With the Australian Open kicking off on Monday, players have been talking to the press in the build-up to the first Grand Slam of the season. While Novak Djokovic has dominated many conversations over the past 10 days, here are some of the other topics that have come up Down Under.
Osaka discusses defending champ mindset
Seeking a fifth Grand Slam title this fortnight in Melbourne, Naomi Osaka is hoping she can successfully defend a title for the first time in her career.
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The 24-year-old lifted her second Australian Open trophy 11 months ago with victory over American Jennifer Brady in the final and begins her 2022 campaign against Colombian teenager Camila Osorio on Monday.
Osaka is a big-match player – four of her seven titles are majors – but admits carrying the defending champion tag can come with some extra pressure.
“I think there's of course added pressure. You always think about it more often than not,” said the world No.14. “But for me, I just want to come into this tournament playing well. I think that bottom line if I play well, I'll be able to get far.
“If I happen to lose, then that's something that I can learn on and keep practicing and hopefully evolve from that. But currently, yes, I am a little bit nervous about having that 'defending champion' title on me, but like this is a whole new year and it's technically a whole new tournament, so...”
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Osaka pulled the plug on her season early last year when her US Open title defence came to an end at the hands of Leylah Fernandez in the third round. She returned from a break from tennis last week, where she made it to the semi-finals of the Melbourne Summer Set tournament before pulling out with an abdominal injury.
“I heal quite fast. I'm as good as I can be in this current moment,” she told reporters at the Australian Open Media Day on Saturday.
Stars gear up for Netflix’s ‘Play to Survive’
Tennis’ quest to reach a younger, and wider, demographic has received a major boost this week with the announcement that Netflix is teaming up with the ATP, WTA and the four Grand Slams to produce a behind-the-scenes documentary series similar to F1’s enormously successful ‘Drive to Survive’.
Netflix camera crews have already been spotted following the likes of Matteo Berrettini and Taylor Fritz at Melbourne Park these past few days and players seem to unanimously agree that it’s a much-needed venture that can only bring positive things to the sport.
The docu-series will follow a certain group of players over the course of the 2022 season and Stefanos Tsitsipas revealed he was one of the first people to sign on for the project, which is being created by Box to Box Films, the same producers behind F1’s ‘Drive to Survive’.
“I was the first person to know about that before any of you. I'm very privileged to be in it,” Tsitsipas told reporters on Media Day in Melbourne on Saturday.
“I've watched their previous TV show which was ‘Drive to Survive’. I instantly became a huge fan of F1. I'm extremely happy they're bringing this to tennis and making something similar in that sense.”
Asked if it was an easy decision to commit to the series, the Greek world No.4 added: “Why would there be any doubts? It's one of the best shows out there. People know what they're doing.”
Tsitsipas, an avid content creator himself, attended the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix last month as a guest of Red Bull Racing but did not get a chance to talk to any of the drivers about what it was like taking part in a tell-all series like that. The name of the tennis docu-series hasn’t been revealed yet but it seems Tsitsipas spilled the beans prematurely on Saturday.
“I feel pretty lucky because I might make it to ‘Drive to Survive’ before I make it to ‘Play to Survive’. The last episode of the season four, on the last race of 2021, I might be in it,” said the 23-year-old.
Former world No.1 Osaka, who had a four-part docu-series released on Netflix last year, did not specify whether she will be taking part in the first instalment of this project but said she is excited to see how it pans out.
“I think it's definitely really exciting for the tour because there has to be a way to sort of build the audience and build more engagement,” said the Japanese star.
“I think this is definitely going to help a lot. For me, when I did my own documentary, it was definitely a bit strange to have cameras following you. I actually really liked having my own little mini camera that they assigned to me. I thought it was a really good way to journal what I was feeling. But, yeah, it's going to be interesting to watch how they edit it and what kind of format they decide to use.”
World No.2 and reigning US Open champion Daniil Medvedev has watched all three seasons of ‘Drive to Survive’ and says he can “see no negatives at the moment” about the idea to bring it to tennis. But will he take part?
“I haven't decided yet because, of course, it's going to depend what does it mean,” replied the Russian. “Does it mean being in my house or just at my practice? I haven't decided yet.”
Spanish two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza believes the docu-series will bring “great exposure” to the tours, but acknowledges it could be challenging for the producers to get the same access in an individual sport like tennis, the way they did in F1.
The world No.3 is in talks with the production team about her possible participation and is keen to see how they plan on developing the concept on tour.
The F1 version of the series brought an unfiltered view of the rivalries between drivers and teams in a way that created drama every single episode. Muguruza, who watched and enjoyed ‘Drive to Survive’, admits it might get tricky giving producers and camera crews that kind of access to her life.
“I feel like when you make a docu-series like this, the people want to see the drama and they want to see the moments where you have a tear, the moments where it's frustrating,” said Muguruza.
“People I think don't want to see us doing elastics in the gym. It's also something that every player feels different about it, to show these little intimate moments, others want to show, they don't care. They're okay with it.
“I think it's going to be very personal. I think it's important to find out with them what they want to show, what's their idea, before saying yes to everything, maybe feeling like, ‘Oh, maybe I didn't want to show that side of me’.”
Not everyone among the top player group was approached as world No.3 Alexander Zverev revealed he didn’t know the show was being made.
“It's very unfortunate that the communication has been lacking with us players,” said the German.
Thanasi inspired by CP3
Thanasi Kokkinakis’ maiden title triumph at his home tournament in Adelaide on Saturday will go down as one of the most heart-warming stories of the season.
The Australian is only 25, but has endured a series of career-threatening injuries and illnesses that could have driven away from the sport many years ago.
Earlier this week, Kokkinakis spoke about his admiration for Phoenix Suns ‘Point God’ Chris Paul, and how his longevity and dedication continue to inspire him.
“I've been following Chris Paul everywhere. I am a (Houston) Rockets fan, but Chris Paul is my favourite. Until he retires, I'll be following him,” said Kokkinakis.
Kokkinakis and Paul shared the same management agency at some point and they met back in 2013 during the US Open, when Kokkinakis reached the boys’ singles final.
“I met him and saw him training. I feel bad for Ducks (James Duckworth) because I was supposed to warm him up for a match. I think I was a bit late because I was watching Chris Paul practice. He wasn't too happy with me after that for a while. Those opportunities I kind of got to take,” recalls Kokkinakis.
“We still send each other like the odd message on Instagram. When he followed me, that was probably the happiest day of my life back then. I was pretty stoked back then.
“It's amazing to see what he's doing at this age, I think 36 now. To still be one of the best players in the league is pretty incredible. That's something you can take from as a tennis player, day in, day out, backing up. He's been at the top of the game for so long. It shows. I'm 25 now. With how things are going, hopefully I've got a lot of time left in the sport.”
Emma keeps it simple
US Open champion Emma Raducanu appeared in a Nike ad recently where she pokes fun at her critics who claim she is too “distracted” by her off-court commitments that have increased due to her sudden fame.
In the 20-second clip, words like “distracted”, “perfect”, “fluke”, “flawless”, and “one-hit wonder”, are displayed in large font behind her as she unleashes one shot after the other on court, unbothered by anything else but the ball. The ad then ends with one simple message: “World off. Game on.”
During her press conference on Saturday, Raducanu was asked about the ad, and whether she felt better equipped to deal with her status as a Grand Slam champion four months on from her US Open triumph.
“I think the video speaks for itself. Yeah, that's how I feel. That's it, full stop,” replied the British teenager succinctly.
Many who have seen the commercial have noticed how Raducanu’s movement on court mimics that of retired Chinese superstar Li Na.
“I have taken some inspiration from her game and her movement. I like to think I have similar qualities in terms of being mentally strong and resilient,” explained Raducanu.
“Li Na is definitely someone I watched growing up. Her footwork especially, I remember watching videos on YouTube, just seeing how she moved. I would actually practice that myself when I was younger. Maybe subconsciously I feel like that's taken on. I did as well make a conscious effort to try to move like her.”
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