Sloane Stephens Kicks Off US Open Title Defence With A Win
It was a good day at the office for the third seed in New York.
Reigning champion Sloane Stephens has resumed her winning run at the US Open with a 6-1, 7-5, win over Russia’s Evgeniya Rodina in the first round.
Stephens, 25, required just 78 minutes to get past her Russian opponent. Bidding to become only the fourth woman within the past 20 years to defend a title at Flushing Meadows, the American third seed dominated the match from the onset. Producing a display that consisted of 24 winners to 22 unforced errors as she convert four out of five break point opportunities.
“I just tried to stay calm and play my game. I upped my game a bit at 5-5 (in the second set) and I’m really pleased with that. I’m happy to get through.” Stephens said during her on-court interview.
Saving four break points in the first game of the match, Stephens soon established her dominance on court as she claimed seven games in a row to lead world No.80 Rodina 6-1, 2-0. It wasn’t until the business end of the match where the American faltered. Rodina managed to break back to draw level at 4-4 in the second set. Despite the blip, Stephens managed to increase her intensity to thwart the threat on the newly built Louis Armstrong stadium.
“I’m so honoured to be able play on this court on the first day.” Stephens commented about the new addition to the US Open.
“It’s a beautiful court. Very loud and noisy, but that is what we like. It was an awesome day for me.”
“I’m just happy to get the win and I’m excited to get the US Open started.”
Stephens will next take on Ukrainian qualifier Anhelina Kalinina, who moved into the second round after her opponent, Kathinka von Deichmann, retired whilst trailing 2-5 in the final set.
Venus fights back
On the Arthur Ashe stadium, Venus Williams celebrated the 21st anniversary of her US Open debut with a marathon triumph over Svetlana Kuznetsova.
In what was the battle of the grand slam champions, Williams held her nerve to prevail 6-3, 5-7, 6-3, in a roller coaster encounter. The American had two match points in the second set, but failed to close it out. Resulting in an hour-long deciding set to take the match duration to five minutes shy of the three-hour mark.
“It’s not an easy match when you are playing a former US Open champion in the first round.” Said Williams.
“We’ve had a lot of competitive matches and it seems like she (Kuznetsova) played her best when I was up. So it wasn’t easy to close that match out. I have so much respect for her and I’m just happy to close the match out.”
Claiming her 77th main draw win in New York, Williams won 53% of her service points and hit a total of 47 winners. She will play Italy’s Camila Giorgi in the second round.
Benoit Paire Blasts ‘Rubbish’ French Open Tennis Balls
The outspoken Frenchman has also questioned the logic of a fine recently issued to Hugo Gaston.
France’s Benoit Paire claims the balls used at this year’s French Open are so poor that they don’t even last a full game.
The former top-20 player says the balls being used at this year’s Grand Slam are only suitable for players who have certain ‘physical qualities’ and prevented him from being able to hit attacking shots during rallies. Manufactured by Wilson and developed in collaboration with the French Tennis Federation (FFT), the ball is claimed to ‘have more texture and fluff a bit more’ compared to the ones used on a hard court. It is said to be designed for longer rallies and limits moisture or dirt build-up to maintain its consistency whilst being hit.
However, in recent days there have been some players who have expressed their dissatisfaction with the ball. Speaking to reporters following his 7-5, 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, loss to Cameron Norrie, a straight-talking Paire described the balls as rubbish.
“You play with balls that get bigger after two seconds. The new balls don’t even last a game,” he told reporters on Monday.
“The balls are rubbish. That’s not the reason why I didn’t win (against Norrie) but you can’t play tennis, though, with that type of ball. You can’t attack. You can’t move ahead. It’s impossible to play an ace.’
“It’s another style of tennis, which is different. It requires physical qualities. It’s a question of who can keep the ball in the court for the longest.”
“You have to hit every ball really hard because it’s not moving. It’s terrible. It’s Roland Garros, one of the greatest tournaments in the world, and we’re playing with these silly balls.”
Paire is not alone in his criticism of the balls. Another player to vent his frustration was Laslo Djere following his loss to Andrey Rublev on Sunday in the first round.
“The balls are disastrous, the courts are different every time here,” Djere told Sport Klub.
“When I trained outside of Roland Garros, the ball flies, but here it doesn’t. I don’t think I’m badly prepared physically, but after two and a half hours, hitting every ball at 200 per cent, it goes backwards.”
Issues around balls at tournaments are nothing new this year. Earlier in the season, some players voiced concerns that the heavier Dunlop balls being used could be linked to a rise in wrist injuries. Although this has not been proven.
Gaston’s fine ‘ridiculous’
Paire also spoke out about the recent fine issued to his compatriot Hugo Gaston for unsportsmanlike conduct. Gaston was hit with a 144,000 euro penalty for violating conduct rules for the fourth time within a year. At the Madrid Open, he was seen deliberately dropping a ball on the court as his opponent was about to hit a smash in the hope that the umpire would order the point to be replayed. The 22-year-old has since appealed against the fine which was halved with conditions.
The size of the fine effectively cancelled out all of what Gaston had earned in prize money this season. Something Paire disagrees with and argues that a more measured approach should be taken.
“He won $16,000 and has to pay $142,000. I don’t understand the system,” Paire commented.
“I think that you need to do things according to what you earn. You can’t ask for more money than what the player is going to earn. Otherwise, why play tennis?
“Everything that he has won in prize money since the beginning of the year is below his fine. What he did is not good, but sometimes in matches, you have bad reactions. I think that it’s silly, and it’s a shame to put such big fines.”
Paire is no stranger to getting in trouble with officials. In the past, he has been accused of tanking during matches and was fined $16,500 for his bad behaviour at the 2018 Citi Open.
“I think that we need to find a system because even for challengers, the fines are really high,” he continued.
“He (Gason) took 20,000 at the beginning of the year as a challenger, and now he has a 140,000 fine. It makes me laugh, but it’s sad. It’s a lot of money. That’s an apartment, and that’s what’s crazy.”
Paire is currently ranked 149th in the world.
Nothing Wrong With No Handshake Stance Of Ukrainian Players, Says Yastremska
Dayana Yastremska says Russian or Belarussian players should be asked how they feel about playing against Ukrainian players on Tour following an incident involving one of her compatriots at the French Open.
On the first day of the Grand Slam, Marta Kostyuk was booed off the court after refusing to shake hands with world No.2 Aryna Sabalenka following their match. The reception from the crowd came as a surprise to the Ukrainian and others considering this gesture was not new in the sport. Ever since Russia launched their ‘special military operation’ on its neighbour in February 2022, Kostyuk and others have refused to shake hands with those from countries backing the war.
Yastremska, who secured a place in the French Open main draw by coming through qualifying, refused to weigh in on the argument following her 6-2, 7-5, loss to Donna Vekic. Like Kostyuk, she also doesn’t shake hands with players from Russia or Belarus following her matches.
“Since the war started, everybody said that we (Ukrainians) are not going to shake hands with Russians and Belarusian players. There’s nothing surprising.” She said during her press conference.
“ I didn’t expect this reaction (to Kostyuk). That wasn’t nice. I’m supporting this because I played against the Russians, and I also didn’t shake their hands. That’s our position, and everybody knows about this, so there is nothing wrong about it.”
During the early stage of the war, Yastremska and her 15-year-old sister sheltered for two nights in an underground car park in Odessa before fleeing to Lyon, France. Leaving her parents back home. Asked if she would have reconsidered her handshake boycott in Paris given what had happened, she refused.
“What is the difference? If we play against Russian and Belarusian, it doesn’t matter which tournament, we’re not going to shake their hands.” She stated.
“We (tennis players from Ukraine) have already said our position. We don’t feel really good. How we can go on court and play against people from a terroristic country like Russia? It’s difficult Emotionally.’
“It’s better to ask them (Russian or Belarussian players) how they feel playing against us. Do they feel good or not? It would be better to ask them those questions.”
Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has previously spoken out against the war in a blog post in which she wrote that ‘political ambitions or political motivation cannot justify violence.’ Speaking to reporters following her win over Linda Fruhvirtova, she confirmed that this post had since been removed due to a ‘PR person who is helping her.’ As for the handshake debate, she was reluctant to get involved.
“I don’t feel like commenting on all these things just because this has been too long now. I’m just here to play tennis, first of all,” she said.
“I cannot control what players do on the court, like, if they shake or not. It’s their decision.”
According to the Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), almost 9000 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since the conflict began. The tally doesn’t take into account those killed on the battlefield.
French Open: Sloane Stephens Hands Pliskova Her Earliest Grand Slam Exit Since 2016
Former French Open semi-finalist Karolina Pliskova crashed out of the tournament on Monday after suffering a straight sets defeat to Sloane Stephens in the first round.
The 16th seed was swept aside by her American rival who clinched the 6-0, 6-4, win in just 84 minutes. Stephens, whose biggest career achievement was winning the 2017 US Open, has now recorded 41 victories over a top 20 player on the WTA Tour. Against Pliskova, she fired 19 winners and benefitted heavily from the Czech’s unforced error count of 31.
“This is my favourite court in the world so I am super happy. To start a slam on your favourite court and your favourite surface is always incredible,” Stephens said of her win on Court Philippe Chatrier.
“I’m pleased to be back here and playing good tennis. I’m happy to get the win today.”
Despite being the higher-ranked player on the court, 31-year-old Pliskova struggled to find her range and looked extremely subdued early on. During the opening set, her only opportunity occurred in the first game where she worked her way to a break point opportunity but failed to convert. Paving the way for a dominant Stephens to hand the former world No.1 her first bagel on the tour since the Ostrava Open last October.
It wasn’t until almost 70 minutes into the match that Pliskova managed to get a breakthrough after breaking the Stephens serve for a 4-3 lead in what was a significantly more competitive second set. However, her momentum gain was short-lived as she got broken immediately in the following game. Meanwhile, Stephens continued to ride the storm as she closed in on the win. The American worked her way to her first match points after a forehand shot from her opponent crashed into the net. She then sealed her place in the second round with the help of another error from across the court.
“This court is a bit tricky. You have to play on it a lot to understand when the wind is blowing and where it is coming from,” the 30-year-old explained.
“It is a very complicated court but that what’s makes it so amazing.”
Stephens’ victory comes as no surprise considering her credentials. A French Open runner-up back in 2018, the world N.30 just missed out on being seeded in Paris this year. Earlier this month, she won a WTA 125 event in France before reaching the semi-finals of the Moroccan Open last week.
“I needed to get a lot of matches under my belt. Last year my clay season wasn’t great but I played amazing at Roland Garros. This year I wanted to get matches and play a lot to see where it got me.” Said Stephens.
As for Pliskova, it is the first time she has been beaten in the first round of a Grand Slam tournament since 2016.
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