Sunday, October 26, 2014

WTA Finals: Serena to face Halep in title match


Serena Williams got the rematch she wanted, just four days after she was destroyed by Simona Halep in their Red Group round robin match.

The world No1, who is gunning for a third consecutive WTA Finals title, came back from a set, and 1-4 down in the final-set tiebreak, to beat Caroline Wozniacki in the semi-finals on Saturday, and set up a championship match against Halep.

Williams only mustered two games in her defeat to Halep last Wednesday, falling 6-0, 6-2 to the Romanian world No4 and admitted she was surprised by how well her opponent played.

The 33-year-old had said she can’t wait to face Halep again and that she’ll even focus her train just on beating her. Williams may not have had enough time to plot her revenge but she says she’s ready to face her conqueror once again.

“I'm excited. My goal is to win three games. That'll be my first goal,” said Williams of her upcoming showdown with Halep today. “I'm going to go from there. Hopefully I can hold serve. That would be good. Most of all, I hope to break once. So I'm starting out with low goals.”

Halep, who hadn’t faced Williams this season prior to last Wednesday, is aware of the irony that she’ll now get to play her for a second time in one week.

The 23-year-old could have prevented Williams from advancing to the semi-finals had she lost in straight sets to Ana Ivanovic in the final round robin match of their group on Friday but Halep insisted the thought never even crossed her mind. That one set she took off Ivanovic is the reason Williams is still in the tournament.

I didn’t want (to get Williams eliminated),” said Halep.

Every time when I go on court I just want to do everything I can to win the match. I play with pleasure. I love tennis. That's why. I don't care about results, but when the results are coming so I'm really happy.

And indeed Halep couldn’t hide her excitement after she dismantled Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2, 6-2, in the semi-finals yesterday, hitting 26 winners to just 13 unforced errors throughout the encounter.

Of course it will be tough,” Halep says of facing Williams again today. “I will be nervous because it's the finals, but I can't wait to play tomorrow. Because my dream came true and I reached the final, so I have to do everything to win.

I can say that I learned that I have to believe in my chance against her. I can think that I have the game to beat her.

She's hitting stronger than me, so I have to play smart aggressive, like I did in the first part of the year. I have no chance if I stay behind the baseline.”

On her part, Williams is hoping she can shake off the bizarre pattern of starting slow she’s developed this tournament.

Against Wozniacki yesterday, the American fell behind before she could wrap up a hard-fought 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (6) victory over her good friend, who had saved three match points before surrendering.

I need figure that out actually, because it's inexcusable for it to happen once, let alone twice,” Williams said of her slow starts.

Wozniacki was taking on Williams for the fourth time in less than three months and the Dane was trying to improve on a poor 1-9 record against the world No1.

And she looked like she was on her way to doing just that when she found herself serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set. But Williams broke back.

Wozniacki then saved a match point at 5-6 with a sensational volley and opened up a 4-1 lead in the third set tiebreak.

I thought ‘gosh I had a match point and she played so well in that match point’. Then I thought ‘well, I guess I have to go home now. I told you to get up early in the tiebreak and now you're down 1 4. You didn't listen’,” Williams said of the thoughts that went through her mind when she was trailing in that tiebreak.

The top seed then ran away with five points in a row to get two more match points. Still Wozniacki valiantly fought, saving both, but she faltered two points later and lost for a tenth time to Williams.

Wozniacki could not hide her disappointment after coming ever so close to beating her BFF-nemesis: “This really sucks. Being so close and still losing, it really sucks. I played my heart out. I fought until the end.”

Saturday, October 25, 2014

WTA FINALS: Wozniacki sets up Serena semi-final on an unforgettable day in Singapore

Wozniacki and Williams at the Mariah Carey concert the night before their semi-final in Singapore. (via Serena Williams' Instagram account)

Caroline Wozniacki is a good friend. So good, that she stepped on court on Friday in Singapore not really needing to win but she gave 100 per cent anyway to rout Petra Kvitova, and in the process, allowed her long-time pal Agnieszka Radwanska to secure a spot in the semi-finals.

Too bad friendship will mean nothing on court today when Wozniacki takes on another BFF, Serena Williams, who clinched the year-end No1 ranking and booked a place in the semis without picking up a racquet on Friday. She did however head to the Mariah Carey concert together with Wozniacki at night, 18 hours before their semi-final showdown.

It will be the fourth meeting of the year between Wozniacki and Williams - the third in two months – and the Dane, who enters the semis undefeated this week, is well aware of her poor record against her.

My matchup against Serena so far hasn't been great,” said Wozniacki after easing past Kvitova 6-2, 6-3 yesterday.

“I won once and lost like ten times, or nine, I don't know. I don't even count anymore. But it's a new tournament. It's a new week. I've been playing well really. I believe that if I play like I did today, doesn't matter who's on the other side. I can win.”

She’s actually 1-9 against Williams, who was only guaranteed a place in the last four after Romania’s Simona Halep took a set off Ana Ivanovic in the last round robin match of the tournament last night.

Ivanovic had to win in straight sets to make it through to the semis but she fell short, beating Halep 7-6 (7), 3-6, 6-3, which was enough to end her season with a WTA-leading 58 wins but not enough to stop Williams from taking second place in the Red Group, behind the Romanian.


It wasn’t the only time things worked in Williams’ favour yesterday – which was one of the most exciting days of this WTA season. The American was locked in a battle with Maria Sharapova over the year-end No1 ranking but that fight was settled when the Russian, who needed a straight sets win, suffered an epic collapse, squandering a 7-5, 5-1 lead and three match points against Radwanska in the first clash of the day.

Sharapova did end up winning, but much like Ivanovic, her 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-2 triumph was not suffice.

I wanted to end this tournament on a win. It would've been very easy for me to get down on myself (after the second set). Just so easy to just let it go. I didn't, and that's what I wanted for myself today,” said Sharapova.

I got the job done. I know I'm not moving forward, but I'm proud of that effort and to finish the year off on this way.”

Kvitova also refused to be too hard on herself, despite her exit at the hands of Radwanska, saying capturing her second major at Wimbledon over the summer and fighting hard in the Asian swing to qualify for Singapore have made it a season to remember.

Ivanovic shared Sharapova’s positive outlook. The Serb kept her qualification hopes alive by climbing from 2-5 down to win the opening set against Halep but was unable to sustain the intensity, her chances vanishing as she dropped the second set.

It's mixed emotions obviously because I feel like it was such a great match tonight, yet it's such a low not to be able to qualify for the semi-finals,” admits Ivanovic.

After losing the second set it was a little bit hard, but I was very proud to come back and still win.”


Halep admits it was a gruelling affair and said she did everything she could to win, despite knowing she had already punched her ticket to the last four.

Standing between herself and a place in tomorrow’s final is Radwanska, a player she said she had struggled mentally against in the past but one she defeated in Rome last year, which was the start of Halep’s assault on the world rankings.

Asked if she still had any mental block regarding Radwanska, Halep said: “It's gone. It's gone. I won last year against her on clay then I won in Doha, so I have two matches won.

I feel good. I feel prepared to play against her. I'm not afraid. I just want to enjoy it, because it's like the best moment in this year. So nothing to lose tomorrow.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

WTA FINALS: Sharapova hoping to recapture 2004 magic


It’s been 10 years since a 17-year-old Maria Sharapova beat Serena Williams to lift the trophy at the WTA Championships, on her debut at the elite eight event.

It was the Russian’s second victory of the season over Williams, having beaten her in the Wimbledon final as well a few months earlier.

In the tour championships, held in Los Angeles at the time, Sharapova took out Svetlana Kuznetsova (US Open champion that year), Vera Zvonareva, Anastasia Myskina (French Open champion in 2004) before dismantling Williams in the final.

She hasn’t beaten Williams since.

The world No2 hopes she can draw inspiration from her triumphant run at those championships, in order to put together a strong campaign in Singapore this week, where she could run away with the No1 ranking if she gets a good result and Williams gets a poor one.

“I couldn't believe that I was part of a field at that point in my career,” Sharapova recalls of her 2004 year-end championships.

“I was in Los Angeles where I had been training with Robert (Lansdorp) for so many years. It felt like a home tournament in a way for me. I remember the players. It was of course a very tough field as always. Just going through the draw there and the way that I felt and the way I played, I've seen some clips as well, very inspiring. Certainly hope I can do that here again.”

But not all of Sharapova’s finals at the championships had a happy ending. Three years later, the Russian suffered an agonizing defeat at the hands of Justine Henin, who beat her in three sets in the longest final in the history of the event.

“I remember being incredibly upset after that final,” says Sharapova. “It was one of the few times where I think it took me quite a long time to get to the press conference because I was really upset. I just wanted to win that match so much, because it was just one of the most physical matches I've ever played.”

She would then go on to make a third final in 2012, which she lost to Williams.

Sharapova, who begins her WTA Finals quest on Tuesday against Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki, has never ended the year at No1, although she did spend three stints at the top of the rankings in 2005, 2008 and 2012.

Asked how much replacing Williams as No1 would mean to her, Sharapova said: “I've always experienced the joy of grand slam wins so much more, because the spur of the moment. There is actually a point that you have to win in order to get it, whereas the rankings will depend on other people's performances during the year, at certain tournaments.

“Is it an incredible accomplishment? Absolutely. It would be amazing to achieve that.”


Meanwhile, Wozniacki is set to end the year inside the top-10 for a sixth consecutive year - a record amongst all active players. The ex-world No1 is regaining her form thanks to a solid second half of the season, where she was runner-up to Williams at the US Open.

“I think my game is in great shape. I feel in great shape physically. I have fun playing out there on court,” said Wozniacki, who trails Sharapova 3-5 head-to-head but beat the Russian in their most recent meeting at the US Open. “I think all of that together kind of brings out the best of me when I'm out there competing.”

The other match of the day will see two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova take on world No6 Agnieszka Radwanska, who is making her sixth appearance at the Finals.

Kvitova, who won the title on debut in 2011, leads the Pole 5-1 head-to-head and 2-1 in WTA Finals clashes.

Navratilova slams ITF for lack of action against Tarpischev


Martina Navratilova has slammed the International Tennis Federation (ITF) for not taking any action regarding Shamil Tarpischev’s inappropriate comments about the Williams sisters, calling their silence over the matter “deafening”.

Tarpischev, the head of the Russian Tennis Federation, jokingly called Serena and Venus Williams “the Williams brothers” on a TV show and has been fined and banned for a year by the WTA, who have been lauded for taking quick action.

Serena called Tarpischev’s comments “sexist”, “racist”, and “bullying” while Russia’s Maria Sharapova said they were “very disrespectful” and “uncalled for”.

Navratilova, who won a legends exhibition alongside Marion Bartoli at the WTA Finals in Singapore, said on Monday that she was baffled by the ITF’s lack of reaction to the situation.

“I think the WTA has taken the proper steps in this instance and pretty swift steps. The silence from the ITF has, to me, been pretty deafening,” said the 18-time grand slam champion.

“So I think they’re the ones that actually have more of a possibility of doing something because Shamil Tarpischev is the head of the Russian Tennis Federation, which falls under the ITF and is also the Fed Cup team captain, which again falls under the ITF.

“So the WTA has done all they can do. They certainly have shown that they have Serena’s back, and Venus’ back, as they should. He might have thought that the comment was funny but it was anything but. So the WTA has done what they can and you just take it one instance at a time.

“But certainly that kind of bullying, that kind of comment can’t be tolerated from anybody but particularly not from a high up official in the tennis world.”

Tarpischev has sent out a formal apology and Ricci Bitti, the president of the ITF later told the Press Association that he believes the apology and the WTA's sanction are sufficient.

“The ITF was very disappointed when it learned that Shamil Tarpischev, long-time President of the Russian Tennis Federation, made derogatory remarks about the gender of Serena and Venus Williams.

“Mr Tarpischev has taken an important step by sending his apology to the ITF, the WTA and to the Williams sisters. “Although Mr. Tarpischev assured us his comment was meant as a joke, we made it clear to him what he said is inappropriate in any context.

 “We hope his acceptance of fault in this matter, which includes the penalty assessed by the WTA Tour, will allow all of us to move forward.”

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A tribute to Li Na: The human and the beast


There have been murmurs about Li Na’s retirement for the past few weeks but it was one of those rumours you wished would not materialise.

We couldn’t possibly have seen the last of Li Na.

No more punishing backhands, hilarious speeches, and dramatic three-setters from the one-of-a-kind Chinese icon? It’s hard to swallow.

Especially that with Li Na, you got the sense that she was only getting started.

Serena Williams won her first grand slam as a 17-year-old at the 1999 US Open. Maria Sharapova shocked the world as a 17-year-old winning Wimbledon in 2004.

But Li Na only took her first major aged 29, when she became the first-ever Asian player to win a grand slam at the 2011 French Open.

She is the fifth-oldest first-time grand slam champion but none of the other four won a second major. She did (at Australia this year). Li Na isn’t just a late bloomer, she is the best late bloomer of the Open era.

No player has single-handedly raised the profile of tennis in a country the way Li Na has. Her influence transcended China and spread across the entire Asian continent, pushing the WTA to expand there like never before.

She was listed as one of the 100 most influential people on the planet by Time magazine, who featured her on their cover, and is the world’s second-highest paid sportswoman according to Forbes.

And for someone who has had such a powerful impact, Li Na’s most intriguing quality was her vulnerability.

Her meltdowns have been more fascinating than her triumphs. They painted a picture of a woman who was in a constant struggle with herself and many things around her. Yet somehow managed to win two majors and rank No2 in the world.

She was never good at hiding her emotions so when you watched her play, you always felt what she was feeling. Her looks to her husband, Jiang Shan, during a match gave away how heavily dependent she was on him.

Her goofy jokes revealed her insecurities and her anecdotes from her childhood hint at the pain she endured as a young teenager, losing her father at 14, having to pay off her family debts through her tennis, and putting up with the strict abusive coaching methods that were adopted in China.

It all meant that Li Na was so at odds with the sport sometimes that she quit for two years, choosing to go to college with Jiang Shan. She then won four straight tournaments upon her comeback in 2004.

In her autobiography, she talked about how humiliated she felt after losing nine consecutive times against top-10 opponents before she finally beat Patty Schnyder for her first top-10 win in Berlin in 2006.

It always took time but Li Na managed to conquer her demons just long enough to achieve her dreams.

It appears she has run out of fight though and it’s time for us to celebrate everything she depicted. The human in her as well as the beast.

**A version of this comment piece appeared in the Saturday, September 20 issue of the newspaper Sport360°

 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

VIDEO: US Open champ Cilic stops by Letterman

 Image via Getty

US Open champion Marin Cilic did the media merry-go-round following his stunning victory over Kei Nishikori in the final in New York.

The 6'6" Croat hit the Live! With Kelly and Michael show, made an appearance on Opening Bell with Maria Bartiromo, sat down with Charlie Rose and capped it off by reading the Top Ten list on the Late Show With David Letterman.

It's funny how some people are so ignorant about tennis sometimes... Kelly Ripa introduced Cilic by saying he started the US Open ranked No12 and ended up ranked No1. LOL! Is there no one on the entire production team who is capable of googling him before Cilic showed up? That's just poor!

Here's the video of Cilic reading the Top Ten list... How funny is number 1?



And here's his interview with Maria Bartiromo:

 

Friday, August 22, 2014

VIDEO: Serena Williams puts on a karaoke show ahead of the US Open


World No1 Serena Williams warmed up for the US Open in her own special way - by singing karaoke at Delta's Open Mic Night.

Having already mastered the tennis stage, Serena found a new stage to flaunt her skills as she took on "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" at the event.

Others at Delta's Open Mic Night included Orange Is The New Black’s Uzo Aduba and Laverne Cox, comedian Kathy Griffin, 30 Rock’s Katrina Bowden, Glee’s Darren Criss, celebrity fitness trainer Shaun T and tennis star Jack Sock, who all sang their favorite tunes to gear up for the tennis tournament kicking off on Monday the 25th.

Griffin says she's particularly a fan of Serena because of how she had Caroline Wozniacki's back after her break-up. Except the actress refers to the Wozzilroy saga as: "when that guy, that golfer guy dumped his girlfriend".

Serena's karaoke performance is at minute 2:53...  The 32-year-old is as fearless on stage as she is on a tennis court. See for yourself!