WTA

Stephens breaks 2021 duck at Miami Open, Kuznetsova loses in first round

By Sports Desk March 24, 2021

Sloane Stephens ended her losing run to start the year with a hard-fought three-set win over France's Oceane Dodin in the first round of the Miami Open on Wednesday.

Former US Open champion Stephens, ranked 49th in the world, defeated Dodin 6-7 (6-8) 6-4 6-2.

Stephens progresses to the second round where the top seeds, including top three Ash Barty, Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep, will be introduced and she will face 28th seed Amanda Anisimova.

Danielle Collins, Wang Qiang, Alize Cornet and Caroline Garcia were among the other winners on Wednesday, while Svetlana Kuznetsova bowed out.

 

SLOANE FIGHTBACK

Stephens had endured a dismal start to 2021, enduring an 0-4 win-loss record to begin the year.

The 28-year-old American was made to do it the hard way against Dodin on Wednesday, dropping the first set in a tie-break.

Stephens improved on her return in the second set, winning 73 per cent of points off Dodin's second serve before running away with the match in the last.

"It's been a rough one for me lately, so I'm really pleased to get through that, fight my way through it and make it happen somehow," Stephens said post-match.

FORMER MAJOR WINNER GONE

Two-time grand slam winner Kuznetsova was the major first-round casualty, going down 2-6 6-2 6-1 to France's Alize Cornet.

Kuznetsova, who is now ranked 35th in the world, bows out with Cornet to face ninth seed Petra Kvitova.

Collins got past France's Kristina Mladenovic 6-3 6-3 with the 40th-ranked American setting up a second-round clash with 32nd seed Veronika Kudermetova.

Wang, ranked 38th in the world, also progressed despite dropping a set in a 6-1 3-6 6-3 win over Spanish qualifier Aliona Bolsova.

SECOND-ROUND MATCH-UPS

The round of 64 will commence on Thursday, with third seed Halep to face Garcia who got past another Romanian, Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-1 6-2.

Top seed Barty will be in action against Slovakia's Kristina Kucova, while fourth seed Sofia Kenin will take on former top-10 player Andrea Petkovic.

Second seed Osaka has an assignment against 77th-ranked Australian Ajla Tomljanovic, while 14th seed Victoria Azarenka is already into the third round with opponent Laura Siegemund withdrawing after her win on Tuesday.

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    Australia expects as Ash Barty faces Danielle Collins in Saturday's grand slam final at Melbourne Park.

    The world number one, from Ipswich, Queensland, will be bidding for her third grand slam singles title but a first at the Australian Open.

    The wait for a home champion has been a long one, but it could soon be over.

    Chris O'Neil was the last Australian winner of the women's singles, way back in 1978, while the last men's singles champion was Mark Edmondson in 1976.

    Australia has hardly been starved of tennis talent over the past 40 years, but for one reason or another, the home slam has been beyond their reach.

    Here, Stats Perform remembers the household names who have seen their hopes dashed in Melbourne.

    Jelena Dokic

    Dokic never came close in Melbourne, truth be told. Which is not to say she lacked the ability, having reached the Wimbledon semi-finals in 2000 and climbed as high as number four in the WTA rankings two years later. Dokic's career was blighted by a traumatic relationship with her overbearing and violent coach and father, Damir, whom she alleged physically abused her on many occasions. Her best performance at Melbourne Park came against all expectations, at the outset of a tour comeback in 2009 when she reached the quarter-finals, losing out there to Dinara Safina. Dokic, who is now 38 and retired from the tour, has been conducting on-court interviews during this year's Australian Open.

    Lleyton Hewitt

    'Rusty' won Wimbledon and US Open titles at the peak of his powers, and reached number one in the world at the age of 20. Before Roger Federer came along with different ideas, it seemed Hewitt might rule the roost in the men's game for years to come. He reached one Australian Open final, and in 2005 that was a glorious chance to secure a home major as he faced Russian Marat Safin in the final. Hewitt won the first set, but then Safin took command, winning in four. Incredibly, it would be the last grand slam men's singles final not to feature Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic until the 2014 US Open (Nishikori v Cilic).

    Pat Cash

    Cash's career peak came at Wimbledon in 1987, when he beat Ivan Lendl to capture the title before famously climbing up to the players' box. At the start of that year he almost won the Australian Open, too, when that tournament was staged on grass at Kooyong, in Melbourne's suburbs. He lost a five-set thriller to Stefan Edberg, another grass-court master, and when the tournament moved to Melbourne Park a year later, shifting to hardcourts, Cash was a finalist once more. Again, he suffered heartbreak in a deciding set, Mats Wilander denying Cash home glory, and he would never play a grand slam final again.

    Samantha Stosur

    Stosur, who called time on her singles career after a second-round defeat in Melbourne this year, was Australia's most recent women's singles grand slam champion until Barty came along. She triumphed at the 2011 US Open, sensationally beating Serena Williams in the Flushing Meadows final, and got to as high as number four in the world. She also reached the 2010 French Open final, but Stosur was never a factor in the business end of her home major, at least in singles. The fourth round was the furthest she ever went, but it was a different story in doubles, as she won an Australian Open mixed title in 2005, alongside fellow Australian Scott Draper. In the twilight of her career, in 2019, she teamed up with Zhang Shuai to win the women's doubles, a poignant success after so much singles frustration.

    Mark Philippoussis

    Philippoussis, aka 'Scud', was a US Open runner-up in 1998 and also reached the 2003 Wimbledon final, where he was the sacrificial lamb as Federer scooped the first grand slam title of his career. In Australia, though, just like Stosur, his slam peak was round four, a disappointment considering his talent and weaponry. In 1996, Philippoussis stunned the then world number one Pete Sampras in the third round in Melbourne, only to lose to lowly ranked compatriot and doubles expert Mark Woodforde in his next match. Arguably the most famous story concerning Philippoussis and the Australian Open is the widely reported rumour he was spotted kissing Anna Kournikova in an underground car park at the 2000 tournament. Both denied it. "Just good friends," was Kournikova's verdict.

    Pat Rafter

    Rafter won back-to-back US Opens in 1997 and 1998, as well as reaching consecutive Wimbledon finals in 2000 and 2001. A semi-final run in Melbourne in 2001, which proved to be the serve-volley master's last year on tour, was Rafter's best performance at his home slam, eventual champion Andre Agassi coming from two sets to one down to deny him a place in the title match.

    Nick Kyrgios

    All the talent in the world, but Kyrgios appears to be happy enough ploughing a unique furrow though his tennis career. Top five in the shot-making stakes, Kyrgios turns 27 in April and his ability has taken him to just two slam quarter-finals to date, including at the 2015 Australian Open. He was a junior champion at Melbourne Park in 2013, and has also reached the fourth round twice in the seniors. It is up to Kyrgios whether he wishes to make optimum use of his remarkable racket skills or carry on entertaining with virtuoso, but short-lived, singles runs. You wonder whether a Barty triumph could ignite this firecracker of a player.

  • Australian Open: Barty braced for 'in your face' threat from Collins in title match Australian Open: Barty braced for 'in your face' threat from Collins in title match

    Ash Barty will plot a path to victory over Danielle Collins in the Australian Open final with the coach she describes as "a magician" and "a massive part of my life".

    Australian home hero Barty has been a hot favourite for the title since before the first ball was struck in Melbourne, and to date she has justified all the hype and expectation.

    Barty has dropped only 21 games across six matches to reach the final. Since 2000, only Serena Williams (16 games at the 2013 US Open and 19 at the 2012 US Open) and Venus Williams (20 games at Wimbledon in 2009) have lost fewer games to reach a grand slam final.

    The last player to lose fewer games en route to the final in Australia was Monica Seles in 1993 (20 games), and she went on to beat Steffi Graf in a title match that went to three sets.

    This is the level Barty is at now, as an established world number one and reigning Wimbledon champion, and a Collins victory on Saturday would be a major upset.

    Yet Barty sees the 28-year-old American as a major threat, and the evidence of Collins' destructive performance against seventh seed Iga Swiatek in Thursday's second semi-final attests to that.

    Collins won 6-4 6-1 and hit 27 winners and only 13 unforced errors, securing a place in her first slam final.

     

    "She's an exceptional ball striker," said Barty. "She's someone who stands on the baseline and can hit all spots of the court from any position. I think the challenge is going to be trying to get her off balance.

    "We'll do our homework and try to figure out a plan, and come Saturday try and execute. Danielle's done incredibly well here in Australia before. The way she's able to control the baseline and really take the game on, she's one of the most fierce competitors out here.

    "She loves to get in your face and loves to take it on. It's going to be a challenge for me to try to neutralise as best as I can, but it's certainly nice to see her out here playing her best stuff."

    Working out a strategy for the match, alongside Barty, will be veteran coach Craig Tyzzer. Barty trusts him implicitly to get the plan right.

    "'Tyzze' is a magician; he's able to look at a lot of different matches, look at key matches, some recent and some old, and work our plan out in looking at different conditions and things like that," Barty said in a news conference after her thumping 6-1 6-3 semi-final win against Madison Keys.

    "He's the man that does all the work. I just get to go out there and have fun with it."

    Barty is understating her role there, but she has turned singles into a team game, relying on the likes of Tyzzer and mindset coach Ben Crowe to steer her on the right path.

    She is attempting to become the first Australian player to win this title since Chris O'Neil in 1978, so the pressure is on, and it helps that those around her help to relieve the stress.

    "Everyone is equally important. We're all equal, we all play our roles," Barty said. "The most amazing thing is we all communicate really well together and get along with each other and know when it's time to back off, relax, and then when it's time to switch on and really have a crack.

    "'Tyzze' has been a massive part of my life since 2016. Before that, we'd done some work together, but the work he's done in setting up an amazing group of people around us has propelled my career for both of us. The experiences we've been able to share has been remarkable.

    "It starts with my family, my sisters, obviously my professional team who contribute as much time and energy into my career and help me try and live out my dreams. I cannot thank them enough for the time and effort they put in to someone else.

    "Being able to enjoy it all together and lighten up when we're not focused on the match is a really important part of that."

    Barty's first serve has been a huge weapon, while Collins' return of the second serve has been a significant factor behind her run. So if Barty can land enough first serves on Saturday, that could prove telling. It has helped her to save 13 of 14 break points so far in this tournament.

    Giving Collins a regular look at her second serve could be costly. Collins has won more points on the return of second serve (90) than any other woman in the tournament.

    Barty ranks ninth on that list but is the leader on winning points when landing a first serve, achieving an 83 per cent success rate.

  • Djokovic confirmed for Dubai Tennis Championships as world number one plans return to action Djokovic confirmed for Dubai Tennis Championships as world number one plans return to action

    Novak Djokovic looks set to return to tennis at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in February.

    The 20-time grand slam winner was deported from Australia on the eve of the Australian Open after his entry visa to the country was cancelled.

    Djokovic, who told officials he was not vaccinated against COVID-19, believed he was still eligible to enter the country and compete after testing positive for coronavirus last month and making a full recovery.

    Dubai does not have the same conditions for entry as Australia, and Djokovic will be free to compete at the tournament he has won five times previously provided that he can produce a negative PCR test result on arrival.

    His place in the field was confirmed by tournament organisers on Thursday, with Djokovic joined by defending champion Aslan Karatsev and last year's beaten semi-finalists Andrey Rublev and Denis Shapovalov. The tournament runs from February 21 to 26.

    After strong Australian Open campaigns, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Jannik Sinner and Gael Monfils have also entered the Dubai event, which will be staged for a 30th time.

    Djokovic won a hat-trick of Dubai titles from 2009 to 2011, adding further triumphs in 2013 and 2020. Only Roger Federer, with eight titles, has had more success at the tournament.

    Serbian superstar Djokovic is not entered for the ATP 500 events in Rotterdam or Rio de Janeiro that precede the Dubai tournament.

    Unlike in Australia, the 34-year-old can likely expect the red-carpet treatment in Dubai, where Colm McLoughlin, CEO of tournament sponsors Dubai Duty Free, said: "We are delighted to see Novak back in Dubai for the 12th time when he will be seeking his sixth title and we wish him the best of luck."

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