Sunday, March 18, 2018

Naomi Osaka announces herself in the desert

A desert is a place without expectation.
Nadine Gordimer

Today, 20-year-old Naomi Osaka not only won the BNP Paribas Open; she also became the event's second consecutive unexpected champion. But the circumstances were oh, so different. Last year, champion Elena Vesnina and Svetlana Kuznetsova put on a knock-down drag-out spectacle that went on for three hours. Today, a spot-on in-form Osaka took out a clearly flat and under-performing Daria Kasatkina in just and hour and ten minutes.


So many times, in finals, we see this pattern: One player just isn't herself, and the other plays out of her mind. Naturally, one feeds on and expands the other. This "should" have been a three-set match, but instead, it fell into this too-familiar pattern.

Osaka is also following in the footsteps of her peers, Garbine Muguruza and Alona Ostapenko, in that her first WTA win is a really big one. Of course, hers wasn't quite as big as theirs, but it was big enough to turn her into an instant star. It wasn't that long ago that Osaka (like early Kvitova) was just swinging at everything and hitting it as hard as she could. Those days are over; the young Japanese player has improved her fitness and added some tactics to her game, which is now truly formidable.

This was a significant BNP Paribas Open not only because two 20-year-olds were in the final, but also because of what each of them had to do to get there. Osaka took out five-time major champion Maria Sharapova, Aga Radwanska, an in-form Maria Sakkari, and Karolina Pliskova. Kasatkina had an even tougher route: She defeated 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stevens, 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki, two-time major champion Angelique Kerber, and five-time major champion Venus Williams.

While their games are quite different, both players are extremely talented, and my gut feeling is that neither of them is going to fold from the pressure of either ranking or public recognition. And speaking of rankings, tomorrow, Osaka will be number 22 in the world, and Kasatkina will be number 11.

The times are changing--that's for sure.


jwr said...

I've seen varying degrees of frustration on-line concerning Halep, Kasatkina and now Serena for some version of "not putting up a fight" against Osaka (for whatever reason).

Now, I didn't get a chance to watch any of those three matches...But I'm starting to detect a certain common denominator here.

Wonder how long it will be before anybody gets the idea that Osaka might just be that good....

Nondisposable Johnny

Diane said...

Dasha didn't put up too much of a fight, as I noted, because she was just spent. On another day, I think it would have been a huge fight. I have to agree, though, that Halep didn't put up much of a fight against her, and Serena couldn't put up her usual fight. I mean, she was out having a baby and almost dying again.

Having said all that--yes, Osaka is that good! The two circumstances aren't mutually exclusive.