Kiki Bertens has left the Red Group wide open after edging out Ash Barty 3-6 6-3 6-4 in her opening match at the WTA Finals.
The world number 10 was a late replacement for Naomi Osaka but wasn’t fazed by the task as she defeated the world number one in over two hours.
As for Barty, it was a flat and inconsistent performance having been a set and a break up and looking like she was going to cruise to victory.
This result now leaves the Red Group wide open with Kiki Bertens taking on Belinda Bencic on Thursday while Ash Barty faces Petra Kvitova.
It was a nervy start from both players as Bertens looked weary after reaching the Zhuhai final last week, while Barty couldn’t dominate from her serve.
Four breaks from the first five games was evidence of the nervousness from both players until the world number one gained a grip of the match.
Using her backhand to hit cross-court winners while moving Bertens around with her forehand was key for the Australian to gain momentum and a 5-2 lead.
Despite holding serve for the first time, Bertens couldn’t seal another break of serve as some good tactical serving sealed the first set for Barty.
There were more problems for Bertens in the second set as another unforced error gained the break for the top seed and a 2-1 lead.
But tennis is a bizarre sport at times and Barty from that moment lacked intensity and sharpness despite creating the space for winners.
This saw an opportunity for Bertens to get into the net and to start to play some aggressive tennis herself as well as creating winners.
Poor returning, saw Barty concede the second set as this match was now heading into a decider and the momentum was with the Dutchwoman.
A run of eight consecutive games saw a quick turnaround in the third set as Bertens now assumed control of the match with the Australian’s game dipping very quickly.
Three break points saved helped Barty get a much needed hold of serve which lead to three games in a row to reduce the deficit.
However the more energised player won this match as Bertens continued to run round her backhand to hit winner after winner.
The phenomenal comeback was complete as she sealed a 55th win of the season in 80 matches completed in an exhausting year for her.
After the win, Bertens seemed pretty pleased with her aggressive end to the match, “In the beginning I wasn’t playing as well and had to feel the court and got better and better as I tried to play aggressively and it turned out pretty well,” Bertens said after the match.
It will be a disappointing match from Barty’s perspective though as a lack of intensity and energy cost her a routine win.
This means that Bertens could be in pole position to reach the semi-finals should she defeat Belinda Bencic on Thursday.
Meanwhile Ash Barty can qualify for the last four in Shenzhen with a win over Petra Kvitova in a couple of days time.
Coach Of Elena Rybakina Dismisses Allegations Of Poor Behavior At Australian Open
Stefano Vukov explains why he believes his actions were appropriate during Rybakina’s semi-final win over Aryna Sabalenka.
The coach of Elena Rybakina has denied accusations that he was berating his player during her clash with Victoria Azarenka at the Australian Open by saying he was just doing his job.
Stefano Vukov was seen multiple times during Rybakina’s semi-final match being highly animated and making a series of critical gestures towards his player when she produced mistakes. The display prompted criticism on social media with former player Laura Robson saying on Eurosport ‘I don’t know how she (Rybakina) copes. He seems to be so negative on the side.”
Croatian-born Vukov has been working with the reigning Wimbledon champion since 2019 and previously coached Anhelina Kalinina. He was briefly a player on the Futures and Challenger Tour before going to America to study. Growing up his family left Croatia when he was a child due to the war and he spent roughly 15 years living in Italy.
“It’s easy to just take clips and then make something controversial. This is part of our sport, it’s normal,” Vukov told Fox Sports Australia when quizzed about his behaviour.
“There’s 10,000 people out there, to get the attention of the player is definitely not easy and people don’t understand that. I have to scream out something if she’s off track.
“People can interpret that how they want but at the end of the day we’re just doing our job. Coaching is now allowed and she’s using it in the best possible way.”
This year is the first time that coaching is allowed during matches at the Australian Open but it is only allowed if players and coaches are on the same side of the court and there is no hindrance towards their opponent.
Continuing to hit back at the criticism, Rybakina’s mentor says during the match there are key moments where he needs to remind her of certain tactics. Dismissing suggestions from some that his approach is heavy-handed in any way.
“I think with all the emotions, sometimes the player doesn’t understand which situation of the match they are, which is absolutely normal,” he said.
“You know, you’re flowing, you’re into a rhythm, which has happened also yesterday, for example, against Azarenka. A set, 3-1 up, two breakpoints. She stopped playing, Elena, for a couple of games, for example, instead of going for the point a little bit more.
“There are moments we try to remind her, Hey, this is the moment to push. This is the moment to defend.
“It’s normal. There are moments of the match the player doesn’t remember, for example, or in a pressure point, which side to defend more, where to serve more.
“We are there to remind them. So obviously I think that coaching is very important. I think that the player, if the player wants to listen, obviously, they should use it as much as possible, because there is some matches that a few points make the difference. Look at the beginning of yesterday. 3-2 down, two bad choices. That’s it. That’s it. She could have been 3-0 or 4-0 up.
“I don’t know, something like this. Not to be negative, but it’s just our job, right? That’s what we are there for.”
In a previous interview with Tennis Majors last year, Vukov said he and Rybakina clicked together due to ‘his energy against her calmness.’ He also described the world No.25 as ‘a hardworking perfectionist, which sometimes works against her because sometimes she gets frustrated when things are not perfect.’
Rybakina will play Aryna Sabalenka in the Australian Open final on Saturday. As a result of her run in Melbourne, she will crack the top 10 next week for the first time regardless of how she performs in the final.
Australian Open Daily Preview: The Men’s Semifinals
On Friday in Melbourne, the men’s singles semifinals will be played.
Novak Djokovic is just two matches away from tying Rafael Nadal with 22 Major singles titles, the most-ever in men’s singles. Djokovic is 18-0 in Australian Open semifinals and finals, and hasn’t lost a match in Australia in over five years. Can anyone prevent the nine-time champion from winning this event for a 10th time?
In the semifinals, Djokovic faces Tommy Paul, who prior to this fortnight had never advanced beyond the fourth round at a Major. In the other men’s semifinal, Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is 0-3 in Australian Open semis, takes on Karen Khachanov, who is into his second semifinal in as many Majors.
Also on Friday, the women’s doubles semifinals will be played, as well as the mixed doubles championship match. The women’s doubles semis include top singles names such as Barbora Krejcikova, Coco Gauff, and Jessica Pegula, while the mixed doubles final will serve as Sania Mirza’s retirement match.
Karen Khachanov (18) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (3) – Not Before 2:30pm on Rod Laver Arena
Tsitsipas has achieved his fourth semifinal in Australia out of the last five years, but he is yet to advance farther. And he’s only claimed one of 10 sets in his three previous Australian semis, losing to Rafael Nadal in 2019, and Daniil Medvedev in both 2021 and 2022. Stefanos is now a perfect 9-0 in 2023, and has only dropped one set during this fortnight.
Khachanov is into his second consecutive Major semifinal. The 26-year-old is vying for his first Slam final, and his first final at any event in over a year. Karen has dropped two sets through five matches, and has now defeated three straight seeded players (Tiafoe, Nishioka, Korda).
Tsitsipas has dominated their rivalry to date, leading their head-to-head 5-0. Four of those matches were on hard courts, and three of them were straight-set victories for the Greek. As per Tennis Abstract, out of the 13 sets they’ve played, Karen has only managed to break seven times, while Stefanos has broken 17 times. And with plenty of Greek support in the crowd at this event, Tsitsipas is a considerable favorite to reach his second Major final.
Novak Djokovic (4) vs. Tommy Paul – 7:30pm on Rod Laver Arena
Djokovic has claimed 22 of his last 24 sets in Australian Open semifinals and finals, with the only two sets lost both coming in the 2020 final against Dominic Thiem. His domination in the last two rounds of this tournament throughout his career is only rivaled by that of Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. Despite the hamstring injury that Novak suffered leading up to this tournament, he has only dropped one set to this stage. In his last six sets, he’s only allowed his opposition an average of two games per set.
Paul has taken advantage of an open quarter of the draw, in which seven of the eight seeds lost within the first two rounds (Ruud, Fritz, Zverev, Berrettini, Schwartzman, Kecmanovic, Davidovich Fokina). Yet even as many pointed to Tommy as the favorite to make the semis amidst younger, inexperienced Americans in this quarter (Brooksby, Wolf, Shelton), Paul did not faulter. The 25-year-old is one of the fastest players on tour, and will debut inside the top 20 on Monday.
In their first career meeting, of course Djokovic is a huge favorite. Prior to this fortnight, Paul had only once reached the second week of a Major, when he advanced to the fourth round six months ago at Wimbledon. As per ESPN’s Brad Gilbert, Novak has beefed up his forehand this fortnight, averaging five mph’s more on that wing than a year ago. And he’s also been serving excellently – Djokovic has only been broken three times in the entire tournament, with all three breaks coming against Grigor Dimitrov.
Other Notable Matches on Friday:
Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna vs. Luisa Stefani and Rafael Motos – This is Mirza’s last event before retirement, following a storied doubles career where she has won three Majors in women’s doubles and three Majors in mixed doubles. Her and Mahesh Bhupathi won this event as a team 14 years ago, the first of Sania’s six Slam titles. Bopanna won the mixed doubles event at Roland Garros in 2017. Stefani was a bronze medalist in women’s doubles at the Tokyo Olympics. This is a first Major final for both her and Motos.
Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova (1) vs. Marta Kostyuk and Elena-Gabriela Ruse – Krejcikova and Siniakova have won six Majors as a team, three of which came last year, including this tournament. This is Kostyuk and Ruse’s first event as a team since Roland Garros, where they made the quarterfinals.
Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara (10) vs. Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula (2) – Gauff and Pegula were finalists at Roland Garros last June. This is Aoyama and Shibahara’s third Major semifinal, but they’re yet to go farther at a Slam.
Friday’s full Order of Play is here.
Australian Open: Aryna Sabalenka Outlasts Linette To Reach Maiden Grand Slam Singles Final
Aryna Sabalenka is into her first Grand Slam singles final where Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina awaits.
Aryna Sabalenka overcame a tricky opening set to defeat Magda Linette 7-6(1) 6-2 to reach her first Grand Slam singles final.
Sabalenka committed a handful of errors in the opening set but was more consistent in the second set.
Linette has a lot to be proud of having reached her first Grand Slam semi-final but couldn’t match Sabalenka’s power throughout the match.
The fifth seed will compete for her first Grand Slam singles title against Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina on Saturday.
It was Linette who made the fast start as she waited for the errors from the erratic Belarusian.
After conceding an early 2-0 deficit, Sabalenka found her range and came roaring back with some great angles to move the pole off the court as she levelled the opening set at 2-2.
However the Pole continued to be aggressive and take the match to Sabalenka, playing a perfect counter-attacking match with some incredible backhand down-the-line winners.
Sabalenka continued to serve well but when it came to the pressure points on return, handed points to Linette with some clumsy unforced errors.
In total there were 15 unforced errors as Linette secured a late service hold to force an opening set tiebreak.
Sabalenka recomposed herself as she played a stunning tiebreak with her backhand doing most of the damage.
The Belarusian sealed the tiebreak 7-1 to take the opening set with the second set seeing her go from strength to strength.
Sabalenka continued her sustained pressure in the second set as she broke twice for a 4-1 lead.
There was a resilient fightback from Linette as she created three break points in the next game and after failing to break, saved three match points to force Sabalenka to close out the match.
However Sabalenka obliged with sealing the win and reaching her first Grand Slam singles final.
After the match Sabalenka admitted she played great tennis once she found her rhythm, “I’m super happy that I was able to get this win, she’s an unbelievable player, she played really great tennis,” Sabalenka was quoted by the BBC as saying in her on-court interview.
“I didn’t start really well and then in the tie-break I found my rhythm, started trusting myself, starting going for the shots. It was great tennis from me on the tie-break.
“I actually felt like I hit really slow balls today but I’ve got good genetics I guess.”
Sabalenka will now play Elena Rybakina in Saturday’s showdown with the Belarusian leading the current head-to-head 3-0.
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