Former world No.1 Naomi Osaka says her recent performance at the Tokyo Olympic Games partly played on her mind as she crashed out of the Western and Southern Open on Thursday.
The world No.2 fell 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, to Switzerland’s Jill Teichmann who is ranked more than 70 places below her in the rankings. This week is only the second tournament Osaka has played in since returning to the Tour following a break due to mental health reasons.
Reacting to her loss to Teichmann, Osaka admits she was perhaps too defensive in her play as the match progressed. It is the first time she has been defeated by a player ranked outside the top 70 since February 2020 when she lost to Sara Sorribes Tormo in the Billie Jean King Cup.
“I thought she played really well. I thought in the first set I was doing everything I was supposed to do, and then in the second set and also in the third set I felt like I was a bit too defensive maybe,” Osaka reflected.
“I also thought that my performance in Tokyo was also lingering in my mind a bit, because I felt like I was overly aggressive there.’
“I felt like I learned a lot from this match and I felt that, if anything to take away from this, I tried my best throughout the entire match.”
It is the second tournament in a row where Osaka has failed to reach the quarter-finals. At the Olympics, she fell in the third round to Marketa Vondrousova in straight sets. Although it was the first event she had played in almost two months.
The recent lack of match play has clearly hindered the 23-year-old who is confident that her game is heading in the right direction going into the US Open. It is not just the physical side of her game that is slightly rusty, it is also her tactical approach.
“I feel like an execution issue would be because of not playing matches. I thought that I felt a bit hesitant, and normally I don’t feel that way,” she explains.
“Of course I put myself in this position by choosing not to play that many tournaments.’
“I feel like there were times where I was doubting myself. For me, I feel like it’s important to remind myself what my strengths are, and I think I did that well in the first set. Then in the second set, I felt like maybe I played a bit more to her (Teichmann’s) rhythm, and also in the third set, as well.”
There are also positives for the Japanese player who says she is growing in maturity on the court. Even if there are still outbursts of frustration during matches which she admits she shouldn’t be doing.
“I think I took a step in the right direction because I was able to process things with my team after I lost. I honestly haven’t been able to do that for the last couple of matches, so I think in that way, I have gotten a little bit mature,” she said.
“I know I had a little outburst on the court (in round three), which I’m not that proud of, but hopefully I can keep learning from it.”
As to what’s next, Osaka is pondering the possibility of getting a last-minute wild card to play in one of the two WTA 250 events taking place next week. However, she says there is ‘not a high percentage’ that she is going to do this. Instead, she is more likely to focus on her title defence at the US Open which begins a week Monday.
Rafael Nadal May Have Luck On His Side This Time Down Under
Could 2022 be Nadal’s year at Melbourne Park?
Rafa Nadal hasn’t always been so lucky, especially at the Australian Open.
Melbourne generally has treated the great Spanish left-hander rather harshly. If not injuries, it was bad luck. He easily could have been sitting well ahead of both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in Grand Slam titles, say 23-19 in both cases. The fact Djokovic was not allowed to compete in this Australian Open wouldn’t even be an issue.
But anyway, here’s Rafa back in the Australian semifinals. Federer and Djokovic aren’t anywhere in sight.
BEST TWO-SET PLAYER IN THE GAME?
Nadal may be 35 years old, but he still may be the best two-set player in the game. He looked like his old self the first two sets of his five-set (6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3) quarterfinal win over talented, but bad-mouthing 22–year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov.
Then, there was another significant quarterfinal just a year ago in Melbourne that almost made this Nadal-Shapovalov meeting look like a replay of Nadal’s five-set loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas in last year’s Australian Open.
Nadal didn’t waste his 2-0 set lead against Shapovalov, although all Nadal fans watching Tuesday’s Nadal-Shapovalov match must have had an errie feeling that it could be 2021 all over again.
NADAL PLAYED IT SMARTER THIS TIME
Yes, Nadal appeared to play it smarter this time. He went after the third set until he missed what should have been an easy passing shot down the line to get to double break point at 3-3 in the set. After 4-4, Nadal won only two more points in the set, one on a Shapovalov double fault and the other one a Naval love-40 ace.
Finally, after dropping three straight games to fall behind 4-1 in the fourth set while looking very un-Nadalish, the Spaniard called for medical help while holding his stomach. That didn’t make Shapovalov happy.
RAFA CAME ALIVE IN FIFTH SET
Afterward the medical visit that Shapovalov seemed to be upset about, Nadal appeared to slowly respond to the medication while closing to 5-3 and holding a double break point in the ninth game before Shapovalov evened the match at two sets each.
In that stretch of four games and then the seven-minute break for Nadal between sets, it became obvious that the medication had worked as Nadal jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the fifth set.
Earlier, Shapovalov reportedly called chair umpire Carlos Bernardes “corrupt” for not calling out Nadal for taking too much time between points and thus giving Nadal special treatment. And the seven-minute break before the start of the final set upset the Canadian left-hander even more.
LUCK OF THE DRAW ON NADAL’S SIDE
This time, Nadal’s luck comes from the fact Djokovic is absent as well as the draw that pits Nos. 2 and 4 seeds Daniil Medvedev and Tsitsipas against each other in Friday’s semifinals while sixth-seed Nadal will go against hard-hitting Italian Matteo Berrettini, the seventh seed.
Berrettini is a strong player, but realistically he isn’t in the class of Medvedev or Tsitsipas.
Berrettini isn’t the most consistent player around. Very erratic at times, repeatedly going all-out on the forehand side, while his backhand is a glaring weakness,
Of course, Medvedev turned back Djokovic’s bid to break the 20-20-20 Grand Slam title deadlock between Nadal, Federer and Djokovic. That says enough about Medvedev’s ability to live up to the task in Grand Slams.
And then there’s Tsitsipas with his enormous talent and desire to win a Grand Slam title.
Maybe Medvedev and Tsitsipas will push each other to physical extremes in the semifinals, while Nadal breezes past Berrettini.
IS NADAL’S BAD LUCK IN MELBORNE OVER?
Nadal’s bad luck Down Under where his lone title came with his 2009 five-set victory over Federer in the Aussie final that brought Federer to tears receiving the runner-up trophy for the third straight time after major finals against Nadal.
Eight years later in 2017, Federer got Nadal back by upsetting the Spaniard in another five-set Aussie final in which Nadal was a heavy favorite.
Another misfortune for Nadal was his five-set loss to Djokovic in the five hours and 15 minutes long Australian Open final in 2012. Nadal owned a 4-2 lead in the fifth set before missing an open line on an easy-looking backhand passing shot down the line with both players at the net. A winner would have put Nadal within one game and one point of a second Australian Open title
BACK INJURY GOT IN WAY AGAINST STAN
Of course, there have been a line of injuries for Nadal in Melbourne, including the 2014 final against Stan Wawrinka in which early in the second set a near-incapacitating back injury got in Rafa’s way of completing a career double Grand Slam.
But Nadal didn’t throw in the towel, except maybe the rest of the second set.
Wawrinka complained heavily to the chair umpire and tournament supervisor for almost the entire seven minutes and 15 seconds Nadal was gone from the court to receive treatment for his back. Although in obvious pain, Nadal came back to win the fourth set before losing the decisive fourth set.
OTHER 3 HAVE AGE AND SIZE ON THEIR SIDES?
Nadal is the small one of the semifinalists. He’s only 6-1. The other three climb the stairs in height, 6-4 Tsitsipas, 6-5 Berrettini and 6-6 Medvedev.
And, of course, Nadal is the old-timer at age 35, while two of the other three are 25 years old and Tsitsipas is only 23.
Nevertheless, Nadal looked like a 20-year-old in those first two sets against Shapovalov. Now with fresh confidence that he can survive in the heat, even another five-setter, Nadal has maybe his last shot at a second career Grand Slam. Win or lose Down Under, Nadal should still have a great shot at another Grand Slam title at the French Open.
James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award as the tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspapers. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.
Jannik Sinner takes the positives from his defeat against Stefanos Tsitsipas
Jannik Sinner has taken the positives from his straight-set defeat against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarter final at the Australian Open. The Italian 20-year-old star believes that the experience will help him to continue improving.
“It’s a positive tournament. I think that what I have to improve is tennis in general. I have to serve better. I have to serve better, I have to do everything more, especially when you play against the top guys. My goal is to play many matches like this, important matches against the best guys in the world, and then we see and then I grow. I think it was good. I played matches, and I had a good experience. Let’s see what I can do here next year. I think I can go back with a positive mindset, knowing that I have to improve many things. There is a lot of work”, said Sinner.
Sinner praised Tsisipas, who has extended his win-loss record to 3-1 in the four head-to-head matches against his Italian opponent.
“I think he played better than me than me today. He served better. He moved the ball better than me. He was moving better than me. It’s tough to play against him when he plays like that. I could not generate the power that I would have wanted. I was trying to move him, but I was maybe a little bit too far back because he played incredible today. I didn’t have many chances. Especially he was serving well, so returning his serves was not easy. My return serves were not so good, especially when he had second serves, or I played very short or I missed. This is why he didn’t play so many second serves. I tried to step a little bit closer, tried to open the court, but today it was tough. I know what what I have to improve many things. This was a lesson for me”, said Sinner.
Sinner, who was making his third appearance at the Australian Open, dropped just one set en route to his second Grand Slam quarter final two years after losing to Rafael Nadal in this stage at Roland Garros in 2020.
“In the past few months I have matured as a player in many aspects, but above alla s a person. This is the most important aspect.
Sinner has become the fifth Italian male player to advance to the last eight in Melbourne after Matteo Berrettini, who beat Gael Monfils in five sets reaching the semifinal the previous day. Berrettini has reached at least the quarter finals at all four Grand Slam tournaments. With a win over Rafael Nadal in the semifinal of the Australian Open, Berrrettini would become joint second Italian player for most Grand Slam semifinals in history alongside Adriano Panatta, who won Roland Garros in 1976. Sinner reached a career-high world number 10 last November. When Berrettini was that age, he had never been inside the top 500.
Sinner has a bigger respect for his friend Berrettini on and off the court.
“I enjoy watching Matteo’s matches. I admire him as a player and as a person. We are good friends I wish him all the best for the next matches. During the ATP Cup we practiced on the court and I now know him better. I have learnt a lot from training with him. Matteo is a very good guy. We get along well. Our rivalry is helping us to push beyond our limits”, said Sinner.
Sinner will return to the court to play at the Rotterdam ATP 500 indoor-court tournament.
Australian Open: Iga Świątek stumbles past Kaia Kanepi to make the semis
Iga Swiatek outlasted Kaia Kanepi in a gutsy match to reach the last four in Melbourne.
Former French Open winner Iga Świątek overcame some serious woes to outlast Kaia Kanepi in a 3-hour battle.
The 20-year-old bounced back from losing the first set to eventually triumph 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3.
This included the Pole serving 12 double faults.
She will have to improve dramatically in a short turn around of just 24 hours, as she faces the power play of Danielle Collins on Thursday.
The American will no doubt be the fresher of the two, winning in contrast, a comfortable straight sets.
Świątek and Kanepi both held their first three service games, before things began to get really interesting mid-way through the opening set.
A sloppy game from the Pole, including two double faults, gave the break on a plate to the Estonian.
At 36, Kanepi is one of the most experienced players on the WTA, and the seventh seed could ill afford to be handing out freebies.
The veteran made every use of the new balls, serving powerfully and tucking away a forehand smash to move 5-3 up.
Świątek then stumbled through her own marathon service game, that included a whopping nine deuces, and four break points/set points saved.
Kanepi’s service game was far from straight forward also, as she finally took the opening set after four deuces, and on her ninth set point, 6-4.
At the beginning of the second set, Świątek played another shaky service game to surrender the break to Kanepi.
A powerful cross-court backhand drive from the Estonian left her opponent on the floor, and it didn’t look like being the Pole’s day.
But Świątek dug in, and after four deuces on the Kanepi serve, she broke back.
At this point, the momentum suddenly shifted towards the Pole as she held serve before stealing the double break.
Świątek soon surged into a 4-1 lead, having won four games in a row, and looked to be cruising towards the second set.
But Kanepi held and broke back, before a comfortable hold saw her level at 4-4.
The second set trickled away on serve and a tie-break was needed to separate the pair.
But Świątek played the smarter tie-break, and four straight points saw her seal it 7-2, as Kanepi’s wayward backhand went long.
After a 69-minute second set, the youngster clenched her first, as Rod Laver Arena roared, with the match going to a decider.
All the energy was with Świątek, who broke at the beginning of the third, as she moved ahead 2-0, with Kanepi panting and struggling after over 2 hours in the Melbourne heat.
To her credit, she fought back, breaking the Warsaw native to level at 2-2.
But in a topsy turvy match, Swiatek broke and held to lead 4-2 and close in on a semi-final place.
The pole secured the double break but surrendered her own before finally prevailing in a marathon match point, to make the semi-finals for the first time in Australia.
After the match she had this to say: “I’m really glad that I still have my voice because I was shouting so loud.
“This match was crazy and without the energy of the stadium I think it would’ve been really hard to win it.”
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