May Madness is back! Can Oklahoma State go undefeated? — Quotes from Madrid

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, April 30, 2024

Howdy, y’all, and happy Tennis Tuesday! I can’t believe we’re at the end of April. I should find the Justin Timberlake “It’s Gonna be May” meme, just because. However, like I say annually, it’s the most wonderful time of the year because May Madness is upon us! Now you might be asking, “what’s May Madness?” It’s what I like to call the NCAA Division I Women’s Championship, with the Elite Eight on hosted by Oklahoma State, which had its Selection Show yesterday:

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First, lets break down how we will get from 64 teams to our national champion. From May 3-5, the first two rounds will be played. The Top 16 seeds receive hosting rights, with three other teams visiting them. The winners of those Regionals will advance to Super Regionals May 10-11, which will be hosted by the higher-ranked team in their matchup — usually reserved for the Top 8 teams, but upsets happen! The Elite Eight will then travel to Stillwater, Oklahoma where the quarterfinals will be played May 17, followed by the semifinals and the championship. The following day, the week of the individual singles and doubles championships will begin, so many players will be making Oklahoma State their new home.

Speaking of Oklahoma State, they are the overall No. 1 seed after going 27-0 in the regular season and capturing their first national team title at the ITA Indoor championship. In fact, the NCAA tournament committee adhered to the latest ITA rankings and didn’t change any seeding. Still, the draw was unveiled and although they will have the large luxury of being at home, it’s going to be a tough road. However, it’s time to delve into some predictions!

Stathead Stat of the Week

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Second Round: I’m going to start here because I don’t see any No. 4 seeds upsetting a Regional host in the opening round and the No. 2 vs. No. 3 can always be a coin flip. There are mainly three Regionals where I can see the host not advancing out — No. 10 California, No. 11 Southern California and No. 16 Tennessee. I always check the rankings when the draw is released because I want to see where the No. 17 ranked team ends up — they come in with the biggest chip on their shoulder with something to prove. Auburn was the unlucky team to miss out on hosting and in a season where they saw their head coach get fired and assistant coach resign, adversity isn’t anything new to them. Cal is coming off a runner-up finish at the final Pac 12 tournament, but I don’t know if they have the momentum to shut Auburn off. Southern California lost to San Diego earlier in the season and although they pack a solid lineup to move on, this will boil down to some matchups. Lastly, Tennessee scraped by with the last bid to host a Regional and were unfortunate to get Duke in their bubble. Duke is a team that historically finds ways to cause some upsets when they’re ranked lower than we’re used to. They field a lineup that, in my opinion, is more reliable than Tennessee’s.

Sweet Sixteen: Now, in my predictions, this is where things get real spicy and Super Regionals will be FUN! Home advantage means a lot and Oklahoma State brings a great crowd to their matches. I think they should have no issues with Duke. The UCLA-Texas match will be one of the blockbusters to watch. UCLA struggled early in the season with back-to-back 4-0 losses to Duke and Ohio State, but they’ve found wins over Stanford, Pepperdine, USC and the Texas team they’ll likely play. They also narrowly lost 4-3 to Oklahoma State. Pencil the Bruins in for the upset. Virginia vs. Ohio State can be a really close one too and the doubles point could definitely be the difference maker here. Another juicy matchup is Texas A&M against North Carolina. I would usually say the Tar Heels are too stacked, but the Aggies brought in Carson Branstine, who played ITFs while being an online student, into the lineup during the SEC Championship. That’s a massive game changer, putting ITA No. 1 Mary Stoiana in the No. 2 singles position. On the other half of the draw, Michigan shouldn’t have any big problems with Florida and the same can be said for Georgia over Auburn and Stanford over NC State. Pepperdine vs. Southern Cal will be perhaps the only close battle on that side with the Waves rolling on.

Elite Eight: First up, Oklahoma State vs. UCLA. If this was a neutral site, I might give UCLA the tiniest edge, but the Cowgirls are at home and honestly, this has all the makings of a Cinderella story for them to win undefeated in front of their home crowd after they were originally supposed to host the 2020 team tournament before COVID-19 shut down the season. This likely will go down to the wire, just like their earlier meeting this season. North Carolina lost to Virginia in their ITA Indoor before getting 4-1 revenge matches in their conference season and the ACC Championship final. Again, the Tar Heels are stacked and I see them devouring here. Michigan has never reached a Final Four and in fact, last year was only the second time they made it to the Elite Eight. I think the moment might get to them, then add in Pepperdine’s doubles and top of the lineup, it’s a wrap. The last matchup I have is Georgia vs. Stanford and if history is anything, the Stanford Cardinal are not a team you want to bet against in May no matter what they’re ranked. However, former USTA 18s national champion Eleana Yu is not listed on the team’s lineup for the tournament after carrying a 13-2 record this season. I think Georgia will be able to outgrind Stanford’s middle of the lineup to cause the upset here, but don’t be surprised for a Cardinal dub.

Final Four: If there is a team that could beat Oklahoma State, it’s North Carolina. I was honestly really torn when choosing who to win here but the Cowgirls are ruthless at home and I know the courts will be rocking for this one. This has the makings to be a potential collegiate classic and although North Carolina perhaps has the “better team,” they aren’t as invincible as they have been. On the other side, I have my upset queens battling it out for a finals berth and Pepperdine would likely take the doubles point, but I think Georgia is a shade better overall in singles and will weather that storm in another tightly contested battle.

Championship: Obviously I alluded to it and I think Oklahoma State will take it all. The home turf is entirely too strong to deny and it’s so tough to enter May undefeated. They’ve been tested multiple times by multiple teams, but still found a way to win. They had a championship point in the lone NCAA final they played — ironically in Tulsa — and I just know they are more than hungry to get the outdoor rings. If they make the final, tune in because the atmosphere will be electric.

Of course, you know how I am with predictions, so take that for what you will. Onto links!

This Week in Women’s Tennis

The dates and format for the Billie Jean King Cup Finals were announced, with a knockout draw replacing the group stages that we’ve seen the last couple of years.

Coco Gauff is the cover for May’s TIME Magazine and discusses her journey and coming into her own after being a child and teen phenom. They also chatted with Maria Sakkari, who is gelling well with positive results after hiring new coach David Witt and Mirra Andreeva, who returned to the scene of her original breakout one year ago.

Reigning Olympic champion Belinda Bencic announced the arrival of her first child, a baby girl named Bella.

What you must do is watch this sit-down with Sloane Stephens and coach Kamau Murray:

More meetings are reportedly due to happen in Madrid to discuss tennis’ future and what major changes the governing bodies will attempt to make.

Alize Cornet shared that she will be retiring following Roland Garros, who announced a second retractable roof on site.

The UCLA Bruins aim to shock the world and take home the NCAA team title with former star Jennifer Brady coaching while she rehabs from knee surgery.

Shelby Rogers has been on tour for over a decade, but has found social media to keep her mind and perspective as fresh as possible.

WTA Insider spoke with Taylor Townsend on their podcast to discuss her comeback from maternity leave and juggling motherhood during the best tennis of her career.

Former Doubles No. 11 Alexa Guarachi hasn’t played since the Pan American Games last year and shared a post where she has taken a Director of Tennis job in Florida and retired from the WTA:

Bianca Andreescu has appeared on the entry list for Rabat, while Strasbourg will see the likes of Jessica Pegula and Elina Svitolina.

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Tweet of the Week

As if I wasn’t going to post the viral Danielle Collins clip, plus an extra golden one:

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Five at The IX: Mutua Madrid Open

Q. Just wondering about your reaction on the WTA Finals going to Saudi and what you would say to people who have been kind of critical about it?

ONS JABEUR: I am always honestly biased in this position here and the decision they took. I’m very happy to be there. As an Arab woman, I’m very proud some things are moving there in Saudi.

Obviously people could have different opinion. Where it bothers me is that when some people, they don’t know what’s really happening there, and super ignorant about what’s really happening in Saudi.

So like Princess Reema said, You should come to Saudi, be there, and judge yourself.

I think if you’re being in another country and not coming there and see how Saudi is being played, for me, even though I’m not from Saudi, but I would extend the invitation for everyone to come and see for themself. If they really don’t like it, they would share their honest opinion.

We are not telling them to say you really like it or anything. Obviously I wish to see better comments. For me, it always has been about chances, and going there not just to play tennis matches but to give the opportunity especially for younger women to see their role models from before and to believe that they can achieve anything.

Q. The second question is I feel like tennis these days is kind of making a bit of a crossover into pop culture with a movie like Challengers, or I watched Coco Gauff in an episode of an American show. There’s quite a crossover. Celebrities are showing up more and more. How do you see that part? Are you aware of it? How important do you think it is for tennis to kind of make that crossover?

IGA SWIATEK: Well, I am seeing it, but I didn’t really notice that it’s something new, because it’s hard to, like, compare to the times where I wasn’t really on tour.

So, yeah, but I watched Wimbledon, this move, when I was younger, so I kind of feel like there are some movies. Actually, you’re a better person to judge because you’re kind of following that and always making, you know, articles about it or some tweets. So if you say so, it must be true.

It’s good that this sport is getting more popular. I think it’s fun and pretty cool, and honestly, maybe it’s sometimes harder to cheer for, like, one player, because if you’re kind of cheering for the team, you always have this 100% certainty that the team is going to, you know, be there even if one player is going to be injured or whatever.

But I think tennis is nice, because it all depends on us. The pressure is big. Because it’s an individual sport, I think it makes it more fun and, like, more exciting, yeah. So watch tennis (smiling).

Q. I honestly appreciate your honesty, but do you think some way what you said on the last days about you preferring to watch men’s tennis over women’s tennis can some way damage women’s tennis?

ARYNA SABALENKA: I didn’t want to damage women’s tennis, no. Listen, I mean, we are doing our best and, great, there is lots of great matches.

I don’t like to watch it just because I play against all of them, and I just want to kind of like change the picture, and because I watch lots of women’s tennis before I go to the match, I watch my opponents, I watch lots of woman’s tennis.

It’s not like I don’t like it, you know, like I try to offend what I do, you know. I was just trying to say that because I’m playing there and it’s too much for me, I’m just trying to watch men’s tennis. For me, it’s more fun, you know, than watching my probably like future opponents in the tournament.

Q. In terms of your level today, which you said you were pleased with, do you feel like you’re getting closer to playing the more instinctual type of tennis you want to play, or is it more that you’re being more disciplined in playing to your tactics and to the “right shot”? Where do you feel like you are on that scale?

ONS JABEUR: To be honest with you, going into this match, I didn’t have, like, a certain tactic. I just was going, like, with the flow and seeing how the game was focusing a lot on myself lately.

I feel like I want to get back the creativity and the intuition part that I play really well with. I know I’m intuitive person, so the more I let myself play more freely, the better I play, you know.

Obviously it’s very important to have tactics, but I feel like sometimes that puts a lot of pressure on me. If I want to go do a dropshot on a return, I will do it, you know. I don’t want to regret it after or having someone, like, Why did you do that? Wrong choice.

Yes, it’s my choice. I did it. But I know it’s going to serve me really well. Once I do that, I feel like my mind is working in the right way. I felt a lot, last game, I felt like I’m honestly managing, you know, on the court. Okay, I want to be aggressive now, I’m going to be aggressive. I want to make a dropshot, I’m going to make a dropshot.

That really helped. Puts the opponent on they don’t know what’s going to happen in that shot.

Q. I saw you met Lindsey Vonn the other day. How well do you know her? Did you get a chance to talk to her? Is she someone you looked up to?

IGA SWIATEK: Yeah, I look up to her. I mean, honestly, I didn’t have a lot of athletes that I followed, but she was one of them when she skied. I also read her biography, and I found, like, huge inspiration from that.

So, yeah, we met a couple of times already, and we always talk for a longer time than I usually do (smiling). So I feel like for sure she’s a person to talk to if I need advice or I just want to talk to somebody who is cool, because she’s really cool (smiling).

Yeah, I mean, we have been actually kind of talking about also, you know, mental game here. She gave me some tips, so maybe she want to be part of the team (smiling).

But for sure you can feel like, I don’t know, her power even with the way she talks, you know, and her confidence, so for sure this is something that I might learn from her.

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