Sloane Stephens

Wide Open Field For WTA Finals In Singapore But Who Is The Favorite?

Karolina Pliskova and Elina Svitolina are the last two player to qualify for the eight-player year-end 2018 BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global that will take place from October 21-28, 2018.

Pliskova and Svitolina round out the singles field, joining Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber, US Open champion Naomi Osaka, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, Dutch star Kiki Bertens, Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki and 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens in Singapore. The eight players will compete for $7 million in prize money and bragging rights as to who can lay claim to be the “best of the year” for the 2018 season.

Women’s tennis has been as unpredictably exciting the last few years, illustrated by the fact that over the last eight major championships, eight different champions have been crowned.

Pliskova has earned her WTA Finals spot with two wins this season – in Stuttgart and at the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo. Said Pliskova, “I can’t wait to close out the year competing against the other elite players of 2018.”

Svitolina won three titles in three final-round appearances in 2018, lifting trophies in Brisbane, Dubai and Rome. The Ukrainian reached the quarterfinal stage at the Australian Open and made the round of 16 at the US Open, maintaining her Top 10 ranking all season long.

While many pointed to world No. 1 Simona Halep, the world No. 1, as the favorite, her health has been a major concern, causing her to pull out of the event in Moscow this week as well as Singapore and will not play again until 2019.

Wozniacki, the world No. 2, has shown a return-to-form with her recent victory in Beijing and could be the WTA betting favorite in Singapore because of this, Halep’s injury, and the fact that she is the defending champion, having beaten Venus Williams in Singapore last year. Following her break-through win at the Australian Open, her first major singles title, Wozniacki returned to the No. 1 ranking but struggled to maintain that form for most of the rest of the year, only winning in Eastbourne in June on grass.

Osaka turned the tennis world on its head with her shocking final-round win over Serena Williams at the U.S. Open and has handled the spotlight well since her maiden major victory in New York. She reached the final in Tokyo in her first event after her U.S. Open win, not an easy task, especially under the immense media scrutiny in her home nation. She also reached the semifinals of Beijing. She is trending upwards and could also cap her most impressive year with a title in Singapore.

Said WTA CEO & Chairman Steve Simon of the event, “Singapore will be an exciting week for women’s tennis, as the Top 8 singles players…are ready to compete for this prestigious title while celebrating an amazing five-year legacy in this wonderful city.”

Staged at the Singapore Sports Hub from October 21-28, the 2018 BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global is a 10-day tennis festival featuring the world’s best players vying for a US$7 million in prize money and two of the most prestigious titles in women’s tennis. The Top 8 singles players will compete in a round-robin format with the winner taking home the Billie Jean King Trophy. For more information, go to www.WTAFinals.com

Simona Halep Shows Resiliency In Breakthrough French Open Victory

Down a set and break in the French Open final, it looked like a familiar refrain for Simona Halep – not being able to rise to the occasion and win a major final.

However, the 26-year-old Romanian, previously 0-3 in major finals and ranked No. 1 in the world despite her lack of success on the highest levels of pro tennis, was able to show amazing resiliency and win her first major championships at the French Open, defeating reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 in the final.

“All the experience from those three finals that I lost … was a positive thing,” Halep said, “and gave me a little bit more power to believe.”

“That’s the most important thing — that I stay there focused,” said Halep, the first Romanian to win a major singles title since her agent Virginia Ruzici, ironically 40 years earlier at the 1978 French Open. “I believed. And I never gave up.”

Halep lost two previous finals at the French Open — against Maria Sharapova in 2014 as the underdog in a three-set slugfest, then as the heavy favorite last year against unseeded Jelena Ostapenko despite leading by a set and 3-0. Her third runner-up finish came against Caroline Wozniacki at the Australian Open in January, where she lost a tight three-set battle.

“Her journey has been tough. And she had a heartbreak here last year and in Australia and all the things that have happened to her,” Stephens said. “I mean, it’s a great story and just a great moment for her.”

From 4-4 in the second set, Halep won seven games in a row to take a 5-0 lead in the final set as Stephens appeared to tire.

Surprises, Comebacks Highlight Start of Australian Open

The first Grand Slam is already underway in the beautiful city of Melbourne, Australia. Since the 10th of January with the start of qualifying, we have seen great action and endurance from some of the emerging talents in the world of tennis as they battle Down Under.

This is not just a great time for the players themselves but for fantasy players as well as they try to win big in the first Grand Slam of the year and lay down the marker for future success. If you want to become a tennis fantasy player, you need to keep in mind that it’s less than football fantasy betting and more of the lottery. At the start of the year, you need to bank on chance that your fantasy players will play to their potential rather than base your choices on player’s current form. Even if it’s more of a game of chance, you still possess the ability to win just like when you play the Powerball lottery online.

Below is a recap of some the early highlights so so far at the Australian Open.

Three of the four women’s semifinalists from the previous Grand Slam, the US Open, lost in the first round! Sloane Stephens, the 2017 US Open, was defeated in the opening round to China’s Zhang Shuai 2-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2. She is now 0-8 in matches since her US Open triumph last September. Coco Vandeweghe, an Australian and U.S. Open semifinalist last year, couldn’t fight through her flu and lost in the first round to Timea Babos 7-6, 6-2. Venus Williams, last year’s finalist at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and a semifinalist at the U.S. Open lost 6-3, 7-5 to Belinda Bencic, who is still on an inspiring high after pairing with Roger Federer to win the Hopman Cup for Switzerland.

Six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic played his first tournament match since Wimbledon, with a new service motion, a sleeve on his right arm to protect his injured elbow, and new coach Radek Stepanek in the coaching box alongside Andre Agassi. He had little trouble in the first round with American Donald Young, who played helped Djokovic into the second round with poor play in a 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 decision.

Stan Wawrinka, the 2014 Australian Open champion, also played his first tournament match since Wimbledon and sported a nasty looking scar on his right knee from his summer surgery. The Swiss man only dropped a set in his first round win over Ricardas Berankis. Wawrinka’s fellow Swiss Roger Federer, the defending champion and No. 2 seed, had little trouble with Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene winning in three sets.

 

 

Sloane Secures Her First Slam

Of the final four Americans in the women’s main draw of the US Open, Sloane Stephens was the last standing after defeating her good friend Madison Keys in the final 6-3, 6-0.

Both players came back from injuries in 2017, faced each other for the first time in a Grand Slam event, and were only the seventh pair of singles finalists in the Open Era to be appearing in their first Grand Slam championship match simultaneously. It was the 94th time an American woman has won the US Open singles trophy.

“I should just retire now,” Stephens said afterward. “I told Maddie I’m never going to be able to top this.”

Photo by Chris Nicholson, author of ‘Photographing Tennis.’ Follow Chris’ US Open photos on Instagram (@ShootingTennis).

US Open Seeds Bite The Dust In Serena’s Half of the Draw

by Kevin Craig

@KCraig_Tennis

 

The US Open has only been going on for a day and many top players have already packed their bags.

Ana Ivanovic, Karolina Pliskova, Carla Suarez Navarro, Jelena Jankovic, Sloane Stephens, and Svetlana Kuznetsova all bit the dust on Day 1 in New York, massively opening up the top half of the draw for Serena Williams, who now will not have to face a Top 10 player if she reached the final.

Ivanovic was coming off a good summer in which she made the quarterfinals in Toronto and Cincinnati, each time losing to the player that would go on to win the championship. After only a second round showing at last year’s US Open, she surely was disappointed to get one of the toughest draws of the tournament, Dominika Cibulkova. Cibulkova, the 2014 Australian Open finalist, took the first set, but Ivanovic fought back and forced a deciding third set. The fight was not enough for the Serb, however, as Cibulkova held on and took the match 6-3 in the final set.

Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic also had a good summer, winning the US Open Series with a finals appearance in Stanford and a quarterfinal in New Haven. She would’ve been hoping to back up her third round appearance at last year’s US Open and prove her No. 8 seed this year, but she was completely outplayed by American qualifier Anna Tatishvili, who easily won 6-2 6-1. Pliskova’s 57% first serve percentage and only winning 40% of all her service points led to her bowing out in the first round.

The No. 10 seed Carla Suarez Navarro may be viewed as less of an upset as she had been on a six-match losing streak and had not won a match on a hard court since her run to the final in Miami, however she should’ve been favored over Denisa Allertova, ranked No. 76 in the world, who hadn’t played a match on a hard court since April. It appeared as though Allertova was the high-ranked veteran, as she was able to break serve four times and hold Suarez Navarro to only 40% points won on second serve, allowing her to garner the 6-1, 7-6(5) win.

Jelena Jankovic joined her fellow Serbian Ivanovic in exiting the US Open after only one match, losing to French wild card Oceane Dodin, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3. What looked like a comfortable victory quickly changed in the second set, as Dodin, 18 years old, broke late in the set and carried that momentum into the third. Dodin has been in good form, making the final of an ITF event only a couple weeks ago, but Jankovic will be massively disappointed with the result.

Sloane Stephens’ loss to Coco Vandeweghe is not much of an upset as both young Americans look to have bright careers ahead of them. While Stephens had been in good form, going 17-6 in her last 23 matches, she came up against the huge serve of Vandeweghe, who fired her way into the second round with a 6-4, 6-3 win. Though Vandeweghe didn’t face a single break point in this match, expect more great battles from these two in the years to come.

Young Kristina Mladenovic, more known for her doubles prowess, upended the two-time major champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-3, 7-5 on the opening day. The No. 30 seed had her powerful game stunted by the Frenchwoman, as she was broken five times.

While these six seeded women going out in the first round is a delight to see for Serena Williams, the draw may still be just as tough as it was to begin with. Though Serena won’t have to face any Top 10 players until the final, players like Madison Keys, Aga Radwanska, sister Venus Williams, and Belinda Bencic are still alive in the top half, while Vandeweghe may also be able to pose a threat to Serena and her shot at the calendar slam. Vandeweghe’s big serve and powerful groundstrokes could be dangerous for Serena if they meet in the third round.

Citi Open Wednesday Gallery: Isner, Haas, Stephens and More

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Play was derailed by play Wednesday evening, but not before plenty of action took place including Andrea Petkovic, John Isner, Tommy Haas, Grigor Dimitrov, Sorana Cirstea, Yanina Wickmayer, Marinko Matosevic, Jack Sock, Alex Kuznetsov, and even Sloane Stephens hit the practice courts.

Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.

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Citi Open Monday Gallery: Kerber, Stephens, Johnson and More

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Monday action at the Citi Open took place over five courts, with the last ball being played just before midnight, earning American Melanie Oudin a spot in the second round.

Players roamed, stretched, practice and played all over the grounds, including Angelique Kerber, David Goffin, Steve Johnson, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Dmitry Tursunov, Radek Stepanek, Juan Martin del Potro, Sloane Stephens, Magdalena Rybarikova, Alize Cornet, Bernard Tomic, Tim Smyczek, Eugenie Bouchard, and Taylor Townsend.

Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.

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Turbulent Day for American Tennis as Nine Get Ousted at Citi Open Including No. 2 Seed Stephens

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Despite home soil advantage, it was a rocky day for American tennis players on the grounds of the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. as nine players went out in the first round of play on the men’s and women’s side.

DSC_89130001Sloane StephensIn the biggest stunner of the day, 19-year-old Sloane Stephens went down to world No. 88 Olga Puchkova in very uncharacteristic form, 7-5, 6-3. From her first service game, Stephens was broken and it continued downhill through five more breaks. She continued to send balls long and mid-way through the second set, she seemed void of energy, just standing in frustration looking to her team in the stands after errors.

But Stephens herself isn’t that worried about Monday night’s performance, citing the quick turn around from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., the differing courts and her poor practice in the days prior to her match.

“Leading up (to the match), I didn’t practice that great,” admitted Stephens. “I just wasn’t feeling the ball that well. Sometimes you just have tough days like that. Unfortunate that it came today and I couldn’t really get it together.”

Physically, she “felt fine,” even joking that “when I’m injured I play great, and then when I’m healthy I can’t hit a ball right.”

Looking forward to the US Open, she feels the home pressure is inevitable based on her recent Slam results, but chooses to focus on her game, saying “I don’t care anymore” about the buzz.

“Everyone is going to be like, ‘You should do really well here because you’ve done well in all of the Slams,’” commented Stephens. “If I lose first round, you guys, just don’t be upset.”

Earlier in the day in just his fourth tournament of the year, Mardy Fish continued his comeback on unsteady ground as he found himself down a set against Australian Matt Ebden, 6-2. He opened up the second set by winning a 22-point game, breaking Ebden three times before taking it 6-1, and closing it 6-3 in the final set.

A sober Fish arrived in press, feeling healthy and “satisfied to win,” but he admitted to being drained of energy.

“It’s a process. Fitness is a big a part of playing, and sometimes that spells trouble for me … My expectations as far as winning the tournament are pretty low. I’m just enjoying competing right now.”

2002 champion James Blake also faced a tough opponent in another fellow Aussie, Marinko Matosevic, except the end results didn’t favor the American as he went down 6-2, 7-6(6).

“I never really got any real rhythm at all on my serve, and that made all the difference in the first set,” said Blake. “I got back into the second set, and had my chances … but missed it.”

Despite the early exit, Blake still has fond memories of the tournament, and enjoys the support he gets from fans

“(Washington, D.C.) was the first tournament I ever won,” he said. “It was an unbelievable week beating one of my idols, Andre Agassi in the semis. And really fond memories of beating Paradorn Srichaphan in the final.”

So, what is next for the 33-year-old father?

“I don’t know. Right now, that’s a tough question. I don’t feel great about the way I played today. My plan has always been, play through the summer and then see where I’m at. See where my body is at, where my head’s at, how I’m feeling, how much I want to travel, how much I still enjoy it all — if my body allows me to keep going.”

Monday play also included a late night win by 21-year-old Melanie Oudin. However, seven additional Americans failed to reach the second round, including Steve Johnson, Denis Kudla, Rhyne Williams, Rajeev Ram, Christian McHale, Jessica Pegula, and Beatrice Capra.

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

Gallery: Opening Weekend at Citi Open with Del Potro, Petkovic, Raonic, Haas and More

Play is already in full swing as qualifiers took to the courts for their matches, and top players like Juan Martin del Potro, Andrea Petkovic and Tommy Haas hit the practice courts on a hot weekend in Washington, D.C. to kick off the Citi Open.

Check out the full gallery from opening weekend, including other players like Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Irina Falconi, Jessica Pegula, Rhyne Williams, Donald Young, Christian Harrison, Caroline Garcia, Matt Ebden, and Sloane Stephens.

Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.

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