AP Photo

Maria Sharapova advances at Rogers Cup

Leave a comment

MONTREAL — Maria Sharapova advanced to the second round of the Rogers Cup with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over qualifier Sesil Karatantcheva of Bulgaria on Tuesday.

Play resumed under the afternoon sun with Sharapova leading 4-1 in the first set after heavy rain and lightning forced organizers to suspend the match late Monday following a three-hour rain delay.

Sharapova, making her first Rogers Cup appearance since 2014, picked up where she left off Monday. She won six straight games after the restart and needed only 36 minutes to win the second set.

The 31-year-old had three aces and only committed two double faults to her opponent’s 11.

“Would have loved to finish last night to get a break today, but that’s not how things work,” Sharapova said. “You have to adjust. I think I did a good job of finishing the job today.”

The Russian is 5-0 all time against the 229th-ranked Karatantcheva, who was playing in her first WTA main draw in more than a year.

Sharapova, ranked 22nd in the world, will face Daria Kasatkina of Russia (No. 12) or Maria Sakkari of Greece (No. 31) in the second round.

Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard is out after a 6-2, 6-4 first-round loss to Elise Mertens of Belgium.

The 129th-ranked Bouchard lost the match in 1 hour, 34 minutes in front of her hometown fans as she dropped to 4-11 all time at the Rogers Cup.

The Westmount, Quebec, native started the match poorly. She was broken three times and dropped the first five games of the first set.

The 24-year-old showed signs of life though, winning back-to-back games in the first set before losing 6-2. She started the second set by winning her first three games.

But Bouchard’s service game let her down the entire match, and it allowed Mertens to claw her way back into the second set.

Bouchard was broken twice in the second, for a total of five times in the match, as Mertens won the next five games en route to the victory.

Bouchard connected on just 54 percent of her first serves and won 56 percent of her first service points.

The 15th-ranked Mertens, who is making her Rogers Cup debut, will now face either Shuai Zhang of China (No. 32) or qualifier Barbora Krejcikova (No. 232) of the Czech Republic in the second round.

Bouchard has not beaten a top-20 player since defeating Angelique Kerber at the Madrid Open in May 2017.

Earlier Tuesday, Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko was eliminated after a 6-7 (6), 6-1, 6-2 loss to Britain’s Johanna Konta.

Ostapenko, the 11th seed in Montreal, committed 10 double faults while struggling with her serve as she was eliminated in the first round at the Rogers Cup for the third straight year.

Konta had eight aces while committing just three double faults.

“Because of the back and forth in that first set, after that what I did well was I settled down,” said Konta, the former world No. 4. “I played myself into the match and tried to be as tough as possible.

“She has such a big game, so many big shots, sometimes you are spectator out there. When I had the opportunity to do the most I could, stay strong, I think I built up enough momentum. That’s why I was able to keep pushing through in the second and third.”

In other early matches, Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands made quick work of Carol Zhao of Canada, winning 6-1, 6-2 while world No. 8 Petra Kvitova outlasted Anett Kontaveit of Estonia 6-3, 6-4.

Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck cruised past Russian qualifier Sofya Zhuk 6-1, 6-2 and Sorana Cirstea beat Monica Niculescu 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 in an all-Romanian matchup.

The 10th seed Julia Goerges of Germany came from a set down to beat qualifier Lucie Safarova 2-6, 6-4, 6-3.

Garbine Muguruza, the tournament’s eighth seed, withdrew with an arm injury. Puerto Rico’s Monica Puig took her spot in the main draw.

John Isner advances to final on Newport’s hot grass courts

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NEWPORT, R.I. — Top-seeded John Isner overcame extremely hot conditions and a first-set tiebreaker loss to beat fourth-seeded Ugo Humbert of France 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-3 on Saturday and advance to the Hall of Fame Open final.

The 34-year-old American will face Alexander Bublik, a 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-4 winner over Marcel Granollers of Spain. The 22-year-old Bublik, from Kazakhstan, reached his first career ATP final.

The matches were played before induction ceremonies for the 2019 class of Li Na from China, Mary Pierce of France, and Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

Playing in a feel-like temperature in the 90s, Isner, ranked 15th in the world coming into the week, broke in the second game of the final set – the first break of the match – en route to his fourth final on Newport’s grass courts. He won in 2011, `12 and ’17.

“The length of the match is fine. That’s what happens, especially with matches like mine,” the big-serving Isner said. “It’s really hot and humid and takes a lot (out) of you. To be honest, I don’t feel really great right now.”

Isner is into his 28th ATP final.

In a match that lasted 2 hours, 44 minutes, started in sunshine and ended with shadows creeping nearly halfway across the court, Isner had two aces in the final game to go up 40-0.

He hit a forehand winner at the net and pumped his fist when it ended.

Isner hit a forehand winner down the line to win the second-set tiebreaker and force the deciding set.

“That was a big shot,” he said. “I always say when I win the second set, I’m going to win the match.”

Bublik broke in the fifth game of the final set to take control of his match.

Just before he closed it out, an elderly female fan, seated courtside in the sun, was carried out on a chair by two men with ushers helping. The feel-like temperature at the time was in the upper 90s with the sun beating down on the court and some spectators.

“It’s hot,” said Bublik when asked about the conditions during a post-match interview on the court. “I’m just glad I won a match.”

The stadium seating and courtside seats – both located in the sun and usually at least about three-quarters full on induction day – had less than a hundred people seated for both semifinals.

Li Na’s journey to stretch from China to Hall of Fame

AP Photo
Leave a comment

NEW YORK — Li Na remembers first watching a tennis match on TV, drawn to the unforgettable style of one of the players.

Andre Agassi had long hair, an earring and wore denim shorts, and made an instant fan in China.

“Andre Agassi is my role model,” Li said.

Li went on to become one herself.

The first player from Asia to win a Grand Slam singles title, she will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame this weekend, celebrated not only for her skills on the court but for her contribution to the growth of the sport in her country.

“She’s like an icon in China. She’s a huge superstar,” said Mike Silverman, the director of sport for New York’s City Parks Foundation.

Li conducted a clinic with children from the organization on Thursday and her influence was obvious. Many of the young players were Asian, including one teenage boy Silverman thinks is good enough to get a college scholarship. They were probably too young to remember much of her career – she retired in 2014 because of knee problems – but her impact didn’t end when her playing days did.

“There’s no question that Li Na, when she was playing and even now, tennis in China has never been the same since she won the French Open,” Silverman said. “It changed everything.”

That was in 2011, when more than 116 million people in China watched the final. Li added a second major title in 2014 at the Australian Open after twice losing in its final, rose to No. 2 in the WTA rankings and earned more than 500 singles wins.

“At least I always try my best in tennis on the court,” Li said. “If you try everything I think one day for sure there will be payback.”

The mother of two children is a little nervous about the induction ceremony in Newport, Rhode Island, as she tries to put together her thoughts in English. But perhaps she can take a lesson from something else she admired about Agassi.

“He never cared about what other people say, he just did his own,” said Li, who is joined in this year’s class by fellow two-time Grand Slam singles champions Mary Pierce of France and Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia.

Li said she can see the growth of tennis in China, where the WTA Finals will be played in Shenzhen and which got another event on the tour’s calendar this year when the former Connecticut Open was moved to Zhengzhou.

“It’s not only good for the athletes, it’s also good for the fans to have less traveling,” Li said. “They can see a high-level tournament in China.”

Fans can see plenty of them, as there are nine women’s tournaments in China after the U.S. Open. The country may not have a long tennis history, but Li thinks it will continue to get bigger.

“For me, I think China tennis is still young,” she said. “They can have a lot of time to grow up.”