Serena v Venus – Williams rivalry returns at Charleston

Serena 1

American tennis fans are in for a real treat on Saturday afternoon as Serena Williams takes on bigger sister Venus for the first time in four years.

The siblings will clash in the 2013 Family Circle Cup in Charleston this weekend with a place in Sunday’s final at stake.

Serena is clear favourite after winning the Miami Masters just last week and has looked comfortable on the Charleston clay. On her first clay event of the season, the world number one hasn’t dropped a set and has reeled away in the last set in each of her three matches.

That sort of fitness and confidence should prove the difference against Venus, who has been pushed to three sets twice already this week. A 6-4 6-4 victory over Madison Keys will give her confidence but without a win over her sister in their last four meetings the ball is very much in Serena’s court.

Only once have the sisters met on clay – at the 2002 French Open – and Serena took the match 7-5 6-3. Expect her to do the same again without the aid of a tiebreak.

Photo: Jet Magbanua, flickr


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Azarenka pulls out of Miami Masters


Victoria Azarenka confirmed what we all suspected on Friday: that she won’t try and reclaim the Miami Masters crown after withdrawing because of an ankle injury.

The world number three has been struggling with the hurt for some time and pulled out of Indian Wells last week because of the problem.

Her withdrawal means Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova effectively have a free run to the final, where the WTA’s top two players should clash next weekend.

It is disappointing yet not too surprising Azarenka pulled out of the Sony Open Tennis. Her ankle has plagued her for a number of days now and there was simply not enough time between these two mandatory events to correct herself.

What her absence does mean, however, is that she protects her unbeaten record in 2013.

Azarenka is currently 17-0 this season, having won he Australian Open and Doha while withdrawing late on in Brisbane and Indian Wells.

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Sharapova crowned champion of Indian Wells

Indian Wells final 2013

Maria Sharapova put on a masterclass display of tennis to devastatingly beat Caroline Wozniacki 6-2 6-2 at the BNP Paribas Open final in Indian Wells.

The Russian, who leaps up to second in the world thanks to her triumph in California, broke in the first game and never looked back as she outclassed and outsmarted an opponent making her first WTA tour final since October.

Sharapova was simply too good for her Danish counterpart, nailing 33 winners to two and slamming four aces – the last of which earned her the BNP Paribas Open crown for a second time in her career.

Indian Wells final stats

Sadly for Wozniacki there was nothing she could do against such a formidable opponent who, although Sharapova made her fair share of unforced errors, nevertheless dictated rallies throughout.

Wozniacki qualified for the final after defeating Angelique Kerber over three sets in the semis, having earned a bye into the last four thanks to first-seed Victoria Azarenka’s withdrawal through injury.

Wozniacki facing the Sharapova serve

Wozniacki facing the Sharapova serve

Sharapova, meanwhile, careered through 6-4 6-3 against Maria Kirilenko and hadn’t dropped a set throughout the tournament. That record was reminiscent of her 2013 form where, over the past two events (Melbourne and Doha) she had won every set played until tournament elimination.

Sharapova meant business from the off, breaking her opponent in the first game before acing to go 2-0 up. The set then went with serve until Sharapova again broke to make it 5-2 and just moments later the Russian powered down a forehand to take the eighth and decisive game by love.

First set stats

First set stats

Into the second and Sharapova remained strong, claiming an immediate break before making it five games in a row with a smooth service of her own. Wozniacki proved her mettle in the fourth game, saving her serve despite a break opportunity for Sharapova, but the Dane could do nothing against the Sharapova serve as her rival pushed on to 4-2.

Wozniacki had her chances to claw a game back on her serve in the seventh but Sharapova’s determination was too much for the 22-year-old, who saved a break and lost two advantages of her own before Sharapova’s might forced through a winner for 5-2.

Sharapova's route to the final

Sharapova’s route to the final

Into the last game and the 2012 Roland Garros champion proved her class, acing the final point to claim an historic Indian Wells title that saw her win every set over the two-week tournament.

Her winning ace

Her winning ace

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Azarenka injury proves pressure to top the WTA

Azarenka 2011 n.hewson

Victoria Azarenka’s shock withdrawal at the Indian Wells Masters this week proved beyond a doubt that players on the WTA are under severe pressure to play though the pain just to retain ranking points.

Azarenka had a golden chance to win one of the tour’s most prestigious events with world number one Serena Williams absent from the tournament, meaning the Belarusian was all set to claw back vital ranking points atop the women’s game.

Sadly, an ankle strain that has troubled the world number two for some time proved just too much to cope with and on doctor’s orders she rightly pulled out of her quarter-final clash with Caroline Wozniacki.

So where does this leave Azarenka now?

The 23-year-old has a 17-0 record this season, has won two of her three tournaments – including the Australian Open – and defeated Serena in the Doha final last month.

Azarenka with the Aus Open trophy

Azarenka with the Aus Open trophy

Yet she has still slipped down the rankings and come Monday may well be world number three should Maria Sharapova prevail at the BNP Paribas Open.

Losing her world number one status despite claiming the first Grand Slam of the year must feel like a huge slap in the face for Azarenka, who may not play the Miami Masters this coming week if her ankle problem holds up.

She’s suffered a good number of injuries this season already including a bad toe that forced her to withdraw from Brisbane.

Yet she isn’t the only one who has withdrawn late in tournaments when titles have seemed so glitteringly close. Sam Stosur also pulled out at the quarters on Indian Wells, while Serena has had back problems since her Australian Open loss to Sloane Stephens and withdrew from Dubai recently.

Sharapova is also not infallible to the strains of the women’s tour having played just two tournaments before Indian Wells to protect her fitness. It seems to have worked – she’s made the two semis and now a final – but how can this low number of tournaments merit her leapfrogging the Australian Open champion?

It just doesn’t add up – or in fact, given the rankings system, it does add up but is too confusing for one to tackle head on.

Granted, the intensity of which these players compete at is contributing factor to their injuries but so is the intensity of the tour that demands players must put their bodies on the line for ranking points that seem to be of irrelevance even if you win a Slam.

Head photo: n.hewson, flickr

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Big names safely through in Indian Wells

Bnpparibasopen indian wells

Indian Wells has proven testament to the competitive strength of the WTA after all big names survived first round matches at the BNP Paribas Open on Saturday.

With world number one Serena Williams boycotting the tournament, the competition is fierce to win this prestigious event which offers major prize money and important ranking points.

The top three seeds Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska all progressed without dropping a set while Angelique Kerber (4), Petra Kvitova (5) and Sara Errani (6) all went through with relative ease.

The biggest name to drop at round two is 15th-seed Sloane Stephens, who lost 6-3 6-4 to Radwanska’s younger sister Urszula. Stephens will be relatively disappointed with the result but it doesn’t come as a surprise. The American has dropped out early in both Doha and Dubai since making the Australian Open semis.

Sloane StephensPhoto: Keith Allison, flickr

Sloane Stephens
Photo: Keith Allison, flickr

Heading into round three, nine of the 16 remaining ties pit seeds against each other. Azarenka should have no problem against Belgian Kirsten Flipkens while Sharapova will dispose of 25th-seed Carla Suarez Navarro with ease.

The most unpredictable match-up heading into round three is Nadia Petrova (10) against Julia Goerges (21). Russia’s Petrova breezed past Stefanie Vögele in the first round and made the quarters of Dubai last month, while Goerges is in good form after making the Melbourne last-eight.

With neither player showing any particular weakness from round two this tie may well prove a close battle.

Certainly Indian Wells will produce a deserved winner this year and the crème has already started to rise to the top. It is refreshing and pleasing to see that while we champion the underdog spirit those who boast top ranks in the WTA deserve to be where they are.

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Indian Wells 2013 tournament preview

Bnpparibasopen indian wells

The WTA is gearing up for one of the most eagerly anticipated BNP Paribas Open tournaments in Indian Wells for years, as the absence of world number one Serena Williams blows the field wide open.

Serena was always scheduled to sit out of Indian Wells – she hasn’t played there in over a decade – and would have struggled to compete anyway after suffering a back injury before play in Dubai two weeks ago.

With the American’s absence, Victoria Azarenka has a great chance to prove her dominance on the tour once again and is clear favourite to claim her third title of the season so far. The Belarusian beat her adversary 7-6 2-6 6-3 in the Doha final two weeks ago but also pulled out of Dubai days later, citing a foot injury.

Clearly the strains of maintaining your place at the top of the tour is affecting Azarenka’s physical state but with Serena already out she should have no problem making the final.

Azarenka with the Aus Open trophy

Azarenka with the Aus Open trophy

So who will Azarenka meet on the hard court on 11 March? Second seed Maria Sharapova will be hoping to improve on a promising yet sparse start to 2013 where, in her two tournaments, she has fallen at the semi-final stages.

Her impressive run at the Australian Open was quickly cut short by Li Na, who will fancy her chances in another semi should the pair be drawn in the same half, while Serena smoothly dispatched of the Russian over two sets in Doha.

Sharapova should progress at Indian Wells but one feels she isn’t tough enough to withstand a strong top order, with Li and Agnieszka Radwanska more than capable of taking down the 25-year-old.

Kvitova in Dubai

Kvitova in Dubai

Further down the seeds, Petra Kvitova is in bullish form after beating Sara Errani in three sets for the Dubai title last week and has played a lot of tournaments this year for little reward. The Czech started 2013 badly and failed to impress in her second-round defeat to Laura Robson in Melbourne, yet after a controlled run to the Dubai final suddenly she looks the part once again.

Errani herself had a chance of getting back into that final but looked physically exhausted in the Dubai humidity come set three and had nothing more to give, but will have used this past week of recovery to build her fitness ahead of Indian Wells.

Two players that should be expelled from this list of potential finals candidates are Caroline Wozniacki and – dare I say it – Angelique Kerber. Wozniacki’s form this season has been as erratic as ever, the former world number one making the semis in Dubai before crashing out of the first round in Thailand.

That Thai result is a major blow to her aspirations of climbing up the WTA rankings, for it was a relatively weak field she should have walked through. The Dane lost 6-2 6-7 1-6 to China’s world number 186 Qiang Wang: the kind of result that is becoming less of a shock each time she falls early in tournaments.

Wozniacki lacks formPhoto: Charlie Cowins

Wozniacki lacks form
Photo: Charlie Cowins

Kerber, meanwhile, has exited early in her last two outings despite a long rest since making the Melbourne last 16. A disappointing second set against Roberta Vinci in Dubai pretty much sums up where Kerber is right now – stuck in a rut and unlikely to bypass any lower-ranked opponent with a bit of fight in them.

For the British contingent, both Robson and Heather Watson will want to improve on recent results that have left quite a bit to be desired. Robson dropped out early in Dubai but claims the chest infection that has plagued her recent outings is now almost gone, while British number one Watson should really have made the semis in Memphis last week.

For what it’s worth, my money is on Radwanska to meet Azarenka in the final so long as she’s placed in the bottom half of the draw. If the pair are scheduled to clash in the semis, then a finals run is Sharapova’s for the taking although both Li and Petrova will pose fierce opposition.

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Kvitova wins Dubai Tennis Championships in style


Petra Kvitova won her 10th WTA Tour title on Saturday in a hard-fought 6-2 1-6 6-1 victory over Sara Errani at the Dubai World Tennis Championships.

The 22-year-old faced an aggressive Errani determined to use the serve-volley to her advantage, but Kvitova’s own strong serves and shot selection proved too much in the end.

The former Wimbledon champion had beaten her WTA top-eight opponent in all three of their previous meetings, without even dropping a set, but needed real inspiration to win this final.

Kvitova serving

Kvitova serving

First Set

Kvitova shot off to a superb start, breaking Errani in the first game before stretching her lead to 4-0 without much trouble. Her powerful forehand carved Errani open on numerous occasions, the Czech forcing through points in short rallies.

Errani offered slight resistance with a break of her own to bring it back to 4-2, but could do nothing as Kvitova dispatched a magnificent shot on the back foot to put away the seventh game at break-15.

After a brief turnaround and two deuces, Kvitova was back in her chair boasting a one-set advantage. Her strength had been the key in that first set, Errani winning just one point off her second serve, and the Czech continued into the second with an immediate break.


First Set stats

First Set stats

Second Set

However, Errani fought back with a break of her own and took a 2-1 lead in the second before earning break point following a magnificent deft drop at the net to leave Kvitova applauding her opponent. Moments later and Errani had taken her third straight game when the Czech needlessly double faulted.

4-1 was soon 5-1, Errani smashing home a winner after aggressive play against Kvitova’s wearying serves. A magnificent serve-volley before a net volley on a passing shot handed Errani set point, which Kvitova duly crashed low into the net.

Third Set

The Italian came out aggressive in the final set but went 3-1 down when she failed to convert three break points before hitting the net at deuce in the fourth game.

Out of nowhere Kvitova was back in her stride and held her serve to love before breaking after numerous deuces for 5-1.

Kvitova, having won four straight games, served for the title in style. With three championship points under her belt, the Czech nailed her final serve down the line at 110 mph to claim the Dubai title.

Match Summary

Match Summary

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