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The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, October 5, 2021

Happy Tuesday, everyone! The fact that it’s October is mind-blowing to me. The WTA season is just over a month away from ending and there’s a few storylines I think we should keep an eye on as it wraps.

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Indian Wells

The BNP Paribas Open is back in action following last year’s cancellation, which was the first major sporting event to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The tournament is usually held in March, but announced a postponement to October earlier in the summer. Qualifying has already kicked off and main draw action begins tomorrow. Aryna Sabalenka was due to be the top seed in Indian Wells, but the World No. 2 tested positive for COVID-19 and will assumingly be out until the WTA Finals in Guadalajara.

US Open champion Emma Raducanu headlines the list of wildcards because she wasn’t ranked high enough to be in the main draw when the cutoff was made. Kim Clijsters, a two-time champion, is making her first appearance as she plays the tournament for the first time in ten years. The draw was revealed yesterday with Karolina Pliskova named the top seed.

The juiciest first-round matchups?
• Katerina Siniakova vs. (WC) Kim Clijsters: Can Clijsters get her first win of her comeback? She lost a tough three-setter to Hsieh Su-Wei last week, but Siniakova can bring some pace to the same ball Clijsters hits.
• Sloane Stephens vs. Heather Watson: Sloane’s a friend of The IX and she was playing first-class tennis at the US Open. She had a rough week in Chicago last week, but she’s a local in Southern California and has done well in the desert. Should she win, circle that second-round matchup with Jessica Pegula as a must-watch.
• Kaia Kanepi vs. Madison Keys: that poor ball. In the wise words of Mary Carillo, get ready for some “big babe tennis”
• Hsieh Su-Wei vs. Madison Brengle: Two of my favorite off-court legends with games the opposite of Kanepi-Keys. The variety will be palpable, so grab some popcorn (and wine a la Brengle).

Should the seedings hold, the third round could feature some blockbuster matchups including Anett Kontaveit-Bianca Andreescu, Ons Jabeur-Danielle Collins, Petra Kvitova-Victoria Azarenka, Emma Raducanu-Simona Halep and Leylah Fernandez-Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Whoa. This tournament could be insane, which speaking of insane, here are my predictions:

(1) Karolina Pliskova def. (12) Ons Jabeur
(5) Garbine Muguruza def. (15) Coco Gauff
(4) Elina Svitolina def. (11) Simona Halep
(9) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova def. (2) Iga Swiatek

(1) Karolina Pliskova def. (5) Karolina Pliskova
(4) Elina Svitolina def. (9) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

(1) Karolina Pliskova def. (4) Elina Svitolina

That bottom quarter is a gamble. Many players can not only escape to make the quarterfinals, but win the tournament.

WTA Finals

Four spots are up for grabs for the singles positions at the 2021 Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara and entering Indian Wells, there’s at least a dozen players in contention. Emma Raducanu and her team seem to be making that a goal by entering three consecutive tournaments in Indian Wells, Russia and Romania. She’s super young and I get wanting to maximize the momentum built from the US Open, but I don’t know if it’s the wisest decision.

I don’t see Ashleigh Barty or Naomi Osaka taking the court in Guadalajara, pushing the cut-off to Elise Mertens at the moment. However, six players, including Raducanu and 2018 champion Elina Svitolina, are within 200 points of the Belgian. The BNP Paribas Open offers 1,000 points to the winner, so should a surprise champion emerge, we could be finding out the final players until the last moment. The Porsche Race to WTA Finals usually has a player or two fighting for those last spots, but this year seems a lot different. The margins between players are razor-thin and I think that’s what makes Indian Wells even more exciting. We should have a better idea next week once a few rounds are played in Indian Wells.

2022 Australian Open

The slow vaccination rate of WTA players (rumored to be about 60%) may see a large increase after the Victorian government mandated that any athletes traveling to the area have their two doses by the end of November.

Australia is one of the tightest-locked countries when it comes to COVID, where their states’ borders have been shut down and flights to the country aren’t as accessible. Daria Gavrilova, who is at home injured, tweeted that not only has she not seen her fiancé since March, players who are injured can’t find access back to Australia:

Honestly, a mandate is needed for the tour. COVID isn’t going away anytime and tennis players are global, putting the local populations at risk. Sure, the tour can do bubbles and constant testing, but that also breaks down the athlete’s mental health. At the same time, you can also argue that the players are independent contractors and shouldn’t be forced to subject to a vaccine if they don’t want. With that said, the science and data show that the vaccines work and with WTA and ITF tournaments taking place in dozens of countries every week, the tennis executives should finally put their foot down. We’re approaching two years into the pandemic and we’re not even close to herd immunity.

The biggest question is if the money and points outweigh the players’ hesitation when it comes to getting vaccinated. We can’t have a repeat of this years’ Australian Open series where some players given better clearances than local citizens. The tours and players have to respect the local guidelines brought in by the government and adhere to them, we’re past bullshitting around or moving the goal posts.

This Week in Women’s Tennis

The Chicago Tennis Festival completed their third and final tournament with perhaps their best final. Garbine Muguruza outlasted Ons Jabeur, 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 in a battle of two players in contention for the WTA Finals in Guadalajara. It’s Muguruza’s second title of 2021, making it only the second time in the former World No. 1’s career where she captured multiple titles in a season. Kveta Peschke and Andrea Petkovic partnered up for the first time and left Chicago with the trophy, taking out wildcards Caroline Dolehide and Coco Vandeweghe. It’s WTA title No. 36 for Peschke, while it’s the first WTA doubles title of Petkovic’s career.

Speaking of Muguruza, be sure to check out WTA Insider’s Champions Corner where the Spaniard reflected on her time in the Windy City before previewing Indian Wells.

In the Astana Open, Alison Van Uytvanck brought her WTA singles final record to 5-0 with a three-set win over local hope Yulia Putintseva. All five of Van Uytvanck’s finals have been won in a deciding set. In doubles, Anna-Lena Friedsam and Monica Niculescu won the inaugural event with a three-set win over Angelina Gabueva and Anastasia Zakharova.

Karolina Pliskova became the fourth person to qualify for the 2021 Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara, joining Ashleigh Barty, Aryna Sabalenka and Barbora Krejcikova.

The WTA announced their third annual ACEing Cancer campaign this week in Indian Wells, with various players and initiatives geared towards raising awareness and money to support women’s cancer initiatives.

Yaroslava Shvedova announced her retirement following the US Open and she was honored with a ceremony at the Astana Open. Courtney Walsh at wtatennis.com spoke with Shvedova and discussed her career.

The biggest winners of the tennis calendar transforming due to COVID was the United States. Now, the future is uncertain for cities like Chicago, who hosted a trio of WTA tournaments this summer.

Jacqueline Cristian is knocking on the World’s Top 100 and has given Simona Halep a heap of credit for fueling that fire.

The teams for the 2021 Billie Jean King Cup Finals were announced yesterday with all Tokyo Olympic gold medalists expected to appear in Prague from November 1-6.

Robin Montegomery ended her junior career with a sweep at the US Open, but the Washington DC native hopes to embark on an illustrious professional journey.

Tweet of the Week

I mean, this is why the globalization of tennis is important, as well as having new stars break through:

Five at The IX: Chicago and Nur-Sultan

“People might think that this is a smaller event, but everything counts. Every win. There’s so much behind the scenes that people don’t see, just the amount of work you put in to hold a trophy no matter what trophy it is. Of course the bigger the better. But to hold the trophy, there are so many girls playing for it that week. To feel like I got it, this week I’m the better player, it’s a special feeling. It doesn’t matter what tournament it is. For me, it feels so great and it’s such a reward.” – Garbine Muguruza

“That was a battle, especially those first sets,” Muguruza told the press, after her win. “We’ve played recently, this year at Wimbledon, and it was a very tough match, and I knew that she’s having one of the best seasons that a player can have. I was prepared, I went out there with all the fighting spirit in the pocket.” – Muguruza

“The main goal is to qualify for Guadalajara….It’s a dream coming true. It’s something big. Knowing that I can be the first Arab to qualify, it’s unbelievable…..It’s more stress on me but I really made my peace with it. I’m going to do my best. If I qualify, great. If I don’t, maybe it’s a great message for me to rest my body and be ready for the next season.” – Ons Jabeur

“I was struggling physically, I kept saying to myself, it’s the last set, push it, push it, push it. I didn’t expect winning today and I just gave everything – I’m so tired but so happy.” – Alison Van Uytvanck

“Before I stepped in, everyone was asking, ‘Are you nervous?’ I was saying, ‘No. I am super relaxed and super happy….’ But as soon as I stepped in, I started having tears, seeing people around and understanding that they all came to support me and enjoy my moments from the past.” – Yaroslava Shvedova

Written by Joey Dillon