Naomi Osaka down under: Last Major to defend

This is the last Grand Slam Naomi Osaka won after her sublime run in the U.S. Open of 2018.  Naomi went on to win her second major in a row in Australia to begin 2019 with a bang.  She rose to no. 1 in the world, the first Japanese player to reach such a high ranking.  As a Japanese Haitian, Naomi whose father Leonard Francois was born born in Haiti represents both cultures with equal passion.  She has traveled to Haiti and her family sponsors a school there.  If not for the political situation in Haiti Naomi would probably help sponsor a high level tennis program for young people there, especially for young girls.  

Naomi Osaka is coming off a recent defeat to Karolina Pliskova in the semi finals of a warm up tournament before the Australian Open in Auckland, New Zealand.  Naomi had match point on her serve but failed to convert; coming off a 14 match winning streak during which she won two major titles in Japan and in China, her body betrayed her.  After failing to convert match point Naomi lost the third set quickly looking and feeling tired from the grueling schedule that is slowly grinding  all the women down.  Tennis is a tough sport, made harder by the amount of matches the top players have to play every week.  To win a major tournament you have to play and win five matches in seven days and in Naomi’s case she had to play 3 sets matches two days in a row.  The players are worn out because the competition has risen, there are few easy walk over matches, like in the days of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.  Back then on the women’s side most matches lasted less than an hour with a winning score of 6-0, 6-1 in the early rounds for the top players.  Before the semis the top women players did not face much competition and playing five matches a week was not as grueling as it is now.  The game has changed and where in the old days rallies lasted four shots or less, nowadays most rallies will go well past eight shots and long fifteen to twenty shot rallies come up often in some matches.  The women lift weights and are in incredible shape, so most matches last over an hour and a half with some going over two hours.  Technology has made hitting hard easy with new rackets allowing players to hit from far behind the base line.

Naomi Osaka needs to win the upcoming Australian open to preserve a lot of points because she is the defending champion.  She needs to win the tournament to get to second place in the ranking.  Right now she sits at no. 3 in the world ranking behind Pliskova and Ashleigh Barty.  She cannot pass Barty even if she wins the Australian Open next week, but she can overcome Pliskova and rise to no. 2.  If she loses early she will probably fall to no. 4 behind Simona Halep so our Japanese Haitian Champion will have to dominate and get through the first week.  This is a Grand Slam tournament so it will last two weeks and a player must win seven matches to hoist the trophy.  Naomi has her work cut out for her and she will have to be sharp in the early rounds and avoid three set matches.  Her first match is Sunday evening at 9 PM against M. Bouskova in the Rod Laver Arena.

Last year started with a bang as Osaka won the Australian Open, but it was not until the end of the year that Naomi would enter the winner’s circle winning back to back tournaments,  First she won in her hometown Osaka in Japan, after all she is named Osaka, and the city she was born in was the perfect place to reassert herself; then she prevailed in China where she took the Chinese Open title.  Those two major title help offset the disapointment of losing early during the U.S. Open and failing to defend her title there.  Winning the Asian portion of the tour allowed Naomi the opportunity to qualify for the end of the year tournament for the top eight players in the world but our champion had to retire because of pain in her shoulder.  So after a well rested Naomi enjoyed some down time she is ready to start again this year with a victory and another Grand Slam trophy.  She will have to contend with Serena Williams, the queen of Women tennis and the GOAT female athlete of the world.  It will be a clash between two of our favorite athletes.

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