Five Things To Know About The WTA Finals - UBITENNIS
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Five Things To Know About The WTA Finals

Newcomers, familiar faces and history makers. This year’s tournament is one full of intrigue.

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Image via https://twitter.com/WTA/

The WTA Tour has reached its climax with the prestigious year-end Finals taking place in South America for the first time at the Panamerican Tennis Center in Mexico.

 

The eight highest ranked players have qualified for the event based on the points they have earned over the past 12 months. At stake is a prize money offering of up to $1.68M should a player clinch the title without losing a single match, as well as a maximum of 1500 ranking points.

Players have been separated into two groups with the top two of those progressing to the knockout stages later in the week. Group Chichén Itzá will feature Aryna Sabalenka, Maria Sakkari, Iga Swiatek and Paula Badosa. Meanwhile, Group Teotihuacán has Barbora Krejcikova, Karolina Pliskova, Garbiñe Muguruza and Anett Kontaveit.

Ahead of the 2021 WTA Finals getting underway, here are five facts to know about this year’s tournament.

The debutantes

This year six out of the eight participants in the WTA Finals are playing in the tournament for the first time in their careers. The only exceptions are Pliskova and Muguruza. This year will be the fifth time Pliskova has played in the season-ending event which is the joint-four highest number of appearances among active players. Only Svetlana Kuznetsova, Petra Kvitova and Serena Williams have played in more. The Czech has managed to progress out of the group stages in three out of her four previous appearances but is yet to make a final. Meanwhile, two-time Grand Slam winner Muguruza will be making her fourth appearance and her first since 2017. Her best run was six years ago when she reached the semi-finals.

The history makers

Sakkari and Kontaveit will be the first players representing their countries in the tournament. Greece’s Sakkari has already achieved a series of milestones for her country this season, including being the first woman to reach a Grand Slam semi-final and the first woman to crack the top 10. As for 25-year-old Kontaveit, who was the last player to qualify for the finals, she became the first Estonian to break into the world’s top 10 this season.

At the other end of the spectrum the Czech Republic will be represented in the tournament for the 10th time in a row. They are the only country to be represented in the singles draw by multiple players with Pliskova and Krejčíková taking part.

Double duty

French Open champion Krejčíková is the first player since Pliskova in 2016 to be playing in both the singles and doubles events. She is the top seed in the doubles draw alongside Katerina Siniakova, as well as the second seed in singles. Should she win both, Krejčíková would become the first player to do so at the WTA Finals since Martina Hingis back in 2000.

The Czech 25-year-old won 15 matches in a row earlier this year during May to July which is the longest winning streak achieved by a WTA player on the Tour this session.

Kontaveit on fire

Despite being the last to qualify, Kontaveit’s recent surge in form positions her as a big contender for the crown. She has won three out of the past five tournaments played in Chicago, Moscow and Cluj-Napoca. During that period she has achieved five wins over top 20 opponents with the last of those being against Simona Halep in Romania.

Kontaveit has won four titles in total this year which is more than any other player participating in the WTA Finals. The only player to have won more than her is world No.1 Ash Barty with five. Barty has chosen not to participate in the event in order to prepare for the new season.

A new group of leaders

This time last year, five out of the eight players participating had never broken into the world’s top 10 on the WTA Tour. Swiatek, Badosa, Krejcikova, Sakkari and Kontaveit all achieved this milestone in 2021.

Ranking W/C 9/11/2020Ranking W/C 8/11/2021
Iga Swiatek 179
Maria Sakkari226
Anett Kontaveit238
Paula Badosa6910
Barbora Krejčíková 743

SEE ALSO: WTA Finals Daily Preview: Fresh Faces Invade the 2021 Field

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Coach Of Elena Rybakina Dismisses Allegations Of Poor Behavior At Australian Open

Stefano Vukov explains why he believes his actions were appropriate during Rybakina’s semi-final win over Aryna Sabalenka.

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Image via AUS Open twitter

The coach of Elena Rybakina has denied accusations that he was berating his player during her clash with Victoria Azarenka at the Australian Open by saying he was just doing his job. 

 

Stefano Vukov was seen multiple times during Rybakina’s semi-final match being highly animated and making a series of critical gestures towards his player when she produced mistakes. The display prompted criticism on social media with former player Laura Robson saying on Eurosport ‘I don’t know how she (Rybakina) copes. He seems to be so negative on the side.”

Croatian-born Vukov has been working with the reigning Wimbledon champion since 2019 and previously coached Anhelina Kalinina. He was briefly a player on the Futures and Challenger Tour before going to America to study. Growing up his family left Croatia when he was a child due to the war and he spent roughly 15 years living in Italy.

“It’s easy to just take clips and then make something controversial. This is part of our sport, it’s normal,” Vukov told Fox Sports Australia when quizzed about his behaviour. 
“There’s 10,000 people out there, to get the attention of the player is definitely not easy and people don’t understand that. I have to scream out something if she’s off track.
“People can interpret that how they want but at the end of the day we’re just doing our job. Coaching is now allowed and she’s using it in the best possible way.”

This year is the first time that coaching is allowed during matches at the Australian Open but it is only allowed if players and coaches are on the same side of the court and there is no hindrance towards their opponent.  

Continuing to hit back at the criticism, Rybakina’s mentor says during the match there are key moments where he needs to remind her of certain tactics. Dismissing suggestions from some that his approach is heavy-handed in any way. 

“I think with all the emotions, sometimes the player doesn’t understand which situation of the match they are, which is absolutely normal,” he said. 
“You know, you’re flowing, you’re into a rhythm, which has happened also yesterday, for example, against Azarenka. A set, 3-1 up, two breakpoints. She stopped playing, Elena, for a couple of games, for example, instead of going for the point a little bit more.
“There are moments we try to remind her, Hey, this is the moment to push. This is the moment to defend.
“It’s normal. There are moments of the match the player doesn’t remember, for example, or in a pressure point, which side to defend more, where to serve more.
“We are there to remind them. So obviously I think that coaching is very important. I think that the player, if the player wants to listen, obviously, they should use it as much as possible, because there is some matches that a few points make the difference. Look at the beginning of yesterday. 3-2 down, two bad choices. That’s it. That’s it. She could have been 3-0 or 4-0 up.
“I don’t know, something like this. Not to be negative, but it’s just our job, right? That’s what we are there for.”

In a previous interview with Tennis Majors last year, Vukov said he and Rybakina clicked together due to ‘his energy against her calmness.’ He also described the world No.25 as  ‘a hardworking perfectionist, which sometimes works against her because sometimes she gets frustrated when things are not perfect.’

Rybakina will play Aryna Sabalenka in the Australian Open final on Saturday. As a result of her run in Melbourne, she will crack the top 10 next week for the first time regardless of how she performs in the final. 

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Iga Swiatek leads a star-studded line-up in Doha and Dubai

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Iga Swiatek leads the line-up at the WTA 500 Total Energies in Doha, which features nine of the top 10 players in the WTA Ranking. Swiatek won two Grand Slam titles at the Roland Garros and at the US Open, four WTA 1000 titles in Doha, Indian Wells, Miami and Rome and two WTA 500 titles in Stuttgart and San Diego. Swiatek also won the Roland Garros title in 2020. 

 

At the start of the 2023 season Swiatek beat Yulia Putintseva, Belinda Bencic and Martina Trevisan on the way to the semifinals at the United Cup where she lost to Jessica Pegula. Swiatek lost to eventual finalist Elena Rybakina in the fourth round at the 2023 Australian Open.

The line-up of the Doha also features 2022 Wimbledon and US Open finalist Ons Jabeur, three-time Australian Open quarter finalist Jessica Pegula, 2022 WTA Finals champion Caroline Garcia, 2020 Doha champion and this year’s Australian Open finalist Aryna Sabalenka complete the top 5 in Doha. 

Jabeur became the first Arab player to reach a Grand Slam final when she advanced to final at Wimbledon, where she finished runner-up to Elena Rybakina. She is the highest ranked African player in history. 

The top 10 line-up is rounded out by 2022 Roland Garros finalist Coco Gauff, 2022 Roland Garros semifinalist Daria Kasatkina, Olympic gold medallist Belinda Bencic and 2022 Roland Garros quarter finalist Veronika Kudemertova. Jelena Ostapenko, winner at 2017 Roland Garros, and Petra Kvitova, two-time Wimbledon champion and winner of two editions of the Doha tournament in 2018 and 2021, 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys, 2021 Indian Wells champion Paula Badosa and Brazlian top player Beatriz Hadda Maia, winner in Nottingham and Birmingham in 2022, are also signed up for this year’s edition from 13 to 18 February. 

 “It’s a great privilege to have almost all the top players confirmed for the Qatar Total Energies Open once again. Their desire to be a part of this tournament is a further confirmation of the reputation it has garnered over the years, the recognition of the organization and the maximum attention to detail everyone involved in the tournament has always put into it”, said Doha Tournament Director Saad Ali Mohannadi. 

Jabeur, Kasatkina, Kudemertova, Bencic and Ostapenko will also headline the line-up at the WTA 500 Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open, which makes its return to the calendar after its debut edition in 2021. The Abu Dhabi tournament Is scheduled from 6 to 12 February 2023. 

World number 1 Iga Swiatek and defending champion Jelena Ostapenko will lead the line up at the WTA 1000 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships from 19 to 25 February. 

The 56-player main draw includes all of the current top 10 players and 18 of the top 20 players in the WTA Ranking. Swiatek will be joined by Jabeur, Pegula and Garcia. 

The Dubai line-up features reigning Wimbledon champion and this year’s Australian Open Elena Rybakina, 2021 Roland Garros and US Open semifinalist Maria Sakkari, Australian Open semifinalist Victoria Azarenka, 2021 Roland Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova, 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu.

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Elena Rybakina aims at winning her second Grand Slam title at the Australian Open

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Reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina scored her first win in her three head-to-head matches against 2017 Roland Garros winner Jelena Ostapenko by the scoreline of 6-2 6-4 on Rod Laver Arena to reach her first Australian Open semifinal. 

 

Rybakina has kept her dream alive of winning her second Grand Slam title following her triumph over Ons Jabeur in the Wimbledon final last July. 

“I am super happy to be in the semifinals. I played really well in the quarter final, even with this rain delay and everything. Overall my match was solid. I think I have all the experience at Wimbledon, and it’s helping me now this time here in Australia and I know what to expect. For sure it’s just easier in this case after Wimbledon. I am feeling good on the court and I am just enjoying every match I am playing here. At the beginning of the tournament it feels like it’s such a long tournament, if you keep on winning. Now it seems already close. It’s still I am trying to focus just on one match. Now it’s close. That’s why everybody try even harder., fight for every ball. Now it’s only good players left. It’s gonna be tough matches”, said Rybakina. 

Ostapenko had beaten Rybakina in their previous two head-to -head matches in straight sets at Linz 2019 and Eastbourne 2021. 

A 20-minute rain delay came at an important moment, when Rybakina earned a  break point. When the match resumed after the roof was closed, Ostapenko saved a break point. Rybakina converted her second opportunity to open up a 4-1 lead, when Ostapenko hit a backhand wide. 

“I was up 3-1 and I earned a break point. I think in the end it was still a bit easier for me. I knew that she serves well, and no matters what happens in this game, the next game I am serving, so the rain break was an advantage. The break was not so long. So in the end I just stayed a bit in the gym, warmed up again, talked with the team, and went again on court”, said Rybakina. 

Rybakina earned the decisive break to move ahead 3-2 and sealed the win with her 11th ace on her third match point. 

“I was nervous in the last game, but I managed my emotions and played very well. The conditions were different after the roof was closed, but it can happen her, you never know, on the morning one weather and later it changes”. 

The key in Rybakina’s match against Ostapenko was her serve. 

“I would say that I always served big, but for sure when I started to work with my coach, we did a lot of changes on the technique. Like this, I gained even more power. It’s my weapon on the court. Of course we are trying to work on it. It’s always a lot to improve”. 

Rybakina set up a semifinal match against Victoria Azarenka, who beat Jessica Pegula. Rybakina won her only previous head-to-head match against Azarenka in the third round at Indian Wells.

“Vika is a tough opponent. I played against her at Indian Wells, but like always I will try to watch the matches. For sure I will give my best on the court”, said Rybakina. 

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