#WTA 2022: Simona Halep gets her second wind

After injuries that dislodged her from the Top 10, a ‘happy transition’ in life helped her stay grounded and inspired, that following a change of coach at this stage of her career — former World Number one Simona Halep has now gotten her second wind.

Monday, she just claimed Toronto after defeating Brazilian Beatriz Haddad Maia, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 in front of a packed and excited Canadian crowd.

While the rising Brazilian star after beating the likes of World Number one Iga Swiatek (R16), Belinda Bencic (QF) and Karolina Pliskova (SF) seemed poised to win the whole thing, what with the Romanian still trying to get her bearings — Beatriz just couldn’t get things done despite Simona’s nine double faults. Yes, she did beat Simona just two months ago in Birmingham, but the Brazilian obviously just couldn’t stop an overdue explosion from Romania.

Simona just got her mojo back!

Could it be because of her coaching change? Partly and that’s if Patrick Mouratoglou has been keeping an eye on Simona’s conditioning; for at this stage of her career, there’s just little to teach Simona now. She’s basically experienced it all already, that the only thing a coach could do is remind and inspire her. Look, after Toronto, she’s now back in the Top 10 at number six. Do you think she’d be able to regain the number one ranking? Well. If current World Number one Iga Swiatek continues to be on vacation, then Simona Halep could be a threat to the throne.

With proper fundamentals, you become a decent player. With good technique or tactics, you become a dangerous opponent. But when you ‘understand the ball’, when you got that unquenchable thirst — you become World Number one.

#WTA 2022: Darya Kasatkina on the move

As the U.S. Open approaches, one can’t help but notice some players who have recently been playing well, like, not just for a magical week but for several weeks already — as in going deep in tourneys more, more than losing in their matches.

And one of them is Russia’s Darya Kasatkina as she just took San Jose by beating American Shelby Rogers, 6(2)-7, 6-1, 6-2 in an excruciating 2 hour 32 minute final.

However, in this particular match, both finalists just played a bit below par considering how well they played on their way to the championship. Imagine Shelby trampling World Number four Maria Sakkari in straight sets. Then bulldozing American Amanda Anisimova in the quarterfinals, before outgunning Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova in the semifinals. But in the final, look at her first serve return points? Just 14 of 60. Her second serve return points, 22 of 36.

Meanwhile, Darya Kasatkina on her way to the finals? She outclassed World Number six Aryna Sabalenka in a three set quarterfinal. Then outworked World Number three Paula Badosa in the semifinals yet in the final, she had nine double faults. Does it make sense? Well, it happens. That’s probably why she dropped to the ground after her clinching shot against Shelby. It’s just a mix of pressure and eagerness, like, “Come on, let’s get this done!”

And she did. One more tournament to prepare for the season’s final Grand Slam and she’d be good to go.

In the other championship match of the day, another Russian in Liudmila Samsonova prevailed over Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi in Washington, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 after 106 minutes of action.

Liudmila Samsonova (L) with her second WTA singles title.

But just like the Kasatkina-Rogers match (*this match was actually played after the Washington tourney), both players had very low return serve percentages and Kaia was just a step slower in getting to the ball — that what made the match interesting were the aces they were serving. Kaia had 5 while Liudmila had 10, wow!

Anyway, perhaps the elimination of three former Grand Slam winners — Simona Halep, Victoria Azarenka and Emma Raducanu — just made the tournament lose some of its glitter. Too bad. Then again, this only reaffirms that nothing can beat hard work and the right mental attitude.

#WTA 2022: The Return of Caroline Garcia

Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia just took her second title in 5 weeks this weekend after a three-year title drought — beating Romanian first-time finalist Ana Bogdan, 6-4, 6-1 in Warsaw’s final.

However, the highlight of her Warsaw campaign was her straight sets victory over World Number one Iga Swiatek in the quarterfinals. This time Iga can’t complain of the surface or whatever, it’s clay and a tournament that’s even held on her home country. The loss could just be attributed to Iga’s ‘long’ absence from the court (*exhibition matches are just exhibition matches) coupled with Caroline’s aggressive play and so you got the Top Player scrambling. Well, the Polish just looked like she’s still on vacation and overconfident here while the French appeared eager and determined.

Obviously, that’s what was missing in Caroline’s game the past few years which explains her fall from the world’s top players. Injuries are easier to correct unless it’s a major one, but attitude? You could be among the best but one day even end up at the mercy of a lucky loser if you’re a prima donna (*or even someone who just no longer enjoys the sport). Not saying that Caroline is such but for those who already even qualified for the WTA Finals in their career, you just wonder.

Alright. Two titles in 5 weeks and beating the Queen of Clay at that, so this must be the return of Caroline Garcia. Let’s see.

Meanwhile in Czech Republic, hometown favorite Marie Bouzkova went on to win her first WTA singles title against Russian Anastasia Potapova, 6-0, 6-3 in Prague’s final.

Hard work pays off for Marie Bouzkova.

A couple of puzzles here though.

Barbora Krejcikova, as we know, is the most decorated player than anyone in the tournament, but how could she lose in the last 16 against a lesser known number 194 Nao Hibino? And in front of her countrymen? Still trying to recover from her recent injury? Well. At least it’s still not yet a Grand Slam event.

Anyway, Anastasia just beat World Number two Anett Kontaveit in the quarterfinals, but how come she lost in the finals against the 46th ranked player? Pressure? Marie just played like possessed with the crowd behind her? Probably both. More so, it was the Russian’s approach in the match that did her. She was just often too, too, too far from the baseline already. Remember, though you could likely get to the strongest serves in that area, your returns are also likely to be weaker. Stay there just for the serves, then move forward afterwards. Notice, that’s actually when Anastasia converts on her shots. So why do ‘social distancing’ with the baseline?

In the end, the Czech with her inspired play just deserved to win the Prague Open.

#WTA 2022: Bernarda Pera has arrived

What did we tell you, what did we tell you?! Bernarda Pera can play!

This time the American rolled over World Number two Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, 6-2, 6-4, to take the Hamburg Open after just an hour and fourteen minutes of blistering action. Anett just couldn’t keep up with her pace. With Bernarda’s fast cross-court balls, Anett is many times caught scrambling with weak returns that just sets up the finishing blow for the American. Well, this was the second straight title for Bernarda after taking Budapest last week. And with the way she’s been playing, she certainly looks like a formidable foe in the coming tournaments she would be in as she levelled her head-to-head count with Anett who recently beat her at Wimbledon.

Do you think Bernarda is now ready for the big tournaments? Too early and though Bernarda bested Anett in this match, it’s clay. The U.S. Open is just around the corner that the preparations should be on hard courts. And mind you, the Top players are still young and hungry, so she’s got her work cut out for her.

Yes, she’s on a roll and she’s riding on it well. But in the end, her streak would depend on her schedule, on her body, on her draw. Big tournaments? She’s just got to keep building on her play and her confidence while keeping her conditioning in top form. As big tournaments come along, these factors would be crucial that it could make or break her. Not simply her streak but ultimately her rise. Somehow, she’s at a turning point in her career — no matter her age and experience — where scheduling and conditioning becomes even more significant. Don’t overdo things nor ‘underdo’ it if there’s such a term. Meaning, pick your battles but make sure you don’t skip tournaments or be away from the court for more than a week — unless you’re injured — to be ready for the challenge. You got a growing target on your back now. Thence, you have to stay hot and focused, and get back to playing on hard courts.

It must be your time already.

#VNL2022: The Aftermath of the Volleyball Nations League

After 2 years of being restricted by the pandemic, competitive international volleyball has finally returned. Not that there weren’t any tournaments at all last year, but this year was simply when the floodgates of action has opened up once again.

And the Volleyball Nations League in Ankara was where the excitement resumed.

Tournament MVP Paola Egonu of Italy may have had her hands full if those ‘missing in action’ stars played.

The recently concluded #VNL2022 (*31 May to 17 July) that started out with 16 teams from four confederations saw Italy emerge as champions — their first in this fledgling tournament — after outgunning Brazil in the finals, 25-23, 25-22, 25-22. Italian superspiker Paola Egonu was once again at the helm of the Italian attack as she converted spike after spike and demolished the Brazilian defense. With Brazilian outside hitter Ana Cristina as basically the only attacking weapon of the Latinas, it was almost like a one-on-one battle between the two opposing star players, which they certainly didn’t disappoint the fans.

Missing In Action

What we missed though are some key players that could have changed the fortunes of their teams. Like, the USA’s middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo who surprisingly didn’t make the team, also, South Korea’s star player Kim Yeon Koung who retired from the national team last August. Unfortunately for Korea though, they even missed superspiker Lee Jae Yeong and setter Lee Da Yeong who were both serving suspensions from the national team. Having these three ladies could have really boosted Korea’s chances in the VNL. Not to mention China’s best player Zhu Ting who’s still recovering from a wrist surgery. Wait. Isn’t this a dangerous surgery or part of you to be injured considering your occupation? Would she still be the same spiker every team has feared? How could she whack the ball thinking she could get hurt again? Yes, there’s rehab but then, if your body won’t cooperate then it could be all over. Hmm. Especially if the operation was not really well done and so, the healing was not proper.

Ajcharaporn Kongyot as Middle Blocker

This is almost like the case of Thailand’s best player Ajcharaporn Kongyot. She used to be a superspiker and unquestionably one of the world’s three best spikers under six feet tall in the last five years or so, the other being Korea’s Lee Jae Yeong and Japan’s retired Saori Sakoda (*inarguably the best among them, nicknamed ‘Air Rio’ for her amazing hangtime) until the obvious has shown that Ajcharaporn’s days as an outside hitter maybe over. In the recent VNL, sadly, she just lost her explosiveness. There’s just no lift anymore and she’s only 27 even.

Why is this? Did she get injured on the tendons or somewhere critical recently? Probably one of her most major injuries was her ankle when she injured it in the fourth set of 2018 World Championships in a tight and exciting battle against the US. If not for her exit in that match, Thailand could have won the fifth set and the match itself. So, impossible as it may sound but could it be that her ankle didn’t heal well since then? Or was there other injuries that could have affected her jumping ability?

Ajcharaporn and the Thais in the recent VNL. Is she ready for the next phase of her career?

If this is the case, Thailand could make key changes in their player position to effectively move forward. The injury of Neukjang Thatdao has weakened the Thais in the net with only Bamrungsuk Hattaya defending, so, how about converting Ajcharaporn to a ‘Middle Blocker’? Then promote one of their younger, high leaping spikers to Ajcharaporn’s former position? Ajcharaporn could turn out into another Pleumjit Thinkaow which is a blessing in disguise for the Thais.

Injuries to key players are scary and telling to the team’s competitiveness, but teams should be ready to adjust their plays and their player’s position to maximize their skills and still be successful.

#WTA 2022: Lausanne, Budapest and the Case for Clay

T’was a Sunday of interesting tennis as two competitors got to the winner’s circle in separate tournaments in the persons of Croatian Petra Martic in Lausanne and American Bernarda Pera in Budapest against a fighting but unfortunate pair of Serbians.

Petra overcame a sluggish start to beat Serbia’s Olga Danilovic in straight sets, 6-4, 6-2 to pocket her first title since 2019; meanwhile, Bernarda bagged her maiden WTA singles title when she defeated Serbian Aleksandra Krunic, 6-3, 6-3 after 86 minutes of action.

Some absorbing thoughts though about these players. Olga used to show promise in her Junior years that at one point, we even saw her along with batchmates Anastasia Potapova and Dayana Yastremska as the ones who could shake up women’s tennis in time. Then again, their development did not pan out as we hoped for with more established players, like Simona Halep, still at the top of their game, just slowing down the challenge and has likely affected the confidence of these up-and-comers. You know…

Sometimes when you keep hitting a brick wall, you just give up and end up being ordinary. But remember, success is only for the strong-willed, so it’s important for those who really wants it to get their heads straight.

Meantime, it’s surprising that Bernarda Pera just won her first WTA title. See, did you know that Bernarda has even got a better career record than Petra Martic, 61.1% versus 58.2%, yet her highest career ranking was just 59th to Petra’s 14th. No, we’re not trying to discredit the Croatian but we’re just looking into the possible flaws of the ranking system. Or was she injury prone that she missed tournaments or something? At any rate, the American actually moves well and knows how to hit the ball. She could, in fact, be a tough test to get through on your way to the finals. So what happened to her campaign all these years?

Bernarda Pera with her Budapest trophy.

Just like the up-and-comers, it’s not enough to just have the physicality for the sport or the knowledge of the basics. You got to step on the court with a plan (*without it, you would just be a sitting duck against your opponent), a counter plan, the confidence to execute them and the resilience to just keep fighting — and believing.

That’s the only way to win.

The Case for Clay

Still, what’s with the tour really? It’s been always like this; like, after the Wimbledon comes clay surfaces anew.

What we mean is that, the penultimate tournament of each surface should be the Grand Slam (except for hard courts, of course, since we got two majors for it); meaning, clay season should end after the French Open just as grass season should end after Wimbledon. Otherwise, you’re just confusing people and slowly getting fans apathetic.

Obviously because, how could you still be so engaged when the grand prize has already been given? Good if it’s already the ‘next season’. Got the point? Scheduling should be fixed to give importance to the main event. And tell you, clay and especially grass just has too short of a season; how do you expect players to truly develop then? Some balance just has to be done to help WTA’s popularity and to get fans more excited. Okay, fans are already used to these schedules but those are longtime fans; for keen observers and curious outsiders, the schedule just looks like a joke.

Is it because of the ‘season’? As in, the climate where these surfaces are located that playing conditions could change if tournaments are adjusted? Funny. Notice many matches are even cancelled or rescheduled with the current WTA calendar?

#WTA 2022: Wimbledon 2022 and Elena Rybakina as Champion

Saturday’s Wimbledon final between Ons Jabeur and Elena Rybakina was history in the making as both players were gunning for their maiden Grand Slam title with the Kazakh prevailing, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 after 108 minutes of tension. Yes, tension.

With Ons and Elena representing countries not really known for tennis and battling in the biggest match of their lives, the weight was just heavy for the protagonists — especially for Elena which saw her nerves take control of her game as she dropped the first set, 3-6. Come the second set, we saw what we call ‘in-game adjustments’ which in the case of Elena was simply refocusing on her game and not allowing nervousness to take over. See, while Ons owns one of the best drop shots in the tour today, she couldn’t really beat Elena’s reach and reflexes at the net. More so, Ons is not really that fast for her to take advantage of Elena’s height (*a speedy Ons on the defensive end would have been a problem for Elena especially after her adrenaline-filled match against speedster Simona Halep in the semifinals) and so, it was the Kazakh’s efficient power that outclassed the Tunisian’s shot variety in the end.

For good results: Playing Styles (*adjust as necessary) and Court Surfaces should blend to perfection. (Photo: Elena Rybakina and her Wimbledon trophy)

Elena, to her credit, is probably the most humble and softspoken player — and Grand Slam champion — we’ve had in a while. Sensitive souls certainly felt sorry to see her go through interviews that are many times digging into her Russian origins yet answering with a calm disposition. You just wonder, don’t these reporters understand just how Elena came to be when she’s answered similar questions for days?? Hey, as if they’re interrogating the mastermind of the war?!

The questions could have been, was Elena Rybakina an ‘unexpected’ winner? Would things have changed if the Russians and Belarusians were allowed to play? The matchups would change, and so, the finalists could have, too. At least one of them.

Nevertheless, only a few felt that Elena could actually win this whole thing. For one, although Elena has a potent serve, her quickness was suspect (*which she proved us wrong in the end). See. Playing on grass is actually like ‘Urban Driving’ where quickness and brake control are crucial, while playing on clay is like ‘Formula One driving’ where speed and the ability to turn without slowing down so much are essential. Playing on ‘hard courts’? Well, it’s like being a ‘Student Driver’ where you can do just about anything with penalties shouldered by your instructor or driving school (*notice the turnover of coaches?). Kidding aside, many actually thought that it could be Ons Jabeur or Anett Kontaveit or even Belinda Bencic that would emerge as the Wimbledon champion. Then again, they didn’t drive well.

As for World Number one Iga Swiatek, it’s just a pity that her streak ended. Well, she never really did well on grass which is why our advice was for her and those having trouble with the surface was to focus their training on grass rather than on their opponent. As it is, it’s Iga’s footwork that needs to be improved. She already got the weapons, but she’s more comfortable with sliding (*as in clay) which she couldn’t do on grass, and so her debacle. In her training, try to include playing competitive badminton on the beach; or put one pound sandbags on her ankles or some sticky stuff on the soles of her shoes while practicing for grass. Be creative. With heads up play, a new streak could be on the way.

In all, with the Kazakh’s success on grass and the dominance of the Polish on clay, a Rybakina-Swiatek tussle should be the most anticipated match tennis fans would love to see.

#WTA 2022: One Down, Two to Go for Iga Swiatek

What a Saturday it was for Iga Swiatek! Second French Open title and the 35th win in a row for the Polish World Number one as she just did a quick work off 18-year-old American tennis wonder Coco Gauff, 6-1, 6-3, in just 68 minutes.

Coming into the match, Coco has actually never beaten Iga in their head-to-head matchup; and playing with conspicuous nervousness, naturally, that didn’t help at all as the American just got walloped in the first set before trying to make the second set a bit more bearable to watch. Obviously, the weakness of Coco is simply the strength of Iga — the forehand. How could you win with such? All Iga has to do is keep striking the ball with low, hard, speedy spins all over the court — and wooff — no amount of running and hard-hitting from Coco could save her.

Because. How would Coco return the ball then? With a backhand even if it should be the other way around? Or what, be 5 seconds ahead of the ball to position herself for a perfect forehand? Promising as she is but unless Coco ‘really’ cleans up her forehand, only then could she challenge Iga in their meetings. For now, back to the drawing board for the teenager.

As for Iga, well, well, well. Didn’t we say that it’s not impossible for Iga to win all the three remaining Grand Slams of the year?! So, it’s one down, two to go for the Polish superstar.

Iga Swiatek: The Dominance Continues. Wait, could it be her cap?

What’s important now — to keep the streak going — is for her to take a good break after every tournament she participates in as she’s just winning them all. So. Recharge your batteries. Have a good massage. Hey, this is six titles in a row and 35 consecutive wins! That now, still far as it may seem, she could start aiming at Martina Navratilova’s 74. Really. Of course, you don’t keep thinking of the number, or you don’t keep counting how many more to go; and most of all, you never get on the court either doubting yourself or being overconfident. Take every match, one at a time; adjust even when you’re in the slightest of trouble, and before you know it, you could already be at number 74.

In all of this, with the way Iga has been playing, it would now boil down to the surface and not her opponents anymore. Her top spins are just unstoppable right now that she’s been winning at the hard court then the clay court, but next would be ‘grass’. How comfortable would she be in such surface? What does her history say, or has she learned to adjust already? This is something she and her team has to work on as the Wimbledon approaches.

Well. That was a good French Open trophy speech. Indeed, deserving of your ranking.

#WTA 2022: Martina Trevisan bags her maiden WTA singles title in Rabat

Saturday was a day for lefties in women’s tennis as Italy’s Martina Trevisan won her maiden title in Rabat and three-time Grand Slam winner Angie Kerber survived a three-hour battle against Slovenian Kaja Juvan, 7-6(5), 6(0)-7, 7-6(5) to snatch Strasbourg.

It was a long time coming for Trevisan and finally, hard work pays off as she bested American Claire Liu, 6-2, 6-1 after their 93-minute final. Well, after surprising two-time Grand Slam winner Garbiñe Muguruza in the round of 16, you just got this feeling that this tournament could be her moment as she then kept rolling towards the pinnacle.

Meantime in Strasbourg, Kerber was just ecstatic after finally winning her finals match against Juvan. Who wouldn’t? Playing over three hours is just draining with adrenaline as the only thing that keeps you going. In the end, it just really boiled down to breaks even as we thought Juvan had a good shot at the title considering the players she beat — Elise Mertens and Karolina Pliskova — on her way to the finals.

Could the Slovenian just have overextended herself? Of course, the Slovenian wanted to win badly as well but more than the experience of the German, it was just how the ball bounced that day. Now, while this is a great preparation for Paris, taking a good full day off would be crucial and only light practice sessions with strategizing with your team along the way as the main tasks entering your first Roland Garros match.

Angie Kerber with her Strasbourg trophy.

You still have the Strasbourg touch, and all you got to do now in Paris is feel the court, the bounce, the ball.

French Open 2022

Speaking of Paris, while World Number one Iga Swiatek is a heavy favorite to win the title, don’t sleep on Bianca Andreescu.

The former U.S. Open champion has been showing signs of resurgence as she has made good runs in the last couple of tournaments she has participated in. If she could keep building on her rhythm and timing, she could be a dangerous opponent for anyone including Iga Swiatek. It would also be interesting to see how World Number two Barbora Krejcikova would play coming back from a long layoff.

Let the games begin!

#WTA 2022: Iga Swiatek collars Rome for her 5th consecutive title

There you go — 28 wins in a row and the fifth consecutive title for World Number one Iga Swiatek as she trounced Tunisian Ons Jabeur in straight sets 6-2, 6-2 in Rome.

While Ons came into the match leading their head-to-head matchup, 2-1, Iga is not only on a roll but she has learned to play the Tunisian and has gotten very comfortable with clay — something that the Polish’s coming Roland Garros opponents should be wary of. The slow court. The ball bounce. The chase and slide. Iga just adapted. That when you look back at the Rome final, Iga is often like three ‘moves’ ahead of Ons. Yet though Ons has variety in her game, placing the ball in uncomfortable hitting positions is not an easy task if your opponent knows the surface well.

Now, Iga holds the fourth longest winning streak since the turn of the century after Venus Williams with 35 (2000), Serena Williams with 34 (2013) and Justine Henin with 32 (2007-08). Oh, forget the 74 successive wins of Martina Navratilova for now, that’s just unfathomable back in the day. For now, focus on Venus, one match at a time. Hmm, can the Polish actually overtake Venus? This means she’d be winning this year’s French Open and win a couple more afterwards if so.

Not impossible.

We said this back when Iga still had 17 wins. We believed that she could make at least 20 wins when her doubters only saw her streak as coincidence. Just as it’s not impossible that Iga could, could win all the remaining Grand Slam titles of the season, while naysayers say her opponents are just not consistent. Well, where does consistency come from anyway?

Hard work and conditioning. Ten percent practice and strategizing, ninety percent tournament participation. And of course, self belief and visualization. You can’t get on the court nervous, too excited or overconfident. You can’t get on the court hoping your opponent would retire or just hand you the trophy. You can’t get on the court thinking you might lose. You get on the court feeling assured that this match is already in the bag. This is something Iga should fully immerse herself into — a daily ‘nothing is impossible’ affirmation — to win the French Open, and who knows even threaten Navratilova’s 1984 record?!

Focus and Tenacity: Just one match at a time, and pressure would subside.

Remember: ‘Doubts only sparks fear, while fear just makes you tentative, and being tentative would end your run’.

Ready for the French Open? Relax. If you had a deep run in Rome, have some downtime first, recharge; else, have your last minute preparations in Rabat and Strasbourg for Roland Garros.