The last time Naomi Osaka and Amanda Anisimova met on a court was 10 weeks ago in Indian Wells. It did not go well for Osaka.
“She completely killed me,” Osaka said in her pre-tournament press conference. “So, yeah … hopefully, I’ll get more than two points.”
After a coy smile and a slight pause, she giggled.
Actually, Osaka had three points. And the reason she was laughing was it didn’t count. This was an exhibition before the Indian Wells main draw, consisting of eight players playing 10-point tiebreaks in a bracket-style event. Anisimova beat Osaka 10-3 and ultimately prevailed 10-7 in the final over Maria Sakkari. For this brief night’s work, Anisimova took home $150,000.
Back at the Australian Open in January, they played for real. Osaka was the defending champion, but Anisimova knocked her out in the third round with a terrific effort, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(5). When Osaka’s coach, Wim Fissette, told her she was playing the No.27-seeded Anisimova in the first round of Roland Garros, she thought he was joking.
“And he was like, `No, I am not joking,’” Osaka said. “For me, I think it’s better to play her in a first round than when people get warmed up and stuff. It’s easier for me to play a seed in the first round than play them in any other round.
“I think we both will draw from the experiences. I think me having two match points [in their Australian Open match] is comforting.”
Comforting, perhaps, but it would be surprising if that backhand into the net with Anisimova serving in the third set, down 5-4, 40-30, wasn’t still in the back of her mind. Based strictly on recent form, Anisimova would be favored. She’s 20-8 for the season – 10-3 on clay, based on reaching the semifinals in Charleston and the quarterfinals in Madrid and Rome. Don’t forget that Anisimova’s professional breakthrough came at Roland Garros, when she reached the semifinals three years ago as a 17-year-old. After beating Simona Halep in the quarters, she fell to eventual champion Ashleigh Barty.
Osaka, ranked No.38 heading into Paris, has only a 21-17 career record on clay but also four major championships to her credit, the most of any active player excluding Serena and Venus Williams. All four of those came on hard courts. Osaka said she spent more time in the offseason preparing for clay but suffered an Achilles injury in Madrid that was a factor in a second-round loss against Sara Sorribes Tormo and a subsequent withdrawal from Rome.
There were times in that Australian Open match when Anisimova struck the ball so well Osaka said she laughed to herself.
“I would hit a really great first serve and she would hit a winner off of it,” Osaka said. “It would happen multiple times to the point where I know it’s not luck, like she’s intentionally trying to do that.
“So I wouldn’t say like I don’t want to play her, because I feel like for me I’m the type of person that if you beat me, it motivates me more to win and I also learned a lot from the match.”
Anna Kalinskaya versus Madison Keys: Kalinskaya is ranked only No.82 among WTA players, but she scored a huge upset in Miami as a qualifier, defeating No.6 seed Karolina Pliskova in the second round. She’s 14-8 for the year and feeling good about her first-round match against No.22 seed Keys. The American started the season well, but has lost five of her past six matches and is 1-3 on clay.
By the numbers
It’s been 89 days since Barbora Krejcikova officially raised a racquet in a WTA match. The defending French Open champion is the No.2 seed but uncertainty hovers over this first-round match against Diane Parry of France. After falling 6-3, 6-2 to Jelena Ostapenko in a Round of 16 match in Doha, Krejcikova has been out of action nursing a right elbow injury. It was a much-needed break overall, she said, after playing a heavy singles and doubles schedule in 2021. She practiced pre-tournament with trainer’s tape.
“I had a problem with my elbow, which I didn’t expect is going to take me away for this long,” she told reporters. “But I think it was good. I think it was worth it to have a break after such a tough last season. I mean, right now I feel healthy. Also I think mentally I’m really recharged. I’m looking forward to come back on the tour and to get back in a good form and to play the best players.”
And finally …
Considering the first round is spread over three days, it’s remarkable that there will be eight major champions in action Monday: No.1 seed Swiatek, No.2 Krejcikova, No.12 Emma Raducanu, No.15 Victoria Azarenka, No.21 Angelique Kerber, No.32 Petra Kvitova, as well as unseeded Bianca Andreescu and Osaka.