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Insider Notebook: Groovy Tuesday

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

– Round of 16 set: It’s an “all-skate” on Tuesday, as the schedule gets reset and the entire Round of 16 is in play. In the top half of the draw: Serena Williams vs. Kataryna Bondarenko, Barbora Strycova vs. Simona Halep, Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Jelena Jankovic, Nicole Gibbs vs. Petra Kvitova.

In the bottom half: Magdalena Rybarikova vs. Roberta Vinci, Victoria Azarenka vs. Sam Stosur, Daria Kasatkina vs. Timea Bacsinszky, and Karolina Pliskova vs. Johanna Konta.

– Gretzky’s orders: Timea Bacsinskzy overcame a bad fall that left her scraped and bruised to beat Eugenie Bouchard, 6-2, 5-7, 6-2, to advance to the Round of 16 at the BNP Paribas Open for the second straight year. She’ll play Daria Kasatkina on Tuesday. Bacsinszky looked in control of the match until she slipped and fell forward early in the second set and landed flush on her hip, the gritty court surface leaving her covered in bleeding cuts that required an 11-minute medical timeout.

Bacsinszky said her hip was left bruised by the fall, but taking the fall just 40 feet from the great Wayne Gretzky left an even bigger bruise on her ego. Just a few days earlier she was able to get a photo with The Great One, which left her Canadian boyfriend Andreas fuming.

“He knows all the statistics of Gretzky, NHL, NFL, he loves it,” Bacsinszky said. “It’s his hobby. We talked at dinner and he said the only one he would love to take a picture with is Wayne Gretzky. The next day I met him in the lounge!”

“I just told him, ‘Hey the three last letters of my last name are the same as yours’. He laughed. He was really really nice. As a legend he’s one of the biggest sportsmen for me, of any sport. He’s so humble, he’s super nice.

“Today he was eating and I didn’t recognize him and he said, ‘Hey! Good luck!’ I was like, hey my boyfriend didn’t talk to me for two hours yesterday – this is true. He was really pissed. Then Gretzky told me is he here? Tell him to come! And I said, yeah he’s too shy he would never ask, I know him. And he said, ‘No it’s an order. You have to tell him to come.’ So he came and they took the picture.”

– Karolina Pliskova’s mental vacation: Pliskova played the heaviest schedule of any top player last year and she continued to play through the off-season, signing up for a full exhibition schedule. But after Australia she was mentally fried and confessed to needing a week away from the courts after going winless in the Middle East. Pliskova got some much needed R&R in Monaco, where she now has a residence; the rest seems to have paid off. She’s into the fourth round with a 6-2, 6-0 win over Ana Ivanovic. She plays Johanna Konta for a spot in the quarterfinals.

“The draw was good to me because I know Ana and I know Shelby,” Pliskova told WTA Insider. “Against Ana I won all of the matches so I was pretty confident in this match and I knew if I played at the level I played in Australia I could beat her. I definitely feel well and I rested a little bit so mentally I feel fine. That’s the main thing.”

– Daria Kasatkina saves match point to advance: The 18-year-old continues her trend of making debuts to remember. In her first trip to Indian Wells she’s into the Round of 16 after beating Monica Puig, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(2), saving match point along the way.

“From the first practice I feel like my spins are flying and the balls are good,” Kasatkina told a small group of reporters while breathlessly cooling down on an eliptical machine after the match. “I like to play here because it’s a surface for me I think.”

– Belinda Bencic’s desert dry spell: While the court may suit a junior French Open champion like Kasatkina, it has flummoxed junior Wimbledon champion Bencic. The No.7 seed bowed out 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 to Magdalena Rybarikova.

“First of all, I didn’t have my game, second of all I really don’t like to play her,” Bencic said. “She plays really tricky for me. I cannot [use] the power from her. Especially with these conditions it’s not really the best for me. It bounces high for me, it’s slow, it’s just weird. Last year I played good here but also had my trouble. It’s not like grass where I come and just play great.”

– Jelena abandoned: Jelena Jankovic has a tough task on Tuesday, facing No.3 Agnieszka Radwanska. The Serb hasn’t had the best start to the season but seems to be finding her form here in the desert, where she made the final last year. Jankovic said her off-season preparation was poor and she’s playing catch-up with her fitness.

“During the off-season my fitness trainer he had to go train someone in the soccer team,” Jankovic told WTA Insider. “It was during the off-season when I needed to train physically and I didn’t do that very well, I didn’t prepare very well. Since Dubai I hired a new one from Thailand. He used to work with Srichiphan. I’m happy I have him with my team and I’m working hard to get physically fitter.”

– Nicole Gibbs’ key to success: The American qualifier is putting together her best career result after coming through qualifying to beat Alexandra Dulgheru, Madison Keys, and Yaroslava Shvedova to earn a shot against Kvitova in the fourth round. Since teaming up with Roger Smith after the US Open, Gibbs’ results in 2016 have seen a marked improvement. She’s won 10 of her last 11 matches.

“He’s a really supportive person, just really, really positive,” Gibbs said. “He kind of complements my personality really well. We get along really well, which hasn’t always been the case with my coaches in the past. I can be really stubborn. I can be a little difficult sometimes. He’s been really great in that sense.

“And then he just knows the game so well. Sees it so well. Gives me unbelievable game plans. You know, we have just been working really hard on making me more of an all-court player and a little bit less defensive.”

The gritty court seems to be favoring Gibbs’ game too. “I have been hitting the ball a little bit heavier, which I think picks up well on the slower courts,” she said. “Maybe I’m throwing people’s timing off, I’m not sure, but I have been enjoying the conditions out here. I think it plays fast through the air but kicks up off the court, which is nice for me.”

– No dream team for Kvitova: When Kvitova split with David Kotyza the first name on everyone’s lips was Martina Navratilova. Oh well:

Q. If Martina came in that door right now and said, I’ll coach you, would you consider her?
PETRA KVITOVA: Probably no.

– Former WTA CEO Stacey Allaster returns to tennis: Allaster announced that she will be joining the United States Tennis Association to become the new Chief Executive of professional tennis; the post is tailor-made for the one who spent nearly 10 years with the WTA. 

“I worked 28 years straight, hard between the Ontario Tennis Association, Tennis Canada and the WTA, and that was a mistake,” Allaster said by telephone Friday from a wellness retreat in California. “There needs to be these scheduled breaks. Academics do it. A lot of law firms do it. Nike does it. It just rejuvenates you physically, mentally and emotionally and brings you back stronger. And I am at that place and super excited to join the U.S.T.A.”

– Hear from Steve Simon and Agnieszka Radwanska: Both are great, insightful guests on the new episode of the WTA Insider Podcast:

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News | WTA Tennis English

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

MELBOURNE, Australia – No.2 seed Serena Williams put together some high-quality tennis against Lucie Safarova to make her way to the third round and avoid the upset bug sweeping through the Australian Open on Thursday night.

Even to her own high standards, her 6-3, 6-4 victory in the pair’s rematch of their French Open final was impressive, which explains why Serena didn’t have much patience for anyone finding fault in her performance.

Case in point, here’s an exchange between the six-time Australian Open champion and a reporter at her post-match press conference:

Q. Looked a little bit of a scrappy performance. A few more unforced errors, a few double-faults.
SERENA WILLIAMS: I think that’s a very negative thing to say. Are you serious?

Q. Just my observation.
SERENA WILLIAMS: Well, you should have been out there. That wasn’t very kind. You should apologize. Do you want to apologize?

Q. I do. I’m sorry.
SERENA WILLIAMS: Thank you very much. That was a great performance. I played well. She’s a former Top 10 player. The last time we played together was in the finals of a Grand Slam.

You know, it’s not an easy match. She’s a really good player. You have to go for more, which obviously makes a few more errors.

So, yeah, I think it was overall a really good match, on both of our ends.

Moral of the story: Don’t tell Serena Williams she played badly. Especially when she played great.

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Halep Passes Sick Strycova

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA – World No.5 Simona Halep had begun to find her form in the opening set of her match against unseeded and looming Barbora Strycova at the BNP Paribas Open, but after winning five games in a row, the Czech called the trainer to court for an upper respiratory illness, ultimately sending Halep into the quarterfinals, 6-3, 1-0, ret.

Watch highlights, interviews and more video from Indian Wells right here on wtatennis.com!

The pair had split their prior two meetings and Strycova, fresh off a run to the finals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, initially took advantage of an out-of-sorts Halep, who was playing her first day session match on Stadium Court 3.

Halep, however, has been in stellar form throughout her opening round matches, and with a little help from coach Darren Cahill, the former World No.2 slowly shifted into turbo as Strycova became overcome, calling the trainer on the set break.

“I feel sorry for her, being sick,” she said during her on-court interview. “I know how it is, and it’s tough to continue to play the match. It was a good start for me; I played a good first set, but the conditions are really difficult because I played two matches in the cold weather, and now it’s hot. I tried everything to keep things going in the right away, so I’m happy to be into the quarterfinals.

“I adjusted my game very well, just wanted to make fewer mistakes and keep the ball into the court. I moved better than I did in the beginning of the match, and I’m looking forward to the next one, where I hope to play better.”

Awaiting Halep in the quarterfinals will be the winner of World No.1 Serena Williams and qualifier Kateryna Bondarenko; the 2014 French Open finalist was set to play Williams in last year’s semifinal before the American was forced to pull out with a knee injury.

“I would like to play against her; I’m looking forward to it, and I know she’s the best player in the world, so I have nothing to lose. I want just to go and fight for my chance – I know that I have a chance.

“I will go with confidence, positivity and just fighting for the match.”

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News | WTA Tennis English

News | WTA Tennis English

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

MELBOURNE, Australia – Revenge is the name of the game on Day 5 at the Australian Open: No.7 seed Garbiñe Muguruza is set to face Anastasija Sevastova, who sent her crashing out in the second round of last year’s US Open. Also in action is World No.1 Angelique Kerber, taking on another big-serving Czech, while Svetlana Kuznetsova and Jelena Jankovic are facing off for the 14th time in their careers.

We preview all the day’s biggest matchups right here on wtatennis.com.

Friday, Third Round

[32] Anastasija Sevastova (LAT #33) vs [7] Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP #7)
Head-to-head:
Series tied at 1-1
Key Stat:
Muguruza (No.3) is the highest ranked player Sevastova has ever defeated

When Anastasija Sevastova had her big breakthrough at last year’s US Open, Garbiñe Muguruza was the first one to find out. Then ranked No.48, the Latvian stunned Muguruza in the second round en route to the quarterfinals, her best showing ever at a Grand Slam.

Though the Spaniard eventually got her revenge at the Toray Pan Pacific Open, seeing Sevastova’s name in her corner of the draw has to sting. But this time she comes into the matchup with building rhythm and a pair of hard-fought victories under her belt.

“Honestly, I think every match is completely different,” Muguruza told press after her straight-sets victory over Samantha Crawford. “For sure it helps [having two matches under my belt].

“But my next round is a tricky match, I look forward for it. It helped me, playing two matches. I’m going to try to use that.”

Svetlana Kuznetsova

Jelena Jankovic (SRB #54) vs [8] Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS #10)
Head-to-head: Jankovic leads 8-6
Key Stat: Jankovic holds the longest active streak for consecutive Grand Slam main draw appearances (53)

Svetlana Kuznetsova faces her first big test in this Australian Open in the form of long-time rival Jelena Jankovic. Having dropped a combined four games across her previous two matches, Kuznetsova has eased into the third round and conserved precious energy under the draining Aussie summer sun.

But that joyride will get much tougher against fellow WTA veteran and former World No.1 Jankovic as they square up for the 15th time in their careers. Jankovic holds the edge in their head-to-head record at 8-6, but their last match came in 2015 and with Kuznetsova now back inside the Top 10, the Russian is looking to narrow the gap between them.

“My career has been… too long!” Kuznetsova reflected in an on-court interview. “I’ve only been to Australia like 17 times, each January. I just enjoy the game, I have passion for it and still it’s great.”

Angelique Kerber

[1] Angelique Kerber (GER #1) vs Kristyna Pliskova (CZE #58)
Head-to-head:
First meeting
Key Stat:
Kerber is bidding to be the first player to defend her Australian Open title since Azarenka in 2012-2013

Angelique Kerber is set to face down the booming Pliskova serve once again, but this time it’s not the one she’s used to seeing. Her third-round opponent is Kristyna Pliskova, twin sister of World No.5 Karolina Pliskova.

Apart from the famously powerful serve that runs in the family, it’ll be a whole different match for Kerber. For one, Kristyna is a lefty (Karolina is right-handed) and, ranked No.58, Kristyna has never reached the same heights that her twin has achieved in her career. Without that giant-killing experience under her belt, it’ll be a tough ask for the Czech to complete the huge upset on Rod Laver Arena.

“I don’t know if it’s weird,” Kerber contemplated the prospect of playing against twins. “I mean, [Karolina] is right and [Kristyna] is left-handed. So this is the difference.

“I know that she has a great serve, as well. So, yeah, will looking forward to play against her.”

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Insider Notebook: Top Half Blockbusters

Insider Notebook: Top Half Blockbusters

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

– Top half of the draw holds up: Seeds may have fallen early but the projected quarterfinals held up in the top half. No.1 Serena Williams cruised to a 6-2, 6-2 win over Kateryna Bondarenko, while No.5 and defending champion Simona Halep advanced via a retirement from an ill Barbora Strycova, who pulled the plug down 6-3, 1-0. The two will face off for the first time since the 2015 Western & Southern Open final, which Serena won 6-3, 7-6(5). It will be the first real test for both women, as they’ve cruised through the early rounds without dropping a set.

“I really like her game,” Serena said. “I like how she’s aggressive. She’s a fighter. She killed me at one point, so I definitely have to be ready. It’ll be a really good match I think for both of us to kind of see where we want to be at this point in the year.”

“I’m happy that I am again in the quarterfinals,” Halep said. On Wednesday she’ll be playing her biggest quarterfinal since the US Open. Finally healthy after an injury and illness addled start to the season, Halep has found some of her best tennis in a long time here in the desert.

“I feel good here. I started to feel my game. I started to feel very well on court. I move well. It’s the most important thing. Of course the matches, it’s important to win a match, but it’s better to feel that you are like strong on court and then to think about winning a match.”

The day’s other quarterfinal sees No.3 Agnieszka Radwanska and No.8 seed Petra Kvitova face off for the first time since the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global final last fall, which Radwanska won, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3. A win on Wednesday would move Radwanska up to No.2 in the rankings.

“I just remember it was very, very tough match,” Radwanska said when asked to recall that Singapore match. “Long, tight, everything was tighter, every game, point by point. A little bit different surface, different conditions, definitely.

“I think always against her you really have to play good tennis and be careful definitely on her serve. She’s really using her left hand very good for that. Well, but I just hope we can play on the same level as we played in Singapore.”

Agnieszka Radwanska

Radwanska was able to move past Jelena Jankovic in straight sets to advance but Kvitova found herself once again mired in a long, grueling three set match, beating Nicole Gibbs, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. It was the third consecutive three-set match she played this week. After skipping the tournament last year, Kvitova joked she was just trying to give fans more bang for their buck. She’s had an off day after each of her matches but will have less than 24 hours to recover for Wednesday’s quarterfinal.

“The last match we played in Singapore was different conditions, definitely, playing indoor compared here,” Kvitova said. “Weather should be very warm and outdoor. Aga is playing really good game. I just probably will need, you know, playing really good way, tactically well, playing aggressively, going for it.

“We’ll see. Like I [have to] catch a lot of balls and playing really smart. I have to be ready.”

– Victoria Azarenka the heavy favorite to make the final: In the more unpredictable bottom half of the draw, the 2012 champion held off Sam Stosur, 6-1, 4-6, 6-1, to advance to her third quarterfinal of the season. Azarenka is now 14-1 on the season, with that sole loss coming to Angelique Kerber at the Australian Open. A title run here would put her back in the Top 10 for the first time since August 2014, moving up as high as No.7.

Azarenka faces surprise quarterfinalist No.97 Magdalena Rybarikova, who advanced after Roberta Vinci retired with a left foot injury. Coming into Indian Wells, Rybarikova had not won back-to-back main draw matches since the Istanbul Cup last July. This week she’s beaten Laura Robson, Daria Gavrilova, Belinda Bencic, and now Vinci to make the quarterfinals. Azarenka is 2-0 against Rybarikova and has never dropped a set to her.

The last quarterfinal features two of the best young talents on tour, with 18-year-old Daria Kasatkina continuing to build on her blistering 2016 season against No.18 seed Karolina Pliskova. The two have never faced each other.

Playing in her Indian Wells debut, Kasatkina rolled past No.12 seed Timea Bacsinszky, 6-4, 6-2. Kasatkina broke down the Bacsinszky game with a healthy diet of heavy forehands to the Swiss’ forehand, breaking down the weaker wing time and time again. It was a smart, tactical match from the young Russian and the best match of her tournament so far.

– Azarenka goes strength to strength: Azarenka has continued to build on her already stellar return game. She says her forehand return in particular has improved immensely and she’s now able to generate more pace and angle from that side. She’s also seeing her hard work in February pay off on the match court this week.

“I started to be more efficient on my movement, which is big part of my game, to be able to find angles, cut angles, and just overall placement of the ball,” Azarenka said. “I worked a lot on my serve to be able to create easier serving games and going for my shots, developing power speed, and now need to work a little bit more on accuracy.”

– Top 10 rankings watch: Radwanska can overtake Angelique Kerber and can climb to No.2 in if she is able to reach the semifinals…. Garbiñe Muguruza will maintain her current ranking at No.4…. Halep will fall between No.5 and No.7…. Vinci will reach a career-high ranking after Indian Wells…. Azarenka can return to the WTA Top 10 on Monday if she wins the title at Indian Wells (No.7).

– More rankings news: Konta will move into the Top 25 on Monday, the first Brit in the Top 25 since Jo Durie in 1987…. Jelena Jankovic will fall out of the Top 20 on Monday…. Kasatkina will make her Top 40 debut and overtake Margarita Gasparyan as the Russian No.5 and can even overtake the No.4, Ekaterina Makarova, if she makes the final.

– Chapeau, Gibbsy: Nicole Gibbs’ fantastic week finally came to an end against Kvitova but she’ll move up into the Top 80 on Monday and snag a new career-high ranking. Chin up.

– Judy Murray steps down: The news broke this week that Judy Murray will step down as captain of Great Britain’s Fed Cup team after five years.

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.

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