Tsvetana Pironkova: Fairytale US Open Run Is ‘Very Special’ - UBITENNIS
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Tsvetana Pironkova: Fairytale US Open Run Is ‘Very Special’

After 38 months away, Tsvetana Pironkova has earned a quarter-final meeting with Serena Williams at the 2020 US Open.

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When Tsvetana Pironkova left the WTA tour in July 2017 to give birth to her son Alexander, she did not expect to return to tennis. Now, 38 months later, she is preparing to take on Serena Williams in a Grand Slam quarter-final.

 

“It means a lot to be here after three years of absence,” The Bulgarian said after her fourth-round win. “And this being my first tournament, having this great result, is something very special.”

She continued, “It’s really unbelievable that I took it this far, that I actually managed to win four matches, and especially the last one which lasted I think about three hours.”

It is an amazing story and Pironkova deserves all the praise she receives. It is difficult to perform well at the highest level of any sport under normal circumstances, so to do it after such a long time away is truly remarkable.

The WTA should also be given credit. Their December 2018 rule change that enables mothers to use their previous ranking to enter 12 tournaments over a three-year period has been a huge help to numerous players already. Three of them – Pironkova, Williams and Victoria Azarenka – are in the quarter-finals of the 2020 US Open.

Motherhood changes Pironkova perspective

One of the key reasons for the Bulgarian’s success at Flushing Meadows is her calm demeanour on court. She has been in pressure situations during her matches, particularly during her intense win over Alize Cornet in the last 16, and she has handled all of them with admirable composure.

Pironkova attributes her change in attitude to a new perspective on life provided by motherhood. “Everything changes (when you become a mother),” She said after her second-round win. “Your priorities have nothing to do with what they did before. Nothing is the same really.”

She continued, “I don’t know how to really explain it. It’s just great to be playing without that extra pressure that I had on my myself before. Before it was like almost life-and-death situation for me to win a match. Right now it’s not really like that. It’s before all just enjoyment to be on the court.”

Tsvetana Pironkova (@usopen on Twitter)

While the mental side is obviously vital, it is impossible to win tennis matches if your shots are not at the standard they need to be. Happily for Pironkova, she had extra time to work on her game after the coronavirus pandemic prevented her from returning when she intended to in March.

“When I started playing again, obviously I had like eight months until now,” the Bulgarian said. “I worked on a lot of things. I really worked a lot on my serve. Obviously on my groundstrokes.

She continued, “I think all that work really paid off. I also have a conditioning coach, fitness coach, that I worked a lot with. So I guess that brings results.”

Serena Williams awaits

In the first round, Pironkova beat Liudmila Samsonova 6-2 6-3. Then she stunned World No.16 Garbine Muguruza 7-5 6-3. In the third round, she overcame Donna Vekic 6-4 6-1. And in the fourth round, the Bulgarian battled to a 6-4 6-7(5) 6-3 victory over Cornet. These triumphs have brought an intriguing reward: a meeting with the 23-time Grand Slam champion.

“It’s definitely a tough one,” Pironkova said. “I played against Serena a few times. I haven’t won to today. Playing such a champion, such a legend of the game, it’s a tremendous honour, obviously. I’m really looking forward to that match, because I know the feeling is going to be very special. I will try to do my best, and I can’t wait.”

If the Bulgarian manages to beat Williams, the status of her US Open run will be elevated to new heights. But with her new perspective on life and tennis, she will not be too upset if she loses the match. After all, she has already achieved so much.

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Garbine Muguruza Edges Gauff In Exciting Rome Showdown

Garbine Muguruza held off a strong challenge from Coco Gauff to win a riveting second-round match 7-6(3) 3-6 6-3 at the Italian Open in Rome.

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Garbine Muguruza held off a strong challenge from Coco Gauff to win a riveting second-round match 7-6(3) 3-6 6-3 at the Italian Open in Rome.

 

The Spaniard, 26, rediscovered some of her best form to reach the Australian Open final in January. And she produced arguably her strongest performance since the restart to overcome the precocious 16-year-old.

There was very little to separate the two players in the opening set. Both Muguruza and Gauff were sporadically excellent. Each hit superb winners at times. But they balanced this out by making sloppy errors.

Consequently, neither player was able to break away. When the American broke in game four, the Spaniard responded immediately to rein her in.

Even though most of the games were closely-contested in the rest of the set, there were no breaks. Therefore, the only way to decide who would take the lead was a tie-break.

It was Muguruza who rose to the occasion. She produced one of the most impressive six-point sequences you are ever likely to see. First, the Spaniard hit a forehand winner that landed on the baseline. Then she hit a huge unreturnable serve followed by an ace. Next, she forced an error from Gauff with a deep backhand. And at 6-3 up, she clinched the set in style with another ace.

Gauff fights back

Gauff approached the second set with steely determination. She did not give anything away and gradually cranked up the pressure on Muguruza.

In game three, the American’s efforts were rewarded. She earned two break points and seized the second with a precise passing shot back behind the Spaniard.

Unlike in the first set, Gauff then held serve to move 3-1 ahead. And the pressure of being behind had an effect on Muguruza. She made a couple of errors to give the American three chances to gain a double break.

The Spaniard dug in and saved the first two. But she was unable to prevent Gauff from taking the third with a powerful backhand followed by a forehand winner.

Cori Gauff (@ChannelNewsAsia on Twitter)

Muguruza was in no mood to let the second set slip away. She hit a brilliant lob and a stunning forehand winner to earn two break points in game six.

Although the American saved them both, the Spaniard soon earned two more. And she eventually took her fourth break point of the game courtesy of a double fault from Gauff.

Muguruza held comfortably to reduce the deficit to 4-3. However, she did not manage to retrieve the second break, as the American held to move 5-3 ahead. Gauff then profited from a sloppy service game from the Spaniard to clinch the set.

Muguruza stays strong as errors cost Gauff dearly

When Gauff broke to establish a 2-0 lead at the start of the decider, it looked like she was on course for a famous win over the two-time Grand Slam champion.

However, the American wasted her opportunity. She made three consecutive double faults to gift Muguruza three break points. And the Spaniard took the third to break back immediately.

After a steady hold from Muguruza, Gauff made two more double faults in game six. Once again, the Spaniard capitalised. She then held again to open up a 4-2 lead.

The American found her range on serve to reduce the deficit. But the end came quickly for her. Muguruza withstood everything Gauff threw at her during a hold that put her 5-3 up.

The Spaniard then went on the attack. She drove the American back behind the baseline and then hit a forehand winner. Then she forced a couple of errors to make it 0-40. At that stage, Gauff was completely demoralised. She hit a forehand into the net to surrender the match to Muguruza.

In the next round, the World No.17 may get a chance to resume a fascinating rivalry. All four of her meetings with Johanna Konta have gone to three sets. So if the Brit can beat qualifier Irina-Camelia Begu, it could lead to another entertaining encounter.

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Victoria Azarenka Relishing Challenge Of Quick Turnaround In Rome

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Victoria Azarenka (image via https://twitter.com/InteBNLdItalia)

Within four days Victoria Azarenka had gone from playing in her first Grand Slam semi-final since 2013 to hitting on the clay courts of the Italian Open in Rome.

 

The former world No.1 returned to competitive action on Wednesday fresh off her solid run in New York that has elevated her back up the rankings to inside the top 15 for the first time since 2017. Her latest challenger was veteran player Venus Williams who she disposed of 7-6(7), 6-2, to record her 12th win within the past month. Despite the straightforward score, Azarenka was tested throughout after being broken four times and had to fend off a set point during the opener.

“Obviously playing on a different surface was definitely challenging, but I feel like I have adapted pretty well,” said Azarenka.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew I wasn’t going to play a perfect game. But it was all about trying to find the right intentions to do today. I think it worked out okay. “

Azarenka is the only US Open semi-finalist to have made it to Italian capital this year with the others instead opting to skip ahead to the French Open. Which will begin a week on Monday. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tennis schedule has been revised with tournaments bunched closer together than they normally would. Nevertheless Azarenka sees the positive side to the current situation.

“I think the best way to transition is to play matches. I know physically it’s quite challenging, on your body it is quite challenging but I wanted to do this. I knew I was going to come no matter what.” She stated.
“I’m very happy that I did. I think there is no better way to adapt than playing matches. You know, staying in the bubble is tough, but might as well commit to these few more weeks that we have left in the year and then go back home.”

The 31-year-old Belarusian hasn’t had much success on clay so far in her career. Only one out of her 21 WTA titles has been won on the surface back in 2011. Furthermore, she has won less main draw matches at the French Open (22) than any other Grand Slam.

For Azarenka she admits that playing on the clay requires her to adapt both mentally and physically in the coming days.

“On hard courts I’m pretty comfortable with staying and hugging the baseline and taking everything early. And I think you have to be a little bit more adaptive on clay where sometimes you need to move back and have that transition, a little bit longer rallies. The building of the point has to be a little bit more constructive,” she explains.
“Mentally, I believe there is also an adaptation where the rally may be longer. Some balls may not bounce as well as on hard courts.”

Azarenka will play Sofia Kenin in the third round in what will be a battle of the Australian Open champions.

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Simona Halep Maintains Unbeaten Run With Battling Win In Rome

Simona Halep continued her unbeaten run since the restart with a 6-3 6-4 over Jasmine Paolini at the Italian Open in Rome.

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Simona Halep continued her unbeaten run since the restart with a 6-3 6-4 over Jasmine Paolini at the Italian Open in Rome.

 

The Romanian, 28, won the title in Prague at her first tournament since the WTA tour resumed in August. However, she elected not to travel to America for the US Open swing so she has not taken part in any events in the last month.

Given this, it is understandable that Halep struggled to find her form as she fell behind in both sets. In such circumstances, a less experienced player might have lost. But the World No.2 has a mature attitude these days and she stayed calm to fight back in both sets.

Paolini falters after encouraging start

Paolini made an excellent start. She used her potent forehand to great effect to earn an immediate break and open up a 2-0 lead.

Unfortunately for the Italian, that first hold of serve was her only hold of the set. She made a series of double faults to surrender her serve and allow Halep back into the set.

Then the Romanian attacked the World No.99’s serve and broke her twice more. This enabled her to win six of the next seven games and claim the first set 6-3.

Halep finds form when she needs it most

The second set had even more twists. Paolini again grabbed an early break. Then, once again, she failed to hold serve afterwards.

After two breaks took the score on to 3-3, the Italian earned a break that seemed more important. And it turned out to be exactly that – for her opponent. Halep raised her game and produced her best tennis of the match in the last three games.

First, the Romanian hit a couple of superb winners to break back to love. Then she played a flawless service game to hold to love. Finally, she sealed victory by breaking Paolini’s serve for an eighth time.

Yastremska edges Anisimova to set Halep meeting

Halep’s next opponent will be Dayana Yastremska. The Ukrainian overcame Amanda Anisimova 4-6 7-6(3) 6-4 in a scrappy second-round encounter.

During the match, Yastremska made 11 double faults and was broken five times. However, none of those breaks were in the final set, so she may need to re-produce that level to stand a chance against the Romanian.

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