Getting lower-ranked WTA players more opportunities — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, Feb. 28, 2023

Happy Tennis Tuesday, everyone! I am ecstatic that we are finally at the last Tennis Tuesday of February. For me, that’s another day we inch closer towards spring and away from winter — at least here in Ohio. Fortunately — or unfortunately — I’m in the recovery stage of my second post-bariatric skin surgery, so I have quite a bit of time on my hands to think about what I want to discuss. This week, it will be a little bit of a continuation of my “prescriptions” I would like the WTA to take — if I were able to write them, of course.

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The idea came to mind when I was watching WTA No. 94 Diana Shnaider play against unranked Sydni Ratliff when Ohio State faced off against NC State. Though Ratliff doesn’t hold a WTA singles ranking, she was ranked No. 22 in the most-recent collegiate standings, while Shnaider was actually ranked lower at No. 52. The team dual match ended up being decided by a third-set tiebreaker won by NC State following a match point save:

Now, me using an excuse to talk about Ohio State isn’t why I’m here. (Editor’s note: are we sure about that, Joey?) With Shnaider set to partake in the WTA 250 in Monterrey, Mexico today, followed by Indian Wells and Miami, it had me thinking how the WTA could incentivize the female stars of the collegiate game. In fact, last month, the ATP and Intercollegiate Tennis Association announced a partnership that will help the top-ranked college players earn bids into ATP Challenger tournaments. Therefore, those players can earn ranking points that last all year and not have to fully start at the bottom of the ladder — and play yours truly like when I played the ITA No. 1 player this past summer.

My beef right now is, if Tennis United is truly united, why is this only being offered to the ATP players? Is it because the ITF World Tour owns the entire $15k-$100k women’s events, while only owning the $15-$25k for the men? The ATP Challenger Tour is owned and supplemented by the tour themselves, so I could technically see the argument there. However, the ITA is essentially maligning their female players — players that are making Grand Slam finals (Jennifer Brady, Danielle Collins, or Luisa Stefani in doubles). The women’s collegiate game has a TOP 100 PLAYER actively playing college tennis and is a textbook example of using the NCAA system as a springboard to a career of longevity. There isn’t any regression with Diana Shnaider. She is only getting better and is seemingly going to be a Top 100 mainstay when she fully goes professional.

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Now, collegiate players getting opportunities isn’t my end all, be all. Decades ago, special exemptions were given to champions on the ITF World Tour. If you won an ITF event, that basically gave you a WTA wildcard, albeit on the lower end of the tournament spectrum. Let’s say Ratliff won a $60,000 tournament in Columbus. Tournaments at that purse or higher would then give their champion a wildcard into either an ITF $100,000 event, WTA 125 or higher, depending on availability, location on the map, calendar, etc. It’s time to bring back the ITF to WTA wildcard/special exemption relationship.

Again, it’s super easy for me to critique and give my recommendations. At a minimum, I would love to see the following:

  • Each $100,000 ITF World Tour event having a Special Exemption into a WTA 250 main draw or WTA 500 qualifying draw.
  • Each $80,000 ITF World Tour event having a Special Exemption into a WTA 125 main draw or WTA 250 qualifying draw.
  • Regional $60,000 ITF World Tour events having a Special Exemption into higher-rated ITF events or WTA qualifying berths.

I would love to see more Special Exemptions for the smaller-pursed tournaments, which I actually am hopefully for given the new $40,000 ITF-level and the added rules for the 2023 season.

Offering your Top 10 collegiate players — regardless of their country or professional background — would continue to show juniors who are on the fence about turning pro that the NCAA system is a pipeline worth pursuing. It’s the same mindset that paying and earning dues on the “minor leagues” of tennis can result in an opportunity that could be career-changing.

Just something to think about!

Now, on to links — including Christopher Clarey’s must-read on Shnaider, which includes why she wasn’t eligible and more from the Russian and her NC State coaches.

This Week in Women’s Tennis

The first WTA 1000 champions were awarded at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Barbora Krejcikova upset Iga Swiatek in straight sets to bring home her first singles title of the year. The doubles title went to Veronika Kudermetova and Liudmila Samsonova, who were able to diffuse Chan Latisha and Chan Hao-ching.

With her title run in Dubai, Barbora Krejcikova — and her lurking amongst spectators — also added her name to the history books by knocking out the entire Top 3 in one single tournament:

For Champions Corner with WTA Insider, click here for Barbora Krejcikova and here for Veronika Kudermetova and Liudmila Samsonova.

Camila Giorgi won her fourth WTA singles title at the Merida Open Akron with a three-set win over qualifier Rebecca Peterson. Earlier in the week, Giorgi earned her first professional double bagel over Sloane Stephens. The doubles crown went to Caty McNally and Diane Parry, who beat Wang Xinyu and Wu Fang-hsien.

Diana Shnaider is the first Top 100 player to play collegiate tennis since The IX friend Lisa Raymond did in 1993. She’s undefeated so far this season and even had to save a match point against Ohio State last week, but it’s been her decision to take the current route and she’s proud of it.

Another time for me to say that “representation matters!” Today’s latest example is Saudi Arabia fielding a squad to represent at the Billie Jean King Cup Juniors for the first time in the country’s history.

Naomi Osaka is staying in shape with Hall of Famer Andre Agassi keeping an eyes as she aims to return from maternity leave next year.

Reigning NCAA Champion Peyton Stearns returned to Austin to compete in the inaugural ATX Open, but receive the Honda Award — an annual award given to the top female collegiate tennis player.

Sania Mirza’s impact on the game of women’s tennis will last quite a bit longer than her two-decade career, but the recent retiree has some concern for the state of Indian tennis following her exit.

Serena Williams was announced as the recipient of the Jackie Robinson Sports Award at the 54th annual NAACP Image Awards.

Want to catch the action on the Universal Tennis Pro Tennis Tour? Well, now you don’t have to pay extra! All Amazon Prime members can pull up tournament play from all over with their subscription:

Speaking of Universal Tennis, if you know a social media wizard, they are looking for a (remote) social media manager!

Sense Arena is inching their way towards making themselves a mainstream stay on the circuit. AI technology is no longer the future, it’s now.

The University of Missouri women’s team announced a leadership change with the firing of Chris Wootton and former collegiate No. 1 Bianca Turati taking his head coaching position on an interim basis.

Tweet of the Week

Don’t be fooled by the rocks that she got, JPeg is still one of us after a birthday loss:

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