Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder For Aryna Sabalenka At Wimbledon - UBITENNIS
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Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder For Aryna Sabalenka At Wimbledon

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Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) - Credit: AELTC/David Gray

It is said that a person doesn’t know how much something means to them until it is taken away and Aryna Sabalenka can relate to this. 

The world no.2 took to Center Court on Tuesday to play her opening match against Hungary’s Panna Udvardy. It was the first time she had played a match there since reaching the 2021 semi-finals after being banned from attending 12 months ago due to her country’s ties to the war in Ukraine. The Belarussian government is accused of supporting Russia in the conflict that has killed thousands of people. 

“I love Wimbledon. I have great memories from two years ago when I made the semifinals,” said Sabalenka. “I’m always enjoying my game here at Wimbledon and the atmosphere.’
“It was a tough period for me last year. I am just super happy to be here this year. I enjoyed every second today on the court and I enjoyed the atmosphere. I didn’t realize how much I missed Wimbledon last year until today.”

On the court, Sabalenka began her campaign this year with a dominant 6-3, 6-1, win over Udvardy. She produced an emphatic 29 winners compared to only four from her opponent and won 81% of her first service points. She has now won 36 matches this year which is the second-highest on the WTA Tour after Iga Swiatek (39) as of today. 

“I prefer to bring my highest level from the very first match so I have more energy in the last stages of the tournament,” she said of her approach to Grand Slam tournaments. 
“You can progress your game every match you play, adjusting a little bit to the conditions. I want to progress with every match but at the same time I want to start on a high level.”

The 25-year-old is aiming to continue her fine run at major events this season which started with her claiming the biggest title of her career at the Australian Open. Then in Roland Garros, she reached the last four for the first time before losing to Karolina Muchova.

Undoubtedly this year is going very well for Sabalenka who is also wary of the potential drawbacks it could have on her body as well. She relies on the support of her team to help her with this which is headed by her coach and former hitting partner Anton Dubrov. 

“If you play on the high level, it means that you’re reaching the last stages of the tournament, so you’re playing a lot of matches. Physically you’re getting tired.” She explains.
“It’s really important to take care of your body and make sure you’re not getting injured a lot.”

Sabalenka is scheduled to return to action on Thursday. 

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Red-Hot Danielle Collins Ready To Take On Red Clay After Charleston Triumph

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

Just how good is Danielle Collins?

Right now, she may be as good as anyone on the WTA Tour.

Just think about it. Who’s better?

Winning a seven-round near-major one week on hard courts, then putting together six straight victories the next week on green clay is fairly significant.

Collins didn’t go against a lame duck field in either tournament, especially at the Credit One Charleston Open where she defeated three of the best clay-courters on the tour in Ons Jabeur, Maria Sakkari and Daria Kasatkina, as well as the likes of Sloane Stephens and Paula Badosa. She defeated a Wimbledon champion, Elena Rybakina, on hard courts in the Miami final.

ONLY TWO LOSING SETS IN 28

Collins lost only two of the 28 sets she played in Miami and Charleston.

Of course, second-ranked Aryna Sabalenka and third-ranked Coco Gauff are power players on any surface. But after those two, Collins looks capable of winning anything in sight. It would be interesting to see Collins take on either of those two on Europe’s red clay.

Collins now has played about as brilliantly in these two tournaments as Sabalenka, Gauff or top-ranked Iga Swiatek have played within the last year.

Collins has the type game no one wants to play against right now. She has jumped all the way to 15th in the world after her success at Miami and Charleston.

COLLINS DOMINANT IN FINAL

Against 2017 Charleston winner Kasatkina in Sunday’s final, Collins was dominant in a 6-2, 6-1 victory. The Russian didn’t have the game to match up with Collins’ power. Collins played to win, and wasted few opportunities.

No one on the WTA Tour attacks more aggressively than the 30-year-old Collins. Short balls end up being a “done deal” when Collins moves in on them and smashes forehands, backhands and lobs away. She nails high back-handed returns of lobs to the corners with the same type of precision she connects with high forehand put-aways inside the court. Few players can hit that type of backhand high volley with such power and precision.

 She also plays the baseline as aggressively as anywhere else, and her serve is solid enough to keep her out of early trouble. Few double-faults find her racket.

LOCKED INTO PROCESS

“I think one of my biggest areas of improvement over the course of the last few weeks has been my concentration and focus and really being locked into my process,” Collins said after winning Charleston.

“These women that I’m playing against, they’re the best in the world, and it’s — sometimes things go your way and then sometimes things don’t go your way, and you have to be open to that when those times do happen.

“I’m really looking forward to getting home (Bradenton, Fla.) and getting some time to spend where I don’t think about tennis, and then hopefully when Madrid comes around I am back in ‘Danimal’ mode. Then it’s back to reality. So it’s like spring break for me. I feel like a kid at spring break.”

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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Danielle Collins Extends Winning Streak To 12 Matches

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image via https://twitter.com/CharlestonOpen/

Danielle Collins just goes out and wins.

She wastes few shots and is a master of shot placements.

The court surface doesn’t seem to matter. She did it a week ago on hard courts to win the Miami Open. And she is doing it again at the Credit One Charleston Open on clay courts.

Collins has won 12 straight matches and is one win away from a coveted second straight title on the WTA Tour.

She’s unseeded, but keeps winning. She is the last American standing.

In Saturday’s Charleston semifinals, Collins scored a relatively easy 6-3, 6-3 win over third-seeded Maria Sakkari of Greece.

KASATKINA STANDS IN COLLINS’ WAY

Just 2017 Charleston champion Daria Kasatkina is standing in the 30-year-old Collins’ way of a second straight tour title.

Oh, yes, Collins is playing her final year on the WTA Tour. She wants to go out a winner badly.

Kasatkina is the fourth seed, and she may already have played a key role in Collins’ drive to another title. Top seed Jessica Pegula appeared to be unbeatable in this Charleston Open until running  into Kasatkina in Saturday’s first semifinal and simply couldn’t close out the Russian when their  match was on the line.

PEGULA’S LOSS BIG SURPRISE

Pegula’s 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (5) loss to Kasatkina was the biggest surprise of this tournament. Pegula had won the last 12 games of a 6-1, 6-0 win over Kasatkina in 2023 in Tokyo’s Pan Pacific Open.

Very tough match,” the ultra-conservative playing Kasatkina said about Saturday’s long match that ended in a third-set tiebreaker.
“Really happy with my win, with the way how I did it. And, yeah, really happy to be in the finals here again.”

Kasatkina has been impressed by Collins’ outstanding recent play.

“Danielle is, I think, playing the best tennis of her career right now. She’s fearless. When she feels her game, she’s one of the most dangerous players on tour, and she definitely feels it right now,” Kasatkina said.
“So, yeah, it’s going to be very tough battle. And it’s finals. I mean, it’s so nice. I’m so happy to be in the finals, and I think it’s going to be a good one. I think the atmosphere is going to be great because playing an American in the United States, it always brings some extra electricity on court. So, I’m really looking forward to it.”

COLLINS IMPRESSED BY KASATKINA’S PLAY

Collins also has respect for Kasatkina’s style of play.

“We’ve played so many matches against each other over the years and battles. She’s one of my favorite players to watch because she makes these matches so interesting,” Collins said about Kasatkina.

“The way that she plays and her tennis IQ, how creative she is on court is phenomenal. I think against Daria I have to be very flexible. She has just about every tool in her toolbox. She can hit big. She can hit with shape. She can hit slices. She can come into the net. She does everything very, very well. She serves and returns well. She mixes up her pace. She’s just solid all over. And so, it’s going to be a battle, and I have to be ready to play a long, tough match, if that’s what’s needed.

“I’ll have to kind of take a little bit more of a look statistically at some things and some different patterns, but I think the biggest thing is just fighting until the end and being adaptable out there.”

About her win over the usually solid Sakkari, Collins said, “I think my aggressive game style helped me. I had to stick with it. And she was throwing a lot at me and doing a lot of different things.
“So, I had to try to counter that and use my aggressive game style as much as I could.”

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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Emma Navarro Keeps Winning; Taylor Townsend Pulling Surprises In Charleston

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

Emma Navarro played her usual highly concentrated, spectacular game to advance to the round of 16 of the Charleston Open, and Shelby Rogers played her heart out only to lose.

But what about Taylor Townsend! Townsend upended former Grand Slam champion Sofia Kenin in the first round, then on Wednesday night she upset 15th-ranked Ekaterina Alexandrova, 7-5, 6-2, to earn a berth in the round of 16.

VETERAN TOWNSEND HAS AZARENKA NEXT

Although now just 27 years old, Townsend has been around for a while, even making the round of 16 of the 2019 U.S. Open and round of 32 of the 2014 French Open.

And she’s had her share of success in the ITF tournaments held over the years at LTP Tennis in Mount Pleasant.

She has used her powerful left-handed strokes well enough to spend much of her time ranked in the top 100 over the last decade.

But Townsend could run into serious opposition against two-time former Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka. The 34-year-old Azarenka is talented enough to maybe even win this Credit One Charleston Open.

NAVARRO WINS ON HOME COURT

Navarro, currently ranked 20th in the world and seeded 10th, was near-perfect in a 6-1, 6-1 victory over qualifier Katie Volynets on Wednesday. 

Volynets must have been quite surprised by the dominance of Navarro all over the court and in almost every situation in the match. Back in the final of the 2019 Billie Jean King girls 18 national championships at the Barnes Tennis Center in San Diego, Navarro was no match for the then 17-year-old Volynets. Navarro spent most of that match trying to chase down Volynets’ shots to the corners.

A COOL WIN OVER OLD RIVAL

How things have changed in the last five years for these two players. Volynets is now ranked 110th in the world, while Navarro looks like the new star of the WTA Tour. She certainly had that look in Wednesday night’s green-clay bout at the Charleston Open.

It was a knockout from the start for the 22-year-old Navarro, a former NCAA national collegiate champion and the daughter of Credit One Charleston Open owner Ben Navarro.

“I thought I had played her twice, but apparently I was 0 and 3 against her. So definitely (it was) good to get the win tonight,” Navarro said.
“It was cool to be able to get the win on that (stadium) court, my first win on center court here at Credit One.”

KUDERMETOVA ELIMINATES ROGERS

Rogers, Charleston’s other WTA Tour standout, wasn’t so fortunate against 19th-ranked Veronika Kudermetova of Russia, the 2021 winner of this event.

Kudermetova used a big serve and solid ground strokes to stay ahead of Rogers for most of the match. Rogers rallied to force a first-set tiebreaker and also rallied late in the second set to keep pressure on Kudermetova, but couldn’t overtake her in a 7-6 (5), 6-4 win by Kudermetova.

“I had a lot of chances tonight . . . very untimely double fault is frustrating,” Rogers said.
“I thought I did some good stuff out there. It’s just you gotta win the right points at the right time, I guess.”

RAINY DAY CREATES TOUGH SCHEDULE

Having to play her first two matches at night probably didn’t help Rogers’ cause, especially after having to wait around all day Wednesday for an all-day rain to pass.

“Today was a long day, for sure, but everybody is dealing with it. We’re used to adapting to different things every week,” Rogers said.
“Tennis is hard. The scheduling is hard. It’s hard to prepare and know when to eat, you know, all those little things. When you’re away from the game, you gotta like figure out how to do all that again. And it can be tricky.”

Prior to her 6-1, 6-1 win over Claire Liu on Monday night, the 31-year-old Rogers had scored only one other victory since undergoing a second knee surgery last July.

“The knee, you know, there’s still good days, bad days,”  Rogers said. “I gotta do a little work there still. But overall it’s all right.”

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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