Wozniacki lifting the WTA Finals Trophy in Singapore
The Final of the 2018 ASB Classic saw the Dane and World #3 Caroline Wozniacki face the World #14 and German #1 Julia Goerges. Both players were coming into the Final on a massive winning streak after finishing the 2017 season in spectacular form.
Caroline Wozniacki came into the final on an 8 match winning streak after winning the elusive WTA Finals Trophy, which sees the top 8 yearend ranked players participate in a round robin format. The Dane defeated four of the top five players including the World #1 Simona Halep.
Julia Goerges on the other hand had a more impressive streak of 13 consecutive match wins, including back to back title wins at the Moscow Open and the WTA Elite Trophy which is contested by the players ranked between 9 and 20 in another round robin format.
The head to head between the two could not be closer with Julia leading the series 5 wins to 4 including a Final win on the red dirt at the Porsche Arena in Stuttgart in 2011. More importantly, Caroline leads the head to head on hard courts with 4 wins to 2. That being said, Julia extended the head to head on Sunday, 7 January by defeating Caroline in an exhilarating final winning the ASB Classic in a tight two sets, 64, 76.
Regardless of losing in the Final, Caroline has guaranteed herself the #2 seed at the Australian Open, both Julia and Caroline will now travel to Melbourne as neither of them are participating in the next scheduled WTA tournaments in Sydney and Hobart.
As previously reported, the Auckland ASB Classic saw its play being washed out, and the prospect of its final being played indoors became a likely solution. Unfortunately, The Shenzhen Open was to experience the same hardship. The tournament Directors announced on Saturday that both the Singles and Doubles Final of the Shenzhen Open would be played indoors, resulting in the matches not being broadcasted.
The Singles Final, a rematch of the 2017 Shenzhen Open Second Round was contested by the current WTA World #1 and the 2015 Shenzhen Open Champion, Simona Halep and the defending Singles Shenzhen Open Champion, Kateřina Siniaková. The Czech Siniaková, defeated the Romanian Halep in a tight three setter in the 2017 edition of the tournament.
2015 Champion Simona Halep
2017 Champion Kateřina Siniaková
In a turn of events, Halep claimed revenge and defeated Siniaková in a topsy-turvy encounter, winning the Final in three sets (6-1, 2-6, 6-0). As a result Halep lifted her 16th WTA title and her first since May 2017.
The Doubles Final which will coincidentally be contested by the Singles Finalists, will see Halep partner with her compatriot, Irina-Camelia Begu and Siniaková partner with her compatriot Barbora Krejčíková. Siniaková will have another shot at ending the week on a high with a title win.
While the ATP and WTA tournaments in Doha, Prune, Brisbane and Shenzhen have all seen their schedules go to plan, the WTA ASB Classic held in Auckland has been less fortunate.
Auckland has been hit with severe storms which have resulted in play being cancelled on two consecutive days. While this is not uncommon for the ASB Classic, it is not ideal. The last edition of the ASB Classic which was won by the American Lauren Davis, had numerous rain delays during the first few rounds. The final is usually played on a Saturday, however with the recent rain delays the final is currently set for Sunday.
The current schedule includes both quarter finals and semi finals to be played on Saturday, weather permitting! Those in attendance at the tournament will be in for a treat if play gets under way as all of the top 4 seeds are still in contention to lift the title. They include the 2017 WTA Finals champion and the 2015 ASB Classic runner up Caroline Wozniacki, the 2017 WTA Elite Trophy champion and the 2016 ASB Classic runner up Julia Gorges, the current Linz Open champion Barbora Strycova and the 2013 ASB Classic champion Agnieszka Radwanska. All will be determined to start the year on a high especially Aga Radwanska who is chasing her first title since October 2016.
If the current edition of the tournament is to experience more rain delays, the tournament Directors may have no other option but to cancel the 2018 edition. The last WTA tournament to be cancelled due to downpour was the first edition of the State Farm Women’s Tennis Classic held in February 2000 in Scottsdale, Arizona. The result of the first edition saw both Finalists; Lindsay Davenport and Martina Hingis share the prize money and ranking points on offer. Another option available to the tournament Directors is to move play indoors at the ASB Tennis Centre, however if this occurs it is unlikely that there will be space for spectators. The next few days should prove to be interesting!
Although Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka have yet to officially announce their withdrawals from the Australian Open, the Japanese superstar Kei Nishikori has just confirmed he will miss the Australian Open with the same wrist injury that forced him to withdraw from the majority of the 2017 Summer hardcourt season including the Us Open.
Nishikori, the former world number 4 announced the following on his mobile phone APP “The Aussie Open is my favourite Slam…it’s my ‘home’ Slam…and it hurts that I will miss this year.”
Considering the amount of injuries that have occurred lately, one has to question what the ATP Tour will do to ensure the longevity of the careers of many, the 2018 season is set to end on the 25 November with the Davis Cup Final being the last match of the season. This leaves a mere 5-6 weeks as an off season – is this enough time for the professional tennis players to regroup and recover from any injuries sustained during the year?!!!!
Kaia Kanepi the Estonian warrior is currently one of eight women in contention to lift the Brisbane International title for a second time after reaching the quarter finals. Kanepi had to earn her berth in the tournament by competing in the qualifying draw.
Some of you may be wondering why Kanepi, the former champion had to qualify for Brisbane after lifting the trophy in 2012. Unfortunately, Kanepi has had her fair share of injuries which have derailed her charge on the WTA rankings. After achieving a career high ranking of #15 and reaching three finals in 2012, Kanepi suffered an achilles tendon injury which forced her to withdraw from numerous high profile tournaments including Wimbledon and the US Open in 2012 and the Australian Open in 2013.
Although Kanepi returned to the tour in time for the Clay season in 2013 and subsequently went on to win her 4th and most recent WTA tour title at the final edition of the Brussels Open, Kanepi was to face further setbacks by suffering more injuries including a back and shoulder injury over the forthcoming years.
Thankfully towards the latter end of 2017, Kanepi achieved some positive results by reaching the quarter finals of the US Open as a qualifier similar to her current path to the quarter finals in Brisbane.
Regardless of the outcome of Kanepi’s Brisbane result, where she’ll face the defending champion Karolina Pliskova in the next round, she has guaranteed herself a place in the main draw of the Australian Open, a tournament which she hasn’t played since 2015.
The world will have to wait a bit longer for the return of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, both of whom haven’t played a professional ATP Tour level match since Wimbledon 2017.
Djokovic who most recently pulled out of an exhibition match in Abu Dhabi was expected to make his return to the ATP Tour in Doha as the defending champion. He subsequently announced his withdrawal citing a right elbow injury.
Furthermore, Murray who stood in for Djokovic at the Abu Dhabi exhibition last week, was expected to make his return to the ATP Tour in Brisbane, announced his withdrawal with the same hip injury that forced him to abruptly end his season last year. Murray released a lengthy statement on his Facebook account outlining his concerns about the prospect of having surgery.
Both have cited their concerns for competing at the Australian Open, a tournament which will resonate with both of them. Djokovic holds the open era record with the most Australian Open wins with six titles while Murray has finished runner up on five occasions.
After an eventful 2017, where we saw arguably the best two to have ever played tennis, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer re-emerge and dominate the tour by winning two grand slams each and occupy the top two positions in the yearend rankings, the 2018 season is expected to be more eventful as we see the return of numerous ATP players who abruptly ended their 2017 season with injuries.
Novak Djokovic, the winner of twelve grand slam titles, is expected to make his return, after a lengthy six months off, at the Qatar Open in Doha. Djokovic is eying a three-peat in Doha, after lifting the title in both 2016 and 2017. Tomas Berdych, the 2015 Qatar Open runner-up and the last player to defeat Djokovic, is also set to make a comeback in Doha.
While the Qatar Open is underway, Andy Murray, who hasn’t played since Wimbledon, will be making his return to the Tour in Brisbane, a tournament which he has won on two previous occasions in 2012 and 2013. Brisbane will also see the return of the 2016 Champion, Milos Raonic. Both Murray and Raonic will have to up their game if they want to lift the trophy once more, as Brisbane will see the return of the 2017 Champion Grigor Dimitrov. Dimitrov ended a career best season with a tournament win at the ATP Nitto Finals.
After an injury prone season, Djokovic, Berdych, Murray and Raonic, will all be looking to commence the year with a win and re-affirm themselves amongst the elite top 10, after having seen their ranking dwindle from the top 10 to inside the top 25.
Many media outlets have called this year’s US Open the comeback of Sloane Stephens. She was ranked just 957 in the world a mere 6 weeks ago, and since then she reached back to back semi-finals at the Premier 5 events in Toronto and Cincinnati, she then went on to win her first maiden slam title at Flushing Meadows. Now, credit is due to Sloane, however there is another player that is worthy of the global recognition of their recent performance and hopefully The Tennis Tribune can be that platform for the Russian Vera Zvonareva.
While Vera may be most known for her frequent meltdowns on court, which often resulted in the destruction of her tennis rackets and her towels been soaked in tears, she was a ferocious competitor who ultimately reached a career high ranking of number 2, was a former grand slam finalist at Wimbledon and US Open in 2010 and a bronze medallist at the 2008 Olympics. Since reaching the top of her game, Vera has been plagued with injuries, and went on a career hiatus in 2015.
While many former top players commence their comeback on the WTA Tour, Vera chose to grind it out at the ITF Level, to see if her passion was still as strong as before. Vera went on to win the $15,000 tournament in Sharm el Sheikh. A few weeks later, Vera entered the qualifying draw for the US Open, where she was beaten in the second round of qualifying in a tight three setter. While the second week of the US Open was underway, Vera was competing in Dalian on the WTA Tour, which offers the winner $20,000 and 160 ranking points. Vera won 4 matches before being upset in the final. As a result of her recent performance, Vera obtained 115 ranking points, raising her world ranking from outside the top 600 to just outside the top 300 at 304.
Vera’s next tournament as of yet is unconfirmed, but one shouldn’t rule out an appearance on the week commencing September 18 in Guangzhou, a tournament that will resonate with Vera, as she lifted the trophy there in 2008. Let’s hope her fine form continues for the rest of the season!
18 months ago, the last edition of #TheTennisTribune concluded with acknowledging that Maria Sharapova would be returning to play in March 2016. Her first match since her quarter final defeat to her nemesis, Serena Williams at the Australian Open.
Fast forward one week later, the world that I knew was turned upside down. Maria held a press conference and announced that she had failed a drugs test. I don’t think there is anything further to add, an endless amount of articles have been written and surely everyone at this stage is aware of what happened, and have formed an opinion on it and will firmly stick to them. I for one, stood by her, continued to support her and that support will never dwindle.
Although Masha’s return to the tour occurred on the 26th April in Stuttgart, where she defeated Roberta Vinci in the first round, (funnily enough Vinci was heavily featured in the last edition of The Tennis Tribune), her return has constantly been spoken about ever since. I think we can all agree her “return” ended after her first round win at the Arthur Ashe stadium in Flushing Meadows. The Russian played what many described the final of a Grand Slam as her first round match. To put this into context, Masha defeated the Romanian Simona Halep in the 2014 Roland Garros Final, and how god mysteriously worked, Masha’s opponent was none other than the Romanian. The celebration at the end of Masha’s first win at the US Open since 2014, was the equivalent to any of the 5 celebrations that Sharapova had at each of her Grand Slam wins. Sharapova collapsed to her knees in disbelief. The emotion that Sharapova must have felt was indescribable. Masha had finally silenced her critics. Hence, for these reasons, the return of Sharapova should no longer be referred to, Sharapova has returned and it will be business as usual, where she’ll be a contender to lift some trophies during the Asian swing of the WTA Tour.
It’s roughly 9 months since my last post and as February draws to a close I decided that it is about time that The Tennis Tribune was updated, and what a surprise of a month it was for the WTA Tour – who would have thought that an Italian trio would dominate the circuit, of which 2 would go onto win the biggest titles of their career thus far?! But first lets take a look at why the trio went on to win these titles.
The health of many of the players is often questioned at the start of every tennis season, have they recovered from the injuries that were sustained during the previous year; will they exhibit the form they showed in January; could they have picked up injuries “down under” during the Happy Slam that could potentially derail the start of their season?! You may be wondering what these questions have to do with the Italian’s winning titles during February, well let me provide you with some analysis that may ring some alarm bells for you!
The first pit-stop of the month was in Russia where the inaugural Premier event in St Petersburg was held, with 128,450 USD & 470 ranking points being awarded to the winner. These type of events usually attract a few top 10 players, have a guess how many of the elite top ten turned up …… zilch , nada, none! Therefore an open field was evident for this event, with no clear cut favorite to lift the trophy it was a title to be won by anyone…… enter the first of the Italian trio, the tour veteran Roberta Vinci, a player who was 5 days shy of turning 33 years of age upon lifting St Petersburg Ladies’ Trophy. Now credit is due to Roberta, she is a former Double’s World Number 1, a player that holds at least one of all the 4 Grand Slams in Doubles, a feat that is only met by a few others including another Italian, Sara Errani, a player whom we will discuss later on in this post.
The field at Russia did include a pair of former WTA world number 1’s, the Siberian Ana Ivanovic and the Dane Caroline Wozniacki – you may now be thinking “I think TheTennisTribune is mistaken, the Premier event did include some of the elite top ten” – well the answer to that is no, the former number ones are no longer at the top of their game – they are hovering around the top 20 mark. Furthermore Alize Cornet who had a strong start to the year by lifting the Hobart Trophy, was on the entry list for the Russian event ended up sustaining an injury in Australia and had to pull out of the tournament. Cornet has since announced in a recent interview that she has severe back problems and will be absent from the sport for up to six months. As a result of this, her ranking will drop and unfortunately her participation in the 2016 RIO Olympics is in jeopardy, with only the top 4 players being allowed to represent their country if they are ranked in the top 56 in the world. There were a few skilled teenagers who are destined for greatness that particapted in this event, the young Swiss Belinda Bencic and the Russian Daria Kasatkina, both whom are former Junior Grand Slam Winners. Although Bencic did make the final, Roberta’s experience & confidence which she gained due to being runner up at the 2015 US Open ultimately led her on to win the biggest title of her career. This win ultimately had a great bearing for her, a fortnight later she was propelled into the top ten in the world for the first time.
The second of the Italian Trio, which I briefly mentioned already is Sara Errani. At five foot five, she holds a number of career accolades to her name, she is a former top ten player, a singles’ grand slam finalist, a former doubles world number 1, and a winner of the 4 Grand Slams in the women’s doubles event. Before arriving to Dubai, Sara had a poor start to the year with only 2 wins to her name and 5 losses. She even speculated about taking a week off and not competing in Dubai. Similar to St. Petersburg, Dubai is a premier event which rewards 470 ranking points to the winner as well as a hefty payment of 465,480 USD.
Unlike St Petersburg, Dubai had a packed field with 8 of top ten players on the entry list. However before the tournament had even commenced, 4 of the top ten had withdrawn due to injury; Serena Williams, Agnieszka Radwanksa, Lucie Safarova and the 2016 Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber. The attendance at the tournament was expected to drop as these players usually draw huge crowds. The tournament was to experience another setback, as all of the seeded players ended up losing their first match at the tournament, which proved to be a first in the history of the WTA.
As a result of these unforeseen circumstances, the title yet again could have been lifted by anyone and it was Sara who made the most of this opportunity and ultimately served a heavy defeat on Barbora Strycova in the final. Due to winning the biggest singles title of her career, Sara once again broke back into the top 20.
Whilst the premier event was being played in Dubai, there was an another event being played on the other side of the world in Rio de Janeiro. This is an international tournament which offers 280 ranking points to the winner accompanied with a modest cheque of $43,000.
The field at Rio featured a handful of players ranked in the top 100 and once again this title had no front-runners. The only former top ten player that ended up traveling to Rio to compete was the last of our Italian Trio , Francesca Schiavone. At 35, Francesca is near the end of her professional career which has seen her become a grand slam winner at Roland Garros in 2010. Similar to Sara Errani, Francesca had a poor start to the year, where she failed to qualify for the Australian Open which disappointingly ended her consecutive streak of competing in Grand Slams where she had an astonishing feat of 61 Grand Slams. Francesca revived her year by winning her 7th title which should help her quest to earn herself a berth at the next Grand Slam as she broke back into the top 100.
February proved to be full of surprises, and I am sure March will feature a few more surprises including the return of Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams who haven’t played since the Australian Open, as well as the return of Venus Williams competing at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells after a controversial boycott which saw her not participate for 14 years.