Osaka may skip Wimbledon after WTA’s decision to remove ranking points

Japanese star likens event to exhibition after decision amid ban on Russian and Belerusian players

Naomi Osaka says she is leaning towards not competing at Wimbledon in light of the WTA's decision to remove ranking points from the tournament in response to Wimbledon's ban of Russian and Belarusian players.

Speaking after her tough 5-7, 4-6 first-round defeat against the 27th seed, Amanda Anisimova, Osaka likened a Wimbledon without points to an exhibition and she envisioned having a difficult time being motivated for it.

“I’m not sure why, but I feel like if I play Wimbledon without points, it’s more like an exhibition,” she said. “I know this isn’t true, right? But my brain just like feels that way. Whenever I think something is like an exhibition, I just can’t go at it 100 per cent. I didn’t even make my decision yet, but I’m leaning more towards not playing given the current circumstances, but that might change.”

Osaka, a four-time grand slam title winner and former world No 1, is ranked 38th and rising back up the rankings after playing few tournaments in 2021. As she also withdrew from Wimbledon last year after her much-publicised withdrawal from the French Open, Osaka has not played on grass since 2019. Her inexperience and lesser results on clay and grass has been a constant source of discussion around her.

“I would love to go just to get some experience on the grass court, but at the same time, for me, it’s kind of like – I don’t want to say pointless, no pun intended,” she said. “But I’m the type of player that gets motivated by seeing my ranking go up or like stuff like that. So I think the intention was really good, but the execution is kind of all over the place.”

Anisimova’s victory against Osaka marked her second win in as many grand slam tournaments after saving match points to defeat Osaka at the Australian Open. While much of Osaka’s clay court season has already been marred by a left achilles injury, Anisimova, a former prodigy who reached the semi-final here in 2019 at just 17 years old, has been soaring and she was widely seen as the favourite pre-match.

As in Australia, Anisimova commanded most rallies against one of the biggest hitters in the world, using her early, flat and extremely clean hitting to take the first strike as early as possible. As she also put constant pressure on Osaka with her deep, precise returning, Anisimova finished with 27 winners to just 13 from Osaka.

Later on Monday the defending champion, Barbora Krejcikova, was taken out in the first round by a French teenager, Diane Parry, losing 6-1, 2-6, 3-6 on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

While Krejcikova, a surprise champion last year, has backed up her maiden grand slam title extremely well by rising to her current ranking of No 2, she was competing in her first match since February after sustaining an elbow injury. After leading 6-1, 2-0, the rust in her game, the roar of the crowd and a gutsy performance from the local teenager combined to engineer a significant upset.

Despite starting an hour later than Anisimova and Osaka, the world No 1, Iga Swiatek, finished her first-round match shortly after them. Swiatek dismantled Lesia Tsurenko 6-2, 6-0 to extend her winning run to 29 matches with her 14th bagel set of the year.

Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic is currently ranked 44th but will slip outside the top 80 if the WTA does not freeze the 2021 Wimbledon ranking points.

As she has done since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Swiatek wore a ribbon in support of Ukraine, and her defeated Ukrainian opponent, Tsurenko, expressed her appreciation of Swiatek's support. In an emotional press conference, Tsurenko estimated that only five players have reached out with support for her since Russia invaded Ukraine.

She also reflected on her own motivation at such a traumatic time, saying it remains extremely difficult to compete each week while her country is at war.

“I just want to enjoy every match,” she said. “But at the same time, I don’t feel that I care too much. So I’m trying to find this balance between just going on court and don’t care versus try to care. In some cases it helps. Like, I don’t really put pressure on myself, I just go and play. But in some ways I just feel like: ‘Okay, whatever, I win or lose, whatever. It doesn’t matter really.” – Guardian