Naomi Osaka Brushes Aside Pavlyuchenkova At 2021 Australian Open - UBITENNIS
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Naomi Osaka Brushes Aside Pavlyuchenkova At 2021 Australian Open

Naomi Osaka started her 2021 Australian Open campaign in impressive style with a 6-1 6-2 win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

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Naomi Osaka started her 2021 Australian Open campaign in impressive style with a 6-1 6-2 win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

 

The Japanese player, 23, won the Melbourne Grand Slam in 2019. She also won the last major tournament she played in – the 2020 US Open – before opting not to play at the French Open in October.

“I was really nervous coming into this match,” Osaka said in her on-court interview. “I played her before and it was really tough so I just wanted to play well.”

The World No.3 continued, “I think physically everyone feels like their body is shocked, coming in and playing matches so suddenly after such a long break. But I think we’re all getting used to it and all in all everyone is just really happy to be here.”

Osaka charges out of the blocks

Osaka made a stunning start. She won both of her first two service games to love and she relentlessly hunted down two breaks to open up a 4-0 lead.

Pavlyuchenkova was not even playing badly. She struck the ball well and got into good positions to win both of her service games. Unfortunately for her, the World No.3 seemed determined to make it hard as possible for her to win any game, and she fought back to get the breaks.

In the fifth game, Osaka’s level finally dropped. She made a few errors which allowed the Russian to break her serve and reduce the deficit to 4-1.

The Japanese player re-discovered her rhythm in the next game. She struck the ball superbly – just as she had in the first four games – and broke Pavlyuchenkova for the third time in a row.

Osaka looked so confident by this stage. She clinically closed out the first set 6-1 with a comfortable hold.

Osaka responds well to improvement from Pavlyuchenkova

Pavlyuchenkova battled to her first hold of the match at the start of the second set. But she was unable to put any pressure on Osaka’s serve, and the Japanese player held easily.

Then the World No.3 raised her level. She hit a blistering forehand winner that zipped past Pavlyuchenkova to make it 15-30 and sealed the break two points later with a classy backhand pass.

Both players held relatively comfortably to move the score along to 3-2 in Osaka’s favour. Then the Russian unleashed a series of huge forehands to give herself half a chance of a break at deuce. However, the Japanese player held on to maintain her lead.

Osaka went after Pavlyuchenkova’s serve again and she was rewarded with another break. She then re-focused after falling 0-30 behind to hold and seal her place in the second round.

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COMMENT: The French Open Women’s Finalists Are Worth Watching

Columnist James Beck reflects on what has been a very unpredictable women’s tournament at Roland Garros.

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Barbora Krejcikova - Roland Garros 2021 (via Twitter, @rolandgarros)

This French Open hasn’t looked like a Grand Slam women’s championship since the first couple of rounds.

 

At first glance, the final four players looked more like a low-level WTA Tour tournament semifinal field with only one top 30 player still around. And now Saturday’s final features No. 32-ranked Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia against No. 33-ranked Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic.

They aren’t household names yet.

The setting is pretty gloomy on the surface for the same court that will play host to maybe the most important and most intriguing meeting of the Rafa Nadal-Novak Djokovic long-running rivalry.

FROM OBSCURITY TO GRAND SLAM SINGLES CHAMPION

But there’s more to this women’s final than you might expect, considering the participants and their obscurity until the last few weeks.

Especially in the case of Krejcikova.

This 25-year-old who had never been heard from in singles until she won the WTA tournament  in Strasbourg, France, the week before the French Open.  She is a former world’s No. 1 doubles player, but as neat to watch as doubles are, doubles rankings are rather insignificant to the average tennis fan.

Not everyone keeps up with the doubles rankings except the players at/or near the top of the list.

Just the same, Krejcikova and long-time doubles partner Katerina Siniakova are in the French Open doubles semifinals. The pair won French Open and Wimbledon doubles titles back-to-back in 2018. They also teamed up as juniors to win three of the four junior Grand Slams in doubles — French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Krejcikova also has been part of the last three title-winning Australian Open mixed doubles teams.

KREJCIKOVA MASTER OF BACKHAND DOWN THE LINE

But watching Krejcikova score victories over 17-year-old want-to-be superstar Cori Gauff in the quarterfinals and then 25-year-old Greek Maria Sakkari in the semifinals was spine-tingling, keeping you on the edge of your seat. Ranked at No. 18 currently, Sakkari was the only top 30 player still playing when the semifinals rolled around.

Krejcikova can turn the simplest-looking shot into a nightmare. She is totally unpredictable . . . until the match is on the line. Then she often becomes sheer perfection. Her backhand down the line is one of the best-kept secrets in women’s tennis.

She treats the lob as a weapon, playing moon-ball tennis at times to get her opponent out of sync. And the tactic worked numerous times down the stretch in her amazing 7-5, 4-6, 9-7 win over Sakkari on Thursday.

CZECH STANDOUT WINS MATCH TWICE

The 5-9 Czech player had to win the match twice in the last game. That was the result of the chair umpire ruling on match point No. 4 that Sakkari had hit a winner, over-ruling Hawkeye and then ordering the point to be played over. Sakkari then won that point and the next one in a show of aggressiveness to move within one point of evening the score at 8-8.

But Sakkari then committed a pair of errors to give Krejcikova a fifth match point. This time, the Czech turned a Sakkari drop shot into a Krejcikova winner, naturally a backhand down the line, to complete the match in 198 minutes.

Of course, Krejcikova had to fight off one match point herself in the 10th game of the final set before evening the set at 5-5 by winning a moon-ball battle with one of her backhand winners.

WOMEN’S DRAW FELL APART EARLY

Among current top 10 players, 2020 French Open champion Iga Swiatek was the lone member left in the field before she lost to Sakkari in the quarterfinals. And Swiatek, Serena Williams and Sofia Kenin were the only top 10 players around for the round of 16.

With 1-2-3 Ashleigh Barty, Naomi Osaka and Simon Halep falling to injuries or personal decisions in the case of Osaka, the women’s draw started to fall apart by the second round and never let up.

All of that opened the doors for Krejcikova and Pavlyuchenkova to compete for the prize of their lifetimes Saturday morning on the red clay of Roland Garros.

See James Beck’s Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier columns at postandcourier.com (search on James Beck column). James Beck can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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Barbora Krejcikova Saves Match Point To Outlast Sakkari In Roland Garros Semi-Final

Barbora Krejcikova outlasted Maria Sakkari in a dramatic Roland Garros semi-final.

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Barbora Krejcikova (@rolandgarros - Twitter)

Barbora Krejcikova outlasted Maria Sakkari 7-5 4-6 9-7 in a dramatic Roland Garros semi-final.

 

The world number 33 edged Sakkari out in 3 hours and 18 minutes to reach her first grand slam singles final.

Krejcikova will now play Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the final on Saturday.

As expected there were nerves aplenty in the opening set with both players producing lots of errors in their own service games.

Eventually in the fourth game it was Sakkari who stayed the more solid as she produced a hold of serve to take a 3-1 lead.

However in this match there would be a variety of plot twists and Krejcikova raised her level of play with the Greek’s backhand not maintaining the course.

Four games in a row took the Czech Republican to 5-3 as she would serve for the opening set.

But back came the 17th seed as a good return game and confident serving ensured that it was back at 5-5 as this low-quality opening set was reaching its conclusion.

The shifts in momentum was complete when Krejcikova produced a confident service game and applied the pressure on her opponent in the next game.

Sakkari faltered when it mattered most and the world number 33 was one set away from her first singles grand slam final.

However Sakkari was too mentally tough to let her level drop in the second set as she proved why she belonged in the semi-finals.

Grit, determination and world-class defensive skills allowed to her grind more errors out of a static Krejcikova.

Four games in a row from Sakkari saw her establish a 4-0 lead and control of the second set.

Once again, the momentum shifted as Krejcikova showed mental grit of her own to avoid a 5-0 deficit and gain one of the breaks back as she looked to test Sakkari’s inexperience.

After a few nervy shot-making, the Greek used every inch of her strength and muscle to make a backhand cross-court that Krejcikova was unable to volley.

A massive celebration followed and getting the crowd on her side as Sakkari held her nerve to force a deciding set.

Krejcikova proceeded to take a long bathroom break which didn’t help her cause as all the momentum was with Sakkari.

A break in the third game saw the motivated Greek take a 2-1 lead, then consolidate in a tough service game for 3-1.

The world number three managed to keep her nerve and make the match close with the Czech taking the more risks in crucial service points.

After saving match point, Krejcikova then took advantage of some poor decision-making from the Greek and tentative hitting on deuces.

Some great variety in pace saw Krejcikova break back and it was now at 5-5 in the final set.

As the match approached extra innings, it was starting to feel Krejcikova was dictating the match on her terms.

The Czech Republican had three match points in the 14th game but Sakkari had nerves of steel with two cross-court backhands and an ace down the middle saving them. Sakkari would go onto hold 7-7 as she once again pumped the crowd up.

However the inevitable was delayed and a poor drop shot from Sakkari allowed Krejcikova to hit a backhand winner and claim victory in 3 hours and 18 minutes.

Krejcikova will play her first grand slam singles final on Saturday against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

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Pavlyuchenkova Happy And Focused On Grand Slam Prize

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is focused on winning her first grand slam.

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Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (@rolandgarros - Twitter)

The Russian will be playing in first major final on Saturday and took the time after her big win to explain how happy she was to make it on Thursday after the match.

 

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will be playing in her first grand slam final and explained to the media what it means to her and who she is doing this for.

“Yeah, no, it’s definitely for myself. There are no people, nobody. I was playing that last game I was serving for, I was totally in my zone, focusing. I’m here right now. I know what I have to do. Definitely, it’s totally for myself, yeah”.

It took 52 major tournaments for the world number 32 to reach a grand slam final and she was asked about it in her post match press conference as she had joined an exclusive club with Roberta Vinci and Franchesca Schiavone.

“Good to know. I’m happy to be among those great players, to join that club, I would love to go further and to get more. I’m happy, but I still focused and I feel like I can do better maybe. That’s what I want at least”.

Pavlyuchenkova has envisioned winning a grand slam since she started playing tennis and now that she is oh so close she gave her thoughts on potentially winning her first ever major.

“Like this something I’ve been thinking about every single time. I think as tennis players, that’s the only goal I think we have in the head. That’s why we playing tennis. That’s for us the biggest achievement you can get. That’s what you playing for, I think, of course”.

The Dubai resident then went to speak about the match and how she was able to break her opponent down to get the win today and book her spot in the final.

“Yes, definitely it was a bit tougher because you think, Okay, I’m ranked higher, whatever. For both of us, it was the first semifinal. It definitely was a lot of mental game going on there, for sure”.

She would go on to add ” I didn’t feel great today. I actually felt I was a bit negative on myself because I thought I expected myself playing better. I just didn’t feel like I was playing good. I don’t know why. So I was not really enjoying it”.

Pavlyuchenkova will either face Maria Sakkari or Barbora Krejcikova and it will be a first time grand slam final for both players.

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