Victoria Azarenka At Odds With No.1 Swiatek Over Treatment Of Ukrainian Players - UBITENNIS
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Victoria Azarenka At Odds With No.1 Swiatek Over Treatment Of Ukrainian Players

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Two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka says she doesn’t share the same view as Iga Swiatek who recently called for the WTA to do more to support Ukrainian players on the Tour. 

During last week’s Indian Wells tournament, the women’s world No.1 told reporters that there should be more attention placed on supporting players from the war-affected country and less on the debate on if Russian players should be suspended from the sport. Something that the ATP and WTA are strongly against. 

Recently Russian player Anastasia Potapova was spoken to by officials and criticized by Swiatek for walking onto the court for a match wearing a Russian football shirt. Although at the time it appeared that there was no actual policy in place that said she couldn’t do such a thing. 

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko pulled out of a match due to a panic attack which she had linked to a meeting with WTA CEO Steve Simon who suggested that she shouldn’t be upset if some players support the war against her country as they are entitled to their views. Simon, who has stated his opposition to the Russian invasion, also said it was likely that Russia would be allowed to compete at the Olympics despite calls for their removal. 

“I totally understand why she withdrew, because honestly I respect Ukrainian girls so much. If a bomb landed in my country or if my home was destroyed, I don’t know if I could handle that and compete,” Swiatek recently commented on Tsurenko’s withdrawal. 
“You have to really mentally be there to compete every week. So I get that she wasn’t ready to do that.
“I feel more should be done to help Ukrainian players because everything we discuss in tennis is about Belarusian and Russian players, if they should be allowed, what’s going on with them.
“I don’t think that’s right, because we should focus more on helping Ukrainian players and providing them everything they need because they basically have to take care of all their families, and there’s a lot of baggage on their shoulders.”

However, WTA Council member Azarenka has a somewhat different view from Swiatek. The former world No.1 was unable to play at Wimbledon last year due to a ban on Belarussian players. Although The All England Club will likely perform a U-turn on the policy this year due to pressure from tennis’ governing bodies. The government of Belarus is accused of supporting Russia’s war against Ukraine. 

“Obviously, there are certain players that have different feelings and behaviours. Overall, I don’t necessarily share the same opinion as Iga does. I would encourage her to look at the things that have been done before she makes comments,” Azarenka told reporters on Monday in Miami. 
“Obviously, as a player council (member), I am happy to provide all those facts that have been done. And I think that would be a more appropriate way to have that conversation,” she added.

In recent months there has been high tension between some players on the Tour due to the ongoing conflict. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reports that there have been 22,000 civilian casualties in Ukraine, including more than 8000 deaths. 

Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka says ‘she has never felt so much hate’ in recent times due to the war. The world No.2 says there has been a tense atmosphere in the locker rooms at times but hopes this tension will eventually ease. 

“I was really struggling with that because I really felt bad, like I did something and it’s still not so good in the locker room with some of the Ukrainian girls. But then I realised that it’s not my fault and I did nothing bad to them. And I’m pretty sure that the rest of the Russian and Belarusian athletes did nothing to Ukrainians,” she said.
“I just realised that this is all emotions and I just need to like ignore it and focus on myself with understanding that I did nothing bad. And I cannot control emotions of others.”
“It seems like, everyone’s just ignoring each other.” 

Russian and Belarussian players are currently only allowed to participate on the Tour as neutral athletes. However, they are currently suspended from team events. 

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Maria Sakkari Appoints Witt As Coach For American Swing

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Maria Sakkari - WTA Washington 2023 (foto Twitter @mubadalacitidc)

Maria Sakkari has enlisted the help of Jessica Pegula’s former long-time coach in a bid to regain her form on the Tour. 

Greek media has confirmed that the world No.9 has begun a partnership with David Witt, who has also previously coached Venus Williams. Witt had worked with Pegula since 2019 before the tennis star decided to end their collaboration earlier this year. During their time together he oversaw the American win two WTA 1000 events, reached the quarter-final of a grand Slam on six occasions and peaked at a ranking high of No.3. 

Sakkari’s appointment comes after she ended her six-year working relationship with Tom Hill. Highlights of their partnership include winning two Tour titles, reaching a Grand Slam semi-final twice and spending more than two years in the top 10. 

“Tom, thank you for all the emotions, the support on and off the court, and the belief you had in me since day one,” Sakkari wrote on Instagram last month. “We grew together, and you helped me realize that everything is possible.

“Not only did you make me a better tennis player, but you also made me a better person. Thank you for always wanting the best for me and for always having my back! Good luck on the next chapter in your career.”

Sakkari is looking to get back on track after what has been a disappointing start to 2024. She had won just two matches in her first four singles tournaments played and is yet to face an opponent ranked in the world’s top 20. However, she faired better at the United Cup, where she won three matches in the team event, including victories over Lelylah Fernandez and Angelique Kerber. 

It is understood that Sakkari will be working with Witt at both Indian Wells and Miami. If their partnership is successful, it could be extended further into the clay swing. The other members of her team will remain in the same roles. 

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Karolina Pliskova Finding Her Footing With The Help Of New Coach Krajan

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Karolina Pliskova (CZE) playing against Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) in the semi-final of the Ladies' Singles on Centre Court at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 10 Thursday 08/07/2021. Credit: AELTC/Simon Bruty

Karolina Pliskova’s resurgence on the Tour comes at a time when she has formed a new partnership with a well-known coach. 

After her first round loss at the Australian Open to Elena Rybakina, the Czech won nine consecutive matches on the Tour. In Romania, she claimed her 17th WTA title at the Winners Open before reaching the semi-finals of a WTA 1000 event in Doha. However, she was unable to play her semi-final clash against Iga Swiatek due to a lower back injury. During this period she has improved her ranking from 77th to 36th. 

Pliskova began the season without a coach at her side but is now working with Croatia’s Zeljko Krajan. A partnership she believes is showing promising signs already. 

“Personality-wise, I think he’s kind of similar to me,” Pliskova told WTA Insider. “Not really high or low. Relaxed and very like calm. 
“We didn’t really plan yet anything because now the schedule was difficult. I might be in qualifying in Indian Wells. Maybe I enter San Diego. So I don’t really know what’s gonna be. I’m just living day by day at the moment.” 

Krajan has worked with a series of players on both the WTA and ATP Tour’s. He guided Dinara Safina to three Grand Slam finals between 2008 and 2010. He has also worked with Borna Coric, Laura Robson, Marcos Baghdatis, Jelena Jankovic and Dominika cibulkova.

Pliskova, who is a former world No.1 and two-time Grand Slam finalist, has endured a roller-coaster journey on the Tour in recent months with mixed results. Last season she failed to win back-to-back matches at 11 consecutive tournaments. 

So how has she managed to regain her form on the Tour?

“Motivation was never really a problem for me,” Pliskova said. “If I go on the court no matter how bad or good I feel, I always want to win. I always want to compete. 
“But my game is based on confidence and I need to feel that. Even if I’m not playing well or winning many matches, I just need to find that confidence in that moment or in that game because it’s just so risky. My shots are so flat, so I go for mostly lines. If something is not going well or you start to doubt, then of course you miss a little bit. Everything is about this.”

Unseeded at this week’s Dubai Tennis Championships, Pliskova beat China’s Zhang Shuai in the first round. She will next play Ashlyn Krueger in the second round on Tuesday.

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Elena Rybakina Eases Past Kasatkina To Win Abu Dhabi Open

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Elena Rybakina has captured her second title of the season after beating an erratic Daria Kasatkina in straight sets at the Abu Dhabi Open. 

The world No.5 stormed to a 6-1, 6-4, win over the Russian in just over an hour. It is the third time in Rybakina’s career that she has beaten Kasatkina on the Tour and she now leads their head-to-head 3-2. The triumph comes a month after she won the Brisbane International, which is also a WTA 500 event. 

Rybakina’s latest match saw her capitalise on her opponent’s costly mistakes. Kasatkina struggled with her serve throughout the majority of the final and only managed to hold twice in eight attempts. Opening the door for the former Wimbledon champion who hit 17 winners against 12 unforced errors en route to victory. 

“I want to thank the fans who came this week,” said the new champion. “It has been an amazing atmosphere, especially to see flags from Kazakhstan. It means a lot, thank you so much.”

A one-sided 25-minute opening set saw Rybakina claim four straight games to clinch an early lead. During to the opener, Kasatkina only managed to win 26% of her service points. It was the fourth time in the tournament that the Kazakh had won a set by conceding two or fewer games. 

Fortunately for world No.14 Kasatkina and the crowd, there was more of a battle in the second frame. Twice in a row Rybakina worked her way to a break advantage before losing it in the following game. Then at 4-4, she dealt the decisive blow by hitting a clean forehand winner to break yet against and this time had a chance to serve for the title. With the rain starting to fall, she converted her first championship point with the help of another error from across the net. 

The defeat for Kasatkina comes a day after she came through a marathon three-hour semi-final match before criticising the WTA over their tournament scheduling. She is currently set to play in the Qatar Open with her opening match taking place tomorrow. It is the sixth time in a row she has been beaten by a top-five player on the Tour. 

“Congratulations to Elena, you’ve had a great week,” she said.
“Thanks to my team who has always been next to me. I am really proud of the job we’ve done and how we are doing. Thanks for always believing in me.”

Rybakina also referred to the demanding calendar during the trophy presentation. 

“Tough week (for Kasatkina), especially the last matches. Tomorrow there is already a match in Doha but hopefully, we will both recover and do well there. Maybe also play (against each other) in the final there,” she said. 

Unlike Kasatkina, Rybakina has a first round bye in Doha. She has now won seven WTA trophies so far in her career. 

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