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Wimbledon semis prove strength of WTA

Radwanska Wimbledon  Pete Edgeler, flickr

Wimbledon boasts two stellar semi-final matches in the women’s draw this summer despite the lack of apparent ‘big’ names Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka.

The big three all fell before the quarters even though they were tipped for major success this July and have been replaced by lesser-known yet by no means less deserving talent. Their absence should not take away the magnificent achievement of these four semi finalists, all of who are big players in the WTA but sadly lack the profile their Grand Slam competitors receive.

Agnieszka Radwanska is up against Sabine Lisicki on Thursday while Marion Bartoli makes the Wimbledon last four for a second time against Kirsten Flipkens, who has impressed the most this fortnight.

It has been voiced on forums and social networks that a lack of the big three has taken away some gloss in the women’s draw. Just like the men’s side, where Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer fell early, armchair fans voiced their displeasure of seeing the top seeds crash out so soon.

Unfortunately, this view is never going to leave tennis as fans forget it’s a sport you win on merit and instead expect the players they’ve actually heard of to progress to the finals stages. Often lower seeds are disregarded as underserving opponents and when they win it’s the ranking system to blame.

Not so. The rankings are rarely a true reflection of who is going to beat who as they are taken from results spread over such a long period of time. Different surfaces also produce different champions, which is maybe why Radwanska gets further at Wimbledon than any other slam.

Unknown profiles

Lisicki is a great example of a player who deserves more profile in the women’s game but barely receives it. Her victory over Serena Williams was a shock but we shouldn’t be surprised to see this 23rd-seed in the semis. Lisicki made the Wimbledon quarters last year before falling to Angelique Kerber and the semis in 2011. She is a grass expert and certain to reach a Wimbledon final one day – maybe even this year.

Don’t let Lisicki’s seed, or indeed Bartoli’s or Flipkens’ at that matter, fool you; she is far better than 23rd in the world on this surface. In 2012 she was 15th seed and on the up but slumped after the grass season and suffered disappointing first-round defeats at the US Open, Linz and Luxembourg.

Lisicki should get more recognition Photo:  Carine06, flickr

Lisicki should get more recognition
Photo: Carine06, flickr

The same can be said of Bartoli, who has struggled this season yet always poses a threat on her side of the draw, and Radwanska, who either performs or flops in tournaments.

The lesser talents on the WTA don’t get the credit they deserve and that’s mainly because the broad sporting media – via whom we fans get all our news – focus on the big three. Occasionally they’ll do a feature on Petra Kvitova or interview Caroline Wozniacki but bar Serena, Sharapova and Azarenka the representation of women’s tennis in our newspapers outside a Grand Slam is staggeringly bare.

Granted, the big three deserve as much attention as they can get. Tennis is a short career and you’ve got to make the most of it. Li Na rivals this trio as her 2011 French Open victory saw her become a household name in China overnight, but these sorts of successes are few and far between.

A lot of the big three’s success is down to their off-court presence as well as sporting prowess. Because the lower ranks go about as near unknowns, they’re not signed to huge sponsorship deals and the media don’t pry into their private lives.

The women suffer from bad media representation

On the first Monday of these Championships the British newspapers all led with a women’s tennis story about the relationship between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. One had said something about the other’s boyfriend; the other replied frostily and the media staged their verbal showdown. There were double-page spreads on this chitter chatter and only by the close of each article was tennis actually discussed – “oh, by the way, they’re playing some sport this week.”

The top players – Serena, Sharapova and increasingly Azarenka – court far too much attention that goes way beyond their talent. Is it really in the interests of the sport that we know Sharapova is dating (I hate that word) Grigor Dimitrov from the men’s tour? How disappointing is it that Azarenka is known as much for her Australian Open victories as her relationship with LMFAO’s Redfoo.

Li is huge in China but hardly a household name elsewhere Photo: Christopher Johnson, flickr

Li is huge in China but hardly a household name elsewhere
Photo: Christopher Johnson, flickr

Yes, these controversial players are great for the profile of the game as they raise the bar and prove just how sporting and commercially successful female athletes can be, yet that attention has come at the sacrifice of the rest.

Most armchair fans would struggle to name 10 players on the WTA circuit without asking “is Kim Clijsters still around?” I’d be one of them two years ago – not because I didn’t choose to follow the women’s game but, when I did and do read something about female players, the media focus on off-court stories instead of what’s happening on it.

This Wimbledon has given those players who advance in tournaments but rarely earn the major victories a chance to prove themselves to an otherwise ignorant public and media. It’s not even our fault; few of us would be able to name the England women’s football XI and that’s partially down to a lack of representation.

When the Wimbledon circus leaves us for another year two of this quartet will be forgotten almost instantly. Can anyone remember who played who in the semis last season? It’s all good and well the media focussing on tennis for this two-week period but if the women’s game is ever to earn the profile it deserves we need column inches dedicated to the sport every week.

If you hear anyone moan about the standard of Wimbledon this year just show them a replay of Radwanska v Li from Monday afternoon. Their chess-like quarterfinal was exactly the sort of on-court quality you can expect on the WTA but rarely do we hear of it when the Serena, Azarenka or Sharapova parades march into town.

Photo:  Pete Edgeler, flickr


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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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Australian Open: Week One round-up


Because the Australian Open is played under the blistering daytime heat of the southern hemisphere, Three_Sets has struggled to live as a night owl in the UK. This is worse viewing than an away Ashes series, where at least you have the morning to catch up on the day’s play.

Possibly the one great discouragement about watching the Aussie Open in Europe is the fact that it spans sleeping hours and so, rather than attempt to provide up-to-date news, views and features, a Week One round-up feels far more sufficient.

And what a week it has been for the WTA side of this year’s first Grand Slam. We’ve seen (or for some parts watched back in the highlights) two British players reach the third round, Caroline Wozniacki pick up her form and some big hitters already crash out under the Melbourne sun.

The top seeds – Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska – are all safely though to round four, having dropped just one set between them from a combined 12 matches – naughty naughty Miss Azarenka!

Serena looked as strong as ever when taking apart Ayumi Morita of Japan in the third round, while Sharapova won her first 24 games of the tournament before facing Venus.

Credit must go to Radwanska, however, who looks primed to cause a minor upset this championship and is Three_Sets’ outside tip to reach the final. She plays a much-improved Anna Ivanovic in round four but should have enough to see off the 13th seed, before an expected date with Li Na in the quarters.

Radwanska is on hot form this winterPhoto: Christopher Johnson

Radwanska is on hot form this winter
Photo: Christopher Johnson

Radwanska has won both Auckland and Sydney already this year and is in the form of her life as she aims to take her maiden Grand Slam. With the Pole set to avoid Serena until the final she has a real chance to claim the Aussie Open this January.

Britain’s Laura Robson and Heather Watson have also lit up Week One after both impressing to reach round three. This so rarely happens yet UK fans were still disappointed they both fell at the third hurdle – so good had they been in the opening two rounds.

Robson took down eighth seed Petra Kvitova in round two, a stunning performance that overran by quite a while as the Brit came back to win 2-6 6-3 11-9. That third set was a mammoth task in the sticky heat of the Melbourne evening and may have taken its toll on Robson, who lost to Sloane Stephens two days later.

As for Watson, an elbow injury heading into the tournament didn’t help but she swatted away Ksenia Pervak of Kazakhstan in three sets. Up against the formidable Radwanska Watson had little chance of claiming even a set and the Pole used the advantage of three years more experience on the circuit to cruise through 6-3 6-1.

Certainly the two disappointments so far are Kvitova – who still struggles to reach the form that won her the 2011 Wimbledon crown – and home favourite Sam Stosur, who is turning into the Tim Henman of Melbourne. Stosur has struggled to live up to home expectations since her debut tournament in 2002 and the ninth seed crashed out 6-4 1-6 7-5 to China’s Zheng Jie in the second.

Kvitova between games last season

Kvitova between games last season

The disappointment in the stands was evident and Stosur, a defeated and depleted wreck, left the court in ignominy yet again. At 28 she’s running out of chances to match the expectations of this home crowd – for Stosur hasn’t progressed further than fourth round in 11 attempts.

Week Two offers an even greater spectacle and Three_Sets will hopefully follow it more closely that the scattergun of matches afforded to us in the opening rounds. Can Azarenka, world number one, see off Serena in an expected semi or will she fall just as in Istanbul late last year? Can Sharapova win her second Aussie crown? And could Ivanovic even find the form that has eluded her for so long?

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Sharapova through to semis


Maria Sharapova continued Day Two’s emphatic display of tennis on Wednesday; beating Agnieszka Radwanska 5-7 7-5 7-5 in her second match of the White Group.

Sharapova, who defeated Sara Errani 6-3 6-2 in her first match on Tuesday, was made to work hard for her win against a solid and at certain times magnificent Radwanska, but a crucial break in the third set earned her the chance to serve for the match.

The Russian was matched at every level in the first set, reflecting Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka’s clashes earlier in the day. The world’s top three players were made to work hard yet all came through after major scares with victories and Sharapova will have been delighted to come back from a 5-7 loss in the first set.

Sharapova, seeded top in the White group, is now a certainty to qualify for the semi-finals yet needed three hours and 13 minutes to overcome her opponent. After drawing level on sets in the second, she had to work hard to keep up with Radwanska as the game passed deep into the night.

Indeed, with the scores tied at 5-5 in the third it looked as though a tie-break was on the cards until Sharapova broke in the 11th game, taking confidence into her serve to duly see out the match as the clock crept past 2am local time in Istanbul.



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Radwanska gets off to perfect WTA Champs start

Agnieszka Radwanska’s bid to win her first WTA Championships title got off the best possible start on Tuesday with a convincing 6-3 6-2 win over defending champion Petra Kvitova.

Radwanska, playing in her fourth tour finals, defended dutifully when required to overcome the powerful yet erratic Kvitova and stake a claim for the semi-finals later this week.

The turning point came with the first set tied at 3-3, with Kvitova having just defended three break points, yet the Czech couldn’t convert on her opponent’s serve and suddenly Radwanska breathed a new lease of life. The Pole rapidly took the remainder of the first before making it four games in a row with an immediate break in the second.

The confidence drained from Kvitova and her opponent was left to mop up the match, striking a love game for 3-1 after being broken herself earlier in the set.

Kvitova, who had won all three previous meetings with Radwanska, now has a tough task to qualify out of the White Group and into the knockout stage. For Azarenka, however, the task of making the semis now seems a lot easier. She comes up against Maria Sharapova tomorrow in Istanbul knowing a victory will see her safe early passage through to the next round.


Christopher Johnson


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