Maria Sakkari Qualifies For Semis As Jabeur Fights Back Top Keep Her Hopes Alive At WTA Finals - UBITENNIS
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Maria Sakkari Qualifies For Semis As Jabeur Fights Back Top Keep Her Hopes Alive At WTA Finals

With one final round of matches remaining, two players have a chance to join Sakkari in the last four.

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Image via WTA Twitter

Greece’s Maria Sakkari has become the first player to secure her place in the last four at the WTA Finals in Fort Worth after brushing aside Aryna Sabalenka in straight sets. 

 

The world No.5 was in top form throughout her 6-2, 6-4, victory at the Dickies Arena. It is only the third time this season she has beaten a top 10 player on the Tour as she closes the deficit in her head-to-head record against Sabalenka. Sakkari has won three out of her seven tour meetings with the Belarussian so far in her career but her latest victory is the first time she has triumphed in straight sets. 

“I felt like I did nothing wrong from three-love,” said Sakkari, who produced 15 winners and broke her opponent’s serve five times.  “Maybe I was a little bit passive, but at the same time, she started making more balls. She started being more aggressive. She was making every shot she wasn’t missing like in the first set and a half. 
“I just told myself keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll get your chances and you know with a little bit of well deserved luck I would say, I managed to close out the match.”

Sakkari is yet to drop a set at the end-of-season showdown after also dismissing Jessica Pegula 7-6, 7-6, on Monday. It is the second year in a row that she has successfully progressed beyond the qualifying stages.

Sabalenka is still in with a shout of joining Sakkari in the semi-finals but must win her upcoming match against Pegula to do so. Reflecting on her latest defeat, she has hailed the performance of her rival.

“I think she just played at an unbelievable level. And I felt like I did my best in this match. Probably I could, I could play better at the beginning, but it is what it is,” she said. 
“But I really think that I gave everything in this match and she just played unbelievably.’
“I kind of expected this game but not that good. She was just moving well, hitting the ball really well and not missing a lot. I tried my best, but she was just too good.”

Jabeur bounces back 

Challenging Sabalenka for a place in the last four is Ons Jabeur who staged a triumphant fightback to revive her chances. The Tunisian lost her opening match on Monday which made her latest clash against Pegula crucial. After dropping the opener in just 26 minutes, Jabeur managed to turn her fortunes around to win 1-6, 6-3, 6-3. Meaning that the American will be at the bottom of the group with no hope of reaching the semi-finals. 

“It’s a difficult match against Jess,” said the two-time Grand Slam finalist. “It’s always the case against her but she was playing super fast at the beginning. I couldn’t find my rhythm. I just started to put one ball in at a time, I gained more confidence and I had opportunities in the second set that helped me win it. And then afterwards I didn’t want to make the same mistake that I did in the first set so I was playing much better.”

Jabeur, who is the first African woman to qualify for the WTA Finals in over 20 years, has only won two out of her past nine meetings against top 10 players on the Tour. She also defeated Sakkari earlier this year at the Italian Open. 

One of the talking points of the tournament so far has been the crowd attendance with some fans criticizing the crowd size. Although the event has attracted more fans since the opening day. In a recent interview with The Associated Press, WTA CEO Steve Simon commented that this year’s venue is ‘probably a little bit for us, but a beautiful arena.’ 

“You know what? I just discovered that we don’t have a lot of tennis fans in the area. I wanted to watch tennis a couple of times in restaurants and they didn’t even have the channel, which is crazy.” Jabeur commented on the issue. 
“But I’m pretty proud that a lot of people came from the city. Most people are interested in football and everything. Hopefully one day we’ll have more of a crowd.’
“People are really enjoying it here. And it’s nice to see. I see the positive side of it.”

The final round of matches in the Nancy Richey Group will take place on Friday. 

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Bianca Andreescu Reunites With Former Coach Ahead Of New Season 

How will the Grand Slam champion fair on the Tour with her latest mentor?

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BIANCA ANDREESCU OF CANADA - PHOTO: ALBERTO NEVADO / MMO

Former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu has brought a familiar face back into her team as she bids to return to her best form in 2023. 

 

Andreescu, who is currently ranked 45th in the WTA rankings, has appointed Christophe Lambert as her latest coach. Lambert had been working as the performance director at Tennis New Zealand and resigned from that position to work with the former US Open champion. He had also previously worked for Tennis Canada and during that time he was a private coach for Andreescu in 2016. 

“Bianca asked me to coach her and I accepted the job. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Lambert told sport.co.nz. 

Lambert, who has also spent time working with the Chinese Davis Cup team and for the British LTA, has stayed in contact with Andreescu ever since coaching her six years ago. 

“It wasn’t like every week or every month. It’s always good to have people calling you when you are up, but when she was down I was checking on her and giving her my opinion.” He said. 

Andreescu had been working with Dutch coach Sven Groeneveld for over a year before they decided to end their collaboration in October. Groeneveld has a wealth of experience in the sport after working with a series of top names, including Maria Sharapova. 

This season the former world No.4 has won 20 out of 33 matches played with her best performance being a run to the final of the Bad Homburg Open in Germany. However, her record against top 10 opposition was 2-5.

“I’m just taking it day by day, and it’s a great way to end off the year as well, just bringing back all the emotions that fire a lot in me,” Andreescu recently told reporters in Glasgow at the Billie Jean King Cup. “I think I’m going to have a great preseason. Next year I really think I can crack the top 10 again.”

Andreescu, who has been hampered by injury issues in recent years, hasn’t won a singles title of any sort since 2019. 

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Four-Time Grand Slam Winner Naomi Osaka Named In FTX Lawsuit 

The former world No.1 took an equity stake in the failed business earlier this year. 

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NAOMI OSAKA OF JAPAN - PHOTO: ALVARO DIAZ / MMO

Naomi Osaka is among a series of high-profile individuals who have been accused of using their celebrity status to promote FTX’s failed business model in a lawsuit filed against the cryptocurrency exchange. 

 

The BBC has reported that over one million people and businesses could be owed money following the collapse of FTX, according to bankruptcy filings. A week ago FTX collapsed into bankruptcy with its former boss Sam Bankman-Fried stepping down as CEO. A massive development in the financial for what was one of the largest crypto exchanges in the world that had the naming rights to a Formula One racing team as well as a sports arena in Miami.

According to the Associated Press, the company is being investigated by state and federal prosecutors over allegations it ‘invested depositors’ funds in ventures without their approval.’ In a lawsuit filed on Tuesday, it argues that celebrity backers of FTX such as Osaka should be held just as accountable as Bankman-Fried as they brought ‘instant credibility’ to the company. 

“Part of the scheme employed by the FTX Entities involved utilizing some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment — like these Defendants — to raise funds and drive American consumers to invest … pouring billions of dollars into the deceptive FTX platform to keep the whole scheme afloat,” the lawsuit said.

Osaka took an equity stake in FTX in March where she would be receiving compensation in Crypto. Signing what was described as a ‘long-term partnership’ to become a global ambassador, the tennis star aimed to draw attention to women joining the platform and she played a role in directing its content.

“We have seen the statistics about how few women are part of crypto by comparison, which kind of mirrors the inequality we see in other financial markets,” Osaka said earlier this year.

Osaka, who has won 14 out of 23 matches played this season, has not made any public statement regarding the lawsuit. NFL quarterback Tom Brady, comedian Larry David and basketball team the Golden State Warriors are also defendants in the lawsuit.

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WTA Targets New Multi-Year Deal For Its Premier Event If Agreement With China Fails

Will the WTA Finals return to Shenzhen in 2023?

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WTA CEO Steve Simon

The WTA say they are not willing to compromise their principles concerning the possibility of hosting tournaments in China next year amid uncertainty over the future of their season-ending event. 

 

Steve Simon, who is the CEO of the women’s Tour, says he is hopeful that a resolution can be found with the country but has vowed now to back down on its stance. Last year the WTA suspended tournaments in China over concerns about the safety of former player Peng Shuai who accused a former government official of sexually assaulting her. 

Shuai disappeared shortly after posting her statement on social media before returning a few weeks later with photos and videos of her being posted online by journalists linked to the government-controlled media. There are concerns that the former doubles Grand Slam champion, who has not left her country since making those allegations, is being censored by the government. The WTA wants an investigation to be conducted into the matter. 

“We’ve made a strong stand, and we stand behind that stance, and we’re not going to compromise our principles,” Simon said during an interview with The New York Times. “Clearly when we did it, we understood eyes wide open what it could mean.”
“We’re still in the same place. If they come forward with something else we should look at, of course we are open to it. But we haven’t seen it so far. I’m hopeful we do find a resolution. That’s the goal, to find the right resolution. What’s the truth? Then we can move forward.” He added. 

Simon said he is confident that Shuai is safe in Beijing but he has not been able to make any direct contact with her, despite trying to on multiple occasions. A letter reportedly written by Shuai to the WTA was posted online in 2021 saying that she wishes to be left alone. However, many have doubted the authenticity of that letter with some fearing that she wrote it under duress. 

One of the biggest impacts of the fallout has involved the prestigious WTA Finals, which is a round-robin tournament featuring the eight best-performing players over the past 12 months. In 2018 a lucrative deal was agreed that paved the way for the event to be held in Shenzhen for 10 years. However, the event was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic before the next two additions were moved elsewhere.

Whilst the WTA is optimistic about a return to Shenzhen in 2023, there are also backup plans in the works. Simon confirmed that it is no longer feasible for the WTA Finals to be held in a location for just one year. So it is likely that the tournament would be held in a city for two or more years in a row if it doesn’t return to China next season. 

“We’re not going to continue to do these one-year decisions,” he said. “It’s not sustainable. If it looks like we can’t go back to China or aren’t ready to go back, then I do think we will carve out a multiyear situation, because we need to for the business.”

The case involving Shuai isn’t the only barrier for the WTA. China’s zero-covid policy has made hosting international events in the region unfeasible and the ATP cancelled all of their events in the tournament this year due to the situation. 

This year’s WTA Finals has a prize money offering of $5M which is more than half of what was on offer at the 2019 tournament in Shenzhen ($14M). 

Simon didn’t provide any deadline for when an agreement must be reached with China must be reached before the WTA considers moving their event elsewhere once again. 

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