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BNP Paribas Tennis Day One… And We Are Off And Running…

The mountain backdrop from the practice courts during the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California, USA, 05 March 2019. The men's and women's final will be played on 17 March 2019. EPA-EFE/JOHN G. MABANGLO
The mountain backdrop from the practice courts during the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California, USA, 05 March 2019. The men’s and women’s final will be played on 17 March 2019. EPA-EFE/JOHN G. MABANGLO

 

 

By Alix Ramsay

 

It was the first day proper of the BNP Paribas Open. The inky fingered scribes were settling themselves into the press bunker and waiting for something to happen. And with a 128 draw and all 32 seeds having a first round bye, that wait was likely to go on for a bit.

 

So that was when it started – the Chinese whispers. To be more accurate, it was actually Japanese whispers but the end result was just the same.

 

“There’s no Osaka,” someone muttered, slightly fretfully. “What? Osaka’s not here?” an eavesdropper asked. “Has she pulled out?” another chipped in. “Osaka’s out!” came the studied assessment of yet another eavesdropper. So that was it then: the world No.1 would not be defending her title. It was now official in the press room.

 

Except that what Mr Fretful had been complaining about initially was that Naomi Osaka would not be taking part in Wednesday’s pre-tournament media session. She had been billed as one of the main attractions of the day but when it came to it, she opted to delay her media commitments by 24 hours and, instead, she would speak to the press on Thursday. No dramas there, then. Or there weren’t until a bunch of bored hacks got the wrong end of the stick and pulled her out of the tournament.

 

At the risk of ruining a decent story on what was a pretty quiet day, we can inform you that the US and Australian Open champion and the current world No.1 will be playing in the desert this week. Just not on Wednesday.

 

The moral of this story: if you are going to listen in to someone else’s private conversation, make sure you clean your ears out first.

 

The honour of kicking off the tournament fell to Johanna Konta, Britain’s No.1 and the world No.45. First up on the centre court, she played well for a set, weathered a mini-comeback from her opponent at the start of the second set and then booked her place in the second round with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Pauline Parmentier of France. Admittedly, there were precious few people around to see it but that is the way of things on the first day of a tournament.

 

“It’s to be expected at the beginning of the tournament,” the relentlessly positive Konta said. “There are no seeds playing today and obviously the crowd come much more when the seeds start playing. But I love playing on the court. It’s a beautiful court to play on so whether it’s full of people or not, you’ve just got to take it as being lucky to be out there.”

 

But it was only a couple of years ago that Konta was a high-ranked seed. A semi-final finish at Wimbledon, a quarter-final finish in Melbourne and the titles in Sydney and Miami pushed her up to a career high ranking of No.4 in the summer of 2017. Since then, though, she has struggled to find that same level of consistency and to find the right voice to turn to for advice. Wim Fissette was with her dizzying run to the top four but their partnership came to a natural conclusion at the end of that season. Michael Joyce tried to help her find her game again the following year but that did not work out. Then, at the end of last year, she teamed up with Dimitri Zavialoff, once the coach of Stan Wawrinka back in the dim and distant past.

 

Konta is a highly intelligent woman, possibly a little too intelligent for her own good. But she knows what she wants and she will not stop until she gets it. So, as she pondered Osaka’s recent split with Sascha Bajin (the man who steered Osaka to the titles in Indian Wells and New York last year and in Melbourne this past January) and the even more recent appointment of Jermaine Jenkins as her new coach, Konta understood what the world No.1 was going through.

 

“Obviously I can’t speak for Naomi because I’m not her,” she said, “but for me I think it’s all about growing up in a way. For me it’s been a lot about gaining independence and gaining control over my own development and understanding fully what it is that I’m doing out there and why it is that I’m doing it. And kind of with that progression, I’ve slowly been coming into contact with the kind of people who promote that kind of development for me.

 

“But it’s also a little bit of trial and error. You know, sometimes it’s a bit harsh when players are judged for changing coaches. It’s nothing to do with personalities necessarily; you’re just looking for the kind of person that does not just relay the information for you but also [relays it in a way] for you to be able to be able to absorb the information because it’s two very different things. It takes a certain chemistry for that to happen and it doesn’t happen with everybody.”

 

As for her work with Zavialoff, that is coming along nicely. The two have been together for a little over four months and while the results have not been spectacular, they are laying the ground work for the future.

 

“I think it’s going great,” she said. “We’re doing a lot of good work and I feel like I’m implementing [what we are working on] slowly, slowly in the way I play and the way I think on court. I think the kind of work we’re doing, it’s very long-term orientated so I think I’m just putting the work in to hopefully in time to give myself the opportunity to be in a position to be winning a lot of matches and be playing some great matches on big stages.

 

“I think I’ve been very lucky in that I definitely haven’t regretted any coaching relationship that I’ve had. I really do think that I’ve always taken something from each relationship and, equally, I’m enjoying this current process with Dimitri. I trust in his philosophy and I think he trusts in mine too.”

Marin Cilic of Croatia in action against David Goffin of Belgium in the first-ever Eisenhower Cup - a one-night Tie Break Tens event during the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California, USA, 05 March 2019. The men's and women's final will be played on 17 March 2019.  EPA-EFE/LARRY W. SMITH

Marin Cilic of Croatia in action against David Goffin of Belgium in the first-ever Eisenhower Cup – a one-night Tie Break Tens event during the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California, USA, 05 March 2019. The men’s and women’s final will be played on 17 March 2019. EPA-EFE/LARRY W. SMITH

 

Rafael Nadal of Spain in action against Taylor Fritz of the USA in the first-ever Eisenhower Cup - a one-night Tie Break Tens event, during the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California, USA, 05 March 2019.  EPA-EFE/LARRY W. SMITH

Rafael Nadal of Spain in action against Taylor Fritz of the USA in the first-ever Eisenhower Cup – a one-night Tie Break Tens event, during the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California, USA, 05 March 2019. EPA-EFE/LARRY W. SMITH

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