Sunday, April 18, 2021

Ad Astra! Astra Sharma wins MUSC Women's Health Open in Charleston

Astra Sharma (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

Unseeded Astra Sharma of Australia upset top seed Ons Jabeur today to win the MUSC Women's Health Open in Charleston, thereby securing her first WTA title. Sharma's 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory capped a week in which the 25-year-old knocked off eighth seed Madison Brengle and two very talented teenagers, Linda Fruhtvirtova and Maria Camila Osorio Serrano. 

Jabeur, the favorite to win the title, showed just why she was expected to win her first title when, during the first set, when she repeatedly frustrated Sharma with hitting her signature drop shot, and by pulling Sharma all over the court. But Sharma has shown this week that she is in it for the long haul:

“I didn’t know really what to do. She was wrong-footing me, she was drop-shotting me, she was making me cover a lot of court, and I couldn’t really read what she was doing....but I just thought, you know, if maybe, maybe I just keep competing, keep showing up, keep doing the right things—those are really inherently quite tricky shots, so like maybe she’ll waver here and there, and like I’ll get an opportunity to get it closer.

Sharma made her move in the second set, and won it 7-5. Then everything changed:

Astra Sharma (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

“…by the third set, it was hot, it was humid; I think I was a little bit more energetic than her and my intensity was still the same, so I think that was what eventually gave me the little lead, yeah.”

Sharma's thinking turned out to be accurate. She was patient, and she was relentless. And when she realized that she had a physical advantage, she imposed herself. 

After the match, Sharma said that she had used her time this week to employ her physicality in more of an offensive way than she has in the past. 

“I think that is the basis of my game….I might not have the straight-up weapons that a player like Ons has, but I do have the speed to kind of close and finish at the net….”

This was Sharma's first win over a top 30 player. 

Ons Jabeur (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

 

Jabeur said that it was a tough loss, and that “She serves different from the other players, so it was kind of difficult for me to adapt and to return better.”

Of the treatment that she received for her right arm, Jabeur said that she has had long-term shoulder pain, and that she was just hoping to release it a bit so that she could serve better.

The U.S. team of Hailey Baptiste and Caty McNally won the doubles title, defeating top seeds Ellen Perez and Storm Sanders of Australia, 6-7, 6-4, 10-6. It was Baptiste's first doubles title, and McNally's third.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Jabeur and Sharma to contest for the title in Charleston

Ons Jabeur (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

 Yesterday, top MUSC Women's Health Open seed Ons Jabeur said about her upcoming semifinal against Danka Kovinic: “I am going to really play like I never played before. I really want this win, and I’m going to do anything to win."  

She wasn't kidding. Today, playing against the woman who defeated her last week in the Volvo Car Open semifinals, Jabeur put on a clinic that included all of her clever, tricky shots. Add consistency, and you have a deadly formula. Jabeur defeated Kovinic 6-3, 6-0, but--as is often the case--the match itself was more than the score might indicate.

Kovinic fought. She fought so hard that, in the first set, she went from 1-5 to getting painfully close to having a chance to even things at 5-6--Jabeur needed ten set points to take the opening set. And even though the Montenegrin player won no games in the second set, she saw to it that her opponent needed four match points to finally end the match. 

“In my head, I was like, she deserve to play this game and she deserve to win this game,” Jabeur said about the game that went on and toward the end of the first set. Of the second set, Jabeur noted: “It’s a tougher set than it looks like. I know it’s 6-love, but the games were really long, and it was advantage most of the time”

Toward the end of the first set, Jabeur appeared to be struggling with some type of abdominal issue. She confirmed that she has been having stomach problems and plans to get checked when she goes home.

Once again, Jabeur talked about her determination: “I don’t want to waste any more opportunities…I’m in this momentum right now and I want this title, like, so bad, so I’m gonna do whatever it takes to get it…I wanna show the world what Ons is capable of.”

Asked about her husband's quickly coming to her aid to take her bag when she walked off the court, Jabeur's immediate response was “That’s part of our marriage contract, you know, to take my bag when I come out of the match.” (It's a tradition, of course, as in “Fix the drink and fix the racket.”)

Neither Jabeur nor Kovinic has ever won a WTA match. Kovinic had a chance last week, but lost the Volvo Car Open to Veronika Kudermetova. Now it's Jabeur's turn to attempt to win her first WTA title. Her opponent will be Astra Sharma, who defeated Maria Camila Osorio Serrrano 7-6, 6-1.

Astra Sharma (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

The last part of the first set between Sharma and Osorio Serrano was an eerie replay of the concluding part of the first set between Jabeur and Kovinic, with a lengthy battle at 5-6. Osorio Serrano had four set points, but Sharma prevailed, and she prevailed in the tiebreak. After that, the Australian was on fire, using her considerable athleticism and some expert shot-making to overcome her opponent. 

Speaking with the press, Sharma said that she thought that Osorio Serrano--having played so many matches lately--may have gotten a bit tired. The Colombian player agreed, saying that she grew tired and was "out of gas."

Osorio Serrano also had a bit of a leg problem which she intends to have checked  “It was a really good two weeks, and I’m happy for what I did. I’m pretty tired, but I feel like I did really good things these two weeks; I learned a lot....it’s good that I still have things to work on.”

“I really just want to go to sleep," she added.

Sharma talked about her mindset during the first set: There wasn’t a lot of pressure on me, I felt, because I thought, you know, even if she breaks, I still have two more sets, like I’m playing really well. I trust myself that I can keep this kind of play and push her….”

“She’s such a clean ball striker, such a tough opponent," she said of her opponent.

Sharma said that playing on clay is a good opportunity for her to utilize her fitness. “Clay is such a physical surface, and I’ve tried to use that, this time, to make girls beat me….If you can beat me over three sets and I’m going to run down everything, like, then—too good.

“...That’s what I tried this week, to do, like make sure that every point is tough, you really gotta play every point against me, and that was the goal this week.”

The Australian player talked about her college team days, and said that college tennis was a lot more pressure because team members were counting on her to win. “Every point counts, I don’t want to let anyone down.” 

When she turned pro, it was less intense for her because it just she: “No one’s cheering you on, no one’s holding you accountable, it’s just yourself out there….”

“…I’ve learned along the way, like, how to be my own little college team in a way, like having, supporting myself out on court….”

Sharma and Jabeur have never played each other before, and neither has ever won a WTA title, though each of them has reached a final.

Meanwhile, the doubles semifinals have been completed. In today's match, Hailey Baptiste and Caty McNally defeated Elixane Lechemia and Ingrid Neel 6-0, 6-2. In the final, Baptiste and McNally will play top seeds Ellen Perez and Storm Sanders, who defeated Julia Wachaczyk and Renata Zarazua 6-2, 6-2 yesterday.

Friday, April 16, 2021

"I was everywhere on the court"

Danka Kovinic (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

 Danka Kovinic defeated third seed Shelby Rogers 7-5, 6-1 today at the MUSC Women's Health Open in Charleston, and advanced to the semifinals. Rogers was dealing with an ab strain which inhibited her service motion and contributed to service stats that were not up to Rogers' usual standard. And--as Rogers was quick to point out--her opponent played extremely well today.

Kovinic credited mixing her shots, especially not giving Rogers the low, flat shots that she likes, as the main tactic that helped her win. “I think my game, mixing, with sometimes a higher spin on forehand and then a little bit faster spin backhand, and, plus I was really missing very little today, basically every return I was getting back in the court….”I was everywhere on the court.”

Kovinic also noted that having a day off was helpful. She said that her body felt fine, but that she had become mentally tired after playing so many consecutive competitive matches. Kovinic said that she first noticed the mental fatigue in her match against Lauren Davis, in which she felt somewhat nervous.

The Montenegrin player said that she especially liked playing the consecutive tournaments in Charleston because it has kept her mind busy: “It’s not like, everywhere—it’s still on the tennis court.”

Ons Jabeur (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

For her efforts, Kovinic will get a repeat of last week's semifinal at the Volvo Car Open. She and top seed Ons Jabeur will again compete for a spot in the final. Last week, Kovinic came out on top, and she said that she is looking forward to playing Jabeur again. “Hopefully she’ll play a little bit less drop shots," she added.

For her part, Jabeur defeated Nao Hibino 6-0, 6-1 in 48 minutes. Jabeur said that her goal was to be aggressive today. “I’m really glad the way I played this match.”

Regarding the upcoming semifinal re-match between her and Kovinic, the top seed was very clear: “I am going to really play like I never played before. I really want this win, and I’m going to do anything to win. I will be brave, and not let the stress play the match for me. I can beat Danka. Obviously, this time, there’s less pressure on me—she won last week.”

Next was a contest between two talented upstarts--Clara Tauson and Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, both of whom have performed impressively at this tournament. Unfortunately, Tauson's left knee injury got the better of her, and she had to retire at 6-4, 1-0. This was unfortunate not only for Tauson, but for spectators, because--despite the injury--the two of them were playing so well, and the match had the potential to be quite exciting.

“I’m so sorry that it had to finish like that," Osorio Serrano said after the match. "I’m friends with her and I know it’s tough to be injured and not be able to play. It’s so sad to see her like that….”

Osorio Serrano said that she's been working a lot on the mental aspect of her game. "I used to get mad a lot when I was playing…I was thinking that I was too good….” Now, she says, she has put away the anger and frustration and just plays point by point.

The Copa Colsanitas champion appeared both surprised and amused with her results in Charleston. “I’m proud of what I”m doing and I still can’t believe that I’m in the semis…that’s crazy to say, for me.”

She also talked about the reactions of others to her success: “My family cannot believe it…they just keep texting me that this is unreal….The media in Colombia, they’re talking a lot about me, and that’s funny because I’ve never been that much on TV.”

Maria Camila Osorio Serrano (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)
Astra Sharma (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

Finally, Astra Sharma and Linda Fruhvirtova played each other for the remaining spot in the semifinals. In her last two matches, the 15-year-old Czech player hit a combined 24 double faults. She got away with it in her round of 16 match against Emma Navarro, but not today. 

Sharma defeated her 6-4, 6-3. Fruhvirtova grabbed attention this week with not only with her game, but with her poise on the court, which is quite impressive for a 15-year-old. Sharma said it best: “She’s an amazing player who plays as if she’s been born to hold a racket her whole life.”

The Australian player explained that the considerable amount of strapping on her leg "looks pretty dramatic, but there's little pain. "...it's more for my peace of mind." 

Sharma said that, in playing Fruhvirtova, she kept it simple and used her physicality on court. “I think I’ve always utilized that well in a defensive way, but trying to use that more offensively, I think, has been paying some dividends."

Here is the semifinal draw:

Ons Jabeur (1) vs. Danka Kovinic
Astra Sharma vs. Maria Camila Osorio Serrano

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Osorio Serrano and Fruhvirtova continue their success in Charleston

Maria Camila Osorio Serrano (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

The round of 16 continued today in Charleston at the MUSC Women's Health Open, and two young players who have garnered a lot of attention got even more when they both advanced to the quarterfinals. Maria Camila Osorio Serrano and Linda Fruhvritova won their matches against Christina McHale and Emma Navrro, respectively.

Osorio Serrano, a former number 1 ranked junior, recently won her first WTA title at the 2021 Copa Colsanitas, which she entered as a wild card. Today, the 19-year-old Colombian player defeated Christina McHale 2-6, 7-6, 7-6, after being down a set and a break in the second set. 

Discussing her ability to come back and turn the match around, Osorio Serrano said: “I don’t know—I don't feel that I’m thinking that much. I don’t feel like I’m gonna lose…I just feel that I have to play every point.”

She gave credit to coach Ricardo Sanchez for helping her with a lot of things that she didn't realized she needed to improve. Osorio Serrano said that, despite what she may think or want to do, she always listens to Sanchez.

Linda Fruhvirtova (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

 Fruhvirtova, following her win over 4th seed Alize Cornet (who retired in the third set) in the second round, continued her campaign today with a straight sets win over Emma Navarro. The young Czech player said that she realized that her serve wasn't going to be good today, so she focused on other things. "Every match is different," she remarked, "every day you feel different." Fruhvirtova is now into her first WTA quarterfinal.

Top seed Ons Jabeur also advanced with a 6-4, 6-0 win over Alycia Parks. Jabeur said that it was difficult for her to adapt to Parks' serve because the ball was so high. She also talked about her comfort level in Charleston, and how nice it was to stay in the same location for two tournaments. "Everything is amazing here--the food, the sites, the hotel, nothing to complain about...."

The other winner today was Astra Sharma, who defeated Christina McHale 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, in a hard-fought match that contained a number of momentum swings.

Here is the quarterfinal draw:

Ons Jabeur (1) vs. Nao Hibino
Shelby Rogers (3) vs. Danka Kovinic
Astra Sharma vs Linda Fruhvirtova
Clara Tauson vs. Maria Camila Osorio Serrano

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Rogers advances at MUSC Women's Health Open, Tauson upsets Tomljanovic

Shelby Rogers (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

Third seed Shelby Rogers advanced to the quarterfinals of the MUSC Open today when she defeated Clare Liu 6-2, 6-2. Asked in her press conference how it felt to have a straight-forward, no drama win, Rogers said, “Well,  think I was due for maybe a couple of tame matches; I’ve had quite a lot of mental battles over the past couple of months....” Most recently, she had a drama-filled match against Amanda Anisimova at theVolvo Car Open.

The third seed will next face Volvo Car Open semifinalist Danka Kovinic. Kovinic upset seventh seed Lauren Davis today in three sets.

Also winning today were Nao Hibino, who defeated Francesco Di Lorenzo, and Clara Tauson, who upset sixth seed Ajla Tomljanovic 6-1, 6-4. 

After the match, Tauson talked about her tennis mentality, and said that competing on clay involved her mindset: "“I’m trying to play a little bit higher over the net and play with less risk....I think it’s more mentally for me, staying in the rally and just hitting with the girls.”

Clara Tauson (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

Tauson said that she has learned to look at higher-ranked players and think that she is just as good as they are. This tactic is helping her a lot right now, she said. She went on to talk about the mental shifts that she has undergone. “When I was younger, I was very explosive and had a lot of outbursts," she explained, but now she talks with her mental coach every day and is able to remain calm.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Top seed advances in Charleston, and a 15-year-old makes a very grown-up statement

Linda Fruhvirtova (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

Top seed Ons Jabeur won her first match tournament in Charleston today, at the MUSC Health Women's Open, defeating Stefanie Voegele 6-4, 6-1. Jabeur reached the semifinals at the Volvo Car Open, also in Charleston, last week. Her next opponent will be Alycia Parks, who defeated Grace Min, 6-1, 6-4.

“Obviously, I’m not playing the game that I want to play, but, I mean, it is what it is; I’m getting used to every player, every condition with the player….," Jabeur said after the match.

“My ambition right now is to get my serve better,” she added.

Also today, Emma Navarro won her second WTA match when her opponent, Tereza Martincova, retired in the second round. Her first came last week at the Volvo Car Open when, playing as a wild card, she defeated Renata Zarazua. Volvo Car Open finalist Danka Kovinic also advanced today, with a win over Viktoriya Tomova.

The tournament saved the best for last, though in one major way, it wasn't good at all. 15-year-old Linda Fruhvirtova engaged in a two hour and forty-three-minute knock-down-drag-out with one of the queens of knock-down-drag-out fighting--Alize Cornet. Cornet has been showing her tenacious form lately, and that always makes for a good show. Unfortunately, tonight, she was forced to retire in the third set.

Cornet entered the court with her right thigh wrapped, and she had it re-wrapped between the second and third sets. However, the longer the match went on, the harder it was for the Frenchwoman to move; she was in obvious pain, but kept on playing. Her opponent also took a medical timeout to have her ankle wrapped. There were 18 breaks of serve in the match, and the young Czech player held a match point in the second set. It was also highly entertaining, other than the part about watching Cornet limp around the court.

It was 4-all in the third set when Cornet retired, so we'll never know what may have happened. But we do know that Fruhvitova fought as hard as the veteran Frenchwoman, and she showed considerable mental strength--especially for someone her age. After the match, when asked about her mental strength, Fruhvitova said that it comes naturally to her. She then added that “The matches I lost the past years helped me a lot in my mental strength so that I could perform the game that I did today.”

The teenager talked about “the way we both fought for every point, it just amazing. I’m satisfied with the way I played—it was just so tough mentally and physically….”

Fruhvirtova said that tonight's match would be memorable because it was her first WTA win, but it would also be memorable because it was this particular match that was her first. "I admire Alize, how can she fight, and she just never give up, if she’s injured or not injured.”

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Kudermetova leaves Charleston with new belief, a big trophy, a check--and a Volvo

Photo courtesy of Volvo Car Open/Chris Smith

Veronika Kudermetova said that when she arrived in Charleston, she didn't believe that she could win the title because she didn't have good preparation before Miami, and "...I had, I think, a lot of troubles in my head." But the 23-year-old Russian wound up "pulling a Swiatek" and winning the tournament without dropping a set. Kudermetova's Volvo Car Open victory represents her first WTA title, and starting with a 500-level event is an impressive way to make the tennis world take notice.

In today's final, Kudermetova, seeded 15th, defeated Montenegro's Danka Kovinic 6-4, 6-2. Kovinic had done a lot of heavy lifting at the tournament, upsetting the third, eleventh and twelfth seeds. But--while, on paper--Kudermetova's draw wasn't as difficult as Kovinic's--she had her work cut out for her in both the quarterfinals and the semifinals, in which she defeated 2016 champion Sloane Stephens and a red-hot Paula Badosa, respectively. 

Kudermetova has a very good serve (as of now, she's the WTA ace queen, with 130 aces hit in 2021), but it failed her several times throughout the tournament, so she repeatedly used her second serve to get out of trouble. She also did some excellent defending, and was a rather calm and cool presence on court at almost all times.

Despite her doubts when she began her Charleston campaign, the new champion said that once she started to play matches, she just focused on her work, and "...match by match, I started to play really well." Several times during the week, Kudermetova talked about her focus on "the work," explaining that the most important thing that she does is practice.

Photo courtesy of Volvo Car Open/Christ Smith

Kudermetova said that--of all her experiences on the courts in Charleston--the one that she will take with her is "I think most important, the belief in myself, trust in myself." Now that she has that belief, and now that she has a big title (and a new Volvo)!, "...the pressure come off from the shoulder." Indeed.

As for Kovinic, she had a splendid run this week, knocking out the likes of young star Leylah Fernandez, Petra Kvitova, Yulia Putintseva, and Ons Jabeur. Of the final, Kovinic said, “She was more constant from the baseline than I was today.”

Kovinic, like Kudermetova, is taking away more than her runner-up dish: “I stayed composed and calm during most of the match. I think that is the one thing I discovered about myself—that I can be really calm in some crucial moments, and just to make good decision when it’s very important."

Photo courtesy of Volvo Car Open/Chris Smith

The unseeded Kovinic also said: “…of course I feel a little bit sad because I didn’t lift that trophy, but that is only if I’m looking only at this day, but if I’m looking overall at this week and the process before this tournament, I’m really happy…”

Photo courtesy of Volvo Car Open/Chris Smith

The day began with a third title (and two Volvos) for the top seeds in doubles, Nicole Melichar and Demi Schuurs. In the final, they defeated Marie Bouzkova and Lucie Hradecka 6-2, 6-4. 

"To transition from the hard to the clay and win right away the first week, I think that’s incredible….” Melichar said. This is the U.S. player's tenth title, and she has also finally cracked the top 10, a convergence that she said was possibly "meant to be."