Serena Williams overcame both rust and ankle soreness to defeat Maria Sakkari 7-6(3), 6-2, at the Hopman Cup.
The 23-time grand slam champion struggled to find her range during the opening set, but managed to fight back from a break down to force the proceedings into a tiebreaker. Where she broke Sakkari twice to clinch the 7-6 lead. Then in the second set, the American claimed four games in a row to win the match after 104 minutes of play. In total Williams hit 13 aces and 29 winners.
“It was my first match back.I was making a lot of errors,” Williams said. “It was great to be back out on match day.”
Following the conclusion of the first set, Williams had a medical time out to have the strapping on her ankle tightened. Despite the break, it seemed to have little impact on her movement on the court as she bids to win the Hopman Cup for the third time in her career. This year is her fifth appearance in the tournament overall.
“It’s great to be back out in match day, and it’s great to be back out here,” The 37-year-old said after the match.
“I love playing in Australia. Some of my best memories are here.
“It was my first match back (today), she played unbelievable. Maria is super young and such a good player.
“I was making a lot of errors. I was like, ‘It’s ok, it’s your first match and you’ll get better’. I just kept trying to think that.”
This week is the first time Williams has played in Australia since the birth of her child in September 2017. She is hoping for a strong run in Perth ahead of the Australian Open.
Greece comes out on top
Despite Williams’ win, it was not enough to seal victory for her country. Leaving the American team with it all to do in their upcoming clash with Switzerland’s Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic on New Year’s Day.
In the men’s singles, Stefanos Tsitsipas overcame Frances Tiafoe in a hard fought 6-3, 6-7(7), 6-3, victory. The world No.15 had a 6-3, 3-1 lead, but failed to maintain his stronghold. Allowing Tiafoe to bounce back during what was a humid day in Perth.
“He didn’t want to lose, he’s a big fighter and had some great results last year,” Tsitsipas said of Tiafoe.
“I had to fight even harder, one of us had to fight a bit more.
“At the end it paid off. Using the right tactics, using the right patterns on the court.
“I was a bit more patient, did things a bit better and in the end deserved victory.”
Speaking about the conditions, Tsitsipas said that he was able to deal with them better than he did in his first match. He lost to British world No.91 Cameron Norrie in straight sets over the weekend.
“I felt a bit uncomfortable in the first match I played. I couldn’t last long. I felt like I was out of breath,” he said.
“But today I felt really comfortable playing the rallies. My shots felt better. In general I felt much more confident, and more me.
“Frances told me he felt the exact same thing I felt in my first match. I told him it was probably because of jet lag and the heat combined.”
Greece later secured the 2-1 win in the mixed doubles. Winning their the match 4-1, 1-4, 4-2.
India’s political gambit throws Indo-Pakistan Davis Cup tie into chaos
The prospect of being sanctioned by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) prompted the All India Tennis Association (AITA), the apex Indian tennis body, to agree to visit Pakistan for the Asia/Oceania Group I Davis Cup tie in September 2019. The tie – scheduled for 14th-15th September – would have been the first time since 1964 that India would have visited its neighbour and arch-rival to play the Davis Cup.
Up until last week, almost all details had been laid out. The venue had been decided – the tie was to be played on outdoor grass in Islamabad – and the visiting nation had announced its squad under the captaincy of Mahesh Bhupathi. And while security concerns remained a subject of discussion, they did not threaten any late-minute forfeiture of the tie.
The Cause of Problems, and the Aftermath
The Indian government’s decision to do away with a key article of the country’s constitution about its northern region of Jammu and Kashmir on 6th August, however, changed the dynamics of the Indo-Pak socio-political relationship yet again. On the said date, India’s home minister Amit Shah announced that Article 370 of the constitution would be abrogated. The Article, as it had come into effect in 1954 after being amended, gave Jammu and Kashmir special autonomy within the country’s geopolitical and social ambit. The Article was signed by the then ruler of the province Hari Singh who did not want to join either India or Pakistan at the time of India’s partition in 1947 after it gained independence from the British Empire.
Soon after India’s announcement, Pakistan – which regards Kashmir as its territory under Indian occupation – retaliated by snapping the existing diplomatic channels between the countries. It also approached the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) asking the UN body to take up the issue.
In India and globally, there is also fear that the Kashmir problem could thrust both nations into a war-like scenario yet again. Concerning sports, specifically tennis, in this case, the Indian tennis administration does not want its players to face any potential security threat in Pakistan on account of the altered landscape.
The AITA Stand
Yet, despite the worry of any possible breach of security, the AITA does not want to take any premature step vis-à-vis the tie either. On 9th August, when the author of this story spoke to the AITA, the association’s general-secretary Hironmoy Chatterjee said that the AITA was taking a wait-and-see approach.
“We are waiting for two more days,” said Chatterjee. “…I will wait for today because Saturday and Sunday, the ITF will be closed, so Monday (12th August), I will respond… (So) we will see the situation, how it turns in the next two days.”
Noting that the operations of the sole train service between the two nations had been stopped and the airspace between them had been closed by Pakistan, Chatterjee rued that the situation was “not very conducive at the moment”. According to him, if the diplomatic relationship between the sub-continental giants were to improve in the next couple of days, the Indian team would not fail to travel westwards.
“Thereafter (after two days), we will write to the ITF may be suggesting that looking at the situation they should (move the) tie to a neutral venue,” Chatterjee noted, emphasised that India was not considering forfeiting the tie at any cost. “We are very keen to play the tie because (it) is very important for us. There is a lot of difference at stake for them (Pakistan) and us. So, it is very important we play this tie.”
Finally, when asked if the AITA was worried about the ITF sanctioning Indian Davis Cup aspirations, Chatterjee unequivocally denied that the eventuality would come to that.
“It won’t come to that. It shouldn’t come to that because everyone knows the situation. The ITF also knows the situation,” he said before subtly punting the ball back onto the ITF’s side. “The ITF can’t put us into a situation where there is going to be a lot of anxiety. I don’t want that to happen. So, we will discuss it and will come to an amicable solution.”
Gerard Pique Takes Swipe At The ATP Cup Over Calendar Scheduling
The Kosmos founder has made some comments that will likely not go down well with the governing body of men’s tennis.
Barcelona F.C. player and Kosmos founder Gerard Pique has come out fighting against critics of the newly revamped Davis Cup.
The 32-year-old was an instrumental figure behind the controversial changes to the 119-year-old team competition. His company Kosmos has pledged to invest $3 billion over the next 25 years. From 2019, the finals will take place over a week and feature 18 teams taking part. Removing the concept of home and away finals. It will be played in group stages with a format similar to that of the FIFA World Cup.
Since the revamp was approved last year, there has been a mixed reception in the world of tennis. A series of high-profile figures has branded the revamp as too radical and accused the International Tennis Federation (ITF) of killing the competition. Ion Tiriac, who is the president of the Romanian Tennis Federation, recently sent a letter to governing body voicing his anger. In it, he wrote ‘I strongly believe that many players will not accept to play in this format and that the nationalist glamour has been lost forever.’
Speaking to The Times, Pique has insisted that the Davis Cup will be a hit despite its criticism. The first edition of the week-long finals will take place in November at the end of the season. It will be held at the Caja Magica in the Spanish capital of Madrid.
“I totally understand that when someone comes from another sport and if you change something that is very traditional like the Davis Cup for the better of the sport there will be some people who won’t buy it and they won’t believe in it,” Piqué said. “We need time to convince the people that this is the right way to go. What we need in November is to prove these people wrong. I cannot simply convince them with words. What I will try to do is put in all my effort and experience from other sports. We will try to do our best to create an incredible event. I’m sure we will convince some of them, but it is impossible to convince everyone.”
It isn’t just changing the attitudes of others that Pique and Co have to fight against. It is also dealing with competition from the ATP. From next year the ATP Cup will be held annually in Australia at the start of each season. Both prize money and, more crucially ranking points will be on offer for those taking part. The Davis Cup, which is run by the ITF, can’t award points.
Players such as Alexander Zverev has ruled themselves out of playing in the Davis Cup finals as it will eat into their limited off-season training period. However, Pique has suggested that the newly created ATP Cup is in an even worse position in the calendar. A comment that will not help the tentative relationships between Kosmos and the ATP.
“It is true that maybe some people don’t see it as the best place in the calendar for us, but if you want to create a big event, I prefer to be where I am than the ATP Cup.” He stated.
“It will be the first event of the season and the Australian Open is two weeks after. As a professional athlete, you cannot start the pre-season with a big competition because normally you use it for warming up, a little bit like the Hopman Cup in the past. We are at the end of the season. Maybe for the players it is a long season, but it is the last event and a different event because of the uniqueness of playing for your country and the atmosphere we want to create.”
There have been talks about there being just one team event, but at the moment it is unlikely. The ATP is not going to surrender a tournament they have just revived and spent millions on. The same applies to the ITF, whose current president is a key backer of the reform.
“We had so many meetings with the ATP to try to arrive to a deal to create one event or go together. This is something that we are still working on. I think that both competitions have pros and cons. In the Davis Cup, we have the freedom to go elsewhere every two or for years. This is something that it doesn’t seem the ATP Cup will do because they have to be attached to Australia.” Pique concluded.
The Davis Cup finals will take place between 18-24 November.
Fed Cup To Have A New Format From 2020
Details about the changes to the historic competition has been announced.
The International Tennis Federation has confirmed that home and away finals will be removed from Fed Cup competition in favour of a week-long tournament taking place in a neutral location.
From 2020, the women’s team tournament will follow in the footsteps of the Davis Cup, which underwent a controversial revamp last year. Under the new structure, 12 teams will play in the finals over six days during April. However, home and away ties will still be used in the play-in rounds that will take place during February.
A total of $18 million worth of prize money will be available. The winners of the competition will receive $1.2M for their national federation and an additional $3.2M for players. In comparison, those who reach the group stages will receive $300,000 and $500,000 retrospectively. Overall, $12M will be awarded to players and $6M to national associations.
“The launch of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas finals will create a festival of tennis that elevates the flagship women’s team competition to a new level, yet remains loyal to the historic core of the Fed Cup.” Said ITF President David Haggerty.
“We have consulted and listened to stakeholders and worked with the WTA and its player council to make sure the new format represents the interests of the players.” He added.
The Hungarian capital of Budapest will be the venue of the newly formatted finals between 2020-2022. It will be held at the László Papp Budapest Sports Arena on two clay courts. The competition will be played in a round-robin format with four groups of three. The winner of each group would then progress to the semi-finals.
Besides the February ties, two countries will be handed wild cards into the finals. Hungary will be one of them and another country is yet to be confirmed. Hungary hasn’t played in the top tier of the competition since 2002. This year’s finalists, Australia and France, have also been given direct entry into the finals.
“Fed Cup has evolved since I was part of the first winning team in 1963 but it has always remained true to its roots.” Said Fed Cup ambassador Billie Jean King.
“These reforms are historic as they reflect the ITF’s commitment to unlocking the Fed Cup huge potential, hosting a competition with prize money deserving of the world’s best women’s teams and players. It is an honour to be part of the next evolution of the greatest event in women’s tennis.”
Not all in favour
Earlier this week Simona Halep confirmed that she will stop playing in the Fed Cup should the format change. Countries like Romania now only have a 50% chance of hosting one Fed Cup tie every year over the next three years.
“I love the Fed Cup and I would never change that,” the former world No.1 told reporters earlier this week.
“If Fed Cup changes I won’t play any more. I like the format now so if they change, it will be tough because Fed Cup means to play home and away.”
Halep’s comments were backed by Karolina Pliskova, who represents the Czech Republic. A team who has won the title six times since 2011. Pliskova played in the final of the competition in 2015 and 2016.
“I think they should not change, because especially for smaller countries like Czech Republic, I think this is something that they always look forward to,” said Pliskova.
“We don’t have many (home) tournaments. We have just one. For Romania, they have maybe one tournament too.
“It’s huge when Simona is playing there. So I understand that if she’s playing somewhere else, you don’t feel the same.”
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