August 29, 2016

Just Breathe: Johanna Konta Wins Maiden WTA Title at Bank of the West Classic

Williams and Konta

By Curt Janka

(July 24, 2016) STANFORD, California –  British No. 1 Johanna Konta earned her first WTA title by battling past top seed Venus Williams 7-5, 5-7, 6-2. This match was Konta’s first final while Williams was playing her 80th final. That said, Konta played with poise and control. She hit her spots and capitalized on opportunities.

 

Venus Williams

Venus Williams

Williams put up a valiant fight. Despite going down a set and two breaks in the second set, she never gave up. “Just because it’s 4-1 doesn’t mean the match is over” Williams said. She couldn’t quite come back in the third set, however, and gave lots of credit to her opponent. “She had a lot of great shots. She came up with a lot of winners. She just played a great match.”

Johanna Konta

Johanna Konta

After her semifinal, Konta said controlling her breathing helped her win. She was asked if it helped again today. “Breathing! Revolutionary, guys” she laughed, then explained further, “It helps with my train of thought. The more simple you keep things, the more clarity you have and the less dumb you play.“

So, how was her breathing near the end of the second set when Venus came back from two breaks? More laughs, “Yeah I probably did forget to breath there.”

In the third set, Konta said she went back to keeping things simple. “Coming into that third set it was about just putting things behind you and really breaking it down. Every single point was a battle and you try to win as many battles as possible.”

Along the way, Konta said she found herself wanting to learn from Williams.  “I was thinking a lot in that third set,” she explained “about how many times Venus has been in this position. And just really appreciating that and understanding the magnitude of that. How lucky am I to play against one of the best players in the sport that I’m a part of. Just being grateful of that just makes things lighter and puts things in perspective. Hopefully one day I’ll be as experienced as she is.”

She is indeed learning from one of the best and climbing up the rankings along the way.  Both Konta and Williams will be moving up – as of Monday Konta will be No. 14 in the world with Williams up a notch to No. 6.

 

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Johanna Konta Serves Her Way Into Her First WTA Final

Johanna Konta

Johanna Konta

By Curt Janka

(July 23, 2016) STANFORD, California – Johanna Konta lost just six points on her serve as she toppled Dominika Cibulkova 6-4, 6-2 in the first semifinal of the Bank of the West Classic. The win earns Konta her first WTA final and it’s the first time a British player has played for the trophy here since Virginia Wade in 1981.

The third seed Konta served a total of nine games and held at love for six of them. Cibulkova, the second seed and 2013 champion, is arguably one of the better returners on tour, so what made Konta’s serve so tough today? “She was placing the serve so well and it was hard for me to do something with it,” the Slovak Cibulkova answered. “She was changing the directions of the serve, so that was the main thing. Today she was just serving too well.“

The 25-year-old British woman, currently ranked No. 18,  backed up her serve with solid ground strokes and returns, breaking her higher-seeded opponent three times. After the match, she was pleased with her performance. “I’m really happy to have come through that and to be into my first final,” Konta said. “I thought I served well and did a good job in the end of staying in the present. She [Cibulkova] is an incredible competitor, so I knew going into the match that I was going to have to be there for every single point. I achieved that, so I’m feeling very grateful and looking forward to my next match tomorrow.”

Konta was also playing in the doubles semifinal with her partner, Maria Sanchez, against Darija Jurak and Anastasia Rodionova. Konta will play Venus Williams in the final. The two-time Stanford winner beat Alison Riske in the night session.

“I’m really happy to have come through that and to be into my first final,” Konta said after her win.

 

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Venus Williams Playing Like The Top Seed She Is At The Bank Of The West Classic

Venus Williams

Venus Williams

By Curt Janka

(July 22, 2016) STANFORD, California –  A relaxed Venus Williams played composed tennis as she breezed to a 6-4, 6-1 win over 17-year-old wildcard Catherine Bellis at the Bank of the West Classic on Friday night. While it may have taken three sets for Williams to get by her previous opponent, there was no sign of tension in her play on Friday night. Experience may have been the key against her younger opponent.

When asked why she looked so at ease on the court she said, “I just felt like I had a lot of experience and as a young person she has to go for a lot more than I ever have to go for because I understand the game more. So I felt just comfortable that I could control the match.”

“After Wimbledon I was really pumped,” the 36-year-old Williams said. “I was like, ‘I can’t wait to play.’ That felt good. It felt good to be eager.”

When asked what else she is looking forward to this summer, the two-time Stanford winner replied, “There’s so much to look forward to! The semifinals tomorrow is like my main focus. The Olympics I’ve been waiting for four years. As soon as the last one was over I was ready to go again. It’s getting closer and it feels surreal but when I get there it’s gonna be real. And after that you just turn right back around and play the Open.”

CiCi Bellis

CiCi Bellis

Despite a quick second set, Bellis did make the first set very competitive. “I learned a lot,” she said. “I think mainly I just have to focus on the key points. There are a couple points in the first set that I think if I played a little bit more aggressive I could have won them. But, you know, she’s obviously the number one seed here, so it’s unbelievable to be on the court with someone like her.“

Asked about her short-term goals, Bellis smiled and said, “Yesterday, actually, I committed to Stanford. I’m just going to see how the next year goes in my pro career.” She explained that after another year on tour, she would start her college career at Stanford.

Top seed Williams will face Alison Riske in the semifinals on Saturday. Riske advanced when her quarterfinal opponent fourth seed Coco Vandeweghe suffered an ankle injury and had to retire.

In the bottom half of the draw, second seed Dominika Cibulkova came back from two early breaks to win 7-5, 6-0 over Misaki Doi. Cibulkova will next face third seed Johanna Konta, who beat her quarterfinal opponent, Zheng Saiai 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.

 

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BNP Paribas Open Photo Gallery from Saturday, March 12, 2016

(March 12, 2016) INDIAN WELLS, California – Photo gallery from around the grounds of the BNP Paribas Open. All photos by Curt Janka.

 

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Kerber Straight A’s in Finals, Wins Bank of the West Classic

Kerber winning 2-001

 

By Curt Janka

(August 9, 2015) STANFORD, California – There are no easy finals in Stanford and this one was no exception. Angelique Kerber was pushed hard to beat Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. Kerber is now a perfect 4-0 in championship matches this year.

 

There were patches of both sloppy and brilliant play from the players. The first set went back and forth as Kerber won the opening two games, dropped the next three, then closed the set on a 4 game streak. In the hot, breezy conditions, Pliskova struggled to keep her attacking shots inside the court. She got her first break in a game where she mostly hit her returns deep and at Kerber’s feet. But Kerber adjusted and forced Pliskova to go for more corners instead.

 

Pliskova, whose biggest weapon all week had been her serve, struggled to hold.

“It was definitely off, my serve,” she said. “I didn’t feel it at all. Not the first serve, not even the second serve. That’s probably for me the worst thing. It wasn’t working. I think that’s why I lost today.”

 

Holding was difficult for both players as the second set featured nine breaks of serve and only three holds. Kerber started to mix a few more drop shots into her shots and while Pliskova was able to get to them, she may have hurt her ankle to do so. She called for the trainer just before serving at 6-5 to have her ankle wrapped.

 

Asked about the injury she said, “Yes, I did some bad step with the right ankle. And then it was getting a little bit worse because I was running quite a lot today. It was much better after [it was wrapped].”

 

Pliskova gave credit to Kerber’s defensive abilities. “It was maybe harder than in the last matches for me because you always have to play one more ball than with the normal girls. So that’s why I made maybe more mistakes and that’s why also I was pushing the serve a little bit too much.”

 

Kerber has worked hard on her fitness, but she believes her commitment to being more aggressive is paying off. “I’m happy that I was going for it and not just pushing the ball back and hoping for the mistakes. I think that was the key in the end for me.

 

Kerber may be undefeated in finals this year, but that was not the case in 2014. When asked what’s different this year she smiled and said, “It’s coming back. Last year I was like 0-4 and now it’s 4-0. I think right now I have a lot of experience from last year, from all my finals. I’m just trying to go out there and enjoy the final. Every time I reach the final I know, okay I’ve had a great week already, just go out there, try your best and just take it.”

Curt Janka and David Sweet  were covering the Bank of the West Classic.

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Kerber Cruises Past Svitolina to Reach Stanford Final

By Curt Janka

(August 8, 2015) STANFORD, California – Despite going down an early break, Angelique Kerber raced to a lopsided semifinal win over Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-1 at the Bank of the West Classic. Svitolina started out well, but was quickly flustered by Kerber’s defense and variety. Kerber showed all the patience of a veteran and none of the wear expected from her grueling quarterfinal. In contrast, Svitolina showed her youth and frustration at her inability to regain any control of the match.

 

After being broken in the third game, Kerber got a determined look in her eye, broke right back and never let her opponent regain any momentum. Asked about how she turned the match around, she offered “Actually the first few games were very close. I was trying to be aggressive like I talked before the match with my coach and trying to think about my game plan. At the end it worked very well. And maybe it [getting broken] was a little bit of a wake up call, yeah.”

 

It wasn’t as high-level as her quarterfinal, but Kerber still managed to hit 18 winners with only 14 unforced errors. Svitolina had more trouble keeping the ball in the court, hitting only 12 winners while racking up 20 unforced errors.

 

Kerber now faces Karolina Pliskova in the final, a rematch of their final in Birmingham earlier this year. Kerber needed a tiebreaker in the third to win that match and knows she will have another tough match in this final. “I’m looking forward to it,” she said with a smile. “The final in Birmingham was very close. Against Karolina, I know she has a big serve so I must try to return very well tomorrow. And, like I was playing the whole week here, be aggressive, playing my game. But for sure it will be a tough final against Karolina. But I will try to enjoy it.”

 

Regardless of tomorrow’s result, Kerber will leave Stanford with the kind of confidence that could result in a deep run at The U.S. Open.

 

Curt Janka and David Sweet are covering the Bank of the West Classic. Follow their updates on twitter at @TennisNewsTPN

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Pliskova Powers Past Lepchenko at Bank of the West Classic

 

Pliskova in press

By Curt Janka

(August 8, 2015) STANFORD, California – Karolina Pliskova swung freely into her fifth final of the year, beating Varvara Lepchenko 6-2, 7-5. Most of the match boiled down to serves and return of serves. Pliskova continued her week of good serving with 72% of her first serves landing in while Lepchenko only managed 57%. Pliskova returned better as well, landing 72% of her returns in compared to the 56% Lepchenko struggled to get back in play.

 

Asked about what she did well today, Pliskova said “I think I served a little bit better. I don’t mean with the aces, but with the percentage of the first serve. She was really struggling with the return.”

 

The win puts Pliskova in her fifth final of the year, the most of any player on tour. Bigger still, she will advance to the Top 10 in the rankings for the first time on Monday. What does she think about being there? “I don’t really feel like I’m in the top 10,” she laughed. Mathematically, she was going to be there regardless of how she did at this event. She continued, “I know I belong there now, especially when I make the finals. I’m really happy to be in the Top 10, but I’m not going to think about it because it’s not my last goal. It was for a few years, but I don’t want to be satisfied with that. I want to be ready for the US Open and get a good result there.” She is also in the running to qualify for the year-end event in Singapore and hopes to be there.

Pliskova fistpump

Pliskova awaits the winner of the semifinal between Angelique Kerber and Elina Svitolina. Pliskova has won both of her previous encounters with Svitolina, but trails Kerber 2-3 head-to-head. Regardless of her opponent and the result, she has had a good week and will carry confidence to the US Open. “I’m feeling great now after I won three matches here and didn’t lose a set yet. Couldn’t be a better start to the hard court season.”

Curt Janka and David Sweet are covering the Bank of the West Classic. Follow their updates on twitter at @TennisNewsTPN

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Kerber Edges Radwanska in Thriller at Bank of the West Classic

Kerber

By Curt Janka

(August 7, 2015) STANFORD, California – All the cats. All the mice. Angelique Kerber needed every shot in her arsenal to overcome the craft and guile of Agnieszka Radwanska 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. Up an early break in the first set, Radwanska appeared to have all the answers. Frustration read across Kerber’s face, but she played each point more determined than the last. The result was a display of variety and quality shot making from both players.

 

Both players utilized drop shots, lobs, angles and deep groundstrokes to move each other around the court and beyond.

 

I think we covered every part of the court,” Radwanska said. “So much angles from both sides… I don’t remember when I was ever running that much.”

 

Overall, Radwanska seemed happy with her play but regretted not taking advantage of the chances she had. “I think it was a great match. I think what I didn’t do is just finish the games well. I was 30-Love up a few times. She was just better today.”

 

Early on, Kerber was not sure she was the better player. “There were so many points where she was hitting the ball unbelievably and made the shots. I don’t even know how she played the balls. I was just standing there like, ‘Okay, we’re done, Aga.’ I couldn’t do anything. And then I said to myself, ‘Just forget that ball, focus on the next one, stay in the moment and try to keep fighting.’ And I’m happy I won the match. At the end I think we should both win.”

 

The players were both rewarded with loud applause from the fans.

 

Kerber advances to the semifinals. She will play Elina Svitolina who has won their last two encounters. Kerber admitted it will be another tough match. “Tomorrow is a new day and a new opponent, so I have to be ready for her, too.”

 

Curt Janka is covering the Bank of the West Classic this week. Follow his updates on twitter at @TennisNewsTPN and his personal twitter @CurtJanka.

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Svitolina Rallies to Beat Riske at Bank of the West Classic

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By Curt Janka

(August 7, 2015) STANFORD, CaliforniaElina Svitolina waited until late in the second set to elevate her play to defeat Alison Riske 4-6, 7-5, 6-1. There were many breaks of serve and the two were quite even up until Riske was serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set. That’s when Svitolina seemed to find a new gear and went on to win 9 of the final 10 games.

 

“I was trying to push myself to stick to the baseline,” Svitolina explained. “It didn’t work against her so for me it was important to try to react fast and try to open the angles. Just pushing the ball you can’t win at this level. That’s why when I was 4-5 down, I said to myself ‘Come on and just hit the ball, wait for your chance and open the court.’ And that’s what brought me success today.”

 

The top players won’t often let an opponent back in a match like she experienced today. So what can she work on to get better? Svitolina offered, “I need to practice more on my serve. I need to find the confidence. Sometimes it can be really good and dangerous for my opponent. I need to work more on my serve to have it for every match, not just a few games.”

With the win, Svitolina advances to the semifinals of The Bank of the West Classic. She awaits the winner of the quarterfinal between Angelique Kerber and Agnieszka Radwanska. Svitolina said she will watch some of the encounter. “I’m sure it will be a good match because they are both trying very hard for each ball. They are really tough opponents and I think it will be a really interesting match.”

 

Curt Janka is covering the Bank of the West Classic this week. Follow his updates on twitter at @TennisNewsTPN and his personal twitter @CurtJanka.

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“Nobody beats me 5 times,” Lepchenko Upsets Wozniacki at Stanford

Varvara Lepchenko

Varvara Lepchenko

By Curt Janka

(August 6, 2015) STANFORD, CaliforniaVarvara Lepchenko played steady to beat top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki at the Bank of the West Classic 6-4, 6-2 despite a number of brief rain delays. Neither player exhibited much emotion on court, as Wozniacki appeared slowed by a leg taped heavily from the knee down. The win is Lepchenko’s third over a Top 5 player, but only her first over Wozniacki who held a 4-0 record over the qualifier.

 

“Nobody beats me 5 times,” Lepchenko finally cracked a smile in her on-court interview.

 

Asked if her leg was her main problem tonight, Wozniacki said “Physically, I wasn’t feeling 100 percent. It wasn’t pretty out there, that’s for sure. At the end of the day she played better. Hats off to her.” The injury did not seem to worry her too much, however, as she explained “Hopefully, a few days and I’ll be okay.”

 

Lepchenko, who battled illness early in the season, has worked hard to get back in good condition. “The very first day after Wimbledon I started my physical conditioning,” she said. “I worked pretty hard to get myself to this point. I think I’m in better condition now than at the beginning of the season.”

 

Both players remarked on how quick the court is playing here, but Wozniacki thought that might help her for her next event. “Now, hopefully everything will feel slow in Toronto.” At least she found a silver lining amidst tonight’s scattered showers.

 

Curt Janka is covering the Bank of the West Classic this week. Follow his updates on twitter at @TennisNewsTPN and his personal twitter @CurtJanka.

 

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Varvara Lepchenko

Varvara Lepchenko

 

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