Naomi Osaka will become the first Asian player in history to reach world No.1 on Monday after battling past Petra Kvitova 7-6(2), 5-7, 6-4, to win the Australian Open.
The 21-year-old, who was ranked 72nd in the world 12 months ago, produced an admirable display against her more experienced rival in what was a roller coaster clash. Seeing a trio of Championship points come and go in the second set before coming through the decider. Kvitova is a two-time Wimbledon champion, who was playing in her first major final since 2014. Ultimately, it was youth that prevailed over experience as Osaka battled her way to the title. Hitting 33 winners, nine aces and winning 76% of her first service points. Osaka, who also won the US Open in September, is the first player to win a second grand slam straight after winning her first since Jennifer Capriati back in 2001.
“I don’t think I would have made it through this week without you guys. Behind a tennis player is a team and I’m really grateful.” Osaka said in tribute to her own team afterwards.
In what was the first ever tour meeting between the two players, there was little to distinguish between the two throughout the opening set. Osaka’s fierce serve was matched by an array of deep-hitting shots from Kvitova. Both players had their chances to grab a breakthrough, but neither was able to prevail. At 3-3, Osaka was on the verge of getting broken after falling behind 0-40, before winning five consecutive points to nudge ahead 4-3. Her mini comeback in the match was aided by some tentative play from across the court. Meanwhile, Kvitova also illustrated her fighting spirit by saving a duo of set points whilst trailing 5-6.
It wouldn’t be until the tiebreak where Osaka would be able to dismantle her opponent. Two points into the tiebreaker, a blistering backhand return down the line elevated the Japanese player to a 2-0 lead as she rapidly gained momentum. A few points later, a somewhat ordinary shot from Kvitova was punished by Osaka, who slammed a winning forehand past the Czech to extend her lead to 5-2. The first set was then secured with the help of back-to-back Kvitova errors.
Despite her young age, Osaka has already established herself as a strong frontrunner on the women’s tour. Prior to the Melbourne final, she has won 59 consecutive matches after winning the opening set. However, Kvitova refused to take no for an answer as she increased her level to storm to a 2-0 lead at the start of the second. Prompting the first sign of frustration from Osaka.
Facing some stern pressure, a relentless Osaka hit back with interest by breaking an erratic Kvitova two consecutive times. Edging to a game away from the historic win, Osaka’s momentum was halted and then destroyed by a fiery Kvitova. The Czech saved three consecutive match points to revive her title dreams. Prompting even more frustration from Osaka, who was close to tears on the court. Suddenly Kvitova was the one in control as she broke an error-stricken Osaka service game to love to force a decider.
Locked in a mental battle, as well as a physical one, a once smiling Osaka regrouped to break three games into the decider with the help of a backhand cross-court winner. Prompting a sense of relief among her entourage in the crowd. Continuing to weather the storm, the 21-year-old nudged closer to the finish line of what was a dramatic encounter. To add to the drama, speckles of rain started to fall on the Rod Laver Arena as Osaka served for the match for a second time. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop her. A perfectly placed serve down the centre of the court forced the error from Kivotva to reward her the title. Prompting a somewhat subdued celebration from the soon to be world No.1.
“I’ve always wanted to play you, you have been through so much and honestly, I would have not wanted this to be out first match-up.” The new Australian Open champion said in a tribute to Kvitova.
“You’re really amazing and I’m honoured to have played you in a grand slam.”
kvitova’s tears of joy
Whilst missing out on the trophy, it was evident how much the occasion meant for Kvitova. Two years ago, she was left facing the prospect of never playing tennis again after a knife attack by an intruder resulted in extensive damage to her left playing hand. She had to undergo four hours of surgery and missed five months of the tour. Even now, Kvitova still hasn’t got the full feeling in one of her fingers.
“It’s a great day, I can’t believe I played in the final of a grand slam again. It was a great final.” An emotional Kvitova reflected during the trophy presentation. “You played well Naomi and congratulations on becoming world No.1, as well.”
“It’s been a great tournament for me. It’s a huge honour to hold this (runner-up) trophy. It’s been a while since I was in a final.”
Like Osaka, she also paid tribute to her team that supported her through her absence.
“Thank you for sticking with me, even if we didn’t know if I would be able to hold a racket again. You were there every single day supporting me and staying positive, which I really needed.” She said.
As the new No.1 player, Osaka is the youngest person to have held that position since Caroline Wozniacki back in 2010. She will also surpass the $10 million mark in prize money earning as a result of her latest win.
WTA Premier Doha: Simona Halep sets up semifinal against Elina Svitolina
Top seed Simona Halep overcame a tough two-set match to edge German Julia Goerges 7-6 (7-3) 7-6 (8-6) setting up a semifinal against Elina Svitolina at the Doha Total Qatar Open.
Halep went up a double break to build up a 4-0 lead. Goerges pulled one break back in the sixth game at deuce to claw her way back to 2-4. Halep broke for the third time at love for 5-3. Goerges came back by breaking back to 5-5 forcing the match to force the match to the tie-break. Halep won the first set tie-break 7-3.
The Romanian star went down a break in the third game to trail 1-2 in the third game of the second set. Goerges saved two break points to hold her serve on the fifth deuce in the sixth game for 4-2. Halep pulled the break back at love to draw level to 5-5 setting up a tie-break. Halep saved two set points at 4-6 and won four consecutive points to close out the tie-break 8-6. Next week Halep will return to the world number 2 spot in the WTA Ranking.
Halep is playing her first match under the guidance of her new coach Thierry Van Cleemput.
Halep set up a semifinal against last year’s WTA Finals champion Elina Svitolina, who cruised past Czech qualifier Karolina Muchova 6-4 6-2 to qualify for her first semifinal in 2019.
Svitolina broke twice in each set and won 78 % of her first serve points.
The first set went on serve until 4-3 with just one break point held by both players. Svitolina got the first break in the eighth game to take a 5-3 lead earning a chance to serve out the first set. Muchova saved the set point and broke back to get back on serve for 4-5. Muchova saved a set point with a down the line backhand, but Svitolina converted her second set point 6-4.
Muchova saved a break point with a backhand winner at 2-1 in the second set and held her serve to draw level to 2-2. Mudrova rallied from 0-40 down to force the sixth game to deuce, but Svitolina converted her fourth break point to open up a 4-2 lead. The Ukrainian player saved a break point to extend her lead to 5-2 in the seventh game.
Svitolina rallied from 0-40 down to earn a match point. She hit a backhand winner to seal the win with a break on her first match point.
“I was just trying to focus on what I have to do on my game, on my strength, what I had to do. I had to serve good, had to return. Had to move quickly. So just everything had to be good. In the end I found a way to beat her. I was very happy I could do it in two sets”,said Svitolina.
Svitolina leads 4-1 in their five head-to-head matches. Halep won her only match against Svitolina in three sets at the 2017 French Open final. Svitolina beat her Romanian rival in the past two Rome finals in 2017 and 2018, at the 2017 Rogers Cup and at the 2018 WTA Finals in Singapore.
Last year’s Wimbledon champion and 2014 Doha finalist Angelique Kerber came back from one set down to beat Czech Republic’s Barbora Strycova 1-6 6-4 7-6 (7-4).
Kerber rallied from a break down in the third set to clinch a hard-fought win after two hours and seven minutes.
Strykova saved a break point before holding serve in a long first game of the opening set. The Czech player broke serve in the second game to open up a 2-0 lead. Kerber won her first game with her crosscourt backhand for 1-3. Strycova hit a forehand down the line to hold her service game and broke serve to race out to a 5-1 lead. The Czech player served out the set 6-1 in the seventh game.
Strycova went up an early break in the first game of the second game, but Kerber broke back at love. The German player broke for the second time with a lob on break point and held his serve to take a 4-1 lead. The German sealed the second set 6-4 with another break of serve.
Kerber won the first eight points to build up a 3-0 lead with a break of serve in the third set. Strycova saved Kerber’s game point with a backhand down the line in the fifth game before breaking back for 3-2. Stykova earned another break to win her fourth consecutive game for 4-3. Kerber got the break back in the next game to draw level to 4-4. Kerber earned a match point on Strykova’s serve at 5-4, but the Czech player forced an error with a forehand to save it and held her serve to draw level to 5-5.
Strycova got an early mini-break in the tie-break to take a 2-0 lead, but Kerber won four consecutive points to take a 4-2 lead. Kerber hit a forehand pass at 5-3 and earned three match points after Strycova made a forehand long. Kerber sealed the win with a crosscourt forehand winner.
Belgium’s Elise Mertens saw off Kiki Bertens 6-4 6-3 to score her third win in her four head-to-head matches against the Dutch player. Mertens got the first break of the match in the second game to race out to a 4-1 lead. Bertens broke back in the seventh game to draw level to 4-4. The Dutchwoman earned five game points in the 10th game, but she dropped serve with a backhand error.
Mertens earned an early break in the second game of the second set. Bertens broke back in the seventh game with a backhand down the line winner. The Belgian player converted her third break point chance in the seventh game at deuce, when Bertens netted an easy backhand, and sealed the win with a hold of serve in the ninth game on her third match point.
Injured Maria Sharapova Withdraws From Indian Wells
The woes continue for the Russian after she pulled out of next month’s Premier Mandatory tournament.
It is unclear as to when Maria Sharapova will be returning back to the tour after she withdrew from the upcoming BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells due to a shoulder injury.
Organisers of the tournament confirmed Sharapova’s absence in a tweet published on Wednesday. The 31-year-old, who reached the fourth round of the Australian Open, last played at the St Petersburg Open. However, at the tournament in her home country she was forced to pull out shortly after winning her opening match.
“I tried to do everything possible to be able to be ready to compete this week, but my right shoulder continues to be an issue for me,” Sharapova said in a statement on January 30th.
“I will meet with my team of doctors over the next few days to evaluate the situation, and I look forward to returning to completion as soon as possible.”
Sharapova has been blighted by shoulder problems throughout her career. In 2018 she ended her season early to recover from a right shoulder injury. Making her comeback at the Shenzhen Open earlier this year, the Russian reached the quarter-finals before retiring in her match against Aryan Sabalenka. Overall, she has played eight matches so far this season and have won six of those.
“The shoulder hasn’t been much of a secret in the past year. That’s been something I have been struggling with and had to shut down the season after the US Open,” Sharapova told reporters at last month’s Australian Open.
“[It’s] still not where I want it to be, still working through some painful days. That’s something that I have had to deal with since I was 21 years old and really at the peak of my career, [which] kind of came unexpected.
“I saw [my doctor] at the beginning of December, and he says it’s a day-by-day pain management situation. It’s definitely been an issue for the majority of last year and going into this year, as well, but it’s something that…I’m still working through.”
Sharapova is a two-time Indian Wells champion and last won the title back in 2013. She will be replaced in the draw by Mona Barthel.
This year’s tournament will get underway on March 4th.
Simona Halep Rises To No.2 With Win In Doha, But Insists Focus Isn’t On The Rankings
Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber gain in momentum at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex.
Top seed Simona Halep had a duo of reasons to celebrate at the Qatar Open on Wednesday.
The reigning French Open champion kick-off her campaign in Doha with a 6-2, 6-3, win over Lesia Tsurenko to book a place in the quarter-finals of the tournament. Despite the straightforward score, Halep was forced to battle back in the second set. Recovering from a 1-3 deficit by winning five games in a row to claim the match. The win increased Halep’s winning head-to-head against the Ukrainian to 6-0.
“It’s always tough to play against her, because she doesn’t give pace. She has a strange game in the direction that she feels the ball really well,” wtatennis.com quoted Halep as saying.
“It’s not easy to hit the ball from her balls. It’s always tough, but I got the feeling against her, and maybe that’s why I can win every time I play against her.”
As a consequence of her latest win, the 27-year-old has ensured that she will rise back to world No.2 next week. Halep was in a three-way race to the spot with Sloane Stephens and Karolina Pliskova. Stephens isn’t playing in Doha this week and Pliskova has withdrawn due to a viral illness. World No.1 Naomi Osaka will keep the top spot this week regardless of how well Halep performs.
“It doesn’t matter now the ranking,” Halep said during her on-court interview afterwards. “I just play to win every match I play. I step on the court I just want to see how good I can be. If I’m second now I will fight to be number one again. Now I just want to be back on court and enjoy tennis.”
Halep’s next challenge comes in the form of Germany’s Julia Goerges. A player Halep last faced at the 2016 Miami Open. Goerges outlasted Alison Riske 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-4, in a marathon clash that lasted more than two-and-a-half hours. The German failed to convert six match points during the second set.
.@juliagoerges claims the victory over Riske, 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-4!
— WTA (@WTA) February 13, 2019
Kerber reaches new milestone
Elsewhere at the tournament, two-time grand slam champion Angelique Kerber recorded her 600th win on the tour at the age of 31. The third seed won 65% of her service points and blasted 10 winners past Anett Kontaveit during her 6-1, 7-6(3), victory. Kerber, who broke her opponent five times during their clash, prevailed on her eighth match point.
“In the second set, she had nothing to lose at the end,” Kerber said of Kontaveit during her press conference. “She played better and better. And, yeah, I was always really close to win the match, but she was always fighting. At the end I was happy that I closed it out in two sets and played good in the tiebreak.”
This week Kerber is seeking her first title since winning Wimbledon back in July. She will next take on Barbora Strycova, who is currently ranked fifth in the doubles. The Czech down Russian qualified Anna Blinkova 6-0, 3-6, 6-0.
“I know what to expect against her,” Kerber said. “I know that I have to play my tennis. Yeah, she played good here already. We practiced a few times together.
“You know, it will be tricky match, because you never know how the weather conditions are here as well tomorrow. But, yeah, I’m looking forward to playing another good match here.”
All four quarter-final matches will be played on Thursday at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex.
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