WTA

Raducanu denied Halep showdown after crushing defeat to Kostyuk at Transylvania Open

By Sports Desk October 29, 2021

Emma Raducanu's hopes of facing idol Simona Halep in the semi-finals of the Transylvania Open were brutally ended by a crushing defeat to Marta Kostyuk on Friday.

US Open champion Raducanu claimed her first ever regular WTA Tour win in Cluj earlier this week, with the 18-year-old keen to impress in the homeland of her father, but Kostyuk denied her the chance of a dream last-four clash with Halep.

The 19-year-old Ukrainian swept Raducanu aside in just 57 minutes, winning 6-2 6-1 as Kostyuk furthered her own burgeoning reputation in the game by reaching a third semi-final of the year.

Raducanu proved her own worst enemy, her 41 unforced errors more than double Kostyuk's 16, with the latter feeling confident as early as the first game when two double faults helped her break the Briton's serve.

"I don't know how I won the first game, I think that's where everything started," Kostyuk said. "I somehow won that game and I gained this confidence, like I'm not going to lose this match.

"After that, by the fifth game maybe, I figured out how to play her – today. Maybe next time I play it's going to be different tactics."

Top seed Halep enjoyed a similarly straightforward victory as she lost just two games en route to a 6-1 6-1 win over Romanian compatriot Jaqueline Cristian, a particularly impressive feat given she had been suffering with a back injury this week.

That success preserved Halep's 100 per cent record against fellow Romanians.

On the other side of the draw, second seed Anett Kontaveit was also an impressive winner as she disposed of Anhelina Kalinina 6-1 6-3 in just over an hour. Kontaveit has won 24 of her last 26 matches and will be the firm favourite against unseeded Rebecca Peterson, who beat Lesia Tsurenko 6-2 3-6 6-3.

At the Courmayeur Open in Italy, third seed Liudmila Samsonova cruised into the semis thanks to a swift 6-1 6-2 demolition of Anna Kalinskaya. She will meet Clara Tauson – seeded fifth – after the Dane came through a more gruelling 3-6 6-4 6-2 win over Ann Li.

The other semi will be contested by Donna Vekic and Jasmine Paolini, who were straight-sets winners over Wang Xinyu and Dayana Yastremska, respectively.

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  • French Open: Swiatek and Alcaraz are killing it on tour, and next step is slam domination French Open: Swiatek and Alcaraz are killing it on tour, and next step is slam domination

    Miami. That's where this started. Where Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek were both champions at the same tournament for the first time.

    Expect it to become, if not the norm, a regular occurrence over the coming years. Like Serena and Roger, and like Pete and Steffi before them, Carlos and Iga could well become the tennis royalty that reign above all others on the tour.

    The 19-year-old Alcaraz heads to Roland Garros with four titles on the ATP tour this season, while 20-year-old Swiatek has five on the WTA circuit. Those are both tour-leading figures, with Alcaraz triumphing in Rio de Janeiro, Miami, Barcelona and Madrid, while Swiatek has won in Doha, Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart and Rome.

    It is a global game, and these two are world leaders, based on their recent form. The Miami Open was as recently as April, and now the French Open awaits.

    Swiatek has shown she can win big in Paris already, storming to the title without dropping a set as the world number 54 in October 2020, against all expectations. Nobody, Swiatek included, saw that coming, but the emergence of Alcaraz has been longer heralded, and now that is happening too.


    "Practically unstoppable". "An overwhelming favourite". What the greats say about Swiatek and Alcaraz

    Martina Navratilova, who landed the French Open singles at the height of her career in 1982 and 1984, won 74 consecutive tour matches in the latter year. That puts Swiatek's current streak of 28 into some perspective, albeit the young Pole is just seven away from matching the longest run on the WTA circuit since the start of the year 2000.

    According to Navratilova, the Roland Garros tournament starts with an obvious prime contender.

    "It's Swiatek against the field," she said, describing the Polish player as an "overwhelming favourite".

    "Clearly, the pressure is not bothering her," Navratilova added, as quoted by the WTA website. "She’s just embracing that. It's great to see – when you are the favourite, and you keep on winning."

    When Novak Djokovic lost to Alcaraz in the Madrid semi-finals, the disappointed Serbian said: "He held his nerves very well. For somebody of his age to play so maturely and courageously is impressive."

    This is greatness recognising potential greatness.

    Rafael Nadal had been beaten by Alcaraz in the previous round and accepts there is a changing of the guard in motion.

    "When adrenaline goes up, he's practically unstoppable," Nadal said of his fellow Spaniard, "but then in some moments he commits errors, but it's logical because he plays with a lot of risk. It's his way of playing, and in that sense I think he has the level to be able to win against anyone in the world."


    Handling the pressure, in their own words...

    Swiatek, a natural introvert, travels with psychologist Daria Abramowicz, and is learning on the move how to handle the pressures of life at the top. Winning her last five tournaments points to a remarkable mentality, with Swiatek now firmly established as the WTA number one.

    "I already know that I did some great stuff this season, so I feel like I can just play freely and not think I have to win some tournaments, or I have to win some matches, or I have to save some points," Swiatek said in Rome.

    "This year, the pressure that I always put on myself, it's a little bit lower. For sure the expectations around are higher, but I never had a problem to cut it off and not to think about it. Also I'm gaining experience at that. I think with more and more tournaments, it's going to get better and better for me to cope with all of that."

    Alcaraz, who has become physically mightier in the past 12 months, appears to have the mental steel that a champion requires, albeit he has yet to win one of the four majors.

    He is embracing the hype around his French Open prospects by encouraging title talk.

    In Miami, he said: "This year, I think that people are going to think that I'm going to be one of the favourites to win Roland Garros, but I always said that I have a different view. I don't have it as tension; I have it as a motivation. I really look forward to going to Paris, to fighting for the grand slam, and I am really looking forward to showing my great level in a grand slam too."

    After triumphing in Madrid, he went a step further, telling Tennis TV: "Yes, I think I'm ready to win a grand slam."


    What can they achieve?

    Alcaraz and Swiatek would not be the youngest champion duo in a single edition of the French Open – Michael Chang was 17 years and three months when he triumphed at Roland Garros in 1989, and women's champion Arantxa Sanchez was only three months older.

    They would be the youngest champion pairing this century, however. Currently, the youngest winners at the same French Open in the 21st century are Nadal and Henin, who turned 19 and 23 respectively during the 2005 tournament.

    World number six Alcaraz is a long way off number one in the ATP rankings, but at the start of the year he sat 32nd, an awful long way from sixth spot. He is skipping steps as he races up the ladder and seems destined for the top.

    He sits third in the Race to Turin, which ranks performances in the calendar year rather than on a rolling basis and decides the line-up for the end-of-season ATP Finals. There, Alcaraz is closing on leader Nadal and just a sliver (3,490 to 3,460 points is the margin) behind second-placed Tsitsipas, who has played 11 tournaments to Alcaraz's seven.

    For Swiatek to be champion, she must break the run that has seen eight different women crowned in the last eight years: Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Garbine Muguruza, Jelena Ostapenko, Simona Halep, Ash Barty, Swiatek and Barbora Krejcikova.

    The men's singles has been rather more predictable over the same period, with Nadal winning five times, Djokovic twice and Stan Wawrinka once. Nadal in 2005 was the last teenager to scoop the men's title.

    The last woman to truly dominate at Roland Garros was Justine Henin, who won four years out of five from 2003 to 2007.

    Swiatek can make it two from three, and if she reaches the title match, it would be a brave person to back against her given she has won 16 consecutive sets in finals.

    With her five titles already this year, Swiatek is one away from becoming the first woman to beat that total in a season since Serena Williams won seven in 2014.

    She is a red-hot favourite, while Alcaraz is a serious contender. A repeat of Miami would shock nobody who has been paying attention.

    As the Big Three of the men's game begins to break up, and the Williams sisters dot the i's and cross the t's of their careers, the future of tennis looks to be in secure hands.

  • French Open: Roland Garros stars to watch as young guns battle old guard for Paris glory French Open: Roland Garros stars to watch as young guns battle old guard for Paris glory

    Novak Djokovic returns to the grand slam arena, Carlos Alcaraz is threatening to follow in the footsteps of Rafael Nadal, and Iga Swiatek is suddenly unstoppable.

    The French Open is rich in promise as the Roland Garros clay courts are swept in anticipation of the greats of tennis stepping out to begin their campaigns.

    It has been the women's draw that has looked the most wide open in recent seasons, yet this year it is hard to look beyond Swiatek; however, the men's title battle promises to provide a sensational battle.

    Here, Stats Perform assesses the contenders for the two main trophies: the Coupe des Mousquetaires and the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.


    KID INTERRUPTS G.O.A.T. RACE

    Nadal took full advantage of Djokovic and Roger Federer being absent from the Australian Open, carrying off his 21st grand slam title to go top of the men's all-time list, one ahead of those two great rivals.

    Federer is again missing, rehabbing after knee surgery, and the likelihood is he has played his final major already, but Djokovic is emphatically back. His confidence is surging once more, having taken a knock amid the drama of his deportation from Australia in January and being frozen out of the Indian Wells and Miami events due to the United States' COVID-19 rules.

    A semi-final run in Madrid, where he lost a three-set monster to Alcaraz, was followed by Djokovic carrying off the Rome title for a sixth time when he saw off Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final.

    Djokovic turns 35 on Sunday, as main-draw action gets under way in Paris, but he is the defending champion and firmly believes he can succeed again.

    Assessing his prospects for Paris, Djokovic said after his Rome triumph: "With rankings and the way I've been playing in the last few weeks, I would rate myself as one of the favourites. I don't obviously spend too much time thinking who's going to win it or who might have the best chance. I always think about myself.

    "I go there with the highest ambitions. I really like my chances. Best-of-five, you play every second day. It's a grand slam. It's different. Really, the grand slams are played different. You have to approach it differently. But the way I've been feeling on the court and off the court in the last few weeks, I really think I can go far."

    The chief threat to Djokovic could come not from 'King of Clay' Nadal, but from the 13-time champion's fellow Spaniard, 19-year-old Alcaraz.

    Bidding to become the first teenage winner of the men's title since Nadal, also 19, triumphed for the first time in 2005, Alcaraz arrives in Paris with four titles already secured this year, including three on clay in Rio, Barcelona and Madrid. The other title came on hardcourt at the Masters 1000 event in Miami, and Alcaraz has rocketed from 32nd at the start of the year to number six in the world rankings.

    Many expect his grand slam haul to reach double digits, just like the Big Three he has grown up watching and learning from. The first slam must come somewhere, and it might well come in Paris in a fortnight's time.

    Don't discount Nadal, but his form has been a shade unconvincing since coming back from a rib injury, while Tsitsipas looks the next most likely after winning on clay in Monte Carlo and finishing runner-up to Djokovic in Rome. The Greek has unfinished business in Paris, after the heartache of losing last year's final from two sets up.

     

    IGA TO PLEASE? POLE GOES FROM SHOCK WINNER TO FIRM FAVOURITE

    The first thing to point out is that the French Open women's singles title has been won by eight different players in the last eight years.

    Iga Swiatek was a surprise champion in 2020, at the tournament that was delayed until the Paris autumn due to the pandemic. She was ousted by Maria Sakkari in the quarter-finals last year but returns on a roll, having won an incredible five consecutive tournaments.

    The 20-year-old has won 38 of the last 39 sets she has contested, the odd one out going against her on a tie-break, and her winning streak has reached 28 matches. Since Ash Barty retired, nobody has been able to lay much of a glove on Swiatek.

    If she wins the French Open, that run will reach 35 matches, equalling the longest run in the 2000s, previously achieved by Venus Williams during a glory run that saw her win events including Wimbledon, the Olympic Games and US Open in the year 2000.

    Tunisia's Ons Jabeur has been spoken of as a possible challenger to Swiatek, but she was swatted away 6-2 6-2 by the youngster in the Rome final last weekend.

    So who challenges the favourite? Even those who have been there and done that struggle to look beyond Swiatek. According to Martina Navratilova: "You can’t be any hotter than she is right now."

    Navratilova told the WTA website: "She looks pretty unbeatable on any surface, particularly the clay now."

    The last player to beat Swiatek was Jelena Ostapenko, in Dubai. Ostapenko, a surprise 2017 French Open champion, had a sizzling spell of form in February but has gone off the boil since. It might take someone of her hard-hitting nature to knock Swiatek out of her stride, though, so if Ostapenko can navigate the early rounds she becomes a real contender. The Latvian's career record against Swiatek? An impressive 3-0.

    Who else? Simona Halep's coaching tie-up with Patrick Mouratoglou – Serena Williams' former coach of long-standing – has raised eyebrows and now it might be time for it to raise her results level too. Halep has won in Paris before, in 2018, so don't count her out.

    Aryna Sabalenka, Sakkari, Paula Badosa. Such players come into the mix if Swiatek slips up, but there has been scant sign of that happening.

  • Wimbledon defends Russian, Belarusian ban amid WTA and ATP penalties Wimbledon defends Russian, Belarusian ban amid WTA and ATP penalties

    The All England Club was disappointed by the penalties dished out by the ATP, WTA and ITF ahead of Wimbledon. 

    The season's third major will not have any ranking points after tennis' governing bodies decided to punish the grand slam's organisers for banning Russian and Belarusian athletes.  

    That decision from the All England Club was made in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

    However, Wimbledon's organisers have now hit out at the three governing bodies. 

    A statement began: "Given the position taken by the UK government to limit Russia's global influence, which removed automatic entry by ranking, and the widespread response of government, industry, sport and creative institutions, we remain of the view that we have made the only viable decision for Wimbledon as a globally renowned sporting event and British institution, and we stand by the decision we have made. 

    "We were not prepared to take any actions that could risk the personal safety of players or their families. We believe that requiring written declarations from individual players – and that would apply to all relevant players – as a condition of entry in the high-profile circumstances of Wimbledon would carry significant scrutiny and risk. 

    "In addition, we remain unwilling to accept success or participation at Wimbledon being used to benefit the propaganda machine of the Russian regime, which, through its closely controlled State media, has an acknowledged history of using sporting success to support a triumphant narrative to the Russian people. 

    "We therefore wish to state our deep disappointment at the decisions taken by the ATP, WTA and ITF in removing ranking points for the championships. We believe these decisions to be disproportionate in the context of the exceptional and extreme circumstances of this situation and the position we found ourselves in, and damaging to all players who compete on Tour." 

    The statement added that the All England Club was "considering [its] options" while also communicating with organisers of the other grand slams. 

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