Collins storms her way into the MSVC finals in straight sets to highlight semifinals action


by Marko Ukalovic

SAN JOSE—Danielle Collins is on a mission.

The number seventh only needed 52 minutes to dispose of Croatia’s Ana Konjuh in a straight sets victory 6-0 6-2 on Saturday evening at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic at the San Jose State University Tennis Complex.

This will be Collins’ second final this season as she won the Palermo Open last month. Collins will be seeking her second straight championship and second of her career when she takes to the court on Sunday afternoon.

Collins, who won the first nine games and the last four of the match, had her serve working well for her with a 70% first serve percentage. What was even more impressive was her winning 16 out of 17 second return points.

“I think that’s one of the strengths in my game, said the 27-year native of St. Petersburg, Florida. “I usually have a pretty descent percentage of points won on their second serve because of how aggressive I play. So I try to use that as one of my weapons. I try to be relentless about it.”

On the opposite end, nothing went well for Konjuh who struggled with her first serve and return game, having six double faults and only winning 30% of her total points.

The 25-year old Croatian had an impressive run at the tournament. Konjuh came in as a wild card having to earn her way through the qualifying round. She won five of the six matches, the most played by any player this week, she participated in and said she will take away the positives she earn during her time in San Jose.

“For sure it was a good week for me,” said Konjuh. “I came here as a qualifier and didn’t expect much. I secured my place in the top 100 at the end of year, so I did what I came here to do. It’s a boost of confidence for me to do well even though I haven’t been playing that well “

In the other semifinal, number four seeded Daria Kasatkina cruised her way into the final after a straight sets victory over top seed Elise Mertens 6-3 6-2.

Kasatkina played with poise and patience throughout the match. She had timely returns that had Mertens guessing wrong on a few occasions. She broke serve twice in the second set and finished off the match winning the final three games in a row.

“During the game I’m studying the play,” said Kasatkina. “Whether I have to go for the big shot or to put more pressure that is what I will do. If I see my opponent is tense, I will play it accordingly. Every thing depends on a certain moment, also what the score is as well. And that is how I’ve played since I was a kid.”

Kasatkina utilized her serve during the match. She finished with four aces, a first serve percentage of 76.9% and won 82.5% of her first serve points.

Mertens struggle with her serve during both sets. She finished with seven double faults and only had a first serve percentage of 52.8%. Frustration grew for the 25-year native of Leuven, Belgium as her return game suffered, having only won seven out of 40 (17.5%) first return points.

“I felt like my legs were a little bit heavier (today),” said Mertens. “The energy was a little bit lower, I had a tough one (match) yesterday. She (Kasatkina) was hitting her spots. Her serve was doing well. I really wanted to win this one too but I couldn’t change it around.”

The Balkan team of Daria Jurak and Andreja Klepac defeated the American duo of Cathy McNally and Coco Vandeweghe in the first semifinal in straight sets 7-6 (7-2) 7-6 (8-6) as both sets went to a tiebreaker.

Klepac and Durak jumped ahead in each set only to have McNally and Vandeweghe rally back each time to force the tiebreaker. In the first tiebreaker the Croatian-Slovenian team of Klepac and Durak easily handed the Americans winning the first tiebreaker 7-2. Then in the second tiebreaker the teams went back and forth, each scoring four unanswered points. Klepac-Durak finished the match winning the final two point to punch their ticket to the final on Sunday.

Gabriela Dabrowski and Luisa Stefani defeated Ellen Perez and Kveta Pesche in a three-sets victory 6-3 4-6 10-8 to secure the final spot in the doubles finals.

Singles Finals matchup:

Daria Kasatkina vs Danielle Collins at 4:00pm.

Collins outlasts Rybankina highlighting quarterfinal play at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic


by Marko Ukalovic

SAN JOSE–Danielle Collins keep on rolling along.

Collins defeated Russian Elena Rybakina in straight sets 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (7-4) in an intense quarterfinal matchup on Day 5 at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic at the San Jose State University Tennis Complex.

Collins over came blistering serves by Rybakina (her highest was 119mph) and played her game to eventually outlast Rybakina in both tiebreakers.

The match featured multiple long rallies in both sets that worked to Collin’s advantage.

“I had to be patient and at certain times I had to tell myself to be more aggressive here, don’t be as passive. Don’t be afraid to go for it. So yeah trying to work each point very tacitly and keep her guessing,” Collins said.

For Rybakina, she takes away a learning experience from her first MSVC tournament.

“I think it was good preparation for (me playing) in the next tournament,” said Rybakina. “It was the first time (I had to deal with a) time difference of 16 hours (coming from Tokyo). For now I need more matches, more experience.”

Wild card sensation Ana Konjuh of Croatia kept her magical run going with her three-sets defeat 3-6 6-2 6-0 over China’s Zhang Shuai in her quarterfinal match earlier in the afternoon.

Zhang jumped out early in the first set as she won 67% of her first serve points won and four out of five break points saved.

“I tried to play aggressive,” said Zhang. “But it did not work out. I made a lot of mistakes. She (Konjuh) had a very good serve and it was tough to return. Tough to win points out there.”

Konjuh opened the second set with two straights win. Zhang closed the gap to 2-3 before the 23-year old native of Dubrovnik finished the match winning the last nine games in a row to punch her ticket to the semifinals on Saturday.

“I had this match under control in a sense,” said Konjuh. “I knew I had to keep my serves that was the big key. I didn’t let her win any games that she didn’t really deserve.”

Konjuh’s used her powerful serve as her main weapon against Zhang. Konjuh finished with eight aces and a first serve percentage of 64.4%.

“I knew she (Zhang) couldn’t be aggressive if I actually put more of my first serve in (play). Just making sure I was in charge of the points in the beginning.”

It helped to have family in the stands for Konjuh, who has cousin living in the South Bay area, in having a bit of a home court advantage.

“It feels awesome. Just to have the fans back in the stands for the atmosphere again. Putting on a show for them, it’s really nice, especially with my family there as well. They’ve been kind of a good luck charm (for me) this week,” Konjuh said.

Russia’s Daria Kasatkina defeated Poland’s Magda Linette in a fierce three-set victory 6-4 3-6 6-4 to clinch her way into the semifinals on Saturday.

Kasatkina had her serve working well in the first set. Linette evened it up in the second set using her speed and a strong return game. Down 1-3 in the third set, the 24-year old native of Russia, rallied back to go up 5-4 and was able to close out the match.

“It was a tough match,” said Kasatkina. “Every set was a different story. It was a very tense moments at the end of the third set and I was happy I was better at the end in that moment.”

Linette admits her downfall in the match was too many mistakes in the third set.

“I just made too many mistakes there and let her (Kasatkina) come back,” said Linette. “She (Kasatkina) was changing the rhythm a lot, but I dont think the balls were, in many cases, as difficult for me to not set up my legs. I think I was too lazy with my left shoulder, too slow. My balls didn’t have as much quality (on them) as my previous matches.”

Kasatkina felt more confident after tying the score at 3-3 in the third set.

“When the score changed from 1-3 to 3-3, from that point I started to feel much better (about my game). As we say in Russian, ‘my plate’. I felt I was back and if I made another step forward I would have my chances to close out the match,” Kasatkina said.

Elise Mertens had to battle hard for every point she earned against Yulia Putintseva in a straight sets victory 6-3 7-6 (10-8).

Mertens was in total control only losing three games in the first set. In the second set, Putintseva came on strong and forced Mertens into numerous mishits during the set.

It looked like Putintseva was going to force a third set when she broke serve to even the set at 5-5 and then went up 6-5. However, Mertens never say die attitude forced the 6-6 tiebreaker.

In the tiebreaker, Putintseva had three set point chances to put away Mertens but each time the 25-year old Belgian came back to even the tiebreaker before eventually winning the last two points to win the tiebreaker 10-8 and the match.

“I think it was a little bit of change at the end,” said Mertens. “She (Putintseva) had some set points. I think keeping my serve in. The first serve was very important. I wanted to win so badly, I wanted to win in two sets. So I really had to go for it.”

Putintseva credited Mertens with having a really good serve during the match.

“She had a good serve. So every time she serves she has an advantage. I think (playing) the baseline is more of my game. Her game is to build it up, three of four shots, (play) aggressive) and my game is to stay there for every point and get into long rallies as long as I can,” Putintseva said.

Mertens is now 2-1 against Putintseva as the two squared off twice against each other in 2020. Mertens will face off against Kastkina in the first semifinal on Saturday.

In doubles actions the Croatian/Slovenian team of Andreja Kelpac and Daria Jurak defeated the Great Britain/American team of Tara Moore and Emna Bektas in straight sets 6-2 6-3 to advanced to the semifinals on Saturday.

The Canadian/Brazilian team of Gabriela Dabrowski and Luisa Stefani beat the young American duo of Ashlyn Krueger and Robin Montgomery in straight sets 6-4 6-2 to have their place in the semifinals.

Saturday’s singles semifinals matchup:

Elise Mertens vs Daria Kasatkina at 3:00pm

Ana Konjuh vs Danielle Collins at 6:00pm

Collins takes down Stephens in three set classic to highlight Day 4 of the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic


by Marko Ukalovic

SAN JOSE–Danielle Collins is not afraid to be emotional on a tennis court.

She rode a wave of emotion in coming back from a one set deficit to defeat Sloane Stephens in a three set victory 3-6 6-4 6-3 that was the crescendo of Day 4 at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic at the San Jose State University Tennis Complex.

Stephens seized the momentum early when she won five straight games, three to finish off the first set and the first two of set two. Collins then turned the tables and won the next three to gain the momentum on her side.

“It was a really hard fight,” said Collins after the match. “I just really had to lock in to what I was doing. Take it point by point because it was hard at times, mentally and physically.”

Collins became emotional during the second set being upset at herself when she hit the net or hit a ball out of bounds. She then used that same emotion to win three straight games after the third set was tied at 2-2. Screaming at the crowd after each point she won, firing herself up as she closed out the match.

“Sometimes I get really locked in and I’m not doing that. And then I realized in the third set I’m like oh ok, I’m getting really fired up now. Where was this in the second set or even some of the points in the first set. I guess when it really matter I was able to get myself fired up” Collins said.

Number one seed Elise Mertens of Belgium defeated France’s Kristina Mladenovic in a difficult three set battle 6-2 4-6 6-4 to advance to the quarterfinals on Friday.

After cruising through the first set only losing two games, Mertens faced a challenging test from Mladenovic who battled to even the match after going ahead 4-3 in the second set.

Mertens relied on her ability of having a strong return game. Mertens was able to outlast her opponent as she finished off the match winning the last two games.

“I think in the second set she (Mladenovic) started to fill the ball a little bit better. I just tried to struggle through. I think it was important to win the last ball and just keep fighting like I did today and hopefully my level (of play) will be a bit higher tomorrow.”

Second seeded Elena Rybakina of Russia need one set to get going before dispatching American Claire Liu in a three-set victory 2-6 6-0 6-2 victory finishing off the afternoon portion of the schedule.

Rybakina powered her way past Lui in the last two sets with huge serves that were to hot too handle for Lui. Rybakina fastest serve hit 116mph on the radar gun and she averaged over 100mph throughout the match.

“The serve was much better in the second set and third (set),” said Rybakina. “In the second set I focused a bit more on my serve. Overall it was a good match, a good win for me. I’m looking forward to the next one.”

Rybakina takes on Collins in the featured evening quarterfinal match on Friday at 7:00pm.

In the opening match of the day Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva won a hard fought three-sets battle over Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic 3-6-7-4 6-3.

Putintseva played with lots of emotion during the match. After losing the first set in which saw Tomljanovic take control early in the set, Putintseva used a combination of her patent drop shot and strong backhand to keep Tomljanovic running up and down the court.

No one broke serve in the second set until Putintseva did it at 5-5. The next two games featured good rallies with both games going back and forth before Putintseva was able to even the match.

“It was so close,” said Tomljanovic regarding the tightly battle second set. “I had so many chances to break in that second (set). It was a 40-love game at four all. She played well, but (the) little things made the difference.”

In the third set Putintseva was relentless with her backhand and never looked back after going up 5-2. Despite being frustrated with herself and with the crowd at times (she paused her serve during the third set to yell at the crowd “Shut up!”), she kept the pressure on Tomljanovic, which proved to be too much for the Aussie.

“It seems like a bad week but I played some good tennis and I can definitely take a lot of positives out of today. It’s the first tournament in the US Open swing so I’m not going to dwell too long (over the loss) and I don’t have time to anyway. So I want to get back out there next week (in Montreal) and take what I did and turn it into a positive,” Tomljanovic said.

In doubles action, the American duo of Coco Vandeweghe and Cathy McNally defeated the Russian/Ukrainian team of Valeria Savinykh and Dayana Yastremska as Yastemska retired due to a medical condition. McNally and Vandeweghe were leading 6-4 6-5 at the time. They earned a spot in the doubles semifinals.

Friday’s Singles Quarterfinals Lineup: Matches begin at 11:00am

Daria Kasatkina vs Magda Linette

Elise Mertens vs Yulia Putintseva

Ana Konjuh vs Shuai Zhang at 4:30pm

Daniel Collins/Sloane Stephens vs Elena Rybakina at 7:00pm

Zhang outlasts Keys in wild finish at Day 3 of the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic


by Marko Ukalovic

SAN JOSE–It’s not every day a match ends on a challenge call.

That’s how Zhang Shuai was able to claim a straight sets victory 7-5 7-6 (7-5) over third seeded Madison Keys in the featured evening match on Day 3 at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic at the San Jose State University Tennis Complex.

With the second set tied at 6-6 and in a tiebreaker, Zhang was up 6-4 when Keys returned a shot down the left sideline that was called in. Zhang challenged and the replay showed the shot was indeed out and the call was overturned giving Zhang the tough fought victory.

Zhang’s return game was her key weapon against Keys, whose powerful serve (the highest was clocked at 112 mph) kept her in the match.

Zhang’s challenges also affected the outcome of the first set. Keys won two games in a row to tie it up at 5-5 and seize the momentum. However back-to-back errant calls by the same linesmen resulted in overturn calls that Zhang challenged and won. Her challenges allowed her to regain the momentum and finish off the first set.

“I think I was really really lucky,” said Zhang, who had won five of her six challenges during the match. “I felt those calls were in and maybe if I don’t challenge, then I lose the set 7-5 or 7-6.”

Keys was plagued by numerous unforced errors in the second set. The native of Rock Island, Illinois, who opened up the second set winning four of the first five games, thought she didn’t not play her best tennis on this evening.

“To lose kind of on a really close call sucks,” said Keyes after the match. “But like I said, I gave it everything (I had) and kept fighting till the end. That’s all you really can do when your tennis (game) isn’t a 100 percent there.”

Zhang is now 5-2 in her career against Keys.

Ana Konjuh continued her climb up through the tournament. She entered the tournament as a wild card and now has played her well in the quarterfinals on Friday after her straight sets 6-1 6-4 victory over ninth seeded American Alison Riske.

“I really love it here (in San Jose),” said Konjuh. “I have family here, my cousins (who live here), so it’s not really all about tennis. I get to have dinners with them, (I’m able) to get my mind off of things. So it’s really nice to be back here.”

The 23-year native of Dubrovnik, Croatia, used a powerful serve and a strong backhand to control of the first set as she only lost one game. The second set featured more a battle as Riske didn’t go down quietly as she held serve at 5-4.

In the end, Konjuh was too much to handle for Riske who played well at this year’s tournament.

“I think the key was to play on her forehand, her high balls today. So I had to include my forehand as well. She made some mistakes in the first set but overall I played the match pretty well,” Konjuh said.

In other singles action, Poland’s Magda Linette defeated sixth seeded Petra Martic of Croatia in straight sets 7-5 7-6 (7-5) in an entertaining opening match the started the day off.

Fourth seeded Daria Kasatkina of Russia defeated France’s Caroline Garcia in three sets 3-6 7-5 6-3. Kasatkina and Linette advanced to the quarterfinals on Friday.

Youth ruled in doubles action on Day 3. The American duo of Ashlyn Krueger and Robin Montgomery made history in their straight sets victory 6-3 6-2 over the Netherlands team of Pattinama Kerkhove and Rosalie Van Der Hoek. The teenage sensations became the youngest duo to ever play at the tournament. Their combined age of 34 years, 192 days (Krueger is 17 years old and Robinson is 16 years old) set the new mark that used to belong to the American duo of Mary Joe Fernandez and Marianne Werdel-Witmeyer that had a combined age of 34 years, 301 days. They are the youngest to compete at a tour event since 2020.

In other doubles action, the American Duo of Cathy McNally and Coco Vandeweghe defeated the team of Erin Routliffe of New Zealand and Aldila Sutjiadi of Indonesia in three sets 6-4 1-6 10-5.

Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada and Luisa Stefani of Brazil defeated American Kaitlyn Christian and Australian Arina Rodionova in three sets 7-5 3-6 12-10. Ellen Perez of Australia and Czech Republic’s Kveta Peschke defeated the team of Elixane Lechemia of France and American Ingrid Neel in straight sets 6-3 6-2.

All-American evening session highlights Day 2 at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic


by Marko Ukalovic

SAN JOSE–Sloane Stephens was down in an early hole in the first set and then won the next eight games in a row as she cruised to victory over Catherine McNally in the featured evening match on Day 2 of the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic at the San Jose State Tennis Complex.

Stephens beat McNally in straight sets 6-4 6-2 in an all American showdown that was the crescendo of an eventful day two in the South Bay.

Stephens looked sluggish getting down 0-4 early to McNally to begin the match. However she rebounded well and got her game going by winning the next eight games in a row, six to win the first set and then the first two games of the second set before McNally regrouped and won the next two.

Stephens looked sharp in the final four games to wrap up the match and head into the second round on Thursday.

“Obviously at the beginning it wasn’t what I wanted to do,” Stephens said regarding her slow start. “Once I got going and the rallies started going my way, I was able to execute my plan. Things got easier. I found a way to counter.”

Stephens was familiar with the Bay Area, even though it had been nine years since set stepped foot on a Bay Area tennis court. Originally from Fresno, Sloane’s stepfather, who’s from the area, would bring Sloane up to the area to play in tournaments when she was younger.

“We used to come up here a lot to play. I have really great memories of playing here. My favorite barbecue restaurant is here. I have a lot of family here and obviously the fans I haven’t seen in a long time. I’m just happy to be back,” Sloane said.

Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic came from behind to defeat American Amanda Anisimova in a three set-thriller 1-6 7-5 7-5. Down 5-4 in the second set, Tomljanovic broke serve to tie even the score. She went on to win the next two games to even the match at one set a piece.

Once again the 28 year old Croatian-Australian was down in the deciding 5-3 and managed to storm back winning the final four games to take the match and move on to the second round on Thursday.

“(Being down) in the hole 5-3 (in the third set) was big for me,” said Tomljanovic. “It was a tough game. She had some chances (to close out the match) and I knew that she was going to have serve it up there. And I have broken her a few times (during the match). I actually played a good return game. I definitely had the momentum after that.”

Earlier in the day Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva defeated Croatia’s Donna Vekic in straight sets 7-5 6-3. Putintseva played a strong game using her drop shot as a deadly weapon against Vekic, who could do nothing but admire the play from the 26-year born in Moscow, Russia.

Vekic had many unforced errors, including three double faults, and could not find a rhythm throughout the two sets.

“It was a tough match, she played well,” said the 25 year old Croatian. “I don’t think I played too bad. It’s just in the important points, I didn’t play too well and she took advantage of that.”

Vekic did not use fatigue as a possible factor for her loss as an excuse. She had just finished playing in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics for her home country and flew in from a long flight to San Jose shortly after her time at the Olympics was over.

“I would say I was ready to play today. I didn’t feel tired before the match, I was good to go. It’s just that’s how the schedule goes,” Vekic said.

In other singles action, Kristina Mladenovic of France defeated Korea’s Na-Lee Han in straight sets 6-4 6-4. American Claire Liu beat Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska in three sets 6-3 4-6 6-4 .

Danielle Collins defeated fellow American Shelby Rogers in straight sets 6-4 6-3 to close out the final match of the evening.

In doubles action, the team of Eri Hozumi (JPN) and Zhang Shuai (CHN) defeated the American team of Makena Jones and Elizabeth Scotty in three sets 6-1 3-6 (10-3). The team of American Emina Bektas and Great Britian’s Tara Moore defeated the other American duo of Peyton Stearns and Maribella Zamarripa in three sets 6-4 1-6 (12-10).

Zhang dominates Raducanu in feature match on Day 1 at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic


by Marko Ukalovic

SAN JOSE–The Mumbadala Silicon Valley Classic returned to the San Jose State University Tennis Complex for 2021 on Monday after a year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The feature match during the evening was one that crossed the generations. Zhang Shuai of China ,who is 32 years of age, went up against 18-year old sensation Emma Raducanu of the United Kingdom.

Zhang dominated the match winning in straight sets 6-3 6-2 as she proved to be too much for the future face of women’s tennis in Raducanu.

“I still think I’m at the very beginning of my journey,” said Raducanu after the match. “Every opportunity I get, I’m very grateful for because I feel like I’m constantly learning. I just wanted to to enjoy the moment while I was out there and to keep enjoying what I’m doing.”

Raducanu took the world by storm last month at Wimbledon as she advanced to the fourth only to have withdraw from her match with Ajla Tomljanovic due to a medical condition that forced her to retire. She had trouble keeping up with the strong volleys from Zhang throughout the match.

“Emma she played really well,” Zhang said after the match. “For me, I just played my game. I tried to open the court (up). If I had a chance come to the net (and be aggressive). I was very lucky, everything went right (for me) today.”

Raducanu, who came into the tournament as one of the two wild cards in the main draw, says she is just at the start of what looks to be a promising career as this was just her second WTA tournament. She loved being the fan favorite during the match.

“It’s an amazing experience to be honest. The fans were so supportive, I was loving it, all of their support. Especially here in the (United) States where it’s not the home (crowd) support, I was really appreciative.”

In a battle of two Americans, Alison Riske defeated Coco Vandeweghe in straight sets 6-3 6-4 in the final match of day play. Riske won nine games in a row after losing the first three games to start the match.

Vandeweghe, despite her strong serve, wasn’t able to overcome her unforced errors that had her talking to herself at times. Riske took advantage and was able to keep momentum on her side.

“I played a sloppy first service game ,” said Riske. “I thought ‘oh no here we go’. I was really happy how I rebounded and stayed true to the game plan. It kind of unfolded really quickly for me and honestly I’m just grateful to have gotten the win.”

Riske used her double-backhand as her main weapon throughout the match. She held serve to finish off her victory in just under an hour and a half.

“Yeah my backhand (shot) has been my ride or die for my career. I’m definitely comfortable hitting it,” Riske said.

In earlier singles matches during the day time 33rd ranked Petra Martic of Croatia defeated Lativa’s Anastasija Sevastova in straight sets 6-3 6-3 to advance to the round of 16.

Poland’s Magda Linette beat Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove of the Netherlands in straight sets 6-3 6-3 and Croatia’s Ana Konjuh won a spirited three-set battle with Czech Republic’s Marie Bouzkova 7-5 3-6 7-5.

The last match of the evening had Caroline Garcia of France end the Cinderella run of American Emina Bektas in straight sets 6-3 6-4. Betkas earned her way to the main draw after winning two matches in the qualifying tournament. The former University of Michigan standout until early in the morning this past Saturday after a illness to Catherine McNally freed up a spot for her to participate in the qualifying tournament.

In doubles play, the team of Darija Jurak (CRO) and Andreja Klepac (SLO) defeated the team of American Amanda Anisimova and Russian Anastasia Potapova 6-3 5-7 (10-8).

Zheng takes down Sabalenka in straight sets to win first title at Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic

By Marko Ukalovic

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A Cinderella story had a fairy tale ending in the final of the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic for Saisai Zheng. Playing in her first Premiere-level final, the Chinese native captured her first single’s title beating Aryna Sabalenka in straight sets 6-3 7-6 (7-3) on Sunday afternoon at the San Jose State Tennis Center.

Like she had been doing all week in the tournament to her opponents, Zheng forced Sabalenka to play her style of game and not let Sabalenka be able to use her power and get into a rhythm on the court. Her strategy in playing the no pace, high backhand volleys kept Sabalenka from utilizing her strong forehand volleys against her. Zheng cruised to a 6-3 opening set win.

In the second set, Zheng jumped out to a 2-0 lead and looked to be in control. However, a frustrated Sabalenka (at one point let out a primal scream during the fourth game after one of her many unforced errors) harnessed her emotions in winning the next three games for her only lead of the set.

While Sabalenka was losing her cool (throwing and back kicking her racket on separate occasions), Zheng kept calm throughout the match. She was able to thwart anything Sabalenka threw at her regaining the lead 4-3 the next two games. The set would go back and forth to the tie-breaker where Sabalenka’s unforced errors were too much for her to overcome. A double fault on match point sealed the deal for Zheng and she was able to celebrate her first championship in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd after an hour and 46 minutes.

“Obviously you don’t want to play fast fast fast with her,” said Zheng. “She is the best at that. The tactic for me was to put the ball deep, whenever I see some space let her run and if I can, change the slice or high ball. If I give her the same ball, she will hit a winner from any corner.”

The combination of the many unforced errors and eight double faults put Sabalenka in too deep of a hole she couldn’t climb out of.

“I couldn’t control my emotions,” said the 21 year old Belarusian. “I was screaming some (expletive). I was throwing the rackets.  I knew her game, but I wasn’t ready for that (style of play) much. That was my mistake.”

Zheng not only excelled at being able to counter drop shots and shots from up at the net from Sabalenka, but also had a high first-serve percentage finishing 21/29 for a 72% clip.

Zheng credits having a conversation she had with her best friend in China after coming back from Wimbledon where she hadn’t been winning on the tour. It allowed her to refocus her mind and keep things simple and not have high expectations going into tournaments.

“She said to me, ‘You know when you’re not so emotional, you can use your brain and play your best tennis.’ Then I realized I gave myself too much pressure and too much high expectation. This week, I just enjoyed myself, didn’t think too much and played each point. So I really want to thank her for that,” said Zheng.

Zheng, who takes home $151,070 with her win, also thanked her mother for always being there for her throughout her career and her puppy and is excited to see both as she heads to Toronto to play in the Coupe Rogers tournament.

In the doubles final, the Czech-American combo of Kveta Peschke and Nicole Melichar defeated the Japanese duo of Ena Shibahara Shuko Aoyama in straight sets 6-4 6-4.

For Pesche, this was her second consecutive doubles title at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic (she won it with Latisha Chan last year). Both her and Melichar were excited to win the tournament this time around.

“It’s an awesome feeling,” said Peschke. “I told Nicki (Melichar) about this tournament already last year. I told her I really loved it and she should come and play in it.”

For the duo, this is already an impressive fourth title together after only playing together over a year and a half ago.

“I am very thrilled,”  said Melichar. “I have the biggest smile on my face. Especially standing next to this lovely lady. To win (with her), it’s just awesome!”

The Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic drew a total of 15,454 fans in attendance for the entire week of matches this year.

Zheng and Sabalenka advanced in semis, will face off in Mubadala final

By Marko Ukalovic

SAN JOSE, Calif. — SaiSai Zheng had never played in a Premiere-level final, until now. Roughing out the 86 degree temperature at match time, Zheng was able to cruise her way into the final of the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic over the seventh seeded Maria Sakkari in straight sets 7-6 6-2 in the first semi-final match of the day.

Zheng out battled Sakkari in a tightly contested first set that went to a tiebreaker. Zheng was able to win the tiebreaker 7-5 and seized control of the match from there on out.

“The last time I played Sakkari I remember she didn’t like the no pace, high back hand (volleys),” said Zheng. “This was one of the tactics I used today and it worked.”

Sakkari, who was looking to play in her second consecutive MSVC final, was frustrated throughout the second set whenever Zheng answered one of her volleys during a rally. In the final game, Sakkari double-faulted twice with the second one clinching the match for Zheng.

Sakkari mentioned she was a bit fatigued from her quarterfinal match just 24 hours earlier, but blamed a lackluster effort on her part as the main reason she lost the match to Zheng.

“I think I played really, really bad the whole match,” said the 23-year-old Athens native. “I think she (Zheng) has a tricky game which played a huge role in the match. I think my level (of play) was pretty poor today to win that match after coming from a win like that (in the quarterfinals) yesterday.”

This was only the second time the two have squared off against each other with Sakkari defeating Zheng three years earlier at Wimbledon.

“It’s been amazing to get into the final,” said Zheng. “I try to tell myself just enjoy who I am on the court and play my game. (It) turns out (to be) a good result.”

In the night cap, second seeded Aryna Sabalenka used her sheer power to dominate her semifinal against fifth seeded Donna Vekic taking her out in straight sets 6-4, 6-3.

The first set featured nobody being able to hold serve in the first seven games as each player took turns breaking the other’s serve. However, in the ninth game, Sabalenka took control of the match finally winning serve and winning the next two games to close out the first set.

“I was struggling today with my serve,” said Vekic, who was looking for her third top 10 victory of the season. “She (Sabalenka) played very well. It’s tough to play against a player like that without (having a good) first serve.”

In the second set, Sabalenka jumped out to a 3-0 lead with her strong serve that at times was too hot to handle for Vekic. Down 5-2, Vekic showed her mental toughness coming back from 0-40 to end up winning the game, but it was too little too late as Sabalenka finished her off in the next game to punch her way into the final for a showdown with Zheng.

“I tried to put more balls in than her,” said a jokingly Sabalenka regarding her strategy going into the match. “She (Vekic) doesn’t have a bad part of her game, so it was about fighting and show your best (game).”

Despite not making it to the final, Vekic seem to take it in stride, despite an overzealous fan shouting out a weird request to her.

“One guy in the crowd said he’ll kill himself if I don’t hold (serve), so I thought I really needed to hold,” said a laughing Vekic.

For Sabalenka, she is looking forward for her chance to win her second single’s title of the year on what has been an up and down season up to this point.

“I’m looking forward to the final,” said the 21-year Belarusian. “Hopefully I can show the same (level of play) as today. Saisai is a great player and it’s going to be a tough match.”

Sakkari takes down #1 seed, highlights Day 5 of Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic

Photo credit: @Tennis

By Marko Ukalovic

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Déjà vu doesn’t happen often, but for Maria Sakkari she tends to make a habit of it when she performs in San Jose.  Down one set and one game away from being bounced in straight sets, the Greek freak made a remarkable comeback to defeat the number one seeded Elina Sviotlina 1-6 7-6 6-3 in quarterfinal action on Day 5 at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic on Thursday afternoon.

Last year at this same tournament Sakkari was in similar situation against Danielle Collins and fought her way back to win in the semi-finals. This time around she was down three games twice in the second (4-1 and 5-2) when she won four games in a row forcing Sviotlina to win the 12th game and the ensuing tiebreaker that Sakkari won 7-3 to prolong the match into the third set.

Sakkari cruised in the third winning it in 46 minutes to punch her ticket to the semi-finals where she will face Saisai Zheng.

“Maybe it’s something about this place,” said the 23-year-old Athens native about her comebacks in this tournament. “I really feel comfortable playing on the center court here. Really feels like home.”

Sakkari finished with seven aces on the day and 7/10 on first serve points won. She credits her serve as one of her main improvements from a year ago.

“My served has improved a lot,” said Sakkari. “I know today wasn’t one of my best hitting the ball, but my serve, my forehand is my weapon now when I was struggling (with them) I would say two years ago.”

In the first match of the day, number two seed Aryna Sabalenka rebounded from losing her first set of the match against number six seed Carla Suarez-Navarro to power her way into the semi-finals in a three-set victory 3-6 6-2 6-4. Despite serving up nine double faults, Sabalenka took control of the match in the second set and never looked back as she found her game to take down Suarez-Navarro.

The Croatian sensation that is Donna Vekic continued her winning ways in a straight sets victory over American Kristie Ahn in her quarterfinal matchup 7-5 6-0 that needed less than 90 minutes to complete. Vekic was down early in the first set 3-5 to Ahn who looked to be in control of the match. However, the native of Osijek, wouldn’t lose another game, going on a 10-game win streak to close out the match and into the semi-finals where she will take on Sabalenka.

“It’s easy to get carried away,” said Vekic when asked about being in a zone during the win streak. “I had to stay really focused and not take anything for granted. And really take one point at a time and not really think about the score.

Vekic finished with six aces, all in the second set, as her powerful serve was too much for Ahn to handle for most of the match. Vekic was also a perfect 9/9 in first service points won in the second set.

“I think I had quite a few aces today. It (my serve) was working really well for me. I had quite a lot of easy points as well and that’s always nice.”

In the night cap Zheng outlasted fourth seeded Amanda Anisimova in a three-set battle of the wills. Zheng won the opening set 7-5 when she would land some nice drop shots that Anisimova had little to no answers for.

Anisimova answered the call in the second set using a combination of forehand power shots with pin-point two-handed backhand shots to take the set 7-5 to even the match. However, she would pay a price for her effort as she had been suffering from an illness throughout the week. She was treated from her chair and then on the ground for 15 minutes before getting back up to start the final set.

“I have had a virus for the past couple of days and wasn’t feeling well today ,” said the 17-year old Anisimova. “I thought I needed a little help (to feel better)”. We both played very well. I think my opponent played super well. She got to almost every single ball, all the credit to her.”

With the score all evened at 4-4, Zheng was able to take control of the final two games as she took advantage of Anisimova’s ailment and won the set 6-4 and stamped her way to her first premiere level semi-final in her career. She will take on Sakkari in the first semi-final on Saturday.

“The whole match was very intense,” said Zheng. “I felt like I had to give a little bit more (than normal) until the end. It was really a tough match tonight.”

Vekic dominates former #1 Azarenka on Day 4 of Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic

Photo credit: @JJlovesTennis

By Marko Ukalovic

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Donna Vekic has been enjoying her first time in the Silicon Valley. After taking a trip to up to the Facebook headquarters earlier in the day, she finished out her day in style with an upset second round victory over former number one women’s player Victoria Azarenka in straight sets 6-4 6-3 highlighting Day 4 of the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic on Thursday evening at San Jose State University.

The fifth-seeded Vekic fought her way out of a 0-2 hole twice to win in commanding fashion with her dominant serve and powerful two-hand backhanded swing that put Azarenka on the ropes late in the match. Down 4-1 in the first set, Vekic went on a five-game win streak to take the first set.

Azarenka, ranked 38th in the world, was frustrated throughout the match thanks to seven double faults. She threw down and broke her racket at the end of the first set after an unforced error.

“I’ve never played her (before). Actually, this was our first match,” said the 23-year old from Croatia. “I knew she was a great player, great competitor. I knew I had to bring my best game if I wanted to have a chance to win.”

In the second set, Vekic finished off Azarenka by winning the last three games and finished the match with six aces and winning five of the eight break points to head into the quarterfinals.

Vekic credits her ability to move around the court quicker as her game has evolved since she turned professional seven years ago at the age of 16.

“I don’t think I moved at all when I was 16”, Vekic said with a laugh. “I have a lot more patience now. I’m not afraid to stay in the rallies. In fact I like to be in the rallies and to build up the point.”

In earlier action Amanda Amisinova defeated Madison Brengle in straight sets 6-2 6-2 in a battle of Americans. China’s Saisai Zheng took down American Danielle Collins also in staight sets 6-2 6-0 and American Kristie Ahn was a winner against Belgium’s Elise Mertens 6-3 6-3 rounding out single’s play.

En-Shuo Liang and Zheng teamed up to beat Ellen Perez and Heather Watson in three sets 7-6 6-0 10-8 in the only doubles action of the day.