WTA Finals: Jessica Pegula Upsets Sabalenka To Reach Semis, Rybakina Keeps Hopes Alive - UBITENNIS
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WTA Finals: Jessica Pegula Upsets Sabalenka To Reach Semis, Rybakina Keeps Hopes Alive

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Jessica Pegula dropped only seven games en route to registering her first Tour-level win over Aryna Sabalenka in three years at the WTA Finals. 

 

The American rallied to a comprehensive 6-4, 6-3, win over the world No.1 in just under 90 minutes. Pegula broke Sabalenka five times during the match and hit 14 winners against 12 unforced errors. In contrast, the top seed was more erratic as she committed 29 unforced errors and won less than 50% of her second service points. 

Pegula’s only blip came when she was tasked with serving the match out. leading by a set and 5-2, she had two match points but hit a duo of double faults before getting broken. Then in the following game, she failed to convert another three match point opportunities before prevailing. 

“I clearly got tight on the two doubles, but it happens,” Pegula told The Tennis Channel. “I knew she was going to get hot, she was starting to get fired up. She was starting to play a bit better and she hit some good shots.
“Sometimes there’s not much you can do except try to have a good attitude. I feel like that’s what I tried to do is not let it affect me. I thought I did a good job of that and was able to break her right back, which is less stressful.”

As a result of her latest victory, the 29-year-old has become the first player in this year’s tournament to have secured her place in the semi-finals. Earlier in the week she also beat Elena Rybakina in straight sets. Pegula is now on a five-match winning streak when it comes to playing top 10 players and has won 43 matches on a hardcourt this season which is more than anybody else on the WTA Tour. 

“I feel more comfortable playing [top players] this year, I feel more confident,” Pegula said of her mindset at this year’s WTA Finals compared to 12 months ago. “I don’t think it feels like such a big deal. Last year when I made Top 5, I think I psyched myself out a little bit — not a lot. You have a couple thoughts in your head — do I really belong at that level?
“I was always good at beating those below me, but now you have to beat the one or two before you. I think you put a bigger emphasis on that. And I think this year, I’ve not really cared. I’ve had more confidence in those matches and that’s why I’ve got more top wins — in big moments. I feel that’s where I’ve improved a little bit.”

Pegula is 49-0 this year when it comes to winning the opening set. 

Rybakina survives test

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In the other match that took place on day three, Rybakina fended off a fightback from Maria Sakkari to win 6-0, 6-7(4), 7-6(2). The Kazakh stormed through the opening set in just 22 minutes and had a 4-2 lead in the decider before her rival found her footing to battle back in what was a rollercoaster encounter. Rybakina finally managed to pull away from Sakkari in the final tiebreaker which began with her winning the first six points played. 

The former Wimbledon champion has linked both hers and Sakkari’s mixed performances to the controversial state of the court which has drawn criticism from players in this year’s tournament. 

“I felt that in the beginning for Maria, it maybe took some time to get used to my speed,” she said.
“As we all know the surface is not the greatest and we were struggling a lot, in the end, it was a very tough match and I’m happy that I managed to win.”
“The serve helped a lot today. I was trying to be not so negative, which was not easy.” She added. 

Sakkari has now lost two matches in a row which means she has no chance of qualifying for the semi-finals. It is the first time she has failed to do so in three appearances at the event. 

“My biggest win today was that I overcame that fear on the court,” Sakkari said of her clash with Rybakina. “I was points away from perhaps winning that match. I thought that I was going to go down as not playing good and finishing the season not in a good way, but today’s (Tuesday’s) performance was promising.”

Sabalenka to face Rybakina for semi-final spot

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Joining Pegula in the last four of the event will be either Sabalenka or Rybakina who will face each other in a winner-takes-all clash. The world No.1 leads Rybakina 4-2 in their head-to-head but has lost their two most recent meetings that have taken place this year.

“I still get a chance to pass the group, so I’m trying to stay strong.” Said Sabalenka. 

Rybakina currently has a win-loss record of 7-3 against top 10 players so far in 2023 and is currently ranked fourth in the world. This time last year she was 22nd in the standings.

“Now it’s gonna be either you win and you stay or you lose and you go back home,” she said. “So it’s kind of now the same as the other tournaments. It’s not going to be easy, and I’m going to try to do my best.”

The two players will lock horns on Thursday. 

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Naomi Osaka Eager To Reclaim No.1 Spot, Says Coach

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NAOMI OSAKA OF JAPAN AT THE 2022 MADRID OPEN - PHOTO: ALVARO DIAZ / MMO

Naomi Osaka is targeting a return to the very top of the women’s game when she begins her comeback, according to a member of her team. 

 

Performance coach Florian Zitzelsberger has told tennis.com that the four-time Grand Slam champion is ‘balanced and happy’ with herself after taking time away from the sport to give birth to her first child, a baby girl called Shai. The 26-year-old hasn’t played a competitive match on the Tour since the 2022 Pan Pacific Open and currently doesn’t have a ranking due to her inactivity. She has already confirmed her intention to resume her tennis career in 2024 but it is still unclear as to what her first tournament will be.

Providing a glimpse into Osaka’s current progress, Zitzelsberger says she is setting her sights on chasing after more Grand Slam titles. Zitzelsberger is the co-founder of Integralis Physiotherapie and has worked with Osaka in the past. He has also collaborated with the likes of Kevin Anderson, Julia Goerges and Petra Kvitova. 

“Where she is today is what makes working with her so inspiring,” he said. “She wants to get back to world No. 1, she wants to win Grand Slams. She gives me the impression of someone who is totally balanced and happy with herself. She’s very much grounded, mature and embracing the beauty of motherhood.”

In recent months there has been a growing trend of players returning to the sport after giving birth. Notable examples include Victoria Azarenka, Elina Svitolina and Caroline Wozniacki.

Zitzelsberger says his recent work with Osaka has been getting her back into shape and then working on certain areas of her game. 

“To reach the highest performance, we start by returning stability within the kinetic chain, which is typically lost somewhat during pregnancy and birth. The kinetic chain runs through the core, stomach and belly, and for a long time, her chain wasn’t playing tennis; it was growing a baby!” He explains. 
“Once that base is attained, we work on specific movement skills, whether that’s acceleration or deceleration, change of direction. The main objective is always strengthening to make the body strong, in addition to improving conditioning and mobility.”

Part of the training process has been trying to change what type of player Osaka is to adapt to the current level of the women’s Tour. After winning the 2021 Australian Open, she only reached one more Tour final which was the following year in Miami. During this period, she struggled with some injury issues and has been open about her experiences with mental health. 

“She’s obviously a great offense player, but I think things have changed in the game over the last half-decade where defense is getting more and more important,” Zitzelsberger commented.
We’re working to make Naomi into a player who can transition more effectively from defense to offense. That way, even if she’s getting pushed into a defensive position, she can still strike an offensive shot.”

Osaka has won seven WTA titles so far in her career and has earned more than $21M in prize money. 

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Iga Swiatek Says ‘Tricky’ Conditions Helped Her Win WTA Finals

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

This year’s WTA Finals has been surrounded by controversy over its scheduling and conditions of the court but Iga Swiatek says the circumstances have proven to be a blessing in disguise for her. 

 

The Pole stormed to the title on Sunday with a one-sided 6-1, 6-0, win over Jessica Pegula in less than an hour. Making it the most one-sided final to ever take place at the end-of-year championships. Swiatek dropped just 20 games throughout the entire tournament which is the fewest conceded by a player en route to winning the WTA Finals since the round-robin format was reintroduced in 2003. 

“I’m just really happy and super proud of myself,” Swiatek said. “This week has been not easy, but I feel like it’s a kind of a reflection of the whole season. So I’m just happy that I could cope with everything well, and I kind of used my experience from all these years to perform well here.”

As a result of her triumph, Swiatek has returned to world No.1 for the first time since September. It is the second season in a row she has ended the year at the top of the standings. She held the top position for 75 weeks before getting overtaken by Aryna Sabalenka earlier this year. 

Coming into the WTA Finals, the 22-year-old was fully aware of what she was required to do to reclaim her No.1 position. However, she was able to deal with the pressure by focusing on the challenging conditions in Cancun which has prompted criticism from those participating at the event. The stadium wasn’t ready until the same weekend the tournament began which gave players little time to practice on the court. There were also complaints about bad ball bounces and then poor weather delayed the final by 24 hours. 

“The conditions that were kind of tricky also helped me to just, you know, focus on adjust my footwork, my shots … that kept me busy from thinking about all of that,” Swiatek said.
“So I think today was … just being narrow with your head, only thinking about the right stuff.”

Swiatek admits that thinking about the race to No.1 has affected her performance at previous tournaments, such as the US Open where she was beaten in the fourth round by Jelena Ostapenko. 

“It played [in my mind] a lot in the US Open and the tournaments before but I kind of learned my lesson,” she said.
“This time I didn’t want it to have an impact on me … it’s hard not to think about stuff like that but actually when I went on court I knew that I had to focus on different things.”

Swiatek ends her season with a total of 68 Tour-level wins which is the highest tally achieved by a WTA player since Serena Williams won 79 in 2013. Out of those victories, 13 of them were against top 10 opposition. Besides the WTA Finals, she also won titles at Roland Garros (French Open), Stuttgart, Warsaw and Beijing. 

“The team that’s been with me the whole season, we had many ups and downs,” she reflected.
“This is for sure an up. We will for sure have many more if we keep working like that.

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WTA Finals: Iga Swiatek On The Verge Of Reclaiming The No.1 Spot After Beating Sabalenka

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Iga Swiatek has described her semi-final win at the WTA Finals on Sunday as both the toughest and nicest match she has played at the tournament so far.

 

The four-time Grand Slam champion rallied her way to a 6-3 6-2, win over top seed Aryna Sabalenka. Swiatek hit a total of 14 winners and capitalized on some erratic play from her rival who produced a costly 19 unforced errors. Overall, she broke Sabalenka three times and won 81% of her first service points. 

“I’m really happy,” Swiatek said after the match. “I think it was the toughest and also the nicest match I’ve played here. I’m happy I could show you guys my game. It hasn’t been easy during the whole week so I’m happy that today I could get even better. Even though the score was 6-3, 6-2 every game was important and every point was important.”

It is the second time the Pole has beaten Sabalenka this season and she now leads their head-to-head 6-3. She has become the first player from her country to beat a world No.1 player at the WTA Finals (excluding retirements) since the WTA rankings were introduced in 1975.

Swiatek’s latest victory has moved her to the brink of reclaiming the year-end No.1 position. She will return to the top of the standings next week if she wins the title in Cancun. She has already recorded 67 wins on the Tour this season which is more than any other WTA player. It is the second year in a row that she has won 65 or more WTA matches which is something last achieved by Jelena Jankovic in 2007 and 2008. 

“I feel like it’s still a long way away because I feel like tomorrow’s match will be the toughest one,” Swiatek replied when asked if she was thinking about the No.1 race. “We can talk about it tomorrow after the match. I’m just going to continue doing what I’ve been doing in [recent] days.
“I can’t truly tell you the keys for tomorrow. I’m going to work on that tonight.”

Standing in Swiatek’s way of the title in Jessica Pegula who has won five out of six matches played against top 10 players so far in 2023. Pegula beat Coco Gauff in her semi-final match which took place on Saturday.

The upcoming showdown will be the ninth meeting between both players with Swiatek winning five out of their previous matches. However, Pegula has won two out of the three matches they have played this year. 

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