The 2018 WTA Season Review - UBITENNIS
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The 2018 WTA Season Review

Ubitennis.net reviews a memorable 2018 WTA season highlighted by Simona Halep’s first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros, Naomi Osaka’s breakthrough at the US Open, the return of Serena Williams, the Wimbledon triumph of Angelique Kerber and the emergence of Aryna Sabalenka.

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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

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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:

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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:

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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.

Angelique Kerber:

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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.

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Defending Champion Caroline Wozniacki Safely Negotiates Eastbourne Opener

Caroline Wozniacki started her bid for a third title in Eastbourne with a win, while Pliskova, Ostapenko and Vondrousova also secured victories.

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Caroline Wozniacki (@VolvoCarOpen on Twitter)

Caroline Wozniacki began the defence of her title in Eastbourne with a comfortable 6-3 6-4 win over Kirsten Flipkens at the Nature Valley International.

 

The Dane, 28, had not been on court for nearly a month and she has only played 18 matches so far this year due to illness and injury, but her lack of match practice did not seem to affect her too much.

Wozniacki took apart Flipkens’ serve in the opening set, breaking her three times. However, she was also broken twice – despite only facing three break points.

In the second set, the Belgian forced twice as many break points on the Dane’s serve. To Flipkens’ dismay, Wozniacki saved five of them. She also broke the World No.1 twice to take the set 6-4 and seal victory. The 11th seed will face Andrea Petkovic in round two.

Pliskova, Ostapenko and Vondrousova advance

After Karolina Pliskova suffered a surprise loss to sister Kristyna in Birmingham, she was keen to avoid a similar fate in Eastbourne.

It could have happened, too, as the Czech faced a tricky round two opponent in the shape of Margarita Gasparyan.

However, Pliskova ensured there would not be an upset this time. She dominated on serve in the opening set and broke the Russian in the second game to take it 6-3.

The Czech stormed into a 5-2 lead in the second set. Gasparyan staged a mini-fightback by earning her first break of the match. Pliskova then broke the Russian again to book her place in round three.

Jelena Ostapenko put her shock loss in Birmingham behind her with a 6-4 6-4 success over Mihaela Buzarnescu. The Latvian was broken early in both sets but she recovered well both times to earn a second-round clash with Sloane Stephens.

Marketa Vondrousova swept aside Zheng Saisai 6-2 6-3 in her first match since her remarkable run to the French Open final. The bout was interrupted by rain but the Czech, 19, kept her composure to earn a second-round meeting with Elise Mertens.

Svitolina faces fight to stay in the tournament

It was a frustrating day for the fans in Eastbourne as play was frequently delayed by rain. By contrast, several players are probably grateful that the weather intervened.

Chief among those is 5th seed Elina Svitolina, who was a set and a break down to Alize Cornet when the return of the rain forced the tournament referee to call a halt to the day’s play.

Zarina Diyas is in a similar situation. She trailed Lesia Tsurenko 6-2 3-0 when the rain came but she will get a chance to make a comeback tomorrow.

The early finish to the day will also give Belinda Bencic some much-needed extra rest. She was due to play qualifier Veronika Kudermetova in the last match on Court One about 25 hours after she narrowly lost the Mallorca final to Sofia Kenin, but their clash must now take place tomorrow instead.

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Sofia Kenin saves three match points to claim Mallorca title

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US 20-year-old Sofia Kenin fought back from one set down to beat Belinda Bencic 6-7 (2-7) 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 after two hours and 42 minutes at the Mallorca Open on grass. Kenin saved three match points in the 10th game of the second set.

 

The first set was marked by 12 break points. Bencic went up an early break to take a 3-0 lead, but Kenin reeled off four consecutive games to take a 4-3 lead. Bencic got the break back to draw level to 4-4. The young Swiss player went up a 3-0 lead, but Kenin got the mini-break back for 2-3 after a forehand winner. Bencic earned four set points at 6-2 and converted her first chance.

The second set went on serve in the first eight games without a break point before Bencic got the break in the ninth game. She earned three championship points, as she was serving for the title in the 10th game.

Kenin fended them and fired a forehand passing winner to earn a break point.

Kenin broke back with a backhand winner. In the tie-break Kenin fired a backhand down the line winner to open up a 5-2 lead.

The US player earned four set points at 6-2. Bencic saved the first three chances, but Kenin converted her fourth opportunity to take the tie-break 7-5, when Bencic hit a return long.

Both players held serve in the first eight games of the third set before Kenin earned the decisive break in the ninth game with a backhand winner crosscourt on her second break point chance. The US player served out the match with a hold in the 10th game on the first championship point as Bencic hit a return into the net.

Kenin will travel to Eastbourne, where she will face Samantha Stosur in the opening round.

“Hard work is paying off. I am playing really well, fighting for every point, and taking as much advantage as I can. This is really great, and I am just so happy with how I am playing”,said Kenin.

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Ashleigh Barty Becomes World No.1 With Glory In Birmingham

Ashleigh Barty won the Nature Valley Classic and went to World No.1 by beating Julia Goerges in a high-quality final.

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Ashleigh Barty (@the_LTA on Twitter)

Ashleigh Barty is the new World No.1 and the 2019 Nature Valley Classic champion after she defeated Julia Goerges 6-3 7-5 in the final in Birmingham.

 

The Australian’s victory is an ideal way to follow up her maiden Grand Slam title at Roland Garros. It also extends her current win streak to 12 matches and reflects her newly-acquired status of hardest player to beat on the WTA tour.

“(Going to No.1) was a very different feeling to winning the French Open,” Barty said. “The French in particular felt like a whirlwind and it’s just hard to put into words what we have been able to achieve over the last few years. To be where we are now is just incredible.”

Barty’s success has seen her follow in the footsteps of legendary Australian tennis player Evonne Goolagong. “I think I’m nowhere near her status,” the young Australian said. “To be mentioned in the same sentence is incredible.”

She continued, “Evonne is an amazing human being and has set the tone for so many Australians and so many indigenous Australians around our country and around the world. What she did in her career was incredible and what she continues to do off the court for us as a sport is amazing. To have her as a friend is amazing too and I’m sure I will be able to chat to her in the next few days.”

Goerges starts well but makes costly errors

Goerges made the stronger start to the match. She hit three amazing forehands in Barty’s opening service game and a total of six winners in the first four games. She also hit four aces.

However, the Australian stayed with her, and her steadiness paid dividends in game six as the German made six unforced errors during a sloppy service game to hand Barty a crucial break.

For the rest of the set, Goerges cut a frustrated figure and she made five more unforced errors to make it easy for the Australian to close it out 6-3.

Barty edges high-quality second set

Ashleigh Barty (@the_LTA on Twitter)

The standard in the second set was superb. Goerges produced a series of lethal forehands to break in game two and then hit three aces in the next game to open up a 3-0 lead.

However, the German then made four consecutive unforced errors to surrender her serve in game five and suddenly the set was back in the balance.

The next four games were sprinkled with moments of brilliance. Barty hit a great passing shot and Goerges finished off an excellent point with a fantastic drop shot volley. The Australian also produced an improbably precise backhand winner, while the German unleashed her best backhand of the match to save a break point in game nine.

The end result of those games was a 5-4 scoreline in Goerges’ favour. This allowed the German to hit freely against Barty’s serve and she played some delightful shots to earn a set point.

Then the Australian demonstrated her ability to deliver under intense pressure. She hit an ace to save it and shortly afterwards produced another ace and an unreturnable serve to level the score at 5-5.

Goerges did not cope well with having that opportunity snatched away from her. She made a double fault and unforced error to give Barty a chance to break, and the Australian took it by forcing another error from the German.

Barty made serving for the championship look easy. She sent down an ace that landed on the service line and hit a classy forehand winner to claim two of the points, while Goerges made two unforced errors to hand her the other two.

When Goerges met Barty

After the match, it was obvious how happy the German was about her friend’s success. “Ash and I have a long story,” Goerges said. “When she was 15 years old and she got a wild card for the French Open, I was always talking to her, we had a lot of fun moments and then she retired.”

She continued, “I always thought she will come back one day because she loves the sport so much, but she just had enough at that time. We stayed in contact while she was playing cricket and to be able to share this moment with her was something special. If I had to choose to lose someone to today to become the No. 1, I would definitely pick her. That’s why it was very emotional for me.”

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