It’s been a whirlwind since Naomi Osaka won the US Open in dramatic fashion.
Now, she says the memory feels like … green tea ice cream.
“When you bite into it, it’s, like, sweet but also very strong,” Osaka said. “Like right after, the day after, I really didn’t want to think about it because it wasn’t necessarily the happiest memory for me. … I just sort of wanted to move on at that point.”
The deep run in Tokyo took her mind off it. And Osaka hopes another run in Beijing will do likewise.
Al-Nabhani said she’s been playing the Pro Circuit since 2007. And she had never had an issue with the leggings she always wears, to “respect her religion” and still feel comfortable playing tennis.
Until last week.
“Day 1, first round match against Elsa Jacquemot from France, the French chair umpire before doing the toss looked at me and said you need to remove your leggings. I told him that I won’t remove it and I have been playing like this since 12 years. He said then you can’t play. I told him please check with the tournament director before saying anything,” she wrote in the letter.
“The tournament director told him rules can allow her to play with leggings under the knee. So the chair umpire asked me to pull my leggings higher two inches so I can play. Because those two inches for him was a big deal. I pulled my leggings and didn’t say anything and played my match.”
Other issues Al-Nabhani refers to are some of the things that occur regularly in competitive tennis matches with no electronic review system – and no ballkids.
Her reaction to them no doubt was heightened by the treatment she said she received in the first round match (also against a French player). As well, the match featured tiebreaks in the first two sets. And it was clocking in at three hours by the time things began to come to a head.
But a lot of little things added up to quite a bit.
*Al-Nabhani said Georges would leave the ball inside the court (we’re assuming when she missed first serves). Al-Nabhani asked for the balls to be removed. But she said the umpire replied that “it’s her side and her right”. She also said the chair umpire wouldn’t even ask Georges to respect Al-Nabhani’s wishes, as a courtesy.
*Georges served to stay in the match at 5-7, 5-6 – clearly having realized the stray balls were distracting her opponent, Al-Nabhani alleges Georges would take the three balls in play. She would then keep two, and hit the third to land near the net – deliberately. After the second time it occurred, Al-Nabhani asked the chair umpire to speak to Georges again. Or, alternatively, to have the supervisor come out. He wouldn’t do either.
*There were linespeople on the match. But Al-Nabhani claims she had seven match points in the second set, and the chair umpire kept overruling balls – all against her. She said at on at least five of those match points, he overruled incorrectly. And when she went to him to tell him he needed to be fair, and focus, and that it wasn’t acceptable … he issued her a code violation. That, even though her opponent had been using bad language in French throughout the match, without consequence.
*There were additional issues both on and off the court. Those included a charge that the chair umpire conversed with her opponent in French during the changeovers, and laughed. She clearly felt they were laughing at her.
Discouraged, feeling everything was against her Al-Nabhani retired down 0-3 (just one break of serve) in the deciding set.
“The ITF takes any allegation of racism very seriously. In accordance with our regulations we will conduct an investigation into the matter, gathering information from all relevant parties. We will respond to the player and proceed with the matter promptly,” was the statement.
Tournament supervisor Nicolas Peigné told L’Équipe that Al-Nabhani’s criticisms were improper and didn’t make much sense.
“She felt dismissed because she’s Muslim. But there are three other Muslims in the draw, and we have a Turkish umpire officiating here who is Muslim,” he told L’Équipe.
Peigné said the chair umpire asked him for a confirmation “to be certain”.
And that after he confirmed the leggings were regulation, she played on.
But he didn’t address Al-Nabhani’s contention that before it got to that point, the chair umpire had insisted she remove them and refused to allow her to play.
No ballkids on the court
Peigné also said that without ballkids, each player is responsible for the balls on her side of the court. But he didn’t address whether or not that player should clear the stray balls if asked by the opponent.
(We reached out to an experienced official to clarify this. And that official said a ball that is stationary cannot be considered as a hindrance. They would only instruct a player to clear a ball if they thought it was in a position potentially dangerous to one of the players. But they would have nipped that “hitting the third ball at the net” initiative in the bud.)
Peigné said that the white badge umpire, Maxime Frèche-Thibaud, is an experienced official. He added that because the tournament was played on an (indoor) hard court, there unfortunately were no marks to check.
“The match was close; she had match points that didn’t go her way,” Peigné told L’Équipe. “It was nothing against her. She felt persecuted for no reason.”
Peigné also added that Al-Nabhani’s mother Hadia argued the line calls from the stands. At that point Peigné escorted her out of the area for a discussion about the fact that she wasn’t do that.
Witness said racism not a factor
French player Julie Gervais said the story was nonsense. “All the players got umpiring errors and we didn’t cry racism,” she Tweeted. “They also (ticked us off) about the long leggings. And we didn’t have any water for practice, either. But we didn’t create a scandal.”
She did confirm (in between some rather offensive replies to her Tweet), that Georges did, indeed leave stray balls on the court.
“The story is starting to take on huge proportions for no reason. For two days, I’ve been receiving insulting messages because of a girl who just wasn’t able to finish her match. It’s a shame,” Georges said. “I’m a bit surprised about her message on social media. In no way was it racism.”
Georges said to err is human, and all the players had to deal with erroneous line calls. But she said that the chair umpire did not overrule five match points against Al-Nabhani, as the opponent claimed. Georges said Al-Nabhani only protested one call on match point, which Georges said wasn’t close (Gervais concurred).
“She knows it, deep down. Her coach was on that line. He knew it, but he chose to push her,” said Georges. She added that no one had water for practice and that the generally challenging conditions are something you expect and accept at the $25,000 level. So you adapt. “Her mother and her coach would have done better to try to calm things. Instead, they added fuel to the fire.”
Georges also made a very good point: had Nabhani converted ANY of those multiple match points, this would never have been a story at all.
We’ll see what the ITF’s investigation turns up.
(We already know they rarely work weekends, so it might take a bit of time).
But you’d expect they’ll speak to the same parties L’Équipe spoke to – the supervisor, the opponent. And you’d expect the chair umpire will no doubt defend himself vigorously.
So it’s unlikely they will come to a different conclusion. It’s a situation that even when it occurs, it highly difficult to prove and comes down to a “she said, they said’ situation.
But one thing is certain: the French need to get off the women’s case for wearing leggings.
Elina Svitolina responded to questions in Cincinnati last weekend about the significant – and rapid – weight loss that has more than a few people concerned.
It seems her team is experimenting.
“I know there has been a huge difference between the beginning of the year and now. We try to learn from each step we do and I think it’s up to me and my team to see and decide what’s next,” she told the media, via Sport360.
“Some people think it’s better to have maybe more muscle … We’re trying and learning.”
The main thing for Stan Wawrinka is that he’s back on the court.
After a brief return earlier in the season following knee surgery, and a few setbacks, he finally took the court Sunday in Rome.
Wawrinka lost to Steve Johnson, 6-4, 6-4. But at least the machine is running again.
“We can see with other players coming back from long and tough injuries, it’s never easy. … It’s not only about physical or tennis, but also mentally to find confidence. I need to patient. But I’m positive because my level is really high,” he told the media in Rome.
Williams was tentative at first, not fully testing her post-baby core muscles by ratcheting up her powerful serve. Her movement also was tentative. But by the second set, she had already picked it up.
And she was, as the Williams sisters love to say, “seeeeerious” about the enterprise.
But she was smiling, too. And rueful when she missed what, in full form, would be a routine shot.
Mostly, she looked happy being out there, doing what she does best (at least off the court).
“It was definitely a new experience. It played out pretty well. In the middle of the match I looked over and I was like ‘is Olympia okay?’ Because usually I’m always with her,” Williams told Sport360 and the other media in Abu Dhabi.
“So I don’t know how I’m going to be able to manage that, but maybe I’ll just always look over in the middle of a Grand Slam and be like ‘is Olympia okay?’ But when she gets older she’ll be able to actually come out to the matches.”
Will Williams travel to Melbourne for the start of the Australian Open, which begins in just over two weeks was?
It’s hard to know whether her performance against Ostapenko was any kind of a determining factor. Just getting on court against a much younger rival, after such a long layoff, was a risky proposition.
She could have, in theory, gotten crushed. You wouldn’t expect that to happen, just because she’s so good. But there was no way for her to know ahead of time how her body would respond. It’s all new territory.
“I don’t know. I’m going to go and just assess what I want, and what I want to do and figure that out,” she said. “I’m taking it one day at a time. I’m going to assess everything with Patrick (coach Mouratoglou) and my team and go from there.”
The voracious competitor in Williams might have had its fuse lit by the match conditions and the big crowd. But everything has changed for the new mother now.
But it seems clear she intends to return and fight to add more to her historic career. The only question is when, precisely, that will happen.
“Everyone always gets upset in tennis when things happen … Everybody in tennis gets along, but everyone in tennis seems to compete. And I hope that our event can actually in the future be the event that the sport of tennis owns together,” he said.
Godsick said they were careful to not go to a city where the ATP already has an event. (This year, Prague. Next year, Chicago).