The Australian Open wraps up this weekend
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
The Australian Open wraps up this weekend, with a defending champion from Belarus and a first-time finalist from China in the women's finals. And for the men, it'll be Italy's Jannik Sinner versus Russian Daniil Medvedev. Ben Rothenberg has been following all the excitement. He hosts the tennis podcast "No Challenges Remaining." Ben, I'm always obsessed when No. 1 seeds, the top seeds get knocked out. And that's what we have right now in Australia. There's not a single one-seed left. So tell us about the women's final 'cause that one was not expected.
BEN ROTHENBERG: No, not at all on the women's side for the top half, for sure. Having Zheng Qinwen, who's a promising young Chinese player but only seeded 12th of this tournament marching through to the final was not something anyone expected. But there have been a lot of upsets in the draw, and she actually didn't face anybody in the top 50 on her way to the final. Whereas the No. 2 seed, defending champion Aryna Sabalenka, had a much tougher go, had to beat U.S. Open champion Coco Gauff in her semifinal to book her spot in the final two of women.
MARTÍNEZ: All right. The men's side defending champion, Novak Djokovic, is out. He lost to 22-year-old Jannik Sinner. Was that loss a surprise? I mean, it's a one seed.
ROTHENBERG: Yeah, absolutely. No, Djokovic had not lost in Melbourne since 2018. He's a 10-time champion here. He'd been pretty automatic here. But Sinner had some good success against Djokovic late last year and really stepped up and took it to him this match. Djokovic did not play well. He said it was one of the worst Grand Slam performances of his career. But Sinner is a very talented young Italian, of whom a lot has been expected in the sport, and he really owned the moment today.
MARTÍNEZ: All right. So, Ben, I know these athletes that we just mentioned, they're all amazing. They're incredible. And I'm sure tennis is in great hands going forward. But I just need to say this and put this out there, that I miss Serena Williams. I really miss Serena Williams. She just posted, like, these vacation pics with her daughter on a beach somewhere. And I'm thinking, man, I wish you were playing because - I mean, she was, like, the drama and the excitement and the power of tennis. Is the sport of tennis missing Serena Williams yet?
ROTHENBERG: Absolutely. No, I think that women's tennis - and both tours, I think, combined - but women's tennis, certainly, has had fewer household names in the last few years than it has in quite a while - since Serena retired. I mean, Serena really was such a huge, overwhelming presence, bigger than the sport. There is some hope for a bit of star power this year, with Naomi Osaka making her comeback to the tour. That's been something that's been pretty hotly anticipated. She didn't have a deep run at this tournament, but she is back and is sort of that same sort of cultural-phenomenon kind of person that Serena is. So no one's replacing Serena right away, but there's hopes that Naomi can bring some of that buzz back throughout this season.
MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. If tennis can't give me, like, this overwhelming champion that everyone shoots for, at least give me a rivalry. That's what I want, Ben. I want a real rivalry on both the men's and women's side, but at least one.
ROTHENBERG: Yeah. No, I think we have that coming up potentially in the women's side with this semifinal. We had Sabalenka and Coco Gauff - was also the U.S. Open final - and they played a great match there and a good match here in Melbourne as well. So just getting the consistency to having the same names, making it deep in the big tournament, that's been the thing women's tennis has struggled for, but hopefully hope springs eternal this season.
MARTÍNEZ: Now one more thing. On a completely different note, what can you tell us about how players are reacting to the Women's Tennis Association possibly staging its finals in Saudi Arabia this year?
ROTHENBERG: Yeah. It's hasn't been a huge talking point, honestly, among the active players right now. Most of them have not put out big statements about it. But there was an editorial in The Washington Post by two of the biggest legends of the game. Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova co-authored a piece saying they strongly objected to that and think that it really doesn't do justice to women's tennis's legacy as being a feminist, pioneering sport for women and women's rights around the world. So it's been a fraught topic. There's a lot of money on the table from Saudi Arabia, as there so often is in sports. And we'll see how quickly the women's tour gets swayed by that.
MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. Ben Rothenberg speaking to us from Melbourne. He's the author of the new book, "Naomi Osaka: Her Journey To Finding Her Power And Her Voice." Ben, thanks.
ROTHENBERG: Thank you.
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