The WTA Q2 Report Card Of 2018 - UBITENNIS
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The WTA Q2 Report Card Of 2018

How did your favourite player on the women’s Tour fair during the second quarter of 2018?

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Ubitennis examines the performances of the most notable players from the second quarter of the season, as well as their prospects heading into Q3.

Simona Halep

Much like Caroline Wozniacki in Q1, Halep finally silenced the doubters and naysayers by winning her first Major in Q2. Will her Roland Garros title satisfy Halep, or will it release the pressure and allow her to play more freely in search of a second Major title? I’m banking on the latter, though the grass courts are Halep’s weakest surface. Although, Simona has reached the quarterfinals or better at The All England Club in three of the last four years, so her Wimbledon chances should not be discounted. Last year in the quarterfinals, she was just one match away from going atop the rankings for the first time, but lost to Britain’s Johanna Konta. The summer hard courts will be a good opportunity for the women’s number one to extend her ranking lead. Halep currently leads by over 1,200 points in the 52-week rankings, and has more than a 1,700 point edge in the year-to-date rankings. Simona should easily gain points at the US Open, following her first round loss last year to Maria Sharapova. With bitter defeats in her mind from last year’s Wimbledon and US Open, Q3 may see Halep conquer some more demons from her past.

Petra Kvitova

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Sitting right behind Halep in the year-to-date rankings is Kvitova, who leads the tour with five titles in 2018, three of which came in Q2. Petra won back-to-back titles for the second time this year by taking the trophies in Prague and Madrid. Her French Open performance was a bit disappointing, going down in the third round to Anett Kontaveit. But Kvitova bounced right back on the grass, as she usually does, by winning her fifth title of the year in Birmingham. This past week, she withdrew from Eastbourne due to a hamstring injury. Getting some rest heading into Wimbledon is a smart move by Petra, and I consider her the favorite to win her third Wimbledon title as long as she’s healthy. While the North American hard court swing has never been her strongest time of the season, she’s now made the quarters at the US Open in two of the last three years. Kvitova has never been higher than two in the world, but she has a shot at catching Halep if she can sustain her Q1 and Q2 success through the rest of the year.

Sloane Stephens

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Stephens was just 4-4 during the WTA clay court season heading into Roland Garros, yet she solidified herself as a top contender at the Majors by making her second Major final in Paris. She was up a set and break, but ran out of steam and was unable to close out Halep in the final. That was actually the first tournament final Stephens has lost on tour. Stephens did not play a grass court warm-up event, so I’m curious to see if she can carry her momentum into Wimbledon. She did make the quarters there in 2013. Looking ahead, the summer hard court season will bring with it a lot of pressure for Sloane. She’ll have 2,700 points to defend from her semifinal appearances in Toronto and Cincinnati, and of course her US Open title. It will be extremely challenging for Stephens to back up those results, and her ranking will likely fall from her current career-high spot at number four in the world.

Caroline Wozniacki

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Caroline had a predictable letdown following her maiden Major title in Melbourne, and didn’t make another tournament final until just this weekend, when she won her second title on the grass of Eastbourne. That confidence boost was much needed, especially considering Wimbledon is the only Major where Wozniacki has not been farther than the fourth round. The US Open will likely be the next Major where she has a legitimate shot at the title: Caroline is a two-time finalist in New York. The current world number two is 2,000 points behind Halep in the year-to-date rankings, so she’ll need a big Q3 if she wants to make a run at regaining the top ranking, which she held for a few weeks in Q1.

Garbine Muguruza

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After a slow Q1, Muguruza won the title in Monterrey during the first week of Q2. That victory did not translate into further success on the European clay until the French Open. Muguruza had her swagger back in Paris, and appeared prone to take her second Roland Garros title, until she was thwarted by eventual champion Simona Halep in the semifinals. Garbine is the defending Wimbledon champion, but did not get off to a good start on the grass. She was defeated in her second match at Birmingham by Barbora Strycova. While no player goes from cold to hot (and back) as often as Muguruza, she’s yet to successfully defend a title in her career, and has never won two titles at the same event. Garbine’s also never looked fully comfortable playing in New York: her fourth round appearance there last year was her best-to-date, and she’s only 5-5 lifetime at the US Open. With almost 4,000 points to defend in Q3, the current world number three will likely see her ranking slide considerably in the coming months.

Madison Keys

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Keys started off Q2 with a nice run to the semis in Charleston, but proceeded to lose in her opening round of both Stuttgart and Madrid. After winning her first two matches in Rome, she had to withdraw from her round of 16 match against Simona Halep due to a rib injury. So it was pretty surprising when she won ten straight sets to reach her first semifinal at Roland Garros, falling to fellow American Sloane Stephens in a rematch of last year’ US Open final. Madison then withdrew from Birmingham due to the same injury that forced her out of Rome. If Keys is healthy, she could be a legitimate threat at Wimbledon. Her game is perfectly suited for grass, and she reached the quarterfinals at SW19 three years ago. Unfortunately, her Q3 results will likely be dictated by her health, and it’s fair at this point to declare Keys as being injury-prone. Let’s hope she can get healthy in time to defend her run to the final last year in New York. I’d like to see how she’d perform there following last year’s career highlight which ended with a disappointing performance in the final.

Eilina Svitolina

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I could basically copy and paste what I wrote about Svitolina in Q1, and the quarter before that, and the quarter before that. She continues to keep herself in the top five with tournament victories outside the Majors, like her Q2 win in Rome. That was her third title of 2018, and the second year in a row she won the Italy’s Premier 5 event. Yet in Paris, she went out meekly in the third round to Mihaela Buzarnescu. She then lost again to Buzarnescu on the grass of Birmingham. I don’t like Svitolina’s chances at Wimbledon, where she’s just 5-5 in her career. She’ll look to defend another title at the Rogers Cup in August, but I’m much more interested to see when Elina can finally advance passed the quarterfinals at a Major. It seems only a matter of time, though it’s already taken longer than I expected.

Maria Sharapova

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Sharapova finally found some consistency and regained some momentum in Q2. In Madrid, Rome, and Paris, she picked up ten match wins. This run was highlighted her over three-hour quarterfinal battle against Jelena Ostapenko. After crushing Karolina Pliskova at Roland Garros 6-2, 6-1, she was subsequently crushed by Muguruza in the quarterfinals by the same scoreline. This will be Sharapova’s first appearance at Wimbledon in three years, when she reached the semifinals at The Championships. I’m sure she’ll be determined to prove she can still be a factor at the year’s most prestigious Major. But it may be the summer hard courts where Sharapova really shines. As her ranking continues to rise, she’ll of course receive more favorable draws. Q2 was the longest stretch in several years that Maria has looked healthy and confident, and she’ll be a force in Q3 if that continues. With less than 500 points to defend between July and September, look for Sharapova to make a big jump up the rankings.

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Dominic Thiem Ousts Rafael Nadal For Maiden Australian Open Semi-Final

Dominic Thiem edged out world number one Rafael Nadal in four sets to reach his first Australian Open semi-final.

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Dominic Thiem (@AustralianOpen - Twitter)

Dominic Thiem edged out Rafael Nadal 7-6(3) 7-6(4) 4-6 7-6(6) to reach the Australian Open semi-finals for the first time. 

 

In a stunning performance, Thiem eventually held his nerve to win all three tiebreaks in the match and secure a place in the last four.

The result means Nadal will lose his world number one if Novak Djokovic can win an eighth Australian Open title in Melbourne.

As for the Austrian, he will meet Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals on Friday.

In a rematch of the Roland Garros final, it was Thiem who had the more aggressive start to the match as he was red-lining the ball across the court and created break point opportunities.

Nadal’s clutch serving remained crucial though to survive the Austrian’s early surge. This was important as Nadal would soon show why he has won 20 grand slam titles as he played his best tennis when it mattered.

A good mix of pace and variety troubled Thiem as the Spaniard earned the first break of the match for a 5-3 lead in the opening set.

Despite the early setback, the Austrian continued to raise his level especially on the backhand side, producing a lot of winners. A forehand return winner sealed the break back immediately on his third opportunity.

Both men would continue to cancel each other out with insane cross-court angles as the opening set went to a tiebreak.

Dominating from the baseline, the 5th seed took control and wrapped up the opening set 7-6(3) in 68 gruelling minutes.

In the second set, Nadal continued to be the aggressor especially on the forehand as he realised how crucial the set was going to be.

An increased amount in unforced errors for Thiem proved costly as the world number one opened up a 4-2 lead in the second set.

But once again, Thiem struck back as a loose and nervy game from the Spaniard saw the Austrian level up at 4-4 in a tense point in the match.

Another tiebreak loomed as Thiem failed to take his chances after Nadal’s uncharacteristic unforced errors. However he didn’t make the same mistakes in the tiebreak as a net cord-forehand combination secured three consecutive points and a two set lead.

A two set advantage was a comfortable lead for Thiem but it doesn’t guarantee victory especially against one of the best competitors tennis has ever seen.

A cleaner set was produced from Nadal as he dug in deep to hold his service games and create some opportunities to break especially off the forehand.

Eventually those opportunities came as a tentative Thiem service game saw Nadal create two set points. A netted baseline shot from the world number 5 saw the Spaniard grab the third set as he roared in delight to the packed Rod Laver Arena crowd.

The momentum was now firmly with Nadal, who had better intensity as the forehand was firing against Thiem’s defensive skills.

However the Austrian’s mental strength has improved and he managed to overcome the Nadal storm by saving two break points as well as gaining the immediate break advantage.

There was trouble for the world number one now as Thiem’s serve was improving as he continued to outsmart and outpower the Spaniard.

Threats of a double break were quickly snuffed out by the 2009 champion and that would soon cost Thiem as he couldn’t serve out the match. The world number one took advantage of the Austrian’s nerves to break for 5-5.

Both men held their nerve afterwards to force a fourth set tiebreak, the third of the day. Yet again it would be Thiem who would win the tie-break as he booked his place in a maiden Australian Open semi-final.

It was a stunning performance which now sees him meet good friend Alexander Zverev for a place in the final. As for Nadal his search for a second Australian Open title continues and could still lose his world number one ranking should Novak Djokovic win his eighth title in Melbourne.

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Australian Open Day 10 Preview: The Quarter-Finals Conclude

Wednesday is highlighted by a rematch of the French Open final from the last two years.

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Rafael Nadal (@atptour - Twitter)

By Matthew Marolf 

 

Rafael Nadal is one win away from securing his world No.1 ranking, though I’m sure he’s much more concerned with being three wins away from winning his record-tying 20th Major title. But standing in his way today is an opponent who has beaten him many times before. The other men’s quarter-final features the 2014 champion and a Next Gen standout who has excelled on the ATP tour, but is yet to make a deep run at a Major. On the women’s side, we have a pair of two-time Major champions against two women looking to reach their first Slam semi-final.

Rafael Nadal (1) vs. Dominic Thiem (5)

This is a marquee quarterfinal between two top five seeds. Nadal leads their head-to-head 9-4, with all but one of those matches taking place on clay. Their only hard court meeting was certainly a memorable one. In the 2018 US Open quarterfinals, they played for almost five hours, and past 2:00am, in a match decided by a fifth-set tiebreak.  Thiem should take a lot of positives from that encounter despite the loss, and he’s only improved his hard court game since that time.

Dominic has won four hard court titles in the past 16 months, including the Masters 1000 event at Indian Wells. And just two months ago, he reached the championship match at the ATP Finals, with wins over Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. This is his first time advancing to the quarters in Australia, but this run is not surprising based on his recent hard court resume. The slower courts in Melbourne this year work to Dominic’s favour, though Rafa will like that temperatures are forecast to rise over the next few days. But with this being a night match, it’ll get rather cool as this match goes on. Nadal has looked good through four rounds here, and passed a stern test supplied by Nick Kyrgios two days ago. However, I think this may be Thiem’s time to shine. He was oh-so-close to beating Nadal in their last hard court match, and he’s a much-improved player since hiring Nicolas Massu as his coach. In what will surely be a highly-competitive affair, I’m tipping Thiem to pull off the upset.

Sascha Zverev (7) vs. Stan Wawrinka (15)

Alexander Zverev (@usopen)

Can this be true? Zverev, who has historically become entangled in long matches during the first week of Majors, has won four rounds here without dropping a set. It’s even more startling when you consider he went 0-3 at the ATP Cup to start the year, where he had terrible troubles with his serve. In his post-match interview on Monday, he spoke of how finding peace in his personal life has lead to good results on court. The 22-year-old has reached his third Slam quarterfinal, and his first off clay. He’ll certainly be the fresher player today, as Stan not only battled an illness last week, but has already played two five-setters.

That includes his comeback victory over Daniil Medvedev two days ago. And Zverev is 2-0 against Wawrinka, with both victories coming on hard courts. But this is a case where experience at this stage of a Major will be crucial, and Stan has plenty of that. This is his fifth quarter-final in Melbourne, and his 18th at all four Majors. Wawrinka has proven himself to be a big-match player, and excels in the best-of-five format. As improved as Zverev’s serve has been this fortnight, Wawrinka remains the bolder and more aggressive player, which is usually critical in matches like this. With that in mind, I like Stan’s chances to return to the Australian Open semi-finals for the first time in three years.

Simona Halep (4) vs. Anett Kontaveit (30)

Simona Halep (@AustralianOpen – Twitter)

The 24-year-old Kontaveit has been a rising WTA star for a few years now, but she appears ready for her big breakthrough. This run has literally come out of nowhere, as an illness forced her to withdraw from the US Open and miss the rest of the 2019 season. Her coach, Nigel Sears, told the media that she was hospitalized for a week and had to undergo surgery. This resulted in a substantial weight loss, and a lack of activity for three or four months. But here she is into her first Major quarter-final, thanks to some impressive play. She dropped just one game to the sixth seed, Belinda Bencic, and came back from a set down to claim a tight match over a talented teenager, Iga Swiatek.

But today Kontaveit runs into an in-form Halep, who has reunited with Darren Cahill and is yet to drop a set at this event. These two players have similar, all-around games, though Halep is a bit more consistent, and a bit more skilled defensively. And Simona is 2-0 against Anett, having comfortably won the four sets they’ve played.  Halep should be favoured to reach her second semi-final in Melbourne.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (30) vs. Garbine Muguruza

Garbine Muguruza (@WeAreTennis – Twitter)

Speaking of Roland Garros and Wimbledon champions in good form, Garbine Muguruza is back. She seems to be rejuvenated with Conchita Martinez back as her coach. When her former coach, Sam Sumyk, missed Wimbledon a few years ago to undergo a medical procedure, Conchita filled in, and coached Muguruza to the title. Garbine split with Sumyk during the offseason, and is playing her best tennis in a few years with Martinez as a full-time coach.

But guess who Sumyk coaches now? That would be Pavlyuchenkova.  This union has also paid immediate dividends, though the 28-year-old Russian has been playing great tennis since the fall. Pavlyuchenkova outplayed a game Angelique Kerber on Monday, extending her record in the fourth round of Majors to 6-1. The problem is she’s 0-5 in Slam quarter-finals. And she’s 1-4 against Muguruza, with the only win coming via a Garbine retirement. Muguruza just has a bit more game than Pavlyuchenkova, and she’s been on fire since overcoming an illness last week. Garbine took out two top 10 seeds in the last two rounds, via scores of 6-1, 6-2, 6-3, and 6-3. While Sumyk will certainly have some sage advance for how to play against Muguruza, I don’t see it being enough considering Garbine’s current level.

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(VIDEO) Roger Federer Pulls Off Houdini Act To Set 50th Djokovic Meeting

Ubitennis is joined by Rene Stauffer to discuss Roger Federer’s miraculous win over Tennys Sandgren at the Australian Open.

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Roger Federer (@atptour - Twitter)

It was another dramatic day at the Australian Open as Roger Federer pulled off a miraculous comeback to edge out Tennys Sandgren 6-3 2-6 2-6 7-6(8) 6-3 to reach the Australian Open semi-finals. The Swiss saved 7 match points as he survived the three and a half hour clash to set up a 50th meeting with Novak Djokovic. Below Ubaldo Scanagatta and Rene Stauffer discuss Federer’s miraculous win against Sandgren. 

 

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