As action starts at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, here are some off-court snippets…
I’m not sure if I should be telling you this, but I’m just not that comfortable on it [clay] still, and I’m not sure if it’s because I need to play longer on it, or if I just haven’t grown up on it. At the beginning, when I first started training on clay, physically it was definitely very hard, but I’m the type that adapts quite quickly physically. Naomi Osaka
Aryna Sabalenka rises from her previous career-high of No 7 up to No 4 after winning the fourth WTA 1000 title of her career in Madrid, adding to previous triumphs at Wuhan in 2018 and 2019 and Doha in 2020.
“That’s unbelievable. That’s crazy. I’m really happy with this improvement,” the Belarusian said. “There are still a lot of things to improve, too. Yeah, of course, I’m really happy, but I’m also not really focusing on the ranking. I’m more focusing on my game.
“No 4, this is not No 1. There are still a lot of things to work on and to improve.”
Sabalenka is now the second-highest-ranked Belarusian player in WTA rankings history, passing Natasha Zvereva, who got to a career-high of No 5. Victoria Azarenka is the highest, getting to No.1.
Coco Gauff kicks off her campaign in Rome against Yulia Putintseva.
“I’ve only been to Rome once and that was under the COVID restrictions,” Gauff said. “So I haven’t got to get the full experience. Even then, it’s still a great tournament.”
In 2020, the 1000-level tournament was part of a condensed clay-court swing staged after the US Open. Gauff won her Italian Open debut against Ons Jabuer, before losing in three close sets to No. 9 seed Garbine Muguruza.
This year, Gauff comes into Rome with a career-high ranking of No 35.
“One of things that I’m working on in my game is definitely my serve, making sure I can get that kick serve out wide to get the ball above my opponents’ shoulders,” said Gauff, who is 14-7 in 2021, which includes a semi-final showing at the Adelaide International.
After picking up 3 wins on green clay in Charleston, the 17-year-old fell to Karolina Pliskova at the Mutua Madrid Open in her first appearance on red dirt this season.
Naomi Osaka admits ‘I’m still not comfortable on clay’ as she tries to grips with the physical side of playing on the surface, and admits she is still trying to figure it out.
Osaka has been the form player on hard courts the past few years as she has won 7 titles, including 2 Australian Open and two US Open trophies since 2018.
She has yet to find her feet on clay and grass, though, and started the 2021 clay-court season with high hopes but fell to Karolina Muchova in the second round in Madrid in 3 sets.
“I’m not sure if I should be telling you this, but I’m just not that comfortable on it [clay] still, and I’m not sure if it’s because I need to play longer on it, or if I just haven’t grown up on it.
“At the beginning when I first started training on clay, physically it was definitely very hard, but I’m the type that adapts quite quickly physically.
“So, I would just say mentally it’s a bit harder because you have to structure the points differently.
“I also think there are bad bounces and stuff. I get quite frustrated. So, yeah, mentally I think it’s a bit more taxing.”
Bianca Andreescu’s comeback is delayed again as she pulls out of Italian Open due to Covid-19 isolation rules
The World No 6 was forced to miss last week’s Madrid Open after she returned a positive coronavirus result shortly after her arrival in the Spanish capital.
She had high hopes of returning to action at the WTA 1000 event after a negative test, but the Italian isolation regulations has put an end to her hopes of making a comeback in Rome.
“Although I have tested negative following my isolation period in Madrid and having been back in full training the last few days, the Italian Government rules put me at risk of being isolated again if I travel to Italy, so unfortunately I have to withdraw from the Italian Open this year,” she wrote in a post on Instagram.
The 2019 US Open winner last played a competitive match in March when she retired hurt in the Miami Open final against Ashleigh Barty due to a foot injury.
Naomi Osaka is conflicted over whether the Tokyo Olympics should be held amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Of course I would say I want the Olympics to happen, because I’m an athlete and that’s sort of what I’ve been waiting for my entire life,” she told reporters on Sunday.
“But I think that there’s so much important stuff going on, and especially the past year. I think a lot of unexpected things have happened and if it’s putting people at risk, and if it’s making people very uncomfortable, then it definitely should be a discussion, which I think it is as of right now.”
The Tokyo Olympics were already postponed from 2020 and opposition seems to rising in Japan about holding the games this year, with the virus and its spreading variants taxing Japan’s health-care system and only 2% of the population vaccinated.
“I’ve gotten vaccinated,” Osaka added. “At the end of the day you can’t force anyone to be vaccinated. If you’re going into the Olympics and whatever, make the host country happy.”
Ash Barty has extended her reign as undisputed World No 1 as both Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep flopped in Madrid at the Round of 32 and Round of 16 stages respectively.
Keen to maintain her consistency in the lead up to the French Open, which is fast-approaching, Barty is feeling fatigued after losing to Aryna Sabalenka in the Madrid Open final at the weekend but says this a ‘good problem’ to have since it means she is going deep in a run of tournaments.
“I think any time you can play a lot of matches and a lot of tennis, it means you’re putting yourself out there over and over again,” she told reporters in Rome. “Of course there was a little bit of fatigue.
“I’m really proud of the week, kind of the month we’ve had since we’ve been away. It’s been a great start. We look to bigger and better things.”
Since leaving Australia in March for the first time in more than a year, the 25-year-old won the Miami Open, reached the quarters in Charleston, beat Sabalenka in the Stuttgart final before reaching the decider at the Madrid WTA 1000 event.
Barty won the doubles with American Jennifer Brady at the WTA 500 event in Stuttgart.
“I feel like we have another opportunity in Rome to try do the best we can there,” she added. “Then we just reset and focus for Roland Garros.”
Kim Clijsters picked the worst time to make a comeback last year after retiring for the second time in 2012, beginning her attempt in Dubai before making her Grand Slam return at the US Open.
Injuries and the pandemic didn’t make it any easier for the four-time major champion and, after only appearing at 3 events in 2020 and falling in all of her opening matches, she stepped away from the court to undergo a right knee surgery.
The results, rehab and recovery all went well and she’s continuing to work on her game on the practice court.
“I knew this was going to be hard when I started this journey—and there have been challenges that have been out of my control,” Clijsters wrote in March. “I’m not ready to quit, I’m going to keep pushing and see what’s possible.
The Belgian star unfortunately will not appear at all during the clay and grass-court seasons, but she is enjoying the quality time with her family, supporting her two sons, Blake and Jack on the baseball field.
“It’s a different kind of clay and grass for me this year,” Clijsters wrote this weekend on Twitter. “It’s been a busy time with the family – I’m event learning a new sport with my boys.”
The 37-year-old is currently set to take the court next in Atlanta this July, where she will take on 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens in an exhibition at the ATP 250 event.
Garbiñe Muguruza stepped away from Madrid with a leg injury she first picked up in Charleston, but she has taken the time off to star in multiple ads for well-known brands over the last few weeks.
The Spaniard joined Felix Auger-Aliassime, Alexander Zverev, Maria Sakkari and more in latest adidas social campaign that focuses on seeing the possibilities.
In the photo’s caption, the 27-year-old asked her fans” “What possibilities do you see?” Muguruza’s apparel deal with Adidas is considered to be one of the most lucrative in the game.
Competing in the sun on a weekly basis, it makes sense for the World No 13 to join forces with skincare brand, Nivea.
In this ad she casually smacks serves and groundstrokes in practice and freshens up with a shower, topping off with the moisturising body lotion.
The brand aced the 30-second commercial, leaving fans wondering if the lotion also gives you Muguruza’s forehand.
Last week Muguruza revealed a stunning video in collaboration with Jaguar, the luxury car company, that gives a glimpse into her day-to-day life and is part of an on-going series that will offer fans inspiration and that extra push to go after their dreams.
“Since I was little I always knew what I wanted to do, what my passion was. So, when this fantastic opportunity came up with Jaguar Spain to tell you what my day to day looks like and where my passion for tennis comes from, I signed up right away,” Muguruza wrote.
Muguruza made a ‘most painful’ decision to drop out of Madrid, but is hopeful to be back at 100 percent for Rome before Roland Garros begins later off this month.
Rafa Nadal was named the 2021 Laureus Sportsman of the year on Thursday, while fellow tennis player Naomi Osaka won the top women’s honour.
Osaka won her second U.S. Open title last year, while Nadal equalled Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam titles by claiming his 13th French Open crown.
Nadal picked up his fourth Laureus honour, having previously scooped the Breakthrough, Comeback and men’s individual awards.
“The rest of the sportsmen probably deserve the trophy the same as me, but this was the year for me and I can’t be happier,” the 34-year-old Nadal said. “Winning the French Open and equalling the 20th Grand Slam of Roger Federer has been an unforgettable moment.
“It means a lot to equal my great rival, but at the same time, my great friend. It’s something very special after all the history we have had together on and off court.”
Laureus hailed Osaka’s ‘powerful statement’ at the U.S. Open to support the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign as she highlighted racial injustice by wearing different face masks at her matches bearing the names of African Americans who died in recent years.
“I think it is important to use my voice,” said 23-year-old Osaka. “Because for me I feel like I often hold back a lot and worry about what people think of me, but you know if you have a platform it is very important you use it.”
Tennis dominated the digital awards ceremony in Seville as American great Billie Jean King received the Lifetime Achievement award.