Getty Images

Svitolina’s top ambitions survive grass-court struggle

Leave a comment

BIRMINGHAM, England — Elena Svitolina, who came within two wins of becoming world No. 1 in January, maintained her ambitious momentum to reach the top by surviving a tricky start to her Wimbledon build-up on Tuesday.

The second-seeded Svitolina stumbled within sight of a two-set victory, and briefly faltered again in the last set before beating Donna Vekic of Croatia 6-1, 3-6, 6-1.

Svitolina showed glimpses of the tenacious movement and consistently ferocious drives which have earned her the best win-loss record on the WTA tour since the beginning of last year, but also revealed glimpses of insecurity on the lush, low-bouncing surface.

Despite carving a lead of a set and 3-1, her gradually increasing attempts to win points in the forecourt were of variable quality, while Vekic, a former runner-up here, began to contain and counterattack more effectively.

Svitolina nearly let slip another lead of 3-1, in the last set, needing to save two break points on her next service game – one with a fine serve, and the other with a net attack finished off at the third attempt.

Eventually, the Ukrainian’s determination to adapt tactically to a surface on which she has yet to progress beyond any quarterfinal paid timely dividends, and she accelerated toward the finishing line at a canter.

“I was just trying to play well and to dominate, but she played a couple of great points to break back – which is always nice to have,” said Svitolina, apparently meaning she was pleased to gain extra practice on such a technique-testing surface.

“It was difficult for me because she hit the ball very flat and the first match on grass is always a challenge.”

She next faces Alize Cornet of France, who notably beat Serena Williams at 2014 Wimbledon, and who outlasted former top-10 player Ekaterina Makarova of Russia, by 5-7, 6-4, 6-1.

Kasatkina beats Jabeur to win Kremlin Cup

AP Images
Leave a comment

MOSCOW — Daria Kasatkina won the Kremlin Cup as qualifier Ons Jabeur narrowly failed to become the first WTA winner from Tunisia on Saturday.

Jabeur was a set and a break up at 4-1 when she seemed to tire in her eighth match in as many days, allowing Kasatkina to win 2-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4 with vocal support from the home crowd.

The exhausted Jabeur served the last game with severe cramp and tears in her eyes.

“I saw you gave everything today and this is what sport is about,” Kasatkina told Jabeur.

“When I was a little girl 10 years ago, I was coming to this tournament and dreaming of being champion one day,” the 21-year-old Russian said. “Thank you to everyone who believed in me.”

Sixth-seeded Kasatkina ended a run of three losses in finals, including last year’s Kremlin Cup, and has a career 2-3 record. Her previous win was in Charleston in April 2017.

Jabeur played high-risk tennis, with 45 winners and 65 unforced errors, against 12 winners and 26 unforced errors for the defense-first Kasatkina.

Russian competitors have won the women’s Kremlin Cup four times in the last five years, with Germany’s Julia Goerges beating Kasatkina in last year’s final.

Jabeur, the junior French Open champion in 2011, was the first Tunisian to reach a women’s tour final and the first African finalist since South Africa’s Chanelle Scheepers in 2014.

“I wanted to win today but it’s not meant to be. Maybe it’s a little bit lack of experience, but this is my first final so hopefully I can have many more,” Jabeur said. “Not a chance for me in the third set, cramping.”

Qualifiers have played four WTA finals this year and lost them all.

Jabeur’s run to the final included upsets of Ekaterina Makarova, former U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, Anett Kontaveit, and Anastasija Sevastova.

Kasatkina came back from the brink of defeat in the second round when she broke Alize Cornet’s serve to stay in the match.

In the men’s draw, Adrian Mannarino of France reached the final by beatingr former Moscow champion Andreas Seppi 7-5, 7-5.

Mannarino was 5-3 down in the second set before winning four straight games to close out the match.

The Frenchman has lost all five of his career finals and will play Daniil Medvedev or Karen Khachanov for the title on Sunday.

Goerges wins Luxembourg final for second WTA title of year

Getty Images
Leave a comment

LUXEMBOURG — Julia Goerges lived up to her top seeding at the Luxembourg Open by winning her second title of the year on Saturday.

Goerges beat unseeded Belinda Bencic of Switzerland 6-4, 7-5 in the final.

The German won her first tournament of the year in Auckland, reached another final at Charleston in April, and the Wimbledon semifinals. This is her sixth career title. She lost the 2010 final here.

She’s at a career-high ranking of No. 9.

Bencic, who has been ranked as high as No. 7, was eyeing her first title in more than three years.