The last eight women's Slams have been won by eight different players. Naomi Osaka could well end that streak.
MELBOURNE — • It’s been more than two years since a WTA player won back-to-back majors, the eight Slams all yielding eight different champ. But Naomi Osaka is bidding to end this streak. The 2018 U.S. Open winner is seeded fourth here, hasn’t dropped a set, and betrays a firm sense of self-belief that wasn’t in evidence six months ago. Today she played crisply, overcame a few loose games and rolled into the third round, beating Tamara Zidansek 6-2, 6-4. There’s so much to like about Osaka, but high on the list: her commitment to tennis and indifference to celebrity. Spend six minutes and watch this beautifully shot piece.
• An early theme of the tournament: the little man holding his own (and holding his serve in the process.) Seven-foot American Reilly Opelka served 67 aces last night….and still lost to 5’8” Thomas Fabbiano 7-6 in the fifth set. This afternoon, facing a similar height differential, Kei Nishikori outlasted Ivo Karlovic in a fifth-set breaker, winning the last four points to get the victory. The No. 18 seed, Diego Schwartzman, at 5’6”, is still in the draw, facing Tomas Berdych in the third round today. Denis Shapovalov—charitably listed at 6’—is into the last 32 after a straight-set win over Taro Daniel. Let’s be realistic: height is often a virtue in this sport. And let’s not overlook (forgive the pun) the presence of giants in the top 15. But it speaks well of tennis that it can accommodate this range of body types.
• Three years ago, Canada’s Milos Raonic was a set from reaching the finals here. He injured his groin, which, sadly, is in keeping with his career rhythms—fine play followed by physical ailment. (As a former champion put it, “He should travel with her own ambulance.”) After two years of compromised health, Raonic, now 28, is back in business, dialing in his serve and bringing a technician’s sensibility to work. He served Nick Kyrgios off the court in round one. Today, he took care of Stanislas Wawrinka—another former titan now recovering from physical issues—in four sets to move into the third round. Raonic’s star has ben dimmed by countrymen Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime—and even by resurgent countrywoman Genie Bouchard, who battled back to relevance but ran into a certain Ms. Serena Williams tonight. Raonic, seeded No. 16, is the proverbial “player no one wants to face.” Especially when healthy.
• Keep an eye on Madison Keys, whose seeding, No. 17, doesn’t become her danger factor. For all the players who perform well week-in, week-out and need to improve their Slam appearances, Keys present a rare counter-problem. She struggles during the quizzes but passes the tests. Last year she won 16 matches at the four Slams, reaching two semifinals and a quarterfinal. So far it’s been more of the same here: four sets played; four sets won. Today she hit through Anastasia Potapova—she tends to do that—and won 6-3, 6-4. She played no tuneups around here, still recovering from a knee injury. And she has a new coach, Jim Madrigal. But she simply blasts the ball and won’t be cowed by the moment. Next up: Elise Mertens.
• Consider this a periodic reminder to check out the doubles draws, the great gem hiding in plain sight. Players still in the draw: Elise Mertens/Aryna Sabalenka, Ashleigh Barty/Vika Azarenka, Annett Kontaveit, and Jelena Ostapenko. For the men: the return of Bob and Mike Bryan, Fernando Verdasco, Steve Johnson, Pablo Carreno Busta, Jack Sock and Taylor Fritz.