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

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

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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Victoria Azarenka edges Dominika Cibulkova to reach the second round in Miami

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Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka battled past Dominika Cibulkova 6-2 3-6 6-4 after 2 hours and 31 minutes in their first match since 2015 at the Hard Rock Stadium to reach the second round at the Miami Open.

Victoria Azarenka, who won the Miami three times in 2009, 2011 and 2016 and reached the semifinal last year in the previous venue of Crandon Park at Key Biscayne, had achieved two of her previous seven wins at this tournament in the third round in 2011 and in the fourth round in 2012.

Azarenka got an immediate break in the first game of the opening set and went up a double break with a forehand return winner to cruise through to a 5-2 lead. Cibulkova started the second set with a hold of serve before breaking serve at 15 with a lob drive volley to open up a 2-0 lead. Azarenka broke straight back in the third game on the fifth game for 1-2 when Cibulkova made a double fault. Cibulkova got another break in the eighth game with a forehand down the line before serving out the second set to 30.

Cibulkova earned two break points in the third game of the decisive set, but Azarenka held her serve with her seventh ace. Azarenka held her serve with a backhand winner to draw level to 2-2 in the fourth game. Cibulkova broke serve for the first time in the decider with a backhand return to take a 3-2 lead, but Azarenka broke straight back in the sixth game, when Cibulkova missed a backhand. In the eighth game Cibulkova went up 40-15 but she made a double fault. Azarenka came back to break serve with a backhand return. As Azarenka was serving for the match at 30-0, Cibulkova hit a forehand winner and a dropshot to break back on her third break point chance. Cibulkova made two double faults, while she was serving at 4-5. Azarenka earned her first match point with a forehand return winner and converted it with a smash setting up a second round match against Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia.

“It was a little bit of a roller coaster. Dominika is such a dangerous opponent. She has been on the tour for a while and we have played from juniors together. It was an entertaining first match. I think that’s you want to start the tournament. It was such an honour to play here as the first match and I am so excited for the tournament. I thank the organizers for their great work. They have made a good effort to improve the facility”,said Azarenka.

 

 

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Angelique Kerber and Bianca Andreescu could meet again in Miami

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Last year’s Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber could meet 18-year-old Indian Canadian rising star Bianca Andreescu in the third round at the Miami Open at the Hard Rock Stadium in a possible re-match of last Sunday’s Indian Wells final. Andreescu beat Kerber 6-4 3-6 6-4 in the Californian desert.

Kerber and Andreescu have been drawn in the top quarter of the draw and one of these players could meet Naomi Osaka in a blockbuster quarter final.

Andreescu claimed her maiden title in the Californian desert beating her German rival in three sets. Kerber praised Andreescu for her aggressive tennis in the Indian Wells final.

“After the first set I did my best to come back and but Bianca played good, especially in the third set. When she had her chances, she just went for it, putting the balls into the court. She deserved to win in the end, playing the whole tournament well. I know that I had to play my best tennis, although I was not able to take my chances, something she did. Her level was high already in Auckland, starting the year with the final and carrying that form here”, said Kerber.

At Indian Wells Kerber beat Yulia Putintseva, Natalya Vikhlyantseva, Aryna Sabalenka, Venus Williams and Belinda Bencic to advance to the 29th final of her career. Despite the defeat Kerber has remained positive about her successful week at Indian Wells and is confident ahead of her next tournament in Miami.

“For me the positive thing is that I played in the final, something I did not expect two weeks ago. That’s why I am happy about this tournament and that gives me a lot of confidence. In a few days we have another tournament and we all start again from zero. I was trying not to look too much on her side but she played well. Miami is the new chapter for all of us. There are different conditions and rivals and we willin the new venue. I am looking forward to going there”, said Kerber.

 

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Sloane Stephens out to defend her title at the Miami Open

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Reigning US Open and Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka, 2018 Roland Garros champion Simona Halep, fresh Indian Wells winner Bianca Andreescu, 23-time Grand Slam champion, Serena Williams and 2018 Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber are in the spotlight at the Miami Open Main Draw.  

Naomi Osaka leads the top half of the draw, which also features three Grand Slam champions; Angelique Kerber, Garbine Muguruza and Caroline Wozniacki. Osaka won the first title of her career at Indian Wells in 2018 and beat Serena Williams in her opening match of last year’s edition of the Miami Open before losing to Elina Svitolina.

In this year’s edition of the Miami Open Osaka will open her campaign against a qualifier and could take on Hsieh-Su-Wei in the third round in a possible re-match of this year’s Australian Open third round match. In Melbourne the Japanese player came back from a set down to beat Hsieh-Su-Wei 5-7 6-4 6-1. Last week Osaka lost to Belinda Bencic in straight sets in Indian Wells.

Osaka could face either Caroline Wozniacki or Garbine Muguruza in the fourth round and is on collision course for a possible quarter final clash against either Angelique Kerber or Aryna Sabalenka.

Defending champion Sloane Stephens lead the bottom half of the draw. The 2017 US Open champion has had a season of ups and downs with a record of 5 wins and 5 losses and lost in her opening round of Indian Wells against Stefanie Voegele, but the US player should not be underestimated. Last year she entered the Miami tournament with a negative 3-4 win-loss record and won her maiden Miami title. She continued her successful 2018 season with three finals at Roland Garros, Montreal and at the WTA Finals in Singapore. Stephens will start her defence against either Budapest champion Alyson Van Uytvanck or Ons Jabeur and could meet Italy’s Camila Giorgi in the third round and is on collision course for a possible quarter final against either Karolina Pliskova or Jelena Ostapenko (in a possible re-match of last year’s final). Pliskova could meet 2019 Dubai champion and Indian Wells semifinalist Belinda Bencic in the third round in a potential re-match of this year’s Indian Wells match.

Simona Halep leads the bottom half of the draw. The Romanian player will open her Miami campaign against Johanna Larsson an dcould meet either Daria Kasatkina in the third round or Lesla Tsurenko before a potential quarter final against either Serena Williams or last year’s WTA Finals champion Elina Svitolina.

This year’s Australian Open finalist Petra Kvitova has been drawn in the top half of the draw and will play against either Maria Sakkari or last year’s Moscow champion Olga Danilovic in her opening match before a possible third-round clash against Donna Vekic.

Fresh Indian Wells champion Bianca Andreescu will make her Miami Open debut against Romania’s Irina Camelia Begu. The winner of this match could clash against 20-year-old US player Sofia Kenin, who beat Andreescu in the recent Acapulco semifinal. Andreescu could face Kerber in the third round in a potential re-match of last Sunday’s Indian Wells final.

In one of the most interesting first round matches former Miami champion Victoria Azarenka will face 2016 WTA Finals champion Dominica Cibulkova, who reached the semifinal in Miami in 2014.

Mari Osaka, the elder sister of Naomi Osaka, was awarded a wild card for the 2019 Miami Open and will make her first appearance in a main draw and will play against Whitney Osuigwe.

There is no clear favourites in Miami after a very unpredictable start to the season in the first three months with 13 different champions in the first 13 WTA tournaments of the year. Three players aged 21 or younger Naomi Osaka, Belinda Bencic and Bianca Andreescu won the biggest titles this season lifting the trophies respectively at the Australian Open, Dubai and Indian Wells.

The Miami Open will be held for the first time in the Hard Rock Stadium, the home of the American Football team Miami Dolphins.

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