Naomi Osaka Faces Four Threats In Fight To Maintain No.1 Position At French Open - UBITENNIS
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Naomi Osaka Faces Four Threats In Fight To Maintain No.1 Position At French Open

Ubitennis’ guide to the five women who could exit the French Open as world No.1.

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Naomi Osaka - Madrid 2019 (photo Roberto Dell'Olivo)

For the 17th consecutive week Naomi Osaka is enjoying life at the top of the WTA rankings.

 

The 21-year-old first claimed the world No.1 spot after triumphing at the Australian Open in January where she defeated Petra Kvitova in the final. Osaka is the first Asian player – man or woman – to achieve the honour in the Open Era. She has already spent more time in the position than players such as Ana Ivanovic, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Venus Williams. An impressive statistic for a player who hasn’t won a WTA title since January.

Osaka’s next test will be at the French Open where she faces four players in the race to end the tournament as world No.1. She is yet to progress beyond the third round or win a WTA trophy on the clay in her career. Heading into this year’s tournament, she had to withdraw from events in Stuttgart and Rome due to injury.

“I would describe it as rocky.” Osaka commented about her clay season last week. “I can’t necessarily say it’s been ups and downs because if I think about it, it’s definitely been going up. Like every match that I’ve played, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve tried to take what I’ve learned into the next match. I think I’ve done that well.”

Osaka will keep her No.1 spot if she reaches the final in Paris regardless of if she wins the title or not. However, if any of her four rivals reach the title match, her position at the top will be under threat.

Leading the challengers is Karolina Pliskova, who recently triumphed at the Italian Open. The Czech second seed is required to reach the final to have a chance of claiming the No.1 spot for the first time since September 2017. Pliskova has a love-hate relationship with Roland Garros. In 2017 she reached the semi-finals in what was her best run to date. However, in her six other appearances, she has failed to make it to the second week of the tournament. Overall, she has won nine out of 16 main draw matches played there.

“I want to put 100% into it and to give myself a chance to go deep in the tournament.” Pliskova commented about the French Open. “Of course, everything starts in the first round. You can have tough opponents. Doesn’t mean that I won (in Rome) that I have to go far in Paris. There is still seven matches, so it’s two more than here.”

If Osaka reaches the semi-finals, Pliskova is required to win her first ever grand slam title. Should she face Kvitova in the final, the winner world become world No.1.

The Netherlands has never had a No.1 player in the history of the sport, but 27-year-old Kiki Bertens could change this. After winning the Madrid Open earlier this month, Bertens became the highest ranked Dutch woman of all-time by reaching fourth in the world. She is a former semi-finalist at Roland Garros back in 2016, but hasn’t gone beyond the third round since.

“I think anything can happen there. If I play good, I can go really far. Hopefully that’s going to be the case.” The world No.4 commented about her chances.

For Bertens, if Osaka reaches the fourth round she would need to win the title. Should she face Kvitova in the final, the winner would claim the top spot.

Kvitova’s hopes relies on rival Osaka not reaching the semi-finals. If that happens, she would need to go on to win the tournament. The two-time Wimbledon champion has previously been to just one win away from becoming world No.1, but was denied the honour. She has already won two titles this season, including one clay event in Stuttgart.

“Becoming No.1 would be Petra’s dream, but we don’t talk about it because I don’t want to put too much pressure on her. At the same time, I think Petra also doesn’t want to talk about it because she doesn’t want to add to that pressure,” Kvitova’s coach Jiri Vanek told wtatennis.com.

Finally, Angelique Kerber can only potentially reach the top if she wins the title and Osaka failed to reach the quarter-finals. The German player has recently been hindered by an ankle injury.

French Open records at-a-glance

Name

Number of appearances (before 2019)

Best performance at Roland Garros

2018 result

Overall win-loss (main draw only)

Osaka (age 21)

3

Third round (2016, 2018)

Third round

4-3

Kvitova (age 29)

10

Semi-finals (2012)

Third round

23-10

Bertens (age 27)

7

Semi-finals (2016)

Third round

11-7

Kerber (age 31)

11

Quarter-finals (2012, 2018)

Quarter-finals

17-11

Points players could earn during the French Open

source: wtatennis.com

WTA

Defending Champion Caroline Wozniacki Safely Negotiates Eastbourne Opener

Caroline Wozniacki started her bid for a third title in Eastbourne with a win, while Pliskova, Ostapenko and Vondrousova also secured victories.

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Caroline Wozniacki (@VolvoCarOpen on Twitter)

Caroline Wozniacki began the defence of her title in Eastbourne with a comfortable 6-3 6-4 win over Kirsten Flipkens at the Nature Valley International.

 

The Dane, 28, had not been on court for nearly a month and she has only played 18 matches so far this year due to illness and injury, but her lack of match practice did not seem to affect her too much.

Wozniacki took apart Flipkens’ serve in the opening set, breaking her three times. However, she was also broken twice – despite only facing three break points.

In the second set, the Belgian forced twice as many break points on the Dane’s serve. To Flipkens’ dismay, Wozniacki saved five of them. She also broke the World No.1 twice to take the set 6-4 and seal victory. The 11th seed will face Andrea Petkovic in round two.

Pliskova, Ostapenko and Vondrousova advance

After Karolina Pliskova suffered a surprise loss to sister Kristyna in Birmingham, she was keen to avoid a similar fate in Eastbourne.

It could have happened, too, as the Czech faced a tricky round two opponent in the shape of Margarita Gasparyan.

However, Pliskova ensured there would not be an upset this time. She dominated on serve in the opening set and broke the Russian in the second game to take it 6-3.

The Czech stormed into a 5-2 lead in the second set. Gasparyan staged a mini-fightback by earning her first break of the match. Pliskova then broke the Russian again to book her place in round three.

Jelena Ostapenko put her shock loss in Birmingham behind her with a 6-4 6-4 success over Mihaela Buzarnescu. The Latvian was broken early in both sets but she recovered well both times to earn a second-round clash with Sloane Stephens.

Marketa Vondrousova swept aside Zheng Saisai 6-2 6-3 in her first match since her remarkable run to the French Open final. The bout was interrupted by rain but the Czech, 19, kept her composure to earn a second-round meeting with Elise Mertens.

Svitolina faces fight to stay in the tournament

It was a frustrating day for the fans in Eastbourne as play was frequently delayed by rain. By contrast, several players are probably grateful that the weather intervened.

Chief among those is 5th seed Elina Svitolina, who was a set and a break down to Alize Cornet when the return of the rain forced the tournament referee to call a halt to the day’s play.

Zarina Diyas is in a similar situation. She trailed Lesia Tsurenko 6-2 3-0 when the rain came but she will get a chance to make a comeback tomorrow.

The early finish to the day will also give Belinda Bencic some much-needed extra rest. She was due to play qualifier Veronika Kudermetova in the last match on Court One about 25 hours after she narrowly lost the Mallorca final to Sofia Kenin, but their clash must now take place tomorrow instead.

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Sofia Kenin saves three match points to claim Mallorca title

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US 20-year-old Sofia Kenin fought back from one set down to beat Belinda Bencic 6-7 (2-7) 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 after two hours and 42 minutes at the Mallorca Open on grass. Kenin saved three match points in the 10th game of the second set.

 

The first set was marked by 12 break points. Bencic went up an early break to take a 3-0 lead, but Kenin reeled off four consecutive games to take a 4-3 lead. Bencic got the break back to draw level to 4-4. The young Swiss player went up a 3-0 lead, but Kenin got the mini-break back for 2-3 after a forehand winner. Bencic earned four set points at 6-2 and converted her first chance.

The second set went on serve in the first eight games without a break point before Bencic got the break in the ninth game. She earned three championship points, as she was serving for the title in the 10th game.

Kenin fended them and fired a forehand passing winner to earn a break point.

Kenin broke back with a backhand winner. In the tie-break Kenin fired a backhand down the line winner to open up a 5-2 lead.

The US player earned four set points at 6-2. Bencic saved the first three chances, but Kenin converted her fourth opportunity to take the tie-break 7-5, when Bencic hit a return long.

Both players held serve in the first eight games of the third set before Kenin earned the decisive break in the ninth game with a backhand winner crosscourt on her second break point chance. The US player served out the match with a hold in the 10th game on the first championship point as Bencic hit a return into the net.

Kenin will travel to Eastbourne, where she will face Samantha Stosur in the opening round.

“Hard work is paying off. I am playing really well, fighting for every point, and taking as much advantage as I can. This is really great, and I am just so happy with how I am playing”,said Kenin.

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Ashleigh Barty Becomes World No.1 With Glory In Birmingham

Ashleigh Barty won the Nature Valley Classic and went to World No.1 by beating Julia Goerges in a high-quality final.

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Ashleigh Barty (@the_LTA on Twitter)

Ashleigh Barty is the new World No.1 and the 2019 Nature Valley Classic champion after she defeated Julia Goerges 6-3 7-5 in the final in Birmingham.

 

The Australian’s victory is an ideal way to follow up her maiden Grand Slam title at Roland Garros. It also extends her current win streak to 12 matches and reflects her newly-acquired status of hardest player to beat on the WTA tour.

“(Going to No.1) was a very different feeling to winning the French Open,” Barty said. “The French in particular felt like a whirlwind and it’s just hard to put into words what we have been able to achieve over the last few years. To be where we are now is just incredible.”

Barty’s success has seen her follow in the footsteps of legendary Australian tennis player Evonne Goolagong. “I think I’m nowhere near her status,” the young Australian said. “To be mentioned in the same sentence is incredible.”

She continued, “Evonne is an amazing human being and has set the tone for so many Australians and so many indigenous Australians around our country and around the world. What she did in her career was incredible and what she continues to do off the court for us as a sport is amazing. To have her as a friend is amazing too and I’m sure I will be able to chat to her in the next few days.”

Goerges starts well but makes costly errors

Goerges made the stronger start to the match. She hit three amazing forehands in Barty’s opening service game and a total of six winners in the first four games. She also hit four aces.

However, the Australian stayed with her, and her steadiness paid dividends in game six as the German made six unforced errors during a sloppy service game to hand Barty a crucial break.

For the rest of the set, Goerges cut a frustrated figure and she made five more unforced errors to make it easy for the Australian to close it out 6-3.

Barty edges high-quality second set

Ashleigh Barty (@the_LTA on Twitter)

The standard in the second set was superb. Goerges produced a series of lethal forehands to break in game two and then hit three aces in the next game to open up a 3-0 lead.

However, the German then made four consecutive unforced errors to surrender her serve in game five and suddenly the set was back in the balance.

The next four games were sprinkled with moments of brilliance. Barty hit a great passing shot and Goerges finished off an excellent point with a fantastic drop shot volley. The Australian also produced an improbably precise backhand winner, while the German unleashed her best backhand of the match to save a break point in game nine.

The end result of those games was a 5-4 scoreline in Goerges’ favour. This allowed the German to hit freely against Barty’s serve and she played some delightful shots to earn a set point.

Then the Australian demonstrated her ability to deliver under intense pressure. She hit an ace to save it and shortly afterwards produced another ace and an unreturnable serve to level the score at 5-5.

Goerges did not cope well with having that opportunity snatched away from her. She made a double fault and unforced error to give Barty a chance to break, and the Australian took it by forcing another error from the German.

Barty made serving for the championship look easy. She sent down an ace that landed on the service line and hit a classy forehand winner to claim two of the points, while Goerges made two unforced errors to hand her the other two.

When Goerges met Barty

After the match, it was obvious how happy the German was about her friend’s success. “Ash and I have a long story,” Goerges said. “When she was 15 years old and she got a wild card for the French Open, I was always talking to her, we had a lot of fun moments and then she retired.”

She continued, “I always thought she will come back one day because she loves the sport so much, but she just had enough at that time. We stayed in contact while she was playing cricket and to be able to share this moment with her was something special. If I had to choose to lose someone to today to become the No. 1, I would definitely pick her. That’s why it was very emotional for me.”

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