For some the prospect of Serena Williams exiting the upcoming Australian Open without silverware will be nothing short of a disappointment.
In recent months it has become somewhat of a grand slam tradition when it comes to the 38-year-old former world No.1. Ahead of each major the question is asked – can she finally equal Margaret Court? The woman who currently holds the record for most grand slam singles titles won in the history of the sport at 24.
This year marks the third anniversary of Williams’ last grand slam triumph. Taking on sister Venus in the title match, she prevailed 6-4, 6-4, in Melbourne. The achievement made her the most decorated major winner in the Open Era and elevated her back to world No.1. Then roughly an hour after her jubilation on court, talk of her matching Court’s record began.
“One thing I learned in the past is you have to enjoy it. That’s the beauty of winning Australia, you have a few months to relax.” She replied.
Unknown to the public at the time, Williams had more than a few months to relax. During her last grand slam triumph, she was pregnant with her first child. Inevitably the American tennis star stepped away from the tour for over a year to spend time with her new family. Then when she returned, it was a case of settling for second best.
In four out of the last six grand slam tournaments, she has featured in the final. However, she succumbed in straight sets during all of them. Falling to Angelique Kerber (Wimbledon 2018), Naomi Osaka (US Open 2018), Simona Halep (Wimbledon 2019) and Bianca Andreescu (2019). The success has been sparse in recent times, but Williams continues to have admiration from her rivals.
“I’m very impressed about her, that she’s keep playing at this level, with being a mother and also being a little bit older than us. It’s impressive what she does.” Halep told reporters in Melbourne on Saturday.
It isn’t all doom and gloom for Williams, who made her Australian Open debut back in 1998. Earlier this month, she won the ASB Classic in Auckland. The first time she has claimed a trophy since becoming a mother 18 months ago. Could this be the breakthrough she needed to finally claim major title No.24?
“I’m feeling good, I’m feeling fit,” Williams said. “I’ve had some good matches – long matches, short matches, rallies, power players, the elements.
“This is exactly what I needed going into Melbourne.”
Critics of the former world No.1 have previously said she at times lacked match play heading into the grand slams. In Auckland only one of her five wins in the tournament was over a top 30 player. That was Amanda Anisimova, who was in 25th position at the time. Her other victories were over Jessica Pegula (82), Laura Siegemund (73), Christina McHale (28) and Camila Giorgi (99).
Unlike her rivals, Williams didn’t do a press conference ahead to the Australian Open. Saying she was under no obligation not to. Although she has been training in Melbourne Park.
In her absence, it has been left to her rivals to speculate about her chances. Something Ash Barty, who will be the top seed in Melbourne, quickly distanced herself from.
“I think there are 128 players on the men’s side and there are 128 players on the women’s side that can win the tournament,” Barty commented on Williams’ chances. “I don’t think you can count anyone out. Everyone in this draw is deserving of their spot, has earned their right to be here.”
Williams will be seeded eighth this year at the Australian Open. In her opening match, she will take on Russia’s Anastasia Potapova. Should she progress through the first week, she will play nobody ranked higher than Johanna Konta (12) in the opening four rounds. Then Williams may have to score back-to-back wins over Naomi Osaka and Barty to even reach the final.
- First round: Anastasia Potapova
- Second round: Tamara Zidansek
- Third round: Qiang Wang 
- Fourth round: Jo Konta 
- QF: Naomi Osaka 
- SF: Ash Barty 
- F: Karolina Pliskova  / Simona Halep  / Elina Svitolina  / Aryna Sabalenka 
Player Withdrawn From French Open Under COVID-19 Protocols
On the eve of the doubles draw one team has been removed following a positive test.
Organisers of the French Open have confirmed a player has been removed from the tournament after their coach tested positive for COVID-19.
The player in question was set to play in the main draw of the women’s doubles this week. No details have been given as to who that person may be and there is currently no information about a doubles team withdrawing from the tournament. It is also unclear if the pairing in question will be replaced by somebody else.
“The Roland-Garros tournament organisers inform that a women’s doubles’ player was declared a “contact case”, following the COVID-19 positive test result issued for her coach,” a statement from the French Tennis Federation reads.
“In line with the tournament health and safety protocol, this player’s doubles team has been withdrawn from the draw, which will commence Wednesday 30 September.”
It is not the first time a player has been removed from this year’s draw after either them or a member of their team testing positive. Last week in qualifying Poland’s Katarzyna Kawa and Spain’s Bernabé Zapata was excluded before later returning back to their home countries to test negative. Rising concerns about false positive results occurring. Furthermore, the coach of Damir Dzumhur and Fernando Verdasco was also removed after testing positive despite both of them having the virus earlier in the year. They also returned negative results when returning home.
In light of the controversies the French Tennis Federation has since changed their policy. Now if somebody who have proof of previously having the virus test positive, medical staff will now consider their medical history before coming to a decision. Last week a positive test meant a disqualification no matter what.
“The modifications of the ARS (Health Regional Agency) is to now accept non-infectiousness on the post-illness, if it is documented by a medical file and validated by medical experts, which is good for the players,” an unnamed FFT official told newspaper L’Equipe. “Unfortunately, we only received this decision on Friday evening.”
The French Open has conducted 1,900 COVID-19 tests since Thursday 17 September.
Garbine Muguruza Survives Marathon French Open Encounter
Garbine Muguruza outlasted Tamara Zidansek 7-5 4-6 8-6 to book her place in the second round of the 2020 French Open.
Garbine Muguruza withstood a spirited challenge from Tamara Zidansek to record a 7-5 4-6 8-6 victory and book her place in the second round of the 2020 French Open.
The Spaniard, 26, played some superb tennis on her way to the semi-final in Rome just over a week ago. However, she struggled to find any kind of rhythm in her Paris opener.
During a match lasting three hours and one minute, Muguruza hit 42 winners. However, she also made 64 unforced errors as she battled a slow court, a heavy ball and a stubborn opponent.
Most importantly of all, the Spaniard made it through. And if she can raise her game in the upcoming rounds, she will soon forget about her first-round struggles.
In the first set, Zidansek earned an early break after outlasting Muguruza in a marathon game. Then the Spaniard fought back. She broke twice to establish a 5-3 lead.
But the set was far from over. The Slovenian broke the World No.15 for a second time to level the score at 5-5. Unfortunately for her, Muguruza responded with another break and then held to secure the set.
Muguruza fights back after losing second set
Muguruza and Zidansek twice traded breaks in the second set to leave the score locked at 4-4. Then the Spaniard wasted two crucial changes to break that would have given her the chance to serve for the match.
Instead, the World No.15 fell 5-4 behind. Then she served poorly and the Slovenian punished her. The World No.83 broke to seal the second set and take the match into a decider.
After Muguruza recovered from 0-3 to level the score, the final set became a test of endurance for the players. For the next six games, there was simply no way of separating them as the score rolled on to 6-6.
Then the Spaniard produced some of her best tennis when she needed it most. She took control of the 13th game with some excellent groundstrokes. On important points, she forced Zidansek wide and deep to earn two chances to break. Then she seized the second with a classy forehand winner.
Muguruza hit three big first serves as she secured a relatively comfortable hold to finish the match. When she won the last point, she wore a look that mixed exasperation and relief. The Spaniard will now face either Kristyna Pliskova or Viktoria Kuzmova in round two.
Elina Svitolina Hangs Tough To Win Tense Battle In Paris
Elina Svitolina fought hard to overcome Varvara Gracheva in a tricky first-round encounter at the 2020 French Open.
Elina Svitolina drew on all her fighting qualities to overcome World No.89 Varvara Gracheva in a tricky first-round encounter at the 2020 French Open.
The Ukrainian, 26, found form during an encouraging run to the title in Strasbourg last week. But she struggled to hit winners against the Russian, who seemed determined to make life as difficult as possible for her.
“It was not easy,” Svitolina said in her on-court interview. “I was leading in the first set and then Varvara really stepped up her game. She hit the ball much better and made me work hard for it.”
The Ukrainian continued, “I had to work really hard to be where I am now mentally. Every match and every tournament is a battle first of all with myself. It’s important for me to stay focused and keep my mind in the right place.”
Gracheva drags Svitolina into baseline battle
Elina Svitolina started the match superbly. She manoeuvred Gracheva around the court expertly and hit winners into the open spaces as she established a 4-1 lead.
Unfortunately for the Ukrainian, the Russian soon figured out what she needed to do to get back into the match. She reduced her error count and began to lengthen the rallies. This strategy exposed Svitolina’s lack of power and made it a much more even contest.
Gracheva’s change of tactics worked immediately. She broke the World No.5 twice in a row and levelled the match at 4-4.
Although Svitolina was clearly frustrated by this development, she did not let it faze her. She traded four consecutive breaks with the Russian as they fought for control.
In the tie-break, the Ukrainian did everything right. She played aggressively without taking too many risks and drew a series of errors from Gracheva’s racket to win it 7-2.
World No.5 comes from behind to win second set
Gracheva made an excellent start to the second set. She pushed Svitolina back with powerful groundstrokes and opened up a 4-2 lead.
However, the Russian struggled to maintain such high standards. Consequently, the Ukrainian battled to a crucial hold in game seven, and then raised her game to break Gracheva twice in a row and claim the second set 6-4.
Unusually, Svitolina will now face a lower-ranked player than the Russian in the second round. Her opponent is Mexican qualifier and World No.172 Renata Zarazua, who comfortably beat teenage French wildcard Elsa Jacquemont 6-1 6-2.
Elsewhere at Roland Garros, 22nd seed Karolina Muchova surprisingly lost 6-2 6-4 to Christina McHale. And 28th seed Svetlana Kuznetsova was defeated 6-1 2-6 6-1 by fellow Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
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