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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Billie Jean King Praises Grand Slam Semi-Finalist Nadia Podoroska For Coming Out

The Argentine recently marked her girlfriend’s birthday with an Instagram post which was also the first time she went public about her personal life.

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Tennis legend Billie Jean King has congratulated Nadia Podoroska on being her authentic self after the tennis star recently confirmed she is in a same-sex relationship with another player. 

 

Podoroska, who shot to the limelight at the 2021 French Open by reaching the semi-finals before being hampered by injury, made a low key coming out on social media. In an Instagram post, the tennis star uploaded a series of photos of her with her girlfriend along with the caption “Today I celebrate you from afar, but I feel you by my side every day of my life.’ The post was done to mark her birthday. 

Fellow player Guillermina Naya is Podoroska’s partner and the two have been in a relationship for some time, according to Women’s Tennis Blog. Naya, who is also from Argentina, is currently ranked 814th in the world but has been as high as 533rd. Although she has not played on the Tour this year. 

Due to injury problems, Podoroska was unable to start her 2022 season until July on the lower-level ITF Tour. Since then she has made steady progress by reaching the final of an ITF W60 event in Gran Canaria and more recently reaching the semi-finals of the Chennai Open in India. 

“I had been suffering from physical discomfort in one leg. I decided to stop in order to recover. Then I had a bone oedema, I couldn’t walk, and I had to wear a boot. Then I got a knee injury in the other leg,” she said of her injury woes during an interview with Clay Tennis.

The 25-year-old credits her girlfriend Naya for the support she received during her 10-month absence from the sport. She is the latest player on the WTA Tour to open up about their sexuality, joining the likes of Daria Kasatkina, Alison Van Uytvanck and Greet Minnen.

“Congratulations to WTA player ⁦⁦Nadia Podoroska ⁩ on her announcement. Living authentically takes such courage, but it is always worth it,” multiple Grand Slam champion King wrote on Twitter. 

In response to the post, the tennis star also paid tribute to King for the impact she has had on the sport. King helped form the WTA Tour and was a key figure in the fight to equal prize money during the early part of the Open Era. She was also one of the first world-class athletes to publicly come out as gay back in 1981. 

Whilst there are various female LGBT players in tennis, there are still no openly gay players on the men’s Tour. 

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ITF Chief Addresses Iga Swiatek’s Concerns Over Unsafe Scheduling

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The head of the International Tennis Federation is ‘sorry’ that Iga Swiatek will not be participating in the Billie Jean Cup and has vowed to work on making improvements to the 2023 schedule. 

 

The women’s world No.1 issued a statement on Monday confirming her withdrawal from the team event after taking a swipe at both the ITF and WTA over their scheduling. Swiatek said she had hoped to represent Poland in the Billie Jean Cup but its proximity to the WTA Tour Finals is problematic. The end-of-season WTA event takes place in Texas and ends a day before the start of the Billie Jean King Cup in Glasgow. 

“I’m disappointed that tennis governing bodies didn’t come to an agreement on something as basic as the calendar of tournaments, giving us only one day to travel through the globe and changing the time zone,” Swiatek said in a statement published on her Instagram account.
“The situation is not safe for our health and could cause injury.
“I’m going to talk to the WTA and ITF in order to change something. This situation is difficult not only for the players like me, but mainly for the tennis fans that support our sport.”

ITF chief executive David Haggerty has insisted that his organization has been working with the WTA but they were unable to find a more suitable date as the venue for the Tour Finals wasn’t confirmed until late in the season. The event is likely to return to China next year. The women’s tennis body has suspended its events in the country amid concerns over the safety of player Peng Shuai who previously accused a senior government official of sexual assault.

“The ITF is sorry that Iga Swiatek is unable to take part… and recognises that the schedule for the two major year-end events presents a challenge for players competing in both events,” Haggerty told the Reuters news agency.
“We have been working with the WTA to try to coordinate suitable dates.
“While we were able to confirm the Billie Jean King Cup Finals in Glasgow back in June, the WTA Finals venue in Fort Worth, Texas was confirmed during the U.S. Open and restricted in terms of available dates.”

The tennis official adds that negotiations are ongoing to find a more suitable schedule for 2023 for players to play both events if they wish to do so. 

We are committed to working with the WTA on the 2023 schedule so that we have a better transition between the two competitions,” he said. 

Haggerty states that provisions would have been made for Poland to play their opening match in the 12-team competition as late as possible to accommodate Swiatek’s travel from America if she had wished to play this year. 

The WTA Finals will be held between 31 October – 7 November and the Billie Jean King Cup will take place from 8 November – 13 November. 

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In-Form Liudmila Samsonova Storms To Tokyo Title

Tokyo is the second tournament this year the Russian has won without dropping a set.

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Image via https://twitter.com/WTA_insider

Liudmila Samsonova has continued her rapid surge on the Tour by defeating China’s Qinwen Zheng 7-5, 7-5, to win the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo. 

 

The world No.30 dropped serve only once and hit four aces as she edged her way past rising star Zheng who is the first Chinese teenager to reach the final of a Tour-level singles event. Overall, Samsonova won 68% of her service points en route to becoming the first Russian player to win the tournament since Nadia Petrova in 2012. 

“It’s amazing, I don’t have too many words right now. I need a little bit of time,” said Samsonova, who beat Grand Slam champions Elena Rybakina and Garbine Muguruza earlier in the draw. 
“It was a really tough match. She is playing amazing. It was a nervous match, we were fighting every point. It was tough.”

Samsonova is becoming a formidable force in the women’s game and has now won 18 out of her past 19 matches. Last month she also won titles in Washington and Cleveland before reaching the last 16 of the US Open for the first time in her career at the age of 23. She is now 4-0 in tournament finals and didn’t drop a set in Tokyo this week. 

“I played a high level in all my five matches. I am incredibly happy about how I managed it,” she said.

There is also a reason for Zheng to celebrate with her run in Tokyo securing her place in the world’s top 30 for the first time on Monday when the rankings are updated. Making her the first Chinese player to do so as a teenager. She is also only the second teenager to reach the final of a WTA 500 event or higher this season after Coco Gauff at the French Open. 

Samsonova will also rise to a ranking high on Monday to just outside the world’s top 20. 

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