Karolina Pliskova Dashes Halep’s No.1 Dream, Faces Top 10 Debutante Barty In Miami Final - UBITENNIS
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Karolina Pliskova Dashes Halep’s No.1 Dream, Faces Top 10 Debutante Barty In Miami Final

The world No.7 will be targeting her second title of 2019 on Saturday.

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Karolina Pliskova (photo by chryslène caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

Czech No.1 Karolina Pliskova is a win away from the biggest title of her career at the Miami Open after scoring a straight sets win over Simona Halep. An outcome that has also breathed a sigh of relief for world No.1 Naomi Osaka.

 

Pliskova require just under 80 minutes to defeat Halep 7-5, 6-1, during a match that was interrupted by rain delays. The encounter wasn’t entirely straightforward for the world No.7, who dropped serve twice during the opening set. Nevertheless, as the match progressed Pliskova proved to be the more consistent of the two. Winning five games in a row during set number two on route to the victory. In total, Pliskova produced 23 winners to 16 unforced errors.

“I think I played great the second set. Of course I think she (Halep) could maybe do a little bit better.” She said. “Maybe she was of course frustrated about the first set where it didn’t really go her way. I played some good shots, and it turned after the break. But, yeah, that’s how it is, and I’m happy with my level.”

The 27-year-old is guided on the tour by two former pros who have both enjoyed success during their careers. Conchita Martinez is the 1994 Wimbledon Champion and Renee Stubbs is a three-time grand slam champion in the doubles. Under their influence, Pliskova has enjoyed a strong start to 2019. Miami is the fourth consecutive tournament where she has reached the quarter-finals or better.

“Of course the confidence, it helps so much,” said Pliskova. “You know, when you win a couple matches, then you just see the ball, you know, without even practicing or without even thinking about it. So I think it all is because of the matches.”

Pliskova’s latest triumph means that two-time grand slam champion Osaka will retain her No.1 position next week. A title that could have been snatched by Halep if she progressed to the final in Miami. As for Pliskova, she could rise to as high as No.2 if she wins the title on Saturday.

Standing in the way of her first ever Premier Mandatory title will be Ash Barty. The 22-year-old Australian has secured her debut in the world’s top 10 next week following her run in Miami. On Thursday she dropped only six games during her 6-3, 6-3, win over Anett Kontaveit. Becoming the first player from her country – man or woman – to reach the final of the tournament.

“We have had a few really good matches in the past.” Barty said of facing Pliskova. “I think it’s split pretty evenly, actually. I played her most recently in the US Open in another big match. There wasn’t much in that either. I think either way I get to go out there and try and play my brand of tennis, which is probably the most important thing for either matchup.”

The women’s final will take place on Saturday. At stake will be 1000 ranking points for the winner, as well as $1,354,010 in prize money.

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Injury Scare Fails To Derail Petra Kvitova From Winning ‘Bizarre’ All-Czech Tennis Event

The world No.12 speaks out about the unusual circumstances she was playing in earlier this week as she sheds light on a recent injury issue she has been dealing with.

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During what was meant to be the first week of the French Open Petra Kvitova is still winning matches albeit in very different circumstances.

 

With professional tennis still halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the two-time Wimbledon champion was one of the headline acts at the CTS President’s Cup earlier this week. A Three-day event that features eight men and eight women taking part in a all-Czech tournament. Umpires and ball boys had to wear face masks and there was limited spacing for spectators to watch from the sidelines with organizers mindful of social distancing.

“The gloves, face masks, the fact nobody handed us the towels, no handshakes, that was definitely bizarre,” said Kvitova.
“And playing without people, the atmosphere was not exactly what we are used to.”

Despite the unusual circumstances, it failed to prevent Kvitova for winning the event on Thursday. During a rain-interrupted final she saw off Wimbledon quarter-finalist Karolina Muchova 6-3, 6-3. Earlier in the event she also scored wins over former world No.1 doubles player Kateřina Siniaková (7-5, 6-4) and Barbora Krejčíková (7-6, 6-2).

The trio of victories came only days after there was concern if Kvitova would be able to play at all. Leading into the tournament the Czech started to feel pain in her forearm, but was later given the all clear by her doctor. Speaking to reporters, she said the pain she felt was similar to what occurred this time last year when she was forced to withdraw from the French Open.

“Two days before the start of the tournament, my forearm started to stiffen, similar to last year before the French Open,” the 30-year-old explained.
“That’s why I didn’t train on Monday. I was waiting for Mr. Kolář’s verdict, but he said that I would be able to do it (play) in some way.”

Now her first taste of competitive tennis in over three months has concluded, Kvitova has relished the experience. It is still unclear as to when the WTA Tour will resume. At present the suspension is until July 31st. In recent days both the US Open and French Open have said they are optimistic that their events will be able to go ahead later this year in some capacity.

“Given the circumstances and the pandemic, it was a wonderful tournament,” Kvitova stated.

Whilst officials ponder when to restart the sport, Kvitova plans to take some time resting her hand in order to prevent aggravating it further.

“I’ll definitely feel my hand for a few days now, but I’ll take time off, there’s no hurry,” she concluded.

In the men’s final world No.450 Michael Vrbensky, who shocked top seed Jiri Vesely in the first round, won the title.

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Ice Hockey Great Gretzky Heaps Praise On ‘Truly Remarkable’ Bianca Andreescu

The tennis star has been branded a ‘hero’ for children in Canada by one of her country’s sporting icons.

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Reigning US Open champion Bianca Andreescu has been praised for her work ethic by one of Canada’s greatest ice hockey players of all time.

 

Wayne Gretzky said he has been impressed with the world No.6 ever since watching her breakthrough run at the BNP Paribas Open last year. Where Andreescu defeated five seeded players en route to the title. At the time she was only able to enter the main draw of the event with the help of a wild card. Last year Andreescu scored eight wins over top 10 players and claimed three titles overall. Including her maiden grand slam at Flushing Meadows.

Speaking on Tennis United, Gretzy has hailed the 19-year-old for how she has been able to handle the pressure placed upon her at such a young age. Andreescu have already achieved a series of milestones for Canadian Tennis. Including being the first to win a grand slam title in singles and the highest ranked female player from Canada in WTA history.

“I remember watching her first match [at Indian Wells] and thinking that’s one of the hardest working athletes I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Gretzky.
“She went on to win the tournament and then, at the US Open, to play in front of all those fans and everyone cheering the American girl (Serena Williams) – and one of the greatest athletes of all time – was pretty special. My hat goes off to her for how she handled herself and how she handled the pressure.”

Gretzky is particularly impressed with how the tennis star has coped with life in the public eye and dealing with the media. Something he has plenty of experience in. Gretzky, who played in the NHL for 20 seasons, has been labelled as the “the greatest hockey player ever” by many pundits. The four-time Stanley Cup winner has scored 894 goals in the NHL which is 93 more than any other player in history.

“The thing that impressed me most about her – and I’ve said this to a lot of people – is not how good she is or how hard she works but how she handles herself with the media. She handled herself with such poise, she was so humble, so appreciative,” he said.
“I don’t think we could have a better hero in our country for young kids. She’s truly remarkable and deserves all the credit she’s getting.”

Andreescu hasn’t played a match since the WTA Finals last November due to a knee injury. She is set to return to action next month at a 16-player event set up in Charleston. The Credit One Bank Invitational, which is taking place during the Tour shutdown, will begin on June 23rd.

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How I “Discovered” Gabriela Sabatini And She Umpired One Of My Matches

A wildcard at Santa Croce due to a weird homonymy bungle. A Country Club final with Botswana at stake, and yet never visited. The sportsmanship of wheel-chaired interview after an unexpected loss.

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Gabriela Sabatini and Ubaldo Scanagatta - Roland Garros 2019

It seems impossible to me that Gabriela Sabatini is already turning 50. And also – go ahead and call me a sexist macho who gets diverted from the technical analysis of a player in order to dwell on her looks – it seems impossible to me that she can still as dazzling in her raven head. Actually, she might be even more beautiful than she was when she used to bewitch us with her magnificent one-handed stroke despite a bit of an androgynous gait, as if she’d just dismounted from her steed – she had built a broad pair of shoulders as well, in order to keep its harness in check.

 

It just seems impossible because I heard about Gabriela when she wasn’t even 14, and I witnessed one of her matches when she was 14 and a month. From that day onwards I have always cherished her, while keeping a respectful distance. Firstly, because in some way I felt as if I’d discovered her (even if it isn’t true), and, secondly, because she is the only world-famous tennis player who’s ever sat on the umpire chair to officiate one of my matches in their entirety! Factor in the fact that she came into the world on May 16th (St. Ubaldo’s day), and it should become clear why I never forget about her birthday.

As I mentioned, Gabriela wasn’t even 14 when Guillermo Salatino, an Argentinian friend and colleague, called me from Buenos Aires: “My dear Ubaldo, I need you to do me a big favour. There’s a girl here with otherworldly talent, she is yet to turn 14 but I promise you she’s phenomenal. She really wants to play at Santa Croce [Editor’s Note: a junior tournament in Tuscany], but her ranking isn’t high enough to enter the draw, so she is going to need a wildcard to do it. Trust me, she’s 100% worth it!”

Personally, I utterly and completely trust Guillermo and his tennis savviness. Before he became a great journalist, a TV and radio broadcaster for ESPN South America, he was an excellent player, among the Top 20 of his country. Thus, I called the deus ex machina of the Santa Croce event, Mauro Sabatini, a man of extraordinary passion, without whom the tournament would have never seen the daylight. I asked him whether said wildcard could be given to Gabriela, telling him about Salatino’s forecast for her.

As I was trying to play the Italian-roots card (Her grandparents emigrated from Potenza Picena, in the province of Macerata…) he immediately stopped me: “My dear Ubaldo, could I ever deny entry to a player who shares my surname?” Then he erupted in laughter – a great man.

I’ll cut it short. Gabriela arrived in Tuscany in April, if I remember correctly, and dominated the event, winning an all-South American final – her Brazilian opponent, Dias, hardly had the same career though. Mauro Sabatini was so amazed he would have adopted her if he could! He thanked me every single time we met, even if I hadn’t done much – all I’d done, really,  was asking him for a favour – but I have to say that Gabriela herself has thanked me more than once for that little push, even years later.

About a month later, Gabriela triumphed, under my curious gaze since I had not been present at Santa Croce, at a slightly more important junior event, none other than the French Open. At 14. Guillermo Salatino’s hunch was indisputably right, and it made me feel like a bit of a talent scout, albeit not at the same level as my peer’s. A couple years prior, so many of us were there, in Paris, in the press room of Court No.3 (which doesn’t exist anymore), marvelling at another wonderkid, a 12-year-old blondie, slender like reeds but with legs that were already long and a scary forehand – her name was Steffi Graf.

One-year Flash forward, to the April of 1985. Gabriela Sabatini was in Monte Carlo during the men’s tournament, which would be won by Ivan Lendl against Mats Wilander. I seem to recall that a junior event was taking place, either in the princedom itself or nearby on the Cote d’Azur.

As usual, the Country Club was hosting a tournament for journalists, and the final was between Guillermo Salatino and yours truly. The format was a single set to nine games. The winner’s prize was a trip to Botswana for two, paid for by a Monegasque travel agency, while the runner-up’s reward was an Ebel watch – a princely loot, as befits such a land.

That morning Gabriela showed up as well, delightful and incredibly sweet. The match wasn’t slated for the main court, obviously, but rather on one those terraced ones, up above the club. The closest and coziest seat was perhaps the umpire chair, and, for inexplicable reasons, it was Gabriela herself who ended up climbing it.

The match began. Gabriela, always shy but with a radiant smile, whispered the scores. I was appalling out of the gates: “3-0, señor Salatino!” As we switched sides, I told Guillermo: “Remember to send me a postcard from Botswana!”

“4-3 señor Scanagatta!” said Gabriela at even lower frequencies, but she looked like she was having a whale of a time, watching those two Over-35 blokes turn red like tomatoes while giving their all with their outdated game under the Monte Carlo sun.

“Ubaldo, you’re the one who’ll have to send that postcard,” panted Guillermo, to which I retorted: “I’d rather send it to Gabriela!”

We chugged along till the tie-break, at 8-8. I’m pretty sure I saved three match points at 6-8 down, but don’t hold me to that, and for sure I won’t be asking Gabriela for confirmation – and yet, somehow, I won.

Comes the denouement. I kept calling that shady travel agency for months, but it disappeared, bankrupting without fulfilling its due. Never been to Botswana, never sent any postcard. On the other hand, though, Guillermo flaunted his Ebel watch for years. A year later, to be fair, Bernard Noat, the then tournament director, gifted me with an Ebel too… and is to this day the favourite watch of my wife, Tiziana, whom I began to date the very same year.

About a month and a half after that unforgettable refereeing, Gabriela reached, at 15 years of age, the semifinals of the French Open, the youngest in the history of the tournament.

Other articles will dwell a little more on her sporting achievements, whereas I prefer to end on a further anecdote bonding the two of us. In 1990, I was sent for the first time to the Australian Open by the TV channel I worked for. A very humid and sticky heat, on Rebound Ace hardcourts that were a bona fide carnage for the players’ ankles, often sprained due to their owners’ shoes getting glued to the surface. Gabriela was among the victims, despite her N.2 seed, right behind Graf.

I had booked a TV one-on-one with her at the end of her third-round match. Gabriela had steamrolled past Frazier and Bollegraf, and was expected to do the same against Claudia Porwik, a German. Instead, she tripped during the opening set, and, despite getting promptly bandaged, there was little she could do, losing it with a score of 6-2 and retiring after a solitary game in the second set.

She left the centre court at Flinders Park – back then it was still called like that – on a wheelchair. Now, you tell me who else, man or woman, would have had the strength to show up in the press room after such an upset. But Gabriela showed up as if nothing had happened, and gave the interview she had promised. What an act of sportsmanship, and how amazingly educated had she been by her father Osvaldo – she’s just a fantastic person.

I took it badly when she retired at 26. I was distraught, because I thought it was happening far too soon, but her spark was extinguished. However, just like Bjorn Borg, another who had precariously retired at 26, Gabriela had already spent half her life, 13 years, fully immersed in professional tennis, breathing tennis, dreaming of tennis.

How could I not be fond of her, when, every time I’m lucky enough to run into her, she’s still so nice, so sweet, so caring? 50? I just cannot believe it.

Article translated with the assistance of Tommaso Villa

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