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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Wimbledon Champion Simona Halep Wary About Return To Tour

The world No.2 is expecting a tough time when she returns to action following the lengthy suspension of the sport due to COVID-19.

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Simona Halep has admitted that she has concerns about returning to tennis following a lengthy period away from the sport.

 

The two-time grand slam champion hasn’t played a competitive match since winning the Dubai Tennis Championships in February. All professional tennis tournaments have been suspended or cancelled since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials are hoping to get the sport back on its feet during the summer but an exact return date is still to be confirmed with the US Open set to announce next month if their tournament will go ahead or not.

Spending her lockdown in Romania, Halep is expecting a tough time when she returns to action due to having a lack of match play. To fill the void, some top 10 players have entered into domestic tournaments. Both Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova are playing tournaments in the Czech Republic. Meanwhile, Elina Svitolina is set to play in a behind the doors event in Berlin in July. Halep is yet to publicly commit to playing any such event.

“My longest break before the lockdown has been of 3-4 weeks and [returning to competitions] was very difficult for me. You lose pace, you lose focus … and then physically, if you idle about for a whole week you’ve lost half a year,” news agency AGERPRES quoted the 28-year-old as saying.
“ I don’t know what others have done during this time, maybe some did training runs, maybe they did strength workouts, I don’t know, I can’t assume. But I feel it on my own skin that it will be a bit difficult for me. It matters a lot that I haven’t had official matches. You can train five hours a day for a whole year, if you are not on an official game, you’re out when you step on court … I mean, you’re not in the game at all. There’s a big difference.”

Despite her concerns, Halep’s time away from the sport has allowed her to appreciate things she wouldn’t usually have time to do due to the demanding travelling requirements of tennis. Speaking about the lockdown, she says it has enabled her to evaluate her time on the Tour as well as the future.

“I learned a lot from the two-month isolation. I realized that in the last 6 years I’ve been actually on a total lockdown,” she explains.
“It occurred to me that I have to change something in my life, in order to also develop on the emotional and personal side. The fact that I’ve been on lockdown for 6 years has helped me become world No. 1, but now, for me to have a happy life without tennis, I am slowly trying to experience new feelings, see something else.”

Halep started 2020 by winning 10 out of 12 matches played. Besides her triumph in Dubai, she also reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open before losing to Garbine Muguruza. Halep is one of four women to have already made more than $1 million in prize money this season.

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Former No.1 Karolina Pliskova Hits Out At Men Worrying About Equal Pay In Tennis

The world No.4 explains why she personally doesn’t want equal pay on the tour, but criticises those who worry that women players might do so in the future.

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Czech tennis star Karolina Pliskova has labelled men who voice opposition against equal pay as ‘super weak’ as she becomes the latest player to throw her backing behind the possibility of a merger of the two premier tennis Tour’s.

 

Pliskova, who is a former US Open finalist, spoke out about the topic when questioned by the PA Press Agency. In recent weeks there has been growing calls for the ATP and WTA to be merged into one. Support for the idea gained momentum when Roger Federer tweeted his support for it. However the heads of the two governing bodies have already been in discussions about working closer together in some capacity since the start of this year.

Although the prospect of a merger remains low due to the complex process that it would involve, both the ATP and WTA have vowed greater collaboration to help enhance the future of the sport. One of the main talking points behind the calls is pay. There is equal prize money at all of the grand slams, however, it does differ behind the men and women on the Tour. Last year six men earned more than $7 million in prize money compared to one on the WTA Tour (Ash Barty).

Weighing in on the topic, Pliskova has interestingly said that she is not interested in campaigning for her to be paid similar to her male counterparts. Arguing that the two genders should not be compared. However, she has voiced her frustration at those who are against the concept of equal pay.

“I don’t think so and I am not the one who wants it. But I don’t like the men who are complaining that we would get the same money. I think it is super weak from them that they complain we have the same money as them,” she said.
“The only time it is true is at grand slams. I understand they play longer, but they are men. They are stronger than us. I don’t see the reason why we should compare each other. I don’t need to have the same prize money as men. But to have the same chance to play on centre court or to have the same chance to be on TV, that should be possible with these changes.”

As of March 20th Pliskova has made $19,997,689 in prize money throughout her career, which is the 19th highest tally in the history of women’s tennis.

Speaking more specifically about a possible merger, the 28-year-old believes it would help enhance the women’s tour. Although she is staying cautious about the prospect of such a thing happening in the future.

“I think for the women’s tour it can only help. I don’t know exactly what they are discussing but if there is any chance to say yes, then I would say yes,” Pliskova said.
“It needs to be positive also for the ATP so they need to find a balance so it is a forward step for both. It might take a couple of years to get going. It will be different, but I don’t think for the players it would change that much. It would be a good step.”

Pliskova is currently ranked third in the WTA rankings and has won 16 WTA titles. She is set to return to action next week at the LiveScore Cup in Prague.

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Injury Scare Fails To Derail Petra Kvitova From Winning ‘Bizarre’ All-Czech Tennis Event

The world No.12 speaks out about the unusual circumstances she was playing in earlier this week as she sheds light on a recent injury issue she has been dealing with.

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During what was meant to be the first week of the French Open Petra Kvitova is still winning matches albeit in very different circumstances.

 

With professional tennis still halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the two-time Wimbledon champion was one of the headline acts at the CTS President’s Cup earlier this week. A Three-day event that features eight men and eight women taking part in a all-Czech tournament. Umpires and ball boys had to wear face masks and there was limited spacing for spectators to watch from the sidelines with organizers mindful of social distancing.

“The gloves, face masks, the fact nobody handed us the towels, no handshakes, that was definitely bizarre,” said Kvitova.
“And playing without people, the atmosphere was not exactly what we are used to.”

Despite the unusual circumstances, it failed to prevent Kvitova for winning the event on Thursday. During a rain-interrupted final she saw off Wimbledon quarter-finalist Karolina Muchova 6-3, 6-3. Earlier in the event she also scored wins over former world No.1 doubles player Kateřina Siniaková (7-5, 6-4) and Barbora Krejčíková (7-6, 6-2).

The trio of victories came only days after there was concern if Kvitova would be able to play at all. Leading into the tournament the Czech started to feel pain in her forearm, but was later given the all clear by her doctor. Speaking to reporters, she said the pain she felt was similar to what occurred this time last year when she was forced to withdraw from the French Open.

“Two days before the start of the tournament, my forearm started to stiffen, similar to last year before the French Open,” the 30-year-old explained.
“That’s why I didn’t train on Monday. I was waiting for Mr. Kolář’s verdict, but he said that I would be able to do it (play) in some way.”

Now her first taste of competitive tennis in over three months has concluded, Kvitova has relished the experience. It is still unclear as to when the WTA Tour will resume. At present the suspension is until July 31st. In recent days both the US Open and French Open have said they are optimistic that their events will be able to go ahead later this year in some capacity.

“Given the circumstances and the pandemic, it was a wonderful tournament,” Kvitova stated.

Whilst officials ponder when to restart the sport, Kvitova plans to take some time resting her hand in order to prevent aggravating it further.

“I’ll definitely feel my hand for a few days now, but I’ll take time off, there’s no hurry,” she concluded.

In the men’s final world No.450 Michael Vrbensky, who shocked top seed Jiri Vesely in the first round, won the title.

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