Naomi Osaka Talks Title Defence, New Coach And Barbie In Indian Wells - UBITENNIS
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Naomi Osaka Talks Title Defence, New Coach And Barbie In Indian Wells

“It’s not about defending, it’s about getting another one.”

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

Besides her sensational rise up the world rankings, Naomi Osaka has established herself as one of the most sought after players in the world of tennis.

 

Her introverted personality and down to earth comments are ones that intrigue many. 12 months ago at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, she made headlines with what she described as ‘the worst acceptance speech of all time.’ Whist she may not have loved it, many others did. The words following her triumph at the tournament where she defeated Daria Kasatkina to win her maiden WTA title at the age of 20. Becoming the first Asian player – man or woman – to do so.

“I was just here to have fun, maybe make it to the quarters,” the tournament website quotes Osaka as saying about her run to the title. “It sounds bad saying it, but it’s true, because I had never really gone that far in a tournament like this. I just kept playing great players in every round and I was just, like, ‘I’m here for a good time,’ you know? But then I kept winning. I thought, ‘Whoa, maybe I can actually win this tournament.’ I did.”

That run was the start of Osaka’s rapid rise as she went on to win both the US Open and Australian Open titles. Within a year, she had risen from 72nd to world No.1 at the age of 21. A performance that saw her win the Laureus Breakthrough of the Year award in February.

Whilst still adjusting to her newfound fame, Osaka knows she will be under pressure in Indian Wells this year. Not only is she defending a WTA title for the first time, her No.1 spot is also under threat. Heading into the draw, five players have the chance of finishing the tournament in top spot. Not that Osaka is fazed by it all.

“All the people around me are super supportive,” Osaka told reporters on Thursday. “They’re not talking about ‘title defense’. We just want to keep moving forward. It’s not about defending, it’s about getting another one. That’s how our minds are and how it might be different than other people.”

The Jenkins era

https://twitter.com/Naomi_Osaka_/status/1100951649953202183

Guiding Osaka on the tour is recently appointed coach Jermaine Jenkins. A national coach for the USTA, who previously worked as a hitting partner for Venus Williams. Speaking about their collaboration, she describes him as her ‘strict older brother’ whilst speaking with Japanese media.

“I feel like I’m getting stronger, and when you get stronger you get better,” she explained. “At the same time, it’s really fun to practice with him because he’s strict, but he’s not afraid to make jokes.”
“He’s like a strict older brother who wants the best for you, but he’s kind of mean about it, but at the same time he cares about you.”

The first test in Indian Wells comes in the shape of France’s Kristina Mladenovic. A player who defeated Osaka in Dubai last month. Mladenovic set up the clash following a straight sets win over China’s Zheng Saisai.

“It’s going to be a brand new match. The conditions are completely the opposite to what they were in Dubai: different balls, different surface. I’m sure her game suits well here as the defending champion, and I’m sure she wants to build on some wins again. I’m going to go out there confident, show a fight, and execute as well as I did a few weeks ago.” The Frenchwoman commented after her win.

A Barbie girl in a tennis world

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Osaka’s impact hasn’t just been on the court. She has become the latest athlete to have their own Barbie doll. The ‘Shero’ collection features female figures who have made significant achievements in the world. To mark Barbie’s 60th anniversary this year, 20 new role models have been made. Including one of the two-time grand slam champion Osaka.

“Having that chance to represent people that might not think that they could be represented, that’s a really important goal of mine,” said Osaka.
“It’s a little bit surreal because last year nothing like that would have come my way but this year I have opportunities like that,” she added.

Besides Osaka, other women to be included in the collection are body activist Ashley Graham, film director Ava Duvernay, and supermodel/activist Adwoa Aboah.

Osaka will kick-off her Indian Wells campaign against Mladenovic on Saturday.

Osaka’s results on the tour since winning Indian Wells

2018
Miami – Round 2
Charleston – Round 3
Madrid – Round 1
Rome – Round 2
French Open – Round 3
Nottingham – semi-finals
Birmingham – Round 2
Wimbledon – Round 3
Washington – Round 2
Montreal – Round 1
Cincinnati – Round 1
US Open – Champion
Tokyo – Runner-up
Beijing – Semi-finals
WTA Finals – Round-Robin

2019
Brisbane – Semi-finals
Australian Open – Champion
Dubai – Round 2
Indian Wells – ?

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Anett Kontaveit Set To Battle For WTA Finals Spot After Lifting Moscow Crown

It is the third time Kontaveit has won a tournament within the past six months but will she be able to qualify for the season-ending championships?

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Anett Kontaveit (image via https://twitter.com/BNPPARIBASOPEN)

Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit has continued her recent surge in form on the Tour by fighting back from a set down to win her fourth career title at the Kremlin Cup on Sunday.

 

The world No.20 was on the verge of losing to home favourite Ekaterina Alexandrova before battling to a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, victory. At one stage in the match Kontaveit was trailing by a set and 0-4. Then in the decider she was broken at 4-4 before going on to win three games in a row to clinch the title. Overall, she won 69% of her first service points and broke her opponent five times.

“Of course, I am very happy, the match was extremely difficult, I feel relief and joy,” she said afterwards. “I got lucky at match-point, but during the match there were moments when she (Alexandrova) got lucky too. It always takes a little luck to win. She took the lead, controlled the match, it was very difficult for me, I tried to fight for all the points and this helped me to win.”

Kontaveit, who defeated former world No.1 Garbine Muguruza and Markéta Vondroušová earlier in the tournament, has now won 14 out of the last 15 matches she has played on the Tour. Her only loss was to Ons Jabeur in the quarter-finals at Indian Wells. She has played in five finals this year which is the second-highest on the WTA Tour after world No.1 Ash Barty who has played in six.

The 25-year-old is now on the verge of qualifying for the WTA Finals for the first time in her career. However, the prospect of her playing in the season-ending event depends on the results of next week’s tournaments. Kontaveit is playing in Romania and she needs to win the tournament and for rival Jabeur to lose before the semi-finals to qualify.

Meanwhile, runner-up Alexandrova exits Moscow frustrated with her missed opportunities in the match. It was the first time she has played in a final this season and only the third time in her career. Prior to Kontaveit, she scored back-to-back wins over Aryna Sabalenka and Maria Sakkari.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to win, I’m very sorry. But I will work on it and I hope next time I will be able to get a better result,” Alexandrova said during the trophy ceremony.
“I want to congratulate Anett, she played great, it was hard for me to do something.” She added.

Kontaveit, who has won three WTA titles since August, is the first Estonian player to win the Moscow trophy. Compatriot Kaia Kanepi reached the final of the tournament back in 2011.

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Simona Halep, Emma Raducanu Heads The Field in Cluj Napoca

On Saturday the draw was revealed for the 32 players playing in Cluj this week at the Transylvania Open.

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Simona Halep (image via https://twitter.com/Simona_Halep)

Despite the fact seven main draw players have pulled out, including Garbine Muguruza and Paula Badosa, the field is pretty deep with a lot of interesting matchups featuring no fewer than six Romanians. 

 

Let’s start at the top with the number one seed Simona Halep who will play her first match against the up-and-coming fellow Romanian Gabriela Elena Ruse. Halep and Ruse most recently teamed up in doubles and made it to the final in Indian Wells.

The number two seed is the Estonian Anett Kontaveit who will play for a title on Sunday in Moscow. She has drawn a qualifier in the first round. Emma Raducanu, the number three seed, will start her tournament against Polona Hercog.

The fourth seed is the Swiss Jil Teichmann who will also face a qualifier in her first-round match. Meanwhile Australia’s Alja Tomljanovic will face Slovenia’s Kaja Juvan who comes in as a late replacement for Ekaterina Alexandrova.

Marta Kostyuk from Ukraine is the number six seed and she will face the American Bernarda Pera. It will be the third meeting between the two players with the Ukrainian winning both of their previous matches.

Irina Camelia Begu from Romania and she will face another Romanian in Maria Irina Bara while the number eight seed is Anhelina Kalinna who faces a qualifier in the first round.

If the seeds hold up the tournament could potentially see quarterfinal matches featuring Halep vs Tomljanovic, Raducanu vs Kostyuk, Begu vs Teichmann and Kalinna vs Konteveitt.

There are indeed some dark horses in the draw that could cause some upsets. Look out for Maria Camelia Osorio who has been playing some amazing tennis this year and it seems to be her breakout year.

Andrea Petkovic is always a dangerous opponent and she actually won the first event in Romania, the Winners Open, back in the first week of August. Anastasia Potapova from Russia is no easy task, and many expect a good week from her.

Main draw action begins on Monday with what is expected to be a great week in Cluj-Napoca.

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Transylvania Open Suffers Major Blow As Seven Players Pull Out

A two-time Grand Slam Winner and the Reigning Indian Wells Champion are among those to withdraw from the tournament at the last minute.

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image via https://twitter.com/TransylvaniaOpn

The inaugural Transylvania Open will feature just one top 20 player in the draw after two pulled out of the competition on Saturday.

 

The Spanish duo of Garbine Muguruza and Paula Badosa were set to headline the new WTA 250 event in Cluj Napoca. Tournament organisers confirmed their withdrawal along with that of Ekaterina Alexandrova, Viktoria Golubic, Veronika Kudermetova, Kaia Kanepi, and Mayar Sherif. Furthermore, Mihaela Buzarnescu was also scheduled to play in the qualifying draw but pulled out.

Andreea Prisacariu and Anna-Lena Freidsam will take spots that were attributed to Muguruza and Badosa. The others will be replaced with Ana Bogdan, Alison Van Uytvanck, Ivana Jorovic, and Kaja Juvan.

Muguruza most recently played yesterday in VTB Kremlin Cup in Moscow, reaching the quarterfinals where she was thoroughly beaten by the Estonian Anett Kontaveitt 6-1, 6-1.

Badosa is fresh off winning the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California while Alexandrova has officially reached the final in Moscow after Sakkari was forced to retire 4-1.

Kontaveit, who is scheduled to play this week in Romania, will face Alexandrova in that final on Sunday after beating the Czech Marketa Vondrousova in straight sets 6-3, 6-4.

Simona Halep is set to be the highest ranked player in the tournament. US Open champion Emma Raducanu is also participation in what will be only her second event since winning her maiden major title at the age of 18.

The main draw action begins on Monday.

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