The National Bank Open, formerly Rogers Cup

Damien’s Spin: WTA depth greater than ever

April 17, 2019

Some say it’s evidence of extraordinary depth on the WTA tour. Other suggest it proves there’s an absence of truly great players.

What we know for sure is this season, every tournament on the tour has been up for grabs, and the winners are getting younger. With Polona Hercog’s win in Lugano last weekend and Amanda Anisimova’s triumph in Bogota gave the WTA 18 different winners in 18 tournaments so far this season, making 2019 one of the most unpredictable seasons in the history of the tour.

The average age of the winners has been under 23 years, the youngest average in a decade. Interestingly, 10 of the top 20 ranked players in the world have yet to win an event, which means winners are coming from all over the rankings map.

The list of non-winners this season includes two-time and defending Rogers Cup champion Simona Halep, the No. 2-ranked player in the world.

Garbiñe Muguruza’s hardcourt win over Victoria Azarenka in Monterrey two weeks, meanwhile, was Azarenka’s first final in three years. The former world No. 1 was down 6-1, 3-1 when she was forced to retire with a calf injury.

Life sure isn’t dull these days for Naomi Osaka.

Indeed, there’s an argument to be made right now that Osaka, winner of the last two women’s singles Grand Slam titles, is the world’s most fascinating tennis player, male or female.

Since winning the U.S. Open last September then following that up with a win Down Under in January, Osaka has blossomed into a player with global appeal. Evidence of that came recently when she announced a new deal with Nike after wearing Adidas gear last season and passing up an offer from Uniqlo. Osaka will start sporting Nike in Stuttgart later this month, and has now signed six new sponsorship deals since winning the U.S. Open.

Another sign of Osaka’s growing power as a global brand is that, according to reports, she will continue to wear the patches of her other sponsors on her clothing, something Nike usually doesn’t permit.

While that has been going on, Osaka has also been dealing with a very complicated citizenship issue. She carries both U.S. and Japanese citizenship, but technically, when she turns 22 in October, she has to choose between the two. Under current Japanese law, dual citizens have to pick one or the other by the time they turn 22.

The questions are then twofold. What citizenship would Osaka choose (she competes for Japan and most believe she would keep her Japanese passport)? And will the Japanese government actually enforce the law against such a high-profile athlete, one likely to be a marquee attraction at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo?

Since beating Petra Kvitova in the Aussie Open final, meanwhile, Osaka has fired her coach, Sascha Bajin, and struggled to find her form. She was out of Indian Wells and the Miami Open before the quarter-finals.

Serena Williams won’t be part of the U.S. team for Fed Cup action this month after speculation she would be part of Kathy Rinaldi’s team in San Antonio for a World Group playoff tie against Switzerland. The Americans lost to Australia in World Group play earlier this year. All eyes will now be on Rome to see if Williams will make her return on clay. She hasn’t won a tournament since returning in March, 2018 after giving birth to her daughter.

This year, she has played three tournaments, and has been bothered by injury or illness in all three. The 37-year-old struggled with an ankle problem in Australia, suffered from a viral illness in Indian Wells that forced her out of a match with Garbiñe Muguruza and then was hampered by knee injury in Miami that forced her to withdraw.

It’s not over until it’s over.

Even when staring down the dreaded double bagel.

Great Britain’s Tara Moore proved it the other week at a $25,000 ITF event in England when facing match point against Jessika Ponchet of France while trailing 0-6, 0-5, 30-40. The 26-year-old Moore saved that match point with an overhead that clipped the tape, then incredibly fought back to win that set in a tie-break and then capture the third set 6-3 for the victory.

“Lololo. Never in doubt,” tweeted Moore after the match. She’s ranked No. 479 in the world.

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