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.

https://twitter.com/ElinaSvitolina/status/1353587167285501953

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.

https://twitter.com/AustralianOpen/status/1355719889659420679

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.

https://twitter.com/iga_swiatek/status/1354952680486039562

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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Planning Key For Daniil Medvedev’s Comeback From Hernia Surgery

Daniil Medvedev cruised past Facundo Bagnis in his opening round at Roland Garros.

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Daniil Medvedev (@atptour - Twitter)

Daniil Medvedev has spoke about preparation and planning after his first win since hernia surgery.

 

The second seed was victorious in his opening round at Roland Garros after beating Argentinian Facundo Bagnis 6-2 6-2 6-2.

Medvedev usually hates the clay court season but the Russian, who reached the quarter-finals last year, cruised to victory with the loss of just six games.

This is only Medvedev’s second tournament since hernia surgery which took place after the Miami Open.

Speaking to the press after his win Medvedev said that planning was the key to his comeback, “The thing is that, yeah, for sure when I made surgery, I didn’t know — I thought I’m not going to come back on clay. I thought I’m going to come back for grass,” the Russian admitted.

“But straightaway we made a good plan with my team, with my doctor team and physio team, to try to get me back on track as fast as possible. Because also what is tough is there is no sign of when you can actually start playing tennis. It’s just kind of you start, and if you feel pain, you should stop straightaway.

“So I started after four weeks, which usually it can take up to six weeks, I heard, average. I never had pain, so we are going step by step slowly, first day 30 minutes and then 45. Same, yeah, I went to Geneva to see how my body is. I felt great physically. I managed to put really strong practice hours here before Roland Garros. I feel 100% ready physically, so thanks to my team.”

Medvedev will look to build momentum as he prepares to miss Wimbledon due to Russian and Belarusian athletes being banned.

Now for the world number two the focus is on Roland Garros and on clay and after his match he broke down why he isn’t as effective on clay than he is on hard courts, “I would love to think that it’s not mental, because every time I start playing on clay every year, because you have to, I’m like, Come on, you know, just be better. This year is going to be different, is going to be, for you, the clay, and then I feel like I need a lot of time to adapt,” Medvedev explained.

“It’s about the movement, and I think my strokes are given like in the air because the balls are much heavier, they have dirt on them, so a lot of my balls, not at Roland Garros but other courts, for example, it was the case in Geneva, I feel like I’m doing a good job but it just goes in the net.

“When you don’t know what you can improve, that’s where it’s tough because you’re, like, What do I do next shot? Yeah, it’s not the case here, so I’m happy about it. So I know I’m capable of doing some good things. But, yeah, I need to be 100% focused and ready for what clay has to give to me. Right now I feel ready.”

Medvedev will look to continue his confidence on Thursday when he takes on Laslo Djere in his second round match.

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Denis Shapovalov Left ‘Frustrated’ After Early Roland Garros Exit

Denis Shapovalov has a lot thinking to do after his round one exit to Holger Rune in Paris.

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Denis Shapovalov (@andertennis - Twitter)

Denis Shapovalov left feeling frustrated after he lost 6-1 6-3 7-6(4) to Holger Rune in the first round of Roland Garros.

 

The Canadian headed into the opening round with confidence after reaching the last eight in Rome.

However Shapovalov hit 53 unforced errors in an underwhelming performance as he went to an in-form Holger Rune.

Rune, who won Munich and reached the semi-finals in Lyon, played electric tennis as he moves into the second round to play Henri Laaksonen or Pedro Martinez.

As for Shapovalov he was left frustrated and admitted improvement is needed ahead of the grass court season, “For sure I wasn’t able to bring out my best performance,” Shapovalov said in his post match press conference.

“It’s definitely frustrating. It just shows I have a lot to work on. And just
excited to get back to work. Never think I’m done learning and improving.
So, yeah, it’s difficult moment, but I just keep working. I didn’t really
show up today, so it’s a little bit difficult.

“Holger is playing some great tennis, won his first title, semis last week, I believe, pushing some top guys. So yeah, for sure not taking anything away from him, obviously he’s playing great tennis.

“But I think against most players today I wouldn’t come out the winner. So, yeah, a little bit frustrating on my side and just feel like I need to improve some things. Be sure that I’m ready for the slams.”

It’s another disappointing grand slam performance from Shapovalov who recognises he must do better in the future in order to break into the world’s top 10.

Speaking of the future the grass court season is up next where Shapovalov reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon.

However due to the ATP’s decision to remove ranking points as a result of the ban on Russian and Belarusian players at Wimbledon, whatever happens at SW19 Shapovalov will lose a hefty amount of points.

That is a decision that the Canadian doesn’t necessarily agree with, “I haven’t decided anything yet. Been trying to focus on this tournament,” Shapovalov admitted.

“I think first of all, if you have a pro competition, that everybody should be competing. I completely understand the politics and the situation they’re in. But again, if you have a tennis tournament that’s supposed to have the best athletes in the world, it shouldn’t matter where you’re from, this and that, you know? So everybody should be competing.

“I also don’t agree with the ATP to take out all the points. The most guys it’s affecting are the guys in the top rankings. Obviously Novak, me, Hubi, Berrettini, who is not playing here, we’re going to drop a lot. I think they could have gone with it a different way, maybe keep 50 percent like they have in the past or some kind of fairness. But even a guy like Fucsovics is going to drop out of the top 100, you know.

“So it’s difficult for the players when you don’t have a chance to defend and especially on a surface like grass where it’s already so short and the players that play well on that surface they don’t have that many opportunities tom make points, so you take a huge chunk of it out, it’s super difficult for players.”

It’s a dilemma many players will face heading into Wimbledon over the next few weeks.

As for Shapovalov his next tournament will be in Stuttgart which starts on the 6th of June.

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Roland Garros Daily Preview: Two Veteran Frenchmen Play Their Last Roland Garros

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Jo-Wilfried Tsonga practicing last week in Paris (twitter.com/rolandgarros)

A pair of 37-year-old Frenchmen, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon, have announced this will be their last Roland Garros.  Simon will retire at the end of this season, while this will be Tsonga’s last tournament.  With both drawing formidable, seeded players in the first round, Tuesday may be the last French Open match of their long careers.

 

With 12 matches postponed from Monday due to rain, Tuesday will be an extra busy day in Paris.  And Tuesday night’s matchup is a meeting of two men who were up two-sets-to-none last year over eventual champion Novak Djokovic: Stefanos Tsitsipas and Lorenzo Musetti

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s five most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Tuesday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.


Denis Shapovalov (14) vs. Holger Rune – 11:00am on Court 12

Shapovalov has reached the quarterfinals or better at every other Major, but he is 2-3 lifetime at Roland Garros, and is yet to get out of the second round.  However, he has some significant results on this surface, including two Masters 1000 semifinals, and a victory two weeks ago over Rafael Nadal.  It would seem only a matter of time before Denis makes a deep run at this event, though that may not happen this year, as his opponent on Tuesday is on a steep upward trajectory.  Rune is a 19-year-old from Denmark who impressed in 2021 by taking a set off Novak Djokovic at the US Open, as well as winning four Challenger titles.  He has carried that momentum into 2022, by winning another Challenger title, and then his first ATP title, both on clay.  In his Munich title run, Holger upset Sascha Zverv.  And just last week, he was a semifinalist in Lyon.  So this is a very dangerous opening round draw for Shapovalov, especially considering his lackluster history at this event. 


Casper Ruud (8) vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (WC) – Second on Court Philippe Chatrier

This match may mark the end of an illustrious career for Tsonga.  The Frenchman was a Major finalist in 2008, and has won 18 ATP titles, including two at the Masters 1000 level.  But injuries have severely impacted his last several seasons.  Since the start of 2020, Jo is only 4-19 at all levels, and is currently ranked 297th in the world.  In what will be his last tournament, he has drawn one of the ATP’s best clay court players.  Ruud has accumulated seven titles on this surface, six of which have come since last May.  Just a few days ago in Geneva, Casper defended his title.  It would be shocking is Tsonga could pull off the upset, but hopefully Jo can at least provide the Parisian crowd with some of his signature flair and shot-making in what will likely be his swan song.


Paula Badosa (3) vs. Fiona Ferro (WC) – Third on Court Philippe Chatrier

Badosa is the third seed, and the second-highest seed remaining following Barbora Krejickova’s exit on Monday.  But is she a top contender for this title?  She was a quarterfinalist here a year ago, and went 17-3 on clay last season.  Yet in 2022, she’s only 6-4 on this surface.  Ferro made a run to the fourth round of this tournament two years ago, though she’s spent much of the past year injured, and is currently ranked outside the top 100.  It would be surprising if the Frenchwoman can truly test Badosa, but Paula’s performance level could be a good indicator of just how serious her title chances are.


Pablo Carreno Busta (16) vs. Gilles Simon (WC) – Fifth on Court Simonne Mathieu

Like his friend and fellow countryman Tsonga, Simon has achieved a lot: 14 ATP Titles, and a career-high ranking of No.6.  But he’s also had a rough few seasons.  Gilles went 6-24 at all levels last season, and only has one tour-level win in 2022.  And he also received a tough draw in the sixteenth seed, as Carreno Busta is a two-time French Open quarterfinalist, and was the runner-up last month in Barcelona on clay, where he earned impressive victories over Casper Ruud and Diego Schwartzman.  Pablo is 4-2 lifetime against Gilles, and has taken their last three meetings in straight sets.  All evidence indicates this will be the last match for another accomplished French player at his home Slam.


Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) vs. Lorenzo Musetti – Not Before 8:45pm on Court Philippe Chatrier

Last year in the fourth round, Musetti won the first two sets against Djokovic in tiebreaks.  But in the last three sets, the Italian mustered only one game, eventually retiring down 4-0 in the fifth.  That was a disappointing end to a breakthrough run for the 20-year-old, as it was his first appearance in the second week of a Major.  And Musetti has struggled ever since.  He has failed to win three consecutive main draw matches in the past year.  Meanwhile, Tsitsipas has his own demons at this event.  Not only did he also fail to capitalize on a two-set lead over Djokovic last year, but he also lost a heartbreaker in 2019 to Stan Wawrinka, in a five-set, five-hour epic.  But Stefanos leads the ATP with 31 wins this season, 14 of which have come on clay.  And he’s 2-0 against Musetti, which includes a victory last May on clay.  The Greek is a heavy favorite to advance on Tuesday evening.


Other Notable Matches on Tuesday:

Daniil Medvedev (2) vs. Facundo Bagnis – Medvedev is 0-1 on clay this season, having missed nearly two months of action due to hernia surgery.  Bagnis is a 32-year-old from Argentina who won a Challenger event on clay two months ago.

Jelena Ostapenko (13) vs. Lucia Bronzetti – Ostapenko went on a nine-match win streak in February, but the 2017 champion is 0-5 since.  Bronzetti is a 23-year-old Italian who is 9-3 this year on clay at all levels.

Andrey Rublev (7) vs. Soonwoo Kwon – Rublev won a clay title last month in Belgrade, defeating Novak Djokovic in the final.  He’s 2-0 against Kwon, with both of those contests occurring in February of this year.

Simona Halep (19) vs. Nastasja Schunk (LL) – Halep is a modest 4-2 on clay this season, as her partnership with Patrick Mouratoglou is yet to pay dividends.  Schunk is a 18-year-old German who has reached two ITF finals this season.

Aryna Sabalenka (7) vs. Chloe Paquet – Sabalenka is only 13-11 on the year, and this is the only Major where she’s yet to reach the second week.  Paquet is a 27-year-old from France who achieved five finals at ITF events in 2021.


Tuesday’s full Order of Play is here.

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