Plenty of action on the tour despite the off-season

Wednesday, Jan 1

Naomi Osaka sure likes change.

The former world No. 1 announced this week she has hired Wim Fissette as her new coach, her third different coach in 2019. Osaka split with Sascha Bajin after winning the Australian Open last January. She then joined forces with Jermaine Jenkins, then parted ways with Jenkins after losing to Belinda Bencic in the fourth round of U.S. Open.

Fissette coached Kim Clijsters to three Grand Slam titles. He has also coached Victoria Azarenka, Angelique Kerber, Jo Konta, Simona Halep and Sabine Lisicki, among others.

Osaka is currently No. 3 in the world behind Ash Barty and Karolina Pliskova. She won the China Open in October, beating Barty in the final.

Osaka twice reached the No. 1 ranking this year, most recently at the end of August for three weeks.

In other coaching news, Borna Coric of Croatia announced he has spit with Riccardo Piatti and will work with Martin Stepanek next season.

Coric didn’t win a title in 2019, and has seen his ranking tumble to No. 28. Stepanek most recently worked with Tomas Berdych, who has announced his retirement.

After months of silence, the news is good for Francesca Schiavone.

The 2010 French Open champion explained her absence from social media this week, telling the tennis world and her fans via Twitter that she has been dealing with a cancer diagnosis.

“Hi everyone, upon 7-8 (months) of silence from social media and from the world, I wish to share with you what happened to me,” the 39-year-old Schiavone wrote in Italian. “A cancer had been diagnosed to me. I did chemotherapy. I fought a tough battle and now I am still breathing. I have won this fight. And now I am back in action.”

Schiavone did not say what type of cancer she was dealing with. She became the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam in 2010 when she beat Sam Stosur in the French Open final. Schiavone retired in 2018.

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It feels good to be back on court.

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Noah Rubin may not yet have fulfilled his promise as a professional tennis player, but he’s certainly making an impact on the game.

Rubin, 23, started an innovative photoblog called Behind the Racquet that is making waves in the sport as it tries to deal with the challenges – psychological, physical, social – facing tennis players around the world.

“I have grand dreams to drastically evolve the sport we all love,” writes Rubin on the site. “I started BTR to give players the platform to share their stories on their own terms.”

Each player poses for a picture behind the strings of a tennis racquet. The picture is then accompanied by a personal story.

“This has never really been done before,” says Rubin. “Something that shows what these people, who are thought of as having perfect lives or doing really well because they are professional players, are really going through.”

Canada’s Bianca Andreescu is one of the players who have told a story of personal challenges on BTR. Madison Keys, Thomas Belluci, Alize Cornet, Jamie Murray, Dinara Safina, Mikhail Youzhny and Heather Watson are among many players who have shared their stories.

“We’re at a point where we have to break down the sport of tennis, invest, take a hit for a year or two and then bring the sport to a place where it has never been before,” says Rubin.

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Miss me?🤪

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Here’s a couple of players to watch on the comeback trial this season.

American Cici Bellis, after a complex and frustrating series of arm problems that threatened her career, returned in November and is plotting to be a force on the women’s tour next season.

In November, Bellis reached the quarterfinals in Houston, which was her first WTA tournament in 20 months. The 20-year-old has been ranked as high at No. 35 in the world, but has seen her ranking fall to No. 860 because of her prolonged absences.

She made her splash on the tennis scene as a 15-year-old in 2014 by defeating Dominika Cibulkova at the U.S. Open. Bellis hopes to compete at the Australian Open next month.

On the men’s side, Hyeon Chung is also hoping his injury woes are behind him. It was at the 2018 Australian Open that Chung surprised the tennis world by reaching the semifinals, but has  been bothered by leg and back problems ever since. He was ranked No. 19 in the world in 2018, but has since fallen out of the top 100.

“My body feels pretty good now and I’m excited to start the (2020) season,” he told reporters.

The Margaret Court controversy at the Australian Open has been resolved. But not really, and it’s going to be really interesting to see how this plays out next month.

While Tennis Australia has officially invited Court to the 2020 tournament to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her tennis Grand Slam, the federation did so while explicitly distancing itself from her past comments on the LBGTQ community, particularly same-sex marriage.

“Tennis Australia respects Margaret’s unmatched tennis career and welcomes her,” said the federation in a media release.

“As often stated, Tennis Australia does not agree with Margaret’s personal views, which have demeaned and hurt many in our community over a number of years. They do not align with our values of equality, diversity and inclusion.”

Court’s children issued a statement of their own criticising Tennis Australia’s comments.

“As mum is a minister of religion it is her job to stand for biblical principles,” the children wrote. “It is hard for  her family to understand how her current lifestyle would possibly affect her tennis career.”

Court is one of only three women (Maureen Connelly, Steffi Graf) to win all four tennis majors in a single year. Many in the tennis world, notably Billie Jean King, have been very critical of Court, in some cases demanding that her name be removed from one of the show courts in Melbourne.