The National Bank Open, formerly Rogers Cup

Damien’s Spin: Barty, Osaka trending up and down mid-way through 2019

June 28, 2019

More than Kim Clijsters. Less than Dinara Safina. The same as Tracy Austin.

That’s where Naomi Osaka found herself in the history books after her 21-week reign as the world’s No. 1 ranked female player came to an end courtesy of French Open champion
Ashleigh Barty.

In what could become the next great rivalry in women’s tennis, the 23-year-old Barty surged past the 21-year-old Osaka to reach No. 1 by winning the Birmingham title over Julia Goerges. In so doing, Barty became the first Australian women since Evonne Goolagong 43 years ago to hold the No. 1 ranking.

Just three years after being unranked on the WTA list, Barty has been the best player in women’s tennis this year, putting together a 36-5 record and getting to the final or better in four of eight events.

She was the Wimbledon girls singles champion at 15, but three years later stepped away from the game and for a time considered pursuing a career in cricket.

“It’s been the most incredible journey for me and my team,” said Barty after reaching No. 1. “We started from scratch three-and-a-half years ago without a ranking and now to be where we are is not only for me, but a massive, massive achievement for them.”

Osaka has had an up-and-down season, and lost at Roland Garros on the first weekend to end her Grand Slam win streak at two. She and Barty are poised to become the next great ambassadors for the game – Osaka is already an international celebrity – and potentially an intriguing possibility to meet in the final of Wimbledon next month.

In three career matches between the two, Barty holds a 2-1 advantage. They have yet to meet in 2019.

Now we’ll see how long Barty can hold the top rung. Since Serena Williams ended her run at No. 1 at 186 weeks in 2016, the top ranking has changed hands 12 different times between eight different players.


Lisicki making a return

Another name on the comeback trail from injuries is 29-year-old Sabine Lisicki of Germany, a Wimbledon finalist in 2013 who was at one point ranked as high as No. 12 in the world.

Lisicki has endured multiple physical problems over the last three years, including a shoulder problem, knee surgery and most recently, a foot problem that kept her out for four months.

She started 2019 with nine straight losses, got her first win of the year at an ITF event this month then defeated Timea Babos at Roehampton in the first round of qualifying for Wimbledon, a huge symbolic win.

“The most important thing is that I found the way to happiness on the court again,” she said. “And wins certainly help with that.”

As she worked her way back to the tour, Lisicki formed a kinship with another player who has been battling for several years with injuries, Juan Martin del Potro. Del Potro suffered a fractured right kneecap during a win over Canada’s Denis Shapovalov at Queen’s Club, the same injury he suffered in October.

“I feel so sorry for him because he’s such a nice guy,” said Lisicki, who exchanged messages with the big Argentinian. “I love watching his forehand go boom, straight past everyone. I want to see more booming serves and forehands from him.”


Boulter still feeling effects from Fed Cup

The Katie Boulter story may give other players pause the next time their country comes calling for Fed Cup or Davis Cup, and should make fans more understanding when they do.

The up-and-coming British player was forced to withdraw from Wimbledon with back problem, an injury incurred while playing for Great Britain in Fed Cup in April. Boulter, 22, hasn’t played since.

She was criticized by no less a tennis authority than Billie Jean King for pulling out of the French Open late, thus guaranteeing she would receive her first round prize money. Wimbledon likely would have granted her a wild card, but she has withdrawn early.

“The road to recovery has had its ups and downs,” she said in a statement. “I’m devastated to be missing my home Grand Slam.”

Boulter delivered a key three-set triumph over Zarina Diyas to help the Brits past Kazakhstan in their World Group II playoff tie.