Four WTA Players Enjoy Breakthrough Weeks In Rome - UBITENNIS
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Four WTA Players Enjoy Breakthrough Weeks In Rome

Victoria Azarenka, Johanna Konta, Maria Sakkari and Kristina Mladenovic have made significant strides at the Italian Open.

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This week in Rome, four WTA players have made significant breakthroughs which could affect the rest of the year.

 

Two of them – Victoria Azarenka and Johanna Konta – have experienced life either near to or at the top of the rankings, while the other two – Maria Sakkari and Kristina Mladenovic – are less familiar with such lofty heights.

In the case of Azarenka, who is now 29, it had seemed possible that she would never again beat top players on a consistent basis.

However, the Belarussian’s performances at the Italian Open suggest that she can still beat the best. She got the better of World No.6 Elina Svitolina in an excellent three-set encounter. She was leading former World No.1 Garbine Muguruza 6-4 3-1 when the Spaniard was forced to retire with a thigh injury. And she provided a stern challenge for World No.7 Karolina Pliskova during a three-set defeat in the quarter-final.

“I feel like I keep improving from week to week,” Azarenka said in her press conference after beating Muguruza. “I’m able to check off some of those goals I set for myself.”

She continued, “Obviously, the match with Elina was very dramatic. It was really good quality. I’m really happy that I learned from last week in Madrid how to turn the things around and take more into my own hands.”

Konta rediscovers her best form

Johanna Konta (@InteBNLdItalia on Twitter)

Konta is a different conundrum because it is difficult to be certain what the limits of her ability are. Was her run to the Wimbledon semi-final in 2017 an over-achievement, or is it a feat she could repeat?

Whatever the answer is to that question, the Brit has been undoubtedly impressive in recent weeks. She made a great start to the clay swing by reaching her first clay-court semi-final at WTA level in Rabat.

Konta then thrashed Alison Riske 6-4 6-1 in Madrid and pushed Simona Halep hard in the first set of their second-round meeting.

In Rome, the Brit demolished Riske by the same score for the second time in nine days and beat Sloane Stephens and Venus Williams in the same day to advance to the last eight.

Konta then dealt superbly with the unique challenges posed by Marketa Vondrousova as she beat the Czech 6-3 3-6 6-1 to advance to her biggest semi-final since Wimbledon 2017.

Konta shows she can thrive on clay

However, while the Brit’s form on clay may seem unusual to many observers, it has not come as a surprise to the World No.42, who will move up at least 11 places when the rankings are updated.

“I’ve always trusted my ability on the clay,” Konta said in her press conference after her win over Venus. “I think my weaker results on it compared to the other surfaces over the last couple years was mainly only an issue in the press room.”

She continued, “When I was a junior, and even as a young professional on the tour, I won most of my titles on the clay. I’m just pleased that (this year) I’ve been able to adapt and adjust. I feel I can be a bit more efficient on the surface, which has helped against the quality of opponents I’m coming up against.”

Konta’s current form bodes well for her chances of a good showing at the French Open. And, if she can carry it over into the grass season, perhaps another deep run at Wimbledon will also be on the cards.

Sakkari hits new heights on the WTA tour

Maria Sakkari (@InteBNLdItalia on Twitter)

Maria Sakkari enjoyed an even better week than the Brit in Rabat. She beat Konta in the final to claim her first ever WTA title.

And the Greek, 23, has used that confidence to thrive in Rome. She came through two rounds of qualifying and then beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Anett Kontaveit to set up a quarter-final against Petra Kvitova.

Most in the tennis world will have expected her run to end there. But Sakkari put the Czech under all sorts of pressure and she was leading 4-0 in the decider when Kvitova was forced to retire with a calf injury.

That win set up a quarter-final meeting with Kristina Mladenovic. She beat the Frenchwoman 5-7 6-3 6-0 to progress to only her second Premier 5 semi-final and move to a career-high ranking of 28.

Mladenovic returns to prominence

It has also been a big week for Mladenovic. She reached a career-high ranking of 10 in 2017 after the best six months of her career but has struggled ever since.

Now it looks like the Frenchwoman’s best tennis may be returning. Since she started working with Sascha Bajin, who is famous for his time with Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and Naomi Osaka, her results have improved considerably.

First, she made it through qualifying in Madrid and beat Barbora Strycova in the first round. Then she came to Rome, qualified again, and recorded brilliant wins over Caroline Garcia, Belinda Bencic and Ashleigh Barty.

“I’m definitely satisfied (with my form),” Mladenovic said in her press conference after her win over Barty. “Tennis is funny – it will forever be ups and downs. When I was losing matches, I wondered what was missing. I didn’t feel like I was playing so bad, but it just didn’t click.”

She continued, “If you work hard, eventually success comes. Clay helps me. I feel like I have more time to produce my game.”

The Frenchwoman also credited her new coach. She said, “I’m loving what I’m working on with Sascha. He helps me a lot because he likes to spend hours and hours on court with me. We have the same vision of my tennis and he has brought new exercises to (help me achieve) this same vision and goal. That’s helped with my consistency and I think it’s making the difference right now.”

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[EXCLUSIVE] Brandon Nakashima: “I Love Federer, But My Game Resembles More Djokovic’s”

Nakashima speaks to UbiTennis about his liveliest memory of training with Nadal at Wimbledon. The duels he had with Lorenzo Musetti and Tseng Chun-Hsin, the high praise for Sebastian Korda and Hugo Gaston. Why he doesn’t like clubbing and what his new coach Pat Cash has been advising him to do.

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The latest instalment of UbiTennis’ video series sees Ubaldo Scanagatta and Steve Flink speak with Brandon Nakashima. An 18-year-old American tennis star born on August 3, 2001, who goes by the nickname B-Nak.

 

He is at No.220 in the ATP Rankings (with a career best at 218) and is second-best among those who were born in 2001, trailing only Jannik Sinner. His surname is of Japanese origin, but it was his Vietnamese maternal grandfather who initiated him to the game of tennis when he was three. He is 1.85 metres tall and weighs 78 kilograms. He was born in San Diego, and his father Wesley was also born in California – his parents are both pharmacists. He played for the University of Virginia, where he was the Freshman of the Year for the Atlantic Coast Conference, before moving on to the pros.

Since Delray Beach, in February, he’s been working with Pat Cash, immediately reaching the quarter finals and beating four Top 100 players. His best shot is his two-handed backhand, and his favourite player is Federer. A superb athlete, he is considered the best American prospect. He is self-described as shy, but he actually isn’t that much, once he gets going. He loves sushi, but also admits to having a sweet tooth. Given the status of some of his victims, it can be assumed that he’s already better than his ranking.

VIDEO SCHEDULE

Minute 00:00: Introduction and recap of his highest-profile wins.

03:40: His behaviour during the Covid-19 pandemic: “I wear a mask whenever I’m outside. I’ve been trying to stay cautious as much as possible in public areas”. He also appreciates the chance of being able to train at some local private courts.

05:07: The special relationship with his grandfather: “My mom’s dad is from Vietnam. He first started to get me out on the court when I was about three and a half years old, just feeding me balls at a local park and from that time onward I started practicing more and more everyday”.

06:45: Bonding with his main coach, Pat Cash, during the pandemic.

07:38: Cash claims he noticed immediately Brandon’s “extraordinary racquet control” – does he think that this is his best quality too?

08:42: Their first meeting: “We had a couple of mutual friends; at the time I had just turned pro and I was looking for a good coach…”

11:53: His idols growing up: “I always liked to watch Federer play, but I think now my game is more similar to Djokovic’s”.

12:40: The experience of hitting with Nadal: “A couple of years ago I was playing the junior Wimbledon tournament…”

14:36: His thoughts on the best future prospects…

17:20: His transition as a pro aged only 17: “It was crucial on and off the court for me to go to college and to then play a full season at 17 [Editor’s Note: at the University of Virginia], it helped my game and made me mature as a person. I’d advise most players to go to college and get that experience…”

19:45: Recapping his best junior Slam results.

21:25: Developing his game with Pat Cash: “During these training blocks here in California, we definitely decided to work a lot on the transition and net game to add more variety into my game…”

23:55: What are his current plans? “It’s tough to plan tournaments right now since we don’t know when or if they’re even starting…”

25:35: How does he feel about the issue of playing behind closed doors? “It will be interesting, everybody is so used to people watching, so I think most players will find it maybe a little weird at the beginning…”

26:47: His off-court life: “I try to relax and have fun. I like playing other sports, on days off I play golf with friends or relax at home watching TV, just getting the mind away from tennis. I don’t like going to dance or clubs, it never was my type of feeling of going out; I like a more chill state with my friends.”

30:04: His knowledge of tennis history.

31:30: Where does Brandon see himself in 2022/23? “The goal is to keep improving my results and my rankings, and maybe…”

33:20: After the Big Three era, who is his pick to become the next world N.1?

36:10: Pat Cash’s most frequent tip: “I have to train to get ready for the Slams…”

Article written and translated by Tommaso Villa

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Prague set to host new WTA Tournament next August

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Prague will host a new WTA tournament from 10 to 15 August. It will be one of of the WTA tournaments to be held after the coronavirus pandemic. The Prague Open will be held on the Sparta clay court in Prague with a prize money of $ 225.000.

 

The Prague Open will feature the top two Czech players Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova.

Kvitova has won two Wimbledon titles and is currently ranked world number 12. She won a Czech exhibition tournament last May behind closed doors at a time when Czech Republic was already easing measures against the spread of coronavirus.

“The WTA was looking for venues and organizers to quicly prepare for a quality tournament in these strange times. We took advantage of the references we had obtained from the first tournament of the post coronavirus era, which took place on the Sparta courts and turned out to be a  success”, said Ivo Kaderka, Director of the Czech Tennis Federation.

Up to 2000 fans a day will be able to attend the Prague tournament.

“We are already in talks with the top Czech players. We will prepare mobile stands with a capacity of 2000 seats”, said tournament director David Trunda.

Tournament spokesman Karel Tejkal said that the Prague event is not a postponed version of last May’s Prague Open which did not take place because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

“This is a new tournament that is now part of the provisional WTA schedule for this year”, said Tejkal.

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Is It Acceptable For Novak Djokovic To Remain As ATP Player Council President After Adria Tour Fiasco?

Regarded as one of the greatest of all time, Djokovic’s recent antics raises the question as to if he is the right person leading the ATP Tour on a political front.

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Novak Djokovic is a household name and role model for thousands around the world. The world No.1 has won more prize money than any other player in the history of the sport and is known for his charitable donations. However, his recent role in the Adria Tour could have big repercussions for him in the coming weeks.

 

Djokovic founded the Adria Tour that took place in Belgrade, Serbia and Zadar, Croatia before it was cancelled. Over the weekend the worst possible scenario occurred when Grigor Dimitrov tested positive for COVID-19, which forced the final to be scrapped. The following day, three others at the event also tested positive, including Borna Coric. Meanwhile, Viktor Troicki also turned out to be positive, but only played in Belgrade.

More than 40 hours after Dimitrov’s confirmation on Twitter, Djokovic then announced he and his wife also have the virus. The Serbian opted not to have a test in Croatia and instead chose to travel to Belgrade and do so. A controversial decision given the situation, but one he was allowed to do according to regional COVID-19 rules.

“Everything we did in the past month, we did with a pure heart and sincere intentions. Our tournament was meant to unite and share a message of solidarity and compassion throughout the region,” he said in a statement.
“The Tour has been designed to help both established and up and coming tennis players from south-eastern Europe to gain access to some competitive tennis while the various tours are on hold due to Covid-19.”

The 17-time grand slam champion said that his event was organised at a time when ‘the virus was weakened.’ Yet it was visible to many that the Adria Tour was a ticking time bomb in the midst of a pandemic. A lack of social distancing occurred throughout, players attended parties or functions, and played basketball.

It was stunning watching a video of their press conference that took place last Friday. All players sat shoulder-to-shoulder in a room whilst speaking to reporters. In a way it is a shock (but a big relief) that Alexander Zverev didn’t catch COVID-19. He sat next to Dimitrov throughout as the two shared a microphone. At one stage he took the microphone from the Bulgarian, answered a question, passed it back and then immediately rubbed his eye. Maybe the saving grace in that incident was that he held the microphone in his right hand and rubbed his eye with his left.

“In hindsight, it’s not something that should have gone ahead,” former world No.1 Andy Murray commented about the event. “It’s not surprising how many people have tested positive after seeing some of the images of the players’ party and the kids’ day. There was no social distancing in place.
“I don’t think it has been a great look for tennis. The only positive is that, until it is safe to do so, we have no fans at the event to reduce the risk as much as possible.”

Djokovic always had good intentions for his event and for years he has been trying to bring something like this to the region. I remember speaking to him two years ago during a press conference in Madrid where he said he planned to do such a thing. Although this is not what is under scrutiny.

As the president of the ATP Players Council, Djokovic is held to a higher accountability than most of his rivals. He is the leader of a panel who represents hundreds in the sports and reports their views of the ATP Board when it comes to critical decisions being made. During an era of COVID-19 many players have voiced their concerns over the Tour resuming during a global pandemic. In an unfortunate case of irony for Djokovic, the Adria Tour perfectly illustrated why they are worried.

“Prayers up to all the players that have contracted Covid- 19,” critic Nick Kyrgios said, retweeting a video of the players dancing shirtless in Belgrade.
“Don’t @ me for anything I’ve done that has been ‘irresponsible’ or classified as ‘stupidity’ – this takes the cake.”

The lack of accountability

Djokovic and his team have fully apologised for the incident that has happened, but they have stopped short of taking full responsibility. Incredibly Djokovic’s father Srdjan has accused Dimitrov of causing ‘great damage’ to Serbia, Croatia and his family. It was alleged that the former top 10 player didn’t undergo testing when given the option after feeling unwell.

“Why did it happen? Because the man probably came sick, who knows where. He didn’t get tested there, he was tested somewhere else… I don’t think that’s right. Well, what can we do now… He inflicted great damage to Croatia and to us as a family and to Serbia,” Srdjan told RTL.

Those comments directly inflicting responsibility for the fiasco onto one person is poor to say the least. First, it is unknown as to who at the event contracted the virus first or where. Dimitrov could have even caught it from Coric, who is experiencing no symptoms and is therefore asymptomatic. In Serbia there have been outbreaks of COVID-19 among football teams and recently a national basketball training camp was cancelled. Srdjan like any other parent is defending his son, but his argument to divert the blame solely on Dimitrov is a very weak one.

Goran Ivanisevic, who is Djokovic’s coach and tournament director of the Zadar event, said yesterday that critics were trying to score ‘political points against them.’ At the same time one the most prestigious Serbian sports websites even suggested that Dimitrov deliberately announced his positive test at a time to force the final to be cancelled. The blame game is very much an ongoing theme.

As for Djokovic, in his statement there was no admission that the protocols in force in his events could have been improved or the lack of social distancing was problematic. Without a doubt he regrets what happened, but it is enough of a move from somebody who is a world No.1 heading the Players Council during a worldwide pandemic? To an extent, no it isn’t.

Some will argue that the backlash is typical given Djokovic’s at times unfair treatment in the media by some publications in the past. A valid point, but focusing solely on this incident the criticism was always inevitable. Furthermore, Djokovic isn’t the only person being singled out. The Croatian Tennis Federation is also under heavy fire. The director of the WTA Bol Open, Feliks Lukas, has publicly called for the head of the federation to reign due to his involvement.

It has been suggested that the Adria Tour could have a negative impact on Djokovic’s legacy. I would say that this is very unlikely given his extraordinary achievements on the court. One that thousands of players could only dream of achieving. However, in terms of his ATP Player Presidency, it looks doubtful that he will continue in this role for much longer. Whenever he will inevitably speak out over his colleagues’ concerns about COVID-19 in the future, he will be accused of hypocrisy and rightfully so.

Of course, this opinion of mine is irrelevant, it is the players who are the kingmakers. One journalist has already reported that an unnamed player has already called for Djokovic to resign from his ATP Council president position (UbiTennis can’t confirm this).

Djokovic has done a lot of good during his time as ATP President, but during the time of COVID-19 may be the best option for him is to step aside. Unfortunately, one of the sports greatest athletes of all time has unintentionally cast a very dark cloud on tennis.

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