Melbourne Media Day Frenzy: Sabalenka, Osaka And Others Speak Out Ahead Of Australian Open - UBITENNIS
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Melbourne Media Day Frenzy: Sabalenka, Osaka And Others Speak Out Ahead Of Australian Open

After their 14/15 day quarantine players returned to the world of virtual press conferences with plenty to say. Including Naomi Osaka comparing tennis to a video game, Iga Switek’s ‘long-term’ goal and even the possibility of Johanna Konta becoming a senior tennis official in the future.

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Tennis is back with what will perhaps be one of the most chaotic weeks in recent history which is matched only by the early rounds of a Grand Slam or Wimbledon’s traditional ‘Manic Monday.’

 

Six tournaments will take place in Melbourne over the coming week with three of those being WTA 500 events. Leading up to those events, Sunday saw a series of top women’s player speak to the media about their form, future goals and pretty much everything else. Literally thousands of words were written by those working at ASAP Sports, who are the official transcriber of Tennis Australia.

With so much to take in, here is a breakdown of the key things UbiTennis learned from the stars of the WTA Tour.

Sabalenka on living in the moment

As one of the most inform players currently on the WTA Tour the expectations for high for Aryna Sabalenka heading into the Australian Open. The Belarusian has won her three most recent WTA Tournaments and is currently on a 15-match winning streak.

However, the 22-year-old is yet to make a big impact in the Grand Slams with her best performance being a run to the fourth round of the 2018 US Open.

“I already forget what happened in the past, to be honest. I’m going to focus on my game, prepare myself for the Grand Slam,” she said.
“We (my team) are still having focus on the Grand Slam. I am going to do some things on the court that can help me in the Grand Slams.This is where my mind is. I would say I’m ready to go.”

Sabalenka is playing in the Gippsland Trophy this week with her first round opponent being the at times tricky Kaia Kanepi. Although winning the tournament isn’t her top priority.

“I would say this tournament for me is preparation for the Australian Open. Of course I want to win one more tournament. If I can, I will do everything to win this one.”

Svitolina on Grand Slam dream

Ukrainian tennis star Elina Svitolina says it is a ‘tough question’ when asked what she needs to do in order to win a Grand Slam title. The world No.5 has reached the semi-finals of both Wimbledon and the US Open during 2019, as well as the quarter-finals of the French Open last year.

“I think the most important thing is to be consistent, to get another chance to play the quarterfinals, semifinals. It’s all the time these kinds of matches that you have to go through to win the title, those tough moments. Every match really matters, and there are tough opponents who are there to give you a hard time,” she said.
“It’s very tough to pick one thing that I have to improve. I’ve been in the semifinals (of a Grand Slam). I wish I could play better that time, but it didn’t happen. Hopefully I get a chance another time and will try to play better.”

Svitolina is the only top-five player yet to win a Grand Slam title. She is the third seed in Gippsland this week and will play Andrea Petkovic in the first round.

Osaka – Tennis is like a video game

As one of only a few active players to have won three or more Grand Slam titles, Naomi Osaka say she is intrigued by the depth of women’s tennis. The WTA Tour has been subjected to criticism from some over the consistency of women’s players. Six out of the past seven Grand Slam tournaments have been won by different players.

“I feel tennis is very interesting because it’s like a video game where you can select a character and everyone’s different. We all have our different strengths and weaknesses. I think that’s what’s really unique about it,” she commented.
“For me, I find it really fun to watch everyone else play because I personally watch them. I’m like, Oh, I would have gone for this shot, but they do something different. For me, it’s something that I learned from.”

There is one player in particular who has stood out for Osaka and this time it isn’t her idol Serena Williams. The Japanese star has hailed the rise of Iga Swiatek who stunned the Tour with her run to the French Open title last year at the age of 19.

“I was really inspired by Iga. I thought it was really amazing how she was able to be super focused in all her matches. I was watching the finals. I thought it was really nice to watch because I ate dinner with her last year here. She was talking about how she might go to college. I was telling her, like, she’s really good, and I think she’s going to do really well. So maybe don’t try to divert your energy to college just yet. I’m glad she was able to win a Grand Slam so fast. Hopefully she’ll, like, continue to grow, which I know she will.”

Osaka also had some thoughts about Williams too of course.

The former world No.1 has also confirmed that she will not be travelling to the Middle East after the Australian Open. Instead her next tournament after Melbourne will be Miami.

Swiatek’s ‘long-term’ goal

Polish No.1 Iga Swiatek says she hopes to maintain consistency in her game but admits that it could take years before she reaches that goal due to her age. All eyes will be on Swiatek this week in Melbourne where she plays her first WTA event since winning the French Open.

“It’s not that I want to be consistent right now because I know it takes sometimes years to achieve that. But obviously I know that the first tournament of the season can always be different and weird and more stressful,” she commented.
I don’t think I reached my highest level and I can be a consistent player the whole year because I’m still only 19,” she added.

As for the upcoming Australian Open, Swiatek insists that her French Open triumph will have no impact on the pressure she will face.

“I wouldn’t say it takes off pressure and I wouldn’t say I have more pressure. It’s kind of like the same. It’s constant. It only depends on how I approach these things. I try to keep my expectations low and keep doing what I did because it works.”

Swiatek is the sixth seed in Gippsland.

Konta a future leader?

Britain’s top player Johanna Konta was caught slightly off-guard during her press conference when asked if she would consider working in the sport after her playing career. The question came about after Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley reportedly said the former Wimbledon semi-finalist ‘will go far after her tennis career has ended.’

“I’m not sure, has Craig Tiley offered me a job post tennis? Is that what he specifically said? It’s on the record, Craig. It’s on the record,” konta joked.
“Whatever I will be doing, it’s still a way away. I haven’t really thought too much into it. I am very enjoying my time on the council, which has definitely opened my eyes into how the WTA runs. Therefore, we’ve had a lot of contact with a lot of individual tournaments, some of the slams. It’s nice to see the inner workings of our sport and the different arms that our sport has.”

Konta is once again working alongside Dimitri Zavialoff. The two had parted ways last summer due to a ‘change in personal circumstances’ for the French coach. They reunited in November.

“In a way it never really felt like we stopped working. Obviously we always maintained a very good relationship even after the initial break back at the beginning of last year.”

Barty ready to get the party started

Almost 11 months have passed since Ash Barty last played a match on the WTA Tour. The world No.1 showed glimmers of her current form in an exhibition match in Adelaide last Friday where she lost to Simona Halep in a final set tiebreak. Barty’s lengthy absence was due to the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions.

“I think it’s excitement more than anything. I feel excited. I feel excited as I’ve ever been, as eager as I’ve ever been to get out here and play. Drawing on the memories from last Australian summer, they’re great memories,” Barty commented on her upcoming return.
“It was a hugely successful summer. So I think we just draw from those memories. We stick to our processes and enjoy it. This is a time of year that I love. I’m so grateful that we have the opportunity to do it all again.”

Describing herself as ‘well-prepared’ for the upcoming tournaments, Barty believes her position at the top of the rankings is justified.

“I feel like I’ve done all the work. I feel like I’m well-prepared. I certainly don’t feel like I’m more of a favourite than anyone else (at the Australian Open). We (my team) had a fantastic 2019. I feel like we deserved to be world No.1.”

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Indian Wells Daily Preview: The Women’s Semifinals

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Ons Jabeur celebrating her quarterfinal win on Thursday evening (twitter.com/BNPPARIBASOPEN)

Friday evening will host the women’s singles semifinals.  The first features two Major champions: Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka.  The second includes two good friends who are both looking to achieve their first WTA 1000 final: Ons Jabeur and Paula Badosa.

 

Also on Friday, the last two men’s singles quarterfinals will be decided.  Will Stefanos Tsitsipas and Sascha Zverev prevail against two players making their Masters 1000 quarterfinal debuts, setting up a blockbuster semifinal on Saturday?

Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule.  Friday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time.

Jelena Ostapenko (24) vs. Victoria Azarenka (27) – Not Before 6:00pm on Stadium 1

Azarenka is a two-time champion of this event, though prior to this fortnight, she was only 2-2 in the desert since her last title run in 2016.  Injuries have derailed her progress throughout this season, but she has been in fine form this tournament, not dropping a set through four rounds.  Ostapenko was just 4-3 lifetime at Indian Wells before this year, and was a modest 23-15 on the season when she was withdrawn from the US Open due to undisclosed medical reasons.  But this past month, she’s gone 9-2, and is a win away from her third WTA 1000 final.  Their only previous encounter came two years ago at Roland Garros, when Azarenka prevailed in straight sets.  Like most Ostapenko matches, this will mostly be decided by her winner-to-error ratio.  When she starts making errors, she can become awfully negative real fast.  But based on her current form, I expect Jelena to remain confident, and dictate her way to Sunday’s championship match.

Ons Jabeur (12) vs. Paula Badosa (21) – Last on Stadium 1

With Thursday’s quarterfinal win, Jabeur will officially become the first Arab player (male or female) to debut inside the top 10 on Monday.  It’s been an incredible season for Ons, who has accumulated 48 wins, and is 8-1 over the last three weeks.  Badosa is now into her second WTA 1000 semifinal of the year, equalling the feat she first accomplished in Madrid, her country’s biggest tournament.  Paula has consecutively defeated three of 2021’s best players without dropping a set: Coco Gauff, Barbora Krejcikova, and Angelique Kerber.  These two friends played earlier this year at another American WTA 1000 event, when Jabeur outlasted Badosa in Miami 7-5 in the third.  Infused with the excitement of making her top 10 debut, I expect the more experienced and eclectic Ons to find a way to overcome Badosa, and to play in the biggest final of her career come Sunday.

Other Notable Matches on Friday:

Stefanos Tsitsipas (2) vs. Nikoloz Basilashvili (29) – Tsitsipas leads their head-to-head 2-0.  Both matches occurred on hard courts in 2019, and both were quite tight.  Basilashvili ousted Karen Khachanov in the last round.

Sascha Zverev (3) vs. Taylor Fritz (31) – Zverev is 3-1 against Fritz, though they are 1-1 on hard courts.  Their most recent meeting on this surface went to the American, two years ago in Basel.  This week Taylor upset the two top-ranked Italians: Matteo Berrettini and Jannik Sinner.

Friday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Grigor Dimitrov Praises ‘Surreal’ Achievement Ahead Of Indian Wells Semis

Grigor Dimitrov hailed his recent career milestone as he moved into the Indian Wells semi-finals.

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Grigor Dimitrov (@atptour - Twitter)

Grigor Dimitrov has praised his recent career milestone after reaching the Indian Wells semi-finals.

 

The Bulgarian overcame Miami Open champion Hubert Hurkacz in three sets to reach the semi-finals at Indian Wells.

Dimitrov backed his win over US Open champion Daniil Medvedev in style to reach his first masters 1000 semi-final of the season.

However reaching the semi-finals wasn’t the only achievement as he sealed his 100th masters 1000 win of his career.

Speaking after the match Dimitrov described it as ‘surreal’, “I didn’t know until everyone started mentioning it now,” Dimitrov said in his post-match press conference.

“Really I’m very humbled. It’s such an amazing thing. I’m so thankful to everyone, to everybody that is in the team, that has worked in the team. Last but not least my family.

“It feels like I want to say surreal because I never thought turning pro that I’m going to have let’s say a hundred matches at such a level. I’m very fortunate to be able to put myself in that position over and over, especially throughout the tough years, injuries and so on.

“It clearly means a lot to me. I really appreciate it. I’m very, very humbled on it. Like I’m smiling inside. I’m smiling inside. I think it’s a beautiful thing. I’ll keep on going hopefully another decade.”

Dimitrov’s first masters 1000 win came against Marsel Ilhan in 2011 at Cincinnati and the Bulgarian’s only trophy at this level came in 2017 when he beat Nick Kyrgios in the final of the same tournament.

Now Dimitrov will look to win his second masters 1000 title of his career as he takes on Cameron Norrie in the last four on Saturday.

Norrie currently leads the head-to-head 1-0.

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Indian Wells Daily Preview: Two Women’s Quarterfinals Feature Four of 2021’s Best Players

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Angelique Kerber is a defending finalist at Indian Wells (twitter.com/BNPPARIBASOPEN)

Angelique Kerber has won 20 of her last 24 matches.  Anett Kontaveit has claimed 16 of her last 17, which includes two titles.  Paula Badosa is 38-15 on the year, and 8-3 against the top 20.  Ons Jabeur is on the cusp of becoming the first Arab player to reach the top 10.  Which two of these four impressive performers will reach Friday’s semifinals?

 

Also on Wednesday, the first two men’s singles quarterfinals will be contested, with significant implications as to who will qualify for next month’s ATP Finals.  And in the doubles, the final two men’s quarterfinals will be played, alongside the women’s semifinals.

Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule.  Thursday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time.

Ons Jabeur (12) vs. Anett Kontaveit (18)  – Not Before 3:00pm on Stadium 1

A win today would guarantee Jabeur’s top 10 debut next week.  But that will be a tough ask against the WTA’s hottest player of the last two months.  Since adding Dmitry Tursonov as her coach, who previously guided Aryna Sabalenka during her rise to the top of the sport, Kontaveit has been on fire.  She was the champion in both Cleveland and Ostrava, with her only loss coming at the US Open against another of 2021’s best players, Iga Swiatek.  Anett has not dropped a set through three rounds, though Jabeur has been dominant as well, allowing her last two opponents only eight games across four sets.  Ons has taken both of their previous tour-level encounters, and she’s the last person not named Iga to defeat Kontaveit.  Two months ago in Cincinnati, she outlasted Anett 7-5 in the third.  But based on Kontaveit’s current level of confidence, I give her the slight edge to advance after what I expect to be a tenacious battle with some grueling rallies on these slow-playing courts.

Angelique Kerber (10) vs. Paula Badosa (21) – Not Before 6:00pm on Stadium 1

This will be the first career meeting between the three-time Major champ and the 23-year-old Spaniard, who has had a tremendous year despite a terrible start.  Upon arriving in Melbourne, Badosa tested positive for COVID, which forced her to spend three weeks in full quarantine.  But she’s now vying for her fifth semifinal of the season, and her first since May.  Kerber had a pretty miserable season until June, and even pondered retiring from the sport.  However, she has been an entirely different player since the grass court season.  Her only losses since mid-June have come against world No.1 Ash Barty, or fellow lefties (Leylah Fernandez, Jil Teichmann).  But these court speeds are not conducive to Angie’s game.  They are playing more at the speed of a clay court, and that’s never been her best surface.  By contrast, Badosa thrives on clay, compiling a record of 17-3 this year.  In the last round, Paula defeated Barbora Krejcikova in straight sets, and Krejickova has been one of 2021’s toughest outs.  I like Badosa’s chance of achieving her fifth semifinal of the season.

Other Notable Matches on Thursday:

Diego Schwartzman (11) vs. Cameron Norrie (21) – Schwartzman easily dispatched of Casper Ruud on Wednesday.  Norrie has won three consecutive three-setters this fortnight.  Cam leads their head-to-head 2-1, which includes a four-hour, five-set victory at last year’s US Open.

Hubert Hurkacz (8) vs. Grigor Dimitrov (23) – Hurkacz was a semifinalist here in 2019.  Dimitrov pulled off an incredible comeback on Wednesday, after falling behind a set and two breaks against top-seeded Daniil Medvedev.

Su-Wei Hsieh and Elise Mertens (2) vs. Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara (3) – When these two teams met in the Wimbledon semifinals, Hsieh and Mertens prevailed 6-3 in the third.

Rohan Bopanna and Denis Shapovalov vs. Aslan Karatsev and Andrey Rublev – This quarterfinal features three players in the top 15 of the Race to Turin singles rankings.  The last time Karatsev and Rublev teamed up, this past March in Qatar, they won the title.

Thursday’s full Order of Play is here.

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