Dubai Tennis diary: Johanna Konta on 'acting' in tennis, Naomi Osaka is a tricky student

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And the Oscar goes to... Johanna Konta.

For me personally, sitting in the stands watching a tennis match feels like being at the theatre.

The grand entrances, the drama, the momentum swings… the upset that no one saw coming.

The more you know about the characters on court, the more connected you feel to the action. The players’ mannerisms and reactions are often just important as how they’re hitting the ball.

Every fist pump and scream sends a message to the opponent, and sometimes it’s masking how a competitor really feels inside.

“I definitely think there’s an element of acting on court. I think there is a good old saying of ‘fake it till you make it’. I think that definitely applies to some days more than others obviously,” Johanna Konta said when I asked her if she often makes a conscious effort to appear more confident on court.

“We are human, every player out there. We’re not going to feel great every single day. We’re not always going to play great. Those days where you’re not playing your best, you do put on a persona and you do try to fight your way through those days, try to find the best level you can on that day.

“I mean, I always look to be as positive as I can, yeah, as happy as I can on court.”

It’s the best kind of theatre, I tell you!

TEACHING NAOMI OSAKA

Japan’s Naomi Osaka is quite the character in press conference and her first one in Dubai was no exception.

She was asked about her new coach Sascha Bajin, whom she started working with this season, and whether she considers herself a good pupil.

“I learn very quickly, but I also forget very quickly,” she said with a laugh.

“It’s like it goes through one ear and out the other. I sort of have to practice a lot from my brain to say, ‘Okay, this is something you have to do forever now’.”

That certainly must be fun for Bajin!

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Garbine Muguruza widening her focus beyond the Grand Slams, has eye on return to No. 1

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When Garbine Muguruza was a little girl, she dreamt of winning Wimbledon. She grew up fantasising about winning Grand Slams, playing on the biggest stages in tennis and lifting the most prestigious trophies.

At 22, the Spaniard claimed her first major, upsetting Serena Williams to win the French Open. A year later, she beat Venus Williams to triumph at Wimbledon.

Beating the Williams sisters to win your first two Slams – success doesn’t get more legitimate than that.

But between Muguruza’s flashes of brilliance, there came periods of indifference. Wimbledon was just her fourth career title. She often admitted that stepping up for the smaller tournaments has not been as easy as finding the motivation for the Grand Slams, and her results certainly reflected that.


Consistency had been her Achilles’ heel but that has slowly been changing.








Last season, she won Cincinnati – her fifth career trophy – before making the semis in Tokyo and quarters in Wuhan. Muguruza had a rough start to 2018, struggling with a leg injury but she made a run to the Doha final last week.


The world No. 3 believes she is finally finding the correct formula to approach each tournament with the right amount of focus and drive.


“I think I’m trying. I think I improved that a lot,” Muguruza told reporters in Dubai on Tuesday.


“When you’re younger, you’re always dreaming about winning Grand Slams. You don’t feel that excited when it’s not Wimbledon. But it’s normal. Every player has that.


“Once you are in a Grand Slam, you’re like, ‘Okay this is history’. I learned with the years that all the WTA events are important. We have even huge tournaments.


“It is the key also to be in the top spots because you need to perform constantly good, constantly moving forward in the big tournaments. Only with magic and few tournaments a year, it’s tough to be in this spot.”


Muguruza’s increased motivation was rewarded last fall when she rose to the No. 1 ranking for the first time. She spent just four weeks there before she was replaced by Simona Halep in October.


The top spot is in play almost each week on the women’s tour at the moment and Muguruza knows there is an opportunity to get back there – although she isn’t obsessing over it.


“It is important. I always have it in my mind, to be able to fight for that. I remember it was a great feeling to be there, even though it’s tough. But I want to fight for that. I know it’s the hardest one, but… I’m going to be there, try to,” said the Venezuelan-born Spaniard.


Muguruza says last year she was more aware of the potential switches at the top of the rankings (the top spot swapped hands seven times last year). She is trying to pay less attention to it this time around.


Last year's No. 1 ranking switches.

Last year’s No. 1 ranking switches.


She confesses being at the very top is a different feeling.


“It’s just you realise a lot of things when you’re there. You’re like, okay, I’m here, I can’t go more up, all I can do is go down. There’s all these girls that want my spot, I have to defend it. You have this, like, alarm all the time,” she explains.


Muguruza begins her Dubai campaign on Wednesday against American teenager Catherine “CiCi” Bellis in the second round.


Not long ago, Muguruza was the young up-and-comer on tour, looking to challenge the veterans. Now she feels the tables are turning, even though she is only 24.


“I’m starting to see I’m not that young,” she joked when asked which one of the younger players she sees winning a Grand Slam first.


“I remember at the Australian Open, I’m looking at the draw, especially Australian Open, I don’t know why I always have this feeling in that swing, I’m seeing these girls, I’m like, ‘Who is this?’ They’re playing really good. I’m starting to feel of the change a little bit.


“The one that I’ve been more seeing was CiCi Bellis. She’s playing all these tournaments and she’s doing good.”



At 18, Bellis is the youngest in the world’s top-50. She reached the quarters in Dubai last year and defeated Australian Open semi-finalist Elise Mertens in her opener on Tuesday.


She is looking forward to challenging herself against the third-ranked Muguruza.


“I’ve never played her before. It’s definitely going to be a new experience for me. It will be fun,” said Bellis.


“She’s an unbelievable player. Yeah, she’s been at the top of the game for a while now. It will be great for me just to see where my game lines up against another one of the top players. Just try to enjoy it. I’m having a lot of fun out here.”



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Garbine Muguruza, Johanna Konta and Agnieszka Radwanska weigh in on Petra Kvitova's winning streak

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Garbine Muguruza has described Petra Kvitova’s stunning return to the top-10 just over a year after she was attacked and had surgery on her injured hand as “incredible” the Spanish Wimbledon champion told reporters in Dubai on Tuesday.

Kvitova, who was stabbed in her left playing hand in December 2016 and sustained damage in all five fingers, is currently on a 13-match winning streak that included back-to-back title runs in St. Petersburg and Doha and six victories against top-10 opponents.

The Czech’s latest victim was Muguruza, in the Doha final last Sunday.

“I heard the news. I saw the picture of the hand. I never talked to her [Kvitova] about it. Obviously I’m like not even close to, you know, personal [with her]. But I think it’s incredible,” said Muguruza, who opens her Dubai campaign against Catherine “CiCi Bellis” in round two in Dubai on Wednesday.


“I heard she doesn’t really feel certain parts of the hand. I’m like, I don’t even understand how can you play that good.








“I remember in the trophy ceremony, they gave her it, and the man asked her, ‘You’re winning 13 matches in a row’.


“She is like, ‘Yeah, it’s magic. I was one year ago in a difficult situation’.


“Then I realised, ‘Yeah, it’s true’.


“Maybe she sees now so different. Maybe she’s playing good also because she realize like, Hey, who cares. I play good, I’m happy. Sometimes you need this to suddenly kind of… So I’m very surprised.”



Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, returned to action last year at Roland Garros, just six months after being attacked. She won Birmingham in her second tournament back and took her game to the next level this month with her two titles.


British No. 1, Johanna Konta, applauded Kvitova’s strength, saying on Monday after her opening round win in Dubai: “I think it’s very deserved. I think putting aside the challenges that she’s had off court, just her on court mannerisms, her on-court persona, she’s a very, very classy champion.


“I think she plays that way. She plays with a lot of self-confidence. That comes through in these big wins that she earns.


“Off the court, I mean, she’s just as much of a strong person.”


Agnieszka Radwanska, who lost a tight three-setter to Kvitova last week in Doha, praised the 27-year-old’s sustained high level throughout the tournament.


“I think she played amazing. Of course, well done that she was keep playing at the same level till the end. You know, winning against Caro and Garbine, it’s pretty huge thing. All those tight matches, long matches… Well done. She deserve it, for sure,” said Radwanska after her loss to Daria Kasatkina on Monday in Dubai.


Kvitova pulled out of Dubai with a leg injury and is expected to next compete at Indian Wells.



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