Four WTA Question Marks Entering 2022 — Interview: Allie Kiick — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, January 4, 2022

Happy Tuesday and Happy New Year, The IX fam! WTA action is back! Two WTA 250 events at Melbourne Park and a WTA 500 in Adelaide kick off the 2022 season. It’s weird that Rod Laver Arena is hosting non-Australian Open matches, but I’m not mad at it at the same time. I was originally going to share some players I have an inkling will do well this year, but think I’ll save that for next week. Today, I figured I would discuss some of the biggest question marks the 2022 WTA season has for me. Comment or let me know if there are others that come to mind, as well as players on your tarot card to have a big 2022.

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WTA Events Post-China

I think where the WTA is going since the Peng Shuai news broke is the most obvious question mark. I’ve delved quite a bit into this in the off-season, but I’m really curious where the sanctions for the Chinese and Hong Kong tournaments end up going. Personally, I would love to see events pop up in the areas of the game’s biggest stars. Estonia, Tunisia, Greece, Ukraine and Belarus should be able to showcase their brightest gems. The fact that some of these countries don’t have anything more than a $25k ITF World Tour event is nearly insulting. Even though they have tournaments in their home country, Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez are two of the game’s rising stars. Scotland and a smaller event in Canada — read: please bring back the iconic Quebec City WTA 250 — is something that should be looked into. I also think we should continue the WTA Finals in Guadalajara. That was fun!

Speaking of Peng Shuai, why do we still have radio silence? And thank you Ben Rothenberg for asking Alize Cornet what pushed her to be the first person to question where Shuai was.

The End of the Williams Era?

If you were a subscriber in September, you definitely saw my thank you letter for Serena Williams’ 40th birthday. The GOAT hasn’t played since a hamstring injury forced her to retire in Wimbledon’s opening round. She won’t be appearing Down Under and she hasn’t posted any updates on her social media from the practice court. Her team has been a bit silent, which makes everyone wonder: “is the end here?” She did recently post on coach Patrick Mouratoglou’s Instagram post alluding to returning, so the needle slightly favors a comeback. For Venus, she wants to play, but injuries and tough draws have banished the seven-time Grand Slam champion to a No. 318 ranking. If she wants to continue playing, she will have to rely on wildcards, which she was certainly get. I wish she would step down to the WTA 125 level or even the ITF World Tour, but her background is too legendary. She has never played below a WTA 250 in her career, why start now? Though I can’t see her becoming a doubles specialist, I would love to see Venus possibly go that route. I would usually say I could see the Williams sisters leaving during an Olympic year, but with how the last cycle unfolded, I’d say that plan is long gone. At the end of the day, they don’t owe us anything, but the fan in me yearns for a proper sendoff and chance to say thank you.

How united is Tennis United?

From no common ground on Peng Shuai to there still being no reply to a combined scoring app, this is one I’m the most unsure about. While I do think 2022 will have an announcement of some kind of merger, I don’t think it’s going to be one that consumers will want. Like I’ve mentioned previously, the long-awaited merge we’re most likely getting revolves around the commercial aspect of the tours and I think that’s where we’re headed. Fans want more though; what about a full-on combined tour? Alternating cities and hosting combined events? More mixed doubles!? Apparently that’s too much to ask. I want more than just videos of players linking up for a Q&A and “kumbaya,” though. If I’m being fully transparent, the WTA has nothing to lose, while the ATP — on the verge of their Big 3 retiring — has everything to gain. Steve Simon, if you’re reading this, call their bluff in negotiations and make sure if there’s a merger, it’s 100% equal.

Who’s going to be the next “It Girl?”

The beauty of the WTA right now is that it’s anyone’s game. Nearly at every single part of the season, there was one player that rose to the occasion to cement themselves as the next leader of a post-Serena WTA. Naomi Osaka, Barbora Krejcikova, Ashleigh Barty and a surprising Emma Raducanu won the Grand Slams of 2021. However, what about the rising of Ons Jabeur, Paula Badosa and the late season surge of Anett Kontaveit? Who is going to be the next Top 10 debut? Will Raducanu make her mark with virtually no points to defend until the summer? What about Bianca Andreescu as the 2019 US Open champion continues to struggle with her health after her big breakthrough. For all we know, there’s someone gearing up for the Australian Open qualifying that could find themselves at the top of the tour by the end of the year. Who’s your pick?

Now, onto links!

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This Week in Women’s Tennis

WTA Insider is already hitting the ground running and giving us plenty of tasty features:

  • Simona Halep entering a more relaxed phase in her career as she looks to re-enter the Top 10.
  • Paula Badosa on staying humble after her breakout season.
  • Iga Swiatek ready to use the experience of being the hunted in 2021 as she looks to defend her Adelaide crown.
  • Leylah Fernandez entering 2022 looking to do even better than her phenomenal 2021.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who is vaccinated, is the latest player to test positive for COVID-19, putting her Australian Open plans into a bit of uncertainty.

Friend of The IX, Sloane Stephens, launched her first Facebook Bulletin of the year. Always a must-read:

In their 2021 recaps, the staff covered some of the more under-the-radar storylines of last season.

Iga Swiatek continues to be inspired by her friend, skier Mikaela Shiffrin, even though they’ve yet to meet in person.

The Taylor Townsend comeback seems to have a tentative start date!

In my perfect worlds colliding, Martina Navratilova’s wife is a star on The Real Housewives of Miami and the WTA legend opened up about her role on the Peacock series.

The staff did a 30-Love series highlighting different people in the industry including media mavens Pete Holtermann and Colette Lewis, but also profiling doubles players Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Desirae Krawczyk.

The depth of the WTA isn’t anything new, but should be praised per World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty.

Speaking of Navratilova, the Hall of Famer talks how today’s top players can get even better with technology, while she and doubles partner Pam Shriver both said how Garbine Muguruza is one to watch in 2022.

Tweet of the Week

I’m exhausted after watching this point between Priscilla Hon and Petra Kvitova. Wow.

Five Eight at The IX: Allie Kiick

Allie Kiick is currently ranked No. 258 in the WTA singles rankings and No. 697 in the doubles rankings, with career highs of Nos. 126 and 214, respectively. She’s won 7 ITF World Tour singles titles and 1 ITF World Tour doubles title entering 2022. The daughter of late Miami Dolphin legend Jim Kiick, she discusses him, her last season, working with Lisa Raymond and more. You can give her a follow on both Twitter and Instagram.

Joey: What are your thoughts on your 2021 season as we head into 2022? What are your goals for the year?
Allie: 2021 was a really rough year for me. I suffered from terrible anxiety due to losing my dad and grandma. Tennis definitely took a back seat until I was able to work through my issues. I’m finally starting to feel like myself again. For now I have a lot of small goals- staying mentally healthy and enjoying being back on court. I feel that the results will come if I’m able to do that.

Joey: You’ve been coached by Lisa Raymond for quite some time now. What are the biggest lessons you’ve taken away from your partnership? Will more doubles be in your future?
Allie: It’s been amazing having someone in my corner like Lisa who has been at the top of the game. Her experience is something that’s hard to replicate and learning from her and how she handed situations during her career has been so helpful. She is helping me become a more complete player as she was- coming forward and implementing my net game more. I love doubles and absolutely will be playing more this year and in the future.

Joey: Your dad was a Miami Dolphins legend and you’ve done a fundraiser to support the Concussion Legacy Foundation in his honor. Do you have more plans to bring more awareness or expand the Jim Kiick Memorial Fund? Allie: When My brother and I first started the CTE fund in honor of my dad, it was a way for me to help cope with the overwhelming loss. I felt more connected to him by being able to share his story and to help others. I make small donations with every good tournament to CTE in honor of him.

Joey: You we’re a top junior and bypassed the option to go to college. Were you ever close to signing or do you regret not going in the wake of your injuries and cancer? If today’s NIL rules were in place when you were debating, would you have gone to college? I was very close to going to school. I actually committed to University of Florida. However, right before signing my letter of intent I decided to turn pro. My mom really wanted me to go to school for at least one year just to get the “college experience”.  Considering, I ended up being out for 3.5 years only after 1 full year of being a pro, I definitely wished I had gone. I ended up going to a local college near by my house during my injuries and just recently transferred to University of Florida online. I think getting a college degree is something to be super proud of and is something I want to obtain.

Joey: You’ve played both the biggest events and grinded out on the ITF World Tour. What are a few things both circuits can do to make things better for the players?
Allie: I think both tours can do a better job of taking care of the lower ranked players financially, especially the lower tournaments. For example, the majority of ITF players are responsible for their own accommodation which makes it difficult. Players barely make anything to begin with at ITF tournaments and have numerous expenses each week.

Joey: What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received and who gave it? If you could go back in time, what would you tell your 18-year-old self?
Allie: Ever since I was a little girl my dad always told me to be humble. It’s something that I am always aware and a way that I choose to live my life every day. If I had to give my 18 year old self advice, it would be to enjoy the tennis life and take it all in. I remember when I would lose matches, I would be so upset and would stay in my room all day as oppose to going out, site seeing, and enjoying myself. Having better perspective but I also thinks that comes with experience and maturity.

Joey: Last year we saw the rise of so many young stars out of nowhere. Who is one player you think is heading towards big success in 2022?
Allie: Honestly, I don’t really follow too many results unless I’m still in the tournament. This is something that is part of my mental strategy to approaching the game.

Joey: What is your #1 tip for a recreational player?
Allie: As cliché as it sounds, I would say have fun and enjoy being out there.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Joey Dillon