The Grand Slam Champions And Underdog Looking To Shake-Up The WTA Finals On Their Debut - UBITENNIS
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The Grand Slam Champions And Underdog Looking To Shake-Up The WTA Finals On Their Debut

Naomi Osaka heads a trio of debutants bidding to make their mark in Singapore.

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During a season where she has claimed her maiden grand slam title and broke into the world’s top five for the first time, Naomi Osaka is once again embarking upon new territory at the WTA Finals.

The US Open champion is the first Japanese player to play in the tournament for 22 years after Kimiko Date back in 1996. She now has a shot of being the first player from her country to reach the final of the year-end spectacular, which started back in 1972. Despite being only 21, Osaka is on course to become a global marketing superstar as her fan base explodes. Highlighted by her recent deal with Nissan and a reported $10 million contract being offered to her by sportswear company Adidas.

“I’m playing tournament after tournament, so I don’t really have time to think about my life changing or anything.” Osaka told reporters in Singapore.
“For me, I’m just more thinking about my next match and my next tournament. So I feel like I would need the year to end to maybe process more.”

Seeking her third title of the season, the world No.4 is relying on the past experience of her coach at the WTA Finals about what to expect. Sascha Bajin is by no means a stranger to the women’s tour. Prior to working with Osaka, he has previously collaborated with the likes of Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki.

“Throughout this year he’s really taught me a lot of things and I’m really grateful for it. We have this one last tournament, and he’s constantly sharing with me things that is new.I just hope that I can apply it.” The 21-year-old said about her coach.
“I hope I don’t get overwhelmed. I don’t know. You never really know how you’re gonna feel until you’re in that moment.” She later added.

Should she triumph at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, another record would be made. Osaka won the 2015 WTA Rising Star Invitational, which is also held in Singapore. Defeating France’s Caroline Garcia in the final. An Invitational winner is yet to go on to claim the WTA Finals trophy. Something Osaka aims to break.

Definitely, I would take my experience playing on centre court and stuff.” She said.
“I just remember the Rising Stars event being my first big tournament sort of, like I have never played on a centre court that big before. So definitely it’s always in my memories.”

Stephens eyes glory

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Osaka will begin her WTA Finals campaign against Sloane Stephens on Monday, who is also making her debut in the event. The American former grand slam champion is hoping for a happy ending to what has been a lacklustre past few weeks. Since the conclusion of the US Open, Stephens has only managed to win three out of six matches played. On the other hand, she won the Miami Open in March and reached her second grand slam final at the French Open.

“I think playing the whole year and making it here (to Singapore), I think that’s pretty cool. I had some great results, a lot of very high highs and tough lows. I think I managed it well. I guess that’s all part of the sport.”

Despite a seeding of fifth, the threat posed by Stephen can never be underestimated. She has a winning head-to-head against six of the seven other players featuring in this year’s tournament. The only exception is her record against Caroline Wozniacki (1-4). Furthermore, she is a player who thrives on the big stage despite her lack of experience of playing in round-robin events.

“I haven’t played a round robin since I started playing tennis at Sierra Sport and Racquet Club, and you had to play the round robin to advance in your ladder.” Said Stephens, who forgot about her participation in the 2017 Elite Trophy.
“So I’m really not sure how it works. I saw the chart and everything. But I think you just play and try to win and whatever happens happens.”

Other than the Williams sisters, an American player hasn’t won the WTA Finals since Lindsay Davenport in 1999.

Bertens’ outside challenge

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Kiki Bertens didn’t know she had qualified for the event until Thursday following the withdrawal of Simona Halep. After previously never ending a season in the top 20, the 26-year-old has enjoyed a stellar year. Claiming titles in Charleston, Cincinnati and Seoul. Scoring ten wins over top 10 players.

“You always want to finish your season on good terms, because it’s been an incredible season so far.” Said Bertens.
“I think the last few weeks were a little bit more stressful. You try not to think about it, try just to play your match and go from there, but in your head you know like how many points you need to make Singapore.”

Unlike the two other newcomers, Bertens has the advantage of previously playing in Singapore. In 2017 she finished runner-up in the doubles competition alongside Johanna Larsson. Becoming the first Dutch player to reach the final of the tournament – in either singles or doubles – since Manon Bollegraf in 2000.

“I have reached all my goals for this year, so I can be really proud of that and happy of that. Hopefully we can also finish it really well here.”

All three newcomers have been drawn in the Red Group alongside Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber.

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Emma Raducanu Confident Of Full Fitness Ahead Of Grass Swing

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Emma Raducanu - Cincinnati 2022 (foto Twitter @cincytennis)

Emma Raducanu has no regrets about her decision to skip the French Open and now believes she is in a ‘really fit place’ ahead of Wimbledon. 

The former US Open champion opted to end her clay season earlier than other players to focus on fitness and training with her coach. Raducanu stated earlier this year that her primary focus in 2024 is on her health after undergoing a series of wrist and ankle surgeries last year which sidelined her for months. 

Raducanu will return to action this week at the Nottingham Open, which is the event where she made her WTA main draw debut back in 2021. Despite her lack of match play in recent weeks, the Brit is feeling good and relishing her return to the grass.

“Body-wise, physical-wise, I feel really healthy,” she said on Monday.
“I’ve done amazing work with my trainer over the last few months, since surgery. I’m in a really fit place. I’m healthy and just looking forward to starting playing.”

Shedding more light on her health, Raducanu says she has full confidence in her wrists and believes they are in top condition. Making her feel more at ease when playing matches on the Tour. 

“I think my wrists are actually in a better position than they ever were. So there’s zero doubt or apprehension whether I’m hitting the ball or designing my schedule,” she explained.
“It’s more about being proactive and not wanting to put yourself in any unnecessary situations. I don’t need to rush and try to win the French Open, it wasn’t my goal this year.
“I had to prioritise where I wanted to target and it was just a good block for me to get some physical work done.”

Raducanu has played seven WTA events so far this season with her best run being to the quarter-finals of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, where she was beaten by world No.1 Iga Swiatek. The 21-year-old is currently ranked 209th in the world. 

At the Nottingham Open, she will play her first match on Tuesday against Japanese qualifier Ena Shibahara. 

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Russian World No.78 Elina Avanesyan To Switch Nationalities

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A week after losing her fourth round match at the French Open, a government minister has confirmed that Elina Avanesyan is in the process of changing the nationality of who she plays for. 

The 21-year-old is switching her aligence from Russia to Armenia, according to Armenia’s deputy Minister of International Affairs and communication. Karen Giloyan has told the news agency Armenpress that Avanesyan will soon be representing his country. However, the tennis player has yet to comment on the matter.  Avanesyan was born in Russia but has Armenian parents.

“Elina Avanesyan will compete under the Armenian flag, but there is nothing official yet. We are waiting for her to get the citizenship of the Republic of Armenia so that everything will be official,” Giloyan told Armenpress.

Such a development would be a massive coup for the Armenian tennis federation which currently doesn’t have a player ranked inside the top 500 on either the men’s or women’s Tour. The country has a population of less than 3M. Perhaps their best-known player is Sargis Sargsian who reached the top 40 back in 2004. Others on the Tour also have Armenian heritage but don’t represent the country such as Karen Khachanov.  

Avanesyan is currently ranked 78th in the world, which is 18 places below her career high. This season, she has scored high-profile wins over Maria Sakkari at the Australian Open, Ons Jabeur in Charleston and Qinwen Zhang at the French Open. 

She has yet to play in the final of a WTA tournament.

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Iga Looks To Be In A league All to Herself At Paris

Iga Swiatek claimed her fourth Roland Garros title in Paris.

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(@Eurosport - Twitter)

Just call her Iga. No other identification is needed.

As the years go by, Iga’s notoriety is sure to grow.

She’s probably already earned a spot in tennis’ Hall of Fame.

Yes, Iga Swiatek is a name to remember. A hero in her native Poland, a superstar in the world of sports.

IGA WAS JUST TOO GOOD

Iga just added to her stardom Saturday with an impressive 6-2, 6-1 victory over little-known Italian Jasmine Paolini to win her third straight French Open title. This was Paolini’s chance to make a name for herself, but she didn’t have the game to make it happen.

Iga was just too good. She made it look too easy.

Paolini could hit some great ground strokes, but when she looked up a bigger shot was on its way back. Iga doesn’t look like a power hitter, but she is.

WINNING 10 CONSECUTIVE GAMES

The 23-year-old Polish Wonder finished the first set winning five straight games, then started the second set winning five more games in succession. The 28-year-old Paolini didn’t seem to have a clue on how to upend Swiatek.

It took just 78 minutes for Iga to win her fifth Grand Slam title.

She’s a lot like her French Open hero, Rafa Nadal.

She takes every match seriously.

SWIATEK OWNS THE RED CLAY

No wonder Iga owns a 35-2 record at Roland Garos. Or that she has won 21 straight matches. Or that she owns a 5-0 record in Grand Slam finals.

She only dominated opponents, except for Naomi Osaka in the second round. Swiatek escaped a match point in that one and didn’t look back.

Iga’s game should be just as superb on the green grass of upcoming Wimbledon.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.

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