WTA Indian Wells, BNP Paribas Open 2016: Main Draw Preview

Indian Wells has been somewhat overshadowed by the news on Monday evening that Maria Sharapova has failed a drugs test. I’m still stunned by the situation… of the many, many rumours and suggestions flying around Twitter, that was one I didn’t see. I like the fact that Maria has come out and taken responsibility for the mistakes she has made. I am baffled though how this wasn’t picked up by her or her team and there are many questions still to be answered. Rules are rules and she will have to face up to the consequences. The No Challenges Remaining Podcast had a decent summary of the situation HERE. I’m really sad about this whole situation :-(.

Getting back to the tennis… Last week was a quiet one on both tours with just the WTA tournaments in Kuala Lumpur and Monterrey where Elina Svitolina and Heather Watson won, both maintaining their 100% record in WTA finals. I chose to take a break with both tournaments in equally unfavourable timezones. Instead, it’s given me the chance to fully prepare for five full weeks of blogging through Indian Wells, Miami and Charleston. Widely lauded as the “fifth Slam”, the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells is the first Premier Mandatory tournament of the 2016 season and main draw action will begin on Wednesday.

The women’s top ten has been like musical chairs of late. February produced some interesting results with the likes of Roberta Vinci, Sara Errani and Carla Suárez Navarro all claiming their first Premier titles. Many top ten players have yet to find their groove in 2016 and things *should* look clearer after Indian Wells and Miami. Note predictions will go up in the usual place once i’ve had some time to actually make some. Let’s take a look at the draw with a bumper preview special…

First Quarter

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Top 16 Seeds

Serena Williams (1)

Serena Williams

Overview and recent form: Serena is set to play just her second tournament of the year after skipping the Dubai-Doha swing with reported flu. While she came up short in her bid to win her 22nd Major title in Melbourne, losing out to an inspired effort from Angelique Kerber in the final, she played exceptionally well throughout the two weeks. Serena dropped just 26 games in her first six matches and arguably played better than she had done during any stage of a historic 2015 season. Serena returns to Indian Wells after making her comeback in 2015 having missed 13 straight years.

Early draw projections: It’s always difficult to analyse Serena’s draw because on a good day, she beats everyone. Generally though, it looks pretty decent. First up is either Irina-Camelia Begu or a qualifier, followed by potentially Kristina Mladenovic in the third round.

Indian Wells previous best performance: Champion in 1999 and 2001

Indian Wells 2015 performance & points: Semi-final, retired to Simona Halep (390 ranking points to defend)

Simona Halep (5)

Simona Halep

Overview and recent form: Halep heads into Indian Wells following back-to-back first round losses in Dubai and Doha to Ana Ivanovic and Elena Vesnina respectively. The most jarring aspect of those losses is that Halep had her chances in both matches; against Ivanovic she had a set point in the first set and against Vesnina, she was leading, 7-6 4-1, before losing 11 of the last 12 games. Halep has struggled to find a rhythm so far in 2016 with achilles and health-related issues disrupting her progress. Pressure will be high in Indian Wells considering she is the defending champion; however, she has previously snapped out of funks by taking a break from the tour and two weeks off (and what looks like from photos, training with Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi) might be enough to reset the batteries…

Early draw projections: Halep’s first match of the week will be against Vania King or a qualifier. The number five seed could meet Ekaterina Makarova in the third round; Makarova beat Halep at the Australian Open last year but Halep rebounded, winning a thrilling three setter in Dubai.

Indian Wells previous best performance: Champion in 2015

Indian Wells 2015 performance & points: Champion, defeating the likes of Karolina Pliskova, Carla Suárez Navarro and Jelena Jankovic along the way (1000 ranking points)

Venus Williams (10)

Venus Williams

Overview and recent form: Last year it was Serena and this year it will be big sister, Venus who makes her long-awaited comeback at Indian Wells. The American world number 12 started slow down under with losses to Daria Kasatkina and Johanna Konta in Auckland and Melbourne respectively. Venus has since rebounded with two wins in Fed Cup action and a 49th WTA title in Kaohsiung, putting together a seven match winning streak without dropping a set. While she didn’t play anyone inside the world’s top 60, the wins are still invaluable after the start she had. Emotions will be high in Indian Wells but form-wise, she should be confident and well-rested…

Early draw projections: Venus will play Teliana Pereira or a qualifier in the second round, followed by potentially, the number 22 seed, Andrea Petkovic. Venus and Andrea are tied at 2-2 in their head-to-head.

Indian Wells previous best performance: Semi-finals in 1998 and 2001

Indian Wells 2015 performance & points: Did not play (0 ranking points)

Sara Errani (15)

Errani (3)

Overview and recent form: In a frenetic February, Errani took full advantage in Dubai of all eight seeds losing before the quarter-finals to come away as the winner. Errani kept her composure to waltz past Barbora Strycova, 6-0 6-2 in the final. Her tears at the end showed what a big deal this win was. Since Dubai, Errani has suffered second round losses in Doha (l. to Timea Babos, 4-6 1-6) and Monterrey (l. Anett Kontaveit, 1-6 3-6). Of note, Errani has reverted to her original service motion again.

Early draw projections: Errani plays either Lesia Tsurenko or Timea Babos in the second round. Errani defeated Tsurenko in the quarter-finals of Toronto last year, while she lost her last match to Babos in Doha as mentioned above.

Indian Wells previous best performance: Quarter-finals in 2013

Indian Wells 2015 performance & points: 3rd round, lost to Sabine Lisicki (65 ranking points)

Other players of note

Petkovic

Andrea Petkovic (22): Through an unsettled two weeks in Dubai and Doha, Petkovic was the most consistent player, reaching the quarter-finals in Dubai and the semi-finals in Doha. While she was troubled a leg injury in her semi-final against Jelena Ostapenko, Petkovic is playing with a new air of freedom this year. Her first match of the week will be against either Barbora Strycova or a qualifier.

Shuai Peng: Currently down at 768 in the world rankings, Peng is set to make her first singles appearance since last year’s French Open due to a back injury. Peng made her comeback in doubles with partner, Chen Liang, in Shenzhen.

Second Quarter

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Top 16 Seeds

Agnieszka Radwanska (3)

Agnieszka Radwanska

Overview and recent form: Radwanska has reached at least the semi-final in all three tournaments she has played in 2016. She opened the year with a title in Shenzhen before reaching the last four in Melbourne (l. to Serena Williams, 0-6 4-6) and Doha (l. Carla Suárez Navarro, 2-6 0-6). The recent loss to Suárez Navarro was an eye-opener although in Aga’s defence, it was a quick turnaround from a late night finish in a wonderful quarter-final victory over Roberta Vinci where she rallied from a set down. Radwanska hasn’t been overplaying this year and had no (!) strapping in Doha; she wisely chose to skip Sydney and Dubai as a precaution and should be in decent shape heading into Indian Wells…

Early draw projections: Radwanska has a tough draw, potentially facing Dominika Cibulkova in the second round. Radwanska leads the head-to-head, 6-3, but Cibulkova has won three of their last five encounters. The first seed that Radwanska could meet is Monica Niculescu.

Indian Wells previous best performance: Finalist in 2014

Indian Wells 2015 performance & points: 3rd round, lost to Heather Watson  (65 ranking points)

Petra Kvitova (8)

Kvitova (3)

Overview and recent form: Kvitova has won just two matches in 2016; while she did secure a good win over Barbora Strycova in Doha, Kvitova failed to consolidate with a 7-5 2-6 1-6 loss to the eventual finalist, Jelena Ostapenko. Kvitova looks fitter than she has done for years but still hasn’t found her mojo yet. Kvitova though, has proven her ability before to find form out of nowhere. Indian Wells and Miami have never been happy hunting grounds for Kvitova but she will be gaining points this year with every victory.

Early draw projections: Kvitova will play the winner of a first round match between 21-year-olds, Samantha Crawford and Danka Kovinic. The first seed she could play is Sabine Lisicki in the third round.

Indian Wells previous best performance: Quarter-finals in 2013

Indian Wells 2015 performance & points: Did not play (0 ranking points)

Lucie Safarova (11)

Safarova

Overview and recent form: Safarova played her first match of 2016 in Doha having been sidelined due to complications from the bacterial infection that derailed the end of her 2015 season. Lucie’s first match back was a 6-7(6) 5-7 loss to Cagla Buyukakcay; she failed to find rhythm on her return or backhand, but did have a set point in the first set with a return that looked painfully close to being in. It’s going to be a long road back for Lucie and bar any further health issues, will surely aim to be back to peak fitness by the time Roland Garros comes around. The Indian Wells-Miami double has never been a particularly successful swing for Lucie so any wins will be a big bonus.

Early draw projections: Safarova opens her Indian Wells campaign against Yaroslava Shvedova or a qualifier. Shvedova won their last match, 8-6 in the decider, at the Australian Open last year. If Safarova gets through that match, she is seeded to play Madison Keys in the third round.

Indian Wells previous best performance: 4th round in 2012

Indian Wells 2015 performance & points: 3rd round, lost to Elina Svitolina (65 ranking points)

Svetlana Kuznetsova (16)

Svetlana Kuznetsova

Overview and recent form: Where do you start with Kuznetsova… it’s been a complete jamboree of results so far this year with her title run in Sydney standing out as an outlier with a 3-6 record elsewhere. However, what Kuznetsova showed in Sydney is that if she can survive the first couple of rounds of a tournament, she can be almost unbeatable in the latter stages. In Sydney, Kuznetsova beat Simona Halep in the semi-finals before overwhelming Monica Puig in the final. Back-to-back matches in Dubai and Doha with Julia Goerges showed more of that unpredictability; Kuznetsova won just one game in Dubai but rebounded to win in straight sets in Doha.

Early draw projections: Kuznetsova will play CoCo Vandeweghe or a qualifier in the second round. The first seed she could meet is Jelena Jankovic in the third round.

Indian Wells previous best performance: Finalist in 2007 and 2008

Indian Wells 2015 performance & points: 3rd round, lost to Sloane Stephens (65 ranking points)

Other players of note

Watson 2

Dominika Cibulkova: As mentioned above, Cibulkova could meet Radwanska in the second round. It’s a tricky draw for both with Cibulkova one of the most dangerous unseeded players in draws right now having lost a huge chunk of her ranking points after failing to defend her Australian Open quarter-final points. While her form has been a little up and down in 2016, Cibulkova’s quality has still shone through. She beat Caroline Wozniacki in St. Petersburg and reached the final of Acapulco, just coming up short in a fantastic final against Sloane Stephens.

Heather Watson: The Brit heads into Indian Wells with a new injection of confidence after winning Monterrey last week. It’s a huge achievement for Watson to have three titles to her name and clearly demonstrates that *if* she can get through the first few rounds of a tournament, she’s very capable of picking up momentum. Her first match in Indian Wells will be against Galina Voskoboeva who is on the comeback and played her first WTA tournament last week, losing to Petra Martic in the first round of Monterrey qualifying, 2-6 4-6.

Third Quarter

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Top 16 Seeds

Garbiñe Muguruza (4)

Muguruza

Overview and recent form: Muguruza played her best tournament of the year so far in Doha, reaching a first quarter-final of 2016. The Spaniard’s tactics in Doha generally showed more clarity compared to in Dubai where she was error-strewn to say the least in a straight sets loss to Elina Svitolina. Muguruza played a superb match to beat Timea Babos in the third round of Doha but didn’t end on the greatest of notes; her final performance, a 1-6 7-5 2-6 loss to Andrea Petkovic, included a frosty changeover with her coach, Sam Sumyk.

Early draw projections: Muguruza will face a challenging opener in Indian Wells, against either Caroline Garcia or Christina McHale in the second round. The first seed she could play is Sam Stosur.

Indian Wells previous best performance: 4th round in 2013

Indian Wells 2015 performance & points: 3rd round, lost to Karolina Pliskova (65 ranking points)

Belinda Bencic (7)

Bencic

Overview and recent form: After a super week in Fed Cup action and St. Petersburg where she won five matches in the space of seven days, Bencic came back down to earth with back-to-back first round losses in Dubai and Doha. The defeat to Jelena Jankovic, the first time she had lost in three sets since Rome last year, can be partly attributed to the quick turnaround from her final appearance in St. Petersburg. In Doha, she went down in straight sets to CoCo Vandeweghe, 4-6 2-6. While she’s already up at 12 match wins in 2016, there’s a sense that Bencic hasn’t played her best tennis yet this season.

Early draw projections: Bencic opens against Lauren Davis or Nao Hibino in the second round. She could face a Rome rematch with Daria Gavrilova in third round; the Aussie won their last clash in Rome, a three set battle that lasted just four minutes shy of the three hour mark.

Indian Wells previous best performance: 4th round in 2015

Indian Wells 2015 performance & points: 4th round, lost to Jelena Jankovic (120 ranking points)

Roberta Vinci (9)

Roberta Vinci

Overview and recent form: After being on the cusps of breaking into the top ten back in 2013, Vinci finally achieved that goal after winning her first Premier title in St. Petersburg, beating Ana Ivanovic and Belinda Bencic in the final two rounds. While the US Open final carries a large chunk of her ranking points, Vinci’s results have been consistently decent since last July. Vinci had been erratic over the last two years, capable of losing to pretty much everyone, but she’s built herself up as a really tough competitor in 2016. In two of her last three tournaments she has won matches in a third set tiebreak against Timea Babos (St. Petersburg) and Daria Kasatkina (Doha), even saving match points in the latter.

Early draw projections: Vinci’s first match of the week will be against Margarita Gasparyan or Olga Govortsova. The first seed she could meet is Kuala Lumpur champion, Elina Svitolina in the third round.

Indian Wells previous best performance: 4th round in 2012

Indian Wells 2015 performance & points: 2nd round, lost to Sabine Lisicki (35 ranking points)

Victoria Azarenka (13)

Azarenka

Overview and recent form: Azarenka’s year began with a convincing title run in Brisbane, dropping just 17 games and beating Angelique Kerber with a superb performance in the final. Widely tipped to go all the way at the Australian Open, the Belarusian’s momentum-train halted to a surprising stop in the quarter-finals to Kerber, who overturned a 0-6 head-to-head record. Azarenka skipped Dubai-Doha and played Acapulco instead; she only lasted one match, beating Polona Hercog in three sets before pulling out of a much-hyped second round match with Dominika Cibulkova because of a wrist injury. This sounded more precautionary but still presents a slight question mark for Indian Wells with Azarenka wisely taking no risks with her health.

Early draw projections: On paper, Azarenka has a favourable draw. She will open against the winner of a first round match between Zarina Diyas and Jamie Loeb before a potential third rounder against Caroline Wozniacki. Azarenka won all four of their clashes in 2015 in straight sets…

Indian Wells previous best performance: Champion in 2012

Indian Wells 2015 performance & points: 3rd round, lost to Maria Sharapova (65 ranking points)

Other players of note

Svitolina

Elina Svitolina (17): By virtue of winning of her fourth title in Kuala Lumpur, Svitolina is up to a career-best ranking of 14. Some of her earlier results in the week certainly raised eyebrows; she lost sets to Risa Ozaki and Kristina Kucova, two players ranked outside of the world’s top 100, but raised her level in yet another fun WTA final this year, eventually prevailing over Eugenie Bouchard, 6-7(5) 6-4 7-5. The Ukranian player has done admirably to crack the top 15, but will need to take her game to another level if she’s going to advance any higher.

Laura Robson: There was an article a few weeks ago about Robson pulling out of Monterrey qualifying due to her continuing recovery from the wrist injury which sounded ominous. However she’s in the main draw here which must be a positive sign. First up is Magdalena Rybarikova… a winnable match at least on paper, but there are still many uncertainties.

Fourth Quarter

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Top 16 Seeds

Angelique Kerber (2)

Kerber

Overview and recent form: Kerber’s first venture on the WTA tour since becoming a Major champion lasted just 79 minutes as she lost to Saisai Zheng in the second round of Doha, 5-7 1-6. While it was a surprising loss as Kerber has become one of the most consistent players on tour in the last six months, it suggested that she may have come back too soon after a physically and mentally taxing month in Australia. Kerber’s results at Indian Wells and Miami will no doubt be a fairer reflection of her level having had two weeks of further rest, practice and time to adjust.

Early draw projections: Kerber will play a Czech player in the second round; either Denisa Allertova or Petra Cetkovska. Both have powerful games that could be troublesome for the German player. Allertova enjoyed a superb win over Elina Svitolina in Doha two weeks ago. Kerber is on course for an Australian Open semi-final rematch with Johanna Konta in the third round.

Indian Wells previous best performance: Semi-finalist in 2012 and 2013

Indian Wells 2015 performance & points: 2nd round, lost to Sloane Stephens (10 ranking points to defend)

Carla Suárez Navarro (6)

CSN

Overview and recent form: While the majority of seeds laboured in Doha, Suárez Navarro swept up to win the biggest title of her career so far. The highlight of her week was a 6-2 6-0 demolition job of Agnieszka Radwanska in the semi-finals. Arguably, her most impressive performance was in the final, coming from a 1-6 first set to weather the storm against a highly tenacious, Jelena Ostapenko. The Spaniard had won just one of nine previous finals, but showed impressive mental fortitude to hold her own and wear down her opponent. Who knows, that could have been a breakthrough win for Carla…

Early draw projections: First up for Carla will either be 18-year-old, Daria Kasatkina or wildcard and two-time former champion, Daniela Hantuchova. The Spaniard is projected to play Anna-Karolina Schmiedlova in the third round, who has won just two out of her eight singles matches in 2016.

Indian Wells previous best performance: Quarter-finals in 2015

Indian Wells 2015 performance & points: Quarter-finals, lost to Simona Halep (215 ranking points)

Timea Bacsinszky (12)

Timea Bacsinszky

Overview and recent form: Bacsinszky arrived into Doha having won just one match all year; she tripled her figure to three with a pair of confidence-boosting victories over Bethanie Mattek-Sands (6-7 6-1 6-3) and Yulia Putintseva (6-2 7-6). The win over Mattek-Sands was a huge one as Bacsinszky had twice failed to serve out the first set (and had set points) and then toughed out a very tight decider. The Swiss player struggled down under, admitting that the knee injury that she picked up in Luxembourg was still an issue. In her last match in Doha, Bacsinszky looked quite the mummy, sporting strapping on both legs.

Early draw projections: Bacsinszky will play Tsvetana Pironkova or a qualifier in the second round. She is seeded to meet Sloane Stephens in the third round.

Indian Wells previous best performance: Quarter-finals in 2015

Indian Wells 2015 performance & points: Quarter-finals, lost to Serena Williams (xx ranking points)

Ana Ivanovic (14)

Ana Ivanovic

Overview and recent form: After failing to win a match at her first two tournaments, Ivanovic has steadied the ship and played well since. Ivanovic won multiple matches at back-to-back tournaments on just two occasions in a muddling, injury-affected 2015 season. Ivanovic has already matched this stat in 2016 by winning two matches each in Melbourne, St. Petersburg and Dubai. Ivanovic’s 7-6(2) 6-2 win over the number one seed, Simona Halep in Dubai was a superb result but her consistency woes reared again in the next round as she suffered a first defeat to Barbora Strycova in a flat and rather disjointed performance.

Early draw projections: Ivanovic will play the winner of one of the most enticing first round matches on paper between Julia Goerges and Camila Giorgi. Karolina Pliskova could await in the third round…

Indian Wells previous best performance: Champion in 2008

Indian Wells 2015 performance & points: 3rd round, lost to Caroline Garcia (65 ranking points)

Other players of note

Stephens

Sloane Stephens (21): Becoming the first player to win two titles in 2016, Sloane Stephens will once again head into a big tournament with high expectations. The American player has won Acapulco and Monterrey, showing terrific resolve to fight off Cibulkova in a gripping Acapulco final. Her only loss came in the first round of the Australian Open to Qiang Wang. Stephens could play Eugenie Bouchard in the second round.

Daria Kasatkina: The 18-year-old, Russian continues to impress on the tour after a successful jump-up to the WTA stage at the end of 2015. In case you missed it, I wrote a feature article on Daria for a new site, Women’s World of Sport HERE. Kasatkina plays Hantuchova in the first round, who hasn’t won a WTA main draw match since July last year in Istanbul. If Kasatkina wins that, she could get a shot at Suárez Navarro in the second round, which would be a 50/50 match in my opinion.

Indian Wells Media

Final Thoughts

This prediction feels lame… i’m a bit wary of Azarenka with the wrist injury, but I just cannot see anyone else from the bottom half coming through. Bencic has a tough draw, Muguruza has never done anything of note in IW previously and the fourth quarter is wide open. Predictions for the WTA feel a little obsolete right now. I will put some up, once the qualifiers have been placed…

Final Prediction: S.Williams d. Azarenka

 


Who do you think will win Indian Wells? Have your say in the tournament poll below and as always, comments are appreciated!

Follow Moo’s Tennis Blog on Twitter (@Moo_Tennis) HERE and Facebook HERE.  Remember to get your picks in on the Tennis Draw Challenge game by WEDNESDAY evening for Indian Wells… full details HERE.

Photos in this post by Jimmie48 Tennis Photography and mootennis.com

56 thoughts on “WTA Indian Wells, BNP Paribas Open 2016: Main Draw Preview

  1. I have no idea on this one because many of the top players who should be frontrunners havent played a whole lot this year.
    I believe Serena will want to win this and stamp down her authority. Karolina Pliskova has a good draw if she brings her a game. Shes beaten Ivanovic and Kerber before.
    I think Sloane Stephens could be one to watch but its so hard to see where she’ll go. Kasatktina could be another- her game reminds me so much of a young Kuznetsova and Svetlana has such a great record here.

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    • All valid points. My general feeling is that this draw will hold up better than we’ve seen lately but bracing myself as ever for shocks. The bottom quarter is the one i’m struggling to make picks for… could make valid cases for a number of players reaching SFs.

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  2. I think Jelena Jankovic could make another deep run here – she reached the finals last year.

    Otherwise I’d agree with Andrew. It’s hard to bet against Serena when she’s playing well,

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  3. I need to drop a few words about Sharapova first: I’ve never been the biggest fan of her but yesterday when she was so said (and maybe about to shed a few tears) whilst anouncing her positive drug test I felt for her. I truly believe that she did it unintentionally, probably not even knowing what she was taking because of trusting her team and her family doctor. Also, I’m sad because there will be no chance to see her in Stuttgart in April. Lastly, what a sad day for the sport – lots of other athletes being tested positve.

    Apart from that: thanks James for a great preview. I’m so much looking forward to seeing Angie play and I have the feeling that she will make it far in the draw with new gained motivation. Also, I like Venus chances. I think she will be massively supported by the crowd!

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    • Thanks, Murphy. I’ve felt on a downer all day with the Sharapova news. I’ve never been a fan but just find it terribly sad for the sport. I feel for Maria because no matter what happens, most people will view her career differently now. I’d give her the benefit of the doubt but that’s just me personally. I tend to be like that. Some things don’t stack up though, particularly with things that have come out today such as the manufacturers saying that this drug should only have been used for 4-6 weeks to get the intended benefit for why Sharapova was taking it. My brother made what I thought was a good point – if she was purposefully taking the drug for a performance advantage (and i’m only saying this hypothetically) you’d think she would be on the ball with checking the list of what’s not allowed. It’s such a huge oversight and Maria is the one of the last players I could have seen this happening too. I liked though that she took full responsibility in that press conference yesterday. I’m sure she will be back, even if it’s a two year ban, I think that there is no way she will end on this. Hoping for a positive week in Indian Wells but a tough one to follow with the time difference!

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      • I agree with your brother here James. Maria is so professional and meticulous about what she does in her tennis career that she’s even had a computer graphics company analyse her opponents’ games, including Serena’s serve – and yet in this, she gets caught within weeks of the status of the drug she’s been taking being changed.

        That alone indicates to me that it most likely wasn’t intentional, because if she was intending to cheat using performance-enhancing drugs she’d have been better at it and would either have found a way to beat the test or changed the substance she was using.

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      • Your brother has a solid point there, true. She was honest and professional in handling the situation. If she was deliebrately cheating, why would she even take the effort to organise a press and even share it on her website/YT channel etc and also prepare a script to disclose the issue, she’s put her heart and soul and came clean in making sure the details are revealed honestly and correctly. I doubt she’s a hypocrite and I dont think its part of her principle being one and why would she lie to the press which practically represented the whole world? If she was lying abt the unintentional use of drugs and to the press, her dad would have dragged her all the way back to Russia since this is definitely not the Maria he raised = a fraud. I am with Maria all the way and like her attorney said, there’s lots of mitigating circumstances to take into account, hope she gets a fair and just ruling. On a separate note, imo, the pill manufacture is just trying exclude liability. Why reveal that it only requires 4-6 weeks of dosage for her condition now? Like they could have done it earlier or told her earlier in 2006? What she did yesterday definitely created an awareness to always make sure that you are up to date on banned substances and not take it for granted even the mails by ITF. Whether she was deliberately cheating or unintentionally cheating, its up to the court to decide. I am sure she’ll come out of this low point of her life a different, stronger, changed person. She’ll pull through 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Creator meldonium: Preparation saves athletes from a heart attack
        Samples Doping six athletes from Russia gave a positive result on meldonium, which was banned in January of this year.
        Director of the Institute of Organic Synthesis, created meldonium, Ivars Kalvins journalists said the reason why the drug does not apply to doping. The man said that the use of meldonium in any case has no impact on fizsposobnosti athlete. He only has a protective function for the heart, with strong stress.

        “I tried to create a substance that may be depleted during a prolonged stressful situation, invented it and decided to make the analog is not decomposed in the body so was born meldonium, -. According to the researcher -. Athletes use it, because when there is an acute oxygen starvation, cells die even physically prepared person. During the reception meldonium he has hope that the heart cells will not die, will not happen micro- and makroinfarkt “.
        It should be clarified before the “Russian Conversation” wrote that, according to Evgeny Plushenko, meldonium – it askorbinka.

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    • Not to be a downer but Sharapova was warned and has a team behind her whose job it is to make sure she knows this stuff. I think she just thought she could get away with this.

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      • Who would risk the $30 mil endorsement biz? Sharapova is not stupid. I don’t think she has times to read all the documents that sent to her. Someone might have missed out something in her team. This person is on her way out now…

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      • Well Caroline Wozniacki has said its implausible for her not to know, stating players double, triple and quadrouple check the WDA lists. She implied if Sharapova wasnt doing this shed likely have failed tests already as all kinds of stuff ends up on there like cough medicine and throat sprays.
        You can call me a hater all you want. I think you’re all naive and foolish for standing with a woman who is well known for trying to bend the rules for the sake of winning. Besides, she comes across as a horrible person on court.

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  4. There are a lot of good players in the WTA top 10 in Indian Wells this year. But with all the drama that happened in Dubai and Doha, it seems that most of the people in the top 10, EXCEPT Serena Williams, are visibly struggling.

    Simona Halep has already dropped her opening matches in Melbourne, Dubai, and Doha. Considering that Halep has way more points to defend while struggling with an nose/throat/ear infection, I believe that she’s putting her career in jeopardy. She already postponed her surgery as she’s desperate to keep her game going, but that’s not a good decision to make – she’s not putting her health first.

    Like Halep, Angelique Kerber is most likely under pressure too, because lots of people are expecting her to keep her form that helped her win the Australian Open title. However, about 90% of the time, after Kerber wins a title, she often has a big dip in form and ends up losing in the opening rounds of some tournaments. This may be hard to imagine, but I’ve seen this happen to her umpteen times already in her career after she won eight WTA titles in Paris, Linz, Charleston, Stuttgart, Birmingham, Stanford, and Melbourne.

    For Petra Kvitova, her form has just gotten completely horrendous now – ever since she got diagnosed with mononucleosis, her game hasn’t been the same like it was when she won Wimbledon in 2011 and 2014. I noticed that Kvitova visibly struggles to hold on to her leads in matches and her serve has been matched to a Maria Sharapova serve status now – more double faults than aces and more errors than winners.

    Garbiñe Muguruza has also started out strong, but when she plays an opponent who’s very strong in the serve or forehand, like Karolina Pliskova, she tends to fall apart. With the exception of making the quarterfinals in Doha, Muguruza didn’t have very good results in Brisbane, Melbourne, or Dubai. Though Roberta Vinci and Belinda Bencic, who had both beaten Serena Williams last year, had good results in 2015, I don’t think they’ll be able to keep up that momentum, as they both tend to have inconsistencies.

    Even though there are lots of top 10 struggles, I think the only two top 10 players who are healthy right now are Serena Williams and Aga Radwanska. Ever since Radwanska won Tianjin, Tokyo, and Singapore last year, along with Shenzhen earlier this year, she has been the one most consistent in the top 10, excluding when Serena has withdrawn from tournaments to recover from injuries/illness. Though she doesn’t have what it takes to beat Serena, I have a feeling she’ll make it to the finals and have a strong finish.

    Despite taking the rest of the year off for rest and recovery after last year’s US Open, Serena was able to reach this year’s Australian Open final without dropping a set – going a perfect 12 for 12 on sets won and coming through the entire draw with flying colors. To me, she made the right choice in taking the time off, as we did see her struggle with illness in the Australian & French Opens, along with injuries to her knee and elbow in Indian Wells, Rome, and Bastad. Despite all these struggles she had last year, this year, her serve and movement have gotten so much better. She was the only player to have not dropped a set in the tournament at this year’s Australian Open, up until the final. Throughout all six matches, she served no more than three double faults per match and she kept her winners-errors ratio very close, more winners than errors and more aces than double faults. Despite finishing runner-up to Kerber at this year’s Australian Open, Serena was still all smiles in the ceremony and she was happy that Kerber had won the title 🙂 Even in her press conference, Serena looked very positive and upbeat. She herself said that any loss has helped her to improve her game. She’s been very calm, composed, and healthy so far and I know she’ll be able to tie Steffi Graf and Margaret Court’s records this year. After the Australian Open, even though she got the flu and was scheduled to play in Dubai and Doha, she made a very good decision to withdraw from both tournaments. She was definitely able to give herself time to be 100% healthy to play in Indian Wells and Miami. She’s doing a very good job in rethinking her tournament schedules this year, along with putting her fitness first. When she got the flu a month ago, I’m 100% sure she remembered how much she struggled with the flu last year in the Australian and French Opens, and she definitely didn’t want to struggle on that path again. But, she and her coach Patrick Mouratoglou make a great team working together. They always make sure Serena’s 100% healthy and her game is at her highest level.

    With all the things I’ve seen in the WTA’s top 10 up until now, it’s hard to say who’ll make it how far. However, if there’s anyone that I see packing their bags soon, it’s Kerber and Halep. But, if I have to pick a favorite to win the title, I’m going for Serena.

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    • Thanks for the comment, Jackie. Tricky with the WTA right now to judge what is going to happen from week-to-week. My guess would be that this tournament isn’t so upset heavy. I fancy Halep to do much better this fortnight having had time to refresh after Dubai-Doha. Intrigued to see whether Kerber can deal with being the number two seed at such a prestigious tournament. I think her first match against Cetkovska or Allertova could be a very tough one indeed.

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  5. I think Kerber will be fully fit now. Had enough time to rest and to restore her battery.
    In Melbourne, she finally proved, she can beat everyone! Should give her enough confidence and everybody expect her to make the final now.

    Hope to see more from Muguruza here. Slowly she should identify with being Top 5 member and show this status quo.

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    • I’m not so sure about Kerber yet. I’m worried about her second round match but if she’s gets through that unscathed, I think she will be good to go for the week.

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  6. Great preview, as always James!
    Looking forward to a great tournament, hopefully with more seeds going through, unlike in the middle-east swing.

    Must admit, I prefer it when you downplay Halep’s chances. She has a tendency to prove you wrong. But now you see her possibly doing better after her break, and that “scares” me a bit. :))

    I’d favour Serena here, even if Simo goes beyond Venus, it’s still tough as hell kicking out both Williams sisters in a row, particularly in her current state. Wouldn’t say no to Aga having a good swing either.

    In regards to Masha… that’s a pickle. I mean, she took it for 10 years she says. Which means she’s been enhancing her performance – legally – for 10 years. OK, all fine, it was legal and we can’t blame people for that. But now, after it was added to the list? Everyone says, it’s impossible, she is responsible, she’s this and that and she has a team that is supposed to be made of PROs.

    Well, a team is as strong as its weakest link. And there are only 2 cases here:
    1. Someone in her team failed to notify her.
    2. She ignored the warning and went though with it anyway.

    Sincerely, I’m torn 50-50 between each scenario. A few years back I used to worship Lance Armstrong like a god. His titles, the manner in which he won them, his cancer struggle and comeback story, everything made him a hero. And then… Nowadays I never say no and with Rusia’s recent history of doping cases…

    But I do hope she gets over it successfully cause I like people that fight to redeem themselves, and despite this issue she is and will forever remain a high-class champ.

    I just hope this will be only the beginning of the clean-up in WTA. The recent spikes in prizes in women’s tennis have certainly brought some dirt in the sport as well, higher stakes, higher interests, more people willing to work the system.

    Back to IW, let the show begin!

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      • Yet she’s always competing for Russia, is part of their Fed Cup team, even if she registers just for getting Olympic appearances, and will represent Russia in the Olympics. Yeah, you can hardly call her Russian, yet she is. But let’s not turn this into a political issue. I have nothing more to add to my statement about doping and Russian athletes.

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    • We are not the medical expert. Why do you need to guess whether this drug would enhance her performance? If so, she should have won a few more slams. I am not her fan but let us be fair. Also, I don’t think she took it every day in the past 10 years. It should be guided by a medical expert. Everyone is quick to come out with their conclusion even they are not a medical expert.

      Based on the rules, she either gets 2 years or more, or 1 year or less if she has the evidence to support her claims.

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      • @Frank: Do you have to be a medical expert? I mean, ain’t that the purpose of the organisation that add this substance to the forbidden list? Come on, let’s not get more catholic than the Pope. It’s not a matter of judging, it’s about drawing simple conclusions based on provided facts. You can choose to believe whatever you want, and since you look like you’re into Masha, I think you’re choosing to see only one side of the story out of 2 possible scenarios I presented, which is actually fine. I don’t stand to gain anything from convincing you. A great day to you Sir! 😉

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      • It’s such a big issue and I think everyone has an opinion about it. I keep reading new things but I’m not sure what to believe or not.

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    • Thanks, Alex. Back to IW indeed. Such a shame with all the Sharapova news but hope IW doesn’t suffer for it and gets the attention it deserves. I’m sorry about Simona haha! I am generally a bad judge of her results. My feeling though, sorry again, is that I think she might snap her losing streak and win at least a couple of rounds.

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      • No need to be sorry, I do hope she wins at least up and including the Venus match. She needs some convincing wins under her belt this year to regain some confidence. In the last 12-14 months, her biggest issues were not agains top players. She seems to focus and do much better with top players than with young wolfs hungry for blood. She loves the challenger position and that worked miracles for her during her rapid ascension. Hopefully the time off and training with Cahill and the golden couple have had a positive effect on her.

        And this is not just about her, I really miss the days where being a Seed meant something. Lately there a huge inconsistency issue with almost every top 20 player and that’s disappointing. Sure it’s fun for lower ranked players to pull upsets and so on, and it adds to their merits, but would it be better if someone would be able to beat a consistent Petra, or a consistent Ana, or Simona? There’s much more value and also entertainement in that. Like Angie’s AO final against Serena.

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  7. I think the ongoing voting stereotype is on my fingertips lol, after I voted for Petra and voted many times prior, I covered the screen and told myself, the poll will be led by Serena, followed by Simona and then Aga. Removed my hands, I was right!!

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    • Haha! These polls were all Simona last year. This year the polls seem to be generally as I would have guessed! Serena way out in front of this one which I think is a sign that it’s hard to trust anyone else right now with all the upsets.

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      • It was definitely a trend having Simona as top vote in almost every poll, but I’m guessing that during her peak form, a lot of my fellow countrymen were taking the polls by storm. We’re pretty passionate people and a lot of time vote with the heart – or call it wishful thinking, than by considering pros, cons and other factors that affect a player’s abilities at a certain moment in time.

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  8. Guys, btw in your opinion, when was the last time Petra was consistently reliable? 2012/end of 2013/second hald of 2014/when she won titles in 2015/any other opinions?

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    • I don’t think she ever is. She’s a streaky player par excellence. Luckily when she’s playing her best tennis, the results are spectacular, as we saw in the Wimbledon final of 2014.

      IMO, she was also playing her best tennis in Madrid last year (when she beat Serena in the semis) and in Dubai in 2013; in both cases, there wasn’t much the opposition could do against her. Svetlana at one point through up her hands dirubng their final in Madrid, as if to say, “What am I supposed to do against this?”

      Liked by 1 person

      • For me, the latest I’ve seen is New Haven, there’s just something in the air there that makes her game click plus thanks to fast court. The Madrid final, 33 winners in 66 minutes, winner rate 0.5 wm^-1

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  9. WTA is in a mess. No ones know who will win if Serena is not in form. I won’t be surprised a qualifier can win some big in any of these tournaments. Please bear in mind the big names (e.g. Kvitova, Muguruza, Vika, Kerber, Aga, etc) are not necessary to favorites to win.

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  10. As a professional athlete you must know at all times what medication you are taking,I am in the medical profession by the way,the onus is always on the athlete,I cannot excuse Sharapova for not opening up a email from Wadda before the AO in 2016,to me she staged a press conference owning up to not opening up an email of the newly banned substance,also medical doctors have stated this drug needs to be taken for only 6 weeks,Sharapova has been on this drug for 10 years??????????? it is for chronic heart patients to start with,sorry I cannot give her a free pass,she has lost and will lose sponsors because of this,it will I feel end her career.Sad to say our game of tennis has suffered,match fixing,umpires and now one of the WTA top players in disgrace.

    Going to IW is on my bucket list,my husband would love it for its golf courses alone:) I have a lot of friends in LA that always attend this tournament,they love it.

    Halep is the defending chanpion,she has just had a training circuit with her coach Cahill,Graf my idol also joined them.

    I am looking to Serena in this tournament,I feel players like Halep,who has had a below par start to the season,Vika who still seems injury prone,Garbine and Petra who at the present time I have little faith in:)
    I am also interested to see how Venus plays at IW?

    If Serena is on her game she is the player to beat.

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    • Nice to see I’m not alone in not buying all of this.
      I’d like to also add that the drug in question was being monitered as a PED for a year before it was ultimately banned and its been a staple amongst questionable athletes for years. Its also used in the Russian military apparently.

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    • I’m actually feeling the opposite. I think this the tournament where things return to some kind of normalcy. Will be good to see the hitters return to the limelight. Will be good to see Vika back as well. The Americans should be well placed as well, Serena especially. Even though Sloane has two titles this year I’m not completely won over that she can win the big ones when the challenge is strong. But, its been a fairly odd year this.

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      • I get your feelings on Sloane. I have her to the SFs on my draw but I’m not confident, particularly with her inability to back up good weeks in the past and with potentially Bouchard in R2. That section is wide open though…

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    • It’s interesting to see everyone’s take on the matter. I agree that not reading the email (s) was an incredible oversight but she did admit that and took responsibility for it. People make mistakes and this happened to be a huge one. Some of the details are sketchy and I keep changing my mind on what to believe. I do think that she will come back though and this won’t be the end of her career.

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      • The ITF’s decision will likely be the toughest. She is ‘the darling’ and a face of the WTA. At the same time, they need to make an example of her for the tour, especially younger upcoming players( Katie Swan, Ana Konjuh, Ostapenko, Bencic, etc) down to the 1500th ranked girl that, even top players will be held accountable. We will see what they decide to do. As for coming back, she most definitely can, the WTA will welcome her with open arms I think. But with spectators it may depend on what she does in the interim, especially for the sport that gave her so much. May be time she also gives so much back.

        I did appreciate her ‘lion-hearted’ fighting play, I’m hoping I’m not naive in wishing that was purely herself and no other influence.

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      • Just reading other tennis websites and foras recently; the point has also been made that the people Maria has around her now, like her coach Sven Groenevald, are also people of integrity who would never sanction Maria’s knowingly getting involved with performance-enhancing drugs.

        I’d imagine that was true of her dad Yuri too; though I don’t think he has the same influence over her now as he once did, a lot of his influence on her still shines through such as her “old school” manners (she’s always acted older than her age, even as a teenager), and her meticulous professionalism; she is never late for anything she’s required to attend or misses an appointment or press conference in the line of duty.

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  11. Legally speaking, the rules have been broken even if it was set just an hour ago. I will give Maria her day in court in court and let due process happen.

    My own view, what do you do with a woman like Maria. She seems too calculated a person to allow such an unprofessional mistake to happen. Moreso, given how business minded she is, and the magnitude of marketing contracts she carries around with her. According to a former WADA head, as long as they’ve not banned a substance it can be used, the ethical or moral implications is up to the person. As soon as it is, the rules are just that. Maria may have taken this out of habit, and as such could have likely been unintentional since she had CHOSEN not to educate herself about the most recent rules. This in itself seems grossly unprofessional for such a high profile athlete that she may as well have just taken it with the hopes of not being tested. She’s cheated herself, her diehard fans and seemingly made a mockery of the WTA rules, the very organisation that elevated her to such heights among women athletes. This for me, is what is most disappointing. I do believe the Wta testers have seen the drug in her samples over the years, and said nothing. But if it is now illegal and they inform you and all others, the onus is on you Maria to be on guard. This is why I understand her sponsors also being alarmed and some suspending their support. I don’t want to speak of her personality, but this seems like professional negligence which does not bode well for character insinuations down the line.

    I shudder to think if this had happened to Serena, sad as it may seem, she gets accused of this in the courts of public opinion by some already.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think if Serena was ever doping she’d have been made an example of a decade ago. Its only the last 3 years that they’ve really got behind her as one of their stars 2003-2012 they clearly favoured the likes of Sharapova, Clijsters, Azarenka and Henin.

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      • I can understand why it upset James for a while, but I hope this is a wake-up call of sorts and it never happens to any of the other top girls, most of all her. Too much will be lost that may never be gotten back.

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  12. It is very hard to predict this draw. Serena looks the favorite, she usually plays well after long breaks. Radwanska though has been in very consistent and good form, I wouldnt be betting on her because if she plays a very long 4th round or quarterfinal then she will be out in the next round. In her match against Suarez Navarro in Doha, it looked like she didnt care at all after the first set, she is a mental player and her focus is her game and if she cant focus then she has nothing.
    From the first quarter I see the Williams sisters in the quarterfinals.
    Second quarter: Radwanska and Keys.
    Third quarter: Vinci and Muguruza
    Fourth quarter: Suarez Navarro and dont know.

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    • Radwanska has a verrry tough draw. While she may have had a great year so far based on her wins and QF appearances, her only notable wins have been Carla Suarez Navarro and Roberta Vinci.

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    • I feel like that about Radwanska too. As much as I would like to see her succeed, she’s going to need a good chunk of good fortune (luck) as well. Unlike Angelique Kerber who was/is able to force the issue sometimes, Aga doesn’t really do that against similar opponents. I think her loss to Suarez was understandable, she was made to think as hard as she does to others in that match up with Vinci. They both mentally exhausted each other (lol, I enjoyed every minute of it though).

      But, this year has proven to be open, favouring the prepared mind. So anything can happen too, you’ve got to be ready. She should really set a goal for a tournament and play out of her skin.

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      • I agree that Radwanska needs to make one grand slam wimbledon or australian open her priority and just focus focus focus and give it her all.

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      • Good posts there andrew and let’s play. I wonder if Aga’s got a stamina problem? A similar thing happened to her in the 2014 AO, when she lost 6-1, 6-2 to Domi Cibulkova after playing some out of this world tennis against Vika in the match before (the quarter final). She also lost to Venus in the first round at Wuhan (I believe) last year after an excellent final against Belinda in Tokyo.

        All players lose matches, but to me she shouldn’t have gone down 6-2, 6-0 to Carla (who had been playing doubles in the same tournament so she also had reason to feel tired). If so, I hope she’s able to sort it out because I too want to see her win a slam especially Wimbledon.

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  13. Jesus imagine it was serena that got caught up in this drug scandal, everyone here will be rejoicing they will not try and defend her… Not surprise tho

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    • Since I’m included in the above, I feel it’s fair to point out that anyone who has read my posts on James’s blog, on tennis.com or my tweets where I’ve mentioned Serena (and there have been plenty) will be able to judge for themselves whether or not Mike’s telling the truth about what my response would be to that, and I see no reason to think the result would be different for anyone else here. I don’t think any further comment is either necessary or warranted.

      Anyway, moving on … I’m looking forward to Domi Cibulkova playing Aga Radwanska again; they usually have good and close matches. The match I really want to see though is Jo Konta’s first meeting with Aga.
      Jo made Petra really work for her win in the US Open, and I think the same would be true of Aga too.

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      • Jo Konta’s rise has been really unexpected! I thought after the US Open she’d post decent results but shes well exceeded my expectations. She’s currently ranked at #7 on the Road to Singapore!

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  14. Serena has officially sent Halep packing her bags out of the tournament – same with Aga for Kvitova. I feel like Serena is the one to beat now – she’s the only player in the women’s singles draw to have not dropped a set in the tournament yet. Her match stats stand at 25 aces, 8 double faults, 106 winners, and 87 unforced errors. At this rate, she’ll be the one winning the title without dropping a set.

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