Number one-ranked Naomi Osaka chats with me about the pressures of upholding the hopes and dreams of the entire Asian Community. (photo courtesy WTAtennis.com)
(MASON, Oh.) — Of all the sporting events I’ve covered, the Western and Southern Open tennis tournament really stands out. The focus of the nine-day event is obviously on the world class tennis being played, but the rest of the festivities are a sight to behold. I can’t decide whether it reminds me more of a state fair or a wine and cheese social. On one hand, there’s plenty of face painting and greasy food; on the other hand, there’s a lot of sophistication and etiquette you better not trip over.
I arrive on the tournament grounds early, secure my credentials and parking pass, and head directly towards the spacious, air-conditioned, state-of-the-art media center. On the way, I pass through the same security gate as the players—and am met with a throng of gawking fans looking for autographs. I strut through the parting crowd like an ageless Michael Chang—past the innocent eight-year-old budding prodigy who doesn’t know any better and sticks out his oversized fuzzy ball for me to sign. Sorry Kid—I’ve got places to be and people to interview.
The welcome counter at the media center is loaded with enough fact sheets and score cards to choke a tree hugger. The copier hums non-stop. Stats are nice, but I’m more interested in the food counter—stocked with the usual assortment of chips and pretzels. Occasionally, tournament organizers have been known to even surprise us with a slice of pizza or a glass of wine. But lo and behold—today there’s also vegetables and hummus. I can easily get used to this. With a bottle of Dasani and celery in hand, I quickly peruse the day schedules in preparation for my viewing strategy.
Making my way through the crowds, one thing stands out. Everybody at a tennis tournament is different. They look different from one another, they dress differently, they act differently, and they speak differently. Look to your right and you see tattoos and piercings. Turn to the left and it’s the desperate housewives of Tokyo. Of all the major sports, tennis is definitely the most international. Stand next to someone in line and there’s a good chance English is their second language. The conversations emanating from the media center sound like something right out of the United Nations. I’m looking to practice my Mandarin.
On this particular afternoon, a select group of us finds ourselves seated around Naomi Osaka. Currently ranked number one in the world, the current US Open and Australian Open Champion also happens to be the first Asian player to hold the top ranking in singles. We talked about the pressures of being such a huge Asian superstar.
“For the longest time, (Kei Nishikori) was Japanese tennis—you know the face of it,” she answered thoughtfully. “And there wasn’t a female on that side, so it would be cool if I could do it. And it ended up happening. I think because Li Na (of China) was so big for a super long time, there’s not that much pressure on me in a weird way.”
I can certainly understand that. Being the first Asian columnist for my media outlet is a huge burden to bear. Imagine having the hopes of an entire ethnic community riding on your journalistic skills. Yikes! With that said, I better report on some of today’s scores.
In the match of the day, Stan Wawrinka defeated Grigor Dimitrov 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4). There wasn’t much separating the two in already their fifth meeting this year. The match had more twists and turns than a Kings Island roller coaster, providing the midday crowd many unexpected, stomach-churning thrills.
Later in the afternoon, top-seeded Novak Djokovic dispatched Sam Querry 7-5, 6-1 to cruise easily into the third round. The action never stops as it’s Roger Federer versus Juan Ignacio Londero on center court as we speak.
On the women’s side, Venus Williams moved into the third round by outdueling and outlasting defending champion and 5th-seeded Kiki Bertens 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7-4). A quick start in the tiebreak proved to be the difference.
“At 6-2 (in the tiebreak), I think I’m going to win at that point,” said the 39-year-old seven-time Grand Slam singles champion. “Like if you don’t think you’re going to win at 6-2, then you’ve got a problem. Now, granted, you can still lose. That’s tennis. It’s not over until you cross the finish line, but at that point I feel confident.”
For the day three nightcap, it’ll be little sister Serena taking on 80th-ranked Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan. WAIT A MINUTE–there’s breaking news. Serena Williams has withdrawn from the Western and Southern Open with a back injury. She’ll be replaced by lucky loser Jessica Pegula. You heard it here first.
Well enough reporting for now. Back to the celery and hummus. Thanks for checking in.
Dr. John Huang is lead columnist for Sports View America. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.