2015/01/28

2015 Australian Open Women’s Contender Profiles

(January 17, 2015) Profiles of the top Women’s Singles contenders for the 2015 Australian Open. Note: Grand Slam records for main draw matches only.  – by Jack Cunniff     http://twitter.com/jrcunniff

Serena Williams

Serena Williams

2014 Record: 52-8

Grand Slam Record: 259-39

Australian Open Record: 61-9

Australian Open Best Result: Won (2003, ’05, ’07. ’09, ‘10)

Fast Fact: At the Australian Open, Serena has only lost twice to a Top Ten player (2001 to Hingis, 2008 to Jankovic).

 

Maria Sharapova

2014 Record: 49-13

Grand Slam Record: 165-40

Australian Open Record: 42-10

Australian Open Best Result: Won (2008)

Fast Fact: With her win last week in Brisbane, Sharapova has won a title in each of the last 13 years, placing her 4th in the Open Era behind Navratilova (21), Evert (18), and Graf (14).

 

Simona Halep

2014 Record: 46-16

Grand Slam Record: 27-18

Australian Open Record: 6-4

Australian Open Best Result: QF (2014)

Fast Fact: Halep celebrated 50 consecutive weeks in the Top Ten, and will mark her one year anniversary during the Australian Open (reached No. 10 on Jan 27, 2014).

 

Petra Kvitova

2014 Record: 43-16

Grand Slam Record: 64-24

Australian Open Record: 11-6

Australian Open Best Result: SF (2012)

Fast Fact: Kvitova will play her 500th career match in the first round of the Australian Open.

 

Ana Ivanovic

2014 Record: 58-17

Grand Slam Record: 97-39

Australian Open Record: 24-10

Australian Open Best Result: RU (2008)

Fast Fact: Despite having her best season since 2008, Ivanovic lost to lower-ranked players at all of the Grand Slams in 2014.

 

Agnieszka Radwanska

2014 Record: 47-22

Grand Slam Record: 90-34

Australian Open Record: 24-8

Australian Open Best Result: SF (2014)

Fast Fact: Since beating Venus Williams to win 2014 Canadian Open (Montreal), Radwanska has a losing record, 8-9.

 

Eugenie Bouchard

2014 Record: 43-22

Grand Slam Record: 23-7

Australian Open Record: 5-1

Australian Open Best Result: SF (2014)

Fast Fact: Bouchard won more Grand Slam matches in 2014 than any other woman (19).

 

Caroline Wozniacki

2014 Record: 49-19

Grand Slam Record: 79-31

Australian Open Record: 22-7

Australian Open Best Result: SF (2011)

Fast Fact: Wozniacki has a 7-0 record in opening round matches at the Australian Open, the only Grand Slam event that she has not lost in the first round.

 

Angelique Kerber

2014 Record: 47-24

Grand Slam Record: 48-28

Australian Open Record: 11-7

Australian Open Best Result: 4R (2013, ‘14)

Fast Fact: Kerber has a 1-7 record against Top 50 players at the Australian Open.

 

Ekaterina Makarova

2014 Record: 41-21

Grand Slam Record: 48-29

Australian Open Record: 18-7

Australian Open Best Result: QF (2012, ‘13)

Fast Fact: In her last four Australian Open appearances, Makarova has defeated four Grand Slam champions (Ivanovic, S. Williams, Bartoli, V. Williams).

 

Dominika Cibulkova

2014 Record: 32-24

Grand Slam Record: 53-29

Australian Open Record: 13-7

Australian Open Best Result: RU (2014)

Fast Fact: Cibulkova has won only six matches since Wimbledon, as many matches as she won en route to the Australian Open final in 2014.

 

Flavia Pennetta

2014 Record: 33-20

Grand Slam Record: 69-45

Australian Open Record: 13-11

Australian Open Best Result: QF (2014)

Fast Fact: Pennetta had a losing record at the Australian Open until reaching the QF in 2014.

 

Andrea Petkovic

2014 Record: 41-23

Grand Slam Record: 31-20

Australian Open Record: 6-5

Australian Open Best Result: QF (2011)

Fast Fact: Petkovic hasn’t won a match at the Australian Open since 2011 (def. Sharapova 4R).

 

Venus Williams

2014 Record: 32-14

Grand Slam Record: 221-57

Australian Open Record: 41-14

Australian Open Best Result: RU (2003)

Fast Fact: With her 2014 Australian Open appearance, Venus moves into 3rd place in the Open Era with 65 Slam appearances, trailing only Frazier (71) and Navratilova (67).

 

Victoria Azarenka

2014 Record: 15-9

Grand Slam Record: 101-32

Australian Open Record: 32-7

Australian Open Best Result: Won (2012, ’13)

Fast Fact: Azarenka enters a Grand Slam event unseeded for the first time since 2007 U.S. Open, after 27 Slams where she was seeded.

 

 

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Notes and Quotes from the 2015 Australian Open Pre-Tournament News Conferences

(January 17, 2015) Ana Ivanovic, Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova, Rafael Nadal, Sam Stosur, Serena Williams, Grigor Dimitrov, Simona Halep, Andy Murray, Lleyton Hewitt and Petra Kvitova met the media on Saturday for Australian Open pre-tournament interviews at Melbourne Park.

A few “notes and quotes” from the Saturday media conferences:

 

Ivanovic in press2

Ana Ivanovic

Mentality coming into the tourney as a top-five player:
“To be honest, I try not to think too much about the rankings. I definitely thought about it towards the end of the last year. I really tried to make that push and finish in top five. At the moment I really want to focus on my game, what to do out there on the court, to enjoy every match because I know if I do that, the results take care of themselves, and rankings speak for themselves. This is my main focus for this season.”

Ivanovic spoke about what makes the Australian Open special:
“I think each Grand Slam, it’s very specific and very individual in the atmosphere and the feel about it. Here I really feel people get excited about tennis. You know, they love sport. They love to cheer. They get loud. That’s exciting. There’s lots of kids always out here that come and support us. Obviously it’s their summer holidays so people are a little bit more relaxed, I feel. But it is very exciting. Since I don’t have a tournament at home, this is like second home for me.”

“It takes time for certain things to fall into place. Last year I really felt I made big steps towards winning more matches, beating top players. These kinds of things you sort of have to have in place in order to do well at the big events. I feel like I’m ready for next step. Also I feel comfortable in my team. I feel I can communicate with them more. Last year at some points it was not the case. Then also US Open was just a fresh start with new team, with new coach. So it takes time to get used to. Now I feel I can communicate with them more and they can help me.”

Asked to pick the fittest woman on tour:
I mean, there is lots of girls who are getting fitter and fitter. Caroline (Wozniacki) ran a marathon. I don’t think I can do that, to be honest (laughter). Radwanska, she’s a type of player that does lot of running on court. It really depends what you consider, you know, because there are some girls who maybe hit harder, have more power, but then those girls that have very high endurance.

Federer in press

Roger Federer

Q. Novak Djokovic had a crack at the Aussie accent. Can you do anything?
ROGER FEDERER: No, I’m not very good at that. I’ll let him do that (laughter).
Q. No g’day, mate?
ROGER FEDERER: I can do that, but not on command.

How he feels coming into Melbourne this year compared to last year?
“Clearly things are more calm this year, I guess, coming in. Last year, you know, having the new racquet, having gotten through the back issues, having gone through the off-season, you know, feeling good but still not quite sure because I needed matches to see how it was going to cope. I came here also with Stefan Edberg helping me out. You know, there was many changes that took place in the six months leading into, I guess, the Australian Open, whereas this time around I’ve played so well. Also was able to win Brisbane last week. Makes me feel more secure, I guess, this year coming into the Aussie Open.

Asked about how close he is to his career-best form?
“Well, I mean, I would hope that over the years I’ve always improved. I think I’m serving more consistent and stronger than I ever have. That’s my opinion. I definitely think the racquet has helped me with that as well, a little bit. But, you know, my concentration I do believe is there, better than it’s ever been, at least I hope it is, because I feel over time you always want to improve. I think my backhand is working better than it has in the past as well. The question is confidence, forehand, movement. But clearly when I was winning almost everything, everything was so gold that nobody was even questioning anything. Maybe if there were different opponents, different times, it would have changed. But for that particular time, I was playing exactly the way I needed to. I had to adjust my game a little bit over the years. I feel I’m playing very well. If it’s the best ever, I’m not quite sure. But I’m definitely very pleased how things have gone now the last six months.”

Asked if fitness has become more of a priority moving forward in his career over the years?
“Hmm, I wouldn’t quite say that. It’s changed just because you’re more careful not to get injured. So sometimes less is more. Quality is more important than quantity. Whereas when you’re younger, you got to put in the hours, you got to put in the work. Doesn’t matter if you’re tired, all these things, you just got to get through it, you know, get match tough, go through the grind. Eventually you have experience, you know what you need to get ready for a tournament, in the off-season what you need to do. So clearly I’ve, you know, made mistakes and made right decisions over the years. You try to put them all together, assemble all those pieces, make it work for the off-season. I mean, I definitely work a bit different. But at the end of the day I really believe in good quality practices now rather than too much. Yeah, I mean, I am 33, so things are a bit different today than they were 10 years ago.”

On whether he will play Davis Cup this year:
“I probably also will decide that once the Australian Open is over. I’ve been talking, you know. Clearly it’s hard to get out from the chair after finally winning Davis Cup. It was always a goal of mine, for Swiss tennis, the guys on my team, for myself, after playing for 15 years. Yeah, I’m just talking to the captain right now, see what the plan is for him, for me, for everybody. After that, I guess I just need a little bit more time. Probably make a call after the Australian Open.”

Sharapova gets ready to serve

Maria Sharapova

Q. Do you consider yourself the woman to beat for the title here?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: I’m sure I’m one of them, definitely. I mean, I’m No. 2 in the world. I’ve had a great season last year, winning a Grand Slam. I think there are a lot of players that have an opportunity to win this tournament, and I’m certainly one of them.

 

Q. You have a shot at the No. 1 position. Is it still a big motivation for you to be back as No. 1 in the world or is winning Grand Slams at this time of your career more important?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: Yeah, that was a question that was nice not having to answer in December (smiling). Yeah, I mean, look, obviously No. 1 is a ranking that every single player wants to grab and works so hard for. There’s a lot of players that have an opportunity to get there, and I’m one of them. I am, of course, determined to do that. But by doing that you need to win more matches than the person that’s in the first place. So that’s the goal.

 

How much has fitness changed in the last 10 years compared to when you came up at Wimbledon? Has the tour grown in leaps and bounds as far as the physicality?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: Uhm, definitely. I think you see a lot more people added to the team as far as a fitness coach. I mean, you didn’t see that 10 years ago as much. You know, I have a fitness coach. He doesn’t travel with me full schedule. It’s a pretty limited schedule. He’s always with me during the training weeks away from the tournaments. Never feel there’s too much you can do during a tournament week as far as really setting up a base. It’s more about recovery and getting ready. But the physical aspect of the sport has become, I think, very, very important. It’s always been, but I think it’s become more important than ever.

We’ve started to see on the women’s side these former champions coming in. What do you make from that, from your point of view?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: Well, I think from experience-wise, there’s no better person that can help you in certain situations as a coach, as a motivator, as someone that just has been there, done that. I think it’s great to see. I think it’s always nice when you’ve been through a career and you have the opportunity or you have the desire to share it with other players, to share your knowledge and experience. I think it’s great.

You were talking about being happy to be in one place.

MARIA SHARAPOVA: That was in November. I played two matches for IPTL in November. Actually had a great experience, a great time. For an event that had its first year, I thought it was very well-organized, very professional. I think it was great to see tennis being brought into markets which have never seen professional sport like that before, and stars. I think their excitement was unreal. I mean, I felt like a rockstar literally, to put my feet on the ground the day after. It was really fun to see the excitement that people had. The format was fun. It was fast. A lot of the players took it very seriously. I mean, I came in after not practicing for many weeks. I was like, Okay, I’m going to take it easy. Some of the doubles players were really into it, which was great to see. So, yeah, I think personally I would never do the whole tour. It’s quite long. But I think to the girls that did, and guys, you see some were injured at the end of it, which is quite unfortunate. But to go out and to play a few matches in a market that’s never seen high-quality tennis before, very open to it.

What is the best game you remember here in the Australian Open?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: I’ve had a lot. My best game? Obviously, the one that sticks out is my victory. Winning a championships is a big moment, especially a Grand Slam. It was my third Grand Slam in my career. I thought throughout the two whole weeks, it was some of the best tennis that I played. I had one of the toughest draws in a Grand Slam. I actually thought the final wasn’t my best match throughout the tournament. But overall I came through a lot of challenges. Yeah, it’s tough to choose.

 

 

 

Nadal ao

Rafael Nadal

Is a question of everything to be ready, to feel yourself confident, to feel yourself that you are 100% competitive. Always you need to play more matches than four or five in seven months. That’s a thing that everybody knows. At the same time you feel in better shape physically when you are play matches, when you have confidence about your movements. Even if you practice a lot, then the competition is different. The stress of the competition is different than the practices, no? So is a question of time and work. I am working big-time.

I am doing lot of practice and doing the things that we believe we have to do to recover our level. Is true that having a Grand Slam that early in the season after injury like this not the ideal thing. But here we are. I worked a lot since 10th of December. I worked a lot last couple of weeks in Abu Dhabi and Doha, then here this week. I am with calm and happy the way I did the things. Then I need to play better than what I am doing. I think that thing is sure. But I know to play better, I need to win matches. I need to spend hours on court competing. The only way to make that happen is to be on the tour. So I am on the tour, and that’s the only way I can come back to my best level.

Every time is different. Every feeling is different. Every time you come back, you have the doubts, you have the feeling that you are far away from your best. But at the same time you know the only thing you can do is play with the right attitude and try to have the right schedule to play matches, to play weeks in a row. It’s the only way to find the positive feelings and the confidence back. When you have put all the things together, it make your game better again. That’s what I am doing. I am trying to do the calendar that will be better for me. Playing here, then playing on clay, that helps me physically, in terms of tennis, too. That’s all, no? Difficult to say more things. The only thing I can say is I need to play better, yes. But the only way to play better is to win matches.

In the end is difficult to say 50%, 55%, 20%. Doesn’t matter. This kind of thing is impossible. Is not mathematics. You never know when you are 100%. The only thing is I know I need to work, spend time on court, play matches. When that happens during few months, I know in terms of being competitive, in terms of rhythm, I will be ready again, no? But if I am able to win matches in a row before these few months, I’m going to be ready earlier, no? That’s what happened in 2013. But I started on clay, tournaments that give me the chance to play more matches, 250 tournaments. This time a little bit different. At the same time the only way is winning matches and spend time on court.

Q. You said Brazil is a lucky place for you. How do you feel about the Rio Open? Too much play, too many people with Carnival?
I hope not to have too much time for Carnival (smiling). Well, no. I have been in Brazil a couple of times. 2005 was the first tournament victory of a big season. 2013 was a special one, because after a lot of months without winning, without competing, I had a chance to win the title there. Helped me for the confidence for what happened later, no? Last year was important one, but was different situation. This year is a little bit like before, no? Going to be the first tournament on clay after a long time ago. I hope will be a good moment for me to have the full confidence back.

Q. Which aspect of your game are you happiest about as you’re returning to form? Which part is going well for you at the moment?
RAFAEL NADAL: Nothing (smiling). No, I am not serving bad. My serve is working more or less well. I need to be a little bit more dynamic on court with my movements. I am a player who find the confidence when I am able to defend well, when I am able to hit the ball knowing that the ball going to go in most of the times. So that’s when I feel myself strong. As I say before, no, to make that happen, you need to do that on the competition. For example, last week in Doha I did a very good thing in the first set, played very good first set. But then, you know, I lose the intensity on my game, I lose the rhythm, something that normally never happen to me when I am competing two weeks in a row. That is something you need when you didn’t play for a long time. I don’t know about in which part of my game I’m more happy. But I really know what I have to do to be happy with my game. My game is always good when my movements are good, when I am able to have control of the point with my forehand, and always hitting good backhands. But the forehand need to be aggressive, need to create space with my forehand. That’s the way that I need to play to have my chances back on being competitive against everybody.

Asked about who is the favorite for the tournament?
You know the same like me who is the favorite for the tournament. I think everybody thinks the same names. Novak finished the season great. He is a fantastic player. He’s in his favorite surface. Roger is the same story. Had a great season last year. He finished well. Plays in his favorite surface, or one of his favorites, grass and here. And Andy I think is playing well. We’ll see. The rest always are there. There is a few more players that always going to have the chances. But between these three names, it’s a big chance.
No, I don’t consider myself one of the favorites here. Last year, yes. This year is a different story. Would be lying if I say I feel that I am ready to win today. I don’t feel myself ready to win the tournament here today. If I am here in a press conference in one week, maybe I will say another thing because will have the feeling that I will play few matches, and if I’m able to win that couple of matches, then probably I will have little bit more rhythm, I will have more confidence. But in theory, playing four, five matches in seven months, you cannot be a favorite of a tournament that is not clay, is on hard. Is another thing. In terms of being favorites, the other names are more favorites than me at this time.

Sam Stosur

Sam Stosur

Sam Stosur

On playing in her home country.
“I guess it depends which way you want to look at it. It’s definitely different to playing outside of Australia, playing the other Grand Slams. But it’s not necessarily more difficult. It’s not easier. It’s just different. I think it’s a matter of, yeah, handling everything that’s going on. Obviously I know there’s probably more attention on me here than anywhere else. But, yeah, it’s okay. It’s just different.”

“I’ve been pretty pleased with the way my matches have gone. Obviously I would have liked to have won a couple more. But I think overall the way I’ve been playing in those matches has been pretty good. There’s always things to work on and improve. But I think considering it’s the first few matches of the year, I’ve been pretty happy with it. So I guess going into this first round on Tuesday, I got to be ready and do it all over again. I’ve got a couple more days to fine tune anything I want to get a little bit better before that match.”

Q. How do you feel about your first-round opponent and your part of the draw?
SAMANTHA STOSUR: To be honest, I don’t know much about my part of the draw. Playing Monica (Niculescu), she’s a very different player to a lot of different players on the tour. She likes to slice the ball a lot, slice the forehand even. She’ll serve and volley a little bit, she’ll come into the net. She’s very fast, moves well. She’s very creative and more crafty than maybe most of the other players out there. It’s certainly something that I need to know certain balls are going to come back a lot differently to playing anyone that I’ve played so far this year. I think it’s going to be a lot about concentrating hard and knowing that it’s going to be some funky stuff going on out there, and what I’m going to try to do to combat that.

Serena Williams

Serena Williams

On her Australian Open preparation:
“It’s okay. I’m not very happy with it, but I’m never really happy about my practice or preparation. So maybe that’s a good sign. Yeah, I’m just still every day going out there, working really hard.

I definitely feel better now than I did a couple weeks ago. But I still want to improve some things. I feel like I should be doing some things better. But every day I can see something coming through, so… There’s a little light at the end of the tunnel.
“I absolutely hate running, but I do it because I hate the way I look if I don’t run (smiling).”

Asked about the absence of her hitting partner Sascha Bajin:
I keep forgetting to tweet about it. He’s away on injury reserve right now. He texts me almost every day. Like, I wish I were better. What are you doing? Who is there? I’m like, Gosh, leave me alone already. He sends me videos. Yeah, he’s super bummed out. We all are, so…
Yeah, he just got injured. There’s been a lot of stories on how he hurt himself. I’m not sure which one I should tell today. I jumped on his back and broke it (laughter).

I’m working with Jonathan now, forgot his last name. We started together in Florida so I could get used to him, kind of get used to each other. So that has been good.

Asked about her first round opponent:
I don’t know who I play. I never look at the draw. I guess her name is Alison. I always try to keep really focused, yeah.
Well, on a first round, no one wants to lose. So I think a lot of the top players, that’s when they’re looked at the most. People are like, What are you doing? What are they doing? What’s new? Especially at the Australian Open, it’s the very first one of the year. Did they do anything different in the off-season? That’s when the pressure is on, cameras are on, everyone is looking. For me, I get really nervous every single match, especially first-round matches, so…

Q. For Alison (Van Uytvanck), it’s the first main draw here at the Australian Open. What do you remember from your first main draw here?
SERENA WILLIAMS: It was my first main draw and my first Grand Slam, was Australia. I just remember I knew I wanted to win. I wanted to keep doing well. I had to play Venus in the second round. I remember that was a real bummer for me.

Q. We’ve seen Lindsay Davenport and Martina Navratilova, great women champions, now coaching. What is your point of view on that? Would you ever consider bringing in a coach like them?
The only thing I know is I never say never. I never thought I would play this long. So who knows? Anything is possible. Any and everything is possible. I’m a big fan of Martina and especially Lindsay. I think it would be really good to see them on the tour, bringing their expertise and their knowledge back to tennis.
On attempting to win Australian Open title No. 6:
It would be really great. I’ve been going for number six for a number of years now. It would be really special for me. I would be really happy. I want it I think more than anyone else here. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to get it, so I’ll have to fight hard to get it.

Dimitrov waves

Grigor Dimitrov

You’ve been asked a lot about the changing of the guard. But does it feel this season with Nishikori, yourself and Raonic, you’re getting closer to the big guys? Or after your defeat against Roger last week, do you feel the gap is still a little bit there?

GRIGOR DIMITROV: Yeah, I mean, I’m not going to lie. It was a tough match that I lost last week. Definitely didn’t perform the way I wanted to. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m discouraged to keep trying and keep believing that any of us is going to make it through, so to speak. I think that’s pretty much it. But the other hand, the year just began. We have already the Australian Open, the first major. Anything can happen out here. It’s a good way to start the year. Hopefully everything goes in a positive note.

Have you set some specific goals for your game for the start of the season? Have you worked on something specific?

GRIGOR DIMITROV: I’ve worked a lot in the off-season. There’s nothing specific that I would like to say because obviously now I’ve had a pretty good 2014. Obviously we knew what was working for us and knew what we needed to focus on. That’s the one thing that we felt that was good. In the same time I’ve put a lot of work in the off-season on and off the court. I think that’s pretty much it. I never wanted to put too many tasks on my paper to say, Okay, in the off-season I need to work on this and that. Just the more you simplify it, the better it is, when you know what’s working for you.

 How important was your performance here last year?

GRIGOR DIMITROV: It was a major thing for me. Definitely gives you a lot of confidence. Gives you like a boost. Next time you come to any other tournament, you felt that you started on a good note. At the same time that confidence gives you, how do you say, to come and play every match better, feel that you can perform on a high level, beat better players. Eventually when I had to come up against better guys, I was able to win, and win quite a few tournaments. I think all that is a good factor. At the same time let’s not forget about the big picture.

Did you replay that tough loss to Rafa much?

GRIGOR DIMITROV: It took me awhile to get over it, especially having a set point in that third set, missing that shot by just like a few inches. Of course it’s something not to forget, but at the same time I think I took it really positive. I took that loss as a win even though it wasn’t the case. It gave me a good start. Eventually I think I was performing at a high level throughout the whole season. I think I finished it on a good note.

Halep fh

Simona Halep

Q. How were you feeling after having to withdraw from Sydney?
I’m feeling good now. I’m almost now like hundred percent recovered. I have two days. I slept very well. I ate very well. So I feel prepared to start this tournament. But still I have time, two days more, to feel like hundred percent.

Q. How different was your off-season? You changed coaches. Was there something you wanted to work on?
SIMONA HALEP: Just improve in my game more and more. I did in my serve very well in the off-season, and as well in my forehand. I’m moving better than last year. I’m working hard every day. I changed because I just wanted to change something, and I did. I think was a great idea for myself. Always I took my decisions and work very well. I think very good decision I had in the past.

Q. You made huge strides since a year ago. What surprised you most about your season, how successful you were?
SIMONA HALEP: I’m not surprised that I had big results last year because two years ago I just started to win some titles. I had more experience than before. I was improving a lot I think in my game. I’m much stronger now than before. My game is complete now, I think. I believe in my game. I think I was a little bit, I can say, surprised with the finals in French Open because I didn’t expect that I can play finals after just one quarterfinals in Grand Slam. But, you know, I had nothing to lose there. Was my favorite tournament, because I won in juniors, and I feel very well there. I was trying everything on court. Everything went in the right way at that tournament. I felt very well. Sometimes is very good to be close to your home because more people can come to watch you and can support you. So was a perfect tournament for me. That’s why I think I played the final. Then I had in Singapore the second big result. I played well, as well, there. I cannot say that I was surprised, but still I was very happy in the end of the year that I did few big results.

Q. After such a great year, do you feel more pressure coming into this year?
SIMONA HALEP: No. It’s better than last year. I can say now I feel no pressure. I have just to play my game during the matches and to see how good I can be, how many results I can do, how many matches I can win. So my goal is again to go to Singapore and to win matches with top players. Just I have no pressure.

Q. Do you feel this year’s Australian Open feels more wide open, like many different players could win?
SIMONA HALEP: Yeah, I can say that all the players from here have a chance to do this. I was thinking a few days ago that even if I am third in the rankings, I have my chance, but is not like I have to be in the semifinals or in the finals. Everyone from top 20 I can say has their own chance to win this title. You saw Pliskova, last week she played very well. Kvitova as well. Everyone can win this title. The tournament is open I think for everyone.

Murray UnderArmour

Andy Murray

Q. Slightly different circumstances to last year coming in here. Talk about how the preparation has gone, how you’re feeling coming into Melbourne.
Yeah, I mean, obviously last year was tough because I prepared fairly well, but mentally it’s quite tough sort of going into your first slam and playing long five-set matches. You don’t necessarily know how your body’s going to respond, so mentally you’re kind of worrying a bit and you’d be apprehensive. That’s not the case this year, which is good. And, yeah, my preparation and training over in Miami and then in Dubai went very well. Practice this week’s been good. So, yeah, looking forward to getting started.

Q. Who do you see as your biggest threat in this tournament?
Well, I mean, there’s a lot of top players here. I mean, obviously Stan’s the defending champion, will be confident with that. A new experience, as well. It will be interesting to see how he handles that. But he’s obviously finished the end of last year with the Davis Cup and winning Chennai last week. So I’m sure he’ll be confident. And then, yeah, all of the obvious suspects, same names. Then if you add some of the younger guys that have been coming through the last year or so, you know, with Nishikori, Dimitrov, Raonic, these guys. Also you don’t know, a lot of guys can make big improvements in the off-season if they have five or six weeks’ training to work on things and get physically stronger. So it will be an interesting tournament. The Australian Open normally throws up a few surprises. It will be fun to watch.

Q. Is it easy to get used to the changes that have happened in your team during the off-season, being without Danny? Is it feeling weird for you or…
ANDY MURRAY: No, it hasn’t been weird. It’s been, in my opinion, positive. When things aren’t working well, there’s not a positive atmosphere, it’s not good for anybody. So when that changes and everyone’s working together, that makes things better. So the last two months for me so far have been very, very good.

Yeah, well, obviously very tough draw. Very difficult draw. It’s very hard to comment on it. If you have to play all of those players, obviously it’s going to be extremely difficult to come through that. I’m aware of that. That’s fine. But, yeah, often in these events, you know, there is upsets. And then, yeah, you just have to wait and see who you’re playing in each round because it doesn’t always work out as simply as that. You know, I’m sure Rafa just now, if you said to him, Give me a semifinal spot, he’d be very happy with that coming off a tough injury. But, yeah, it will be interesting to see how it goes. But definitely with the names you mentioned, it’s very challenging.

Q. What do you think of the young Aussie talent?
Yeah, a lot of very good young men. I don’t know on the women’s side. I haven’t seen as much of the young women. But I know on the men’s side, it’s very, very strong. There’s obviously Kyrgios and Kokkinakis, guys like Jordan Thompson, very good as well. They have a bunch of guys ranked between 100 and 200 in the world. Also the guy that Kyle Edmund played today I think is also pretty young from Australia, too. Yeah, they have a lot of talent, a lot of potential. I think the Aussies are going to have a good time the next 10 or so years watching all of them play.

Lleyton Hewitt

How do you rate your chances heading in, I suppose?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Oh, I just take it one match at a time obviously. Just try and focus on my first-round opponent, what I need to do to try to get through that match. Played him a couple times before in Davis Cup over five sets, so at least I’m well-prepared for what to expect out there. Obviously just try and get my body as close to 100% by Tuesday. Hopefully go out there and execute what I need to do.

 

Being a competitor, do you go into this thinking you have a genuine chance to win? Is that dream still alive?

LLEYTON HEWITT: When you start the tournament, that dream’s still there for everyone, the 128 of us that are in the draw. Nothing changes in that aspect. Over the years I think I pride myself on not looking too far ahead anyway. Even when I was No. 1 in the world, I always played every match on its merits, gave the utmost respect to my opponents, who I had to play. I’ve said it so many times: it’s a matter of trying to get through the first week of a Grand Slam. Doesn’t matter how you do it, but you have to try to find a way of getting through that, put yourself in a position in the second week. Yeah, anything can happen in Grand Slams. Over five sets, obviously, guys can get injured. There’s a lot of ups and downs over two weeks.

What do you think of the other young Aussie chances? Pretty good talent coming through.

LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, obviously Nick has a pretty good section of the draw I think that he’s in. Bernie is in a pretty good section, as well. Bernie has been playing well the last couple weeks. Obviously took someone like Nishikori to play extremely well – he’s a quality player – to beat him in Brisbane. Gilles Muller, 6-6, could have gone either way in Sydney in that match he lost. Obviously Nick would have liked some more matches under his belt coming in. If he can get his teeth into the tournament, I don’t think that’s a big worry for Nick. Thanasi has a tougher first round against Gulbis. He’s got a fighting chance in it, though, for sure Thanasi has improved a lot over the last year.

Is this the most excited you’ve been in your time of the youngsters coming through?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Yeah, I guess it’s probably a few more in a group coming through than I’ve ever seen in my time. Probably happened a bit before I actually started. You had the guys, the Woodies, Stolz, Philippoussis, Rafter, Fromberg, so many guys coming through at that stage. For a while, I guess I was the only one and we didn’t have a lot of juniors, we sort of struggled to make that transition from really good junior players in the Grand Slams to making it onto the senior tour.

 

 Andy Murray was saying he thinks the tournament is wide open. There’s a lot of talk that the top four are more challenged than previous years. Do you feel that’s the case?

LLEYTON HEWITT: Possibly. It’s still hard. Obviously Andy Murray is not in the top four in the rankings at the moment. I think guys still see him as one of those big threats as the top four anyway. Obviously there’s Raonic, Dimitrov coming up, putting pressure on. Nishikori. Cilic won a Grand Slam now. These kind of guys. I still think the core is going to be those top three or four guys. Over five sets, it’s still extremely tough to beat two or three of those guys back-to-back at the end of these tournaments.

Petra Kvitova

You must be delighted with your preparations coming into the Australian Open with the win in Sydney?

PETRA KVITOVA: Yeah, for sure. I’m very glad how everything went. I’m glad to have a title in the beginning of this new year. Yeah, I’m glad that I have matches under my belt and I can be well-prepared for the Melbourne which is starting pretty soon and I’m excited.

How did your winter go? Anything you looked at or worked on? Are you feeling good about your game in general?

PETRA KVITOVA: I’m very happy that I have a new fitness coach and physiotherapist in the same person. It’s Alex. I’m just really glad that he’s part of my team. It’s something really special. I know that he’s experienced so well. He knew exactly what we have to do, so that’s great. I’m just glad that we did everything what we could in the off-season to prepare myself for the new season. I tried to be a little bit quicker, fitter, to be in the shots on the time. Normal routine, practicing, practicing, practicing.

Who do you see as the biggest threats in this tournament?

PETRA KVITOVA: I think it’s a lot of great players playing. I know Maria won Brisbane. Serena is always one of the favorites. Simona played really well in Shenzhen. It’s a lot of great players who really can play the best tennis here.

What were you most pleased with in Shenzhen and Sydney with your game?

PETRA KVITOVA: I think that my serve was work very well. I think it was one of the keys of the matches which I played. So that’s really nice because we work on that every day probably. I think that my fitness improved, as well, so I’m just glad for it. I just need to be used to everything what I did, show it on the court with the typical shots and with the rallies.

Having lost first round here, does that make you come back to this tournament thinking it’s exciting that you have no points to defend or remembering what happened last year and being worried about that?

PETRA KVITOVA: I would like to forget about the last year. Unfortunately it’s impossible. On the other side I know I can do only better. So that’s the good thing. I’m excited to play, of course. It’s a Grand Slam. It’s what I love to play. I just will do everything what I can to be just better than the last year because it was very disappointing. It wasn’t really nice time for me. So just will do everything what I can.

What do you like most about the Australian Open?

PETRA KVITOVA: I like the people here. I mean, it’s just beautiful to see the friendly faces, the smile. I mean, the weather, of course, when it’s not really hot, hot, that’s nice. The crowd is always amazing. I love hard courts, as well. So I’m just glad that everything is very nice here.

Anything different in the hard courts between here and the US Open?

PETRA KVITOVA: I think so. I never played well in the US Open, so I think that’s a little bit slower over there than here. Of course, the weather is different. There is more humid than here, what is better for me as well.

 Li Na said she thinks you’re the woman to beat this tournament. What do you say to that and how do you feel about that?

PETRA KVITOVA: It’s nice of her, of course. I don’t feel really favorite of the tournament. I’m just come here and try to be focusing on the match after match if it’s possible, of course. I think it’s a lot of great players, how I said. I don’t think really it’s like one big, big favorite of the tournament. So we’ll see.

 

 

 

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Kvitova wins all-Czech Sydney Final

 

Petra with trophy

By Dave Gertler

(January 16, 2015) SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – Czech world No. 4 Petra Kvitova has defeated emerging world No.22 Karolina Pliskova in the first all-Czech final at the Apia International on Friday night. It was the first time Kvitova had appeared in a final in Sydney, having lost to the eventual winner Tsvetana Pironkova in the semi-final last year, which was her fourth appearance at the event.

 

“I’m just glad how I played today,” said Kvitova after her 7-6(5), 7-6(6) win that took just shy of two hours to complete on Ken Rosewall Arena, “I mean, it was very a tough match to really handle it everything. Two tiebreakers, it’s always very difficult. Karolina played really well and she served very well.”

 

The 22-year-old Pliskova, playing her sixth WTA-level final in the past year – but her first ever final at Premier level – held a break over Kvitova for most of the first set until, while attempting to serve it out at 5-4, her opponent’s return game clicked into gear, and Kvitova was able to break back and force the first set to a tie-break, throughout which she continued to elevate her game and separate herself from her opponent, taking the tie-break 7-5.

 

“I feel today I must say a little bit tired,” said Pliskova, whose strong serving and follow-up attack game had seen her through to the final only losing one set along the way, “Also in the match I wasn’t that I don’t want to say fast, because I’m not that fast normally, but I felt a little bit tired, not that much power in my serve.”

 

Throughout the match, Kvitova hit 38 winners, almost doubling her opponent’s figures, and in the second set, it was the dual Wimbledon champ who held an early break before her opponent broke back for 3-3 and held on for a second-set tie-break. A series of double faults and errors by Pliskova gave Kvitova a 5-1 advantage which all but sealed the championship, and although Pliskova then managed to level the score, it was Kvitova who eventually came through an entertaining tie-break, taking it 8-6.

 

“You know, it was quite weird tiebreak,” said Kvitova, “Because she was serving so well all the match then she did two double faults, so I was a little bit like relaxed and it was fine. I mean, I was still holding my serve pretty well. It’s tiebreak tennis, and you never know what’s going to be there.”

 

Both the Czech women are seeded, and will play qualifiers in the first round of the Australian Open next week. “I come to Melbourne tomorrow,” said Kvitova, “And I need to forget about the Sydney trophy to be ready and focused for the Melbourne. It’s just really crazy world sometimes in tennis. You really can’t enjoy the title because the next week it’s something different and you have to be prepared already.”

 

Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney and is covering the Australian summer of tennis for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his personal Twitter @davegertler,  read his blog,  and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .

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Pironkova’s Run Continues and Wild Cards Thrive at the Apia International

By Dave Gertler

(January 12, 2015) SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – Tsvetana Pironkova‘s endearing and heroic run of 12 straight wins at the Apia International in Sydney might finally be cut short on Tuesday by the big game of the USA’s Madison Keys. The Bulgarian defending champion yesterday won an unlikely battle against Indian Wells champion Flavia Pennetta to advance to the second round of the main draw. Then again, her win over Pennetta is merely one of four top-12 wins the now-ranked No. 67 Pironkova has enjoyed in Sydney the last two years.

 

“I think I played a great match today,” said Pironkova of her 6-3, 7-6 win over the Italian, “I felt very good on court. I think we both did. It was a very  entertaining  match  for  the spectators. Definitely hard. I’m glad I could finish it only in two sets.” Pennetta was starting to find her range in the second set, battling from a break down to force the tie-break, at which point Pironkova’s air of Sydney invincibility took over again.

 

“Well, I obviously love it,” said Pironkova, 27, whose first and only career WTA title is last year’s Apia International. “I have very nice memories from last year. I like the surface very much. I like the people around here.  I like the city, which I think it’s important for every player to enjoy the whole experience. So I am, and I feel very, very good here.”

 

Due to her 2014 Apia International championship points being stripped at the beginning of this week, Pironkova ranking has dropped a staggering 30 spots to No.67, yet she has still managed to spin into a positive the fact that as defending champ she was declined a wildcard into the main draw this year. Pironkova said, “That was past. You know, once I came to the tournament, I had a different mindset. I was like, OK, you’re playing quallies. Just go out on the court and forget about what’s happening. Obviously you’re not getting a wildcard. Get over it and try your best. And that’s what I’m doing.”

 

While tactics, craftiness and overall tennis smarts are how Pironkova separates herself from most opponents, she will have to find a new level to beat her next opponent Madison Keys. Keys was demonstrative in her first-round win over Svetlana Kuznetsova on the main court, Ken Rosewall Arena on Sunday and will be well-rested after a day off to face an opponent who has played four matches in as many days here in Sydney.

 

Finding out for the first time in the media conference who her next opponent was, Pironkova said, “I didn’t know I play against her. Very strong opponent. I think she’s very good right now, in good form, and one of the players to look out for. So, you know, I’m just going to go out there and do my best, and hopefully I’m going to win.”

 

The two wildcards in the women’s draw were given to Australian local hopes Jarmila Gajdosova and Daria Gavrilova, who both – like Pironkova – scored upset wins in their first-round matches. Journey-woman Gajdosova’s win over world No.12 Andrea Petkovic was her highest-ranked win since 2011. In an all-Slovak battle today of sorts – Gajdosova was born and spent her formative years in Slovakia – she will take on world No.11 Dominika Cibulkova on Grandstand Court, one of many standout matches scheduled for today at Olympic Park Tennis Centre. Gavrilova’s win over Swiss Belinda Bencic was also standout, her first win over a top 20 player since 2012.

 

The Apia International’s Tuesday order of play is full of drawcards, and reads almost like a grand slam middle Saturday, perhaps minus the top-10 men’s players. Headlining action on Ken Rosewall Arena will be Juan Martin Del Potro. In his first match back from injury since February 2014, the Argentine US Open champ will face Sergiy Stakhovsky to begin his campaign to defend his 2014 Apia International title.

 

Sam Stosur, who finally managed to turn the tables against Lucie Safarova on Monday, will face her second Czech opponent in two days. Barbora Zahlavova Strycova made it into the second round when her opponent Caroline Wozniacki withdrew from their match citing wrist problems.

 

Also in action on KRA on Tuesday – Bernard Tomic, Sam Stosur, and Petra Kvitova, Nick Kyrgios and Jerzy Janowicz, while Simona Halep, Agnieszka Radwanska, Vasek Pospisil and Sam Groth take on their opponents on Grandstand and the outer courts.

Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney and is covering the Australian summer of tennis for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his personal Twitter @davegertler,  read his blog,  and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .

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Kvitova weighs in on Czech Hopes at the Apia International

By Dave Gertler

(January 11, 2015) SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – After rain prevented play for most of Sunday at the Apia International, Monday’s schedule will feature even more high-profile WTA matchups than previously planned. First up on Ken Rosewall Arena, home favorite Sam Stosur will take on Czech world No. 15 Lucie Safarova. Stosur will need all the home-crowd support she can muster, having not beaten Safarova in their last six meetings.

 

No. 2 seed Czech Petra Kvitova on Sunday weighed in on Safarova’s chances of having a standout 2015, saying, “I hope that she can make the top 10. She dreamed for it, and hopefully she can make it. I think that she really had a great off-season as well. We practiced in Prostejov at the end of last year. She came for a week, and we had a practice, and she played really well, she’s in good form.”

 

While the winner between Safarova and Stosur will most likely face No. 4 seed Caroline Wozniacki in the second round, Kvitova along with Safarova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova – Wozniacki’s first-round opponent – are the three Czechs contending the bottom half of the draw. In the top half, up-and-coming Czech Karolina Pliskova will face a qualifier to decide who plays top seed Simona Halep in the second round.

 

Last week in Brisbane, Pliskova surprised her opponent, and the Brisbane crowd, by overpowering Victoria Azarenka in three sets on Pat Rafter Arena, and if she can navigate her way past qualifier Polona Hercog, will most likely find herself on centre court again facing top seed Halep.

 

“She went with us to be part of the team in the Fed Cup, last week of the last season,” said Kvitova of 22-year-old Pliskova, “She was great, she really handled it very nicely, and the practice with her was great, so it was very nice to have her in the team. And hopefully, with these experiences she can have now, she can play better and better. She’s playing well, I have to say, she’s serving so well. So hopefully it’s going to be a very good future for her.”

 

The most interesting matchup on Ken Rosewall Arena will be another feature match between third seed Radwanska and world No. 18 Alize Cornet. While Radwanska has enjoyed three main-tour wins to only one loss to the French player, the French player got the better of the Pole only three days ago at the Hopman Cup in Perth. Radwanska will be hoping to follow up on her Apia International title which she failed to defend in 2014.

 

Women’s defending champion, Tsvetana Pironkova, has won through qualifying to the main draw, and will face Italy’s Flavia Pennetta on Monday on Court 3.

 

Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney and is covering the Australian summer of tennis for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his personal Twitter @davegertler,  read his blog,  and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .

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Stars Descend On Sydney for the Apia International

Julien Benneteau and Ken Rosewall at Sydney International draw ceremony

Julien Benneteau and Ken Rosewall at Sydney International draw ceremony

By Dave Gertler

(January 10, 2015) SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – Stars of the tennis world have been descending upon Sydney over the last days, while qualifying heats have been contested at the Apia International in Sydney. Last year’s women’s champion Tsvetana Pironkova, who qualified and won eight matches in a row at the 2014 Apia International, has had to navigate through qualifying again – albeit as top seed this year – and will make it into the main draw if she defeats American Nicole Gibbs on Sunday. Despite lifting her ranking from outside the top 100 a year ago to where it is now at No.37, that Pironkova still needed to qualify is testament to the depth of the women’s draw at this year’s event.

The tournament’s top seed Simona Halep will arrive in Sydney on Sunday, from Shenzhen, China where she won the tournament.
Petra Kvitova lost in the semi-finals of Shenzhen.
Caroline Wozniacki  arrived at Sydney Airport last night from Auckland, losing her Auckland final to Venus Williams.
Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska will complete the Apia International’s top four seeds when she arrives in Sydney from Perth, where she and Jerzy Janowicz – who will also feature strongly on the men’s side of the Sydney tournament – have won the Hopman Cup in an eventful final against USA’s John Isner and Serena Williams.

Janowicz will continue to be a headline act of Australia’s Summer of Tennis, as he plays young Australian giant-killer Nick Kyrgios in their first round match, which was allotted yesterday during a draw ceremony whose guests of honour included Ken Rosewall and Lesley Bowrey. 2005 Sydney finalist Sam Stosur, as well as 2012 Sydney finalist Julien Benneteau, were also in attendance for their respective WTA and ATP draw ceremonies.

 

While the men’s draw is less stacked than a women’s draw which boasts six top-10 players, Benneteau called the men’s draw, “Very compact,” saying, “Maybe there is not top 10 players, but from the top seeds to the end of the draw, there are tough players between 20, 30, 40, very good players, so I really think that anyone can win on Saturday.”

The men’s top two seeds, Fabio Fognini and David Goffin, will fly surprisingly under the radar at this tournament given that last year’s champion Juan Martin Del Potro, has chosen this event to stage his comeback from injury that has left him sidelined for almost a year. Del Potro flew in on Thursday night and has been using the days since to practice on Ken Rosewall Arena, with some light strapping on his wrist.

 

Ken Rosewall predicted a big year for the new Australian men’s No. 1, saying, “Because of his rapid improvement and his performance at Wimbledon and other senior events, there’ll be a lot of players who’ll be wanting to be in top form when they play against him. Hopefully Nick can remain physically clear without any problems, and he’ll be in good form. But I think there’ll be extra pressure on him this time to kind of stand up to being the number one player in Australia.”

 

At the women’s draw ceremony, Lesley Bowrey, winner of the French Open in 1964 and 1965, had some timely and compassionate words of wisdom for Sam Stosur, who is known for her struggles to win matches on home soil. “I just want to wish Sam all the best,” said Bowrey, “And just go out there and be free and easy, really, and not worry, as you say about everyone else, and what they’re telling you, just play your own game and do what you want to do.” Stosur has been drawn to face Lucie Safarova, the Czech world No.15 to whom she has lost their last six matches.

 

“Look, sometimes when I used to lead in matches, and I used to lose them too,” continued Bowrey, perhaps referring to Stosur’s loss last week in Brisbane to Varvara Lepchenko, after having a match point at 5-1 in the deciding set, “We all do that, it’s nothing new, you just have to find a way. What I used to do is just say, well, if I’m leading 5-1 or 5-2 or 5-3, I’d just tell myself I’m down that, and just take the pressure right off myself. That’s how I used to handle it, just tell myself I’m not leading, I’m down. Tennis is a tough game, it’s a tough sport.”

Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney and is covering the Australian summer of tennis for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his personal Twitter @davegertler,  read his blog,  and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .

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Czech Republic Wins Third Fed Cup in Four Years

(November 9, 2014) The Czech Republic won their third Fed Cup title in the last four years, after victories in 1975, 1983-85, 1988, 2011 and 2012.

Petra Kvitova held off a surging Angelique Kerber of Germany in reverse singles on Sunday 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4 to clinch the best-of-five series in Prague’s O2 Arena 3-0.

Kvitova came back from a 4-1 deficit in the final set to secure the Fed cup for the Czech Republic.

“It was an amazing match from both of us,” Kvitova said after the match. “It was a very big fight. I’m just glad that I did it. It was really up and down from the beginning of the match. It was always a big fight about every single point.”

 

FED CUP FINAL

 

CZECH REPUBLIC defeated GERMANY 3-1

Venue: O2 Arena, Prague, CZE (hard – indoors)

 

Petra Kvitova (CZE) d. Andrea Petkovic (GER) 62 64

Lucie Safarova (CZE) d. Angelique Kerber (GER) 64 64

Petra Kvitova (CZE) d. Angelique Kerber (GER) 76(5) 46 64

Lucie Safarova (CZE) v Andrea Petkovic (GER) not played

Julia Goerges/Sabine Lisicki (GER) d. Andrea Hlavackova/Lucie Hradecka (CZE) 64 63

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Semifinals set at WTA Finals while Serena Williams clinches year-end No. 1

 

By Stephanie Neppl

 

(October 24, 2014) SINGAPORE – Semifinal berths and the year-end WTA No. 1 ranking were on the line as the last round of WTA Finals round-robin play began on Friday.

 

Many scenarios existed to see who would be playing in Saturday’s semifinals, with just Simona Halep having already secured her spot. In the end, Caroline Wozniacki, Agnieszka Radwanska and Serena Williams would complete the semifinal line-up.

 

Here’s how the day’s matches unfolded:

[2] Maria Sharapova (Russia) vs [6] Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland)

Sharapova had to beat Radwanska in straight sets to keep her hopes alive to advance to the semifinals. The two had a messy start to the match as both hit a fair share of errors as they settled in. Sharapova broke first to go up 2-1, but couldn’t consolidate as both players struggled to find their consistency.

 

Break points were frequent, and it was Sharapova who would get a critical break at 4-4 to serve out the first set. Up 5-4, the Russian was broken after saving three break points so the set was level again at 5-5. But three winners in the next game helped Sharapova break again and she served out the set on her second try, 7-5.

 

The second set looked to be quick for the world No. 2, who raised her game and Radwanska looked resigned to the loss. Sharapova went up 5-1 and had two match points on the Pole’s serve to clinch a straight set win. From that stage, Radwanska started playing solid tennis and she broke Sharapova’s serve twice to get herself back in the match at 5-5.

 

Sharapova twice served for the match, but never reached match point on her own serve. The set eventually went to a tiebreaker, and the momentum was still on Radwanska’s side. She was able to nose ahead in the tiebreak as Sharapova errors kept her behind the whole way. Down 6-4 in the tiebreaker, the Russian double faulted to end her chances to advance to the semifinals. By dropping the set, Sharapova was eliminated from the WTA Finals, meaning Serena Williams clinched year-end #1 for the fourth time.

 

Despite letting the second set slip away, Sharapova was able to regroup and broke Radwanska twice in the third set to win the last four games for the 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-2 win to end her season with a victory.

 

Sharapova said after the match that she was happy to end the tournament with a win. “I just really wanted to win this match. I had so many chances and it was just not the way that I wanted to go out in the tournament. That was my goal no matter how physical the match or how tough it was to lose that second set was, I wanted to win it.”

 

[3] Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic) vs [8] Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark)

Wozniacki had already qualified for the semifinals, but she took on Kvitova with the chance to finish 3-0 and finish atop the White Group. Kvitova needed to win the match in order to move on the semifinals, or else Radwanska was in.

 

Kvitova got off to a solid start, breaking early for a 2-1 lead. But Wozniacki was hitting freely and much more aggressively than usual, most likely due to the fact she had already advanced to the semifinals. The Dane reeled off five straight games to take the first set, 6-2.

 

The Czech, who admitted that she was feeling “tired and sick of tennis for a moment” after her loss to Radwanska earlier in the week, showed she wasn’t going away and her huge groundstrokes helped her race out to a 2-0 lead. But it all fell apart again for Kvitova, and Wozniacki’s defense and consistency helped her get a key break at 4-3, and she served out the match for a 6-2, 6-3 win.

 

The victory meant Kvitova, known for her indoor tennis prowess, was out of the 2014 WTA Finals with a 1-2 record and Radwanska finished second in the White Group.

 

Wozniacki finished atop the White Group and said it’s been a great week so far in Singapore. “It’s been a great week. I think I have nothing to complain about. Great tennis and some good wins. It’s just been really nice. You know, I’ve been playing some really good tennis, and today I think is one of the best matches I’ve ever play.”

 

[4] Simona Halep (Romania) vs [7] Ana Ivanovic (Serbia)

The final round-robin singles match was full of intrigue, as the fate of world No. 1 Serena Williams’ standing at the tournament rested on Simona Halep. If Ivanovic managed to defeat Halep in straight sets, Williams was out and Ivanovic would be in the WTA Finals semifinals for the first time since 2007.

 

It all seemed to be going Halep’s, and Williams’, way in the first set. Halep jumped out to a 5-2, double break lead and served for the set. From that stage, she lost four straight games as Ivanovic became more aggressive and many Halep backhands, her best shot, repeatedly found the net.

 

Halep steadied the ship to hold serve down 5-6 and the two engaged in a tense tiebreak. Ivanovic took a 5-2 lead but a forehand error and double fault helped Halep level it at 5-5. The Romanian had a set point up 6-5, but hit a forehand into the net. Ivanovic then hit a backhand long up set point at 7-6 before she managed to grab another set point with a forehand winner and she sealed her first set comeback as she won the tiebreak, 9-7.

 

The second set moved along similarly to the first set, with Halep showing no signs of giving anything but her all in the match. She again led 4-1 before handing the break back while serving at 4-2. But this time, the Romanian would not relent, and she broke at 4-3 and served out the set at love.

 

With the loss of a set, Ivanovic would no longer advance to the semifinal stage, meaning Williams was in. But the Serbian fought hard in the third and broke to go up 5-3 in an effort to end her 2014 season with a win. She served out the match at love to take it 7-6 (7) 3-6 6-3.

 

Ivanovic admitted her disappointment that she did not advance to Saturday’s semifinals. “Yeah, it’s mixed emotions obviously because I feel like it was such a great match tonight, yet it’s such a low not to be able to qualify for the semifinals. Still, on a positive note I won two matches, finished the season with a victory. It’s been amazing year for me.“

 

So, the semifinals will be Williams against Wozniacki and Halep versus Radwanska. Williams leads the head to head 9-1, while Halep leads hers 4-2.

 

RESULTS – OCTOBER 24, 2014
Singles – Round Robin – Red Group
[7] Ana Ivanovic (Serbia) d [4] Simona Halep (Romania) 76(7) 36 63

Final Standings
1) Simona Halep 2-1 (.714 sets)
2) Serena Williams 2-1 (.667 sets)
3) Ana Ivanovic 2-1 (.537 sets)
4) Eugenie Bouchard 0-3

Round Robin – White Group
[2] Maria Sharapova (Russia) d [6] Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland) 75 67(4) 62
[8] Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark) d [3] Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic) 62 63

Final Standings
1) Caroline Wozniacki 3-0
2) Agnieszka Radwanska 1-2 (.479 sets)
3) Maria Sharapova 1-2 (.464 sets)
4) Petra Kvitova 1-2 (.431 sets)

Doubles – Quarterfinals
Kveta Peschke (Czech Republic) / Katarina Srebotnik (Slovenia) d [1] Sara Errani (Italy) / R Vinci (Italy) 21 ret.

Saturday’s schedule:

Centre Court – 12:00 pm Start

[2] Hsieh Su-Wei (Chinese Taipei) & Peng Shuai  (CHN) vs. Alla Kudryavtseva (Russia) & Anastasia Rodionova (AUS)

Not before 2:30 pm

(1) Serena Wiliams vs. (8) Caroline Wozniacki

 

Not before 6:00 pm

(4) Simona Halep vs (6) Agnieszka Radwanska

[3] Cara Black (Zimbabwe)/Sania Mirza (India) vs. Kveta Peschke (Czech Republic)/Katarina Srebotnik (Slovenia)

 

Stephanie Neppl is in Singapore covering the WTA Finals for Tennis Panorama News. She spends all her spare funds traveling to tennis tournaments and has played since her teen years. Follow her live updates on Twitter at @TennisNewsTPN. Follow her personal Twitter @stephintheus and her blog  http://ihaveatennisaddiction.blogspot.com.

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WTA Finals race to the semifinals heats up; Halep first through

By Stephanie Neppl

(October 23, 2014) SINGAPORE – With three round robin singles matches on tap for Thursday, it was a full-day of at action at the 2014 WTA Finals in Singapore.
[6] Agniezska Radwanska (Poland) vs [8] Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark)

Wozniacki battled her good friend Radwanska and ended on the good side of a hard-fought 7-5, 6-3 match. Radwanska struck early, going up 2-0, but the pair traded breaks back and forth in the first set, and the crowd was treated to many long rallies and crafty play, especially by Radwanska.

The Pole led 3-1, but Wozniacki was able to pull even at 3-3 and the two held serve until the Dane was able to get a break at 5-5. The quality of play got better as the set progressed with Radwanka’s ability to place the ball paired against Wozniack’s great defense. At 5-5, Wozniacki got more aggressive on her returns and was able to break and she held her own serve at 6-5 to take the first set.

In the second set, Radwanska’s groundstrokes continued to let her down, and it was Wozniacki who broke at 3-3 and won the final three games to secure a second round robin win.

“I think it was really tough match overall,” Wozniacki said after the match. “I just kept fighting for every point. There was some ridiculous shot making there at times.”

Radwanska agreed that the crowd witnessed some great tennis, but said for her it was not enough. “Well, I think of course it was couple of amazing rallies and of course couple amazing shots as well. But just not enough, I guess, in that match. I think those shots and the other shots, it all makes good match. But I think I think I just needed some more good serves as well in that match.”

[2] Maria Sharapova (Russia) vs [3] Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic)
After both losing their opening matches, Sharapova and Kvitova met with a lot on the line for each to stay in contention for the semifinals. Sharapova had won the past five matches against the Czech, who had last beaten the Russian back in the 2011 Wimbledon final.

It seemed that trend would continue as a pumped up Sharapova broke to start the match as Kvitova was missing her shots.

But in the blink of an eye, Kvitova took over the match. She reeled off five straight games and threatened to hand Sharapova a moral bagel. Down 5-2, Sharapova finally held serve but she could not contain Kvitova’s huge serving as she closed out the first set, 6-3.

In the second set, the crowd waited for Sharapova to find her way back in the match, but Kvitova hit winner after winner. Up 5-0 and serving for the match, Sharapova broke her opponent to deny a bagel set, but down 1-5 Sharapova she would face two match points. Kvitova missed her return on both points, and the Russian held on for a second game in the set. But it wasn’t enough, and Kvitova closed out the match on her second try, 6-3, 6-2.

Kvitova admitted later in her news conference that she was “tired and sick of tennis for a moment” after her loss to Radwanska earlier in the week. “So I didn’t practice today as all and I just really relaxed and clean my mind a little bit. I knew that I have a game to beat Maria. So everything what I did today was really good, and I’m glad that I beat her and I have still a chance to go in semifinal.”

Sharapova said that she didn’t feel as sharp in the match as she has against Kvitova in the past. “She served really well. Not fast, but found her spots really well,’ she said. “But I just don’t feel that I reacted as well in her bigger shots. She’s someone that likes to play aggressive and hit the ball, and very deep as well. She countered my shots extremely well and I was just never ready for the next ball. That made it quite difficult for me.”

To advance to the semifinals, Sharapova’s only hope is to win straight sets as well as Wozniacki winning in straight sets.

[1] Serena Williams (USA) vs [5] Eugenie Bouchard (Canada)

With every game counting toward Williams’ race to advance to the semifinals and try to hold onto her #1 ranking, she faced Bouchard for the first time since 2013 Cincinnati 2012, when the American battled for a three-set win in their only previous match.

Bouchard has had a standout season, but since reaching the Wimbledon final her record was a lowly 8-8 leading into her final round-robin match.

Williams was coming off her worst loss since 1998, and she put memories of that match behind her with a convincing 6-1, 6-1 win over Bouchard. The Canadian quickly went down 0-40 in her first service game but would hold. From then, Williams was far too strong and she won 11 straight games before Bouchard knew what hit her. She could save face by holding serve to get on the board in the second set, but Williams served out the match in her first try for the 58-minute victory.

The world No. 1 said she had to get over her 6-0, 6-2 loss to Halep on Wednesday in order to be ready for today’s match. “I was really disappointed in my play yesterday. I tried, but it didn’t work out for me. I don’t really recover well from losses, but I had a really long talk with Patrick. He just was, you know, telling me what I needed to do and how to get over it.”

The loss to Williams meant an end to Bouchard’s season, and she said she enjoyed the experience in Singapore despite her 0-3 record. “Yeah, it’s been fun. Definitely a unique experience compared to any other tournament, one I would love to come back it in the future. Definitely disappointed with my play this whole week, but I feel like I can do so much better. That’s a positive I can take out of it as well.”

Williams must await the result of the Simona Halep and Ana Ivanovic’s match to see whether or not she will advance to the semifinals.

But the world No. 1 said her fate actually rests on herself. “If I wanted to win and be a part of the event, I should have won my match yesterday or should have done better,” she said. “So whatever happens, happens at this time. I did the best that I could do this week. I should have thought about that sooner.”

2014 WTA Finals Scenarios

Friday is the final day of round robin play in singles, and the last first round doubles match will take place at night following singles.

ORDER OF PLAY – FRIDAY, OCTOBER 24, 2014
CENTRE COURT start 1:30 pm
[2] Maria Sharapova (Russia) vs [6] Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland)
[3] Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic) vs [8] Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark)

Not Before 7:30 pm
[4] Simona Halep (Romania) vs [7] Ana Ivanovic (Serbia)
[1] Sara Errani (Italy) / Roberta Vinci (Italy) vs Kveta Peschke (Czech Republic) / Katarina Srebotnik (Slovenia)

Stephanie Neppl is in Singapore covering the WTA Finals for Tennis Panorama News. She spends all her spare funds traveling to tennis tournaments and has played since her teen years. Follow her live updates on Twitter at @TennisNewsTPN. Follow her personal Twitter @stephintheus and her blog  http://ihaveatennisaddiction.blogspot.com.

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Williams and Halep victorious on Day 1 at the WTA Finals

wtafinals

By Stephanie Neppl

(October 20, 2014) SINGAPORE – With the top eight WTA players in the world taking center stage in Singapore at the WTA Finals, there’s no such thing as an easy match. But the tournament certainly started off with a bang as top seed and two-time defending champion Serena Williams took on Ana Ivanovic Monday night.

The debut match of the tournament was greeted by a boisterous, enthusiastic crowd. Following an opening ceremony that featured WTA Finals ambassador Li Na serving the ceremonial first serve of the event (donning high heels no less), the crowd roared as Williams and Ivanovic took to the court.

The Serbian, back in the WTA Finals for the first time since 2008, dealt Williams her first grand-slam blow of 2014 at the Australian Open with a 4th round win. Since then, the two have played three more times, with the American coming out on top but two of the three battles went deep into third sets before Williams prevailed.

Ivanovic has had one of her best seasons on tour this year, and her return to the Top 10 was accompanied by four titles and 56 total wins, the best on tour.

Heading into the match, Williams boasted a 15-match winning streak at this event. With concerns about her left knee hanging overhead, the world No. 1 faced a pair of break points in her opening service game, but saved both with aces. After a tough hold to start, Williams settled in and quickly took a 4-1 lead as Ivanovic struggled with her serve.

But after holding for 2-4, Ivanovic broke Williams at love, and then leveled the match at 4-4. An energetic crowd watched as the Serbian had a break point that would give her a chance to serve for the first set, but Williams held on. Serving to stay in the set, Ivanovic threw in two double faults, including one down set point, and Williams broke for a 6-4 lead.

Ivanovic immediately broke the Williams serve in the second set, partially due to two double faults by Williams, but she was broken straight back. Each player then held serve until 5-4, when Ivanovic served to stay in the match. Just as in the first set, Ivanovic could not withstand the pressure and she was broken to give Williams the 6-4, 6-4 win and her 16th straight WTA Finals match victory.

Ivanovic was plagued by double faults all night, and she tossed in seven during the match and said later she felt she was rushing her serve. “She was putting a lot of pressure on my serve,” Ivanovic said. “She served really well today I thought and created more pressure on my service game. I didn’t feel my rhythm, so I was trying to make more first serves.”

Williams’ serve, on the flip side, was firing. She hit 12 aces overall, giving her 430 for the season, the most of any player on the WTA Tour. “I was pleased with my serve,” Williams said after the match. “Ana is a very aggressive returner, and I went really hard at my second serve.”

The world No. 1 played without her left knee strapped, and she said it felt much better. “Compared to what it was in Beijing, it feels so much better,” Williams said. “I’m getting better, which is great.”

The win helps Williams’ chance of wrapping up the WTA year-end No. 1 spot, and now Sharapova will need to reach the final with a 2-1 record or win the title to have a chance to take away the top spot.

In the second match, Simona Halep won the battle of the WTA Finals newcomers over Genie Bouchard, with a tidy 6-2, 6-3 win. Halep raced out to a 4-0 lead in the first set and even had a point for a 5-0, triple break lead before Bouchard held to get on the board at 1-4. After clinching the first set 6-2, Halep broke early in the second and held on to wrap up the 6-2, 6-3 victory. Bouchard hit 30 errors and 5 double faults in the match.

Tuesday’s schedule features Maria Sharapova versus Caroline Wozniacki, followed by Petra Kvitova against Agnieszka Radwanska.

ORDER OF PLAY – October 21, 2014

Singapore Indoor Stadium – Start 5:30 pm

Rising Stars Final

Rising Stars Final – Monica Puig (Puerto Rico) vs Zheng SaiSai (China)

Not before 7:30 pm

(2) Maria Sharapova (Russia) vs (8) Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark)

(3) Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic) vs (6) Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland)

Stephanie Neppl is in Singapore covering the WTA Finals for Tennis Panorama News. She spends all her spare funds traveling to tennis tournaments and has played since her teen years. Follow her live updates on Twitter at @TennisNewsTPN. Follow her personal Twitter @stephintheus and her blog  http://ihaveatennisaddiction.blogspot.com.

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