Sloane Stephens produced a superb late fightback to beat Kiki Bertens 7-6(4) 2-6 6-3 and go top of the Red Group at the WTA Finals.
The American, 25, will qualify for the semi-finals unless both Bertens and Angelique Kerber win their last group stage matches.
When she was 2-0 down in the decider, the World No.6 seemed set for what would have effectively been a knock-out third match with Kerber. However, she turned it around to put herself in the best possible position ahead of that clash with the German.
Stephens made an excellent start to the match. She barely missed a ball as she raced into a 3-0 lead after just nine minutes.
However, she could not keep it up and, as her level dipped, Bertens began to settle into a rhythm and she won the next two games to cut the deficit to 2-3.
From that point on, it was a bit of a scrappy set as both players made a lot of errors. Consecutive breaks took the score to 4-3, and then three comfortable holds made it 5-5.
Bertens sensed a chance of a break in game 11 when she took Stephens to deuce on her serve. But she wasted it by making two sloppy errors – one on each side.
And that was the pattern. There were plenty of good rallies, but most of them were ultimately decided by a mistake.
After the Dutchwoman held serve to take it to a tie-break, she made yet more errors to fall 5-1 behind. There was no way back from that point for her, and the American closed out the breaker 7-4.
Bertens soars as Stephens falters
It remained a tense affair in the second set. Stephens started it poorly and Bertens capitalised to break her twice and open up a 4-1 lead.
The American then faced two more break points in game six. She tried to save the first by being aggressive. She came to the net and drove the ball down the line. But Bertens was ready. She crouched down and drilled a backhand past Stephens and into the corner to seal the break.
The 2017 US Open champion suddenly sparked into life when her Dutch opponent had two set points. She hit two winners – a drive volley and a cross-court forehand – to get to deuce.
Bertens then made a double-fault to gift Stephens a break point. She was unable to take that one, but she soon earned another with a good backhand volley. She took it thanks to an error from the World No.9.
However, that break was only a temporary reprieve for the American, who failed to hold serve at any stage in the second set. The Dutchwoman played an aggressive game to break Stephens for a fourth time in a row and clinch it 6-2.
Stephens fights back to take the decider
The World No.6 continued to struggle at the start of the decider. She failed to match Bertens’ energy around the court and this enabled the Dutchwoman to control most of the points with ease.
After Bertens raced into a 2-0 lead, Stephens showed some fight. She battled her way to a crucial break to get herself back into the match, and then held to level the score.
That was all it took to ignite the competitive streak in the American. She fought for every point in game five and the pressure told on her Dutch opponent, who eventually lost the game by making an unforced error. Stephens then held again to make it 4-2 and complete a remarkable turnaround.
It was a change of momentum that proved to be terminal for Bertens. She held serve once to stay in contention, but she could not hold on a second time as Stephens took control of the rallies in game nine to gain her third break of the set and seal it 6-3.
Dayana Yastremska Heads To Australia Despite Doping Violation
Did the 20-year-old break the rules with her trip?
Tennis Australia says they are ‘investigating’ after it emerged that Dayana Yastremska boarded a plane funded by the governing body despite failing a drugs test.
Last week the International Tennis Federation issued a statement confirming that the Ukrainian tennis star has been issued with a provisional suspension after testing positive for the banned substance mesterolone metabolite. An anabolic agent prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency which can be used for the treatment of people with low testosterone. Yastremska was pictured boarding a plane to Australia on Thursday in a post uploaded by two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova which has since been deleted.
Yastremska has denied any wrongdoing and says she has ‘scientific evidence’ that her positive test was a result of contamination. Although she didn’t elaborate any further as to what that evidence is. The world No.29 has the right to appeal her provisional suspension but according to the latest ITF statement she hasn’t done so. One way her ban can be lifted is if the appeals board accepts her contamination argument which would allow her to play right away.
“Only a very low concentration of mesterolone metabolite was detected in my urine,” Yastremska wrote in a statement. “Given that low concentration and my negative test two weeks earlier, I have received scientific advice that the result is consistent with some form of contamination event.”
Despite Yastremska’s plea, it is unclear as to if she or Tennis Australia has broken any rules. As of January 15h the ITF still lists her as a player who is provisionally suspended from the sport. Richard Ings, who is the former chair of the Australian anti-doping agency, points out that suspended players are not allowed to participate in any activity organised by a tournament. Raising questions as to if a Tennis Australia funded plane journey counts as one of these ‘activities.’
Yastremska is currently on the Australian Open entry list and is set to be allowed to train during her 14-day quarantine like other players unless anything changes. Tennis Australia has not made a public statement but news agency AAP has confirmed that an investigation has been launched. Should it turn out that the 20-year-old is ineligible to play, it is unclear if she would be required to pay back the cost of her plane trip.
The Australian Open starts on February 8th.
Madison Keys latest player to test positive for Coronavirus
Madison Keys ruled out of the Australian Open after testing positive for COVID-19.
The American tested positive for the first time and will miss the first grand slam of the year.
Madison Keys has officially tested positive for the coronavirus. She announced the news on social media and says she will, unfortunately, miss the Australian Open.
“Hi everyone, I just wanted to let you know that I, unfortunately, tested positive for Covid-19 before I was suppose to fly to Australia. I’m very disappointed to not be able to play in the coming weeks after training hard in the off-season and knowing Tennis Australia and the tours did so much to make these events happen.
“I am self isolating at home and will continue to follow all the necessary health precautions. I look forward to be back on tour next month.
“Thank you for all your support.
“Stay Healthy and safe.
Keys is the latest player to have tested positive after Andy Murray revealed he had a positive test while Tennys Sandgren had tested positive but was given the green light to travel.
Two players in men’s qualifying in Doha tested positive and were immediatly removed from the draw. Apparently if you test positive for the first time you are not allowed to travel but if you already tested positive and show no symptoms there is a chance you will continue to test positive before the effects go away.
Players are traveling this week to Australia and will be mandated to follow the 14 day quarantine with the exception of training five hours a day. The Australian Open begins on February 8th.
While most players will be quarantining in Melbourne both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have confirmed they will do their quarantine in Adelaide.
Unstoppable Aryna Sabalenka Storms To Abu Dhabi Title
Another clinical performance has secured the Belarusian her third consecutive title and a new career-high ranking position.
Aryna Sabalenka’s winning run shows no signs of stopping anytime soon after she powered her way to the Abu Dhabi title on Wednesday.
The fourth seed needed just over an hour to defeat Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova 6-2, 6-2, in what was a largely one-sided encounter in the Middle East. Sabalenka utilized her power to her advantage as she fired five aces and 18 winners past her opponent who was playing in her first WTA final at the age of 23. Overall she won almost twice as many points (63-37) than Kudermetova.
With both players holding their ground early on, Sabalenka started to dominate midway through the opening set with the help of a four-game winning streak. Leading 3-2 on serve, she broke her Russian rival twice in a row to clinch the 6-2 lead. Throughout the opener the world No.10 dropped just five points behind her serve.
It was a familiar pattern in the second frame with Sabalenka continuing to dismantle Kudermetova’s fragile serve. Overall, she broke six consecutive times in the final with four of those occurring in the second set alone. Easing to a game away from victory, she did experience a blunder after losing one of her breaks. However, there would be no chance of a Kudermetova comeback as Sabalenka closed out the match in the following game with her rival hitting a forehand error on match point.
“I’m really proud of the fact that I was fighting no matter what this week,” the new champion reflected on her performance. “Some matches I didn’t feel my serve and some matches I didn’t feel my backhand or forehand, but I just kept fighting and finding my shots, and this is what I’m really proud of. I’m really happy with this title.”
The win extends Sabalenka’s unbeaten run on the Tour to 15 wins. She has now won three titles in a row after ending 2020 triumphing in both Ostrava and Linz. As a result of her latest triumph, Sabalenka will rise to a ranking high of seventh in the world on Monday.
There is also a silver lining for underdog Kudermetova who defeated Elina Svitolina and Marta Kostyuk earlier in the tournament. Her run to the final will move her up the rankings to a career high of 36th. She has already scored five wins over top 10 opponents so far in her career.
“Aryna’s playing good. She played unbelievable today,” Kudermetova said. “She didn’t give me a lot of chances. She tried to keep every ball on the court, she tried to attack, and when she had her chances she went full power on the court. She also fights until the end—that’s why she’s a top player.”
Sabalenka’s surge on the Tour has sparked high expectations for her going into the Australian Open where she is hoping to break new ground in a Grand Slam.
“I was doing everything I could in each match from the beginning (in Abu Dhabi) and I’m happy to start the season with a title,” Sabalenka said. “I’m going to Australia, I’m confident with one thing, that I will do everything I can to win matches.”
Despite her success on the WTA Tour, she has only reached the fourth round of a major once at the 2018 US Open.
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