Tag: elena rybakina

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

Australian Open Women’s Round of 64 wrap: Cirstea stuns Kvitova as Halep holds on

A COUPLE of massive upsets and an almost even bigger upset were the talking points on day three of the Australian Open women’s competition. Eighth seed Bianca Andreescu‘s second match back from injury did not go to plan, losing in straight sets to Chinese Taipei’s Su-Wei Hsieh, while ninth seed Petra Kvitova‘s lacklustre form of late continued, losing out to unseeded Romanian Sorana Cirstea in three sets.

The world’s best doubles player – but ranked 71st in singles – Su-Wei showed no mercy against the Canadian US Open winner, claiming a 6-2 6-3 win in just 83 minutes on court. Su-Wei hit four less winners (16-20), but had 11 less unforced errors (14-25), as she broke six times from nine chances compared to Andreescu’s two from four. It meant that in the past 18 months, the Canadian young gun has played just the two matches – both here at Melbourne Park and back-to-back – for a net result of 1-1.

The more disappointing of the two results was Kvitova’s three-set loss to world number 68 Cirstea. Whilst making it a battle, Kvitova faded out in the deciding set to lose 6-4 1-6 6-1 in two hours and three minutes. One of, if not the best left hander in the world, the Czech has not been herself of late, and needs to rekindle the form soon or she could slip right outside the Top 10. Full credit to Cirstea who broke six times from 16 chances – compared to five from 13 – whilst hitting 14 less unforced errors (30-44) and only four less winners (17-21).

Almost witnessing the biggest upset of the tournament to-date, fans on Margaret Court Arena could hardly believe their eyes when Australian Ajla Tomljanovic was serving for the match against second seed Simona Halep. The home nation support tried to will on their competitor who won the first set, and then was 5-2 up in the third set. Unfortunately for Tomljanovic, that is where it all swung in the world number two’s favour, as Halep won the last five games of the match – crucially breaking in the ninth game of the set and booking her spot in the third round. After losing every singles match in the second half of last year – not an exaggeration – Tomljanovic has shown good form in 2021, winning two from five, with losses to Halep, Aryna Sabalenka and a three-set defeat to Alize Cornet last week.

Speaking of Sabalenka, she continued her great form of the past six months to post a straight sets win over Russian Daria Kasatkina. She joined other Top 10 players, Naomi Osaka, Sabalenka and Serena Williams in the next round without dropping a set. Other seeds to win in two sets were last year’s Australian Open runner-up Garbine Muguruza, reigning Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek, 2019 Roland Garros runner-up Marketa Vondrousova, and the resurgent Tunisian, Ons Jabeur.

In an all-Russian battle, 32nd seed Veronika Kudermetova booked her spot in the Round of 32 courtesy of a 5-7 6-2 6-2 win over Varvara Gracheva. She joined Anastasia Potapova in the next round after the Russian took care of Hungarian qualifier Timea Babos, 6-2 6-4. The only other seed to drop out at the second round stage was Elena Rybakina with the rising Kazakh talent unable to repeat her early form last year, going down to France’s Fiona Ferro, 6-4 6-4.

One could have been forgiven if they thought they had time travelled 10 to 15 years. Italian qualifier and former Top 5 player Sara Errani easily overcame an injured Venus Williams 6-1 6-0, in what was a battle of the veterans. A much younger Ann Li continued her unbeaten run in 2021, defeating Frenchwoman Alize Cornet in straight sets, while Kazakhstan’s Zarina Diyas also made it through to the Round of 32.

The match of the third round has to be third seed Osaka up against 27th seed Jabeur, with the winner likely to play Muguruza in the Round of 16. The stunning upsets of Andreescu and Kvitova has opened the draw wide open for Vondrousova, who could easily make a quarter final if she can play at her best as the only Top 60 player in her section. Sabalenka takes on Li, whilst a potential fourth round clash between the power punchers in Sabalenka and Serena Williams would be a dream, much like a similar clash if Halep and Swiatek win their respective third round matches.

Looking ahead to today, and top seed Ash Barty is back on court up against compatriot Daria Gavrilova in a must-watch for the home nation. Forget not dropping a set, Barty is yet to drop a game after her double-donut performance against Montenegro’s Danka Kovinic in the first round. Other matches that could provide some highlights include 11th seed Belinda Benci up against Russian veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova, while Karolina Pliskova and Sofia Kenin take on Danielle Collins and Kaia Kanepi respectively. The match of the day is most likely fifth seed Elina Svitolina clashing with young gun Coco Gauff in a head-to-head not to be missed.

ROUND OF 64 RESULTS:

[2] Simona Halep (ROU) defeated Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS) 4-6 6-4 7-5
[3] Naomi Osaka (JPN) defeated Caroline Garcia (FRA) 6-2 6-3
[7] Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) defeated Daria Kasatkina (RUS) 7-6 6-3
Su-Wei Hsieh (TAI) defeated [8] Bianca Andreescu (CAN) 6-3 6-2
Sorana Cirstea (ROU) defeated [9] Petra Kvitova (CZE) 6-4 1-6 6-1
[10] Serena Williams (USA) defeated Nina Stojanovic (SRB) 6-3 6-0
[14] Garbine Muguruza (ESP) defeated [Q] Liudmilla Samsonova (RUS) 6-3 6-1
[15] Iga Swiatek (POL) defeated Camila Giorgi (ITA) 6-2 6-4
Fiona Ferro (FRA) defeated [17] Elena Rybakina (KAZ) 6-4 6-4
[19] Marketa Vondrousova (CZE) defeated [Q] Rebecca Marino (CAN) 6-1 7-5
[27] Ons Jabeur (TUN) defeated [LL] Anna Schmiedlova (SVK) 6-3 6-2
[32] Veronika Kudermetova (RUS) defeated Varvara Gracheva (RUS) 5-7 6-2 6-2
Zarina Diyas (KAZ) defeated Bernarda Pera (USA) 6-4 3-6 6-3
Ann Li (USA) defeated Alize Cornet (FRA) 6-2 7-6
Anastasia Potapova (RUS) defeated [Q] Timea Babos (HUN) 6-2 6-4
[Q] Sara Errani (ITA) defeated Venus Williams (USA) 6-1 6-0

Picture credit: Getty Images

Australian Open Women’s Round of 128 wrap: Top seeds skate through to second round as former Australian Open champion Kerber falls

THE Australian Open started with a bang on Monday, with the Grand Slam women’s circuit showcasing a heap of intriguing results in the Round of 128.

A number of the obvious candidates head through to the second round after excellent day one efforts, with top three seeds Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka skating through completely unscathed. While the second and third ranked players in the world produced almost identical wins, it was the ease with which both disposed of their opposition, seeing Halep defeat Australian wildcard Lizette Cabrera 6-2 6-1 in 59 minutes, and Osaka needing just 10 minutes more to down Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1 6-2. Serena Williams proved she is still on track for an equal record 24 singles Grand Slams, outstanding in her 6-1 6-1 sweep of Laura Siegemund in 56 minutes. The quick victory was only beaten by Anastasia Potapova who blew Williams’ compatriot Alison Riske out of the water, obliterating the 24th seed 6-2 6-1 in just 51 minutes to be the quickest victor of the day.

Bianca Andreescu made her triumphant return to the circuit after 15 months away from the court, and while her opposition in lucky loser Mihaela Buzarnescu put her through her paces in a tighter second set, the Canadian eighth seed survived the test to come out with the 6-2 4-6 6-3 victory – something she will be happy about after pulling out of last week’s Grampians Trophy to focus on her Australian Open return. The ever-consistent Petra Kvitova relished being back on Australian soil with a 6-3 6-4 sweep of qualifier Greet Minnen, while Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka and Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek both came away with solid victories to head into the second round.

But it was not all fun and games for seeds, as former Australian Open champion and 23rd seed Angelique Kerber was overcome by a fast-starting Bernarda Pera, as the American world number 63 disposed of the German champion in straight sets, 6-0 6-4.  An uncharacteristically down-and-out Qiang Wang could not compete with qualifier Sara Errani, with the 131st ranked Italian far cleaner than last year’s Australian Open giant slayer in the 2-6 6-4 6-4 win.

In other games, Tunisian 27th seed Ons Jabeur and a couple of Kazakhstan representatives head through to the second round with 17th seed Elena Rybakina joined by Zarina Diyas, while Russia boasted four more winners to join Potapova in the next round, but also saw four compatriots fall at the first hurdle. Venus Williams reigned supreme against Kirsten Flipkins, proving once more that age is just a number at 40 years old.

The women’s Round of 128 continues today at Melbourne Park, with world number one Ash Barty hitting the court following her maiden 2021 title on Sunday, while 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin also enters the draw, as does in-form Belarusian Victoria Azarenka and exciting young gun Coco Gauff.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN WOMEN’S ROUND OF 128 RESULTS:

[2] Simona Halep (ROU) defeated [WC] Lizette Cabrera (AUS) 6-2 6-1
[3] Naomi Osaka (JPN) defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) 6-1 6-2
[7] Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) defeated Viktoria Kuzmova (SVK) 6-0 6-4
[8] Bianca Andreescu (CAN) defeated [LL] Mihaela Buzarnescu (ROU) 6-2 4-6 6-3
[9] Petra Kvitova (CZE) defeated [Q] Greet Minnen (BEL) 6-3 6-4
[10] Serena Williams (USA) defeated Laura Siegemund (GER) 6-1 6-1
[15] Iga Swiatek (POL) defeated Arantxa Rus (NED) 6-1 6-3
[17] Elena Rybakina (KAZ) defeated Vera Zvonareva (RUS) 4-6 6-4 6-4
[19] Marketa Vondrousova (RUS) defeated Rebecca Peterson (SWE) 2-6 7-5 7-5
Bernarda Pera (USA) defeated [23] Angelique Kerber (GER) 6-0 6-4
Anastasia Potapova (RUS) defeated [24] Alison Riske (USA) 6-2 6-1
[27] Ons Jabeur (TUN) defeated Andrea Petkovic (GER) 6-3 3-6 6-4
[Q] Sara Errani (ITA) defeated [30] Qiang Wang (CHN) 2-6 6-4 6-4
[32] Veronika Kudermetova (RUS) defeated Marta Kostyuk (UKR) 6-2 7-6
Venus Williams (USA) defeated Kirsten Flipkens (GER) 7-5 6-2
Ajla Tomljanovich (AUS) defeated Misaki Doi (JPN) 6-2 6-1
Zarina Diyas (KAZ) defeated Tamara Zidansek (SLO) 6-2 7-5
[Q] Rebecca Marino (CAN) defeated [WC] Kimberley Birrell (AUS) 6-0 7-6
[LL] Anna Karolina Schmiedlova (SVK) defeated [Q] Mayo Hibi (JPN) 7-6 6-4
Camila Giorgi (ITA) defeated Yaroslava Shvedova (KAZ) 6-3 6-3
[Q] Timea Babos (HUN) defeated Ysaline Bonaventure (BEL) 7-6 6-4
Alize Cornet (FRA) defeated [Q] Valeria Savinykh (RUS) 6-2 4-6 7-6
Hsieh Suwei (TPE) defeated [Q] Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL) 7-5 6-2
Nina Stojanovic (SRB) defeated Irina Camelia Begu (ROU) 6-3 6-4
Varvara Gracheva (RUS) defeated Ana Blinkova (RUS) 6-1 3-6 7-6
Daria Kasatkina (RUS) defeated Katie Boulter (GBR) 6-1 6-4
Fiona Ferro (FRA) defeated Katerina Siniakova (CZE) 6-7 6-2 6-4
Caroline Garcia (FRA) defeated Polona Hercog (SLO) 7-6 6-3
Sorana Cirstea (ROU) defeated Patricia Maria Tig (ROU) 6-2 6-1

WTA 500 wraps: Barty Party rolls into final as other semi-finalists decided

IT was a massive day at the WTA 500 events as players squeezed in shortened matches to keep the tournaments on track after no play took place on Thursday. The Yarra Valley Classic and Gippsland Trophy semi-finals have been determined, whilst the quarter finalists are known in the Gippsland Trophy.

Ash Barty is through to the Yarra Valley Classic final following a shortened quarter final and walkover semi-final. The Australian world number one needed three sets to take care of American Shelby Rogers, but to save time on a day filled with double-ups, the players took part in a third set super tiebreak rather than a full set. Barty won 7-5 2-6 10-4 to book her spot in the semis, before would-be opponent Serena Williams pulled out with a shoulder injury.

The decision for Williams to pull out came not long after she fought off compatriot Danielle Collins in three sets. It meant Barty will have an extra day to rest and come in fresh for the final in her first WTA Tour tournament in almost 12 months. The Australian will play the winner of sixth seed Garbine Muguruza and eighth seed Marketa Vondrousova.

Muguruza sought revenge on Sofia Kenin from last year’s Australian Open final, this time easily dishing out a one-sided result to win 6-2 6-2. It was the only straight sets win of the quarter finals, with Vondrousova defeating Argentinian Nadia Podoroska in three sets. If Vondrousova is able to topple Muguruza, then it will be a rematch against Barty for the 2019 Roland Garros title.

YARRA VALLEY CLASSIC QUARTER FINALS:

[1] Ash Barty (AUS) defeated Shelby Rogers (USA) 7-5 2-6 1-0
[6] Garbine Muguruza (ESP) defeated [2] Sofia Kenin (USA) 6-2 6-2
[5] Serena Williams (USA) defeated [13] Danielle Collins (USA) 6-2 4-6 1-0
[8] Marketa Vondrousova (CZE) defeated [14] Nadia Podoroska (ARG) 4-6 6-3 1-0

YARRA VALLEY CLASSIC SEMI-FINALS:

[1] Ash Barty (AUS) defeated [5] Serena Williams (USA) W/O

The semi-finals of the Gippsland Trophy have been decided with only one of the top six seeds making it through to the final four. Top seed Simona Halep was smashed out of the tournament by Ekaterina Alexandrova, the ninth seed Russian dominating play to win 6-2 6-1 in a one-sided win.

Usually strong at this time of year, Alexandrova will now move through to take on unseeded Estonian Kaia Kanepi. The sole unseeded player remaining in the draw had a walkover against eighth seed Czech Karolina Muchova to be the freshest of the four players remaining in the tournament.

In the other semi-final, second seed Naomi Osaka will be the favourite to take out the title, having moved past unseeded Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu. The Japanese rising star won 7-5 6-1 to book her spot in the last four, taking on seventh seed Belgian Elise Mertens, who won through after an epic contest against third seed Ukrainian, Elina Svitolina.

GIPPSLAND TROPHY QUARTER FINALS RESULTS:

[9] Ekaterina Alexandrova (RUS) defeated [1] Simona Halep (ROU) 6-2 6-1
[2] Naomi Osaka (JPN) defeated Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU) 7-5 6-1
[7] Elise Mertens (BEL) defeated [3] Elina Svitolina (UKR) 6-3 5-7 10-6
Kaia Kanepi (EST) defeated [8] Karolina Muchova (CZE) W/O

Looking to the Grampians Trophy in the Round of 16 results, there were a couple of upsets to keep it fresh, in an otherwise predictable day of results. The two biggest surprises were losses to second seed Belinda Bencic and fourth seed Elena Rybakina who both bowed out of the tournament. Sonia Cirstea knocked off Bencic in straight sets, while Barbora Krejcikova won in the super tiebreak against Rybakina in what was a fascinating contest.

The only other unseeded player through to the final eight was Ann Li, with the American defeating Russian Veronika Kudermetova, 7-5 6-3. In terms of the seeds, the top ranked player remaining in the draw now is third seed, Victoria Azarenka with the Grand Slam winner knocking off Yulia Putintseva 11-9 in the super tiebreak following a disappointing second set.

Fifth seed Maria Sakkari, sixth seed Anett Kontaveit, seventh seed Jennifer Brady and eighth seed Angelique Kerber all made it through to the quarter finals having won in straight sets easily over their respective opponents.

GRAMPIANS TROPHY ROUND OF 16 RESULTS:

Sonia Cirstea (ROU) defeated [2] Belinda Bencic (SUI) 7-5 6-2
[3] Victoria Azarenka (BLR) defeated Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) 6-4 1-6 11-9
Barbora Krejcikova (CZE) defeated [4] Elena Rybakina (KAZ) 4-6 6-2 10-6
[5] Maria Sakkari (GRE) defeated Leylan Fernandez (CAN) 6-2 6-2
[6] Anett Kontaveit (EST) defeated Bethany Mattek-Sands (USA) 7-5 7-5
[7] Jennifer Brady (USA) defeated Marta Kostyuk (UKR) 6-1 6-4
[8] Angelique Kerber (GER) defeated Ons Jabeur (TUN) 6-4 6-4
Ann Li (USA) defeated Veronika Kudermetova (RUS) 7-5 6-3

Picture credit: Getty Images

2021 Grampians Trophy preview: Stacked lineup as players come out of hard lockdown

THE next in a line of WTA 500 events opening the year is the Grampians Trophy, yet another competition added to the womens’ tournament list purely for players forced into hard lockdown once landing in Australia. But while the tournament is new for 2021, the calibre of players certainly is not, with a number of familiar faces and high-calibre talent taking the court. Of the 28 competitors, initial confirmation was that 11 top 30 players will compete, headed up by Bianca Andreescu – who would return to the court with a protected ranking after well over a year away – and fellow top 20 players Belinda BencicVictoria Azarenka and Elena Rybakina. But a late withdrawal from Andreescu sees a last minute change to the draw, with Georgian alternate Oksana Kalashnikova brought into the lineup.

The lone Australian tournament without any homegrown talent – for obvious reasons, given very little were in hotel quarantine – will see a host of top notch players, with the United States boasting six competitors and ultimately leading the charge, with Jennifer Brady and Alison Riske amongst the top 10 ranked on the list, while Russia and Czech Republic will both field three players apiece in a stacked draw.

Joining the aforementioned players in the seeded positions are the likes of Maria Sakkari – who thanks to Andreescu’s withdrawal will now receive a first round bye as the fourth seed – Anett Kontaveit, and Angelique Kerber, with all three boasting plenty of winning experience and form on Australian soil, making for an intriguing field at Melbourne Park, especially given the lack of courttime for all participating athletes.

Adding to the stacked lineup are the likes of Yulia Putintseva and Ons Jabeur, who are more than capable of taking on the top echelon of talent and are both around the top 30 mark, while there is no shortage of quality in the mix either with a plethora of tournament winners taking the court. Youngster Leylah Fernandez will hope to follow in her compatriot Andreescu’s footsteps and push to elevate her game ahead of the Australian Open next week.

While all players will realistically be slightly off their game given the limited court time in recent months, plus the enforced hard lockdown when landing in Australia two weeks ago, expect the usual suspects to be right up there, while Azarenka had an excellent 2020, as did Rybakina. Whilst the likes of Kerber and Brady can sometimes be inconsistent, when they are on, they are on, making for interesting contests across the board.

Three-set thrillers see come-from-behind victories

ACTION heated up in the quarter finals of the Abu Dhabi WTA 500 event with each of the four matches going the full three sets to determine a winner. In three of those four matches, the winner dropped the first set before coming back to win, including one 6-0 first set loss.

That disastrous first set belonged to Marta Kostyuk, with the 18-year-old Ukrainian winning just nine points in a horrible start to the match, but found a way to turn it around against Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo. The next set was almost a complete reversal of fortunes as Kostyuk won it 6-1, before a tighter third set resulted in the Ukrainian getting it done, 0-6 6-1 6-4 to advance through to the semi-finals.

“I started to move my legs better, I started to look at the ball better, and I think the whole picture changed,” Kostyuk said post-match of the first set disaster. “I stopped missing, and obviously I know that if I’m in the right spot, if I’m at the ball, it’s really tough to get, especially when I’m hitting close to the line.”

Kostyuk now takes on Russian Veronika Kudermetova who shocked the Ukrainian’s compatriot and second seed, Elina Svitolina. Kudermetova won 5-7 6-3 7-6 in a hard-fought two-hour and 35-minute epic contest. Both players were up for the fight, but the talented Russian stood tall when it counted with a crucial break in the second set, and then winning the third set tiebreaker, 7-3.

“It was a really tough match,” Kudermetova said post-match. “I think we both played very good. I tried to stay focused until the end. In the first set, I also played not bad, but I didn’t have a lot of chances, Elina played unbelievable. She had good serves today. I tried to fight, I tried to stay focused, and do everything for the win.”

Whilst the matches had their ups and downs, none were stranger than Maria Sakkari‘s victory over top seed Sofia Kenin. The Greek ninth seed was outclassed by the Australian Open winner 6-2 in the first set, and at one point, the score was 6-2 2-2 in Kenin’s favour. From there, somehow Sakkari piled on 10 straight games in a complete blitz to win 2-6 6-2 6-0 and power her way into the semi-finals.

“Beating these players this week it means a lot,” Sakkari said post-match. “I’m playing players that I’ve never played, like [Muguruza] yesterday, so I have a better idea if I play them again. “So in general it gives me a lot of confidence starting the year like that and I’m super happy to travel to Australia with some good matches with me.”

Sakkari will need to take that momentum and roll with it in the final four, coming up against the most in-form player on Tour. Fourth seed Aryna Sabalenka dropped her first set in 11 matches, but continued her winning streak by bringing up her 13th consecutive win. The Belarusian powerhouse defeated Elena Rybakina 6-4 4-6 6-3 in just under two hours to advance through to the semi-finals.

“I’m really happy that already at the beginning of the season I’ve played against different styles,” Sabalenka said post-match. “That’s really good and I’m really happy. It’s giving me a lot of advantage. It’s perfect to start the season like that after the pre-season. “I will prepare myself, doesn’t matter who I’m playing against. “My coach is preparing me really well and I know I will be ready for each player.”

ABU DHABI QUARTER FINALS RESULTS:

[9] Maria Sakkari (GRE) defeated [1] Sofia Kenin (USA) 2-6 6-2 6-0
Veronika Kudermetova (RUS) defeated [2] Elina Svitolina (UKR) 5-7 6-3 7-6
[4] Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) defeated [6] Elena Rybakina (KAZ) 6-4 4-6 6-3
Marta Kostyuk (UKR) defeated Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP) 0-6 6-1 6-4

Youth rises in third round at Abu Dhabi

IT was the future of the WTA Tour on show in the third round of the Abu Dhabi 500 tournament, with 26-year-old Elina Svitolina being the “veteran” of the quarter finals competitors. The Ukrainian was one of only two players – Maria Sakkari was the other – aged 25 years and older, with the other six victors being 24-years-old or younger, including Ukrainian 18-year-old Marta Kostyuk.

In the tightest round by far in the tournament, three players won in three sets, while an additional three matches were only separated by a break in each of the two sets. Svitolina had an epic fight on her hands against Ekaterina Alexandrova, doing it easy in the first set, before engaging in two tiebreakers, losing the second set tiebreaker 7-5, before bouncing back to win 10-8 in the deciding set tiebreaker.

Svitolina was dominant off her first serve, winning 71.6 per cent of her points, and breaking seven times to five against the Russian, though Alexandrova was more clinical in recovering off her second serve. The Ukrainian had to do it the hard way though, saving two match points in order to book herself a place in the final eight in Abu Dhabi.

“I think [from] both sides, she was striking the ball really well,” Svitolina said post-match. “Even on the move, from almost every part of the court. So it was really tricky for me to come back from being 3-5 down. I was just trying to be focused on every point and not let this match take away the good tennis that I played in the first set.”

“I’m just enjoying myself playing in these conditions, and hopefully I can go even further this week.”

The second seed now takes on Russian Veronika Kudermetova who toppled fellow unseeded Spaniard, Paula Badosa. Kudermetova won 6-4 4-6 6-1 to move through to the quarter finals and be the sole Russian remaining in the draw. She was the only winner of four Russians on court in the Round of 16, with Alexandrova, and unseeded talents, Daria Kasatkina and Anastasia Gasanova both knocked out. Kasatkina went down to sixth seed Kazakh Elena Rybakina in straight sets, while Gasanova – after shocking third seed Karolina Pliskova in the Round of 32 – lost to rising Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo, 7-5 6-3.

Rybakina sets her sights on Aryna Sabalenka in a blockbuster quarter final, with both power players able to turn up the intensity. Sabalenka powered past Tunisian Ons Jabeur to rack up her 13th consecutive win, defeating the 15th seed 6-2 6-4 to set up a huge quarter finals clash with the Kazakh. The winner of that game will take on either top seed Sofia Kenin or Sakkari in an all-seeded top half of the draw.

Kenin had to fight from a set down to put away 13th seed Yulia Putintseva 3-6 7-6 6-4, while Sakkari took out fifth seed Garbine Muguruza 7-5 6-4, ending a chance at an Australian Open final repeat between Kenin and Muguruza. In the final match of the third round, Ukrainian teenager Kostyuk smashed Slovenian Tamara Zidansek 6-1 6-1 to race into a quarter final and take on Sorribes Tormo, for the chance to potentially play compatriot Svitolina in the semi-finals.

Sabalenka and Rybakina are first up on Centre Court tomorrow, followed by Kenin and Sakkari. Then Kostyuk and Sorribes Tormo do battle, followed by Kudermetova and Svitolina in the final match of the day.

ABU DHABI ROUND OF 16 RESULTS:

[1] Sofia Kenin (USA) defeated [13] Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) 3-6 7-6 6-4
[2] Elina Svitolina (UKR) defeated [17] Ekaterina Alexandrova (RUS) 6-2 6-7 7-6
[4] Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) defeated [15] Ons Jabeur (TUN) 6-2 6-4
[9] Maria Sakkari (GRE) defeated [5] Garbine Muguruza (ESP) 7-5 6-4
[6] Elena Rybakina (KAZ) defeated Daria Kasatkina (RUS) 6-3 6-4
Veronika Kudermetova (RUS) defeated Paula Badosa (ESP) 6-4 4-6 6-1
Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP) defeated Anastasia Gasanova (RUS) 7-5 6-3
Marta Kostyuk (UKR) defeated Tamara Zidansek (SLO) 6-1 6-1

Picture credit: WTA/Jimmie48

WTA Abu Dhabi Round of 32 wrap: Gasanova shocks Pliskova in debut tournament

RUSSIAN rising star, Anastasia Gasanova has shocked third seed Czech Karolina Pliskova, claiming her first ever Top 100 victory with a 6-2 6-4 triumph in the Round of 32 at the Abu Dhabi WTA 500 event. Gasanova had no troubles knocking off the former world number one, having come through qualifying and then toppling former Top 25 German, Mona Barthel in the first round. Ranked 261st in the world, Gasanova is playing her first ever WTA Tour main draw event, having only reached qualifying in non-ITF events previously.

“It was not me on the court,” Gasanova said post-match. “I was so sure of myself. “I’m really happy right now. “I’m really surprised, but when I woke up today, I thought, ‘Why not? Why can’t I win this match? “Actually, I thought I would lose in qualies or something like that, but I just kept pushing myself, like, I need to win and I want to win.”

Gasanova now advances through to the third round where she takes on unseeded Spaniard, Sara Sorries Tormo who needed three sets to take down unseeded American Bernarda Pera, 5-7 6-3 6-4. The Russian was not the only underdog Russian to advance into the Round of 16, as Daria Kasatkina did not need to take the court with 12th seed Czech Karolina Muchova retiring pre-game, as Veronika Kudermetova knocked off Italian Bianca Turati 6-2 6-1. The fourth Russian through to the third round was Ekaterina Alexandrova, as the 17th seed booked a place following a three-set epic against Great Britain’s Heather Watson, 7-5 6-7 6-3.

Victories to the other unseeded players in Marta Kostyuk and Tamara Zidansek – who defeated 11th seed Jennifer Brady in the first round – meant the third quarter of the Abu Dhabi draw completely seedless with one of Kostyuk, Zidansek, Sorribes Tormo or Gasanova to reach the semi-finals. Similarly, Spaniard Paula Badosa now faces Kudermetova in another unseeded Round of 16 meeting, with the winner to lock horns with either Alexandrova or second seed Elina Svitolina.

The Ukrainian broke the trend of successful Russians, knocking off veteran Vera Zvonareva in straight sets, 6-4 6-1. The winner of the Svitolina-Alexandrova match will be the sole seed in the second half of the draw. It is a much different story in the top half of the draw, with Kasatkina the sole unseeded player, now set to face Kazakhstan rising star, Elena Rybakina. The talented youngsters defeated China’s Wang Xiyu 6-4 6-4 to book her place in the Round of 16, and the winner of the third round match to face an in-form player of 2020.

Aryna Sabalenka has not lost any form from her remarkable end to 2020, rolling well into double-figures with 12 consecutive wins and two titles in her wake. The powerful Belarusian took down a plucky Ajla Tomljanovic 7-5 6-4 to now face Tunisian Ons Jabeur. The 15th seed had a it more to do, defeating Ukrainian Kateryna Bondarenko in a come-from-behind victory, 5-7 6-3 6-2 to book her spot in the Round of 16.

Meanwhile in other results, top seed Sofia Kenin survived a scare against Belgian Kirsten Flipkens, with the latter forced to retire leading 7-5 4-5 in their Round of 32 match. Now Kenin takes on Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva who dispatched Czech Barbora Krejcikova 6-4 7-5. In the last third round matchup, fifth seed Garbine Muguruza will lock horns with ninth seed Maria Sakkari. Muguruza proved too strong for Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-1 6-4, while Sakkari held off teen sensation Coco Gauff, 7-5 6-2.

All the Round of 16 matches will be played tomorrow.

ABU DHABI ROUND OF 32 RESULTS:

[1] Sofia Kenin (USA) defeated Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) 5-7 5-4 RET
[2] Elina Svitolina (UKR) defeated Vera Zvonareva (RUS) 6-4 6-1
Anastasia Gasanova (RUS) defeated [3] Karolina Pliskova (CZE) 6-2 6-4
[4] Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) defeated Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS) 7-5 6-4
[5] Garbine Muguruza (ESP) defeated Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR) 6-1 6-4
[6] Elena Rybakina (KAZ) defeated Xiyu Wang (CHN) 6-4 6-4
[9] Maria Sakkari (GRE) defeated Coco Gauff (USA) 7-5 6-2
Daria Kasatkina (RUS) defeated [12] Karolina Muchova (CZE) 0-0 RET
[13] Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) defeated Barbora Krejcikova (CZE) 6-4 7-5
[15] Ons Jabeur (TUN) defeated Kateryna Bondarenko (UKR) 5-7 6-3 6-2
[17] Ekaterina Alexandrova (RUS) defeated Heather Watson (GBR) 7-5 6-7 6-3
Marta Kostyuk (UKR) defeated Su-Wei Hsieh (TAI) 6-3 6-7 6-3
Paula Badosa (ESP) defeated Alize Cornet (FRA) 6-4 6-4
Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP) defeated Bernarda Pera (USA) 5-7 6-3 6-4
Tamara Zidansek (SLO) defeated Leylah Fernandez (CAN) 6-4 6-4
Veronika Kudermetova (RUS) defeated Bianca Turati (ITA) 6-2 6-1

Picture credit: Getty Images

WTA Abu Dhabi Round of 64 wrap: Top six through without a hitch, young guns also advance

OF the 16 seeds on show in the brand new WTA Abu Dhabi 500 event, 12 reached the second round. Kicking off 2021 in style, the top six seeds advanced without dropping a set, whilst 2020 in-form players, Anett Kontaveit and Jennifer Brady were amongst the seeds to fall in the opening round of play.

Top seed Sofia Kenin led the way with a straight sets win over China’s Zhaoxuan Yang who put up a fight before going down, 7-6 6-3. Joining her in the next round was second seed Elina Svitolina, toppling tough American Jessica Pegula, 6-4 6-3. Needing tiebreakers to advance, third and fourth seeds, Karolina Pliskova and Aryna Sabalenka won their way through, defeated Greece’s Despina Papamicail and Slovenia’ Polona Hercog. Having a much easier time, Garbine Muguruza cruised to a surprising easy win over French battler Kristina Mladenovic, while young gun Elena Rybakina continued her great 2020 form with an easy first-up victory in 2021 over Italian Lucrezia Stefanini.

The first big upset saw eighth seed Czech and 2019 Roland Garros finalist Marketa Vondrousova out of the Abu Dhabi event, going down to Chinese T’s Hsieh Su-Wei. Also bowing out were Kontaveit and Brady, who went down to Russian Veronika Kudermetova and Slovenian Tamara Zidansek respectively. Brady’s loss was particularly brutal considering the US Open semi-finalist won the first set 6-0 before losing 0-6 6-3 6-4. The only other seed to be eliminated was 16th seed Donna Vekic, who lost to United States’ Bernarda Pera 7-6 2-6 6-4. The four other seeds to secure a Round of 16 place were Karolina Muchova (12th), Yulia Putintseva (13th), Ons Jabeur (15th) and Ekaterina Alexandrova (17th).

In terms of the unseeded players, teenagers Coco Gauff and Leylah Fernandez both shone in their wins, as Gauff destroyed Norwegian Ulrikke Eikeri 6-0 6-1, while Fernandez made light work of respected Italian Jasmine Paolini, 6-4 6-2. Italian Bianca Turati was a fresh face to the winners list with the 23-year-old predominantly an ITF player but moved through to the next round easily. Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich joined compatriot Sabalenka in the Round of 16, while Heather Watson came from behind to defeat her only other compatriot in the draw, Jodie Burrage. Australia Ajla Tomljanovic made a great start to 2021 with a straight sets win, while Sara Sorribes Tormo enjoyed an important victory over Roland Garros semi-finalist Nadia Podoroska.

The full results are below.

ABU DHABI ROUND OF 64 RESULTS:

[1] Sofia Kenin (USA) defeated Zhaoxuan Yang (CHN) 7-6 6-3
[2] Elina Svitolina (UKR) defeated Jessica Pegula (USA) 6-4 6-3
[3] Karolina Pliskova (CZE) defeated Despina Papamicail (GRE) 6-2 7-6
[4] Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) defeated Polona Hercog (SLO) 7-6 6-2
[5] Garbine Muguruza (ESP) defeated Kristina Mladenovic (FRA) 6-2 6-4
[6] Elena Rybakina (KAZ) defeated Lucrezia Stefanini (ITA) 6-1 6-3
Su-Wei Hsieh (TAI) defeated [8] Marketa Vondrousova (CZE) 3-6 6-3 7-6
[9] Maria Sakkari (GRE) defeated Anastasia Potapova (RUS) 6-4 6-2
Veronika Kudermetova (RUS) defeated [10] Anett Kontaveit (EST) 7-5 6-1
Tamara Zidansek (SLO) defeated [11] Jennifer Brady (USA) 0-6 6-3 6-4
[12] Karolina Muchova defeated Danka Kovinic (MON) 6-4 6-1
[13] Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) defeated Martina Trevisan (ITA) 6-3 6-3
[15] Ons Jabeur (TUN) defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) 7-6 6-3
Bernarda Pera (USA) defeated [16] Donna Vekic (CRO) 7-6 2-6 6-4
[17] Ekaterina Alexandrova (RUS) defeated Zarina Diyas (KAZ) 6-4 6-4
Leylah Fernandez (CAN) defeated Jasmine Paolini (ITA) 6-4 6-2
Barbora Krejcikova (CZE) defeated Jamie Loeb (USA) 6-1 6-3
Paula Badosa (ESP) defeated Anastasija Sevastova (LAT) 6-2 5-7 6-2
Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS) defeated Lin Zhu (CHN) 6-2 7-6
Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) defeated Laura Siegemund (GER) 5-7 7-5 6-4
Daria Kasatkina (RUS) defeated Qiang Wang (CHN) 6-2 3-6 6-3
Anastasia Gasanova (RUS) defeated Mona Barthel (GER) 6-2 6-4
Alize Cornet (FRA) defeated Valentini Grammatikopoulou (GRE) 6-2 6-2
Bianca Turati (ITA) defeated Yaroslava Shvedova (KAZ) 6-1 6-2
Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR) defeated Anna Bondar (HUN) 6-2 6-2
Marta Kostyuk (UKR) defeated Lucie Hradecka (CZE) 6-2 6-4
Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP) defeated Nadia Podoroska (ARG) 6-3 6-3
Xiyu Wang (CHN) defeated Arantxa Rus (NED) 6-3 3-6 6-4
Kateryna Bondarenko (UKR) defeated Yafan Wang (CHN) 6-3 2-6 6-3
Heather Watson (GBR) defeated Jodie Burrage (GBR) 4-6 6-2 7-5
Vera Zvonareva (RUS) defeated Amandine Hesse (FRA) 6-3 6-4
Coco Gauff (USA) defeated Ulrikke Eikeri (NOR) 6-0 6-1

Picture: Getty Images

2021 WTA Abu Dhabi preview: Big guns enter new 500 tournament

A NEW year brings with it new hope and that is certainly the case for the WTA Tour as a brand-new looking logo and colour scheme to kick-start 2021. In what is a fitting opening to the season, a first-time tournament in Abu Dhabi will take place, with a fairly stacked draw of primarily European players taking to the hard courts in a massive 64-player WTA 500 event. The events have been renamed to match that of the ATP Tour, and the January 5-13 event is set to provide plenty of highlights from the Zayed Sports City International Tennis Centre in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.

Australian Open reigning champion Sofia Kenin will headline the draw and stands as the number one seed. The only American player inside the Top 10 seeds, Kenin will begin her Melbourne Court defence in the U.A.E before heading Down Under. Having also reached the Roland Garros final before losing to Iga Swiatek, it is fair to say Kenin will start as a favourite at the event, back on her preferred hard court surface.

Also at the event is Elina Svitolina, with the Ukrainian keen to continue her good form from early in 2020 and build some good form against quality opponents. The Ukrainian is no stranger to success early in the year, having won in Dubai twice, as well as Brisbane, and then added two more titles last year at Monterrey and then later on, Strasbourg. Now 26-years-old, Svitolina is chasing a Grand Slam title to go with her WTA Finals win back in 2018, and given her success in Dubai, has no fears playing in the conditions.

Despite what she would classify as a disappointing year by her own standards, Karolina Pliskova is a talent who can never be discounted. Having reached the Rome final, Pliskova unfortunately had to retire due to injury, then bowed out in the second round at Roland Garros and lost her first match in Ostrava to end the year wit a 1-3 record from her final four matches. Prior to her injury she built some good form at Rome, and is always a challenger early in the season.

One player who had no such late season form issues was rising star, Aryna Sabalenka. The pure power hitter from Belarus blasted her way to titles in Ostrava and Linz, winning nine consecutive matches to round out the year. At one stage she looked destined to lose to Coco Gauff in the second round at Ostrava, then was a point away from being 6-0 5-0 down against Sara Sorribes Tormo but found a way back a match later. Since then, she cleaned up US Open semi-finalist Jennifer Brady, finalist Victoria Azarenka, and Top 25 player Elise Mertens among a number of other rising stars.

The likes of Mertens and Brady are also competing in Abu Dhabi and have to be considered when talking about contenders, though who could discount the youth and rising star status of Elena Rybakina. The Kazakhstan native made five finals last year, and while her winning record in those finals was not ideal (1-4), she showed she can go deep in big events, and will be one to watch here. Her compatriot, Yulia Putintseva will also compete, as well Australian Open runner-up Garbine Muguruza and 2019 Roland Garros runner-up Marketa Vondrousova.

Rounding out the the Top 25 players are Swiss talent Belinda Bencic, Greek up-and-comer Maria Sakkari, and the ever-dangerous Estonian, Anett Kontaveit. The big challenge will be the time off, with the likes of Sabalenka having the least time being tournaments, but still having a two-month break, while others could have had three months or more depending on if they finished up at Roland Garros or avoided the clay season. One thing is for sure, every match practice will count when heading to the Australian Open given some, like Ash Barty, have not played in 12 months.