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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Image via https://twitter.com/WTA_Espanol/status/1719500545856041252/photo/4

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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World No.634 Laura Samson Reaches First WTA Quarter-Final At 16

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Laura Samon - image via itftennis.com/ photo credi: Manuel Queimadelos

Laura Samson has become the first player born in 2008 to reach the quarter-finals of a WTA event after producing a surprise win on Tuesday. 

The 16-year-old wildcard stunned second seed Katerina Siniakova 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, in the second round at the Prague Open. Her triumph occurred a day after she dropped just two games against Tara Wurth in her opening match. This week is Samson’s Tour debut after playing 10 events on the lower-level ITF circuit. 

“I’m extremely surprised,” she said during her on-court interview after beating Siniakova. “I didn’t go into it as favorite. I’m so proud of myself and I hope I will continue to play like this. As I was going into the second set I thought, ‘I have nothing to lose, I didn’t play good in the first set.’ I’m not really sure when [I thought I could win], I just believed myself in the third set.” 

Samson is the latest Czech player to break through following a sucessful junior career. Last year she won the Wimbledon girls’ doubles title and was runner-up in the French Open singles tournament in June. She is currently No.3 in the ITF junior rankings but has been ranked as high as No.1. 

Earlier this year, Samson decided to change her name on the Tour by dropping the last three letters (ova). The reason why she did so was to avoid getting confused with another player. 

“I first noticed it last year, there was a problem that I was getting strings (the) of Lyudmila Samsonova,” she told tenisovysvet.cz.

“I also talked about it with her and, for example, according to the schedule, she also sometimes thought she was playing, but it was me,” 

“I would have liked the ending -ová, but unfortunately it turned out like this.”

The teenager will next take on world No.248 Oksana Selekhmeteva with the winner of that match progressing to their first WTA semi-final.  21-year-old Selekhmeteva is a former top 10 junior player who came through two rounds of qualifying to reach the main draw. She is a two-time junior Grand Slam champion in doubles. 

There are five seeds remaining in the tournament, including top seed Linda Nosková who will play Germany’s Ella Seidel in her next match. 

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Krejcikova Comes Alive With Her Serve To Win 12th Grand Slam Title At Wimbledon

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image via x.com/wimbledon

It must have seemed like the whole world was against her when Barbora Krejcikova served for the match for a third time against crowd favorite Jasmine Paolini.

But Krejcikova was only going for her 12th Grand Slam title. She was well prepared.

So, she released her patented way-out-wide serve to the smallish Paolini’s backhand, and the best the Italian could do was get her racket on the ball enough to return the serve far off the court, long and wide.

ARMS UP FOR A CHAMPION

The weight of the world was gone as Krejcikova threw her arms over her head and calmly walked to the net to greet the Wimbledon runner-up.

Now, Krejcikova was half-way home to a career Grand Slam in singles. She already owns a career Grand Slam in doubles among her dozen Grand Slam titles that also include one mixed doubles Grand Slam title.

She has won the hard ones, the French Open on clay and Wimbledon on grass.

At 28 years old, anything must look possible to this 5-10 Czech.

KREJCIKOVA COMES THROUGH UNDER PRESSURE

Paolini simply was out played in a second straight Grand Slam final, on clay and on grass. Now she faces the real tests, two straight Grand Slam tournaments on hard surfaces that might not be overly friendly to the 5-4 Paolini.

But there it was, a 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 victory for Krejcikova on Wimbledon’s famed Center Court.

After what might be called a throw-away second set for Krejcikova, she came alive in the third set, pinning Paolini to the deep corners while nailing low hard-hit balls to both corners.

Krejcikova got off to 40-0 starts on her first four service games of the decisive set and ended all four with service winners to take a 5-3 lead (with the aid of the only service break of the third set). She yielded only one point in those four service games, a double fault at 40-0 that was followed by an ace.

Of course, it was the serve again that saved the day for Krejcikova and gave her set points two and three, then sealed the deal for a spot in Wimbledon history.

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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Wimbledon Finalist Jasmine Paolini – ‘I’m A Little Bit Scared To Dream Too Much’

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After coming close to her maiden Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, Jasmine Paolini believes consistency is key to having another shot at glory.

The 28-year-old dropped only one set en route to becoming the first Italian woman to reach a Wimbledon final. However, she was denied the title by Barbora Krejcikova, who won in three sets. Paolini was broken once in the decider which was due to a double fault from the Italian following an unsuccessful hawk-eye challenge made on her first serve. Then she failed to convert two break points when down 4-5 before Krejcikova held to seal glory.

“I started bad,” she reflected afterwards.

“I took some time and try to relax and to come back in the second set stronger to try to push the ball more because I was a little bit controlling too much, and I missed a lot of shots.

“She was playing, honestly, very good the first set. She was serving really, really good. High percentage of first serves.

“It was tough but I think I did better than the last final (at the French Open), but still it’s not enough.”

Prior to Saturday, Paolini had scored wins over former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, Medison Keys (via retirement) and a marathon victory over Donna Vedic. She has now won 15 Grand Slam matches in 2024 compared to just one last season.

The defeat comes less than two months after the French Open where Paolini contested her first major final but lost in two sets to world No.1 Iga Swiatek. Since the start of this season, she has risen more than 20 places in the rankings and will reach No.5 on Monday.

Despite being in her late 20s, the Italian is producing some of her best tennis on the Tour. Something she credits to a combination of things. 

“I improved my game a little bit. I believe more in myself. I improved my serve. I think I improve the return.” She explained.

“I think physically I’m better than two years ago. I’ve been working with a new fitness coach for one-and-a-half years.

“There are many things, I think. Not just one. I think also winning matches helps a lot.”

Whilst she is heading in the right direction on the Tour, Paolini has vowed not to get too ahead of herself.

“Sometimes I’m a little bit scared to dream too much.” she said.

“I’m going back, trying to practice and stay in the present. This is the goal for me and my team, to try to keep this level as much as possible.

“If I keep this level, I think I can have the chance to do great things.

“Today I was dreaming of holding the (Wimbledon) trophy but it didn’t go well.

“I’m just enjoying the position where I am right now.”

Paolini has won 30 out of 43 matches on the Tour so far this season.

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