Naomi Osaka Heads Five-Way Battle For No.1 In Indian Wells - UBITENNIS
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Naomi Osaka Heads Five-Way Battle For No.1 In Indian Wells

Can the 21-year-old Japanese player hold on to top spot over the next two weeks?

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Naomi Osaka (photo by chryslène caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

Despite being a two-time grand slam champion at the age of 21, Naomi Osaka finds herself in unfamiliar territory at this year’s BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.

 

The world No.1 will be playing in her first WTA tournament as a defending champion. 12 months ago ranked 44th in the world, Osaka scored consecutive wins over Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep and Daria Kasatkina in Indian Wells to claim her first silverware on the professional tour. Since then, she has grown from strength to strength to become Asia’s first ever world No.1 in tennis.

“Recently a lot of parents have been coming up to me and telling me that their kids look up to me, those words blew me away.” Osaka wrote on Twitter yesterday.
“I was honestly shocked and felt this huge responsibility because I remember how important role models are.
“I’m here at Indian Wells, I see all these kids that look so happy to see me they ask for picture and autographs….Honestly I wanted to cry because my heart feels so full in these moments and I realize it isn’t just about tennis, it’s about inspiring the next generation.” She added.

Whilst relishing the impact she is having on others, the Japanese player faces a tough battle to maintain her top position over the next two weeks. With 1000 points to defend, Osaka is one of five players that could end the Californian tournament as world No.1. In her section of the draw, she faces a potential second round clash with Kristina Mladenovic, who plays China’s Zheng Saisai in her opening match. A player she recently lost to in straight sets at the Dubai Tennis Championships. Also lurking in her section during the first week is Australian Open semi-finalist Danielle Collins and Caroline Wozniacki.

Osaka’s potential path to the title
R1: Bye
R2: Mladenovic
R3: Collins
R16: Wozniacki/Bencic
QF: Pliskova
SF: Kvitova/Kerber
Final: Serena/Halep

The Chasers

Petra Kvitova was a win away from becoming No.1 for the first time in her career at the Australian Open. Losing to Osaka in the final. In order to claim the top position this time round, the Czech needs to reach at least the semi-finals. A tough ask for a player who has only reached the quarter-finals of the event in two out of eight attempts.

“I’m already happy with my season so far. This is the second month of the year, and yeah, I’m pretty happy with that.” Kvitova said following her exit from the Dubai Tennis Championships.

Kvitova faces a potentially dangerous journey in this year’s draw. Her opening match will be against either the formidable Venus Williams or Andrea Petkovic. The only consolation is that she will not play a player ranked no higher than 15th seed Julia Goerges until at least the quarter-finals, if she progresses that far.

Former champion Halep has won more matches at Indian Wells (21) than any other Premier Mandatory tournament so far in her career. She will be hoping for another deep run in 2019. Last winning a title in Montreal back in August, the Romanian is required to reach the final this year if she wants to reclaim the No.1 spot. Something she hasn’t done since winning the title back in 2015.

Questions remain over how Halep will fair over the fortnight. Whilst she has no injury concerns (that are public knowledge), she admitted that her Achilles impacted her serving and she experienced cramping in her leg during her quarter-final loss to Belinda Bencic in Dubai.

The last time a American woman other than Serena Williams topped the rankings was Lindsay Davenport back in 2006. Sloane Stephens has a shot at becoming the ninth player from her country to top the rankings, but is required to reach the final at least.

Her win-loss record at Indian Wells currently stands at 10-8 and she last reached the quarter-finals back in 2014. Although Stephens is known for finding her form whilst playing at the big events. Winning the Miami Open last year and reaching the final of the French Open. However, Stephens have struggled on the tour so far this year. Winning back-to-back matches in one out of four tournaments played.

“I’m not too sad about it. I’m just going to go back and work some more, practice some more and get ready for Indian Wells.” Stephens commented about her latest loss in Acapulco.

Finally, Pliskova has the hardest task of dethroning Osaka from the top spot. Not only does she need results to go in her favour, Pliskova must win the title. Something that has never been achieved by a Czech player in the history of the tournament. The 26-year-old is already a two-time Indian Wells semi-finalist and has a 75% (15-5) winning rate in the tournament heading into this year. Her best record in a premier Mandatory event.

The women’s draw at the BNP Paribas Open will get underway on Wednesday. All of the 32 seeded players have a bye in the first round.

The No.1 scenarios

R128 R64 R32 R16 1/4 1/2 Fin Winner
Player Points 10 35 65 120 215 390 650 1000
1- Osaka 5871 5881 5906 5936 5991 6086 6261 6521 6871
2- Kvitova 5540 5550 5575 5605 5660 5755 5930 6190 6540
3- Halep 5337 5347 5372 5402 5457 5552 5727 5987 6337
4- Stephens 5212 5222 5247 5277 5332 5427 5602 5862 6212
5- Pliskova 4930 4940 4965 4995 5050 5145 5320 5580 5930

Note: data obtained via tennistonic.com

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Elina Svitolina Cast Doubt Over Playing Tournaments Without Points

Ukraine’s top tennis player says she still has many questions concerning the upcoming resumption of the WTA Tour.

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Elina Svitolina (@TennisChannel on Twitter)

Elina Svitolina has hinted that she may decide not to play in certain tournaments if they are unable to offer any ranking points due to the restrictions that will be in place.

 

The world No.5 has cautiously welcomed the upcoming return of competitive tennis, which will resume at the start of August in Italy. Since March all events have been either suspended or cancelled due to the worldwide health crises. Svitolina’s last played at the Monterey Open in Mexico where she defeated Marie Bouzkova to win her 14th WTA title.

Yet to outline her calendar for the remainder of 2020, the 25-year-old says she still has many questions regarding the resumption of the sport. This year’s US Open will be taking place behind closed doors with players being kept in what essentially is being described as a ‘bubble.’ They will also be undergoing COVID-19 testing throughout. Serena Williams has confirmed her intention to play in New York, however, rivals Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova are both undecided.

“It’s great that everything is coming back, of course, but there are a lot of questions. I think that it’s not just me,” Svitolina said during an interview with btu.org.ua. “At the moment, the conditions that we are offered are not ideal, because there will be many tests, plus isolation, it’s not clear what will happen with the points, with the money … It’s very difficult to say something.’
“If there are no points in a tournament, I don’t know if it makes sense to go and play, because the conditions are enough If you need to spend so much time in isolation, this also plays a big role.”
“I know that there will be more meetings, that this will be decided in the coming weeks.”

The WTA has yet to publish what the ranking point system will be like for the rest of the year and if there will be any changes. On Saturday Spanish newspaper Marca reported that the Palermo Open, which is set to be the first WTA event to get underway when the Tour resumes, is contemplating not issuing points.

Tournament director Oliviero Palma has confirmed that $225,000 in prize money will be awarded and they are hoping to welcome a limited crowd of roughly 500 people to the event in line with local rules. However, he has not commented on the possibility of not awarding any points.

“We believe that around 500 spectators can be present in the stands, divided between the two stands . At the entrance, the fans will have to go through a thermoscanner (to check their temperature),” Sky Italian quoted Palma as saying.

In regards to the US Open, Svitolina says she is confident that the event will be held in the safest possible way. Although it is unclear if she will be playing there or not. Last year she reached the semifinals of the Grand Slam before falling in straight sets to Williams.

“I believe that the conditions are still quite stringent. For example, according to the rule, if you get sick or you have any symptoms, then you can be removed from any round and isolated for 14 days,” she said.
“Some points that are still not known exactly how they will go are quite difficult for all players. I think that they will do everything the best for us. We will watch in the near future how everything goes. I hope that everything will turn out and we will slowly return.”

When and where Svitolina will return to action remains unclear, but she has already returned back to training. Over the coming weeks she will also play in a series of exhibition matches before the Tour starts again.

“I’m already starting to slowly get back into shape, I will play several exhibition matches: in Switzerland in a couple of weeks, also in Berlin . I’ll prepare, it’s good that there are such exhibition tournaments. They are small, there are 8-10 people participating, so the risk is less, everything is done without spectators. For me, these are good intermediate tournaments that now give me motivation to train and prepare.” She concluded.

Svitolina started 2020 by winning 11 out of 17 matches played. She is currently just 10 points adrift of Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin in the world rankings.

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Madison Keys ‘Looking Forward’ To Tennis Return Ahead Of Charleston Exhibition

Madison Keys is happy tennis is returning ahead of next week’s team exhibition in Charleston.

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Madison Keys (@AustralianOpen - Twitter)

Madison Keys is looking forward to the return of competitive tennis as she competes in an exhibition event in Charleston. 

 

The defending Volvo Car Open champion will play for the first time since the Australian Open next week when she competes in an exhibition event in Charleston.

Speaking to Journalists in a Zoom call, Keys is delighted that tennis is making its return, “Being able to have some of these tournaments back on the calendar has been really great even just for my mentality, just because I know I’m working for something,” Keys told wtatennis.com.

“I love that I not only get to work towards Charleston, but to be able to use this as momentum into getting back into matches and getting back into competing. I think all of us are super happy and lucky that we’re going to be able to do this.”

The American’s last match was a third round defeat at the Australian Open to Maria Sakkari but will start her preparations for August’s US Open next week.

Keys will captain Team Kindness against Bethanie Mattek-Sands’ Team Peace in a five day event that begins on Tuesday.

The two captains will get to choose seven other players to join their teams, with the following players also competing next week: Sofia Kenin, Sloane Stephens, Victoria Azarenka, Amanda Anisimova, Monica Puig, Ajla Tomljanovic, Danielle Collins, Alison Riske, Shelby Rogers, Genie Bouchard, Jennifer Brady, Leylah Fernandez, Emma Navarro and Caroline Dolehide.

Next week’s event will see a number of difference to a normal tennis event, with players calling their own lines as well as only one official being used, socially distancing applying for the players that are not participating, players holding their own towels and drinks and also no fans and media attending the event.

However none of these regulations affects Keys as she admitted to missing the thrill of competing, “Now we’re all like, please put me on a center court, break point down in the third, because I would love to have that feeling again,” Keys said.

“I think we all really just take for granted how much we love competing. And even those days where you lose, you get to go out and compete and you get to play a sport that you love, and I don’t think we’re ever going to forget that.”

Here is the schedule for next week’s event, which will be shown on the Tennis Channel for those in America:

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Bianca Andreescu Commits To Title Defence At US Open As Others Play The Waiting Game

The Canadian believes the USTA has come up with ‘the best plan’ to ensure player safety at the major event.

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World No.6 Bianca Andreescu has confirmed that she intends to play at the US Open amid concerns that some of her rivals may choose to skip the event due to COVID-19 restrictions.

 

Andreescu is the defending champion at Flushing Meadows after defeating Serena Williams in the final last year. Becoming the first Canadian player in history to win a Grand Slam title at singles level. Taking to Twitter, the 20-year-old said she plans to make the most of tennis resuming later this year. On Wednesday the revised provisional schedule for 2020 was published with competitive tennis set to start during the first week of August in Palermo, Italy.

“The US Open will always hold a very special place in my heart. Arthur Ashe is where I won my first grand slam title and I treasure so many unforgettable moments at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Since then, we’ve seen sports, and the world as we know it, come to a halt due to the spread of COVID-19,” Andreescu wrote.
“I can’t stress enough that the health and safety of, not only the players, but of all those involved in making tennis happen again this season is, and has always been, of the utmost importance.”

It has been more than seven months since Andreescu last played a match on the Tour after missing the start of this season due to a knee injury. She was due to return to action at the Credit One Bank International in Charleston. An exhibition tournament set to feature some of the best players in North America. However, tournament organisers have announced she has withdrawn from competition. Although it is believed that her decision was due to logistics and is not a physical issue.

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s US Open will not have any qualifying rounds and the size of the doubles draw has been cut. Players will be subject to testing throughout their stay in New York in which they will essentially be kept in a ‘bubble.’ Also this year, the Western and Southern Open have been relocated to Flushing meadows and will take place prior to the Grand Slam. Both events will take place behind closed doors.

“I have no doubt that the USTA has come up with the best plan to ensure our safety as we look to the return of tennis in 2020. The decision, I know was not made lightly and I completely support and understand every players personal opinions on the matter and their comfort level traveling near and far to compete on the world’s biggest stage,” Andreescu said.
“Returning to life as we once knew it is no longer an option but, I plan to make the most of the opportunity to get back on the court, re-connect with players and friends and hopefully bring tennis back to the millions of fans across the globe safely.”

Others still on the fence

Despite Andreescu’s confidence in the event, others are sticking to the cautious side. World No.2 Simona Halep, who is the reigning Wimbledon champion, has previously cast doubt on her travelling to New York this year. It had been originally reported that the Romanian plans to play tournaments in just Europe, but a spokesperson from her team has since said that no final decision has been made yet.

“Given the conditions outlined in the US Open this morning, as of today I do not currently plan to play in NYC,” Halep said in a press release issued to Christopher Clarey from The New York Times.
“However, as we know, this situation is fluid and the conditions may change and improve before the entry deadline in July.’
“I would like to underline that my decision is not set in stone.” She added.

Another top women’s name yet to make her final decision is Petra Kvitova. The Czech says she is hoping that the current health situation in the American city improved in the coming week to make her final decision ‘easier.’ Since making her grand slam main draw debut in 2008, Kvitova has never missed the US Open.

“I would like to congratulate the U.S. Open on their hard work and vision in getting to this point and for putting player safety at the centre of their plans,” she told Reuters via e-mail.
“Hopefully the COVID-19 numbers and conditions around travel restrictions continue to improve in order to make the decision to play an easy one.”

On the other hand, Serena Williams has declared that she would be playing at the tournament. Doing so by recording a video statement that was played during the USTA’s virtual press conference yesterday. The American will be bidding to win a record-equalling 24th major title and become the first woman ever to have won a Grand Slam in four different decades.

“I really cannot wait to return in New York and play the US Open 2020,” the six-time champion said. “I feel like the USTA is going to do a really good job of ensuring everything is amazing and everything is perfect and everyone is safe. It’s going to be exciting.”

The US Open will get underway on August 31st.

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