Comeback Kids James Duckworth, Kimberly Birrell Win Australian Open Wildcards - UBITENNIS
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Comeback Kids James Duckworth, Kimberly Birrell Win Australian Open Wildcards

Two players that have been blighted by injury in recent years have booked a spot in the main draw at next month’s grand slam.

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Former top 100 player James Duckworth has secured a place in next months Australian Open after winning the national play-off tournament in Melbourne.

 

The 26-year-old outlasted compatriot Luke Saville 6-3, 5-7, 7-5, 7-6(2), in a closely fought match. Saville knocked out top seed Alex Bolt in the semi-finals of the tournament. Duckworth’s reward is a place in the main draw of the Melbourne major for the seventh time in his career and first since 2017.

“I thought today, probably until those last couple of games when I was pretty nervous, was probably the cleanest I’d hit the ball and the most comfortable and confident I’d felt on the court, which I was pleased about,” Duckworth said following his win.

Duckworth’s triumph comes after what has been a turbulent past two years for him. Since his last appearance at the Australian Open, he has had to undergo five surgeries and dropped outside the top 1000 earlier this year. Last year, he could only play in two tournaments due to injury. Within a 13-month period, he underwent three foot surgeries, as well as operations on his shoulder and elbow.

“There were definitely times over the last few years when I thought maybe I’d never play tennis again, let alone the Australian Open,” he reflected.
“It was tough sitting on the sidelines and going through so much rehab and spending so much time on the operating table as well. So to be able to get back is just a dream come true.
“I’ve obviously been through a lot over the last couple of years and to be able to play my home Grand Slam again – which in my opinion is the best tournament in the world, the support you get here is incredible – is just an unbelievable feeling.”

On the rise once again, Duckworth is currently ranked 244th in the world. This season he has achieved a win-loss record of 15-12. In September he won his first title since undergoing multiple surgeries at the ATP Cary Open. A Challenger tournament in America.

Looking ahead to the upcoming grand slam, Duckworth will be bidding to win his fourth main draw match at the event. He has previously reached the second round of the Australian Open in 2012, 2013 and 2015.

Birrell caps off dream week

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In the women’s tournament, world No.288 Kimberly Birrell clinched the wildcard without dropping a single set all week.

Birrell, who last played at the Australian Open in 2016, breezed past Astra Shama 6-4, 6-2. The 20-year-old also knocked out third seed Jaimee Fourlis and second seed Ellen Perez on route to the final.

“So many mixed emotions – I think it all kind of hit me in the end, because I knew she was going to put up a fight until the very last point until we shook hands,” Birrell said.
“So happy, and just so much joy, and maybe a little bit of relief too. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity and I’m so glad that I was able to take it.”

German-born Birrell has won two titles on the ITF Tour, including the $60,000 Darwin Open this year. She is yet to crack the top 200. Her most significant result on the WTA Tour occurred on the doubles tour. At the 2016 Hobart International she finished runner-up alongside Jarmila Wolfe.

Similar to Duckworth, Birrell has also endured her fair share of injury issues despite her young age. Shoulder surgery in 2016 sidelined her from action for 11 months before she made a steady return.

“It really helps having been through the whole experience before. I played juniors, I’ve been around the environment. It’s not gonna be anything new. And during that Australian Open (in 2016) I played on Hisense Arena, one of the biggest courts in the world. I’m definitely gonna draw on that experience, for sure.” She said.
“I’ve learned so much since then. It’s only been two years but it feels like kind of a lifetime ago because I’ve been through so much since then – coming off a surgery, and kind of almost starting from scratch.
“I feel like I’ve just played so much more tennis since then; my body is completely different to what it was back then. I have so much more faith in myself, and that I can back up match after match and compete against the top girls.”

The Australian Open will get underway on January 14th.

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Tomas Berdych to Miss French Open For The First Time Since 2003

It will be the third grand slam the former top 10 player has missed within the past 12 months.

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Tomas Berdych (photo by chryslène caillaud)

Former Wimbledon runner-up Tomas Berdych will not play any clay court tournaments in 2019 after withdrawing from the upcoming French Open.

 

The 33-year-old has been absent from the tour since his first round loss to Feliciano Lopez in Indian Wells. Berdych has been hampered by issues within his back in recent weeks. He has been hoping to be fit in time for Roland Garros, but made a decision to withdraw from the event on Wednesday.

“I am not 100% ready to play the way I want and need to be competitive on the courts I love so much,” Berdych wrote on social media.
“I came to Paris and I had to take a tough decision and want another few days to fully recover and be ready for the grass season.”
“I love this tournament so much but I have to make sure not to further injure myself,” he added.

The Czech had played at the tournament every year since making his debut back in 2004. However, the French Open is his worst performing grand slam in terms of wins. So far in his career, Berdych has won 25 out of 40 matches played at the French Open. His stand out performance occurred in 2010 when he reached the semi-finals before losing to Sweden’s Robin Soderling.

It is not the first time back issues have forced Berdych out of action. In 2017 he was advised by doctors to end his season early due to persistent ‘back pain.’ He was also forced to skip both Wimbledon and the US Open due to the same problem.

Berdych, who last won a title at the 2016 Shenzhen Open, has played six tournaments so far this year. His best result occurred in January with a run to the final of the Qatar Open. He also reached the fourth round of the Australian Open and was a semi-finalist in Montpellier.

As a result of his absence, Berdych is currently ranked 100th in the world rankings. He will be replaced in the French Open draw by a lucky loser.

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Grand Slam

Simona Halep Dismisses Favourite Tag Ahead Of French Open

The Romanian looks ahead to the grand slam after her exit from Rome.

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Former world No.1 Simona Halep has played down her title chances in the upcoming French Open by saying ‘anyone can win’ the title next month.

 

The 27-year-old is the reigning champion at the tournament after claiming her maiden grand slam title there is 2018. Halep has featured in the final of the tournament three times since 2014. The world No.2 is one of the favourites to claim the trophy at Roland Garros, however, she hasn’t won a title on the WTA Tour since August at the Rogers Cup.

“I don’t know what is going to happen at the French Open.” Halep told reporters on Thursday. “I always said in the last few months that tennis is very open now. The top (of the women’s game) is open. Anyone can win. Kiki Bertens has a chance, in my opinion. Stephens again. Many players are playing well on clay.’
“We will see. I’m very curious.” She added.

So far this season, only two women have managed to win multiple titles on the WTA Tour. Petra Kvitova in Sydney and Stuttgart, as well as Kiki Bertens in St Petersburg and Madrid. Overall, there has been 21 different winners so far in 2019. Six of which are currently ranked in the world’s top 10.

Halep’s preparation for the upcoming major has hit a setback this week. At the Italian Open, she crashed out of her opening match to Czech player Markéta Vondroušová. Suffering her earliest exit from the tournament since 2016. During that match, she sought medical treatment on her leg after feeling pain during the second set.

“I started to feel a little bit (of pain) from sliding.” Said Halep.
“I had two days off, so it was a little bit tough to get back to this rhythm, very high rhythm.
But it is nothing, like, tight or something broken. Is just a little bit of injury, which in a few days is going to be okay, I’m sure.” She added.

Whilst the 27-year-old is staying grounded about her chances of success at the French Open, she has been labelled as the favourite for the title by some former champions. Earlier this month Justine Henin backed the Romanian by saying she is ‘the most complete player.’ Meanwhile, another high profile backer is three-time champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.

“It is wide open at this moment to see who is going to win. If I want to pick one player, who is more able and resourceful, I must say it is Simona Halep. She stands a good chance, but depends on how she would control the pressure. However, I do not count out other women contenders,” Vicario told the Press Trust of India.

The French Open will get underway on May 26th.

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Maria Sharapova To Miss French Open

The Russian hasn’t played a competitive match on the tour for almost four months.

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Maria Sharapova (image via Roberto Dell'Olivo)

Former world No.1 Maria Sharapova will miss the entire clay court swing of 2019 after officially withdrawing from the French Open later this month.

 

The five-time grand slam champion hasn’t played a competitive match since withdrawing from the second round of the St Petersburg Open on January 30th. Sharapova has been absent from the tour due to an ongoing shoulder injury. Earlier this year she underwent a ‘minor’ surgical procedure to help ease the pain in the area. The pain was caused by a fraying tendon and small labrum tear.

“Withdrawing from the French Open today. Sometimes the right decisions aren’t always the easy ones.” Sharapova wrote in her Instagram story.
“In better news, I have returned to the practice court, and slowly building the strength back in my shoulder.” She added.

Sharapova reached the quarter-finals of the French Open last year is what is her best grand slam result since returning from a doping ban. At the tournament she scored wins over Donna Vekic and Karolina Pliskova before falling to Garbine Muguruza. Due to her upcoming absence from Roland Garros, she will drop 430 ranking points.

Prior to her injury woes, the 32-year-old has managed to play in three tournaments during the first month of this season. Reaching the quarter-finals in Shenzhen followed by the fourth round at the Australian Open. Overall, she has won six out of eight matches played.

It is unclear as to when Sharapova will return to the tour. The Daily Mail has reported that the Russian was not on the list of player’s participating in the upcoming Nature Valley Classic at Edgbaston Priory. A grass-court event that will start on June 15th. It is understood that in return for her receiving a wildcard into the 2017 tournament, she has a two-year commitment to play there in the future. Meaning that she should be playing this year if fit.

Sharapova has won 36 WTA titles during her career and has spent 21 weeks as world No.1.

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