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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Karolina Pliskova Finding Her Footing With The Help Of New Coach Krajan

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Karolina Pliskova (CZE) playing against Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) in the semi-final of the Ladies' Singles on Centre Court at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 10 Thursday 08/07/2021. Credit: AELTC/Simon Bruty

Karolina Pliskova’s resurgence on the Tour comes at a time when she has formed a new partnership with a well-known coach. 

After her first round loss at the Australian Open to Elena Rybakina, the Czech won nine consecutive matches on the Tour. In Romania, she claimed her 17th WTA title at the Winners Open before reaching the semi-finals of a WTA 1000 event in Doha. However, she was unable to play her semi-final clash against Iga Swiatek due to a lower back injury. During this period she has improved her ranking from 77th to 36th. 

Pliskova began the season without a coach at her side but is now working with Croatia’s Zeljko Krajan. A partnership she believes is showing promising signs already. 

“Personality-wise, I think he’s kind of similar to me,” Pliskova told WTA Insider. “Not really high or low. Relaxed and very like calm. 
“We didn’t really plan yet anything because now the schedule was difficult. I might be in qualifying in Indian Wells. Maybe I enter San Diego. So I don’t really know what’s gonna be. I’m just living day by day at the moment.” 

Krajan has worked with a series of players on both the WTA and ATP Tour’s. He guided Dinara Safina to three Grand Slam finals between 2008 and 2010. He has also worked with Borna Coric, Laura Robson, Marcos Baghdatis, Jelena Jankovic and Dominika cibulkova.

Pliskova, who is a former world No.1 and two-time Grand Slam finalist, has endured a roller-coaster journey on the Tour in recent months with mixed results. Last season she failed to win back-to-back matches at 11 consecutive tournaments. 

So how has she managed to regain her form on the Tour?

“Motivation was never really a problem for me,” Pliskova said. “If I go on the court no matter how bad or good I feel, I always want to win. I always want to compete. 
“But my game is based on confidence and I need to feel that. Even if I’m not playing well or winning many matches, I just need to find that confidence in that moment or in that game because it’s just so risky. My shots are so flat, so I go for mostly lines. If something is not going well or you start to doubt, then of course you miss a little bit. Everything is about this.”

Unseeded at this week’s Dubai Tennis Championships, Pliskova beat China’s Zhang Shuai in the first round. She will next play Ashlyn Krueger in the second round on Tuesday.

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Elena Rybakina Eases Past Kasatkina To Win Abu Dhabi Open

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Elena Rybakina has captured her second title of the season after beating an erratic Daria Kasatkina in straight sets at the Abu Dhabi Open. 

The world No.5 stormed to a 6-1, 6-4, win over the Russian in just over an hour. It is the third time in Rybakina’s career that she has beaten Kasatkina on the Tour and she now leads their head-to-head 3-2. The triumph comes a month after she won the Brisbane International, which is also a WTA 500 event. 

Rybakina’s latest match saw her capitalise on her opponent’s costly mistakes. Kasatkina struggled with her serve throughout the majority of the final and only managed to hold twice in eight attempts. Opening the door for the former Wimbledon champion who hit 17 winners against 12 unforced errors en route to victory. 

“I want to thank the fans who came this week,” said the new champion. “It has been an amazing atmosphere, especially to see flags from Kazakhstan. It means a lot, thank you so much.”

A one-sided 25-minute opening set saw Rybakina claim four straight games to clinch an early lead. During to the opener, Kasatkina only managed to win 26% of her service points. It was the fourth time in the tournament that the Kazakh had won a set by conceding two or fewer games. 

Fortunately for world No.14 Kasatkina and the crowd, there was more of a battle in the second frame. Twice in a row Rybakina worked her way to a break advantage before losing it in the following game. Then at 4-4, she dealt the decisive blow by hitting a clean forehand winner to break yet against and this time had a chance to serve for the title. With the rain starting to fall, she converted her first championship point with the help of another error from across the net. 

The defeat for Kasatkina comes a day after she came through a marathon three-hour semi-final match before criticising the WTA over their tournament scheduling. She is currently set to play in the Qatar Open with her opening match taking place tomorrow. It is the sixth time in a row she has been beaten by a top-five player on the Tour. 

“Congratulations to Elena, you’ve had a great week,” she said.
“Thanks to my team who has always been next to me. I am really proud of the job we’ve done and how we are doing. Thanks for always believing in me.”

Rybakina also referred to the demanding calendar during the trophy presentation. 

“Tough week (for Kasatkina), especially the last matches. Tomorrow there is already a match in Doha but hopefully, we will both recover and do well there. Maybe also play (against each other) in the final there,” she said. 

Unlike Kasatkina, Rybakina has a first round bye in Doha. She has now won seven WTA trophies so far in her career. 

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Ons Jabeur Hoping For Better Fortunes In Doha Despite Injury Concerns

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Ons Jabeur (TUN) playing against Venus Williams (USA) on No.1 Court at The Championships 2021. Credit: AELTC/Jon Super

Ons Jabeur is optimistic that she will be ready in time to play at her next event in Doha after suffering an emotional exit from Dubai on Friday. 

The two-time Wimbledon finalist was in tears during her straight sets loss to Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia in the quarter-finals. Jabeur later revealed that her emotional reaction was linked to the reoccurrence of a knee injury in recent days which has troubled her in the past. She said the pain can differ at various tournaments but in Dubai, it was causing her significant discomfort. 

“I’m an open book, an emotional person. I like to show myself. One thing I have learned is to accept the emotion, and if I try to hide it, it will not make me feel good,” Jabeur told reporters in Doha at a pre-tournament press conference. 
“So it’s good to let it out and be done with it than to keep it inside and probably will make more problems for you later.”

Despite the setback, the world No.6 intends to play at the Doha Open which gets underway today. She will be the fourth seed in this year’s draw and will be playing in the event for the first time since 2022. Last year she was forced to skip the Middle East swing after having surgery to treat an enlarged nodule which was obstructing her airway and preventing oxygen from reaching her lungs. 

“I’m very happy to be back. I’m obviously happier than last year,” she said. “I’m glad to be united with my fans here, and hopefully it’s going be a great week for me.
“I have been struggling with the knee for a long time, and last week was very, very tough. Hopefully, I can recover in time and then play better here in Doha.”  

This time of the year has always meant a lot to the Tunisian, who has spoken on numerous occasions about her aim to inspire more players from her region to take up tennis. She is the first Arab player to reach a Grand Slam final, crack the top 10 in the WTA rankings and qualify for the season-ending Tour Finals. 

“It is very important to be here to connect with Arabic crowds. I feel so much love here in the region, and obviously, that’s one of the reasons I chose to play Abu Dhabi, Doha, and Dubai, because I feel so good here.” She said.

Declaring she is ‘happy’ with her rhythm on the court, Jabeur will begin her campaign in Doha against either Lesia Tsurenko or Turkish wild card Zeynep Sonmez.

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