Victorious Vekic happy she didn't 'forget how to play' as tennis returns in Palermo

By Sports Desk August 03, 2020

A relieved Donna Vekic was simply happy she "didn't forget how to play tennis" after easing to the first main-draw win on the WTA Tour for five months at the Palermo Open.

Vekic made up for lost time on Monday following a coronavirus-enforced hiatus, thrashing Arantxa Rus 6-1 6-2 two days after qualifying in Sicily marked the official return of professional tennis.

There was only a small number of people to witness the action, players handling their own towels, no handshakes as well as a smaller team of ball kids and line officials, but Vekic clearly had no problem adapting.

The sixth seed from Croatia said in a post-match video call: "I'm definitely a little bit surprised [at the margin of her victory].

"It was very tricky conditions, it was very windy so the ball was a little bit all over the court. I'm just definitely happy that I didn't forget how to play tennis, how to play matches, how to win. It's a huge relief."

Sara Errani, Laura Siegemund, Ekaterina Alexandrova and Elisabetta Cocciaretto also made it through to the second round.

It would have been a relief for organisers to see the action get under way just a couple of days after an unnamed player tested positive for COVID-19.

Wimbledon champion Simona Halep was among a host of players to withdraw from the first tournament since March due to concerns over coronavirus.

 

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    Karolina Pliskova cast doubt on Jelena Ostapenko's prospects for a second French Open title after falling victim to the 2017 champion at Roland Garros.

    A 6-4 6-2 defeat for second seed Pliskova in round two was the latest in a long line of grand slam disappointments for the 28-year-old Czech.

    Although Pliskova has been a regular presence in the top 10 for the past five years, she has reached just one grand slam final, losing to Angelique Kerber in the 2016 US Open title match.

    The career of 23-year-old Ostapenko has fluctuated, with success mingling on her record with major dips in form, and she arrived in Paris this year as the world number 43 and unseeded.

    The hard-hitting Latvian's record at the French Open is peculiar, with three first-round exits and one run all the way through the draw to glory her return from four previous trips to Roland Garros.

    Pliskova was frustrated to lose their second-round match, and afterwards questioned whether Ostapenko's death-or-glory style could carry her to another final.

    "I'm not sure. There is, what, five more matches to go? I'm not sure if she can hold the level," Pliskova said. "For sure if she plays like [she did on Thursday] she has a chance, but there are tough girls in the draw."

    Ostapenko knows her own game will come as a surprise to nobody, unlike three years ago when she careered through the fortnight, catching opponents cold.

    "It was three years ago, and I was much younger and also I was fearless. Nobody knew me," Ostapenko said. "But now it's a little bit different. I'm just trying to get back and get my consistency. I think that is the key to bring me a good result.

    "Of course, it's in my memory because it's the biggest win of my career so far, but I have to move forward. The world doesn't stop with winning only one grand slam. Of course I want to achieve more and I want to be back in top five, top 10. Step by step. That's what I'm working on, my consistency."

    Naomi Osaka, the 2020 US Open winner, has championed Ostapenko as an inspiration in the past, and the respect is mutual.

    "A young generation is coming," Ostapenko said. "When I saw her winning, of course I also want to get back there on top and win another grand slam. We are inspiring each other, the new generation, which is also I think good."

  • French Open 2020: Beaten Errani blasts Bertens as Azarenka and Gauff are eliminated French Open 2020: Beaten Errani blasts Bertens as Azarenka and Gauff are eliminated

    A furious Sara Errani aimed verbal volleys at Kiki Bertens at the French Open on Wednesday, accusing the fifth seed of exaggerating an injury in their mammoth second-round clash.

    A visibly upset Bertens left the court in a wheelchair after suffering with cramps in a three-hour, 11-minute tussle with Errani that the Dutchwoman won 7-6 (7-5) 3-6 9-7.

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    "She played an amazing match, but I don't like the situation.

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    World number eight Bertens, who faces Katerina Siniakova next, shrugged off the criticism, though.

    "She can say whatever she feels like. Maybe I should take some more acting classes or should pursue a career in that," Bertens said.

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    On the same day that Serena Williams pulled out of the tournament due to an Achilles injury, Victoria Azarenka – who beat the American in the US Open semi-finals – also bowed out with a 6-2 6-2 loss to Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

    None of the four women who made the final four in New York are still in the tournament in France, with champion Naomi Osaka having withdrawn before it started and Jennifer Brady eliminated in the first round.

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    "This is a lesson for me to learn. I don't think about what happened in New York."

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    Top seed Simona Halep beat fellow Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu 6-3 6-4 to seal her passage to the third round.

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    Spanish great Nadal began to move through the gears as he steamed through to the third round in Paris with a 6-1 6-0 6-3 win over American Mackenzie McDonald.

    It was the sort of performance that was the ideal response to a similarly clinical first-round win by Novak Djokovic a day earlier, and showed Nadal stepping up after a more challenging workout against Egor Gerasimov in his opener.

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    The greatest of all French Open champions knows there will always be room for improvement in his game, even when he is playing with the sort of gusto that swept away McDonald in 100 minutes of wizardry on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

    Nadal was asked afterwards whether he has ever played a perfect match, and what such a performance would look like.

    "Perfection is difficult. I really believe that word in sport, especially in tennis, doesn't exist," Nadal said.

    "You're always going to have mistakes. At the end of the day, the perfect match or the closest-to-perfect match is when you win. When you win, you're going to have the chance to play again the next day. That's the goal in this sport.

    "It's not a sport where you have to look for perfection. Perfection is not going to happen. But close to be playing very, very well, yeah, it's happening.

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    After sweeping aside Andy Murray in round one, Wawrinka, who won the first of his three slam titles at the French Open six years ago, is fancying his chances of a long run.

    He saw off Germany's Dominik Koepfer 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-1 on Wednesday, a decent outcome against a player who took a set off Djokovic in the Rome quarter-finals earlier in September.

    "I've been practising right. I'm feeling good. I like the conditions here. I enjoy being back playing grand slams," Wawrinka, who enjoys his 'Stanimal' nickname, explained.

    "It's great to be able to have the chance to play this year's French Open. Seeing what's happening in the world, it's something different.

    "We are lucky to be able to play here. I'm ready for it. I'm ready for the next round. Let's see what will happen in the next two weeks."

    His match against Koepfer was interrupted by what sounded like a huge explosion, which was heard across Paris and was later confirmed as a sonic boom caused by a military aircraft.

    "I was shocked like everybody," Wawrinka said. "For sure, we asked the umpire to let me know what it was. Everybody had the answer quite early, so it was all good."

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    Despite finishing runner-up to Nadal in the last two Roland Garros finals, Thiem no longer feels like a grand slam nearly man thanks to his recent US Open triumph.

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    "Generally I'm feeling pretty good," he said. "I'm still a little bit on the happy wave of New York, I would say.

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    Wawrinka and Thiem are on a fourth-round collision course.

    Zverev, beaten by Thiem in the US Open final, was some way short of his best as he scrambled for a 2-6 6-4 7-6 (7-5) 4-6 6-4 win against Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

    John Isner, Benoit Paire and Kei Nishikori were among the notable casualties on day four of the tournament, but the title favourites remain firmly on course for the second week.

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