2014/12/27

Serena Williams Wins A Record-Setting Seventh Miami Title at the Sony Open

By Kevin Ware

(March 29, 2014) MIAMI – Serena Williams won her seventh Sony Open title over Li Na in straight sets, 7-5, 6-1.

With this win, Williams becomes the winningest player in the tournament’s history. Competing in her ninth final, Williams’ seven titles now eclipses the six won by Andre Agassi. She has the most main draw match wins in tournament history (67), and joins Chris Evert, Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova as the fourth player in the Open Era to win the same tournament seven or more times.

None of this would have come to pass, however, if Williams hadn’t willed herself into yet another brilliant comeback after an error-filled start to the women’s final. In her semi against Maria Sharapova, Williams found herself in a deep hole, down 1-4. In her final against Li Na, the reigning Australian Open champion, she once again found herself behind the eight ball.

The statistics tell the story of Williams struggles, with a first-serve percentage at 42%, 3 double faults, and 21 unforced errors against only 15 winners. While it’s true that Li Na got off to a great start with her own game, Williams was her own worst enemy. And then, two breaks down and fighting to stay in the set at 2-5, Williams rediscovered her championship mettle.

Forehands that had previously found the bottom of the net were hitting their mark deep in the corners or on the back of the baseline, her “down the line” backhand became untouchable, and her serve became the weapon that we’ve all come to expect from World No. 1.

The rest is history. Williams went on to win 11 of the next 12 games, fighting off one set point at 4-5 before winning a closely-fought first set, and rolling through the second. It was a vintage performance from a player who seems to play her best when facing defeat.

When asked about this particular trend in her post-match news conference, Williams was quick to say, “I definitely don’t do it on purpose.”

“I think for the most part, I try to do the best I can, and sometimes, you know, things I’m doing don’t work out, but they are the right things and eventually they start to work.”

Li Na had her chances to close out the set, but was broken twice in the process. The second of those breaks, lasting 6 deuces, handed the first set to Williams. After relinquishing such a big lead, one might expect a certain amount of frustration or disappointment. But Li Na, who’s gained a newfound sense of calm since beginning her work with coach Carlos Rodriguez, was pragmatic about the lead that slipped away.

“I don’t have to see how was the score, because even the match didn’t finish yet.  Still everyone has a chance.” She went on to add, “I think this is tennis, because if I was play more aggressive, for sure she will going back a little bit.  If she play a little bit forward, I have to going back a little bit. So this is tennis.”

In spite of the loss, Li was happy with her game. “I mean, really nothing to say.  I don’t think today I was doing like a wrong game plan or I was play totally wrong. I think it was pretty good match.”

The second set was a cleaner affair for Williams. Though her first serve percentage remained low at 43%, she managed to win 90% of first serve points and 61% of second serve points. More importantly, she didn’t allow her serving woes to bring down the rest of her game as it has in past matches.

“I think now if my serve isn’t great, it’s okay because I have a great forehand, I have a great backhand, I have great speed.”

“You know, I have so many things that I want to have a backup plan, because today I only served at 40%.  I still have to figure out a way to win doing that.” Her backup plan was clearly more than enough to overcome on this day.

With 59 titles under her belt, and a slew WTA records, Williams could justifiably retire tomorrow as one of the all-time greats. I was curious to know just how this future Hall of Famer continues to challenge herself when there’s so little left to prove.

“I think I love the challenge, and I feel like if I feel like I can be the best right now, then why not continue to be the best and do the best that I can?”

Spoken like a true champion.

Kevin Ware is in Key Biscayne covering the Sony Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his live updates on twitter @TennisNewsTPN.  Follow his personal twitter @SFTennisFreak.

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Williams Continues Her Domination Over Sharapova To Reach 9th Miami Final

 

By Kevin Ware

(March 27, 2014) Serena Williams beat Maria Sharapova in straight sets 6-4, 6-3 to reach her ninth final in Key Biscayne. Williams came into this semifinal the prohibitive favorite, owing to her 15-2 head-to-head against Sharapova. But it was quickly evident that Williams’ best level hadn’t quite made it to the court by match time.

In a repeat of their 2013 final, Sharapova came out ready to play her best tennis from the very first point. She came out hitting the ball hard, deep, and into the corners. In typical fashion, she struggled with her first serve percentage, but still managed to start the match with a crucial hold.

Williams was slow to get going, and unable to take advantage of her many chances at the Sharapova second serve. She even struggled with her own potent serve at the outset, and was broken in the fourth game for a 4-1 Sharapova lead.

While this type of deficit might lead many players to panic, Williams kept her focus on the big picture. “I thought, Okay, I’m only down a break.  It was really just one break.  The scoreline looked bigger than what it was.  I felt if I could just break back, then I would be back in the match.”

Williams came back after the changeover with her “A” game ready to go. She methodically held serve for 2-4 before breaking Sharapova twice to take the first set 6-4. Her early sluggishness was replaced by big hitting, sharp angles, and untouchable serves.

The slump in Sharapova’s shoulders after Williams held at love for the set said it all. She has chances for a win if Williams is off her game, but knows that it’s going to be tough to beat Williams if she regains here form.

Sharapova was asked about Williams’s ability to take her game to another level when needed, and simply replied, “That’s why she’s No. 1 in the world.”

“There are always going to be drops. But she’s the player that is most capable of coming back from that or regaining focus and regaining that concentration as someone that’s ultimately going to do better.”

There was a glimmer of hope for Sharapova at the start of the second set when Williams took her foot off the pedal for a two-game walkabout that included lax defense, minimal footwork, and one of the worst drop shots seen at this year’s tournament. But Williams again raised her level as needed to break back for a 2-1 lead.

After Sharapova was broken at love in the seventh game of the second set for a 4-3 Williams lead, there was little chance this match might even go the distance to a third. Sharapova fought hard, but ultimately wilted under pressure. A forehand into the net handed Williams her 15th straight win over her Russian opponent.

Sharapova hasn’t beaten Williams in almost a decade, with her last victory coming at the 2004 WTA Championships in Los Angeles. And while many believe this to be one of the WTA’s big rivalries, she is quick to remind everyone that it’s not much of a rivalry until she can get a win.

When asked about their lopsided “rivalry”, Sharapova attempted to put a positive spin on the situation. “I mean, despite my results against her, I still look forward to playing against her because you learn so much from that type of level which she produces.”

“You finish the match, and you know where you need to improve and the things that you need to work on.”

In spite of her win, Williams remained subdued in the press room afterward, fending off questions of rivalries and potential challengers. She takes no one for granted, and views every opponent as a potential rival.

“I mean, everyone I play always plays me hard, so I feel like every match I play I literally have to be on my best, so for me I take a rival as every match, and I think that’s one of the best ways to take it.”

“You have to show up, and if you don’t show up, then your biggest threat will be yourself.”

Williams has won the title in Miami a record six times, one more than Steffi Graf. A seventh title would give her the record for the most Miami titles of all, surpassing the great Andre Agassi.

Williams will face Li Na in Saturday’s final after her late-night three-set win over Dominika Cibulkova.

Kevin Ware is in Key Biscayne covering the Sony Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his live updates on twitter @TennisNewsTPN.  Follow his personal twitter @SFTennisFreak.

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Li and Cibulkova Reach Sony Open Semis

 

Dominika Cibulkova ©Sony Open Tennis

Dominika Cibulkova ©Sony Open Tennis

(March 26, 2014) It will be a rematch of the Australian Open women’s final in the semifinal of the Sony Open as both Li Na and Dominika Cibulkova advanced on Wednesday. Li won the Australian Open in straight sets for her second major title.

No. 10 seed Dominika Cibulkova saved  three match points in the second set en route to a 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 victory over Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 2 Li Na won the last 4 straight games to close out Caroline Wozniacki 7-5, 7-5.

Cibulkova won despite poor serving and unforced errors. She had her serve broken 10 times and double-faulted 8times, committing 51 unforced errors.

One of her match points saved came on a controversial call which was overturned due a challenge.

He match against Radwanska was a repeat of the Arustralian Open semifinal where the Slovak won over the Pole to make her first major final.

The Slovak who is in the Sony Open semis for the first time, will enter the top ten for the first time when the rankings come out on Monday.

“I’m really glad, especially about my win today,” Cibulkova said.

“It wasn’t easy at all to play today against Aga with the wind and conditions, and I had to stay aggressive all the time even if I missed many shots, you know.  I just had to keep going.

“So today the match was really tough, and I’m happy about everything, you know.  Before the match, even before the tournament, like they keep asking me, Top 10 and everything, and I just, you know, I just said, like, Okay, if I should be there, I will be there.  If I should not be there, I will not be there.

“So now I’m there.  So finally it’s over.”

“I think it was so close, the second set,” Radwanska said.  “But I think, you know, in those matches you have to play good and you have to be lucky.

“I was just playing good and she was both.”

With Li Na’s win, she became the first Chinese player to reach the Sony Open semifinals.

“I think today I was feeling she was the best to defend in all the tour, so I was feeling a little bit like player against a wall,” Li said about her match against Wozniacki.  “Because doesn’t matter where is it.  She always come and put the ball back to my court.

“After I was finished the match, I was feeling, Wow, you doing good.  You beat a wall.  Yeah.”

Li Na now leads the tour with 20 match wins on the season

On Thursday six–time Sony Open winner No. 1 Serena Williams will take on five-time finalist and No. 4 seed Maria Sharapova in the first women’s semifinal. Williams holds a 15-2 record against the Russian, winning the last 14 straight.

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Serena Williams Crushes, Maria Sharapova Rebounds to Advance at Sony Open

(March 24, 2014) In a tale of two different matches, expected results as No. 1 Serena Williams and fourth seed Maria Sharapova reached the quarterfinals of the Sony Open on Monday.

Williams dismissed American countrywoman qualifier CoCo Vandeweghe 6-3, 6-1 to reach the elite 8 in Miami for the 13th time in 14 appearances.

After her first two matches in the tournament she showed some rust, Williams cleaned up her game hitting 17 winners to only 11 unforced errors and stopping all six break points she faced.

“I was definitely happier today,” Williams said.  “I was really struggling my first two matches, so I just wanted to have a better performance today.”

“She’s improved a great deal,” Williams said of her opponent’s game.  “Her focus is so much better.  Her movement is good.  Her attitude is great.  She’s a nice girl.

“You know, it’s always fun to play with young Americans, I think, and just enjoy it.  It’s so good to see another American doing really well.”

Williams was so impressed with the young American that she spoke to her about possible playing doubles.

“She said, `Listen, you played so well. We’ve got to play doubles. We’d do so well,'” Vandeweghe said.

Next up for Williams will be the No. 5 seed Angelique Kerber, who beat Ekaterina Makarova 6-4, 1-6, 6-3.

“It will be good to play a different opponent,” Williams said.  “I feel like I have played the same person three times in a row.  It will be nice to play a lefty, someone that just plays different.

“Angelique has been able to beat me in the past, so I have to be really focused and be ready in that match.”

 

Maris Sharapova had to reset from a first set drubbing to beat Kirsten Flipkens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.

The Belgium jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first set and Sharapova could only win five points during those four games. In the second set Sharapova jumped out to a 4-0 lead, then Flipkens won 4 out of 5 games, but Sharapova broke serve to take the set 6-4.

“I usually like playing the first match, but I didn’t start off the way I wanted to,” Sharapova said. “Nothing was working.”

“Nothing was working in the first set,” Sharapova said. “Yeah, that’s just the way it went in the beginning.

“She’s a different type of opponent. There aren’t too many girls that hit a slice backhand 90% of the time in the rallies. You expect that because she’s been around for a long time, and it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, but I wasn’t doing too much from my end and made a lot of mistakes from the first ball, which gives your opponent that confidence and the time they need to do whatever they want.

“It was about finding that combination of getting something in to give her something to play with.”

Sharapova’s momentum carried over into the final set where she kept her errors low and her aggression high, dropping only one more game.

Final stats for Sharapova- 36 unforced errors, 13 winners and 10 double-faults.

Sharapova will play the woman she lost to in the 2011 Wimbledon finals, No. 8 seed Petra Kvitova in the quarterfinals. Kvitova regrouped to stop Ana Ivanovic 3-6, 6-0, 6-0.

“We haven’t played for a long time, but we have always had interesting, tough matches against each other,” Sharapova said about her next opponent.  “I think we know what to expect from one another.  She’s always tricky because she is a lefty.  You don’t play so many out there.  I already had one in this tournament, so maybe that was good practice for it.

“She has a different game than someone like Safarova.  She has a powerful game and goes for her shots, and when she’s on it’s tricky to play against her.”

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“Straight-Up Bad,” Sloane Stephens Crushed by Caroline Wozniacki at Sony Open

sLOANE sTEPHENS dUBAI

Sloane Stephens

(March 23, 2014) No. 18 Caroline Wozniacki destroyed No. 16 Sloane Stephens 6-1, 6-0 on Stadium Court in less than an hour at the Sony Open.

“I’m pleased about the way I played,” Wozniacki aid.  Definitely very happy about the performance out there.

Stephens’ lone game in the match came on a break of serve, she did not hold her serve at all during the match.

“Just really disappointing night,” Stephens said.  Just got my butt kicked, and that’s about it really.

The statistics tell the story of the match for Stephens. She committed 37 unforced errors and hit only 12 winners. The American won only 26 points in the entire 55 minute match.

“Just try and make some balls in the court,” Stephens said in press.  “That normally helps.  Just, like I said, it was really disappointing.  Just wasn’t getting ball in the court.  She played solid.”

“It wasn’t like it was a choice or I had any chances,” she continued.  “It was just straight‑up bad.”

“I have been playing good, practicing good.  Everything has been good.  Just kind of a disappointing night for me.  It’s just something ‑‑ it just happened.  I couldn’t fight my way out of it.

“Not really anything I’m going to cry too much over.  I’m just going to get back to work and get ready for Charleston next week.”

Wozniacki was asked about her focus during the match when her opponent was not playing up to her potential.

“You actually have to stay even more focused because you know she’s going to go for it at some point,” said the Dane.  “Things can turn easy, especially when you’re up by a lot.

“The other person doesn’t have anything to lose, so you know you really have to be on your toes and expect anything.”

“So I just stayed focused out there.  I didn’t let her into the match.  I didn’t give one point away.  I was very happy about that.”

Wozniacki will play her fourth round march against Vavara Lepchenko.

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Venus Williams Ekes Out Victory over Dellacqua

(March 23, 2014) Three-time Sony Open champion Venus Williams edged out wildcard Casey Dellacqua 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 to reach the fourth round on Sunday.

The match which lasted two-and-a-half hours saw Williams commit 44 unforced errors but she hit 11 aces in the win.

Williams moved out quickly to a 5-1 lead in the opening set but could not serve out the first set and Dellacqua got back on serve at 4-5. Williams broke to win the first set.
In the second set, the Australia went up a break but Williams evened out the set at 4-4. Dellacqua broke against and closed out the set 7-5.
Williams had a 4-2 lead in the deciding set only to see the lead vanish to 4-4. After holding serve, Williams broke serve to win the match.

“She’s playing so well and mixing her shots up so I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but definitely looking forward to the next round,” Venus Williams said.

“I do try and compete.  I mean, being out here, even if it’s not your best day, no matter what the circumstances are, for me, I just try to walk off the court knowing at least even if I didn’t play my best I gave 100,000%.”

Williams will face No. 10 Dominika Cibulkova, who beat No. 22 Alice Cornet 7-6 (6), 6-1.

“I don’t even know the last time I played her, but I know every time she plays Serena she competes so well,” Venus said.  “I think they played here last year in the semifinals.  I was watching that match.  It may have been a three‑setter.  I just remember it was very tough.

“When I get out there, I just have to see how she’s hitting the ball.  I know she hits it hard and goes for it.  We’ll see.  I just haven’t played her in so long.”

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Federer Makes Quick Work of de Bakker at Sony Open

Federer fh

(March 23, 2014) Roger Federer took just 63 minutes to reach the fourth round of the Sony Open against Thiemo De Bakker winning 6-3, 6-3 on Stadium Court on Sunday.

Federer played a very clean match with 23 winners to 11 unforced errors, with no break points against him, going for 14 at the net.

Over the past two matches Federer has won at least 90% of his first and second serve points. He was asked if his new racquet has been a factor in his serve statistics.

“I definitely think some of it, for sure,” Federer said.  “I think it just gives me easier power, especially on the first serve.  And I think as time now goes by, I’m getting a better feel for how is the ball going to react, you know, how much spin do I need to put on to stay really accurate and put it really close to the line.

“Because that’s something I also struggled with last year and sometimes before.  It’s just to keep the pace up and keep accuracy up.  Right now I’m doing a good job.

“But then again, you know, this wasn’t Andre Agassi on the other side, or Djokovic.  It’s just important for me to keep that up and remind myself it’s going well so far.

“But you also need to put in the effort again, time and time again.  Then it’s not just to serve.  You know, people think, Oh, he’s winning all these points on first and second serve.

“But there are rallies after that.  It doesn’t just stop right after you’ve hit a serve.  So important it’s how do you back up your serve.  I think that’s also what I’m doing well now.”

 

Federer will play Richard Gasquet in the fourth round.

“We have played many times now in the past, and I’m not sure how he’s playing right now,” Federer said.  “I really don’t know.  I have to find out a little bit.

“I’m not sure about his results as of late, so I have to check a little bit.

“He’s got great game, you know.  Gives himself time, sort of that extra second of time on each shot, forehand and backhand.

“I played him in London recently at the World Tour Finals in ‑‑ I think it was our second‑round group match maybe.  I played a good match against him, but, you know, he’s overall good player.  Can serve well.  Can volley well.  He’s got nice shots, forehand and backhand.

“So he’s a good all‑around player, and I think he’s done well here in the past.  With the wind and the slower conditions, it works quite well for him.

“I think it’s going to be a tough match for me.”

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Andy Murray Moves into Round of 16 of the Sony Open

Andy Murray smiling

(March 23, 2014) Defending champion Andy Murray moved into the round of 16 at the Sony Open on Sunday.

The No. 6 ranked Murray maintained his perfect record against Feliciano Lopez at 9-0 dismissing the Spaniard 6-4, 6-1. Murray who is looking to defend his title from last year and claim his third crown at the Sony Open.

Murray, who just announced a mutual split with his coach Ivan Lendl last week, had his former coach in his box in the stands on Sunday. Murray worked with Lendl for two years and the partnership lead to the Scot winning an Olympic Gold medal in 2012, along with US Open in the same year and Wimbledon in 2013.

Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl Agree to Part Ways

“We’re back together again. It was only a four- or five-day split,” Murray joked after the match. “No, it’s a shame he won’t be watching many more of my matches from the stands.”

Murray’s mother Judy and admirer of Lopez’s form has been calling him “Deliciano” for the past few years. Murray led off the match by breaking the Spaniard’s serve and really never had to look back.

“It’s not always that easy to feel comfortable against him because there is not loads of rhythm with the way he plays,” Nurray said of his opponent’s game.

“But I moved well; returned well.  Yeah, it was obviously a more comfortable scoreline than the other day.”

Murray will face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga next after the Frenchman came back for a 4-6, 7-6(6), 7-5 victory over Marcos Baghdatis. He was when two points away from defeat at 5-1 down in the second set tiebreak.

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Li Na Fights Off Madison Keys to Reach Sony Open Fourth Round

Li Na

(March 23, 2014) Li Na held off Madison Keys 7-6(3), 6-3 in a slugfest on Sunday morning at the Sony Open to reach the fourth round.

The world No. 2 and young American who are both represented by agent Max Eisenbud, each broke serve three time in the opening set. Along with hitting deep groundstrokes, both women committed tons of unforced errors.

Li saved set points, down 3-5 in first set and was forced to rebound from being a break down at 0-2 early in the second set. Keys was within a point of going up 3-0 in the second set.

“I think it was pretty tough match,” Li said.  “I think she play well, big serve, big forehand, especially when she was like 3‑1 down and then come back 5‑3‑up and serve for the first set.

“During that time I didn’t think about too much.  I say, Okay, try to hit the ball, try to do what you have to do, and I think the, how you say, save the set point was give me a not lot, but at least I was still on the first set.

“So I think this was maybe change the match a little bit, because after that I was feeling she’s drop a little bit.”

“She’s No. 2 in the world for a reason,” Keys said.  “She just won Australian Open for a reason.  She’s a great player.”

“I played well at times, and she just played the bigger points, you know, really, really well.

“So, I mean, there is a lot to be happy with, but there is also some stuff I need to work on.  That’s what I’m going to go do.”

“I definitely think at times I was doing a good job at taking time away, moving forward a little bit better, and looking for my forehand,” Keys said.

My serve was a little bit up and down today.  But, I mean, overall I think I did a good job of staying in the moment.

Li will play Carla Suarez Navarro in the fourth round.

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Maria Sharapova Wins Thriller over Lucie Safarova to Advance at Sony Open

Sharapova fh

(March 22, 2014) Maria Sharapova was pushed hard by Lucie Safarova 6-4, 6-7(7), 6-2 in a three hour contest to move into the round of 16 at the Sony Open. The No. 4 seed won the match on her ninth match point over a pesky opponent, 56 minutes after her first match point, which came in the second set tiebreaker.

Safarova saved 6 match points against Sharapova in the final game of the match with a series of winners.

“There are so many emotions and there are so many ups and downs,” Sharapova said. “You finish off the first set and then I was down a couple of breaks in the second.  Then I brought it back up, and then I had my chances to win that match.  And then it went to a third.

“So of course you’re going through a lot, that I was really happy that I was able to come back after losing the second set and not letting that affect me, although it’s always challenging to know that you had the match so close.”

At the end of the match, instead of the traditional handshake, the women exchanged hugs.

“She was coming up with some really good shots,” said the winner.  “There was not really much that I could do.

“She’s going for her shots and she was hitting winners on the run.  I tried to stay focused, and I think I did a good job of that.  It would have been very easy to let that game go.

“I’m happy to be sitting here winning the match,” the Russian said in press.  “Obviously it was tough to lose that second set after having a couple of match points, but I was really happy with the way I came out.”

Both Sharapova and top seed Serena Williams’ matches were three-set thrillers. Williams stopped Caroline Garcia 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

Serena Williams Pushes Past Caroline Garcia into Miami Round of 16

In the past, early round matches for the women were considered by some as “warm ups” for the rest of the tournament. Sharapova said that nowadays that’s not the case and that women’s tennis is much more competitive.

“I’d say five years ago I’d say you’d consider the first couple of rounds as a warmup to the tournament,” said the fourth seed.  “You don’t see that now.  You don’t see players that are seeded playing the first round, but they have had great wins.

“Someone like (Caroline) Garcia, she’s played three sets against me.  She’s an up and comer and playing really well.

“So we all know that everyone can play, and that’s really why there is a draw and the net goes up in the morning, is because you have to play those matches.

“But it is exciting for women’s tennis.”

In other women’s action on the day:

No. 9 seed Sara Errani fell to Ekaterina Makarova 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.

Kirsten Fipkens advanced into the next round when No. 14 seed Sabine Lisicki withdrew from the tournament due to the flu.

Other seeds advancing on the day were No. 5 Angelique Kerber who beat Tsvetana Pironkova 6-0, 6-2, No. 12 seed Ana Ivanovic who topped Indian Wells winner No. 20 seed Flavia Pennetta 6-4, 6-3, No. 8 Petra Kvitova who beat teen qualifier Donna Vekic 6-3, 6-4.

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