Following a break from tennis, former Top 10 player Elina Svitolina of Ukraine collars Strasbourg against Russian counterpart Anna Blinkova, 6-2, 6-3 after 90 minutes of play on the clay court.
While the Ukrainian came out victorious, we can not really say that she’s finally back — despite winning easily and in straight sets — as it was quite obvious that she’s still hitting a little weaker and moving a bit slower than she used to. Yes, Svitolina served better and had more break points saved, but then, against someone who did not really take as long a break as the Ukrainian, the World Number 66 Blinkova may have just been pressed by stuff outside tennis.
At any rate, it was quite a good gesture by Svitolina to have even donated her prize money to Ukrainian children. Perhaps it could bring her some good luck and win a couple of matches in the upcoming French Open.
Meantime over at Rabat, Italy’s Lucia Bronzetti nets her first WTA singles title at the expense of Julia Grabher, 6-4, 5-7, 7-5 in an absorbing weekend of tennis. Well, nerves, indeed, has a lot to do with who wins the match.
It was Elena Rybakina’s second title of the season as she came on top in her battle against Ukraine’s Anhelina Kalinina who had to retire with an injured left thigh in Rome’s final, 6-4, 1-0 after just an hour of tennis.
Hadn’t Kalinina retired, she could have at least given Rybakina a good run for her money as she has already beaten the Kazakh in their only previous meeting. Even in this final, the Ukrainian actually managed to surge ahead to a 3-1 lead in the first set; but of course, the poise of Rybakina was on full display as she climbed back to win the set — by basically receiving better than Kalinina, 21-12, with a little help from her 3-1 aces advantage while having 4 more winners in comparison to her unforced errors, 21-17.
Well, it’s been a three-cornered fight at the top with the Kazakh along with World Number one Iga Swiatek and number 2 Aryna Sabalenka contesting the honors. Rybakina is now tied with Swiatek at second place for the most wins this season (28), while Sabalenka leads the tour with 29 victories.
With their Rome finals appearance, Kalinina has moved up to number 25 while Rybakina now sits at number 4 in the updated world rankings.
Once again it was one versus two in the most recent final in women’s tennis as World Number two Aryna Sabalenka took down World Number one Iga Swiatek, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 after over two hours of exciting tennis in Madrid.
This was the ninth meeting of the world’s top two players yet despite Sabalenka’s victory, Swiatek still has quite a lead, 6-3, in her head-to-head matchup with the Belarusian star. In the match, Sabalenka noticeably came to the net more often to neutralize the Polish’s dangerous top spin, while hitting her groundstrokes a little more wider to avoid Swiatek’s reach. These led to an overzealous Polish that tried to end things under Sabalenka’s terms.
Sounds simple but, fact is, the game plan and the execution should be perfect to get the results you want.
So, do we now have a Swiatek-Sabalenka rivalry to talk about? Not quite. We’re not even halfway through the season, that even this goes the full stretch, we wouldn’t come to that rivalry unless this continues through the 2024 season. Just look at the supposed Ons Jabeur-Iga Swiatek ‘rivalry’? It just fizzled out, right? Same goes with this one.
Power and accuracy are difficult to maintain in relation to physical balance as time goes on, just as slices and drop shots can only prolong the match — but not beat the top spin. The most Sabalenka could do here is just dislodge Swiatek from the top spot, but that would be fleeting. Unless the Polish becomes totally disinterested in building a legacy of her own and Jabeur slips into oblivion, only then can the Belarusian hold on to the number one spot for a minute longer.
Then, are we saying that it’s really a Swiatek-Jabeur rivalry that would echo through the tour for years to come? No. This matchup may even be on the tail-end already. Meaning, only a series of final matchups could happen between them, before it’s really over. After all, Jabeur is nearing 30 already. So, who’s likely to be Swiatek’s rival?
Talent, age and playing style — they fit the bill of ‘rivalry’. Andreescu just has to regain her confidence and maintain good health. She’s been inconsistent because she’s playing a bit tight; and her mindset is just fluctuating between “I want this” and “I’m tired of this.” Focus and hunger are key to her success, that if she can’t do it in the next 18 months, then she’s done for good.
Iga Swiatek is Stuttgart’s back-to-back champion as she eclipsed World Number two Aryna Sabalenka in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4 after one hour and 50 minutes.
Wow, it’s like it’s been a while since we heard of Poland’s top player. You know, there were just too many tournaments where we missed seeing Swiatek and her tennis brilliance. An absentee World Number one, so to speak. What happened?
Well, injury. Because of her rib injury, Swiatek was unable to play in both the Miami Open and Poland’s Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier. And so, despite her earlier victories in this edition of Stuttgart, people still doubted her ability to make it all the way especially since she only advanced to the final because Ons Jabeur retired with a calf injury after just three games in their semifinal match. So, the Polish’s staying power and timing was still suspect. After all, she would be facing an in-form Belarusian who might as well have a good shot at dethroning her from the top.
In the final though, while Sabalenka had a better service game, Swiatek despite her rusty top spin still had the focus to play good defense that extended the rallies to her favor. With the win, Swiatek now leads Sabalenka 5-2 in their head-to-head meetings.
Clay season is underway as World Number five Ons Jabeur and Tatjana Maria claim Charleston and Bogota against gutsy adversaries.
It was another tight contest between familiar foes as Tunisian Ons Jabeur beat Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic for the fourth time in six meetings, 7-6(6), 6-4. While most of the stats were practically even between the protagonists, the only number that actually stood out was Jabeur’s eight timely aces compared to just one by Bencic — who just seemed to be out of sync in the match. Yes, her idea of putting pressure from the net was good, but her anticipation was just off in this Charleston final as the ball just lands inside the court without really being contested.
In all, this match was more than just ‘who wants it more’, but it’s about who had the better timing between the two classy tacticians. And so with the win, Jabeur climbed a notch in the world rankings to Number four.
Meanwhile in Bogota, Germany’s Tatjana Maria picked up her third WTA singles title as she nipped American Peyton Stearns, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 in two hours of action. If you only look at the stats, you would actually be puzzled as Stearns has even led in most of the numbers yet lost to Maria whose 6-1 edge in aces was basically cancelled by her five double faults.
So, how did Stearns lose?
Inexperience. Yes, this is one of those times where we could say experience played a role in the outcome. How could that be when the American does know how to strike the ball? Nerves. Because of her inexperience in going deep in tournaments, Stearns’ nerves just had the best of her. Sometimes, ‘expectations’ can actually bring down your level of performance. And so, it is really important to develop self-belief at its core to overcome whatever inexperience that is exposed in one’s game.
It’s been a long time coming for Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitova, but finally after 5 long years, she’s back in the winner’s circle as she stopped Elena Rybakina’s 13 match winning streak to win the Miami Open title, 7-6(14), 6-2 in nearly two hours of tennis.
The title was Kvitova’s 30th in her illustrious WTA career, and with that, she showed that she still had some spunk left after outplaying a gritty Kazakh in a grueling first set tiebreaker where she had to dig deep into her bag of tricks to overcome Rybakina’s avalanche of aces, that saw the score ending at 16-14. With momentum on Kvitova’s side, she then breezed past the world’s Number seven on her way to relevance.
In all, Rybakina, oftentimes, looked a step slower against a better prepared Kvitova. The Czech’s long journey back from oblivion was just a telling testimony of strong work ethics and determination which every great player always had in them. And the stats would even show for it — 29 winners to just 10 by Rybakina; and while the Kazakh launched 12 aces, Kvitova did win 78 percent of her service points as she defended her turf well with only 14 unforced errors.
With the victory, Petra Kvitova now climbs back to the world’s Top 10 players, while Elena Rybakina creeps closer in being among the Top 5 players in the world.
After two hours of power hitting tennis, Kazakhstan’s World Number 10 Elena Rybakina tamed Belarus’ World Number two Aryna Sabalenka in two grueling sets, 7-6(11), 6-4, to collar the Indian Wells championship.
This was the protagonists sixth meeting, with Sabalenka beating Rybakina in all four previous meetings in a regular tournament — including their recent face off at the 2023 Australian Open final — while the Kazakh just getting her crumbs in an exhibition match at the 2022 World Tennis League — before finally making her breakthrough win here at the Indian Wells. To the Kazakh’s credit, all their matches have gone the distance that every face off was only decided in the third set.
Yet though this meeting at the desert was concluded in straight sets, the hellacious first set that only simmered a bit in the second was already like a three set battle. It was an exciting match, indeed, as we saw the strength of Sabalenka getting tested and tweaked by the sly power of Rybakina with the frustrated Belarusian turning in 10 double faults as an indirect effect — and the Kazakh even having more aces, 7-4, to show.
It was not exactly a great service game for both players, but most would not really notice it since service and receiver points were close. Still, with both of them saving breakpoints here and there, and converting on a couple of breakpoints themselves — the match only turned up the heat and glued the audience to their seats until the final serve that pushed Elena Rybakina to World Number seven.
It was such a pulsating weekend in women’s tennis as Croatian Donna Vekic showed she still got what it takes to be a Top 20 player and Ukraine’s most promising player to date, Marta Kostyuk, finally netting her first WTA singles title as they put on a show in Monterrey and Austin.
In Austin, it was a long time and coming for Marta Kostyuk since her breakthrough at the 2018 Australian Open as a 15-year-old prodigy. So much has been said back in the day and as we all know, pressure just caught up with the Ukrainian that she just disappeared from everyone’s radar thinking that that was it for her — but Kostyuk wasn’t going anywhere. Slowly, she crept to the Top 50; and now, hard work has finally paid off after some fluctuations in her rankings as she won her maiden WTA singles title after beating a familiar foe in Russia’s Varvara Gracheva in straight sets, 6-3, 7-5. Kostyuk now leads their head-to-head meetings, 4-2.
The match was just tense as the current events has bewildered us, but the now World Number 40 just kept the pressure on the veteran to make up for her poor service game, pushing Gracheva behind the baseline as she drove her way to victory. One thing we could say though, the road ahead is even tougher that she should improve on her reflexes and strength.
Over at Monterrey, Croatian Donna Vekic won her fourth WTA singles title by defeating the World Number five Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia in three sets, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 to the delight of the crowd as Vekic danced her way in celebration.
While the match was overflowing with aces (Garcia 15, Vekic 13), Vekic had eight double faults which somehow stymied her game. Still, what’s more amazing in the Croatian’s play was the number of breakpoints that she saved — 14 out of 16 — while having 3 breakpoints converted. Moreover, Vekic’s style just slowed down Garcia as the Frenchwoman could not consistently attack the net as she used to with other opponents that led her to her defeat. Must be familiarity at play here, for now, Vekic leads Garcia 5-4 in their head-to-head matchup.
Former French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova basically swarmed all over World Number one Iga Swiatek for 90 minutes in Dubai to win her first WTA 1000 title, 6-4, 6-2.
How could this be?
Coming into the match, though Swiatek had a slight lead in their head-to-head meetings, 2-1, and their recent duels going the distance — it only showed how evenly matched they could be whenever they face off. After all, they are both masters of clay; and so, who has got the better chance to beat the World Number one other than Barbora Krejcikova herself, the former World Number two and 2021 French Open champion.
Now, while Dubai is a hard court tournament, playing another ‘clay master’ gave the Czech an idea on how to handle Poland’s top player — and that is by not playing into Swiatek’s top spins. Here, Krejcikova just suffocated Swiatek with her aggressive stance and soft returns. While mostly staying inside the baseline to receive Swiatek’s serve, Krejcikova turned those return shots into quick points; and by not going with the Polish’s vicious top spins via having more softer returns.
A dominating return service game resulting in more receiver points won (29 to 19), more break points saved (4/6 to 1/6), more break points converted (5 to 2), and a whole lot of stat lines including more second serve points (12/21 to 5/18), more aces (6 to 2) and lesser double faults (1 to 3). Wow, Swiatek practically did not know where to go anymore, not realizing that it was simply in how Krejcikova returned the ball, more than, where she returned it!
Okay, while we could say that Barbora Krejcikova is Iga Swiatek’s most difficult matchup, could we say that the Czech is finally back in her winning ways? Hey, she beat World Number two Aryna Sabalenka in the quarterfinals and World Number three Jessica Pegula in the semifinals — and these are different playing styles that she had to adjust to yet conquered!
World Number one Iga Swiatek successfully defended her first of eight titles won last year as she took her second falcon in a row in Doha.
Well, what can you say, what can you just say? Though Swiatek was favored coming in to the match with a 4-2 head-to-head tally, American Jessica Pegula was still given a slight chance but that is if the Polish just loses focus and hits blank shells. But no. Swiatek was just so dominant that after the first six games, the World Number four was simply reduced to a hitting partner as Swiatek stepped on the gas and never looked back — winning in straight sets, 6-3, 6-0 and in just 69 minutes. Would Maria Sakkari have fared better with her speed and strength? Many times, tennis is just about matchups or waking on the right side of the bed what with the many tournaments that they have.
In Doha and dominating just about every statistic, Iga Swiatek simply hit unreturnable shots, time and time again — as we saw her patented top spin going fast and low having Pegula frustrated and left the American to just wishing she had a magic lamp for the Polish’s return to just go out.
Hmm. There are just nights like that where everything just goes the way of your opponent that in-game adjustments could not be carried out for difficulty in creating opportunities. And you can’t just bury your head under the sand, so you just keep trying and soon wished you were already in the next tournament.
And that’s the beauty of the tour. You don’t really have to wait long and sulk in defeat, instead, you wake up the next day preparing for the next chapter of the season.