Khachanov, Wozniacki and more players regain form as season winds down

Khachanov, Wozniacki and more players regain form as season winds down

Strong showings this week by a group of players offers inspiration for the year ahead.

For some of the players competing at this week’s tournaments in Tokyo and Beijing, their strong showings up to this point represent a return to form after a season of inconsistent results.

Will that be enough to spur them forward for the rest of 2019 and into next year? Here’s a look at five players that are trying to build momentum as the season winds down.

Daria Kasatkina

The quarterfinals of the WTA’s China Open this week featured seven of the Top 20 players in the world and one supposed outsider who should have been right there with them. Kasatkina started the year ranked No. 10 in the world, but entered the event in Beijing outside of the top 40. The 22-year-old from Russia only won one match at the Grand Slam level in 2019 and before this week, had only posted consecutive wins in a tournament on one other occasion—back in May at the Italian Open.

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Hitting the reset button, Kasatkina took three matches in Beijing, including a second-round encounter with last week’s Wuhan Open champion Aryna Sabalenka. She’s not in contention for a spot at the WTA Finals as she was last year, but finishing the year on a high note is still a goal.

Caroline Wozniacki

Wozniacki, Kasatkina’s conqueror in Beijing, has been struggling throughout the year with a 16-14 pre-tournament record to show for it. Just last year, the Dane won her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open and made a return to the top spot in the rankings: a position she previously held without any major titles on her record.

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Battling a chronic health issue for more than a year now, Wozniacki has attempted to keep pushing forward, but this will be only the second time she’s playing tennis over the weekend. The 29-year-old knows how to navigate the ebbs and flows of the life of a professional tennis player as well as anyone, and is well equipped to take inspiration from whatever her final showing in Beijing will be.  

Karen Khachanov

One of several young Russians making waves on the ATP Tour, Khachanov ended 2018 the highest ranked among them after winning three titles, including his first Masters 1000 championship in Paris, where he defeated world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the final. That win put him on the cusp of the Top 10, and he was finally able to break through with a quarterfinal run at the French Open this year.

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However, aside from that showing, the 23-year-old has been plagued by bouts of inconsistency in 2019. And though he entered the China Open ranked No. 9 in the world, he also carried a 22-21 record going in. Strong results the next few weeks, such as this deep run in Beijing, are crucial as he gets ready for a title defense in Paris.

John Millman

Pulling off the match win of a lifetime by shocking Roger Federer at a Grand Slam is one thing: Building upon that is an entirely different matter. Millman defeated the Swiss great in the fourth round of the US Open last year, but finished 2018 with a 1-3 record. Struggles at the most prestigious events kept him from making more moves up the rankings and at the US Open, a tough opener in the form of eventual champion Rafael Nadal sent his ranking plummeting as he failed to defend his quarterfinal points from a year ago.

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In recent weeks, though, it appears he’s getting his timing back: The Australian won a Challenger event in Taiwan in September and after a first-round loss last week in Zhuhai, has followed that up with a strong showing in Japan. Already, his post-US Open showing surpasses what he did last year. Carrying that momentum over into next year will be key.

Kiki Bertens

After capturing the biggest tournament of her career in Madrid in the spring, Bertens was unable to build upon that at the French Open as she was forced to retire in the second round. Soon after, a couple of surprise final-round losses to Alison Riske and Jill Teichman followed on grass and clay, respectively, and before this week, she had a 4-6 record over her last six events.

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Ranked No. 8 in the world, the Dutch player is currently on the outside looking in of the Race to Shenzhen standings for the WTA Finals. Getting back to the tournament, where she made the semifinals in her debut last year, should be enough motivation as she attempts to recapture her first-half form.