WTA 2020: The Season So Far - UBITENNIS
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WTA 2020: The Season So Far

2020 was shaping up to be a fascinating year on the WTA Tour before the pandemic changed everything.

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At the beginning of 2020, everything was set up for a fascinating year on the WTA tour. There had been several outstanding performers during the previous season, and tennis fans were excited to see who would build on their success.

 

In January, World No.1 Ashleigh Barty lost early in Brisbane. Then she bounced back immediately and won the title in Adelaide, which served as ideal preparation for her upcoming home Grand Slam. She was joined in the WTA winners’ circle by Karolina Pliskova, who also started the year in fine fashion when she lifted the Brisbane International trophy for the third time.

Other members of the top ten did not fare so well. Naomi Osaka lost in the Brisbane semi-final to Pliskova, Simona Halep was knocked out in the last eight by Aryna Sabalenka, Kvitova was defeated at the last four stage by Madison Keys and Elina Svitolina was thrashed in the first round by Danielle Collins.

Meanwhile, Belinda Bencic lost in the first round in Shenzhen and the quarter-final in Adelaide. Kiki Bertens lost in the Brisbane quarter-final to Osaka. And Bianca Andreescu was ruled out of all tennis for the foreseeable future with a knee injury suffered during the 2019 WTA Finals.

There was happier news for record-chasing Serena Williams. She returned to action for the first time since the 2019 US Open and promptly won the ASB Classic in Auckland. This raised the expectations from her fanbase ahead of the Australian Open, but they were destined to be disappointed.

Kenin wins eventful Australian Open

Ashleigh Barty (@Welovetennis on Twitter)

The 2020 Australian Open began in a swirl of controversy. Several players reported breathing difficulties during the qualifying rounds as smoke from the bushfires blew across Melbourne. Despite these issues, the organisers refused to delay qualifying or move it indoors, and the tournament was on the back foot in a public relations sense from that point on.

On the court, 21 of the top 32 seeds progressed to the third round. Moreover, for the first time since 2007, that list included all of the top ten. Unfortunately for the WTA stars, their honeymoon period soon came to an end.

Serena suffered a stunning loss to Wang Qiang, and her defeat started a chain reaction which eventually toppled six of the top ten at the last 32 stage. When the dust fell after the carnage, only Barty, Halep, Kvitova and Bertens remained.

Four soon became three, as former World No.1 Garbine Muguruza returned to form in impressive style in Melbourne and took out the Dutchwoman in round four.

In the quarter-finals, four women made strong statements with straight-sets wins. Barty beat Kvitova 7-6(6) 6-2. Halep produced a sensational display to annihilate Anett Kontaveit 6-1 6-1. Sofia Kenin defeated Ons Jabeur 6-4 6-4. And Muguruza took out 30th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-5 6-3.

Given the emphatic nature of all those performances, a strong case could be made for any of them winning the Australian Open. In the end, the winner was the woman who seemed least likely: Sofia Kenin. She shocked the expectant home crowd by beating Barty, while Muguruza edged past Halep. Then the American outplayed the Spaniard in the final to win her first Grand Slam title.

Halep and Bertens claim key WTA titles

Simona Halep (@Femei_din_sport on Twitter)

February proved to be an important month for numerous players. Bertens went to St Petersburg and won her tenth WTA title (and her first since May 2019). Halep overcame a strong field in Dubai to claim her 20th title (and her first since July 2019). And Sabalenka earned her 4th WTA premier title in Doha.

Meanwhile, Magda Linette won the Thailand Open. Heather Watson won the Mexican Open. And Belarus, Russia, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Belgium, Slovakia and the USA won their qualifiers to advance to the Fed Cup Finals.

The theme of important victories continued in the first week of March. Svitolina made what seemed to be a timely return to form when she won the WTA International title in Monterrey. Kenin also won in Lyon, and it was all set up for intriguing events in Indian Wells and Miami. Then the Covid-19 pandemic gathered pace, Indian Wells was cancelled, and everything changed in the world.

In the midst of all the high-profile successes, one young player made a brilliant start to the year. She reached the final in Shenzhen and won her second WTA title in Hobart. Then she lost to Barty in the Australian Open third round and reached consecutive finals in St Petersburg and Dubai. This player is a little over six-foot-tall and uses her long levers to hit powerful groundstrokes. She hails from Kazakhstan and is just 21 years old. Her name is Elena Rybakina, and you will probably hear a lot more about her in the future.

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‘My Body Is Not Use To Playing At 2am’ – Kristyna Pliskova Stuns Sakkari In Late-Night Palermo Duel

The Czech player has caused the biggest upset of the draw so far.

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Kristyna Pliskova has started her return to professional tennis following the five-month break by recording one of the biggest wins over her career at the Palermo Open.

 

The Czech tennis player held her nerve to knockout world No.20 and third seed Maria Sakkari 6-4, 6-4, in a late-night encounter. The first day of the WTA event saw a series of matches go the full distance, leading to Pliskova’s opening match taking place in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Despite the later than expected encounter, a sleepy Pliskova still managed to come out on top to record only her seventh win over a top 20 player and second this year. She also beat Aryna Sabalenka at the Shenzhen Open in January. During her latest match, the Czech stood firmly behind her serve as she won 80% of her first service points and saved all three break points she faced. Overall, she won 69 points in the match compared to Sakarri’s 60.

“The conditions were really tough,” wtatennis.com quoted Pliskova as saying. “Before the match, I was also sleeping a little bit! We stayed so late here, I think it’s tough for [Sakkari] as well.”
“The body is not used to playing at 2:00 a.m.,”
she added.

Pliskova broke Sakkari twice in the match by doing so at the start of each set. The triumph avenges her loss to the Greek in their previous meeting that took place at the 2017 Wimbledon championships. On that occasion Sakkari fought back from a set down to win.

Former Wimbledon girls champion Pliskova is seeking her first WTA title in almost four years this week in Palermo. Her next opponent will be Italian veteran Sara Errani, who required almost three hours to oust Sorana Cirstea 7-5, 1-6, 6-4, in a roller-coaster encounter.

“[Errani is] at home here, so for sure the people will cheer for her,” Pliskova commented on her next test. “She had quite a tough match, I saw. It’s very different from today, but I will try to hold my serve and hopefully I will also break her!”

Pliskova is currently ranked 69th in the WTA rankings.

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Sara Errani makes successful return with a three-set win over Sorana Cristea in Palermo

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World number 167 and former Roland Garros finalist Sara Errani battled past Sorana Cristea 7-5 1-6 6-4 in a hard-fought match after 3 hours. 

 

The match started with three breaks in the first five games, as Errani took a 4-1 lead. Cristea broke back to draw level to 5-5. Errani earned two break points and broke serve to win the first set 7-5. 

Errani started the second set with an early break. Cristea fought back by winning six consecutive games with three breaks of serve. 

Cristea earned an early break at the start of the third set. Errani broke back in the fourth game to draw level to 2-2. Errani got another break in the sixth game but Cristea broke straight back to draw level to 4-4. In the 10th game Errani came back from 0-40 down and sealed the win on her first match point setting up a second round match against either Maria Sakkari or Krystina Pliskova. 

Errani has won her first WTA match since Bogotà 2019. 

“I thank Palermo Tournament Director Oliviero Palma, who has always supported me. I am honoured that I received a wild-card. Palermo is my second home. I have often played very well here. I hope crowd will give me their support. My level is not the same as in the past years but I have the same enthusiasm. After a long break for many breaks it is not easy to return to my best level”, said Errani. 

Italy’s Jasmine Paolini came back from one set down to upset former top 10 player Daria Kasatkina 5-7 6-4 6-4 after 3 hours and 21 breaks of serve. Paolini had scored her only win over a top 20 player, when she beat Kasatkina in Prague in 2018, but the Russian player had won two of their their previous head-to-head matches. In their most recent clash Kasatkina beat Paolini in the first round at 2019 Roland Garros. 

Paolini converted 11 of her 16 break points, while Kasatkina earned 34 break points and got only ten of them. The young Italian player will face either Elise Mertens or a qualifier. 

Kasatkina earned an early break in the first game of the first set and held his serve to open up a 2-0 lead. Paolini saved four break points (two in the fifth game at 3-1 and two in the seventh game at 4-2). As Kasatkina was serving at 5-4, Paolini saved four set points. Paolini earned a break point, as Kasatkina made a double fault on the third deuce. Paolini converted the break point with an overhead winner to draw level to 5-5. Kasatkina earned another break in the 11th game after Paolini netted her forehand. The Russian player converted her fifth set point with a forehand. 

The first six games of the second set went against serve. Paolini saved two break points and ended the streak of service breaks with a decisive hold for 4-3. Paolini got another break for 5-3 earning a chance to serve out the set. Kasatkina converted her third break point with a return winner to break back at 5-4. 

The third set followed the same pattern. Both players traded breaks four times in the first eight games en route to 4-4. Paolini held her serve in the ninth game for 5-4 before earning a match point with a backhand winner down the line. 

Paolini broke in the 10th game after a forehand error from Kasatkina to seal the third set 6-4. The Italian player is one match away from matching her quarter final in the 2019 edition. 

Donna Vekic cruised past Aranxta Rus 6-1 6-2 in the opening match of the Palermo Ladies Open. Vekic did not dropped her serve and closed out the match in 1 hour and 15 minutes without dropping her serve. 

Rus fended off seven break points. Vekic broke serve six times and won eight consecutive games to build up a 6-1 2-0 lead. 

Rus found her rhythm and broke back to draw level to 2-2. Vekic won 77% of her first serve points and broke twice in a row to win the second set 6-2. 

The Croatian player sets up a second round match against former Australian Open Junior semifinalist Elisabetta Cocciaretto, who beat Polona Hercog 7-6 (7-1) 6-3. 

“I am definitely a little bit surprised at the score. The conditions were very tricky and very windy, so the ball was a little bit all over the court. I am just definitely happy that I did not forget how to play tennis, how to play matches, how to win. It’s a huge relief”, said Vekic. 

Ekaterina Alexandrova came back from one set down to beat Kristina Mladenovic 5-7 6-0 6-1 after 2 hours and 12 minutes. The 59-minute first set was marked by nine breaks. Alexandrova came back in the second and third sets, dropping just one game. 

The match started with six consecutive breaks. Alexandrova got the early lead, but Mladenovic broke back each time to draw level to 3-3. Mladenovic got the first service hold and saved a set point on Alexandrova’s serve at 5-4. Mladenovic earned another break to seal the first set 7-5. 

Alexandrova broke three times to win the second set 6-0. Mladenovic won the first game of the third set, but Alexandrova won six consecutive games to win the third set 6-1 after 2 hours and 12 minutes. 

“It feels great being back on court because it was such a long wait, and it felt really special. It was quite tough because I was so nervous and my serve in the first set was just awful. Thankfully in the second and third set it was much better”, said Alexandrova. 

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Maria Sakkari Pondered Temporary Sport Switch During Tour Suspension

This summer could have looked very different for the world No.20.

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Greek tennis star Maria Sakkari could have been preparing to take part in a completely different sport this week if it wasn’t for the Palermo Open taking place.

 

The world No.20 considered switching her tennis shoes for running ones amid the uncertainty surrounding when the sport would start again. All professional tennis tournaments have been cancelled since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the WTA Tour is restarting this week in Italy.

Although if it wasn’t for Palermo staging the eagerly awaited return of tennis, Sakkari reveals that she might have instead switched her focus to athletics in order to maintain her competitive thirst. Taking part in the Greek athletics championships. Her discipline of choice would have been the 100 meters which her fitness trainer believes she would have made the final in.

“If the Tour was cancelled I was going to compete in the 100m track and field event at the National Championships,” Sakkari told reporters on Sunday.
“Greece National Championships starts on Aug. 8. We were kind of joking with my fitness coach, but inside of me I really needed competition.
“There were rumours going around that the Tour would get cancelled so I thought if the Tour gets cancelled I need to find something. I’m fast, I knew I was not going to win it for sure because I’m not a professional. But yeah, I was thinking of doing that.”

Sakkari can run 100M in a time of 12.7 seconds but that is without both running spikes and starting blocks. Her idea stemmed from the type of training she was doing back in Athens during the tour shutdown. Although tennis remains her first priority.

“I started playing tennis on May 4th, but before that, I was working with my fitness coach at outdoor areas where we were allowed to work out,” she said. “I was running a lot. I think I was running more than I ever did.”

In Palermo Sakkari will be the third seed in the draw and faces Czech Republic’s Kristýna Plíšková in the first round on Monday. The world No.20 started 2020 by winning nine out of 15 matches played on the Tour with her best runs being to the fourth round of the Australian Open and semi-finals of the St Petersburg Open.

We’re back in competition so I’m blessed,” Sakkari said. “Blessed to be back.”

Sakkari is bidding to win the second WTA trophy of her career this week after triumphing last year at the Morocco Open.

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