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
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 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.”
Roger Federer Targets Djokovic And Alcaraz For Laver Cup 2024 After Team World Thrashes Europe
Roger Federer says he would love to see the two highest-ranked players on the men’s Tour play in the next Laver Cup after this year’s tie ended in a crushing defeat for Europe.
Team World, which is captained by John McEnroe, dominated the clash in Vancouver after surging to a 10-2 lead heading into the final day of competition. On Sunday they were required to win only one match to claim the overall title which they did in the opening doubles match. Ben Shelton and Frances Tiafoe ousted the European duo of Andrey Rublev and Hubert hurkacz 7-6(4), 7-6(5).
“I am proud of these guys. We brought together a great group of some youth and experience, guys that have been here before. Everybody played well,” McEnroe said of his team’s 13-2 victory.
“It was an awesome week. We kicked some ass.”
“Winning is a whole lot better than losing. We struggled the first couple of years, and now we have tasted winning and it feels good.”
In contrast, Europe didn’t have much joy at the event with their only victory being from Casper Ruud who defeated Tommy Paul on the second day of the tie. Since the start of the competition in 2017, Europe won four consecutive titles but 2023 is the second year in a row that they have been defeated.
Hoping that this losing streak will come to an end next year when the event is held in Berlin, Federer says he wishes Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz will play. Djokovic has played in the Laver Cup twice before but Alcaraz is yet to make his debut.
“They destroyed Team Europe. Team World played fantastic, they really brought the energy. Everybody brought a point, they were stronger in the doubles. In the singles too, they were moving fast, they were ready to go. They thoroughly deserved victory,” said Federer.
“I would like to see Novak again, Alcaraz and Novak on the same team. Sascha Zverev would be great for the German market. Someone like [Holger] Rune, that really hurt Team Europe. Rune and [Stefanos] Tsitsipas pulling out. [Daniil] Medvedev would be great. I like watching [Andrey] Rublev, and maybe someone will come through,” he added.
Federer is a co-founder of the Laver Cup with his management company Team 8 partnering up with Tennis Australia and Jorge Paulo Lemann to create the event. In 2019 the team competition was awarded ATP Tour status with a spot on the official calendar and access to marketing facilities under an agreement. However, ranking points are not awarded to players.
Due to the nature of the format, only one match was played on Sunday with fans not getting the chance of watching any singles. Something two-time French Open champion Ruud admits is a problem.
“Two of the times that I have played was maybe in a way a little bit unfortunate with only one deciding doubles (match) on Sunday,” Ruud commented.
“The crowd didn’t get to see a singles (match) after or whatever. That’s not in my hands to decide what the format looks like.’
“But last year in London was great in many ways because you had so many great players and it came down to almost the last match. When I watched on TV the first series, it was so exciting because Roger played a couple of times, the final match of the Sunday and clutched it for Team Europe. It’s been a couple of years without playing that last singles match. But it’s a great initiative. Me, as a golf fan, watching the Ryder Cup all my life in my childhood, it’s great for tennis to have this event.”
The 2024 Laver Cup will be held at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin between September 20-22.
India’s Sumit Nagal Receives Sponsorship Boost After Revelling Financial Struggles
A leading food and drink company has pledged to support India’s highest-ranked men’s player who was unable to train at his usual facility in Germany earlier this year due to a lack of money.
Earlier this week world No.159 Sumit Nagal made a public plea for financial support to help him continue his career as a tennis player. In recent years he has been based at the Nansel Tennis Academy in Germany but was unable to train there during the first three months of the 2023 season due to a lack of funds. During this period he relied on his friends, including former player Somdev Devvarman, to help maintain his fitness.
“If I look at my bank balance, I have what I had at the beginning of the year. It is 900 euros. I did get a bit of help. Mr Prashant Sutar is helping me with MAHA Tennis Foundation and I also get monthly (salary) from IOCL but I don’t have any big sponsor,” Nagal told the Press Trust of India.
“I am investing whatever I am making. The yearly cost where I travel with one coach is costing me around Rs 8 million to Rs 10 million (90,000-113,000 euros) and that is just with one travelling coach (no physio). Whatever I have made I have already invested,” he added.
Nagal, who is 26 years old, has reached the semi-finals of better at five tournaments on the lower-level Challenger Tour so far this season. His only Grand Slam result was at the US Open where he lost in the first round of qualifying to Taro Daniel. It was at the US Open where he took a set off Roger Federer before losing in 2019.
Despite being the only player from his country to be ranked in the top 400, Nagal is currently not part of the Target Olympics Podium Scheme. An initiative set up by the Indian government to provide support to their top athletes.
After learning about Nagal’s ongoing struggles on the Tour, a leading company has decided to support the tennis player by signing a three-year deal with him. Gatorade specializes in sports drinks and is manufactured by PepsiCo. Under the deal, Nagal will receive support with his recovery and nutrition from experts at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI).
“I am deeply moved and grateful to join hands with Gatorade. This association comes to me at a pivotal time, and I am thankful my hard work and passion is getting recognized and appreciated. With Gatorade by my side, I am sure I will reach new heights and give it my all both on and off the court,” the Indo-Asian News Service quoted Nagal as saying on Thursday.
Speaking about the new partnership, Ankit Agarwal from PepsiCo India has hailed the collaboration. Agarwal is the company’s Associate Director of Energy & Hydration.
“Sumit is a role model for the new-gen athletes of India with his career being a true example of hard work and sweat that makes talent shine,” he said.
“As a brand that is dedicated to supporting athletes in removing barriers to sporting success, we are delighted to welcome Sumit to the Gatorade squad.”
Nagal has been ranked as high as No.122 in the world. So far in his career, he has won four Challenger titles with two of those occurring this year in Italy and Finland.
(VIDEO): Malaga Line-Up Set As Davis Cup Most Unpredictable Tournament In History
UbiTennis founder Ubaldo Scanagatta explains why any of the eight teams in Malaga could win November’s Davis Cup Finals
The Davis Cup quarter-final line-up is set after an incredible Group Stage over Bologna, Split, Manchester and Valencia.
Now eight teams remain including Novak Djokovic’s Serbia, Great Britain and Australia.
However surprise teams such as the Netherlands, Finland and the Czech Republic will also appear in the quarter-finals.
Ten-time champions Great Britain will face Serbia with the winners taking on the winner of the quarter-final between Italy and the Netherlands.
In the other half of the draw Canada will be heavy favourites against Finland while the Czech Republic face Australia.
The final eight tournament will take place in Malaga and will take place between the 21st and the 26th of November.
However this year’s Davis Cup could be the most unpredictable version in the tournament’s history with there being no Spain or USA.
It really could be anyone’ tournament with Tennis’ most prestigious team competition up for grabs in November.
In this video UbiTennis founder Ubaldo Scanagatta explains why this year’s Davis Cup finals could be the most unpredictable edition of all-time and why any of the teams could win the title.
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