Tsvetana Pironkova extended her remarkable run at the 2020 US Open with a 6-4 6-1 win over Donna Vekic. Her excellent performances are arguably the biggest surprise of this year’s event.
After spending three years away from tennis on maternity leave, the Bulgarian, now 32, used a protected ranking to enter the American Grand Slam tournament.
Many viewers may not have even noticed Pironkova was in the draw. And if they did, they probably expected her to go out in the first round. Or, at best, the second round.
However, the Bulgarian has confounded expectations. She beat World No.120 Liudmila Samsonova in the first round. Then she shocked World No.16 Garbine Muguruza in the next round.
Those wins earned Pironkova a third-round meeting with World No.24 Vekic, who reached the quarter-final at the US Open last year.
Pironkova Punishes Wayward Vekic
In the first set, Vekic looked like the better player. She hit an array of superb winners and dictated most of the points. However, she made errors at crucial moments, and it cost her dearly. She gifted Pironkova two break points in the set, and the Bulgarian took them both.
The Croatian could have been forgiven for wondering how she was a set down at that stage. But she needed to put it out of her mind and focus on mounting a fightback. She failed to do this. And, when things started going badly for her in the third game of the set, she directed an angry rant in the direction of her coach.
While Vekic was imploding, Pironkova stayed completely calm. She focused on getting as many balls back over the net as possible. Then she watched as the Croatian destroyed herself.
Ultimately, the only blessing for Vekic was that it was over quickly. She lost five games in a row as she gifted the second set to the Bulgarian in just 25 minutes. During that time, she hit just six winners and made 16 unforced errors. By contrast, Pironkova only made two unforced errors.
All told, it was a very strange match. But the Bugarian will not mind. She has now reached the last 16 at a hard-court Grand Slam for only the second time in her career. The last time it happened was in New York in 2012.
Can Pironkova go any further? It seems unlikely when you consider that her expected fourth-round opponent is Madison Keys, who tends to thrive at Flushing Meadows and looks to be in sparkling form. Nevertheless, it would be foolish to write off the Bulgarian comeback queen.
Muchova survives Cirstea scare
Karolina Muchova is going places. She shot up the rankings from 141 to 21 last year and enjoyed an eye-catching run to the Wimbledon quarter-final.
Now the Czech has an opportunity to match that performance at Flushing Meadows. However, she will have to play a lot better than she did today.
Muchova took advantage of 13 unforced errors from Cirstea to claim the first set 6-3. Then the match swung completely the other way, as the Czech made 13 unforced errors and the Romanian won the second set 6-2.
Finally, both players got their acts together in the decider, and it turned into a pulsating battle. Cirstea wasted two glorious chances to win it when she served for the match at 5-4 and led 6-3 in the tie-break.
Both times, the Romanian allowed Muchova back into it and the Czech gratefully accepted. She eventually sneaked through 9-7 in the tie-break.
Muchova will be joined in the last 16 by Elise Mertens. The Belgian continued her serene progress through the draw with a 7-5 6-1 victory over Catherine McNally. She is yet to drop a set at the 2020 US Open, and she will face either Sofia Kenin or Ons Jabeur next.
Dayana Yastremska Heads To Australia Despite Doping Violation
Did the 20-year-old break the rules with her trip?
Tennis Australia says they are ‘investigating’ after it emerged that Dayana Yastremska boarded a plane funded by the governing body despite failing a drugs test.
Last week the International Tennis Federation issued a statement confirming that the Ukrainian tennis star has been issued with a provisional suspension after testing positive for the banned substance mesterolone metabolite. An anabolic agent prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency which can be used for the treatment of people with low testosterone. Yastremska was pictured boarding a plane to Australia on Thursday in a post uploaded by two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova which has since been deleted.
Yastremska has denied any wrongdoing and says she has ‘scientific evidence’ that her positive test was a result of contamination. Although she didn’t elaborate any further as to what that evidence is. The world No.29 has the right to appeal her provisional suspension but according to the latest ITF statement she hasn’t done so. One way her ban can be lifted is if the appeals board accepts her contamination argument which would allow her to play right away.
“Only a very low concentration of mesterolone metabolite was detected in my urine,” Yastremska wrote in a statement. “Given that low concentration and my negative test two weeks earlier, I have received scientific advice that the result is consistent with some form of contamination event.”
Despite Yastremska’s plea, it is unclear as to if she or Tennis Australia has broken any rules. As of January 15h the ITF still lists her as a player who is provisionally suspended from the sport. Richard Ings, who is the former chair of the Australian anti-doping agency, points out that suspended players are not allowed to participate in any activity organised by a tournament. Raising questions as to if a Tennis Australia funded plane journey counts as one of these ‘activities.’
Yastremska is currently on the Australian Open entry list and is set to be allowed to train during her 14-day quarantine like other players unless anything changes. Tennis Australia has not made a public statement but news agency AAP has confirmed that an investigation has been launched. Should it turn out that the 20-year-old is ineligible to play, it is unclear if she would be required to pay back the cost of her plane trip.
The Australian Open starts on February 8th.
Madison Keys latest player to test positive for Coronavirus
Madison Keys ruled out of the Australian Open after testing positive for COVID-19.
The American tested positive for the first time and will miss the first grand slam of the year.
Madison Keys has officially tested positive for the coronavirus. She announced the news on social media and says she will, unfortunately, miss the Australian Open.
“Hi everyone, I just wanted to let you know that I, unfortunately, tested positive for Covid-19 before I was suppose to fly to Australia. I’m very disappointed to not be able to play in the coming weeks after training hard in the off-season and knowing Tennis Australia and the tours did so much to make these events happen.
“I am self isolating at home and will continue to follow all the necessary health precautions. I look forward to be back on tour next month.
“Thank you for all your support.
“Stay Healthy and safe.
Keys is the latest player to have tested positive after Andy Murray revealed he had a positive test while Tennys Sandgren had tested positive but was given the green light to travel.
Two players in men’s qualifying in Doha tested positive and were immediatly removed from the draw. Apparently if you test positive for the first time you are not allowed to travel but if you already tested positive and show no symptoms there is a chance you will continue to test positive before the effects go away.
Players are traveling this week to Australia and will be mandated to follow the 14 day quarantine with the exception of training five hours a day. The Australian Open begins on February 8th.
While most players will be quarantining in Melbourne both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have confirmed they will do their quarantine in Adelaide.
Unstoppable Aryna Sabalenka Storms To Abu Dhabi Title
Another clinical performance has secured the Belarusian her third consecutive title and a new career-high ranking position.
Aryna Sabalenka’s winning run shows no signs of stopping anytime soon after she powered her way to the Abu Dhabi title on Wednesday.
The fourth seed needed just over an hour to defeat Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova 6-2, 6-2, in what was a largely one-sided encounter in the Middle East. Sabalenka utilized her power to her advantage as she fired five aces and 18 winners past her opponent who was playing in her first WTA final at the age of 23. Overall she won almost twice as many points (63-37) than Kudermetova.
With both players holding their ground early on, Sabalenka started to dominate midway through the opening set with the help of a four-game winning streak. Leading 3-2 on serve, she broke her Russian rival twice in a row to clinch the 6-2 lead. Throughout the opener the world No.10 dropped just five points behind her serve.
It was a familiar pattern in the second frame with Sabalenka continuing to dismantle Kudermetova’s fragile serve. Overall, she broke six consecutive times in the final with four of those occurring in the second set alone. Easing to a game away from victory, she did experience a blunder after losing one of her breaks. However, there would be no chance of a Kudermetova comeback as Sabalenka closed out the match in the following game with her rival hitting a forehand error on match point.
“I’m really proud of the fact that I was fighting no matter what this week,” the new champion reflected on her performance. “Some matches I didn’t feel my serve and some matches I didn’t feel my backhand or forehand, but I just kept fighting and finding my shots, and this is what I’m really proud of. I’m really happy with this title.”
The win extends Sabalenka’s unbeaten run on the Tour to 15 wins. She has now won three titles in a row after ending 2020 triumphing in both Ostrava and Linz. As a result of her latest triumph, Sabalenka will rise to a ranking high of seventh in the world on Monday.
There is also a silver lining for underdog Kudermetova who defeated Elina Svitolina and Marta Kostyuk earlier in the tournament. Her run to the final will move her up the rankings to a career high of 36th. She has already scored five wins over top 10 opponents so far in her career.
“Aryna’s playing good. She played unbelievable today,” Kudermetova said. “She didn’t give me a lot of chances. She tried to keep every ball on the court, she tried to attack, and when she had her chances she went full power on the court. She also fights until the end—that’s why she’s a top player.”
Sabalenka’s surge on the Tour has sparked high expectations for her going into the Australian Open where she is hoping to break new ground in a Grand Slam.
“I was doing everything I could in each match from the beginning (in Abu Dhabi) and I’m happy to start the season with a title,” Sabalenka said. “I’m going to Australia, I’m confident with one thing, that I will do everything I can to win matches.”
Despite her success on the WTA Tour, she has only reached the fourth round of a major once at the 2018 US Open.
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