Maria Sharapova, Jelena Ostapenko and Caroline Garcia lead a high-quality field at the Shenzhen Open - UBITENNIS
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Maria Sharapova, Jelena Ostapenko and Caroline Garcia lead a high-quality field at the Shenzhen Open

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Next year’s Shenzhen Open will feature a high-quality field which includes former Grand Slam champions Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko and former top 10 player Caroline Garcia. The Chinese tournament will take place from 29th December 2018 to 5th January 2019 at the Shenzhen Longgang Sports Center.

Sharapova won five Grand Slam titles (Wimbledon 2004, US Open 2006, Australian Open 2008, Roland Garros 2012 and 2014). Last year she played in Shenzhen reaching the semifinals, before losing to Katerina Siniakova. At Grand Slam level the Russian legend reached the third round at the Australian Open before losing to Angelique Kerber, and the French Open, where she qualified for her first Grand Slam quarter final since the 2016 Australian Open. At the US Open she lost to Carla Suarez Navarro in the fourth round. She pulled out of the final tournaments of the year at the China Open, Tianjin Open and at the Moscow Kremlin Cup with a right shoulder injury. Sharapova ended the year ranked world number 29.

Jelena Ostapenko won the French Open title and at the Korea Open in Seoul in 2017 and made her debut in the top 10. The young Latvian player ended the 2017 season ranked world number 7. In 2018 she beat Petra Kvitova in the fourth round, Elina Svitolina in the quarter final and Danielle Collins in the quarter final to reach the final at the Miami Open before losing to Sloane Stephens.

She lost in the first round to Kateryna Kozlova in the first round at the French Open, where she defended the title won in 2017. She then beat Dominika Cibulkova to reach her first semifinal at Wimbledon before losing to eventual finalist Angelique Kerber.

Caroline Garcia made a major breakthrough in 2017 when she won back-to-back titles on Chinese soil in Wuhan and Beijing and reached the semifinals at the WTA Finals in Singapore, before losing to Venus Williams. In 2018 the French player won her only title in Tianjin, reached the quarter final in Dubai and Doha, the semifinals in Stuttgart and Madrid, the quarter finals in Rome, Montreal and Tokyo, and the fourth round at the Australian Open and at the French Open.

The line-up also features two Chinese rising stars Wang Xinyu and Wang Xiyu. They won the Wimbledon doubles junior title. Wang Xiyu claimed the 2018 US Open Junior title to become the first Chinese player to win a Grand Slam Junior title.

“The entire line-up of players will be announced in due course, but this is an opportunity to let all fans of the Shenzhen Open know in advance that we in for an exciting week of tennis at Shenzhen Longgang Sports Center”, said Shenzhen Open Tournament director Luiz Carvalho.

The Shenzhen Open boasts an impressive list of past champions, which includes Chinese legend Li Na and Simona Halep, Agnieszka Radwanska and Katerina Siniakova. Li Na won the first two editions of the Shenzhen Open in 2013 and 2014. Halep won twice in 2015 and 2018. The Romanian world number 1 beat Siniakova 6-1 0-6 6-2 in the 2018 edition and added two more titles this year winning the French Open and the Rogers Cup.

“Every year the Shenzhen Open grows and continues to be an exciting stop on the world tour as being a very important part of China’s tennis development. From the tournament’s first year when Li Na won the title, fans have greatly enjoyed seeing so many tremendous female players gracing our courts”,said Li Wenbin, the Deputy Chairman of the Chinese Tennis Association.

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Simona Halep Sheds Light On Potential New Coach To Replace Darren Cahill

The world No.1 has been spotted with a Belgian mentor at the Australian Open, who recently halted his partnership with another player on the ATP Tour.

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Simona Halep (photo by chryslène caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

Simona Halep has confirmed that she is ‘talking’ with a Thierry Van Cleemput about the possibility of him joining her team in the future.

The two were spotted together at Melbourne Park on Monday whilst Halep was warming up for her match against Serena Williams, which she lost in three sets. Cleemput was also present at her fourth round match and sat a row behind her player’s box. Halep is currently without a coach after she split with Darren Cahill during the off-season. Cahill announced a 12-month break from coaching in order to spend more time with his family.

“We are talking, but he is not my coach officially, so we will see.” Halep said during her press conference.

Van Cleemput has worked as a coach since 1993 and has guided some of the best male players in his home country. Spending stints with Olivier Rochus and Steve Darcis. He was also the assistant team captain of the Belgian Davis Cup team between 2002-2005. Up until last week Cleemput had been working with David Goffin, but they have separated on ‘mutual grounds.’ A decision Halep has stated that she had no impact on.

“I have nothing to do with their split. I like him as a coach. I like him as a person.” She said.
“We haven’t decided anything yet. We just have to know each other better. We are just talking.”

Halep confirmed that she spoke with Cleemput after he had split with Goffin.  Although she remained coy when asked if she was the one who approached him first.

Reflecting back on her Australian Open campaign, the world No.1 says she is contempt with her performance. Prior to her loss to Williams, she scored wins over Kaia Kanepi, Sofia Kenin and Venus Williams. Prior to Melbourne, she hadn’t won a match since August after ending her 2018 season early due to a back injury.

“I haven’t been prepared for the highest level in tennis, but I did not play bad, so I’m happy about the way that it’s been going this tournament, and I take only the positives.” She said. “I had great matches. I had the toughest draw, but it was nice.”

As a result of her loss, Halep faces the possibility of losing her No.1 ranking next week. She has held the top spot since February 2018.

“I will not stress myself about this. I just go home, I will rest, and I will watch tennis. I am also curious who is going to win (the Australian Open).” She concluded about the situation.

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Karolina Pliskova Thrashes Muguruza To Reach Australian Open Quarters

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Karolina Pliskova has continued her unbeaten start to 2019 with an emphatic 6-3, 6-1, win over two-time grand slam champion Garbine Muguruza at the Australian Open.

The Czech seventh seed recovered from a tentative start to the match to dominate proceeding on the Margaret Court Arena. In what was a battle of former world No.1 players, Pliskova produced a near-perfect performance. Hitting just three unforced errors during the 60-minute clash, compared to Muguruza’s tally of 20. Furthermore, she converted five out of her seven break point opportunities and blasted 23 winners past the Spaniard.

“I feel better with every match that I play here. It’s my first time on Margaret Court (this year) and I’m happy I got the win.” Pliskova said afterwards.
“I think I played well. Obviously the first set was important. We had some very close games. At the beginning we were both a bit nervous. It’s a bit windy, so the conditions are a bit tricky sometimes.”

It was the conditions that proved to be too problematic for Muguruza, who hasn’t won four consecutive matches on the tour for eight months. Since winning the 2017 Wimbledon Championships, Muguruza has only managed to reach the last eight of a major in one out of six attempts (French Open 2018).

“It was a very tough match. I was expecting it.” Muguruza said in her press conference. “Pliskova, you have to put a lot of intensity with her. She makes you be on every single ball. I struggled a little bit with the heat or the conditions. I don’t know. I felt it was a little bit heavy today.”

Pliskova now finds herself on a nine-match winning streak following her triumph at the Brisbane International earlier in the month. Her longest winning streak since May. During the off-season, she added Conchita Martinez to her team. A former Australian Open finalist back in 1998, who had previously worked alongside Muguruza on the tour. Also included in Pliskova’s team is former doubles specialist Rennae Stubbs.

“A lot of positive things.” Pliskova replied when asked what Martinez brings. “So far everything is working. I cannot be happier to have this team by me and everything is working well.”

Set to play in the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park for the third consecutive year in a row, the 26-year-old faces a potentially tricky task. Awaiting her will be either top seed Simona Halep or 23-time grand slam champion Serena Williams. Two players who she has a losing head-to-head record against.

“I know both of them. I have played both of them already. It is going to be definitely tough.” She previewed.
“Simona is world No.1 and it is always tough to play her. And Serena I think she is in great shape this tournament. So we will see.”

Pliskova is bidding to reach the last four of a grand slam for only the third time in her career this week.

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‘Proud’ Coach Bajin Hails Naomi Osaka’s Run To Australian Open Quarter-Finals

Sasha Bajin speaks out about his work with the world No.4.

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Naomi Osaka’s fight back against Anastasija Sevastova in the fourth round of the Australian Open was ‘beautiful to see,’ according to her coach Sascha Bajin.

The US Open champion was forced to come back from a set down to prevail 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, against the Latvian. Doing so for the second match in a row at Melbourne Park. It was a far from straightforward clash for the Japanese No.1, who produced 51 winners and 43 unforced errors. During the decider, she lost a 3-1 advantage as Sevastova fought back to level 3-3. Nevertheless, Osaka went on to break once again to seal the win. Moving into the last eight in Melbourne for the first time in her career.

“I think the biggest thing for me is the belief. I think I believe in myself more this year than I have last year.” Osaka explained about her latest comeback.
“Technically I’m supposed to be good at starting matches. I think I have a pretty good record winning the first set and then winning the match.
“I just feel like I have played two really great players over the past few days, and I just have to adjust to that feeling of being overwhelmed a little bit.”

Despite the slow start to her recent matches, Bajin believes there is a lot of positives to be drawn from it. The 34-year-old has worked with Osaka since December 2017 and has overseen her rapid rise on the tour. German-born Bajin was once a promising junior tennis player himself, but stepped away from the sport shortly after the death of his father and coach in a car accident. At the end of 2018, he was named WTA Coach of the year.

“Coming off of the last two matches where she lost the first set, seeing how she’s able to the problem on the court and comes back and wins it is beautiful to see.” Bajin told reporters in Melbourne.
“It shows maturity, and shows that she’s come a long way. She’s getting her emotions better under control. And overall just very proud of how she’s handled this tournament so far.”

Closing in on becoming the first ever player from Japan – man or women – to break into the top three in the world rankings, Osaka is known for sometimes being overly critical of her performance. Earlier this year at the Brisbane International, she said she had the ‘worst attitude’ during her loss in the semi-finals. Even Bajin admits that the world No.4 can be a bit brutal on herself, but he doesn’t see that as a negative in any way.

“I don’t have to talk her down. I just have to tell her grass is green, water flows, and everything is all right sometimes.” He said.
“Overall, she’s very hard on herself. She has very high expectations. She wants to do well. She wants to get better. That’s a good thing. I would not want to have it the other way. So if I have to choose, I will pick that.”

Svitolina awaits

The next test for Osaka comes in the form of Elina Svitolina, who won the 2018 WTA Finals in Singapore. Svitolina also endured a tough fourth round encounter against Madison Keys. Overcoming a second set blip to prevail 6-2, 1-6, 6-1. It is the second consecutive year she has reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. A milestone she is yet to achieve at any other grand slam.

“I Know she played well at the end of the year, she won the WTA Finals. Personally, I was really happy for her, because I know that everyone was sort of writing her off, because she wasn’t doing well leading up to that.” Osaka commented about her upcoming rival.
“I have played her multiple times now, and I know she’s a very consistent player and when she has the chance she does like to attack. I think playing she is going to be very difficult for me.”

The quarter-final match will be the sixth meeting between the two players. Osaka currently trails 2-3 in their head-to-head, and lost in both of their encounters during 2018.

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