Wang Qiang leads a strong Chinese quartet in Shenzhen - UBITENNIS
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Wang Qiang leads a strong Chinese quartet in Shenzhen

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World number 20 Wang Qiang will be the top Chinese player in the line-up of the Shenzhen Open next January. The field also features Zheng Saisai and Zhang Shuai, who are ranked inside the top 40, and world number 70 Wang Yafan. The four Chinese players will face a very tough field led by former Grand Slam champions Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko, last year’s top 10 Caroline Garcia, world number 13 Aryna Sabalenka, who is the highest ranked player in the field and won the biggest tournament of her career in Wuhan last September, clinched the title at the Connecticut Cup in New Haven and reached the semifinal in Cincinnati.

 

During the 2018 season Wang won two WTA International tournaments in Nanchang and Guangzhou and became the first Chinese player to reach the semifinals in Wuhan. The following week she beat Jelena Ostapenko, Karolina Pliskova and Aryna Sabalenka en route to reaching the semifinals in Beijing before losing to former world number 1 Caroline Wozniacki. In Hong Kong the Chinese player rallied from 1-4 down in the third set to beat Garbine Muguruza in the semifinal en route to reaching the final, where she lost to 18-year-old Ukrainian player Dayana Yastremska. At the 2018 WTA Elite Trophy she lost to Daria Kasatkina in three sets and beat Madison Keys in three sets 1-6 6-3 6-1, but she failed to qualify for the semifinal.

In Shenzhen Wang will be looking to follow in the footsteps of her illustrious compatriot Li Na, who won the first two editions of this tournament.

“This is fantastic for tennis in China to see so many Chinese players in the main draw. In 2013 and 2014 Li Na won our first two tournaments. Maybe one of those two ladies will join her on the honour role in 2019. It is very exciting for the fans to be able to cheer on players from their own nation and we look forward to a great atmosphere around the courts. One young player is sure to attact plenty of attention and this is Aryna Sabalenka, the 20-year-old player, who has enjoyed a stunning season on the WTA season”, said Tournament Director Luiz Carvalho.

 

 

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Australian Open: Facing Tsitsipas For World No. 1 Spot May Be Different for Novak Djokovic

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Image via https://twitter.com/atptour/

It probably was a good thing that Novak Djokovic wasn’t facing a top opponent in the Australian Open semifinals. Certainly not one the caliber of Stefanos Tsitsipas.

 

Of course, Tommy Paul did his best. He just isn’t a top ten caliber player.

The American could rally with Djokovic, but when it came time to win the point or game, he  usually was nowhere to be found on the Rod Laver court.

DJOKOVIC WILL NEED TO BE BETTER

The fact that Tsitsipas is in contention for the No. 1 ranking in men’s tennis is enough to ensure that Paul isn’t quite in the league with the Greek superstar.

Djokovic will need to be better than he was against Paul when he steps onto the court to face Tsitsipas on Sunday night in the Australian Open singles final.

There was Djokovic blundering his way through a one-sided 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 win over Paul. The scoreline should have been closer to 3-1-2. But Novak appeared to have all kinds of physical ailments — legs, knees, bandaged hamstring. Or just plain conditioning and breathing hard. You name it.

NIGHT-TIME DUTY ONCE AGAIN

It was just night time in Melbourne. You wonder what might have happened if Novak had been assigned some daytime duty like everyone else in the tournament. Say, like Tsitsipas had been assigned for his closer than the scores reflex in the Greek’s 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-3 win over Karen Khachanov in Friday’s other semifinal.

Tsitsipas is a real threat to claim the world’s top ranking on Sunday night with a victory over the legend from Serbia. Of course, in the 2021 French Open final, Tsitipsas won the first two sets against Djokovic.

It’s possible. Tsitsipas could come through this time.

A SHADOW OF THE OLD NOVAK

Novak was only a shadow of the old Djokovic Friday night. And that was against a player who may never earn a berth in another Grand Slam semifinal.

Of course, Djokovic wasn’t quite as out of it as Rafa Nadal was in the second-round blitzing by Mackenzie McDonald. But Nadal was nursing a hip injury. He may be a different player in Paris in four months.

Djokovic still has all of the big shots and serves he has displayed for much of the last two decades. He just didn’t seem to know where all of those weapons were headed in the semifinals.

IS NOVAK’S BAG OF TRICKS EMPTY?

Of course, if Novak pulls a solid performance out of his bag of tricks and denies Tsitsipas the world’s top ranking, Djokovic likely would stand in Nadal’s path in Paris to a record 23rd Grand Slam singles title.

The task won’t be easy. First, Novak has to take care of business on Sunday night. But with a record-tying 22nd Grand Slam title up for grabs, Djokovic may actually look like himself. 

As Novak says, he wants to be known as the best player in the world.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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Coach Of Elena Rybakina Dismisses Allegations Of Poor Behavior At Australian Open

Stefano Vukov explains why he believes his actions were appropriate during Rybakina’s semi-final win over Aryna Sabalenka.

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Image via AUS Open twitter

The coach of Elena Rybakina has denied accusations that he was berating his player during her clash with Victoria Azarenka at the Australian Open by saying he was just doing his job. 

 

Stefano Vukov was seen multiple times during Rybakina’s semi-final match being highly animated and making a series of critical gestures towards his player when she produced mistakes. The display prompted criticism on social media with former player Laura Robson saying on Eurosport ‘I don’t know how she (Rybakina) copes. He seems to be so negative on the side.”

Croatian-born Vukov has been working with the reigning Wimbledon champion since 2019 and previously coached Anhelina Kalinina. He was briefly a player on the Futures and Challenger Tour before going to America to study. Growing up his family left Croatia when he was a child due to the war and he spent roughly 15 years living in Italy.

“It’s easy to just take clips and then make something controversial. This is part of our sport, it’s normal,” Vukov told Fox Sports Australia when quizzed about his behaviour. 
“There’s 10,000 people out there, to get the attention of the player is definitely not easy and people don’t understand that. I have to scream out something if she’s off track.
“People can interpret that how they want but at the end of the day we’re just doing our job. Coaching is now allowed and she’s using it in the best possible way.”

This year is the first time that coaching is allowed during matches at the Australian Open but it is only allowed if players and coaches are on the same side of the court and there is no hindrance towards their opponent.  

Continuing to hit back at the criticism, Rybakina’s mentor says during the match there are key moments where he needs to remind her of certain tactics. Dismissing suggestions from some that his approach is heavy-handed in any way. 

“I think with all the emotions, sometimes the player doesn’t understand which situation of the match they are, which is absolutely normal,” he said. 
“You know, you’re flowing, you’re into a rhythm, which has happened also yesterday, for example, against Azarenka. A set, 3-1 up, two breakpoints. She stopped playing, Elena, for a couple of games, for example, instead of going for the point a little bit more.
“There are moments we try to remind her, Hey, this is the moment to push. This is the moment to defend.
“It’s normal. There are moments of the match the player doesn’t remember, for example, or in a pressure point, which side to defend more, where to serve more.
“We are there to remind them. So obviously I think that coaching is very important. I think that the player, if the player wants to listen, obviously, they should use it as much as possible, because there is some matches that a few points make the difference. Look at the beginning of yesterday. 3-2 down, two bad choices. That’s it. That’s it. She could have been 3-0 or 4-0 up.
“I don’t know, something like this. Not to be negative, but it’s just our job, right? That’s what we are there for.”

In a previous interview with Tennis Majors last year, Vukov said he and Rybakina clicked together due to ‘his energy against her calmness.’ He also described the world No.25 as  ‘a hardworking perfectionist, which sometimes works against her because sometimes she gets frustrated when things are not perfect.’

Rybakina will play Aryna Sabalenka in the Australian Open final on Saturday. As a result of her run in Melbourne, she will crack the top 10 next week for the first time regardless of how she performs in the final. 

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Iga Swiatek leads a star-studded line-up in Doha and Dubai

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Iga Swiatek leads the line-up at the WTA 500 Total Energies in Doha, which features nine of the top 10 players in the WTA Ranking. Swiatek won two Grand Slam titles at the Roland Garros and at the US Open, four WTA 1000 titles in Doha, Indian Wells, Miami and Rome and two WTA 500 titles in Stuttgart and San Diego. Swiatek also won the Roland Garros title in 2020. 

 

At the start of the 2023 season Swiatek beat Yulia Putintseva, Belinda Bencic and Martina Trevisan on the way to the semifinals at the United Cup where she lost to Jessica Pegula. Swiatek lost to eventual finalist Elena Rybakina in the fourth round at the 2023 Australian Open.

The line-up of the Doha also features 2022 Wimbledon and US Open finalist Ons Jabeur, three-time Australian Open quarter finalist Jessica Pegula, 2022 WTA Finals champion Caroline Garcia, 2020 Doha champion and this year’s Australian Open finalist Aryna Sabalenka complete the top 5 in Doha. 

Jabeur became the first Arab player to reach a Grand Slam final when she advanced to final at Wimbledon, where she finished runner-up to Elena Rybakina. She is the highest ranked African player in history. 

The top 10 line-up is rounded out by 2022 Roland Garros finalist Coco Gauff, 2022 Roland Garros semifinalist Daria Kasatkina, Olympic gold medallist Belinda Bencic and 2022 Roland Garros quarter finalist Veronika Kudemertova. Jelena Ostapenko, winner at 2017 Roland Garros, and Petra Kvitova, two-time Wimbledon champion and winner of two editions of the Doha tournament in 2018 and 2021, 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys, 2021 Indian Wells champion Paula Badosa and Brazlian top player Beatriz Hadda Maia, winner in Nottingham and Birmingham in 2022, are also signed up for this year’s edition from 13 to 18 February. 

 “It’s a great privilege to have almost all the top players confirmed for the Qatar Total Energies Open once again. Their desire to be a part of this tournament is a further confirmation of the reputation it has garnered over the years, the recognition of the organization and the maximum attention to detail everyone involved in the tournament has always put into it”, said Doha Tournament Director Saad Ali Mohannadi. 

Jabeur, Kasatkina, Kudemertova, Bencic and Ostapenko will also headline the line-up at the WTA 500 Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open, which makes its return to the calendar after its debut edition in 2021. The Abu Dhabi tournament Is scheduled from 6 to 12 February 2023. 

World number 1 Iga Swiatek and defending champion Jelena Ostapenko will lead the line up at the WTA 1000 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships from 19 to 25 February. 

The 56-player main draw includes all of the current top 10 players and 18 of the top 20 players in the WTA Ranking. Swiatek will be joined by Jabeur, Pegula and Garcia. 

The Dubai line-up features reigning Wimbledon champion and this year’s Australian Open Elena Rybakina, 2021 Roland Garros and US Open semifinalist Maria Sakkari, Australian Open semifinalist Victoria Azarenka, 2021 Roland Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova, 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu.

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