Naomi Osaka continued her impressive rise to the top with a commanding 6-4 6-1 win over Elina Svitolina that sealed her place in the Australian Open semi-finals.
The result moves the Japanese player, 21, into pole position in the race for World No.1 and she will stay there unless Petra Kvitova reaches the final or Karolina Pliskova wins the tournament.
The first five games of the opening set of the quarter-final were closely-contested, but both players still held serve without ever being taken to deuce.
All of that changed in the sixth game. Osaka really started to trouble Svitolina with her weight of shot, and the Ukrainian eventually succumbed to the third break point she faced.
The Japanese player surrendered her advantage immediately with a poor service game. Then she re-discovered her rhythm immediately to break Svitolina again.
But the World No.6 justifiably has a reputation as a fighter, and she drew on all her battling qualities to break straight back for the second time in a row.
That made it 5-4 to Osaka, and many would have expected the set to settle down again at this point. It did not happen, as the Japanese player put the Ukrainian’s serve under pressure again to force 0-40 three break points.
Svitolina dug in to save all three but, when she faced a fourth, she netted a backhand and the set went to Osaka.
Osaka races through the second set
The World No.6 completely fell apart on serve in the second game of the second set. Consequently, she rapidly found herself facing a set and 0-3 deficit in the match.
At the changeover, Svitolina called for the trainer because she was suffering from pain in her right shoulder. She received some treatment and then the action continued.
Victory looked almost certain for the reigning US Open champion at this stage. And she cemented that impression when she – incredibly – broke the Ukrainian for the fifth time in succession to make it 4-0.
Osaka had a slight wobble in game five. She made a couple of unforced errors to hand Svitolina a break point.
However, the World No.6 did not take advantage of the chance and, although she finally held serve in game six, she must have known the fight was over.
The Japanese player completed the formalities with a comfortable hold. She finished the match with two aces and a decisive smash and celebrated with a low-key fist-pump and a smile for the crowd.
“I tried to be as consistent as I can,” Osaka said in her post-match interview. “She’s a really great player and it’s unfortunate that she got injured.”
She continued, “Today I just had one goal – to try as hard as I can and not get angry. I didn’t do it well in the last two rounds but I think I did it well this time so I’m really happy with how I played.”
Maria Sharapova – A Closer Look
Many followers of the game have an opinion about Maria Sharapova both as a player and a person. Mark Winters, who traveled on a portion of her career tennis journey, offers personal insight about the remarkable Russian.
Wednesday, February 26th, Maria Sharapova, in a story written for Vanity Fair and Vogue, announced she was retiring from competitive tennis. The resulting Maria features created an avalanche of hurrahs. The tales touched on the youngster coming, practically penniless, to the US from Russia with her father; her scoring a career Grand Slam winning all the majors, (including Roland Garros twice). Some mentioned that since the age of 21 she has contended with not only with formidable opponents but nearly constant right shoulder pain. The financial success she enjoyed on and off the court was detailed. Her suspension for using Meldonium was widely covered, as was the fact that the former No. 1 had seen her ranking slip to No. 131 at the end 2019. It disintegrated further, bottoming out at No. 373 when she called it a day. There were enough Hallelujahs to complete an oratorio. There were also a few “she’s not a saint” exhalations. They touched on her being a loner, standoffish and seemingly, haughty. Reading the Maria narratives caused me to reflect on one of tennis’ most unique players who transcended the game.
Sharapova was born April 19, 1987 in Nyagan, Russia, after her parents Yuri and Yelana had left the area near Chernobyl where the nuclear meltdown changed their lives as they knew it, in 1986. Two years after her birth, the family moved to Sochi. Shortly before her seventh birthday, she and her father arrived in the US. Her mother, who was unable to obtain a visa, didn’t make the journey.
Most tennis fans are aware that she and her father, Yuri Sharapov, migrated to the US in 1994. They ended up in Bradenton, Florida, after the six-year-old had impressed Martina Navratilova at a 1993 clinic that was held in Moscow. The Hall of Famer suggested that Yuri, who was coaching his daughter, should find an established instructor and suggested contacting Nick Bollettieri, who was based at the IMG Academy in Bradenton.
I first met Sharapova and watched her practice in the spring of 2001, just before she turned 14. She was working with legendary coach Robert Lansdorp in Southern California. He had begun mentoring her when she was 11.
Over the years, Bollettieri has received Clio Prize winning PR concerning his relationship with her. Overlooked is the fact that Rick Macci provided direction after Sharapova first arrived in the United States. But when she signed with IMG in 1995, Macci’s mentoring came to an end.
Lansdorp, who developed a legion of formidable players including Grand Slam tournament winners, Tracy Austin, Pete Sampras and Lindsay Davenport (to name but a few of the standout players he tutored), has received plaudits for his work with Sharapova. Long ago, he brought out that Yuri Sharapov had seen Davenport play and wanted his daughter to have a forehand like hers. So, when she was 11, Maria and Yuri came to Southern California and teamed up with Lansdorp.
The forehand he teaches, as it is produced along with the results it brings about, is distinctive and renowned. The relaxed, almost rubbery, right arm is pulled wide from the side of the body. The elbow bends and flares out as the racquet extends into the contact point and carries the ball through the hitting zone. The stroke finishes above the left shoulder in a high follow through. The “Lansdorp Drive” uses the entire arm and more important, a “classic” grip, (not an extreme version like the one Nadal employs).
Over the years, having watched countless elite juniors hit forehands, I can quickly identify a player who has worked with Lansdorp based on his/her forehand – bent elbow on the take-back, then the long follow through. The mechanics seem to have been instilled in his players like a tattoo on their psyche. Videos of Austin, Sampras and Davenport hitting forehands during their pro careers clearly marked them as his pupils.
Ubaldo Scanagatta’s 2020 Predictions: Tsitsipas To Rise, Federer To Fall And No Major Glory For Serena
For the first time on Ubitennis.net, my predictions for the 2020 season. Last year I got 24 out of 30, how will I fare this time around?
Dear readers, first off I’d like to thank you for your ever-growing support. For this reason, I’ve decided to publish my annual Crystal… Bald predictions for the 2020 season, a long-standing tradition for my Italian readers.
How did I do last year? Well, my numbers clearly came around, since I nailed the opening 11 prophecies, most of them not as easy to foresee, such as Federer not winning any Majors but reaching the French Open semis and joining the 100 Tournaments Club, or Nadal winning the Roland Garros for the 12th time, Osaka taking the AO, or a NextGen player making a Slam final, as well as the more pessimistic ones on Murray and Del Potro’s fitness – needless to say, I’m proud of this Federeresque record, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to replicate it in the future.
Obviously, I badly missed on some others: for instance, I predicted a great year from Sascha Zverev (actually, judging from his 2020 form so far, last year might have actually been triumphant in comparison), and a heroic Serena Williams comeback, whom I thought would tie Margaret Court’s record tally, but I fell a couple of finals short – especially recalling the Centre Court steam-rolling by Halep.
So, now that my ethos and credentials have been shown (sort of), let’s get going with a whole new teleological haul, i.e. what will happen in Year 1 of the new decade:
- Federer won’t squander any more match point leads.
- 2019 was the last year so thoroughly dominated by two of the Fab Four.
- A NextGen will win a Major. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if we were in for a brace of youngsters.
- Tsitsipas will reach the Top 3 – he is also the likeliest to win a Major.
- Nadal won’t be rude to me, and I will be more careful with the phrasing of my questions.
- However… Zverev might underperform in the first six months of the season (and especially in Melbourne and Paris) due to the many exhibitions played with Federer that are likely to hinder his conditioning. If that were to happen, I’d be all but compelled to remind Rafa that he said to me: “If Sascha doesn’t win a Major in two years, you’ll be allowed to tell me that I’m a tennis illiterate.” Diplomatic incident alert, y’all.
- I will scheme to get Djokovic to say “not too bad” one more time.
- I’ll be interviewed by Channel 9, the Down Under network that will broadcast the Australian Open for the first time, whose brass won’t want to miss a chance to discuss my viral gags with the Big Three.
- I’ll make peace with Fognini – okay, this is too far.
- The new ATP chairman, Andrea Gaudenzi, will deny ever advocating a shortening of sets from 6 to 4 games. A very earnest bloke in the past, he’ll become a politician in his own right – it’s everybody’s fate. He’ll court the powers that be and he’ll forget about the small time reporters who saw him grow into this position.
- The NextGen ATP Finals will be moved to Turin in 2021 as a leading-up event to the actual Finals.
- Jannik Sinner, Italy’s most promising player, will have a similar progression to Djokovic’s. Nole finished as No.83 at 18 years old, in 2005, before reaching No.16 the following season. Sinner finished last season as No.78, and I believe he could be No.16 by the end of 2020.
- Benito Perez Barbadillo, Nadal’s manager, will mellow and learn to appreciate others for what they are, with no prejudice.
- Serena Williams won’t win a Major, thus not equalling Margaret Court’s record of 24 Slams. She betrayed me last year by not making it, so I’m tanking her this time around.
- Coco Gauff will experience some growing pains early in the year, suffering from the media pressure, but then will rise.
- Andreescu and Osaka will meet in a Major final.
- Denis Shapovalov will break the Top 10.
- The biggest letdown between the ATP No.10 and 20 will be David Goffin.
- Nick Kyrgios will rise from the ashes.
- Medvedev and Tsitsipas will re-assert their place as Slam contenders.
- ATP comebacks of the year: Del Potro and Chung.
- More letdowns: Zverev and/or Federer.
- ATP Top 5: Djokovic, Tsitsipas, Medvedev, Nadal, Thiem.
- WTA Top 5: Andreescu, Osaka, Barty, Halep, Bencic.
- WTA comebacks of the year: Muguruza and/or Stephens.
- Amanda Anisimova will also stage a comeback after a difficult end to last season.
- WTA letdowns: Serena and/or Pliskova.
- The biggest letdown between the WTA No. 10 and 20 will be Angelique Kerber.
- A final, chauvinistic prophecy: Matteo Berrettini won’t manage to keep the eight spot in the rankings – hopefully, he will get back to the top when the ATP Finals will move to Turin – while Fabio Fognini will come back to the Top 10 early in the year, and the will crash out after Monte carlo.
- A final, chauvinistic prophecy, Part II: Italy will have another great year in men’s tennis, with as many as three players in the Top 20.
PS: I know that No.22 will piss off a lot of people, but I’m prepared to take the heat. Happy 2020!
Translated by Tommaso Villa
Former Rival And Top 10 Star Names Novak Djokovic The Greatest Of All Time
The two-time US Open quarter-finalist has issued his opinion on the Big Three of tennis.
There is no easy way to establish the greatest men’s tennis player of all time, but according to Janko Tipsarevic it is his fellow compatriot.
Tipsarevic, who retired from the tour earlier this year, has named Novak Djokovic as the best player of all time based on his own experiences against the prestigious Big Three. A group that also features Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Djokovic is a 16-time grand slam champion who has won more prize money than any other player in the history of the sport (over $139 million). He has also achieved the year-end No.1 spot five times so far in his career.
“I played against everybody, I know who plays them when they are the best version of themselves and, with all due respect to Nadal and Federer … I know that I view this subjectively, but Novak Djokovic is the best tennis player of all time.” Tipsarevic said during an interview with Telegraf.rs.
Interestingly Djokovic is the only member of the trio Tipsarevic has beaten on the tour. Doing so at the 2011 ATP Finals and 2012 Madrid Masters. He lost all three of his meetings with Nadal and six times to Federer.
Others may argue against the 35-year-old by saying Djokovic is yet to win more grand slam titles than the other two players. However, he is the youngest of them all. Tipsarevic believes that it is only a matter of time before Djokovic breaks more records in the sport. Emulating similar comments that have been made by Serena Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou.
“Novak is the best tennis player of all time.” He stated.
“It’s very important that people look at the statistics for these ten years: who did what, who won the most tournaments.”
“I think when it is all over the next three or four years, Novak will statistically outperform the two and be internationally recognized as the best,” he later added.
Despite recently retiring, Tipsarevic will still be seen on the tour in 2020 in a new role. He has been appointed as the new coach for world No.40 Filip Krajinović.
How the Big Three compare
Grand Slam titles*
Top 10 wins
Prize money earnings
*ATP tournaments and grand slams only
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