Tag: christina mchale

2021 Adelaide International: Collins gatecrashes Barty Party as Storm Sanders becomes the last Aussie standing

DANIELLE Collins has sought revenge on world number one Ash Barty, overturning the result between the pair at last year’s Adelaide International to win in straight sets and book her place in the last eight. The American went down in three sets in last year’s semi-final showdown which saw Barty go on to win the title, but in the Round of 16, it was Collins who got the better of the Australian, stunning her 6-3 6-4 and condemning Barty to her second consecutive loss.

“I think I was really familiar with her game after losing to her three times,” Collins said post-match. “So I certainly got some great tennis lessons out of that and have learned from it.”

The American was the third from her nation to make her way into the quarter finals following Shelby Rogers‘ victory the day before, and young gun Coco Gauff‘s come-from-behind win over sixth seed Croatian Petra Martic. Gauff had to fight back from a set down to win 5-7 6-3 6-4 in two hours and 12 minutes, saving seven of her 10 break points, whilst breaking her opponent four times in a nail-biting encounter. She now takes on Rogers in an all-American affair.

For Collins, having disposed of one Grand Slam winner in Barty, she now has another to overcome. The unseeded American faces Iga Swiatek in the quarter finals after the Pole Roland Garros winner defeated Australian Maddison Inglis in straight sets, 6-1 6-3. On a day that was a disaster for seeds, Swiatek held firm and won through to the final eight, joining second seed Belinda Bencic as the only other seed through to the quarter finals.

The biggest upset of the day – even more so than Collins over Barty – was Storm Sanders‘ triumph over Yulia Putintseva. The 26-year-old world number 292nd had no fears against the seventh seed and world number 28, winning 6-4 5-7 6-1 in a tight affair. In a remarkable second match since they last played nine years ago when they were teenagers, the now 26-year-olds engaged in a two-hour and 18-minute battle which saw Sanders emerge victorious. She saved eight of 10 break points, whilst capitalising on four of nine herself to make her way into the quarter finals to take on Bencic.

In the other results, Latvian Anastasia Sevastova will lock horns with Swiss rising talent Jil Teichmann after both won their respective matches. Sevastova knocked out Christina McHale in straight sets, 6-4 6-3, while Teichmann came from behind to defeat eighth seed Chinese talent, Wang Qiang, 3-6 6-3 6-3.

ROUND OF 16 RESULTS:

Danielle Collins (USA) defeated [1] Ash Barty (AUS) 6-3 6-4
[2] Belinda Bencic (SUI) defeated Misaki Doi (JPN) 6-1 6-3
[5] Iga Swiatek (POL) defeated Maddison Inglis (AUS) 6-1 6-3
Coco Gauff (USA) defeated [6] Petra Martic (CRO) 5-7 6-3 6-4
Storm Sanders (AUS) defeated [7] Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) 6-4 5-7 6-1
Jil Teichmann (SUI) defeated [8] Wang Qiang (CHN) 3-6 6-3 6-3
Anastasia Sevastova (LAT) defeated Christina McHale 6-4 6-3

Picture credit: Tennis Australia/James Elsby

2021 Adelaide International: Qualifiers share spotlight as main draw takes the court

DAY 2 of the Adelaide International qualifying round saw the WTA 500 tournament’s main draw begin, with plenty of hotly contested matches on centre court during the first day of the official competition, as Anastasija Sevastova, Wang QiangShelby Rogers and Danielle Collins headed into the Round of 16 with relative ease.

Sevastova was the first to win through to the Round of 16, defeating Caroline Garcia in 81 minutes 6-2 6-4. It was a solid first serve efficiency that saw the Latvian take out the victory, winning 65 per cent of first serve points off a 72.7 per cent clip, controlling the match despite the Frenchwoman fighting back in the second. A game-for-game first set between eighth seed Wang and wildcard Olivia Gadecki – who sits barely within the top 400 at 399th in the world – drew plenty of eyes as the Australian challenged Wang, before the Chinese talent ran away with the second set and eventual victory with her ability to win off her first serve paying dividends with an effectiveness of close to 88 per cent.

On the first and second show courts, it was the underdogs that showcased their form as the likes of Storm Sanders and Liudmila Samsonova reigned supreme and headed into the main draw. Sanders had an excellent outing against American Caty McNally, downing the ninth seed in 75 minute 6-2 6-3. Whilst not as huge a scalp as Sanders’ victory – ranking 292nd in the world to McNally’s 118th – 10th seed and 117th ranked Samsonova got the chocolates over Japanese fifth seed and world number 86 Misaki Doi, 7-6 6-3. Meanwhile, an excellent showing from Latvian Kaja Juvan saw the 20-year-old speed away to an early lead, before 16-year-old top seed Coco Gauff clapped back midway through the second to force a deciding set after a huge come from behind effort, eventually winning 3-6 7-5 6-3 in two hours and 10 minutes.

A mammoth effort from Maddison Inglis saw the Australian join the winners list with an excellent outing against third seed Christina McHale. Whilst the American seemed to have all proceedings going her way early, a stellar comeback across the second and third sets handed Inglis her entry into the main draw and a chance at her maiden WTA Tour win. With a 65.6 per cent win rate on her first serve off a 78 per cent clip, Inglis was far more effective on serve and utilised her service speed to knock off the world number 85, 4-6 6-2 6-1 in just under two hours.

The remaining two Round of 32 encounters saw a fired-up Rogers fly through the first set against Veronika Kudermetova, before the Russian bit back in the second to force a tiebreaker but unable to rein in the American, as Rogers’ compatriot Collins downed Zheng Saisai and Madison Brengle won through to the main draw alongside Italian Jasmine Paolini.

2021 Adelaide International: Day 1 of qualifiers sees Americans and Aussies dominate

THE Adelaide International qualifying rounds have begun, with a flurry of American and Australian competitors taking the court in South Australia and at least one player from each of the two nations playing in each match. They combined for eight of the 12 winners on the day, including top seed youngster Coco Gauff and unseeded wildcard Storm Sanders, who disposed of second seed American Bernarda Pera in three sets.

In an interesting stat, the top four seeds all hailed from the United States, with just Pera falling from that group. Gauff was clinical in her encounter with Great Britain’s Francesca Jones, disposing of the Brit in 64 minutes and joined by Madison BrengleChristina McHale and Caty McNally on the winners list. Also hailing from the United States but falling in the first round was Asia Muhammad, who stole the first set from Italian Jasmine Paolini but eventually fell in the lone two-plus hour encounters of the day, going down to the sixth seed 4-6 6-3 7-6.

Heading to the Australian winners, and it was Maddison InglisAstra Sharma and Ellen Perez who joined Sanders in the second round, with Inglis knocking compatriot Belinda Woolcock out of the running. Destanee AiavaArina RodionovaLizette CabreraIvana Popovic and Kimberly Birrell will all remain on the sidelines on home soil, unlucky to all draw seeds. Sanders and Sharma impressed with their three set victories over Pera and Lesia Tsurenko showing plenty of intent ahead of the second round.

The remaining non American or Australian winners included Liudmila SamsonovaMisaki Doi and Kaja Juvan, as all three competitors claimed straight set wins over homegrown talent.

The qualifiers will continue today with the first round beginning on Tuesday.

WTA 500 wraps: Czechs fall as other top seeds advance

A HUGE day at Melbourne Park saw all three events – Yarra Valley Classic, Gippsland Trophy and Grampians Trophy – underway, in what was a largely predictable day, though did feature a number of upsets, particularly to top ranked Czechs.

In the Yarra Valley Classic, the two top Czech players in the world – Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova – again have fallen short of the mark, losing out to lower ranked opponents in the Round of 16. Pliskova went down in two tiebreakers (7-5 7-3) during her 7-6 7-6 loss to 13th seed American Danielle Collins, while Kvitova started well against Roland Garros semi-finalist Nadia Podoroska, before losing in three sets to the 14th seed, 5-7 6-1 7-6.

In a repeat of their US Open clash, Serena Williams defeated Tsvetana Pironkova to set up an all-American quarter final with Collins, winning 6-1 6-4 against the Bulgarian. Racing through her match like she had somewhere to be, sixth seed Garbine Muguruza had a point to prove in a 6-1 6-2 rout of 11th seed Russian, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. The result meant Muguruza now faces Sofia Kenin in the quarter finals, a repeat of the Australian Open decider 12 months ago.

Kenin took down compatriot Jessica Pegula in three sets 5-7 7-5 6-2, while world number one Ash Barty needed three sets to roll past 16th seed Czech, Marie Bouzkova in a bad day for the Czech Republic. One positive was the success of Marketa Vondrousova, with the eighth seed being the sole winner of the four in action, advancing through to the quarter finals thanks to a hard-fought 7-6 6-7 6-4 triumph over Russian Vera Zvonareva.

The quarter finals see Vondrousova taking on Podoroska for the right to play either Muguruza or Kenin, while the winner in the all-American clash between Collins and Williams will face the winner of the Barty and Shelby Rogers quarter final.

YARRA VALLEY CLASSIC ROUND OF 16 RESULTS:

[1] Ash Barty (AUS) defeated [16] Marie Bouzkova (CZE) 6-0 4-6 6-3
[2] Sofia Kenin (USA) defeated Jessica Pegula (USA) 5-7 7-5 6-2
[13] Danielle Collins (USA) defeated [3] Karolina Pliskova (CZE) 7-6 7-6
[14] Nadia Podoroska (ARG) defeated [4] Petra Kvitova (CZE) 5-7 6-1 7-6
[5] Serena Williams (USA) defeated Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL) 6-1 6-4
[6] Garbine Muguruza (ESP) defeated [11] Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) 6-1 6-2
[8] Marketa Vondrousova (CZE) defeated Vera Zvonareva (RUS) 7-6 6-7 6-4

The Gippsland Trophy also went largely to plan, with five of the seven winners being ranked higher than their opponents. It was not completely smooth sailing for anyone, with only top seed Simona Halep, and ninth seed Ekaterina Alexandrova winning without getting into an eleventh game in any set. Halep toppled 16th seed German Laura Siegemund 6-2 6-4, while Alexandrova ended the unbeaten run of sixth seed Pole, Iga Swiatek who was coming off a Roland Garros title last year.

Speaking of Grand Slam titles, second seed Naomi Osaka – fresh off a break following her 2020 US Open triumph – had to come from a set down to put away a determined Katie Boulter, 3-6 6-3 6-1. Also fighting from a set down, third seed Elina Svitolina took out Latvian Jelena Ostapenko 6-7 6-3 6-2, while the biggest upset of the day belonged to Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu who knocked off fifth seed Johanna Konta in three hours and 32 minutes, 4-6 7-6 7-6.

In the other two matches, eighth seed Karolina Muchova won in three sets over Jasmine Paolini, while Estonian Kaia Kanepi – who ended the 15-game winning streak of Aryna Sabalenka the day before – won through to the quarter finals in straight sets over Daria Kasatkina, 7-5 6-1. Now Kanepi and Muchova lock horns, with Begu to take on Osaka, and two huge all-seeded clashes between Halep and Alexandrova, and Elise Mertens and Svitolina.

GIPPSLAND TROPHY ROUND OF 16 RESULTS:

[1] Simona Halep (ROU) defeated [16] Laura Siegemund (GER) 6-2 6-4
[2] Naomi Osaka (JPN) defeated Katie Boulter (GBR) 3-6 6-3 6-1
[3] Elina Svitolina (UKR) defeated [13] Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) 6-7 6-3 6-2
Irina-Camelia Begu ROU) defeated [5] Johanna Konta (GBR) 4-6 7-6 7-6
[9] Ekaterina Alexandrova (RUS) defeated [6] Iga Swiatek (POL) 6-4 6-2
[8] Karolina Muchova (CZE) defeated Jasmine Paolini (ITA) 6-2 4-6 6-4
Kaia Kanepi (EST) defeated Daria Kasatkina (RUS) 7-5 6-1

Meanwhile the first round of action at the Grampians Trophy was completed over the first couple of days, with the remaining 10 matches adding to the two played on day one. Overall there were not a huge amount of surprises, with perhaps the biggest upset seeing teenage rising star Leylah Fernandez take down former US Open winner Sloane Stephens in straight sets.

The 6-3 6-1 victory was a convincing victory in an hour and 14 minutes, though the quickest fully completed match of the day was Sonia Cirstea‘s rout of Oksana Kalashnikova, 6-1 6-1 in just 48 minutes. To put that in perspective, local talent Ellen Perez – who was a late inclusion into the draw – had to retire eight games in against Ann Li and that match went for 43 minutes.

In other results, the three seeds in action were Estonian Anett Kontaveit (sixth), American Jennifer Brady (seventh) and German Angelique Kerber (eighth) who all won through. Both Kontaveit and Brady breezed through in straight sets, whilst Kerber took almost two hours to dispel Czech Republic’s Katerina Siniakova in three sets, 6-3 4-6 6-3.

In other results, Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk and Veronika Kudermetova both rolled through to the next round without any issues, as did Tunisian Ons Jabeur who continued her great form of the past 12 months. The other winners were United States’ Bethany Mattek-Sands, Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva and Czech Republic’s Barbora Krejcikova who all made it into the Round of 16.

GRAMPIANS TROPHY ROUND OF 32 RESULTS:

[6] Anett Kontaveit (EST) defeated Christina McHale (USA) 6-1 6-3
[7] Jennifer Brady (USA) defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) 6-3 6-0
[8] Angelique Kerber (GER) defeated Katerina Siniakova (CZE) 6-3 4-6 6-3
Bethany Mattek-Sands (USA) defeated Barbora Strycova (CZE) 7-6 6-2
Marta Kostyuk (UKR) defeated Gabriela Dabrowski (CAN) 6-0 6-3
Leylah Fernandez (CAN) defeated Sloane Stephens (USA) 6-3 6-1
Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) defeated Georgina Garcia Perez (ESP) 7-6 6-4
Veronika Kudermetova (RUS) defeated Heather Watson (GBR) 6-2 6-2
Barbora Krejcikova (CZE) defeated Lauren Davis (USA) 6-4 4-6 6-4
Ann Li (USA) defeated Ellen Perez (AUS) 5-3 RET
Sonia Cirstea (ROU) defeated Oksana Kalashnikova (GEO) 6-1 6-1
Ons Jabeur (TUN) defeated Anna Blinkova (RUS) 6-1 6-1

Note: Unfortunately due to a COVID-19 positive test from a hotel worker at the Grand Hyatt where the majority of players are staying, today’s action has been postponed.

Picture credit: Getty Images

Pliskova sisters downed as Ostapenko returns at full strength

DAY five at the Roland Garros saw the second day of Round of 64 action, with the women’s draw continuing to produce some intriguing results. Three more seeds fell to lower ranked opposition as the draw continues to heat up, with second seed Karolina Pliskova upset in straight sets by a tenacious Jelena Ostapenko, while both Elena Rybakina (14th seed) and Sloane Stephens (29th) were disposed off in three-setters despite both making a second set comeback.

The battle between 2017 Roland Garros champion Ostapenko and Pliskova was always going to be tough, but very little expected it to be complete in 69 minutes with a 6-4 6-2 result that saw Ostapenko reign supreme. With Pliskova known for her strong serve, Ostapenko said she focused on ensuring she returned serve well and did not allow Pliskova to get the upper hand.

“I knew I have to return well today because she obviously has one of the best serves on tour,” Ostapenko said post-match. “I think I was returning very well today. Also, I had to hold my serve, which I did pretty good, just once in the first set I didn’t hold my serve.

Return and hold serve she did, winning 22 of a possible 30 points off her first serve at 73 per cent and backing it up with a 54 per cent ratio on the second serve, well above Pliskova’s 30 per cent winning rate on the second. Ostapenko hit 27 winners for 19 unforced errors, winning 54 per cent of her receiving points in a solid output.

“I think I was playing good today,” Ostapenko said. “I knew it was going to be a tough match, so I was trying to be very focused all match, playing my game. I tried to keep the ball in play to make sure I’m not missing and making too many unforced errors, but when I had the chance I was going for it.

“Obviously I knew she’s a great player so it’s going to be a tough match, but I think I played well today.”

While Pliskova credited Ostapenko’s effort, the Czech second seed was critical of her own game.

“I’m sure I could do much better,” Pliskova said. “I know that she can be tough if she’s playing well, but I think everything started with me. “I was definitely not playing great. “I think maybe same level as the match before, but of course she’s a much better player.”

Pliskova’s twin sister Kristyna did not fare much better, ousted in straight sets by 11th seed Spaniard Garbine Muguruza, while seventh seed Petra Kvitova ran away with a solid victory over Jasmine Paolini and fourth seed Sofia Kenin was challenged by Ana Bogdan with a slow start, eventually running away with the 3-6 6-3 6-2 victory. Aryna Sabalenka also got the chocolates over Daria Kasatkina, as did Petra Martic and Ons Jabeur

Rybakina had a tough one against hometown hero Fiona Ferro, while Ferro’s fellow countrywoman, 19-year-old Clara Burel also head through to the next round, though the duo’s French compatriot Alize Cornet was not quite as lucky going down in the second set tiebreaker to Zhang Shuai. Paula Badosa was strong in her victory over Stephens, with the American unable to string together another win and joined on the sidelines by Christina McHale, whereas Danielle Collins was much more effective to head through to the Round of 32 alongside Kenin. In the remaining matches, Irina Bara heads through to the next round by default after Alison van Uytvanck retired mid-match, Laura Siegemund overcame a 1-6 start to reign supreme over Julia Goerges, and 18-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez defeated Polona Hercog.

Slovenian teenager stuns Kerber to claim first French Open win

SLOVANIAN teenager Kaja Juvan has stunned one of Roland Garros’ title contenders by defeating former world number one and Grand Slam winner, Angelique Kerber. The German star was expected to advance fairly comfortably against her 19-year-old opponent, but instead in just her second French Open match, Juvan claimed the win in a 6-3 6-3 upset.

The match lasted just over an hour, and Juvan showed no fear by toppling the 18th seed, in the same fashion that she took Serena Williams to three sets on Juvan’s Wimbledon debut. Juvan’s aggressiveness paid off, hitting 27 winners to 15, and only conceding 19 unforced errors to Kerber’s 30. She also won 68 per cent off her second serve, and 57 per cent of her points off her opponent’s serve.

“It doesn’t matter to me who the draw is, but when you play against players who have a lot of titles, you say to yourself, okay, I watched them on TV when I was little, but I have to stay focused on myself,” Juvan said post-match. “So I did what I had to do. “But in the end, we had to wait three hours to play. And so we were trying to warm up, I was trying to stay aggressive. That’s why I won her in the end, because she’s a fantastic player.”

Speaking of Williams, she overcame a tight first set tiebreaker to blow away fellow American Kristie Ahn in the second set to advance through to the next round with a 7-6 6-0 win. There she takes on a familiar face in Bulgarian wildcard, Tsvetana Pironkova who took the American to three sets at the US Open.

“She’s playing well, but I am too,” Williams said post-match about her upcoming Round of 64 match. “I’m ready to play her. “She’ll be ready to play me. “It will be a long match, she will get a lot of balls back, but so am I. “I’ll be ready.”

Second seed Karolina Pliskova breezed through to the Round of 64, defeating Slovakian Viktoria Kuzmova, joined in the next round by fellow top contenders, Elina Svitolina, Garbine Muguruza, Kiki Bertens and Petra Kvitova who all won their respective matches. Meanwhile American teenager Amanda Anisimova won in a blitz over German Tamara Korpatch.

It was not as positive for Poland’s Magda Linette who went down to Canadian teenage prodigy Leylah Fernandez in three sets, while Madison Keys also lost in the opening round of the Grand Slam she holds, out to China’s Shuai Zhang. Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova also took out a seed, winning in a topsy-turvy 6-1 2-6 6-1 victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova. The final seed to lose was Czech 22nd seed, Karolina Muchova who bowed out at the hands of Christina McHale, 6-2 6-4.

In the unseeded matches, Clara Burel advanced to the second round of her home Grand Slam with a win over Arantxa Rus to face Juvan in the second round, while Alize Cornet won in an all-French battle against another wildcard in Chloe Paquet. It was not as positive for Diane Parry who lost out to Polona Hercog in straight sets, as did Elsa Jacquemot after the wildcard went down to Mexican qualifier, Renata Zarazua.

Other winners on day two were Patricia Maria Tig, Su Wei Hsieh, Katerina Siniakova, Bernarda Pera, and Italian duo, Jasmine Paolini and Sara Errani.

Horror day on clay for US as seeds stumble ahead of Roland Garros

IF you were a United States fan turning in to watch your competitors run around on the clay at the Strasbourg International, then by the end of the first round you would have been deeply disappointed. All five American hopes were bundled out in the first round, including seeds Amanda Anisimova and Sloane Stephens. Both suffered disappointing defeats in the Round of 32 in France, whilst compatriots, Lauren Davis, Bernarda Pera and Christina Mchale joined them on the sidelines.

Anisimova had arguably the most disappointing defeat, surrendering to Swiss up and comer Jil Teichmann in straight sets, 6-2 6-3 in just 67 minutes. Teichmann only dropped five points off her first serve and broke her opponent four times whilst saving all three break point opportunities, proving too strong for the world number 29. The 23-year-old might still be young but has a few years on the teenage Anisimova who was unable to live up to her sixth seed billing at the tournament.

Stephens went down in a hard-fought three-set match to Nao Hibino with the Japanese talent fighting back from dropping the second set to win 6-2 3-6 6-1 in an hour and 45 minutes. Hibino is ranked 84th in the world but was able to fight past Stephens who is having a horror year with just three wins to-date. Hibino broke nine times from 20 opportunities, whilst saving eight of 14 from her opponent in a game not renowned for holding serve. In fact. Stephens only held serve three times, serving up 11 double faults and winning 42 per cent of her service points in a strange match.

“Last week, I lost in qualies in Rome and it was not a good match, so I learned from that,” Hibino said post-match. “Of course, Sloane is a good player, especially on clay courts. I prepared mentally and with tactics, so I think it helped a lot today.”

Now Hibino will take on Kazakhstan’s Zarina Diyas for a place in the quarter finals following Diyas’ epic three-set win over McHale which lasted three hours and eight minutes after being a set and 4-0 down.

“She’s a very low-ball hitter, but I’ve played against her a couple of times so I know how she plays,” Hibino said. “Nothing will change, so I’ll just prepare mentally and with tactics like today.”

The Diyas-McHale match was the match of the day, although Pera also fought hard against Czech Republic’s Katerina Siniakova before losing in three sets. The American took the first set, before falling 4-6 7-6 6-1 in two hours and 22 minutes. In another match not renowned for serving, Pera somehow served up 17 double faults in a number rarely hit on the WTA Tour. Now Siniakova advances through to take on Ekaterina Alexandrova who blasted Australian Storm Sanders off the court in a 6-0 6-1 39-minute demolition job also rarely seen on Tour.

Sanders won just 18 points for the match and six on return as Alexandrova broke six times and had a serving efficiency of 80 per cent. The Russian seventh seed was one of only three seeds through to the next round along with fifth seed Elena Rybakina, and fourth seed, Aryna Sabalenka.

Also through to the next round was Jelena Ostapenko who took care of Davis, 6-2 6-3, as well as French wildcard Clara Burel and compatriot Alize Cornet, Russian up and comer Anna Blinkova and compatriot Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and Pole Magda Linette.

Picture: Internationaux de Strasbourg

Who is in the best position to take out the WTA Tour US Open trophy?

WHICH player is in the best position to take out the WTA Tour US Open title? In a compromised season of tennis action, really anything could happen here with the reigning champion out of the draw and plenty of the top talent missing out due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns. But with rankings on the line and many itching to get back on the court, expect some huge battles over the coming weeks.

Looking at the draw, a number of things stick out – many of which were brought up in our US Open preview yesterday – such as some key withdrawals in terms of rankings and a heap of American competitors will take the courts at Flushing Meadows. With a couple of shock losses at the Western and Southern Open last week expect the women’s draw to have some interesting results given the inconsistency of court time and overall unknown of the competition this year. Six of the top 10 ranked in the world have withdrawn from the competition with the top two in Ash Barty and Simona Halep leading the pack as a huge 27 players from the United States contend for the title.

With such a mix of competitors and little warm-up for many of the entrants, there is really no certainty of who will hold up well against their respective opposition. Looking at the first quarter of the draw, the is no doubt that Karolina Pliskova has lucked out with her top seeding but will come up against a couple of well-prepared players who have tried their hand at both the Prague Open and Western and Southern Open in recent weeks, whereas Pliskova only played at the latter. While she should get the chocolates over her first opposition in Anhelina Kalinina, with the Ukrainian ranked just within the top 150 and no more recent time on court than Pliskova. But with the likes of Carolina Garcia or Jasmine Paolini next up – and the chance of Alison Riske further down the line – Pliskova cannot afford to rest on her laurels, especially given the amount of homegrown United States talent that will hope to bring home the trophy.

Looking further the down the line, names like Petra Martic and Marketa Vondrousova also stick out with a couple of highly seeded players in the mix. Past US Open champion Angelique Kerber is also in this quarter of the draw and while the German talent has not been a huge threat in recent years with her form somewhat dropping she comes in as 17th seed at the US Open and will want to take advantage of that especially against Australian Ajla Tomljanovic in the first round.

While Naomi Osaka has been in the news for different reasons this week, she had to withdraw from the Western and Southern Open final on the weekend citing injury prior to taking the court which could really put her US Open chances in jeopardy. While her form ahead of the extended break was somewhat shaky, she had a very good run at the W&S Open and could be a huge threat here at the US Open if she competes – especially with 2019 victor Bianca Andreescu out – and could nab a second title. Sitting at fourth in the seeding, Osaka will take on compatriot, Misaki Doi in the first round and is likely to run out winner with little issues, but if she makes it past the early rounds could set up a huge battle against Petra Kvitova, who comes in as sixth seed but like many, has only taken the court once since the break in proceedings back in March.

Anett Kontaveit has also been in solid form but will take on American Danielle Collins in the first round potentially setting up some intriguing battles with Anastasija Sevastova and Coco Gauff also among that grouping, with the Latvian the second last seeding in at 31st but 16-year-old Gauff able to beat anyone on her day.

Leading the next quarter of the draw are Americans Madison Keys and Serena Williams, with this quarter having a fair few top-seeded Americans making for a tantalising couple of battles. Australian Open finalist Garbine Muguruza and Greek Talent Maria Sakkari are among this draw while former US Open champion Sloane Stephens is also in the mix. This quarter of the draw looks like it could be one of the tougher ones of the entire competition given the calibre of young and experienced talent and potentially setting up some huge matches down the track. If everything goes to plan, expect a huge battle between Stevens and Williams potentially in the third round, which would see one of the two Americans down and out and potentially put a huge hole in Williams’ plan to reach 24 Grand Slam titles.

Expect youngster Iga Swiatek to put in a tough batter in her match against 29th seed Czech talent Veronika Kudermetova, and while Swiatek has really stepped up her game recently Kudermetova is no easy beat and will benefit off Swiatek not having a great return at the W&S Open, bundled out in the opening round by then-qualifier Christina McHale – who will hope to continue on her good string of form when she takes on Romanian Sorana Cirstea in the opening round – while Belarusian Victoria Azarenka has a handy 2020 W&S Open title behind her – that she earned by default but still deserved given her fine form in the lead-up – so is no easybeat.

One of the headlines of the draw is second seed Sofia Kenin, with the 21-year-old American aiming for back-to-back grand slam titles, owning the Australian Open title back in February and still the most recent grand slam champion in 2020 given the lack of competition this year. Kenin seems to have a fairly straightforward draw when it comes to her competition with wildcard Kim Clijsters among the mix but only if the former champion can get over the line against Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova, while Elise Mertens and Johanna Konta are also in the mix and should make it through the first round also with relative ease. Based on the rankings of Kenin’s fellow seven players in the bottom of the draw, expect her to at least make it to the Round of 16 with relative simplicity given 27th seed Ons Jabeur looks to be the toughest battle of the lot but ranked 31st in the world overall compared to Kenin’s placement in fourth on the world rankings.

Sakkari knocks out Williams as Serena’s US Open prep hits another snag

A CONFIDENT Maria Sakkari has bolted into her second consecutive Western & Southern Open quarter finals appearance after coming back from a set and a break down to stun third seed and tournament favourite, Serena Williams. The Greek star and 13th seed looked almost down and out after trailing 7-5 5-3 and her opponent was serving for the match. Having won three of the first four games in the second set, Sakkari had started promisingly, but four straight games to the American suddenly had her one foot in the final eight.

From there though, Sakkari forced her way back in, breaking back and then forcing a second set tiebreaker. Williams led 4-1, before seemingly looking a little resistant from her power game, as Sakkari took control and won six of the next seven points to take out the tiebreaker 7-5. Sensing the momentum had changed, Sakkari smashed her way to a 5-0 lead in the deciding set, before eventually winning, 5-7 7-6 6-1.

“”I haven’t realized it yet,” Sakkari said post-match. “It feels pretty good, because she has been a role model for me growing up, and obviously what she has achieved is huge. “So it feels very nice.”

Sakkari said her ability to hold on in the second set and grind out to level the match, then serve well in the third set was key.

“I think the key point was, of course, winning the second set, but then serving the way I did first game of the third set was just like a turning point for me, because it gave me a lot of confidence going into the third set.”

Williams blamed herself for the loss.

“It was tough,” she said. “I literally should have won that match. “There was no excuse. “It was hard, but I had so many opportunities to win, and I have to figure that one out, like how to start winning those matches again. “There is really no excuses, to be honest.

“I started cramping, but I shouldn’t have been in that situation. “I don’t think that helps mentally when it’s like, you know the match is over and you have won the match, and now your legs were already tired and now they are even more tired, and now it’s even more tired.

“I literally put myself in this situation. “You know, it’s like dating a guy that you know sucks. That’s literally what I keep doing out here. “It’s like I have got to get rid of this guy. It just makes no sense. It’s frustrating.”

With Williams out early for the second consecutive tournament, it raises question marks about her ability to win at the US Open – the same location as her loss today – even without some of the world’s best in attendance. Meanwhile for Sakkari, she moves onto the quarter finals where she will face an in-form Johanna Konta who turned around her disappointing return at Top Seed Open to record back-to-back wins in New York. She defeated Russian Vera Zvonareva 6-4 6-2.

In other quarter finals matches, the match of the day has to be fourth seed and now new tournament favourite, Naomi Osaka up against 12th seed Anett Kontaveit. Osaka destroyed 16th seed Dayana Yastremska in 70 minutes 6-3 6-1, while Kontaveit only needed nine more minutes to see off Marie Bouzkova 6-3 6-3. Ons Jabeur‘s form in the United States continued with another rout, this time over Christina McHale 6-3 6-0, bouncing into the quarter finals to face Victoria Azarenka. She became the sole Belarusian into the final eight after Jessica Pegula upset fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka in three sets, with the American to now take on 14th seed Elise Mertens in the other quarter final.

WESTERN & SOUTHERN OPEN WTA TOUR RESULTS:

[13] Maria Sakkari (GRE) defeated [3] Serena Williams (USA) 5-7 7-6 6-1
[4] Naomi Osaka (JPN) defeated [16] Dayana Yastremska (UKR) 6-3 6-1
Jessica Pegula (USA) defeated [5] Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) 6-2 2-6 6-3
[8] Johanna Konta (GBR) defeated Vera Zvonareva (RUS) 6-4 6-2
[12] Anett Kontaveit (EST) defeated Marie Bouzkova (CZE) 6-3 6-3
[14] Elise Mertens (BEL) defeated Veronika Kudermetova (RUS) 6-2 6-3
Victoria Azarenka (BLR) defeated Alize Cornet (FRA) 6-4 7-5
Ons Jabeur (TUN) defeated Christina McHale (USA) 6-3 6-0

Picture: Ben Soloman

Serena survives scare in longest match of day five

IT was arguably the strangest match of Serena Williams‘ long and illustrious career, but the multiple Grand Slam winner conceded she was just happy to get past it. The United States star and third seed in the 2020 Western & Southern Open was catapulted into outright favouritism following shock losses to Karolina Pliskova and Sofia Kenin the day before. While many expected Williams to have no issues getting past Dutch qualifier, Arantxa Rus, that was far from the case.

Williams did get the chocolates in front of an approximate crowd of zero people, but it took two hours and 48 minutes, as Rus weathered a barrage of aces from her higher ranked opponent – 14 in total – and despite eight double faults herself, did not give in. Williams was by far the stronger player on the day with 82.5 per cent of her first serve points successful, but both players had their chances throughout the 33-game epic contest as Rus broke four times to three to win the only non-tiebreak set. The final score read 7-6 3-6 7-6 in favour of Williams, who won all seven points in the third set tiebreak to advance through to the Round of 16.

“Now I feel like I have passed that test, and now I can pass the test at the Open, playing Ashe Stadium,” Williams said in her post-match press conference. “At one point I was pumping my fist and saying, ‘Come on!’ I had a crowd in my head or something! It was actually funny to me. I don’t know. For me, it was like there was a crowd there.”

Despite playing the longest match of her career since the 2012 Roland Garros loss to Virginie Razzano, Williams said she felt good in herself ahead of the US Open.

“Physically I feel like I’m incredibly fit,” she said. “I did hit a wall today in the second set. “I was so hot. “That never happens. “Tennis is mental. You know, it’s all mental.”

The third seed will now set her sights on 13th seed Greek up and comer, Maria Sakkari who put away young gun Kazakhstan talent, Yulia Putintseva 6-4 7-6. Despite the draw opening up with the losses to key seeds, a potential quarter finals clash against eighth seed Brit or resurgent Russian, Vera Zvonareva is on the cards after the pair won through with victories over respective qualifiers, Kirsten Flipkens and Laura Siegemund, dropping two games each along the way in huge thrashings.

In other results, reigning champion Madison Keys was a big casualty on day five, losing to Tunisian Ons Jabeur, who after defeating another American in young gun Coco Gauff is not likely to be endeared by the locals, who, lucky for her are not allowed in. Similarly, Czech Marie Bouzkova toppled sixth seed Petra Kvitova in three sets to send her packing, while the other top ranked players all advanced through unscathed. Among them were fourth seed Naomi Osaka and fifth seed Aryna Sabaleka who had to fight through three-set battles.

Also on the winners list on day five were seeds, Anett Kontaveit, Elise Mertens and Dayana Yastremska, while qualifiers Jessica Pegula and Christina McHale continued their run into the Round of 16. They joined Zvonareva as the three qualifiers in the third round, following upset wins over top 30 players Amanda Anisimova and Ekaterina Alexandrova.

WESTERN & SOUTHERN OPEN WTA TOUR RESULTS:

[3] Serena Williams (USA) defeated [Q] Arantxa Rus (NED) 7-6 3-6 7-6
[4] Naomi Osaka (JPN) defeated Karoline Muchova (CZE) 6-7 6-4 6-2
[5] Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) defeated [Q] CiCi Bellis (USA) 6-7 6-4 7-5
Marie Bouzkova (CZE) defeated [6] Petra Kvitova (CZE) 2-6 7-5 6-2
Ons Jabeur (TUN) defeated [7] Madison Keys (USA) 6-4 6-1
[8] Johanna Konta (GBR) defeated [Q] Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) 6-2 6-0
[12] Anett Kontaveit (EST) defeated [Q] Jil Teichmann (SUI) 6-3 6-4
[13] Maria Sakkari (GRE) defeated Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) 6-4 7-6
[14] Elise Mertens (BEL) defeated Kristina Mladenovic (FRA) 6-1 6-7 6-3
[16] Dayana Yastremska (UKR) defeated Bernarda Pera (USA) 7-6 4-6 6-3
[WC] Victoria Azarenka (BLR) defeated Caroline Garcia (FRA) 6-2 7-6
[Q] Jessica Pegula (USA) defeated Amanda Anisimova (USA) 7-5 6-2
[Q] Christina McHale (USA) defeated Ekaterina Alexandrova (RUS) 6-1 7-6
[Q] Vera Zvonareva (RUS) defeated [Q] Laura Siegemund (GER) 6-1 6-1

Picture: Getty Images