French Open Day 14 Preview: The Women’s Final - UBITENNIS
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French Open Day 14 Preview: The Women’s Final

Sloane Stephens in 6-0 in tournament finals. Simona Halep is 0-3 in major finals. Will both of those streaks be extended or extinguished?

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Simona Halep (zimbio.com)

World Number One Simona Halep has a lot of demons to exercise on Saturday, especially Parisian ones.  Twice before she’s made it to this stage of the French Open, and twice before has fell just short of the finish line.

Four years ago, she played an over three-hour, grueling final against Maria Sharapova, losing 6-4 in the third. That loss in her first major final was tantalizing, yet digestible.  It was her loss here last year that was a real crusher. She was up a set and a break against a 20-year-old who had never won a WTA title of any kind, yet still went down in defeat. And just this year in Melbourne, she survived match points in two separate prolonged battles, as well as an ankle injury, yet lost another three-set major final 6-4 in the third.  Despite all of that baggage, Simona continues to get right back on her feet and put herself into a winning position again. She’s now held the number one ranking for the better part of the past year, and finds herself in her third final out of the last five majors. The top-ranked player now leads the tour with 34 wins in 2018. Can Simona finally have her Grand Slam moment?  Or will she join a list of players to lose their first four major finals, which includes Ivan Lendl, Kim Clijsters, and Andy Murray? If you’re Simona, that list should relieve some tension from your body on Saturday, as those three players all went on to win multiple majors. If she were to lose today, all hope is not lost. In the semifinals on Friday, she brought her best stuff and outhit an in-form Garbine Muguruza in impressive fashion.  But can she do the same for two full sets in today’s final?

Newly-Anointed American Number One Sloane Stephens’ comeback story is pretty remarkable.  A year ago, she was just returning to the court after missing almost a full year of tennis due to a foot injury.  Strangely enough, it was following a loss to Halep in Washington DC last summer when she went on a 15-2 run on the North American hard courts, including a shocking run to her first major title.  Then she startlingly went on an eight-match losing streak from September of last year until February of this year. A return to the USA helped Sloane get her groove back, as she won her first Premier Mandatory event in Miami.  And after a lackluster clay court season, she’s now found success outside of the US, and is into her second major final. Sloane does not shrink on big occasions such as this: in fact, she plays her best tennis.

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Halep has a 5-2 edge in their head-to-head, and has prevailed the last four times they played.  That dates back to their only meeting at Roland Garros in 2014. On clay, Halep is 2-0. All seven of their matches have been straights sets, which is not shocking considering how streaky Stephens can be, as well as Halep’s old tendency to go away when she’s down early in a match.  That old habit can still pop up from time to time, though Simona has put a lot of mental energy into correcting that pattern. Exhibit A would be her quarterfinal comeback against Angelique Kerber after going down two breaks to start that match.

Both players have similar games: great defensive skills, a low number of unforced errors, and high-percentage offense at the right times.  However, the deciding factor in this match may go beyond the X’s and O’s. It may come down to who can play more freely at the decisive moments, and history shows Stephens is the much more likely candidate for that role.  Halep is the more likely candidate to have an off day following a top-notch semifinal effort, especially under the weight of this occasion. All things considered, the result here is very much in doubt. In yet another Grand Slam event, the women’s draw has been more unpredictable and intriguing.  Hopefully we get a high-quality final, but we’re guaranteed an emotional one.

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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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