BNP PARIBAS OPEN BUZZ: Naomi Osaka Turns On the Heat

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Photo by Brent Bishop

NAOMI OSAKA – STILL SARDONIC AFTER ALL THESE YEARS: One of the most vivid personalities on either tour, 20-year-old Naomi Osaka has been playing some crisp, dominant tennis at this year’s BNP Paribas Open. She made quick work of fifth seed Karolina Pliskova to break through to the semis last night. As usual, Osaka has been no slouch in press conferences either, sometimes answering long, convoluted questions with a simple yes or no.

After her fourth-round win over Maria Sakkari, Inside Tennis noted that she’s had some core breakthrough wins in California, beginning with her 2014 win over Sam Stosur, as a memorably sardonic 16-year-old at Stanford. “Well, I really like the weather in California,” Osaka replied. “I’m really good in heat, so that’s one big thing I like about coming here. Other than that, I mean, sometimes I forget where I am.”

From there, the press interview soon evolved into a discussion of Osaka’s off-court interests, which include the 90s-set Netflix high school series “Everything Sucks,” smoothies (“This one is called Pitaya Sunset. I really don’t know what Pitaya is”), gaming (she’s playing EQ Worlds and Overwatch) and favorite memes: “Everyone already knows all the SpongeBob Patrick ones. Those are boring. They’re probably going to create a new SpongeBob one. Just waiting for that to drop, like, any second now.”

As for why she’s rapidly becoming a fan favorite, Osaka pleads the fifth. “I don’t really know. I don’t really know…I don’t know why they cheer for me, honestly. I think – yeah, I have no idea,” she says with a smile. “But I am grateful for it. So, for whatever reason, I want to say thank you.”

KEN FLACH, 1963–2018: Inexplicable deaths are a sad part of life, and tennis is no exception to this constant. For instance, Pete Sampras lost his coach Tim Gullikson at far too young an age, and Roger Federer’s childhood mentor, Australian Peter Carter, was killed in an accident while on vacation in South Africa. Now tennis is mourning the loss of Olympic gold medalist and Grand Slam champion Ken Flach, who on Monday passed away from pneumonia at age 54.

Inside Tennis caught up with Tracy Austin recently and she expressed sadness and shock about the loss. “He loved his family, loved Christina [his wife], loved what he was doing, loved golf,” she said, noting that Flach had played 36 rounds of golf only days ago. “To me it doesn’t make sense. He checked himself into emergency. By that evening he was on life support and he never spoke another word, That, to me, is disturbing, that someone could play golf in the morning and then be on life support at night, without a car accident. He was 54 and healthy, slim, fit. That’s all I know.”

Flach won six Slam titles, four in doubles (three with Robert Seguso, one with Rick Leach, and two in mixed doubles with Kathy Jordan). He also won doubles gold with Seguso at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. His pro success and impressive Davis Cup record were an outgrowth of great years as a collegiate player (along with Seguso) at Southern Illinois University, where they won three Division III national championships. “He was a great returner, moved well at the net, had great volleys,” said Austin, who played mixed doubles with Flach. “He [was the] consummate doubles player who knew how to play doubles – not just singles on a doubles court.”

THE GAME IS GROWING: Of eight quarterfinalists at the BNP Paribas Open, four are over 6’5” – Raonic, Del Potro, Querrey and Anderson.
 
GO FIGURE: If Sam Querrey wins the singles and doubles at Indian Wells, he’ll earn a $1 million bonus. Martina Navratilova said she won singles and doubles in the same tournament 80 times.
 
CLEANING HOUSE WORKS: Borna Coric felt his game had stagnated and he was stuck being ranked in the 40s and 50s. So he not only changed coaches, he fired his agent and his physio – and now he’s gaming.

OVERKILL: In the fall of 2019 there could be a clutter of super events with a certain sameness. The existing WTA and ATP Championships, plus Roger Federer’s Laver Cup, a one-week Davis Cup with 18 nations, and a World Cup of tennis event the ATP is thinking of launching.

WOZ ON THE WARRIORS: After going to a recent Golden State Warrior game, Caroline Wozniacki said it was amazing to her to see the strength and athleticism in the NBA – and to witness Steph Curry hit a three-pointer off his back foot – but she can relate more to the brilliance of Roger Federer. Still, her favorite take-away was to see the standing ovation fans gave her fiancé, David Lee. As for at last winning a Slam, Caroline quipped, “I think everyone in here is happy not to have to ask me the same question [i.e. “When are you going to win a Slam?”]. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

ALTHEA 101: After her fourth-round win at the BNP Paribas Open, Inside Tennis asked Venus Williams about the statue of Althea Gibson that will be unveiled at the US Open. “No one really knows her story,” Venus said about Gibson. “There should be a statue, and mandatory education about her, to be honest.”

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