Coach Sascha Bajin believes Naomi Osaka has the upper hand in her upcoming match against Petra Kvitova at the Australian Open on Saturday.
Osaka will take on the Czech for the chance to win her second consecutive grand slam title at the age of 21. Also up for grabs will be the world No.1 ranking. Should she claim the top spot, Osaka would be the first Japanese player – man or woman – in the history of the sport to do so. An impressive achievement for a player who had a ranking of 72 a year ago.
“I kind of want her to approach the match like she approached (Karolina) Pliskova. She’s also a big server. Just kind of like the opposite, because she’s a lefty.” Bajin commented of the tactics he advises Osaka to use.
“Both of them are very dangerous off the first two, three shots, but I believe once the rally keeps going, Naomi with her current state of mind and physique has the upper hand.”
Since her US Open breakthrough, where she defeated Serena Williams in the final, Osaka has managed to remain consistent on the tour. She has now reached the semi-finals or better at five out of her past six tournaments. Showing no signs of succumbing to the pressure that other young players have done in the past. She is the first active player on the WTA Tour (after Venus Williams in 2000) to win her maiden grand slam title and then reach the final of the next.
“She really wants it. People say they want it, but she really wants it.” Bajin stated. “We had an unbelievable great season last year, but after having just two weeks’ break, she came back and showed up and really worked her butt off.”
“She’s a hard worker, and she wants to be, and that’s why she’s here.”
Bajin has established himself as a formidable force behind the scenes on the WTA Tour. In the past, he has been the hitting partner for players such as Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams. Then in 2017 he joined forces with Osaka in what has been blossoming partnership. Last year he was the recipient of the inaugural WTA Coach of the Year.
During their time together, Bajin’s main focus has been on telling the Japanese player that power isn’t everything in the game. At the Australian Open, Osaka has hit 50 aces, which is more than any other player in the women’s draw. Her fastest serve was 191 KM/H. The joint-fifth fastest in the tournament alongside Serena Williams.
“From the very beginning, she was a big hitter. I didn’t have to teach her how to hit the ball or anything.” Said Bajin. “Maybe it was a little bit more like telling her there are other things out there than just hitting very hard. We worked on her angles. We worked on just a little bit more of everything. Slicing. Wanting her to come in a little bit more. Just a little bit of everything.”
“This is one of the biggest assets in her game, I believe. If a power hitter like that can move like someone who is defensive, the opponent’s going to have to play really well.” He added.
Should Osaka win the Australian Open, she would become the youngest world No.1 since Caroline Wozniacki back in 2010.
Dayana Yastremska Out Of Australian Open After ITF Upholds Provisional Ban
The attempt by the 20-year-old to play in the first grand slam of 2021 has failed amid speculation of another appeal to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
It’s official Dayana Yastremska will not be competing at the Australian Open this year after an appeal to a provisional doping ban was rejected.
The world No.29 has travelled to Melbourne hoping she would be able to play the first grand slam of the year but now is out of the tournament. She had earlier tested positive for a banned substance Metabolite Mesterlone but was given a chance to appeal a provisional suspension. Explaining why she was able to board a flight organised by Tennis Australia in spite of ITF rules. The rulebook states that players serving a provisional ban are not allowed to participate in activities organised by a tournament.
“An application by Dayana Yastremska to lift the provisional suspension imposed on her on 7 January 2021 under Article 8.3.1(c) of the 2020 Tennis Anti-Doping Programme has been denied by the Chair of the Independent Tribunal convened to hear her case,” the ITF said in a statement.
“This decision is subject to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport by Ms. Yastremska, WADA and the National Anti-Doping Center of Ukraine.”
Yastremska has denied any wrongdoing and says she has ‘scientific evidence’ that her positive test was a result of contamination. Although she didn’t elaborate any further as to what that evidence is.
“Only a very low concentration of mesterolone metabolite was detected in my urine,” she wrote in a statement. “Given that low concentration and my negative test two weeks earlier, I have received scientific advice that the result is consistent with some form of contamination event.”
The 20-year-old is among 72 players who have been placed into strict isolation in Melbourne following a series of positive COVID-19 cases detected on flights en route to the country. She is not allowed to leave her room for 14 days and even then she will be prohibited from entering Melbourne Park, home of the Australian Open, following to the latest ruling.
The announcement is a major blow to the beginning of Yastremska’s season. She will have to wait to see what happens next and if she is able to make another appeal before the next event after the first grand slam of the year.
There have been no official statement from Yastremska or her team following the ITF’s decision.
Ash Barty Draws Inspiration From Olympic Great In Return After 11-Month Break
After spending time away from the tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a determined Barty weighs up her chances at next month’s Australian Open.
For Ash Barty her main focus is on ‘doing the right things’ instead of winning titles as she nears her return to professional tennis after almost a year on the sidelines.
Despite being the highest ranked player in women’s tennis, the 24-year-old hasn’t played a match on the Tour since her semi-final loss to Petra Kvitova at the Doha Open on February 28th 2020. Shortly after that match, the sport came to a halt for weeks as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world. Making the running of professional tournaments near impossible. Then when the sport resumed in the summer with a series of COVID-19 restrictions implemented, Barty was one of the few who decided to not travel internationally.
The inevitable question is how much will the break have an impact on the Australian and her game when she takes on the best in the world? The first public glimpse of Barty’s form will be displayed in less than a week’s time when she plays an exhibition event in Adelaide along with the likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep. The top three ranked players of the Tour’s have been quarantined in Adelaide in part of a deal struck by Tennis Australia.
“I feel like I’ve done all the work,” Barty told ABC News on Saturday.
“I feel like we’ve ticked the boxes and I’m feeling like every single year we continue to develop my game and it’s better and better.
“Obviously I haven’t played competition tennis for a year now so it’s going to be a challenge but we also know that hopefully again it will be a long season and we don’t have to panic if we don’t get the perfect start.”
Whilst taking it all in her stride, Barty hasn’t got long to tune up her game before the Australian Open commences on February 8th. A later than usual start date due to the pandemic. A semi-finalist of the tournament 12 months ago, she is seeking to end her country’s drought of a home champion. The last to do so was Chris O’Neil in 1978.
Due to her ranking, Barty will be the top seed in Melbourne Park but she is refusing to get ahead of herself when it comes to her chances of Grand Slam glory. She has reached the fourth round or better at the last six majors she has played in.
“It’s about doing the right things right from the start, from the very first match, and whether I win the match or not, if I go through the right processes and do things the way we’ve always done it, I’ll sleep well at night regardless of the results,” Barty explains.
“That’s a really important part of our make-up with our whole team. Everyone plays a role and we try and do a job to the best of our ability on that given day.
“If it’s good enough, it is. And if it’s not, it’s not. But that’s okay.”
As to how she will handle the pressure in the coming weeks, the Grand Slam champion plans to follow the example set by compatriot Cathy Freeman. A former 400 meter runner who won a gold medal in front of her home crowd at the 2000 Olympic Games.
“I think her analogy, particularly through the Sydney Olympics, was one of the best I have ever heard,” she said.
“Her picturing herself as a young girl inside a house and seeing the storm outside, you can see it but you don’t hear it. That is really effective and incredible.
“For me it is about accepting that there is noise and extra attention and talk but ultimately that doesn’t change how I hit a tennis ball, that doesn’t change how I prepare.
“As long as I do all of my processes the right way and make decisions for the right reasons then regardless of whether it is a win or a loss, I sleep well at night knowing we have done everything possible to try and give ourselves the best chance.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time Barty has returned to the sport following a lengthy break after taking a 18-month leave back in 2014 where she even briefly played another sport before returning. Barty played cricket in the Women’s Big Bash League. Since returning, she has won eight WTA titles, including the WTA Finals and French Open during 2019.
The one-day Adelaide exhibition, which is where Barty will kick-off her return, will take place on January 29.
What Does The Future Hold For Ekaterina Alexandrova?
The anomalous story of a Russian tennis player who perfected her game in Czechia and now has reached a crucial moment in her career.
The WTA season is set to begin in 2021 amidst countless difficulties, with many of the same issues as last year. One of the current peculiarities was on show during the Abu Dhabi tournament: the first round was played midweek and the final was scheduled seven days later, on a Wednesday. Luckily, the tournament scheduling didn’t prevent us from finding some good talking points, because the matches played in the first rounds in the UAE were interesting, like the one between Elina Svitolina and Ekaterina Alexandrova, a hard-fought affair won by the Ukrainian 6-2, 6-7, 7-6 after 2 hours and 35 minutes. During the third-set tiebreak, won by the World No. 5 for 10-8, Alexandrova missed two match points at 6-5 and 7-6.
The score illustrates a tough match, and yet, while watching it, I was sure that Svitolina would defeat her opponent, even when the Russian had those match points. I am not saying that to toot my own horn, or because I have special clairvoyant skills, but because we are talking about one of the classic situations in which the performance of one the player rises and falls in relation to the score. In the second part of the match, actually, Alexandrova seemed to have something more than her opponent, both physically and technically, but she couldn’t beat the pressure of the score. When she was lagging behind, the Russian struck the ball very well, finding the court with greater regularity; but when she had to reap the rewards of her supremacy, she was unable to. Ekaterina gave her best at the end of the second set (when she needed to even the score) and at the beginning of the third set, taking the lead with the first break of the decider. At 4-2, she could have pulled ahead for good, but she was unable to take advantage of three more break points. Once she missed the opportunity to land a knockout punch, the match changed: Svitolina broke her serve at 5-4, and then the Russian was defeated in the decisive tie-breaker, after 18 points.
While I was watching the game, I wondered how far Alexandrova could go in the near future. At 26, she’s reached a crucial moment in her career: she has been playing pretty well for a couple of seasons, breaking into the Top 30 and thus being seeded in the Grand Slam tournaments. However, the question needs to be asked as to whether she will be able to enhance the privilege she has conquered by achieving some important results.
It is not easy to answer. It could be said that her uncertain future is the epitome of what Russian women’s tennis has been experiencing in recent seasons – after soaring in the first decade of the 2000s, nowadays it struggles to maintain itself on levels of excellence. Moreover, it is normal wondering who could further the legacy of Sharapova, Kuznetsova, Dementieva & Co.
Currently, Alexandrova is 33rd in the WTA Ranking and the highest-ranked Russian this week. Hers is a peculiar case, because her progress has mostly happened in another country.
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