Two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza beat Kristina Mladenovic 6-2 6-4 after 98 minutes to reach the second round at the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open.
Muguruza had lost two of her three previuos head-to-head matches against Mladenovic, but she beat her French rival in their most recent clash in Monterrey in 2019.
The Spanish player hit 17 winners and converted 5 of her 11 break points. Mladenovic got just 2 of her 10 break points and made 11 double faults.
Muguruza finished runner-up to Sofia Kenin in the Australian Open final and reached two back-to-back quarter finals in Doha and Dubai last year.
Mladenovic started the match with an early break in the opening game and held serve to open up a 2-0 lead. Muguruza saved a break point in the third game with a backhand winner down the line. The former Roland Garros and Wimbledon champion hit an error-forcing return to break back for 2-2.
Muguruza hit a forehand down the line winner to earn another break point in the sixth game and converted it to open up a 4-2 lead after Mladenovic misfired her volley.
Muguruza closed out the first set with her third break at 5-2, when Mladenovic made her fifth double fault on the second set point.
Mladenovic earned three break points at 2-2 in the second set and three more chances at 3-3. The French player converted her sixth chance with a forehand winner to take a 4-3 lead. Mladenovic went down 0-40 in the eighth game to face three break points and drew level to deuce. Muguruza converted her fourth break point to get back on serve for 4-4.
Muguruza saved two break points with an ace and an error-forcing backhand in the ninth game. Mladenovic held a 40-0 lead, as she was serving to stay in the match at 5-4. Muguruza earned a match point, as Mladenovic made her second double fault. Muguruza did not convert her first chance, as she sent her forehand long.
Muguruza broke serve to close out the match, as Mladenovic hit three double faults. The Spaniard set up a second round clash against Aliaksandra Sasnovich from Belarus, who beat Hungarian qualifier Anna Bondar 6-2 6-3.
“I feel like I started getting used to the wind and the court, so I started a little bit hitting the ball properly, moving a little bit weird, just getting my feet together. Mladenovic played well, she took the advantage, and then i started to feel a little bit better, and I turned the score around. I was trying to do my game, dominating, not letting her dominate the point. It’s the first match, it’s a little bit tricky to get the feeling, but I am happy with the win”, said Muguruza.
The Slow And Successful Rise Of Veronika Kudermetova
Let us look at the long path to success at high levels of the current Russian number two, who just finished as the runner-up in Abu Dhabi.
While waiting for the end of the Australian quarantine, UbiTennis continues our analysis of the players involved in the first tournament of the year, the WTA 500 in Abu Dhabi.
After the article dedicated to Ekaterina Alexandrova, I shall continue with the Russian line by discussing Veronika Kudermetova. For her, the week in the Emirates was a very positive one, given that for the first time in her career she managed to reach the final of a WTA 500 event (the new denomination of the Premier tournaments, which assign 470 points to the winner). During the tournament, Kudermetova defeated Kontaveit, Turati, Badosa, Svitolina and Kostyuk, losing only to Aryna Sabalenka (who, between the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, has an active winning streak of 15 matches). Veronika’s excellent moment is validated by the best ranking she achieved this week at N.36 – had she won the final, she would have become the Russian N.1, overtaking Alexandrova.
It should be emphasized, however, that all the talk about the rankings is muddled by the rules introduced with the pandemic, rules that tend to maintain the status quo, and in fact disfavour up-and-coming players like Kudermetova. Had only the results obtained in 2020 been counted, Veronika would have ended the season ranked 29th instead of 46th. Then, by factoring in the final reached in the UAE last Wednesday, her spot in the Top 30 would have been cemented even further. It might seem senseless to keep referring to a virtual ranking based on past rules (which are slated to come back in March, though), but I think it helps to identify the players who are doing better, despite the many difficulties of the current period. In fact, we know that we are playing less than usual, and this makes it more difficult to build that momentum which, thanks to above average conditions of form and enthusiasm, translates into significant leaps in quality and standing.
As for Kudermetova, there are at least two aspects of her career that, in my opinion, make her particularly interesting: the difficulties she faced to find financial support in her teenage years, and the comparison with her peers born in 1997, a special year for women’s tennis. In fact, Veronika was born in the same year as successful and precocious players such as Bencic, Ostapenko and Osaka, as well as Konjuh (unfortunately stopped by injuries) and Kasatkina, her Russian “twin” with whom she shared the years on the junior tour. Let’s start from those years.
On page 2, Kudermetova’s beginnings
Dayana Yastremska Out Of Australian Open After ITF Upholds Provisional Ban
The attempt by the 20-year-old to play in the first grand slam of 2021 has failed amid speculation of another appeal to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
It’s official Dayana Yastremska will not be competing at the Australian Open this year after an appeal to a provisional doping ban was rejected.
The world No.29 has travelled to Melbourne hoping she would be able to play the first grand slam of the year but now is out of the tournament. She had earlier tested positive for a banned substance Metabolite Mesterlone but was given a chance to appeal a provisional suspension. Explaining why she was able to board a flight organised by Tennis Australia in spite of ITF rules. The rulebook states that players serving a provisional ban are not allowed to participate in activities organised by a tournament.
“An application by Dayana Yastremska to lift the provisional suspension imposed on her on 7 January 2021 under Article 8.3.1(c) of the 2020 Tennis Anti-Doping Programme has been denied by the Chair of the Independent Tribunal convened to hear her case,” the ITF said in a statement.
“This decision is subject to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport by Ms. Yastremska, WADA and the National Anti-Doping Center of Ukraine.”
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.
“Only a very low concentration of mesterolone metabolite was detected in my urine,” she 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.”
The 20-year-old is among 72 players who have been placed into strict isolation in Melbourne following a series of positive COVID-19 cases detected on flights en route to the country. She is not allowed to leave her room for 14 days and even then she will be prohibited from entering Melbourne Park, home of the Australian Open, following to the latest ruling.
The announcement is a major blow to the beginning of Yastremska’s season. She will have to wait to see what happens next and if she is able to make another appeal before the next event after the first grand slam of the year.
There have been no official statement from Yastremska or her team following the ITF’s decision.
Ash Barty Draws Inspiration From Olympic Great In Return After 11-Month Break
After spending time away from the tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a determined Barty weighs up her chances at next month’s Australian Open.
For Ash Barty her main focus is on ‘doing the right things’ instead of winning titles as she nears her return to professional tennis after almost a year on the sidelines.
Despite being the highest ranked player in women’s tennis, the 24-year-old hasn’t played a match on the Tour since her semi-final loss to Petra Kvitova at the Doha Open on February 28th 2020. Shortly after that match, the sport came to a halt for weeks as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world. Making the running of professional tournaments near impossible. Then when the sport resumed in the summer with a series of COVID-19 restrictions implemented, Barty was one of the few who decided to not travel internationally.
The inevitable question is how much will the break have an impact on the Australian and her game when she takes on the best in the world? The first public glimpse of Barty’s form will be displayed in less than a week’s time when she plays an exhibition event in Adelaide along with the likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep. The top three ranked players of the Tour’s have been quarantined in Adelaide in part of a deal struck by Tennis Australia.
“I feel like I’ve done all the work,” Barty told ABC News on Saturday.
“I feel like we’ve ticked the boxes and I’m feeling like every single year we continue to develop my game and it’s better and better.
“Obviously I haven’t played competition tennis for a year now so it’s going to be a challenge but we also know that hopefully again it will be a long season and we don’t have to panic if we don’t get the perfect start.”
Whilst taking it all in her stride, Barty hasn’t got long to tune up her game before the Australian Open commences on February 8th. A later than usual start date due to the pandemic. A semi-finalist of the tournament 12 months ago, she is seeking to end her country’s drought of a home champion. The last to do so was Chris O’Neil in 1978.
Due to her ranking, Barty will be the top seed in Melbourne Park but she is refusing to get ahead of herself when it comes to her chances of Grand Slam glory. She has reached the fourth round or better at the last six majors she has played in.
“It’s about doing the right things right from the start, from the very first match, and whether I win the match or not, if I go through the right processes and do things the way we’ve always done it, I’ll sleep well at night regardless of the results,” Barty explains.
“That’s a really important part of our make-up with our whole team. Everyone plays a role and we try and do a job to the best of our ability on that given day.
“If it’s good enough, it is. And if it’s not, it’s not. But that’s okay.”
As to how she will handle the pressure in the coming weeks, the Grand Slam champion plans to follow the example set by compatriot Cathy Freeman. A former 400 meter runner who won a gold medal in front of her home crowd at the 2000 Olympic Games.
“I think her analogy, particularly through the Sydney Olympics, was one of the best I have ever heard,” she said.
“Her picturing herself as a young girl inside a house and seeing the storm outside, you can see it but you don’t hear it. That is really effective and incredible.
“For me it is about accepting that there is noise and extra attention and talk but ultimately that doesn’t change how I hit a tennis ball, that doesn’t change how I prepare.
“As long as I do all of my processes the right way and make decisions for the right reasons then regardless of whether it is a win or a loss, I sleep well at night knowing we have done everything possible to try and give ourselves the best chance.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time Barty has returned to the sport following a lengthy break after taking a 18-month leave back in 2014 where she even briefly played another sport before returning. Barty played cricket in the Women’s Big Bash League. Since returning, she has won eight WTA titles, including the WTA Finals and French Open during 2019.
The one-day Adelaide exhibition, which is where Barty will kick-off her return, will take place on January 29.
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