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Maria Sharapova’s Tennis Legacy

The Russian’s playing style has become incredibly influential, but with an inimitable touch.

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There is one infallible way to ruin a debate, and that is to mention Hitler, i.e. to “play the Nazi card”. When the infamous “reductio ad Hitlerum” come into dialectic play, it spells doom for any argument, all but driving it towards implosion – and this is especially true if the debate is web-based.

 

Ever since Maria Sharapova received a ban from the WADA, something akin to what I’ve described has started to happen. In what way? Well, regardless of what I’ll be writing in the next few lines, someone is going to comment on the article by reminding us that Maria has been banned for substance abuse. At that point, defense attorneys and prosecutors will enter the arena, and every other aspect of the discussion will become an afterthought – we might call Sharapova’s predicament “reductio ad Meldonium”.

This is why I’d like to propose a deal to our readers: since we’ve had plenty of occasions to discuss Sharapova and doping, and since we’ll have many more in the future, can we just for once refrain from talking about it, and instead reflect on something else? This isn’t a way to do her a favour (I’m not a defence attorney myself), but rather an attempt to create a chance for reasoning without incurring into the usual jingle.

Another subject that I don’t want to discuss is her glam side, the side that’s been able to become such a household name off-court, transcending sporting achievements. Nor do I want to talk about her resumé – 5 Majors, and a Career Grand Slam. What I’d like to do is focussing on the type of tennis she played, and how she’s left her mark on the women’s game from 2004 onwards.

  1. High-intensity power tennis

Events such as the arrival of the Williams sisters on the main stage, Lindsay Davenport’s successes, and the twilight of Martina Hingis’ dominance, are all viewed as the essential tokens of the passage to a new tennis era – the advent of power tennis. At the turn of millennium, a new generation of female athletes reached the top, provided with a special gift for injecting pace to their shots, thanks to a superior innate power.

Davenport was born in 1976, four years before Venus, and five before Serena. Sharapova, despite succeeding at an obscenely young age (she won her first Slam at SW19 in 2004), was born in 1987, and thus ascended on the WTA scene a few years later. For this reason, she can’t be considered among the progenitors of the new age, but at the same time she introduced a few innovations that are worthy of a mention.

To explain what I mean, I’ll quote from an article I wrote a few years ago about a historic match, the 2005 Australian Open semifinal between her and Serena (Williams won with a 2-6 7-5 8-6 scoreline). Here it goes: “Serena is a player who still showcases the legacy of the classic game, a game in which the highest degree of aggression is expressed through the charging of the net. Serena did just that in several crucial moments of the match, enacting plays from the previous decades, with aggressive approaches followed by volleys or smashes. Disclaimer: it was unmistakably power tennis, but rallies were devised with the idea of a vertical transition towards the net.”

On the other hand, Sharapova was a thoroughly modern player. Generally, her game never encompassed the idea of verticality, but rather entailed never-ending pressure from the baseline, with supreme confidence in her ability to hit winners with her groundstrokes.

And while Williams has dominated the head-to-head tally against Sharapova, one might argue that history has reversed the tendency, with more and players embracing Masha’s style. Nowadays, it’s hard to believe that Serena herself once approached the net with hints of the classic style, and yet she did, at least until she “Sharapovised” her game through the years, focussing more and more on hitting winners from the baseline.

So, the first aspect that I’d like to highlight vis-à-vis Sharapova’s game is her nature as a pure power hitter from the baseline, wholly detached from the dogmas of the previous century.

Furthermore, there is another aspect that is entirely hers, and that is strictly linked to a baseline-aggresion, namely her constant search for the highest degree of intensity.

Such voltage was conveyed via a brand of aggression that didn’t know hesitation nor pauses, to the point that interlocutory shots were chopped down to a minimum, when not erased altogether.

Sharapova was hardly the first player to display such an intense attitude – the real forerunner in this regard is undoubtedly Monica Seles. However, the Russian might have been the first athlete to employ both of the aforementioned weapons (power and intensity) with such frequency.

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Emma Raducanu Unfazed By Possibility Of Big Rankings Drop At US Open

The British tennis sensation says she is ready to deal with whatever happens in the coming weeks.

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Emma Raducanu reacts during a Women's Singles match at the 2021 US Open, Monday, Sep. 6, 2021 in Flushing, NY. (Darren Carroll/USTA)

Emma Raducanu says it will be nice for her to close a chapter in her career when she returns to the US Open later this month to defend her title. 

 

The 19-year-old stunned the tennis world last year in New York when she won 10 matches in a row without dropping a set en route to claiming her maiden major title. Becoming the first qualifier in history to win the title in what was only her second appearance in the main draw of a Grand Slam. The triumph elevated her from a ranking position of 150th to 23rd. Since then, she has peaked at a career-high of 10th which is her current position. 

Faced with a surge in media attention and endorsements, Raducanu has found it tough going on the Tour in recent months. She is yet to reach the final of another tournament and has won 11 out of 24 matches played on the WTA Tour so far this season. Reaching the quarter-finals of tournaments in Stuttgart and Washington.   

Besides her lacklustre results, the Brit has also had to contend with a series of physical issues which has hindered her. Despite those setbacks, Raducanu insists that she isn’t feeling the pressure heading into the US Open. 

“Pressure is either what I put on myself or what I expect from myself, I think that is the biggest thing which determines how you deal with it,” she explains during an interview with Sky Sports. 
“I only feel the pressure or think about it whenever I’m in my press conference because every single question is about pressure. So the only pressure is from you guys really (the media).”

2022 is the first full season the youngster has played on the WTA Tour after making her debut last summer on the grass. Still getting to grips with various aspects of life as a professional tennis player, she has also undergone various stints with numerous coaches. Including Angelique Kerber’s former mentor Torben Beltz and more recently Dimitry Tursunov. 

Suffering second round defeats at her past three major events, Raducanu is well aware that another early exit at the US Open could result in a big drop in the rankings. As the reigning champion, she will be defending 2000 points. 

“I love New York as a place, as a tournament and as a city. I love everything about it so I’m looking forward to going back and whatever happens, I think it’s going to be a nice close to a chapter,” said Raducanu. 
“Regardless of whatever the result is, I can just start again with a clean slate. If all my points drop off then I will work my way back up. I think regardless of what happens it will be a fresh start.”

Raducanu is the ninth seed at this week’s National Bank Open in Toronto. A WTA 1000 event that features every member of the world’s top 10. She will begin her campaign against Italy’s Camila Giorgi. Should Raducanu reach the final she would be the first British woman to do so since Virginia Wade in 1972. 

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Canada Daily Preview: The Williams Sisters Return to Action, Plus Andy Murray Faces Taylor Fritz

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Serena Williams this past week in Toronto (twitter.com/NBOtoronto)

The Canadian Open is a unique ATP Masters/WTA 1000 combined event on the tennis calendar, as the men and women alternate between two different cities each year.  In 2022, the WTA tournament is in Toronto, while the ATP tournament is in Montreal.

 

The WTA singles draw is loaded, featuring 26 of the top 27 players in the world.  It includes world No.1 Iga Swiatek, Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, defending champion Camila Giorgi, Naomi Osaka, Venus and Serena Williams, and Canada’s own Leylah Fernandez and Bianca Andreescu

“The Big Three” are absent in Montreal, but plenty of top names are present.  They include world No.1 and defending champion Daniil Medvedev, Carlos Alcaraz, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, and Canadians Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov

Monday’s WTA schedule in Toronto is tremendous, boasting 39 Major singles titles (Serena, Venus, Halep, Kvitova, Ostapenko, Stephens, Kenin, Krejcikova, Rybakina), plus Leylah Fernandez.  Montreal’s Order of Play includes Stan Wawrinka and Denis Shapovalov, plus a blockbuster first round encounter between Andy Murray and Taylor Fritz.

Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule.  Monday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time in Toronto, and 12:00pm in Montreal.  But with thunderstorms forecast throughout the day in both cities, it could be a challenging day for fans and players alike.


Nuria Parrizas Diaz (Q) vs. Serena Williams (SR) – Second on Centre Court

It is quite odd to see both Venus and Serena Williams unranked, yet neither currently possesses a ranking over a year since their last singles victories.  Serena’s three-set, over three-hour loss in the first round of Wimbledon was her first match in a full year.  Obviously eager for match play three weeks ahead of the US Open, she’s looking for her first win since last year’s Roland Garros.  Her opponent is a 31-year-old from Spain who reached a career-high ranking of No.45 this season.  Diaz won 51 matches at all levels in 2021, and reached the third round of this year’s Australian Open.  While she’s certainly not a pushover, this a rather kind first round draw for Serena in a WTA 1000 tournament.  It should serve as a good indication of Serena’s current level a month after her Wimbledon loss to Harmony Tan.


Andy Murray (WC) vs. Taylor Fritz (10) – Not Before 2:00pm on Court Central

This is a first-time meeting between the three-time Slam champion and this year’s victor in Indian Wells.  It’s been a dramatic year for Fritz, as that Masters 1000 title was the biggest of his career.  But after defeating an injured Rafael Nadal in that final, Nadal would avenge that loss in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, where Taylor lost a heartbreaker in a fifth-set tiebreak.  And this past week in Washington, Fritz retired down 4-1 in the third set to Dan Evans, as he was suffering in the extreme heat.  Murray also experienced disappointing losses at those same two events.  At Wimbledon, he was defeated in four sets by John Isner, a player he was previously 8-0 against.  And in Washington, Andy lost a three-hour battle to Mikael Ymer.  Currently ranked 50th in the world, Murray would love to improve his ranking and earn a victory over a top 15 player.  But Fritz is the much more in-form player, with 31 wins in 2022, and is the favorite to prevail.


Other Notable Matches on Monday:

Elena Rybakina vs. Marie Bouzkova (Q) – The freshly-crowned Wimbledon champion is 0-1 since that life-changing feat, losing to Daria Kasatkina last week in San Jose.  Bouzkova also had her best Slam run at last month’s Wimbledon, when she reached the quarterfinals.  Rybakina leads their head-to-head 2-0.

Stan Wawrinka (PR) vs. Emil Ruusuvuori – Wawrinka is just 3-6 since returning from two left foot surgeries.  Ruusuvuori earned impressive victories this past week in Washington over Mackie McDonald and Hubi Hurkacz.

Barbora Krejcikova vs. Karolina Pliskova (14) – Krejcikova has been struggling in singles since returning from an arm injury at Roland Garros, but earned her fifth Major title in doubles at Wimbledon.  Similarly, Pliskova is only 10-12 this season after suffering a hand injury in December.  Yet Pliskova is 3-0 against Krejcikova.

Sloane Stephens vs. Sofia Kenin – This is a battle of Major champions, though neither of them arrive in strong form.  Despite a quarterfinal run in Paris, Stephens has a losing record on the year.  And Kenin is on a seven-match losing streak, as an injury forced her to miss much of this season. 

Denis Shapovalov vs. Alex de Minaur – Shapovalov is on a terrible streak of his own, having lost eight of his last nine matches.  De Minaur is coming off a title run in Atlanta last month.  And the Australian has claimed both of their previous meetings at tour level.

Storm Sanders (Q) vs. Leylah Fernandez (13) – This will be Leylah’s first match since a stress fracture left her foot immobilized in a boot for weeks following the French Open.  Sanders is an accomplished doubles player who is ranked 279th in the world in singles. 

Jil Teichmann vs. Venus Williams (WC) – After returning to competition in mixed doubles at Wimbledon, this is Venus’ first time playing singles since last August.  That’s the same month Teichmann was a surprise finalist in Cincinnati.


Monday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Iga Swiatek Downplays Recent Winning Streak Ahead Of North American Swing

The world No.1 is refusing to get ahead of herself going into the US Open.

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Iga Swiatek - Roland Garros 2022 (photo Roberto Dell'Olivo)

Iga Swiatek says her focus is on the present and not the past as she makes her final preparations ahead of the North American hardcourt swing. 

 

The two-time French Open champion dominated the women’s Tour earlier this season with a remarkable 37-match winning streak that saw her win six titles in a row. Becoming the first woman to record that many consecutive wins since Martina Hingis did so back in 1997. In total, she was unbeaten for 135 days during a period where she topped the world ranking for the first time following Ash Barty’s retirement from the sport. 

However, in recent weeks things haven’t gone entirely smoothly for the Pole who was knocked out in the third round at Wimbledon by Alize Cornet. Then on home territory at the Warsaw Open, she fell in the quarter-finals to Caroline Garcia who went on to claim the title. 

Swiatek will be hoping to regain some momentum at the National Bank Open in Toronto which will get underway on Monday. It will be only her second appearance at the tournament and her first since 2019 when as a qualifier she stunned Caroline Wozniacki before falling to Naomi Osaka.  

“I know there are many players who did even more, but I’m pretty proud of what I did in the first part of the season,” Swiatek told reporters on Saturday. “I hope this gives me some freedom to play freely because I don’t have to prove anything. On the other hand, it can also pressure me, so I’m just trying not to think about what happened but prepare for what’s coming.”

Despite her recent blips on the Tour, Swiatek will be the favourite to triumph in Toronto. She has won every WTA 1000 tournament which has taken place so far this year. In total she has played 51 matches in 2022, winning 46 of them. 

Despite the success, the 21-year-old is keen to improve her game even further. She is currentl;y coached by Tomasz Wiktorowski who has previously worked with Agnieszka Radwanska. 

“I just hope I’m not going to be only focused on winning, winning, winning because I want to also improve some stuff in my game,” Swiatek explains. “We had time to practice a little bit more after Roland Garros and after Wimbledon. So I hope that I’ll implement those things.”

In her draw, Swiatek will face either Shelby Rogers or Veronika Kudermetova in her opening match. Rogers is currently playing at the Silicon Valley Classic and has reached the final. Then she could play Leylah Fernandez in the next round. Also in her section of the draw are Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Garbine Mugurza. All of which are potential quarter-final opponents. 

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