The 2021 WTA Review of the Year - UBITENNIS
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The 2021 WTA Review of the Year

Ubitennis.net reviews the highlights of the 2021 WTA Tour season.

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Ashleigh Barty (AUS) on the Member's Balcony with the Venus Rosewater Dish after winning the Ladies’ Singles final against Karolina Pliskova (CZE) on Centre Court at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 12 Saturday 10/07/2021. Credit: AELTC/Bob Martin
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2021 was a very exciting year with four different Grand Slam champions (Naomi Osaka at the Australian Open, Barbora Krejcikova at Roland Garros, Ashleigh Barty at Wimbledon and Emma Raducanu at the US Open) and six different champions in this season’s WTA 1000 tournaments (Garbine Muguruza in Dubai, Ashleigh Barty in Miami and Cincinnati, Aryna Sabalenka in Madrid, Iga Swiatek in Rome, Camila Giorgi in Toronto, Paula Badosa in Indian Wells).

 

WTA best player of the year

Ashleigh Barty

Ashleigh Barty won the second Grand Slam title of her career at Wimbledon. The Australian player beat Barbora Krejcikova in the quarter final and then 2018 champion Angelique Kerber to set up a final against Karolina Pliskova. Barty beat Pliskova 6-3 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 in the final to become the first Australian player to win the Wimbledon title since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1980 and the first top seed to win this tournament since Serena Williams in 2016.

Ashleigh Barty: “It was the most incredible feeling I have ever experienced on a tennis court. There was certainly disbelief. I have worked so hard my whole career with my team and with people that mean the most to me to try and achieve my goals and my dreams”.

Barty also clinched two WTA 1000 titles in Miami and Cincinnati, a WTA 500 tournament in Stuttgart and the Yarra Valley Classic tournament in Melbourne. The player from Ipswich recorded her first top 10 wins of the year against Aryna Sabalenka and Elina Svitolina to reach her second consecutive Miami Open final and successfully defended her title after Bianca Andreescu retired from the championship match during the second set.

Barty won her third title of the season at the Stuttgart Open on red clay after scoring three consecutive wins coming back from one set down against Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka.

Barty won the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati without dropping a set in the tournament, beating Jil Teichmann in the final. She also finished runner-up to Aryna Sabalenka at the Madrid Mutua Open.

Barty finished the year at world number 1 becoming the fifth player to finish the year as the number 1 player for three consecutive years after Stefi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams and Chris Evert.

The Breakthrough of the year

Emma Raducanu

2021 US Open Women’s Singles Champion Emma Raducanu (Darren Carroll/USTA)

Emma Raducanu made history at the US Open by becoming the first British woman to win a Grand Slam singles title since Virgina Wade at Wimbledon 1977, and the first qualifier to win a Major singles title at the age of 18. The British teenager did not drop a set in all ten matches she played in New York just three months after her WTA Tour level main draw debut in Nottingham. She beat Sara Sorribes Tormo in the third round, Shelby Rogers in the fourth round, Belinda Bencic in the quarter final and Maria Sakkari in the semifinal en route to the final.

In the championship match Raducanu beat 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez from Canada in all-teenage US Open final to win her first Grand Slam Trophy and her first tour-level title overall. It was the first women’s singles final between two under 20 players since the 1999 US Open match between Serena Williams and Martina Hingis.

Raducanu, who was ranked world number 150 when she won the US Open, is the lowest-ranked player to win the US Open title since an unranked Kim Cljisters won the first Major title of her comeback at the 2009 US Open. After the Flashing Meadows triumph Raducanu rose to world number 23 in the WTA Ranking.

She is the first woman to win the US Open without dropping a set since Serena Williams in 2014 and the youngest Grand Slam champion since Maria Sharapova won at Wimbledon at the age of 17.

Emma Raducanu: “It’s an absolute dream. You just have visions of yourself going up to the box, hugging everyone, celebrating. That’s something that you always think of, you always work for”.

The young British star reached the fourth round at Wimbledon in her Grand Slam main-draw debut to become the youngest British woman to achieve this feat at the Championships. She also was runner-up at a WTA 125 tournament in Chicago and reached the quarter final at the Transylvania Open in Cluj Napoca.

Raducanu was born in Toronto on 13 November 2002. Her father Ian Raducanu comes from Romania and her mother is from Shenyang in China. She moved to Great Britain with her family when she was two years old and started playing tennis at the age of five.

Leylah Fernandez

Leylah Fernandez (Darren Carroll/USTA)

The 19-year-old Canadian player won her first WTA Tour title at the 2021 Monterrey Open by beating Viktorija Golubic in the final and finished runner-up in the US Open championship match after beating three top 5 players. The North American teenager, who was ranked world number 73 in the WTA Rankings during the US Open, scored three-set wins against defending champion Naomi Osaka in the third round, three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber in the fourth round and Elina Svitolina in the quarter final before beating second seed Aryna Sabalenka 7-6 (7-3) 4-6 6-4 in the semifinal to reach her first Grand Slam final. Fernandez became the second Canadian teenager in the last three years to reach the US Open final after Bianca Andreescu, who won this tournament at the age of 19 in 2019.

Leylah Fernandez: “I am just having fun. I am trying to produce something for the crowd to enjoy. I am glad that whatever I am doing on court, the fans are loving it and I am loving it, too. We will see it’s magical. I am extremely proud of the way I fought for every point. My mental toughness, that’s been a huge plus for me. I am happy with what I achieved during the US Open. Off court I am enjoying every minute of it”.

Fernandez was born in Montreal. Her father Jorge is a former football player from Ecuador and her mother Irene is a Filipino Canadian. Leylah came to the fore in 2019, when she finished runner-up to Danish player Clara Tauson in the Australian Open Junior singles final.

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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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