Tennis News

From around the world

WTA Stars On Balancing Rest And Rust

WTA Stars On Balancing Rest And Rust

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

There are few athletic endeavors as grueling as the 10-month season of professional tennis, a non-stop world tour that asks its athletes to peak several times throughout the year with little downtime in between. One would then expect any respite, however brief, to be among the most cherished times of year.

The official off-season affords a player nearly two months without set schedules or obligations, time that can be used to refresh the body and reinvigorate the mind for the year ahead. But success on the WTA tour requires a competitive wanderlust that can be hard to switch off, even for a few weeks.

“I didn’t stop, actually,” Karolina Pliskova said this week in Sydney. Peaking at No.7 late last summer, Pliskova played an incredible 28 weeks of tennis last year – including two Fed Cup weekends to help lead the Czech Republic to their fourth title in five years.

“I really didn’t have any off-season because I was playing IPTL. I just had one week off after Fed Cup and that’s it. Since then, I was playing tennis, and I’m still playing. I haven’t stopped yet.”

The Czech star hit the ground running in 2016, too, stepping in for compatriot Lucie Safarova to play a week of Hopman Cup before heading to the Apia International Sydney.

“Lucie wasn’t ready so I decided to go to Perth. Even though I didn’t feel like it was a good week, every match is important. I’m happy I had a few matches there and now a few more matches here. It’s a great start to the new season and it’s important to have some wins before the Australian Open.

Karolina Pliskova

It was the nearly full slate of matches played for the International Premier Tennis League’s OUE Singapore Slammers, however, that turned the most heads. Leading yet another team to victory just before Christmas with one-set wins over the likes of Serena Williams, Samantha Stosur, and Kristina Mladenovic, it looked to many as though Pliskova was burning both ends of an already-melted candle.

The 23 year old doesn’t see her scheduling in quite the same way.

“I feel fine, though maybe I was expecting worse,” she said after her first round win over Ana Ivanovic. “IPTL was fun; it wasn’t that bad, physically. It was more about traveling. There was not much of tennis and not much of the things I had to deal with compared to the year before, when I had a really tough off-season home.

“I had my fitness coach and physio with me the whole three weeks, so I was doing some things; it wasn’t like I wasn’t practicing at all.”

Belinda Bencic was Pliskova’s IPTL teammate, and felt similarly about forgoing a traditional off-season in favor of shaking up a part of the season where she winless in 2015.

“The most difficult thing about the start of the season is that you’re not in your rhythm yet,” she told press in Sydney. “You have to find everything again, your whole game. In IPTL, we were all super rusty, but by the first match in Brisbane, I didn’t feel rusty at all. I felt like I was into it.”

Bencic was the story of last summer, winning titles in Eastbourne and Toronto, but injuries curtailed her Asian Swing and left her looking to get off the practice court and back to competing with the best women in the game.

Belinda Bencic, Karolina Pliskova

“Last year, I was just practicing a lot and I couldn’t compare myself against the field. You think you’re playing good but then you see the others and you’re like ‘ok, no, not really’ and you get killed.

“Some players took IPTL as an off-season holiday thing, but me, I was preparing. I was happy I got some matches. We were practicing every morning and in the afternoon you could try out what you’ve practiced in a match. It was also fun, better than two months of practice.”

Much as she also enjoyed her tennis-filled off-season, Pliskova was eager to return to competition in the truest sense of the word.

“I was really looking forward to playing a normal tournament, rather than these exhibitions. Even last week, I was playing Hopman Cup and I just feel better at regular tournaments instead of an exhibition.”

With almost metronomic precision, Pliskova’s timing can leave on-lookers breathless, but it’s a skill she finds hard to hone on a practice court.

“I really don’t like practicing, so even if I’m losing or not playing well, it’s just better to play matches.”

Jelena Jankovic

A former No.1 who could relate to that sentiment is Jelena Jankovic. Struggling to rediscover her form following a run to last year’s BNP Paribas Open final, the 2008 US Open finalist elected to add to her schedule in 2015, taking wildcards in Strasbourg, Birmingham and even a WTA 125K in Nanchang – which she won – propelling herself to even stronger results at the Western & Southern Open and a pair of titles in Guangzhou and Hong Kong.

“At the end of last year, I was able to pick up my game quite a lot and I was able to play much, much better,” she said after her opening round win over Coco Vandeweghe. “I was getting better with each tournament, getting stronger physically and feeling more confidence. I was feeling pretty good about my game and about myself.

“With me, the more I compete, the better I get.”

Though Jankovic played a season of the Champions Tennis League that finished in early December, the Serb will come into the Australian Open with just three best-of-three matches under her belt in 2016, the most recent being a gut-wrenching loss to Sara Errani that demonstrated some of the rust that the likes of Pliskova and Bencic have already shaken off.

“Maybe it’s better to keep going,” Pliskova mused, “because sometimes when you stop it’s harder to start again.”

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.

Source link

Vika's Rocky Balboa Moment

Vika's Rocky Balboa Moment

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

Former No.1 Victoria Azarenka got in touch with her cinematic side over the off-season, working with friends to produce an epic training montage in her home town of Minsk.

“I wanted to show a different side of me that is not out there in the world,” she told WTA Insider. “So I wanted to show my fans, the media, the people, who I am.

“I wanted it to show the behind the scenes of my preparation, and a little bit of my interests, as well. So there’s music, there’s art, and even motorcycles.

“It made my dream come true.”

With narrative quotes from rival Serena Williams and Azarenka herself audible under an original beat, the two-time Australian Open champion gets intense on a motorcycle and in front of a graffiti wall as she works out ahead of what she hopes will be her best season yet.

“I was running at home and I saw a whole movie in front of me,” she said, explaining her inspiration behind the 90-second clip. “I actually ran through the red light and I almost got hit by a car because I was so in the moment.

“I saw this and I wanted to do this video. My friends were like, ‘we can do it. We have equipment. How do you want to do it?'”

Involved throughout the creative process, the Brisbane International champion worked with friends on the project, and enjoyed giving her input through every aspect of the film.

“My friend and I worked on the music; he did most of it, but I kept giving him crap because he didn’t do it the right way.

“I may not play any instruments but I hear music in a very special way. So once he got the music it was easier to write the treatment.”

Starting the season ranked outside the Top 10 for only the second time in seven years, Azarenka is aiming for a complete renaissance in 2016, one that unveils a more finely tuned athlete and even more dynamic personality.

“I’ve done my research about what’s been said about me in the media world. They came up with a lot of different keywords and they were just about sports. I liked it but it was limited. I’m so much more than that.

“So when I have the opportunity I want to be in the world that I live in and I just want to be open and I just want to be me because I enjoy it.”

Source link

Paszek Moving Up Down Under

Paszek Moving Up Down Under

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

Tennis players are, by definition, intense individuals. Driven by a single desire at the start of each week, small victories are, at best, swiftly savored in the face of an ever-shifting goal post. Throw in external stressors and self-doubt and indeed, only the strong survive.

Ten days into 2016 and some of that doubt has already begun to surface among the game’s best, a caution that has kept them from completely committing to the very tournaments meant to ready them for the major glory they seek.

Two-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist Tamira Paszek has had to overcome much adversity, yet remains among the few standing strong to start the season. Once a fixture in the Top 30, Paszek took six months off from the end of 2014 to heal an adductor injury, one that was wreaking havoc on an already injury-addled career.

She refused to return until she was fully fit, starting slowly by playing Challenger tournaments once she was.

“I feel very grateful and I’m very thankful for being healthy again,” she told WTA Insider as she prepared for Australian Open qualifying. “Once you’ve experienced such a low and such a struggle, you start appreciating and enjoying everything a lot more. I’m just trying to be in the moment, have fun out there, and do my best every day that I can.”

Tamira Paszek

Reuniting with former coach Andrei Pavel – a former Top 15 player himself – after playing her home tournament in Linz, Paszek added Iulia Moldovan as her full-time physio in September, and established relationships with two training facilities in her home town of Dornbirn – the Olympic Center and Tennis CAMPUS – all in the hopes of maintaining the physicality needed to unlock her potential and powerful ground game.

“I think I really found my base now. With Andrei, I have a great coach. He helps me a lot, and kind of leaves me my own instincts on the court, which I’ve always loved to deal with by myself.

“I spent the off-season at home in Austria, which was really nice, and had a great fitness preparation the first couple of weeks at the Olympic Centre back home. Last year was all about having the rehab done and starting from zero. Now I was actually starting from a fit base, so I think that’s a really big part of why things are running smoothly at the moment.”

A run to the semifinals of an autumn $100K Challenger as a qualifier set the stage for an even bigger result just one week ago in Auckland, an event where she first made the final four back in 2008, at just 17 years old.

“I’ve loved the tournament since I was a very young player. I think the tournament director does an amazing job at making a great tournament, bringing out all the best players. Auckland is a beautiful city as well; they’re really lovely people there. So I think the whole combination of everything attracts the players a lot.”

Paszek fought through qualifying once more to find a pair of former major champions in Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova – along with 2013 Wimbledon semifinalist Kirsten Flipkens – waiting for her in the main draw. Edging out Schiavone and cruising past Kuznetsova, the true test came against Flipkens, who forced her to face the self-doubt that kept her from closing out their quarterfinal encounter in straight sets, and overwhelm the Belgian with definitive intensity in the decider.

Tamira Paszek

“I really had to work for those matches. We had long rallies and tough points; there were a few really tough battles out there, but that’s rewarding after a tough pre-season, knowing you’re healthy and that you’re ready to compete against top players.”

The semifinal finish puts Paszek in position to reach the Top 100 for the first time in nearly three years, but the Austrian will have to make it through another three rounds of qualifying in order to play the first major tournament of the season.

“The good part about playing qualies is that you get a lot of matches, and you get a good rhythm, which is especially important at the beginning of the year. I’ve always been the type of person that tries to see the positive aspect of things, so I’m really looking forward to it.

“We arrived in Melbourne on Sunday, so we had a good day off, recovering from all the tough matches in Auckland. It has been pretty good, a lot of workouts, getting ‘back to the business’ and we’ve had good practices, playing a lot of points and I had a good fitness session yesterday, so I’m getting ready for Thursday.”

After a short winter spent in the Dornbirn mountains, Paszek has one more hill to climb in Melbourne, where she will need every ounce of strength earned over the off-season – and her signature intensity – to take her to the summit of her 2016 goals by returning to the Top 50.

“I’m trying to keep my expectations as low as possible, but I’m ready, I’m happy, and I’m playing well, so anything can happen.”

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.

Source link

Halep Makes Winning Start To 2016

Halep Makes Winning Start To 2016

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

SYDNEY, Australia – Simona Halep made a winning start to the 2016 season on Tuesday night, grinding past giant-killer Caroline Garcia in her opening match at the Apia International Sydney.

Watch highlights, interviews and more video from Sydney right here on!

Things didn’t go completely smoothly for Halep – after taking the first set, she watched on as Garcia came alive, ripping more than three times as many winners (10 to 3) to run away with the second set.

But the World No.2 regrouped in a big way, kicking her aggression up a notch – and pulling off some awe-inspiring winners off the ground – to close the unseeded Frenchwoman out, 6-4, 2-6, 6-1.

“It was a tough match. I actually expected a tough match because I know her pretty well. She’s strong and she hits the ball strong. She has a good serve,” Halep said. “I think I did well today though. Especially in the third set I think I was strong and solid – I played my best tennis in the third set.

“In the second set I did a step behind the baseline. Maybe that’s why she dominated me. But then I went closer to the baseline and hit the ball earlier, opened the court and made the points shorter.”

Halep was set to make her 2016 debut at the Brisbane International last week but had to pull out right before her first match there due to a left leg injury. Before playing her Sydney opener, she discussed the injury – and declared she was ready to get her 2016 season going in Sydney this week.

Next up for the No.1-seeded Halep will be No.5-seeded Karolina Pliskova, who played a near-flawless second set to run away with it against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova earlier in the day, 6-3, 6-0.

Halep has beaten Pliskova in both of their previous meetings, though both were tight two-setters.

There were mixed fortunes for the other two seeds in action on Tuesday, with No.4 seed Angelique Kerber having to withdraw from the tournament due to illness prior to her match against Ekaterina Makarova, but No.8 seed Belinda Bencic outdoing Bulgarian wildcard Tsvetana Pironkova, 6-3, 6-3.

Round out the winners were Sara Errani, who saved seven set points in the second set to edge Jelena Jankovic, 7-6(3), 7-6(8), Svetlana Kuznetsova, who outlasted Sabine Lisicki, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, Samantha Stosur, who gave her Aussie home crowd something to cheer about with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Daniela Hantuchova, and Puerto Rican qualifier Monica Puig, who beat Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, 6-1, 6-0.

All four quarterfinals of the Premier-level tournament will take the courts on Wednesday.

Source link