Naomi Osaka Saves Match Points To Knock Out Muguruza - UBITENNIS
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Naomi Osaka Saves Match Points To Knock Out Muguruza

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Naomi Osaka (@AustralianOpen on Twitter)

Naomi Osaka produced an extraordinary comeback from match point down in the decider to stun Garbine Muguruza 4-6 6-4 7-5 and book her quarter-final place at the 2021 Australian Open.

 

The Japanese player, 23, looked to be heading out of the tournament at 3-5 and 15-40 in the third set. But she summoned her best tennis when she needed it most to turn the contest around.

“I was a bit intimidated because I knew she was playing really coming into this match,” Osaka said in her on-court interview. “In the stressful points I had to go within myself. I know I probably hit a lot of unforced errors, but it was something I needed to do because I couldn’t really give her any short balls because she would finish it.”

Although Muguruza did not do a lot wrong, this was still a big opportunity that passed her by. She was in excellent form and she would have had a great chance to win her first Grand Slam title since 2017 if she had beaten the World No.3, who was one of the pre-tournament favourites.

Muguruza seizes the initiative

Garbine Muguruza (@Australian Open on Twitter)

Osaka started the match superbly. She hit a couple of aces and a series of fierce groundstrokes to open up a 2-0 lead. However, she double faulted at 30-30 in game three and Muguruza pounced to break back and then held to make it 2-2.

The next four games only took about 10 minutes as both players settled into a good rhythm on serve and moved the score along to 4-4.

Muguruza put Osaka under pressure immediately in game nine with a crisp forehand winner. And the Japanese player faltered. She made three unforced errors to hand the Spaniard a break at a critical time.

Muguruza made sure she did not give Osaka a way back into the set. She served well and drew a couple of errors from her opponent’s racket as she held to clinch the opener 6-4.

Osaka hits back

Muguruza maintained her momentum early in the second set. She hit a classy forehand winner and a precise lob to gain an immediate break. She then held to love to make it 2-0.

Osaka stopped the rot in style with a forehand winner and two aces during a love hold that took just 48 seconds. Then the Spaniard gave her a route back into the set by making a series of errors to surrender her serve.

The middle of the second set mirrored the first. Both players serenely held serve twice to make it 4-4 once again. The World No.3 then held again to lead 5-4.

At the end of the first set, it was Osaka who slipped up. In the last game of the second set, it was Muguruza’s turn. She made three unforced errors to provide the Japanese player with three break points, and the three-time Grand Slam champion took the third to level the match.

Osaka snatches victory from the jaws of defeat

Naomi Osaka (@AustralianOpen on Twitter)

The decider went with serve for the first four games. Then Osaka made a sloppy error and a double fault to hand Muguruza a break. She threw her racket away and looked very frustrated at the changeover.

After a gutsy hold from the Spaniard made it 4-2, both players produced some excellent tennis to hold serve and move the score along to 5-3.

It looked as if the Japanese player was about to meekly surrender when she made three consecutive errors to hand Muguruza two match points.

With her place in the Australian Open slipping away, Osaka somehow found strength within. She saved the first match point with a huge ace and drilled a forehand into the corner to force an error from the Spaniard on the second. Then she struck a forehand winner and an ace to secure the hold.

The World No.3 cranked up the pressure on Muguruza when she was serving for the match with some massive hitting. The Spaniard managed to save two break points, but Osaka hit two consecutive winners to seize it and level the score at 5-5.

By this stage, Muguruza was starting to look forlorn as she wondered whether her chance had gone. She played two excellent points in game eleven but the Japanese player held comfortably.

Any fighting spirit within the Spaniard seemed to leave her in the next game. She made three unforced errors and dropped her serve to love. And just like that, her Melbourne dream was over.

Hsieh awaits Osaka in last eight

Osaka, meanwhile, must now prepare for a quarter-final with one of this year’s surprise packages, Su-Wei Hsieh. The inventive 35-year-old from Chinese Taipei thrashed 19th seed Marketa Vondrousova 6-4 6-2. And the Japanese star is very familiar with her game after five previous meetings.

“I’m not really looking forward to it,” Osaka admitted. “She’s going to be really tough. Every time I played her it was three sets and really long.”

She continued, “All the people she’s played are super-difficult. And I feel like when I play her, I just have to expect everything.”

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Kim Clijsters Still Capable Of Top-Level Wins, Says Former world No.1 Murray

Murray gives his verdict on Clijsters’ current form and if she can return to the top of the game.

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Image via WTA Insider on Twitter

Andy Murray believes it is only a matter of time before Belgium’s Kim Clijsters is able to return to her winning ways on the Tour.

 

The 38-year-old is currently in the process of her latest comeback which has been hampered by both injury and the COVID-19 pandemic. Since returning to the Tour at the 2020 Dubai Tennis Championships, Clijsters has only played in five tournaments and is yet to win a match. Her most recent defeat was at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells where she was ousted 6-3, 5-7, 6-3, by Hsieh Su-Wei.

It was in Indian Wells where Clijsters held a hitting session with Murray who says he was impressed by her level of play. Speaking to reporters in Antwerp where he is playing in the European Open this week, the three-time Grand Slam champion believes she is heading in the right direction.

“She still hits the ball fantastic. I think the decision-making and things like that will come with more matches,” atptour.com quoted Murray as saying. “I think physically she can get stronger. I think that was probably one of her biggest strengths when she was at the top of the game and as successful as she was.
“With more time, more matches, more time on the practice court, physically she’ll keep getting better. It’s not easy after such a long time out of the game, but I’m sure she can still win matches at the highest level, judging on how she’s handled herself so well.”

Following her most recent match, Clijsters said she is progressing well on the Tour given her lack of match play in recent times. She has only played two matches this year. The other took place in Chicago where she lost to Keterina Siniakova in three sets.

“I think for me the most important thing is that, what I talked with my coach and my trainer about, my fitness coach, was physically being able to get through these matches without big concerns. That was the main goal,” Clisjters said following her loss to Su-Wei.
“I came close, but still have a good feeling about, you know I’ve made progression and I think that’s the most important thing.”

Clijsters has won 41 WTA titles during her career with the last of those occurring a decade ago at the 2011 Australian Open. She has held the world No.1 spot for 20 weeks and has earned more than $24.5M in prize money.

It is unclear as to what tournament Clijsters will be playing next.

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Aryna Sabalenka Believes Experience Is The Key To Grand Slam Glory

The world No.2 reflects on her year so far as she aims to end the season on a high.

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Aryna Sabalenka returns a shot during a Women's Doubles quarterfinal match at the 2021 US Open, Tuesday, Sep. 7, 2021 in Flushing, NY. (Darren Carroll/USTA)

This year has been full of mixed emotions for Aryna Sabalenka when it comes to playing in the four most prestigious tournaments of the sport.

 

In the Grand Slams the world No.2 achieved the best performances of her career to date by reaching the semi-finals at both Wimbledon and the US Open. A breakout run for the Belarussian who had never gone beyond the fourth round of a major until this season. She was denied a place in her maiden final by Karolina Pliskova and Leylah Fernandez with both of those matches being three-set encounters.

Whilst Sabalenka has a lot to be proud of when it comes to these results, does she have any regrets as well?

“I would go back to my semifinal matches at the US Open and Wimbledon. I would have tried to do everything differently – maybe I would have been less nervous,” she told reporters during her pre-tournament press conference at the Kremlin Cup. “The game was very nervous, and I would have returned to these matches to worry less.”

The 23-year-old believes her experiences will place her on a strong footing going into future Grand Slam events. In recent years she has also turned to the help of a sports psychologist but says it doesn’t fully prepare her for the real thing.

“I have been working with a psychologist for a very long time. In fact, if you look at me 4 years ago and now, I have improved my psychological condition,” she said.
“It seems to me that no psychologist will prepare me for these situations (in Grand Slams). You need to go through it yourself, feel it, get nervous, understand this situation for yourself.’
“I’m more than sure that the next semifinal at the Slam I won’t be so nervous. I will act more confidently, I won’t make the stupid errors that I made in important moments in the last semi-final. It’s a matter of experience, you need to go through it. I don’t think a psychologist will be able to prepare for this.”

So far this season Sabalenka has contested three Tour finals, winning titles in Abu Dhabi and Madrid. Overall, she has won 43 matches on the WTA Tour which is the third highest tally after Barbora Krejcikova (44) and Ons Jabeur (48). She is also currently at a ranking high of second in the world and has defeated three top 10 players – Krejcikova, Ash Barty and Simona Halep.

However, Sabalenka believes there is still room for her to improve further. She is currently coached by Anton Dubrov who previously worked as her hitting partner for 18 months.

“I think I played very consistently this year, but, of course, it is possible to be more consistent. I have to keep working on myself, be more consistent. I think I’m moving in the right direction, I just need to keep working on myself.” She states.

This week’s Kremlin Cup will be the first tournament Sabalenka has played since the US Open. She was forced to miss Indian Wells after testing positive for COVID-19 which left her bed bound for four days. Whilst admitting she is yet to reach her full fitness since being ill, Sabalenka is not letting that get in her way.

“I’m not in my best shape, but I know that I need the upcoming matches in the Kremlin Cup, because I haven’t played for almost a month. Maybe I haven’t returned to 100% of my physical form, but psychologically I am at my maximum and ready to win no matter what.” She concludes.

Sabalenka is the top seed in Moscow and will begin her campaign against Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic.

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Leylah Fernandez Overcomes Pavlyuchenkova To Reach Indian Wells Fourth Round

It was a tough day at the office for the US Open runner-up.

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Leylah Fernandez (Darren Carroll/USTA)

Leylah Fernandez pulled off one of her famous comebacks in the Californian desert beating the number nine seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 in two hours and 41 minutes.

 

The Canadian hit 24 winners in the win while the Russian hit 46 unforced errors in a match that went back and forth before Fernandez was able to pull through in the end.

“What I am most proud of is the way that I fought and honestly today wasn’t my best performance,” Fernandez said afterwards. “But I fought for every point and I was trying to figure things out. I was proud I was able to find a way to get back in the match and get the win”.

After holding serve in her opening service game the world number 28 started putting the pressure right away on the Russian by getting two early break points but failed to convert.

At 3-3, it was Fernandez facing the pressure on her serve and the world number 13 had four looks at a breakpoint. On the fourth the Canadian cracked and double-faulted for the first break of serve of the match.

The Russian lead didn’t last long as the Canadian responded right away in the following game and the next four games went with breaks of serve as both players were struggling to hold serve.

Pavlyuchenkova eventually served for the set at 6-5 and was able to serve it out to take a 7-5 lead.

Pavlyuchenkova carried the momentum into the second set and broke Fernandez’s serve in the first game of the set but at 2-1 got broken once again and the set went back on serve.

It stayed on serve until 4-3 when Fernandez managed to get the crucial break of serve and that was enough for her to serve out the second set.

The first four games of the third set went on serve and at 2-2 again it was the Montreal native earning a breakpoint and breaking once again and despite facing pressure from the Russian was able to serve out the match.

After the match in her on-court interview, Fernandez was asked about all the support she has been getting recently and what it means to her to play on such a big stage.

“I got goosebumps,’ she said. “I was super excited to play here in Indian Wells for the first time and to play in a stadium where so many legends played who fought and won so it’s an honor to be here. I can’t wait to play my next match”.

Fernandez will next face the American Shelby Rogers in the round of 16 on Tuesday after she beat the Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu 6-0, 6-2.

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