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Is 19-year-old Iga Swiatek bound for greatness?

Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper tennis columnist James Beck reflects on the potential significance of the French Open women’s final.

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Paris is always magical.

 

The City of Love must be.

Iga Swiatek is the French Open women’s singles champion.

Always talented, always athletic.

But until this fortnight the Polish 19-year-old had never demonstrated any true greatness in  women’s tennis. All of a sudden now, even the great John McEnroe is predicting greater greatness from the latest new star of women’s tennis.

A STRANGE YEAR FOR WOMEN’S TENNIS

What a strange year this is in women’s tennis. Sofia Kenin wins the Australian Open before the coronavirus took over the entire world. Kenin came out of nowhere to achieve this amazing feat.

So, just when it appeared Kenin was ready to keep her amazing success story afloat, another surprise arrived with the name Iga Swiatek. It wouldn’t be real surprising that when this coronavirus disappears, hopefully early in 2021, that Swiatek keeps winning Grand Slam titles. It also wouldn’t be surprising if she retires with just one major title.

Swiatek seems to be just that unpredictable.

DID SHADOWS PLAY A KEY ROLE IN THE WOMEN’S FINAL?

Perhaps this time, Swiatek’s glorious day was achieved due to the uncontrollable nature of nature itself. The sun and its shadows appeared to play a major role in how this Grand Slam final started.

Shadows dominated one end of the court at match time on Saturday in the newly covered Court Philippe Chatrier Stadium.

Visibility was dreadful on the TV screen, and it must have been much the same way in Kenin’s eyes when she played the second and third games of the match on the “shadow end” of the court. The 21-year-old American looked out of sorts as if she was playing in darkness and she couldn’t find the ball while falling behind, 3-0.

SHADOWS BRING BACK MEMORIES OF NADAL-SODERLING

The scene brought back memories of Rafa Nadal’s fourth-round match against Robin Soderling in 2009 at Roland Garros. Going into the 2020 final on Sunday against Novak Djokovic, Nadal has suffered only two losses in 88 matches on the red clay of Roland Garros.

Of course, Nadal’s loss to Djokovic in the 2015 quarterfinals at the French Open wasn’t a show stopper, especially when you consider that Djokovic is now slipping up on Nadal’s 19 Grand Slam titles and Roger Federer’s 20 in the all-time major title race.

But for Rafa to lose to the big-hitting Soderling was shocking at the time. Rafa also looked like he was playing in darkness that summer day in 2009. He couldn’t find the ball, either.

KENIN WASN’T NORMAL SELF

Seeing what happened on Saturday in the shadows at Roland Garros, it’s now easier to understand what happened to Nadal that day against Soderling.

Kenin had a miserable day on Saturday. She wasn’t herself, maybe due to the shadows or maybe to her heavily bandaged left thigh. Kenin is a better player than the one audiences around the world saw in her 6-4, 6-1 loss to Swiatek.

FANS FORTUNATE TO CATCH THEM BEFORE THEY BECAME STARS

Watching this French Open women’s final made me acknowledge once again how great it is to reside in a great tennis town that brings the ITF world-wide circuit to your city. It happens all over the world, to large cities and small cities.

Of course, Charleston also has the WTA Tour’s Volvo Car Open where the world’s best current players perform for large crowds of paying viewers.

The ITF Circuit is different.

Swiatek, Kenin and Cori Gauff all played in the $100K ITF tournament at LTP Tennis in Charleston during 2018 or 2019. All free of charge for everyone to view in person or even to enter  the current boundaries of social distancing. Autographs, yes. But autograph seekers were rare for these three young stars even that recently.

James Beck has been the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.

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6, 5, 4…is the rise of Carlos Alcaraz going to continue this week?

Canadian Open and Cincinnati Masters 1000 may allow the Spaniard’s ranking to reach new zeniths

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CARLOS ALCARAZ OF SPAIN - PHOTO: ANGEL MARTINEZ / MMO

By Kingsley Elliot Kaye

Numbers are fascinating, even worshipped by some, unquestionable and reassuring. We may forget the fallibility of subjective evaluation and rejoice with the sense of power that comes with belief that any reality, from outer space to the inner world, can be measured, and expressed with numbers.

 

And numbers have been fuelling tennis headlines over the last weeks as Carlos Alcaraz has been heading on, his rise in the rankings unblemished by the losses to Musetti and Sinner in the finals in Hamburg and Umag and ticking on like an ultimate countdown.  

In the next two weeks Alcaraz will have limitless opportunities to reap points in the two Masters 1000 leading up to the US Open since he will only be dropping the points he earned last year in Cincinnati where, after qualifying, he reached the round of 32 before losing to Lorenzo Sonego.

There is more at stake for those he is chasing: Medvedev, winner in Canada and semi-finalist in Cincinnati is surely capable of bettering such results, but it will not be a walkover. Zverev is fully committed to rehab and unable to defend his Cincinnati 2021 crown. Nadal, who missed all the second part of the last season and could be a serious challenger in terms of point harvesting, has just had to pull out from Montreal owing to his still-healing abdominal injury.    

Nitpickers may suggest that the most recent hurdles cleared by Alcaraz have not coincided with immaculate victories and that what had seemed for a long time to be a perfect set-up engine, meticulously fine-tuned, has been starting to misfire.

No doubt that his 2022 campaign had been a crescendo up to his triumph in the ATP Masters 1000 in Madrid, where he brushed aside Nadal, Djokovic and Zverev. The match with Djokovic was of supreme quality and will stand out as one of the gems of the year.

Till then, his loss to Korda in Monte Carlo was the only lapse and could be considered an incident, as it may occur to any guy setting foot on clay for the first time in months, adorned with a new status as a tennis prodigy after his win in Miami and awaited by a roaring buzz of expectations.

In Paris, a first yellow alert did appear when he was on the brink of defeat in round 2 with Ramos-Vinolas in a match stained by 74 unforced errors. Then followed shining performances against Korda and Khachanov before falling in the quarter-finals to Zverev who overpowered him throughout most of their match. But Zverev was formidable that day and Alcaraz strove to the very end to find an escape way and was close to coming back, missing a set point in the fourth set tiebreak that would have tugged him into a decider.

His star seemed to be shining at Wimbledon after his impressive dominance over Otte, but two days later was obscured by Sinner. On this occasion, for the first time in his newly established career, his game appeared blunted.

Was his body starting to remind him he’s a teen, capable of formidable performances, but still to develop that endurance and resilience which are needed to maintain peak cruising over longer stretches?

Then followed defeats in Hamburg and Umag finals on clay. A final itself cannot be considered a disappointing result, but his halo of invincibility was dimmed.

Particular concern was his second defeat in a month to Sinner, where he appeared at loss for solutions over the last one hour and a half, his boisterous self-confidence slowly deflating and his body language revealing frustration. In his press conference, Alcaraz admitted such a sense of helplessness and said to be determined to figure out a way to win against the Italian. 

The point is that Alcaraz made such a great impression in the first part of this season that it has become hard to believe he can lose a match.

At his best, he can deliver any shot at any moment, with a variety rarely seen before. In an inspired instant, he can switch from herculean ball-striking to caressing a dropshot, which will land, bounceless, a few inches after the net. What about his eagerness to volley, often following his wondrously effective kick serve? Not to mention his serve which alternates power and spin, his endurance in winning long rallies, scuttling far and beyond to fling in a winner from out of the blue. Opponents cannot but be befuddled. 

And then, is clay really the surface that best suits his game? In an interview with Marca, he said he’s comfortable on all surfaces but feels that his dynamic game most suits hard courts. If we couple this statement with his enthusiasm for being in Montreal and playing the Canadian Open for the first time, after throwing in some hard work for a successful transition from clay to hard, we can be positive that the fire has been kindled, and the countdown for reaching the highest ranking orbits is running once again.      

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Emma Raducanu Unfazed By Possibility Of Big Rankings Drop At US Open

The British tennis sensation says she is ready to deal with whatever happens in the coming weeks.

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Emma Raducanu reacts during a Women's Singles match at the 2021 US Open, Monday, Sep. 6, 2021 in Flushing, NY. (Darren Carroll/USTA)

Emma Raducanu says it will be nice for her to close a chapter in her career when she returns to the US Open later this month to defend her title. 

 

The 19-year-old stunned the tennis world last year in New York when she won 10 matches in a row without dropping a set en route to claiming her maiden major title. Becoming the first qualifier in history to win the title in what was only her second appearance in the main draw of a Grand Slam. The triumph elevated her from a ranking position of 150th to 23rd. Since then, she has peaked at a career-high of 10th which is her current position. 

Faced with a surge in media attention and endorsements, Raducanu has found it tough going on the Tour in recent months. She is yet to reach the final of another tournament and has won 11 out of 24 matches played on the WTA Tour so far this season. Reaching the quarter-finals of tournaments in Stuttgart and Washington.   

Besides her lacklustre results, the Brit has also had to contend with a series of physical issues which has hindered her. Despite those setbacks, Raducanu insists that she isn’t feeling the pressure heading into the US Open. 

“Pressure is either what I put on myself or what I expect from myself, I think that is the biggest thing which determines how you deal with it,” she explains during an interview with Sky Sports. 
“I only feel the pressure or think about it whenever I’m in my press conference because every single question is about pressure. So the only pressure is from you guys really (the media).”

2022 is the first full season the youngster has played on the WTA Tour after making her debut last summer on the grass. Still getting to grips with various aspects of life as a professional tennis player, she has also undergone various stints with numerous coaches. Including Angelique Kerber’s former mentor Torben Beltz and more recently Dimitry Tursunov. 

Suffering second round defeats at her past three major events, Raducanu is well aware that another early exit at the US Open could result in a big drop in the rankings. As the reigning champion, she will be defending 2000 points. 

“I love New York as a place, as a tournament and as a city. I love everything about it so I’m looking forward to going back and whatever happens, I think it’s going to be a nice close to a chapter,” said Raducanu. 
“Regardless of whatever the result is, I can just start again with a clean slate. If all my points drop off then I will work my way back up. I think regardless of what happens it will be a fresh start.”

Raducanu is the ninth seed at this week’s National Bank Open in Toronto. A WTA 1000 event that features every member of the world’s top 10. She will begin her campaign against Italy’s Camila Giorgi. Should Raducanu reach the final she would be the first British woman to do so since Virginia Wade in 1972. 

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Iga Swiatek Downplays Recent Winning Streak Ahead Of North American Swing

The world No.1 is refusing to get ahead of herself going into the US Open.

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Iga Swiatek - Roland Garros 2022 (photo Roberto Dell'Olivo)

Iga Swiatek says her focus is on the present and not the past as she makes her final preparations ahead of the North American hardcourt swing. 

 

The two-time French Open champion dominated the women’s Tour earlier this season with a remarkable 37-match winning streak that saw her win six titles in a row. Becoming the first woman to record that many consecutive wins since Martina Hingis did so back in 1997. In total, she was unbeaten for 135 days during a period where she topped the world ranking for the first time following Ash Barty’s retirement from the sport. 

However, in recent weeks things haven’t gone entirely smoothly for the Pole who was knocked out in the third round at Wimbledon by Alize Cornet. Then on home territory at the Warsaw Open, she fell in the quarter-finals to Caroline Garcia who went on to claim the title. 

Swiatek will be hoping to regain some momentum at the National Bank Open in Toronto which will get underway on Monday. It will be only her second appearance at the tournament and her first since 2019 when as a qualifier she stunned Caroline Wozniacki before falling to Naomi Osaka.  

“I know there are many players who did even more, but I’m pretty proud of what I did in the first part of the season,” Swiatek told reporters on Saturday. “I hope this gives me some freedom to play freely because I don’t have to prove anything. On the other hand, it can also pressure me, so I’m just trying not to think about what happened but prepare for what’s coming.”

Despite her recent blips on the Tour, Swiatek will be the favourite to triumph in Toronto. She has won every WTA 1000 tournament which has taken place so far this year. In total she has played 51 matches in 2022, winning 46 of them. 

Despite the success, the 21-year-old is keen to improve her game even further. She is currentl;y coached by Tomasz Wiktorowski who has previously worked with Agnieszka Radwanska. 

“I just hope I’m not going to be only focused on winning, winning, winning because I want to also improve some stuff in my game,” Swiatek explains. “We had time to practice a little bit more after Roland Garros and after Wimbledon. So I hope that I’ll implement those things.”

In her draw, Swiatek will face either Shelby Rogers or Veronika Kudermetova in her opening match. Rogers is currently playing at the Silicon Valley Classic and has reached the final. Then she could play Leylah Fernandez in the next round. Also in her section of the draw are Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Garbine Mugurza. All of which are potential quarter-final opponents. 

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