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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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Angelique Kerber Splits With Rainer Schuettler After Eight Month Partnership

Angelique Kerber has parted ways with Rainer Schuettler after an eight month partnership which ended in Wimbledon disappointment.

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Angelique Kerber (@Wimbledon - Twitter)

Three time grand slam champion Angelique Kerber has split with her coach Rainer Schuettler after an eight month partnership. 

 

It’s been a topsy-turvy year for the German so far after reaching the finals in Indian Wells and Eastbourne as well as being 11th in the Race To Shenzhen rankings.

However after losing in the first week of all three of her grand slams so far, last year’s Wimbledon champion has decider to end her partnership with Rainer Scheuttler.

The 31 year-old made the announcement on Twitter as she admitted it was a tough decision to make but a necessary one to make, “Moving forward, it’s never easy to change – especially when you work with great people like Rainer,” Kerber said.

“But for now, we’ve decided that it’s the right time for a fresh start. He has become a friend and I‘m thankful for his hard work & dedication in the last months.”

A couple of days ago, Kerber also said it was time to embrace the challenges moving forward as she looks to improve her sluggish form ,“This time of year feels very different compared to last year, but it’s still part of the same journey,” Kerber explained on Twitter.

“Whether you‘ve won or lost the last match- it‘s done, it‘s over and it can‘t be changed. It‘s about the lessons you learn from both outcomes that will determine your path. 

“There have always been ups and downs, twists and turns in my career that I accept as part of my story as an athlete. Even more, I‘ve learned to deal with it and embrace the challenge moving forward.”

Although Kerber and Schuettler have become good friends, the results never really translated when it really mattered most as Kerber couldn’t keep her focus on the big occasions.

A very brave decision to do it more than half way through the season though as Kerber looks to finish the season strong in a frustrating year.

Next for the former world number one is the Rogers Cup in Toronto, which starts on the 5th August.

 

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Johanna Konta Speaks About Charity Work Ahead Of Second Half Of Season

Johanna Konta talks about her work with charity as she looks to end the season strong.

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Johanna Konta (@the_LTA - Twitter)

Johanna Konta has spoken about her charity work as she prepares for the final grand slam of the season. 

 

It has been an encouraging 2019 so far for the Brit after reaching the finals in Rabat and Madrid as well as reaching the last four at Roland Garros.

Although that was met with disappointment and criticism at Wimbledon after her quarter-final exit to Barbora Strycova, Konta is looking to continue the momentum in the American summer.

However for now, the world number 15 is taking her mind off tennis to focus on her charity work and in particular tackling homelessness.

Recently Konta visited the prime minister on the subject and spoke to the WTA Website about why she feels passionately about homelessness, “Homelessness has always been a big thing that’s close to my heart, that I want to help,” Konta said.

“I met a young lady called Kenny, who has come through Centre Point and it’s through them that she’s got her shift here with The Clink.”

The Brit is an ambassador for the charity CentrePoint, who support young homeless people in London since 1969 as homelessness has been a big problem in the UK.

The Clink provided catering for the event an 10 Downing Street, which was about bringing young people who are at risk of violence and helping them talk to businesses and role models to see how they can not take to crime.

On her visit, Konta explained why it was a dream come true to go to 10 Downing Street, “I feel like you’re walking through history, especially as you walk up the stairs and you see all the Prime Ministers through time. It’s inspiring and I feel very lucky.”

Next for Konta is the Rogers Cup in Toronto, which starts on the 5th of August as she prepares for the final grand slam of the year at the US Open.

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Wimbledon Day 13 Preview: The Gentlemen’s Final

In a championship match with significant GOAT implications, Roger Federer plays for a record-extending 21st Major, as Djokovic defends his title and vies for his 16th.

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Roger Federer (@Wimbledon - Twitter)

By Matthew Marolf

 

In 25 days, Roger Federer will turn 38 years of age. Remarkably, here he is in his 31st Major final, and his 12th at The All England Club. His most recent Slam final came 18 months ago in Australia, where he defeated Marin Cilic in five sets. Playing the French Open last month for the first time since 2015, and advancing to the semi-finals on his worst surface, provided Roger with considerable confidence. After falling to Rafael Nadal in Paris, he avenged that loss here on Friday in a thrilling semi-final. But in order to win his ninth Wimbledon, he’ll need to do something he’s never done before: defeat both Nadal and Djokovic at the same Grand Slam event.

One year ago, Novak Djokovic arrived at SW19 ranked outside the top 20. After holding all four Majors at once, he hadn’t claimed another in over two years. But a semi-final victory over Nadal would propel Djokovic to win three consecutive Slams. He’s now the definitive world No.1, and looks to pull within four Major titles of Federer, and within two of Nadal.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Roger Federer (2)

This is their third time playing in the gentlemen’s singles final. In 2014, Djokovic pulled out the win in five sets, a turning point in Novak’s career having lost his last five Major Finals outside of Australia. A year later, Djokovic prevailed in four. Overall Novak has the slight edge in their head-to-head 25-22, and has taken eight of their last 10 meetings. At Majors, Djokovic leads 9-6, and hasn’t lost to Federer at a Slam in seven years, which was their first Wimbledon matchup in the 2012 semi-finals.

Both men needed three sets and about three hours to win their semi-finals, though Federer’s match against Nadal was the tighter and more draining affair. For Roger, coming back less than 48 hours later to play the other GOAT contender, who is also nearly six years younger than Federer, is a huge ask. But if Roger plays with the same energy he did on Friday, he has a shot. He’ll need to serve even better than in the semi-finals, as he faces the best returner in the game.

The crowd could play a critical role here. They’ll undoubtedly be raucously behind Roger, and we saw on Friday against Roberto Bautista Agut how bothered Novak can get by crowds cheering for his opponent. He receives it as disrespect, though he often seems to thrive on it. But Novak would be wise to not outwardly mock the Centre Court audience today, as it will only increase their enthusiasm for Federer. On paper, Djokovic is a solid favourite. There’s no real weakness in his game, and the best-of-five format plays to his advantage, especially if this goes the distance.

However, we saw on Friday the magic Roger is still capable of on Centre Court. He’ll know this may be one of his last chances to win a Major, though will that inspire him or unsettle him? We saw Serena Williams tighten up under similar circumstances yesterday. While I don’t think this will be a blowout like the ladies’ championship match, Djokovic will be too much for Federer to overcome in the end. Novak will be joining Simona Halep at the champions ball on Sunday evening.

Other notable matches on Day 13:

In the ladies’ doubles final re-scheduled for today due to the length of the gentlemen’s doubles final, singles standouts Su-Wei Hsieh and Barbora Strycova (3) vs. Gabriela Dabrowski and Yifan Xu (4), who upset the defending champion in the semi-finals.  Singles semi-finalist Strycova would become the new doubles No.1 with a win today.

In the mixed doubles final, which has unfortunately been bumped to No.1 Court, French Open champions Ivan Dodig and Latisha Chan (8) vs. 42-year-old Roberto Lindstedt and Jelena Ostapenko, who is a former junior champion here, and was a singles semifinalist a year ago.

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