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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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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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