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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Bianca Andreescu Reunites With Former Coach Ahead Of New Season 

How will the Grand Slam champion fair on the Tour with her latest mentor?

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BIANCA ANDREESCU OF CANADA - PHOTO: ALBERTO NEVADO / MMO

Former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu has brought a familiar face back into her team as she bids to return to her best form in 2023. 

 

Andreescu, who is currently ranked 45th in the WTA rankings, has appointed Christophe Lambert as her latest coach. Lambert had been working as the performance director at Tennis New Zealand and resigned from that position to work with the former US Open champion. He had also previously worked for Tennis Canada and during that time he was a private coach for Andreescu in 2016. 

“Bianca asked me to coach her and I accepted the job. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Lambert told sport.co.nz. 

Lambert, who has also spent time working with the Chinese Davis Cup team and for the British LTA, has stayed in contact with Andreescu ever since coaching her six years ago. 

“It wasn’t like every week or every month. It’s always good to have people calling you when you are up, but when she was down I was checking on her and giving her my opinion.” He said. 

Andreescu had been working with Dutch coach Sven Groeneveld for over a year before they decided to end their collaboration in October. Groeneveld has a wealth of experience in the sport after working with a series of top names, including Maria Sharapova. 

This season the former world No.4 has won 20 out of 33 matches played with her best performance being a run to the final of the Bad Homburg Open in Germany. However, her record against top 10 opposition was 2-5.

“I’m just taking it day by day, and it’s a great way to end off the year as well, just bringing back all the emotions that fire a lot in me,” Andreescu recently told reporters in Glasgow at the Billie Jean King Cup. “I think I’m going to have a great preseason. Next year I really think I can crack the top 10 again.”

Andreescu, who has been hampered by injury issues in recent years, hasn’t won a singles title of any sort since 2019. 

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Four-Time Grand Slam Winner Naomi Osaka Named In FTX Lawsuit 

The former world No.1 took an equity stake in the failed business earlier this year. 

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NAOMI OSAKA OF JAPAN - PHOTO: ALVARO DIAZ / MMO

Naomi Osaka is among a series of high-profile individuals who have been accused of using their celebrity status to promote FTX’s failed business model in a lawsuit filed against the cryptocurrency exchange. 

 

The BBC has reported that over one million people and businesses could be owed money following the collapse of FTX, according to bankruptcy filings. A week ago FTX collapsed into bankruptcy with its former boss Sam Bankman-Fried stepping down as CEO. A massive development in the financial for what was one of the largest crypto exchanges in the world that had the naming rights to a Formula One racing team as well as a sports arena in Miami.

According to the Associated Press, the company is being investigated by state and federal prosecutors over allegations it ‘invested depositors’ funds in ventures without their approval.’ In a lawsuit filed on Tuesday, it argues that celebrity backers of FTX such as Osaka should be held just as accountable as Bankman-Fried as they brought ‘instant credibility’ to the company. 

“Part of the scheme employed by the FTX Entities involved utilizing some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment — like these Defendants — to raise funds and drive American consumers to invest … pouring billions of dollars into the deceptive FTX platform to keep the whole scheme afloat,” the lawsuit said.

Osaka took an equity stake in FTX in March where she would be receiving compensation in Crypto. Signing what was described as a ‘long-term partnership’ to become a global ambassador, the tennis star aimed to draw attention to women joining the platform and she played a role in directing its content.

“We have seen the statistics about how few women are part of crypto by comparison, which kind of mirrors the inequality we see in other financial markets,” Osaka said earlier this year.

Osaka, who has won 14 out of 23 matches played this season, has not made any public statement regarding the lawsuit. NFL quarterback Tom Brady, comedian Larry David and basketball team the Golden State Warriors are also defendants in the lawsuit.

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WTA Targets New Multi-Year Deal For Its Premier Event If Agreement With China Fails

Will the WTA Finals return to Shenzhen in 2023?

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WTA CEO Steve Simon

The WTA say they are not willing to compromise their principles concerning the possibility of hosting tournaments in China next year amid uncertainty over the future of their season-ending event. 

 

Steve Simon, who is the CEO of the women’s Tour, says he is hopeful that a resolution can be found with the country but has vowed now to back down on its stance. Last year the WTA suspended tournaments in China over concerns about the safety of former player Peng Shuai who accused a former government official of sexually assaulting her. 

Shuai disappeared shortly after posting her statement on social media before returning a few weeks later with photos and videos of her being posted online by journalists linked to the government-controlled media. There are concerns that the former doubles Grand Slam champion, who has not left her country since making those allegations, is being censored by the government. The WTA wants an investigation to be conducted into the matter. 

“We’ve made a strong stand, and we stand behind that stance, and we’re not going to compromise our principles,” Simon said during an interview with The New York Times. “Clearly when we did it, we understood eyes wide open what it could mean.”
“We’re still in the same place. If they come forward with something else we should look at, of course we are open to it. But we haven’t seen it so far. I’m hopeful we do find a resolution. That’s the goal, to find the right resolution. What’s the truth? Then we can move forward.” He added. 

Simon said he is confident that Shuai is safe in Beijing but he has not been able to make any direct contact with her, despite trying to on multiple occasions. A letter reportedly written by Shuai to the WTA was posted online in 2021 saying that she wishes to be left alone. However, many have doubted the authenticity of that letter with some fearing that she wrote it under duress. 

One of the biggest impacts of the fallout has involved the prestigious WTA Finals, which is a round-robin tournament featuring the eight best-performing players over the past 12 months. In 2018 a lucrative deal was agreed that paved the way for the event to be held in Shenzhen for 10 years. However, the event was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic before the next two additions were moved elsewhere.

Whilst the WTA is optimistic about a return to Shenzhen in 2023, there are also backup plans in the works. Simon confirmed that it is no longer feasible for the WTA Finals to be held in a location for just one year. So it is likely that the tournament would be held in a city for two or more years in a row if it doesn’t return to China next season. 

“We’re not going to continue to do these one-year decisions,” he said. “It’s not sustainable. If it looks like we can’t go back to China or aren’t ready to go back, then I do think we will carve out a multiyear situation, because we need to for the business.”

The case involving Shuai isn’t the only barrier for the WTA. China’s zero-covid policy has made hosting international events in the region unfeasible and the ATP cancelled all of their events in the tournament this year due to the situation. 

This year’s WTA Finals has a prize money offering of $5M which is more than half of what was on offer at the 2019 tournament in Shenzhen ($14M). 

Simon didn’t provide any deadline for when an agreement must be reached with China must be reached before the WTA considers moving their event elsewhere once again. 

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