Aryna Sabalenka practices – a lot (video)

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – If practice makes perfect, Aryna Sabalenka is going to be really great, in a real hurry.

Anecdotally, wandering around the practice courts all day during tournaments, the 21-year-old seems to be out there more than … just about any of the women.

Many of them, not all, have two sessions a day as they prep in the days before a tournament.

Sabalenka can sometimes have three.

Most often, it’s just the Belarussian and her coach.

(And no, so far, no sighting of the wondrous Dmitry Tursunov).

Thursday was one such example.

There was the morning session.

And then the afternoon session, where she hit … more tennis balls.

And then, as twilight hit the Indian Wells Tennis Garden and the lights took effect, there was Sabalenka out on the practice court again.

It’s notable that in a lot of cases, she’s not practicing with another player, but with her coach. Just hitting balls. And hitting some more balls. 

A lot of balls.

Late Friday morning, Sabalenka was out yet again.

She’ll have another week before she even plays her first match at the BNP Paribas Open. So let’s hope she doesn’t wear herself out – or run out of clean laundry.

But she looks like she can handle it.

us open Day 8 – Preview

NEW YORK – The final countdown to the most anticipated showdown of this (non-capitalized) us open begins.

But before Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer can meet in a blockbuster quarterfinal, they still have to get through quality opponents in their Labour Day fourth-round matches (click here for the schedule).

The draw gods have been kind to both, with the upsets earlier in the tournament.

Djokovic plays Joao Sousa of Portugal, a 29-year-old who reached the top 30 just before the French Open this year, but who is currently ranked No. 68. 

The seeds in that section were No. 12 Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain, and No. 17 Lucas Pouille of France – a friendly section, to be sure. But Sousa defeated them both in four sets. So he earned his spot. And in his 24th career Grand Slam, he is into the second week for the first time in his career.

The two have met four times, thrice in Grand Slams. And Djokovic has never lost a set. In 11 sets, Sousa has won more than two games only three times – and never more than four.

Federer vs. Millman for a shot at the Djoker

Federer is in a similar situation, as he takes on unseeded Aussie John Millman in a late-night match tonight.

He’s a player Federer referred to as a “hard worker”. He’s not the only one to attach those two words to Millman’s name. And it’s both a blessing and a curse.

It means that players respect his work ethic and determination.

But, for the top players, it also usually means they don’t consider him a major threat, even if they don’t underestimate him.

Millman, also 29, is ranked No. 55, just off a career high reached a month ago. It’s an impressive comeback after a torn groin tendon required surgery in 2017, and back woes held him back at the beginning of this season.

A year ago, Millman was ranked No. 235.

The two have only met once, back in 2015 at Millman’s hometown tournament in Brisbane. Federer prevailed in three sets.

Next-Gen – WTA style

Madison Keys meets No. 29 seed Dominika Cibulkova, and Maria Sharapova meets No. 30 seed Carla Suárez Navarro in fourth-round matches today.

But the match that may light the fire on the women’s side will be between a pair of 20-year-olds.

Both Naomi Osaka of Japan (via New York) and Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus are 5-foot-11. And both have had career years this season.

Osaka was the surprise winner at Indian Wells, a big tournament title the reserved 20-year-old may not quite have been ready for. She has just one victory over a top-50 player since then. That came against Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania at Nottingham, just before Wimbledon.

She defeated Laura Siegemund, qualifier Julia Glushko and unseeded Aliaksandra Sasnovich to get to this fourth-round match. That’s a friendly draw; she didn’t have to face No. 11 seed Daria Kasatkina (another young up-and-comer) after Sasnovich took care of her.

Osaka and Kasatkina met in the Indian Wells final back in March.

But it wasn’t so much the level of opponent as the pain Osaka inflicted upon them. She has lost just seven games in three matches – five of them in the first round against Siegemund. And she has a string of three consecutive 6-0 sets on her resumé coming into the match.

Sabalenka on a roll

Sabalenka has had a fine summer. After a breakthrough final in Eastbourne, she was a first-round loser at Wimbledon – it was too big a tournament, too soon. But she took some experience from that.

The bellowing Belarussian has beaten Caroline Wozniacki (Montreal), Karolina Pliskova, Madison Keys and Caroline Garcia (in Cincinnati) and Julia Goerges and Suárez Navarro (on her way to her first career WTA Tour title in New Haven the week before the US Open).

Her first-round match in New York, against Danielle Collins, came quickly afterwards. But instead of a repeat of what happened at Wimbledon, she defeated the American in three sets, and blew away Petra Kvitova in the third round to earn the date with Osaka.

The two are meeting for the first – but definitely not the last – time.

Victoria Azarenka hits the desert (with video)

INDIAN WELLS – There have been many wild cards turned back, myriad hopeful returns to action that went south for former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka since last year’s Wimbledon.

So there was every possibility her wild card into next week’s BNP Paribas Open might be one more false alarm.

Except … the tournament is in her home state of California, a couple of hours’ drive from her Los Angeles-area home.

And with the 28-year-old’s child custody battle ongoing, that made Indian Wells different from, say, last month in Doha.

And so, on a cool Saturday morning in the desert, there she was, on the practice court, looking slim and hitting the ball a ton.

Bellowing Belarussians

It was more than a little amusing that Azarenka’s first practice partner was her countrywoman Aryna Sabalenka.

Why? Because in Azarenka’s absence, Sabalenka has not only emerged as a player rising in the rankings, but also one of the loudest players out there.

The practice match the two played Saturday was a first opportunity to gauge exactly how loud Sabalenka is, versus the memory of how loud we remembered Azarenka to be.

It was no contest: Sabalenka in straight sets (the noise match, not the actual match)

Here’s what it sounded like.

Azarenka had a full crew with her. And she looked as though she had never been away.

Her service motion looked good. She seemed to be moving all right.

That she had to watch a few missle-like Sabalenka winners scream by her uncontested does not make her unique in recent months.

Women’s tennis will be the better for a full-time return from the two-time Grand Slam champion.

A good draw would definitely help matters. And, hopefully, it won’t be a one-off with Azarenka going back off the grid after the tournament.