Maria Sakkari, Aryna Sabalenka Win On Opening Day Of Poorly Attended WTA Finals - UBITENNIS
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Maria Sakkari, Aryna Sabalenka Win On Opening Day Of Poorly Attended WTA Finals

Despite a lack of fans in the stands, there was plenty of entertainment on the court at the season-ending extravaganza.

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Image via https://twitter.com/WTAGuadalajara

Greece’s Maria Sakkari says she is starting to find her form once again after getting off to a winning start at the WTA Finals in Texas. 

 

The world No.5 held her nerve to edge out home player Jessica Pegula 7-6(6), 7-6(4), in a tightly contested match. Sakkari boasted a break advantage no fewer than four times in the clash but failed to capitalize on all of them. Instead, she managed to come out on top in two tiebreakers. 

It is the first time this season the 27-year-old has beaten a top five player on the Tour and she now leads Pegula 4-2 in their head-to-head. In her latest match, Sakkari hit 22 winners alongside 22 unforced errors and won 66% of her first service points. 

“It’s never easy against Jess,” said Sakkari.
“She’s an amazing player. She’s very confident right now. I knew it was going to be extremely tough but I fought hard and trusted my game.”

Sakkari comes into the tournament yet to win a title of any sort in 2022 but has finished runner-up on four occasions. One of those was earlier this month at the Guadalajara Open where she was denied the title by Pegula. Making her latest win even sweeter for her.

“I just turned things around last week and I’m gaining confidence,” she said. “You know, finding my form again. I think it’s good for this tournament but also for next season and I’m very excited to keep playing good tennis this week.”

Awaiting Sakkari in her next match on Wednesday will be Aryna Sabalenka who was the other victor on the opening day of the tournament. Sabalenka outlasted second seed Ons Jabeur 3-6, 7-6(5), 7-5, in a thriller. 

The three-time Grand Slam semi-finalist battled back from 1-3 down in the decider to make it the 10th time this year she has won a match after losing the first set. Although it was a far from perfect display from the gutsy Belarusian whose 21 winners were cancelled out by 27 unforced errors. 

“I’m just trying to enjoy every second being here, and I’m just trying to do my best and see what the last week of the season can bring,” Sabalenka said afterwards.
“I was just like, ‘Keep trying, keep fighting, and make sure that if she wants to win this match, she has to do something great, not like an easy win.’ And I think that’s why I put a little bit more pressure on her and in the key moments, I was able to win it.”

As for Jabeur, who is the first Arab player in history to qualify for the WTA Finals, her recent poor run against top 10 opposition continues. The Wimbledon and US Open finalist has now lost seven out of her last eight meetings with top 10 players. 

“We’re both unpredictable. She could hit so many winners, and then miss a lot of balls, so that didn’t help me much. I should have been more concentrated on certain shots.” Said Jabeur.
“I still got a chance here, but usually it’s tough to sleep after a tough loss like this.”

One noticeable aspect of both matches at the tournament was the lack of spectators attending. This year’s event is taking place at the Dickies Arena in Texas with photos showing the stadium less than half full. At one stage for one of the doubles matches that took place, it was almost empty. Something that has triggered a surge in criticism from tennis fans of social media. 

Pam Shriver, who won the WTA Finals doubles title 10 times during her career, believes the low attendance was due to a combination of factors. 

“Halloween is a huge family holiday here for kids and many people stay home to give candy or take their kids trick or treating. A Texas team is in the World Series and it’s NFL Monday Night football all played tonight. Plus just two months to promote is not a lot,” Shriver wrote on social media.

After the first round of matches from Group Nancy Richey, both Sakkari and Sabalenka could qualify for the knockout stages as early as Wednesday. Sakkari will go through if she either wins her next match in straight sets or wins in three sets and Pegula wins. Sabalenka will go through as long as both she and Jabeur win their next matches. 

Tuesday will see world No.1 Iga Swiatek begin her campaign against Daria Kasatkina. Meanwhile, Coco Gauff faces Caroline Garcia.

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LTA Fined One Million Dollars By ATP For Banning Russian Players From Grass Court Season

The LTA have been fined one million dollars by the ATP.

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Daniil Medvedev (@marioboc17 - Twitter)

The LTA has been fined one million dollars from the ATP after banning Russian players from competing at this year’s grass court tournaments.

 

This news follows the WTA taking the same action earlier this year after the LTA became the first organisation to ban Russian players from playing its tournaments.

At the moment on the ATP tour Russian players can currently play but play under a neutral flag which is the same thing on the WTA tour.

However the LTA decided to follow the All England Lawn Tennis Club’s decision which was to ban Russian players from playing grass court tournaments in England.

Now the ATP have responded by not only denying players ranking points at the time but have now fined the LTA one million dollars.

In a statement the LTA admitted that they were disappointed with the outcome and await not only the outcome of their appeal against the WTA’s decision but also await what response they will have to the ATP.

There has also been a threat from the ATP that if the LTA were to do the same thing in 2023, then they would face expulsion from the ATP.

However it’s not just the tennis governing bodies that have responded to the ATP as the UK culture secretary Michelle Donlan has also criticised the decision, “Over the past year, the vast majority of the international sporting community have stood shoulder to shoulder in condemning in Putin’s unprovoked and barbaric actions in Ukraine,” Donlan said.

“The UK has taken a world-leading role to build this international response. We are clear that sport cannot be used to legitimise this deadly invasion, and that athletes representing the Russian and Belarusian states should be banned from competing in other countries.

“Despite widespread condemnation, the international tennis tours are determined to be outcasts in this, with investment in the growth of our domestic game hampered as a result.

“This is the wrong move by the ATP and WTA. I urge them to think carefully about the message this sends, and to reconsider.”

What the future holds remains to be seen with just over seven months until Wimbledon.

Whether the LTA’s appeal will be successful will be questionable and whether the ATP and WTA will change their stance is also questionable.

But one thing is for sure and that is the political tensions in tennis and outside of tennis are far from over.

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Rafael Nadal ‘Excited’ For Showdown With Alcaraz In Las Vegas 

‘The Slam: Nadal Vs. Alcaraz’ will take place in the lead-up to Indian Wells with a charity fundraising event also being held. 

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MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - APRIL 23: Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates a point against Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain in the final on day eight of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters at Monte-Carlo Sporting Club on April 23, 2017 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. (Photo via https://newsroom.mgmresorts.com)

The current top two players in men’s tennis will lock horns in Nevada next March after agreeing to take part in an exhibition match organized by MGM Rewards. 

 

Carlos Alcaraz and Rafael Nadal will play against each other at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 5th which will be hosted by MGM Resorts International. The 16,800-seat multi-purpose venue has also previously hosted a series of boxing matches, as well as this year’s Grammy Awards ceremony. 

The two Spanish tennis giants will also participate in a 90-minute individual VIP clinic before taking to the court. There will also be a ‘celebrity’ doubles match which will feature both of the Bryan brothers. One of the most successful double pairings in history who have won 16 Grand Slam titles together. 

“I’m very excited for my first visit to Las Vegas, one of the most iconic and entertaining cities in the world,” Nadal said in a press release. “I’ll be playing with my fellow countryman Carlos Alcaraz who’s had an amazing year. It should be a great night of tennis at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.”

19-year-old Alcaraz is the youngest player in ATP history to achieve the year-end No.1 ranking and is viewed as the successor to 22-time major winner Nadal. The duo have clashed three times on the Tour with Nadal winning two of those meetings. Although Alcaraz was triumphant the last time they clashed at the Madrid Masters. 

“I’m honored and so happy to be sharing the court with Rafa in Las Vegas. He’s an all-time great, of course, and his records and achievements speak for themselves. Rafa also is one of the nicest guys on Tour and I look forward to our match on March 5.” Said Alcaraz.

Immediately after their match on March 5th, THE SLAM Gala will be held at Rivea and Skyfall at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. The fundraising event has been created to raise money for Nadal’s foundation, as well as the MGM Resorts Foundation and National Tennis Foundation. 

Tickets for Alcaraz’s match with Nadal will go on sale from December 9th and are priced at $75 upwards. 

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Gael Monfils Targets Spot At Home Olympics Before Retirement 

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Image via ATP Twitter

Gael Monfils may be starting his 2023 season later than usual but he isn’t contemplating stepping away from the sport anytime soon. 

 

The former top 10 star has been absent from the Tour since August due to a foot problem during what has been an injury-stricken year for the Frenchman. Monfils also missed the French Open and Wimbledon due to a heel injury which required surgery. Overall, he has won 14 out of 21 matches played on the Tour in 2022. 

Providing an update on his current fitness during an interview with Canal+, Monfils confirmed that he will not be playing at the Australian Open in January which will be the fourth major tournament in a row he has missed. Whilst his recovery is progressing well, he is targeting a return during the clay season which concludes at the French Open. He is also unable to access his protected ranking at Melbourne Park because the rulebook states that a player must be absent for at least six months to be eligible. 

“I know that there is a protected ranking, when you don’t play for a certain amount of months. I know that if I take it, I have to not play the Australian Open to reach the six months needed and that will be my decision,” Tennis Head quotes Monfils as saying.

However, the 36-year-old isn’t planning to stop playing just yet with aspirations to play at his home Olympic Games, which will be held in Paris in 2024. Monfils is already a three-time Olympian and has reached the quarter-finals of the singles tournament twice before. 

Despite some speculation over his retirement, Monfils hopes to continue playing until the age of 40. Although he admits this depends on his family after he and his wife Elina Svitolina welcomed their first child earlier this year.

“2023 is an important year for me, a year of transition, transition between my injuries and the fact to be competitive to try to qualify for Paris 2024. I would not like to miss the Olympics, it would be my last one,” he added.
“I hope that 2024 would not be my last year but maybe the one after that. Before, I said that I wanted to play until I’m 40 but the more time I spend with my daughter, the more time I’m thinking maybe I’ll play a bit less.”

Monfils has won 11 Tour titles so far in his career, including this year’s Adelaide International. He has reached at least one final every year since 2005. 

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