Maria Sharapova won her first WTA title since 2015, beating the 19-year-old, Aryna Sabalenka in Sunday’s Tianjin final of bold and fearless ballstriking, 7-5 7-6(8). If you like big hitting then this was the final for you! It was a thoroughly entertaining watch with the drama peaking in the second set tiebreak – even the YouTube stream cutting out at the start of the second set tiebreak added to the drama of the situation 😂.
Sharapova recovered from 1-4 down in the first set and 1-5 down in the second set, even staving off a set point in the latter with a decent second serve that Sabalenka went hell for leather on, but couldn’t find the court. I’ve not seen a great deal of Sabalenka before but she is mightily impressive – feisty, ferocious and fearless in her tennis, and very much like Sharapova in her nature. In the end, perhaps a little bit of inexperience cost her. The Belarusian didn’t completely fold though after losing the 5-1 lead in the second set as she broke back to force the tiebreak.
Sabalenka’s game may not be the most sustainable, yet when she’s feeling good, it is clearly effective! The Belarusian was not afraid to go big on the return and she went toe-to-toe with Sharapova from the baseline. Sabalenka has shown some promising signs during the second half of 2017 – she qualified for the Wimbledon main draw where she made the second round, and reached a first WTA semi-final in Tashkent a few weeks back. By virtue of this run, Sabalenka is projected to crack the world’s top 80 next week for a career best ranking.
Sharapova’s level fluctuated throughout the match but her champion instincts are never too far away. On the points that really counted, she was impressive on serve/return. While it wasn’t the decisive point, a forehand return winner at 6-6 to set up one of her match points was 🔥🔥🔥. Sharapova is set to rise to number 57 in the world rankings. I’m so relieved that the whole wild card debacle can finally now be put to bed.
In Linz, Barbora Strycova won just her second WTA title after beating Magdalena Rybarikova, 6-4 6-1 – I can’t believe this is only Barbora’s second title! Her only previous one was in Quebec City over six years ago in 2011.
Strycova’s final press conference is linked below.
The Hong Kong final between Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Daria Gavrilova was delayed due to rain.
When the match got underway, typically it unfolded into an epic – another downpour halted play at 5-5 in the third set with Pavlyuchenkova having two break points on the Gavrilova serve. Pavs was going for the seventh consecutive break of the decider and had already missed two match points!
Astonishingly, the pair returned at close to 01:00am where Pavs broke again but couldn’t serve it out. Into a third set tiebreak and it was Pavs who zoned at the very end with a welcome streak of aggressive AND accurate hitting, winning 5-7 6-3 7-6(3) in three hours and 11 minutes. Both are set to play in Moscow next week…
The draws for the final week of regulation WTA tournaments in 2017 are out. Firstly, Moscow has Kristina Mladenovic and CoCo Vandeweghe as the top two seeds. Highlights from the first round include Pavlyuchenkova vs. Kasatkina and Rybarikova vs. Sharapova. I’ve gone for a Vandeweghe-Sevastova final 🙈.
Sadly, Svetlana Kuznetsova was forced to pull out of Moscow with the wrist injury that has been bothering her since the US Open.
Друзья, в связи с травмой, которую я получила во время US Open и которая не даёт мне возможности играть в полную силу, … мне пришлось сняться с Кубка Кремля (☹️ Но я прикладываю все усилия к скорейшему восстановлению 🤗 Скоро вернусь⭐️ dear friends , due to the injury I got during US Open which still bothering me .. I have to pull out of Kremlin Cup ((( I was really looking forward to play back in Moscow again ..☹️ but now I’ll take care of my recovery and hope to be back very soon 🤗🤗🤗 @vtbkremlincup
The Moscow qualifying draw is a haven for returning fan faves – while she lost out in the first round of qualifying, it was great to see the return of Margarita Gasparyan! In the final round of qualifying on Monday, Kaia Kanepi will play Alisa Kleybanova.
Dmitry Shakhov (see tweet below) is a must-follow on Twitter for updates from Moscow next week.
Luxembourg is headlined by an Olympic final rematch between Angelique Kerber and Monica Puig in the first round! I’ve gone for a Kerber-Martic final.
The first player has arrived in Singapore – stay tuned for profiles of all eight finalists later this week on MTB.
The ballot for the 2017 WTA Awards is out – some tough decisions!
And finally, I had a nice weekend back home home on the Isle of Wight. The picture below is from one of my favourite walks – beach, woodland and countryside all rolled into one walk 🏖️🌳.