We have seen it all before. A young up and coming player whom no one has ever ever heard of (unless you are truly a fan of the WTA) comes out smoking and takes down some big name players. Young player is fearless. She has a huge serve, big groundies and just seems unfazed by the moment. We have seen a lot of those over the past few months: Kasatkina at Charleston last year, Anisimova at Indian Wells, Keys at the Australian Open a few years ago, Kerber when she made it to the US Open semis, Stosur when she took down Serena, Muguruza at the French Open, Ostapenko at last year’s French Open and more recently Osaka at Indian Wells this year. All of a sudden we are amazed at this young player. We are following that player on Twitter and Instagram and we just can’t get enough. That is until that player takes down our fave.
Yesterday at the Miami Open, Naomi Osaka, who is currently being coached by former hitting partner of Serena Williams, faced off against her childhood idol, Serena Williams. One of the hardest things for any athlete to do, or indeed anyone who has idols is to finally meet that idol in person. There are two things that can happen. Either you turn yourself into a national embarassment by babbling incoherently or if you are an athlete you play so poorly that your idol dismisses you.
Neither of those things happened yesterday. Osaka played fearlessly. She stood on that baseline and she beat Serena Williams like she stole something. If you are a Serena Williams fan you were no doubt disappointed. You felt anger and you resented Osaka, because guess what, Osaka is what Serena Williams used to be when she was that age.
Serena was fearless and she was able to come up with big shots under pressure. Yesterday she wasn’t able to summon that reserve of energy and strength that is the hallmark of her career. Osaka had a lot to do with that, but the Spin would be lying if we didn’t mention what is happening in the background with Serena.
I have one live birth and one miscarriage. My live birth was a terrible pregnancy. I was sick for most of it. Had to be in and out of the hospital countless times. Was fed intravenously for the first 5 months and the thought of food made me sick to my stomach. To this day I can’t use Palmolive dishwashing liquid, neither can I stand the scent of Coast bath soap. My live pregnancy was 31 years ago this year. For my miscarriage the post partum lasted a very long time.
Serena Williams gave birth 6 months ago. Her breasts indicate that she is still lactating. Her body is not what it used to be and it won’t be for quite some time. We all know that Serena is as stubborn as they come. I understand from social media that her team felt that she was coming back too quickly. People pointed out that her father was on site during her practice session and not her mother as is usual.
I won’t continue to speculate about the inner workings of Team Serena, but from where I was sitting in my office yesterday and watching the match, Serena is a step slow and she is not reading the game very well. Her serve is not as potent as it used to be. Osaka knew Serena’s game inside and out, not because she idolised her but because she was prepared. When you hire as your head coach the person who prepared Serena for matches for close to 10 years, you get an insider’s look at Serena. You get to see inside her head and be prepared for anything. Osaka was prepared and that had a lot to do with her coach, but it also had a lot to do with Serena as well, who was undoubtedly unprepared for the onslaught that she faced on court.
What Next for Serena?
Practice, practice and more practice. Serena is going to have to get accustomed to losing matches. She is going to have to find that reserve of mental toughness that is and was the hallmark of her career. She is going to have to be prepared to fight for points like she has never done before. She is going to have to go into matches thinking that if I don’t win this next point I am out of the tournament. It will take time for her to come back as a full force on the Tour, but I strongly believe that she can.
As for those tennis fans who continue to be bandwagon fans, Osaka is a fantastic player. She has grown not only mentally but also physically. Her game now has more variety in it that it used to and she is a much fitter player. I watched her matches in Indian Wells and I thought perhaps she played better because the conditions were slower, but in Miami she was moving fantastically well.
I am a fan of the WTA. There are some players who I really can’t stomach but all in all I enjoy watching women’s tennis. I find the women to be intriguing and their back stories are inspiring. If you are just a fan of a player because they have beat a player that you hate, then you need to be a fan of that player when they beat your faves as well.
The amount of vitriol that I saw spewed on social media yesterday breaks my heart. My only issue that I have with Osaka is that she needs a bit of PR/Media training. While her acceptance speech at Indian Wells was cute, a friend of mine who was watching the match with me at home and is not a fan of tennis, thought that she was 16. When I told her that she was 20 she was embarassed for her.
Yesterday after her match, while the reception from the crowd at seeing Serena lose was lukewarm, Osaka’s comments, while endearing, came out as someone being a bit clueless. She doesn’t need to become a Sharapova well oiled machine, but she should be able to string two sentences together so that they make actual sense.
In Other News
It was great to see Victoria Azarenka back on court. One can only hope that she will be allowed to travel soon and resume her career full time. I know that many people have speculated over the issue that Azarenka currently faces regarding the custody battle between herself and her child’s father. I will only say that the father has rights and deserves to be a part of his child’s life. Someone needs to make allowances for that.
In this day and age families come in all shapes and sizes. Many women are the main breadwinners and they pay child support. It is not a stigma on your life if you do not have primary custody of your child. It means that you made the best decision for your child. I don’t see anything wrong in Azarenka coming to some form of agreement with the father of her child which allows her to travel all over the world sans child, or better yet, she has a profession that allows her to choose her tournaments so that she can spend as much time as possible with her son.
It is a hard decision to make and I am sure that someone, somewhere has advised Azarenka accordingly, but she needs to make a decision and in this 21st century it is not about choosing a career or a family. It is making the right decision that benefits everyone.