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Elena Rybakina Is Really Special

Let’s take a look at the most improved player of the 2020 season, who has reached the final in four tournaments out of the five she’s competed in.

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One of the most fascinating things in tennis is witnessing the ascent of special players. Whether they do it gradually or out of the blue, young athletes experience a breakthrough and emerge from virtual obscurity, revealing themselves to the world.

 

I’ve mentioned special players because, in order to reach a higher plateau (that of champions), it is necessary that the stars that aligned to propitiate their emergence stay that way for quite some time. Astrological metaphors aside, the careers of up-and-coming sportspeople are laden with unpredictability and with setbacks that might shatter the prospects of the most promising ones. Timing is essential to avoid health issues, injuries, or even growing pains that might be acceptable and expected at other times, but that might compromise an entire career if occurring at the worst possible moment.

This long premise is needed to approach what Elena Rybakina has done in 2020, because it’s the token of a special player. And if she’ll be able to keep up with what she’s accomplished over the last few weeks, then we will be able to say that we were all witnesses to the surge of something even bigger, perhaps a Top 10 player, perhaps a champion.

In order to talk about her, I need to go back to her beginnings. Setting up the table, perhaps perfunctorily, is essential to understanding her growth and evolution, which have transformed her into the unique player she is today.

Rybakina’s beginnings

Elena Rybakina was born in Moscow on June 17, 1999, and started playing tennis at six. She’s said in an interview that tennis was a “second choice” because of her height: she dabbled for a bit with gymnastics and ice skating, but every coach told her clearly that she was too tall to be a standout (well, if you’re tall you do stand out, but I don’t think that the irony translates in Russian as well). At her first ice skating training, all newcomers were split into two groups: those who could hope to reach official competitions, and those who could only do it for fun – Elena ended up in the latter.

Racquets and fuzzy balls then became the default option, but, while initially a rebound game for the heartbroken child, tennis soon became the real love affair for Elena. She very simply enjoys playing, and such enjoyment has remained through the years, even when sacrifice and hard work became staples in order to reach loftier heights – tennis is still a game to her.

After a few local tournaments, here comes the big stage of international junior tournaments. As an understudy, Rybakina’s career was marked by good-yet-not-too-good results. She played quite a lot (95 wins, 35 losses), and after a few bouts she began to be called up for team competition by the Russian federation, becoming an athlete of national interest.

She then reached the junior Top 100, but didn’t become a household name till the very end of her junior career. In 2017, she reached the semis at the French Open, the quarters at Flushing Meadows, and above all won the Bonfiglio Trophy, a Grade A tournament (just as important as a Major), in May. At the Milan event, she beat Wang Xiyu in the second round, and Iga Swiatek in the final, although it should be noted that the Pole is two years younger than Rybakina.

The Bonfiglio final can still be watched on YouTube: that day, Swiatek leapt out of the blocks, finding herself ahead with a score of 6-1 6-5, and about to serve the match out. At the decisive moment, though, she couldn’t seal the deal (especially because of a high double fault tally), paving the way for Rybakina’s 1-6 7-6 6-3 comeback win. Therefore, the takeaway was that Swiatek was more talented albeit more mercurial, and that she was the one who would leave a mark on women’s tennis.

Thanks to the results she racked up over the last few months as a junior player, at an age when most of her peers had already turned pro, Elena reached her highest ranking at N.3 in December 2017. Throughout her junior days, she trained at the Spartak Moscow club under Andrey Chesnokov (who needs no introductions) and Evgenia Kulikovskaya (former world N.91 in 2003), while her fitness regiment was managed by Irina Kiseleva, former modern Pentathlon world champion. Obviously, they weren’t her exclusive coaches, but rather mentored the whole young crux of the tennis club.

Meanwhile, Rybakina found her feet at the ITF level, and, like with her junior career, she didn’t stand out as particularly precious, but rather matured at a steady pace. At the end of 2017, she was the 420th player in the world, and suited herself for one more season of ranking-climbing. In 2018, she won a 15K in Kazana, while also debuting on the WTA Tour thanks to a wildcard for the St. Petersburg indoor event. There, she reached the quarter finals by knocking out in a major upset the then world N.7 Caroline Garcia (2-6 7-6 6-4) before bowing out against Julia Goerges. The 125 points she earned represented a shade less than half of her season’s haul, and boosted her ranking up to the 191st spot.

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WIMBLEDON: Simona Halep Impresses After Troublesome Physical, Mental Battle

2022 has been far from straightforward for the Romanian but she is seeing light at the end of the tunnel at The All England Club.

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image via twitter.com/wimbledon

For Simona Halep reaching the quarter-finals at Wimbledon is an achievement in itself after her recent misfortunes. 

 

It all began at the Italian Open last year where she sustained a calf injury that would force her to miss two major events, as well as the Tokyo Olympic Games. Recovering from the setback was far from simple for the former world No.1 who soon found herself struggling mentally to the extent that she considered walking away from the sport altogether.

However, she managed to regain her desire and passion for tennis with the help of Patrick Mouratoglou who has officially been her coach since April. Halep continues to work her way back to top shape and her form at Wimbledon proves perseverance pays off. 

Playing her fourth round match against fourth seed Paula Badosa, Halep stormed to an emphatic 6-1, 6-2, win in just over an hour. She dropped only two points behind her first serve and hit 17 winners against just nine unforced errors. It is the third time this year she has beaten a top 10 player after previously beating Badosa on another occasion, as well as Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur.

“It means a lot that I’m back in the quarterfinals after I struggled so much with injuries and self-confidence,” said Halep.
“I’m working hard every day. I feel like if I do that, I will get better. I’m really happy with the way I’m playing. I’m really confident. It’s a pleasure to be on the court.”
“I think this helps me a lot to be able to do my best tennis. And everything comes together. I feel strong physically. I feel very good mentally.”

Speaking openly about her previous struggles, injury and confidence are two very different issues to deal with. But which one of those was the most difficult?

“It started with the injury, so I was not able to play for three, four months. Then I also lost the confidence, the belief that I can be good again, at the top. And I struggled for a long period,” she continued.
“But now it’s past. I’m here. I’m playing well. I’m feeling good on the court. So this is the most important thing, and I just want to focus on that.”

It is by no means a coincidence that Halep is thriving at Wimbledon considering her previous record. It was in 2019 when she produced a stunning display against Serena Williams to capture the title. Becoming the first and only player from her country to claim the women’s singles title. She has also reached the quarter-finals on three other occasions prior to this year.

“Grass is not an easy surface and you have to really connect with it. You have to get used to it.” Said Halep.
“I like it because it’s fast. I feel it. I feel stable on my feet. My legs are pretty strong for this surface. I feel my game fits it.”

As the only former Grand Slam champion left in the draw, Halep’s next test will be against Amanda Anisimova who defeated Harmony Tan 6-2, 6-3, in her fourth round match.

“I’m here to play as I did today, to focus on myself,” she states.
“I’m sure that I can play good tennis again. But it’s going to be a big challenge. It’s the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. I’m ready for it and I’m looking forward to it.”


Halep recently crushed Anisimova 6-2, 6-1, at the Bad Homburg Open in Germany. 

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‘She Got lucky’ – Jelena Ostapenko Has Dig At Opponent After Wimbledon Exit

The top 20 star was also not happy with the umpire following her latest loss.

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Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) - Credit: AELTC/Florian Eisele

Former Grand Slam champion Jelena Ostapenko believes her exit from Wimbledon was nothing but a stroke of bad luck after criticizing her match umpire.

 

Ostapenko, who was the 12th seed in the tournament, fell 5-7, 7-5, 7-5, to Germany’s Tatjana Maria. The clash was a frustrating encounter for the Latvian who had an array of chances to establish a strong lead. After winning the opener, she boasted a break advantage in each of the next two sets before losing them. Then at 5-4 in the third, she failed to convert two match points before losing the final two games of the match.

“I thought it was like my match. I had to win it and she got just so lucky in some moments so she could come back. I felt I was the player who had to win this match today,” said Ostapenko.

Claiming that she felt she was playing at a better level than Maria,  Ostapenko has taken a swipe at the match official for making in her view ‘a huge mistake.’   She is not the first player to criticize the court officials with Nick Kyrgios expressing his frustration about them multiple times at the tournament.

“She got lucky, she framed it, put the ball on the line,” she commented on how her match ended. “Then the chair umpire made a huge mistake on 5-All in the third set when it was breakpoint on my serve and I had no challenges left. People who watched the match texted me that it was quite big out.”
“All those small things together, they come and you can lose such a match. Of course, I’m really disappointed because if I lost against an amazing player who just beat me in a great match, but I just lost my match.”

A win would have elevated Ostapenko into the last eight of a major for the first time since Wimbledon 2018. The 25-year-old is currently ranked 17th in the world but has been as high as fifth before.

It was visible how annoyed she was with the match immediately afterward when she threw her water bottle onto her chair out of anger, knocking it out. Prompting an inevitable reaction of boos from the crowd.

“I’m an emotional player. I hate losing because I’m such a competitive person,” said Ostapenko.
“So I think it’s normal. Of course, maybe I shouldn’t have done this, but it’s easy to say from the outside when you are not in my place, it’s easy to judge.”

As for Maria, she will play compatriot Jule Niemeier in the quarter-finals. 

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Who Is Marie Bouzková? Six Things To Know About The Wimbledon Quarter-Finalist

After previously never going beyond the second round of a major, the Czech is making a name for herself at The All England Club.

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Image via https://twitter.com/WTA_insider

Czech Republic’s Maria Bouzkova has broken new ground at Wimbledon by reaching the quarter-finals on Sunday. 

 

Coming into the tournament, the 23-year-old has failed to win back-to-back matches in 12 Grand Slam appearances. However, the past week has seen her breakthrough with a surprise run to the quarter-finals. She secured a place in the last eight with a 7-5, 6-2, win over France’s Caroline Garcia. The player who defeated Emma Raducanu in the second round.

In her latest match, Bouzkova was by far the most consistent player on the court as she produced just four unforced errors against 13 winners. In comparison, Garcia’s tally was 25 against 24. She broke the Frenchwoman four times in the match en route to victory. 

“I don’t know how I got here,” said Bouzkova.
“Now we will celebrate with strawberries and cream. It’s one of our 100 routines at Wimbledon.”

Bouzkova’s run at Wimbledon has brought the Czech into the limelight for the first time. Although some may not be too familiar with the right-hander who plays with a two-handed backhand. Here are five things to know about the underdog. 

  1. As a junior, she won the 2014 US Open title and reached the final of the Wimbledon doubles event that same year. 
  2. Wimbledon is where Bouzkova won her first Grand Slam main draw match back in 2019 after defeating Mona Barthel in the first round. 
  3. Prior to Garcia, she defeated Danielle Collins, Ann Li and Alison Riske-Amritraj this week. Collins was the sixth top 20 player she has defeated and second this year after Karolina Pliskova.
  4. She was ranked as low as 97th in the world earlier this season but is currently up to 66. Her career-best is 46. 
  5. Has reached three WTA finals in as many years in Guadalajara (2022), Melbourne 250 (2021) and Monterey (2020).
  6. She has a win-loss record of 18-9 so far this season. Although prior to Wimbledon, she has not won any matches on the grass after losing in the first round of Eastbourne to Shelby Rogers. 

Bouzkova will play either second seed Ons Jabeur or Elise Mertens in the quarter-finals.

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