Madrid final: Iga Swiatek to take down Aryna Sabalenka

Iga Świątek
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

They have done it before and now, on Saturday, in  Madrid, the No. 1  Iga Swiatek will face the No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka. The two players can bash the ball, side to side, and even hit it down the line, and hope she can nail a winner.

Swiatek can almost be perfect, but she can drop off. However, in the past week, she played terrific, beating Beatriz Haddad Maia in three sets, and then in the semis, she ran so fast, very deep, wiping out Madison Keys 6-1, 6-3. 

Once again, Sabalenka can frantic when she cannot raise her game, enough, but she is very consistent, overall, and her serve has become much better over the past one and a half years. Sometimes, she can revert her serve, but she does turn it around.

Here in Madrid, in the quarters, she pushed the teenager,  Mirra Andreeva, as  she knew how to figure it out and what to do. In the semis, it was a marathon, a great one, when Sabalenka  outlasted Elena  Rybakina  1-6, 7-5, 7-6(5).

The battle is on.  

Swiatek has beaten Sabalenka  6-3 overall, and on clay, it is 3-1. But it is true that Sabalenka can be more patient, and fool her.

The wild thing is that exactly one year ago, in Madrid, Sabalenka won it, beating Swiatek 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 to win it.  This time, she can do it again, but it will be a gigantic challenge.

“I would say [last year’s final] was the best match I ever played, especially on clay court. I think the level was just super high,” Sabalenka. “It was clean, it was intense, powerful game. Yeah, I think that was the best final I ever played.”

Oh really? How about what Swiatek said: “I wouldn’t say we’re trying to figure [the game plan] out, because we kind of know what I should play, but sometimes it wasn’t easy to implement it. “So this is something that I want to improve. So it’s not like we need to change a lot, but we need to stick to the plan and I need to implement it a little bit better, sometimes.”

Swiatek will take it, 7-5 in the third set.

Rublev over Auger-Aliassime
Speaking of this, how about Andrey Rublev, who lost so many matches this year, as he was very erratic. But now, he began to be much more thoughtful, and patient. Over the past nine days in Madrid, he nailed it, over the No. 2,  Carlos Alcaraz in the quarters, and then in the semis, he beat the American,  Taylor Fritz, 6-4 6-3. Where did that come from?

“Mentally I was feeling much better and I was able to perform,” said the Russian Rublev. “Putting emotions in the right direction. For sure it has helped me to reach the final. Without this, I would not be in the final.”

But he did, and now in the final, on Sunday, he will face against Felix Auger-Aliassime, who in the semis, Jiri Lehecka had to retire, in the first set. The Canadian  Auger-Aliassime has not had a very good year, but he did reach into the top 10 in 2022,  so now, the current No. 35 can finally play wonderful. Both of them have to. Rublev leads his head-to-head 4-1 versus  Auger-Aliassime, so the Russian is  better than he is, but it could change, quickly.

“We’ve always had three-set battles, even back in 2018, I was much younger,” said Auger-Aliassime. “He’s always a player that fights hard, that’s always present every tournament, us players have highs and lows but he’s always there.”

Rublev will win it in three sets, taking the third 6-4.

On clay, Sloane Stephens was brilliant, wins Rouen

Sloane Stephens
Ron Cioffi/TR

Month after month, when  Sloane Stephens is up and down all the time, but last week, she finally raised it again, winning a title, in Rouen. How she did that, when in the first three months, she could not turn on the lights, but this time, she went for it, earlier.

On Sunday, she beat  Magda Linette 6-1, 2-6, 6-2. That was pretty darn good in the third set. Her forehand and her backhand went deep, close to the lines. She could lose it early again, but the former 2017 US Open champion is finally satisfied.

As Stephens said, she is friendly with Linette, but she beat her anyway. “She’s one of my favorite people on tour. We spend a lot of time together and practice together a ton. We talk literally every single week . It’s so nice to play against someone I really care about in the final.”

Now Stephens will have to play against the great players, at Madrid, Rome and then, at Roland Garros. Hopefully in Paris, she will be ranked in the top 30, at least. Can she reach into the second week? Time will tell.

The other American, Taylor Fritz, made it into the final in Munich, and it was possible that he could win it all, but the veteran Jan-Lennard Struff finally won the tournament. He was so darn happy, when  he beat Fritz 7-5, 6-3. He is 33-year-old , so it took him a very long time to breath, in the final. This time, he was super consistent.

“I have been on the tour for such a long time. It’s an unbelievable feeling to win my first title [on] home soil,” the German said. “I played good tennis this week. I am very happy, as I beat many great guys. It’s just amazing to do it here in Germany.”

He did, and while Fritz couldn’t win a tournament, at least he got there.

Ruud dominates in Barcelona
In Barcelona, Casper Ruud really knew it, in the final, as eight days ago in Monte Carlo , he lost in the final against Stefanos Tsitsipas. Yet this time, Ruud decided to win it, he was going to have to play more powerful, and push himself, close to the baseline. He did that, when he won it 7-5, 6-3 over the Greek. Ruud has won 11 titles, 10  on clay, so obviously he really likes to rally. However, if he can win a huge event, he can actually try to win at the French Open, but it is still early. The No. 6 is  thrilled.

Rybakina wins in Stuttgart
Over in Stuttgart, Elena Rybakina won the title, and once again, beating everyone when she is really on. She can be so aggressive, and she can throw it all around, everywhere. Yes, she can be ticked off, when she is not thrilled during the match, and she can toon it out. However, when she is thoughtful, and patient, then she can beat anyone.

In the semis, she beat the No. 1 Iga Swiatek  6-3, 4-6, 6-3 , and then in the final, she blasted the young player, Marta Kostyuk, 6-2, 6-2. That was the first time this year that the No. 4 Rybakina won a tournament. So now, she is very satisfied and more confident. As she said when she beat Swiatek: “I think it’s just style of the game. Iga, she moves really well and she likes to dominate in the rally. With me, it’s difficult because I play fast, I play flatter, and also like to move the opponent.

“So matchup where we are both pushing each other, both trying to dominate in the point. So I think of course also my serve helps a lot. That’s why some matches I win; some matches I lose. But it’s always tough for her to play against me and for me to play against her.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas wins Monte-Carlo

Stefanos Tsitsipas
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Who would have thought that Stefanos Tsitsipas would suddenly rise up in Monte-Carlo, and then, he actually win the event? Before that, in three months, he was so-so, but on the clay in France, he began to play much more consistent, and also, he decided to hit the ball really harder.

The Greek beat three top 10 players, with Alexander Zverev, Jannik Sinner, and in the final, he out-hit Casper Ruud 6-1, 6-4. After he overcame about No. 2 Sinner in three dramatic sets, with some tremendous forehands, he knew that versus Ruud, he could pump it early, and then, pound the ball. He did, and now, he is going into Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros, who should be on top of the ball.  Or maybe he won’t be, as the last time he won it was in Los Cabos, Mexico, back in July, and after that, he became erratic. Really, you never know, but last week, he look phenominal.

“This is an unbelievable win for me. Capturing that win today was nerve-wracking,” Tsitsipas said. 

“I had to go out there and show my tennis as I promised every single of them I will make the most out of it. I am glad I presented on court and showed some ruthless tennis. From the beginning to the end my play was cohesive and I was able to blend in a lot of different shots.”

Unfortunately, Ruud looked tired. In the semis, he upset the No. 1 Novak Djokovic in three very tough sets. He played incredible, with some terrific strokes, and even he was able to stay in there, backhand to backhand. Crosscourt and down the line,  Djokovic is the best player of all time, but Ruud wore him down. The 25-year-old is more emotional when he is playing great. Now he has to refresh, as he will play in Barcelona, this week, so if he wants to go deep again,  he is going to have to be super patient.

USA over Belgium in Billie Jean King Cup
This has been going for years, in April, which was called the Fed Cup, but now, it is called the Billie Jean King Cup. Ok, that is fine, but not many people know who it is.

Someday, many will, or maybe not, but in Orlando, the United States won 4-0 in  the qualifying series.

In the singles, Jessica Pegula and Emma Navarro  won it, as was did Caroline Dolehide and Taylor Townsend in the dead-rubber doubles. Many of the Americans have won it so many times, but over the past 10 years, it has been harder. They will find out when in November, in Seville, Spain, there will be 12 teams. That could be dramatic. The new first-year captain Lindsay Davenport played so many times, over the years, so this time, she knows that she has a lot of work to do. Clearly, she was a terrific player, but currently, she has to learn coaching, gradually. She was happy though, a solid victory.

“It’s been an awesome experience. It was a little overwhelming last year when I just had my first conversation with the USTA,” she said. “I can’t do this. I’ve got four kids. They came back and they’re like, We really want to make this work. I was super happy about that.  It was never not about the players. Being on court with players is something I love. It was hard to balance practices, there were some meetings . I think I would look to schedule days differently. Like I said, it was a learning week for me also.” 

Yes it does.

Stuttgart hosts a number of the top players with Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka, Coco Gauff and Elena Rybakina. That should be a wild week.

Danielle Collins wins Miami, can she won a Slam?

Was it very surprised when Danielle Collins won the Miami Open, beating Elena Rybakina 7-5, 6-3 in the final? Maybe, as for the first time, when the 30-year-old finally won a WTA Masters 1000-level even. That is a very long time, but over the past two weeks, she was very focused, she nailed her forehand and her backhand deep, into the corners. She can try to blast it, all the time, but she can also over hit, and lose her control. Yes she is playing great now, but for many years, she was not close. However, in Florida, Collins locked in.

“That game took a lot out of me and Elena was pushing me all around the court,” Collins said. “At the end I was just like, ‘Thank God.’ It all caught up to me.”

She came ranked No. 53  in Miami, and now she is No. 22. She said that at the end of the year, she will retire, because she’s suffering from the endometriosis, a painful ailment that affects the uterus. That can be painful, but on court, you just have to fight, in the matches. You have know choice.

Just before she played in Miami, she woke up, and she was ready to dance, and to put it in.

“When I walked in today, I immediately had, like, a few cameramen on me and we were having some great moments with my team. I said, you know, these are some really special moments<“ Collins said. “I don’t want to be so focused on everything else where I don’t get of take it in.
Part of the reason why I played so well and did a good job today was because I had that mentality of, like, I’m going to enjoy every minute of this. This is my last year, and these are some of my final events. I want to remember these moments. I do look back on sometimes different stages of my career, and be like, wow, that’s a blur and I don’t really remember it that much. It doesn’t really seem that long ago when you say, oh, four years or six years, but in a lot of ways it can feel like an eternity.”

She has yet to win Grand Slam, but at least she reached into the final at the 2022 Aussie Open, and then she finally lost, versus Ashleigh Barty. Really, Barty is a better played, even after she retired then Collins. So that is not a big deal, but maybe, in the next seven months, she can win another tournament. Maybe the U.S. Open?  She has only won three events, so then why not to go for it again.

Many times, Rybakina can play amazing, but then, she can trip it up. She was not thrilled when she lost in the final. The No. 4 Rybakina said that about Collins “she’s playing very aggressive…Physically I was not at my best so I couldn’t push myself. Maybe I should have maybe just risked a little bit more when I had these break points.”

She didn’t, but on the clay, she will try again with more patience…All of the three top players — with Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka and Coco Gauff— all lost. It is impossible to win all the matches, month after month, so if you lose, you can take a huge breath, and move on…This week, in Credit One Charleston Open, Collins will face against the No. 6 Ons Jabeur. That should be a crazy match, as Jabeur can really mix it all around, but she has been slumping, so she will have to really center…Almost all the American women who are playing, with also with Jessica Pegula, Madison Keys and Emma Navarro, among others. Hopeful the weather will be decent, as there have been some tough days over the past four weeks, including in California, Florida, and South Carolina. Good luck…

With the men, at the 2024 Aussie Open, Jannik Sinner said, “I like to dance in the pressure storm.” Well he did it, and the won it at Miami 6-3, 6-1, over over Grigor Dimitrov. He is winning all the time, now. This year, he could become No. 1 for the first time. Maybe, because on the clay, it will be totally more feel, on the court. However, he is so darn good, now. He has only lost won match over the past three months. He is  solid and powerful. Now he is No. 2, ahead of Carlos Alcaraz , slightly. A few years ago, he wasn’t understanding what to do, a lot. But now, he is very calm, and conscious.

“You go through, when you’re young, you don’t handle these situations as I handle them now. Maybe in the future I handle them even better, ”Sinner said, who also destroyed Daniil Medvedev in the semis. “But my personality is very trying to stay calm. But in the other way, you have to don’t sit back. You have to attack it. You know, if I lose the match by attacking and trying to take it, for me it’s better than standing back and then seeing what’s happening. That’s also how I am.  So you have to stay focused, mentally in every situation. On the courts, many things can happen. The momentum can switch so fast even if you’re up a set and break. So you have to be very aware of this.”

He has to go to Monte Carlo, to play,  next week. weeks. The Italian is also thinking about playing at Roland Garros, but he is already thinking about Rome. Or anything.

“Now the clay season is coming, so usually I struggle there. So let’s see what I can do this year,” he said. “For sure, I am living a good life now…For sure, the main goal is Roland Garros, yes, but trying to work slowly into this tournament and trying to play it in the best possible way. Before I have Rome, for me, especially is a really, really important tournament. Playing with the home crowd, it’s always amazing. No, I’m very relaxed.  Physically I’m in a different shape than I was last year, which the clay is a lot physical. Then we’ll see how it goes.”

He will go somewhere… The American men are in Houston this week, on clay.  It has gone for a very long times, and the fans who see to like it. However, there are not any of the top 10, but at least there are a couple men who are in the top 20 with Frances Tiafoe and Ben Shelton. The Argentine, Francisco Cerundolo, is also there, who is rankedNo. 23. Whoever will win the event and then they will travel into Europe. When they land, they can continue to cheer. But after that, can they beat the tremendous players, to win, or fold, again? That is a huge question.

Will Danielle Collins take down Elena Rybakina in Miami?

Danielle Collins

It would be somewhat stunning that Danielle Collins wins a huge tournament, this year, as the American has said that she will retire at the end of the year. She is only 30 years old, but it is time to go, but before that, she has to knock down  Elena Rybakina on Saturday in Miami Open.

Rybakina can play terrific, each event, but then she can lose control. But over the past 10 days, she locked in, and she kept coming, with her forehand and her backhand. She edged Vika Azarenka in the tiebreaker on the third set, and she did not get nervous, at all. She has changed, month after month.

“It’s a lot about the decisions on the court, but I’m just really proud how mentally I could still push myself even though it was really difficult from the beginning. For sure I can take a lot from this tournament, a lot of positive,” she said. “And also, in the beginning, these long matches were helping me to get back in shape. Now I’m not in shape just because I’m tired of all these long matches, but overall, it was really successful tournament no matter how I do in the final.”

Rybakina has beat Collins three times, but she did lose, once. But it is a new chapter, on Saturday, as Collins gradually rises when she paint the lines. She has missed on the court for many years, but she can also be focused, and more calm. She is a gigantic hitter, in the backcourt, and she can go for it, super early. When Collins  isn’t playing, she will occasionally read some important books. Because of that, she will get smarter, with everyone.

“I think a lot of these sports psychology books and things that they talk about high-level sports, they talk about being in the zone, almost feeling like you’re hitting beach balls, I think it can feel like that at times. That’s a good thing,” Collins said. “In other times that I have played well and have had deep runs in tournaments, it’s been like that, and then, in other times, there’s days, it’s like going out to the golf range and having a bad day and you’re missing shots.  But right now I’m timing the ball really well. I think I have made some physical adjustments too that’s helped me be able to control my shots more and hit them with more accuracy and precision.”

Collins did beat Ekaterina Alexandrova  in the semis, so she outhit her.  She did reach the the 2022 Australian Open final, so now, if she can grab Miami, it will be an AMAZING thrill. But let’s see who will put it in the basket.

“I’m looking forward to playing Elena,” Collins said. “We have had a lot of great matches previously, some battles. That’s what we play for as professional athletes, these close ones. Every time I have played her, it’s neck and neck.”

Can Jessica Pegula win Miami?

Jessica Pegula
Rick Limpert

Will Jessica Pegula win another huge tournament and win it all? The American has had a fine last two years, but at the Grand Slam events, she has never reached into the final, ever. But forget it about now, she has to raise her game, and make sure to hit it very deep, as her opponent, Ekaterina Alexandrova, will be ready to attach it, early. Physically, she has had a tough time this year, but she does feel better, and Pegula can become very comfortable during the match. Two days ago, she beat the other American, Emma Navarro, in two tight sets.

“That win was really important for me, honestly,” Pegula said. “I think this week and how I approached this week was really going to dictate how my year was going to go. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not, but I think mentally I wasn’t really coming in a great mental state.  But I know I can play really well here and I like the conditions so I wanted to try and turn it around this week.”

Pegula will have to, as Alexandrova almost stunned when she beat the No. 1 Iga Swiatek. She hit so many winners, with some gigantic shots. However, she is up and down, so she is going to have to push her back.

The other American, Danielle Collins, is playing very well, at least in Miami. She is a immense hitter, and she rarely decides to be more patient. She wants to go for it, when she has to smash the ball, all over the place. She will retire at the end of the year, so this is mammoth. She will have to face another veteran, Caroline Garcia, when she  played amazing, as she beat Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff, two Grand Slams players. The Frenchwoman can be super steady, and she can also rush the net. She has won a few tremendous tournaments, but she has never won a Grand Slam, yet. But she is feeling good, and she has to play phenomenal. Yet Collins has beat her all three times. That is a astronomical challenge.

“On the practice courts in Indian Wells after the loss against Maria [Sakkari], I was a bit down,” Garcia said. “And then we did some good practice, we saw she played well. So my team was, like, You see? It was not that bad.”

Once again, when Jannik  Sinner played very well on Tuesday, in straight sets, and now he has to take down Tomas Machac. The Spaniard is pretty young, and last year, he finally broke into the top 100. Each week, he looks like that he is trying to add some new shots, and to swing harder. However, the 2024 Aussie Open champion, Sinner, is much more composed now. He is a massive hit her, with his forehand and his backhand, and he can also be suffering. Right now, he is better than Machac, and he should win it in two simple sets.

Chilean Nicolas Jarry did reach the top 20 this year, and he must have been rapturous. He has had a solid season, when he is not only competitive, but also, when he reacts. He is not a fantastic player, at least yet, so if he wants to grab it, he most really be super patient versus, Daniil Medvedev, who almost always loves to rally from the backcourt. Yes, the Russian can mess it up, but when he is happy, on court, he can take down almost everyone. However, while he goes go deep, each event, and that is just fine, but he has not won a tournament this year. There is no doubt that he wants to play against Carlos Alcaraz again, as the Spaniard beat him in the final at Indian Wells. Medvedev is churning, in Miami.

Sloane Stephens: ‘Who knows how much longer I will play, but there is still a lot left’

Sloane Stephens
Ron Cioffi/TR

The older they get, many people finally become more  intelligent, and what is really happening. Sloane Stephens just turned 31-years-old, and while she won the 2017 US Open, after that, she could not do it again. Other players want to do it again and again, and while she certainly made some huge efforts, it wasn’t good enough, and that is OK. However, she has had some tough times, on the court. She knows that. 

“It’s been obviously a difficult journey, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of heartbreak, a lot of strong, incredible performances on incredible stages and great trophies and just very low lows,” she said, who is playing Miami Open, after she beat Angelique Kerber 6-2, 6-3. “It’s definitely been a journey in itself, and I think obviously when I started playing tennis I would have never even dreamed of winning a Grand Slam or being No. 3 in the world.  I was playing because I really enjoyed it and I loved it.  Somebody asked me this the other day, like, does it matter that you were never No. 1 in the world? I’m, like, absolutely not. I maxed out what I had, I won a Grand Slam, I had a great career-high ranking, played the Olympics, done all these amazing things.”

Yes, there are some terrific memories, when they are awake, or sleeping. It is the good stuff, or bad, depending during the matches. Stephens can be so steady, with her forehand and her backhand, and when she is comfortable, then she can try to nail it into the lines. Even on the dirt, when she is skipping around on the court, then she can mix it up, a lot. She did reach at Roland Garros, in 2018, and while she didn’t win it, she was more respectable. But not all the time. Current, she is ranked No. 41, which is OK, but not wonderful. At the last six Slams, since 2022, she could not advance into the second week. Ouch. Perhaps she can do it again, but maybe she will just hang it around.

“When you start a sport, you can have a dream, obviously something that you really want to do, and if you do that, you get there, it’s always incredible, right? But when you do that and then you do so many other things on top of it, it’s just like icing on the cake,” said Stephens, who will face against the solid person, Sorano Cirstea. 

“I feel like I have done so much, but there is still a lot left. I’m 31, but who knows how much longer I will play, but there is still a lot left. Hopefully some more, like, accomplishments and fun things to come.”

Osaka win sets up clash with Svitolina
Another four time Grand Slam champion, Naomi Osaka, is starting to play well, so when she can go month after month, then eventually, she can be much more attentive. She can mash her forehand and her backhand down the line, quickly, and she can also raid, immediately. She has had some tough years, with her thoughts, and she is working on it, but in the matches, she can re-think what she is doing.  She has to face against another very good  player,  Elina Svitolina, in the second round. Both of them will hit the ball so hard.

It has to be with Frances Tiafoe this week in Florida, as the other American hasn’t gone deep this year, and even before that. In 2023 in June he won Stuttgart, Germany, but after that, he fell down. Two weeks ago at Indian Wells, he lost in the second round. He was a fine player in 2022, when he reached into the semi at the US Open, and he almost did it, but Carlos Alcaraz overcame him in the fifth set. At Miami, Tiafoe will face a solid veteran, the Aussie, Christopher O’Connell, so that should be a long contest. Backhand to backhand, whoever can press it, down the line, he will grab it.

Is Cameron Norrie is fading this year? I would say, no, not yet, as the No. 30 players all the time, and he is very steady.  However, he should blitz early. He will face versus Flavio Cobolli, who has had a solid season. 

Indian Wells: Taylor Fritz vs Holger Rune

Holger Rune

Here comes the American, again, when Taylor Fritz  will have to take out against Holger Rune, who once again, he is playing more real, on the court. He has had a decent season, this year, but he has to re-figure what he must do, and stay there, if he has to.

 On Wednesday night in at Indian Wells, he will be pumped up, but he has to think about what types of his shots, and where he will go. He did it here two years ago, when he put together for 10 days, and he became super consistent. However, after that, he won some terrific matches, but he has yet to do another ATP 1000 again,  so now, he will try to go it again.

Last year, the Denmark  Rune had some fine matches, going deep on the hard courts, the clay (especially in Monte-Carlo and Rome) and the grass. He didn’t win it all, but it was close enough, so if he is feeling good, then the No. 7 can start beating against the top players. He can be super solid, with his backhand, and he can return, too.

But if Fritz can be immediately aggressive, then he can push him way back and put it away. He can bash his forehand and his backhand, and he can hit it down the line, and also go crosscourt.  Yes, Fritz can return pretty decent, and when he is confident, he can make an attempt to hit it very deep. The think is, though, is he is not terrific at the net, and his backhand could be so-so. But as he said: “I think both, it’s the same kind of thing,” Fritz said. “I’ve always felt confident here, even before winning. I feel like I always performed well and played well. It’s the same thing. I come here and from the first hit, kind of just feeling the courts, it feels really good for me.”

Rune is only 20-years- old, so he has to understand exactly what he has to do, when he returning, and mix it up. He is fast, running, and he can move forward, and trust it around. Rune’s  forehand can be  powerful, his backhand is somewhat solid, and he can throw it all around the box. But it is all about the week, and while he hasn’t gone deep this year, perhaps he is adding some more different shots.

Both Carlos Alcaraz and Alexander Zverev won there matches, and they will face off on Thursday. It has to be a tremendous match at nigh. A darn, good match.

NOTES
Also late at night on Wednesday, the No. 11 Daria Kasatkina will take on Yuan Yue. Kasatkina reached the finals at Abu Dhabi and Adelaide this year, and while she didn’t win it, she was threatening. Yuan has been quiet over the past few years, but now she is trying to hit the ball, harder. They all have to, at some point.

On Tuesday, the No.1 Iga Swiatek crushed Yulia Putintseva 6-1, 6-2. You never know when she doesn’t play well at all, but that is very rare. Caroline Wozniacki played pretty decent when she beat Angelique Kerber 6-4, 6-2. They both were hurt, physically, a small amount, but they kept going. Wozniacki thinks she can go even further. Oh, really? Hmmm.

Naomi Osaka: ‘When and where she can become No. 1’

Naomi Osaka

At what point will the four-time Slam champion Naomi Osaka rise again? She just came back two months ago, and she looked decent, but she wasn’t fantastic yet. She is certainly getting better, as last year, she had a new baby, so she had to stop, for a while. However, she wants to play, when she can, and at Indian Wells, in the first round, she smoked the veteran Sara Errani, 6-3, 6-1. 

She can smash the ball, with her forehand and her backhand, and her first serve can be massive. She can be so intense, when she is satisfied, and then if she can check out, when she is her thinking, and then she can lose. However, Osaka has won her Grand Slams, on the hardcourts, so she can leap the ball, and hit it right on the lines.

It is impossible to know when and where she can become No. 1 again. Osaka is still young, though, so maybe she is adding with her game, such as at the net, and to return it. She has to, as she will face the Russian Liudmila Samsonova, who looked pretty good.

The 2021 US Open champion  Emma Raducanu is out there this week, and she has been struggling over the past year. But she is more healthy now, and her forehand is flatter. Her backhand is striking, and she could throw it around until she has a chance to really nail it. But not yet, as it will take weeks before she recovers mentally. Also, last year, the 21-year-old had to go to the surgery, with her wrist and her ankle.

“I want to work on becoming a better tennis player,” Raducanu said. “I think for me I’m not too concerned about this year’s tournaments. A lot of people out there would say that I need matches, but I think that for me I want to work on my game and development. Taking time to do that is very necessary and not just following the crowd, or playing a lot of matches, or dropping down [to Challenger level] to do that. I want to work on developing skills. I felt like because I was so go-go-go since December, I felt like I became a little fatigued, so it was good to go back, freshen up and practice for the American swing, which I’m a big fan of.”

The other British Katie Boulter just won in San Diego, which was huge, as she never past into the big tournaments. Now she has, being much more aggressive.

How about the 19-year-old American Alex Michelsen, who is improving a lot. He won a few matches in February and March in Delray Beach, Dallas and Los Cabos, upsetting Alex de Minaur. Last year, he reached the final in Newport, stunning John Isner. A few weeks ago, Michelsen finally feels that he can stay there for a long time.

“I feel like I’ve been everywhere,” Michelsen said. “But I feel like after I won my first couple of rounds in Australia I was like, ‘Wow, I’m a professional. Wow, I’m pretty good.’ So I think that was my big like, ‘Aha!’ moment for sure.”

Another young person, the Frenchman Arthur Fils, can be up and down and can chuck it all over the place. However, he does have to be more thoughtful on the court.

NOTES
Daniil Medvedev can play fantastic, but he can also back up. After he lost in Dubai, and he lost in the semis against Ugo Humbert — a very good player — he said: “Here I was taking it match by match because I was unfortunately maybe too much looking at my body. First match, how does it feel. Next day, next match, three sets, how do I feel. It was not that bad, but I was not free for 100%, especially on the serve. I couldn’t just go for it. Hopefully this can change because Indian Wells. It’s not like I have one month to prepare. Hopefully I can go for it more.  When I’m free, I want to win every tournament I play. … Again, I’m happy with the result, honestly, with the semifinal, with the way I felt, the body, but I’m disappointed with the energy I had because it was not the energy of a winner of the tournament, which I like to have, which I have had many times.”

Two good who have won a Slam are Jannik Sinner and Caroline Wozniacki . He is playing great this year. Wozniacki is hitting her terrific backhand, taking down Donna Vekic 7-6(5), 6-3. Will she stay here in this tournament?  Maybe, but she has to prove it.

Jelena Ostapenko wins it again in Upper Austria Ladies Linz

The now No. 11 Jelena Ostapenko finally play top to the bottom, and even that, she can smash it into the corners. In the final, the once 2017 Roland Garros champ beat Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-2, 6-3 pretty easily, without so many error, which she has done it many times. But when she is more consistent, and to mix it up more, then she can be much more controlling.

The Latvia has won “just” one Grand Slam, but she has also gone deep in the events,  so maybe she can do it again. 

At the WTA 500 tournament in Upper Austria Ladies Linz, she was totally thrilled.

“It was a really good week, and I felt like every match I was playing better and better,” Ostapenko said. “It’s really amazing to win two singles trophies this year already (she won at Adelaide), and winning a doubles trophy as well, [and] playing Australian Open [in the doubles with Lyudmyla Kichenok] final — it’s like four tournaments and four finals, which is really great. I’m just happy with the way I’m playing this year. I think I feel like I’m more mature and more confident with my game, so it even motivates me more to work hard and get back to the Top 10.”

Yes she will, very soon, or maybe not. Last year, Ostapenko  did win Birmingham in June, and at the 2023 Australian Open, in the fourth round, she beat Coco Gauff before she lost against Elena Rybakina. On the day, she can play marvelous, almost stunning against the current No. 1, Iga Swiatek at the 2023 U.S. Open. After that, though, Gauff overwhelmed her. Ostapenko did not much after that in the fall, so now she must have been more thoughtful.

Back to Upper Austria Ladies Linz,  Alexandrova is up and down, terrific and lousy, too. She is aggressive, but then she can backs off. However, she has had a fine year, beating Elena Rybakina in Australia, and then last week, she took down  Anastasia Potapova, and in the semis agains  Donna Vekic, she stood in there, but it took forever, winning 5-7 7-6(4) 7-6(6). She must have been exhausted in the final. 

The Russian veteran has not been very good  at the Slams last year, but at least she won the ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands in June, on the grass. She also really likes to play on the hardcourts, and her backhand can be so solid, and she can return into the corners, too.

However, she has never reached into the quarters at the Slams, so this year, she can do something different.

NOTES

On Upper Austria Day, the now retired and one Slam winner Ana Ivanovic was honored in the front of the crowds.  Her good friend and a fine player, Barbara Schett, was there….

That was new, when the young Russian, Diana Shnaider, won the Thailand Open beating  Zhu Linz 6-3, 2-6, 6-1…

In Montpellier, in France, Alexander Bublik beat Borna Coric 5-7, 6-2, 6-3. He finally did it, so now in the third set he can let go and really turn it on…

The U.S. men just started in the Dallas Open. There are a lot of many Americans who are playing such as Ben Shelton, Frances Tiafoe, Tommy Paul and  Christopher Eubanks. The winner will be?