Naomi Osaka: “If withdrawing from a tournament would cause the most stir, then it's something I would have to do” - UBITENNIS
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Naomi Osaka: “If withdrawing from a tournament would cause the most stir, then it’s something I would have to do”

After booking her place in the Western & Southern Open final, Osaka spoke about the social issues dominating the news in America.

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Naomi Osaka made headlines around the world when she announced that she would not play at the Western & Southern Open on Thursday. And after she beat Elise Mertens 6-2 7-6(5) to book her place in the final, she spoke about the social issues dominating the news in America.

 

“After my quarters match I saw everything the NBA was doing,” Osaka said. “Then I felt like I also needed to raise my voice. So I called Stu, my agent, and we talked it over. Then we called the WTA, and they said that they would love to support and they were going to push play back a day. So I put out my statement.”

“I feel like this is where everyone gets confused, because I didn’t say I was going to withdraw from the tournament. I just said I wasn’t going to play the next day. And today is Friday, and when I posted it was on Wednesday. I think that’s where there was a bit of confusion.”

Osaka reflects on “hectic” 48 hours

The extra attention has affected Osaka over the last couple of days. “When I posted (my statement on Twitter), I just thought it would make rounds in the tennis circle,” she said. “I wasn’t aware of the reach that it would get.”

“So if I’m being completely honest, it was a bit frightening for me, and I had to turn off my phone because I get really anxious whenever I see people talking about me. But then honestly I did put myself in that situation, so that was kind of stupid. But I would just say I didn’t expect the response that I got.”

The Japanese player continued, “It’s been kind of hectic, and I honestly haven’t been able to get that much sleep yesterday. So I’m glad I was able to win today.”

“I feel extra pressure now that there are more eyes watching me. Honestly I don’t recognize some of you guys, so hi, I guess. Yeah, I would just say there’s a lot of pressure I put on myself, and of course I feel like now there is another reason for me to want to win, but I feel like I have to reel back all those emotions and just focus on what I train for.”

A difficult decision explained

“It was hard and easy at the same time (for me to decide not to play on Thursday), Osaka said. “It was hard because I felt like I put myself in a really good position (in the tournament). When I was practicing during quarantine, all I thought of was playing tournaments. So just to be in the semis of a tournament I felt was something that I could really be proud of.”

“I don’t know. For me, in that sense, it was also at the same time easy, because I felt like I needed to raise my voice. If withdrawing from a tournament would cause the most stir, then it’s something that I would have to do.”

Osaka continued, “I don’t feel like I’m being brave. I just feel like I’m doing what I should be doing. So honestly, when people say courageous or anything, I don’t really resonate that well with it. I just feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing in this moment.”

Osaka glad to see others getting involved

The Japanese star is happy she is not the only tennis player speaking out about social issues. “I feel like the players are using their voice more, especially Coco Gauff. I love her for that. She seems to be taking charge both on and off the court, so it’s really nice to see.”

“I feel like maybe this generation of tennis players won’t be too scared of the consequences of seeing things that are on their mind. That would be really nice to see.”

Osaka is also encouraged by the stance of the governing bodies. “Previously I thought only the Big Three and Serena would have that type of power (to get matches postponed). But also, at the same time, I recognize the fact that maybe the WTA and ATP wanted to do something like this but they needed a push from a player to do something like this? So maybe I was sort of their one player.”

“But I think it’s definitely really cool of them to do this and for them to be open to changing for social issues.”

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Australian Open Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas Play for the Men’s Championship

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Novak Djokovic this week in Melbourne (twitter.com/australianopen)

A year ago, Novak Djokovic experienced quite an embarrassing debacle.  After the unvaccinated Djokovic was initially granted an exemption and allowed to enter Australia, he was later detained, and eventually deported and prevented from competing at this tournament.  His refusal to get vaccinated continues to prevent Novak from competing in North American tournaments, missing Indian Wells, Miami, Canada, Cincinnati, and the US Open last year. 

 

But at the events Djokovic has been allowed to participate in over the past seven months, he has been nearly unstoppable.  Since the beginning of Wimbledon last June, he is now 37-2, with five titles.  Novak comes into this championship match on a 16-match winning streak, with seven of those victories against top 10 opposition.  With a win on Sunday, Djokovic not only ties Rafael Nadal in their ongoing race for history with 22 Major titles, but he also regains the World No.1 ranking, despite all the tennis he’s missed.

However, standing in his way is a hungry and confident Stefanos Tsitsipas.  This is the Greek’s second Major final, and the second time he’s encountered Djokovic in this round of a Slam.  Two years ago in the championship match of Roland Garros, Tsitsipas secured the first two sets, before losing to Novak in five.  If Stefanos can win one more set on Sunday, he’ll not only win his first Major title, he’ll also become the World No.1 for the first time.

Also on Sunday, the women’s doubles champions will be crowned.  Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, who have won six Majors as a team, face Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara, who are vying for their first Major as a team. 


Stefanos Tsitsipas (3) vs. Novak Djokovic (4) – 7:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

Djokovic’s excellence in the latter rounds of the Australian Open is rivaled only by Nadal’s excellence at Roland Garros.  Novak is now 19-0 in the semifinals and finals of this tournament, which is quite staggering.  He’s also won his last 27 matches at this event, and his last 40 in Australia in general, a streak that dates back over five years.  While Novak suffered a hamstring injury a week before this fortnight, he has still advanced to this final rather easily, dropping only one set through six matches.

Tsitsipas has now reached the semifinals or better in four of the last five years at the Australian Open, but this is his first time reaching the final.  He enjoys plenty of Greek support at this event, and appears to have some extra swagger in his step during this fortnight.  Stefanos has dropped three sets to this stage, and has been superb at saving break points.  Through six matches, he has saved 44 of 53 break points faced.

Both men feel fully at home on Rod Laver Arena, and have described it as their favorite court.  But this is their first meeting on RLA.  They’ve met plenty of times on other courts though, in a rivalry that’s been thoroughly dominated by Djokovic.  The Serbian leads 10-2, and has claimed their last nine matches.  That includes four matches that took place in 2022, in which Novak won eight of their nine sets.  They played three times within a six-week period this past fall on indoor hard courts, with their closest and best matchup taking place in the semifinals of Bercy, where Djokovic prevailed in a final-set tiebreak.

Djokovic is undeniably a huge favorite to win his 10th Australian Open.  But that common knowledge takes a lot of pressure off Tsitsipas, who was so close to defeating Novak the last time they met in a Slam final.  Djokovic has been rather unbothered by all competition during this tournament, even with an injured hamstring.  Can Stefanos pull off one of the bigger surprises in recent tennis history?  I expect him to challenge Novak on Sunday, but Tsitsipas’ backhand remains a liability. And with Djokovic determined to avenge what he sees as mistreatment a year ago in Australia, a Novak loss would be truly surprising.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Aryna Sabalenka: Double Fault Queen To Grand Slam Champion

Self doubt and problems with her technique, Sabalenka’s journey to her first major title has been a tricky one.

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Not too long ago the biggest test for Aryna Sabalenka on the court was trying to control her problematic serve and not chasing after a Grand Slam title.

 

Throughout 2022 the Belarussian played 55 matches where she produced an outstanding 428 double faults in 601 service games. It was a difficult period for the talented Sabalenka with her coach, Anton Dubrov, contemplating walking away from her team as he felt he could do no more to help her improve. Dubrov has worked with the tennis star as her mentor since last summer and was also previously her hitting partner. 

“He just said, “I don’t know what to do. I think you need to find someone else who’s going to help you,” Sabalenka recounted. 
“But I was like I knew that it’s not about him. It’s just something about me. I just have to figure out the problem. We had to get through it.”

So what was the root of the problem? In recent years there has been a growing trend in players saying their use of a sports psychologist has enabled them to elevate their game. However, Sabalenka is not one of those players after deciding to stop working with her psychologist in the off-season and taking the mental aspect of her game into her own hands. Following her semi-final win over Magda Linette at the Australian Open, she told reporters that ‘nobody (other) than me will help me.”

Instead, it was her work with a biomechanics trainer which helped correct her problematic serve. Biomechanics is the process of looking into detail the technical aspects of a player’s game to establish where the issue lies and how it can be corrected. Sabalenka began her collaboration last summer and her results were noticeable during the second half of the 2022 season where she reached the last four of the US Open before winning the WTA Finals. 

But Grand Slam success had evaded her until this year’s Australian Open where she won six matches in straight sets before encountering a formidable challenge against Elena Rybakina in Saturday’s final. Coming back from a set down, Sabalenka battled to a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, win in what was a match of high quality and heavy hitting from both players

“I think it’s (her win) even more enjoyable after all those tough matches. I feel right now that I needed those tough losses to kind of understand myself a little bit better. It was like a preparation for me,” Sabalenka reflected on her past misfortunes on the Tour. 
“I actually feel happy that I lost those matches, so right now I can be a different player and just different Aryna.”

Despite her previous results, the 24-year-old admits she went through a situation similar to impostor syndrome where a person struggles to comprehend that their success has been legitimately achieved or deserved. 

“I always had this weird feeling that when people would come to me and ask for a signature, I would be like, Why are you asking for my signature? I’m nobody. I’m a player. I don’t have a Grand Slam and all this stuff,” she explains.
“I changed how I felt. I started to respect myself more. I started to understand that I’m here because I work so hard and I’m a good player.’
“Having this understanding that I’m a good player, I could handle a lot of emotions and a lot of things on the court. Every time I had a tough moment, I was just reminding myself that I’m good enough to handle all this.”

Now with a Grand Slam title in her pocket, Sabalenka’s belief and confidence in the sport grows. Although trying to maintain her momentum on the Tour is easier said than done. At present, there are nine active WTA players who have won multiple Grand Slam titles. 

The future is undoubtedly bright for Sabalenka who will rise to No.2 on Monday. But it remains to be seen how much of a dominant force she could be on the Tour in the coming months. 

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Australian Open: ‘Confident’ Elena Rybakina Unfazed By Top Ten Debut

Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina insisted that her debut in the top ten doesn’t change anything ahead of the rest of the season.

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Elena Rybakina (marioboc17 - Twitter)

Elena Rybakina has remained unbothered by her upcoming top ten debut and admits her confidence has grown despite her Australian Open final defeat.

 

The Wimbledon champion was close to winning a second Grand Slam title in Melbourne but fell just short after a three set defeat to Aryna Sabalenka.

Rybakina took the opening set with some blistering tennis and had her chances against the big-serving Belarusian in the final set.

However it wasn’t her day as Sabalenka just about held her nerve to secure her first Grand Slam singles title.

Reflecting on the match Rybakina said the turning point was Sabalenka raising her level but admitted it has been a great two weeks, “I think Aryna raise her level in the second set. She played really well, aggressive, a bit less mistakes,” Rybakina told the press conference.

“I should have been also more aggressive in some moments. Yeah, I had some chances, for sure, to turn it around. But, yeah, she played really well today. She was strong mentally, physically. Yeah, overall, as I said, it was a good two weeks for me here.”

It was an impressive run from Rybakina who managed to beat three former Grand Slam champions in the form of world number one Iga Swiatek, Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka to get to the final.

Reflecting on the future Rybakina admitted that this tournament has given her more confidence that Grand Slam finals is where she should be, “Well, if it’s going to be like this, it’s great. For sure, that’s the goal, to be in the second week of all the Grand Slam, to play finals,” Rybakina happily claimed.

“Yeah, I mean, now I have more confidence of course even after this final. Yeah, I just need to work hard, same as I did during pre-season and actually throughout the years, be healthy, and for sure the results are going to come.

“Even I would say I’m trying to not think about expectations and everything. Still after a great pre-season like this I was thinking I should show it on the court. Then, of course, the results are going to be there.

“As I said, first few weeks was not that great like maybe the other years I was starting. But, yeah, I think in the end it’s just confidence to go forward, to keep on working.”

Despite not claiming a second Grand Slam title, it has been a very positive week for Rybakina who will now take her place in the world’s top ten.

The Kazakh will be seen as a big threat to the rest of the tour as now she looks to keep performing well at big tournaments.

However Rybakina’s top ten debut won’t change anything according to the Wimbledon champion, “I don’t think tomorrow I’m going to feel different just because of the ranking now,” Rybakina boldly stated.

“But, I mean, for sure it’s going to be different on the smaller tournaments, I would say. I’m going to be seeded. Maybe in some tournaments I’m not going to play first round. So of course there is some benefits out of this. But for sure I don’t really look for the numbers ranking so much.”

Rybakina will look to continue to climb up the rankings when she competes in Abu Dhabi, which starts on the 5th of February.

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