Victoria Azarenka produced a memorable performance as she destroyed Sofia Kenin 6-0 6-0 at the Internazionali d'Italia on Thursday.

Azarenka, beaten in the US Open final less than a week ago, has transitioned to the clay courts in impressive fashion after beating Venus Williams and now, more impressively, Kenin.

The Australian Open champion had no answer to Azarenka's ruthlessness and near-perfection out on court in Rome, with the Belarusian claiming victory in just an hour and one minute.

Azarenka faced no break points in the entire match and made only one unforced error as she emphatically took the first set against a player who was her US Open doubles partner.

Kenin improved in the second set, forcing some long games – particularly the second, which was at deuce on five different occasions.

But Azarenka – who faces Russian Daria Kasatkina in the last 16 – simply had too much for the American and cruised to a sensational victory over the third seed,

"I think my consistency was the key to the scoreline," Azarenka told reporters. "I feel like I played really smart tennis today: I was able to use a lot of court; I was able to use a lot of different pace.

"So, I'm very happy with that. But the key was definitely being able to maintain the level that I started with."

She added, according to the WTA Tour website: "I was really more focused on what I can do today on the court, than on what she does well. So, I think that was the difference, I was able to insist on my level and insist on my pace."

Earlier, Garbine Muguruza managed to outlast American sensation Coco Gauff 7-6 (7-3) 3-6 6-3 in an absorbing contest.

Gauff, 16, appeared to be in control of the decider after an early break of serve.

But three double faults in the following game gifted Spaniard Muguruza an instant break in return, giving her the initiative to go on and seal victory.

Johanna Konta saw off Irina-Camelia Begu in fine fashion, the seventh-seeded Briton emerging 6-0 6-4, but Kiki Bertens and Petra Martic were not so impressive.

Bertens, seeded fifth, fell 6-4 6-4 to Polona Hercog, while eighth seed Martic succumbed to Yulia Putintseva in a gruelling three-hour contest, the latter eventually winning 6-3 6-7 (2-7) 6-4.

Marketa Vondrousova and Svetlana Kuznetsova were among the other victors on the day.

Garbine Muguruza refused to let the rain in Rome disrupt her march to victory over Sloane Stephens.

The Spaniard prevailed 6-3 6-3 in a battle between two grand slam winners to reach the second round of the Internazionali d'Italia.

But the ninth seed had to wait out a downpour she had not seen coming before she could seal the win and a meeting with Coco Gauff.

"It was unexpected, because I checked the weather and it seemed like it was okay," she said of the interruption, which delayed the start of the second set by an hour.

"But I just had to adapt. I knew I had a tough match against Sloane, she's also a great player on clay.

"I'm just happy with my performance, since this is the third match I am able to play in a long time."

There was a shock exit for three-time grand slam champion Angelique Kerber as she fell to 6-3 6-1 loss against Katerina Siniakova.

Gauff defeated Ons Jabeur 6-4 6-3 to progress, with the 16-year-old joined in the next round by 12th seed by Marketa Vondrousova following her three-set triumph over Misaki Doi.

Elsewhere in the draw, 14th seed Anett Kontaveit overcame Caroline Garcia 6-3 7-6 (7-1), while two-time slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova came from a set down to beat Bernarda Pera.

Former US Open champion Naomi Osaka was pushed to three sets in the opening round, while top seed Karolina Pliskova also made it through on day one.

Osaka – who was crowned queen of Flushing Meadows in 2018 – was tested by fellow Japanese player Misaki Doi under the Arthur Ashe Stadium lights on Monday.

Pliskova saw off Anhelina Kalinina in the behind-closed-doors grand slam amid the coronavirus pandemic in New York.

However, American sensation Coco Gauff fell at the first hurdle.

 

OSAKA DISPATCHES DOI

Japanese star Osaka kicked off her bid to win a second US Open title with a 6-2 5-7 6-2 victory in the night session.

Osaka – the fourth seed – was challenged by Doi but the former world number one came through in two hours, two minutes.

In her first match since withdrawing from the Western & Southern Open final due to a hamstring injury, Osaka showed no ill effects – hitting 25 winners and 38 unforced errors while converting five of 11 break-point opportunities.

Next up for the 2019 Australian Open champion is Camila Giorgi, who outlasted Alison Van Uytvanck 2-6 6-1 7-5.

 

PLISKOVA OUTCLASSES KALININA

The 2016 US Open runner-up made it past the first round by beating Ukrainian Kalinina 6-4 6-0.

Pliskova was in command at 4-1 in the first set, but lost the next three games and had to fend off two break points to avoid going 5-4 down.

The world number three held and broke to love to take the first set before dominating the second in the Flushing Meadows bubble.

Pliskova will face Caroline Garcia in the second round after the 32nd seed beat Jasmine Paolini 6-3 6-2.

 

GAUFF OUSTED

For the first time in her career, American teenager Gauff lost in the first round of a grand slam following a 6-3 5-7 6-4 defeat against 31st seed Anastasija Sevastova.

Gauff reached the fourth round at this year's Australian Open, but the 16-year-old crashed out at her home major.

 

KVITOVA, KERBER PROGRESS

Sixth seed and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova eased past Irina-Camelia Begu 6-3 6-2.

Three-time grand slam winner Angelique Kerber – the 17th seed – made her first appearance since January and defeated Ajla Tomljanovic 6-4 6-4.

American sensation Coco Gauff made a first-round exit at the US Open on Monday.

Gauff, 16, fell in the opening round of a grand slam for the first time after a 6-3 5-7 6-4 loss to Latvian 31st seed Anastasija Sevastova.

Teenager Gauff thrilled the tennis world last year when she made the fourth round at Wimbledon, before repeating that feat at this year's Australian Open.

However, there will be no such memorable run at Flushing Meadows after a loss to Sevastova that lasted just over two hours.

Gauff finished with 40 unforced errors, including 13 double faults, to fall in the opening round.

She could have faced Naomi Osaka in the third round once more, the Japanese star having thrashed Gauff at the same stage in a memorable clash last year.

Shelby Rogers was unable to build on her shock win over Serena Williams as she was beaten in the Top Seed Open semi-finals by Jil Teichmann, who will face Jennifer Brady in Sunday's showpiece after she defeated Cori Gauff.

Rogers produced an impressive shock in Friday's quarter-finals when beating 23-time grand slam champion Williams in a dramatic third-set tie-breaker in Lexington, but she came unstuck against Teichmann.

The 23-year-old was a dominant victor as well, seeing off Rogers 6-3 6-2, as she continued her impressive run of not dropping a set all week.

Teichmann, who is also involved with the doubles, has no special secret to her form, but is grateful to have found a groove.

"I don't have an answer for why I don't lose any sets," she said. "I just feel very good. I'm playing very consistent. I feel great on court. I guess that's the main reason."

Brady has enjoyed a similarly emphatic run to the final - this match saw her lose four matches in a single set for the first time in Lexington, as she saw off teen sensation Gauff 6-2 6-4 on Saturday.

Gauff lost three games on her serve in the first set and, although she improved in the second, Brady's break in the third game proved crucial as she reached a second career final.

 

Serena Williams crashed out of the Top Seed Open, the former world number one surprisingly beaten by Shelby Rogers in the quarter-finals.

Williams – the top seed and 23-time grand slam champion – was ousted 1-6 6-4 7-6 (7-5) by fellow American Rogers in Lexington on Friday.

Stepping up her preparation ahead of this month's US Open in New York, Williams overcame sister Venus in the last 16 on Thursday but the 38-year-old star was unable continue her run at the WTA International event.

Rogers – in her first meeting against Serena Williams – rallied from a set down in the all-American affair to earn a semi-final showdown with Jil Teichmann, who accounted for Cici Bellis 6-2 6-4.

"It was important for me going onto the court thinking I could win that match, and knowing I could take care of my service games," Rogers said. "Because [Williams] has probably the best serve of all time, and when she wants to, she can win a point on her serve."

Teenage sensation Coco Gauff, meanwhile, fought back from a set and a break down to top eighth seed Ons Jabeur 4-6 6-4 6-1.

Gauff trailed 6-4 4-2 but the 16-year-old American completed a thrilling comeback to reach her second WTA semi-final.

Awaiting Gauff in the final four is countrywoman Jennifer Brady, who eased past Marie Bouzkova 6-1 6-2.

Coco Gauff moved into the Top Seed Open quarter-finals with an impressive win in Lexington on Wednesday.

The 16-year-old edged past second seed Aryna Sabalenka 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 6-4 at the WTA International event.

Gauff, who reached the fourth round at the Australian Open this year, twice gave up a break lead in the final set before making the most of her third chance.

The American moved into the last eight, where she will face eighth seed Ons Jabeur.

Jabeur also battled, beating qualifier Olga Govortsova 3-6 6-2 6-4.

Jennifer Brady and Marie Bouzkova claimed straight-sets wins to reach the last eight.

Brady crushed sixth seed Magda Linette 6-2 6-3, while Bouzkova was too good for Anna Blinkova 6-4 6-2.

Serena Williams will face sister Venus in the Top Seed Open second round after contrasting wins on Tuesday.

In action for the first time since the WTA Tour season was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, Serena edged past Bernarda Pera.

The top seed at the WTA International event, Serena recorded a 4-6 6-4 6-1 victory after being five points from defeat.

The 23-time grand slam champion raced through the final set, losing just seven points on serve to advance in Lexington.

Awaiting Serena in the second round is Venus, who was too good for Victoria Azarenka 6-3 6-2.

The sisters will meet for the 31st time, with Serena holding an 18-12 win-loss record over Venus.

Sloane Stephens had endured a tough start to 2020 before the season was suspended, and the 2017 US Open champion suffered another loss.

The seventh seed was well beaten by qualifier Leylah Fernandez 6-3 6-3 to slip to a 1-6 win-loss record this year.

The only other seed in action was Yulia Putintseva, who brushed past Ajla Tomljanovic 6-0 6-4.

Coco Gauff, 16, was pushed in her opener, overcoming Caroline Dolehide 7-5 7-5.

CiCi Bellis, Shelby Rogers, Jil Teichmann, Anna Blinkova and Olga Govortsova also advanced.

Tennis had a rotten lockdown but now the professional tours are emerging from hibernation. 

The men must wait a fortnight, but in Sicily a number of leading women will, from Monday, take part in the Palermo Open, a minor clay-court event that will face scrutiny like it has never known before. 

Tennis must prove it can stage events responsibly, not least because the sport's reputation took a hit with the calamitous ad hoc Adria Tour. That event saw stars including men's world number one Novak Djokovic, whose brainchild it was, and Grigor Dimitrov hit by coronavirus. 

The ATP and the WTA, governing bodies of the men's and women's tours respectively, will apply stringent rules and demand impeccable player compliance over the coming months. 

They have already seen tennis wiped out in China for the rest of the year, on top of Wimbledon's cancellation, and can ill afford any further momentous setbacks. 

At the end of August, the US Open is due to begin at Flushing Meadows, a behind-closed-doors grand slam.

But with a number of leading players already opting out or showing reluctance to travel during the pandemic period, it would be easier to return a barrage of John Isner serves than to accurately figure how the rest of the tennis year pans out. 

Sicily for starters

Palermo organisers expected Simona Halep, the world number two and reigning Wimbledon champion, to join them, and it was with "great bitterness" that they acknowledged the news she would be staying at home in Romania. 

Halep cited rising COVID-19 cases in her home country and her own "anxieties around international air travel". 

Jelena Ostapenko, Johanna Konta and Svetlana Kuznetsova were among others to pull out, with a number of factors behind the loss of a host of the event's star attractions. 

Arguably, though, the standard of the tennis in the week ahead will pale into insignificance against the success of the tournament from a health and safety perspective. 

One player tested positive for coronavirus after arriving in Palermo, organisers said on Saturday, and was kept away from all others, withdrawing from the tournament. 

The eyes of the tennis world will focus on the modest ASD Country Time Club, not least because a small number of tennis fans will also be allowed entry. 

American trilogy

Can the United States, where over 150,000 have died with coronavirus, provide safe haven for the biggest stars in tennis later this month? 

Authorities are optimistic ahead of a disrupted US hard-court swing getting under way, but there can be no guarantees, despite best efforts. There are three major tournaments in the US in August, each brimming with the biggest names in the game. 

A new WTA event in Kentucky was announced in mid-July, and starts on August 10, with a field boasting Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens and Coco Gauff.  

From Kentucky, the best women's players in the world will head to New York for the Western and Southern Open, relocated to Flushing Meadows from Cincinnati this year in a move to save the tournament. 

That event, scheduled to run from August 21 to 28, is where the elite men make their re-entrance, with no ATP events scheduled until then. 

And the following week sees the US Open get under way at the same venue - all being well. 

Players will be expected to keep to their tournament bubbles throughout, tests will be carried out and players closely monitored. Any slip-ups could spell peril. 

Who's coming back? Who's not?

Halep is skipping Palermo and as of Sunday, August 2, she was not listed for the Western and Southern Open; however, she may play an event in Prague, starting on August 10. 

Given Halep's clear travel concerns, it would be little surprise were she to skip the US Open, which is a decision world number one Ash Barty has already taken. Barty's fellow Australian, Nick Kyrgios, has also chosen not to travel to the United States. 

Great Britain's Andy Murray, who appears keen to head to the States, has suggested a number of leading male players will swerve the US tournaments, yet the likes of Rafael Nadal, Djokovic and Dominic Thiem have entered the Western and Southern Open. 

Any of those players could still pull out, Nadal having notably expressed misgivings about international travel during lockdown. 

But will the temptation to go after another grand slam title at the US Open prove too alluring? Nadal is just one behind Roger Federer's record haul of 20 men's singles slams, with Djokovic having 17 majors to his name. 

Federer is sitting out all this drama, having undergone season-ending knee surgery. 

It comes as no surprise to see Serena Williams, one short of Margaret Court's women's record of 24 singles slams, committing fully to the weeks ahead. 

With no Barty and perhaps no Halep, Williams, who turns 39 next month, may perhaps never have a better opportunity to draw level with Court.

Wimbledon should have been getting under way on Monday and the queue would have been building all weekend long, a tented village of flag-waving, gin-swigging tennis diehards doing whatever it takes to land a prized ticket.

The practice courts would have been bustling, news conferences with the world's elite players running all day Saturday and into Sunday, and the first bumper delivery of fresh strawberries would have arrived fresh from the fields of Kent.

Elite athletes and their entourages would have been milling around the grounds, before at 10.30am on Monday morning the paying spectators would have been released from their holding bay, many racing straight to the grass bank that is officially named Aorangi Terrace but better known as Henman Hill.

And at 11.30am, the first players would have been walking on court, the championships getting under way. To be there at such a time is a delicious thrill, the waiting over, the grounds teeming, the first points being played, and the anticipation escalating as to what might unfold over the next fortnight.

Yet this year Wimbledon was all quiet across the weekend; thousands did not queue for tickets; the line painters, the stewards, and the ball boys and ball girls stayed at home; and a whole lot more strawberry jam is being produced in England this year than last.

The 2020 championships were cancelled on April 1, the only reasonable decision available to the All England Club amid the coronavirus pandemic, but organisers are already preparing for next year's return.

And from the plot lines that are already emerging, it is clear we can expect a classic Wimbledon.

A farewell to great champions?

There is the very real prospect of tennis losing a huddle of its biggest stars practically all at once, with anyone that was considering bowing out this year surely now giving the glad eye to 2021.

Roger Federer will be just weeks short of his 40th birthday by next year's Wimbledon, and the same applies to Serena Williams, whose sister Venus will already be 41.

Andy Murray will be a relatively young 34 but his body has taken a battering, the Scot desperate to play more grand slams but also realistic enough to know there may not be many left for him. He longs for another Wimbledon, maybe just one more.

Between them, that quartet have won 22 Wimbledon singles titles, and all four could choose the 2021 tournament as their opportunity to bid farewell to the All England Club.

It's going to be an emotional tournament in any case, if we are back to normal, but if there are goodbyes to be said too, the championships promise to be one packed with indelible memories, and so many tears.

The magic numbers

Serena Williams has lost each of the past two Wimbledon women's finals and has been stuck on 23 grand slams since winning the 2017 Australian Open, agonisingly one short of Margaret Court's record.

Could Wimbledon be where Williams matches or even passes Court's total? The American remains the player to beat at Wimbledon, and her hunger for grand slam success has not remotely diminished over time.

There can be little doubt she is playing not purely for the love of it, but because of the thrill of the chase, and Williams might wind up disappointed at the end of her career, still marooned one adrift.

But what a story it would be if Williams were to win another Wimbledon, the last of her thirties. Don't put anything past her.

And the race to finish as the all-time leader on the men's side keeps rolling, a devil of a duty to predict who will come out on top between Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Another Wimbledon win for any of them could take on momentous significance in that respect.

A new men's Centre Court king, at last?

The last player to win the Wimbledon's men's singles, besides the 'Big Four' of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, was Lleyton Hewitt in 2002.

And while the era of those four great players dominating in SW19 has been one to treasure, seeing a new champion crowned would be rather special.

There have been nine winners of the women's singles over the same period of time, multiple champions among them but also terrific one-off stories such as Marion Bartoli's triumph, the 17-year-old Maria Sharapova's big breakthrough, Amelie Mauresmo's great achievement, and the unbridled joy of Simona Halep last year.

Certainly there is so much to admire about the quartet that have ruled the men's singles, but a little novelty feels overdue.

Those queueing up to form a new dominant group need to push themselves forward, rather than play a waiting game.

Gauff gunning for major breakthrough

Gauff gunning for major breakthrough

What a revelation Coco Gauff became last year, defeating her great hero Venus Williams and reaching the fourth round, where it took eventual champion Halep to halt the 15-year-old's run.

She dramatically followed up by reaching the third round of the US Open and then round four of the Australian Open at the start of this year.

Between those two grand slams, Gauff also landed her first WTA title, in Linz, Austria, where she became the youngest winner on tour for 15 years.

The American teenager is the real deal, that much is clear, and she has a bright future.

Gauff demonstrated wisdom beyond her years off the court in early June with a terrific, powerful address at a Black Lives Matter rally in her Florida home town of Delray Beach.

May she return many times to Wimbledon.

Rising United States tennis star Coco Gauff was more mature at 14 than other players at 25, according to Patrick Mouratoglou.

Gauff became an overnight sensation last year when, at the age of 15 and at her maiden grand slam, she defeated Venus Williams at Wimbledon and went on to reach the fourth round.

She also became the youngest WTA Tour singles title-holder since 2004 when she won the Linz Open in October last year.

Gauff has won praise for her efforts off the court too and delivered a powerful speech at a Black Lives Matter rally in Florida this week, which was held amid widespread protests following the death of George Floyd in police custody.

Mouratoglou, whose academy is affiliated with Gauff, says the youngster has an inner strength that sets her apart even from vastly more experienced players on the Tour.

"She's just different," he told the Guardian. "It's something I have known since I met her – she came to my academy at 10. I spoke to her, I had an individual one-on-one discussion with her. I said: 'Guys, she's different.'

"When you meet people who are exceptional, you know it. I feel it straight away. Since that day, she's been surprising me all the time, even though I know she's so special. At 14 she was more mature than women on tour who are 25. That's incredible.

"She has an inner strength that is completely unusual. She has a self-confidence that serves her in her tennis, but to be able to come and make a speech at 16 the way she did? You don't see that. Again, she surprised me. I'm not surprised that I am surprised, but I'm surprised."

Mouratoglou has been promoting his new Ultimate Tennis Showdown, an event geared towards filling the void of a season wrecked by the coronavirus pandemic while also attracting a new generation of fans.

Wimbledon was cancelled and the French Open moved to September, while the US Open has put forward strict new protocols in a bid to be given the go-ahead to take place from August 31 to September 13.

Players including Novak Djokovic have expressed concern around the plans, which include limiting the members in player support teams, using charter planes from a handful of cities and possibly scrapping the qualifying rounds.

Mouratoglou does not believe the big names will be put off from competing, though.

"I don't think any player will miss a grand slam if they can play," he said. "Especially at the moment, most of them would not have any competition until the US Open. If the US Open can take place, I think they will go. Whatever the conditions are."

Serena Williams, who has been coached by Mouratoglou since 2012, will be 39 in September and has not played since losing to Anastasija Sevastova in the first round of the Fed Cup qualifiers in Everett, Washington, in February.

But Mouratoglou has no concerns about her ability to come back and challenge for majors again.

"I don't think six months is gonna make a big difference," he said. "Six months ago, she was 38 and a half and she's going to be 39. I don't see any change. It's the same for her as for everyone: find the inner motivation to continue to grow. That's the challenge for everyone."

Coco Gauff delivered a call for action at a Black Lives Matter rally in Florida as the 16-year-old American tennis rising star said: "I demand change now."

In a powerful speech, Gauff told a crowd outside Delray Beach City Hall to engage in "tough conversations" and "use your voice", stressing racism was a problem that involved everyone.

The death last week of African-American man George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has sparked protests across the United States and beyond.

Gauff has called on her social media followers to campaign for justice to be served in that case, and in her speech she repeated a message she shared earlier in the week: that "being silent is choosing the side of the oppressor".

Protests have centred on police brutality towards the black community.

Gauff said it was "sad" she was having to deliver a message on injustices her grandmother fought against half a century ago.

The teenager is a major rising star in her sport. She reached the fourth round of Wimbledon last July as a 15-year-old and won her first WTA singles title in Linz, Austria, in October. She is ranked 52nd in the world and is expected to be a future top-10 star.

Billie Jean King, who led the fight for gender equality in tennis, praised Gauff's stance by tweeting: "Thank you, @CocoGauff, for using your platform to speak to both the young and the not so young about injustice. We stand with you and the entire black community."

This is the full text of the speech Gauff gave in Delray Beach:

"Hi everyone. My name is Coco and I just spoke with my grandma and I think it's sad that I'm here protesting the same thing that she did 50-plus years ago.

“I'm here to tell you we must first love each other, no matter what. We must have the tough conversations with friends. I have spent all week having tough conversations and trying to educate my non-black friends on how they can help the movement.

"Second, we need to take action. Yes, we're all out here protesting and I am not of the age to vote - but it is in your hands to vote for my future, for my brothers' future and for your future, so that is one way to make change.

"Third, you need to use your voice: no matter how big or small your platform is, you need to use your voice.

"I saw a Dr [Martin Luther] King quote that said the silence of the good people is worse than the brutality of the bad people. So you need to not be silent, because if you are choosing silence, you are choosing the side of the oppressor.

"I've heard many things in the last week and one of the things I've heard is, 'It's not my problem'. This is why I have to tell you this: if you listen to black music, if you like black culture, if you have black friends, then this is your fight, too.

"It's not your job, it's not your duty, to open your mouth to say Lil Uzi Vert is my favourite artist but I don't care what happened to George Floyd? Now how does that make sense?

"So I demand change now. And it's sad that it takes another black man's life to be lost for all of this to happen, but we have to understand that this has been going on for years. This is not just about George Floyd. This is about Trayvon Martin. This is about Eric Garner. This is about Breonna Taylor.

"This is about stuff that's been happening. I was eight years old when Trayvon Martin was killed. So why am I here at 16 still demanding change?

"And it breaks my heart because I'm fighting for the future for my brothers. I'm fighting for the future for my future kids. I'm fighting for the future for my future grandchildren. So, we must change now, and I promise to always use my platform to spread vital information, spread awareness and fight racism.

"Black lives have always mattered, they mattered then, they matter now, and they will matter in the future. Thank you."

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