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Radwanska Leads New Haven Field

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

NEW HAVEN, CT, USA – Agnieszka Radwanska took a wildcard into the Connecticut Open with the aim of putting the finishing touches on her US Open preparation and build on the momentum that took her into the quarterfinals in Cincinnati.

“I didn’t play that many matches this summer,” the top seed said during her pre-tournament press conference. “This is a great opportunity to have a couple more good matches against good players. It’s always a strong draw here, and I’m very happy to be back.

“As we know, courts are different everywhere. But here, it’s pretty much the same courts and conditions as the US Open, so this is great preparation.”

Looming in the second round for Radwanska could be former World No.1 and longtime friend Caroline Wozniacki, who plays Jelena Ostapenko to start the week.

“I think it’d be a great match before the US Open; she still has one match to win and it won’t be easy against Ostapenko, but we’ll see.

“We’ve known each other since we played a first round together when we were 10 years old. It’s great to have someone like this next to you your whole career since the under-14s, the under-16s then the 25Ks on the ITF Circuit. It’s more fun to know someone for years, but when we’re on the court, we’re opponents.

“When you’ve played so many matches and practices against each other, it’s tough, but every match is a different story, especially with different surfaces and conditions. I think you play each point as it comes.

“I think we both want to win on the court, but we’ve been good friends for so many years, and it’s good to be able to separate tennis and your private life. That’s what we’ve done well, and it’s why we’re still friends.”

The match would come at the end of an up and down summer for Radwanska, who suffered through a grueling travel itinerary to get to the Olympic tennis event in Rio de Janeiro only to fall in straight sets to Zheng Saisai.

“It’s always very tricky, especially since you don’t know how you’ll do before or after. You know scheduling will be very tight with everything in a row; that’s why I hadn’t entered here earlier, because I didn’t know how things would go. I didn’t play enough, and that’s why I’m here.

“I think tournaments like this are always very challenging. There’ll be good matches from the first round, and you have to push yourself 100%; it can be pretty hot and humid, and every match matters.”

Still, it has been a solid season for the Pole, who may rue her lost opportunities at Wimbledon, where she fell in a classic three-setter to rival Dominika Cibulkova, but hopes for a strong finish so that she may mount a defense of her BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global title.

“The beginning of the year was good, a couple of big semifinals, and winning a tournament to start the year. My grass court season was disappointing, and so maybe I’d’ve changed that, but it’s hard to play your best all the time. I was playing good tennis last week in Cincinnati, so hopefully I can do the same this week.

“Singapore was the biggest week of my career, with so many big matches. I remember it like it was yesterday. This year I’m fighting to get back, and plenty of players are hoping to be there as well. I think everything is open, and anyone can be there.”

Around the grounds, American wildcard Shelby Rogers played emphatic tennis to defeat Kristina Mladenovic, 6-1, 6-1, while Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova won a battle of veterans to defeat Sara Errani, 7-5, 6-2.

Madison Keys was set to play in New Haven before she was forced to withdraw due to a neck injury:

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Insider Notebook: Serena, Kerber Out

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

– Serena Williams has pulled out of next week’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships citing illness. The withdrawal means the Australian Open remains Serena’s only competitive outing of the year.

– Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki are also out of Dubai: The Australian Open champion is still entered in Doha – a Premier 5 event this year – but has withdrawn from Dubai citing an upper right thigh injury. Wozniacki has also pulled out of Dubai citing a left knee injury. The Dane lost to Dominika Cibulkova, 6-4, 7-5, at this week’s St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy.

– Coach Henin in action: The first snaps of Justine Henin coaching Elina Svitolina in Dubai:

– Venus Williams makes her first final of 2016: The American held off a feisty challenge – is there any other kind? – from Yulia Putintseva to win, 7-5, 6-3, and advance to the Taiwan Open final. She’ll face Misaki Doi on Sunday.

– Belinda Bencic primed for a Top 10 debut: The 18-year-old Swiss phenom will make her Top 10 debut on Monday if she beats Daria Kasatkina in Saturday’s semifinal at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy.

– Bencic and Kasatkina meet for the first time: Well, at least as professionals. The two 18-year-olds faced off twice in the juniors, with Bencic winning both matches. Saturday’s match will be the first time two 18-year-olds faced off in a WTA semifinal since 2008 in New Haven (Wozniacki, Alizé Cornet).

– Count it: Some great stuff here from Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis on their 38-match win streak (“We’re counting also,” said Mirza) and Hingis has nothing but nice things to say about her former doubles partner, Anna Kournikova.

– Too good, Hev: Heather Watson wins the #TBT sweepstakes this week.

– Wozniacki’s woes: Hard courts are supposed to be Wozniacki’s bread and butter. But after a solid clay and grass season last year, Wozniacki has made it past the Round of 16 at just three of her last 13 tournaments, all on hard courts. Her week ended prematurely in St. Petersburg, as she was defeated by Cibulkova in the second round.

– Lyndrea Price speaks to The Beyond the Baseline Podcast features Serena and Venus Williams’ sister Lyndrea Price. It’s worth a listen.

– Oh, Donna: Ever wanted to know what exactly a WTA Supervisor does during the day? Introducing Donna Kelso, who has served as a WTA Supervisor for 19 years:

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Insider Debates: Who Will Win Cincinnati

Insider Debates: Who Will Win Cincinnati

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

Courtney Nguyen, Point: World No.2 Angelique Kerber is in the midst of the most solid stretch of play in a year that has already included so many emotional and career-defining highs. Winning the Australian Open, defending her title in Stuttgart, making her first Wimbledon final, winning Olympic silver for Germany, the milestones have been there to check off.

Heading into Sunday’s Western & Southern Open final, she’s won 21 of her last 25 matches and has made the semifinals or better at four of her last five events.

Kerber has spent the last eight months proving to everyone that she is more than capable of conquering the challenges placed in front of her. The next challenge is simple: Beat World No.17 Karolina Pliskova to win her first title in Cincinnati and become the new World No.1 on Monday.

Angelique Kerber

“I think now I’m showing that I’m really one of the best tennis players,” Kerber said after beating No.3 seed Simona Halep, 6-3, 6-4, in the semifinals. A win on Sunday would make her the first German to hold the No.1 ranking since Stefanie Graf in 1997. “It’s still one match away, but it’s still a match. I will not think about this yet. Let’s see what’s happening tomorrow.

“It’s a new opponent, a new day, and after that we will see what happened, it’s not over yet. Still one match to go.”

Throughout the week, Kerber has met the flurry of questions about the prospect of becoming the 22nd WTA No.1 with a shrug. When she says she isn’t thinking about it, that she’s focused only on the match in front of her, I believe her. This is a woman who has played 10 matches in 13 days across two continents.

During a press conference earlier in the week, she could not remember what day it was. She admits she is tired but her non-stop play over the last few weeks has helped her keep things remarkably simple: Wake up. Warm up. Play a match. Win the match. Recover. Go to sleep. Do it again. It has worked well.

Angelique Kerber

“I came here without any expectation,” Kerber said. “I came here after Rio, after a lot of emotions what I have there. I mean, I had a great week in Rio. I won my medal which I will take home, what was always a dream.

“To come here, I was just trying to play match by match. Not thinking about my draws, my opponents, about nothing. Just going out there trying to win every match, because every match was different here. That’s why I’m really happy.

“I’m not surprised [I’m in the final], but I’m happy to go through it and be in another final.”

Kerber knows Pliskova well. They have not played in over a year but the two battled hard in two finals in 2015, both of which Kerber won in a narrow three sets. Despite her fatigue, Kerber has worked through a tough draw, beating Kristina Mladenovic, Barbora Strycova, Carla Suárez Navarro, and Halep, losing just one set all week. Her win over Halep was her tour-leading 47th win of the year and brought her season record against Top 20 players to 17-5.

“For me, there are no favorites,” Kerber said. “It’s 50/50 always when you go out there. You have to play your best, especially when you’re in the final. So that will be my goal. It’s step by step, and still one more step to go.”

Karolina Pliskova

David Kane, Counterpoint: Standing between Kerber and her accession to the top of the WTA rankings is Karolina Pliskova, a player who shrugs off suggestions that hers has been a sophomore slump of a season.

“Everyone is saying I didn’t have that good of a year as last year, but I didn’t have as many big matches, semifinals in Indian Wells and now this final,” she said after a comprehensive win over French Open champion Garbiñe Muguruza. “I would say it’s maybe better than what I played last year, where I made a few finals at small tournaments.”

Pliskova played Kerber on two of those relatively smaller stages, twice losing in the finals of tough three-setters in Birmingham and Stanford.

Both matches came in the midst of a busy summer for the big-hitting Czech, who peaked at a career-high of No.7 after winning the Emirates Airlines US Open Series last August, but began feeling the fatigue from heavy scheduling soon after her aforementioned run to the last four of the BNP Paribas Open.

“I was thinking about whether to go to Rio or not, and there were more reasons why I decided to not go, but I think it was a good step for me.

“Last year I played a lot of tournaments, and at the end of the US Open I felt really tired. I just want to prepare for the big tournaments better than I did last year.”

Karolina Pliskova

Looking fresher through a winning week at the Western & Southern Open, Pliskova has dropped just one set in four matches, her high-octane game holding up even through the windier conditions that featured heavily in her semifinal encounter with Muguruza.

“With the wind, it wasn’t really easy. I didn’t play how I would love to play. I think yesterday I played little bit better, but the conditions are always different.

“But I was happy with how I played, and so happy with the way how I closed the match.”

Her thoughts on closing out a surging Kerber from reaching No.1 were more complex than most might think, but ultimately showed the steely resolve for which she’s best known.

“I would love to have her as a No. 1 after few years. But I’ll do anything for her to not getting there.”

Photos courtesy of Getty Images.

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Mirza Alone Again At The Summit

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

For so long the standard bearer for tennis on the subcontinent, Sania Mirza is no stranger to flying solo. A strange sensation for one of her generation’s outstanding doubles players, but one that has fostered an inner steel crucial to her longevity at the top of the sport.

Following the premature conclusion of her singles career in 2012 owing to a serious wrist injury, Mirza quickly established herself as a doubles specialist to be reckoned with. Already a serial title winner, a sequence of increasingly fruitful partnerships elevated her game – and ranking – to new levels.

Alongside Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and in particular the evergreen Cara Black, Mirza lifted silverware at many of tennis’ flagship events; with Black by her side, this culminated in the Indian qualifying for then winning the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.

When Black left the tour to focus on family life, it left Mirza as one of the most sought-after partners on tour. And it was not long before another serial major winner came calling: Martina Hingis.

Success was immediate, the duo winning their first 14 matches and three tournaments together. The last victory in this sequence, in Charleston, brought Mirza to another major milestone: the No.1 ranking.

So impressive were the pair’s results – they won three consecutive majors, going unbeaten for 41 straight matches between August 2015 and February 2016 – Mirza was soon joined by Hingis atop the rankings. It was an honor they held until this Monday, when Mirza reassumed the mantle of outright No.1 following victory alongside new partner Barbora Strycova in the final of the Western & Southern Open.

Their opponents in the final were none other than Hingis and CoCo Vandeweghe, the ownership of the No.1 ranking adding an additional layer of intrigue to an already tense occasion.

“We played each other in the final, which is of course the best time to play each other,” Mirza told ESPN. “It was not the easiest situation, it is a bit weird. There are nerves but at the end of the day we are tennis players and we have to try and win and do our best and we both tried to do the same thing.

“We had a great partnership but it was time to move on and we have moved on. We’ve both had a great tournament. I have to look forward and I have to focus all my energy on this partnership which is obviously doing great.”

Defeat for Mirza would have seen her surrender sole possession of top spot to Hingis, and she was full of praise for her new partner’s competitive instinct following a rollercoaster final, in which they trailed 1-5, 15-40 in the first set before storming back to clinch the title.

“We are really happy, it was a new partnership and we are obviously very happy and excited to have started this way and winning one of the big tournaments of the year,” she said. “We had a really tough draw. We have beaten some big teams and for us it has been an amazing week.

“As professional athletes you have to first see whether you match each other on the court, which is what I thought which is why I approached her to play when that split had happened. Obviously I was right because our playing styles complement each other. We are similar personalities and we will get to know each other better in the course of time. We fight for every point.”

The 38th doubles title of the 29-year-old’s career extends her spell at No.1 to 72 weeks, a number bettered by only 10 players in history. The ranking will again be on the line when Hingis, Mirza and their new teammates head to New York for the year’s final major, the US Open.

“Consistent performances matter, it’s not a flash in the pan of one odd tournament. I have won six tournaments this year and played a bunch of finals which is huge already for this year. The hardcourts are my favorite surface. I am looking forward to the next few weeks. I am not going to put any added pressure on myself that this what I need to do or should do.”

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