Discussing King Richard — Interview: Parenting Aces’ Lisa Stone — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, December 14, 2021

Happy Tuesday, everyone! About a month ago, I was in Florida and was hanging out with a former WTA colleague and we decided to go watch King Richard in the theaters. It was my first experience in the movie theater since well before COVID and I felt like celebrating Venus and Serena’s love letter to their father was the perfect opportunity to break that spell.

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Starring and produced by Will Smith, the movie centrals around the Williams patriarch and specifically — and obviously — the tennis story of Venus and Serena. Smith wouldn’t partake in the movie if it didn’t have the blessing of the entire family and sister Isha Price would serve as an executive producer on site throughout filming. Having a familial connection to the film is probably the glue behind the movie’s success.

Tennis movies are really hard to produce and cast, but King Richard delivered in this regard. Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton, who played Venus and Serena, respectively, were incredible choices for the sisters. My friend said she couldn’t stop thinking about how much Saniyya looked like Venus, while I couldn’t get over the shock of Demi’s striking resemblance to Serena.

The biggest issue in tennis movies have been replicating actual tennis form. Saniyya explained in a video of all the tennis training she had to do to prepare her role of Venus.

You have to remember, Venus and Serena were among the players to completely changed the tennis landscape. Serve and volleyers or retrievers were no longer the norm and the power era was coming in hot.

What movies like King Richard and Battle of the Sexes were smart in were bringing in WTA professionals or former collegiate players into the mix. Five at The IX alum Kaitlyn Christian played the role of Shaun Stafford, Venus’ first professional opponent. Marcela Zacarias played Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario in the match after Stafford. Even cooler was bringing 2019 NCAA doubles champion Ayan Broomfield in to mirror the more intense play of Venus. Jessica Wacnik, a former pro who played at Boston College, played the role of Jennifer Capriati. CGI is a great thing and I couldn’t help but be impressed at how seamless that specific work was. You usually can tell specific scenes where a body double is used, but I left near-confused of when Saniyya began and Ayan ended.

The movie did a great job dissecting the rise to stardom through the lens of Richard Williams. The film could’ve been strictly about the sisters, but the family of Richard really wanted to make sure the correct story was shown. If you’re expecting a career overview of the sisters, don’t go see the movie. King Richard begins with the first years on the tennis court and wraps up with Venus turning pro in 1994. Because there were two tennis sensations, I feel like there could have been a liiiitttllleee more backstory to Richard and what made him the way he was. There was a scene alluding to his past life, but we got nothing more than that. Also because of the timeline, we didn’t see much Serena as we did Venus. As a tennis fan, I would’ve eaten up any and everything, so another hour of film would’ve been great to me.

I usually roll my eyes at a sequel to a successful story, but CAN WE PLEASE HAVE QUEEN ORACENE?! Aunjanue Ellis was absolutely phenomenal in her role as Oracene Price. She shared that she had a thought many had – Richard was the main coach, but through her research, she learned that Oracene was the one creating a lot of the stroke production that we love so much. I was shocked to learn that Oracene was the genius behind the serve of Serena — which makes the family being part of this process more worthwhile. Having those small, specific details makes the movie special. I was also a little surprised at how involved Rick Macci was in taking the Williams sisters to the next level. I knew he worked with them, but the extent before they turned pro was pretty significant.

The movie is getting significant Oscar buzz and I certainly believe Smith and Ellis will garner nominations and honestly, I would love a win by Ellis. She was that captivating in her supporting role. The editing was also outstanding and a nomination is certainly in the cards for Pamela Ellis. The cast and crew did such an incredible job making this piece of art and I highly, highly suggest you either go see it in theaters or watch on HBOMax.

This Week in Women’s Tennis

The 2021 WTA Awards were announced this week, with the winners below:

  • WTA Player of the Year: Ashleigh Barty
  • WTA Doubles Team of the Year: Barbora Krejcikova/Katerina Siniakova
  • WTA Most Improved Player of the Year: Barbora Krejcikova
  • WTA Newcomer of the Year: Emma Raducanu
  • WTA Comeback Player of the Year: Carla Suarez Navarro

The WTA Coach of the Year and player-voted tournament, service/sportsmanship awards were announced as well. Congratulations to Five at The IX alum Kristie Ahn for receiving her second Peachy Kellmeyer Player Service Award.

What a week of Vitalia Diatchenko. The Russian captured her third career WTA 125k event in amazing fashion — as a lucky loser! She defeated Zhang Shuai in the final, but also had to overcome Daniela Vismane, who defeated her in qualifying, from a set and 0-4 down. Tereza Mihalikova and Greet Minnen took home the doubles title, knocking out No. 1 seeds Monica Niculescu and Vera Zvonareva in a match tiebreaker.

Amelie Mauresmo, former World No. 1 and two-time Grand Slam champion, was named Tournament Director of Roland Garros. It will be the first time that women will lead at least two of the Grand Slams with Stacey Allaster running the US Open.

We’re getting a lot closer to a commercial merger between the ATP and WTA. Will it be successful? I’m not sure, but I do believe a bundled product is the best plan of action moving into the future.

Please take a minute to read this NYT piece on the late Darlene Hard, possibly best known for losing to Althea Gibson in the 1957 Wimbledon final, but had a larger impact on the tennis world.

The entry lists for the beginning of the 2022 season have been released and two names won’t be heading Down Under: Serena Williams and Bianca Andreescu. Ashleigh Barty and Naomi Osaka headline the Melbourne Summer Set, while Barty and Iga Swiatek will be participating in the Adelaide International.

The wtatennis.com staff discussed some of the season’s most impactful matches, while also turning their eyes ahead to the 2022 season.

I need to get started on my tennis ball connection if it looks like this:

Marc Lucero, who has coached both on the ATP and WTA, sat down with Kamau Murray to discuss his career, coaching on both tours and more.

Emma Raducanu shared she’s tested positive for COVID-19 and will be missing the Mubadala World Tennis Championship exhibition as a result.

Be sure to vote for the 2021 WTA Shot of the Year: Group A and Group B.

Tweet of the Week

ATP player Nicholas Mahut, who was the Tournament Director of the WTA 125k event in Angers, France, asked for Peng Shuai to deliver the trophy at the final. It was fantastic to see support from a male player, since the Tour has been painfully “silent” with their stance.

Five at The IX: Parenting Aces’ Lisa Stone

Lisa Stone is the creator of parentingaces.com, where she interviews different figures around the tennis community, while also keeping parents of junior players up-to-date on rules, information for college tennis and more. She takes time to give us how Parenting Aces came to fruition when she wasn’t a high-level player herself. She talks highlights and goals for her website, as well as what college tennis needs to thrive in today’s climate. She’s an absolute must-follow across all platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube). You can also find more information and ways to support on her LinkTree.

Joey: Can you give our readers a bit of your background, especially with tennis? What led you to creating ParentingAces?

Lisa: I grew up in Louisiana in a tennis family so learning to play the game was a given. My dad, now 83 years old, has been playing since childhood and went on to win a team national championship at Tulane. When my youngest child fell in love with tennis, I started my journey as a Tennis Parent. Once he shared his goal of playing high level college tennis, I knew I needed help in getting him there. Unfortunately, there were very limited resources available from his coach, the national governing body, or online. My entrepreneurial side took over, and ParentingAces was born. What started as a blog for me to document and share my son’s Junior Tennis Journey soon grew into a podcast, digital platforms to interact with other Tennis Parents, and now a consulting business to work with families one-on-one and help them navigate Junior Tennis and College Recruiting. I’m not a coach and never played the game at a high level, but I have learned so much over the past 10+ years and connected with so many experts in a variety of areas of tennis and youth sports as a whole, that I feel I can now call myself a coach for parents as I help them navigate their own Junior Tennis Journey.

Joey: What have been your biggest personal highlights throughout your run with ParentingAces? What goals do you have for it in 2022 and beyond?

Lisa: There have been so many personal highlights over the past decade! The first was being asked to host an online radio show (now known as a podcast) for Tennis Parents. My show was part of a larger network of tennis-related programming. Soon after, I received my first Media Credential for the US Open which exposed me to an entirely new side of tennis. There, I met so many junior coaches, college coaches, and parents of high-level juniors which gave me the opportunity to learn even more about our sport. Being asked to present at coaching conferences and share the Parent Perspective is something I’m very proud of as well. Moving forward, I would like the ParentingAces brand to be synonymous with Tennis Parent Education and to partner with organizations around the world looking to help make the Junior Tennis Journey better for parents, players, and coaches. The overarching goal of ParentingAces is to help parents emerge on the other side of this journey with their relationship with their child(ren) intact and thriving – anything else is just gravy.

Joey: The junior tennis structure has completely changed over the last decade. In your opinion, what have been some good changes made and what are the largest ones that need to be looked at?

Lisa: My favorite change is the organized advent of level based play both at the recreational and competitive level. Having young players compete against opponents who are at a similar level makes for much better matches and much better learning experiences. That said, I think players, parents, and coaches have become too obsessed with ratings and rankings as opposed to focusing on the development of the player as well as the whole human. With early sports specialization and over-coaching, we’re seeing too many injuries in our young athletes and too much burnout as they near the end of their journey. I’d love to see us move back to multi-sport play until at least age 14 so we develop the whole athlete first, then develop the tennis player. We also need to go back to a time of free play and fun practice matches. Everything in youth sports is so organized by the adults now. We need to give our kids the freedom and trust to learn through play on their own. I believe that will lead to more lifelong tennis players who then expose their children to the game, too.

Joey: When it comes to the college scene, where do you stand with the current product? How can the ITA/NCAA ramp up their circuit to make it viable to local communities, as well as television viewers?

Lisa: That’s a hot topic, for sure. I was pretty outspoken against the current no-ad scoring system and single-set doubles matches in college tennis when they were first introduced. That said, after watching my son play in college and talking with him and his peers, I’ve been somewhat swayed. But, I do think we all need to do a better job at marketing college tennis as a spectator sport and marketing the players themselves as athletes to watch. When I see cornhole being aired on ESPN but no college tennis on the schedule, it frustrates me. And when I see pickleball being aired on the Tennis Channel but very limited college tennis on the schedule, well, “frustrated” is a very mild descriptor of how I feel. The governing bodies and the college coaches themselves need to do a much better job of attracting local sponsors and marketing the matches within their local communities to build a long-lasting fan base. That will lead to more advertisers and more television coverage which will lead to the growth of College Tennis. With NIL now in play, college coaches have yet another tool to help them attract players as well as engage new fans. Fingers crossed that we see some significant changes in the next couple of years.

Joey: What was the greatest piece of advice you’ve received and who gave it? If you could go back in time, what would you tell 18-year-old Lisa?

Lisa: The greatest piece of advice I’ve received is to give back to the world, either on a local level or on a larger scale. That wisdom came from my mother who has spent her life creating and volunteering in community efforts to improve healthcare, the arts, the sciences, and education. I hope I’ve passed that lesson on to my own children as well. My advice to my younger self would be to trust the process. When you put in the work, the reward is usually right around the corner.

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