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Sloane passes Osaka test in WTA Finals

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By Editorial Team

Sloane Stephens had a tough go at it on court following her recent US Open straight set quarterfinal upset against Anastasija Sevastova and a mid-match confrontation with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova where she was able to pull out a victory 6-4 in the third set. Sloane would later go away quietly in the first round of the Kremlin Cup, but things began to turn for her in the WTA Finals held in Singapore Indoor Stadium. 

Sloane has the rare ability to raise her level of play during big matches and turn around extended losing streaks while facing top ranked opponents. This was on full display as she was able to be patient while keeping her composure to pull out a close win in the WTA Finals against the red hot Naomi Osaka 7-5, 4-6, 6-1 in the Red Group stage. 

Naomi has been trailblazing the globe since her 2018 US Open win so exhaustion may have played a role in some of her results, but she has been able to reel in some good wins with a finals appearance in the Pan Pacific Open and making the semifinal round in China Open before losing to Anastasija Sevastova 6-4, 6-4.

After the match Sloane was very excited to have pieced together a great while also eager to face Kiki Bertens in the next round.

“No, I kept playing positive and strong,” the world number six told reporters of Sloane’s approach to the deciding set of their Red Group round robin opener.

“I mean, I didn’t play bad in the second. Just kind of got away from me. I tried to regroup as best I could and played just like I was playing before.

“I thought I played a really good match. I played solid from start to finish. Obviously playing someone with a lot of confidence is always a tough task, but I think that I played well and I kept a good attitude. So I was pleased with that.”

Stephens, who won the 2017 U.S. Open after spending 11 months out with a foot injury, said she could sympathize with Osaka after the 21-year-old complained of exhaustion in her two tournament appearances since last month’s triumph in New York.

“Yeah, I mean, I can definitely relate. After the U.S. Open I probably shouldn’t have played the entire rest of the season, because I was so exhausted,” Stephens said.

“I think our situations are a little different. I played like four tournaments after not having played for 11 months, so I was probably more tired than she was.

“But I think I totally understand, and I think that to go play at home in Tokyo was really important for her or her fans, for her country. You can only applaud that,” The American added of Osaka’s run to the Pan Pacific Open final.

“But definitely can relate on being tired and needing to regroup and play — you know, I think she took the next week off.

“She did what was best for her. But I think obviously playing in your home country the only tournament of the year I think is important, and I thought that she did a great job.”

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Pro Tour

Tiafoe fights Dimitrov for AO Quarterfinals

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By Editorial Team

Frances Tiafoe battled his way into the round of 16 after defeating an ailing Kevin Anderson in four sets and edging out Andrea Seppi in strong fashion at the 2019 Australian Open. Frances was able to dig deep in his first round match against Kevin, and that confidence carried over into the second round giving him the edge to pull out a five set victory against Andreas 6-7, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.

Frances’ road to the second week of play does not get any easier as he now faces the well rested and fine tuned 20th seed, Grigor Dimitrov. The last time these two met it was a grind to the finish as Grigor was able to hold off Frances 7-6 in the third set in the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Canada round of 16.

Frances’ game matches up well against Grigor, but he’ll have to match his intensity to continue to pull out consecutive wins over top 20 players. If Frances is able to maintain this high level of play and swing with confidence from both sides of the court anything is possible. For Frances its about maintaining his energy and keeping up his positive momentum as Grigor tries to sprint out to a big lead early in the match. Mental toughness will be the key against the battle tested 20th seed.

Last season ended on a sour note for Frances as he failed to win big matches following a disappointing early round US Open loss. It now seems as if he transitioned coaches and has brought on more close knit family into his camp enabling him to feel more comfortable and play freely. With a few more top wins in January, Frances will be able to get better draws, go on deeper runs in major events and ultimately propel himself into the top 20 this season.

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Pro Tour

AO Women’s draw favors top seeds

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By Editorial Team

With Serena winning comfortably today over Tatjana Maria 6-0, 6-2 the draw has become more top heavy than expected. Serena is also the favorite against Eugenie Bouchard on Wednesday who has been on a winning streak with good results over the last 5 months. Her older sister Venus was able to escape an early upset today by being patient with the talented veteran Mihaela Buzarnescu to cross the finish line 6-2 in the third and final set.

Madison Keys took out the young Australian upstart Destanee Aiava 6-2, 6-2 in the first round of play and now faces Anastasia Potapova on Wednesday for a spot in the round of 32. Madison is in top form and should be able to take advantage of her weaker section of the draw.

Its clear skies and smooth sailing for Osaka and Stephens as they both were able to move past their opponents in a graceful fashion. They both play lesser know and lower ranked players as they are blessed with favorable draws.

However, Sachia Vickery has yet another challenge after defeating Ysaline Bonaventure yesterday 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. Sachia appears to have overcome her negative self-talk and willing herself into winning tennis this year as she showed a ton of patience and determination in getting past her first round hurdle. Now she must pull herself together once again to battle top American Danielle Collins in what could be competitive match assuming Sachia is able to hold up physically in the extremely hot conditions. Sore knees have also been a major issue for Sachia, but there have not been any signs of injury thus far in the AO.

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Monfils and Tiafoe take center stage at AO

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By Jason Barron

Frances Tiafoe will have a tough task ahead of him playing in the Australian Open against Kevin Anderson. They played each other 3 times in 2018, with Anderson winning all 3. But, Tiafoe did take a set off him twice before. This will be the first best of 5 match that they have played, and a longer match could favor Tiafoe if he can outlast Anderson. Tiafoe has competed well against the 6th ranked Anderson in the past and should believe he has a chance going into the match.

The key will be to cut off the angles and attack on 2nd serves. Tiafoe can’t give Anderson a lot of time and space to whip in his serves or powerful groundstrokes. Tiafoe needs to make Anderson uncomfortable by moving him around the court and having him come to the net. If Tiafoe can utilize his speed and hit the corners he could counter Anderson’s big serves with superior all-around play. This would be a huge win for Tiafoe and get him get off to a great start in 2019.  

Gael Monfils will face Taylor Fritz in his 2nd match at the Australian Open. They have never played each other, but Monfils should get the win. Monfils has the advantage in experience, ability, and court movement. Fritz is a better server and could possibly overpower Monfils in rallies. Monfils will need to dictate the points and use his court movement to take advantage of a slower Fritz. Monfils has shown the ability in the past to beat big servers like Kevin Anderson and John Isner.

Fritz is a level below those players and Monfils should be able to take advantage and make him uncomfortable. If Monfils does beat Fritz he would likely face Roger Federer in his next match. That will be a monumental task to overcome, but it is sure to be an entertaining match with the creativity of both Monfils and Federer on display.

Both the Tiafoe-Anderson and Monfils-Fritz matches will be played on Tuesday, January 15th. Tune in on ESPN for continuing coverage of the Australian Open.

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