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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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Marcos Baghdatis Announces Retirement After Wimbledon

Marcos Baghdatis has announced that he will retire after this year’s Wimbledon.

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Marcos Baghdatis (@marcosbaghdatis - Twitter)

Marcos Baghdatis has announced that he will retire from tennis after competing at this year’s Wimbledon. 

 

The 34 year-old Cypriot has been playing on the tour 16 years now and has had a stellar career which has seen him be a grand slam finalist as well as reach a career high ranking of eight in the world.

However, his ranking has dipped to 138 in the world having only won three matches on the ATP World Tour this year.

Therefore it was surprising to say the least when he received a wildcard for Wimbledon this year as his last ATP tournament was in Dubai in February.

But now the reason for the wildcard is that Baghdatis is retiring from tennis after the last tournament of his career at SW19 in a couple of weeks time.

The Cypriot took to Facebook and his website to address his fans and explain the reason for his decision to retire:

“I wanted to take the time to write to you all and let you know that this upcoming Wimbledon will be my last tournament as a tennis professional,” Baghdatis explained in his statement.

“I am extremely grateful to the AELTC for granting me a Main Draw Wild-Card at the All England Club, and giving me a chance to say goodbye to the sport that I love so much and has been such a big part of my life for the last 30+ years.

“This decision was not an easy one. It has proven tough for me, especially physically, to come back to where I feel like I belong. Even though my mind wants to do it, the limits of my body have prevented me to maintain and play at a consistent high level as I expect from myself. Especially the last two years have been very difficult for me with recurring injuries and pain.

“Besides that, I have a beautiful wife, two young daughters, and a third child on the way and I could not be more excited to spend more time with all of them at home. Although I am sad to say goodbye to the sport as an active player, I am very excited for the next chapter of my life – I am going to be staying heavily involved in tennis in a number of capacities, so you will continue to see me on the tour.

“Lastly, there are so many people to thank who have been a part of this incredible journey with me, starting with my family first and for all. To all the people that have helped me become the person and tennis player I am today, I say thank you, especially to my Mum and Dad who supported me since the age of 3 to play tennis.

“Thank you for always believing in me and pushing me to become better. My team, my close friends, but especially the fans around the world. You made me feel welcome in each and every city and country I have ever been to, and your love, support, and energy is something I will truly miss.”

After winning four career ATP titles and reaching a grand slam final, the Cypriot has obviously reached a decision to retire and have one final moment in the headlines at Wimbledon.

The 34 year-old will hope for a good draw as Wimbledon starts on Monday the 1st of July.

 

 

 

 

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The Future Is Bright…

The Gerry Weber Open was until it wasn’t any longer, then Noventi stepped in….

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(@ATPHalle - Twitter)

By Mark Winters

 

For twenty-six years, the Gerry Weber Open was one of the foremost grass court tournaments in the world. It is played two weeks before The Championships, as Wimbledon is known, and it put Halle, Germany on the tennis map. It has epitomized a small town’s commitment to the game, and has, justifiably, earned the nickname “The People’s Tournament”. Because of  the local attitude, almost everyone in region has sacrificed in order to make the ATP 500 a significant tennis championships.

That was then, and this is now…

On June 7, the Noventi Group, a company which provides a variety of health care services, stepped in to rescue Halle, as the GWO is known. Noventi, taking a page from its health care proforma, offered needed financial resuscitation.

Having covered Halle since its inception, I have a fondness for the tournament, (as does my wife, Cheryl Jones, who is a regular Ubitennis contributor). In 1993, when Gerry Weber, the millionaire clothing manufacturer turned tournament sponsor, and his partner Udo Hardieck decided to stage a grass court tournament in Germany as preparation for Wimbledon, it seemed to be a very risky move. As things turned out, it was a decision that defined why the duo, Weber and Hardieck, were such successful businessmen.

But they didn’t do it alone. They were assisted by the “must visit” travel poster-like location of the tournament. The quaint setting is lights-out different from the crushing congestion that exists at the Fever Tree Open (formerly Queen’s), which takes place in London at the same time. The serenity found in the Westfalen countryside is special. Its appeal has been added to by the number of “name players” who regularly performed at the event. Topping the list is Roger Federer. After winning Halle for the tenth time today, it would seem appropriate , in time, to name the championships in his honor. Federer’s dominance aside, the June week on grass in Germany has, justifiably, earned praised from players and tennis fans, alike.

The transition from the Gerry Weber Open to the Noventi Open made a number of  impressions. Here are a few thoughts:

Perhaps, after spending twenty-six years, under the same title banner, the Noventi Open just didn’t seem to have the same “ring”…

Walking around the site, it was almost as if those working at tournament were “anxious”, waiting to see what would take place…

Though one could not “see it or  taste it”, there seemed to be a different “feel”…

One thing was very perceivable – Prices – had risen. It didn’t matter if it was tickets, pretzels or charming “take one home” teddy bears, there was an increase. (As an example, pretzels, which used to be three for five Euros were three for six Euros, fifty. Parked, or so it seemed, for years, teddy bears jumped from ten Euros to twelve. While on the subject of parking, the cost of leaving one’s car in one of the tournament’s lot was also “bumped” up.)

But, it would probably be more accurate to say the increases were simply the result of doing business in 2019…

As a result of Phil Thorn’s craftmanship, the courts played very true. There was nary a bad bounce. Once again, he lived up to the title –  “Keeper of the Lawns” (a position he has held since the beginning of the tournament)…

For some time, the Noventi Group had been looking for a business involvement that would provide a sensible way to expand its healthcare focus. When the company learned that the Gerry Weber Open was searching for a title sponsor, a new platform was found.

Michael Silvio Kusche, CMO Marketing at Noventi said, the company was really fascinated by the tournament, sometimes even speechless about the quality of the event.  They had been looking for quite a while  for a tennis event they could support. The background has two aspects: making the name Noventi known in Germany and coming next – promoting the App “callmyApo” where the public can order medicine and drugs online.

Studies have conclusively proven that those who play the game recreationally on a regular basis have longer lives. Becoming immersed in the “The Sport of a Lifetime” is a savvy move for Noventi.

From all indications, the new partnership was a success. This year, more spectators attended the tournament than ever before. More important, they were not on hand to see “only the names.” The Stadion, as well as Courts 1 and 2, were filled whenever  a match took place. This was a first and a wonderful prelude for 2020.

True, this was the first year of  the NO replacing the GWO, but “The Future Is Bright…”

 

 

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Number Ten For Federer In Halle

In just under an hour and a half, Roger Federer claimed the trophy at the Noventi Open.

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Roger Federer (@ATPHalle - Twitter)

By Cheryl Jones

 

Roger Federer won his tenth title in Halle this afternoon. The inaugural Noventi Open crowned its first singles winner. I have seen every one of his victories. I’ve seen his two losses in the final showdown, as well. (In 2012, German, Tommy Haas came out on top. Last year, Borna Coric defeated him in a tight match.) His first win was in 2003. He has won nine more. He became a professional in 1998, and to quote Sonny Bono, “the beat goes on” – especially for Federer.

Today was Federer’s big day in the sun. Belgian, David Goffin began the match with a valiant effort to try and dethrone the all-time champ. After Goffin lost the first set in a Tie-Break his confidence seemed to wane. The fifty-three minute first set was merely a speed bump in the on-ramp to Federer’s highway toward his especially successful run here in Halle. The second set took thirty minutes to complete. After several double-faults by Goffin, Federer’s tenth win was in the history books.

After the match, I asked him about the surface of the courts that to me appeared to be the best of the nineteen finals I have witnessed here in Halle. He was very thoughtful in his response and said that clearly the Belgian had out played him in the first ten games. The rhythm of the game had been swayed by the Tie-Break, or so it seemed. It was a pleasure to watch the two players move freely around a court that had predictable bounces and rallies that weren’t cut short by bad rebounds that often happen on grass.

Goffin began with a valiant effort to dethrone Halle’s long-standing champ. The match was quick. An hour and twenty-three minutes had ticked away on the courtside clock when it was all over but the shouting.

A very partisan crowd went ballistic, leaping to their feet as one. It was a beautiful day and the match was begun soon after one-o’clock. The sky was blue, and the retractable roof had stayed open most of the time during the week-long tournament. There were no rain delays. I am sure the players appreciated the pause free schedule. (I have always wondered just how relaxed anyone could be waiting and waiting and waiting some more, for the words that begin play after a rain delay. Listening to a favourite CD must even lose its calming ability after the tenth loop.)

On paper the match appeared to show an evenly matched pair of competitors. Before the final, Federer had twenty-six aces and Goffin had twenty-eight. (After the match, each of them had tallied 7 more.) Most every other statistic seemed to favour Federer. But then again, in the long run, Federer held up the winner’s trophy. The crowd was happy, and it showed by their patient wait for the presentation after the match.

My fellow University of Oregon alum, Phil Knight saw something special in a kid from Switzerland in 1994. He signed him to a contract that included footwear and apparel. He wore the Nike brand until March of 2018. He then moved to a Japanese corporation’s clothing, but stuck with Nike shoes, sans contract. His deal with Uniqlo is dazzling – thirty million dollars a year. It may seem excessive, but with an athlete the calibre of Federer, it may be a bargain. He is listed as one of the highest earning athletes in the world – a wonderful representative for the sport of tennis.

Lest one believe that Goffin went away with only a whimper. That was not the case. He did perform exceptionally well in the first set, but as he said, “I didn’t miss a lot. I made him run. I was really aggressive. I was serving great, but Roger is there.” Yes, he was. Then a couple of double faults appeared in Goffin’s column and voila, the match was in the bag for the Swiss man who has wowed the tennis world since his first win here in 2003. Back then, he moved on to Wimbledon where he started a precedent in London with a win at Wimbledon that year, too.

Goffin praised his opponent on many occasions in his after match interview. He said that, “I think the way he is playing now he wants to play more aggressive, his serve is even better than before and then he tries to go to the net to be aggressive to cut the point as soon as he can. And, then in two or three shots, he is still very fast, very explosive, great footwork. So, he’s still in good shape.”

I agree. Wimbledon, Watch out for Roger Federer. He may be nearing thirty-eight, but from what I saw today, he still has it!

 

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