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Kontaveit Conquers Wozniacki

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

NOTTINGHAM, Great Britain – 20-year-old Anett Kontaveit clinched one of the biggest wins of her young career, recovering from a set down to defeat No.3 seed Caroline Wozniacki, 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-5, to reach her second WTA quarterfinal of 2016.

“She’s a really tough player, and I’m so happy to be through,” she said after the match. “I managed to play my game, and do that every point.”

Wozniacki was playing just her second match since skipping the clay court season due to a right ankle injury, but appeared on course for a decisive, if tense, victory over Kontaveit, edging out a tie-break and trading 12 straight service holds deep into the second set.

“It was tough losing the first set, but I guess that’s how tennis goes. Sometimes you win those close points, sometimes you lose them. But you just have to keep fighting. The tactic was to try to put her under pressure, be aggressive. That’s how I play.”

But the World No.97, who made her major breakthrough last summer by reaching the fourth round of the US Open, came out on the winning end of a trio of service breaks, leveling the match to force a decider.

“The match was up and down, but she played well, so hats off to her,” Wozniacki said. “At the end of the day, I’m just happy that I’m able to play again. One step in the right direction, and from here I’ll just move forward, know what I can work on and hopefully get better. The main thing is that my ankle is holding up, so I’m pleased with that.

“Before I came here, I was a little worried; I didn’t know if it would hold up or not. But after my first match it felt good, and this morning I felt surprisingly well, compared to how I thought I was going to feel. So today, I just played, and didn’t have to think about it.

“I’m disappointed to have lost today, especially when you’re so close. But it is what it is, and all in all, I got a couple of matches, and hopefully it’s onwards and upwards from here.”

Kontaveit raced out to a 4-1, double-break lead in the final set before the Dane showed the sort of mettle that helped her reach the No.1 ranking, pushing the Estonian youngster back to win four straight games to get within four points of victory.

“I was a little nervous, but then I loosened up, and swung more freely once I was down 5-4,” Kontaveit said. “4-1 is still far away from victory, but I could definitely feel the pressure. She played a couple of good games and was returning well. It was a little unlucky, but I managed to stay loose.”

With one last momentum swing, Kontaveit held her nerve and served out the upset victory in two hours and 12 minutes.

Up next for the Estonian is American Alison Riske, who dispatched Hsieh Su-Wei, 6-2, 6-4 on Wednesday.

“She’s had good wins, and likes playing on grass, and it’s going to be a tough match-up, but I’m going to try to do my best, and we’ll see how it goes.”

Earlier in the day, top seed Karolina Pliskova got revenge on Anna Tatishvili, who beat her in the first round of the US Open, with a 6-1, 6-3 win in under an hour. Tatishvili defeated Pliskova’s doubles partner and twin sister Kristyna on Monday; the former World No.7 cited their doubles win on Monday with helping her better transition onto grass courts.

“I just came from clay, so every match is important,” she said after the match. “It’s better than practicing, so I just enjoyed playing with her. It’s something different. With Kristyna, we didn’t play for a long time. In the end I think it helped me because my serves and returns were better today.”

Better would be an understatement from Pliskova, who maintained an 83% first serve percentage in the first set, missing just three first serves and winning 14 of 15 points when getting the first serve in to set up a quarterfinal match with either Andrea Hlavackova or Ashleigh Barty, a former junior standout in the midst of a full-scale comeback after an extended hiatus.

“I think she was frustrated by my serve in the first set and half of the second set. I didn’t hit that many aces in the second set, and that was probably the biggest difference between the two sets. But I got nearly every first serve in in the first set, and that’s so important on grass.”

Monica Puig put down an emphatic 6-3, 6-0 win over Michelle Larcher de Brito, who has enjoyed some of her best results on grass courts.

“I’m just feeling really solid in every part of my game,” Puig said in her post-match press conference. I’m just trying to continue this good form, and play as smart as I can.

“I’ve made the fourth round at Wimbledon once, so I know what it’s like to play well on grass, and how good I have to feel out there. It’s about transitioning from a slow game to a much faster one. I’m happy with how I’ve started so far.

“She obviously likes to get the first strike of the ball, so getting a good amount of decent first serves in was very nice. She had some incredible shots that I had to chase down, but I was able to turn defense into offense quite a few times, and that was very nice.”

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Mladenovic Battles Into Den Bosch QFs

Mladenovic Battles Into Den Bosch QFs

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

‘S-HERTOGENBOSCH, Netherlands – No.3 seed Kristina Mladenovic battled through fatigue and a surging Russian qualifier Natalia Vikhlyantseva to reach the quarterfinals at the Ricoh Open, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4.

Watch live action from ‘s-Hertogenbosch this week on WTA Live powered by TennisTV!

Mladenovic acknowledged that the quick turnaround from the Roland Garros clay – where on Saturday she won a Grand Slam doubles title with partner Caroline Garcia – to the grass of ‘s-Hertogenbosch was tough on her. In fact, it left her participation in the Ricoh Open up in the air.

“I have to be honest, I’m a bit surprised to be in the quarterfinals here,” Mladenovic admitted. “But I love the tournament, grass is one of my favorite surfaces.

“I was thinking about maybe pulling out, because obviously there is fatigue. I’m a bit tired, but I wanted to commit because I love this tournament and that’s why I keep coming back a couple of years in a row.”

Standing between Mladenovic and the quarterfinals was Russian qualifier Vikhlyantseva, who last round scored an upset to oust Denisa Allertova. Vikhlyantseva played far above her No.254 ranking to take the first set from the Frenchwoman, breaking twice to rattle off the last four consecutive games and take it 7-5.

The Frenchwoman grabbed an early break in the second set to rally to a 5-2 lead. Despite Vikhlyantseva getting one back, Mladenovic closed her out at her next chance, 6-3. In the deciding set, Mladenovic again felt pushback from Vikhlyantseva, staying toe to toe with her all the way to 4-4 before pulling away to take the match and her spot in the quarterfinals.

Mladenovic chalked up her first set stumble in part to the unknown factor of playing a new opponent for the first time, although the only thing she’s thinking about now is a well-deserved break.

“I didn’t know much about her,” she said of the 19-year-old Russian. “She’s very young and seems to be very talented and not easy to play on grass. Not much rallying and she has good serve. But I just had to dig in there.”

“To be honest, I’m very satisfied to be into the quarters tomorrow. I guess I will have a day off to try to recover – I still feel like I’m on clay in Roland Garros!”

2014 champion CoCo Vandeweghe is also through to the quarterfinals of the Ricoh Open. Despite an innocuous-looking scoreline of 6-2, 6-3 over Nao Hibino, Vandeweghe survived a doozy with six break of serve in the first set alone. In the second set, she rattled off six straight games to turn around a 3-0 deficit.

“Today was a very tricky day for me, mentally,” Vandeweghe said afterward. “I wasn’t as focused as I would like to be. But I managed to overcome it today.

“That’s kind of the name of the game, to just keep moving on, keep going through the second round.”

Also through are Belgian qualifier Elise Mertens, who defeated Aleksandra Krunic 6-4, 7-6(3); and Madison Brengle, who edged through in a battle against Dutch favorite Richel Hogenkamp, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5.

CoCo Vandeweghe

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Insider Podcast: Change Of Pace

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

With the 2016 French Open officially in the books, the WTA Insider team looked back at the entertaining final that saw new World No.2 Garbiñe Muguruza stun 21-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams for her first major title, and look ahead to the grass court season and all the intriguing storylines that abound heading into Wimbledon.

Can Muguruza replicate last year’s run to the final at the All England Club and avoid the dreaded post-major slump? Will Serena capture the elusive and record-tying 22nd Grand Slam title at her favorite major tournament? How will Victoria Azarenka recover from her injury-addled spring? Can Timea Bacsinszky and Simona Halep turn around disappointing Roland Garros compaigns into grass court success?

All this and more on the latest episode of the WTA Insider Podcast:

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or on any podcast app of your choice and reviews are always helpful, so if you like what you’ve heard so far, leave us one. You can also get new episode alerts by following us on Twitter @WTA_Insider.

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ITF Issues Ruling On Sharapova

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

The ITF has issued a ruling in the case of Maria Sharapova. An independent tribunal has found that Sharapova has committed an Anti-Doping Rule Violation, and has therefore been imposed a period of ineligibility of two years, commencing on January 26, 2016.

“It is important at all times for players to be aware of the rules and to follow them,” says WTA CEO Steve Simon. “In this case, Maria has taken responsibility for her mistake from the outset. The WTA supports the process that the ITF and Maria have followed. The ITF has made its ruling and, under the Tennis Anti-Doping Program, the decision may be appealed to the Court Arbitration for Sport. The WTA will continue to follow this closely and we hope it will be resolved as soon as possible.”

Sharapova released the following statement on her official Facebook page:

For more information, click here.

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Roland Garros: The 20 Best Moments

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

With Roland Garros in the books, relive in photos the 20 best moments from the fortnight: the Cinderella stories, the agony of defeat, and the moments of victory.

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WTA Grass Court Power Rankings

WTA Grass Court Power Rankings

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

As the tour turns from clay to grass, the WTA Insider team is applying its surface-specific ranking formula to help determine who has the best chance of winning big at Wimbledon.

Last season was the first in which a third week was added between the second and third majors, adding an extra week of tournaments and giving players who prefer the slick grass courts an opportunity to rack up even more points and momentum heading into the third Grand Slam of the season – or the chance to rest from an exhausting clay court swing.

Compared to the much-longer string of clay court tournaments, however, the most points up for grabs ultimately come from Wimbledon itself, with the highest ranked grass court performers being players who’ve proven capable of getting the job done at the All England Club. In fact, 10 of the Top 12 can boast at least one Wimbledon semifinal appearance to their name.

Looking back over the last three seasons, using 100% of their points earned at all grass court tournaments earned in 2015, 75% earned in 2014, and 50% earned in 2013, here are the official WTA Grass Court Power Rankings: 

Takeaways:

– Serena remains Queen of Wimbledon: The six-time champion stumbled early in 2013 and 2014, but her title run last year reminded everyone that the World No.1 is, in fact, the one to beat at the All England Club. Capturing her second Non-Calendar Year Grand Slam in 2015, Williams defeated sister and five-time winner Venus along with former No.1s Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova en route to the final, where she held off first-time Grand Slam finalist Garbiñe Muguruza for her 21st major title with the help of her near-perfect serve and all-court invincibility. Wimbledon is historically Serena’s sole grass court event each year, meaning her ostensibly slim 252.5 lead over the field could be even larger had she not opted out of warm-up events since 2011.

– Kvitova close behind: Outside the Top 10 following a middling clay court swing, Kvitova is a proven commodity on the lawns of Wimbledon, having twice held the Venus Rosewater Dish aloft in 2011 and 2014. Once a stalwart at the Aegon International Eastbourne, the Czech star didn’t play any warm-up events in 2015, and looks likely to repeat the pattern this season. Similar to Serena, success on this surface is likely all in her hands, but fatigue led to a third round loss to Jelena Jankovic in 2015 and a virus interrupted her campaign in the quarterfinals to Kisten Flipkens in 2013. Should she remain healthy through the first week, Kvitova can definitely be considered a threat to grab a third Wimbledon trophy.

Agnieszka Radwanska

– Radwanska on the rise: Agnieszka Radwanska’s march back towards the upper echelons of the game didn’t kick into high gear until after the US Open, but it could be argued that her run to the semifinals of last year’s Wimbledon Championships reignited a flagging career. At a loss through much of the first two quarters of 2015, the 2012 finalist turned things around in a big way at the All England Club, reaching her first Grand Slam semifinal after a quintet of disappointing major defeats and narrowly losing to Muguruza in three sets. A finalist last year in Eastbourne, Radwanska is set to play there again in 2016 in preparation for the Grand Slam where she’s reached the semifinals or better in three of the last four years.

– Germans poised for a rebound: Sabine Lisicki has made a comfortable career for herself almost exclusively from her ability to deliver the goods at Wimbledon. Runner-up in 2013, she has made it to the second week in five of her seven appearances in SW19, defeating the reigning French Open champion in four of those runs. The spell appeared to be broken last year at the hands of Timea Bacsinszky, who schooled her in straight sets in the third round, but the German’s roots run deep at Wimbledon, and is an easy darkhorse pick as she rounds out the grass court Top 5 despite her current ranking of No.63.  

By contrast, Angelique Kerber has had a season of high highs and low lows, following up her Australian Open title with a first round defeat at the French Open. A semifinalist in 2012 and a quarterfinalist in 2014, Kerber could be ready for another even-year success at SW19. Narrowly losing to Muguruza 12 months ago, the grass courts help mask her technical weaknesses and amplify her strengths; with lowered expecations, shouldn’t feel too much pressure after a quiet clay court seaon.

– Azarenka missing in action: Absent from the Power Rankings Top 20, the former No.1 has been plagued by injuries since the start of the clay court season, and her longterm struggles can be traced back to this very tournament back in 2013, when she injured her knee in the early stages of her first match – eventually withdrawing in the second round. Coming back from a foot injury in 2014, she bowed out in the second round once again, to Bojana Jovanovski in three sets. 

Her quarterfinal battle against Serena in 2015 was one of the best matches of the year, but a new knee injury already forced her out of the French Open and the Aegon Open Nottingham, and may need to return to her beloved hardcourts to return to major title consideration.

Garbine Muguruza

– Notable grass court darkhorses: Muguruza proved the next generation can win the big titles when she conquered Serena in the French Open final; ranked No.4 on the Power Rankings, the Spaniard will be playing in the WTA’s newest grass court event at home in Mallorca, hoping to make the difficult surface switch in time for Wimbledon, a tournament at which she had only won one main draw match prior to 2015. Rounding out the Top 10 are fellow youngsters Eugenie Bouchard, Belinda Bencic, and Madison Keys, all of whom have reached the second week in the last two years. Bouchard finished second to Kvitova in 2014, while Bencic and Keys reached the fourth round and quarterfinals, respectively.

Veterans like Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova have also enjoyed deep runs at Wimbledon, with the latter in particular seemingly due for a big result at a major tournament, having played some of her best tennis in 2016.

Finally, back-to-back first round losses kept her out of the Power Rankings Top 20, but attention must be paid to the legendary Tsvetana Pironkova, who was a set from the Wimbledon final back in 2010, and is coming off a quarterfinal appearance at the French Open.

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.

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Bencic Back In Business At Ricoh Open

Bencic Back In Business At Ricoh Open

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

‘S-HERTOGENBOSCH, Netherlands – Last year’s finalist Belinda Bencic was made to work in her first match back from a two month injury layoff, but the No.1 seed edged into the second round of the Ricoh Open in a thriller over Alison Van Uytvanck, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(3).

Watch live action from ‘s-Hertogenbosch this week on WTA Live powered by TennisTV!

Bencic, the 19-year-old World No.8, was playing in her first match since April in Charleston when a back injury kept her off the court for over two months. Her opponent, Van Uytvanck, knows that feeling all too well: the Belgian was also on the comeback trail and competing for the first time since she sustained a foot injury in Miami.

“I’m just very happy to be back on the court again, without pain,” Bencic said after the match. “I missed the competition and playing matches like this. I was very happy today: nothing hurt, and even if I lose this match, I’m just really happy to be back on the court and fight for every point.

“I think it was a very tough way to come back, but I just want to go like this match by match.”

Van Uytvanck didn’t give Bencic any favors in their ‘s-Hertogenbosch opener, despite Bencic’s clinical start to the match breaking twice to run away with the first set 6-2. The Belgian’s slice and topspin gave Bencic trouble throughout the second half of the match, building up a 5-1 lead in the second set. Van Uytvanck was serving for the set – she even held a set point – when Bencic broke to start mounting her comeback. She rattled off the next three games and was just two points away from leveling the score before the Belgian could finally close the set 6-4.

The pair stayed toe-to-toe in the deciding set, sending their long standoff into a tiebreaker. They were even at 2-2 before Van Uytvanck blinked and Bencic ran away to a 6-2 lead.

A timely ace from Bencic on her second match point ended their two hour and two minute battle.

“We always have tough battles,” Bencic said of her No.132-ranked opponent. “She plays very different. It’s hard for me to play her, and I think it’s hard for her to play me. Of course, she likes grass, her game suits grass and she played very good today as well.

“But the important thing is I am very healthy, and no pain on the court. Just happy to win first round.”

Joining Bencic in the second round is No.2 seed Jelena Jankovic, who overcame a slow start to put away Katerina Siniakova, 6-4, 6-2.

Jankovic found herself down a 0-3 deficit in the opening set before she was able to find her footing on the new surface, rattling off three straight games to get back on par and breaking Siniakova for the set.

“I’m very happy to be through in my first match on grass,” Jankovic said. “It’s my first tournament on this surface so I did not start very well.

“I tried to fight a little more and tried to stay low and hit every point as much as I could because it’s completely different. I’m happy that I was able to stay strong and win in straight sets.”

No.3 seed Kristina Mladenovic, half of the French Open doubles title-winning duo, had no problem transitioning from clay to grass against Yaroslava Shvedova, advancing 6-4, 6-3. No.4 seed Jelena Ostapenko similarly cruised into the second round, easing past Serbian qualifier Jovana Jaksic 6-1, 6-0.

Also through are Viktorija Golubic, who downed No.8 seed Anna-Lena Friedsam 6-3, 7-5; Japanese qualifier Risa Ozaki, who beat Kirsten Flipkens 6-4, 6-2; Aleksandra Krunic, who beat Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 7-6(0), 6-1; and Dutch wildcard Richel Hogenkamp, who defeated Japanese qualifier Eri Hozumi 6-2, 6-2.

Jelena Jankovic

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