls that sailed over the baseline as Halep applied more pressure and power to her game. Stephens no longer could keep Halep’s relentless attack at bay.

Halep started flying around the court, making Stephens hit extra balls. Stephens couldn’t seem to put away shots, not even easy ones. Halep was everywhere, covering the red clay court like a blanket.

PANIC ARRIVES

Indecision started showing on Stephens’ once calm face. She didn’t panic for awhile, not even when she was dropping two straight love games to fall behind 3-2 in the second set.

But after Stephens got back to 4-4, she dropped back-to-back games that had been 30-30 to allow Halep to win the first set, and then lost four close games to start the third set. Stephens was in deep panic mode by then. She was far out of her comfort mode.

NO KEYS TO THE RESCUE

Madison Keys wasn’t on the other side of the net to donate points to Stephens with over-aggressiveness as she had been against Stephens in the semifinals and in last year’s U.S. Open final.

Trim, little 5-6, 130-pound Simona Halep wouldn’t give up even one point without a gallant fight. There were no free points for Stephens. No rest. No comfort.

Halep is as relentless as any player in the game, just smaller than most. But she has a giant heart.

This 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 breakthrough in a Grand Slam should push the Romanian fireball to new heights, even greater than her current No. 1 world ranking.

James Beck is the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his Post and Courier columns at

http://www.postandcourier.com/search/?l=25&sd=desc&s=start_time&f=html&t=article%2Cvideo%2Cyoutube%2Ccollection&app=editorial&q=james+beck&nsa=eedition

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Frances Tiafoe: America’s Next Big Hope

The 21-year-old is enjoying his best ever run in a grand slam at the Australian Open, but how much of a talent in he?

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Prior to the Australian Open Frances Tiafoe had only won five matches in 11 appearances at a grand slam tournament. Now a dream run at Melbourne Park has made him the youngest American man to reach a major quarter-final since 2003.

Recently celebrating his 21st birthday, Tiafoe has produced wins over both Kevin Anderson and Grigor Dimitrov to reach the last eight in Melbourne. Illustrating the talent he has on the court. After each triumph, his celebrations are inspired by NBA superstar Lebron James where he would mimic the ‘too strong’ bicep slap. Something that could feature regularly in his matches for years to come.

“You like that? It was pretty cool,” Tiafoe commented about his celebration earlier this week.
“It is kind of instinct thing,” he added. “I hope the crowd liked it.”

Tiafoe’s route into tennis is far from ordinary. His parents fled to America in order to escape the civil war in Sierra Leone. They only managed to enter the country by coming through the Green Card Lottery. A system where the US government allocated a total of 55,000 visas worldwide to countries with low immigration rates to America. Tiafoe learned to play tennis at a club in Maryland, where his father worked as a maintenance man before becoming a on-site custodian. During his childhood, he would stay with his father, who was given accommodation on site.

“I obviously wasn’t a normal tennis story. The beginning of my career, I was playing for them, trying to do everything for my family. Obviously now I put them in a great place. Now I’m trying to do it for me.” He said following his fourth round win in Melbourne.
“I’m not saying you can’t make it if you grew up from a wealthy situation. I mean, a ton of people have. But obviously that gave me an incentive, a reason to give, a reason to work every day, understand why you do it.” He added.

Those familiar with the career of the American will not be too surprised by his Australian Open breakthrough. As a junior Tiafoe showed promise by winning the prestigious Orange Bowl at the age of 15. Becoming the tournaments youngest ever champion. Two years later, he became the youngest American man to feature in the French Open main draw since 1989. In 2018 he reached his first two ATP finals, winning his maiden title in Delray Beach.

Blessed with a big aggressive game and fast serve, Tiafoe’s rise hasn’t gone unnoticed by his rivals on the tour. So far in his career, he has scored three wins over top 10 players. Including Juan Martin del Potro, who was his idol whilst growing up.

“He’s great as a team player. He’s going to be amazing. He can only get better from now on for him.” Dimitrov said of the 21-year-old. “It’s just a long way to go. I know how is it to break ground on those first tournaments, especially a slam and all that”
“He really needs to just stay calm and make sure he follows the right path. That’s pretty much the only advice I can give him on that end. Obviously he’s done something well so far. He’s progressing, playing better. Those things are already adding up.”

Whilst on the right path, future success on the tour is by no means guaranteed. There has been a lot of talk in Melbourne concerning the changing of the guard following the successes of Tiafoe and fellow next gen star Stefanos Tsitsipas. Although consistency on the tour remains a challenge for Tiafoe, who last won four consecutive matches in a tournament back in May.

“Perth was terrible, Sydney was bad.” Tiafoe reflected about his start to 2019.

Despite his lacklustre run of results in recent time, some of the biggest names in the sport are starting to take note. Something that is exciting American tennis fans and their hunt for a male grand slam champion. The last player from the country to win a major title was Andre Agassi at the 2003 US Open.

“He has everything. He’s quick. He serves well. Very quick forehand. He’s a very dynamic player, aggressive one. Of course, he’s dangerous.” 14-time grand slam champion Rafael Nadal said of Tiafoe.

Nothing is ever certain in life, but there are signs that Tiafoe might be starting to live up to the hype that has been said about him through his young career. His performance against Nadal in the Australian Open quarter-final may seen pivotal, but in reality it is how he fairs on the tour for the rest of the year.

Tiafoe is certainly a star in the making, but only time will tell if he can reach the top of the men’s game.

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Accusations, Arguments and Threats: Australian Tennis Under Pressure At Home Grand Slam

It is meant to be the best time of the year for Australian tennis players and officials, but not everybody is celebrating.

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The Rod Laver Arena (photo by chryslène caillaud, copyright : @Sport Vision

Usually the talk in the home country of a grand slam is centred around how the national players are performing. However, at the Australian Open it is frustration, anger and a continuous war of words.

It all started earlier this week when Bernard Tomic launched a somewhat unexpected attack on Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt. Following his first round loss, Tomic accused the former world No.1 of having a negative impact on his national association and went as far as saying that ‘no one likes him.’ A somewhat unsurprising dialogue when you look at their complex history.

“I thought he (Hewitt) was retired,” he said at Melbourne Park following his defeat.
“I’m going to say it honestly, no one likes him anymore. He’s playing Davis Cup. I thought he was retired. He’s playing all these matches and stuff like this.
“He used to hate Tennis Australia,” Tomic added, referring to Australia’s tennis body. “It’s weird. And now he loves them. What’s happened here?”

To make the situation even more tense, the News corporation of Australia revealed that Tomic even threatened his compatriot two years ago following a deterioration in their friendship. He told the agency ‘Two years ago, I said ‘If he ever tries to talk to me, I’ll knock him out.’

The timing of the feud is somewhat unfortunate, but the matter in itself is unsurprising. Tomic, who is a former top 20 player, is known for his blunt and outspoken comments. Previously criticising the new type of balls used at the Australian Open.

Whilst the 26-year-old is a critic of Hewitt, others have jumped to his defence. Nick Kyrgios, who is no stranger to controversy himself, said there was ‘not really’ a rift between him and the Davis Cup captain. Contradicting earlier claims made by his compatriot.

“I don’t know what to say. I don’t have a big deal with anything. I’ve always wanted to play Davis Cup. I love Davis Cup … I’m available. That’s all I got to say,” he said.
“I think (the focus on these issues) is ridiculous, to be honest. With all the issues that are going on in the world, we’re focusing on someone’s comments about Davis Cup. It’s pretty sad.”

Hewitt is playing in the men’s doubles this week, despite announcing his retirement from the sport three years ago. In recent times he has made a habit of staging mini comebacks to the tour to play in doubles tournaments. Something Tomic has claimed is done for financial gain and takes away the opportunity of a young player receiving a wildcard. Participants in the doubles draw will earn at least $10,500 for playing in the first round.

“We made the semi-finals (in Sydney) and came within a whisker of making the final so I don’t see what the problem is,” said doubles partner Jordan Thompson.
“Sort it out behind closed doors.”

Unanswered questions

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Wally Mansur is the performance boss of Tennis Australia. Asked about his opinion on the issue, the 55-year-old believes a meeting between all of the involved parties is the best solution. Expressing concern that the incident is damaging their public image.

“What I want to get away from is the public tennis game, it being played out in the press,” Masur said.
“I’d rather those guys got in a room and they sort it out privately … and I think there’s a chance.
“The tournament is in full swing. I wouldn’t say it’s on both of their agendas at the moment but it would be something I am keen to explore.”

Whilst Mansur is keen to play down the fiasco, there are still concerns. Echoed by Thanasi Kokkinakis, who replied ‘I’m not answering that’ when asked if he supported Hewitt’s captaincy. Meanwhile, Matthew Ebden has also voiced his concerns.

“There’s clearly some issues that need to be addressed with the players and Tennis Australia, with Davis Cup and the players and the group as a whole.” Said Ebden.

Perhaps the only comforting thing in this situation is the performance of the Woman. Both Ashleigh Barty and Sam Stosur have been quick to point out that the problem is linked solely to the men’s side.

“They’ve got their issues. We don’t have anything to do with what the men do,” Stosur told reporters.
“It would be a shame if it put a dampener on things as a whole.
“The women’s side is in a really good spot. We all really genuinely support each other and like to see each other do well.
“We haven’t had a problem for a very long time so we must be doing something alright.”

As things currently stand, Hewitt will remain Davis Cup captain for the foreseeable future.

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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.

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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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