More stories

  • in

    Women’s Doubles Champion Aryna Sabalenka Says She’s Going Solo

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Australian OpenOsaka vs. BradyWomen’s Final PreviewDjokovic’s RideWilliams’s Future?AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyA Women’s Doubles Champion Says She’s Going SoloAfter Aryna Sabalenka and her partner, Elise Mertens, won the Australian Open, Sabalenka said she was breaking up their team so she could focus on her singles career.Aryna Sabalenka will move into the No. 1 ranking in women’s doubles just as she stops playing it.Credit…Kelly Defina/ReutersFeb. 19, 2021, 9:40 a.m. ETAryna Sabalenka and her partner, Elise Mertens, won the Australian Open women’s doubles final, 6-2, 6-3, over Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova on Friday afternoon at Rod Laver Arena.The win will move Sabalenka to the No. 1 ranking in doubles for the first time, with Mertens close behind at No. 2.But after the title, the second Grand Slam triumph they have won together, Sabalenka said she would no longer play doubles and instead put her “whole focus on singles,” in which she is ranked seventh.“I just want to manage my energy,” Sabalenka said. “When you go out for doubles, you’re still there for competing, to put everything you have. Sometimes it’s not really working well with me.”Sabalenka is the only WTA or ATP player currently ranked in the Top 10 in both singles and doubles. She has been one of the most consistent players at WTA Tour events, where she has won nine singles titles. She reeled off 13 straight wins on tour across the end of last season and the beginning of this one.But at Grand Slam events Sabalenka has fallen far short of her expectations. She has only reached even the fourth round in singles twice in 13 main draw appearances, including at this Australian Open, where she lost, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, to Serena Williams.“It was a great match against Serena — I’m not really happy with the end of the first and third set. I think I could do it better — but I think it was great experience,” Sabalenka said Friday. “It was a great lesson.“I think I’m getting better on the Grand Slams side of the results,” she added. “I just want to keep it up. I just want to try to do something else to make sure I improve my singles.”Mertens, who is ranked 16th in singles, voiced no objection to Sabalenka’s breaking up their dominant team.“It’s her decision, I really respect that,” Mertens said. “Doubles takes some energy away, that’s true. On the other hand, for me, I just like to play matches.“I mean, she can definitely try and we’ll see,” Mertens added. “If she still likes to play doubles, I’m here.”Sabalenka said that not prioritizing doubles had been one of the keys to her success in the discipline.“From my side, I would say I was pretty relaxed on doubles,” Sabalenka said. “I was doing whatever I want to. I didn’t care about winning or losing.”“She didn’t care about me,” Mertens interjected with a laugh.Sabalenka said that though she was more relaxed, being in a second competitive environment was still taxing.“I know that doubles, it’s not that hard, you’re not moving that much,” she said. “It still takes a lot of energy. I just want to save it for singles. I just want to try something different this year and see what happens on the Grand Slams.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

  • in

    2021 Australian Open: Naomi Osaka and Jennifer Brady Meet for the Title

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Australian OpenOsaka vs. BradyWomen’s Final PreviewDjokovic’s RideWilliams’s Future?AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main story2021 Australian Open: Naomi Osaka and Jennifer Brady Meet for the TitleOsaka, a three-time major winner, and Brady, a first-time Grand Slam finalist, played a memorable semifinal at the 2020 U.S. Open and have history dating back to youth tournaments.Naomi Osaka during her semifinal win over Serena Williams.Credit…Quinn Rooney/Getty ImagesFeb. 19, 2021, 7:00 a.m. ETHow to watch: The match is at 3:30 a.m. Eastern time on Saturday on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and ESPN+. There will be an encore showing at 8 a.m. on ESPN2.The Australian Open women’s singles final matches Naomi Osaka, the 2019 champion, against Jennifer Brady, a first-time Grand Slam finalist. Here are some story lines to follow:Osaka may hit a milestone no woman has reached since 2012.As the world’s highest-paid female athlete and a three-time Grand Slam champion, Naomi Osaka, 23, has already established herself as a global sports superstar.If Osaka adds one more title, she will reach rarer air.The last woman to win a fourth Grand Slam title was Maria Sharapova, at the 2012 French Open. The Williams sisters and the Big 3 men (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic) all reached four long before that. Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Angelique Kerber each have three.Even with a fourth title, Osaka would still have room to prove herself beyond hardcourts. She has yet to reach the fourth round on the clay of the French Open or the grass of Wimbledon.Brady is part of a strong group of American women.Jennifer Brady during her semifinal victory.Credit…Hamish Blair/Associated PressCompared with American men’s tennis, which has no player in the world’s top 20 and hasn’t produced a Grand Slam winner since 2003, there is a bumper crop of talent in the American women’s ranks. Jennifer Brady, 25, is vying to be the third American woman to win a Grand Slam title since Serena Williams won her most recent one at the 2017 Australian Open. She would join Sloane Stephens, who won the 2017 United States Open, and Sofia Kenin, who won last year’s Australian Open.Considering that four other American women have reached Grand Slam semifinals in that stretch — Madison Keys, Danielle Collins, Amanda Anisimova and CoCo Vandeweghe — it’s clear that Brady has been helped by not needing to carry the entire weight of a nation’s expectations.It’s not how you start.Tennis players arriving in Australia prepared under varying conditions during mandatory 14-day quarantines.Brady was one of the players who had to complete so-called hard quarantines — meaning she was not allowed to leave her hotel room for 14 days — because a person on her charter flight to Australia tested positive for the coronavirus. She lost the practice privileges many of her peers enjoyed.With a positive attitude and diligent help from her coaching team, however, Brady persevered: She was the only woman who experienced the hard quarantine and advanced to the fourth round of the tournament.Osaka, in contrast, was one of the handful of top players who were sent to a different city entirely, Adelaide, where they enjoyed more access to courts and larger accommodations that included outdoor balconies.These big hitters met in the Big Apple.Osaka at practice on Friday.Credit…Darrian Traynor/Getty ImagesThe last match between Osaka and Brady — a 2020 U.S. Open semifinal — may have been one of the best in recent tennis history, with Osaka prevailing, 7-6 (1), 3-6, 6-3, in a barrage of big hitting.Even after having won three Grand Slam finals, each dramatic in its own way, Osaka singled out that match as one that stuck with her.“It’s easily one of my most memorable matches,” Osaka said on Thursday. “I think it was just super high quality throughout.”Brady was torn over whether the experience she had gained from that loss would help her in the final.“Yes, I think I can take away the positives from that match and learn maybe what I did wrong that I wasn’t able to come away with the result,” Brady said Thursday. “But also no, because I also don’t want to compare matches or compare performances and try to replicate that, because every match is different.”Brady and Osaka go way back.Osaka was born in Japan, and Brady in Pennsylvania, but the two encountered each other early in their tennis careers. They both migrated to the tennis hotbed of Florida as children and played each other in youth tournaments there.Early in their professional careers, in the fall of 2014, Brady and Osaka faced off in the first round of an International Tennis Federation $50,000 tournament in New Braunfels, Texas. Brady won the match, 6-4, 6-4, but remembers being impressed by her opponent.“I think she was just coming up maybe inside the top 200, and I remember playing her,” Brady said Thursday. “I was, like, ‘Wow, she hits the ball huge. She’s going to be good.’”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

  • in

    For Djokovic in Australia, a Complicated Road Has a Familiar Destination

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Australian OpenOsaka vs. BradyWomen’s Final PreviewDjokovic’s RideWilliams’s Future?AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyFor Djokovic in Australia, a Complicated Road Has a Familiar DestinationThe reigning champion and world No. 1 will play in his ninth Australian Open final. He has yet to lose one.Novak Djokovic earned a spot in the Australian Open final by beating Aslan Karatsev, a qualifier, in a semifinal.Credit…Cameron Spencer/Getty ImagesFeb. 19, 2021Updated 6:04 a.m. ETMELBOURNE, Australia — Everything changed for Novak Djokovic in a split-second explosion during the third set of his Australian Open quarterfinal this week.With the match tied at a set apiece, Alexander Zverev of Germany, one of the top young players in the world, was serving with a 3-2 lead. Djokovic could not convert his chances to tie the set, failing on a key point to get one of Zverev’s signature 135-mile-an-hour serves back over the net.There was no shame in that. But Djokovic thought otherwise and took the frustration out on his racket. He slammed his Head Pro Stock to the ground with three violent whacks, smashing the frame and spraying shards across the back of the court. The sound of the destruction, like a bone snapping, echoed through the empty stadium.[embedded content]It was the sort of outburst that usually signals the beginning of the end for most players. For Djokovic though — this time, at least — there was a rebirth, as he seemed to release all the tension that had been building for weeks.First, quarantine restrictions wreaked havoc on preparations for the Open, the year’s first Grand Slam event. Then an injured abdominal muscle nearly forced Djokovic out of the tournament. And at that moment on Tuesday, one of the game’s most dangerous players had him in a high-octane fight.Yet Djokovic, the top-ranked player in the world, grabbed a replacement racket, won four straight games to take that third set, then pushed through a tooth-and-nail fourth to advance.“I wouldn’t recommend this kind of relief channeling,” Djokovic said a few hours after the match.He said he wasn’t proud of his behavior. But tennis forces a journey through many different emotions, and Djokovic has demons to fight, he explained, the tension building with every lost point and game. Eventually the pressure has to find a release.“I just kind of let it go,” he said. “Poor racket.”Every tennis player who assumes the top ranking in tennis endures special pressures. The ones who survive over the long term generally work hard to minimize their stress by avoiding anything that might distract them from the pursuit of continued success.Perhaps more than any of his predecessors, though, Djokovic, 33, goes toward the heat. He knows the hazards that may bring. But he is willing to manage the consequences of his behavior, which could involve trying to stage a tennis event in the first months of the pandemic; on-court outbursts, including one that led to his disqualification at the U.S. Open; or pressuring the Australian Open tournament organizers on behalf of 72 players who ended up confined to their hotel rooms for 14 days after arrival in Melbourne because on their flights they had been exposed to people with the coronavirus. His recommendation for an early end to their lockdown and access to tennis courts at private homes, among other impossible-to-meet demands, garnered widespread ridicule.“I think Novak feels an obligation as the top-ranked player in the world to be a voice for the players,” said Craig Tiley, who is the chief executive of Tennis Australia, which runs the Open, and who fielded those demands, rejected nearly all of them, then did his best to carry out Djokovic damage control.In spite of it all, this tournament has given Djokovic what he so often finds when he plays in Melbourne — the chance to right his ship and jump start his tennis year.In the final on Sunday, he will play Daniil Medvedev of Russia, who has not lost a singles match since October. “He’s the man to beat,” Djokovic said of Medvedev. A victory then would give Djokovic a third consecutive Australian Open singles championship and a record ninth over all. He has never lost in a final here.The script this year has hardly followed its traditional form.Djokovic angered local residents with his pretournament demands, and the rowdy support he often receives from fans here nearly disappeared, except from pockets of native Serbians who faithfully show up each year to watch their compatriot. He injured an abdominal muscle during his third-round match and appeared on the edge of elimination before he prevailed in five sets.Djokovic has used the injury and those of other players to ignite another controversy, citing them in his criticism of the people who run professional tennis and insisting that special arrangements are going to have to be made for the tours to continue amid all the travel restrictions and fears related to the spread of the virus. He raised the possibility of a series of bubbles, like the one the N.B.A. created last year in Florida, arguing that travel-related quarantines would compromise players’ safety because they would have to compete after getting limited training time.“There’s too many injuries,” Djokovic said. “A majority of the players just don’t want to go ahead with the season if we are going to have to quarantine before most of the tournaments.”That may or may not be true, and plenty of players cannot afford to forgo a season. Djokovic, who has collected nearly $150 million in prize money plus many lucrative endorsements, has no such worries.Rafael Nadal, Djokovic’s (usually) friendly rival, has taken a different tack, arguing that the first priority is for everyday people to be safe and that there are bigger problems in the world right now than where and how he can compete.“We need to be grateful to life that we can keep doing what we are doing,” Nadal said after his heartbreaking, five-set loss in the quarterfinals to Tsitsipas.Djokovic has never lost an Australian Open final.Credit…Alana Holmberg for The New York TimesAmid it all, on the court Djokovic is rounding into form at the perfect time, pressuring his opponents on their serve as no one else can.“It’s one of the most difficult things in our sport, holding your serve against Novak,” Zverev said.In the semifinals, Djokovic mostly had his way with little-known Aslan Karatsev of Russia. No surprise there: Karatsev, who had to go through qualifying rounds, is the world’s 114th-ranked player. But he pushed Djokovic to within a point of coughing up a 5-2 lead in the second set and had the crowd pulling for him throughout.On his magical run to the final four, Karatsev knocked off the eighth-seeded Diego Schwartzman; Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, a rising star and the No. 20 seed; and Grigor Dimitrov, the No. 18 seed, who had back spasms after winning the first set. Djokovic, Karatsev said, was on another level entirely.“A huge difference,” Karatsev said. “He does not give you any points, even on my serve, long rallies.”Whatever frustration Djokovic felt during the match, and it appeared he had little, he expressed it during his usual one-way discussion in Serbian with his support team.When it was over, he pointed to the sky and to all four sides of the arena, performing his ritual gesture of giving his heart to everyone in the crowd.Another win would give him an 18th Grand Slam singles title, pulling him within two of Roger Federer and Nadal, who share the men’s record. It would also be sweet vindication after this long, turbulent journey.“It took a lot out of me,” Djokovic said of this Australian Open. “I was exhausted, especially after Zverev’s match, but I was thrilled to overcome those huge challenges. I knew that once I triumphed over Zverev that things will be better, will get better for me. I just had that kind of inner feeling and proved to be right.”In Australia, he often is.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

  • in

    Farewell, Serena? Not So Fast

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Australian OpenOsaka vs. BradyWomen’s Final PreviewDjokovic’s RideWilliams’s Future?AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storySports of the TimesFarewell, Serena? Not So FastWilliams’s wan wave after losing to Naomi Osaka in the Australian Open semifinal stirred retirement speculation. GOATs don’t go out that way.At the Australian Open, Serena Williams was in the best shape she had been in since returning from maternity leave, and she pummeled the No. 2-ranked Simona Halep ahead of her defeat in the semifinals.Credit…Alana Holmberg for The New York TimesFeb. 19, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ETSerena Williams will be back.Count on it.After her humbling semifinal loss to Naomi Osaka at the Australian Open, the questions came hard and fast. Had Osaka’s slashing forehands shouldered Williams to the edge of retirement?Was this the last time Williams would grace the sea-blue courts of the Australian Open, a tournament she has won seven times?At one level, those questions made sense.What more, after all, does she have to prove?There has never been, nor is there likely to be, another champion like Serena, who rose from Compton, Calif., to transcend her sport and become recognizable by the mention of merely her first name. How many more times can an athlete with Williams’s pride endure the sting of coming oh-so-very-close to winning the 24th Grand Slam singles title that would tie Margaret Court for the record?The loss to Osaka — a much-hyped rematch of the pair’s infamous 2018 United States Open final — had a familiar feel. In her prime, Williams possessed an unrivaled ability to summon genius whenever it was needed most. But since her return to tennis after maternity leave that year, she has not won a major. Twice she has lost in a Grand Slam semifinal, and four times in a final.Given the combination of her sterling past and murky present, there is a tendency among the commentariat to parse her every gesture and utterance for signs that she might soon quit. When she walked off the court after losing to Osaka on Thursday, she paused briefly, put a hand on her chest, smiled and waved at fans as they showered her with an ovation. It wasn’t all that different from the thankful gesture she has made after matches for decades. But in the rubble of another disappointment — and considering she is now 39 and a veteran of nearly a quarter-century on the tennis tour — it was a display many onlookers took to have a deeper meaning.“I think with that little move we saw from Serena just now, that might be the last time we see her here on Rod Laver Arena,” said a television announcer, watching it all unfold.But was that wave a final goodbye?“I don’t know,” Williams said in her post-match news conference. “If I ever say farewell, I wouldn’t tell anyone.” A few moments later, struggling to stay composed, she abruptly left the dais.Serena fans, I don’t think you should worry. She is not about to give up the chase just yet. I wouldn’t read too much into a post-match wave or despondent answers to the news media. She has never been one to hide her emotions. She wears victory with high-wattage smiles and prancing giddiness. She wears defeat with slope-shouldered, bone-weary disdain.Had she suffered through a loss like this and then dispassionately discussed two sets of misery, then I’d wonder about her playing much longer. But that’s not what happened here.If the past is a reliable guide — as it has been since her first professional match, a dismal loss in a low-level event when she was only 14 — she will come up with a way to bounce back. She will rationalize defeat, and tell herself she could have beaten Osaka if only she had avoided easy mistakes. She will summon energy from anyone now questioning her ability to win on the biggest stage.She will focus, too, on how well she played in Melbourne up until that loss. The coronavirus pandemic allowed extra time for Williams to heal, clear her mind and renew her spirit. She came into the tournament in her best shape since returning from maternity leave. In the quarterfinals, she pummeled Simona Halep, who had defeated Williams handily in the 2019 Wimbledon final.Williams played Halep on Tuesday with a vengeful clarity not seen in years. Watching the match unfold, I couldn’t help but think of the Australian Open final in 2009, when she destroyed Dinara Safina, 6-0, 6-3, in just under an hour. Williams was 27 then. She won her 10th Grand Slam singles title.A few days after the tournament, I went to her Los Angeles condominium for an interview. I won’t forget the moment when I remarked that the win over Safina was one of the quickest in Grand Slam finals history — and she cut me off immediately. “Fastest in two years,” she said, a glint in her eyes, before reminding me she had beaten Maria Sharapova in a similar fashion at the Australian Open in 2007.The greatest champions remember everything. They are keenly aware of what they have done and what’s still out there to prove. They grow so used to overcoming opponents that motivation comes mostly from chasing history. That’s why a 43-year-old Tom Brady won’t stop after winning yet another Super Bowl title. It’s why LeBron James won’t stop at age 36 — while he is two N.B.A. championship rings behind Michael Jordan. And why Roger Federer will soon return to tennis after recovering from a knee injury at 39.Williams is made of the same stuff. The long-ago past is her only real opponent. Court’s record, 24 singles Slams won in the 1960s and ’70s, is still out there, waiting to be tied and perhaps surpassed. And Williams, to her credit, keeps putting herself in contention, keeps putting herself on the line, even if it means sucking up searing defeats.The road will only get rockier, what with all those miles on the legs and years on tour. Hungry young opponents now sit in every corner of every Grand Slam draw. They seem more confident all the time and less in awe of the woman most of them grew up idolizing. Osaka, for one, has forged herself into a carbon copy of a young Serena: same power, same moxie.When Osaka found herself struggling toward the end of the second set of the semifinal, she responded with a burst of domination that recalled Williams at her peak: Eight straight points, and it was over.Game, set, match.If you think Williams wants to go out like that, think again.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

  • in

    Naomi Osaka and Jennifer Brady Head to Australian Open Final

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Australian OpenOsaka Ousts WilliamsNadal Is UpsetMedvedev-Tsitsipas PreviewWilliams’s CatsuitAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyOsaka and Brady, With Powerful Strokes and Zero Pretense, in Australian Open FinalThese are not athletic stars who pretend to be impervious to the pressures of their sport.Naomi Osaka said she was now “expressing the nerves that I feel instead of bottling it all up and trying to deal with it by myself.”Credit…David Gray/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesFeb. 18, 2021Updated 4:58 p.m. ETMELBOURNE, Australia — One Australian Open finalist spoke about how intimidating it was to serve against Serena Williams and also volunteered that she was guilty of mindless eating during her mandatory 14-day quarantine. That would be Naomi Osaka, who is 3 for 3 in Grand Slam finals.The other acknowledged envisioning her post-match celebration before her semifinal was won, causing her to lose focus, and also offered that she didn’t binge-watch any shows on her 14-day lockdown, because she knew that would lead to lazing around in bed all day.That would be Jennifer Brady, a former U.C.L.A. standout who became the first woman to come through the college ranks to advance to a Grand Slam final since Kathy Jordan at this tournament in 1983.The women’s singles final at the Australian Open will feature the most relatable high-octane servers with hammering groundstrokes that you would ever want to meet (just not on the court).Osaka, 23, and Brady, 25, have displayed ruthless power in their matches and disarming vulnerability in their news conferences. Their egos don’t appear to be Faberge eggs in need of careful handling, constant caressing and everyone’s adoring gaze.They don’t pretend that they’re impervious to pressure or act like they are all-knowing. They don’t seem to act at all.Osaka has admitted to nerves on the court.Credit…Rob Prezioso/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesOsaka staved off two match points in a fourth-round three-setter against Garbiñe Muguruza and didn’t panic when she faced a break point while trailing Williams by 0-2 in the first set of their semifinal. She has improved her mental toughness, she said, by talking to her coach, Wim Fissette, and “expressing the nerves that I feel instead of bottling it all up and trying to deal with it by myself.”Brady squandered four match points on Thursday before dispatching Karolina Muchova in three sets. “I was just so nervous,” she said. “I couldn’t feel my legs. My arms were shaking. I was just hoping she would miss, and she didn’t.”Brady also owned up to the cardinal sin of getting ahead of herself. “I was just thinking about the occasion and the end result,” said Brady, who served out the match in an 18-point game that included three break points and five match points.She appeared to have won on her second match point when she hit a backhand that Muchova dumped into the net. Brady dropped to her knees in relief and disbelief only to discover that the electronic technology system showed her shot had landed a thumbnail outside the line.If the live electronic line calling system, delivered through remote tracking cameras positioned around the Melbourne Park courts and introduced at this tournament, had been instituted at last year’s United States Open, one of the best matches of the season, involving Brady and Osaka, might have unfolded differently.Jennifer Brady enjoyed her Grand Slam semifinal win, but said she had been guilty of thinking ahead. Credit…Alana Holmberg for The New York TimesIt was Brady’s Grand Slam semifinal debut, and she and Osaka wielded their rackets like torches, sending fireballs back and forth from the baseline. Osaka won the first set in a tiebreaker, and Brady evened the match in the second.Osaka didn’t break Brady’s serve until the third set when, leading by 2-1, she jumped out to a 15-40 lead, then secured the break when Brady hit a shot that was called out. Brady didn’t challenge the call. It turned out the ball was in. Brady went on to lose, 6-3, and Osaka went on to defeat Victoria Azarenka for the championship.“My coach was trying to tell me, ‘Challenge the ball!’ and I was like, ‘I’m not going to challenge the ball,’” Brady said with a shrug. “You never know. It could have been a turning point or maybe I still would have lost the match.”Osaka described the match as “super high quality throughout” and said, “It’s easily one of my most memorable matches.”Brady agreed and said: “During the match I felt like, wow, this is a great match. It got to the point where I was feeling like I didn’t want it to end. I was just having so much fun.”Saturday’s final will be only their second professional meeting, but they have known each other since they were youngsters competing in USTA-sanctioned tournaments in Florida, where they both grew up.“I remember playing her, and I was like, wow, she hits the ball huge,” Brady said. “She’s going to be good.”Brady said she once played tennis “because I had to, because I had nothing else to do.”Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York TimesBrady didn’t like tennis much in those days.“I was just doing it because I had to, because I had nothing else to do, because I didn’t know what else to do except for going and practicing five hours a day and just waking up and doing it all over again,” Brady said.She wasn’t winning many matches, she said, which didn’t help.“I thought, OK, maybe I’m not meant for this sport, maybe I’m not good enough,” Brady said. “I’ll go to college for four years and then I’ll find a real job.”Brady spent two years at U.C.L.A., where she helped the tennis team to a national title as a freshman in 2014 and matured on and off the court. After bumping around on tennis’s minor-league circuit, Brady won her first WTA event last August in Lexington, Ky.She celebrated by spending the end of 2020 in Germany, the homeland of her coach, Michael Geserer, training like she never has before.“Once you become too comfortable, I think that’s when you’re in trouble,” said Brady, who got homesick but stuck it out, telling herself, “I have to do what I have to do to become the best tennis player right now and then afterward I can live my life.”In their only previous professional meeting, in last year’s U.S. Open semifinals, Naomi Osaka beat Jennifer Brady in three sets.Credit…Robert Deutsch/USA Today Sports, via ReutersOsaka said her motivation to become the best tennis player she can be came from the people with whom she has surrounded herself.“I just want to do really well as a vessel for everyone’s hard work,” she said, adding, “I used to weigh my entire existence on if I won or lost a tennis match. That’s just not how I feel anymore.”Osaka gave voice to not being a nerveless machine and embarked on a winning streak that has reached 20 matches. Brady embraced the discomfort of being stuck in a hotel room for 24 hours a day for 14 days after people on her flight to Australia tested positive for the coronavirus and has never looked more comfortable on the court.By managing the best they can under stressful circumstances, they have managed to be the last two women standing. Who these days can’t relate to that?AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

  • in

    2021 Australian Open: Medvedev and Tsitsipas Chase a Grand Slam Final

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Australian OpenOsaka Ousts WilliamsNadal Is UpsetMedvedev-Tsitsipas PreviewWilliams’s CatsuitAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main story2021 Australian Open: Medvedev and Tsitsipas Chase a Grand Slam FinalMedvedev has been on a hot streak and has a 5-1 record against Tsitsipas, but he dealt with cramping at the end of his previous match.Daniil Medvedev has a 5-1 record against Stefanos Tsitsipas.Credit…David Gray/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesFeb. 18, 2021Updated 9:56 a.m. ETHow to watch: The match is at 3:30 a.m. Eastern time on Friday on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and ESPN+.The Australian Open is the only Grand Slam event that splits its semifinals from the same singles draw, putting its second men’s singles semifinal alone on the Friday night session each year. It is the only time that a match other than a final gets such a showcase in the Grand Slam calendar, and this time the spotlight will be on two young stars: the fourth-seeded Daniil Medvedev, a 25-year-old Russian, and the fifth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 22-year-old Greek.Here’s what to look for in the highest-stakes match yet between two men of their generation as each vies for a spot in his first Australian Open final against Novak Djokovic, the world No. 1 ranking who has won the last two titles in Melbourne. Djokovic moved into the final on Thursday night by defeating Aslan Karatsev in their semifinal, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.Medvedev is on a hot streak.There is no men’s player in better form than Daniil Medvedev. He won titles at the Paris Indoors Masters and ATP finals last November and the ATP Cup earlier this month in Melbourne. He has won 19 consecutive matches on that run, 11 of which were against top-10 opponents.Medvedev looked especially formidable against Andrey Rublev of Russia in the quarterfinals. Rublev, 23, the seventh seed, is an unrelentingly aggressive player who won a tour-leading five titles last year, but he struggled to find any openings in Medvedev’s resolute defenses, and wilted in the heat in a straight-sets loss.Medvedev’s 19-match winning streak includes 11 victories against top-10 opponents.Credit…James Ross/EPA, via ShutterstockMedvedev also will be comfortable in the matchup against Tsitsipas, having won five of their six matches. He lost their most recent meeting, however, with Tsitsipas prevailing in the round-robin stages of the 2019 ATP finals en route to his most prestigious title to date.“He just plays extremely smart and outplays you,” Tsitsipas said of Medvedev on Thursday. “He’s somebody I really need to be careful with and just take my chances and press.”The end of their first match ‘felt like an M.M.A. fight.’The rivalry between Medvedev and Tsitsipas started before either had even cracked the top 40 of the ATP rankings. Their first match against each other, in the first round of the 2018 Miami Open, ended with Medvedev antagonizing Tsitsipas and challenging him to a fight after winning in three sets.In an interview last month, Tsitsipas discussed the altercation.“That felt very wrong, the overall ambience,” Tsitsipas said. “It didn’t belong to tennis, for sure, I tell you that. It felt like an M.M.A. fight. We’re out there playing tennis; we’re not there to fight each other. He was provoking me back then — that’s how I felt, maybe I’m wrong — but I didn’t want to continue from there. He was trying to approach me; I was not into it. I wasn’t there to fight, I was there to play tennis. That’s the last thing that I want when I enter the court.”Tsitsipas said that he had not discussed the incident with Medvedev, but that the tension between the two had recently thawed.“I saw him waving at me the other day, which was nice,” Tsitsipas said with a small laugh. “It kind of breaks the ice.”Tsitsipas’s walkover doesn’t necessarily mean he is well rested.Tsitsipas has played two five-set matches in the tournament. He has been on the court for an hour and 32 minutes longer than Medvedev.Credit…David Gray/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesDespite advancing via a walkover in the fourth round, Tsitsipas has been on the court an hour and 32 minutes longer than Medvedev has en route to the semifinals after playing five-set matches in the second round against Thanasi Kokkinakis and in the quarterfinals against Rafael Nadal.“I got the opportunity to play longer, feel the court, understand the environment that I’m in, so that could probably be seen as something positive,” Tsitsipas said after his win over Nadal. “On the other hand, yeah, OK, I might have spent a bit more time on the court, put my body in more stress and difficult tasks to complete.”Tsitsipas added that over all he felt he was in pretty good condition.“I think with experience I have realized how to preserve my energy and when I really have to put in the hard work in the match,” he said.Medvedev has been more efficient, but was cramping at the end of his straight-sets win over Rublev on Wednesday. He asked for the trainer to come massage his quadriceps after match point.How would either match up against Djokovic in the final?While both players would be underdogs against Djokovic, who is 8-0 in Australian Open finals, Medvedev and Tsitsipas have reason to believe they could be competitive.Medvedev, who pushed Nadal to five sets in his lone Grand Slam final appearance at the 2019 United States Open, has won three of his last four matches against Djokovic, including their most recent meeting at the ATP finals in November.Tsitsipas, who would be playing in his first Grand Slam final, is 2-4 against Djokovic but nearly leveled his record against him at last October’s French Open: Tsitsipas came from two sets down to force a fifth set in their semifinal before ultimately losing that set 6-1 after suffering a leg injury.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

  • in

    Fans come back to the stands after a five-day lockdown in Melbourne.

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storyAustralian Open Live Updates: Serena Williams vs. Naomi OsakaFans come back to the stands after a five-day lockdown in Melbourne.Feb. 17, 2021, 9:45 p.m. ETFeb. 17, 2021, 9:45 p.m. ETFans were allowed to return to the Australian Open for the first time after a five-day lockdown for residents in the state of Victoria.Credit…Darrian Traynor/Getty ImagesThat crowd noise in Melbourne Park is real today after the Australian state of Victoria re-emerges from a five-day lockdown to curb an outbreak of coronavirus cases that is not related to the tournament.Only 7,477 fans will be allowed in per session, putting the stands at about 50 percent capacity, according to the tournament’s director, Craig Tiley. Fans are required to wear masks while indoors or when they are unable to socially distance, in line with procedures that were in place at the beginning of the tournament.“Last week we had our first real experience of live sport with fans in the stands and the atmosphere was electric,” Tiley said in an announcement inviting fans back. “The players appreciated the opportunity to compete in front of crowds for the first time in almost a year, and many spoke about how emotional it was to connect with fans again.”Ready to welcome all of our mates back 😀🔜 return of the fans to #AO2021 👉 https://t.co/21ujUHgcU2 pic.twitter.com/73TDLMNG58— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) February 17, 2021
    Australia went into a snap lockdown last Friday after Victoria’s case count rose to 13. The heightened restrictions, which prevented residents who were not considered essential workers to stay home with minimal exceptions, ended at 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, Premier Daniel Andrews of Victoria announced, after no new cases were announced out of more than 39,000 tests.There were still 25 active cases of the virus in the last 24 hours, one of which was attributed to an individual quarantining from out of the country, according to Victoria’s health department.The lockdown did not affect the players or many others associated with the Australian Open because they were considered essential workers by the government.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More