First of many as Osaka edges Andreescu

Through Canadian Bianca Andreescu’s remarkable rise this season, there were a few highly intriguing top-10 matchups she had not yet experienced.

There is role model Simona Halep, No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and – perhaps most fascinating of all – Naomi Osaka of Japan.

The Osaka vs. Andreescu debut took place Friday night in the Beijing quarterfinals. And much of the 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 Osaka victory very much had the feel of … a feeling-out process. 

There was more than enough quality in the two-hour, 14-minute match to create plenty of appetite for more. A lot more. Because you’d expect the 21-year-old Osaka and the 19-year-old Andreescu to meet often, on the sports’s grandest stages.

This was not necessarily one of those. While it’s a top-level tournament, the small crowd in Beijing rarely got involved Friday night to help make it come alive. These two will have far more electric moments. And that will only make the tennis even better.

In their first-ever meeting, rarely did Andreescu and Osaka play well at the same time. And the roller-coaster nature of the encounter had everything to do with how they match up, how their strengths are complementary. The outcome very much depended on how well each executed them.

And that’s why it should be one of the eagerly-awaited matchups going forward. The contrast in strengths, styles and temperaments means the potential is off the charts.

“Kind of forgot how it feels to lose”

Andreescu might have jinxed herself when she said – not without justification – that she didn’t want to sound cocky, but she’d kind of forgotten how it feels to lose. But the facts were there to back that up that confidence.

The Canadian had not lost a completed match since Acapulco, more than seven months ago. That’s 17 straight, including titles at Indian Wells, the Rogers Cup and the US Open.

She had had been 8-0 against top-10 players. She had won 13 consecutive three-set matches.

Osaka is no slouch in that department; she was 14-3 in three-setters going in.

But at the start, Andreescu looked just as she did throughout much of that winning streak.

She aired out her arm in the early points of the first game, as Andreescu chose to serve first. She was looking to return deep, but needed a few shots to find the range.

From 40-love, Osaka was broken. The change-of-pace pattern that has been the key to Andreescu’s success kicked in on the break point. She hit a slice, forcing Osaka to hit an awkward forehand slice back. She hit another slice, and Osaka hit a forehand into the net.

“I feel like in the beginning we were just scoping each other out. I could not find the mental line of not being nervous and also being fired up. That was a bit of a struggle,” Osaka told the media in Beijing, via the WTA Tour website. “She was probably thinking, ‘Wow, what is she doing? … Wow, she won two Grand Slams like that?’ “

Big serves vs. big returns

What was apparent is that Andreescu will most often win the battle of second serves between these two. She was firing it in the 90-95 mph range, while Osaka rarely broke 80 mph. Osaka had to know, as Serena Williams found out in New York, that one of Andreescu’s go-to game plans is to really attack the second serve, opting for depth when the outright winner isn’t an option.

Andreescu is able to do that consistently, where so many players – even top ones – hesitate That’s because she’s not wary of finding herself in areas way inside the court that might be the destination if the player really steps in on a weaker second serve. She knows what to do there.

With two breaks and a 5-1 lead, Andreescu was on a roll. But she had barely missed, while Osaka had missed plenty. And before you knew it, the pendulum had swung and Osaka had recuperated the two breaks.

Beijing
THE CURSE OF THE MISSING ELASTIC? At left, Andreescu earlier in the tournament with the now-trademark hair band around her right arm. On the right, a hair-bandless Andreescu against Naomi Osaka. Coincidence? Or streak breaker?

One drop shot turns the Osaka tide

It seemed to turn at 5-2, when Andreescu served for the set for the first time. She tried the forehand drop shot for the first time at 30-15 in that game, on a ball she could have driven. And she missed it. Not by much, but she did. And then Osaka went on a roll of her own.

As Andreescu’s level dropped, Osaka had to feel it. The Japanese star suddenly was no longer on the defensive.  She was able to be more balanced when she hit her shots, thus cutting down on the errors. She was changing direction more, taking control of the points a little better, and with better margin. You can’t do that when you’re scrambling; you have to be on the offensive or, at the very least, in neutral situations.

But, just as she did at the US Open when Williams rallied from 1-5 in that second set, Andreescu reset well. She broke, and held at love for the first set.

The difference in that first set was in the effectiveness of the second serve. Andreescu won more than half of hers; Osaka won just 31 per cent of hers.

That matchup of Andreescu’s returning skills with the relative weakness of Osaka’s second serve will be one to watch going forward.

Beijing

Osaka picks up the level

In the second set, Osaka improved her second-serve efficiency. Part of that was just the fact that she found the rhythm on her first serve.

But not right away.

The second serve remained attackable for the most part. But in this set, Andreescu made more mistakes on those than she had in the first set. 

Still, the Canadian broke for 2-1, and saved a break point to consolidate that break and go up 3-1.

Then, Osaka won five straight games – and the second set. As Andreescu’s level dropped, Osaka’s rose. She was more zoned in on Andreescu’s second serve, and Andreescu lost a little courage with that stroke. And when Osaka stepped in to the court, she hardly lost a point. On the other side of the net, Andreescu was allowing her opponent to step into the court. She lost some depth, notably on her own return of serve.

Two blown 3-1 leads

Both Osaka and Andreescu struggled to win points on their second serves in the third set.

Andreescu went 3-for-9; Osaka went a woeful 2-for-12.

So it came down to Osaka’s biggest weapon: her first serve.

The Canadian had a shot to put her stamp on that third set from the start, when she held serve and had a break point on Osaka’s serve in in the second game. She had a 125-mph second serve to work with, too. But where she was putting those away in the first set, she missed this one into the net.

Still, Andreescu once again had a 3-1 lead after she broke in the next return game. But then, she flinched a little. She showed just the littlest hints of frailty here and there, and it was enough for Osaka to get it back on serve.

Andreescu might have called out coach Sylvain Bruneau at that point, because it seemed as though the momentum was slipping away to a greater extent than the match merely being back even.

But she decided to problem-solve on her own. 

Osaka wins the final matchups

Osaka was dictating a lot more, and Andreescu was doing a lot more running. And the Canadian wasn’t able to attack the second serve as much simply because Osaka was serving so much better overall.

In that matchup of big strengths, the Japanese player won this round.

And in the “break-point” matchup, which matches Andreescu’s strength in bringing her best tennis in those key moments against Osaka’s ability to convert, the Japanese player also won this round.

In most return categories in 2019, Andreescu ranks higher than Osaka. But not on this day.

Still, in that ultimate game, Andreescu showed her quality. She carved out a break point opportunity by crushing an 81-mph second serve down the line. But she couldn’t do the same on break point.

She saved a match point by returning a 76-mph second serve on the line. But the first serve again was the difference; Osaka wrapped it up with an ace, her 10th of the match.

“My game plan going in was to just be the more aggressive player. I can’t be the defensive one. Just trust myself, trust my serve, be aggressively consistent until I have the shot,” Osaka said.

Eventually, she got there.

Andreescu, the hug bandit

Beijing

Anyone who’s known Andreescu since she was a junior knows that the hug is her “go-to”.

And despite the tough loss, she was the one with her arms out at the net, ready to wrap them around a somewhat abashed Osaka.

The 21-year-old finally managed to switch her racket from the left hand to the right, in order to accept and return the embrace.

There were nice words said – a credit to Andreescu, who had seen a star-making winning streak end. That she appreciates the battle as much as the outcome will serve her well.

“I forgot how it feels [to lose]. Honestly, it sucks. I didn’t miss it at all. But at least I didn’t get whooped 1 and 1. I put on a fight. Honestly, it could have went either way. It was just some points here and there,” Andreescu told the media in Beijing, as reported on the WTA Tour website.

“At the same time I am pissed, but at the same time I’m proud of myself with how I played today. I really fought, especially in that last game. Holy crap, that was crazy.”

The moment was a concrete expression of the Osaka’s observation that they’re very different, personality-wise.

Those types of contrasts are what makes for great rivalries. So is the level of tennis that both these young players can produce.

For Andreescu, it might have been a blessing in the end. To have – let’s say, for argument’s sake – won Beijing and taken that ever-increasing winning streak into the WTA Tour Finals.

Shenzhen isn’t for nearly three weeks, during which Andreescu won’t play. It might have been heavy.

For Osaka, who qualified for the Tour Finals with this victory, it’s a statement match she can build upon to finish a somewhat bumpy 2019 season in style.

She’ll face No. 16 seed and defending champion Caroline Wozniacki Saturday night, a player she has has yet to beat in two attempts.

WTA Rankings Report – Sept. 23, 2019

If it feels like the Laver Cup kind of sucked up all the tennis oxygen this past weekend, there was a whole lot else going on in that part of tennis that … you know … hands out ranking points and such.

Notably, Naomi Osaka returned to the city of her birth, having shed coach Jermaine Jenkins as her father Léonard Françoise took the reins.

And she won the tournament.

In Guangzhou, Sofia Kenin fought off wild card Samantha Stosur in a great effort for the American, and an encouraging one for the 35-year-old Aussie.

And finally, in Seoul, Korea, Karolina Muchova won her first career WTA Tour title with a 6-1, 6-1 mashing of a player who won her first title in the Bronx the week before the US Open: Magda Linette.

There were no moves in the top 10. But most of them (other than Serena and Andreescu) will be in action in Wuhan this week. 

ON THE UPSWING

Angelique Kerber (GER): No. 15 ============> No. 12 (Kerber makes a jump in a tight section by making the Osaka semifinals)

Madison Keys (USA): No. 16 ============> No. 13 (Keys retired in the quarterfinals, but still jumps three spots – before pulling out of Wuhan with the foot injury).

Sofia Kenin (USA): No. 20 ============> No. 17 (A career high for the 20-year-old, who picked up her THIRD title of the season in Guangzhou).

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS): No. 41 ============> No. 36 (The 28-year-old reaches the Osaka final in her first tournament with coach Sam Sumyk).

Karolina Muchova (CZE): No. 45 ============> No. 37 (It’s been a breakthrough season for the 23-year-old, who can certainly aspire to a seeding in Australia because she has just 10 points to defend the rest of the way).

report
Muchova wins her first career title in Seoul.

Magda Linette (POL): No. 48 ============> No. 42 (The 27-year-old hits another high, after the Seoul final).

Yafan Wang (CHN): No. 58 ============> No. 48 (Seoul semis – and a new career high as she jumps into the top 50 for the first time at age 25).

Anna Blinkova (SUI): No. 76 ============> No. 66 (Career best for the 20-year-old Guangzhou semifinalist).

Samantha Stosur (AUS): No. 129 ============> No. 92 (Getting back into the top 100 has to feel good, after a great effort to reach the Guangzhou final as a wild card).

The 35-year-old Aussie is back in the top 100. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Nina Stojanovic (SRB): No. 110 ============> No. 98 (Quietly, the 23-year-old Serb has jumped into the top 100 after going 10-2 in three events in China this month. She finished 2018 ranked No. 244).

Nicole Gibbs (USA): No. 137 ============> No. 121

Varvara Gracheva (RUS): No. 176 ============> No. 144 (Another teenager hits the top 150 as the Russian wins an ITF in St-Malo. At the end of 2018 she was No. 447).

Marta Kostyuk (UKR): No. 215 ============> No. 182 (Still just 17, the prospect from Ukraine dropped out of the top 200, but is on her way back after a two-month absence, with a final in St-Malo).

ON THE DOWNSWING

Qiang Wang (CHN): No. 12 ============> No. 16 (The 2018 Guangzhou champion lost in the first round this year. Coming up: 350 points for her semifinal in Wuhan, 390 for her semi in Beijing and 180 for her Hong Kong final – where she can’t even play this year because of the cancellation. She’ll face a more packed field in Tianjin. Wang also made the Zhuhai final. That’s 1560 more points to defend – she has 2,668 total right now).

report

Victoria Azarenka (BLR): No. 43 ============> No. 47 (A tough first round against Vekic in Wuhan – but she pulls out with a shoulder issue).

Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS): No. 42 ============> No. 49

Camila Giorgi (ITA): No. 54 ============> No. 64 (The quarters in Japan weren’t enough, as she was a semifinalist a year ago after defeating Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka before falling to Osaka in the semis).

Bernarda Pera (USA): No. 71 ============> No. 81

Andrea Petkovic (GER): No. 77 ============> No. 85

Dominika Cibulkova (SVK): No. 96 ============> No. 109

Daria Gavrilova (AUS): No. 105 ============> No. 122 (The year to forget continues).

Maria Sharapova (RUS): No. 135 ============> No. 138

Eugenie Bouchard (CAN): No. 152 ============> No. 157 (Back in action at a $60,000 ITF tournament in Templeton, Calif. this week).

Mandy Minella (LUX): No. 154 ============> No. 174 (The 33-year-old got back into the top 100 this this summer. But she’s been dropping since).

The road to Shenzhen

A few small moves, as Osaka solidifies her likely spot.

report

For the complete WTA rankings picture, click here.

After six months, Jenkins and Osaka split

The news from the WTA keeps coming on this fine Thursday.

The latest, after Kim Clijsters announced her comeback and Simona Halep announced she and Darren Cahill would be reuniting in 2020, involves Naomi Osaka.

The 21-year-old Japanese star, who has not had a boring year, sacked her second coach of 2019.

After six months, Osaka and Jermaine Jenkins are history.

“I am super grateful for the things I learned on and off the court but I feel like now is an appropriate time for a change,” Osaka wrote on Twitter. “Appreciate you, forever warmed by you.”

Musical chairs on the coaching circuit

After Osaka backed up her 2018 US Open win with another Grand Slam title in Australia in January, coach Sascha Bajin went for the high jump.

He has resurfaced on the WTA Tour with Kristina Mladenovic.

In Jenkins, she found another Bajin – in the sense that he had been a hitting partner (Bajin for Serena, Jenkins for Venus Williams) who was getting a promotion of sorts.

Osaka goes to Williams alumni society for coach

Jenkins had already committed to a coaching job with the USTA when this opportunity came up.

Whenever the player has a father as a longtime coach, a new coach is coming into a situation where he has to mark out his own territory. But obviously it’s a delicate balance.

It seemed to be fine, right? As many rumblings as we’ve heard about why Osaka let Bajin go, there was never anything like that with the quiet, hard-working Jenkins, whose brother Jarmere is a hitting partner for Serena Williams.

(It’s funny that the immediate reaction from Osaka’s social media fans is to get Bajin back. One – he already has a job and two, they just don’t know).

It certainly seemed as though the team Osaka had put together melded well – at least when they were practicing at tournaments, where we could see them.

But you just never know.

A lot of life changes

Osaka and her boyfriend YBN Cordae, a rapper, also have gone fairly public with their romance of late.

We’re told Osaka now has a place in Los Angeles, which gives her some separation from her Florida-based family for the first time. And that, no doubt, will involve some growing pains.

So, what’s up? If Osaka brings in a new coach before the big Asian swing that will start next week with a fairly seminal appearance in her namesake city of Osaka, that will make three coaches in about eight months.

The WTA Tour has been chewing up and spitting out coaches all season long. It’s hard to know what, exactly they’re all looking for beyond instant results.

And the reality for Osaka is that not only are there not that many quality coaches on the WTA circuit in the first place, those that do exist mostly already have jobs. 

Grand Slam champions Angelique Kerber and Garbiñe Muguruza are also currently coachless. Among others.

She may well have to think outside the box again.

Naomi Osaka in with a No. 1 shot in Toronto (video)

TORONTO – Don’t look now, but Naomi Osaka could be world No. 1 again at the end of the week, if things break right at the Rogers Cup.

She would have to advance one round further than current No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, and No. 3 seed Karolina Pliskova would have to not win the tournament.

Simona Halep (the No. 4 seed) is the defending champion and Sloane Stephens, seeded No. 7, the defending finalist.

Stephens v. Halep is a potential quarterfinal here.

So is Osaka vs. … Serena. That would be a rematch both of last year’s US Open final and a shocker in Miami earlier that year after Osaka won Indian Wells, arrived in Miami unseeded and … sent Williams packing in the first round.

Both of those potential matchups are in the bottom half. So Osaka has a fair bit of work to do, to outpace Barty in the tournament.

The 21-year-old lost in the first round in Montreal a year ago, to qualifier Carla Suárez Navarro. Pliskova lost in the second round to Kiki Bertens. 

Barty is defending 350 points with her semifinal effort in Montreal a year ago. But she has a 377-point lead over Osaka.

As for Halep, she’s close to the other three in terms of the total number of points. But she’s defending the title, so anything that might close the gap is completely out of her hands.

Here’s a fit-looking Osaka on the practice court Monday.

Four No. 1s – all in a row in Toronto (video)

TORONTO – If you got to the Rogers Cup early enough – and it seems not that of the fans do, even on a holiday Monday – you were in for a treat.

Not one, not two, not three – but former world No. 1 practicing side by side on the four main practice courts.

Right in front was Venus Williams. Next to her, sister Serena.

Then Karolina Pliskova, who was practicing with Elina Svitolina.

And on the end, the one closest to where the fans who didn’t have posh privileges could watch, was the most recent of them at the top spot, Naomi Osaka.

Osaka and Pliskova both have a shot at regaining the No. 1 spot in the rankings, depending on how things shake out this week in Toronto.

Here’s what it looked like.

And here’s Pliskova doing All-Access media stuff on Sunday, talking about Simona Halep winning Wimbledon, among other topics.

WTA Ranking Report – June 24, 2019

With her win at Birmingham Sunday, 23-year-old Aussie Ashleigh Barty becomes the No. 1 player on the WTA Tour.

It’s an epic rise – not because of her talent, which has always been undeniable – but because it seemed to occur out of the blue.

Not many players go from winning at the French Open, head straight to the grass, and win again.

But Barty did it. She jumped into the top 10 after winning in Miami, and leaped to No. 2 after winning in Paris.

With the win in Birmingham, she took the final step to the top.

And in so doing, there’s no doubt she’s a big favorite for Wimbledon not only because of her current form, but because of her game.

Barty reached the third round at Wimbledon a year ago, losing to Daria Kasatkina (whose career, in 2019, has gone completely in the opposite direction after she hit the top 10 in 2018).

The Aussie has played on the final weekend at Wimbledon before. Back in 2013, she reached the doubles final (as well as the French and US Open doubles finals) with countrywoman Casey Dellacqua.

ON THE UPSWING

Ashleigh Barty (AUS): No. 2 =============> No. 1

Sofia Kenin (USA): No. 30 =============> No. 28 (This tough competitor wins in Mallorca, overcoming her last three opponents in three sets, and reaches a career high).

Jelena Ostapenko (LAT): No. 37=============> No. 35 (The Latvian won a couple of matches in Mallorca, but she has a long way to go).

Yulia Putintseva (KAZ): No. 43=============> No. 39 (Her second-round win over her in Birmingham helped knock Osaka out of the No. 1 spot).

Australia's Ashleigh Barty, left, shakes hands with Venus Williams of the U.S after beating her during day seven of the Nature Valley Classic at Edgbaston Priory Club, Birmingham, England, Friday, June 21, 2019. (Nigel French/PA via AP)

Venus Williams (USA): No. 55 =============> No. 44 (She turned 39 during Birmingham, at which she received a wild card and lost to eventual champion Ashleigh Barty in the quarterfinals).

Maria Sharapova (RUS): No. 85 =============> No. 80 (The Russian finally returned last week in Mallorca, and won a match. She’ll play an exhibition match at Hurlingham before Wimbledon).

Kristyna Pliskova (CZE): No. 112 =============> No. 95 (A win over her twin in their first professional meeting helps the lefty get back into the top 100).

Monica Niculescu (ROU): No. 142 =============> No. 113 (Niculescu, who had been out a few months with injury, wins the Ilkley ITF and with it, a wild card for the Wimbledon main draw. Four of her five matches went three sets).

rankings
Sharapova returned for the first time in nearly five months in Mallorca, but lost in the second round to Angelique Kerber.

Barbora Krejcikova (CZE): No. 138 =============> No. 118 (Known mostly for her doubles success with Katerina Siniakova, the 23-year-old Czech has been winning at the ITF level in singles. She’s at a career high after winning a $60K event in Stare Splavy over Denisa Allertova in the final and stands at No. 6 in the doubles rankings).

Timea Babos (HUN): No. 139 =============> No. 124 (The French Open doubles champion with Kristina Mladenovic gets to the Ilkley final – with a Wimbledon main draw WC on the line – but falls in three to Niculescu. She had to get to London in a hurry to play the qualifying on Tuesday).

ON THE DOWNSWING

ranking
Becoming a “huge deal” has been a challenge for Naomi Osaka in 2019. She lost the top spot in the rankings to Ashleigh Barty after Birmingham.

Naomi Osaka (JPN): No. 1 =============> No. 2 (After being No. 1 every single week since winning the Australian Open – despite a few close challenges from other top players that didn’t pan out – the Japanese star drops to No. 2 after Barty won Birmingham. Osaka lost in desultory fashion to Yulia Putintseva in the second round).

Camila Giorgi (ITA): No. 39 =============> No. 41 (She’s back for Eastbourne, but the Italian has played very little the last few months).

Mihaela Buzarnescu (ROU): No. 42=============> No. 47

Alison Riske (USA): No. 49 =============> No. 54

Tatjana Maria (GER): No. 54=============> No. 65

Eugenie Bouchard (CAN): No. 78 =============> No. 79

Taylor Townsend (USA): No. 109 =============> No. 120

Samantha Stosur (AUS): No. 115 =============> No. 132 (The 35-year-old qualified at Eastbourne, and will be looking to improve that ranking significantly).

Magdalena Rybarikova (SVK): No. 84 =============> No. 141 (The graceful 30-year-old Slovak, a Wimbledon semifinalist two years ago, reached the final at Surbiton to start the grass season but has won just one match since. A year ago, she reached the Birmingham final, beating Karolina Pliskova, Kristina Mladenovic and Barbora Strycova but losing to Petra Kvitova in the final).

Dalila Jakupovic (SLO): No. 120 =============> No. 143

Johanna Larsson (SWE): No. 147 =============> No. 165 (On the plus side, she and Kirsten Flipkens won the doubles in Mallorca. On the minus side, the Swede has played the main draw at Wimbledon eight times in singles and has never won a match. In two previous tries in the qualifying, she won one match. So Larsson will be there, but probably doesn’t have huge expectations).

(For the complete WTA picture, click here).

No. 1 Osaka goes adidas =====> Nike

Nike is saving itself a fair bit of coin by not having Roger Federer in the stable any more.

And it’s made its first big splash, by luring world No. 1 Naomi Osaka over to the Swoosh side.

No doubt it’s a big, lucrative contract. And it adds another top brand to Osaka’s other sponsorship deals. Over the six months since she shocked Serena Williams and won the US Open, Osaka has cashed in big time.

The announcement is made even more interesting by the fact that the last we really heard about it – after the US Open – it appeared Osaka would stay with adidas.

She was reportedly “set” to sign a “record-breaking” extension to her adidas deal that would pay her a reported $8.5 million a year

That trial balloon was later debunked by the Japan Times. That newspaper indicated that she was still up for auction, and that Uniqlo (which obviously made the most sense) and Nike were in the running.

No doubt the bidding was fast and furious. 

And Nike won.

In retrospect, when we noted that it was interesting that the photo Osaka posted from an ESPN The Magazine story featured a logo-less, generic outfit a few weeks ago – it was more interesting than we knew.

View this post on Instagram

@espnmag

A post shared by 大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) on

Big addition to the Nike team

The press-release quote from Osaka:

“I’m proud to become a member of the Nike family and excited about getting involved in all of the opportunities Nike has to offer. Nike has a legendary track record of writing history and I look forward to being a part of those moments for many years to come.”

The quote from Amy Montagne, “GM of Global Categories” for Nike: 

 “As we continue to inspire millions of athletes to chase their crazy dreams, Naomi is an incredible talent to add to our roster and help drive our commitment to inspiring a new generation of female athletes. We are thrilled to have her join our team.”

As usual with Nike, no mention of the length of the deal (or, obviously, the dollars involved).

The time frame of the rollout (including Osaka’s Tweet, below), tells you it was aimed at the Asian market. It’s Friday morning over there, but very late Thursday night on the east coast of the U.S. and late evening on the west coast.

And it’s the middle of the night in Europe.

Whither Uniqlo?

Given the reportedly insane amount of dollars Uniqlo will be giving Federer over the next decade, you’d think Uniqlo would have won this bidding war.

The fact that Uniqlo founder and chairman Tadashi Yanai is reportedly worth $23 billion and can buy any toys he wants only adds to that notion.

And it’s especially true with the Olympics coming up next year in Tokyo.

But perhaps Yanai isn’t as big on women’s tennis as he is on men’s tennis.

It will also be interesting to see whether Osaka, who will be big in the Asian market, will have the same exemption China’s Li Na had. Li was allowed to wear all of her other sponsorship patches on her Nike gear, unlike Nike’s other athletes – including Federer, Nadal and Serena Williams.

(Ben Rothenberg with the answer to that question:)

The promotional photo Nike released with its announcement (not surprisingly), contains no logos.

Osaka won’t play again until the Stuttgart event in 2 1/2 weeks. So we’ll see then.

Hopefully they will come up with some bespoke outfits for her, befitting a world No. 1. With the short turnaround time (given the average 18 months needed to design and produce a clothing line), it might take awhile for “Osaka Nike” to make a splash.

She looked terrific in the adidas – notably this year, with Nike’s main lines a design most tennis fans were tired of by the second week of the Australian Open.

Nike
Three years ago in Charleston, Osaka (wearing adidas) had just broken into the top 100 with a third-round result in Miami. She won two qualifying matches, but lost 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 to Louise Chirico in the first round of the main draw. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Adidas left out

It’s a common thing in tennis that the companies that sign players early in their careers, giving them money, and equipment (or clothing) long before they make it, are left in the cold when a player really does make it big.

Osaka has been wearing adidas since 2015 (she wore Yonex clothing in 2014).

Her deal expired at the end of 2018.

Nike
Osaka at the Granby Challenger in July, 2015 (her first year with adidas. She was ranked No. 159 at the time. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

That’s four years. And when she first began wearing it, Osaka was ranked outside the top 250. Not many people knew who she was.

Clearly she collected some nice bonuses from the company over the last few years, as her ranking rose to the top.

But all of that doesn’t matter a bit.

Once the players get to the top, and the big-dollar offers come, that’s pretty much it. The numbers and term will likely leak out eventually. But given the number that was floated for the adidas non-deal last September, it’s likely more than that.

We’ve seen it with players who have even changed racquets for the dough. That is a far more significant thing, in terms of their actual tennis, than what they’re wearing.

And we’ve seen some of them struggle and lose a big part of a season making the adjustment.

This change, obviously, is easier.

There’s no loyalty. But that’s the business.

If someone offers you a huge cheque, you’d be a fool not to take it.

Naomi Osaka takes the stairs (video)

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – That No. 1 ranking and those back-to-back majors don’t just come by showing up.

So here’s Naomi Osaka doing the stairs in the main stadium earlier in the week, as she got ready to defend her first career title.

It was a year ago that Osaka, then ranked No. 44 after starting the year at No. 70, ran the table in the desert.

She shocked Maria Sharapova in the first round, and only lost one set through to the title, winning the final over another neophyte at that level, Daria Kasatkina.

A year later, she showed a few nerves as she headed out to that same stadium court to play her first match Saturday night.

As it was, she faced Kristina Mladenovic, who had defeated her in her first match in Dubai. That was the first – and until Saturday had been the only – match Osaka played since winning the Australian Open.

So it was nervy on a lot of levels. But even though she was broken the first time she served for the match in the second set, she got through 6-3, 6-4.

Next up is Collins

Osaka will face No. 25 seed Danielle Collins (a surprise semifinalist here a year ago) in the third round.

Collins had two first-round losses to show for her efforts after reaching the semifinals in Melbourne. But she got things back on the right track with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Kirsten Flipkens to open her tournament.

Here’s Osaka doing the stairs with trainer Abul Sillah – the funniest part is her father pulling a Rosie Ruiz (Google it).

Sloane Stephens was on the court practicing at the time – a former Sillah player. She was giving him the gears pretty good as he impressively kept up with the much younger Osaka.

 

 

Osaka goes to Williams alumni society for coach

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Once again, Naomi Osaka has culled the Williams sisters alumni society in her search for a new coach.

And she has come up with Jermaine Jenkins.

The 34-year-old American most recently was the hitting partner for Venus. He also is the brother of Jarmere, Serena Williams’s current hitting partner.

Former coach Sascha Bajin was the longtime hitting partner for Serena before he got the big gig with the up-and-coming Osaka.

So if being a hitting partner to a top player so often seemed like a gig that had little opportunity for advancement, the current world No. 1 and US Open and Australian Open champion has singlehandedly changed the narrative.

Jenkins joined Team Venus Williams in June, 2015. But at the end of the 2019 season, he found out his services were no longer required. Williams also let loose her coach of 11 years, David Witt.

Witt is not coaching anyone at the moment. But Jenkins bounced back quickly.

In January, he was named the USTA’s national coach for women’s tennis, based out of the federation’s national campus outside Orlando, Fla. 

Short turnaround for new coach

alumni
It’s so new, Jenkins hasn’t even updated his Twitter yet.

After the seemingly acrimonious parting with Bajin, shortly after the two combined for Osaka’s second consecutive Grand Slam title, Osaka headed to the Premier tournament in Dubai with only a coach from the Japanese federation as support.

She lost her first match to Kristina Mladenovic. And clearly, she was not in the best of spirits. The news that she had sacked a coach who had brought her from No. 68 to No. 1 in a little over a year obviously attracted a lot of notice. Perhaps more than she had expected.

Osaka wanted to have someone in place before the all important American swing through Indian Wells and Miami.

The 21-year-old won the BNP Paribas Open a year ago, in a shocker at the time. So she comes to the desert as the defending champion. 

Naomi Osaka and Sascha Bajin part ways

Brother act back in the game

Jermaine Jenkins will be reunited on Tour with brother Jarmere, who began working for Serena in Dec. 2017.

Jarmere Jenkins joins Team Serena

Jermaine Jenkins was a standout at Clemson University, an all-American, captain of his team and team MVP.

AlumniHe also earned a B.A. in Business Administration and Management.

There’s no indication in any of the stories out there what Jenkins will do with his current position with the USTA. He’s been on the job less than two months. 

There isn’t even any confirmation about whether this is a guaranteed, full-time gig, or a trial. So we don’t even know if he’s not simply taking a leave from his current job to test the water on this U.S. swing. We’re efforting on getting more details.

But either way, there’s a certain irony there.

Osaka – in retrospect – was definitely a player the USTA let get away. Imagine if the USTA had a 21-year-old No. 1, who has won the last two Grand Slam titles, in their stable.

But Osaka didn’t play junior tennis. And big tennis federations are most definitely inflexible to anything other than the regimented tradition path.

So by the time she was on their radar, (according to a piece in the Wall Street Journal, at age 16) she already had gone to the Japanese federation to help support her budding career.

Now, she’s taken the USTA’s new women’s coach.

Naomi Osaka and Sascha Bajin part ways

The one thing you can’t predict about the WTA is … what’s going to happen next.

New No. 1 Naomi Osaka rose to the top of the women’s tennis universe, after winning back-to-back Grand Slam titles with new coach Sascha Bajin.

Well, on Monday – just two weeks after that second title – it’s over.

Osaka announced via social media that she and Bajin have split.

That would have to go down as an … unexpected bit of news.

When Bajin came on board in Dec. 2017, Osaka was ranked No. 68 and had yet to win a title. In just over a year, she has won three – two Slams, and a Premier Mandatory – and risen to No. 1.

No doubt there was plenty going on behind the scenes, for something like that to happen.

Bajin was an out of the box choice at the time because of his lack of “official” coaching experience at the top level. But it proved to be a great fit with Osaka. He was so positive, that it balanced out the natural negativity the young Osaka displayed.

No word yet on what Osaka’s setup will look like going forward.

It’s worth noting that the current title holders at the four Grand Slams – Simona Halep at the French Open, Angelique Kerber at Wimbledon and Osaka for the other two – no longer are working with the coaches who got them there.

In the meantime – in that definitive move that kids do – Osaka has unfollowed Bajin on Instagram in recent weeks. And he has unfollowed her.

And as he states on his Instagram account that he’s sponsored by Yonex and Nissin – two of Osaka’s major sponsors – it will be worth seeing what happens with that.

It’s a pretty curt adios, given all they accomplished together.

Bajin didn’t make any official pronouncement of his own, for whatever that’s worth. He merely replied to her Tweet.

During the trophy ceremony after her Australian Open victory, Osaka did not mention Bajin by name; she thanked her team as a collective.

That wouldn’t necessarily mean anything, though. Osaka joked that she had studied her notes before coming up to make the speech, but that she had forgotten most of “what she was supposed to say.”

In retrospect, her “Thanks to Sascha for hitting with me” comment in Melbourne was a little … dismissive. But only if you micro-analyze Osaka’s words. That’s a slippery slope because she’s definitely an unorthodox thinker.

The immediate reaction made it seem as though Bajin was the John Wooden of tennis. In fact, it was his first WTA coaching gig after multiple gigs as a very good hitting partner to top players. In terms of his long-term career prospects, Osaka may well have done as much for Bajin as he did for her.

Because he’ll always have this on his resumé now. And you’d think it would have established him in the mix, whenever a coaching opening comes up.

Big picture, hopefully it will encourage more female players to think out of the box a little, when looking for that good fit that often seems so elusive on the WTA Tour.

The two had a bet riding on the tournament. Bajin either had to cut his hair or dye it. “He doesn’t want to cut it, so he’ll have to dye it,” Osaka said in an interview after her win – suggesting pink as the appropriate color.

On the plus side, he won’t have to do that now.