Ask Hsieh Su-Wei to describe her own game and she gives you a simple answer.
“Su-Wei style: anything can happen on court,” she says with a smile.
The 33-year-old from Taipei has her unique brand of tennis and can pull off inconceivable shots with her cunning slices and lobs. But she also has the ability to hit the ball hard, and even a power-hitter like Naomi Osaka told reporters after their three-set thriller at the Australian Open that she felt Hsieh struck the ball harder than most of her opponents that tournament.
“Against Naomi, you know she’s very strong, so I was thinking, ‘Okay, when I go on the court, I’m going to smash her as hard as I can’, and I did, but finally I lost the match, but it’s okay, at least I know that my plan is working,” Hsieh tells Sport360 with a laugh.
Hsieh started the year making the semis in Auckland, before reaching the Australian Open third round and now the quarters in Dubai, after taking out 10th-seeded Anastasija Sevastova, Aliaksandra Sasnovich and fifth-seeded Angelique Kerber.
She is on the brink of matching her career-high ranking of 23, which she hit back in 2013, and won her first WTA title in six years last September in Hiroshima. Expected to rise to at least 28 in the rankings next week, Hsieh isn’t surprised she is enjoying some of her best tennis at age 33.
“I try to keep my mid like I’m 18 years old. So I don’t worry about my age, I just want to keep healthy and keep enjoying tennis, even when I lose, it’s okay, just keep positive and keep training hard,” she says, before giving two thumbs up to the camera.
Hsieh’s interviews are just as entertaining as her tennis and if you want to see her light up, just get her to talk about food.
When asked what she’s most proud of so far this week in the Emirates, she said: “I ate ilak fish. You know it? It’s a huge fish. I found it two years ago, I found this dish in a shop. And then this year I said, ‘Okay, today is a day off, I want to go find this fish again’. And I went and it was amazing, I really enjoyed it. I try to discover more food here. I really love it. I hope I keep doing better so I can stay longer and enjoy more food.”
That’s certainly one effective way to stay motivated on the court.
Hsieh has been spending more time in France where she lives with her French boyfriend. Of course the big highlight for her there is the decadent French cuisine.
— Simona Halep (@Simona_Halep) February 19, 2019
Elsewhere in the press centre, former world No. 1 Simona Halep discussed what it’s like having so many fans chanting her name from the stands and supporting her wherever she goes.
“I hear everything, every word,” said Halep when asked if she blocks the cheers from the crowd to stay focused. Someone said is going to lose the plane tonight and I have to finish faster. I don’t know if it’s positive for me during the match, but I took it. I lost the game, but then I won the match,” she said with a laugh. “Yeah, I hear everything.”
Last year’s finalist Daria Kasatkina said she is going through a “crisis” after she made a second round exit from the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
Kasatkina, a runner-up to Elina Svitolina in the Emirates last season, came to Dubai this week having not won a tour match in four attempts this year.
The 21-year-old enjoyed a breakthrough 2018, which saw her win her home tournament in Moscow, reach the finals at Indian Wells and Dubai, and make the quarters of the French Open and Wimbledon. She cracked the top-10 for the first time at the end of the year and looked on course for another big breakthrough in 2019.
But the new season did not start as well as Kasatkina would have hoped, with her latest disappointment coming in Dubai, where she squandered a lead in the third set to lose 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 to Sonya Kenin in the second round on Tuesday.
While Kasatkina had a slow start to last season as well, she was able to turn things around early February, when she reached the semi-finals in St. Petersburg before making the final in Dubai. This year, the young Russian’s struggles are taking a bit longer to overcome and Kasatkina admits the pressure that has come with her rise from last year has been tricky to handle.
“The start of the season completely sucks. Even worse than last year. But I think most players go through these periods, through these crises, so I think I just have to push myself and see this situation from the positive side,” a dejected Kasatkina told Sport360 in Dubai.
“It’s not about tennis, it’s more mental. Maybe I’m just a little bit tired from the last season, because it’s very tough, very stressful for me so I think I’m a little bit tired from the mental part.”
Fans may have noticed that Kasatkina was not accompanied by her coach Philippe Dehaes in Dubai but she assures they are still working together and that he simply had a week off to spend time with his family, before they reunite in Indian Wells.
Kasatkina is trying to draw on her success from last year to get through this challenging period.
“Of course I’m thinking about it. A few days I went on the empty centre court in the tribunes, trying to imagine the matches I played there last year,” she revealed.
“This is the kind of motivation, when you are down. Reminding yourself about the best matches of your career, this helps a lot.”
Asked to recall other times in her tennis journey where she experienced a downturn and managed to flip it around, Kasatkina added: “It was different, it was easier, it was not that much pressure, not that much stress situations. You’re growing up, you’re getting more mature. You just have to go through it, through this period. For everybody it’s different, I just have to find my way to correct this situation.”
A tearful Naomi Osaka admitted that the attention that has come with her meteoric rise and the media frenzy that has followed her surprise decision to part ways with her coach Sascha Bajin have been difficult to deal with, and have contributed to her opening round defeat to Kristina Mladenovic in Dubai on Tuesday.
Playing her first match since she won the Australian Open last month, and her first since becoming No. 1, Osaka gave an error-strewn performance to lose 6-3, 6-3 to world No. 67 Kristina Mladenovic, who hadn’t won a singles match this year prior to Dubai.
Making her first appearance since splitting with Bajin, Osaka dropped serve seven times and could only win 35 per cent of her service points against Mladenovic.
News about Osaka’s decision to end her working relationship with Bajin after winning two Grand Slams with him and rising to No. 1 in the world has taken over TV screens, newspaper pages and social media in an explosive way.
“It’s true that I think the tennis planet, it was surprise about this split. I don’t remember seeing this in the past,” said Mladenovic about her opponent’s situation.
Asked if she’s been able to block all the reaction about her coaching news, Osaka said: “I mean, I couldn’t. That’s the result. This match is the result of that.
“I’m pretty sure, like, you guys – no offense to you guys – but I’m pretty sure as time goes on you guys will stop talking about it. For now, it’s like the biggest tennis news, I guess.
“See, it’s a little bit hard because I feel like people are staring at me, and not like in a good way, so…”
Osaka concedes that her serve was a “disaster” against Mladenovic and revealed that her practices have not gone as well as she had hoped.
“I haven’t been practicing well recently. I just thought, like, it would go away during the matches. I was kind of counting on that. That didn’t happen, so…
“My rhythm was kind of off. But there’s been times where it’s been worse than now, and I managed to play well in matches. Yeah, when I say I haven’t been practicing well, just like rhythm. I don’t know, I feel like I’m not doing enough or something.”
In Dubai, Osaka was accompanied by Japanese Tennis Federation coach Masashi Yoshikawa, who has known her from a young age, and was seen feeding her balls during practices ahead of her opener. The 21-year-old confessed that running the practices has been a challenge since she stopped working with Bajin.
“It’s been rough because like Yoshikawa-san, I’m really grateful he came here. This is like the first tournament where he was like the coach-coach sort of,” she says.
“Before I used to just practice with him. I think everyone was so unsure what to do during practices, and he would ask me what I want to do. I never really say what I want. I just do what people tell me to do. It was a little bit hard.”
Osaka teared up when she was asked if the media reaction to her coaching news took her by surprise. She was ranked 48 in the world this time last year and she is now Asia’s first No. 1.
“I don’t think I necessarily understand what position I’m in, in a way, because last year I wasn’t even anywhere close to this ranking. People didn’t pay attention to me. That’s something that I’m comfortable with,” said Osaka, who is often described as a shy introvert.
“I don’t know why I’m crying. Yeah. I don’t know why this is happening.”
She added: “I don’t really like attention. It’s been a little tough.”
Osaka would not leave the press conference room and insisted to continue talking to reporters, assuring there is no major cause for concern.
“I mean, the Australian Open was not even a month ago. This was just one match. I feel like even if I don’t win any matches for the rest of the year, I wouldn’t say I’m concerned,” she said.
“I think I’m pretty young. I still feel like I have a lot to learn. For me, that’s sort of my biggest thing after this match. I think I play well after I lose a sort of bad match. I’m just looking forward to the next tournament.”
Osaka next heads to Indian Wells where she will contest a tournament as the defending champion for the first time. The California desert was the site of her first big breakthrough last year and she’s hoping the fond memories can help her move past this.
“I’m not really sure because I’ve never been a defending champion. Hopefully I remember all the good times that I’ve had there. Somehow, I don’t know, start feeling better about myself. But I can’t really say until I get there,” she concluded.