Osaka wants to follow MJ’s lead
Naomi Osaka shared some insight on Sunday into why she took to the court for her second round against Sara Sorribes Tormo despite carrying an Achilles injury she picked up after her opener in Madrid.
Osaka lost to a relentless Sorribes Tormo 6-3, 6-1 and admitted she could have dealt with her injury in a “smarter” manner by perhaps taking painkillers sooner than she did.
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While some may have considered withdrawing from the tournament to avoid risking further injury with a major goal like the French Open coming up ahead, Osaka said she wanted to push herself and test her limits, taking a page out of Michael Jordan’s playbook.
The Japanese star referenced Jordan’s iconic ‘Flu Game’, which saw the American legend suit up for the Chicago Bulls in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz, despite suffering from a bad case of food poisoning. Jordan scored 38 points that day to help his side defeat the Jazz before collapsing into Scottie Pippen’s arms.
“For me, honestly, I don't want to, like, retire because of injury again in my career,” explained Osaka after her loss at the Caja Magica.
“Because you know, like sometimes I think about the Michael Jordan ‘Flu Game’, I'm like, ‘I should be like that too’.
“There is always, like, caution in your mind, but for me, I want to see what happens if I push through it. I want to know the type of – it's not relief - but like the feeling that I would have if I were to ever be injured quite badly and still be able to push through the match.”
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One highlight from Osaka’s second round was a smooth backhand volley she pulled off during a rally with Sorribes Tormo.
Not necessarily known for her net prowess, Osaka said she has a reason for paying special attention to that part of her game ahead of next month’s Wimbledon.
“So I have been like really trying to focus on my net game, because I'm going to play mixed doubles in Wimbledon. I know, shocking, right? I'm shocked too. Your eyes got super big,” she told me, noticing my surprise despite my mouth being covered by a face mask.
“I really don't want to like disappoint the person I'm playing with, because whenever I play doubles I always say, ‘Sorry’. I'm going to try not to be a liability.”
Osaka did not reveal who her mixed doubles partner will be but said we probably could guess who it was.
It sounds like it could be Nick Kyrgios, who shares an agent with Osaka. We’ll find out soon enough!
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Chef Dasha is in the zone
‘The zone’ is a place players are in constant pursuit of when competing on court and it’s not reached nearly as often as they’d like to.
Amid the distractions in Madrid this week, where tour board meetings are meant to take place to determine how best to react to Wimbledon’s ban imposed on Russian and Belarusian players, Russia’s Daria Kasatkina is choosing to focus on the things that are within her control instead of worrying too much about whether she’ll be able to compete in south-west London this summer.
In Stuttgart last week, Kasatkina’s immediate reaction to the Wimbledon news was highlighting that “there are bigger things happening right now in the world and the lives of people is the most important thing”.
In Madrid on Sunday, after knocking out No.4 seed Maria Sakkar in three sets, Kasatkina said there have been discussions among players about the situation, but she remains concentrated on things that are within her power.
“Of course we are talking because there is no news so we are kind of like, ‘What’s going on?’ We don’t know,” said Kasatkina.
“But what I’ve decided for myself is that there are things that are out of my control, out of our control, and I have to focus on something that’s not out of my power.
“I have priorities, which are my family, the people I love, it’s my career also, and those are the things I have to be focused on.
“Whatever is going to be, is going to be. I’m just grateful for everything I have and everything I can do. Unfortunately the situation is like this, very unfortunate that we cannot do much and we have to just go with the updates and that’s it.”
When asked if she regards the tennis court as a sanctuary and a place where she can enjoy “mental peace”, away from all distractions, Kasatkina giggled sarcastically.
“Peace?” Kasatkina said with a laugh. “No, it’s definitely not mental peace. Sometimes when you’re in the zone, yes it’s kind of peace where you just go with the flow and everything goes right, but it’s not too often you can face this thing.
“It would be perfect if I can do it every match but sometimes you have oatmeal, the salad in your head and you’re just trying to do something.
“But of course the players who are able to make a good dish out of the salad, they are the best. So this is also what I’m trying to do. Because nerves are always there and you have to just find a way to manage the nerves every single day.”
The good news for Kasatkina is that on Sunday, she felt like she was able to cook a hearty meal on the court with all the ingredients at her disposal during her clash with Sakkari.
“I must say today (I felt like I was in the zone),” said the former top-tenner.
“So I’m happy with this part. [At the] end of the match I was enjoying being on the court and this is the most important thing and that’s what I was trying to find and it’s difficult to find because it’s very tough to find the way to catch this feeling. So I’m happy I was in the zone tonight.”
A diehard Rafael Nadal fan, Kasatkina gave her hero a shout-out during her on-court interview, telling the crowd: “Muchas gracias a todos (thanks, everyone), atmosfera increible (incredible atmosphere). Vamos Rafa!”
A Bianca-Denis collab?
Bianca Andreescu has been experimenting with making music ever since the pandemic hit and she’s given the public a taste of her beats on social media in the past.
During her six-month hiatus for mental health reasons, the 21-year-old Canadian got back to making music and I asked her on Sunday if she ever thought of collaborating with any other tennis players, considering a few of them have released songs over the past few years.
“I haven’t really thought about that yet, but who knows, maybe I’ll have like a little Canadian duo with Denis in the future. Why not?,” Andreescu said, referring to her compatriot Denis Shapovalov, who has released a couple of rap tracks, one featuring French player Corentin Moutet.
Stats of the day
- Emma Raducanu hit just five unforced errors in her straight-sets win over Marta Kostyuk in the second round on Sunday.
- Since the start of 2021, Jessica Pegula has made the last-16 stage or better at 10 of 11 WTA 1000 events, including two semi-finals at 2021 Montreal and 2022 Miami.
- Bianca Andreescu claimed her first-ever top-10 win on clay on Sunday with a 6-1, 6-1 result against world No.8 Danielle Collins. It is also the Canadian’s first top-10 win since her victory over Serena Williams in the 2019 US Open final.
- Kasatkina snapped a five-match losing streak against top-10 opposition by upsetting No.4 seed Maria Sakkari 3-6, 6-3, 6-1. It was also her first top-10 win on clay since 2018.
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