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From around the world

Konta Topples Zhang

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

MELBOURNE, Australia – Unseeded Johanna Konta became the first British woman to reach the Australian Open semifinals since 1977 when she outlasted relentless qualifier, Zhang Shuai, 6-4, 6-1.

“I was really just taking it one match at a time while I was here and, even more simply, a point at a time,” she told former British No.1 Sam Smith during her on-court interview.  

Not since Sue Barker made the final four nearly 40 years ago had a Brit gone this far in Melbourne, and Konta had to face a battle-tested opponent across the net; Zhang began her tournament with three wins in qualifying and a massive win over No.2 seed Simona Halep.

“She definitely didn’t make it easy for me today; every time I got a little bit ahead, she was constantly there.”

But Konta’s run had been equally impressive Down Under, defeating No.8 seed Venus Williams in the first round and surviving a thrilling three-setter with 2015 semifinalist Ekaterina Makarova in the round of 16. Showing few signs of fatigue, Konta raced out to a 5-2 lead, but needed six set points to put away Zhang, who nearly brought the match back on level terms in the tenth game.

“I really enjoyed playing in front of you guys,” she said, addressing the spectators on Rod Laver Arena. “This is why we play, to get the chance to play in front of such a wonderful crowd.

“I just wanted to make sure I came out and played the best level I could and, hopefully, gave everyone some good entertainment!”

With the first set in hand, the Brit never looked back, hitting 28 winners and drawing 20 unforced errors out the Chinesewoman to reach her first Grand Slam semifinal in 83 minutes – though not in ideal fashion for the competitive Konta.

“Unfortunately, I won it on a let cord; I’m not that proud of that. But I’m happy with how I was able to fight every single point.”

Asked about her family watching at home, Konta was tongue-in-cheek regarding the time difference – the match ended a little before 4AM in the UK.

“I’m pretty sure they have jet lag; they’ve been staying up at all ridiculous times of the morning. I’m sure they’re looking forward me to go home so they can sleep properly!”

Up next for Konta is No.7 seed Angelique Kerber, who provided an arguably even more shocking upset by taking out pre-tournament favorite Victoria Azarenka to reach her first Australian Open semifinal.

“It will be my first match against her. She’s Top 10 and an incredibly decorated, successful competitor and player. I’m really just going to go out there, bring to the court what I can, try my best, hopefully give the crowd a great match, and we’ll see how it goes.”

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Vesnina Relishing St Petersburg Test

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – There are few, if any, nationalities quite so fiercely patriotic as the Russians.

This pride manifests itself in all walks of life, from politics to arts to sports. Take Svetlana Kuznetsova’s unexpected – and emotional – surge to last year’s Kremlin Cup, the famous old Olimpiyskiy indoor arena whipped up in nationalistic fervor for her all-Russian final with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

It is a pity, then, that – aside from the occasional Fed Cup tie – this tournament has provided the sole opportunity for Russia’s golden generation to shine on home soil.

This year, though, has seen a second event, in the country’s old capital St. Petersburg, added to the calendar.

While several of the country’s leading lights – including World No.6 Maria Sharapova – have elected against making the trip home, the presence of Pavlyuchenkova, Margarita Gasparyan and Daria Kasatkina ensured the home nation was well represented in Saturday’s draw.

Two more home-grown talents, at very different stages of their respective careers, are also present in the 28-strong field: Elena Vesnina and Natalia Vikhlyantseva.

For 18-year-old Vikhlyantseva the tournament offers the opportunity to showcase her talents on a bigger stage, while Vesnina will be looking to use it as a springboard back to the top.

Less than three years ago, Vesnina, playing the tennis of her career, was knocking on the door to the Top 20. A shoulder injury and loss of form halted this rise, and Vesnina, who faces Alizé Cornet in the first round, knows the tournament represents an opportunity.

“The WTA is hard; you’re practicing every single day and we’re travelling all over the world, far away from our families,” Vesnina told “So it’s great to leave at the end of the week with the trophy and know that it’s all worth it.”

Despite being raised in Sochi, Vesnina is familiar with Russia’s second city from her childhood and excited about her return – this time on business. 

“It’s very special. And it’s very special because it’s in St. Petersburg, that’s one of the most beautiful cities in Russia and I’ve really loved the city since childhood – I was coming here with my family to visit the historical parts – and I know the city really well.

“It’s great to have another event in Russia because we have so many young players and upcoming stars and it’s great they have the opportunity to play at home, gets some points and maybe get their first title here. That’s just wonderful and I’m really looking forward to play my first match here.”

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Inspired Cornet Ends Cibulkova’s Brisbane Run

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

BRISBANE, Australia – Alizé Cornet played an inspired match to oust the reigning WTA Finals champion Dominika Cibulkova and secure her spot in the semifinals of the Brisbane International.

The No.2 seed Cibulkova had to mount a major comeback in her previous match when Zhang Shuai had her a set and a break down, but she couldn’t come up with enough to pull it off again as she fell to Cornet 6-3, 7-5.

Cornet, the only non-seed through to the quarterfinals, reached just one semifinal all of last year; now she’s knocked out the World No.5 to do so in her very first tournament of 2017.

“What a start of the year! It’s the first week and I think my game is not so bad!” Cornet enthused after the match. “Beating a player like Dominika takes an amazing performance, everybody knows how much she fights and hits hard the ball. I’m just very, very, very happy.”

Cibulkova will likely rue her missed opportunities – she had ample chances to take the lead in the first set, with four break points coming in the first three games alone. But every time she was against the wall, the Frenchwoman found a first serve to bail her out of trouble as she did throughout the match.

A pair of daring back-to-back dropshots gave Cornet the first break of the match, which she quickly consolidated for a 4-1 lead after edging Cibulkova in a monumental effort. The pair were neck and neck throughout the first set, but as the match progressed it was Cornet that won the big points and close games.

Into a second set, Cornet continued to claim the scrappy points, changing up the pace and keeping the ball in play to force Cibulkova to make the error. The Slovak was visibly frustrated like many of Cornet’s opponents as the Frenchwoman went to the dropshot time and time again to build a 4-1 lead.

Despite her vital first serves, Cornet struggled with double faults giving up 10 during the course of the match, including two in the same game to give Cibulkova a lifeline down 5-3. The World No.5 consolidated, finding ways to maneuver Cornet into the corners of the court to hit past her, finally breaking to level the set 5-5. But the Frenchwoman would not be denied and broke straight back, holding her nerve to serve it out after a two hour and three minute battle.

Cornet credited the good vibes in Australia for bringing out her best tennis, after all last year she won the title at the Hobart International.

“I always say Australia is a lucky charm for me, I always play good here! And Brisbane is a bigger tournament than Hobart, so being in the semifinal means a lot to me. I hope I’ll be ready and fit for the next match.”

Through to the Brisbane semifinals for the first time, Frenchwoman awaits the winner between No.4 seed Garbiñe Muguruza and No.5 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova to play for a spot in the final.

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