Tag: dayana yastremska

2021 Adelaide International WTA preview: Barty Party not over down under

THOSE Australians wanting more Ash Barty will get what they wished for after the world number one made a surprise late charge at the 2021 Adelaide International WTA 500 event. The tournament was initially featuring a stacked field, but with many of them reaching deep into the Australian Open, withdrawals had left the tournament without a Top 10 player. Then came Barty.

The Australian reached the quarter finals of her home Grand Slam during the week, and has opted to play another tournament Down Under having missed out on so much tennis in the past 12 months. Unsurprisingly, the tournament committee was more than happy to hand her a wildcard alongside fellow Australians Olivia Gadecki – coming off a stunning win over Grand Slam winner Sofia KeninSam Stosur and Ajla Tomljanovic.

The field for the Adelaide International is not the strongest one, but still features some great young talent alongside some players really hoping to build better form in 2021. Roland Garros reigning champion Iga Swiatek could loom as one of the main threat’s to Barty’s crown, with the 17th ranked Pole coming in as the fifth seed. Fellow young gun, Yulia Putintseva is seventh seed and one of seven Top 30 competitors at the event.

Elise Mertens is the one to watch, with the tricky Belgian flying under the radar at times, but has the capacity to push for a Top 10 spot, currently ranked 16th and coming in as the fourth seed. Belinda Bencic and Johanna Konta round out the top four players at the event, with both the Swiss up-and-comer and British talent looking to have better outings than their third and first round exits at Melbourne Park. Sixth seed Petra Martic is in the same boat, exiting the first Grand Slam of the year in the Round of 128 and now the world number 19 is hoping to impress here.

The withdrawals from the tournament include Australian Open runner-up Jennifer Brady, and young guns Bianca Andreescu, Elena Rybakina, Dayana Yastremska and Marketa Vondrousova. Instead a number of Chinese and French hopes have come into the tournament, with Zhang Shuai, Zheng Saisai and Wang Qiang joining eighth seed Qiang Wang in the draw, as well as Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic. American duo Danielle Collins and Shelby Rogers are also among the inclusions following the withdrawals.

While the Australian Open did not go to plan for the world number one, the Barty Party is predicted to roll on in Adelaide, with the Australian star a winner her 12 months ago and is clearly the best player in the draw. Mertens and Swiatek are the biggest threats to her crown based on their form, while one of the other seeds could finally click into gear in 2021 and cause some headaches.

Picture credit: Getty Images

WTA Teenage Stars – Daria Lopatetska

THERE is no shortage of top-end Ukrainian talent on the WTA Tour, and while Daria “Dasha” Lopatetska may not yet be among the trio of Elina Svitolina, Dayana Yastremska and Marta Kostyuk in the top 100, the 17-year-old is well on her way to creating a stir on Tour. Still splitting much of her competitive time between the WTA and ITF Tours, Lopatetska has proved consistent and threatening on the ITF Tour, with five titles to her name across 2018 and 2019 – with three in the first three months of the year – before injury struck. Only a lack of consistent matchplay due to the COVID-19 pandemic and her step up to the WTA circuit have limited her silverware in 2020.

While the youngster underwent knee surgery in May 2019 for a torn meniscus, it was the generosity of compariot and Ukrainian number one Svitolina – currently ranked fifth in the world – that allowed Lopatetska to get back on the court. The Ukrainian talent showcased plenty of determination, getting back to business and showing she was more than capable of stepping up to the plate on Tour. 

“I am really driven,” Lopatetska told the International Tennis Federation in October. “I really love tennis – it is my life. It is something I am passionate about. It is my work and you need to love what you do otherwise it doesn’t make any sense to do it. I am really driven about tennis and I am happy about that.”

While Lopatetska has been playing on the international women’s circuit for a couple of years now, she was eligible for the 2020 Junior Roland Garros this year through her professional ranking and took her chances, although unfortunately fell short in the second round to Russian 17-year-old, Oksana Selekhmeteva.

 “It is always special to play a Junior Grand Slam. I remember my first, and last, where I had an amazing run to the semi-finals of the US Open [in 2018] and I am just so grateful to be at a Grand Slam again.”

“I have been focusing more on professional tournaments but it is nice to be back in this atmosphere and I am appreciating the present.”

Currently ranked 355th in the world after peaking at world number 216 in June 2019 following her ITF success, the Ukrainian 17-year-old still has a long way to go but has proven she has the ability to go far and really push her case to break back into the 200s, and certainly has the determination to really create a challenging prospect on the WTA Tour with her winning mentality.

WTA Teenage Stars – Coco Gauff

WTA Tour hypothetical: What if they had Next Gen Finals this year?

THE ATP Tour’s Next Gen Finals are a highly sought after event to show off the best young talent coming through the men’s competition. In past years, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Jannik Sinner have triumphed, leading them onto successful years the following seasons and beyond. As it stands, the WTA Tour does not have a Next Gen Finals tournament, so in today’s WTA Tour hypothetical, Draft Central asks the question: What would a Next Gen WTA Tour Finals look like?

If we take the same approach as the men’s with eight players aged 21-years-old or younger and play it in Italy, this looks at the top seven ranked players born in 1999 or after. Under the same rules for it to be hosted in Italy, an Italian wildcard would gain automatic entry. Looking at the names in the top eight, it would be a blockbuster event that would be highly watched with seven Top 50 players involved at its peak.

The top ranked player would be Bianca Andreescu, with the tennis world perhaps forgetting just how good last year’s US Open winner could be in such a short space of time. Injury wiped out her 2020 season, and with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadian talent decided to sit out the rest of the year and gear up for a big Australian summer. Whilst the Top 10 ranked talent would be the clear standout at the event, the fact she has not played all year means if this event was to go ahead later this month, she would bypass it, allowing another player to take her place as an alternative.

It is somewhat fitting that with the unavailability of the 2019 US Open winner, that the 2020 French Open winner becomes the first seed. Poland’s Iga Swiatek broke her tournament drought in the best way possible when the 19-year-old claimed the Flushing Meadows title in remarkable style. Swiatek would be favourite at the event given her title, but it is easy to forget that she actually did not play that much tennis in 2020. She finished with a 13-5 record from six tournaments, as well as three Fed Cup wins.

Elena Rybakina would be the next highest ranked talent coming through, and she has the talent to really capitalise at this event. Her 2020 season was as good as anyone else’s, finishing with a 18-6 win-loss record. She made five finals, but unfortunately only won the one title in Hobart, falling to Ekaterina Alexandrova in Shenzhen, and then Top 10 players, Kiki Bertens, Simona Halep and Elina Svitolina in St. Petersburg, Dubai and Strasboug respectively. Her start to 2020 was unbelievable and she is one to watch in 2021.

Rounding out the top four would be 2019 Roland Garros runner-up Marketa Vondrousova. The Czech talent unfortunately had a disappointing year in 2020, with a poor 8-10 record at 44.4 per cent, the worst season of her career. A semi-finals run at Rome picked up half of her wins this year, but outside of Rome, she was 4-9 including a first round exit to Swiatek at Roland Garros. She only had the one Top 40 win – against Svitolina in Rome – and otherwise had a year to forget. Next year will be a big one for the 21-year-old to see if 2019 was a fluke or if 2020 was impacted by the various world issues on Tour.

Into the bottom four, Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska makes it in ranked inside the Top 30. Unfortunately her year was a bit up and down, not able to string more than two wins together. She had a good win over Amanda Anisimova in Rome, but did not make it past the third match in any tournament. Still only 20-years-old, Yastremska still has a big future ahead of her, but will just need to improve her consistency because she has the potential and started the Australian summer well this year.

Anisimova is the next one who qualifies, and while she also had an up-and-down year, the teenage American gets more than a pass considering the family tragedy of her father passing away in 2019 impacting her game. She managed to finish the year with a better-than-50 per cent win-loss record of 11-10, and while there was only a couple of Top 20 victories in there, a nice break off will do her good to reset and recover for 2021.

Coco Gauff the teen sensation is by far the youngest in this list and will be eligible to play at this event for the next five years if it happened. Turning 16 in March, Gauff won 10 of 18 matches in 2020, and claimed some big scalps over Ons Jabeur (twice), Naomi Osaka and Johanna Konta, whilst also having Aryna Sabalenka on the ropes at Ostrava before the Belarusian stepped up. Gauff is still young and her semi-final run at Lexington was her best effort, though third rounds at the Australian Open and Ostrava were also impressive.

Rounding out the eighth spot is the Italian wildcard in Elisabetta Cocciaretto who is the highest ranked player from the hypothetical home nation who fits the bill. The question mark is on her work outside of clay, because she is an incredibly talented clay courter, but struggles on the hard court. She only played the eight matches on the WTA Tour, breaking through for her maiden WTA Tour victory at Palermo in August where she reached the quarter finals, before going all the way to winner a Challenger event in Prague. Still raw, Cocciaretto will only build on her already impressive effort having claimed back-to-back Top 50 wins this year.

They are the top eight qualifiers for the hypothetical event, though with Andreescu more than likely to pull out, it would allow the next highest player to compete in fellow Canadian, Leylah Fernandez. A run to the Acapulco final this year saw the qualifier bolt up 64 places, and by year’s end she was in the Top 100 following a second round and third round effort at US Open and Roland Garros. Respectable losses to Top 12 players Sofia Kenin and Petra Kvitova at those events did not lose her any fans as she upset Top 40 players, Magda Linette and Polona Hercog in Paris before opting to head home and finish her year at the Grand Slam.

2020 WTA Tour Hypothetical Next Gen Finals:

Iga Swiatek
Elena Rybakina
Marketa Vondrousova
Dayana Yastremska
Amanda Anisimova
Coco Gauff
Leylah Fernandez (replacing Bianca Andreescu)
Elisabetta Cocciaretto

It would be predicted Rybakina for pure consistency would take it out, with Swiatek hoping to continue her form at Roland Garros, while Gauff would be the wildcard. Yastremska, Anisimova and especially Vondrousova just did not have the form in 2020 that would see them likely win here, whilst Fernandez and Cocciaretto are just that step down in that edge of the Top 100 rather than Top 50.

Picture: WTA Tour

Three of top four Linz seeds through to semis in one-sided day of action

IT was a speedy day of action at the Upper Austria Ladies Linz tournament, with three of the top four seeds all booking their spots in the 2020 WTA Tour semi-finals of the International event. Raging tournament favourite, Aryna Sabalenka is into the last four with the only other two players capable of causing an upset against her in Elise Mertens and Ekaterina Alexandrova also through, as was unseeded Czech Barbora Krejcikova who halted a potential all-Belarusian semi-final.

The quarter finals were all very one-sided, with straight set victories to the quartet of winners, and the longest match being Mertens’ 90-minute flat win over Russian Veronika Kudermetova. The fifth seed put up a fight in the first set, but eventually the second seed Belgian raced away with it to win 6-4 6-1. Mertens served the only three aces of the match, though both players serving efficiencies were poor at 47 and 44 per cent respectively. Kudermetova never looked liked winning with a below 50 per cent success rate off her first and second serves, whilst Mertens made the most of it with an 81 and 52 per cent success rate off hers. She also broke five times from 10 chances, while Kudermetova only managed the one from four.

Now Mertens takes on another Russian in fourth seed, Alexandrova. The Russian takes on Roland Garros semi-finalist and Argentinian Nadia Podoroska who was seeded sixth at the event. Coming into her favourite two months of the year where the Russian transforms into an almost-unbeatable force in the minor tournaments, Alexandrova won 6-2 6-1 in 58 minutes like she had somewhere to be. A first serve winning percentage of 81 to 34 was the story of the match, with Podoroska only winning 17 points on serve in total, whilst Alexandrova won 25 points off her first serve alone. The fourth seed also saved both break point opportunities and broke the 48th ranked Argentinian four times to make her way into the semi-finals.

“The start of the year was pretty good for me, and it feels great to be back. We’re finally back to playing indoors, too, because before that it felt like I was on clay every week, which isn’t my best surface,” Alexandrova said post-match.

“I was kind of frustrated during the pause, not knowing how long we would be off the tour. When we came back, I’d somewhat lost my feeling, my rhythm that I had at the start of the season. It took some time to find it again, but I think I’ve found it!”

The 2018 Linz finalist will be hoping to go one better in the 2020 tournament. She will need to defeat Mertens and then one of Sabalenka and Krejcikova after the pair also made their way through to the final four. Krejicikova made light work of Aliaksandra Sasnovich – who took out third seed Dayana Yastremska in the first round – 6-3 6-1.

Krejcikova is the number one ranked doubles players, but 74th overall in the singles format. She took care of the 92nd ranked Sasnovich to shut the door on a potential all-Belarusian final. The match lasted 67 minutes with Krejcikova serving six aces for one double fault and Sasnovich was almost the reverse with one and five respectively, and the Czech took control off the Belarusian’s second serve by winning 17 of 21 points to book her place in the penultimate stage of the tournament.

“I’m really happy,” Krejcikova said post-match. “This means a lot to me that I’m even able to be here and able to play. It’s obviously very difficult with everything happening in the world right now. I’m just really fortunate to be able to compete, have fun, and enjoy tennis.”

In the last quarter final, top seed Sabalenka flew the flag for her nation by winning against French qualifier Oceane Dodin. Unfortunately Dodin had to pull out of the tournament midway through the second set, but the world number 11 was in control, winning the first set and being level in the second, 6-3 3-3 before Dodin withdrew.

Sabalenka produced eight aces and was simply too powerful for the Frenchwoman, winning 34 of 51 points off her serve which had an 80 per cent efficiency, whilst setting up 10 break point opportunities. She only took two, which was one more than her opponent’s success off her only chance, but it was enough to set herself up in the first set for victory and make her way through to the final four.

Picture: Getty Images/Alexander Scheuber

Yastremska, Pera out on Day 1 at Linz

PROCEEDINGS may have only just begun at the Upper Austria Ladies Linz, but two upsets greeted the competition to start on an intriguing note. Two seeds – third seed Dayana Yastremska and eighth seed Bernarda Pera – were both knocked out in straight sets in under 80 minutes, while two Russians in Ekaterina Alexandrova and Varvara Gracheva prevailed, with the latter reigning supreme in a close encounter.

Yastremska’s day was well and truly spoiled by Greet Minnen, with the third seed knocked out of contention by the 110th ranked Belgian, 6-4 6-3. It was Yastremska’s mounting error rate that saw her unable to contest the way she needed to, with eight double faults to her name for three aces – compared to Minnen’s one and three – and a very shaky second serve winning just eight points at 25.8 per cent. While it certainly was not Yastremska’s day, there is no discrediting Minnen who took advantage of every ounce of the Ukrainian’s errors, winning close to 56 per cent of the total points and converting six of her 10 break points.

“It’s one of my biggest wins of the year,” Minnen said post-match. “It wasn’t expected because I haven’t been playing well the last few weeks, since the coronavirus stopped the season. When we resumed it was pretty rough for me and I didn’t win a lot of matches. I’m just happy I found my game again, and I’m winning matches.”

Meanwhile, Pera was downed by Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich, with a shocking second set seeing the lower ranked player reign supreme in the 6-3 6-1 battle. While Sasnovich was not necessarily the cleaner player, she utilised her service games to control proceedings at a 63 per cent overall winning rate off her serve and backed it up by winning over 70 per cent of Pera’s second serve points. While Pera was more effective on serve, Sasnovich was far more efficient and dominated the second set for the excellent win.

In the remaining games, Alexandrova defeated Katerina Siniakova while Gracheva prevailed against a tough Katarina Zavatska. Another match completed in under 80 minutes – 79 to be exact – Alexandrova weathered the storm of Czech Siniakova, who served at an excellent 75.7 per cent effectiveness but was unable to win off her service games winning 54 per cent of points on serve. While Alexandrova collected three double faults and had a lower effectiveness on serve, she was far more efficient with the opportunities she had, winning 73 per cent of her first serve points and saved five of six break points to deny Siniakova a chance of gaining the upper hand in the 6-3 6-4 encounter. Unfortunately for Ukrainian fans, Zavatska went much the same way as Yastremska in her loss to Gracheva, but turned out a tough effort in the 6-4 7-5 battle, going down in an hour and 49 minutes. While the results were relatively close, with the Ukrainian getting close in the second set, Gracheva won majority of the stats with a better winning and return rate, also saving and converting more break points to reign supreme.

Which Sabalenka will we see in Linz? Belarusian standout player in final WTA Tour event

ARYNA Sabalenka has a perfect chance to head into the WTA Tour off-season by announcing herself ahead of a big 2021 season. In the final tournament of the year in the Upper Australia Ladies Linz, the Belarusian is the top seed and possesses by far the most power, but also great upside. The world number 11 is the sole top 20 player at the event with world number 21 Elise Mertens the second seed, and Dayana Yastremska (29th) and Ekaterina Alexandrova (33rd) the other two top 40 players at the event.

In short, Sabalenka should win this event, no ifs, no buts. But just which Sabalenka will come out at the hard court event? Will it be the one who was a point away from being 6-0 5-0 down against world number 73 Sara Sorribes Tormo in the qualifying final at Ostrava? Or will it be the one who then won 12 consecutive games to blow her opponent out of the water and win that game a remarkable 0-6 6-4 6-0?

Sometimes her inconsistency can be harshly criticised because she has only turned 22 this year, even though it feels like she has been around for a lot longer. In a shortened season she has won 24 of her 35 matches thus far, but the question mark does not come over her ability to beat anyone on any given day, but her ability to make life difficult on herself because she simply does not have an off switch when it comes to her power.

Sabalenka has a set win-loss record of 53-30 which is 63.9 per cent. It is higher than her previous past three seasons on tour, which is promising, as is her game winning percentage of 55.1 per cent. Compare her to second seed Mertens, who has won 30-13 this season, playing an additional eight matches but posting a higher win percentage of 69.8 per cent. Her set percentage is 69.1 per cent and her game percentage is 58.2 per cent.

This might be said that Mertens has a ceiling, which is true. She does not possess the same among of weapons as the Belarusian, but she wins the matches she should, and usually fairly well. Since Prague started back on August 10, Mertens is 19-6, turning around an 11-7 start to the year. Like Sabalenka she has seemingly benefited from the break. Her losses – bar a shock first-up defeat to Aliaksandra Sasnovich back in Palermo on August 3 – have come to four top 10 or former top 10 players in Simona Halep, Victoria Azarenka, Naomi Osaka and Karolina Pliskova, and an unlucky defeat to Caroline Garcia at Roland Garros.

In summary to these two players, Mertens wins the matches she should, so you can almost book her spot in the final, or certainly the semi-final, whilst Sabalenka could go through the tournament without dropping a set, or very well bounce out in the first round. She has got a little more consistent than in past years, and is coming off a title in Ostrava to match her one from Doha back in February, but within matches she has these lapses where she goes all-out and her opponent can just wait for the mistakes.

Aside from the top two, Yastremska is one who could be entitled to feel right in the hunt for this title. Her season has been more up and down even compared to the other two, especially since the break. An 8-6 record is not too far different from her 9-6 record prior to the COVID-19 shutdown and she is still finding herself on Tour. The only notable win in the second half of this season came in Rome against Amanda Anisimova, with the 29th ranked Yastremska drifting outside the top 25 she got into prior to the break.

Fourth seed Alexandrova is coming into her favourite time of year – the European winter – where she does all her best work. The Russian remarkably pops up and wins Limoges each year which takes place next month. A three-time Limoges winner, due to its 125K nature, it did not count as a WTA Tour title, with Shenzhen being her first official title victory in January this year. At that point Alexandrova was on fire, building up the wins and even beating Elena Rybakina in the final.

But the issue with Alexandrova is she needs to do it the other nine months of the year. She was a past finalist in Linz 2018, going down to Camila Giorgi, and she has gone from outside the top 100 to inside the top 30 in the past two years off modest, without spectacular returns. This is her chance to continue that form into 2020 because she will probably win a fourth title in Limoges.

As for the remaining seeds, Veronika Kudermetova is coming off a good run at Ostrava from the qualifying to the quarter finals, defeating second seed Pliskova, and Donna Vekic along the way, but outside Ostrava, she has a 3-7 record since the return of the Tour. Nadia Podoroska cannot play consistently on hard court and has a tough quarter with Irina Camelia-Begu up first and then either Giorgi or Sorribes Tormo who are both underrated talents.

Jil Teichmann has some potential but is not there yet, whilst eighth seed Bernarda Pera takes on the challenging Sasnovich in the first round and there are no guarantees she gets past that. A 9-11 record on Tour in 2020 tells you all you need to know about the world number 61. Outside the seeds, Sorribes Tormo is a chance, with veteran Vera Zvonareva likely to give Mertens some troubles in a likely second round match, whilst Arantxa Rus is always good for an upset.

At the end of the day though, this is Sabalenka’s title to win. If she comes out and plays the way she can, there is no one in this tournament that could touch her. But she just comes with so many question marks not just match to match, but set to set and even game to game sometimes, so let’s hope she answers them.

Picture: Jimmie48 / WTA

Qualifers continue to rule as three top 30 players knocked out in Ostrava

THERE were plenty of upsets to pick from on the latest day at the Ostrava Open, though the three-set win by 75th ranked Russian qualifier Daria Kasatkina against top 20 talent Elena Rybakina might have been the pick of the bunch. The 23-year-old Russian has achieved a lot more than many might expect of her in her career, winning two career WTA Tour titles and winning more than $6 million USD. Despite this, not many expected her to topple arguably the most in-form player of 2020 with the Kazakhstan 21-year-old Rybakina having made five finals this year, winning one.

The match lasted an hour and 52 minutes with Kasatkina getting up over the sixth seed in Ostrava, 6-2 3-6 6-3 to book her spot in the next round. Given 14cm stands between them with the 170cm Russian not known for her power, whilst the opposite could be said for Rybakina, Kasatkina had a consistent serving efficiency of 73 per cent, winning 62 per cent off her first serve. Rybakina still broke five times during the match, but it was Kasatkina’s ability to punish her younger opponent off both the first and second serves, winning 51 and 56 per cent respectively against her opponent. That effort culminated in seven breaks from 12 chances in 13 return games and earned the underdog a memorable, hard-fought win.

Coming into the match everyone knew the pair would be counter contrasting styles, but indeed it was the consistent counterpunching of Kasatkina that got the job done. Producing 15 winners and only 14 unforced errors, the conservative talent was happy to weather a barrage of powerful shots from Rybakina, who hit 35 winners, but also a high 49 unforced errors. The Russian said she knew how she could reduce the damage and get the win.

“I can say that I beat her with tactics,” Kasatkina said post-match. “At the beginning I was trying to play a bit more aggressive to move her – but she was the one who started to move me. “During the match I changed the plan of my game and it worked out very well.”

Kasatkina will now face off against another in-form player in American Jennifer Brady who upset Dayana Yastremska. Whilst Brady is technically ranked three places higher – 26th to 29th – the Ukrainian was favourite heading into the match given her talent and overall ability. Brady’s form – which included a run to the US Open semi-finals that propelled her into the top 30 – has been undeniable this year, and she got it done again in just over two hours with a 3-6 7-6 6-1 victory, storming away with the win in the final set.

Powering her way to victory with 12 aces and winning 77 per cent of her first serve points, Brady was dominant after the first set with eight aces and only one double fault coming in the next two. Yastremska was inconsistent off serve, though she did break Brady three times which helped her win the first set and have a chance at the second set before dropping the tiebreak in an agonising 8-6. The American was too strong from there, going on with it and joining fellow American, Coco Gauff in the second round at Ostrava.

Gauff had to come through qualifying in this event, but the 16-year-old booked her place in the Round of 16 with a 7-5 6-4 triumph over Katerina Siniakova. Gauff is ranked 10 places higher than Siniakova – 55th to 65th – but has been a little inconsistent in 2020 which is what to expect from someone having only just been allowed to tour more permanently this year. In 95 minutes, the Delray Beach local won 7-5 6-4, breaking five times from 11 chance to her opponents’ three from five. Gauff had more power off her racquet but again was hit and miss with seven faults to her two aces, and only won 29 per cent of her points off her second serve. She was strong enough off her first though, winning a crucial break in the second set for it to be the different and move through to face third seed Aryna Sabalenka in the next round.

The other three matches completed during the day were very one side, with the closest encounter being a 73-minute victory to Russian qualifier, Veronika Kudermetova who toppled Croatian world number 31, Donna Vekic. Kudermetova won 6-2 6-4 to make her way through to the next round. Meanwhile fellow Czech, Karolina Muchova had somewhere to be finishing off Chinese talent Shuai Zhang in 59 minutes, winning 6-1 6-1, whilst the other Czech involved in a one-sided contest – Barbora Strycova – was on the receiving end, bowing out to Tunisian Ons Jabeur, 6-2 6-2 in 74 minutes.

Tomorrow the final three first round matches take to the court during the day session with Amanda Anisimova taking on seventh seed Elise Mertens and Latvian qualifier Jelena Ostapenko locking horns with Croatian Petra Martic in two classic contests. Fourth seed Victoria Azarenka also meets Czech qualifier Barbora Krejcikova, whilst second round matches begin at night with top seed Elina Svitolina playing her first match against Greek talent Maria Sakkari, whilst eighth seed Anett Kontaveit meets Spanish qualifier Sara Sorribes Tormo.

Picture: Jimmie48/WTA

2020 WTA Ostrava Open preview: Elite players return for last Premier event

CZECH Republic will play host to a brand new WTA Tour tournament designed to extend the season after the entire Asian season – including the WTA Finals – was abandoned due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead what that means is this is arguably the last chance for many players to run out on court in a a top notch WTA Tour event and the world’s best players will descend on the Premier event.

While the top two in the world – Ash Barty and Simona Halep – will be out of the event, as will US Open winner Naomi Osaka, but the overall strength of the field is incredible considering it is not a Grand Slam event. Played on the hard courts of Ostrava, the 2020 J & T Banka Ostrava Open will run from October 19-25 with 28 competitors battling it out for half a million in USD.

In an unusual set of circumstances, the Ostrava Open sought, and received exemption from the nation-wide ban of indoor sports. Transforming a multi-purpose centre – which was most recently an ice hockey centre  – into a fully functioning indoor arena, there will be plenty of atmosphere at the event despite the restrictions. Unfortunately a few more players withdrew just prior to the event including Sofia Kenin, Petra Kvitova, Johanna Konta, Marketa Vondrousova, Madison Keys, Iga Swiatek and Kiki Bertens.

The home nation will naturally have great representation, led by second seed Karolina Pliskova, as well as Barbora Strycova, Kristyna Pliskova, Katerina Siniakova and Karolina Muchova who are all competing in the event.

Amongst the in-form players at the tournament, Belarussian duo Victoria Azarenka and Aryna Sabalenka will look to make a statement, as will Ukrainian duo, Elina Svitolina and Dayana Yastremska.

Petra Martic is also there, whilst Elena Rybakina, Elise Mertens and Anett Kontaveit can never be ruled out of contention. Maria Sakkari, Jennifer Brady and Karolina Muchova are the other confirmed entries at this stage.

Second seed Pliskova might start as the favourite in the event, but her form has been inconsistent of late, with only a run to the final of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia amongst second round losses at both the US Open and Roland Garros. In fact, since her win at Brisbane and excluding Rome, Pliskova has a win-loss record of 6-6 this season which is a far shout from what a world number three should have.

The outside favourite should be Azarenka who has bolted all the way up to world number 14. Forgiving her second round shock loss to Anna Karolina Schmiedlova in Paris, the Belarusian dual Grand Slam winner has had eight top 30 wins since August 21, and went 15-1 at one stage on her way to the US Open final. Back on her beloved hard court, Azarenka is always a danger.

One thing is for sure, with only the Austrian Ladies tournament at Linz in mid-November between now and the traditional 125k event in Limoges, France, this is likely to be the last time we see the majority of the elite WTA Tour players out on court this year.

Picture: Getty Images

Intriguing winners list on day one of Roland Garros

A HUGE day one of the 2020 Roland Garros began with a couple of intriguing winners on the list among a plethora of seeds. As expected, top seed Simona Halep dominated her contest to head through to the second round, as did six of her fellow seeds.

Halep was clinical in her effort against Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo, running away with a 6-4 6-0 win on her 29th birthday. In another interesting twist, it was the first women’s game under the new Court Philippe Chatrier roof, with drizzly proceedings for most of the day not disrupting the centre court.

“The perfect present was that I won today, of course,” Halep said at her post-match press conference. “It was a really special day playing on Roland Garros on my birthday. So it’s going to be pretty unique, maybe forever.”

While a tense first set saw both players fight hard, Halep was able to fight through the cold and Sorribes Tormo’s strong efforts. It certainly was not Halep’s cleanest effort, hitting 23 winners for 23 unforced errors, but fought back from 2-4 down early in the first to win the next four games and head into the second set with the momentum, unwilling to relinquish control. 

“At the beginning I just wanted to be aggressive and to hit the balls everywhere,” said Halep. “But [Sorribes Tormo] was so strong on the legs, and she didn’t miss at all. And also, her ball is coming a little bit higher and with a lot of topspin, so it’s not easy to play from up to the shoulder. And then I just started to open the court better, to go slower, and to work for every ball, which I did very well.”

A couple of unseeded talents came out firing though, with shock exits from Johanna Konta, Dayana Yastremska and Anett Kontaveit making for some big wins to lower ranked talent. Coco Gauff got the chocolates over ninth seed Konta with a 6-3 6-3 victory, while Australian Daria Gavrilova made an excellent return with a 6-4 6-3 victory over 24th seed Yastremska. Carolina Garcia toppled Kontaveit in a tighter three set contest, taking just over two hours to gain the 6-4 3-6 6-4 victory.

It was Gauff’s first main draw match at the Roland Garros, with the 16-year-old the youngest of 11 teenagers in the draw. 

“I know that [Konta] likes to play really hard and play the ball into her,” Gauff said. “So coming into the match I already knew I was going to change the pace and everything. To be honest, I was surprised how good the slice was today.

“I mean, the backhand slice I work on a lot. It’s not the best, but I try to work on it. The forehand slice, I think it was just natural. I knew I had to change up the pace of the ball, especially in the conditions.”

“I don’t really take anything for granted, because I’m just happy to be playing,” Gauff said. “I don’t think maybe winning matches at slams is something I’m used to, especially this is my first main draw at Roland Garros. When I’m on the court, I can act like I’m used to it. When I’m off the court, I’m just happy to be here.”

Comparatively, seeds in Victoria Azarenka, Elise Mertens, Maria Sakkari, Barbora Strycova, Ekaterina Alexandrova and Yulia Putintseva all joined the winners list with straight sets wins, seeing Azarenka come away with the quickest victory in 61 minutes over Danka Kovinic 6-1 6-2. In other games, Barbora Krejcikova, Aliaksandra Sasnovich, Irina-Camelia Begu, Astra Sharma and Eugenie Bouchard all head through to the second round while Camila Giorgi retired to compatriot Martina Trevisan and Venus Williams was knocked out of contention by Anna Karolina Schmiedlova

Putintseva survives against Rybakina in come-from-behind all-Kazakh triumph

YULIA Putintseva has stunned the Internazionali BNL d’Italia with a remarkable come-from-behind victory over fellow Kazakh, Elena Rybakina. The world number 30 faced a 4-6 2-5 deficit against the world number 18 and 10th seed, but found a way to fight back and win 4-6 7-6 6-2 to book her spot in the quarter finals.

Rybakina’s serve went missing during the match with 12 double faults and just 50 per cent efficiency, while Putintseva was able to serve at 66 per cent, and close out her service games quicker. The match lasted two hours and 39 minutes before Putintseva could safely secure her spot in the final eight, coming a day after she defeated another top 20 player in Petra Martic. It handed Putintseva her first final eight appearance in a Premier 5 event.

“It’s good, you know,” Putintseva said post-match. “It’s better that someone thinks [that] about you than you stop fighting when you’re losing the first set. So yeah, I’m happy with this quality that I have, that I always fight until the end. I hope that I will do it as well, whenever I play.”

Now Putintseva takes on number one seed, Romanian Simona Halep in the quarter finals. The world number two took care of 29th ranked Ukrainian Dayana Yastremska in straight sets, winning in an hour and 27 minutes, 7-5 6-4. Halep won 72 per cent of her first serve points and 64 per cent of her second serve points to be too powerful for her younger opponent.

“It was not easy against her because you don’t really have the rhythm. She hits it very strong and it’s tough to return her balls. After I lost the first three games, I just had to focus a little bit better and stop giving her the balls that she likes,” Halep said post-match.

“I tried to change it up a little bit, make her move, [hit balls] a little bit high. I think during the match I found some solutions that were good to win. I’m very pleased with the way I moved… and also the serve helped me a lot today. In important moments, I served very well and I won some easy games on my serve. The return was not bad because she has a very good serve.

“Big picture, I think it was a great match and gives me confidence that even in these conditions with a big hitter that I could win in two sets.”

Halep said she was looking forward to playing another young gun in Putintseva who she admired for her fighting spirit.

“She’s fighting a lot and she’s very strong physically. I know that she can play very good tennis,” Halep said. “I expect a tough battle, I expect long rallies, but I feel fit. I feel good with my body. I’m ready to face her and tomorrow, hopefully, I will play better than today.”

It was better news for another Ukrainian in fourth seed Elina Svitolina who knocked off veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova in straight sets, 7-6 6-4. She broke three times to two, but capitalised off her Russian opponents’ second serve, winning at a 60 per cent clip. Now she takes on Marketa Vondrousova who overcame Polona Hercog in a tight three-set match, 1-6 6-1 7-6.

In other results, Victoria Azarenka made her way in the quarter finals after Russian Daria Kasatina had to retire during the first set tiebreak. Kasatkina suffered a right ankle injury early in the match, handing Azarenka another win and allowing the Belarusian to continue her remarkable form this season. She takes on another Grand Slam winner in the last eight, in Spaniard Garbine Muguruza who easily knocked off seventh seed Johanna Konta, 6-4 6-1.

At the bottom of the draw, second seed Karolina Pliskova won 6-4 6-3 over Anna Blinkova, while 11th seed Elise Mertens had enough to see off Montenegro’s Danka Kovinic 6-4 6-4 to set her sights on Pliskova in the quarter finals.