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The WTA 2019 Scouting Report

With the new season already upon us, here’s a look at the prospects of the top WTA players.

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Serena Williams

Ended 2018: Did not play again following the infamous US Open final, where she lost to Naomi Osaka.
Starting 2019: At the exhibition team event, the Hopman Cup. She’ll team with Francis Tiafoe, and face Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic on the first day of the year.
Coaching Changes: None.
Prospects: In 2018, Serena made two Major finals coming off a year-long absence from the tour, and despite only playing seven tournaments on the year. The US Open incident will only make her more determined to win her 24th Major this year, which seems nearly inevitable.

 

Simona Halep

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Ended 2018: Ended her season early after injuring her back in September.
Starting 2019: Next week in Sydney.
Coaching Changes: She is without a head coach after Darren Cahill announced his departure in the offseason.
Prospects: The absence of Cahill will loom large over Halep in the new year. He’s one of the best coaches of all-time, and was the driving force behind Simona’s ascension to the top of the sport. I would expect Halep to hire a new coach as the season progresses, but for now she’ll proceed without a defining voice in her box. I suspect her results will suffer as a result.

Angelique Kerber

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Ended 2018: Going just 7-7 following her Wimbledon title.
Starting 2019: At the Hopman Cup teaming with Sascha Zverev, and will join Halep as the top two seeds in Brisbane.
Coaching Changes: She split with Wim Fisette right before the WTA Finals in October, and has hired former Australian Open Finalist Rainer Schuttler.
Prospects: Much like Halep, Kerber’s level of play will likely be heavily influenced by her coaching change. The split with Wim Fisette was puzzling considering their 2018 success, though it seems Fisette never sticks with the same player for very long. He’s already reunited with his former charge, Victoria Azarenka. I’m curious to see how the coaching relationship with Schuttler pans out, but I doubt this sudden coaching change will result in immediate success.

Caroline Wozniacki

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Ended 2018: Winning the Premier Mandatory event in Beijing before being eliminated in round robin play at the WTA Finals.
Starting 2019: This week in Auckland, where she is the top seed.
Coaching Changes: None. Wozniacki is one of the only WTA players to not partake in the WTA coaching carousel, with her father continuing to serve as her long-time coach.
Prospects: Defending her sole Major title from last year’s Australian Open will be a tall task, and an early loss in Melbourne would send her ranking plummeting out of the top eight. Wozniacki has spent the majority of the past 10 years ranked inside the top 10, yet is still only 28-years-old and could easily have many strong years on tour ahead of her. Another Major title is not out of the realm of possibility if Caroline remains healthy and more offensive-minded.

Elina Svitolina

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Ended 2018: Winning the biggest title of her career at the WTA Finals.
Starting 2019: This week in Brisbane as the top seed.
Coaching Changes: Started working with Nick Saviano in September, with Andrew Bettles also remaining as a part of her team.
Prospects: Her 5-0 run at the WTA Finals should be just the boost she needs to finally get farther than the quarterfinals at a Major. Saviano was a big factor in the early success of both Sloane Stephens and Genie Bouchard. He’s already had a positive effect on Svitolina, and I see that continuing in 2019.

Naomi Osaka

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Ended 2018: Followed up her US Open victory by making the final in Tokyo and the semifinals in Beijing, but went 0-3 at the WTA Finals.
Starting 2019: Scheduled to play in both Brisbane and Sydney.
Coaching Changes: None. She’ll continue to work with Sasha Bajin in the new year.
Prospects: The US Open was a life-changing event for Osaka, sky-rocketing her fame and fortune to new heights. Shockingly, it did not have an immediate impact on her results, judging by her impressive runs in Tokyo and Beijing. But a post-Open slump seems inevitable as Osaka adjusts to her new reality, and it would be completely understandable if Naomi struggles as 2019 begins.

Sloane Stephens

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Ended 2018: Advancing to the final at the WTA Finals.
Starting 2019: Just like Osaka, she’s scheduled for both Brisbane and Sydney.
Coaching Changes: Kamau Murray recently told the New York Times that she and Sloane are “on a break,” and he will not be joining her in Australia.
Prospects: Stephens will likely be another player severely impacted by the absence of the coach that helped guide her to Grand Slam glory. And also like Halep, it sounds as if Sloane is going to Australian coach-less. I still expect Stephens’ future to include more Major titles, but not the immediate future.

Petra Kvitova

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Ended 2018: Went just 9-10 in the second half of 2018, including 0-3 at the WTA Finals.
Starting 2019: Will be the fourth seed in Brisbane this week.
Coaching Changes: None.
Prospects: Kvitova led the WTA with five titles in 2018, but had nothing left come the last four months of the season. And Petra went just 4-4 at the Majors last year, so I’m sure her goal for 2019 will be to focus her energies on those events. Her results have always been inconsistent, but her recent record at Wimbledon has developed into a concerning pattern. The two-time Wimbledon champion made the quarterfinals or better every year between 2010 and 2014. But in the four years since, she’s 4-4 at The All England Club. Kvitova has long battled asthma, with many speculating it’s been a significant factor in her recent results at SW19. Let’s hope the easy-to-root-for champion finds a way to again compete for the Venus Rosewater Dish. Her chances at the other Grand Slam events may be slim, as she hasn’t reached a semifinal at a non-grass Major since 2012.

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Jannik Sinner: “Rafa Nadal is superior in his head and knows exactly what to do and when to do it”

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Jannik Sinner made a major breakthrough season in 2020 winning his maiden ATP title in Sofia becoming and reached his first Grand Slam quarter finals at Roland Garros in his debut at this tournament at the age of 19. He has become the youngest player to win an ATP Tour title. 

 

“After the final in Sofia I felt emotional. I am human, but I feel the emotions inside me. I was very happy but I know that I have to work very hard. Before the victory ceremony I was a bit angry as I was still trying to understand why I had lost the second set. It was a strange season. I would have liked to play more matches and learn more about the life on the Tour and how to train with the biggest players on the circuit. I am now feeling more comfortable than last year”, said Sinner.

The Italian player is the first debutant beat Alexander Zverev en route to reaching the Roland Garros quarter final since Rafael Nadal achieved this feat in 2005 en route to his first French Open title. 

He lost to Rafael Nadal in the quarter finals in Paris after playing at great level in the first two sets. En route to the quarter final in Paris Sinner beat David Goffin, Benjamin Bonzi, Federico Coria and Alexander Zverev. 

“Rafael Nadal is superior in his head. He pulls very hard but above all he understands the decisive moments. He knows exactly what to do and when to do it. It’s really something else a tennis player. What I am missing to get there ? Well, the blows and the body, as well as the body. Let’s say a little bit of everything. The doctor said I still have to finish growing and developing. The truth is that I have to improve myself in every aspect, both physically and mentally. It takes time to get there”, said Sinner in an interview to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. 

Sinner was disappointed about Zverev’s comments after their match at Roland Garros. 

“I respect Zverev a lot because he has got more experience on the circuit, and he is great player. However, I do not respect his statements after his defeat to me at Roland Garros. He contradicted himself a lot. He said he had fever, but in the third and fourth sets, he ran more than me”, commented Sinner. 

Sinner became the youngest quarter finalist at a Grand Slam tournament since Bernard Tomic at Wimbledon 2011 and at Roland Garros since Novak Djokovic in 2006. The player coached by Riccardo Piatti earned the biggest win in his career when he beat Stefanos Tsitsipas en route to his his maiden third round at Masters 1000 level in Rome.

Jannik has reached his career best ranking at world number 37. 

In the interview Sinner talked about his passions outside tennis.  

“I like to go karting and play football every now and then. I cheer on AC Milan because my first roommate was an AC Milan fan and he also and he also made me passionate as the days went by. In general I also follow the chairs on Netflix and I believe that in Australia. ”, said Sinner. 

Sinner talked about his relationship with Riccardo Piatti. 

“Riccardo is my coach, but also a good friend. We talked about tennis all the time. During the lockdown we watched a lot of past tennis matches together”. 

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ATP

ATP Finals Day 8 Preview: Championship Sunday

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Dominic Thiem earned his 300th career victory yesterday in London (Ella Ling/ATP Tour)

Today either Dominic Thiem or Daniil Medvedev will win this event for the first time.

 

A year ago, Dominic Thiem was just a few points from winning this tournament, going down in defeat to Stefanos Tsitsipas in a third set tiebreak of the championship match.  Thiem went on to reach his third Major final at January’s Australian Open, but couldn’t hold on to a two-sets-to-one-lead.  At the next Slam, he would finally win his first Major title, in a dramatic, nerve-wracking five-set final against Sascha Zverev.  For the second consecutive year, he’s reached the championship match of this event after beating two of “The Big Three.”  Thiem defeated Rafael Nadal in a high-quality affair during round-robin play, and overcame Novak Djokovic in yesterday’s semifinals despite blowing four match points in the second set tiebreak, and despite going down 0-4 in the final set tiebreak.

A year ago, Daniil Medvedev came into this event on a 29-4 run, a stretch that saw him win three titles and reach six consecutive finals.  But the fatigued Russian went 0-3 in his ATP Finals debut.  In this abbreviated 2020 season, he did not advance to a tournament final until just two weeks ago, when he won first title in over a year at the Paris Masters.  Now he’s on a nine-match winning streak, having gone undefeated in the round-robin stage.  And just yesterday, he earned his first victory over Rafael Nadal in comeback fashion, after Nadal served for the match in the second set.

Dominic Thiem (3) vs. Daniil Medvedev (4)

Thiem is 3-1 against Medvedev overall, 2-1 on hard courts, and 1-0 indoors.  Their first meeting was two years ago in Daniil’s home country, where Dominic survived 7-6 in the third.  Last summer in Canada, Medvedev easily prevailed, losing only four games.  And in this year’s US Open semifinals, Dominic was victorious in straight sets.  Neither man will be fully fresh today, coming off semifinal matches just 24 hours ago against the top two players in the world, each of which approached three hours in length.  Thiem’s encounter with Djokovic seemed slightly more draining, both physically and emotionally. 

When they met two months ago in New York, Medvedev got off to a terrible start, losing the first set 6-2.  He struck almost twice as many errors as winners, winning only 65% of first serve points and a dismal 25% on his second serve.  But this week he’s served excellently, averaging 79% of first serve points won.  And some easy service games have enabled Daniil to apply more pressure to his opponents’ serve.  The result has been an average of over three breaks per match, Comparatively, Thiem has broken his opponent’s serve only once per match.  But an underrated aspect of the Austrian’s game is his ability to protect his own serve.  Outside of his dead rubber against Andrey Rublev, Dominic has only been broken two times in three matches.  And that includes clashes with two of the sport’s all-time great returners: Nadal and Djokovic. 

Thiem should be slightly favored based on their head-to-head, as well as his considerable edge in experience.  Regardless of the winner, let’s hope these two men provide us with an extended, enthralling encounter.  With the Australian tennis summer in doubt, it may be quite awhile before we see professional tennis of this caliber.

Doubles on Day 8:

In the doubles championship, it’s Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic (5) vs. Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin (7).  Yesterday in the semifinals, Melzer and Roger-Vasselin came back from 1-7 down in the match tiebreak and saved a match point to advance.  Koolhof and Mektic prevailed on Saturday in straight sets.

Full order of play is here.

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ATP

ATP Finals Day 6 Preview: Novak Djokovic and Sascha Zverev Play for the Final Qualifying Spot

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Novak Djokovic hasn't won this event since 2015 (Ella Ling/ATP Tour)

The winner will join Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, and Daniil Medvedev in Saturday’s semifinals.

 

Djokovic is a five-time champion of this event, yet is looking to avoid failing to advance out of the round-robin stage for the second straight year.  Zverev was the champion here two years ago, and is vying for his third consecutive semifinal.  Friday’s other singles match has no implications on the semifinals, as Daniil Medvedev has already advanced, while Diego Schwartzman cannot.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Sascha Zverev (5)

Zverev has a chance today to achieve what very few top players have: an even or better head-to-head record against Novak Djokovic.  Sascha is currently 2-3 against Novak, and 1-2 on hard courts.  They played twice at this event in 2018, with Djokovic easily prevailing in the round-robin stage, and Zverev avenging that loss a few days later in the final to win the biggest title of his career.  Their most recent encounter came last year at Roland Garros, with Novak winning in straight sets.  Notably, all five of their matches have been straight-set encounters, with none of the 11 sets even reaching a tiebreak.  So based on their history, grabbing the first set today will be extremely crucial.  Djokovic appeared unwilling to play long rallies on Wednesday against Medvedev, and admitted during his post-match press conference that he wasn’t feeling 100%.  Zverev hasn’t played his best this week either, but was able to tough out a three-set victory over Schwartzman two days ago to keep his advancement hopes alive.  If Djokovic is feeling fresher today, his 40-4 record on the year makes him a clear favorite.  If not, and if Zverev can limit his double faults, Sascha’s indoor hard court prowess makes him fully capable of eliminating the world No.1 from this tournament.

Daniil Medvedev (4) vs. Diego Schwartzman (8)

On Thursday, having already qualified for the semifinals, Dominic Thiem seemed rather uninterested in supplying resistance to Andrey Rublev.  In today’s dead rubber, which comes just 24 hours prior to the semifinals, will Medvedev fight to defeat Schwartzman?  Daniil knows he has an appointment on Saturday with Rafael Nadal, which he can safely assume will be a grueling task.  So I’m sure he’ll be looking to avoid an extended battle today.  And Schwartzman will be keen to not go 0-3 in his ATP Finals debut.  Medvedev is 4-0 against the Argentine, having won eight of nine sets played, which includes a straight-set win just two weeks ago at the Paris Masters.  Under normal circumstances, Daniil would be a strong favorite. But we’ll see how motivated the Russian is today, especially if Diego gains an early advantage.  These two men have a contentious history, going back to their intense battle in January at the ATP Cup where Schwartzman felt Medvedev was taunting him.  Diego would surely enjoy gaining his first win against Daniil.  And despite their lopsided head-to-head, that’s entirely plausible.

Doubles Matches on Day 6:

Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares (1) vs. John Peers and Michael Venus (6).  The winning team will secure the last remaining semifinal birth.

Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos (4) vs. Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin (7).  This is a dead rubber, as Granollers and Zeballos have already advanced, while Melzer and Roger-Vasselin have been eliminated.

Full order of play is here.

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