The Australian Open just ended but the travelling circus that is the tennis circuit is already onto its next stop with two WTA tournaments taking place this week in St. Petersburg and Taipei and Davis Cup first round action held this weekend across the world.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Lucas Pouille will lead reigning champions France, who are hosting the Netherlands in Albertville from February 2-4 while a Nick Kyrgios-led Australia face visiting Germany – spearheaded by Alexander Zverev – in Brisbane.
Freshly-crowned Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki is top seed in St. Petersburg, where French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, and French duo Caroline Garcia and defending champion Kristina Mladenovic are also competing.
China’s Peng Shuai headlines the field in Taipei.
These are the main storylines to look out for during the upcoming period on the tennis tour…
New mum Serena Williams plans on making her first competitive appearance since her Australian Open victory 12 months ago next month (February 10-11) in USA’s Fed Cup first round tie against the Netherlands in Asheville. The Americans are the reigning champions and have brought in their very best to face the Dutch, with Serena joined by her sister Venus, alongside Coco Vandeweghe. It will be Serena’s first Fed Cup showing since 2015, and should ease her back into competition before she heads to Indian Wells in March, which will be her first WTA tournament since Auckland in January 2017.
Serena had her first child, Alexis Olympia, last September. She played an exhibition match against Jelena Ostapenko in Abu Dhabi in December but opted out of defending her Australian Open title saying she wasn’t ready yet to compete at the highest level.
While she will technically have no ranking, having been out of action for over 12 months, Serena can enter tournaments using her Special Ranking, which is the one she had before going on maternity leave. In her case, her Special Ranking is No. 1 and she can use it to enter as many as eight tournaments. She will be unseeded in draws though.
Victoria Azarenka’s comeback from maternity leave was derailed last year because of a custody dispute that prevented her from travelling with her son Leo out of California. Azarenka has reportedly made headway in the case and has accepted a wildcard into the Qatar Open draw taking place from February 12-17.
The Belarusian ex-world No. 1 has played just two events since having her baby in December 2016. Doha will be her first tournament since Wimbledon last July, where she made the fourth round. Her ranking is currently 208 in the world. Azarenka’s Special Ranking is No. 6 and she can still use it to enter seven tournaments before June 18, 2018. Like Serena, Azarenka will be unseeded in draws.
— victoria azarenka (@vika7) January 22, 2018
BATTLE FOR ATP NO. 1
If Roger Federer accepts a wildcard into any tournament in February, he has a chance to overtake Rafael Nadal at the top of the rankings, with only 155 points currently separating them. Federer lost in his second match in Dubai last year so only has 45 points to defend next month and has a real chance to get back to No. 1 in the world for the first time since 2012 if he decides to play a tournament before Indian Wells.
But even if he doesn’t play, he can still get to No. 1 without hitting a ball if Nadal, who is recovering from a hip injury, doesn’t defend his runner-up points in Acapulco (starts February 26).
We are yet to hear from Team Djokovic on what the Serb has decided to do regarding his lingering elbow problem. Novak Djokovic fell to Chung Hyeon in the Australian Open fourth round, while suffering from elbow pain that had kept him out of the game for six months. Will Djokovic go for surgery? Will he need another extended break? We should know more in February.
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) January 22, 2018
WOZNIACKI’S POST-SLAM FORM
We’ve seen it many times before; a player wins her first major then suffers a dip in form. American Sloane Stephens hasn’t won a match since lifting the US Open trophy last September. She’s 0-8 since. Can Wozniacki keep up her motivation after finally clinching a maiden Grand Slam title and returning to the top of the rankings? We sure hope so.
The Swiss defending champion dropped his only sets of the tournament before completing a 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 win over the sixth seeded Croatian in 3hr 3min.
Federer, playing in his 30th Grand Slam final, joined Novak Djokovic and Australian great Roy Emerson as joint top for the most Australian Open men’s titles.
“I’m so happy it’s unbelievable. This is a dream come true, the fairytale continues for me,” Federer said at the presentation.
“After the great year last year, it’s incredible,” the 36-year-old added as he broke down in tears.
Federer added to his already imposing win-loss record in Melbourne and is now 94-13. His overall his Grand Slam mark stands at 332-52.
“It was an amazing journey to come to the final. It could have been the best two weeks of my life, but Roger played a great fifth set,” Cilic said.
“I want to thank my team, you’re unbelievable. We worked hard for this year, hopefully we will lift these trophies in the future.”
The roof was closed over Rod Laver Arena as the tournament’s heat policy was implemented amid evening temperatures of 38°C.
Cilic’s serve came under immediate pressure with a whipping backhand return winner for break point which the Croatian followed with a smash into the net for a break in the opening game.
The Croat was finding it difficult to settle and changed racquets in his second service game, but it had no obvious benefit as he dropped serve again after three break points to trail 0-3.
He finally held serve to get on the board but the Swiss star was too good, serving out the set in just 24 minutes after a shaky Cilic opening.
Federer fought off two break points in his opening service in the second set with pinpoint serves, while Cilic had a tussle before holding in the third game.
Cilic worked his way back into the match as both players traded furious forehands to stay on serve. Cilic was break point down in the ninth, but crucially got out of it with a second serve ace down the middle followed by a forehand winner.
The Croat had a big moment in the 10th game when two Federer double faults gave him set point, but a tentative backhand into the net and a wild backhand cost him his chance.
In the tiebreaker, Cilic got to two set points when his forehand clipped the line before a winning smash levelled the match as Federer dropped his first set of the tournament.
But Cilic lost serve on the back of a couple of ground stroke errors and Federer raced 4-2 up in the third set.
The defending champion shifted gears with a stunning forehand off his toes and confidently held serve to lead 5-2 before clinically serving out the set in 29 minutes.
Cilic was then broken in the opening game of the fourth set with a poor backhand dropshot into the net as Federer closed in for the kill.
But the Croat broke back in the sixth game with three break points when Federer netted and fought off a break point in the next game to put his nose in front.
Cilic was now more in the flow and broke Federer again with his big forehands starting to find their mark. He served it out to take the absorbing final into a fifth.
But Federer stayed calm and produced quality backhands to hold on to his serve amid mounting tension.
The world No.2 crucially broke to 2-0 and got a vital double break when Cilic netted a forehand, leaving him to serve out for the championship.
Provided by AFP Sport
Frenchwoman Alize Cornet has been placed under a disciplinary investigation after missing three random drug tests, anti-doping officials said Thursday.
The 27-year-old, ranked 42 in the world, missed the tests in a 12-month period with the French Tennis Federation (FFT) saying she would not be considered for Fed Cup duty while the inquiry was ongoing.
The International Tennis Federation’s Tennis Anti-Doping Programme said Cornet was charged on January 11 with “a violation of Article 2.4 — (failing three times in any 12-month period … to be available for testing at the declared whereabouts)”.
Cornet issued a statement claiming the ITF “didn’t want to hear” her reasons for the missed tests, but the tennis body disputed this.
It said all the correct processes were “followed in all three instances”.
“No further comment will be made pending determination of the case, except as may be necessary to respond to public comment by Ms. Cornet or her representatives,” it added.
Cornet could be banned from the sport as World Anti-Doping Agency rules allow for a suspension of up to two years.
However, that could be halved depending on the degree of fault. cornet will now have to prove that she had a legitimate reason for missing one of the tests.
Cornet was last in action at the Australian Open in Melbourne where she was knocked out in the third round by Belgian qualifier Elise Mertens.
The Frenchwoman needed a medical timeout in that clash, complaining of the effects of 40-degree heat. She went on to lambast tournament officials for treating players like “robots”.
“Among the 20 anti-doping controls that I had in the 2017 season, which were all negative of course, I missed three unannounced controls at home because of valuable reasons that the ITF didn’t want to hear,” she wrote in a Twitter statement Wednesday.
“My case will be presented in a hearing in March. I promise you to stay strong during this tough time.”
Cornet, who reached a career high of 11 in the world in 2009 and has won five singles titles, will not be considered for the French Fed Cup team’s World Group tie against Belgium on February 10 and 11.
“Pending the decision of the international disciplinary bodies, Pierre Cherret, the interim national technical director, in full agreement with Yannick Noah, the captain of the France team, decided to allow Alize Cornet prepare her defence and, therefore, not to name her in the team to be named next week,” the FFT said.
“The French Tennis Federation, despite the consequences that the absence of Alize Cornet is likely to cause for the France team on a sporting level, wishes to reaffirm its firm determination to see the anti-doping program of the ITF be fully implemented.”
— Alize Cornet (@alizecornet) January 24, 2018