by Karen

A qualifier.  She had to play 3 rounds of qualifying just to get into the tournament.  She played like the No. 18 seed that she took out of the tournament.  Naomi Osaka first came on my radar a little bit late.  Already, tennis fans who follow the junior tour were talking about her.  I never got a chance to see her play until the latter part of last year when she was voted in as a Rising Star to play the Junior YEC event.  She took out established Rising Star and Andy Murray’s pick to be a future world NO.1, Caroline Garcia in a very tough match.  I then saw her play in Hobart earlier this year where she went through qualifying before she lost to Mona Barthel.

Osaka does not look tall when on court (she stands 5 feet, 11 inches), but she has a very imposing game and is very composed when on court.  She smiles. A lot and you get the impression that she is not smiling because she is amused by what is happening on court, but because of her shot selection.  Whilst Svitolina was doing her usual screaming and berating herself on court, Osaka managed to look as if she was the more accomplished and experienced player.  Serving at 5-4 for the set, Osaka played 2 of the best points that I have seen at this year’s Australian Open, and on both occassions her composure in the midst of bad line calls were remarkable.

In the first point, after an incredible 17 shot rally, a let was called with Osaka in a winning position.  The point was replayed and again while Osaka was in a winning position, Svitolina’s shot dribbled over the net for deuce.  Other lesser players would have cursed to the heavens.  Not Osaka.  She composed herself and served out the set, hitting forehand winners at will. She is through to the third round where she will face Victoria Azarenka. That should be a good one.

Osaka is not the only youngster creating waves at this year’s Australian Open.  Playing today are Margarita Gasparyan, who some might remember from her opening round loss to Serena Williams at Wimbledon last year.  Gasparyan took out Sara Errani in the opening round of this year’s Australian Open.  In the latter half of last season, Gasparyan won 2 titles (singles and doubles) at the same tournament.  

Another youngster making waves at this year’s Open is Kulichkova. I am not a big fan of Kulichkova.  I saw her play at Wimbledon last year and I was not impressed.  It could be that she has improved and I will make a note to watch her match against CSN tonight.  

Victoria Azarenka continued her good form in taking out Kovinic last night, as did Garbine Muguruza, who while she struggled somewhat against Flipkens, did not seem to be in any trouble.

Sabine Lisicki’s campaign as did Jelena Jankovic and Timea Bacsinszky came to an end.  Joanna Konta backed up her win over Venus Williams by taking Zheng in straight sets.

Day 5 matches and picks are below:

Rod Laver Arena

Bencic v. Bondarenko – battle of the backhands – I am going with Bencic if only because she dealt with her opponent in a more efficient manner than Bondarenko did.  

Davis v. Sharapova – Sharapova is literally flying under the radar at this event. Her matches have been clinical and drama free (save for being broken twice by Sasnovich).  She does not seem to be having any problems with the forearm injury that forced her out of Brisbane and she has been relatively relaxed and focused through the early rounds.  Look for that to continue against Davis. 

Williams v. Kasatkina – there is a perception in tennis that if you beat a Williams Sister you are a threat to do great things.  This is the view that is currently being expressed by tennis punditry about Daria Kasatkina.  Kasatkina, for those who came in late beat Venus Williams earlier this season in Auckland in a 3 set affair.  When talking about her upcoming match against the younger Williams, everyone keeps harping on that win, neglecting to point out that tennis is not only a game of match ups but also about how your opponent is playing on the day.  

Not to take anything away from Kasatkina, but beating a less than 100% Venus on a day when Venus could hardly keep the ball in play is not, in my opinion, a resounding testament to how good you are, or how good you can be.  I have always found that players who have a winning strategy against one Williams Sister, ultimately fail against the other Williams Sister. Case in point is Justine Henin.  Henin, who no one can say is not a gifted player, had a very close head to head with Serena.  Against Venus, I believe she had one win and that was so long ago that I can barely remember. The same thing held true for Elena Dementieva, who gave Serena a hard time, but always came up short against Venus. While I would never count out any opponent, at the end of the day, I just don’t believe that Kasatkina is going to have her day today.  

Margaret Court Arena 

Radwanska v. Puig – does Monica have any more Pica Power or will she be out sliced and diced. Radwanska overcame her earliest challenge in Eugenie Bouchard.  Look for her to overcome this obstacle as well. 

Suarez-Navarro v. Kulichkova – CSN has been getting through matches on experience.  The young Russian will no doubt make her pay if she does not get off to a good start.  

Hisense Arena

Friedsam v. Vinci – Vinci has been relatively quiet during this tournament. Does the German have what it takes to take care of the surprise USO finalist?  I don’t think so.  

Mladenovic v. Gavrilova – Gavrilova is playing Fed Cup.  There is no other way to describe the way she has been using the home crowd to lift her over the finish line through her matches.  Mladenovic is no stranger to the big occassion.  Will she take the crowd out of it or will she succumb?  

Show Court 2

Gasparyan v. Putintseva – battle of the young Russians.  Both players are not known for holding back. Look for lots of fist pumps and stare downs against these 2 future Fed Cup stalwarts.  

Random Thoughts 

Lindsay Gibbs over at Think Progress wrote a fantastic piece on the match fixing scandal that has now taken over tennis.  She expanded her piece to take account of a little known fact in tennis, its ability to bury its head in the sand and make noises to say that there is nothing wrong with the sport and that people are just seeking to tarnish tennis.  Its a great read.
I tweeted yesterday that tennis would not recognise match fixing if it came with instructions.  In the same way that they don’t recognise clear issues of conflicts of interest when it relates to commentators in the booth.  Either the powers that be are clueless or they see absolutely nothing wrong in how the sport is perceived by fans. 

How can it be that a lay person such as myself cringes each time an Isner match is on tv and the camera keeps panning to Justin Gimelstob (Isner’s coach) in the stands.  I suspect that when commentators mention the fact that their colleague is Gimelstob’s coach, that makes it all better.  However, if that is their ode to recognising that it is a conflict, then they need to go a step further and remove the issue from the booth.  If commentators wish to be coaches, then they need to leave the commentary booth and become coaches.  I am sure that there are many sports journalists out there who would love the chance to become a commentator on network tv.  

As much as tennis has its head in the sand regarding match fixing and doping, it also has its head buried in the sand when it comes to the matter of the appearance of conflicts in the booth. 

Operation Fuentes

News broke this morning that the appeal by certain parties against the decision to destroy blood evidence obtained in the Operation Fuentes trial will be rendered soon was greeted with questions from tennis fans.  

Fans may recall that a few years ago, allegations were made that some of the blood samples that were seized as part of the investigation into the Puerto clinic had been ordered to be destroyed by a Spanish Court. WADA in hopes of getting their hands on these blood bags for testing appealed the decision.  That decision is expected to be handed down by a Spanish Court of Appeal.  WADA, as well as other interested parties are hoping that the Court of Appeal agrees with the assertion that the blood bags should not be destroyed but instead handed over to WADA and other anti-doping agencies for testing.  

Of the 9 organisations and individuals that appealed the lower court ruling in Madrid, the International Tennis Federation was not one of them.  I am very disappointed that the ITF has not taken a position on this having regard to the fact that allegations have been made that tennis players were also involved in using the services of the good Dr. Fuentes. 

The Spin will of course keep you guys updated once the judgment from the Court of Appeal in Madrid has been handed down.  

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