In 2018 four different players won the four Grand Slam titles: Caroline Wozniacki (Australian Open), Simona Halep (Roland Garros), Angelique Kerber (Wimbledon) and Naomi Osaka (US Open) during what was a very unpredictable season. There was no dominant player on the circuit with many different winners in the WTA Premier 5 and Premier Mandatory tournaments: Petra Kvitova (Doha, Madrid and Birmingham), Elina Svitolina (Dubai and Rome), Naomi Osaka (Indian Wells), Sloane Stephens (Miami), Karolina Pliskova (Stuttgart and Tokyo), Simona Halep (Montreal), Kiki Bertens (Cincinnati), Aryna Sabalenka (Wuhan) and Caroline Wozniacki (Beijing).
Here is a breakdown of the highs and lows of this season
The best player of the year: Simona Halep
Simona Halep finally won her first WTA Grand Slam at Roland Garros in her fourth attempt. Defeating Sloane Stephens after losing the first set. The Romanian star had lost her three previous Grand Slam finals at Roland Garros in 2014 against Maria Sharapova and in 2017 against Jelena Ostapenko, and at the 2018 Australian Open against Caroline Wozniacki. The Romanian player won two more WTA titles in Shenzhen and Montreal. At the Canadian Open she beat Sloane Stephens in a re-match of Roland Garros.
Unfortunately Halep ended the 2018 season early due to a herniated disk and was forced to miss the WTA Finals in Singapore, but ended the year as the WTA World Number 1 player.
The World number 1 player received an honorary doctorate from West University in Timisoara for the great results on the court and the contribution she has given to Romania as a country.
The Breakthrough of the year: Naomi Osaka:
The 21 year-old player born in Japan to a Haitian father and a Japanese mother enjoyed her breakthrough season. Winning against another 21-year-old, Daria Kasatkina, in the final of the Premier Mandatory tournament at Indian Wells and her maiden Grand Slam trophy at the US Open, where she beat Serena Williams. Osaka extended her winning streak of ten matches by reaching the final at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, where she lost to Karolina Pliskova. The US-based Japanese player also reached the semifinal at the China Open in Beijing. She qualified for her first WTA Finals in Singapore, where she lost all her round-robin matches against Sloane Stephens, Angelique Kerber and Kiki Bertens. She withdrew during her match against Bertens due to a hamstring injury in her final match of the year.
Osaka has improved her ranking to world number 4. She has become the joint-highest ranked Japanese male or female player in history, equalling Kimiko Date and Kei Nishikori.
She also reached the third round at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, matching her best result at both tournaments.
The comeback of the year:
Serena Williams made her comeback to the tennis court last March at Indian Wells after giving birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia. She reached the third round at Indian Wells before losing to her sister Venus and lost in the first round against Naomi Osaka in Miami. After reaching the Round of 16 at Roland Garros Serena qualified for two Grand Slam finals at Wimbledon and at the US Open. In both tournaments the 23-time Grand Slam champion dropped just one set before the final. Her Wimbledon final was her first title match at Grand Slam level since the 2017 Australian Open. Williams beat Karolina Pliskova in the quarter final of the US Open, scoring her first win against a top-10 player since her return from pregnancy.
The German player of Polish origin dropped out of the top 20 at the end of a difficult 2017 season, but she started her comeback season with a win in the Sydney final against Australia’s Ashleigh Barty. At the Australian Open she beat Madison Keys to set up a semifinal against Simona Halep, who won the third set 9-7 on her fourth match point. After qualifying for the quarter finals in Doha, Indian Wells, Miami and Rome and the semifinal in Dubai, the tennis player from Bremen reached her first Roland Garros quarter final in six years, before losing to eventual champion Simona Halep in three sets. The German player beat Serena Williams in straight sets in the Wimbledon title match in a re-match of the 2016 final in this tournament to climb to world number 4 in the WTA Rankings.
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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