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10 Things To Know: Week One

10 Things To Know: Week One

  • Posted: Jan 02, 2016

Well, it’s here – the first week of the 2016 season! And what a week it is with almost every big name in action across three WTA events and one of the biggest exhibition events of the year on the menu.

So let’s get to it… here are 10 Things To Know about Brisbane, Shenzhen, Auckland and Hopman Cup!

1) Brisbane, the biggest tournament of Week 1, has four Top 10 players in the draw.
The Brisbane International, the only Premier-level event in Week 1, has an absolutely packed field headlined by Top 10ers Simona Halep, Garbiñe Muguruza, Maria Sharapova and Angelique Kerber.

2) Halep and Sharapova could play in the semifinals in Brisbane.
The World No.2 and World No.4 are the No.1 and No.3 seeds and both fell in the top half of the draw – we could have a blockbuster semifinal on our hands. Here are Sharapova’s thoughts on Halep.

3) Halep could face another future hall-of-famer right out of the gates.
Should she get past a qualifier in her first round match, Victoria Azarenka would be Halep’s very first opponent of the new season. And the former World No.1 is hoping to reach new heights in 2016.

4) The threats in Brisbane don’t end there…
The other four seeds are all ranked in the Top 15 – Timea Bacsinszky, Carla Suárez Navarro, Belinda Bencic and Roberta Vinci. A ton of other former Top 10 players are also in the draw – see it here.

5) We could have a repeat of the WTA Finals final in Shenzhen.
Agnieszka Radwanska and Petra Kvitova, who squared off in the final of the WTA Finals in Singapore, could set up a rematch should they make it through their halves of the draw at the Shenzhen Open.

6) But let’s not pencil that final in just yet…
A whole host of big-time challengers are hoping to thwart the Top 2 seeds at the International-level event, including Eugenie Bouchard, a former Top 5 player eyeing a rebound. See the draw here.

7) Three former World No.1s headline in Auckland.
Venus Williams, Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki are the Top 3 seeds at the International-level ASB Classic. This is Venus’ first tournament as a Top 10 player since the 2011 Australian Open.

8) Two more Grand Slam champions also made the trip to New Zealand.
Svetlana Kuznetsova and Francesca Schiavone are also in the draw in Auckland, and if they make it by their first round opponents, they could play in the second round. Check out the full draw here.

9) The World No.1 is playing Hopman Cup this week.
Serena Williams, who’s on the verge of even more history in 2016, opens her season at Hopman Cup in Perth, partnering Jack Sock as part of the US team. Karolina Pliskova, who actually out-aced Serena in 2015, and other big names like Sabine Lisicki and Elina Svitolina have also made the trip to Perth.

10) Check out all the best live action this week on WTA Live powered by TennisTV.

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Happy New Year From The WTA Stars

Happy New Year From The WTA Stars

  • Posted: Jan 01, 2016

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Halep Chasing More Firsts In 2016

Halep Chasing More Firsts In 2016

  • Posted: Jan 01, 2016

She won the biggest title of her career at Indian Wells, reached her first US Open semifinal and got back to No.2 in the world. It was a very solid year for Simona Halep, and now the question is – how will she follow it up?

By winning her maiden Grand Slam? By snatching the No.1 ranking away from Serena Williams?

Sure, but it’s an Olympic year. So while Halep might be focused on winning matches at Melbourne, Paris, London or New York, Halep’s passionate Romanian fanbase have their sights set on Rio.

“I don’t know how I will be then physically, but if I will be healthy, I will compete,” she said last year about the 2016 Olympics. “I do all my best and I hope to bring Romania a medal, although it will not be easy.”

Halep knows a thing or two about managing her country’s heavy expectations – she’s far and away Romania’s brightest female tennis star, but she’s still only human.

“In our country everyone is telling me that I have to win all the matches,” said Romania’s No.1. “But I’m not a robot. I’m a normal girl and a normal player. I have ups and downs… I try not to think about what people are saying about my results or my tennis.

“I know Romanians want me to win every match, and it’s fine – I do everything I can to win them.”

Halep will be fine-tuning her preparations for the Australian Open at Brisbane and Sydney, where she joins several of the world’s Top 10 players. It’s going to be her first big test: she ended the year 3-5 overall against the Top 10, a figure she’s looking to improve in 2016 as she starts to mount her Grand Slam – and Olympic – challenge.

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10 Questions For 2016: Part 1

  • Posted: Jan 01, 2016

10 Questions For 2016: Part 1 looks ahead at 10 burning questions for tennis in 2016

1. Will Nadal have a more Rafa-like 2016?

We’ve all seen the stats: fewest titles since 2011 (three), earliest exit at Roland Garros since 2009 (quarter-finals), no Slams or ATP Masters 1000 titles for the first time in more than a decade, lowest year-end Emirates ATP Ranking (No. 5) since 2004. But if you didn’t tune into Rafal Nadal’s post-US Open campaign, you’re not getting the full picture. The resurgent Spaniard would go 16-5 during the Asian and European swings with semi-final showings at the Shanghai Rolex Masters and Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, and finals in both Beijing and Basel. More importantly, the 29-year-old Mallorcan was already looking ahead to 2016 with a renewed sense of on-court calm and confidence.

“Victories are the best medicine possible,” he said.

“A lot of the time this year, I was not able to fight the way that I wanted to, and I was not able to try to find solutions on the court when things weren’t going well,” he continued. “So for me, the big improvement is when I’m able to find those solutions again; when I’m able to figure out how to change the dynamic and to fight the way that I want to fight again. That’s the most important thing.”

Perhaps most reassuring was Nadal’s run to the Basel final (l. to Roger Federer 6-3, 5-7, 6-3), which included consecutive three-set wins against Lukas Rosol, Grigor Dimitrov and Marin Cilic, the Spaniard showing that he indeed has plenty of fight left in him. All this, he says, will serve as ideal prep work for 2016.     

“I take everything like a practice,” explained Nadal, who with uncle/coach Toni Nadal has been sharpening his serve and ramping up his return game. “Every week for me is like a preparation for next year.  I try to spend as much time on court as possible working on the things that I need to work on. The more time that I can spend on the court is going to be important practice, trying to do the things I need to do to start strong next year.”

For anyone who might doubt Nadal’s ability to turn things around, all you have to do is look back to 2013. That’s the year he returned from a seven-month injury layoff to win 10 titles and reach a career-high 14 finals, becoming the first player to retake No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings after a three-year absence.

“I understand that people are questioning his game now and where he’s going to be,” said Novak Djokovic. “But if you need a reminder of who he is, you just look at his career stats and Grand Slams that he won. I think that says enough about his quality as a player and as a champion.”

2. Can Novak Djokovic possibly top his stellar 2015 and win a calendar-year Slam?

Twice now Novak Djokovic has come within a Roland Garros of the calendar-year Grand Slam, first in 2011 (when he opened the season on the second longest winning streak in ATP World Tour history en route to a 70-6 finish) and then in 2015 (when he claimed a record six ATP Masters 1000 titles, the Barclays ATP Word Tour Finals and went 82-6). As we saw with Serena Williams’ quest for the final piece in her Grand Slam puzzle of 2015, it can be a taxing, pressure-filled journey. But the level-headed Djokovic is just 28 and playing better than ever. Even the Serb called this past season “the best year of my life.” So there’s little reason to doubt his ability to complete the task in 2016. It’s just a matter of how he deals with the pressure and the obstacles that will inevitably come his way: the injuries, the colds, the rising talent, the Stan Wawrinkas.

“He was so close this year,” said Rod Laver, the last man to pull off the Grand Slam, something he did not once but twice, in 1962 and 1969. “Going into the French final, I would have picked him nine out of 10 times against Wawrinka. But things happen. The pressures are there. It depends on how you deal with them. If you start off 2016 saying, ‘I’m going for a Grand Slam,’ those sorts of things can creep into your game. The more you talk about it you’re just adding pressure. But if you play your best tennis under pressure, which Djokovic certainly does, he’s got a good chance.”

Though Laver admits that the pressures, at least from a financial perspective, are weightier now than in his heyday, the Hall of Famer did deal with his own heavy expectations when he swept the majors at 24 and again at 31, a remarkable seven-year buffer between them.

“The biggest thing is how you perform under pressure,” Laver, 77, told “I was fortunate. I think I played my best tennis under pressure. It wasn’t nerves that beat me in my time on the tennis court. I think Djokovic has a great chance at a Grand Slam. I hope I can be there to congratulate him if it happens.”

3. What will Australian tennis look like in a post-Hewitt world?

When his last ball is struck on home ground at the 2016 Australian Open, be it in the first round or during an inspirational second-week run, Lleyton Hewitt will walk away from his playing career for good. Sure, he’ll stick around to represent his nation as the newly elected Davis Cup captain, but his days as one of the ATP World Tour’s most dogged on-court competitors will be over. The two-time Grand Slam champion’s departure will surely be felt, but thanks to the rise of a talented crop of young talent Down Under, the void won’t be as ominous as we once might have thought.

Fittingly, Hewitt played his last US Open match against a player whom many Aussies hope can fill his shoes, Bernard Tomic. In their first-ever FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting, the 34-year-old Hewitt pushed his 23-year-old foe to five sets before falling 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 5-7, 7-5 in the second round. The torch had officially been passed. At the Australian Open, the enigmatic Nick Kyrgios became the first teen to reach two Slam quarterfinals since Roger Federer in 2001. Nineteen-year-old Thanasi Kokkinakis became the first teen to reach the third round at Roland Garros since Ernests Gulbis in 2008. And fellow Aussies James Duckworth (23), Luke Saville (21) and Jordan Thompson (21) are showing promise, too.

“I will pass on stuff to the young guys,” said Hewitt, the year-end No. 1 in 2001 and 2002. “That’s my next role — to help those boys out. I was very fortunate that I came up in a group where there weren’t a lot of egos, especially the Woodies [Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde], [Jason] Stoltenberg, [Richard] Fromberg, Wayne Arthurs, a lot of these guys. They helped me out with a lot of stuff. [Patrick] Rafter came up when I was playing Davis Cup with him. He took me under his wing. So I was really fortunate with that stuff. I think that’s just part of a really good Australian culture.”

4. Will Grigor Dimitrov finally emerge as a consistent elite power?

Though he’s just 24, its feels like Grigor Dimitrov has been under the microscope for eons. From the moment that, as an 18-year-old upstart, he shocked Tomas Berdych in Rotterdam in 2009 and the tennis cognoscenti — fairly or unfairly — began to pin the “Baby Federer” label upon his chest, it seems the balletic Bulgarian has been expected to live up to some impossible Swiss standards.

Since turning pro in 2008, Dimitrov has been on an upward trend in the Emirates ATP Rankings, going from No. 482 to a career-high of No 8 in 2014, a year in which he claimed three ATP World Tour titles and reached his first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon. This April, he scalped Stan Wawrinka in reaching the quarter-finals at ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events in both Monte-Carlo and Madrid. But just when it began to look as if he might continue his climb, Dimitrov, who has struggled with shoulder issues, took a step backward in the rankings to close 2015 at No. 28.

“Last year was a pretty intense year for me,” he confided. “Everything was quite intense for me to get into those rounds, quarter-finals, semi-finals.  Every tournament that I was playing was just something new for me. To come back the following year, to repeat all that, it’s never easy because after you put quite a bit of pressure on yourself to do good and even better.  It’s been a lot of ups and downs. Last year was an eye‑opener for me. It showed me what I was capable of. I fell into a rhythm that I always wanted to. But I knew it was very hard to sustain.”

However, Dimitrov’s uber-athletic game has clearly made an impression on his colleagues, even that Swiss sensation to whom he is so often compared.

“He’s making improvements from the baseline and taking bigger cuts at the ball now,” noted Roger Federer of Dimtrov’s arsenal. “He’s not just waiting for mistakes from the opponents, like he did at the beginning of the his career more often. I’ve played him quite a few times now. He’s always a tough guy to play.”

If he can get himself fully healthy, 2016 might just be the year in which he breaks through in a big way.

5. Will more teens continue to populate the Top 100 in the Emirates ATP Rankings?

Don’t look now but there’s a youth movement afoot in men’s professional tennis. Croatia’s Borna Coric (18), Korea’s Hyeon Chung (19), Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis (19) and Emirates ATP Star of Tomorrow award winner Alexander Zverev of Germany (18) all infiltrated the year-end Top 100 in the Emirates ATP World Tour Rankings in 2015, proving that the top young guns can indeed play with the big boys.

Though in recent years the sport’s elite hasn’t been peaking until its late 20s (the average age of today’s Top 10 is 29.6), that doesn’t mean this new era of young talent can’t hold its own or even break though at the biggest events.

“It’s good to have some fresh faces, new faces, in the Top 100. A lot are pretty close to breaking through, as well,” said Kokkinakis, who grew up idolizing Russian Marat Safin. “It’s good to have that new young crop coming through.”

“There’s a couple of more guys coming in. I’m just happy that I’m one of them,” said Coric, who scalped a Top-5 win over Andy Murray in Dubai. “It’s nice to have someone else to keep pushing you, so I can work even harder.”

“We’re definitely a new generation,” added Zverev, who in 2014 became the first 17-year-old since Rafael Nadal and Richard Gasquet in 2003 to finish in Top 150 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. “We’re young and we play very aggressive — all of us.”

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First-Time Winners: Thiem, Istomin, Paire

  • Posted: Dec 31, 2015

First-Time Winners: Thiem, Istomin, Paire pays tribute to the first-time winners on the ATP World Tour in 2015

Six players on the ATP World Tour earned their first titles in 2015. At the time of their victories, they ranged in age from 21 to 34. Below are stories of the last three winners and how they fared for the rest of the season.

Dominic ThiemNice [Thiem Spotlight] Austria’s Dominic Thiem vaulted up the Emirates ATP Rankings in 2015, cracking the Top 20 for the first time behind a trio of clay-court crowns. The 22 year old’s maiden title came in Nice, turning in a stunning run that included four wins over seeded opponents. Thiem outlasted fourth seed Leonardo Mayer 6-7(8), 7-5, 7-6(2) in two and a half hours in the final, after toppling John Isner in the semis and defending champion Ernests Gulbis in the quarters.

“It’s really, really special; the first title ever,” said Thiem. “It’s not only this. The match today was a really high level. Leonardo played outstanding and I was fighting until the end. I think it was one of the best matches I’ve ever played. The first title, I will remember it forever, so I will also remember forever Nice.”

Thiem would not stop there, registering a 14-1 stretch on clay with consecutive titles in Umag and Gstaad in late July. He became the first Austrian to win in Umag since former World No. 1 Thomas Muster in 1995 and the fourth player born in the 1990s to lift three ATP World Tour trophies. A second consecutive third round appearance at the US Open months later would propel Thiem to the Top 20 and a career-high position of World No. 18. The Gunter Bresnik pupil also reached his first quarter-final at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 level in Miami, upsetting 10th-seed Feliciano Lopez en route.

Denis IstominNottingham [Istomin Spotlight] They say good things come to those who wait. For 29-year-old Denis Istomin, this couldn’t be closer to the truth. The World No. 61 survived a furious rally from Sam Querrey to capture his maiden ATP World Tour title on the lawns of Nottingham in late June. The Uzbek, who had been defeated in two previous finals in New Haven 2010 and San Jose 2012, was one of two players to save a match point en route to a title this year. He denied one in sneaking past Leonardo Mayer in the quarter-finals.

“I worked for it,” said Istomin. “I’m not coming here to win two rounds. I always come to try to win the tournament. I passed this step and will try to do the next step in going up in the [Emirates ATP] Rankings. In the (second set) tie-break, I forgot about the score and I just tried to play and fight. In the end it worked… It would have been unprofessional from my side to lose from 5-2.”

The first player from Uzbekistan to hoist a trophy on the ATP World Tour, Istomin also added a 10th title on the ATP Challenger Tour in his penultimate event of the year. He became the sixth player to win on both circuits with a title run on home soil in Tashkent.

Istomin won his third ATP World Tour doubles title as well, prevailing alongside Aliaksandr Bury in Gstaad.

Benoit PaireBastad [Paire Spotlight] The 2015 Comeback Player of the Year in the ATP World Tour Awards presented by Moet & Chandon was France’s Benoit Paire. The 26 year old became the first player to win titles on the ATP World Tour, ATP Challenger Tour and ITF Futures circuit in a single season since Steve Darcis in 2006, claiming his maiden tour-level title on the clay of Bastad in late July. A 7-6(7), 6-3 victory over Tommy Robredo in the final secured the trifecta.

“It’s a perfect week,” said Paire. “The conditions today were not easy, but I’m really happy to win against Tommy. He’s a very good player. To play against him in the final and to beat him is a dream, so I’m very happy. It was a lot of pressure, but I think I played well… I hope it’s not the last First-Time Winners: Thiem, Istomin, Paire for me.”

It did not take long for the Frenchman to regain his footing after struggling with knee issues in 2014. Arguably his greatest moment came at the US Open, where he shocked World No. 4 and last year’s runner-up Kei Nishikori in the opening round in five sets. It marked his third Top 10 win and first over a Top 5 opponent. In October, he fell short in his bid for second career title, losing to top seed Wawrinka in the Tokyo final. Paire enjoyed one of the biggest jumps inside the Top 50 of the year-end Emirates ATP Rankings, soaring 99 spots to a career-high World No. 19.

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10 Things To Know: 2016

10 Things To Know: 2016

  • Posted: Dec 30, 2015

We could be on the verge of an absolute blockbuster season – the World No.1 going for more history, the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and a whole host of challengers looking to make their breakthrough. Get ready for all of the action right here on with 10 Things To Know about 2016!

1) Serena’s going for more history.
As if 2015 weren’t historic enough, there’s even more history on the line for Serena Williams in 2016, the biggest one being the Grand Slam record – if she wins all four majors she’ll get to 25, which will pass both Steffi Graf (22) and Margaret Court (24) to set the new all-time record, male or female.

2) It’s an Olympic year.
The Olympic Tennis Event takes place in Rio de Janeiro from August 6 to 14, sandwiched in between the summer hardcourt events. Who will win gold this year, and can anyone match Graf’s Golden Grand Slam from 1988? The Olympic teams will be announced after the French Open – watch this space.

3) Sharapova likes these even years.
It seems odd, but all five of Sharapova’s Grand Slam titles have come in even years – Wimbledon in 2004, the US Open in 2006, the Australian Open in 2008 and the French Open in 2012 and 2014. She’s actually 5-1 in Grand Slam finals in even years (and 0-4 in odd years). Foreshadowing for 2016?

4) Can Venus win another Grand Slam?
In 2015, Venus Williams won three titles – two of them being her biggest in more than five years – to move back into the Top 10. Can the resurgent former World No.1 add to her seven Grand Slam titles in 2016? We asked you last week, and more than 60% of you said yes – see the voting results here.

5) The young guns are coming…
Serena’s sitting pretty at No.1 on the WTA Rankings, but Simona Halep, No.2, and Garbiñe Muguruza, No.3, are in the hunt. They’re the youngest players in the Top 10, they’ve both been to Grand Slam finals before and they’ve both beaten Serena before – can they win their first majors this year?

6) Is Radwanska on the verge of her first major?
The last time a player who didn’t have a Grand Slam won the WTA Finals, Amélie Mauresmo in 2005, she won two of the next three, the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2006. Agnieszka Radwanska is in that position right now – will the World No.5 build on her sensational run in Singapore in 2016?

7) Hingis is looking to join Mirza at No.1.
In 2015, Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza won nine doubles titles together and finished with the same ranking points from their best 11 results – Mirza was No.1, though, because she had more overall ranking points earned. By mid-January, it should all even out and Hingis can join Mirza as co-No.1.

8) Speaking of No.1s…
There are a lot of former No.1s hoping to return to the Top 10 in 2016 – Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki, who are at No.16 and No.17, and Jelena Jankovic and Victoria Azarenka, No.21 and No.22. They’ve all done very well in Australia before – can one of them rebound Down Under this year?

9) Genie’s back!
Eugenie Bouchard, who was sidelined for almost the entire fall season due to a concussion, will play a full Australian Open lead-up season at Shenzhen and Hobart. The Happy Slam is where she first burst into prominence in 2014 – can she do it again in 2016? Where are the other Top 20 players playing?

10) And finally, the WTA stars are going to some new cities…
There are a slew of new stops on the WTA calendar in 2016, most notably St. Petersburg, Russia, which will host a new Premier event, and Kaohsiung (Chinese Taipei), Mallorca (Spain), Nanchang (China) and Louisville (USA), which will all host International events. Check out the full calendar here.

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Muguruza Eyeing Higher Heights In 2016

Muguruza Eyeing Higher Heights In 2016

  • Posted: Dec 30, 2015

As the youngest player in the Top 10, 22-year-old Garbiñe Muguruza is embracing her role as the future of tennis.

She’s dodged the dreaded second season syndrome and rattled off win after win against top players en route to her first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon, won her second career title at Beijing and challenged the world’s best at the WTA Finals.

On top of all that, the World No.3 has won the full backing of her home country: she’s Spain’s top pick for the 2016 Rio Olympics – where she’s tipped to play doubles with Carla Suárez Navarro and ATP player Rafael Nadal – and she’s been awarded the Bronze Medal of Royal Order of Sports Merit by the Spanish government.

“This year has been a great experience for me,” Muguruza said before the WTA Finals began. “Hopefully it can help me next year, especially in the tough moments like the ones that I’ve lived this year, to go through.”

Those “tough moments” are going to be Muguruza’s biggest challenges to overcome in the new year. The Spaniard’s 2015 was marked by seasons of success punctuated by long stretches where she was unable to win two matches in a row – from Doha to Madrid and again from Toronto to Tokyo.

The most important lesson Muguruza can take away from this year is the knowledge that she can dig herself out of those slumps and find her game again.

“I learned that in bad situations, I’m able to calm down, clear my mind and start from zero,” Muguruza said. “I learned that I’m stronger than I thought in these moments.”

Muguruza will kick off the year in Brisbane, joining the Premier-level event’s stacked field that includes fellow Top 10 players Simona Halep, Maria Sharapova and Angelique Kerber.

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ATP World Tour 2016 Season Preview

  • Posted: Dec 30, 2015

ATP World Tour 2016 Season Preview

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