Sloane Stephens overcomes Naomi Osaka in her first match at the WTA Finals - UBITENNIS
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Sloane Stephens overcomes Naomi Osaka in her first match at the WTA Finals

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In the clash between the winners of the past two editions of the US Open Sloane Stephens started her WTA Finals campaign with a 7-5 4-6 6-1 win over Naomi Osaka after 2 hours and 22 minutes in the opening match of the round-robin Red Group. Both players are making their debut at the WTA Finals.

 

Last year’s US Open champion Stephens beat reigning Flushing Meadows winner Osaka 6-3 7-5 in their only previous head-to-head match in Acapulco in 2016.

Stephens, who won the Miami title and reached the French Open final in 2018, converted 7 of her 19 break points and dropped her serve four times from the twelve break points she faced. Osaka, who won at Indian Wells and at the US Open in her breakthrough year, hit seven aces but made 46 unforced errors.

Stephens earned the first break at 30 in the opening game taking advantage of a few loose errors from Osaka, but the young Japanese player broke straight back to draw level to 1-1. Osaka was the first to hold serve at love in the third game to take a 2-1 lead. Stephens tied 3-3 after three consecutive holds of serve.

In the seventh game Stephens earned a double break point at 15-40 and converted it two points later with the help of a netcord to get the break for 4-3. Stephens made two double faults in a row on game point at 40-30 and at deuce to face a break-back point in the eighth game. Osaka broke back with a forehand winner to draw level to 4-4 after the longest exchange of the match. Osaka fended off a break point to hold a tough service game at deuce for 5-4. In the 11th game Osaka rallied from 0-30 down with her sixth winner but Stephens earned her third break of the first set after two backhand errors from the 2018 US Open champion. Stephens earned three set points to close out the opening set at 6-5 and convertted her third opportunity, when Osaka fired an error into the net.

Osaka hit a great backhand pass to earn a game point in the opening game of the second set and held her serve with a volley into the open court after a long rally. Stephens held serve at 30 to draw level to 1-1. After a comfortable hold from Osaka in the third game Stephens came back from 0-40 down and saved four break points to hold serve for 2-2.

Stephens hit a forehand return winner to bring up two break points at 15-40, but she saved the second break point with a backhand drive volley to hold her serve for 3-2.

Osaka fired a backhand winner to force the sixth game to deuce before breaking serve, when Stephens made her fourth double fault of the match.

Osaka saved a break-back point to hold her serve for 5-2 after four deuces. After missing out on her break point Stephens held her serve at 15 to trail 3-5. In the ninth game Stephens earned a break point, when Osaka made a double fault. The 2017 Open champion broke serve to close the gap to 4-5, when Osaka hit a forehand volley wide.

In the 10th game Osaka took a 15-40 lead, as she was serving for the second set. Stephens saved the first set point, but Osaka broke serve to close out the second set 6-2, when Stephens made her sixth double fault of the match.

Stephens brought up three break points on Osaka’s serve in the first games of the decisive set and converted it with her retur winner.

Osaka went up 0-40 in the opening game of the the third set to earn three break points. Stephens  fended three break points to hold serve for 2-0 at deuce. In the third game Osaka saved a break point from 30-40 down to hold her serve after three deuces for 1-2. Stephens held her serve at 30 to open up a 3-1 lead.

Osaka trailed 0-40 in the fifth game, but she saved two break points. Stephens got the break with a forehand pass to race out to a 4-1 lead and held her serve at love to come a game away from the win. Stephens sealed a one-sided third set 6-1 with a break on her second opportunity to move to 1-0 in the Red Group, when Osaka made her fourth double fault on the second match point.

“I am just happy to get through and play a good competitive match. I never gave up. I knew she is playing well and I had to play really well to beat her”, said Stephens on court in the post match interview.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Karolina Pliskova Faces Race Against Time To Be Fit For French Open

The Czech has less than a week to recover from a thigh problem before the next Grand Slam gets underway.

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Karolina Pliskova (@InteBNLdItalia on Twitter)

World No.4 Karolina Pliskova says she is ‘hopeful’’ that she will be ready in time to play at the French Open after suffering a setback in her preparations on Monday.

 

The Czech tennis star was forced to retire during her clash with Simona Halep in the final of the Italian Open after falling behind 0-6, 1-2. During the match she wore tape on her left thigh and also has work done on her back during a medical time out. However, Pliskova said afterwards that the issue was her thigh and playing a series of matches within a short period.

“I think it’s a combination of just playing every day and tough matches. Of course I played some two-set matches, but it’s still clay, which I was coming to play on quite fast from the hard court’s. There is a lot of sliding and running,” said Pliskova.

Due to the Tour being stopped by the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year players are playing a more compact schedule with two Grand Slams taking place within a month. Only 14 days separates the last day of the US Open from the first day of the French Open.

Despite her injury, 28-year-old Pliskova is optimistic that she will be able to play at Roland Garros with her first match possibly taking place on Sunday. She is a former semi-finalist in Paris back in 2017 but has lost in the third round two consecutive times since then. Overall her main draw record at the tournament stands at 11 wins against eight losses.

I hope to be ready, there is a week so I think that’s plenty of time,” she said.
“I know I might play on Sunday in Paris but there are a couple days which I hope is gonna help a lot.
“I really want to be100% ready because if I want to go far in a Grand Slam. It’s going to be, like, two weeks of tennis, which I’m not sure today I can do. I just need to see what the doctors say,”

One of Pliskova’s biggest rivals at the major will be former champion Halep who has won back-to-back clay court titles within the past month. The Romanian is now in a 14-match winning streak and has reached the quarter-finals of better at every single tournament she has played in so far this year. The Czech believes her rival is the key contenders to lift the French Open trophy this year.

Now she’s won two tournaments on clay, so I think she’s confident enough and she’s done well there,” Pliskova said. “She’s going to be dangerous.
“And she had big success in Paris, so I think she’s going to be one of my favourites to go for the title.”

Pliskova will be the second seed at Roland Garros.

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World No.1 Ash Barty Impresses At Golf Club Championship

The 24-year-old is still winning trophies but this time it isn’t in tennis.

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After deciding to pull the plug on her season due to concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic Ash Barty has once again illustrated that tennis is not the only sport she can excel in.

 

The world No.1 has won the Brookwater Golf Club women’s champion on Sunday with a seven and five triumph in the match play final. Following in the footsteps of her father Robert who once represented Australia as an amateur golfer. Although Barty is playing down the significance of her latest sporting win.

It’s not a big deal,” she told the Australian Associated Press.

It is not the first time Barty’s golfing abilities have impressed. During a promotional event last December ahead of the Presidents Cup she earned praise from Tiger Woods after hitting wedge to a makeshift green on the Yarra River. After that shot Woods commented ‘she’s got a great swing, are you kidding me?’ Barty’s boyfriend, Garry Kissick, is also a PGA trainee professional at Brookwater. The place where they first met back in 2016.

Louis Dobbelaar, who won the men’s competition at Brookwater, believes Barty has what it takes to become a professional in the sport should she wish. The 24-year-old is also an avid cricketer and played professionally between 2014-2015 during a break from tennis. Playing in the Women’s Big Bash League Barty enjoyed stints with teams Brisbane Heat and Queensland Fire.

She’s got all the tools if she wants to pursue it. If she put her mind to it, I’m sure she could,” he told the AAP.
“I’ve seen quite a lot of golfers come from different sports and she’s the one that stands out the most – by far actually. Her ball-striking’s really good. She just gets that naturally from tennis, the hand-eye stuff.”

Barty hasn’t played a match on the WTA Tour since the Qatar Open back in February where she reached the semi-finals. She will not be defending her title at the French Open next week due to concerns related to the pandemic. Besides worldwide travel, she has been unable to train with her coach due to local restrictions.

The Australian has made more than $17.5M in prize money so far in her career.

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Maturing Simona Halep Closing In On Rome Milestone

The Romanian is hoping that it will be third time lucky at the Foro Italico this year.

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Simona Halep 2 (@InteBNLdItalia on Twitter)

Top seed Simona Halep survived a roller-coaster encounter against Spain’s Garbine Muguruza to progress to the final of the Italian Open on Sunday.

 

The world No.2 required more than two hours to disposed of Muguruza 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, in what was the seventh meeting between the two Grand Slam champions on the WTA Tour. It was a far from straightforward win for the Romanian who lost her serve three consecutive times during the second set. However, she managed to bounce back in the decider with the help of a four-game winning streak as she edged towards victory despite facing some late resistance.

Against Muguruza she’s a very, very difficult player and a good player. It’s always good vibe and a good feeling when I win against her,” Halep told reporters after.
“I know I had so many chances to maybe finish the match a little bit faster and easier, but she doesn’t give up.’
“Credit to her that she fought till the end. I am happy that I was a little bit stronger in the end and I could be more aggressive when I needed to.”

There is still room for improvement for Halep who won only 48% of her service points and converted nine out of her 18 break point opportunities. She also hit 21 winners alongside 22 unforced errors.

The latest victory was the first singles match at this year’s Italian Open to take place in front of fans. Due to a recent decision by the local government, a maximum of 1000 spectators has been allowed to attend the Foro Italico on its last two days. A move that has been hailed by Halep even though she admits that it was her opponent who was getting more cheers.

“It’s been nice to see people in the crowd, even if they were all not supporting me today. They were with Muguruza, but I understand,” she said.
“But I was happy to see them and I felt the energy.”

Halep now moves into her third Rome final where she will have a shot of achieving a unique milestone of winning three major clay events on the WTA Tour along with the French Open and Madrid Open. Something only Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova have achieved.

Standing in her way of the title will be the winner of the all-Czech clash between Karolina Pliskova or Markéta Vondroušová. Somewhat of a relief for Halep who lost her two previous finals in Rome to Elina Svitolina.

“I’m not playing her so I have a plus,” she joked.
“It’s a final, so I have to manage it a little bit better than previous years. It’s gonna be a tough match.’
“Now I’m more mature. So let’s hope that I can be better tomorrow and to win it.”

Halep will be playing in her 18th WTA final on the clay and is currently on a 13-match winning streak.

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