Highlights from the semifinals action at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
It’s another milestone week for the WTA with Serena Williams hitting 157 consecutive weeks at No.1, passing Martina Navratilova for the second-longest streak at No.1 in WTA history.
Williams’ streak began in 2013 after defeating Petra Kvitova in the quarterfinals of the Qatar Total Open; the American hadn’t been ranked No.1 in over two years after a foot injury and pulmonary embolism left her very career in question. Overcoming incredible adversity, a near-perfect 2012 season the the stage for the now-21-time Grand Slam champion to take back No.1 from Victoria Azarenka just over three years ago; she hasn’t reliquished the top spot since.
During this latest reign at No.1, Williams has won six major titles at all four Grand Slam tournaments – including two French and US Open titles – and remains one major victory away from tying Steffi Graff, who not only holds the Open Era record at 22 Grand Slam titles, but also has the longest streak for consecutive weeks at No.1 (186 weeks).
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Former World No.4 Francesca Schiavone showed flashes of the tennis that took her to a maiden Grand Slam title at the 2010 French Open, edging past American Shelby Rogers, 2-6, 6-2, 6-2, to win her seventh career title at the Rio Open.
“I feel very emotional right now,” she said during the trophy ceremony. “It was a very tough match, and I want to congratulate Rogers. She is a young player and she grew a lot in the circuit.”
Schiavone looked down and out when she fell behind against a set and a break to Rogers, who was in just her second WTA main draw since last fall’s Coupe Banque Nationale, but the wily veteran cruised through the second set and raced out to an idential 5-2 lead in the final set before treating the Rio crowd to a tense ending.
“I want to thank everybody who made this fantastic tournament possible,” Rogers said in her runner-up speech. “It was definitely one of the best weeks of my life. I hope I can come back next year.”
Though she lost her first eight career WTA finals, the Italian has been 7-3 since breaking the duck back in 2007 (Bad Gastein), and her win in Rio is her first in just under two years (Marrakech); she will return to the Top 100 on Monday’s rankings.
“I’m really happy to be here today. I wrote this speech this morning,” Schiavone said, addressing the crowd in Portuguese, “regardless of the result, because I wanted to share my joy with you.
“Today is a happy day and I’m very emotional because Brazil is such a wonderful country. Your smile fulfilled my days here and I wish you the best for the Olympic Games.
“I want to thank everybody who helped me, and now it´s time to enjoy.”
DOHA, Qatar – Former World No.5 Eugenie Bouchard recovered from a 2-5 final set deficit and later from match point down to dispatch resurgent Latvian Anastasija Sevastova, 5-7, 6-3, 7-6(4) in the first round of the Qatar Total Open.
“I wanted to make it exciting for everyone,” Bouchard joked during her on-court interview when asked about the dramatic win that took nearly two-and-half hours.
The Canadian was playing her first tournament since the Australian Open – where she lost to eventual semifinalist Agnieszka Radwanska in the second round – and was very nearly out of it against Sevastova, a former World No.36 who returned to tennis at the start of 2015 following a brief retirement.
“It was all kind of a blur, really. I was just in the moment, and just kept trying to fight.
“It’s been a while since I played a match and I didn’t want to leave Doha that soon, so I’m glad to stay her another couple of days.”
Bouchard has seen her ranking fall to No.61 due to a combination of injuries and inconsistencies, but the 2014 Wimbledon runner-up had a bright start to 2016 when she reached the final of the Hobart International, and showed off some of her signature aggression against Sevastova, hitting 40 winners to 49 unforced errors. Sevastova hit fewer errors at 36, but 11 fewer winners.
“I’m just so grateful to be back on tour after a rough end of last season. I’m just so happy to be doing what I love, to be playing in front of you guys, to enjoy this life.
“I love it; I love my job, so that’s the main thing and I just want to keep getting better.”
Bouchard next plays the winner of Denisa Allertova and No.15 seed Elina Svitolina, who recently hired former No.1 Justine Henin as a coaching consultant and made the semis at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships just last week. The Canadian could face reigning Australian Open champion and top seed Angelique Kerber should both advance to the third round.
Earlier in the day, the WTA’s horde of young Russians continued to impress in their first round matches; Daria Kasatkina survived a second set hiccup to defeat qualifier Qiang Wang – who took out ASB Classic champion Sloane Stephens in Melbourne – 6-1, 2-6, 6-3.
Kasatkina’s compatriot Margarita Gasparyan was even more emphatic against No.10 seed Karolina Pliskova, dropping just two games in a 6-1, 6-1 win that took just under 50 minutes.
“I’m so happy that I won today,” she said during her on-court interview, this her first win over a Top 15 player.
“I’ve played Serena twice in Wimbledon and in Australia; it was amazing. I feel comfortable now playing in the big moments. It’s a nice atmosphere and I’m enjoying getting to play here.”
Fellow youngsters Jelena Ostapenko and Donna Vekic were also straight set winners in Doha, while veteran Kateryna Bondarenko – another comeback kid who returned to tennis 18 months ago after becoming a mother – defeated Annika Beck in straight sets, as well.
In the last match of the day, a pair of former Top 10 players in Ekaterina Makarova and Andrea Petkovic faced off in the first round; the German emerged victorious in just over an hour, 6-3, 6-2.