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
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
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.
Why Newly Married Elina Svitolina Has No Plans To Change Her Surname
The Ukrainian explains why she isn’t using her husband’s surname of Monfils just yet as she books her place in the third round at Tokyo 2020.
Just over a week ago Elina Svitolina tied the knot with her long-time partner Gael Monfils at a ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland.
Shortly after the world No.6 took to social media and changed her name on Twitter to Elina Monfils as part of the tradition that the woman takes on the man’s name once they are married. As a consequence, various websites started to identify the Ukrainian under that name. Although she would rather that they don’t do such a thing.
“I don’t know why they changed my surname. Maybe they saw that I had changed it on my social networks,” Svitolina told BTU.
“I’m going to play as Svitolina till the very end of my professional career and will change it only after retirement.”
Svitolina explains she believes it is better if all of her achievements are made under the same name instead of two. So far in her career she has won 15 WTA titles, reached two Grand Slam semi-finals and has earned more than $20.5M in prize money.
“I had numerous achievements and people know me as Svitolina. My father would be upset if I changed the surname and played as Monfils,” she joked.
“I am proud to be Svitolina and my tennis career will always be connected with this surname.”
Over the coming week the 26-year-old is hoping to add an Olympic medal to her resume. On Monday Svitolina survived a stern scare after coming back from a set down to defeat Ajla Tomljanović 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 and move into the third round of the tournament. Her win came on the day where there were shocks galore in the women’s draw with seeds Aryna Sabalenka, Iga Swiatek and Petra Kvitova all crashing out.
Svitolina will play Greece’s Maria Sakkari in the next round whom she has lost to in two out of their three previous meetings.
Why Ash Barty Isn’t Staying At The Olympic Village In Tokyo
The two-time Grand Slam champion has opted to stay at an alternate venue heading into the Games.
Ash Barty will prepare for her debut at the Olympic Games by staying at a base located outside of the athletes village as part of her ‘performance plan.’
The world No.1 heads into Tokyo as one of the favourites for gold following her triumph at Wimbledon where she defeated Karolina Pliskova in the final. She is one of six top 10 players set to play in the women’s singles tournament which will start on Saturday.
Leading up to the Games, the head of the Australian Olympic delegation has told reporters that Barty’s decision not to stay in the village will enhance her gold medal chances. In previous Games athletes have stayed outside of the villages but this year it is more challenging to do so due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tokyo is currently in a state of emergency and fans are banned from attending the event amid fears of the virus spreading if they do so.
“Ash is staying elsewhere,” chef de mission Ian Chesterman told the Australian Associated Press.
“We have a number of athletes staying outside the village. We allow that, it’s just what works best for them.
“Something I’ve always been very big on is driving performance takes a whole lot of flexible decisions, flexible options.
“In terms of her performance plan, it’s best served by her being able to control her environment and we respect that.”
The exact location of Barty’s base has not been disclosed but it is near to the village where she was said to have visited and had a cup of coffee on Tuesday morning.
“She is staying in an Australian environment where she can still easily access the village,” Chesterman stated.
The 25-year-old is bidding to become only the second Australian in history to win a medal in the women’s singles at the Olympics. The first was Alicia Molik who claimed a bronze medal back in 2004.
During a recent interview with The ITF, Barty said playing at the event is a dream come true for her as she describes representing her country as the ‘highest honour.’
“Being an Olympian has always been a dream of mine as a kid, I think representing your country is the highest honour,” Barty told the ITF.
“For an Aussie it’s the best thing you can do and I can’t wait to have an opportunity to wear the green and gold.
“You’re playing for something bigger than yourself. You’re playing to represent your nation. You’re playing to make people proud and that’s not just with results it’s with your attitude.”
Bianca Andreescu pulls out of Tokyo Olympics
The world number five has officially pulled out of the Olympics in Tokyo stating reasons due to the ongoing pandemic situation.
Bianca Andreescu will not be making the trip to Tokyo to play in the Olympics after withdrawing due to the current pandemic situation.
The former US Open champion issued a statement concerning what she describes as a ‘difficult decision.’ Andreescu is the latest top name to pull out of the Olympics. Last week Nick Kyrgios also said he wouldn’t be playing for similar reasons. Due to a a surge of COVID-19 cases in Tokyo, the city has gone into a state of emergency which prompted organisers to ban spectators from attending Olympic events in the city. Athletes will be subjected to tough restrictions during their time at the event, as well as regular testing.
” I would like to inform you that I have made the very difficult decision to not play in the Tokyo Olympics later this month,” Andreescu wrote on Instagram. “I have been dreaming of representing Canada at the Olympics since I was a little girl but with all the challenges we are facing as it relates to the pandemic, I know that deep in my heart, this is the right decision to make for myself. I look forward to representing Canada in future Fed Cup ties, and competing at the 2024 Olympics in Paris! “
The Canadian hasn’t played since losing in the first round of Wimbledon to Alize Cornet of France and most recently split with her coach Sylvain Brunneau after a four-year partnership.
Her 2021 season has been up and down starting in Australia where she lost in the second round before making the semifinals at the Phillips Island Trophy event. She then made the final at the Miami Open before taking a fall in the final against Ash Barty and was forced to retire due to injury.
Then the clay-court season came and Andreescu tested positive for Covid. She was forced to miss events in Madrid and Rome, so she headed to Strasbourg for some preparation before the French Open. The world No.5 won two matches in Strasbourg before pulling out due to an ab injury. She then lost in the first round of the French Open.
The Canadian moved on to the grass-court season heading to Berlin but again would get upset in the first round by Alize Cornet before winning one round in Eastbourne and losing to Anett Kontaveit.
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