Serena Williams returning after ‘very intense’ training

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ROME — Forget all that speculation about Serena Williams considering retirement after her emotional hand-to-heart gesture upon her Australian Open exit three months ago.

While Williams has not played since losing to Naomi Osaka in the Melbourne semifinals in February, she has been practicing “very intensely” on clay courts and is ready to “start fresh” in her pursuit of Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles.

Preparing to return at this week’s Italian Open to gear up for Roland Garros later this month, Williams on Monday detailed her recent training regimen.

There was a block of time on clay courts back home in the United States followed by 2+ weeks on the red dirt at the French academy run by her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou.

“So we had an intense several weeks of training – very intense,” Williams said. “I feel good. … I’m going to have some good matches here hopefully, and then I will be at another Grand Slam, which always makes me excited. So I think either way I’ll be ready.”

The 39-year-old Williams, who only needs one more Grand Slam title to match Court’s record, added that her fans shouldn’t read too much into the lack of tennis information she shares on social media.

“I don’t do a lot of sport content, so I do feel like people are wondering if I’m playing, and I have to say I always am, you just don’t see it,” she said. “I don’t show what I do. I don’t always show my cards.”

Williams, a four-time champion in Rome, will face either French Open semifinalist Nadia Podoroska or German qualifier Laura Siegemund in her opening match at the Foro Italico. She’s in the same quarter of the draw as Osaka and has a first-round bye.

“It’s good to start fresh but it’s also hard to start fresh,” Williams said.

Williams was also asked if she will play at the Tokyo Olympics if coronavirus protocols mean she can’t bring her 3-year-old daughter into Japan.

“I haven’t spent 24 hours without her, so that kind of answers the question itself,” Williams said. “We’re best friends.

“I haven’t really thought much about Tokyo, because it was supposed to be last year and now it’s this year, and then there is this pandemic and there is so much to think about,” she added. “Then there is the Grand Slams. It’s just a lot. So I have really been taking it one day at a time to a fault, and I definitely need to figure out my next moves.”

Sonego beats Bublik at Moselle Open to win 1st title of 2022

Winston-Salem Open - Day 5
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METZ, France – Lorenzo Sonego clinched his first title of the season by beating Alexander Bublik 7-6 (3), 6-2 in the Moselle Open final.

The 27-year-old Italian did not drop a set all tournament as he won the third title of his career and first on hard courts.

The unseeded Sonego recovered from 0-40 down in the fifth game of the match and secured victory when the seventh-seeded Bublik sent a backhand return long.

He then danced on court as he celebrated a perfect tournament where he also beat defending champion Hubert Hurkacz in the semifinals.

Sonego’s win will move him up 21 places in the ATP rankings and into 44th place.

Samsonova beats Zheng to win 3rd WTA title in 2 months

Toray Pan Pacific Open - Day Seven
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TOKYO – Liudmila Samsonova extended a remarkable summer run by clinching her third title in two months after beating rising Chinese player Zheng Qinwen 7-5, 7-5 at the Toray Pan Pacific Open.

No. 30-ranked Samsonova won in Washington and Cleveland in August and also reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open. The 23-year-old has now won 18 of her last 19 matches and didn’t drop a set in Tokyo.

“It’s amazing. I think I need a little bit of time to realize it, but it’s unbelievable,” Samsonova said. “It was like a nervous match today. I was really prepared physically but I was tired mentally because I was playing singles and doubles every day. I’m very happy with the way I managed the pressure.”

Samsonova added that the exclusion of Russian players from Wimbledon had helped her game though she stopped short of supporting the move.

“Wimbledon for me is the best tournament. I love it. The news really impacted me. I had one month without a tournament so I thought let’s work,” she said, adding: “I don’t agree that politics should be involved in sports because it’s unfair.”

The match between two power hitters with big serves was close throughout but Samsonova was striking the ball cleaner and stronger.

Zheng, who ousted top-seeded Paula Badosa and No. 4-seeded Veronika Kudermetova, was broken in the first set after giving up her first double fault on deuce in the 11th game.

Samsonova, who defeated Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the first round and former world No. 1 Garbine Muguruza in the quarterfinals, then sent a perfect forehand that landed in the right-hand corner of the court to break the 19-year-old and go 6-5 up. She took the first set with another strong service game that included her third ace.

Zheng was the first to crack in the second set when she handed Samsonova free points with two double-faults in the fifth game. A double-fault by the Russian saw her drop to 0-40 in the next game and the No. 36-ranked Chinese broke back to level at 3-3.

As in the first set, Zheng was broken in the 11th game. A long forehand at deuce gave Samsonova a breakpoint and she converted it with a crosscourt forehand that sent her opponent the wrong way. Samsonova then won her next game to love after three errors by Zheng, clinching the match 7-5, 7-5.

Samsonova has now won all of the finals she has appeared in.

In reaching the final, Zheng became the youngest Chinese finalist at a tour-level event, beating the mark set by Peng Shuai.