Stadium soundtrack: Social media, fans and being cool

The stadium DJ spun some choice tracks during the breaks in Naomi Osaka and Sloane Stephens’ match at the WTA Finals in Singapore on Monday.

And then life imitated art, or something like that.

Back to 1999

“That era, you didn’t have the social media that you have now, so we were much more removed,” said Monica Seles during a WTA Legends panel on Monday afternoon.

Not that the lack of Instagram bothered fellow panelist Kim Clijsters during her own playing days, which ended in 2012. “It came on I think towards the end of my career,” Clijsters said. “I’m happy I played without all that stuff. The focus was very much on tennis and just on tennis.”

But could a player’s single-mindedness have backfired in the long run? Seles, who retired in 2008, turned philosophical. “When the players lose (…) they don’t take the losses as hard as our generation,” said Seles. “They seem to have a better balance in general in life, with tennis and media sponsors, than I think we did.”

Never gonna give you up

“Before it only was Japan [where] I felt like people know me. But now like even here… I guess this is Asia too, though.”

Prescient words from Naomi Osaka before the tournament started. The crowd in the stadium for her debut match on Monday night made no secret of who they were there to see. From the people who lined the railings above the player’s entrance onto Centre Court to the fans throughout the stadium waving Japan flags and handmade signs lined with silver tinsel, it was clear that Osaka enjoyed a home court advantage in Singapore.

Yet Osaka’s WTA Finals debut got off to an uneasy start against fifth seed Sloane Stephens, who wielded her forehand with deadly accuracy and silenced the crowd numerous times throughout the night.

The audience warmed to Stephens over the course of the evening, giving her raucous applause after she broke Osaka’s serve late in the second set — a sequence that saw Osaka drop her racquet to the ground in disbelief — though they ultimately saved their loudest approval for the 2018 US Open champion they had flocked to Singapore to see.

Cooler than being cool

While customarily a composed figure on the court, Osaka was unusually demonstrative during her match against Stephens, where her frustration at being unable to get past her opponent clear to see.

“I feel like for me I play better when no one knows what I’m thinking,” said Osaka after her eventual 5-7 6-4 1-6 loss. “But it’s also something I am learning how to do, because it’s not like I have been consistently able to do that.”

Stephens on the other hand held her nerve and remained cool under pressure to clinch victory despite dropping the second set.

“I think that I played well and I kept a good attitude,” Stephens said. “So I was pleased with that.”