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Insider Notebook: Of Olympics & Epics

Insider Notebook: Of Olympics & Epics

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

Irina-Camelia Begu survives an epic: The Romanian, seeded No.25 in Paris, held off a barrage of power from CoCo Vandeweghe to win 6-7(4), 7-6(4), 10-8 in 3 hours and 38 minutes, the longest WTA match of the season so far. Vandeweghe served for the match at 5-4 in the third but Begu broke back and eventually worked her way to the win. It will be a tough loss for the American to swallow. Begu plays Annika Beck for a spot in the Round of 16.

Read more about Begu’s journey back from injury and how professional tennis runs in her family here.

Victoria Azarenka’s frustrating clay season: The World No.5 had all the momentum in the world heading into the clay season, but her mind and body just would not cooperate. On Tuesday, Azarenka retired down 4-0 in the final set to Italy’s Karin Knapp, a player who is well familiar with physical fragility herself.

After losing just one match on hard courts in the first three months of the season and winning three titles – including the first two Premier Mandatory events of the year at Indian Wells and Miami – Azarenka’s clay season was one to forget. She won just two tour matches on red clay and failed to notch a win over anyone ranked inside the Top 40. The back injury she sustained at the Mutua Madrid Open seemed to have healed up in Paris, but against Knapp she appeared to suffer a right knee injury that eventually led to her retirement.

Azarenka did not speak to reporters after the match.

Francesca Schiavone clarifies retirement rumors: No, Francesca ain’t done yet. Schiavone received a hero’s ovation after losing in straight sets to Kristina Mladenovic in the first round, but clarified after the match that, despite an announcement by Roland Garros, she had not retired.

Timea Bacsinszky’s tasty tales: What is it like to cover the first week of a Slam? It involves a lot of stairs, battery checks on your recorders, and cold sandwiches, often eaten at your desk as you monitor results. So this was a particularly painful read:

Kristina Mladenovic mixes it up: Mladenovic confirmed to reporters that she will play mixed doubles with Pierre Hugues Herbert at the Olympics.

Garbiñe Muguruza and Petra Kvitova bouce back: After getting pushed to three sets in the first round against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, the No.4 seed rolled to a 6-2, 6-0 win over French wildcard Myrtille Georges. Kvitova was two points away from a first round exit as well against Danka Kovinic. She rolled past Hsieh Su-Wei 6-4, 6-1 on Wednesday to move through to the third round.

Agnieszka Radwanska

Shhhhh…Agnieszka Radwanska looking comfortable: The No.2 seed has not dropped a set through two rounds, with wins over Bojana Jovanovski and a tough Caroline Garcia. “I’m healthy, in one piece, and I’m just ready for the next one,” Radwanska said afterwards.

Read why I tentatively picked Radwanska as a darkhorse for a deep run. Pressure and expectation free, this might be the year she puts it together on clay. Or not. We’ll see.

Can Samantha Stosur snap her Safarova streak?: Stosur is into the third round and will face a familiar foe in last year’s Roland Garros finalist Lucie Safarova. The Czech is 11-3 against Stosur. It’s Stosur’s worst head-to-head record behind her 15-2 mark against Maria Sharapova.

Naomi Osaka streaks through a Slam once again: The 18-year-old is into the third round of her Roland Garros debut, this time beating an in-form Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 6-3, 6-3 to set up a big test against No.6 seed Simona Halep.

Here’s a fun exchange between Osaka and a reporter about her desire to play Serena Williams.

Q. Speaking of Serena, you always wanted to play her. In Australia you looked a little bit disappointed to find out that you don’t have an opportunity to play against Serena until like a semifinals or something. I was wondering this year when the draw came out, did you watch where Serena is and did you find that opportunity to play against Serena?

NAOMI OSAKA: Well, she’s all the way on the other side of the draw. Like she’s always at the very top. Then I saw my name wasn’t there, and I was like, ah. I got over it kind of quickly. Was that it?

Q. What was your reaction when you found that you don’t have an opportunity to play her until the final?

NAOMI OSAKA: Disappointment? But then I’m like, okay, so maybe I have a chance to win my rounds then.

Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova are out…of singles: The doubles partners took surprising second round losses on Wednesday, with Vesnina bowing out to Shelby Rogers and No.27 seed Makarova losing to Yanina Wickmayer in three sets.

Caroline Garcia

The pressure of playing at home: Caroline Garcia will walk away from the clay season with a big win on home soil. It just won’t be here in Paris. The Strasbourg champion couldn’t find her best when it mattered against the crafty Radwanska, but the atmosphere and the effort she put in was very positive.

“I enjoyed the court,” Garcia said. “I enjoyed Lenglen. I enjoyed the public. I’m disappointed. I can play better. But it was a wonderful moment. It was very emotional. The public supporting me helped me coming back in the match when I thought it was over.

“I think they believed more in me than I believed in myself.”

Day 5 Matches to Watch: Timea Bacsinszky vs. Eugenie Bouchard, Venus Williams vs. Louisa Chirico, Madison Keys vs. Mariana Duque-Mariño, Camila Giorgi vs. Kiki Bertens, Andrea Petkovic vs. Yulia Putintseva, Kristina Mladenovic vs. Timea Babos.

Olympic teams shape up: A quick look at the Olympic race:

– Germany: With Annika Beck’s run to the third round, the top four Germans on the Monday after the French Open will be Angelique Kerber, Andrea Petkovic, Laura Siegemund, and Beck. That’s not to say that’s the confirmed team: all players are still subject to Federation and Fed Cup requirements.

– Russia: The Vesnina and Makarova’s losses mean the Russian Olympic team is nearly set, with Svetlana Kuznetsova, Maria Sharapova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and Daria Kasatkina the top four singles players. If Sharapova is unable to play in Rio, that fourth spot will go to Makarova.

– United States: CoCo Vandeweghe needed to make the final to overtake Sloane Stephens or Madison Keys for the fourth Olympic spot. While Louisa Chirico is still mathematically in the hunt, it’s looking like the US will send Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Madison Keys, and Sloane Stephens in singles.

– Three bubble players to watch: Even one more win could mean the difference between Rio and summer vacation for Alizé Cornet, Zhang Shuai, and Wang Qiang.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images.

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Turkish Delight In Paris

Turkish Delight In Paris

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

PARIS, France – Cagla Buyukakcay and Ipek Soylu made tennis history earlier this week, when they became the first two Turkish women in the Open Era to qualify for the singles main draw at a Slam. Both women accomplished the feat via qualies, with No.83 Buyukakcay, 26, becoming the first woman through and 2014 US Open girls doubles champion Soylu following suit hours later.

The celebration did not end there. With a 5-7, 7-6(2), 6-2 win over Aliaksandra Sasnovich, Buyukakcay followed up her qualies run to become the first Turkish woman to win a main draw match at a major. This success, not just for Buyukakcay but also for Turkish tennis, has been a long-time in the making.

“I was working so hard for so many years,” Buyukakcay told WTA Insider. “I was playing qualies for over five years actually.”

Back home in Turkey, Ipek Senoglu is beaming. The retired Turkish trailblazer was the first woman from her country to play qualifying at a Slam and was the first to play in the main draw of a Slam in doubles.

“It’s weird because I’m having these emotions right now that no one else in Turkey has,” Senoglu told WTA Insider via phone from Istanbul. “Because I had worked so hard to open the roads, to open this dream, and it would be like a waste of my career if someone didn’t take the flag and didn’t carry it further. And now they have actually over-passed my success. I mean, it’s a different level now; it’s in singles. So I’m really proud!”

Turkey has long been fertile ground for WTA tournaments. The TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Cup has been a staple on the tour since 2005, and the WTA Finals had a fantastic run of three consecutive years in Istanbul  from 2011-2013.

Ipek Senoglu

But its players had yet to make a major impact a the upper echelons of the game. Buyukakcay, who played Fed Cup with Senoglu for years, seems to have picked up the torch. Last month she became the first Turkish woman to win a WTA singles title – on home soil nonetheless – at the Istanbul Cup. That win moved her into the Top 100 for the first time and guaranteed her a main draw slot at Wimbledon. Now with a junior Slam champion behind her, the legacy of Turkish tennis is coming together.

Both Senoglu and Buyukakcay cite the constant presence of top WTA events in Istanbul as a major inspiration. It brought the heady dreams of becoming a top-level professional back down to earth, something that was actually attainable.

“The [WTA Finals] allowed both Cagla, Ipek and anyone who is playing in the women’s tour to understand that these players are human. They have two arms, two legs – nothing they can’t have.

“I was always trying to say: ‘Hey, you can do it. Look, I made it in doubles because I didn’t have many options. I didn’t have many chances to do this, I didn’t have a coach for many of my career years, I didn’t have a sponsor for most of that time, but for me to do this it was a dream. So I was able to reach my dreams, to be the first woman to play all the Grand Slams from Turkey.”

“But it’s one thing to hear it and something else to see them live. Because when you see them live, they are hitting the same ball, they’re on the same court, same shoes – same thing, you know? It’s just about working hard, it’s just about doing it for a long time, working hard each day. And they saw that through the [WTA Finals]. I think it was a wonderful super step for them.

“And that’s great because not only they have seen it, our media has seen it, our parents have seen it, that they both can do it. It’s wonderful. I think we are getting the fruit of those [WTA Finals] right now. I think it was very very crucial.”

Cagla Buyukakcay

Buyukakcay agreed. “We didn’t have any examples in the Top 100,” she said. “Maybe the idea was too big in our minds before. Ipek had the tougher time than me because she’s older than me. When I saw [the top players in Turkey] I realized that we can do that, that we have the inspiration inside.”

Senoglu paved her way on tour by going to the United States for college, where she played collegiate tennis at Pepperdine University. Buyukakcay chose to develop her career in Turkey, in hopes of sending a message to future generations. In conversation it’s clear how much Buyukakcay wants to inspire more young Turkish women to pick up a racquet and play with ambition.

“I told myself, ‘No, I want to stay, I want to improve my tennis in Turkey,'” Cagla Buyukakcay said. “I will try my best. I didn’t have an idol in front of me. It was tough. I didn’t know how to be a professional. This was my motivation, but the idea came from my love of tennis.

“I grew up in Turkey, I work with the Turkish coaches. If you really want to improve yourself, I want to prove that we can do that. We are also humans. I have that faith inside. For the younger generation, it’s important for me that they will be believe for themselves that they can work without any excuses, because if you need excuses we can find a lot of things.

Cagla Buyukakcay

“I am 100% sure I will help the younger generation because when I started as a professional no one qualified for the Grand Slams. It was too big in our minds. If I play in the second round here I’m sure the younger ones will say, ‘Yes, Cagla did it. We can do it.’ I think it’s important to have some people from our culture, from our blood, to do it.

“My footballer friend Arda Turan, he’s playing for Barcelona now. This was a dream for us to have a Turkish footballer playing for Barcelona. He made it. He inspired me. He’s a big star in Turkey now. I’m telling myself also now if I work hard if I still want to stay in the positive side and be passionate to improve myself, there’s no reason not to do it.”

For Buyukakcay, winning the Istanbul Cup, breaking into the Top 100, playing in the main draw at a Slam: the last few weeks have been a whirlwind of emotions. But she’s careful to remind the public that it will not always be like this. Anyone familiar with tennis knows the ups and downs can give you whiplash and Buyukakcay wants Turkish fans to be in it for the long haul, not just because the emotions are high right now.

“Maybe it’s because it’s our culture and we get excited so quickly, we want the success too soon,” Buyukakcay said. “I’m doing good but it doesn’t mean I will do good all the time. This idea for them is tough. It’s new. This way we will give them knowledge about sport and how it is. Football is very popular of course, they know everything about football. But individual sports, they are starting to learn. But there is no reason our people will not succeed.”

Ipek Senoglu, Andrew Krasny

Cagla Buyukakcay’s Parisian romp ended on Wednesday in a 6-3, 4-6, 6-1 loss to No.24 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the second round. Next month she will hit another milestone, as the first Turkish woman to earn direct entry into a Slam and the first Turkish woman to play a main draw singles match at Wimbledon.

In the meantime, she will be waiting anxiously by her phone to hear if she will be the first Turkish woman to represent her country in tennis at the Olympics. Her ranking is unlikely to earn her direct entry but the ITF could grant her a special entry spot usually reserved for players from underrepresented regions around the world.

“Turkish people are fanatics,” Senoglu said, laughing. “That’s why right now, when Cagla won the Istanbul Cup in Turkey she became from a regular player only tennis fans know, to a celebrity in one night. That’s wonderful for Turkish tennis, that’s wonderful for Turkish athletes and wonderful for Turkish supporters in general. Now, not only Turkish tennis fans know Cagla, now regular people in Turkey know her as well. And what that’s going to increase sponsorship, that’s going to increase tournaments, it’s going to increase everything in Turkish tennis. That’s wonderful.

“I hope Cagla will make it to Olympics, because that’s the next step. And I think at this point she does deserve it. Whether it will be as direct acceptance or as a wildcard, I don’t care, but I do think it will be a wonderful thing for this region if she can make it to Olympics.”

Photos courtesy of Getty Images.

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Hingis, Mirza Kick Off Santina Slam Bid

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

PARIS, France – Co-No.1s Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza are just five matches away from a Non-Calendar Year “Santina” Slam, and the top seeds opened with a statement first round win at the French Open, defeating Daria Kasatkina and Alexandra Panova, 7-6(4), 6-2.

Kasatkina was one half of the team who ended Santina’s 41-match winning streak at the Qatar Total Open, edging past the reigning Wimbledon, US Open, and Australian Open champions alongside Elena Vesnina in a match tie-break, but fresh off of their first career red clay court title at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, Hingis and Mirza were all business to start, racing out to a 5-0 lead in the opening set.

The Russians clawed their way back to level and saved two set points in the 12th game to force a tie-break. On serve through the first six points, Santina broke away from there, winning four of the last five points to all but extinguish any hope of an upset.

Clinching victory in just over 90 minutes, Hingis and Mirza booked a second round meeting with either Karin Knapp and Mandy Minella, or Japanese duo Nao Hibino and Eri Hozumi.

Later in the day, unseeded but looming 13-time Grand Slam champions Venus and Serena Williams played their second doubles match of the season, turning around a disappointing defeat in Rome to dispatch Jelena Ostapenko and Yulia Putintseva, 6-2, 6-2.

The last team to capture a Non-Calendar Year Grand Slam at the 2010 French Open, the Williamses were down an early break to start, but came through several tense games to ease past the fiery youngsters in just under 90 minutes. Drawn into the same section of the draw as No.2 seeds and defending champions Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova, the pair next play either No.14 seeds Irina-Camelia Begu and Monica Niculescu, or Vitalia Diatchenko and Galina Voskoboeva.

American Madison Brengle and Tatjana Maria earned the biggest upset thus far when they took out Spanish pair and No.13 seeds Anabel Medina Garrigues and Arantxa Parra Santonja, 6-2, 6-3. No.4 seeds Timea Babos and Yaroslava Shvedova avoided a similar fate at the hands of sister act Anastasia and Arina Rodionova, recovering from a set down to win, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1. No.9 seeds and Australian Open semifinalists Xu Yu-Fan and Zheng Saisai continued their solid season with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Han Xinyun and Varvara Lepchenko, while No.10 seeds Julia Goerges and Karolina Pliskova overcame an experienced team in Anna-Lena Groenefeld and former doubles No.1 Kveta Peschke, 6-4, 6-1.

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CNN Open Court: Doubles Take

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

On Thursday, defending French Open doubles champions Lucie Safarova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands take the court to start their bid for a third Grand Slam title as a duo. Standing in their way? None other than the World No.1s Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis – who are just five wins away from a ‘SanTina Slam’ – and a stacked draw filled with dangerous teams.

Ahead of their doubles opener, the pair sat down with CNN Open Court to discuss the origins of “Team Bucie,” their on-court chemistry, and Safarova’s return from a career-threatening illness.

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Osaka Sweeps Lucic-Baroni, Gets Halep

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

18-year-old Naomi Osaka backed up her impressive run at the Australian Open by reaching the third round of the French Open in her debut, where she’ll meet World No.6 Simona Halep.

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Genie Bouchard's Pre-Match Parfait

Genie Bouchard's Pre-Match Parfait

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

The French word for perfect is parfait, and while we’re in Paris it’s only fitting that USANA Ambassador Eugenie Bouchard shared with us her recipe for the perfect pre-match snack.

Yogurt is naturally loaded with nutrients like protein, calcium, and probiotics, while Genie adds fruits and grains for extra sweetness and crunch.

Here’s everything you need to make her delicious parfait:

Eugenie Bouchard

USANA is the Official Vitamin & Supplement Supplier of the WTA, and over 170 Athletes – including 8 out of the Top 10 and 15 out of the Top 20 use USANA products. Former No.1 Caroline Wozniacki, Samantha Stosur, Eugenie Bouchard, and Madison Keys are among several USANA ambassadors, and 2016 marks the 10th Anniversary of the USANA-WTA partnership.

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Begu Slides In As Clay Court Surprise

Begu Slides In As Clay Court Surprise

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

PARIS, France – Look at the current WTA Top 30. Scan the list. Then pick the player with whom you’re the least familiar. Chances are, it’s No.28 Irina-Camelia Begu.

That could change over the course of this Paris fortnight. Begu is floating in Garbiñe Muguruza’s quarter of the draw and plays CoCo Vandeweghe in the second round at Roland Garros on Wednesday. Two of her four wins over Top 10 players have come in this month alone; if that form holds, she’ll be into the second week in Paris for the first time in her career.

The 25-year-old Romanian may not have the results of Simona Halep, the prodigious history of Sorana Cirstea, or the unique game-style of Monica Niculescu that makes you sit up and take notice. But heading into Roland Garros this year, no player on tour has posted more consistent results than Begu. After marking the fourth round of the Miami Open, she followed it up with a quarterfinal run at the Volvo Car Open, quarterfinals of the Mutua Madrid Open, and capped it all off with her career-best result, the semifinals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, where she lost to eventual champion Serena Williams.

Having reached a career-high ranking at No.25 last year, Begu looks well on her way towards besting that number in what is shaping up to be a career year. It’s quite a turnaround considering her 2016 took a major blow right when it started. Begu injured ligaments in her knee in her first tournament of the season at the Shenzhen Open, where she was forced to retire in the second round.

“I was upset,” Begu told WTA Insider. “I was working really hard in the off-season and the first tournament I got injured. It was a really difficult moment for me.

“I didn’t practice for four weeks and I started slowly. It’s tough because in four weeks you lose your muscles and the first few days I couldn’t walk. It was tough but when you go back on court you try and enjoy every moment, because you never know when something like this is coming.”

Irina-Camelia Begu

Begu returned to the tour in March at the BNP Paribas Open; in her third tournament back she made the Round of 16 in Miami.

“In Indian Wells and San Antonio I didn’t play my best,” Begu said. “I was just trying to get confident back on court. But in Miami I was fighting for every ball. It doesn’t matter if I was feeling bad or if I had some problems. I was trying to fight for every ball. When you’re working hard everything is coming back.”

Once the tour moved to clay, her favorite surface, Begu flourished. After a bit of a sputter in Rabat, taking a 6-3, 6-4 loss to No.139 Richel Hogenkamp, Begu quickly got on track.

“After Rabat, I played so bad in that match and I was so disappointed with my attitude I had with my game,” Begu said. “One day I was only thinking about the match and what I did wrong and I was so disappointed with me. My coach was helping me a lot that day because I was so down. He was trying to help me to get through the moment and I went to Madrid and I was practicing so hard. He said to me if I work hard again and just be confident, the results will come again.”

Sure enough, the results did. She’s since scored wins over No.4 Garbiñe Muguruza and No.5 Victoria Azarenka. She admits her quick success after injury has been a surprise.

“Even if you feel good on the surface there’s so many tough players and every round is difficult,” she said. “It’s not like I feel so good on clay and I can beat everyone. No, I have to work for every match. I feel confident, but still I have to work for every match.”

Irina-Camelia Begu

Quick Hits with Irina-Camelia Begu…

WTA Insider: How did you first start playing tennis?
Begu: I was three-and-a-half years old and my aunt was a tennis coach and tennis player, Aurelia Gheorghe (playing for Germany, Gheorghe reached a career-high No.326 in 1989). I went with her to the practice and I was just [picking up] the balls. Then I started to pick up the racquet. It was funny in the beginning. The racquet was bigger than me.

When I was seven years old, when I started the real practice in Romania, my family and my aunt told me you only play if you want. You don’t need to play for us. I was so motivated. I really enjoy playing tennis. I still do. It’s a job and sometimes you want to sleep more, but still I enjoy it so much.

WTA Insider: When did you realize you might be able to make a living as a tennis player?
Begu: Maybe when I was 14. I was winning tournaments when I was 10 years old, but you never know what is happening. Tennis is an expensive sport and you have to play more tournaments, and it’s expensive.

When I was 14 I played the European Championships in Armenia and I made the semifinals and final, and then I start to think a bit that I can be a good tennis player. After, they picked eight girls and eight boys and the ITF made a one-month tour with these players. It was really nice for me. It was a really nice experience.

Irina-Camelia Begu

WTA Insider: Do you remember any of the other players who were on that ITF tour with you?
Begu: Grigor Dimitrov and Ricardas Berankis, I remember.

WTA Insider: What’s your favorite tournament?
Begu: I cannot say only one tournament. So I think Indian Wells, Rome, and Acapulco.

WTA Insider: What’s your favorite shot?
Begu: Backhand down the line.

WTA Insider: Favorite surface?
Begu: Clay.

WTA Insider: Where is your favorite place for a holiday?
Begu: I love the Maldives. It’s amazing. For me there’s nothing better than the Maldives.

WTA Insider: Do you prefer TV or movies?
I watch TV only when it’s tennis. I have a lot of movies on my laptop.

WTA Insider: Who do you like to watch when you’re watching tennis on TV?
Begu: I love Federer and I admire a lot Rafa. These are the two players I really enjoy when they are playing.

Irina-Camelia Begu

WTA Insider: What do you do to take your mind off tennis?
Begu: When I’m at home I really enjoy being in my kitchen and being in my house. I love being there. I go to the theater, I go to watch some movies at the cinema, go with some friends outside. I’m not so long at home, but when I am at home I like to do these things.

WTA Insider: Which of the four Slams would you like to win the most?
Begu: Australian Open.

WTA Insider: Really? Not Roland Garros?
Begu: It’s strange, no? I like clay court, but Australian Open is my favorite Grand Slam. The conditions and the organization is so good there. They make us feel so good there. Maybe it’s also because it’s the first tournament of the year. It’s nice.

WTA Insider: What’s your first memory of playing Roland Garros?
Begu: I was playing in qualies when I was 18 or 19 and I lost in the last round 6-4 in the third. It was tough. I was a bit disappointed but at the same time I was happy I could reach the third round of qualies.

WTA Insider: What’s the best win of your career so far?
Begu: This year, beating Azarenka in Rome.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images.

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