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.
Kiki Bertens knocked out by Pavlyuchenkova
Pavlyuchenkova earned a big win over 9th seed Bertens, while Sasnovich also stunned 20th seed Kontaveit.
Kiki Bertens became the highest seeded casualty in the women’s draw so far when she lost an entertaining three-set encounter 3-6 6-3 6-3 to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
The Dutchwoman, 27, had her best-ever year on the WTA tour in 2018. She won three titles, including the Premier 5 event in Cincinnati, but she will not back up those successes with a good run in Melbourne.
In the first set, Bertens looked comfortable as she broke Pavlyuchenkova twice to establish a 5-1 lead. However, the Russian gained a foothold in the match when she earned her first break in the seventh game.
Pavlyuchenkova built on that momentum in the second set when she went 3-0 up thanks to an early break. And she continued to serve impressively to level the match at one-set all.
The decider was more unpredictable. The Russian broke in the first game, but her Dutch opponent responded with an immediate break back.
However, Pavlyuchenkova’s groundstrokes looked in excellent working order by this stage and she used them to great effect to break Bertens twice more in the fifth and ninth games to take the set 6-3 and clinch a superb win.
“I’m really happy with the win and the way I played today,” the Russian said in her post-match interview. “She is a very tough opponent so that is a great win for me.”
Sasnovich shocks Kontaveit
Pavlyuchenkova’s opponent in round three will be another seed-killer after Aliaksandra Sasnovich beat 20th seed Anett Kontaveit 6-3 6-3.
The Belarussian claimed a headline-grabbing win over Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon last year and she is in scintillating form so far in 2019.
Sasnovich, 24, reached the quarter-final in Brisbane and the semi-final in Sydney and she has carried that momentum into the Australian Open.
She thrashed former Grand Slam semi-finalist Kirsten Flipkens 6-1 6-1 in the first round and then beat Kontaveit almost as convincingly.
Stephens, Garcia and Martic advance
Sloane Stephens had no such trouble in her match against Timea Babos. She beat the Hungarian 6-3 6-1 to set up a third round meeting with Petra Martic, who took out Marketa Vondrousova 6-4 7-5.
Caroline Garcia also looks to be in good form. She backed up a first-round victory over qualifier Jessika Ponchet with a 6-3 6-3 win over Australian wildcard Zoe Hives.
Serena Williams and Madison Keys Race Into Round Two
Serena Williams brushed aside Tatjana Maria in straight sets at the Australian Open, while Madison Keys easily beat Destinee Aiava.
Serena Williams put in a ruthless display to demolish Tatjana Maria 6-0 6-2 in just 49 minutes in their First Round match at the Australian Open.
The American, 37, recently spent time away from the WTA tour to have a baby and has not won a Grand Slam title since January 2017, but she looks determined to end that drought in Melbourne this year.
If any spectators stepped out for refreshments, they may have missed the entire opening set as Serena blazed through it in just 19 minutes with some typically explosive hitting.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion broke in the second, fourth and sixth games to win it 6-0. During that time, she hit nine winners, while Maria helped her out by making 10 unforced errors.
Mercifully for the German, she managed to get on the scoreboard in the second set when she held serve in the fourth game. She then produced an impressive display of serving when she hit two aces during a love hold in game six.
However, it only delayed the inevitable as Serena continued to dominate on her own serve. She soon closed out the set 6-2 to book a second round meeting with either Eugenie Bouchard or Peng Shuai.
Keys impresses in her first match in 2019
Serena will be joined in round two by fellow American Madison Keys, who recorded a comfortable 6-2 6-2 over Destinee Aiava.
Although it was her first match of the year, the World No.17 looked well-prepared for any challenges that came her way.
In the event, there were not many obstacles for Keys, as she won 83% of the points played on her serve and broke Aiava early in both sets and then again later on.
There were some good rallies for the crowd to enjoy, but they never really got into the match as it never threatened to turn into a genuine contest.
However, as Keys alluded to in her post-match interview, a match to ease herself in to the season was exactly what she wanted.
“I was having issues with my knee at the end of last year so I knew I wasn’t going to be ready for Brisbane,” the American said in her post-match interview. “I just wanted to be 100% ready for here.”
She continued, “It’s my first match of the year so I’m happy that I did everything pretty well. Obviously there are some things I want to work on (before my next match).”
The Most Emotional Moments of 2018 – Part 4
Here is our fourth and final instalment of the year’s dramatic highs and lows, presented in chronological order.
The final part of our special series looks at the events that took place during the final stages of this season. Including Davis Cup jubilation for Croatia, Stefanos Tsitsipas winning Greece’s first ever ATP title and Elina Svitolina triumphing at the WTA Finals.
Davis Cup: Julien Benneteau called out of retirement, and clinches the tie for France
The 36-year-old joined Nicolas Mahut in their home country to win the doubles point, and secure a spot for France in the final. Benneteau hit a cross court return winner on match point to close out the win.
Davis Cup: Borna Coric wins the tie for Croatia at home
After over four hours of play, and despite a US comeback from down 0-2 in the tie, Coric took out Frances Tiafoe to advance his country to the final.
Laver Cup: John Isner and Jack Sock defeat Roger Federer and Sascha Zverev in doubles
This video highlights the next three emotional moments, all from the final day of play at this year’s Laver Cup in Chicago. In the first match of the day, Isner and Sock saved two match points in the match tiebreak before pulling out the win. The Team World celebration that ensued was one of 2018’s most exuberant displays.
Tianjin: Timea Bacsinszky upsets Aryna Sabalenka to reach first semifinal in over a year
Embed from Getty Images
The two-time French Open semifinalist was ranked 329th in the world coming into this event after battling injuries, and hadn’t won a WTA-level match in 15 months. But her fourth straight victory of the week, and a win over the red-hot Sabalenka, was enough to overwhelm Timea with tears.
Luxembourg: Belinda Bencic advances to her first tour-level final in nearly three years
Much like Bacsinszky, Bencic’s career has been plagued by injuries in recent years. So it’s understandable that she was overcome with emotions when she came through a third set tiebreak in this semifinal against Dayana Yastremska.
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