Australian Open 2020: Serena, Clijsters among the group unseeded Muguruza can join

By Sports Desk January 31, 2020

Garbine Muguruza can join a small group of women to have won a grand slam while unseeded since 2000 when she faces Sofia Kenin in the Australian Open final.

A two-time grand slam champion, Muguruza has put together a fine run in Melbourne, where 14th seed Kenin awaits in the final on Saturday.

A French Open and Wimbledon winner, the Spaniard can add a first hard-court slam to her collection, having previously never been beyond the quarter-finals at the Australian Open.

Ranked 32nd in the world, the former world number one is aiming to win the grand slam while unseeded.

We look at the unseeded women to have won a grand slam since 2000 ahead of the Australian Open final.

2007 Australian Open – Serena Williams

Having missed most of 2006 due to a knee injury, Williams entered the 2007 tournament in Melbourne as the world number 81. The American cruised through the opening two rounds before overcoming fifth seed Nadia Petrova. In between wins over seeds Jelena Jankovic and Nicole Vaidisova, Williams survived her biggest scare, coming from a break down in the final set to edge Shahar Peer 8-6 in the third. In the final, Williams dispatched Maria Sharapova to win an eighth grand slam title.

2009 US Open – Kim Clijsters

After retiring, Clijsters gave birth to her daughter in early 2008 and needed a wildcard to enter the 2009 US Open, her first grand slam since Melbourne in 2007. The Belgian's biggest early tests came against Marion Bartoli and Venus Williams, surviving in three sets, before a quarter-final win over Li Na. Clijsters beat Serena Williams in an extraordinary semi-final during which the American threatened a linesperson over a foot-fault call, before overcoming Caroline Wozniacki in the final for her second major title.

2017 French Open – Jelena Ostapenko

Ostapenko was in fine form on clay heading into Roland Garros, where the Latvian stunned the tennis world. Untroubled early in the tournament, Ostapenko then played four consecutive three-setters on her way to the title, beating Sam Stosur, Wozniacki, Timea Bacsinszky and Simona Halep. Having turned 20 just days earlier, Ostapenko came from a set and 3-0 down in the second in the final against pre-tournament favourite Halep. She became the first Latvian to win a grand slam singles title, the crown also her first on the WTA Tour.

2017 US Open – Sloane Stephens

The highly rated Stephens, then ranked 83rd in the world, powered her way to the title in New York in 2017. The American had reached a semi-final (Australian Open) and quarter-final (Wimbledon) in 2013 before failing to go beyond the fourth round of a major leading into the US Open in 2017. A foot injury had sidelined her for almost a year after the 2016 Olympics, but Stephens stepped up on her return. She battled past the likes of Dominika Cibulkova, Julia Goerges, Anastasija Sevastova and Venus Williams before hammering Madison Keys in the final for her maiden major title.

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  • Chelsea v Tottenham: How Kante has gone back infield and back to his best under Lampard Chelsea v Tottenham: How Kante has gone back infield and back to his best under Lampard

    "Ridiculous" was a word used by Frank Lampard to sum up N'Golo Kante last week - and with good reason. 

    The Chelsea midfielder is back fit, back in the side and more or less back to his best, having missed 16 Premier League matches last season. 

    Kante's "quietly influential" form has helped Lampard's side to a strong start to the season that has left some to bill Sunday's derby clash with Tottenham as something of a title showdown – or at least a game that could well highlight which of the two has the best chance of dethroning Liverpool. 

    A win for either side will move them top of the table after 10 games, but Kante's recent performances might just indicate Chelsea have the edge.

    BACK WHERE HE BELONGS?

    In 2018-19, Maurizio Sarri preferred Jorginho at the base of midfield, with Kante generally shifted to the right of a three. 

    The system was hardly a failure: Chelsea returned to the Champions League, won the Europa League and only lost the EFL Cup final on penalties to Manchester City. Few, though, ever thought it brought the best out of Kante. 

    Since taking charge last year, Lampard has shifted Kante back towards the middle and, as can be seen from his average touch maps, 2020-21 sees a full return for the France international as the midfield anchor.

    N'Golo Kante's touch maps by season, from 2018-19 (L) to 2020-21. The shift from the right-hand side towards the base of midfield is clear.

    He is averaging 82 touches per 90 minutes in the Premier League, the highest figure he has ever posted for Chelsea, five more than in his title-winning debut season in 2016-17. He is also averaging 67 passes per game, more than he ever has before for the club.

    In other words, Kante is very much at the heart of Lampard's Chelsea.

    He is also back to his exceptional defensive levels in 2020-21, averaging three interceptions per game – again the most in his Chelsea career – as well as three tackles, his highest figure under Lampard.

    The caveat is his passes in the final third have dropped by an average of six per game compared to last season and by nine compared to 2018-19, but the creative talent at Lampard's disposal means the burden of attacking is no longer on Kante's shoulders.

    HOJBJERG BATTLE AWAITS

    If Chelsea's form is based in part on the performances of Kante, Tottenham's strong start to the season is very much built on the work of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

    Signed from Southampton for a reported £15million fee, the 25-year-old has established himself as Jose Mourinho's most important player behind the relentlessly brilliant Harry Kane and Son Heung-min.

    Through nine rounds of the 2020-21 Premier League campaign, Hojbjerg had managed more touches (809), attempted more passes (695) and completed more passes (619) than any other midfielder in the competition. He has also got stuck into 29 tackles, the third-highest number for midfielders this term and four more than Kante.

    Hojbjerg might not be a player of the Kante mold, but the two have had remarkably similar influences on their teams. Each has one assist in nine league starts, their passing accuracy practically matches (88.5 per cent for Kante, 89.1 for Hojbjerg), and they have made exactly the same number of recoveries (64).

    Effective as they are without the ball, so much of Chelsea and Spurs' good work with it also relies on these two.

    Kante has started 139 open-play sequences this season, eclipsing Hojbjerg (111), but that is about as big a difference as you will find.

    Of those sequences started by Kante, 13 have ended in a shot and two in a goal; for Hojbjerg, 11 have ended in a strike at goal and one has seen Spurs get on the scoresheet.

    Indeed, in terms of involvements in open-play build-up, Kante has managed 423, only slightly up on Hojbjerg's 415. Of those tallies, each player has seen 31 of those involvements end in a shot; when it comes to resulting in a goal, Hojbjerg edges Kante eight to three.

    On Sunday, the winner of the battle for midfield control between these two could well swing the match in his side's favour.

  • Real Sociedad v Villarreal: The unlikely challengers trying to lay foundations for LaLiga glory Real Sociedad v Villarreal: The unlikely challengers trying to lay foundations for LaLiga glory

    Empty stadiums, Barcelona in the midst of an institutional crisis exacerbated by Lionel Messi's wanderlust, and Real Madrid a world away from the glamour and ruthlessness we often associate with Los Blancos – 2020-21 always looked set to be an intriguing one for LaLiga.

    Sunday will see the season's first meaningful clash between two teams vying at the top of the table, as leaders Real Sociedad go to third-place Villarreal.

    By no means is this a fixture steeped in the tradition of title tussles or anything of the sort – after all, La Real's two LaLiga crowns came in the early 1980s and their most recent top-two finish was 17 years ago, while Villarreal have never won the league.

    But in this peculiar time for football, few have adapted better and they are laying the foundations for potential tilts at glory.

    Building on a foundation

    La Real earned acclaim and attracted many neutral eyes last season as they came close to qualifying for the Champions League for the first time since 2003.

    Ultimately their form tailed off late in the season, coinciding with losing key man Martin Odegaard to injury, but despite eventual disappointment they showed they were laying the foundations for something potentially special.

    Many felt that seeing Odegaard return to Real Madrid would have a major impact on La Real, that they had no hope of bettering themselves without a player of his calibre – but it's so far, so good in 2020-21.

    This is a club and setup that's already got a strong base. Throughout their ranks they coach a particular brand of football, and there is an onus on progression, both for players and management.

    Imanol Alguacil has been at the club in various capacities since 2011, managing the youth team, the B team and then the senior side, of whom he was appointed coach in 2018. Their strong core of homegrown players only benefits them and aids cohesion in the long run.

    Arguably La Real's biggest strength is their pressing intensity – only two teams in LaLiga have averaged more high turnovers in possession than their 5.3 per game, with 1.3 of those in every match leading to a shot.

    Yet, this relentlessness isn't – as it can be – implemented to account for a shortfall in technical ability. They boast an impressive array of gifted players, as evidenced by the fact they've scored more goals (21) than they would otherwise be expected to (18 xG) and seen eight different individuals claim at least one assist – Atletico Madrid is the sole club to match this.

    Alguacil generally deploys a lone front man and wingers who operate more as inside forwards, which can create central overloads but offers the flexibility of being able to pump crosses into the box, as such they are averaging 13 shots per game and converting 16.3 per cent – both are significant upgrades on Villarreal, for example.

    Mikel Oyarzabal has been their shining light, the club academy product having scored more goals (six) than anyone else in LaLiga this term. On top of that, his combination of chances created and total shots (43) is second to Lionel Messi (50), highlighting just how influential the wide attacker is.

    But they aren't solely dependent on attacking prowess. La Real have been seriously shrewd at the back too despite losing Diego Llorente to Leeds United in pre-season, conceding only four goals – that's second to Atletico (two), who have played two games fewer.

    Additionally, La Real face only seven shots per game on average, suggesting they aren't just relying on miracles from Alex Remiro in goal either.

    Alguacil has presided over their joint-best start in LaLiga history. While the result on Sunday – whatever the outcome – won't decide any titles, it is the first opportunity for La Real to prove they should be taken seriously.

    Restoring a reputation

    Villarreal's situation is rather different to that of La Real – they are at the start of a new cycle having decided to up the ante when hiring a new coach in pre-season.

    Unai Emery arrived and, while his reputation outside of Spain may have taken something of a knock with Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain, at home he remains highly regarded for his early work with Valencia and then the Europa League three-peat at Sevilla.

    It's fair to say Emery has adjusted well and Villarreal have responded in kind to him – his 4-1-4-1 formation, not too dissimilar to that of La Real, provides the right blend of discipline and flexibility, often morphing into a 4-3-3. A trio of technically proficient midfielders support an attack spearheaded by Paco Alcacer, who is flanked – usually – by Samuel Chukwueze and Gerard Moreno.

    Attacking full-backs help complete their outlook, which certainly on the face of it has drawn comparisons with his Sevilla team.

    But while they were strongest on the counter, Emery's Villarreal looks to control possession more rather than explode with quick transitions – after all, the Yellow Submarine average the fourth-most number of passes per game (553.3) in LaLiga and just over half take place in their own half.

    This is a patient team. It's an approach that's arguably necessary when one considers most of their regular midfielders – the likes of Moi Gomez, Manu Trigueros, Dani Parejo and Vicente Iborra – are certainly not blessed with pace but all possess fine technical attributes.

    That's not to say they lack intensity, either. In fact, they are one of the two teams to create more high turnovers per game (5.4) than La Real, while they also craft more shots (1.6) from those scenarios than their next opponents.

    A 1-1 draw against Real Madrid last time out should put Villarreal in a good mindset for another high-profile encounter – they will hope their considered, possession-based approach is the ideal counter to La Real's more direct style in San Sebastian.

  • Chelsea out to give Lampard mentor Mourinho the blues once more Chelsea out to give Lampard mentor Mourinho the blues once more

    Jose Mourinho has many happy memories at Stamford Bridge, but very few of them have come from the visiting dugout.

    The Tottenham coach takes his side to Chelsea on Sunday looking to preserve top spot in the Premier League against hosts who can themselves reach the summit with a win.

    For Mourinho, it is also a return to his first club in English football.

    The Portuguese won consecutive league titles with Chelsea following his arrival in 2004 and added a third after returning to the Blues in 2013.

    However, since leaving the Bridge for the first time in 2007, Mourinho has won away at Chelsea only once.

    That success came on his first trip back in 2010 when the idea of Mourinho ever enduring misery in SW6 seemed quite improbable.

    Mourinho's Inter won 1-0 courtesy of Samuel Eto'o's goal to progress to the Champions League quarter-finals. The Nerazzurri had triumphed over Carlo Ancelotti's men in the home leg, too, and would claim the treble.

    Yet those were Mourinho's only back-to-back victories against Chelsea and there have been just two subsequent wins in 10 attempts in all competitions - both in the Premier League at Old Trafford as Manchester United manager. Antonio Conte oversaw each reverse.

    A third success did follow in September of this year but only courtesy of a penalty shoot-out as Chelsea were knocked out of the EFL Cup.

    That was a third meeting with Frank Lampard, a star midfielder in Mourinho's first spell, and the master is yet to get the better of his apprentice outside of spot-kicks.

    Indeed, Lampard did the double over Mourinho in the league last season.

    Were the former England international to secure another victory this weekend, he would become the first Premier League coach to win three in a row against Mourinho in the competition. Chelsea would also become the first club to enjoy a trio of consecutive successes.

    The Blues should not be lacking motivation this week, but the potential to make history against their former boss adds just a little more spice.


    Mourinho's full record against Chelsea (Premier League unless stated):

    Inter 2-1 Chelsea (Champions League) - 2010
    Chelsea 0-1 Inter (Champions League) - 2010

    Chelsea 4-0 Manchester United - 2016
    Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United (FA Cup) - 2017
    Manchester United 2-0 Chelsea - 2017
    Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United - 2017
    Manchester United 2-1 Chelsea - 2018
    Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United (FA Cup final) - 2018
    Chelsea 2-2 Manchester United - 2018
    Tottenham 0-2 Chelsea - 2019
    Chelsea 2-1 Tottenham - 2020
    Tottenham 1-1 Chelsea (EFL Cup, 5-4 pens) - 2020

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