MADRID: It was once again another frustrating day at the office for two-time grand slam champion Victoria Azarenka at the Madrid Open.
Taking on Sloane Stephens, who she lost to three times in 2018, the former world No.1 succumbed to a 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, loss during what was a roller coaster encounter. At first, it seemed as if the American had broken Azarenka’s belief in the match during the closing stages of the opening set. Bouncing back from 0-40, to break and secure the 6-4 lead. However, she refused to back down as she staged a mid-match resurgence to revive her match hopes.
Ultimately it was a single break that proved critical to the match outcome. Six games into the decider, an Azarenka backhand error gifted Stephens a chance to break for 4-2. An opportunity she seized with the help of a forehand winner. Cruising towards the finish line, it was the mistakes of her opponent that guided the eighth seed into the third round. Much to the disappointment of the two-time grand slam champion.
“I felt that I really was taking all the control from the baseline points. I felt that I was doing the right things. I was moving the ball around. I was moving well. And I was playing smart tennis.” Azarenka said during her press conference.
“But I didn’t create anything with my serve today and it was really frustrating. I didn’t really have a game plan.”
Since returning back to the tour in 2016 from giving birth to her son Leo, the 29-year-old has endured far from a smooth journey. Besides issues in her personal life, injury has also impacted on her progress. During April she reached her first WTA final in three years but was forced to retire due to a left leg issue. Then in Stuttgart, it was a shoulder problem that forced her out of the draw.
Despite her turbulent run with injury, Azarenka sees the positives in her overall game. One would assume that the older a person gets, the harder they find it to maintain their health. However, Azarenka has her own interpretation.
“I feel that I’m a lot healthier now than I was four or five years ago. And in 2014, 2015, there was a lot of injuries for me, a lot of frustrations.” She explained.
“I had an unfortunate couple of things in the last two tournaments that I played. They weren’t big injuries. There was a lot of tennis for me, a lot of travel that I have to be a little smarter with my schedule. But overall, I feel pretty good. I don’t think that there’s big issues.”
Two months shy of her 30th birthday, the Belarusian estimates that she has roughly five years left on the tour. Give or take. Stepping away from something that has been such a big part of her life will be far from easy, but Azarenka isn’t afraid. Thanks to life as a parent.
“I feel that I have about five more years till my son has to go to school to give myself the best shot and give the best effort because tennis is my job, it’s not my life.” Azarenka states.
“But I want to make sure that I have done everything I can in this time period and we’ll see what happens.”
Fortunately, whilst she remains a player Azarenka is determined to make the most of her time on the tour. It has been 26 months since she was last in the world’s top 20 and 38 months since she achieved the sunshine double in America.
“I have to work and I have to do things so I do that sacrifice and I take that job really seriously because when I do do my job, is the limited time I’m away from my son and I’m going to make sure I put 100 percent in doing the best I can otherwise I won’t be doing it.” She concludes.
So far in her career, Azarenka has spent 52 weeks as world no.1 and won 20 WTA titles.
Pliskova And Konta Advance To Rome Final
Johanna Konta edged world n.4 Kiki Bertens while Karolina Pliskova scored a straight-set victory against Maria Sakkari
After a washout on Wednesday and a double duty day on Thursday, the Internazionali BNL d’Italia were bracing for another wet afternoon on Saturday. Eventually, the very cold spell of Italian spring that has so far marred the 2019 Italian Open decided to spare the Foro Italico on the first day of the final weekend and allowed the two women’s singles semifinals to take place with only one very short interruption.
In the first match, 28-year-old Brit Johanna Konta came back from one set down and only two points away from defeat to overcome Mutua Madrid Open champion and world n.4 Kiki Bertens 5-7, 7-5, 6-2. The Dutch woman seemed to be in control of the match after she swooped the first set winning the last three games in a row (from 4-5 to 7-5) imposing her offensive and defensive game over a nervous and tentative Konta, who also failed to consolidate an initial break in the second set by losing her serve for the third time in a row. However, as the match progressed Konta started shaking off her initial jitters and held her subsequent service game with authority. At 4-5 30-30, a shanked smash pinched the line and the following forehand volley winner sealed the 5-5, signing a progressive decline in Berten’s sharpness and aggressiveness. “I think everything was hard today to ignore – said Bertens in the post-match press conference – the court was really slippery, so it’s tough to move on. Especially I like it when it’s not so slippery so I can move a little bit better. With the wind, it was really tough. She played really smart with the dropshots. She did a good job in there. I was all the time getting myself together and trying to push for more energy. But, yeah, it was not there”.
At her first final on clay and at her first final in a Premier Five/Premier Mandatory tournament after her triumph in Miami in 2017, Konta describer her effort on court as a “continuous adjustment, a continuous openness to figure it out within the match. I stayed very open in trying to find a solution in each point […] after I lost the first set, I didn’t do much wrong. It was a very good set of tennis. Equally the second set, as well. There wasn’t anybody putting a bad foot out of line. In the third, I definitely felt that I was able to maintain my level a bit better than her. I think that gave me the upper hand in stringing some more points together”.
Konta will face in the final n.4 seed Karolina Pliskova, who during the late afternoon match defeated Greek qualifier Maria Sakkari 6-4, 6-4. Sakkari started the match extremely well taking an early 4-2 lead, but could not continue to produce the same level of tennis in the second part of the set and was surpassed by her better ranked opponent. “Your intensity just dropped by one percent – said Sakkari’s coach Tom Hill during an on-court coaching session at the end of the first set – that’s the only difference between the first games and the last in this first set”.
During the second set, Pliskova was always ahead in the score, and despite she was the player more under pressure on her serve during the first half of the set, she eventually managed to break her opponent to love on 5-4 closing the match after one hour, 27 minutes. “I’m super happy for this result because I don’t feel I have been playing my best tennis – said Pliskova after the match – coming into this week I felt I would probably win one match, possibly two, I’m very confident for Paris now”.
The head-to-head between Pliskova and Konta see the Czech having won four of the previous five matches at WTA level, plus further two at ITF level. The only win for Konta came in Beijing in 2016, when the Brit reached her first Premier Mandatory final.
Johanna Konta Reaches Biggest Semi-Final Since 2017
Johanna Konta advanced to her first semi-final in Rome by beating Vondrousova in three sets, while Pliskova beat Azarenka.
Johanna Konta will contest the biggest match of her career since Wimbledon 2017 when she takes on Kiki Bertens in the semi-final of the Italian Open.
The Brit, who is celebrating her 28th birthday today, looked in excellent form during her 6-3 3-6 6-1 victory over rising star Marketa Vondrousova and she fully deserves her place in the last four.
Konta’s win seems even more impressive when you consider the two players the Czech, 19, beat to reach the quarter-final stage: Simona Halep and Daria Kasatkina.
With those scalps under her belt, Vondrousova would surely have fancied her chances against the Brit. However, that confidence quickly eroded after the World No.42 controlled the opening set.
Konta made a great start. She hit a series of deep backhands which pushed the Czech back as she almost got an immediate break.
Although Vondrousova held on, the Brit then earned three more chances in game three. She took the second to move into a 2-1 lead.
Konta dominated her service games to maintain her advantage for the rest of the set, and then broke the Czech again in game nine to clinch it.
To Vondrousova’s credit, she fought back well in the second set and eventually won it 6-3. However, the Brit knew what to do in the decider. She stepped into the court and attacked anything short. This enabled her to win six games in a row and seal her spot in the semi-final.
Azarenka’s impressive run comes to an end
It has been a brilliant week in Rome for Victoria Azarenka, but her participation in the singles event is now over after a 6-7(5) 6-2 6-2 loss to Karolina Pliskova.
The Belarussian, 29, impressed during her three-set win over another top ten player – Elina Svitolina – in the second round, but she could not repeat the feat against the World No.7.
For Pliskova, the match against Azarenka represented a significant hurdle to negotiate. But she responded superbly to losing the first set by raising her game considerably to win the next two.
“Azarenka was playing good tennis today. She wasn’t missing much,” the Czech said in her press conference.
She continued, “It was a little bit windy, so I didn’t feel at my best in the first set. I don’t think my level was that bad, but I was too passive. To begin with, I wanted to kill myself after that set. Then I calmed down a bit and went for my shots a little bit more, which paid off.”
Pliskova’s reward will be a semi-final against either Maria Sakkari or Kristina Mladenovic. If it is the Greek, it will bring back memories of their encounter last year when the Czech famously lost her temper and damaged the umpire’s chair.
“I haven’t played Sakkari since Rome last year, so I think everybody is going to be waiting for this match – even me,” the World No.7 said. “The rematch has almost happened in a couple of tournaments recently, but she always lost before. I think she was scared to face me!”
Kiki Bertens receives a walkover into the semifinal, as Naomi Osaka withdraws from the quarter final due to a right hand injury
Last week’s Madrid Mutua Open champion Kiki Bertens overcame 2015 Rome finalist Carla Suarez Navarro 6-4 1-6 6-3 after 1 hour and 49 minutes to extend her winning streak to eight consecutive matches.
A rain wash-out on Wednesday forced Bertens to postpone her Rome campaign until Thursday and play two matches to advance to the quarter final.
Bertens overcame Amanda Anisimova 6-2 4-6 7-5 after being just two points from defeat in her first Thursday match before surviving another three-set battle against Carla Suarez Navarro.
Bertens went up a double break to take a 3-0 lead and held on her service games to seal the opening set on her fourth set point.
Suarez Navarro broke serve twice to clinch the second set 6-1 forcing the match to the third set.
Bertens broke twice in a row to race out to a 4-0 lead in the decisive set. Suarez Navarro pulled one of the two breaks back. Bertens held on her next service games to seal the win to secure her spot in the quarter final.
“It was only fight today that got me through. It wasn’t the best tennis, but sometimes that happens where you just have to find a way. Luckily I found it. I got to hit yesterday morning because I was first on, so at 9 AM, I warmed up until 9.30, when I thought that maybe we will be able to go on court, but it did not happen. I was on site from 8 AM to 6 PM, so it was a long day, but for everyone. This morning I saw the schedule for 10 AM, so the alarm went off at 6.30. Not my best morning. After the first match, I felt more mentally fatigued, but a long second match, you feel it physically”, said Bertens.
The Dutch player has received a walkover into the semifinal after her quarter final rival Naomi Osaka was forced to withdraw from the tournament due to a right hand injury. Osaka also had to pull out of the Stuttgart Open because of an abdominal problem, but she reached the biggest clay quarter final of her career in Madrid, where she served for the match, but she lost to Belinda Bencic 3-6 6-2 7-5.
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