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

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Kim Clijsters Still Capable Of Top-Level Wins, Says Former world No.1 Murray

Murray gives his verdict on Clijsters’ current form and if she can return to the top of the game.

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Image via WTA Insider on Twitter

Andy Murray believes it is only a matter of time before Belgium’s Kim Clijsters is able to return to her winning ways on the Tour.

 

The 38-year-old is currently in the process of her latest comeback which has been hampered by both injury and the COVID-19 pandemic. Since returning to the Tour at the 2020 Dubai Tennis Championships, Clijsters has only played in five tournaments and is yet to win a match. Her most recent defeat was at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells where she was ousted 6-3, 5-7, 6-3, by Hsieh Su-Wei.

It was in Indian Wells where Clijsters held a hitting session with Murray who says he was impressed by her level of play. Speaking to reporters in Antwerp where he is playing in the European Open this week, the three-time Grand Slam champion believes she is heading in the right direction.

“She still hits the ball fantastic. I think the decision-making and things like that will come with more matches,” atptour.com quoted Murray as saying. “I think physically she can get stronger. I think that was probably one of her biggest strengths when she was at the top of the game and as successful as she was.
“With more time, more matches, more time on the practice court, physically she’ll keep getting better. It’s not easy after such a long time out of the game, but I’m sure she can still win matches at the highest level, judging on how she’s handled herself so well.”

Following her most recent match, Clijsters said she is progressing well on the Tour given her lack of match play in recent times. She has only played two matches this year. The other took place in Chicago where she lost to Keterina Siniakova in three sets.

“I think for me the most important thing is that, what I talked with my coach and my trainer about, my fitness coach, was physically being able to get through these matches without big concerns. That was the main goal,” Clisjters said following her loss to Su-Wei.
“I came close, but still have a good feeling about, you know I’ve made progression and I think that’s the most important thing.”

Clijsters has won 41 WTA titles during her career with the last of those occurring a decade ago at the 2011 Australian Open. She has held the world No.1 spot for 20 weeks and has earned more than $24.5M in prize money.

It is unclear as to what tournament Clijsters will be playing next.

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Aryna Sabalenka Believes Experience Is The Key To Grand Slam Glory

The world No.2 reflects on her year so far as she aims to end the season on a high.

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Aryna Sabalenka returns a shot during a Women's Doubles quarterfinal match at the 2021 US Open, Tuesday, Sep. 7, 2021 in Flushing, NY. (Darren Carroll/USTA)

This year has been full of mixed emotions for Aryna Sabalenka when it comes to playing in the four most prestigious tournaments of the sport.

 

In the Grand Slams the world No.2 achieved the best performances of her career to date by reaching the semi-finals at both Wimbledon and the US Open. A breakout run for the Belarussian who had never gone beyond the fourth round of a major until this season. She was denied a place in her maiden final by Karolina Pliskova and Leylah Fernandez with both of those matches being three-set encounters.

Whilst Sabalenka has a lot to be proud of when it comes to these results, does she have any regrets as well?

“I would go back to my semifinal matches at the US Open and Wimbledon. I would have tried to do everything differently – maybe I would have been less nervous,” she told reporters during her pre-tournament press conference at the Kremlin Cup. “The game was very nervous, and I would have returned to these matches to worry less.”

The 23-year-old believes her experiences will place her on a strong footing going into future Grand Slam events. In recent years she has also turned to the help of a sports psychologist but says it doesn’t fully prepare her for the real thing.

“I have been working with a psychologist for a very long time. In fact, if you look at me 4 years ago and now, I have improved my psychological condition,” she said.
“It seems to me that no psychologist will prepare me for these situations (in Grand Slams). You need to go through it yourself, feel it, get nervous, understand this situation for yourself.’
“I’m more than sure that the next semifinal at the Slam I won’t be so nervous. I will act more confidently, I won’t make the stupid errors that I made in important moments in the last semi-final. It’s a matter of experience, you need to go through it. I don’t think a psychologist will be able to prepare for this.”

So far this season Sabalenka has contested three Tour finals, winning titles in Abu Dhabi and Madrid. Overall, she has won 43 matches on the WTA Tour which is the third highest tally after Barbora Krejcikova (44) and Ons Jabeur (48). She is also currently at a ranking high of second in the world and has defeated three top 10 players – Krejcikova, Ash Barty and Simona Halep.

However, Sabalenka believes there is still room for her to improve further. She is currently coached by Anton Dubrov who previously worked as her hitting partner for 18 months.

“I think I played very consistently this year, but, of course, it is possible to be more consistent. I have to keep working on myself, be more consistent. I think I’m moving in the right direction, I just need to keep working on myself.” She states.

This week’s Kremlin Cup will be the first tournament Sabalenka has played since the US Open. She was forced to miss Indian Wells after testing positive for COVID-19 which left her bed bound for four days. Whilst admitting she is yet to reach her full fitness since being ill, Sabalenka is not letting that get in her way.

“I’m not in my best shape, but I know that I need the upcoming matches in the Kremlin Cup, because I haven’t played for almost a month. Maybe I haven’t returned to 100% of my physical form, but psychologically I am at my maximum and ready to win no matter what.” She concludes.

Sabalenka is the top seed in Moscow and will begin her campaign against Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic.

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Leylah Fernandez Overcomes Pavlyuchenkova To Reach Indian Wells Fourth Round

It was a tough day at the office for the US Open runner-up.

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Leylah Fernandez (Darren Carroll/USTA)

Leylah Fernandez pulled off one of her famous comebacks in the Californian desert beating the number nine seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 in two hours and 41 minutes.

 

The Canadian hit 24 winners in the win while the Russian hit 46 unforced errors in a match that went back and forth before Fernandez was able to pull through in the end.

“What I am most proud of is the way that I fought and honestly today wasn’t my best performance,” Fernandez said afterwards. “But I fought for every point and I was trying to figure things out. I was proud I was able to find a way to get back in the match and get the win”.

After holding serve in her opening service game the world number 28 started putting the pressure right away on the Russian by getting two early break points but failed to convert.

At 3-3, it was Fernandez facing the pressure on her serve and the world number 13 had four looks at a breakpoint. On the fourth the Canadian cracked and double-faulted for the first break of serve of the match.

The Russian lead didn’t last long as the Canadian responded right away in the following game and the next four games went with breaks of serve as both players were struggling to hold serve.

Pavlyuchenkova eventually served for the set at 6-5 and was able to serve it out to take a 7-5 lead.

Pavlyuchenkova carried the momentum into the second set and broke Fernandez’s serve in the first game of the set but at 2-1 got broken once again and the set went back on serve.

It stayed on serve until 4-3 when Fernandez managed to get the crucial break of serve and that was enough for her to serve out the second set.

The first four games of the third set went on serve and at 2-2 again it was the Montreal native earning a breakpoint and breaking once again and despite facing pressure from the Russian was able to serve out the match.

After the match in her on-court interview, Fernandez was asked about all the support she has been getting recently and what it means to her to play on such a big stage.

“I got goosebumps,’ she said. “I was super excited to play here in Indian Wells for the first time and to play in a stadium where so many legends played who fought and won so it’s an honor to be here. I can’t wait to play my next match”.

Fernandez will next face the American Shelby Rogers in the round of 16 on Tuesday after she beat the Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu 6-0, 6-2.

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