Rome WTA Premier Preview: Serena Williams could face her sister Venus in blockbuster second round clash - UBITENNIS
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Rome WTA Premier Preview: Serena Williams could face her sister Venus in blockbuster second round clash

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Serena Williams (photo by chryslène caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

The draw ceremony for the WTA Premier 5 Internazionali BNL d’Italia was held at the Pietrangeli Court at the Foro Italico in Rome.

 

Reigning US Open and Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka and this year’s Sydney and Stuttgart champion Petra Kvitova are the top 2 seeds. Four-time Rome champion Serena Williams is set to play in her first tournament since the Miami Open last March.

Top seed Osaka has been drawn in the top section and will open her Rome campaign against either Aliaksandra Sasnovich or Dominika Cibulkova, German Julia Goerges in the third round and this week’s Madrid finalist Kiki Bertens in a very tough quarterfinal. Osaka is on a collision course for a potential semifinal against two-time Rome finalist Simona Halep. The top half of the draw features three Madrid semifinalists Halep, Bertens, and Stephens.

Osaka has never advanced from the third round in the Eternal city. The 21-year-old Japanese player started her clay season with a semifinal in Stuttgart and the quarter-final in Madrid, but she has never won a match over a top 20 on the clay surface. At this week’s Madrid Mutua Open Osaka served for the match against Belinda Bencic only to lose 7-5 in the third set.

Simona Halep is chasing her first Rome title after finishing runner-up to Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina in 2017 and 2018. The 2018 Roland Garros champion could face a first match against Czech teen Marketa Vondrousova, who beat the Romanian player in their recent clash at Indian Wells last March.

Halep could face a blockbuster quarter-final against either Serena Williams or Sloane Stephens. Serena will make her come-back to Rome for the first time since 2016 and will play in just her fourth tournament this season and the first since she withdrew from Miami due to a knee injury before the third round.

Williams will start against a qualifier before a potential blockbuster second-round clash against her sister Venus, who will have to overcome a tough obstacle against Belgium’s Elise Mertens. Serena and Venus could meet on European clay for the first time since the 2002 Roland Garros final.

Stephens, who reached the semifinal in Madrid this week, will start her campaign against either Johanna Konta or Alison Riske.

Second seed Petra Kvitova will play her first match against either Yulia Putintseva or Lesia Tsurenko before possible clashes against Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit (quarterfinalist in 2017 and semifinalist in 2018 in the past two editions of the Rome tournament) in a re-match of this year’s Stuttgart final in the third round and this year’s Miami champion Ashleigh Barty in the quarter-final.

Kvitova is set to return to Rome for the first time since 2016. The 2019 Australian Open finalist was beaten by Kiki Bertens in the quarter-final this week in Madrid. This defeat ended a seven-match winning streak on clay. Kvitova is looking to advance from the quarter-final in Rome for the first time in her career.

Kvitova could face a potential semifinal against two-time Rome champion Elina Svitolina is looking to become the first player since Conchita Martinez to win three consecutive titles in the Foro Italico. Martinez won the Rome title four times in a row from 1993 to 1996. However, the Ukrainian player is still recovering from a knee injury and was upset by Pauline Parmentier 6-4 7-6 in the first round in Madrid.

Svitolina could face Victoria Azarenka in the second round if the Belarusian player overcomes Zhang Shuai in the opening round match. Svitolina is on a collision court for a possible quarter-final against Karolina Pliskova.

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Wimbledon Champion Simona Halep Wary About Return To Tour

The world No.2 is expecting a tough time when she returns to action following the lengthy suspension of the sport due to COVID-19.

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Simona Halep has admitted that she has concerns about returning to tennis following a lengthy period away from the sport.

 

The two-time grand slam champion hasn’t played a competitive match since winning the Dubai Tennis Championships in February. All professional tennis tournaments have been suspended or cancelled since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials are hoping to get the sport back on its feet during the summer but an exact return date is still to be confirmed with the US Open set to announce next month if their tournament will go ahead or not.

Spending her lockdown in Romania, Halep is expecting a tough time when she returns to action due to having a lack of match play. To fill the void, some top 10 players have entered into domestic tournaments. Both Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova are playing tournaments in the Czech Republic. Meanwhile, Elina Svitolina is set to play in a behind the doors event in Berlin in July. Halep is yet to publicly commit to playing any such event.

“My longest break before the lockdown has been of 3-4 weeks and [returning to competitions] was very difficult for me. You lose pace, you lose focus … and then physically, if you idle about for a whole week you’ve lost half a year,” news agency AGERPRES quoted the 28-year-old as saying.
“ I don’t know what others have done during this time, maybe some did training runs, maybe they did strength workouts, I don’t know, I can’t assume. But I feel it on my own skin that it will be a bit difficult for me. It matters a lot that I haven’t had official matches. You can train five hours a day for a whole year, if you are not on an official game, you’re out when you step on court … I mean, you’re not in the game at all. There’s a big difference.”

Despite her concerns, Halep’s time away from the sport has allowed her to appreciate things she wouldn’t usually have time to do due to the demanding travelling requirements of tennis. Speaking about the lockdown, she says it has enabled her to evaluate her time on the Tour as well as the future.

“I learned a lot from the two-month isolation. I realized that in the last 6 years I’ve been actually on a total lockdown,” she explains.
“It occurred to me that I have to change something in my life, in order to also develop on the emotional and personal side. The fact that I’ve been on lockdown for 6 years has helped me become world No. 1, but now, for me to have a happy life without tennis, I am slowly trying to experience new feelings, see something else.”

Halep started 2020 by winning 10 out of 12 matches played. Besides her triumph in Dubai, she also reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open before losing to Garbine Muguruza. Halep is one of four women to have already made more than $1 million in prize money this season.

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Former No.1 Karolina Pliskova Hits Out At Men Worrying About Equal Pay In Tennis

The world No.4 explains why she personally doesn’t want equal pay on the tour, but criticises those who worry that women players might do so in the future.

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Czech tennis star Karolina Pliskova has labelled men who voice opposition against equal pay as ‘super weak’ as she becomes the latest player to throw her backing behind the possibility of a merger of the two premier tennis Tour’s.

 

Pliskova, who is a former US Open finalist, spoke out about the topic when questioned by the PA Press Agency. In recent weeks there has been growing calls for the ATP and WTA to be merged into one. Support for the idea gained momentum when Roger Federer tweeted his support for it. However the heads of the two governing bodies have already been in discussions about working closer together in some capacity since the start of this year.

Although the prospect of a merger remains low due to the complex process that it would involve, both the ATP and WTA have vowed greater collaboration to help enhance the future of the sport. One of the main talking points behind the calls is pay. There is equal prize money at all of the grand slams, however, it does differ behind the men and women on the Tour. Last year six men earned more than $7 million in prize money compared to one on the WTA Tour (Ash Barty).

Weighing in on the topic, Pliskova has interestingly said that she is not interested in campaigning for her to be paid similar to her male counterparts. Arguing that the two genders should not be compared. However, she has voiced her frustration at those who are against the concept of equal pay.

“I don’t think so and I am not the one who wants it. But I don’t like the men who are complaining that we would get the same money. I think it is super weak from them that they complain we have the same money as them,” she said.
“The only time it is true is at grand slams. I understand they play longer, but they are men. They are stronger than us. I don’t see the reason why we should compare each other. I don’t need to have the same prize money as men. But to have the same chance to play on centre court or to have the same chance to be on TV, that should be possible with these changes.”

As of March 20th Pliskova has made $19,997,689 in prize money throughout her career, which is the 19th highest tally in the history of women’s tennis.

Speaking more specifically about a possible merger, the 28-year-old believes it would help enhance the women’s tour. Although she is staying cautious about the prospect of such a thing happening in the future.

“I think for the women’s tour it can only help. I don’t know exactly what they are discussing but if there is any chance to say yes, then I would say yes,” Pliskova said.
“It needs to be positive also for the ATP so they need to find a balance so it is a forward step for both. It might take a couple of years to get going. It will be different, but I don’t think for the players it would change that much. It would be a good step.”

Pliskova is currently ranked third in the WTA rankings and has won 16 WTA titles. She is set to return to action next week at the LiveScore Cup in Prague.

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Injury Scare Fails To Derail Petra Kvitova From Winning ‘Bizarre’ All-Czech Tennis Event

The world No.12 speaks out about the unusual circumstances she was playing in earlier this week as she sheds light on a recent injury issue she has been dealing with.

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During what was meant to be the first week of the French Open Petra Kvitova is still winning matches albeit in very different circumstances.

 

With professional tennis still halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the two-time Wimbledon champion was one of the headline acts at the CTS President’s Cup earlier this week. A Three-day event that features eight men and eight women taking part in a all-Czech tournament. Umpires and ball boys had to wear face masks and there was limited spacing for spectators to watch from the sidelines with organizers mindful of social distancing.

“The gloves, face masks, the fact nobody handed us the towels, no handshakes, that was definitely bizarre,” said Kvitova.
“And playing without people, the atmosphere was not exactly what we are used to.”

Despite the unusual circumstances, it failed to prevent Kvitova for winning the event on Thursday. During a rain-interrupted final she saw off Wimbledon quarter-finalist Karolina Muchova 6-3, 6-3. Earlier in the event she also scored wins over former world No.1 doubles player Kateřina Siniaková (7-5, 6-4) and Barbora Krejčíková (7-6, 6-2).

The trio of victories came only days after there was concern if Kvitova would be able to play at all. Leading into the tournament the Czech started to feel pain in her forearm, but was later given the all clear by her doctor. Speaking to reporters, she said the pain she felt was similar to what occurred this time last year when she was forced to withdraw from the French Open.

“Two days before the start of the tournament, my forearm started to stiffen, similar to last year before the French Open,” the 30-year-old explained.
“That’s why I didn’t train on Monday. I was waiting for Mr. Kolář’s verdict, but he said that I would be able to do it (play) in some way.”

Now her first taste of competitive tennis in over three months has concluded, Kvitova has relished the experience. It is still unclear as to when the WTA Tour will resume. At present the suspension is until July 31st. In recent days both the US Open and French Open have said they are optimistic that their events will be able to go ahead later this year in some capacity.

“Given the circumstances and the pandemic, it was a wonderful tournament,” Kvitova stated.

Whilst officials ponder when to restart the sport, Kvitova plans to take some time resting her hand in order to prevent aggravating it further.

“I’ll definitely feel my hand for a few days now, but I’ll take time off, there’s no hurry,” she concluded.

In the men’s final world No.450 Michael Vrbensky, who shocked top seed Jiri Vesely in the first round, won the title.

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