February 7, 2016

Fed Cup Canada vs Belarus: Wozniak does it again

Wozniack 8

By Charles David Mathieu-Poulin

(February 6, 2016) QUEBEC CITY – Canada and Belarus will head into Day 2 of their Fed Cup World Group II first round match-up in Quebec City deadlocked at  1-1. After Aliaksandra Sasnovich defeated François Abanda 6-4, 2-6, 6-3, Olga Govortsova failed to followed suit, losing to a resurgent Aleksandra Wozniak 6-2, 6-2.

On paper, a lot separated Abanda, ranked 343rd in the world, to Sasnovich 99th . The Canadian, who had seen her ranking drop dramatically in the past year, had struggled with consistency in 2015. Her game, which is based on power and athletic abilities, can often derail into series of unforced errors due to intensity gaps. Nevertheless, she often played inspired tennis in Fed Cup in the past, seemingly inspired by the exuberant crowds and patriotic aspect of the competition.

Not much separated both players at the start of the first set. As expected, Abanda slipped into the role of the aggressor, moving Sasnovich around with heavy hitting from both sides. The Belarusian, who has had a lot of success in the past on indoor fast surfaces, went for a more conservative approach. After both players traded multiple breaks at the start of the match, Abanda got her first opening when, up 4-3, she was up 15-30 on Sasnovich’s serve. After three loose errors from the Canadian, the Belarussian held for 4-all and never looked back, wrapping up the set 6-4 in 41 minutes.

Abanda’s game seemed to settle in the second set, as she took an early 3-0 lead with more control on her aggressive tennis. On the other side of the net, the Belarusian struggled to move past her passive game style, giving the Canadian time to whip up multiple winners. The story continued until, after 35 minutes, the local player reeled off the last four points on two return winners and two double faults to level the match at one set apiece, winning the second 6-2.

The start of the third set saw both players finding their range simultaneously, giving the crowd higher quality tennis. While Abanda continued to put a lot of pressure on Sasnovich, the Belarusian decided to step up the aggression and move the Canadian around. Both players traded blows until 2-all, when Abanda took at 40-15 lead. Similarly to the first set, the Canadian couldn’t convert multiple game points and gave away a crucial break. This sent the momentum Belarus’ way, and after breaking again at 5-3, Sasnovich gave Belarus a 1-0 lead, concluding the 2-hour affair 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.

Asked on what made the difference in such a close match, Sasnovich replied: ”I played for my country, I played for my parents, I played with my heart”. For Abanda, she tried to see the positive in a close defeat to a top 100 player: “It was only a few key pressure points that made the difference. I want to play aggressive and I did. I have plenty more matches to go this year and some high objectives for myself, starting with tomorrow”.

The level of pressure on Abanda’s shoulders was relieved a bit by Aleksandra Wozniak, who leveled the tie by playing like her former top 30 self in a 6-2 6-2 win over Olga Govortsova. Flawless from the get-go, the Canadian confirmed her spot as the best Canadian player in the history of Fed Cup competition as she dismissed the highest ranked player of the weekend convincingly. Wozniak, now ranked outside of the top 800 in the world following one year away from the courts due to a major shoulder injury, controlled the match from the baseline in an impressive showing of aggressive-but-clean tennis.

“I’m so excited to be back playing Fed Cup, in front of the best fans in the world!”, she claimed in her post-match interview. ‘We had a great week of preparation and playing at home, it gives you that extra energy that is so important.’

Asked on what made Fed Cup special, she replied: “I never say no to Fed Cup and to represent my country. It’s a privilege. Tennis is such an individual sport, when you have the chance to play as a team, as a family, it’s special.” This may be seen as a comment directed to top Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, who has decided to skip Fed Cup this weekend to focus on her singles career. Wozniak, earlier this week, had mentioned that “everyone has a busy schedule, it then only becomes a personal choice.”

All with therefore be decided in the second and final day of the tie. Abanda is set to play first against Govortsova, while Wozniak will follow against Sasnovich. A doubles match will be played; teams would most likely be decided last minute, but Canadian players Dabrowski and Zhao, winners of the most recent PanAm games, were seen practicing on site following the singles matches. Play will start at 12pm EST at the Peps in Laval University, Quebec City.

 

 

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Fed Cup Canada vs Belarus: Out of sight, in everyone’s mind

Wozniack 5

Aleksandra Wozniak

Fed Cup Canada vs Belarus: Out of sight, in everyone’s mind.

by Charles David Mathieu-Poulin

(February 5, 2016) QUEBEC CITY It seems  as though year after year, the biggest story of the Canadian Fed Cup events in Quebec City lies more in who doesn’t show up than who does. Last year, it was Eugenie Bouchard, who was yo-yoing between presence and absence for weeks before deciding to skip the World Group I encounter against the Czechs (Canada lost 0-4). This week, all eyes were on Victoria Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion and former No. 1, who had originally confirmed her intentions to show up in Canada but went MIA for most of the week. After a lot of uncertainty from the Belarus team captain over the week, it was confirmed at the draw ceremony held earlier today that Azarenka would not play this weekend in the World Group II first round between Canada and Belarus.

No official reasons were given for Azarenka’s absence, but a tweet from the Belarussian earlier this week was often brought back to the table: two simple emoji, one with an apparent fever and the other with a sad face. Both the press and public showed disappointment at Azarenka’s absence, and one may expect a lower crowd turnout at the Peps at Laval University.

While the Canadian team publicly stated that Azarenka’s absence doesn’t change anything for their preparation, they must be quite elated that their chances, which were very slim, got a bit better. Indeed, when highest-ranked Canadian Bouchard announced that she would skip the event to focus on playing tournaments to qualify for the Olympics (Bouchard later withdrew from her planned event in Rio played in two weeks), Canada had lost their only player ranked in the WTA top 300 singles rankings. With Belarus coming in with three players in the top 100 with Azarenka (14th), Olga Govortsova (74th) and Aliaksandra Sasnovich (99th), the hill seemed pretty steep.

All isn’t lost for Canada, as both Francoise Abanda and Aleksandra Wozniak, who are scheduled to play singles this weekend, have had inspired performances in Fed Cup in the past. At the same time last year, Abanda, who turned 19 on Friday, was on the rise and seen as one of the most promising junior players in the world. In Fed Cup, she played inspired tennis against Romania, beating top 50 player Begu and losing closely against Dulgheru. But a series of injuries and disappointing loses has seen the young Canadian drop more than 200 places in the ranking in the past 12 months. Nevertheless, she is talented, hits with a ton of power, and is passionate about playing for her country.

This is something Aleksandra Wozniak can relate to. The former top 25 player is trying yet another comeback from injury, as she was derailed off the courts for almost a year between September 2014 and August 2015. Through the past ten years, Wozniak has been a staple of the Canadian team: she is the player with the most ties played (34), most singles wins (31) and most overall wins (38) in the history of the country. A player who is usually pretty stoic and composed on court, she has always expressed more emotion when playing for her country, including in an emotional three set win against Slovakia on the same courts in April 2014. Canadian Captain Sylvain Bruneau will be hoping his players recapture some of that patriotic magic over the weekend.

Singles matches will start on Saturday with both Wozniak and Abanda looking to put their careers back on track, while Govortsova and Sasnovich, who both have had good success on indoor and fast surfaces, will be the clear favorites. Reverse singles and a possibly decisive doubles match will be played on Sunday and matches will start both days at noon Eastern Time.

 

Schedule: World Group II 1st Round – Canada vs Belarus.

 

Saturday February 6th, 12pm EST.

Françoise Abanda (CAN) vs Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR)

Aleksandra Wozniak (CAN) vs Olga Govortsova (BLR)

 

Sunday February 7th, 12pm EST

Françoise Abanda (CAN) vs Olga Govortsova (BLR)

Aleksandra Wozniak (CAN) vs Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR)

Gabriela Dabrowski/Carol Zhao (CAN) vs Olga Govortsova/Vera Lapko (BLR)

 

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Players Approve Courts but Work Still to be Done at Rio Olympic Tennis Centre

rio test 1

By Sheila Vieira

(December 12, 2015) RIO De JANEIRO, BRAZIL –  The Olympic Tennis Centre for the 2016 Rio Games held its test event from last Thursday to Saturday at the Olympic Park with general praise from Brazilian players. However, while seven courts are ready for play, including the 10,000 capacity main stadium, there are still adjustments to be made in regards to lighting and working offices.

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The total estimated cost of the Rio Tennis Centre is close to US$ 52 million (around 80% funded by the Federal Government), the construction is 85% ready and the organization expects everything to be completed by April. The Brazilian Tennis Federation tested the green courts with matches between local players in three categories: wheelchair, juniors and professionals. There were also two exhibition matches at the main stadium, featuring the country number one singles player, Thomaz Bellucci, and doubles specialists Bruno Soares and Andre Sa, among others.

“It is a hard court, but not a really fast court, because it’s Rio. You can’t control that, these are the conditions here, sea level and humidity. So it’s not too slow or fast. In my point of view, it’s totally approved. The locker room is great. Now it’s about the organization checking the logistics and operations, that will certainly be more complex at the Games”, said Soares, the new doubles partner of British player Jamie Murray.

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Chief Operating Officer for the International Tennis Federation, Spaniard Juan Margets defined the test event as a “positive” experience: “We visited the place a year ago and it was at a very early stage. The situation is now clear: we knew that there was a small delay, but this week’s experience is really positive because you can see the facilities and what they’re going to become. When it comes to the sport aspect, everything is good, no player can complain. In the general aspect, like the working offices, the level is quite acceptable”.

The matches in the main stadium were played during the afternoon because only a part of the lighting has been installed. The arena will be named after 19-time Grand Slam champion Maria Esther Bueno after the Games. Current seats should be replaced by new ones and the temporary stands for courts 1 and 2 (5,000 and 3,000 seat capacity each) are still to be built. Other five outside courts were also tested. At the Olympics, the matches will take place in 10 courts and six others will be reserved for practice.

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The Olympic Tennis Centre is right beside the main street access for the fans, the Embaixador Alberto Bueno Avenue. The Main Press Center (MPC), the International Broadcasting Center (IBC) and the Velodrome are the closest structures to the tennis venue. The Olympic Park, located in the west side of Rio, will host 16 sports during the Games. The tennis tournament takes place from August 6th to the 14th and all tickets are sold out for Brazilian fans.

After the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Tennis Centre is expected to be administrated by the Brazilian Tennis Federation. “If everything goes according to plan, we will move to Rio (the Federation’s head office is currently in Sao Paulo) and besides having a training center, we can host all kinds of tournaments here, like Davis Cup ties”, said Jorge Lacerda, president of the entity.

 

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Former world No. 1 Gustavo Kuerten hopes that the Olympics can be a turning point not only for Brazilian tennis, but for the country as a whole: “Our nation usually extracts few benefits from great opportunities. It will be amazing for tennis and for people who live in the sports universe. But unfortunately we are not ready take advantage of that in a general way. The Olympics will certainly be a success and people from all around the world will leave with great memories. But the Brazilian people will stay here afterwards. Those days need to be the start of a bigger transformation”.

Sheila Vieira is a Brazilian sportswriter who has been covering the tennis tour over the last five years.

All photos by Cristiano Andujar.

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Agnieszka Radwanska Triumphs in Singapore to Win WTA Finals Crown

Radwanska

By Ros Satar

(November 1, 2015) SINGAPORE – It is fair to say this was a title that no-one was expecting at the start of the week, as Agnieszka Radwanska and Petra Kvitova took to the court. This was going to be the first time anyone with a 1-2 record in the round robin phase of the WTA Finals would go on to lift the championship trophy.

 

But all that needed to be put aside, especially for Kvitova, who quickly found herself down a break at the start of the opening set. Steadying the nerves to at least get on the board, it was going to be important for her to stay in contention, against an in-form Radwanska – who was ready to punish any careless generosity of points from the Czech.

 

The first set was completely out of her reach in 33 minutes as Radwanska’s control versus Kvitova’s errors told the story in the score line of 6-2. If ever there was a time that Kvitova needed to be on the winning side of a brutal game it was now, but Radwanska could seemingly do no wrong, breaking the Czech in the first game.

 

The only way out for Kvitova would be to keep the points short and somehow, she seemed to find her groove, reeling off nine points in a row to get things back on serve. Keeping the pressure on now was vital if she wanted to delay/deny Radwanska making some Polish history. At the very least (especially after a Doubles final drubbing for Carla Suarez Navarro and Garbine Muguruza in a little over an hour), the crowd needed to have a match to get their teeth into.

 

By the third set though it was clear that the heavy strapping on Kvitova’s right thigh was causing her grief. On more than one occasion she had looked in pain as the momentum shifted first the Czech’s way, and then back to Radwanska as she came from a break down in the decider to lead by a break.

 

Neither seemed willing to hold until finally Radwanska seemed to steady the ship to edge to a 5-3 lead. Kvitova’s grip loosened as Radwanska broke her to win as Kvitova dumped a forehand into the net.

 

Given that both players came in with a losing record, and Kvitova was reliant on Lucie Safarova delivering a straight sets win, it was a time to reflect ahead of the Fed Cup final next week.

 

“I think with this kind of tournament it’s more positives for sure,” Kvitova said. “I mean, I had a great match yesterday with Maria (Sharapova), and I just think that today was really big fight and just about few points and I didn’t make it.

 

“I think was still great even for me. The season was good. I mean, of course I wish a little bit better, but on the side I think could be much more worse. It’s still okay.”

 

The winner still had a look of disbelief about her, although she was reduced to speechlessness when asked if any of her prize money would be buying presents for the press!

 

When all said and done though, Radwanska deserved to be in the final with her tough match against Muguruza, and perhaps the results did not truly reflect the standard of her game for the large part.

 

She said: “I lost first two matches, but it’s not like I was playing bad. It was still good matches. I just didn’t use the chances. I wasn’t really focus enough and something just slip away and then it was hard to come back. But definitely not bad matches, especially the one against Maria. That’s why I didn’t ‑‑ I just knew being fresh and have a good rest, that is very important for us.

 

“I don’t know how, but I was really feeling better afterwards, and I think I used to conditions, used to surface. I think I was playing even better in those two days.”

 

It is worth noting that Amelie Mauresmo was the last WTA Finals champion without having won a Slam previously, and the following year she went on to win two.

 

She said: “Well, for sure give me more confidence, especially that in a Grand Slam you also to have win and beat couple of top players in a row.

 

“I think here it’s even harder because just eight of us and you don’t have any first rounds to used to the courts. But definitely a good start. I’ll definitely try to do that next year. (Smiling.)”

 

Kvitova of course heads to the Fed Cup Final in Prague, and Radwanska will join the IPTL this year.

 

Ros Satar was in Singapore covering the WTA Finals as media for Tennis Panorama News. She is a British sports journalist covering tennis, and can also be found at Britwatch Sports.

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Kvitova to Face Radwanska for WTA Finals Crown

Agniezska Radwanska

Agniezska Radwanska

By Ros Satar

(October 31, 2015) SINGAPORE – The question around the media centre at the WTA Finals was just how much had Garbiñe Muguruza’s efforts in both the singles and the doubles taken out of her. A grueling match with Petra Kvitova had left her admitting that she felt pretty tired, whereas for Agnieszka Radwanska, it was a slot gained by the supreme play so far from Maria Sharapova, coming in with a 1-2 record for the second time in a row.

 

Even watching them in training in the morning, Radwanska seemed the more care-free and free-swinging while Muguruza looked a bit inhibited and more subdued. That being said, the nerves were evident for both as they started with trading breaks, before Radwanska held serve before the first change of ends.

 

With a run of four games on the trot, it looked as though Muguruza’s bubble had burst, while Radwanska, on her seventh time out at the season ending championships looked on the verge of getting past the semi-finals for the first time.

 

Calling out coach Sam Sumyk, Muguruza looked impassive as he murmured his advice, but whatever he said, it worked as she decided it was high time she went on a little winning spree of her own, winning the next three games to put her right back in contention.

 

Now things were picking up as the Muguruza started to apply a little more pressure, moving the magician around, putting some of that doubles prowess to good use, to force a first set tie-break.

 

Despite once more building up an advantage, Muguruza came back from 1-4 down to win five points in a row to bring up set point. Radwanska pulled off a regular Houdini trick to save it, and after a slugging rally, a bewitched net cord delivered Radwanska the cruelest blow, dropping the ball back on her side to hand Muguruza the first set with quite some drama.

 

If we thought the momentum would be with the second seed, we could not have been more wrong. Once more Radwanska was the quicker off the mark, quickly leaping out to a 4-0 lead before Muguruza would get on the board. This time, though there would be no miracle come back as Radwanska leveled the match.

 

With a feeling of déjà vu, Radwanska once more picked up a 3-0 lead, and this time it looked as though Muguruza was done. Yet again though with her back against the wall, Muguruza slowly crept back into the game. But the fatigue finally caught up with the Spaniard who could not serve to force a tie-break, with Radwanska breaking on her second match point to win 7-6(5,) 3-6, 7-5.

 

Radwanska said, after the match: “I was just so happy to get through that match. Like I was saying before, I didn’t really expect to be in the semis after the first losses and now it’s the final. So that was really big match. Well, a lot of emotion during that match I think all three hours. I’m just so relieved that it’s over and I could win that match.”

 

Describing some of the outstanding tennis on show today, she said: “Sometimes like, Oh, my God. It’s in! But tennis is so fast, so you’re not really have time to think. That’s just the reaction. We have not even a second to make shot, a decision, and it’s just suddenly there. But, well, I’m just always very happy to make those shots. Well, yeah. (Smiling.)”

 

With Muguruza still having to play the doubles semifinal later today, she was positive about the whole run, saying: “In the first set like I kind of give it all, and then it was hard for me to start the second one. But, well, I just wanted to give everything I had, and doesn’t matter how long I was going to be able to keep it. I just went out there, and if I die on the court, I die, but at least I go out from there happy.

 

“I’m super happy the way I played. I think it’s amazing: Tokyo, Wuhan, Beijing, and here and be able to keep the level and go out there and just have amazing matches.”

Petra Kvitova

Petra Kvitova

The second semifinal had all the promise of a long slugfest with Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova trading breaks right at the start, before they got right down to business. But it has been a bit of an unsettled tournament for Kvitova. A lackluster start, and a tough battle to finish with a 1-2 record, reliant on an outstanding display by Lucie Safarova to dump Angelique Kerber out of the competition.

 

Any concerns though that she might have checked out a bit, went with two breaks at the end of the set in succession.

 

With the Russian hustling to a 3-0 lead at the start of the second, and no doubt having watched the first semifinal grind out with a sense of glee, she proceeded to make extremely light work of the Czech. Faced with yet another 1-4 score-line deficit, were we going to see another memorable comeback this evening?

 

The answer turned out to be yes, as Kvitova clicked into focus and worked her way back in, and Sharapova, who has been so strong throughout started to unravel a bit, while Kvitova ran off five games on the trot. Sharapova managed to stop the rot, to push the second set into a tie-break. Kvitova by now was locked in as she went on a run of four straight points to set up a final with Radwanska, winning 6-3, 7-6(3).

 

There were a lot of positives for Sharapova to take away from a tournament which signaled her first complete run since July this year.

 

She explained: “I didn’t have expectations coming into this week. Of course it’s always tough to sit after a match and say you’re happy, especially after you lose it. But I think it would be quite unprofessional of me to not take a lot of positives out of this week. I think there’s a lot to look forward to in the off‑season and next year, yeah, as well as couple of the matches in two weeks.

 

“I was able to play quite physical matches and get through them. I think that was something that I wasn’t sure of coming into this week because I hadn’t played a lot.

 

“I don’t know what to expect [from the Fed Cup Final]. I know it’s going to be much more difficult than the first time around, but it’s never easy playing away and never easy being in the final as well. Yeah, I just look forward to the experience. Something new for me.”

 

Kvitova had gone from being fairly disinterested in proceedings after almost accepting that her season (excepting Fed Cup) was over, to now having a shot at a second title.

 

She said: “It’s very weird, I have to say. Yesterday I was talking about my season, and it’s still not over yet. But I’m happy for that for sure. I mean, I couldn’t really believe that I going to play semifinal; now I’m the final, which is very interesting. I’m really looking forward. I think Aga is kind of in the same situation, so it’s going to be interesting.

 

“[She is a] difficult opponent, for sure. She’s very smart. I think she has a lot the variety on the court. She getting so many balls, so sometimes it feels that she’s never‑ending story on the court. So it’s really about the patient and still be kind of sharp, but playing a lot of shots and rallies. It’s difficult. But last match of the season for her, for me ‑ even if I’m not counting with the Fed Cup ‑‑ so both of us will leave everything out there tomorrow.”

 

Kvitova and Radwanska will play the final, on Stadium Court at 6:30pm.

 

Ros Satar is in Singapore covering the WTA Finals as media for Tennis Panorama News. She is a British sports journalist covering tennis, and can also be found at Britwatch Sports.

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With Win Over Kvitova, Muguruza Reaches Semis in WTA Finals Debut

By Ros Satar

(October 30, 2015) SINGAPORE – The final day’s Round Robin at the WTA Finals matches saw the highest seed remaining, Garbiñe Muguruza take on former champion Petra Kvitova in the first match of the day. After a disrupted year, Kvitova seemed ill at ease on court in her opener, losing to Germany’s Angelique Kerber and thus setting herself on the back foot for the tournament.

 

She may have kept up her spotless record against compatriot Lucie Safarova, but after a mammoth hold in her opening service game, staving off three break points, first blood inevitably went to the Spaniard, who this time needed no second invitation to capitalize on the break point.

 

It was a good response though from the Czech, who kept her head to break straight back, but not to be outdone Muguruza struck back again to regain the advantage. Kvitova picked up her serving to at least stay in contention but the second break put Muguruza in the driver’s seat to serve out the first set, and this secure her qualification at the top of the tree in the white group.

 

Yet again the pair traded breaks at the start of the second set, as the Czech started to unwind a bit, this time being the one to exert pressure on Muguruza. With the scenarios still dictating that a win would need both Czech lefties to be victorious, the 2011 champion seemed to relax more into her hitting in the second set, easing out to a 3-1 lead.

 

With three breaks apiece, a botched swipe at the net and the merest of deflections off the net kept Kvitova hanging in, as Muguruza seemed to buckle for the first time this tournament, swinging wide and long, with Kvitova barely having to do much to break to take the set.

 

This time it was Kvitova who started by swinging for the fences, but again just not being able to hold on to her break advantage. What was at stake was Muguruza’s position in the mix. A win in three for the Spaniard meant we were still theoretically on course for a Maria Sharapova/Muguruza final, but if Kvitova swung for the win, and could call upon compatriot Lucie Safarova to beat Angelique Kerber, the Czech could force a change in the position and throw the script out the window.

 

Take nothing in women’s tennis for granted. Kvitova’s break was once more nullified by the Spaniard and the game of chess continued. The quality of tennis from both was outstanding, but at the end the nerves of steel belonged to Muguruza after swinging between match-points and break-points, finally sealing it 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 on her fourth.

 

With that she qualified top of the group with a perfect 3-0 record on her debut, leaving Safarova to save Kvitova’s chances with a straight sets win over Kerber, and with the German needing just a single set to advance.

 

It was not technically over for the Czech when she came into press, but one couldn’t help feeling that maybe the focus was shifting.

 

Kvitova said: “I think for me it’s first time in kind of this situation, so it’s kind of new for me. Of course I’m cheering for Lucie, but, I mean, I did everything what I could today. Really didn’t happen. I left everything so I’m okay.

 

“Still have a Fed Cup final ahead, which is interesting and I’m really looking forward to do that. The main goal is be prepared and healthy for the next season.”

 

It was undoubtedly Muguruza’s toughest battle yet, and with the singles and the doubles semifinals to contest, it is a tough end to the season coming right up.

 

Admitting she was tired, and now just concentrating on getting through the week, Muguruza said: “I went to the court thinking that I want to win the match, not only a set or just to qualify. I went there like, No Garbine, go on the court and ‑‑ if you go on the court you have to go and win, not to be half/half.

 

“So that’s what I did. I had my good and bad moments, but I’m just happy that I’ve been through.”

 

If there were any hopes this would be a straight forward match, three straight breaks of serve quickly dispelled that. With Safarova managing to consolidate her second break, it was enough to keep her nose ahead, and even squandering two set points on Kerber’s serve was not enough to halt her momentum as she moved half way to putting Kvitova back in the mix.

 

It was a very rattled Kerber almost tearfully remonstrating with her coach down a break in the second set. It was disappointing that after demonstrating some solid aggressive play, the German was reverting to much more passive play and it was costing her dearly.

 

It was the cruelest blow to Kerber – for the third time in a row she failed to advance at a time when she looked to be the player most likely to join Muguruza in the semifinals. Match to Safarova 6-4, 6-3.

 

The semifinal line up is Sharapova verus Kvitova and Muguruza against Radwanska.

 

Ros Satar is in Singapore covering the WTA Finals as media for Tennis Panorama News. She is a British sports journalist covering tennis, and can also be found at Britwatch Sports.

 

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Pennetta Loses Her Final Match to Sharapova, While Radwanska Dashes Halep’s Semifinal Hopes at WTA Finals

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Agnieszka Radwanska

By Ros Satar

(October 29, 2015) SINGAPORE – After the general speculation that swirls around once the Round Robin scenarios start doing the rounds, comes the nail-biting action, and the Red Group kicked all that off in fine style on day five of the WTA Finals in Singapore.

 

Of all the players that came to Singapore at the end of last week, it was maybe Agnieszka Radwanska who looked to be in the best form. She had a solid Asian swing with just a blip in Wuhan and was looking to finish the year strong.

 

She was up against Simona Halep who was coming off the back of an injury but seemed to be up for the challenge, starting with a confident win, but seemingly coming unraveled yet again at the hands of Maria Sharapova.

 

Starting with a break, against Radwanska who had looked somewhat lacklustre against Flavia Pennetta, it looked as though the Pole was going to be starting her holidays early with a 0-3 record. But gradually those trademark Ninja skills came into play, and with some breathtakingly bold shots out of necessity to keep the ball in play, she struck back.

 

 

As Radwanska hung on to force a first set tie-breaker, sure enough Halep pushed and hustled her way to a 5-1 lead, but credit to Radwanska she kept plugging away, catching up to Halep, and pushing past her for a set point. In the rally of the tournament, she won surely the point of the tournament to take the set, winning the next six points in a row.

 

Momentum is everything and although Halep came through a tough hold, saving a break point along the way in the first game of the second set, that was the last show of resistance as Radwanska bulldozed past her to give herself a slim chance of making the semifinals with a 1-2 record.

 

After failing to maybe deliver throughout the clay court season, Halep still finishes high in the rankings with some good titles behind her, so all in all – a good performance?

 

She said: “I think I had a good year this year. Ups and downs, but it was okay. I will finish No. 2 or No. 3 in the world so it’s pretty good for me. It’s second year in a row.

 

“I want to get better for the next year. I have many things to improve. I have to run a little bit more because I need. Today I couldn’t breathe anymore in the second set. But it’s normal. I have to be healthy first and then to train hard. I really want to get better; I want to do better next year.”

 

For Radwanska, her hopes were alive albeit in the hands of Sharapova, as she described her comeback to win 7-6(5), 6-1.

 

She said: “That definitely was a crazy set. Up and downs pretty much whole set. Every point matters in that case. Well, the tiebreak I didn’t really know that I could come back, and suddenly ‑‑ I think I was really relaxed. I didn’t get tight and I think I made really good shot in important moments. When was just 5‑1 down I think I just kind of play aggressive tennis and that works.

 

“What I can do right now is just watch and cheer for Maria. So that’s it. (Laughter.)”

 

It was certainly going to be all eyes on Sharapova, but also on Pennetta, who was potentially in her last match, unless she could take at least a set off the former champion.

 

For a time it looked like we would see just that – Pennetta started with a break and stayed steady until around the middle of the set, when Sharapova kicked up a notch to get the break back.

 

Many had thought she could take a set off Sharapova, having won the last three matches over her including at Indian Wells this year. But once more when the momentum was with Sharapova, she was not going to relinquish it in a hurry as she quickly dominated the second set, winning 7-5, 6-1.

 

As the sun set on Pennetta’s career, it was a quick exit as she declined an on court ceremony after a hug at the net with Sharapova, who finishes top of the group with Radwanska second.

 

Pennetta explained her rapid departure: “I’m happy to have the chance to play this tournament. I think to have the last match against Maria was amazing play such a good champion. Was a good way also to say good‑bye, because when you lose against such a good player there is not too many things to say.

 

“I don’t want any drama. I don’t like drama. I wasn’t able to do that, so I prefer maybe to do it in few months. I don’t know, maybe in Rome or wherever. But in that time ‑‑ I don’t like drama and I don’t like to cry, and I know if I was there I will cry. So why? No. (Laughter.)”

 

Pennetta spoke about what she’ll miss about playing the tour: “I think I will miss the players in a way it’s like a family. But I cannot tell you what I going to miss more than that.  I think also I will miss the competition.  When you go on the court, the central court, it’s something special.  I don’t think I will have it anymore. But in the other way, I am really happy to start a new part of life, new things.”

 

Sharapova had already qualified and knew that but did not know what the specific scenarios were as far as Pennetta was concerned.

 

She said: “I knew that I had qualified before my match, but I didn’t know about how the result of the match would change the standings or who would go in.       I knew if she would win she would go through. Other than that, I didn’t know the calculations exactly.

 

“I didn’t know in the last point that if I had won match in two that she was out, so it wasn’t something that I had thought about. But then it was mentioned to me after, right before I threw the balls up in the air that she was out.”

 

She continued: “Every match for me just counts at this point in the season in the last tournament. As I said before, I wanted to try to play a high‑quality three matches, and I didn’t know the results would have gone the way that I have expected.

 

“I’m actually, I think, also a little bit surprised that I’ve been able to win three matches, as physical as some of those matches were. I think knowing that I qualified allowed me to be a little bit more aggressive today. I thought I played quite aggressively in the second set and had a good ratio of winners and unforced errors, was quite solid. Served well.

 

“So all those things helped me. And also not playing a third set against Flavia, as we have done previously, is also a big help for me.”

 

Friday’s scenarios are a little less clean cut, but it would be a surprise not to see Garbiñe Muguruza mirror Sharapova with a clean sweep of wins, and few would begrudge Angelique Kerber her shot at getting out of the round robin stages for the first time.

 

With the Singapore Tennis Evening taking up the night’s festivities, play starts at 11am.

Ros Satar is in Singapore covering the WTA Finals as media for Tennis Panorama News. She is a British sports journalist covering tennis, and can also be found at Britwatch Sports.

 

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Kvitova Beats Safarova, Muguruza Moves to 2-0 at WTA Finals in Singapore

By Ros Satar

(October 28, 2015) SINGAPORE – On a rainy day in Singapore, Petra Kvitova finally found a way to shine as she challenged fellow leftie Czech Lucie Safarova. With both having lost their opening rounds, it was really a must win for either of them to avoid an early trip home (albeit to prepare for the Fed Cup Final).

 

It might not have been the prettiest of tennis out there, but the match was a tight two-setter with Safarova going toe-to-toe with Kvitova, neither player conceding a break point until the end of the first set, as Safarova strove to get the advantage.

 

It took the 2011 champion two set points to get the much needed edge over her Fed Cup team-mate, but that was no deterrent to Safarova as she came out swinging for the fences. Catching Kvitova on the hop, she ripped through the first three games before the two-time Wimbledon champion shot back with four games on the trot to get right back in it.

 

She even threatened to break again, forcing Safarova to save two break points, before finally delivering the blow in the final game, breaking for the match 7-5, 7-5.

 

Kvitova described how she felt she had turned things around, saying: “I think in the last game she missed two forehands down the line. I think that’s her best shot. So probably that helped me in that game. But really tough to say. I mean, always when it’s really tight, the sets, you going to try to keep to putting as many balls in and just try and wait what going to happen.”

 

With the pair set to team up in the Fed Cup Final, Safarova described how the different dynamic helps pull the team together.

 

She said: I prefer playing with Petra. We always had a lot of fun through Fed Cup weeks. We are a great team, which we show with our results in last few years. I’m excited about that. It will be nice to play in Prague, at home, in front of our crowd. We have sold out the arena already, so I’m sure it will be amazing.

 

“[The team] do all sorts. We have every day team dinners, and of course we have practices together. We have fun in the locker room. We always in the evening hang out together at our doctor’s room and just chat. Someone has a treatment and all the others are there with them. So it’s just a really nice week. Like all activities what we do we do together.”

 

Next up on the menu was Garbiñe Muguruza and Angelique Kerber, and many felt this had the potential to be a corker of a match. It certainly started with intent as the Spaniard, currently on a three match-winning streak over Kerber, including two wins in Grand Slams this year.

 

That may well have played on her mind, as she lost her opening game, although broke back to set things back on an even keel. Neither player seemed to be giving an inch, but a sloppy ninth game saw Muguruza force Kerber onto the back foot. One break-point was saved but it was not enough as Muguruza struck before edging out the first set 6-4.

 

She wanted to carry on that momentum, pushing Kerber to defend three break points but the German would not allow her the early momentum. That being said, Kerber just could not make a dent in the Muguruza service game, and struggled once more with Muguruza playing very solidly and being rewarded with the break.

 

Credit where it is due though, as the German battled back but all that effort was to no avail as she was broken straight back as Muguruza stepped up to serve the match out 6-4, 6-4.

 

With three match points behind her the nerves kicked in, throwing in her first double fault of the match. But a beautiful finish at the net saw Muguruza in the running for qualification with a 2-0 lead, but of course life is never that simple with the scenarios.

 

Muguruza said: “I’m feeling very good. You never know how it’s going to go here when you come first time. For sure I’m very happy of how is it going.

 

“Hopefully I can keep playing like this. It’s great to be here in singles and doubles. I’ve played all the year singles and doubles, singles and doubles, so it’s great to have this payoff being here.”

 

Kerber said: I think it was a good match from both of us. It was a close one in the first, and in the second set I had my chances. I couldn’t take it in the first set and as well in the second set.

 

“I was coming back in the second set. I was trying to play until the last point. Again, I was fighting, like I’m always doing. But she was more aggressive in the important moments. I think that was the key at the end for the match.”

 

She continued: “I think she played a good year. I mean, she reached the top 10, top 5 right now. But I think right now she had a lot of confidence from the last few weeks, and I think that helps her like to be very confident in the important moment and just go for it. I think that’s why she is so dangerous right now.”

 

The scenarios for both groups give everyone some kind of chance as we head into the last matches of the round robin stages and return to the Red Group, as top seed Simona Halep takes on Agnieszka Radwanska, and Maria Sharapova possibly closes the door on US Open champion Flavia Pennetta’s career.

 

Play begins at 1pm with the doubles on Thursday.

 

Ros Satar is in Singapore covering the WTA Finals as media for Tennis Panorama News. She is a British sports journalist covering tennis, and can also be found at Britwatch Sports.

 

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Sharapova 2-0 with Win Over Halep, While Pennetta Notches First Win at WTA Finals

By Ros Satar

(October 27,2015) SINGAPORE- The aftermath of Monday night’s defeat at the WTA Finals in Singapore seemed to weigh heavy in the practice courts for Petra Kvitova, as certainly the first part of her training session revolved around some earnest and animated discussion on the side of her coach David Kotyza before they finally got to hitting (the ball, not each other).

 

Meanwhile Flavia Pennetta looked relaxed in her warm up and despite getting broken in her first game as she took to the court in the day session against Agnieszka Radwanska, she looked to be playing far more aggressively than she had against Simona Halep.

 

As you might come to expect from this pair, the use of angles, the entire court and lines was on full display as the pair matched each other, a break here, a recovery there before Pennetta edged the tiebreak 7-6(5).

 

There was a brief pause as the Italian had to get her ankle strapped after tweaking it in the first set, but she continued to look just that little bit sharper than Radwanska whose customary magic skills seemed to falter against the Italian, as she was edged out 7-6(5), 6-4.

 

Pennetta can appreciate what it must be like for Maria Sharapova to have come back after such a lengthy time off the tour, and to feel she may now have some momentum.

 

The Italian said: “The win she had against Radwanska the first match the first day was impressive. She play good. Of course she is healthy. She has this adrenaline because she was out for three or four months, something like that. When you come in the court after so long you are with a lot of energy. It’s going to be tough for sure. “

 

With her 500th tour win in the balance, and of course her chances of making the semifinals of the tournament, it was going to be a very nail-biting evening for Radwanska as her place in the tournament now depends on the outcome of the match between Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova. She would need Halep to lose to keep her hopes alive.

 

Coming out looking fierce, Halep responded to getting broken straight away by whipping straight back but a sloppy could games where she failed to her chances to go up another break cost her dear as some pleasing variety from Sharapova saw her break on a third set point for the first set.

 

The second set started in the same way with Sharapova making the first strike, but this time Halep was all at sea as Sharapova broke her again to leap out to a 5-1 lead. Those couple of months out might have accounted for a little serving-out rust as Halep ground back two breaks but just could not consolidate to stay in with a fighting chance, with Sharapova winning 6-4, 6-4.

 

Halep acknowledged that Sharapova’s level rises when they play, saying: “She played really well today, even if she didn’t play for a long time, since Wimbledon. Yeah she knows how to play. She’s a champion. She has experience. I can say I feel she’s playing really well against me always, but that’s tennis. I have to accept and to do things better.”

 

Sharapova expects another grueling and physical encounter in the final round robin match, and if Pennetta and Halep both win their matches in straight sets, Sharapova will be eliminated.

 

She said: “I’ve always been a player that goes into a match and I don’t seek perfection because I don’t know if that’s possible. At least I’ve never proven to myself that’s possible. You’re always going to make mistakes and errors.

 

Sometimes, and most of the time, I feel happier when I get through a match and I didn’t play my best tennis but found a way to win. That gives me a lot more confidence.”

 

The second round robin stage for the white group kicks off with the all-Czech encounter between Kvitova and Lucie Safarova, with the night-match focus falling on arguably the other favourite for the title, Garbiñe Muguruza.

Ros Satar is in Singapore covering the WTA Finals as media for Tennis Panorama News. She is a British sports journalist covering tennis, and can also be found at Britwatch Sports.

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Muguruza and Kerber Win Their Opening Matches at WTA Finals in Singapore

Angelique Kerber

Angelique Kerber

 

By Ros Satar

 

(October 26, 2015) SINGAPORE –  It was the turn of the White Group to get underway in Singapore, after a high quality end to the opening day, as the two busiest stars opened the evening’s proceedings.

 

Garbine Muguruza may have looked sluggish and like an easy target in their doubles on Sunday where she and partner Carla Suárez Navarro lost to Lucie Safarova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands, but her steely focus was back in full effect as she sought to push for a break before the first change of ends, finally coming good on her fourth break point.

 

She went hunting for a double break cushion in a lengthy see-sawing game but had to wait until the end of the set to get her reward, breaking the Czech for a second time to seal the first set 6-3.

 

Safarova kicked into gear at the start of the second set, breaking Muguruza to start, as she built up a 3-1 lead. The Spaniard edged back on equal terms as the pair upped the quality of their play, pushing each other towards a tie-break.

 

It was a more aggressive start by Muguruza, as she built up a head of steam, leaving Safarova on the back foot. Even a couple of mini-breaks was not quite enough to put her back in contention, as Muguruza closed out with two breaks of the Safarova serve to claim her first singles win at the WTA Finals, 6-3, 7-6(4).

 

Despite the loss, Safarova was able to take some positives away, and of course lives to come back another day.

 

She said: “It was a good match today. She was serving very well and pressuring me. Was going for her shots. I think the difference maybe a lot in self‑confidence. Even in those key moments she remained very strong.”

 

She continued: “So I feel like I’m slowly back in my game, but of course you need the wins. So I will keep positive and keep fighting in the next matches.”

 

For Muguruza it was a dream start on what has been an outstanding year.

 

She told media, after the match: “Obviously to go there and play and win for the first time, it’s great. So I feel now more calm, more in the tournament.

 

“I just went here and maybe … she hasn’t played for maybe couple of weeks. But I definitely played good today, so I think that helped a lot. (Smiling.)”

 

The remaining lefties came right along to do battle next. In practice, Petra Kvitova had looked happy and relaxed, but it was Angelique Kerber who made the quickest adjustment to the court, swiftly breaking to establish a lead that Kvitova never looked close to eradicating.

 

Things looked more hopeful for the 2011 champion as she ground away at Kerber to break away for a 3-1 lead, before the pair traded breaks back and forth on their way to a tie-break. Once ahead, Kerber hung on to grab the victory 6-2, 7-6(3).

 

For a match that promised so much, Kvitova could only acknowledge Kerber’s late burst of form at the tail end of the year.

 

She said: “I know that she’s a great player. She’s very good mover and fighter as well, so I know it’s going to be difficult. I think in the second set it was kind of the fight finally.

 

“I was trying what I can in the moment. I expect for sure difficult match. She play really good swing in Asia. I just knew it’s going to be good match. I didn’t really play the best in the first set, but I was trying to do something a little bit better in the second.”

 

It was a satisfied Kerber who took to the platform – but surprisingly may have also been gearing up for the long haul. She admitted: “I was a little bit nervous before I went on court, but I was actually trying to just play my game plan and it works.

 

“The second set was like a little bit close and was up and downs. Yeah, but I played the tiebreak at the end very good, so that was the key for the match at the end.”

 

Agnieszka Radwanska gets the singles program underway on Tuesday against Flavia Pennetta, with the evening match set for another epic encounter between top seed Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova.

 

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist covering tennis, and can also be found at Britwatch Sports.

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