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Insider Notebook: Zheng's Near Miss

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

– Angelique Kerber’s bad day: Nothing was working for the Australian Open champion in her disappointing 7-5, 6-1 loss to Zheng Saisai. It was Kerber’s first tour match since her Melbourne triumph and she struggled to find any rhythm off the ground, firing 38 unforced errors to Zheng’s eight. A frustrated Kerber told her coach Torben Beltz during their on-court coaching timeout that she felt “empty” inside.

“I was practicing very well in the last few days,” Kerber said. “But today, my practice this morning was not the best. So I was feeling not good from the beginning.

“I think you have sometimes days like this. Of course it’s sad that’s the first round here in Doha for me. Still, I mean, it was not my day. That’s all I can say today.”

The loss opens the door for No.3 Agnieszka Radwanska, who won in straight sets, to grab the No.2 ranking this week. She can do so if she wins the Doha title. After a day of upsets, Radwanska is now the highest ranked player in the draw.

– Zheng Saisai’s near-miss: After beating Australian Open champion Kerber, Zheng was back on court and nearly pulled off an even bigger upset over Australian Open champions Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza. Zheng and her partner Xu Yi-Fan led 4-2 in the match tiebreak before losing eight straight points to lose 6-4, 4-6, 10-4. The win extends Mirza and Hingis’ win streak to 41 consecutive matches.

– Simona Halep: The No.4 will lose ground in the rankings on Monday after wasting 7-5, 4-1 lead to lose 6-7(1), 6-4, 6-1 to Elena Vesnina. The win was Vesnina’s first Top 10 win since 2013.

With the loss, Halep went winless in the Middle East, a particularly frustrating result after she appeared to play much better during the Fed Cup weekend.

Halep has nearly 1,400 points to defend in Indian Wells and Miami.

– Garbiñe Muguruza set to return to the Top 4: The Spaniard rolled past Nao Hibino with a 6-2, 6-0 win in the first round in Doha and will move ahead of Halep in the rankings on Monday, at No.4, though she does have a chance to move up to No.3 this week as well.

– Daria Kasatkina continues to show promise: The 18-year-old held three match points against Roberta Vinci but couldn’t close, losing 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(3). Kasatkina keeps putting herself in winning positions in these key matches, but the nerves seem to be her undoing when trying to close things out. Experience should change that.

– Timea Babos, ace leader: Seven weeks into the season and the tour’s ace leaderboard may surprise you:

Babos knocked out Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships winner Sara Errani to advance to the third round on Tuesday.

– Petra Kvitova gets on the board: Kvitova extended her streak to 18 consecutive wins over Czech opposition, beating Barbora Strycova 7-6(2), 6-4 for her second win of the season. She’ll play Jelena Ostapenko for a spot in the quarterfinals.

– Eugenie Bouchard’s draw opens up: The Canadian secured her ninth win of the year with a 7-6 (0), 7-5 win over Denisa Allertova in Doha. She’ll play Zheng for a spot in her first Premier quarterfinal since the 2014 Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open.

– Lucie Safarova’s title defense ends early: Getting back on court after a long bout with a bacterial infection was a victory in itself for Safarova. But she has some way to go to rediscover her 2015 form, losing 7-6(6), 7-5 to No.162 Cagla Buyakakcay.

– Victoria Azarenka rebounds in Acapulco: The top seed was made to work but started her Mexico campaign with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 win over Polona Hercog. She plays Dominika Cibulkova in the second round. Cibulkova dropped a double-bagel win on Lourdes Dominguez Lino to start her tournament.

Upset Mainia: Check out the WTA Insider Podcast for all the latest on what some of what this week’s surprising early results portend for the rest of the season:

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Zheng Stuns Top Seed Kerber

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

DOHA, Qatar – On Tuesday evening, Angelique Kerber found out just how hard life is with a target on her back, slipping to a shock straight set defeat at the hands of Zheng Saisai in the second round of the Qatar Total Open.

Watch live action from Doha & Acapulco this week on WTA Live powered by TennisTV!

World No.73 Zheng made a mockery of her lowly ranking to stun the recently crowned Australian Open champion, 7-5, 6-1, in an hour and 20 minutes.

Zheng becomes only the fourth Chinese player in history to defeat one of the world’s Top 2. In the third round she will face Eugenie Bouchard.

“The feeling is amazing here today,” Zheng said. “Kerber was amazing at the Australian Open and a great champion. For sure it wasn’t her best tennis today, but I’m happy I won that match.”

An accomplished doubles player, Zheng utilized her all-court nous to take the match to Kerber, with 11 of her 17 winners coming at the net. “She’s unbelievable at running so the only way I could win the point sometimes was by coming to the net!”

Zheng complemented her positive tennis with a defensive performance that would have made Kerber proud, coughing up a miserly eight unforced errors.

The decisive moment in the opening set came in the 11th game, Zheng turning the screw with a miraculous stop volley to earn a break point. Kerber wilted under the pressure, hoicking a forehand into the tramlines in a vain attempt to breach the underdog’s defenses.

Confidence now coursing through her game, Zheng raced through the second set, breaking three more times to seal a famous victory.

Kerber, in her first outing on tour since triumphing Down Under, made 38 unforced errors throughout and admitted it was a bad day at the office.

“Actually I was practicing very well in the last few days. But today my practice this morning was not the best. So I was not feeling good from the beginning.

“I think you have sometimes days like this. Of course it’s sad that’s the first round here in Doha for me. Still, I mean, it was not my day. That’s all I can say.”

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Radwanska Safely Through In Doha

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

DOHA, Qatar – No.3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska moved safely into the third round of the Qatar Total Open on Tuesday with a straight set win over qualifier Kateryna Bondarenko.

Watch live action from Doha & Acapulco this week on WTA Live powered by TennisTV!

On a blustery afternoon, Radwanska had to withstand a spirited display from the World No.75, before eventually coming through, 6-4, 6-4.

As one of the game’s elite, Radwanska has played much of her tennis down the years at the Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex during the prime-time evening slot. It is an arrangement that has suited her well, the Pole reaching the semifinals on four occasions.

However, she began her latest title tilt in conditions not ideally suited to her eye-pleasing repertoire of strokes. “I think we all have to get used to different conditions. It was also windy. So it wasn’t the easiest time to play and maybe it wasn’t the prettiest match, but the most important thing is that I won and I’m very happy about that.”

It has been a fine start to 2016 for Radwanska, who has built on the momentum of her victory at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global by winning in Shenzhen and then reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open.

“I had a great start to the year, obviously, and I had a good rest after Australia. But I’ve been working hard since so I can play the same tennis here and do as well as in other years.”

Despite her lack of recent competitive action – she sat out Poland’s Fed Cup tie and withdrew from Dubai because of a leg injury – Radwanska delivered a typically tidy display – decorated by the odd touch of brilliance – hitting 17 winners and the same number of unforced errors.

Radwanska will next face either Monica Niculescu or former World No.1 Jelena Jankovic.

“They’re both very good, very solid opponents and it’s going to be another great challenge for me,” Radwanska said. “I’m going to watch the match, have some rest and be ready for tomorrow.”

Also coming through a tough second round assignment was Petra Kvitova, who defeated in-form compatriot Barbora Strycova, 7-6(2), 6-4.

Last week in Dubai, Strycova made it all the way to the final and she delivered another reputation-enhancing showing. Kvitova was an early casualty in Dubai, and must have feared the worst when Strycova served for the opening set. But the No.5 seed dug deep – fending off a couple of set points – to pinch it on a tie-break.

Despite an improved showing in the second set, Kvitova’s 18 winners were still offset by 30 unforced errors, leaving her with room to improve in the next round. “It was pretty close in the first set – she had a couple of set points – but I was just trying to take it point by point,” Kvitova said.

The result extends Kvitova’s unbeaten run against fellow Czech’s to 18 matches, her last defeat coming against Lucie Hradecka in Madrid nearly four years ago.

“It was a really important win for me today. Not just for the tournament but also the season – I hope this match will help me.”

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Vesnina Knocks Out No.2 Seed Halep

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

DOHA, Qatar – Elena Vesnina notched one of the biggest wins of her career over No.2 seed Simona Halep in the second round of the Qatar Total Open, shocking her 6-7(1), 6-4, 6-1.

The Russian qualifier, ranked No.118 in the world, was fresh off of a first round upset against Caroline Garcia, a semifinalist last week in Dubai. She was up against the World No.4, who was playing on her favorite surface and on familiar ground – Halep is a 2014 champion here in Doha and last year had a WTA-leading 44-11 win-loss record on hardcourts.

Watch live action from Doha & Acapulco this week on WTA Live powered by TennisTV!

Halep had plenty of opportunities to put Vesnina away in the first set but the Russian refused to fold -Halep created 13 break opportunities and only converted on two of those occasions. But one of those occasions was exactly when it counted; Vesnina was serving for the set at 6-5 when Halep broke her serve, sending the match into a tiebreak.

The Romanian found another gear and played a near-perfect tiebreak, allowing Vesnina only one point before grabbing the first set 7-6(1).

Halep backed up her dominance in the tiebreak with an equally commanding start to the second set, winning four out of the next five games to race ahead to a 4-1 lead.

Seemingly down and nearly out of the match with the World No.4 up a set and a double break, Vesnina was somehow still able to gut out a comeback. What was going through the Russian’s mind?

“That’s my character – I’m always fighting ’til the end,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘I’m on center court here in Doha, I’m playing Simona, 1-4 down – but it doesn’t matter.

“I just fight game by game, ball by ball, and it just worked.”

Her mentality definitely worked: Vesnina came back to win the next four out of five games to take back the set at 6-4 and level the match. Halep started out the final set with a break at love, but Vesnina stayed on course and won six consecutive games, sealing the final game of the match with a timely ace followed by a deadly backhand down the line for match point.

With the win Vesnina not only reached her first round of 16 stage of the year, she also scored her sixth Top 10 win of her career – the first since 2013.

“For the last two years, this win is No.1 for me,” an emotional Vesnina said after the match. “Simona is a great player, she’s such a solid player. She’s had an amazing couple of years; she’s in Top 10 in the world. I’m really pleased with my game today.” 

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Azarenka Aces Acapulco Test

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

ACAPULCO, Mexico – Playing her first WTA match since her incredible Australia campaign, Victoria Azarenka shook off the rust and withstood a tough challenge from Polona Hercog, coming back from a set down to win 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 in the first round of the Abierto Mexicano Telcel.

“I don’t really come with too many expectations to any tournament, and this is not an exception,” Azarenka told press after the match. “I’m here trying to work on my game.

“My first match, it was a little bit uncomfortable at first. But I need to do that in matches to improve my game.”

Azarenka, who was making her Acapulco main draw debut, was up against the World No.82 Hercog, who was a finalist here in 2010. She struggled in the first set and showed signs of frustration – Azarenka was broken three times and her powerful groundstrokes were misfiring, racking up unforced errors. The Belarusian got one break back and fought off a set point, but gave up the first set 6-4.

Dropping the opening set seemed to be just the motivation that Azarenka needed, though, and once her game clicked, there was no looking back. She broke Hercog for 4-2 and went on to grab the next two of three games, winning the set 6-3. Azarenka was nearly unstoppable in the third – after Hercog held serve to get on board, Azarenka won the next six games to close out the match in commanding fashion, 6-1.

“I had way too many unforced errors in the beginning, but it wasn’t really a big deal,” Azarenka said of her adjustments in the second half of the match. “Just little mistakes there and there – I just cleaned it up.

“I just tried to stay a little bit more consistent and really take my opportunities better and execute my game better. “

Though she survived the tough encounter, Azarenka won’t be getting a break in the next match. Awaiting her in the second round is the on fire Dominika Cibulkova, who dominated her clash with Lourdes Dominguez Lino, winning 6-0, 6-0.

“It went pretty well,” the always-understated Cibulkova commented after the 52-minute match. “I was really strong mentally today and that’s why I won.

“I wouldn’t say I was playing really, really good. I was playing OK, I played the way I needed to play.”

She didn’t face a single break point in the straight sets romp, and didn’t let the blustery conditions affect her. What helped her stay focused?

“I am an experienced player so I know how to not get crazy about the heat, the sun and the shades,” she said, referring to the tough conditions on the grandstand court. “If I’m thinking about everything else but not the game, it would be much more tough.”

Also though to the second round is Shelby Rogers – last week’s Acapulco finalist – who survived a tough opening set to defeat Anna Tatishvili 7-6(6), 6-0. Christina McHale downed Heather Watson 4-6, 6-0, 7-6(1) to advance. No.7 seed Danka Kovinic, qualifier Julia Glushko and Olga Govortosova are through as well.

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