Naomi Osaka has become the darling of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, the first Japanese quarterfinalist since 1996. Her match with No. 5 Karolina Pliskova will also elevate the 20-year-old above her career-high ranking of No. 40.
Osaka, who defeated Maria Sakkari on Tuesday, 6-1, 5-7, 6-1, represents a surging group of young players on the WTA Tour, but said she does not necessarily see herself that way.
“I really don’t think age matters right now, because there is a lot of good, top players that are — some people would say they are old, but I don’t think it’s like that…I feel like I have been on the tour forever even though it’s been only a few years. I’ve been on the tour since I was 14, so I feel like I know a lot of stuff. I don’t feel like I’m new to this. And also…I don’t act like a young person, I don’t think.”
Pliskova, who advanced by virtue of a 6-2, 7-6(2) victory over 16-year-old American Amanda Anisimova, instigated the discussion by observing that her young wild card opponent was hitting “without thinking. But everybody is playing like this when they are 16.”
Still, said Pliskova, “I’m not scared of those young girls because I know my game. I know I can be solid, so there is nothing what can surprise me.”
Halep’s fourth-round match against Qiang Wang was the first match on Stadium 1, beginning at 11 a.m. on Tuesday. But Halep was still intent on watching at least part of the Venus Williams vs. Serena Williams match, which began after 7 p.m. Monday night.
“It’s always nice to watch them,” Halep said. “I love the way that they are motivated and they are still playing at this age, Serena with the kid. So it’s a great thing what they do for sport, and it’s great that tennis has them. It was really fun to come out here and watch the game. And also, I have many things to learn from them. That’s why I’m trying just to go in to watch every time I can…The motivation, the game, the way that they are hitting in important moments, the way they stay there and they are focused for every ball. Everything in general I have things to learn.”
Halep watched the first set and some of the second before leaving, she said, to eat dinner. But she resisted the suggestion that it was “atypical behavior” for a No. 1-ranked player.
“No, I’m the world No. 1 in this moment, but I just watched the best player in the world,” she said.
At 26, Halep is hardly the only player to say they can’t imagine playing at the age of Roger Federer (36) or the Williamses, Serena (36) or Venus (37).
“No chance,” Halep said with a smile.
Halep does agree with others who think a player who returns after giving birth should have not just their ranking protected, but their seeding, too.
“[I was] talking a little bit with my coach, and I think she should have been actually No. 1 seed in this tournament because she left as No. 1 in the world. And to give birth, it’s the best thing in the world. It’s more than a sport. So I think she should have been ranked as she left.”
The tennis world on Tuesday was mourning the unexpected passing of one of the all-time great doubles players in the game after a brief illness.
Ken Flach, 54, the father of four who won six Grand Slam doubles titles and a gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics with partner Robert Seguso, fell ill with bronchitis, which turned into pneumonia and then the fatal complication of sepsis within a four-day period.
In a 2016 interview with BNPParibasOpen.com’s Richard Osborn, he talked about the gold medal win 28 years prior.
“That was such a huge moment in my career, kind of a defining moment,” Flach said. “It could have been 28 days ago in a lot of ways. It’s pretty crazy to think about. There are a lot of tournaments I don’t even remember winning, but Wimbledon, the US Open and, for sure, the Olympics — you don’t forget those.”
“Sometimes,” Paul Annacone posted on Twitter, “we get sobering reminders of the fragility of life and what we have each day, today tennis lost a family member: more importantly children lost a father a wife lost a husband, siblings lost brother, thank you for your friendship, memories will last 4ever.”
Flach and Seguso were doubles finalists here in 1985, falling to Heinz Gunthardt/Balazs Taroczy.
Going into Tuesday, just nine of 32 women’s seeds have advanced to the Round of 16, the fewest since 2000, when only 16 seeds started the tournament. Last year, 14 seeded women advanced to the fourth round. After Tuesday’s fourth-round matches had concluded, six seeds remained, including just one former champion — Simona Halep.