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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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Pliskova And Konta Advance To Rome Final

Johanna Konta edged world n.4 Kiki Bertens while Karolina Pliskova scored a straight-set victory against Maria Sakkari

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Johanna Konta in Rome during the 2019 Internazionali BNL d'Italia (photo Roberto Dell'Olivo)

After a washout on Wednesday and a double duty day on Thursday, the Internazionali BNL d’Italia were bracing for another wet afternoon on Saturday. Eventually, the very cold spell of Italian spring that has so far marred the 2019 Italian Open decided to spare the Foro Italico on the first day of the final weekend and allowed the two women’s singles semifinals to take place with only one very short interruption.

 

In the first match, 28-year-old Brit Johanna Konta came back from one set down and only two points away from defeat to overcome Mutua Madrid Open champion and world n.4 Kiki Bertens 5-7, 7-5, 6-2. The Dutch woman seemed to be in control of the match after she swooped the first set winning the last three games in a row (from 4-5 to 7-5) imposing her offensive and defensive game over a nervous and tentative Konta, who also failed to consolidate an initial break in the second set by losing her serve for the third time in a row. However, as the match progressed Konta started shaking off her initial jitters and held her subsequent service game with authority. At 4-5 30-30, a shanked smash pinched the line and the following forehand volley winner sealed the 5-5, signing a progressive decline in Berten’s sharpness and aggressiveness. “I think everything was hard today to ignore – said Bertens in the post-match press conference – the court was really slippery, so it’s tough to move on. Especially I like it when it’s not so slippery so I can move a little bit better. With the wind, it was really tough. She played really smart with the dropshots. She did a good job in there. I was all the time getting myself together and trying to push for more energy. But, yeah, it was not there”.

At her first final on clay and at her first final in a Premier Five/Premier Mandatory tournament after her triumph in Miami in 2017, Konta describer her effort on court as a “continuous adjustment, a continuous openness to figure it out within the match. I stayed very open in trying to find a solution in each point […] after I lost the first set, I didn’t do much wrong. It was a very good set of tennis. Equally the second set, as well. There wasn’t anybody putting a bad foot out of line. In the third, I definitely felt that I was able to maintain my level a bit better than her. I think that gave me the upper hand in stringing some more points together”.

Konta will face in the final n.4 seed Karolina Pliskova, who during the late afternoon match defeated Greek qualifier Maria Sakkari 6-4, 6-4. Sakkari started the match extremely well taking an early 4-2 lead, but could not continue to produce the same level of tennis in the second part of the set and was surpassed by her better ranked opponent. “Your intensity just dropped by one percent – said Sakkari’s coach Tom Hill during an on-court coaching session at the end of the first set – that’s the only difference between the first games and the last in this first set”.

During the second set, Pliskova was always ahead in the score, and despite she was the player more under pressure on her serve during the first half of the set, she eventually managed to break her opponent to love on 5-4 closing the match after one hour, 27 minutes. “I’m super happy for this result because I don’t feel I have been playing my best tennis – said Pliskova after the match – coming into this week I felt I would probably win one match, possibly two, I’m very confident for Paris now”.

The head-to-head between Pliskova and Konta see the Czech having won four of the previous five matches at WTA level, plus further two at ITF level. The only win for Konta came in Beijing in 2016, when the Brit reached her first Premier Mandatory final.

 

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Johanna Konta Reaches Biggest Semi-Final Since 2017

Johanna Konta advanced to her first semi-final in Rome by beating Vondrousova in three sets, while Pliskova beat Azarenka.

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Johanna Konta (@InteBNLdItalia on Twitter)

Johanna Konta will contest the biggest match of her career since Wimbledon 2017 when she takes on Kiki Bertens in the semi-final of the Italian Open.

 

The Brit, who is celebrating her 28th birthday today, looked in excellent form during her 6-3 3-6 6-1 victory over rising star Marketa Vondrousova and she fully deserves her place in the last four.

Konta’s win seems even more impressive when you consider the two players the Czech, 19, beat to reach the quarter-final stage: Simona Halep and Daria Kasatkina.

With those scalps under her belt, Vondrousova would surely have fancied her chances against the Brit. However, that confidence quickly eroded after the World No.42 controlled the opening set.

Konta made a great start. She hit a series of deep backhands which pushed the Czech back as she almost got an immediate break.

Although Vondrousova held on, the Brit then earned three more chances in game three. She took the second to move into a 2-1 lead.

Konta dominated her service games to maintain her advantage for the rest of the set, and then broke the Czech again in game nine to clinch it.

To Vondrousova’s credit, she fought back well in the second set and eventually won it 6-3. However, the Brit knew what to do in the decider. She stepped into the court and attacked anything short. This enabled her to win six games in a row and seal her spot in the semi-final.

Azarenka’s impressive run comes to an end

Karolina Pliskova (@InteBNLdItalia on Twitter)

It has been a brilliant week in Rome for Victoria Azarenka, but her participation in the singles event is now over after a 6-7(5) 6-2 6-2 loss to Karolina Pliskova.

The Belarussian, 29, impressed during her three-set win over another top ten player – Elina Svitolina – in the second round, but she could not repeat the feat against the World No.7.

For Pliskova, the match against Azarenka represented a significant hurdle to negotiate. But she responded superbly to losing the first set by raising her game considerably to win the next two.

“Azarenka was playing good tennis today. She wasn’t missing much,” the Czech said in her press conference.

She continued, “It was a little bit windy, so I didn’t feel at my best in the first set. I don’t think my level was that bad, but I was too passive. To begin with, I wanted to kill myself after that set. Then I calmed down a bit and went for my shots a little bit more, which paid off.”

Pliskova’s reward will be a semi-final against either Maria Sakkari or Kristina Mladenovic. If it is the Greek, it will bring back memories of their encounter last year when the Czech famously lost her temper and damaged the umpire’s chair.

“I haven’t played Sakkari since Rome last year, so I think everybody is going to be waiting for this match – even me,” the World No.7 said. “The rematch has almost happened in a couple of tournaments recently, but she always lost before. I think she was scared to face me!”

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Kiki Bertens receives a walkover into the semifinal, as Naomi Osaka withdraws from the quarter final due to a right hand injury

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Last week’s Madrid Mutua Open champion Kiki Bertens overcame 2015 Rome finalist Carla Suarez Navarro 6-4 1-6 6-3 after 1 hour and 49 minutes to extend her winning streak to eight consecutive matches.

 

A rain wash-out on Wednesday forced Bertens to postpone her Rome campaign until Thursday and play two matches to advance to the quarter final.

Bertens overcame Amanda Anisimova 6-2 4-6 7-5 after being just two points from defeat in her first Thursday match before surviving another three-set battle against Carla Suarez Navarro.

Bertens went up a double break to take a 3-0 lead and held on her service games to seal the opening set on her fourth set point.

Suarez Navarro broke serve twice to clinch the second set 6-1 forcing the match to the third set.

Bertens broke twice in a row to race out to a 4-0 lead in the  decisive set. Suarez Navarro pulled one of the two breaks back. Bertens held on her next service games to seal the win to secure her spot in the quarter final.

“It was only fight today that got me through. It wasn’t the best tennis, but sometimes that happens where you just have to find a way. Luckily I found it. I got to hit yesterday morning because I was first on, so at 9 AM, I warmed up until 9.30, when I thought that maybe we will be able to go on court, but it did not happen. I was on site from 8 AM to 6 PM, so it was a long day, but for everyone. This morning I saw the schedule for 10 AM, so the alarm went off at 6.30. Not my best morning. After the first match, I felt more mentally fatigued, but a long second match, you feel it physically”, said Bertens.

The Dutch player has received a walkover into the semifinal after her quarter final rival Naomi Osaka was forced to withdraw from the tournament due to a right hand injury. Osaka also had to pull out of the Stuttgart Open because of an abdominal problem, but she reached the biggest clay quarter final of her career in Madrid, where she served for the match, but she lost to Belinda Bencic 3-6 6-2 7-5.

 

 

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