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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Stefanos Tsitsipas beats Karen Khachanov to advance to the semifinal in Monte-Carlo

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Two-time champion Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Karen Khachanov 6-4 6-2 in 83 minutes to reach the semifinal at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters. Tsitsipas has extended his head-to-head lead against Khachanov to 8-1. 

Tsitsipas will chase his third title in Monte-Carlo after his previous two triumphs in 2021 and 2022. 

Tsitsipas broke Khachanov’s serve in the opening game. Khachanov broke back in the second game to draw level to 1-1. Tsitsipas earned his second break in the third game to take a 2-1 lead and held on his next service games to win his first set 6-4. 

Tsitsipas broke in the fifth game to take a 3-2 lead, as Khachanov sent an easy overhead wide. Tsitsipas earned a double break in the eighth game and served out the win on his second match point in the next game. 

Tsitsipas won 84% of his first service games. The Greek player finished with seven aces and 20 winners to 8 unforced errors. 

Tsitsipas set up a semifinal clash against either Jannik Sinner or Holger Rune.

“I would lie if I said it does not bring good memories stepping out on this court. It’s something that I attribute some of my performances here over time to. I came back here, and I relive those memories of the past. It gives good feelings to me when I am able to play in front of crowds like this and be able to try and strive for excellence with my game”, said Tsitsipas. 

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Iga Swiatek is set to return to the Billie Jean King Cup for the first time since 2022

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Eight Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers take place from 12 to 13 April. The winners will secure their spot at next November’s season-ending Finals in Seville alongside defending champions Canada, 2023 runners-up Italy, and wild card Czechia. 

World number 1 Iga Swiatek, world number 5 Jessica Pegula, former number 1s Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber and Simona Halep, and WTA Tour stars Elina Svitolina, Emma Raducanu, Caroline Garcia and Beatriz Haddad Maia will headline the Billie Jean King Qualifiers. 

The winning teams from the Qualifiers advance to the year-end Finals in Seville. Twelve players will compete in the Finals over six days next November. 

Switzerland vs Poland – Swiss Tennis Arena Biel

World number 1 Iga Swiatek will play for Poland in Billie Jean King Cup for the first time since winning both of her matches in the 2022 Qualifiers. The Polish team will be looking to improve on her five-match winning streak. Swiatek won the WTA Finals in Cancun in 2023 and two WTA 1000 titles in Indian Wells and Doha in 2024. Swiatek has a record of nine wins from her twelve matches in the Billie Jean King matches across singles and doubles. She has won seven of her nine singles matches and has not beaten in Billie Jean King Cup since February 2019.  

Swiatek will play against Simona Waltert in the opening match. Swiatek beat Waltert at Wimbledon Juriors in 2018. 

“I know how she plays a little bit but, tactically, I need to prepare as we have not met on the WTA Tour. It’s never easy to play as a guest because the whole stadium is going to be cheering for Switzerland, but I am ready to do my job. I am going to focus on myself”, said Swiatek. 

Swiatek will be joined by Magdalena Frech, Magda Linette, Katarzyna Kawa and Magdalina Chwalinska. 

Poland will play against 2022 Billie Jean King Cup champions Switzerland for the third time. These teams are tied 1-1 in their two head-to-head clashes. 

A Polish team missing Swiatek did not get through to the 2023 Billie Jean King Finals, as they were beaten by a Kazakh team led by Elena Rybakina. Poland were given a wild card into the 2023 Billie Jean Cup Finals in Seville, but they failed to win a match. 

The Swiss team will be looking to repeat their previous triumph in Glasgow in 2022. Swiss team captain Heinz Guenthardt has named Viktorija Golubic, Celine Naef, Simona Waltert and Jil Teichmann. Belinda Bencic has taken one year off from tennis as she waits to welcome her first child. 

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Defending Champion Andrey Rublev Suffers Shock Defeat To Popyrin In Monte-Carlo

Andrey Rublev suffered his third consecutive defeat after failing to defend his Monte-Carlo title.

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Defending champion Andrey Rublev has suffered a shock opening round defeat against Alexei Popyrin in Monte-Carlo.

The world number six suffered a 6-4 6-4 defeat in one hour and 40 minutes against the aggressive Australian.

It’s Rublev’s third consecutive defeat with the 26 year-old only winning one match since his disqualification in Dubai against Alexander Bublik.

However it was a landmark win for Popyrin as he looks to be seeded for Roland Garros with the Australian currently at 46 in the world.

Speaking after the match Popyrin detailed his game-plan to defeating the defending champion, “I enjoyed coming out on centre court for the first time. First tournament on clay of the year and I have good memories from clay last year,” Popyrin told the ATP website.

“I am feeling really comfortable on it and happy to beat a guy who was in form, confident and the defending champ. It was an awesome match.

“The idea was not to give him the same ball. He is probably the best player from the baseline when you give him rhythm, so I tried to change the pace, height and spin and I think it worked really well for me today.”

Should results go against Rublev this week than he could drop to outside the world’s top ten.

As for Popyrin, he will now face compatriot Alex De Minaur in the third round.

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