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.
Ash Barty Eases Into Madrid Final
Number 1 seed Ashleigh Barty beat Paula Badosa 6-4 6-3 to reach her fourth final of the 2021 season at the Madrid Mutua Open after winning three titles at the Yarra Valley Classic, Miami and Stuttgart.
The first set went on serve in the first nine games. Barty earned two break points in the 10th game with a lob and loose forehands from Badosa. Badosa saved two set points with winners, but Barty converted her third chance after a double fault from Badosa to close out the first set 6-4.
After an early trade of breaks, Barty earned her second break after a double fault from Badosa in the fourth game to open up a 3-1 lead. The Aussie star saved three break points in the fifth game and held serve for 4-1 with a dropshot. Barty dropped just two more points on serve to close out the second set 6-3.
Barty has extended her red clay winning streak to 16 consecutive matches and her win-loss record to 25-3 this season.
Barty has clinched her 16th consecutive win on red clay. The Australian player avenged her recent defeat against Badosa in the quarter finals in Charleston.
“It was important for me to get that early break back in the second set and keep my nose in front, almost force her to come up with something that was going to be a really high level to be at a high level to be able to get back into the match. I have learnt a lot about clay, without a doubt. I promise you, I am still counting down to the grass court season. It’s one of the my favourite times of the year. I think the memories and the learnings now that we are getting from the red clay has been really cool, to be able to challenge myself in different ways”, said Barty.
Ash Barty Battles Past Petra Kvitova In Madrid
Ash Barty is into the semi-finals of Madrid for the first time after defeating Petra Kvitova.
The world number one needed three sets and just under two hours to beat the three time Madrid champion.
Ashleigh Barty is into the semi finals of the Mutua Madrid Open after beating the number nine seed and three time champion Petra Kvitova in three sets 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 in a match that lasted just under two hours.
The world number one hit 15 winners, served six aces while her Czech opponent his 44 unforced errors in the loss. It was the Aussie who got off to the best possible start holding her opening service game and earning three chances to break in the following service game.
“I started off particularly well, Petra (Kvitova) struggled to find the court a little bit and gave me some cheap points, In the second she served particularly well and I feel like she made a lot more first serves so it was important for me to try and manufacture a break early in the third just to break some momentum and try to find my way back in”
She would break the number nine seed with a sublime return winner to take an early 2-0 lead before the Czech tried to get back into the set earning a break chance of her very own the next game but it was immediately saved with a big serve and Barty held serve.
The world number one continued to dominate the first set earning two more chances to go up a double break which she would convert and would serve out the set in 25 minutes.
The second set is where the Czech number nine seed bounced back and after holding the opening service game broke to take an early lead before the Aussie tried to get the break back but was denied and Kvitova saved three breakpoints.
She would serve out the second set to force a third and deciding set and once again that’s where the number one responded earning the first break of the third set.
The number nine seed had a chance to back on serve but the Aussie would save the break opportunity with a gutsy second serve ace but the resilient Czech stayed in the match and got the break back to go back on serve at 3-2.
Unfortunately for her the Aussie pushed hard once again for the crucial break in the match and would convert on her third attempt and that break was enough for her to serve out the match.
She will next face Paula Bodosa who earlier in the day became the first Spanish women to reach the semifinals at the Madrid Open after upsetting the number eight seed Belinda Bencic and she told Ubitennis what the experience will be like playing in a stadium with fans who will be cheering against her.
“It doesn’t bother me, I’ve played matches in Australia where I’ve had them on my side but it’s a different element, it’s exciting to be able to play in front of a crowd, were grateful this week that we got people to be able to enjoy it with us and enjoy the matches and she’s had an exceptional week, having played her a couple of weeks ago there were things from that match that I learned and we try and take those into account tomorrow as best we can and go out there and try to execute”
Ash Barty Explains How Rise In Tennis Has Affected Her Life
The world No.1 outlines how tennis has impacted her as a person following her latest win in Madrid.
With prize money earnings exceeding more than $18 million Ash Barty says she still sticks to the same ‘10 or 15’ t-shirts over the past five years and rotates between them.
The former French Open champion is currently the highest ranked player in women’s tennis and has won 11 WTA titles so far in his career. Including two this year in Miami and Melbourne. However, the Australian has insisted her rise in the sport hasn’t changed her as a person. Instead she describes it as more of a learning experience.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have many experiences over the last two or three years in my growth and development as a tennis player,” she said following her third round win at the Madrid Open.
“My experiences as a tennis player haven’t changed me as a person. They’ve certainly helped me grow and develop and become a better person, but they certainly haven’t changed any of my true values or anything that I live by. Whether it’s 1 or 100, as a person I couldn’t care less how the tennis works out.”
Despite her success, the Australian stresses that she is no different to everybody else. Last season Barty missed a major of the Tour due to travelling concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since returning to action in February, she has won 22 out of 25 matches played and is currently on a 14-match winning streak when it comes to playing on the red clay.
“I’m not a massive person to go out shopping,” she admits. “I’m a jeans and T-shirt kind of girl. I’ve had the same 10 or 15 T-shirts for five years. I rotate through. Sometimes I’ll go out on a limb and get a different colour that’s not gray, black or white.”
Taking to the court in Madrid this week, the Jaguar logo is placed in the centre of Barty’s dress. She has been endorsed by the company since late 2018 and even drives their F-Pace SUV back in Australia. Although she has recently gained a Porsche after winning the Stuttgart Open in Germany. Is there a temptation to change car brands in the future?
“I don’t know. I love my Jag, that’s all I’m going to say,” she commented. “It was obviously a very cool gift. The tournament in Stuttgart has been doing it for a long time. Porsche has been a great sponsor for them. But I love my Jag.”
On the court in Madrid Barty faces a potentially tricky encounter in the quarter-finals against Petra Kvitova who has already won the tournament on three previous occasions which is more than any other female player. She has won four out of their five most recent meetings on the Tour but still trails their head-to-head 4-5.
“I love to play Petra. She brings out the best in me,” Barty stated. “I just said to Tyz (coach Craig Tyzzer) that we’re going to be counting in Roman numerals the amount of times we’ve played. It’s another challenge, another test. She’s won this tournament multiple times, loves the conditions here. It’s a fresh challenge for me.”
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