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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‘My Body Is Not Use To Playing At 2am’ – Kristyna Pliskova Stuns Sakkari In Late-Night Palermo Duel

The Czech player has caused the biggest upset of the draw so far.

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Kristyna Pliskova has started her return to professional tennis following the five-month break by recording one of the biggest wins over her career at the Palermo Open.

 

The Czech tennis player held her nerve to knockout world No.20 and third seed Maria Sakkari 6-4, 6-4, in a late-night encounter. The first day of the WTA event saw a series of matches go the full distance, leading to Pliskova’s opening match taking place in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Despite the later than expected encounter, a sleepy Pliskova still managed to come out on top to record only her seventh win over a top 20 player and second this year. She also beat Aryna Sabalenka at the Shenzhen Open in January. During her latest match, the Czech stood firmly behind her serve as she won 80% of her first service points and saved all three break points she faced. Overall, she won 69 points in the match compared to Sakarri’s 60.

“The conditions were really tough,” wtatennis.com quoted Pliskova as saying. “Before the match, I was also sleeping a little bit! We stayed so late here, I think it’s tough for [Sakkari] as well.”
“The body is not used to playing at 2:00 a.m.,”
she added.

Pliskova broke Sakkari twice in the match by doing so at the start of each set. The triumph avenges her loss to the Greek in their previous meeting that took place at the 2017 Wimbledon championships. On that occasion Sakkari fought back from a set down to win.

Former Wimbledon girls champion Pliskova is seeking her first WTA title in almost four years this week in Palermo. Her next opponent will be Italian veteran Sara Errani, who required almost three hours to oust Sorana Cirstea 7-5, 1-6, 6-4, in a roller-coaster encounter.

“[Errani is] at home here, so for sure the people will cheer for her,” Pliskova commented on her next test. “She had quite a tough match, I saw. It’s very different from today, but I will try to hold my serve and hopefully I will also break her!”

Pliskova is currently ranked 69th in the WTA rankings.

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Sara Errani makes successful return with a three-set win over Sorana Cristea in Palermo

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World number 167 and former Roland Garros finalist Sara Errani battled past Sorana Cristea 7-5 1-6 6-4 in a hard-fought match after 3 hours. 

 

The match started with three breaks in the first five games, as Errani took a 4-1 lead. Cristea broke back to draw level to 5-5. Errani earned two break points and broke serve to win the first set 7-5. 

Errani started the second set with an early break. Cristea fought back by winning six consecutive games with three breaks of serve. 

Cristea earned an early break at the start of the third set. Errani broke back in the fourth game to draw level to 2-2. Errani got another break in the sixth game but Cristea broke straight back to draw level to 4-4. In the 10th game Errani came back from 0-40 down and sealed the win on her first match point setting up a second round match against either Maria Sakkari or Krystina Pliskova. 

Errani has won her first WTA match since Bogotà 2019. 

“I thank Palermo Tournament Director Oliviero Palma, who has always supported me. I am honoured that I received a wild-card. Palermo is my second home. I have often played very well here. I hope crowd will give me their support. My level is not the same as in the past years but I have the same enthusiasm. After a long break for many breaks it is not easy to return to my best level”, said Errani. 

Italy’s Jasmine Paolini came back from one set down to upset former top 10 player Daria Kasatkina 5-7 6-4 6-4 after 3 hours and 21 breaks of serve. Paolini had scored her only win over a top 20 player, when she beat Kasatkina in Prague in 2018, but the Russian player had won two of their their previous head-to-head matches. In their most recent clash Kasatkina beat Paolini in the first round at 2019 Roland Garros. 

Paolini converted 11 of her 16 break points, while Kasatkina earned 34 break points and got only ten of them. The young Italian player will face either Elise Mertens or a qualifier. 

Kasatkina earned an early break in the first game of the first set and held his serve to open up a 2-0 lead. Paolini saved four break points (two in the fifth game at 3-1 and two in the seventh game at 4-2). As Kasatkina was serving at 5-4, Paolini saved four set points. Paolini earned a break point, as Kasatkina made a double fault on the third deuce. Paolini converted the break point with an overhead winner to draw level to 5-5. Kasatkina earned another break in the 11th game after Paolini netted her forehand. The Russian player converted her fifth set point with a forehand. 

The first six games of the second set went against serve. Paolini saved two break points and ended the streak of service breaks with a decisive hold for 4-3. Paolini got another break for 5-3 earning a chance to serve out the set. Kasatkina converted her third break point with a return winner to break back at 5-4. 

The third set followed the same pattern. Both players traded breaks four times in the first eight games en route to 4-4. Paolini held her serve in the ninth game for 5-4 before earning a match point with a backhand winner down the line. 

Paolini broke in the 10th game after a forehand error from Kasatkina to seal the third set 6-4. The Italian player is one match away from matching her quarter final in the 2019 edition. 

Donna Vekic cruised past Aranxta Rus 6-1 6-2 in the opening match of the Palermo Ladies Open. Vekic did not dropped her serve and closed out the match in 1 hour and 15 minutes without dropping her serve. 

Rus fended off seven break points. Vekic broke serve six times and won eight consecutive games to build up a 6-1 2-0 lead. 

Rus found her rhythm and broke back to draw level to 2-2. Vekic won 77% of her first serve points and broke twice in a row to win the second set 6-2. 

The Croatian player sets up a second round match against former Australian Open Junior semifinalist Elisabetta Cocciaretto, who beat Polona Hercog 7-6 (7-1) 6-3. 

“I am definitely a little bit surprised at the score. The conditions were very tricky and very windy, so the ball was a little bit all over the court. I am just definitely happy that I did not forget how to play tennis, how to play matches, how to win. It’s a huge relief”, said Vekic. 

Ekaterina Alexandrova came back from one set down to beat Kristina Mladenovic 5-7 6-0 6-1 after 2 hours and 12 minutes. The 59-minute first set was marked by nine breaks. Alexandrova came back in the second and third sets, dropping just one game. 

The match started with six consecutive breaks. Alexandrova got the early lead, but Mladenovic broke back each time to draw level to 3-3. Mladenovic got the first service hold and saved a set point on Alexandrova’s serve at 5-4. Mladenovic earned another break to seal the first set 7-5. 

Alexandrova broke three times to win the second set 6-0. Mladenovic won the first game of the third set, but Alexandrova won six consecutive games to win the third set 6-1 after 2 hours and 12 minutes. 

“It feels great being back on court because it was such a long wait, and it felt really special. It was quite tough because I was so nervous and my serve in the first set was just awful. Thankfully in the second and third set it was much better”, said Alexandrova. 

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Maria Sakkari Pondered Temporary Sport Switch During Tour Suspension

This summer could have looked very different for the world No.20.

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Greek tennis star Maria Sakkari could have been preparing to take part in a completely different sport this week if it wasn’t for the Palermo Open taking place.

 

The world No.20 considered switching her tennis shoes for running ones amid the uncertainty surrounding when the sport would start again. All professional tennis tournaments have been cancelled since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the WTA Tour is restarting this week in Italy.

Although if it wasn’t for Palermo staging the eagerly awaited return of tennis, Sakkari reveals that she might have instead switched her focus to athletics in order to maintain her competitive thirst. Taking part in the Greek athletics championships. Her discipline of choice would have been the 100 meters which her fitness trainer believes she would have made the final in.

“If the Tour was cancelled I was going to compete in the 100m track and field event at the National Championships,” Sakkari told reporters on Sunday.
“Greece National Championships starts on Aug. 8. We were kind of joking with my fitness coach, but inside of me I really needed competition.
“There were rumours going around that the Tour would get cancelled so I thought if the Tour gets cancelled I need to find something. I’m fast, I knew I was not going to win it for sure because I’m not a professional. But yeah, I was thinking of doing that.”

Sakkari can run 100M in a time of 12.7 seconds but that is without both running spikes and starting blocks. Her idea stemmed from the type of training she was doing back in Athens during the tour shutdown. Although tennis remains her first priority.

“I started playing tennis on May 4th, but before that, I was working with my fitness coach at outdoor areas where we were allowed to work out,” she said. “I was running a lot. I think I was running more than I ever did.”

In Palermo Sakkari will be the third seed in the draw and faces Czech Republic’s Kristýna Plíšková in the first round on Monday. The world No.20 started 2020 by winning nine out of 15 matches played on the Tour with her best runs being to the fourth round of the Australian Open and semi-finals of the St Petersburg Open.

We’re back in competition so I’m blessed,” Sakkari said. “Blessed to be back.”

Sakkari is bidding to win the second WTA trophy of her career this week after triumphing last year at the Morocco Open.

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