The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Lindsay Gibbs, February 12, 2019

Naomi's shocking announcement, must-click links, and Fed Cup quotes

Editor’s note: Welcome back! If you are here, you are either enjoying a free trial through April 28, or you have already made the commitment to funding this daily, vital commitment to women’s sports coverage and insider information from those who cover the sport. Your money goes toward the time and energy we spend every day to fix a playing field tilted against women’s sports coverage.

For those of you enjoying our daily output, I’d encourage you to sign up today to make sure you continue receiving our full complement of insider info, exclusive interviews and comprehensive links. It works out to around 14 cents a day on a $50 annual membership, 17 cents a day at $5 a month. Thank you all for being part of the future in women’s sports media.

A surprise split

So, I was prepared to use this space to talk about the phenomenal Fed Cup ties last weekend, but then, on Monday, some news broke that I had to address immediately. So, I’m going to use the links and interview section to get you all of your Fed Cup news. Just be patient.

Because first, we have to talk about Naomi Osaka’s shocking split with her coach, Sascha Bajin.

Like pretty much everyone else in the universe, I did not see this one coming. And there is not much information available at all — even the rumor mill is sitting in relatively stunned silence. Yes, tennis players switch coaches often. And yes, the coaching ranks for elite WTA players often feels particularly carousel-like. But to split suddenly with a coach right after winning your second major title in a row? That is stunning.

The news was delivered in rather peak Osaka fashion, via a nonchalant tweet on Monday afternoon. "Hey everyone, I will no longer be working together with Sascha. I thank him for his work and wish him all the best in the future,” the 21-year-old wrote.

Bajin — who established himself as a long-time hitting partner and confidant for Serena Williams, before they not-so-cordially split and he went on to work for Caroline Wozniacki, Sloane Stephens, and Victoria Azarenka — responded in kind: “Thank you Naomi. I wish you nothing but the best as well. What a ride that was. Thank you for letting me be part of this.”

During the offseason, reigning French Open champion Simona Halep split with Darren Cahill; and reigning Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber split with Wim Fissette. Since Osaka has the other two major titles, that means that none of the reigning women’s major champions are still with the same coach they were with when they won their last major. And, this isn’t exactly a new thing. Going back a bit, 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko is no longer with Anabel Medina Garrigues; 2017 Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza is no longer with Conchita Martinez; and 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens is no longer with Kamau Murray.

So what are we supposed to make of this? Honestly, I think it has much more to do with the nature of the sport than the individuals themselves — or, as many have implied, their gender. Typically in sports, players don’t have much (if any) say over who their coach is. (*Insert LeBron James joke here*) But in tennis, the player is the boss.

That can be positive, but it can also creates scenarios where a 21-year-old two-time major champion and world No. 1 is the CEO if her own team. That is a lot of pressure, particularly when dealing with a rise in profile and prosperity like Osaka has experienced over the last six months. Suddenly, she’s being pulled in a million directions. Everyone has words of wisdom. Everyone thinks they know best. But you’re the one who has to decide.

We don’t know specifics about what happened between Bajin and Osaka, but the coach/player relationship in tennis is such a delicate one. Trust is hard to earn but even harder to keep, and the grass always does seem greener. Only time will tell: Was this was a rash decision by one or both of them brought on by the privilege of pressure? Or was it the best step forward for both parties? The answer, as it often is, might be “yes.”


This Week in Women’s Tennis

Okay, via links, here is your Fed Cup results round-up:

In the World Group, our semifinals are set: In late April, France will host Romania, and Australia will host Belarus.

France advanced by beating Belgium, 3-1. Caroline Garcia was the real star of this tie, with victories over Elise Mertens and Alison Van Uytvanck.

This was Garcia’s first time back on the team following a two-year absence due to a falling out with former doubles partner Kristina Mladenovic.

Romania pulled out an epic 3-2 victory over the Czech Republic, thanks to two singles wins by Simona Halep — including a 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 victory over Karolina Pliskova — and a doubles triumph by Irina-Camelia Begu and Monica Niculescu.

Australia defeated USA, 3-2, after a very entertaining tie in Asheville. Ash Barty was the MVP of the tie, winning all three points. (She partnered with Patricia Hon in doubles.)

Belarus absolutely trounced Germany, 4-0. If they don’t win the Fed Cup this year, they’re winning it super soon. What a team.

Elsewhere, Great Britain and Latvia were incredibly impressive. And honestly, just spend a while on the Fed Cup site getting caught up on the rest of the action. You won’t regret it.

This week is the Qatar Open. Osaka, Barty, Garcia, and Wozniacki have all pulled out already.


Tweet of the Week


Five at The IX: Fed Cup Round-Up

No interview this week — though I promise, some exciting things are in the works. But here’s a round-up of five of my favorite quotes from Fed Cup weekend!

Simona Halep lost to Karolina Pliskova in Fed Cup in 2016. Before the third set of their match in this tie, she vowed not to let that happen again:

“I did want revenge for that loss. So I just went back to the locker room afterwards, changed my clothes and said to myself ‘the match starts now’. I knew I had to be there for every point and not give up.”

German Andrea Petkovic was in awe of Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka:

“I really think she almost played the perfect match. She rolled over me and was just better in each and every department of the game today, although my strengths I couldn’t even play out, because it never really came to rallies and physicality and all the things I bring to the table. She just was so good on the first two shots, she returned and served really well and it was just a great match played by her.”

Romanian captain Florin Segarceanu, summing up Fed Cup perfectly:

“What a day. Hell and heaven. It was unbelievable, a dream come true, we are in the semis, we have a great team - and we won’t stop until we win it.”

France’s Alize Cornet, who won her first Fed Cup singles match in five years, talking about her excessive use of drop shots in her win over Mertens:

“It is one of my favorite shots. Now I also do it on backhands – usually I only do it on forehands, so now I’ve added a new shot to my game. I was using it at the right time, I was very focused – almost in the zone, you know?”

Australia hasn’t won Fed Cup since 1974, and captain Alicia Molik is thirsty:

“It’s been a long time between drinks, hasn’t it? I’m happy because this is such a youthful team. I’m incredibly proud.” 


Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women's Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Lindsay Gibbs, @Linzsports ThinkProgress
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal High Post Hoops
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren PGA.com
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster