Donna Vekic could have a fantastic 2019. She has made steady progress up the rankings in the last two seasons and looks well-placed – physically and mentally – to go all the way up to the top ten this year.
She could not have wished for a better start to the year. First she trounced 2017 Wimbledon semi-finalist Magdalena Rybarikova 6-1 6-2. Next she won a tight three-setter against World No.9 Kiki Bertens.
And then she backed up those results with a near-flawless performance to demolish Aliaksandra Sasnovich, the player who knocked out Elina Svitolina, 6-2 6-0.
“Today was probably one of the most perfect matches I’ve ever played,” Vekic said in her press conference. “I was trying to be aggressive, and not give her time to be aggressive, because if she’s on, she’s on. I was watching her match with Svitolina, and I was like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s going to be tough’.”
Although the Croatian expected a difficult match against Sasnovich, she made defeating her look easy. She served superbly, hit her groundstrokes hard and deep and never let the Belarussian settle.
Consequently, Vekic racked up a string of impressive stats: 70% of first serve points won, five out of five break points converted, 16 winners and just five unforced errors.
Vekic to take on Pliskova in Brisbane semi-final
It truly was a high-class performance, and it sets up the Croatian perfectly for her next challenge: a semi-final clash with Karolina Pliskova.
Vekic’s match against the World No.8 will be only her second appearance in a Premier semi-final and, even if she loses, the Croatian will move up to a career-high ranking of 29. However, this is the kind of match she needs to win if she is going to reach the top ten.
When she was interviewed at the Birmingham Classic in June 2018, Vekic said, “I have had quite a few close matches against the top players and I feel like I’m there. There’s just a little bit missing (that I need) to make the next step to be able to beat them.”
Since then, the Croatian has made encouraging steps in the right direction. She beat Sloane Stephens twice, reached her first Premier semi-final in Tokyo and almost won a significant title in Washington.
If she can get the better of Pliskova in Brisbane, it will definitely feel like another significant leap towards the top – which is exactly where Vekic wants to be.
Davis Cup: Team Leaders Deliver in Bratislava, Canada-Slovakia 1-1
Shapovalov and Klizan dispose in straight sets of their n.2 opponents. Day 2 will start at 11 with a delicate doubles rubber
Under the watchful eye of ITF President David Haggerty, who was present in Bratislava for one of the Qualifying Ties of his new “creature”, Slovakia and Canada have closed the first day with one win each.
Despite a 3 pm start time on a working day, the AXA National Tennis Center Arena in Bratislava was almost two-thirds full at the beginning of the day, with a small but colorfully noisy group of Canadian supporters.
It was up to Filip Horansky (n.199 ATP) to represent the home team in the first rubber when he had to face the n.1 Canadian, Denis Shapovalov, n.25 of the world ranking and one of the most interesting teenage prospects of the by-now-infamous “Next Gen”. Horansky put together a solid effort, tried to exploit his bigger habit to play on clay, but eventually he had to succumb to a better player with more powerful weapons. For most of the match the Slovak player was able to sustain the baseline rally with Shapovalov, however he never had any answer to Denis’ accelerations with forehand and backhand, and as the match progressed, he started appearing more and more tired, his energies being burned at a much faster rate than he is normally accustomed to.
Both sets were decided by one break, on the seventh and on the eleventh game respectively, when Shapovalov capitalized his dominance on serve and return and open Canada’s account in this tie.
“I believe I played a solid match, especially on serve – said Shapovalov after the match – I feel very confident playing on clay, I have transitioned very well from clay and also this court suits very well my game: balls do not just stop when they touch the ground, it is possible to hit through the court, and this helps me”.
As Shapovalov was talking to the press, his best friend Felix Auger Aliassime was having a dream debut in Davis Cup. With Slovakia 0-1 down, Klizan’s point had become indispensable for the home team, and this pressure was making Klizan play extremely tense and far from his potential. Auger Aliassime got to a 5-2 lead before a calming speech by Slovak captain Dominik Hrbaty was able to relax Slovakia’s n.1 who came back winning five games in a row taking the first set in 50 minutes. The Canadian teenager looked unable to find an answer to the long and slow rallies imposed by Klizan, who would suddenly accelerate into baseline high-speed winners. “I couldn’t have hoped for a better start – said Auger Aliassime – but eventually he raised his level, I started missing shots that shouldn’t be missed, so he eventually imposed his game”. Klizan eventually got to 7-5 5-2 before he could close 7-5, 6-2.
Saturday morning at 11 the Canadian couple will presumably take the stage for the doubles rubber against Filip Polasek and Igor Zelenay.
Naomi Osaka Swats Aside Svitolina To Move Ahead In Race For No.1
Naomi Osaka progressed to the Australian Open semi-final and moved ahead in the race for World No.1 with a dominant win over Svitolina.
Naomi Osaka continued her impressive rise to the top with a commanding 6-4 6-1 win over Elina Svitolina that sealed her place in the Australian Open semi-finals.
The result moves the Japanese player, 21, into pole position in the race for World No.1 and she will stay there unless Petra Kvitova reaches the final or Karolina Pliskova wins the tournament.
The first five games of the opening set of the quarter-final were closely-contested, but both players still held serve without ever being taken to deuce.
All of that changed in the sixth game. Osaka really started to trouble Svitolina with her weight of shot, and the Ukrainian eventually succumbed to the third break point she faced.
The Japanese player surrendered her advantage immediately with a poor service game. Then she re-discovered her rhythm immediately to break Svitolina again.
But the World No.6 justifiably has a reputation as a fighter, and she drew on all her battling qualities to break straight back for the second time in a row.
That made it 5-4 to Osaka, and many would have expected the set to settle down again at this point. It did not happen, as the Japanese player put the Ukrainian’s serve under pressure again to force 0-40 three break points.
Svitolina dug in to save all three but, when she faced a fourth, she netted a backhand and the set went to Osaka.
Osaka races through the second set
The World No.6 completely fell apart on serve in the second game of the second set. Consequently, she rapidly found herself facing a set and 0-3 deficit in the match.
At the changeover, Svitolina called for the trainer because she was suffering from pain in her right shoulder. She received some treatment and then the action continued.
Victory looked almost certain for the reigning US Open champion at this stage. And she cemented that impression when she – incredibly – broke the Ukrainian for the fifth time in succession to make it 4-0.
Osaka had a slight wobble in game five. She made a couple of unforced errors to hand Svitolina a break point.
However, the World No.6 did not take advantage of the chance and, although she finally held serve in game six, she must have known the fight was over.
The Japanese player completed the formalities with a comfortable hold. She finished the match with two aces and a decisive smash and celebrated with a low-key fist-pump and a smile for the crowd.
“I tried to be as consistent as I can,” Osaka said in her post-match interview. “She’s a really great player and it’s unfortunate that she got injured.”
She continued, “Today I just had one goal – to try as hard as I can and not get angry. I didn’t do it well in the last two rounds but I think I did it well this time so I’m really happy with how I played.”
Rafael Nadal storms into semi-final with dominant win over Tiafoe
Rafael Nadal progressed to his fifth Australian Open semi-final with a comprehensive win over rising star Frances Tiafoe.
Rafael Nadal produced an impressive performance to see off Frances Tiafoe 6-3 6-4 6-2 and advance to the semi-finals of the Australian Open for the fifth time.
The emphatic scoreline means that the Spaniard, 32, is still yet to drop a set in the event this year. And it sets him up perfectly to push on and try and claim his second title in Melbourne.
It was a disappointing end to the American’s run. However, he can be justifiably proud of his efforts, especially during his wins over Kevin Anderson and Gregor Dimitrov, and it was clear to see today that his previous matches had taken a lot out of him.
Nadal raced through his opening service game to win it to love. He then immediately attacked Tiafoe’s serve and gained an immediate break.
That was all the Spaniard needed. He dominated on serve throughout the set and won 20 of the 23 points behind it, which enabled him to wrap it up 6-3 in just 31 minutes.
Tiafoe fights hard in the second set
The American made the worst possible start to the second set. He played a poor game on serve and lost it to love.
To his credit, Tiafoe responded well and fought for everything in the next few games. He earned his first break point of the match in game four after he won a 20-shot rally. However, he sent his next return just long.
The American then got another chance immediately when Nadal pulled a forehand wide. But again Tiafoe was unable to take advantage as he hit a backhand long.
Those turned out to be Tiafoe’s only opportunities in the set, as the World No.2 eventually held after three more deuces and went on to take it 6-4 without facing any more alarms on his serve.
Nadal ends Tiafoe’s challenge with early break
When Nadal broke the American in the opening of the third set, as he had done in the first two sets, the match already seemed as good as over.
Tiafoe hung in for a few more games to keep it to one break. However, his resistance ended when he made some tired errors and dropped his serve in game seven.
Fittingly, Nadal closed out the match with another commanding game on serve, which included a trademark forehand winner down the line.
“For me it’s very emotional to be back in the semi-finals here in Melbourne,” Nadal said in his post-match interview. “I’ve had some dramas at this event during my career so to be back in the semi-final after a while means everything to me.”
The Spaniard continued, “I feel lucky to be where I am after all the things that have happened. To keep competing at this level is why I wake up every morning to go on court or go to the gym with the goal to be a better player.”
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