Rafael Nadal to Serve as Saudi Tennis Federation Ambassador

Rafael Nadal is hoping to inspire the next generation of tennis players in the Middle East.

The 37-year-old Spanish professional tennis player will serve as an ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation, part of a recent effort by the kingdom to make inroads into tennis and other sports.

Rafael NadalNadalh as won 22 Grand Slam titles. He’s missing the Australian Open while recovering from a muscle tear near his surgically repaired hip. He had hoped to return to Grand Slam action at Melbourne Park after missing nearly all of 2023.

Nadal’s new role, announced Monday, includes promoting tennis in Saudi Arabia and plans for a Rafa Nadal Academy there.

It signals yet another step into tennis for the kingdom, which is hosting the men’s tour’s Next Gen ATP Finals for top 21-and-under players in Jeddah through 2027. The women’s tour has been in talks to place its season-ending WTA Finals in Saudi Arabia.

Human rights groups say women continue to face discrimination in most aspects of family life in the kingdom, and being gay is a major taboo, as it is in most of the rest of the Middle East.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has worked to get himself out of international isolation since the 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. He also clearly wants to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy and reduce its reliance on oil.

Caroline Garcia Helps Lead France Into United Cup Semifinals

Caroline Garcia has single-(and double-)handedly helped lead France to the United Cup semifinals.

The 30-year-old half-Spanish French tennis player and compatriot Edouard Roger-Vasselin beat Ulrikke Eikeri and Casper Ruud 7-5, 6-4 on Thursday to end a tie that stretched nearly 6½ hours.

Caroline GarciaWith the deciding mixed doubles match victory, France defeated Norway to set up a United Cup semifinal against top-seeded Poland.

The first set was a tight affair until France broke serve to make it 6-5 before holding to win the opener and then made the only break in the second set for a 2-1 lead.

Ruud forced the quarterfinal to a decider by downing Adrian Mannarino 6-1, 6-4 after Garcia put France up 1-0 by edging Malene Helgo 6-2, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (5).

Garcia, ranked 20th and the 2022 WTA Finals champion, had to work for more than 2½ hours against 544th-ranked Helgo.

“It was a crazy match, a crazy performance from Helgo,” Garcia said. “I didn’t know her very well, and she just played a crazy match, was hitting the ball so well.”

Ruud outclassed Mannarino in the men’s singles.

“I don’t think I faced a break point,” Ruud said. “So that’s great for my standards of serving … and putting Norway back on the board.”

The final on Sunday is at Ken Rosewall Arena in Sydney.

Leylah Fernandez Helps Lead Canada to Country’s First-Ever Billie Jean King Cup Title

Leylah Fernandez has helped Canada make history…

The 21-year-old half-Ecuadorian Canadian tennis player and her compatriot Marina Stakusic won their singles matches as Canada beat Italy 2-0 to claim its first-ever Billie Jean King Cup title on Sunday.

Leylah FernandezStakusic, ranked 258th in the world, put Canada ahead by defeating No. 43 Martina Trevisan 7-5, 6-3 for the biggest win of her career, then Fernandez sealed the victory by beating Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 6-3 at La Cartuja Stadium.

The 20th-ranked Fernandez, runner-up in the 2021 US Open, was perfect for Canada in Seville with four victories, while the 18-year-old Stakusic entered the tournament without a win over a top-100 opponent but earned three of them while representing her nation in Spain.

“I’m so happy and honored that I could play this week,” Stakusic, who didn’t play a WTA main draw match this year, said on court. “This has been the best week of my life.”

Canada defeated 11-time champion Czech Republic in the semifinals, while four-time champion Italy advanced past Slovenia for its first final appearance since 2013.

The 12-team BJK Cup Finals offered a record total of $9.6 million in prize money, including $2.4 million to the champions, the same as the men’s Davis Cup.

Canada, captained by Heidi El Tabakh, is the 13th nation to win the Billie Jean King Cup and the second new champion after Switzerland‘s triumph in Glasgow a year ago.

“I don’t know what to say,” El Tabakh said. “I’m so proud of this team. These girls are incredible. It’s a dream come true.”

The Canada men’s team is the current Davis Cup champion.

The women’s teams competed in four round-robin groups, with the winners advancing to the semifinals. The United States was eliminated by the Czech Republic in a group that also included title-holder Switzerland.

The biggest team competition in women’s tennis started two days after the end of the WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico, which featured the top eight players on the tour — including winner Iga Swiatek.

Beatriz Haddad Maia Defeats Zheng Qinwen to Win WTA Elite Trophy

Beatriz Haddad Maia has another title under her belt…

The 27-year-old Brazilian professional tennis player has claimed her third career WTA tour title by defeating seventh-seeded Zheng Qinwen 7-6 (11), 7-6 (4) to win the WTA Elite Trophy on Sunday.

Beatriz Haddad MaiaHaddad Maia, the eighth seed, needed 2 hours, 51 minutes to edge past Zheng in a tight battle, which ended the top Chinese player’s win streak at eight matches.

The 19th-ranked Haddad Maia maintained her perfect record this week with her fourth consecutive straight-sets victory. Her semifinal win over 17th-ranked Daria Kasatkina followed her opening upset victory over second-seeded Madison Keys and then Caroline Garcia to win the group.

It’s Haddad Maia’s first title on hard courts and first since Birmingham in 2022.

Her performance in Zhuhai was a welcome return to form for the 2023 French Open semifinalist who had only one win in three previous tournaments as part of the tour’s Asia swing.

Zheng, who won the Zhengzhou Open this month and the gold medal at the Asian Games in September, was just the second Chinese player to make the final of the WTA Elite Trophy after Wang Qiang finished runner-up to former world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty in 2018.

The 12-player tournament was the first postseason event on the women’s tour. It featured the 11 highest-ranked singles players who did not qualify for next month’s WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico. Zhu Lin, whom Zheng beat in the semifinals, was the final entry as a wild card.

Beatriz Haddad Maia Defeats Daria Kasatkina to Reach WTA Elite Trophy Final

Beatriz Haddad Maia is heading to her first final of the year…

The 27-year-old Brazilian professional tennis player, the eighth seed, defeated sixth-seeded Daria Kasatkina 6-4, 6-1 on Saturday to reach the WTA Elite Trophy final.

Beatriz Haddad Maia19th-ranked Haddad Maia maintained her perfect record this week with her third consecutive straight-sets victory.

The 93-minute win over the 17th-ranked Kasatkina followed her opening upset victory over second-seeded Madison Keys and then Caroline Garcia to win the group.

Haddad Maia’s victory came on the back of her strong serve as she won 80% of her first-service points and never faced a break point against the Russian player.

She’ll face China’s top player Zheng Qinwen in the final.

Qinwen prevailed against compatriot Zhu Lin 7-5, 4-6, 6-1 to become just the second Chinese player to make the final of the WTA Elite Trophy.

The 12-player tournament is the first postseason event on the women’s tour. It features the 11 highest-ranked singles players who did not qualify for next month’s WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico. Zhu was the final entry as a wild card.

Caroline Garcia Defeats Aryna Sabalenka to Claim WTA Finals Crown

Caroline Garcia has claimed the biggest singles title of her career…

The 29-year-old half-Spanish French tennis player took a tight first set and went on to a 7-6 (4), 6-4 victory over Aryna Sabalenka to win the championship of the WTA Finals on Monday night.

Caroline GarciaThe sixth-ranked Garcia became the second player from France to win the season-ending event after Amelie Mauresmo in 2005, also the last time the WTA Finals were held in the U.S.

The event was moved to Texas from China over concerns about the safety of Peng Shuai, a Grand Slam doubles champion who accused a former government official there of sexual assault. Coronavirus restrictions also played a part in the decision.

Garcia won her last six sets after dropping the first in a winner-take-all match against Daria Kasatkina in group play. She is the oldest WTA Finals winner since Serena Williams at 33 in 2014.

The only player to win titles on all three surfaces this season, Garcia was just as comfortable as Sabalenka on the temporary indoor hard court at Dickies Arena near downtown Fort Worth.

As a result, Garcia handed the No. 7 player from Belarus just her third loss in 12 career hard-court finals. Sabalenka was trying to become the first player from her country to win the WTA Finals.

There was only one break point in a meeting of the tour (Garcia) and tournament (Sabalenka) leaders in aces coming into the match.

Garcia converted that break point in the first game of the second set while handing No. 7 Sabalenka just her third loss in 12 career hard-court finals on the temporary indoor court at Dickies Arena.

Garcia won six consecutive points in the tiebreaker, capped by her 10th ace of the first set for a 6-2 lead. Sabalenka’s third double fault ended the set. Garcia finished with 11 aces.

“It was a lot of aces, sometimes not too many rallies,” Garcia told the crowd. “But that’s our game style, and I hope you enjoyed it.”

Garcia matched Sabalenka’s power from the start in her fourth victory of the season, second only to Swiatek’s eight.

“I just dropped my level for a little bit on the tiebreak and in the first game of the second set,” Sabalenka said. “That was the key moments.”

Tied in the deciding game, Garcia’s service winner gave her a second match point, and Sabalenka sent a forehand long. Garcia dropped to the court on her back with her arms raised.

Caroline Garcia Defeats Maria Sakkari to Advance to Her First WTA Finals Championship Match

Caroline Garcia is one win away from the biggest title of her career…

The 29-year-old part-Spanish French tennis player, who reached the WTA Finals semifinals five years ago, has taken it to the next level.

Caroline Garcia,Garcia defeated in-form Maria Sakkari, 6-3, 6-2, on Sunday to reach the biggest final of her career against Aryna Sabalenka.

“I’m five years older and maybe five years wiser,” she quipped on court after the match. “You try to learn from everything. We got some tough experiences the last couple years, but I’ve got a big team behind me and supporting me, staying positive even when I was negative about myself. It’s definitely a great year. A lot of things happened that I didn’t think would happen!”

The former world No. 4 dealt with years of injuries and inconsistencies following her 2017 peak, but made a steady-to-meteoric rise in 2022. She won three titles to return to the world’s Top 8 and at last fulfill her presaged potential with a 75-minute win on the WTA Finals Stadium Court, striking 21 winners and six aces.

As an unheralded teenager, she famously earned a ringing endorsement from Andy Murray as he watched Garcia nearly stun Maria Sharapova at the 2011 French Open, and as she has unconsciously spent her career striving to meet Murray’s lofty prediction, the tennis world has long swung from earnest to derisive in its repetition of that sporting myth.

Garcia never looked farther from that goal post at the start of this season when she took an extended absence to heal niggling injuries, but she emerged a fresh, hyper-aggressive athlete who took the racquet out of opponents’ hands. The dividends were small at first, earning her a pair of WTA 250 titles in the summer, but it all came together just before the US Open—ironically when she last played Sakkari.

Garcia was ranked No. 79 in May; she is tentatively set to end the season at her career-high of No. 4.

Garcia has typically met her Greek rival under auspicious circumstances; in their two previous meetings, the Frenchwoman has gone on to win the tournament—most recently at the Western & Southern Open, where she won her first WTA 1000 title since 2017.

The Cincy surge brought Garcia’s 2022 to another level, setting the stage for a first Grand Slam semifinal at the US Open, and though the fall initially brought more mixed fortunes, she was able to peak again for her first WTA Finals appearance in five years. Garcia shook off a shock split with Perret to win two of her three round-robin matches, including a three-set epic against No. 8 seed Daria Kasatkina to confirm her berth in the semifinals, and showed no signs of fatigue from the onset against Sakkari, breaking first in the opening set.

“Yesterday, I was obviously a little bit tired, but nothing unusual after such a big match,” she said. “This morning, the legs were a little big heavy but I was just so excited about the emotions and the win of yesterday, and just to be playing a semifinal of the WTA Finals. I was just so excited and feeling very pumped. I spoke to my physio and said, ‘I just hope I last long enough to get to the match!'”

Sakkari had been even more impressive in her second straight WTA Finals appearance, even if it took until the last week of the season to book her ticket to Fort Worth. The two-time Grand Slam semifinalist won all three of her round-robin matches in straight sets, inspired by the slow Dickies Arena court to employ her most aggressive style.

But in a battle of aggressive players, Garcia will almost always win; she strikes an intimidating pose on both serve and return, stepping deep into the court for the latter. Though Sakkari briefly got the match back on serve, Sakkari struck back with another break at love and won seven of the next eight games to lead by a set and two breaks.

As Sakkari struggled to get on the board, the nerves that have so often haunted Garcia in big matches threatened to crop up when a double fault pulled up break point. Refusing to abandon her game plan, the 2022 Ace Leader went just as big on the next serve and struck a backhand down the line to move within a game of the final.

No such nerves returned when it came time to serve for the match: she crashed the net to bring up three match points and though Sakkari saved one with a backhand winner, Garcia pressed one last error from the No. 5 seed to earn her spot in the final.

Paula Badosa Overtakes Barbora Krejcikova as WTA’s No. 2 Player in the World

Paula Badosa is movin’ on up…

The 24-year-old Spanish tennis player has overtaken French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova as the No.2 player in the world.

Paula BadosaBadosa has been chasing the World No.2 ranking for weeks, only to come one match short.

But on Friday at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, Badosa finally came through after defeating Ons Jabeur to advance to the semifinals. Badosa celebrated the feat by drawing a heart and the number two on the center court clay.

“I was aware [I was close] for weeks, I’m not going to lie,” Badosa told WTA Insider after the win. “In Charleston, I needed one more match: nothing. In Miami, one more match: I had to retire.

“It was a goal and I really wanted to be in that position. For me, it’s a dream come true so I was really going after it. So I’m really happy that today I could do it and I could leave that mental block out of it from the match and I could play pretty well. I think I played a high-level match.”

This time 12 months ago, Badosa was ranked No.62 and just on the verge of her climb up the rankings. Her rise began with a run to the Madrid Open semifinals as a wildcard, her first such run at a WTA 1000 event, and she capitalized on her momentum by winning her first WTA title in Belgrade and first quarterfinal run at a Slam at the French Open.

But Badosa’s ascent to the upper echelons of the game came in the fall when she captured her biggest title in Indian Wells to break into the Top 10 and qualify for the WTA Finals. She finished the season ranked a career-high No.8.

Now came the challenge of backing up her breakout season.

Badosa was open about dealing with the new set of pressure and expectations, but she has handled her newfound status incredibly well. Badosa began the season by proving she wasn’t just a clay-court wonder, winning the title in Sydney.  She went on to make the Indian Wells semifinals and Miami quarterfinals last month.

“I was talking with my coach about Iga Swiatek because I remember last year she was suffering a lot with every match,” Badosa said. “I remember seeing her crying on the court.

“But at the beginning of this year I was talking to my coach and I said I totally understand now what she’s feeling. Because at the beginning I didn’t know what was happening. This happens to me now. I wanted to cry in the third set today. There’s so much pressure on you and at the end of the day, you’re all alone on the court. It’s a very mental game. But I’m happy I’m getting through it.”

Badosa has not taken her high-level consistency for granted. That’s been the key to her success.

“A lot of people are maybe used to seeing me winning matches, but it’s not a normal thing,” Badosa said. “Mentally, it’s changed. I feel pressure, I feel expectations, like you have to do a minimum of results to have people feel happy and calm. It’s a big change. And I feel it with my opponents. They play against me, and maybe I’m a little bit more tight and they play loose.

“Now I admire even more my idols because it’s a very tough process. But I think I’m doing it well and I’m trying to focus on myself and what I have to do in that moment and not think about those things. I know that maybe now I’m doing well, but next week I can lose against anyone because the level is very high. The most important is to stay humble and work, have a good relationship like I have with my team and keep going.”

In the semifinals, Badosa los to her recent doubles partner Aryna Sabalenka.

Garbine Muguruza Becomes First Spaniard to Win WTA Finals Title

Garbine Muguruza is ending the year with a bang…

The 28-year-old Spanish Venezuelan tennis player defeated Anett Kontaveit 6-3, 7-5 to win the WTA Finals title for the first time in her career and improve her record playing in Mexico to 14 wins and two losses.

Garbine Muguruza Muguruza, who won back-to-back titles in Monterrey in northern Mexico in 2018 and 2019, became the first Spaniard to win the women’s season-ending tournament.

Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario was a runner-up two times, the last time in 1993.

Muguruza’s past successes in Mexico motivated her to play in the WTA Finals. In the ceremony after winning the title, she recalled telling WTA CEO Steve Simon at the US Open that she wanted to play again south of the Rio Grande.

“To qualify, the whole year with my team, I was saying to them, ‘It’s in Mexico, we have to make it, c’mon.’ It was my biggest motivation,” Muguruza said.

The former No. 1-ranked Muguruza, who was a semifinalist in the WTA Finals in 2015, also became the oldest champion since Serena Williams won it in 2014 and will finish the season at No. 3 in the rankings, her best performance since 2017.

 

Muguruza was backed the whole week by a raucous crowd who gathered at Estadio Akron to cheer and clap for her as if she were one of their own.

“It’s funny, the other day I was speaking with my manager. … He was like, ‘You know what, for the first time, Garbine, you’re really using the crowd, really getting that energy and using it on the court. You should do that more often,'” said Muguruza, who entered the Estadio Akron wearing a Mexico soccer team jersey for her last two matches.

“I think a big lesson to me is I should get the energy from the environment. I’m very supported here in Mexico. I don’t know if it will be everywhere, but I used it this week for sure.”

Despite the loss, Kontaveit, who moved from No. 30 in the rankings into the top 10 in the past few months, is projected to finish at No. 7 in the rankings.

Muguruza took control early in the match with three breaks against an erratic Kontaveit, who played better in the second and got a break in the ninth, but the Spaniard broke the Estonian’s next two serves to win it.

The WTA Finals were played in Guadalajara for this year only, with the event scheduled to return in 2022 to Shenzhen, China.

Garbine Muguruza Defeats Paula Badosa to Reach First-Ever WTA Finals Title Match

It’s a special first for Garbine Muguruza

The 28-year-old Spanish professional tennis player dominated compatriot Paula Badosa in a 6-3, 6-3 victory on Tuesday and will now play for the WTA Finals title for the first time in her career.

Garbine MuguruzaThe sixth-seeded Muguruza, who lost in the semifinals in 2015, is the first Spaniard to reach the singles final since 1993, when Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario was runner-up to Steffi Graff.

“I’m very happy with my performance, it was the best match I played here in Guadalajara,” Muguruza said. “It’s the first time we encountered each other. I’m very proud of Paula, she started the year back in the rankings and made all the way to the top 10.”

Muguruza now has a 13-2 record on Mexican soil, where she won back-to-back titles in Monterrey in 2018 and ’19.

Muguruza awaits the winner of eighth-seeded Anett Kontaveit and fourth-seeded Maria Sakkari, who play the other semifinal match later at the Centro Panamericano de Tenis in Zapopan, a suburb of Guadalajara.

Muguruza started the season-ending tournament with a loss to third-seeded Karolina Pliskova but bounced back with victories over second-seeded Barbora Krejcikova, Kontaveit and Badosa.

“I don’t feel like a favorite, maybe on paper or for the TV, but I don’t feel like it,” she said. “I started here losing and I thought that I could be eliminated, so for me to say that I feel like a favorite for the final is complicated.”

Muguruza reached 41 victories this season, her most in a single campaign since 2017 when she finished with 45.

Muguruza broke the seventh-seeded Badosa in the third game and then held to win the first set in 35 minutes.

In the second set, Muguruza had a break in the second game, saved a couple of break points in the third and never looked back.

Badosa, who turned 24 on Monday, was the youngest player in the semifinals. The Spaniard finished a breakthrough season that saw her crack the top 10 for the first time in her career.

“It was a tough day, I did not feel myself and she played good, all the credits go to her,” said Badosa, who earlier in the tournament said that Muguruza was her inspiration. “I don’t really know what happened today. I’m sad that I could not compete.”

The WTA Finals are being played in Guadalajara for this year only, with the event scheduled to return in 2022 to Shenzhen, China.