Monthly Archives: October 2012

Russian duo could meet in Sofia showdown

Kirilenko at London 2012
Photo: Carine06

The climax of the WTA Tournament of Champions in Sofia this weekend could well witness Russia’s dominant double-act face each other at opposite sides of the net after the pair both won their opening games on Wednesday afternoon.

Fresh of their WTA Championships doubles triumph last week, Russian number two Nadia Petrova and number three Maria Kirilenko took to the Sofia court on Wednesday to battle out their singles aspirations for the end-of-season tournament title, and both won with impressive results.

Petrova, top seed in the Group Sredets, looked tired at times but came through her match with sixth-seed Zheng Jie 6-3 6-3. She was right to appear slightly jaded after winning the doubles event in Istanbul only last Sunday and after the game spoke to the media about her game.

Petrova at Roland Garros
Photo: Carine06

“The score may look a little easy, but it didn’t feel easy to me at all,” she told “I started well but I wasn’t feeling great on my serve – I didn’t really feel in control of my game, and she broke my serve three times in the first set alone, which was disappointing.

“But I’m happy with my returning, and I’m hoping to serve better tomorrow.”

Minutes after the victory, Group Sredets second-seed Kirilenko outclassed Tsvetana Pironkova 6-1 6-4. The Russian was clinical in the first set and although 2-0 down at one stage in the second, her resilience in saving two games points to prevent a 3-0 deficit inspired her back into life. Kirilenko, playing against an unknown Pironkova, also looked slightly tired but well up for the fight.

The pair will meet in this round-robin stage on Thursday: a tie that is bound to cause some interest in Sofia. With both players expected to qualify to either side of the semi-finals, there is still a chance they will again meet in the final come Sunday.

If this were to happen, Russia will have witnessed all three of its top female tennis stars make end-of-season singles finals after Maria Sharapova reached the last day of the WTA Championships last week.

Petrova and Kirilenko’s friendship will have to be put on hold for the rest of the week and the double act, who have excelled both together and singularly this season, should put on a real spectacle should they make Sunday’s showdown.


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Wozniacki out to prove her worth in Sofia

Photo: Charlie Cowins

It’s been a tough season for Caroline Wozniacki. The 22-year-old started 2012 as world number one and looked set to finally challenge for Grand Slam titles over the coming 12 months.

Yet after disappointment at the Australian Open and a first-round exit in Doha early in February, the Dane’s status was suddenly called into question and Melbourne’s champion Victoria Azarenka took the hot-seat.

The odd win in Seoul and Moscow only highlighted how far she’d fallen and with a Grand Slam record of one quarter-final appearance, a third-round defeat in the French and twice eliminated in round one at Wimbledon and New York, it was clear 2012 was not Wozniacki’s year.

The Dane, however, has not given up on a last-gasp jump back into the WTA top-10 and her participation in Sofia for the Qatar Airways Tournament of Champions could see her reach such a height – if she wins every match.

Indeed, this may be a tough ask seeing as Wozniacki must battle through a round-robin event first before heading into the semi-finals, but with a 6-2 6-2 victory over fifth seed Hsieh Su-Wei on Tuesday she is right on course.

The match lasted exactly an hour and Wozniacki was evidently full of confidence, serving hard and receiving with ease against her Taiwanese opponent.

It is nice to see Wozniacki enjoying her tennis again after a rocky season and if she can keep her head up in Sofia then a year-ending trophy will do wonders to make up for her fall from grace.

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Serena ends 2012 a true champion

Serena Williams produced a champion’s display of composed and clinical tennis to outmuscle Maria Sharapova 6-4 6-3 in the final of the WTA Championships on Sunday.

Williams, twice previous champion in 2001 and 2009, went unbroken through the entire game as her serve proved too much for Sharapova. Just two breaks were needed – both early in the sets – for Williams to reclaim the title she first won over a decade ago.

The performance paid homage to a player who has dominated the WTA circuit this season: winning Wimbledon, New York and Olympic singles titles. Indeed, 11 years since her debut WTA Championships victory, Williams has staked a real claim for the title of the best player women’s tennis has ever seen – so natural and cool-headed is she in major finals.

Williams made an early break in the fifth game of the first set, smashing home a rally to move 30-0 up before smoothly rounding off the game. The American kept true to her serve and despite spirited play from Sharapova when 4-5 down, the set went the way of Williams.

Into the second set and Williams continued her dominance, breaking Sharapova in game one with some enormous forehands to push through the break to 30. Once again the set went by serve with Williams confident enough to reserve any lung-busting running to her own games.

Indeed, it was Williams’ consistency that did Sharapova in the end. For all the Russian’s technique and wily ability to keep in points, she just could not match the groundstrokes of one of the circuit’s most persistent and powerful players.

So strong was Williams’ serve that her first deuce of the match only came in the eighth game of the second, where she suddenly appeared slightly lethargic. However, Sharapova was unable to capitalise on her opportunity and Williams powered through to go 5-3 up.

Maybe Sharapova knew it just wouldn’t be her day and having seen her first chance of breaking Williams taken away in such clinical nature, the confidence drained from her heading into her last service game.

Before the game Sharapova will have known the ominous record she has with Williams: a 2-9 deficit and without a win against the American since 2004. It was never to be in Istanbul on Sunday and Sharapova maybe knew it as she served out the last game.

Williams swatted an easy route through Sharapova’s early serves and quickly found herself with two Championship points. The 15-time Grand Slam champion needed no second chance, as a powerful return on 30-40 proved enough to overcome her opponent and take the WTA Championship crown.

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Serena and Sharapova into WTA final

Very few would begrudge Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova reaching the final of the WTA Championships, so good have the pair been all year. Indeed, the quality on court at Istanbul’s Saturday afternoon lived up to the raised standard of tennis both women have produced this season.

Williams qualified for the final after overcoming Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2 6-1 in a somewhat one-sided semi on Saturday. Bar a dropped serve in the fourth game of the first set, her Polish opponent – often appearing exhausted on court – never seriously threatened Williams.

Meanwhile Sharapova took on world number one Victoria Azarenka in the second semi, taking the match 6-2 6-4. The Russian was in fine form during the first set and ran away with it before Azarenka had fully focussed on the match – maybe still suffering the hangover of playing gruelling matches in the week.

It was effectively over in the second when Sharapova held her serve at 4-1, battling through a 15-minute game that witnessed nine deuces.

Williams and Sharapova will face off on Sunday afternoon for the crown of WTA Champion – a title both have won in the past.

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Semi-finals places to be decided today

The semi-final standings for the 2012 WTA Championships will be decided today after two favourites for the crown booked their place in the knockout stage early on Thursday. 

Both Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova overcame brief scares to win their second matches of the Istanbul championships and secure a birth in the semis, regardless of their last round-robin result on Friday afternoon.

Williams, who tops the Red Group, will face the winner of Agnieszka Radwanska and Sara Errani, both of whom will fancy their chances despite Radwanska holding a 5-1 record over the Italian.

Top of the White Group, Sharapova, awaits the victor of world number one Victoria Azarenka and Li Na, both of whom have one win under their belts. Azarenka had to battle hard to defeat Angelique Kerber in her first match and it clearly took its toll on Kerber heading into the next day with Li, who soundly beat the German 6-4 6-3.

With Williams and Sharapova both safely through to the knockout stage, they may take it easy this Friday and preserve much-needed energy for what is to be a gruelling weekend of finals tennis.

The semi-finals will be…

Williams v [winner of Radwanska v Errani]

Sharapova v [winner of Azarenka v Li]

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Azarenka crumples to Williams pressure

Serena Williams recovered from yesterday’s erratic performance to beat world number one Victoria Azarenka 6-4 6-4 in their second match of the WTA Championships.

The American said after the game “I knew I could do better” after a below-par performance against Li Na, and crusied into the semi-finals with a determined, consistent and relaxed display in Istanbul.

Azarenka, who would have secured her number one spot for the start of 2013 if she had taken Thuesday’s match, looked tied after yesterday’s clash with Angelique Kerber and could not handle the serves once Williams got into her rhythm.

The first set went with serve for the first seven games, before Williams took her first break point to go 5-3 up in the first set. Azarenka broke straight back with a well-worked point at 15-40, pushing Williams wide before securing the game. Yet she could not hold her serve and Serena took the set before the Istanbul crowd had time to blink.

Azarenka looked her frustrated former self at times – much like yesterday’s game against Angelique Kerber – and had to refrain from smashing her racquet at the start of the second.

A fourth consecutive break of serve gave Azarenka a 1-0 lead in the second set and the Belarusian soon found herself 3-0 up after Williams hit long an erratic backhand.

The annoyance in Serena was evident and the American swatted home a return forehand in the next game before breaking Azarenka with an amazing drop-shot return, stooping down almost underneath the umpire’s chair to make the point. Indeed, Williams found her momentum and drew level 3-3 after poor serving from her opponent.

The set went with serve until 5-4 Williams, when Azarenka lost her nerve to double fault at 0-15. Williams won the next point with a neat backhand down the line but overcooked her first match point, finding the net.

Yet Williams had nothing to worry about as Azarenka again double faulted to hand her opponent the match and a passage into the semis.

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Li produces surprise victory over Kerber

Li Na produced a scintillating display of tennis to overcome a tired-looking Angelique Kerber 6-4 6-3 in their second match of the WTA Championships this Thursday.

The Chinese number one was impervious on the Istanbul court; displaying a consistency of brilliance she only offered glimmers of against Serena Williams the day before. Whether or not the Williams performance had taught Li a thing or two only she knows, but it was clear her impatience that cost her the match on Wednesday had been replaced by pure composure.

Indeed, Kerber also looked as though she had been affected by her first game of the Championships; although it was evident her loss to Victoria Azarenka had drained her energy.

While Li was sprightly and moving well – trying to banish the inconsistencies of yesterday – Kerber struggled to simply stay in the match after her gruelling three-hour encounter with the world number one.

Kerber started well but lost her way when broken at 4-3: Li producing a swerving pass to take the break before seeing out the set in style. Li charged into the second set and after six games in a row Kerber finally broke back, but the damage had already been done at 5-1 and although her opponent clawed another two games back Li served an ace to win this crucial Red Group match.

On reflection maybe it wasn’t a surprise that Kerber simply couldn’t muster up the energy to match Li, yet the German will still be disappointed that she has two losses to her name when things could have been so much different if she had taken the two match points on offer against Azarenka.


Mike McCune


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