What a strange, strange year for Naomi Osaka. So many ups and downs, so many unique moments, like comforting the defeated Coco Gauff at the U.S. Open.
Hopes that she would be able to end the season strongly at the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, China, however, were dashed when she was forced out of the event with a right shoulder injury that first surfaced in the China Open earlier this month.
The world No. 3 beat Petra Kvitova in her opening match, but then withdrew before her match with Australia’s Ash Barty. Osaka plans to get an MRI on the shoulder, but said she didn’t believe it was anything more than “muscular.”
This year-ending event hasn’t been kind to the Japanese star. She lost all her matches at last year’s WTA Finals, and now is out of this year’s competition early.
She summed up her season after withdrawing.
“Surprisingly, I think this year is better than last year, even though I cried way more this year,” she told reporters. “I think that’s a lesson that I learned. You have an opportunity to change the things that are happening to you, even though it may not seem like it at the moment.”
Fittingly, Osaka’s withdrawal created another intriguing storyline when Kiki Bertens, called in as a last minute stand-in, went out and defeated Barty 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Barty will still finish the season No. 1, the first Australian woman ever to do so. Evonne Goolagong is the only other Aussie to be ranked No. 1, and that was for two weeks in the summer of 1976.
Serena Williams has no intention of going out as a player no longer able to win a Grand Slam final.
Williams, 38, told the Forbes 30 Under 30 event in Detroit this month she has no plans to retire.
“I love what I do, and when I’m out there, I feel I’m the best at what I do,” she said. “I know what it takes to work hard. When I wake up and I’m not feeling that way is when I’ll know I need to do something different.”
Williams has not played since losing the U.S. Open final to Canada’s Bianca Andreescu in September. She said new technology in tennis has allowed her to be at or near the top of her sport.
“Athletes across the board – basketball, tennis, football – they’re playing into their forties. That would never have happened a decade ago, or 20 years ago,” she said. “I’m part of a new generation that was really fortunate to work with better technology, equipment and shoes.
“So your body, even though it’s at a certain age, actually feels much younger.”
Williams will again try for her record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open in January.
Simona Halep is too young to be the grand old lady of women’s tennis, or even to be mentioned in the same age category as Serena Williams. She’s a decade younger than the American superstar.
But Halep, the youngest member of the WTA’s top five players, is feeling her age these days, and suspicious that tennis fans, maybe even from her own country, are starting to wonder if her best days are behind her.
For that reason, Halep’s victory at the WTA Finals over the 19-year-old Andreescu in a tough, two hour, 34 minute match was particularly meaningful to her.
“I heard in my country that I’m a little bit too old,” she said afterwards. “That’s why it was a little bit of pressure on that direction. But I’m happy and proud that even if the young players are coming are strong and are winning already at 19 a Slam, I’m still there and I can fight.”
Halep was visited multiple times during her match against Andreescu by coach Darren Cahill. The two have reunited again after splitting during the 2019 season.