Alison Riske

Belarussian Aryna Sabalenka Wins Third Career WTA Tour Title In Shenzen, China

World No.13 Aryna Sabalenka’s meteoric rise to the top of women’s tennis looks set to continue this season as the hard-hitting Belarusian overcame a slow start to defeat American Alison Riske 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-3 in two hours and 11 minutes to lift her third WTA Tour career title on the hard courts of the Shenzhen Longgang Sports Centre this afternoon.

The 28-year-old Riske, playing in her third Shenzhen Open final in four years, began the match impressively, hitting decisive and accurate winners that frustrated her 20-year-old opponent, and converted the second of two break points in the third game to take a one set lead.

The 5-foot-11 Sabalenka, playing in her sixth career final and third in China, grew with confidence as the match progressed and converted her first break point in the fourth game of the second set to take a 3-1 lead.

Riske fought hard to get back in the set, saving four break points in the sixth game and two set points in the eighth before breaking her 20-year-old opponent with four points on the trot in the ninth game and holding serve to tie the match at 5-5.

However, in the tiebreak, the American lost focus and gifted her opponent a number of unforced errors to set up a third set for the title.

The momentum was now well and truly with Sabalenka, as the Belarusian broke her opponent twice in the first three games to take a 3-0 lead.

Riske, who has now gone six finals without a win, got a break of her own in the fourth game and threatened to turn the tie around when she got another break opportunity in the eighth game, but it was simply not to be her day once again.

Sabalenka squandered two match points in the final game of the encounter, before finally breaking her opponent’s serve one last time with a powerful forehand drive to lift her second title in China, following last year’s win at Wuhan.

“It was a tough match today, especially coming back after first set down. I just couldn’t find a way to beat her and she played an unbelievable match, with shots down the lines. I am so happy that I found a way to beat her, especially in the final to win my third title. It’s really special, also my second title in China. I’m so happy with this result at the start of the year,” said the Belarusian, who has an early lead in the race to the WTA Finals that will also be held in Shenzhen in October.

“Now I am first but it is only 280 points! But I really want to go on to the WTA Finals. Last year I didn’t make it there and I was so pissed. This year, I am going to do everything to get there. After this good start, hopefully I can do well at the Australian Open,” added Sabalenka.

World No.62 Riske was despondent to have now gone three finals in Shenzhen without a win, but promised to be back once again in future.

“Aryna played really well and she proved last season how good she is. In the second set, she started serving a little bit better. I still tried to be aggressive but my shots just weren’t landing in like they were in the first set. So I think that kind of flipped things a little bit and she got on top of me a little bit sooner. Everyone here is just super special and that’s why I keep coming back. The people have made it such a good tournament and place to be. I’m sorry if I let anybody down and I hope they will cheer me on for the next tournaments to come. I will certainly come back again,” said the American, who heads to Melbourne next to prepare for the Australian Open.

In a doubles final match that featured three local Chinese stars, former world No.1 Peng Shuai proved that she was the doubles queen of Shenzhen as she picked up her second doubles title here in three years, this time with first time partner Yang Zhaoxuan.

The second seeded duo defeated the unseeded Chinese-Czech pairing of Duan Yingying and Renata Voracava 6-4, 6-3 in one hour and 14 minutes on Centre Court.

Peng and Yang got off to a shaky start as they relinquished their first service game of the match, but leveled matters in the fourth game and stole the first set with another break in the tenth game.

The second set was tightly contested early on, as the two teams exchanged two breaks each in the first six games, but the No.2 seeds kicked into high gear in the eighth game, winning eight points in a row to break their opponents and then held serve in the next game to lift the doubles trophy in Shenzhen.

The 2019 Shenzhen Open doubles title is the 22nd of 32-year-old’s Peng Shuai’s career and the fourth doubles title that 24-year-old Yang Zhaoxuan has picked up on the WTA Tour.

“We are very happy to be playing together and very happy with the results of this week. We have both helped each other out and we really enjoy playing together. We are now looking forward to play together in future. We will be playing in the Australian Open together,” said Peng after the win.

The Shenzhen Open is organized by the Chinese Tennis Association, Shenzhen Municipal Bureau of Culture, Sport and Tourism. IMG and CCTV-IMG Sports Management Company and is co-organized by the Bureau of Culture, Sport and Tourism of Longgang District, Kaisa Culture & Sports Group and Shenzhen Gemdale Sports Industry Co., Ltd.

The event is proud to have prestigious commercial sponsors that include the premier sponsors Kaisa Group and Gemdale Group, together with Crowne Plaza Shenzhen Longgang City Center, Iqiyi Sports, Erke, Life Fitness, Yonex Head and Master Kong Drinking Water.

The official tournament website www.ShenzhenOpenTennis.com has additional information about the tournament.

Citi Open Thursday Gallery: Del Potro, Cornet, Rybarikova Through

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Thursday at the Citi Open saw two-time champion Juan Martin del Potro, French woman Alize Cornet, defending women’s champion Magdalena Rybarikova, Marinko Matosevic and Sorana Cirstea among the winners. Others in the gallery include Alison Riske, Milos Raonic and more.

Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.

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From Coast to Coast: WTA Carlsbad and Washington Previews

As the Premier Five tournament in Canada looms, four of the top ten women hone their skills at tournaments on opposite coasts.  The resort atmosphere at Carlsbad, long a player favorite, contrasts with the urban surroundings of the national capital.

Carlsbad:

Top half:  World No. 3 Victoria Azarenka has not lost a match away from clay all season.  Of course, Azarenka has played only four matches away from clay since winning the Doha title in February.  Walkovers and withdrawals ended her campaigns at Indian Wells, Miami, and Wimbledon, so attention will hover around her battered knee this week.  Azarenka’s health may attract even more attention than it would otherwise because she faces a relatively mild early slate of opponents.  An all-Italian battle between Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone tantalizes only for nostalgic reasons, and Urszula Radwanska seems little more likely than her elder sister to vanquish Vika.  Among the surprises of the spring was Jelena Jankovic, a semifinalist in Miami and quarterfinalist at Roland Garros.  Jankovic troubled Azarenka in her prime, but the momentum has shifted in that rivalry to reflect their divergent career arcs

The most compelling first-round match in Carlsbad will pit defending champion Dominika Cibulkova against former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic.  Defeating Bartoli to win last year’s title, Cibulkova exploited a much weaker draw in the week of the Olympics.  Still, she will bring plenty of confidence from her title at Stanford, whereas coaching turmoil once again enshrouds the Serb.  The route will not grow much smoother for whoever survives that early test.  Although the second round looks uneventful, Roberta Vinci could await in the quarterfinals.  This crafty Italian has domianted Cibulkova on all surfaces, winning five straight from her, and she has taken her last three outdoor matches from Ivanovic.  The relatively slow surface in San Diego should help Vinci outlast the heavy serve of Bethanie Mattek-Sands before then.

Semifinal:  Azarenka vs. Vinci

Bottom half:  Around this time last year, Petra Kvitova caught fire with a Premier Five title at the Rogers Cup and a semifinal in Cincinnati.  The somewhat slower surface in San Diego may suit her game less well than those events, and North America historically has not brought out her best tennis.   A rematch of her epic Australian Open loss to Laura Robson might await in the second round.  Both women have oscillated wildly in their results this year, suggesting another rollercoaster ahead.  A former Carlsbad champion lurks unobtrusively near eighth seed Carla Suarez Navarro, enjoying her best season so far.  That former champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, has revived her career with two major quarterfinals in 2013.  An abdominal injury has sidelined Kuznetsova since Roland Garros, but she should have time to play herself into the tournament.

The fourth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska reached finals in each of her last two Carlsbad appearances.  Disappointed at Stanford on Sunday, Radwanska wil aim to erase that memory with her second title here.  She should outmaneuver Daniela Hantuchova, whom she has defeated here before, and may not have much to fear from Samantha Stosur unless the Aussie’s form improves dramatically.  Little in Stosur’s dismal performance at Stanford boded well for her chances of escaping a challenging opener against Varvara Lepchenko.  That 27-year-old American lefty could meet Radwanska in a quarterfinal for the second straight week.

Semifinal:  Kuznetsova vs. Radwanska

Final:  Azarenka vs. Radwanska

Washington:

Top half:  Overshadowed by the men’s event at the same tournament, this WTA International event did succeed in luring a top-10 player as a wildcard.  World No. 9 Angelique Kerber has fallen on hard times over the last few months, so a dip in the quality of opposition could prove just what the doctor ordered.  Some of the women who might face her in the quarterfinals exited early at Stanford.  Formerly promising American Christina McHale continues a rebuilding campaign in 2013 against Magdalena Rybarikova.  Her period of promise long behind her, Melanie Oudin hopes to stay somewhat relevant nearly four years after her illusory surge at the US Open.

Like McHale, Rybarikova, and Kiki Bertens in the top quarter, Madison Keys looks to bounce back from a disappointing Stanford loss.  Anchoring the second quarter, she might meet star junior Taylor Townsend in a second-round preview of future matches on more momentous stages.  The reeling but canny Monica Niculescu hopes to fluster Townsend with her distinctive style before then.  More young talent stands atop the section in Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard and France’s Caroline Garcia.  These impressive phenoms must navigate around Australian Open quarterfinalist Ekaterina Makarova, a lefty like Townsend.  Plenty of storylines and suspense will unfold in a very short time.

Bottom half:  Building on her momentum from Stanford, Sorana Cirstea eyes one of the draw’s softer sections.  Home hope Alison Riske looks to prove herself as a threat outside the small grass event in Birmingham, while Heather Watson traces the same trajectory as McHale on the long, slow road back from mononucleosis.  Ending her clay season on a high note, Alize Cornet won an International title in May.  But she threatens much less on hard courts and might well fall victim to the enigmatic Yanina Wickmayer at the outset.

By far the most established of the home threats, second seed Sloane Stephens faces high expectations this summer.  American fans know much more about the Australian Open semifinalist, Wimbledon quarterfinalist, and conqueror of Serena Williams than they did a year ago.  The 15th-ranked Stephens has produced much more convincing tennis at majors than at non-majors, where she barely has cracked the .500 threshold in 2013.  Her sturdiest pre-semifinal obstacle could come in the form of Andrea Petkovic, still producing results more disappointing than encouraging in her comeback from serious injuries.  A relatively minor illness may blunt Petkovic’s injuries this week, though, while compatriot Mona Barthel retired from her last tournament with a sore shoulder.

Final:  Makarova vs. Stephens

Stephens, Townsend Play Tennis on National Mall; Players Hit the DC Practice Courts

(July 26, 2013) Prior to the official draw ceremony for the Citi Open in Washington, DC with Marcos Baghdatis and DC Mayor Vincent Gray, WTA players Sloane Stephens and Taylor Townsend hit the National Mall.

The duo took part in a mini-tennis exhibition with some of DC’s youth set against the incredible backdrop of the US Capitol.

Earlier in the day, several players took advantage of the quiet surroundings and practice courts, including Grigor Dimitrov, Alison Riske, Mitchell Frank, Mona Barthel and more.

Qualifying play begins Saturday at 10am at the William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Center. Stay tuned all week for full coverage direct from the grounds!

Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.

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Sock, Baker, Oudin Lead Strong Men’s and Women’s Fields for Citi Open Qualifying

Citi Open 2013WASHINGTON (July 23, 2013) A very strong and deep field of players will compete for a spot in the ATP and WTA main draws at the Citi Open’s qualifying rounds, held July 27 and 28 at the William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park.

First round match play begins Saturday at 10 a.m. with National Parks Community Day, featuring fun family activities held throughout the day. Final qualifying round action begins Sunday at 10 a.m. with Celebrating our Heroes day, which offers complimentary tickets to active duty military, veterans, and first responders.

On the men’s side, Americans are among the must-watch of the qualifiers. The list includes former US Open semifinalist Robby Ginepri, former Washington tournament semifinalist Donald Young, and the next generation of U.S. tennis stars, Jack Sock and Rynne Williams. One of the best comeback players of the sport, Brian Baker, will also compete at the tournament for the fifth time in his career.

The men’s tournament has also granted singles qualifying wild cards to two promising young players from the University of Virginia: Mitchell Frank, of Annandale, Va., who trained at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md., and helped to clinch the NCAA tennis championship for the Cavaliers; and Jarmere Jenkins, who was the No. 1 ranked NCAA player in 2013 and recently named the 2013 Intercollegiate Tennis Association National College Player of the Year.

International players looking to compete for the tournament title include Indian Somdev Devvarman, Croatian Ivo Karlovic, and Canadian Jesse Levine. University of Virginia champ Devvarman is a two-time NCAA champion. Karlovic, who at 6’10” is the tallest player in ATP history, won last week’s ATP tournament in Bogota, Colombia, after a two-month absence from the tour due to illness. Levine, who reached a career-high No. 69 in 2012, has played in the main draw of the Citi Open in two prior years (2008 and 2012).

The tradition of the tournament being a launching pad for many young stars’ careers continues in the women’s field. Young American hopefuls Alison RiskeMelanie Oudin, and Shelby Rogers are among those vying for a chance to win the women’s singles title. Michelle Larcher De Brito of Portugal is also on the list, on the heels of her triumph over No. 2 Maria Sharapova in the second round of Wimbledon. Former top 10 player Shahar Peer, who reached the 2011 WTA Citi Open finals, will also compete in the qualifying rounds.

“For those who want a full slate of high-level professional tennis while enjoying family-oriented activities and ceremonies recognizing our national heroes, the tournament’s qualifying competition is for you,” said Jeff Newman, Citi Open Tournament Director. “We hope to see many area fans and residents out for a fun-filled weekend.”

The Citi Open, held from July 27 – August 4, is one of only 11 elite ATP World Tour 500-level events worldwide and the only one held in the United States. The event is also part of the prestigious Emirates Airline US Open Series, the five-week summer tennis season that links nine  North American hard-court tournaments to the final Grand Slam of the year, the US Open. In addition, the Citi Open features a WTA International Tournament which provides fans the opportunity to watch simultaneous competitions of both world-class men’s and women’s tennis throughout the nine-day event. The tournament features 48 men’s singles players and 16 doubles teams, 32 women’s singles players and 16 doubles teams.

The tournament’s owner and beneficiary, the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation (WTEF), provides underserved children in the D.C. area with a safe environment to learn critical life skills both on and off the courts through academic and athletic enrichment.

Ticket pricing and package details plus a full listing of the player fields are now available atwww.citiopentennis.com, or by phone at 202-721-9500. Daily and single session tickets are available through Ticketmaster. Qualifying round prices start at just $10 for reserved tickets.

For more information, visit the Citi Open on the web at www.citiopentennis.com. The Citi Open is on Facebook atwww.facebook.com/CitiOpen and on Twitter at @CitiOpen. To receive news and updates about the tournament, join the growing Citi Open Text Club by texting DC to 25973. The 2013 Citi Open is a Lagardère Unlimited production.

WTA Birmingham Semifinal and Final Recap: Hantuchova Defeats Vekic

(June 16, 2013) As Daniela Hantuchova defeats Croat Donna Vekic for the Aegon Classic title in Birmingham, we recap the best photos from the semifinals and finals this weekend.

Gallery also includes Alison Riske, Ashleigh Barty, Casey Dellacqua, Sabine Lisicki, Madgalena Rybarikova and Kristina Mladenovic, and is by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.

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WTA Birmingham Gallery: Monday and Tuesday with Bouchard, Keys, Jovanovski

(June 11, 2013) The WTA event in Birmingham kicks off the grass season this week, and first round notable winners from Monday and Tuesday include Madison Keys, Bojana Jovanovski, Mona Barthel, Yanina Wickmayer, Kristina Mladenovic and qualifiers Alison Riske and Maria Sanchez.

Also in today’s gallery: Eugenie Bouchard, Anne Keothavong, Yulia Putintseva, Tara Moore, Melanie South, and Melanie Oudin who was the defending champion but was knocked out by Croat Ajla Tomljanovic.

Photos by Christopher Levy

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