The Grand Slam Champions And Underdog Looking To Shake-Up The WTA Finals On Their Debut - UBITENNIS
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The Grand Slam Champions And Underdog Looking To Shake-Up The WTA Finals On Their Debut

Naomi Osaka heads a trio of debutants bidding to make their mark in Singapore.

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During a season where she has claimed her maiden grand slam title and broke into the world’s top five for the first time, Naomi Osaka is once again embarking upon new territory at the WTA Finals.

 

The US Open champion is the first Japanese player to play in the tournament for 22 years after Kimiko Date back in 1996. She now has a shot of being the first player from her country to reach the final of the year-end spectacular, which started back in 1972. Despite being only 21, Osaka is on course to become a global marketing superstar as her fan base explodes. Highlighted by her recent deal with Nissan and a reported $10 million contract being offered to her by sportswear company Adidas.

“I’m playing tournament after tournament, so I don’t really have time to think about my life changing or anything.” Osaka told reporters in Singapore.
“For me, I’m just more thinking about my next match and my next tournament. So I feel like I would need the year to end to maybe process more.”

Seeking her third title of the season, the world No.4 is relying on the past experience of her coach at the WTA Finals about what to expect. Sascha Bajin is by no means a stranger to the women’s tour. Prior to working with Osaka, he has previously collaborated with the likes of Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki.

“Throughout this year he’s really taught me a lot of things and I’m really grateful for it. We have this one last tournament, and he’s constantly sharing with me things that is new.I just hope that I can apply it.” The 21-year-old said about her coach.
“I hope I don’t get overwhelmed. I don’t know. You never really know how you’re gonna feel until you’re in that moment.” She later added.

Should she triumph at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, another record would be made. Osaka won the 2015 WTA Rising Star Invitational, which is also held in Singapore. Defeating France’s Caroline Garcia in the final. An Invitational winner is yet to go on to claim the WTA Finals trophy. Something Osaka aims to break.

Definitely, I would take my experience playing on centre court and stuff.” She said.
“I just remember the Rising Stars event being my first big tournament sort of, like I have never played on a centre court that big before. So definitely it’s always in my memories.”

Stephens eyes glory

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Osaka will begin her WTA Finals campaign against Sloane Stephens on Monday, who is also making her debut in the event. The American former grand slam champion is hoping for a happy ending to what has been a lacklustre past few weeks. Since the conclusion of the US Open, Stephens has only managed to win three out of six matches played. On the other hand, she won the Miami Open in March and reached her second grand slam final at the French Open.

“I think playing the whole year and making it here (to Singapore), I think that’s pretty cool. I had some great results, a lot of very high highs and tough lows. I think I managed it well. I guess that’s all part of the sport.”

Despite a seeding of fifth, the threat posed by Stephen can never be underestimated. She has a winning head-to-head against six of the seven other players featuring in this year’s tournament. The only exception is her record against Caroline Wozniacki (1-4). Furthermore, she is a player who thrives on the big stage despite her lack of experience of playing in round-robin events.

“I haven’t played a round robin since I started playing tennis at Sierra Sport and Racquet Club, and you had to play the round robin to advance in your ladder.” Said Stephens, who forgot about her participation in the 2017 Elite Trophy.
“So I’m really not sure how it works. I saw the chart and everything. But I think you just play and try to win and whatever happens happens.”

Other than the Williams sisters, an American player hasn’t won the WTA Finals since Lindsay Davenport in 1999.

Bertens’ outside challenge

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Kiki Bertens didn’t know she had qualified for the event until Thursday following the withdrawal of Simona Halep. After previously never ending a season in the top 20, the 26-year-old has enjoyed a stellar year. Claiming titles in Charleston, Cincinnati and Seoul. Scoring ten wins over top 10 players.

“You always want to finish your season on good terms, because it’s been an incredible season so far.” Said Bertens.
“I think the last few weeks were a little bit more stressful. You try not to think about it, try just to play your match and go from there, but in your head you know like how many points you need to make Singapore.”

Unlike the two other newcomers, Bertens has the advantage of previously playing in Singapore. In 2017 she finished runner-up in the doubles competition alongside Johanna Larsson. Becoming the first Dutch player to reach the final of the tournament – in either singles or doubles – since Manon Bollegraf in 2000.

“I have reached all my goals for this year, so I can be really proud of that and happy of that. Hopefully we can also finish it really well here.”

All three newcomers have been drawn in the Red Group alongside Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber.

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Andy Murray’s ‘Tennis In 2020’ Caption Praised By Rising Star Gauff

Why a recent Instagram post from the three-time Grand Slam champion has been hailed by the teenage sensation.

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Coco Gauff has branded Andy Murray a ‘great ally’ for diversity after the former world No.1 highlighted an article about the lack of members from non-white backgrounds at the Lawn Tennis Association and All England Club.

 

The former world No.1 uploaded a screenshot of an interview conducted by The Times newspaper with MaliVai Washington who is the last black man to reach a Wimbledon final back in 1996. The article reported that none of the 24 board members of the two organisations are Black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME). In Murray’s Instagram along with the picture he wrote the caption ‘Tennis in 2020’ followed by a confused emoji.

16-year-old Gauff has hailed the Brit for speaking out on the issue. Speaking to reporters following her 1-6, 7-6, 7-6(2), loss to Aryna Sabalenka in Ostrava on Thursday, the world No.55 said it was important to have people like Murray commenting on these issues.

“Nothing’s wrong with asking for more diversity. For him to say that is definitely inspiring, especially with him being a man and white,” Reuters news agency quoted Gauff as saying.
“For someone like him to call for diversity, it shows how great an ally he is… I love what Andy is doing on and off the court. He’s one of my favourite players to watch.
“It’s important we do have diversity, because there are people from all over the world from different backgrounds and areas and I think representation is important. At least for me, as a girl… seeing yourself being represented means a lot.”

Murray is renowned for speaking out about equality issues in tennis and was one of the first top players on the ATP Tour to hire a female coach when he collaborated with Amelie Mauresmo. In an article written for the BBC back in 2017 he said ‘anyone who has spent any time with any of the top women will know that they make those same sacrifices and are as determined and committed to winning as any of the top men on the tour.’

More recently Murray has also come out in favour of renaming the Margaret Court Arena at the Australian Open due to the former player’s controversial statements about the LGBT community.

Despite her young age, Gauff has also been vocal about social issues and addressed a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally in her home town of Delray Beach, Florida earlier this year where she called for change.

Coincidentally during the same week as Murray’s post, Wimbledon has appointed its first ever BAME member to its main board. The Daily Mail has confirmed that former player and Fed Cup captain Anne Keothavong will join the board in a bit to increase diversity. The 37-year-old was born in the London borough of Hackney after her parents left Laos in the 1970s.

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Iga Swiatek Explains How Work With Sports Psychologist Aided Her Rapid Rise

The 19-year-old speaks to reporters for the first time since her Grand Slam milestone in Paris.

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Iga Swiatek (@rolandgarros on Twitter)

Recently crowned French Open champion Iga Swiatek believes work on her mental game was key to her shock run.

 

The 19-year-old Pole stunned the field at Roland Garros as she eased to the title by dropping only 28 games in what is the fewest amount dropped by a female player at the event since Justine Henin back in 2007. En route to the title she beat top 10 players Simona Halep and Sofia Kenin. Prior to the tournament Swiatek was yet to win a title on the WTA Tour and had never gone beyond the fourth round of a major.

Reflecting on her breakout, the teenage rising star believes her work with sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz has been pivotal as she encourages other players to follow the same route as her.

“She understands me and she is a sports psychologist, so both on court and off court she is doing, with me, a great job,” Swiatek told The Associated Press.
“The mental side of tennis is really important,” she added.

Swiatek has been labelled as a future star of the sport after winning the 2018 Wimbledon girls’ title. Since then she has steadily risen up the rankings but had never scored a victory over a top 10 player until this year’s French Open. So far this season she has recorded 16 wins on the Tour with 12 of those taking place across the three Grand Slam tournaments.

“I realized that it doesn’t have a good impact on my tennis and I’m not able to play as good tennis on match(day) as on practice (days), so we tried to change that and we did a great job and I’m really happy that the result of that job is (a) Grand Slam,” she commented on working on her mental game.

Speaking about Swiatek’s rise, Abramowicz said she has managed to ‘use her resources and potential magnificently.’ Dr Abramowicz conducted postgraduate studies in sports psychology at SWPS University of Humanities and Social Sciences in Warsaw.

“Iga is very mindful, despite her young age. She has used her resources and potential magnificently. It wasn’t an easy time though,” she told reporters on Wednesday.
“What you have seen on television is only a fraction of the work done. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t a metamorphosis, but rather an evolution. The doubles proved very helpful in sticking to one’s routines. Iga withstood excellently the difficulties of this tournament.”

Already the first player from her country to win a major title, Swiatek says her ultimate goal is to win every Grand Slam tournament, as well as a medal at the Olympic Games. Her father is a former rower who participated in the 1988 Olympic Games.

She is currently at a ranking high of 17th in the world.

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Is 19-year-old Iga Swiatek bound for greatness?

Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper tennis columnist James Beck reflects on the potential significance of the French Open women’s final.

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Paris is always magical.

 

The City of Love must be.

Iga Swiatek is the French Open women’s singles champion.

Always talented, always athletic.

But until this fortnight the Polish 19-year-old had never demonstrated any true greatness in  women’s tennis. All of a sudden now, even the great John McEnroe is predicting greater greatness from the latest new star of women’s tennis.

A STRANGE YEAR FOR WOMEN’S TENNIS

What a strange year this is in women’s tennis. Sofia Kenin wins the Australian Open before the coronavirus took over the entire world. Kenin came out of nowhere to achieve this amazing feat.

So, just when it appeared Kenin was ready to keep her amazing success story afloat, another surprise arrived with the name Iga Swiatek. It wouldn’t be real surprising that when this coronavirus disappears, hopefully early in 2021, that Swiatek keeps winning Grand Slam titles. It also wouldn’t be surprising if she retires with just one major title.

Swiatek seems to be just that unpredictable.

DID SHADOWS PLAY A KEY ROLE IN THE WOMEN’S FINAL?

Perhaps this time, Swiatek’s glorious day was achieved due to the uncontrollable nature of nature itself. The sun and its shadows appeared to play a major role in how this Grand Slam final started.

Shadows dominated one end of the court at match time on Saturday in the newly covered Court Philippe Chatrier Stadium.

Visibility was dreadful on the TV screen, and it must have been much the same way in Kenin’s eyes when she played the second and third games of the match on the “shadow end” of the court. The 21-year-old American looked out of sorts as if she was playing in darkness and she couldn’t find the ball while falling behind, 3-0.

SHADOWS BRING BACK MEMORIES OF NADAL-SODERLING

The scene brought back memories of Rafa Nadal’s fourth-round match against Robin Soderling in 2009 at Roland Garros. Going into the 2020 final on Sunday against Novak Djokovic, Nadal has suffered only two losses in 88 matches on the red clay of Roland Garros.

Of course, Nadal’s loss to Djokovic in the 2015 quarterfinals at the French Open wasn’t a show stopper, especially when you consider that Djokovic is now slipping up on Nadal’s 19 Grand Slam titles and Roger Federer’s 20 in the all-time major title race.

But for Rafa to lose to the big-hitting Soderling was shocking at the time. Rafa also looked like he was playing in darkness that summer day in 2009. He couldn’t find the ball, either.

KENIN WASN’T NORMAL SELF

Seeing what happened on Saturday in the shadows at Roland Garros, it’s now easier to understand what happened to Nadal that day against Soderling.

Kenin had a miserable day on Saturday. She wasn’t herself, maybe due to the shadows or maybe to her heavily bandaged left thigh. Kenin is a better player than the one audiences around the world saw in her 6-4, 6-1 loss to Swiatek.

FANS FORTUNATE TO CATCH THEM BEFORE THEY BECAME STARS

Watching this French Open women’s final made me acknowledge once again how great it is to reside in a great tennis town that brings the ITF world-wide circuit to your city. It happens all over the world, to large cities and small cities.

Of course, Charleston also has the WTA Tour’s Volvo Car Open where the world’s best current players perform for large crowds of paying viewers.

The ITF Circuit is different.

Swiatek, Kenin and Cori Gauff all played in the $100K ITF tournament at LTP Tennis in Charleston during 2018 or 2019. All free of charge for everyone to view in person or even to enter  the current boundaries of social distancing. Autographs, yes. But autograph seekers were rare for these three young stars even that recently.

James Beck has been the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.

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