Tag: naomi osaka

WTA Tour wrap: Mixed bag at Madrid as Muchova and Pavlyuchenkova claim scalps

DAY 6 at the Mutua Madrid Open saw plenty happen around the courts, as second seed Naomi Osaka was ousted in the lone three-setter of the day, while it was also not sixth seed Karolina Pliskova‘s day as the Czech talent fell in straight sets.

It was an excellent effort from Karolina Muchova that saw her inhibit Osaka in their clash, seeing the Czech claim victory 6-4 3-6 6-1. Whilst Osaka worked her way back into the contest after dropping the first set, Muchova commanded control to run home with a whopping 92.9 per cent winning rate off her first serve in the final set, including two of her five aces.

“It was a tough match today, but we had some preparation,” Muchova said post-match. “I was ready to play with all I had today, and to use all the weapons I could and [do] what I can. I’m definitely happy it worked out today.”

Muchova is the newest member of the WTA world top 20, and in this contest it showed. Overall, she hit 29 winners off a fairly efficient 66.2 per cent first serve, as well as converting four of eight break points.

“I was trying to move [Osaka] as much as possible,” Muchova said. “That was the tactic. It sounds easy like that, but, you know, she’s playing really fast so it’s not that easy on the court.

“In the second set especially, she started to be very aggressive. I got back to what I did in the first set in the third set, and again, tried to move her left, right, dropshots, but still in a fast way. In the third set, it went my way.”

Meanwhile, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova advanced to the third round with a clean 6-0 7-5 sweep of Pliskova, credit to her 20 winners for just 14 unforced errors. Whilst Pliskova bit back in the second set, she was undone by her own 28 errors which spelled trouble, before Pavlyuchenkova commanded control once more to run out victor in just under 75 minutes. Third seed Simona Halep and fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka retained control throughout their respective contests to claim respective one hour and 19-minute wins, while a couple of Americans joined the fray as Jennifer Brady downed Jelena Ostapenko 6-2 6-1, and Jessica Pegula was dealt a walkover from 12th seed Victoria Azarenka.

The remaining two games ended in fairly predictable circumstances as 13th seed Elise Mertens and 16th seed Maria Sakkari proved too good, and while Mertens was challenged in her two hour and 13 minute matchup with Elena Rybakina, Sakkari skated home against Anett Kontaveit with ease.

MUTUA MADRID OPEN ROUND OF 32 RESULTS:

Karolina Muchova (CZE) defeated [2] Naomi Osaka (JPN) 6-4 3-6 6-1
[3] Simona Halep (ROM) defeated Zheng Saisai (CHN) 6-0 6-4
[5] Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) defeated Daria Kasatkina (RUS) 6-3 6-3
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) defeated [6] Karolina Pliskova (CZE) 6-0 7-5
[11] Jennifer Brady (USA) defeated Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) 6-2 6-1
Jessica Pegula (USA) defeated [12] Victoria Azarenka (BLR) W/O
[13] Elise Mertens (BEL) defeated Elena Rybakina (KAZ) 7-6 7-5
[16] Maria Sakkari (GRE) defeated Anett Kontaveit (EST) 6-3 6-1

WTA Tour wrap: Top seeds all survive day two in Madrid

NAOMI Osaka was among all eight seeds to book their spot in the Madrid Open second round, following a straight sets win over compatriot Misaki Doi. In her first clay event in almost two years, Osaka overcame some early resistance from Doi to post a 7-5 6-2 victory and move through to the Round of 32.

“When I was playing on clay that year, I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all,” Osaka said post-match. “The two matches that I lost, it was more mental than it was physical. “Like, I didn’t feel uncomfortable sliding or I didn’t feel that tired. “So I’m actually really excited to get that mindset back and to start feeling more comfortable on clay.”

Osaka was one of four Top 10 seeds to advance through to the second round, with sixth seed Karolina Pliskova coming back from a set down to shake off teenage talent Coco Gauff in three sets. Pliskova won 5-7 6-3 6-2 in a tight contest to eventually finish the stronger of the pair and post a comfortable victory.

“We never played so it was definitely a difficult match. “I think I didn’t start really well, but later in the match, I was finding by game and finding my serve. “This was very important in this match because she can also serve very big,” Pliskova said post-match.

“I’m super happy that I’m through. “I’ve played one semifinal here, so I’ve had a couple of good matches here in the past, but I’m hoping to hopefully improve my game in the next match.”

Third seed Simona Halep started like a house on fire by racing to a 6-0 first set win, before having more of a struggle against Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo in the second set, eventually getting up 6-0 7-5. The other Top 10 seed to advance was fifth seed Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka who destroyed Russian Zera Zvonareva in 66 minutes, 6-1 6-2.

Fellow Belarusian Victoria Azarenka won in three sets over Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova, with 13th seed Elise Mertens and 16th seed Maria Sakkari also advanced into the Round of 32, with Sakkari remarkably going 6-0 down against American Amanda Anisimova before getting up 0-6 6-1 6-4.

In other results, Russian duo Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Daria Kasatkina both won through to the next stage, with a mixed bag for the Chinese hopefuls. Saisai Zheng defeated Poland’s Magda Linette in three sets, before Wang Qiang went down to Karolina Muchova in a disappointing 6-1 6-3 loss. Also through to the second round were Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina, Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko, Estonia’ Anett Kontaveit and United States’ Jessica Pegula.

MADRID OPEN ROUND OF 64 RESULTS:

[2] Naomi Osaka (JPN) defeated Misaki Doi (JPN) 7-5 6-2
[3] Simona Halep (ROU) defeated Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP) 6-0 7-5
[5] Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) defeated Vera Zvonareva (RUS) 6-1 6-2
[6] Karolina Pliskova (CZE) defeated Coco Gauff (USA) 5-7 6-3 6-2
[11] Jennifer Brady (USA) defeated Venus Williams (USA) 6-2 6-4
[12] Victoria Azarenka (BLR) defeated Ekaterina Alexandrova (RUS) 7-5 3-6 6-1
[13] Elise Mertens (BEL) defeated Zhang Shuai (CHN) 6-3 6-3
[16] Maria Sakkari (GRE) defeated Amanda Anisimova (USA) 0-6 6-1 6-4
Elena Rybakina (KAZ) defeated Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS) 6-4 6-0
Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) defeated Polona Hercog (SLO) 6-3 6-1
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) defeated Madison Keys (USA) 7-5 6-2
Saisai Zheng (CHN) defeated Magda Linette (POL) 6-2 3-6 6-1
Jessica Pegula (USA) defeated Sorana Cirstea (ROU) 7-6 6-3
Anett Kontaveit (EST) defeated Nina Stojanovic (SRB) 7-6 7-5
Karolina Muchova (CZE) defeated Wang Qiang (CHN) 6-1 6-3
Daria Kasatkina (RUS) defeated Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU) 4-6 6-4 7-6

Picture credit: Jimmie48/WTA

WTA Miami Open 1000: Sakkari and Andreescu to contend for Miami final spot

THE second Miami Open semi-final has been confirmed, with Maria Sakkari and Bianca Andreescu set to go head-to-head following respective wins on Day 10 of proceedings.

Sakkari disposed of world number two Naomi Osaka, with the 23rd seed Greek talent in Sakkari got off to a flying start with a 6-0 first set before the Japanese talent really got going, however the damage was already done and the momentum taken as she completed the 6-0 6-4 sweep in just one hour and nine minutes.

Sakkari’s excellent first set came down to an 88.9 per cent winning rate off her first serve, outclassing Osaka at every turn as the second seed struggled to capitalise serving off a 35 per cent clip. Whilst Osaka lifted in the second set to lead 3-0, it was not enough to overcome Sakkari who stepped up to the challenge, serving two aces and still winning 70 per cent off her first serve to come away with a clean victory.

“I don’t think tennis-wise it was like the best tennis I have ever played in my life,” said Sakkari. “I think I executed our strategy with Tom (Tom Hill, coach) really well. I just did what I had to do. I’m not gonna tell you what. What we discussed before the match, I just did it most of the match, except maybe a couple of games where things didn’t go right.”

“I just had a little bit of time in the changeover [down 1-4] and thought about the strategy again,” said Sakkari. “I think I lost that a little bit in the beginning of the second set. So focusing on my strategy was the key. I knew that if I can break her back, then I can serve clever and I can serve the right way to just come back and win the second set, as well.”

This was Osaka’s first loss in over a year, with Sakkari’s ability to cut the Japanese talent’s 23-win streak effectively allowing Ash Barty to retain world number one status in the process.

It was a very different story in the second quarter final between Canadian eighth seed Andreescu and unseeded Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo, with a tight three-setter going the full mile for over two and a half hours. Whilst Andreescu won the first set, Sorribes Tormo worked her way back into the match with a solid second set to take it to the third, before the Canadian talent created some much needed separation to take out the third set and match, 6-4 3-6 6-3.

Whilst Sorribes Tormo was more effective on serve by a fair margin – 77 per cent compared to Andreescu’s 65 per cent – Andreescu was much more efficient and consistent overall with a 53.8 per cent win rate off her first serve and 42.9 per cent off her second serve.

Expect a huge clash between Andreescu and Sakkari tomorrow, with their semi-final following the first semi-final between Barty and Elina Svitolina.

MIAMI OPEN QUARTER FINALS RESULTS:

[23] Maria Sakkari (GRE) defeated [2] Naomi Osaka (JPN) 6-0 6-4
[8] Bianca Andreescu (CAN) v. Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP) 6-4

WTA Miami Open 1000: Top talents prevail in majority seeded battles

THE WTA Miami Open 1000 Round of 16 fielded majority seeded encounters on Day 8 in the United States, and while a couple of matches went exactly to plan for top talents, results went awry for others in a couple of three set battles.

Top two seeds Ash Barty and Naomi Osaka both came away with wins on Day 8, with Osaka downing 16th seed Elise Mertens 6-3 6-3, though the world number one was certainly issued a more intriguing and tough battle than the recent Australian Open champion, taken to three sets by Belarusian Victoria Azarenka. Whilst Barty took out the first set efficiently, 6-1, Azarenka bit back and gave back Barty the flipped result in the second to go one apiece. The decider saw Barty come away with the 6-1 1-6 6-2 victory as she regained momentum and sped home, hitting six aces off a 66.7 per cent clip, but was inconsistent off her second serve winning just 11 points and hitting two double faults to Azarenka’s five. The Belarusian’s compatriot in seventh seed Aryna Sabalenka had a much easier time of it, exploding out of the blocks in a one hour and seven minute encounter with Czech Marketa Vondrousova, 6-1 6-2. Sabalenka won 76.3 per cent of her first serve points on her way through to the quarter finals, hitting five aces as she did so.

It was a rough day for the Czech Republic with left-hander Petra Kvitova also falling, although she fought to the bitter end after taking out the first set with ease over Elina Svitolina. The two hour and 22-minute matchup was the second-longest of the day with both the second and third sets going to seven games, resulting in the 2-6 7-5 7-5 victory for the Ukrainian. Whilst both players were error-ridden in patches, Svitolina limited her double faults comparatively (4-9) and was marginally more effective off her first serve despite a lack of efficiency. The longest match honours went to a huge clash between 20-plus seeds Jessica Pegula (29th) and Maria Sakkari (23rd), with the Greek talent reigning supreme in a hotly contest 6-4 2-6 7-6(6) battle. Whilst Pegula appeared to have the upper hand throughout the third set, the higher-ranked Sakkari was more consistent on serve to retain victory despite the loss of momentum during the second.

The only unseeded matchup of the day saw victory go the way of Latvian Anastasija Sevastova, who cleaned up Croatian Ana Konjuh 6-1 7-5. Konjuh’s dream return was almost retained with the tight second set taken to seven games, but her 11 double faults let her down as Sevastova made the most of the Croatian’s missed chances. The remaining two matches of the day will play out between Sara Sorribes Tormo and Ons Jabeur, and Bianca Andreescu and Garbine Muguruza, respectively.

WTA MIAMI OPEN ROUND OF 16 RESULTS:

[1] Ash Barty (AUS) defeated [14] Victoria Azarenka (BLR) 6-11-6 6-2
[2] Naomi Osaka (JPN) defeated [16] Elise Mertens (BEL) 6-3 6-3
[5] Elina Svitolina (UKR) defeated [9] Petra Kvitova (CZE) 2-6 7-5 7-5
[7] Aryna Sabakenka (BLR) defeated [19] Marketa Vondrousova (CZE) 6-1 6-2
Anastasija Sevastova (LAT) defeated Ana Konjuh (CRO) 6-1 7-5
[23] Maria Sakkari (GRE) defeated [29] Jessica Pegula (USA) 6-4 2-6 7-6

Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP) v. [27] Ons Jabeur (TUN)
[8] Bianca Andreescu (CAN) v. [12] Garbine Muguruza (ESP)

WTA Miami Open 1000: Tight clashes see Kenin and Pliskova fall in Round of 32

THE Miami Open Round of 32 is complete with a series of intriguing results setting the tone for the fourth round of proceedings as we enter the second week of the WTA 1000 event. Just one match went down in straight sets on a massive day of competition, with plenty to fight for.

Top seed of the day Naomi Osaka by far had the easiest encounter, not required to take the court as she was handed a walkover from Serbian Nina Stojanovic. Things did not go quite as well for fellow top five talent Sofia Kenin though, as the American fell in three sets to 27th seed Tunisian, Ons Jabeur 6-4 4-6 6-4. The one hour and 47-minute blitz saw Jabeur pile on 11 aces for three double faults off a 50 per cent clip, winning 73.8 per cent of point off her first serve. While Kenin was more efficient, she lacked intensity and was far less effective off her second serve, failing to keep in the tight contest. Jessica Pegula downed Karolina Pliskova in an impressive effort, with the two hour and nine minute clash coming to blows following an explosive start from the American 29th seed. Sixth seed Pliskova lacked potency with her eight double faults for five aces, while it was Pegula’s improved second serve effectiveness that saw her clinch the 6-1 4-6 6-4 victory.

Meanwhile, three more seeds joined the winners circle as Garbine MuguruzaElise Mertens and Maria Sakkari all reigned supreme in their respective encounters, though just Mertens came up against a fellow seed as she disposed of Anett Kontaveit in a bizarre seesawing 6-2 0-6 6-2 battle. While Mertens appeared to have the upper hand early, her shocking second set was characterised by sloppy service games, hitting six of her 10 double faults and winning just two of her second serve points. Improved effectiveness during the third set saw the momentum tilt her way once more, however the lack of consistency could prove critical in upcoming matches. Sakkari completed the quickest win of the day with a comparable 6-0 6-1 sweep of qualifier Liudmila Samsonova in just 67 minutes, whilst Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo joined compatriot Muguruza on the winners list, as both downed their respective foes in two-plus hour clashes. Sorribes Tormo claimed the early ascendancy against Elena Rybakina, with the Kazakh 21st seed unable to control proceedings following a sloppy 6-1 start, eventually falling 6-1 3-6 6-2 in two hours and 24 minutes. Muguruza’s two-hour and 41-minute encounter with Anna Kalinskaya saw the 12th seed fight back after dropping the first set, attacking the ball better to come away with the 4-6 6-3 6-4 result.

WTA MIAMI OPEN ROUND OF 32 RESULTS:

[2] Naomi Osaka (JPN) defeated Nina Stojanovic (SRB) W/O
[27] Ons Jabeur (TUN) defeated [4] Sofia Kenin (USA) 6-4 4-6 6-4
[29] Jessica Pegula (USA) defeated [6] Karolina Pliskova (CZE) 6-1 4-6 6-4
[12] Garbine Muguruza (ESP) defeated Anna Kalinskaya (RUS) 4-6 6-3 6-4
[16] Elise Mertens (BEL) defeated [22] Anett Kontaveit (EST) 6-2 0-6 6-2
Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP) defeated [21] Elena Rybakina (KAZ) 6-1 3-6 6-2
[23] Maria Sakkari (GRE) defeated Liudmila Samsonova (RUS) 6-0 6-1
[8] Bianca Andreescu (CAN) v. Amanda Anisimova (USA)

WTA Miami Open 1000: Trio of seeds downed in three sets as second round completed

THREE out of the four seeds defeated in the second round of the 2021 WTA Tour’s Miami Open 1000 event were knocked out in close contests, going down in three sets. Tenth seed Kiki Bertens was the highest ranked seed to fall, though she was incredibly disappointing yet again, continuing her poor 2021 form to lose 6-1 6-2 to Russian Liudmila Samsonova. The other seeds to be knocked out in tighter contests were 13th seed Jennifer Brady, 20th seed Petra Martic and 26th seed Yulia Putintseva.

Spanish talent Sara Sorribes Tormo proved too good for Australian Open finalist Brady, winning in a come-from-behind victory, 3-6 6-4 6-1. It was a similar story for both Russian Anna Kalinskaya and Serbian Nina Stojanovic, who also triumphed in three-set come-from-behind matches. Kalinskaya knocked off Martic 5-7 6-2 7-6, while Stojanovic took out Putintseva, 5-7 7-5 6-2. The quartet of unseeded players were the only ones to advance on the day, with the remaining matches won by the higher ranked seeds.

At the top of the list was second seed Naomi Osaka who saved set points in the first set to put away plucky Australian Ajla Tomlljanovic in the Japanese star’s first match since her Australian Open triumph. Osaka won 7-6 6-4 and managed to get it done in straight sets, whilst the previous Australian Open winner had it much tougher. Fourth seed Sofia Kenin needed three sets to overcome German Andrea Petkovic, dropping the first set in a tiebreaker, before running away with it 6-7 6-1 6-3. Anett Kontaveit also needed three sets in her win over Sorana Cirstea, while Ons Jabeur held off a determined Paula Badosa in the tightest contest of the day, 7-6 5-7 7-5 to advance through to the Round of 32.

“This is my first match since Australia, so I just really wanted to play well,” Osaka said post-match. “I kind of feel like I’m at home here, because I grew up [near here] for most of my life.”

The other seeds were able to get up in straight sets, with Karolina Pliskova having a confidence-boosting 6-1 6-1 thrashing over China’s Zheng Saisai, with Elena Rybakina, Elise Mertens and Maria Sakkari having similar one-sided results during their second round wins. Amanda Anisimova knocked off Sloane Stephens in the battle of the Americans 6-3 6-3, while Jessica Pegula joined Anisimova in the next round, with the American winning 6-3 6-4 over Australian Storm Sanders. In other results, Canadian Bianca Andreescu, Spaniard Garbine Muguruza and Belgian Elise Mertens also all won to book their spots in the next round, in what was an entertaining day of play at Miami.

MIAMI OPEN 1000 ROUND OF 64 RESULTS:

[2] Naomi Osaka (JPN) defeated Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS) 7-6 6-4
[4] Sofia Kenin (USA) defeated Andrea Petkovic (GER) 6-7 6-1 6-3
[6] Karolina Pliskova (CZE) defeated Zheng Saisai (CHN) 6-2 6-1
[8] Bianca Andreescu (CAN) defeated Tereza Martincova (CZE) 7-6 6-0
Liudmila Samsonova (RUS) defeated [10] Kiki Bertens (NED) 6-2 6-1
[12] Garbine Muguruza (ESP) defeated Wang Xinyu (CHN) 6-4 6-1
Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP) defeated [13] Jennifer Brady (USA) 3-6 6-4 6-1
[16] Elise Mertens (BEL) defeated Katie Boulter (GBR) 6-4 6-1
Anna Kalinskaya (RUS) defeated [20] Petra Martic (CRO) 5-7 6-2 7-6
[21] Elena Rybakina (KAZ) defeated Kaia Kanepi (EST) 6-4 6-0
[22] Anett Kontaveit (EST) defeated Sorana Cirstea (ROU) 6-3 4-6 6-3
[23] Maria Sakkari (GRE) defeated Arantxa Rus (NED) 6-2 6-3
Nina Stojanovic (SRB) defeated [26] Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) 5-7 7-5 6-2
[27] Ons Jabeur (TUN) defeated Paula Badosa (ESP) 7-6 5-7 7-5
[28] Amanda Anisimova (USA) defeated Sloane Stephens (USA) 6-3 6-3
[29] Jessica Pegula (USA) defeated Storm Sanders (AUS) 6-3 6-4

2021 ATP/WTA 1000 Miami Open preview: Federer and Nadal withdraw as Barty returns

THE 2021 Miami Open is set to begin this week, played from Monday, March 22 through to Sunday, April 4, with the 1000 event expected to showcase some high calibre encounters across both the ATP and WTA Tours. Whilst the men’s list is missing a couple of notable names within the top 20, the women’s draw will boast just about all of the big names in the biz as the season rolls on despite COVID-19 restrictions still impacting proceedings. Both the men’s and women’s reigning Australian Open champions are set to compete, highlighting the strength of the respective events.

On the ATP Tour, the clear omissions from the draw include Rafael NadalDominic Thiem and Roger Federer, with the trio’s absence making for a huge hole in the draw and a real opportunity for the developing players coming through the ranks to make their mark. Looking down the list, it’s safe to say Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev are the clear frontrunners in as first and second seeds with one title apiece to start the year, whilst Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev are well within their chances here given the glaring absences. 2021 title-winners Andrey Rublev (Rotterdam title, 13-2 in 2021), Diego Schwartzman (Buenos Aires, 8-3) and David Goffin (Montpellier, 9-5) also register high in the draw, with the likes of Matteo Berrettini, Denis ShapovalovGael Monfils and Roberto Bautista Agut rounding out the top 11 or so players, pending shuffling from this week’s results. Factor in the explosiveness of the likes of Nick Kyrgios, who is still yet to confirm attendance, and the wealth of Spanish talent currently residing within and around the top 50, and there is so much that could go against the grain here.

Given it is an ATP 1000 event, there is no shortage of talent as players flock to Miami. Even heading down the list to lower ranked players, there are plenty of quality names across the board with in-form and young talent looking to add valuable points to their rankings. Two-time Miami champion Andy Murray is the big name wildcard at the event, joined by teen Carlos Alcaraz, Michael Mmoh, Hugo Gaston and Jack Draper in the main draw.

Heading to the women’s draw, and whilst there is more consistent top talent in the draw, that does not make it any easier to predict with the relatively even WTA Tour boasting a number of players who consistently step up at this level. Australian world number one and reigning 2019 Miami champion Ash Barty is reportedly set to compete after spending an unprecedented year way from the international circuit in 2020, joined by the ever formidable Naomi OsakaSimona HalepSofia Kenin and Elina Svitolina to round out the top five seeds. Also featuring are eight-time champion Serena Williams, who can never be overlooked in an event of this calibre, and a number of developing talents with French Open champion Iga Swiatek (2020) and 2019 US Open winner Bianca Andreescu both set to take the court here. Jennifer BradyKarolina Pliskova and Madison Keys are another few who cannot be dismissed, as are the ever exciting teens Coco Gauff and Amanda Anisimova.

Factor in the evenness and unpredictability of the women’s draw, with realistically any number of the top 20 – or upwards of that – capable of beating anyone on their day, and Miami will have a real battle on its hands. The women’s main draw wildcards include Anna Kalinskaya, Ana Konjuh, Storm Sanders, Katrina Scott, Mayar Sherif, Xiyu Wang and Xinyu Wang, with qualifiers for both the women’s and men’s events set to play out over March 22-23.

2021 WTA 1000 preview: Dubai Tennis Championships

THE 2021 WTA Tour Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships are set to begin on the weekend, with plenty of top talent expected to take the court in the United Arab Emirates. Reigning champion Simona Halep and world number one Ash Barty both withdrew from the tournament during the week citing injuries, whilst Australian Open champions Naomi Osaka (2021) and Sofia Kenin (2020) will also not compete.

Nevertheless, the WTA 1000 event will still boast a draw featuring 12 of the world’s top 20 players, making for a huge week of competition and plenty to play for with such a tight race amongst the WTA world rankings.

Coming in as top seed is Ukrainian and 2017 champion Elina Svitolina, and she is joined by top 10 talents Karolina PliskovaAryna Sabalenka and Petra Kvitova with Kiki Bertens rounding out the top five seeded positions. Czech duo Pliskova and Kvitova – another former champion here in 2013 – are always dangerous, capable of beating anyone on their day whilst Svitolina is more than capable of going far despite her recent form, which has seen her fail to make it past the quarter finals of a tournament since winning the Internationaux de Strasbourg last September. Meanwhile, Sabalenka has already put a title win on the board in 2021, taking out the first tournament of the year – the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open – and Bertens comes in completely fresh, hitting the court for the very first time this year.

There are a number of other top 20 players who are sure to set the competition alight, with the ever consistent Iga Swiatek coming into Dubai off the back of her second major title and current career high ranking of 15th in the world. Still only 19-years-old, she will be joined in the draw by a resurgent Victoria Azarenka whilst American Jessica Pegula will look to back up her excellent Australian Open quarter finals run with another strong effort here. Elena Rybakina will look to back up her 2020 effort, with the 2020 Dubai Tennis Championships runner up sure to fly out of the gates this time around.

When it comes to nations well within their chances of going far, the United States has six competitors – with world number 19 Madison Keys leading the charge – whilst Czech Republic is not far behind with five. Russia and France boast four participants apiece, though neither nation features within the top 30. Perhaps one of the most intriguing entrants is Kazakh Yaroslava Shvedova, who comes in at world number 1029, and joins compatriot Rybakina in the main draw. Tunisian Ons Jabeur will look to keep climbing up the rankings, whilst a couple of early knockouts from the Australian Open will hope to recapture their form at Dubai.

2021 WTA Tour Qatar & Lyon previews

DESPITE losing four Grand Slam winners to-date, the 2021 WTA Tour Qatar Ladies Open still looms as a quality event to take place next week. Top five players, Ash Barty, Simona Halep and Sofia Kenin, as well as US Open winner Bianca Andreescu and Roland Garros runner-up Marketa Vondrosova all withdrew from the 500 tournament, but four Top 10 players still remain.

Elina Svitolina has been upgraded to the top seed with the world number five taking advantage of Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka also not attending the event, while Karolina Pliskova, Aryna Sabalenka and Petra Kvitova round out the top four seeds. Both Pliskova and Kvitova have been in a funk of late, and need to find a way to get back into form. Sabalenka, on the other hand has had nothing but scintillating form, going on a massive winning streak that included a couple of titles late last year, and will look to pick up that again after again falling short of the target at the Australian Open.

Kiki Bertens returns to the Tour at Doha as the fifth seed, while Belinda Bencic has hit her straps in Adelaide and will look to face a host of reinvigorated talents of late. Jennifer Brady is fresh off an Australian Open final to head into the event, while Victoria Azarenka made a Grand Slam final just last year, has rekindled her career-best form and is back inside the Top 20.

The lower end of the draw is still yet to be determined, but the likes of Jelena Ostapenko, Ons Jabeur, Amanda Anisimova and Yulia Putintseva are all expected to take to the court in the 2021 event. Sabalenka is the reigning champion, but Kvitova (2018) and Pliskova (2017) are both past winners here in Doha. Azarenka is a back-to-back winner, having lifted the trophy in 2012-13.

 

Lyon Open:

A second-time event after last year’s debut, the Lyon Open does not quite have the prestige of the Qatar Ladies Open, with world number 33, Ekaterina Alexandrova the top seed. She loves to beat up on lower ranked tournaments and should really get the job done here against a weakened and predominantly European field in France. Though in saying that, there are some good talents here that will push her all the way.

The top two that jump off the page are Argentinian Nadia Podoroska who reached the semi-final at Roland Garros, while rising American teenager Coco Gauff will cause headaches. French trio, Fiona Ferro, Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic are also among the Top 50 players at the event, as is Slovenian Polona Hercog.

Lower down the order, United States’ Shelby Rogers, Romanian Sorana Cirstea, Italian Camila Giorgi and Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich are all among the bigger dark horses that could surpass their lower rankings against Top 50 opponents in France.

Osaka wins fourth Grand Slam title in convincing fashion

JAPAN’s Naomi Osaka produced a dominant performance on Saturday night to defeat American Jennifer Brady 6-4 6-3 and win her fourth Grand Slam title. Although the two sets were quite different, Osaka was far more consistent with her groundstrokes throughout the contest. Brady committed 31 unforced errors and four double faults for the match, far too many mistakes when you are competing against someone of Osaka’s calibre.

Osaka started the match well, holding her first service game to love and looking calm in the high-pressure environment. In contrast, Brady appeared to be very nervous (and excited) at the beginning of her first Grand Slam final. These nerves got the better of Brady in the fourth game, as she served a pair of double faults and handed Osaka the break to love. Osaka was hitting her forehands with great speed and accuracy from the middle of the court at this stage.

Brady immediately got the break back thanks to some powerful groundstrokes of her own that put Osaka under significant pressure. The 22nd seed started to get more comfortable as the set progressed, hitting numerous backhand winners down the line and surprisingly out-hitting Osaka from the baseline. As a result, Osaka started going for too much with her shots and made some unforced errors of her own.

Brady earned herself another break point opportunity at 4-4, but Osaka saved it with a well-placed forehand down the line. The match turned very quickly in the next game, as Brady cost herself the set with a pair of horror forehand errors.

Once Osaka had the first set in the bank, the match was played on her terms. She immediately held serve then played a brilliant crosscourt backhand to earn herself a break point in the second game. Another forehand error from Brady gave Osaka that all-important break, before the third seed won two more consecutive games and went 4-0 up. From there, it was difficult to see a scenario where Brady could come back.

Brady fought hard to get herself a break back, but forehand errors continued to haunt her. Osaka was simply a class above, holding serve from 4-2 onwards to claim her second Australian Open title.

Four of Osaka’s seven career titles to date have been in Grand Slams on hard courts, an incredible statistic that demonstrates her level of dominance on the quicker surfaces. Additionally, Osaka is now riding a 21-game winning streak and remains undefeated in Grand Slam finals. After the match, she thanked the Australian fans for their support throughout the tournament.

“I didn’t play my last Grand Slam with fans, so just to have this energy it means a lot,” Osaka said. “Thank you so much for coming. I feel like playing a Grand Slam is a super privilege right now and it’s something I won’t take for granted. Thank you for this opportunity.”

For Brady, it was an amazing effort to reach the final given she was one of the players that dealt with strict quarantine rules for two weeks leading into the tournament. She was full of praise for her opponent after the match.

“[Osaka’s] such an inspiration to us all and what she is doing for the game is amazing in getting the sport out there, and I hope young girls at home are watching and are inspired by what she is doing,” Brady said. “Hopefully I’m on this stage next time with this girl over here (referring to the winner’s trophy).”

Overall, both players will be happy with their performances over the last two weeks given the trying circumstances caused by the pandemic. Let’s hope the other three Grand Slams in 2021 run without too many complications.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN WOMEN’S FiNAL RESULT:

[3] Naomi Osaka (JAP) defeated [22] Jennifer Brady (USA) 6-4 6-3

 

Picture credit: Getty Images

 

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