Archives for May 2022

The Italian final: Iga Świątek versus Ons Jabeur

Iga Świątek
Mal Taam/MALTphoto



Iga Świątek goes into the Rome final with 27 wins in a row. She is not only No.1, but now on the clay, she is crushing people day after day. Last year, who would have thought that she became not only very fast, but smarter. She can belt her forehands and her backhand, she can mix it up, and she can also return like a ghost.

In the semis in Italy, she totally crushed Aryna Sabalenka. She wiped her out 6-2, 6-1.

Świątek has won just one Grand Slam, at the 2020 Roland Garros, but she is now tied with Serena Williams, who also had 27 wins in a row. Świątek is not quite there — a long shot— because Martina Navratilova had 74 wins in a row back in 1984.

Who would have guessed that at the start of the year? Świątek is a little bit shocked. She has lost three matches in January and early February, against the now retired No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, Danielle Collins and Jelena Ostapenko. After that, she began to streak.

“I needed time to learn how to do that properly, how to use the streak or ranking to put pressure on my opponents. I feel like I’ve done that pretty well last season and this season at the beginning, just learning how to use it in a positive way,” Świątek said. “Last year when I had better ranking, it felt like it’s something that’s pressuring me down. This time it’s totally different. Also having Tomasz [Wiktorowski, a coach who worked Aga Radwanska for many years], who is so experienced, who has been working with top players already, it’s also really helpful. I feel like I can lean on them in that matter. I just wasn’t analyzing that much as I did in previous seasons, so it also helped.”

In the final, the rising Jabeur has finally improved a lot. The 27-year-old has been pretty decent, but she has been downcast. She does have a lot of shots, and she can run for a long time, but when she has a chance to bang it, she can become confused.

Then in April, she switched her approach and became so much more confident. She did more grinding, which helped her win in Madrid.
 
“Honestly I feel like I was playing better the other matches. Maybe today wasn’t the best,” Jabeur said. “Probably another test for me mentally, for sure. But to back up the performance from Madrid, it’s very important for me. It’s one of the reasons why I’m here, why I want to continue showing myself on the court. It’s part of maybe the journey. I told you I want to win a Grand Slam, so maybe I have to go through this to be able to win one Grand Slam. For now I’m doing it right. Different test from each match. Hopefully I can still continue.”

Świątek and Jabeur have played three times, with the Tunisian winning two times, and the Pole winning once.

Jessica Pegula to face Ons Jabeur in the Madrid final

Ons Jabeur
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

When Jessica Pegula was a kid, she thought about playing all sports: football, hockey or even tennis. She wanted to score or nail a winner, either way.

Her father, Terry Pegula, owns the NFL Buffalo Bills, and the NHL Buffalo Sabres. But ,she wanted to do play tennis and advance to a pro career. Eventually, the American joined the WTA, but while she was OK, she was not amazing on court — yet.

Up until the start of last year, she was so-so, out of the top 50. Year after year, she would win and then she would lost, early. But then, she decided to hit the ball much harder and really go for it.

She still isn’t perfect, yet, but she has improved a tremendous amount. The 28-year-old could have retired, and go watch hockey or football, but she wanted to fight on court.

Now she is in the final in Madrid, and on Saturday, she will meet the talented Ons Jabeur.
 
Pegula is ready to drive and she wants to practice confidently.

“Well, if I didn’t work, I’d be very bored. People don’t realize that, they’re like, ‘You don’t have to work.’ I’m, like, ‘What would I do all day?,’ ” Pegula said. “I just wasn’t wired like that, I guess. Growing up, I guess I was just wired differently where I always wanted to be successful, and whatever it was, I feel like it’s not just tennis, whatever I do off the court too, I want to be really good at it, I want to be the best at it, I want to work hard at it. But honestly I think I just love the sport. I just have a lot of passion for playing. Yeah, I love to compete and be out there. It’s so much fun for me, and I think at the end of the day most players that’s what they are playing for.”

There are some people who want to earn money — whether it be a modest or large amount of money — and a few people do not push themselves when they play the matches. They may look OK, but there are times when they are feeling good. Conversely, when they can start to lose, they check out.

“You see the top players, they’re not playing really for more money at the time. They have already made enough money. Look at [Roger] Federer,” Pegula said. “He could have stopped a while ago and nobody would have blamed him. He says he loves the sport. I feel like I have the same feeling. I’m very compassionate about it and I love to compete and I love the challenge and the grind of doing that.”

Yes it is a huge challenge but she is rising to it. She is ranked No. 14 and very soon, she could finally be in the top 10. This year she has knocked off some solid players. But besides Madrid, she has been up and down. In Dubai, Jabeur crushed her. Who will prevail on Saturday? Neither have won a WTA 1000. Someone will.

“We’re both, I think, going to be nervous,” Pegula said. “We’re both going to want to win. We’re going to go out there and compete and have a great match, I hope.”

Amanda Anisimova rising: step on the gas

Amanda Anisimova
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

American Amanda Anisimova is finally rising, and on Thursday, she out-hit huge hitter Aryna Sabalenka. She is only 20-years- old, and last year, she was erratic at best, but now, she is smarter, and as she grows, she is more alert. She is ready, she can hustle, and she can mix it up. She is currently ranked No. 33 and very soon, she will crack the top 30s

The American needs that. When you want to step on the gas, and you are secure, then you won’t be afraid constantly.

Then on Saturday, Anisimova beat Petra Martic in straight sets. Then she is picking up. She wanted to beat the very best players, and she was pretty close, but this season she has lost to Leylah Fernandez.

Look at the No.1 Iga Swiatek, who now has won 23 wins in a row. At the end of January, after she lost at the Australian Open, she put her head down and she kept coming. The last time she lost was to Ash Barty, who won the AO, and then out of nowhere, the Aussie decided to retire. That was a shocker, but she did, so then Swiatek went way up in the sky and has been almost perfect.

In the AO, Anisimova upset Belinda Bencic and Naomi Osaka. That was almost stunning. But now it is almost normal.

The American will face Victoria Azarenka on Monday, which will be two players who can bash the ball. The emotional Azarenka can look terrific, but she does get hurt on court a lot. However, early on, she is more consistent and patient.
 
The four-time Grand Slam champ Osaka is in there, and she totally loves playing the hard courts, and she actually likes clay. But, on grass, well, she is very honest in saying it is a challenge.

“I don’t feel like clay should be harder for me than grass. To me, grass is probably the most scariest thing. But, of course every year is a new thing, and there are new players that are coming up that are really, really amazing to watch,” Osaka said. “I don’t want to like think that it’s going to be that easy to go back to the quarters, but it’s something that I feel like I should be able to do, and I’m just going to keep working on it match by match.”

There are a bunch of players who have a chance to go pretty deep next week including Bencic, Jessica Pegula, Coco Gauff and Canadian Bianca Andreescu, who has recently returned.