May 20, 2024

Just weeks after a shower door accident required her to get stitches in both hands, Beatriz Haddad Maia had the best week of her career in Zhuhai, China.

The 27-year-old arrived at the WTA Elite Trophy tournament — the second-tier year-end event — having won just one match since sustaining the injury and with no singles titles in a hardcourt event. But she left it the champion in both singles and doubles.

On Sunday, Haddad Maia won the third and biggest singles title of her career in a nearly three-hour clash against local favorite Qinwen Zheng, 7-6 (11), 7-6 (4). It was the longest tour-level straight-set match of the year — and her emotions at the end made it clear just how hard she had worked for the win.

“Today I was trying to be as aggressive as I was during this week,” Haddad Maia said. “My mentality was very important. I was trying to be patient in the moments things were not going the way that I wanted. It’s a very special week for me. When I came to Asia, I had stitches in my fingers in the first round of Beijing, and now I’m finishing the season with a trophy in my hands.”

And she wasn’t done collecting trophies just yet.

Hours later, the Brazilian followed it up by winning the doubles title alongside Veronika Kudermetova. The duo defeated Miyu Kato and Aldila Sutjiadi 6-3, 6-3. Haddad Maia, who didn’t drop a set in either draw throughout the tournament, became the first player in history to win both titles.

Here’s what else you might have missed from around the tennis world last week:

Rivals and friends

Jannik Sinner won his second title of the month on Sunday with a 7-6 (7), 4-6, 6-3 victory over Daniil Medvedev in the final of the Vienna Open. After defeating Medvedev in the final at the China Open, Sinner repeated his dominance just three weeks later to claim his fourth trophy of the year.

It was a tightly contested match from the start and Sinner saved two set points in the opener before ultimately taking the early lead. While Medvedev fought back to win the second set, Sinner took control in the decider and closed out the match in three hours and five minutes.

Medvedev had won the pair’s first six career meetings — including during two finals earlier this season — so he couldn’t help but be impressed by Sinner’s recent surge.

“Big congrats to Jannik,” Medvedev said on court during the trophy presentation. “It was a tough match, at one moment I thought I maybe could get you. I didn’t manage to do it. As I said already three times this year, hopefully we can play more finals, maybe even this year. Big congrats to you, you’re playing great, finishing the year strong.”

Medvedev then helped shower Sinner in champagne after the match — even pouring some directly into Sinner’s hair.

Trouble in paradise

The announcement for the location of the 2023 WTA Finals was plagued in controversy, and Cancun was not announced as the host city until September — about six weeks before the event was to take place.

While many in the sport were relieved the year-end tournament was not being held in Saudi Arabia, as had been rumored, the delayed decision left Cancun with little time to prepare. Players began to arrive to the Mexican resort city last week and discovered the stadium wasn’t fully built — prompting complaints and some jokes. Reigning Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova even posted a photoshopped picture of herself and her fellow WTA Finals singles qualifiers as construction workers on a job site to her Instagram story on Friday.

While the stadium was completed in time for play to get underway on Sunday, players were given limited time to practice on the court ahead of their opening matches. After defeating Maria Sakkari on Sunday, world No. 1 Aryna Sabalenka was critical of the conditions when speaking to the media.

“Honestly, it’s another level of disrespect from the WTA for the players, because sometimes they don’t even feel safe to move on this court,” Sabalenka said. “That’s not the level I expect from the WTA Finals.”

Elena Rybakina, the current world No. 4, echoed Sabalenka’s sentiments after her loss to Jessica Pegula, calling the court “not good” and saying there was “no time to fix anything.”

The WTA defended the stadium in a statement.

“We’re pleased to host the WTA Finals in Cancun for the first time and worked hard to construct a stadium where the world’s top eight women’s tennis players and doubles teams compete head-to-head,” the statement said. “The team has worked diligently on an expedited timeline amid weather challenges to ensure the stadium and court meet our strict performance standards.”

It’s been a rough year for the WTA, with players openly criticizing the lack of equal pay and other subpar conditions, and it will be interesting to see what changes, if any, are made in 2024. Stay tuned.

FAA is back

At just 23 years old, Felix Auger Aliassime has long been considered one of the most exciting young tennis players in the sport. He has ranked as high as No. 6 and reached the semifinals at the US Open, and the quarterfinals at Wimbledon and the Australian Open. But 2023 has been a challenging year for the Canadian.

Entering last week’s Swiss Indoors event in Basel, Switzerland, Auger Aliassime had a 17-18 record for the season and made just one semifinal (at Doha in February). But, despite his struggles, Auger Aliassime returned to the tournament as the defending champion — and played like it.

Auger Aliassime dropped just one set throughout the week and impressively defeated the top-seeded Holger Rune 6-3, 6-2 in the semifinals. In Sunday’s final, he beat Hubert Hurkacz 7-6(3), 7-6(5) for his fifth career title and reminded the tennis world of just how good he can be.

“I’m definitely back,” Auger Aliassime said after the victory. “I let my racket talk. That’s always been the motto of my career. I’ve had the conviction that I can be a top player since I’m a kid, but there were many doubts this year about my performances and why.

“I’m happy that I was able to prove to everybody that I still belong among the best players in the world, that I can play this level. I never doubted it, but it’s good to confirm it on the court.”

Auger Aliassime, who became the first Canadian to defend an ATP title since Milos Raonic over a decade ago, later said the title was “extra special” after his difficult year, in a social media post.

Tennis is rough

Entering his Round of 16 match against world No. 83 Alexander Shevchenko at the Swiss Indoors event on Thursday, Taylor Fritz was the heavy favorite to win the match. But despite two match points and 63 winners on the day — and even earning 10 more points than his opponent — Fritz couldn’t get it done. After nearly three hours, Shevchenko advanced to the first ATP quarterfinal of his career with a 6-7 (7), 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5) victory.

As if the loss couldn’t be any more demoralizing for Fritz, who has been trying to secure a spot in the year-end ATP Finals but is now in 10th place in the race with eight players qualifying, he even lost his shoe during the deciding-set tiebreak.

Fritz couldn’t hide his disappointment after the match, and he shared his feelings with a succinct and perfectly said social media post.

Tennis world mourns Matthew Perry

Actor and “Friends” star Matthew Perry died on Saturday, and since then there have been countless tributes to his life and career. While he was of course best known for his on-screen talents, Perry was also a former top-ranked junior Canadian player and a lifelong tennis superfan. Over the years, Perry was spotted at various tournaments — including at the French Open earlier this year — and played in various charity matches.

There have been online tributes from the likes of the WTA, Denis Shapovalov, Chris Evert, Rennae Stubbs and Pam Shriver.

During the 2022 US Open final, Iga Swiatek — a “Friends” fan — admitted in her post-match press conference and on social media that she had gotten distracted after seeing Perry shown in the stands on the video board. Perry responded to her on X, then known as Twitter, and congratulated her on her victory.

When reminded of the interaction by Stubbs on Sunday, Swiatek simply responded with a sad face emoji.

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