Underdog Iga Swiatek Clinches Historic French Open Title - UBITENNIS
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Underdog Iga Swiatek Clinches Historic French Open Title

The 19-year-old tennis sensation will break into the world’s top 20 for the first time in her career.

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Iga Swiatek (@rolandgarros on Twitter)

Iga Swiatek has become the first Polish player in history to win a Grand Slam title after defeating Sofia Kenin in a roller-coaster match at the French Open.

The rising star, who had never won a WTA title of any kind until now, saw off Kenin 6-4, 6-1, in a showdown that saw her rival struggle with injury during the closing stages. Swiatek’s 84-minute triumph saw her hit more than two times as many winners than Kenin (25-10) as she broke her six times in total. She has become the first female player to win the tournament without dropping a set throughout since Justine Henin in 2007.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” a stunned Swiatek commented on her Grand Slam triumph.
“I am so happy and so glad that my family was here to watch me play.
“It’s crazy. Two years ago I won a junior Grand Slam (at Wimbledon) and right now I’m here. It feels like such a short time and I am just so overwhelmed.”

In what was a rematch of their clash in the junior competition of the tournament four years ago, 19-year-old Swiatek battled through a nerve-stricken opening set which had various twists and turns resembling San Francisco’s infamous Lombard street. Prior to Paris her only experience of a tournament final on the WTA Tour was at a International event in Lugano, Switzerland. A stark contrast to reigning Australian Open champion Kenin who was playing in her seventh.

The underdog started the match guns blazing with a three-game winning streak that saw her open up an early lead. However, Swiatek’s stronghold didn’t last for long with Kenin hitting back with revenge as she took advantage of a tentative service game by her opponent to claw back and level. The cat and mouse chase continued with the world No.53 withstanding some powerful hitting from across the court as she produced a series of impressive drop shots. Swiatek had a chance to close the set out whilst leading 5-3 but failed to convert. Enabling Kenin to break back once again with the help of a winning return. Despite the blip, she prevailed in the following game after a backhand from the frustrated American sailed wide.

Four games away from the biggest title of her career, Swiatek’s momentum in the match came to a halt after Kenin walked off the court for a medical timeout three games into the second set. The issue was related to her upper left leg which she has had some taping on. Kenin returned to the court with extra taping around her entire thigh.

Resuming play, the dynamic of the final had changed. Kenin was still fighting hard but it was visible that she was struggling with her movement on the court and close to tears. Meanwhile, Swiatek stuck to her game plan as she continued to show impressive mental resistance on the court. Something she attributes to her time spent with sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz.

Surging towards the French Open crown Swiatek showed little signs of nerves as she raced to a set and 5-1 lead. Serving for the title, a serve down the centre of the court was returned out by Kenin to hand the Pole her first championship point. Victory was then sealed with the help of a forehand winner aimed at the corner of the court.

“I think I was mentally consistent and I just wanted to play aggressive as I have done in previous rounds,” said the newly crowned champion.
“I felt like today was really stressful for me. It was kinda hard but I don’t actually know what made the difference (between her and Kenin). I won the match point and that made the difference.”

Swiatek is the seventh unseeded woman to contest the final of a major tournament since 2010 and the third to win. Following in the footsteps of Jelena Ostapenko at the 2017 French Open and Sloane Stephens at 2017 US Open. Furthermore, she is the second-lowest ranked player to contest a French Open final since the WTA ranking system was created in 1975.

“For another underdog to win a Grand Slam in women’s tennis, it’s crazy,” she commented.

Besides the victory, the Pole also paid tribute to her father. Tomasz Swiatek is a former professional rower who represented his country at the 1988 Summer Olympics.

“He taught me how to be a professional (athlete). It’s hard to describe but he raised me in this way that I feel pretty confident on the court. He gave us everything,” she said in tribute.

Swiatek will rise to 17th in the world rankings on Monday. She exits Roland Garros with $1,900,000 in prize money which is more than what she had earned in her entire career prior to the tournament.

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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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