Petra Kvitova positive ahead of Dubai final against Belinda Bencic

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Kvitova is looking to win her second Dubai title having won her first in 2013. (AFP)
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Updated 22 February 2019
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Petra Kvitova positive ahead of Dubai final against Belinda Bencic

  • World No. 4 wins third three-setter of the week beat Hsieh Su-wei and claim place in the final.
  • Swiss star Bencic deals a forehand smash to Svitolina's chances of unprecedented hat-trick.

LONDON: If Petra Kvitova does get her hands on the Dubai trophy against Belinda Bencic on Saturday, she will be quick to admit she did it the hard way.
The two-time Wimbledon champion was once again made to toil at the Aviation Club as she finally overcame Hsieh Su-Wei 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. It was her third three-setter in four days and came about as much through sheer grit and determination as any superior groundstrokes or serves.
“Yeah, it was (tough),” the Czech said.
“It was a tough one, for sure. She really didn’t give me anything for free.
“It was a tough first set. I’m glad that I was able to came back in the second. Anyway I didn’t play great at the end of the first.”
Coming into the event the world No. 4 admitted she was undercooked and in need of some game time. While, in hindsight, the three-setters against Katerina Siniakova and Jennifer Brady in the first two rounds probably did her some good, another match that went the distance was probably not in the ideal script for the 2013 Dubai champion.
But Hsieh is a tricky opponent and she proved it once again on Centre Court. The world No. 31 hits two-handed shots off both sides and was trying to beat her fourth top-10 seed of the week. That included wins over Angelique Kerber in the third round and Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals.

Bencic will try to upset Kvitova in Saturday's final at the Aviation Club (AFP) 


She started off in much the same vein as she had finished against Kerber and Pliskova, hurrying Kvitova around the court and making life as uncomfortable as possible under the hot Dubai sun.
“She’s very tricky,” Kvitova said about Hsieh, who grabbed five games in a row to take the opening set and go up 1-0 in the second.
“I didn’t really play the best at the end of the first set. But I calmed down afterwards a little bit,” Kvitova said.
“With Hsieh, I need to be a little bit patient. ... It’s not really that easy to make those winners against her.”
While she has 
not consistently displayed her A-game this week it should come as no shock that Kvitova has made today’s final. It was the second seed’s 17th victory of 2019 — a feat bettered by no one — and it will be her third final of the season and 35th of her career. She revealed that her presence in the showdown is thanks to her mental toughness and she admitted that after a long week she will have to draw on that a lot today.
“I think I’m pleased with my kind of mental focus after losing the first set, that I was more calmer when I came back and played from the beginning of the second set,” Kvitova said.
“I still kind of felt that I can do that somehow — it was something weird.
“I’m a bit tired right now, to be honest. I have a final, so I don’t know how I going to recover. Hopefully I have a few hours to do something with me.”
Of her sparkling form so far this year she said: “It’s a bit weird, to be honest. I didn’t really expect anything like that. Well, to be honest, I didn’t expect anything, which I already achieved this year. For me, everything is just bonus.
“As I mentioned, the tennis, it’s a bit like escape this week. This is unbelievable to be in the final when I’m escaping from something. Yeah, very interesting.”
In the other semifinal Bencic once again upset the odds to overcome world No. 6 Elina Svitolina 6-2, 6-3, 7-6. The Swiss went into the clash as the underdog, but from the off the world No. 45 was aggressive and deservedly won.
In doing so she ended Svitolina’s 12-match winning streak in Dubai and ended the two-time defending champion’s hopes of becoming the first woman to win three Dubai titles in a row.


New Zealand’s Crusaders lose for the first time since mosque shootings

Updated 24 March 2019
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New Zealand’s Crusaders lose for the first time since mosque shootings

  • The Christchurch-based Crusaders saw their year-long, 19-game winning streak ended in Sydney by the New South Wales Waratahs
  • The Crusaders have been asked by fans to change their name following last week's terror mosques attack that killed at least 50 worshippers

PRETORIA, South Africa: The Crusaders lost for the first time this season and the Chiefs won for the first time, shaking up Super Rugby at the top and the bottom of the standings on Saturday.
In their first game since the mosque shootings in their home city eight days earlier, the Christchurch-based Crusaders saw their year-long, 19-game winning streak ended in Sydney by the New South Wales Waratahs.
Wallabies fullback Israel Folau sealed the Waratahs’ 20-12 win and equaled Doug Howlett’s record of 59 Super Rugby tries when he followed up on a high kick and reacted quickest to score the home team’s third try in the 73rd minute. The Waratahs led 15-7 for most of the second half before Folau ensured there was no way back for the Crusaders.
The two-time defending champions’ first loss in a year was followed by another serious surprise in round six when the Hamilton-based Chiefs, winless and bottom of the overall standings, upset the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.
The Chiefs didn’t just win. They hammered the Bulls 56-20 and seven tries to two. There were doubles by winger Solomon Alaimalo, center Alex Nankivell, and captain Brodie Retallick as the Chiefs, who once lost a Super Rugby final 61-17 at Loftus, produced a spectacular turnaround in form.
The Crusaders’ loss meant the Hurricanes drew level with them on points at the top of the New Zealand conference. The Lions, the losing finalists the last three years, moved a point behind the Crusaders in the overall standings after beating the Sunwolves in Singapore.
The Sunwolves were on the board first in that game through a penalty try which saw Lions wing Sylvian Mahuza yellow-carded for a deliberate knock down.
The Lions were inspired by hooker Malcolm Marx, who scored two tries and came up with numerous crucial turnovers in the 37-24 win. That capped a miserable couple of days for the Tokyo-based Sunwolves, who learned on Friday they would be cut from Super Rugby at the end of next season.
Also, the Hurricanes beat the Stormers 34-28, and the Sharks beat Melbourne Rebels 28-14 to both gain ground.
The Waratahs made a fast start against the Crusaders, scoring tries through lock Jeb Holloway and wing Cameron Clark to lead 12-0 after as many minutes. They then kept steady defensive pressure on the Crusaders who made an uncharacteristic 18 handling errors.
The Waratahs were able to pin the Crusaders within their half and those errors cost the champions their usual continuity.
“Looking up at the board I see we had 46 percent of possession so we’re building wins off defense,” Waratahs captain Michael Hooper said. “I’m really happy that we were able to get tries when we can and then were able to build a big wall to stop these guys.”
The Crusaders were playing their first game in two weeks after last weekend’s scheduled fixture against the Highlanders was canceled in the wake of the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch which left 50 dead. On Saturday at the Sydney Cricket Ground, the Crusaders and Waratahs players stood together silently before the game, arm in arm, to remember the victims.
Winger Wes Goosen scored two second-half tries and Beauden Barrett contributed 14 points as the Hurricanes rallied to beat the Stormers 34-28.
The match presented a stark contrast in styles between the Hurricanes, who lacked a reliable set-piece and tried to play the game at pace, and the Stormers, who sought to slow play and control possession through a powerful forward pack.
The Hurricanes finally emerged on top, snatching the lead with a try to Barrett 10 minutes from fulltime and outscoring the Stormers by five tries to three. The lead changed hands five times in a close match in which neither side managed to exert complete control.
“From the outcome point of view it was good, we were certainly after that win,” Barrett said. “But there were moments there where we were frustrated.”