Japanese sensation Naomi Osaka steeled for WTA tennis finals

There was much attention on Naomi Osaka entering last year’s WTA Finals on the back of a controversial US Open victory over Serena Williams. (AFP)
Updated 26 October 2019

Japanese sensation Naomi Osaka steeled for WTA tennis finals

  • Naomi Osaka entered last year’s WTA Finals on the back of a controversial US Open victory over Serena Williams
  • The Finals start on Sunday with the Japanese star up first against Petra Kvitova

SHENZHEN, China: In-form world number three Naomi Osaka believes she is better equipped to deal with the WTA Finals’ demanding round-robin format, after her maiden appearance at the season-ending showpiece ended in tears.
There was much attention on the Japanese sensation entering last year’s WTA Finals on the back of a controversial US Open victory over Serena Williams.
But Osaka failed to live up to the hype in a winless campaign that ended in tears when she was forced to retire against Kiki Bertens due to a hamstring injury.
Having learned the lessons from that bitter experience, Osaka said she knew what to expect in the $14 million tournament pitting the eight best ranked players of 2019.
The lucrative WTA Finals has moved to the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen for the next 10 years after a five-year run in Singapore.
“I definitely think last year helped me in the way that I kind of know the format more,” Osaka told reporters on Saturday.
“Before last year, I hadn’t played round-robin since I was, like, eight or ten.
“I think the end of last year was just so hectic for me. Honestly, by the time I got to the (WTA Finals), I was just so tired,” Osaka added.
She will be one of the favorites in Shenzhen having claimed successive titles in Osaka and Beijing.
It has been a return to form for the 22-year-old after a stunning first round exit at Wimbledon followed by a lackluster US Open title defense ended with a round of 16 defeat to Belinda Bencic, who she will face in Shenzhen.
Osaka said renewed concentration was the catalyst for her late season revival.
“Those matches that I’ve played (in Beijing and Osaka), I just tried 100 percent,” she said.
“I tried to be as focused as I could every point, which for me is something very difficult to do because my mind tends to wander a lot.”
Osaka has been drawn in the Red Group featuring Bencic, world number one Ashleigh Barty and Petra Kvitova.
The Finals start on Sunday with Osaka up first against Kvitova, before Barty takes on Bencic.
World number two Karolina Pliskova has top billing in the Purple Group and starts her tournament with a mouth-watering clash against defending champion Elina Svitolina on Monday.
US Open champion Bianca Andreescu takes on Wimbledon winner Simona Halep later the same day in a battle of the past two Grand Slam champions.
The top two players in each group advance to the semifinals next Saturday.
The event’s move to China is highlighted by an eye-watering total prize pool of $14 million with the winner receiving up to $4.725 million — the highest payday in tennis history.


Dortmund, Favre face tough questions after Bayern’s ‘big step’

Updated 29 May 2020

Dortmund, Favre face tough questions after Bayern’s ‘big step’

  • Several German newspapers have suggested Favre is set to leave at the end of the season

BERLIN: Borussia Dortmund visit bottom side Paderborn on Sunday with uncertainty surrounding the future of coach Lucien Favre after Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat by Bayern Munich left their Bundesliga title dreams in tatters.

Favre and Dortmund were forced to deny rumors that he is set to resign, and face Paderborn attempting to at least keep some pressure on reigning champions Bayern, who sit seven points clear with six matches remaining.

Second-placed Dortmund may also have to make do without Erling Braut Haaland, after the teenage sensation was injured against Bayern, reportedly in an accidental collision with the referee.

Swiss Favre was forced to clarify comments made on Tuesday when he said he would “talk about it (his future) in a few weeks,” saying the following day that he was not “giving up at all.”

Several German newspapers have suggested Favre is set to leave at the end of the season, with Niko Kovac, who was sacked by Bayern last year, reported to be his likely successor.

“We are certainly not having a coaching debate,” Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc insisted to Sport1.

“Lucien must have expressed himself misleadingly in a moment immediately after the game.”

Barring an unlikely late-season collapse from Bayern, it will be the second straight season that Favre’s Dortmund have pushed their rivals close in the title race before ultimately coming up short.

Dortmund led for much of the campaign last term but stumbled late to finish two points off the pace.

“We said before the season that we wanted to play for the title again,” added Zorc.

“We didn’t manage to be better than Bayern. Now we can be disappointed, take a deep breath, and then set a new goal for Sunday. Full focus is on second place.”

Dortmund will be confident of getting back on track against a Paderborn side who are rooted to the foot of the table, eight points adrift of the relegation playoff spot, despite three consecutive draws since the Bundesliga resumed following the coronavirus lockdown.

“We mustn’t talk of a miracle because there are still 18 points to be won,” said Paderborn coach Steffen Baumgart.

“As long as it’s still mathematically possible we have to give it everything we’ve got.”

Bayern are now firmly on track for a record-extending eighth straight title and on Saturday host a Fortuna Duesseldorf side who boosted their survival hopes with a 2-1 midweek win against freefalling Schalke.

“We set out to take a big step (against Dortmund). We succeeded. We showed a lot of determination,” said Bayern coach Hansi Flick.

Duesseldorf, who occupy the relegation playoff spot, are five points clear of second-bottom Werder Bremen, although the four-time Bundesliga champions have a game in hand.

Bremen, who have only spent one season out of the top flight since the Bundesliga’s formation in 1963, visit Schalke on Saturday.

Schalke coach David Wagner is under pressure after his side threw away their European hopes with a 10-match winless run, including three straight defeats since the restart of the season.

Dortmund will need Jadon Sancho to be back at his best on Sunday, with Haaland’s injury leaving them without a recognized out-and-out striker.

English winger Sancho is yet to start a game since the restart after his own fitness problems, but has featured as a subsitute in all three matches.

The 20-year-old has scored 17 goals in all competitions this season.