WTA

Sakkari secures WTA Finals slot after progressing to Kremlin Cup quarters

By Sports Desk October 21, 2021

Maria Sakkari secured her place at this year's WTA Finals by progressing to the last eight of the Kremlin Cup in Moscow.

The third seed was on court for just 34 minutes on Thursday as last-16 opponent Anna Kalinskaya was forced to retire through injury at 6-2 1-0 down.

Sakkari has enjoyed a successful year on the WTA circuit, reaching grand slam semi-finals for the first time in her career at the French Open and US Open.

Through to the quarter-finals in the Russian capital, where she will play Simona Halep, the 26-year-old becomes the first Greek woman to qualify for the year-end WTA Finals in Mexico.

Eighth seed Halep beat Veronika Kudermetova 6-1 7-6 (7-4), while world number 35 Marketa Vondrousova also prevailed in straight sets against Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko.

Elsewhere, Ostrava Open champion Anett Kontaveit is through to her eighth quarter-final of 2021 after defeating Andrea Petkovic 6-1 6-4.

Meanwhile, at the Tenerife Open, fourth seed Camila Giorgi enjoyed a commanding 6-1 6-2 victory over Montenegro's Danka Kovinic.

However, there was no joy for seventh seed Clara Tauson as the Danish teenager went down 7-6 (7-4) 2-6 6-4 against China's Saisai Zheng.

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    Novak Djokovic is banking on experience being a telling factor after the defending champion was handed a daunting draw at the French Open.

    To reach another final, Djokovic may have to get past 13-time champion Rafael Nadal in the last eight and in-form teenager Carlos Alcaraz in the semi-finals.

    Djokovic described Alcaraz's rise to prominence as "a quantum leap", with the 19-year-old from Murcia having hurtled from 32nd in the world rankings at the start of the year to number six now.

    Ahead of 35th birthday celebrations on Sunday, Djokovic is relieved to be back at a grand slam after being deported from Australia in January due to his stance on COVID-19 vaccinations.

    He was also prevented from playing the Masters 1000 tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami, meaning his season has been heavily disrupted.

    Ahead of a first-round clash with Yoshihito Nishioka in Paris, Djokovic can be seen to be in good physical shape and strong form, having won the Internazionali d'Italia title in Rome last week for a sixth time.

    The bunching of Nadal, Djokovic and Alcaraz, widely considered the three most likely winners, in one side of the draw, caused a stir on Thursday.

    Speaking 24 hours later, Djokovic described it as "a very tough top half", before assessing the qualities of Nadal, who has been battling injuries recently, and the fast-rising Alcaraz.

    "Nadal always has to be right at the top, because of his records particularly in this tournament," Djokovic told a news conference.

    "Then you have Alcaraz that obviously is the story of men's tennis in the last four or five months with a big reason. He's had some tremendous leaps forward on rankings and the results that he's been achieving are phenomenal for someone of his age."

    Alcaraz has won a tour-leading four titles in 2022, including Masters 1000 events in Miami and Madrid, and Djokovic said: "He has made a quantum jump really forward in the last five, six months."

    Djokovic and Alcaraz practised together on Friday on Court Philippe Chatrier, where they could be battling it out for real in two weeks' time.

    The Serbian, one behind Nadal's record of 21 grand slam titles, added: "I feel I am always in that contention to fight for any grand slam trophy. I believe in my own abilities to get far and to fight for one of the most prestigious trophies in the world of tennis.

    "As a defending champion of course more so, to believe I can do it again. Reliving the memories from last year is something that obviously gives me goose bumps and motivation to try to replicate that.

    "I think that experience of being on the tour for such a long time helps [me] to know how to spend energy on the court match after match, bring out the right intensity, manage everything that happens off the court, as well, and peak at the right time."

    Alcaraz has achieved all his title success in best-of-three tennis so far, so winning over the longer distance in a slam is the next challenge. This is where Djokovic has arguably been at his strongest.

    "In best-of-five, obviously things are different," Djokovic said. "A grand slam I think awakens so much motivation and emotions in a tennis player.

    "It's the dream of many tennis players to win a grand slam. That's why you cannot underestimate anyone and probably not compare the performances of those players on any other tournament with the potential performance here in a slam."

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    Nadal suffered from a recurring foot problem last season but returned to secure a record 21st grand slam title at the Australian Open in January, moving ahead of Federer and Novak Djokovic in the men's all-time list.

    Federer has been out of action since losing in the Wimbledon quarter-finals last year, where he sustained another problem with his knee and subsequently underwent a third surgery in the space of 18 months.

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    Federer, who turns 41 in August, referenced Nadal as he expressed his hopes to emulate the Spaniard's 20-match winning streak that he embarked on when returning from injury this season.

    "It's incredibly inspiring when someone comes back from massive health problems," Federer told Caminada Magazin.

    "Rafa and I talk on the phone from time to time, we talk a lot. I knew he wasn't doing great, but when he made it I was really happy for him. The effort is immense."

     

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    "As with a car, you have to turn a thousand screws until the engine runs smoothly," he added. "Today, mobilisation, stretching, and a warm-up in the morning take about 45 minutes. Then we drive to the plant. There follows a warm-up on the pitch, half an hour. 

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    "I don't post many pictures of the strenuous training because I was always convinced that it was a matter of course. Everyone trains hard. 

    "I swore to myself that by the end of my career I wouldn't be completely broken. Later I would like to go skiing with the children and play football with my colleagues. That's why I'm doing rehab now – not just for tennis. Also for life after your career."

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    "But I'm more relaxed, because I have so many [ranking] points and I feel like my position in the WTA is already like, you know, I have worked for it.

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