NCAA’s Elite — Quotes from Rome — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, May 16, 2023

Howdy, y’all and Happy Tennis Tuesday! Because Rome is also a two-week tournament and feels extra long, I figured we’d discuss the NCAA Super Regional results and beyond. The seedings pretty much held up except for UCLA’s upset over No. 6 Duke. That opened up Iowa State to continue their program-best season. Here’s where our Elite Eight stands:

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North Carolina had a stern test from No. 16 Florida, where the Gators took the doubles point. However, the strong singles lineup the Tar Heels produce came in clutch — taking all six first sets and a quick four singles points. UNC’s No. 2 player, Fiona Crawley, is the No. 1 player in the country. They’re loaded. Two-time reigning team champion No. 8 Texas had to scrape by to punch their ticket to Orlando. Like I mentioned, I had their Sweet Sixteen match with No. 9 Pepperdine as the one to watch and it delivered. A rematch of the 2021 Championship came down to No. 6 singles where Malaika Rapolu edged out Anna Camapa, 2-6, 7-6(3), 6-4 to clinch the match 4-3 in the Longhorn’s favor.

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Prediction: UNC def. Texas 4-0. The Tar Heels have too much depth and talent and should easily find four singles points to end Texas’ reign. The Longhorns could escape with the doubles point and maybe a point in the bottom of the singles lineup, but I just can’t see the upset happening.

I hate having to talk about The School Up North, but Michigan finds themselves in the Elite Eight for the second time in school history and the first since 2016. A tight 4-2 win over Virginia sent the Wolverines to Florida, while Georgia had a close 4-1 victory over last year’s runner-ups Oklahoma. While this is a No. 4 vs. No. 5 quarterfinal, I’m not exactly sure this will go down to the wire like we did Texas-Pepperdine. The Bulldogs have two of the Top 4 singles players at the top of the lineup, which helps boast a talented bottom half. Michigan needs to win the doubles point to have any chance at taking out Georgia, but the Bulldogs played some phenomenal tennis to take that point against Oklahoma. Georgia thrives at home, so it being a neutral site could help Michigan.

Prediction: Georgia def. Michigan 4-1. I see Georgia taking this pretty easily, but not as easy as North Carolina vs. Texas. If I had to pick, I’d mark Gala Mesochoritou (No. 6 singles) and Lily Jones (No. 5 singles) as potential wins for the Wolverines. Outside of that, it’s all UGA.

The bottom half of the team draw has potential for some juicy matchups. First up is NC State attempting their second-ever and consecutive Final Four while Iowa State is in unchartered waters. Like I’ve said, having a Top 100 WTA player in Diana Schnaider beefs up the Wolfpack’s lineup immensely. Their doubles is mighty strong and are near a guaranteed point there. Iowa State, however, is extremely scrappy in singles and bring a lot of international/veteran experience. I see a third set, maybe two, but the Cyclone’s incredible 2023 campaign will end here.

Prediction: NC State def. Iowa State 4-0. The doubles point and the Top 3 singles will likely be enough to quickly carry the Wolfpack through. The No. 1 matchup between Schnaider and Thasaporn Naklo could be a fun one though.

Last, but not least, we have a rematch of the 2013 team final between Stanford and Texas A&M. Unfortunately for my Ohio State Buckeyes, facing a Stanford squad in May is brutal. I don’t know what Lele Forood puts in the water there, but this team consistently brings their A+ game when it matters. Stanford has a solid 1-2 combo in Alexandra Yepifanova and Connie Ma, but I think their ultimate secret weapon is No. 44 Angelica Blake at No. 3 singles. She double bageled Isabelle Boulais in her final home match and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her continue in Lake Nona. As for the Aggies, Mary Stoiana has been a revelation at the No. 1 singles spot and will be a much-needed win to give Texas A&M some life. They will also need the doubles point and find ways to chink the Cardinal armor. There are pathways for a TAMU win, but Stanford can rely over and over again on a second and third gear. They’re on cruise control at the moment, so it’s really asking can anyone stop them?

Prediction: Stanford def. Texas A&M 4-2: Stanford will spoil a Top 4 Final Four with a gutsy win here, in my opinion. The Aggies will come out firing with the doubles point and I can see Jayci Goldsmith taking No. 5 singles. If Stoiana can claim a quick win at No. 1 singles, I could see things changing. It’ll be up to the Stanford upperclassmen if they continue their own May Madness.

Now, before we head onto links, here are some Sweet Sixteen reads on some individual players:

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This Week in Women’s Tennis

While money at Roland Garros will be entering pre-COVID numbers, the Italian Open still treats women less than men — for now.

In news I’m hoping won’t happen, rumblings have emerged that the Western & Southern Open may be attempting a move to Charlotte after Ben Navarro purchased the tournament.

To quote my girl JoJo, it’s too little, too late from the Mutua Madrid Open organizers for their apology to the women’s doubles players who didn’t receive speeches following cakegate.

Bianca Andreescu opened up about her mental health break for the WTA’s The Real Me series in partnership with Modern Health:

WTA Insider is slaying the game from Europe. Among their pieces:

  • Anett Kontaveit handling her comeback from chronic back issues.
  • Wang Xiyu learning from new coach Nigel Sears.
  • Sofia Kenin taking in the small wins as she rises back up the rankings.
  • Elina Svitolina’s motivation for her comeback from maternity leave.
  • Magda Linette coming into her own while having a career-best season.

Taylor Townsend is finally a Top 5 doubles player and earned her second Top 10 victory this week in Rome over Jessica Pegula. Alex Macpherson profiles the new mom, who is approaching her singles career-high ranking as well. Macpherson also highlighted the comeback of Marketa Vondrousova, who is looking to fulfill her own potential after injury.

50 years ago, the first Battle of the Sexes took place, with Margaret Court facing off against Bobby Riggs in a very one-sided affair.

Rome was a place of magic for Conchita Martinez, who captured a three-peat in the 90s with the loss of only three sets in the process.

Emma Raducanu’s coach at her US Open triumph, Andrew Richardson, spoke out about their partnership being ended mid-negotiation by her agent. Speaking of the Brit, she had her final surgery of the year — this time on her ankle:

Bianca Turati, who was playing professionally a year ago after leaving Texas early, had her interim tag removed and was named head coach at Missouri.

A message from Naomi Osaka as she’s expecting her first child:

Happy Anniversary to the Tennis Channel, who celebrated their 20th year yesterday.

Tweet of the Week

Five at The IX: Quotes from Rome

Q. I wanted to ask about Madrid, the trophy ceremony that didn’t happen, just your understanding of what happened, what you were told by the organization.

JESSICA PEGULA: Yeah, what happened in Madrid, it was really disappointing. I know a lot of like what happened, detail leading up to the event, just because Vika and I are on players council. I had a feeling something was going to happen.

Did I think we were not going to be able to speak, no. I’ve never heard of that, like, in my life. Even in a 10K challenger final you would speak. I don’t know what century everyone was living in when they made that decision or how they actually had a conversation and decided, like, Wow, this is a great decision we’re going to do and there’s going to be no-backlash against this.

To be honest, it kind of spoke for itself. We were upset when it happened, especially being told during the trophy ceremony we weren’t going to be allowed to speak. We were kind of like, Well, I guess this just kind of proves a point. We didn’t really do anything, and here we are. It kind of speaks for itself.

At the same time there was also that aspect where we were kind of like, Well, we don’t have to say anything else. Everyone kind of picked up on it and was very disappointed.

I mean, yeah, we’ll see what happens. I don’t really know what’s going to happen after that or what decision is going to be made, statements or anything regarding that. It was just very disappointing.

I think everyone kind of felt that way.

Q. What are your reflections on that, and your posted speech on Twitter?

COCO GAUFF: Yea, obviously, I mean, the decision was made. I thought it was not the right decision. I think there was probably certain situations that happened before. I did express to the tournament and to the directors that whatever happened before in this situation shouldn’t affect something like this.

I think maybe players want to criticize in their speech. I don’t know what was going to be said in the speech. At least my speech, I wasn’t going to say anything. I didn’t know about the whole situation before because I’m not on Twitter. You can kind of see us talking on the podium. That’s when I found out.

I think for the most part, yeah, I don’t think it was a great decision. I expressed that afterwards. They apologized.

But, yeah, for me, I feel like criticism… I’m always the type of person saying you need to speak out on things. I don’t think the tournament should have made that decision considering the men also got a speech.

I do believe they were not thinking of it as men and women. I think it’s just reflected like that. I think you have to take that kind of view into consideration.

Then I did go on Twitter to say the speech because, I mean, we made a final in a 1000, and it’s not really for me, it’s for the fans. We had a good crowd. I also told them, We had a good crowd for women’s doubles and we didn’t get to address that crowd for thank them for coming, and the sponsors.

I put on Twitter that, hey, I want people to know the people behind the scenes. People behind the scenes that I was interacting with were very nice. I wanted them to know we were very thankful for that.

But, yeah, I definitely think a different decision should have been made regarding that. This was the first time in my life this ever happened, and I’m sure a lot of people I’ve seen.

Q. Did they try to give you an explanation?

COCO GAUFF: I was told it was a situation that didn’t involve me that happened. I’m not going to go into that situation. People probably know what it was.

But, yeah, that’s what I was told. I said that situation for me was not deep enough to not have a trophy ceremony. I think that we worked hard to get to that final.

It’s not about the speech. I have a lot of finals, so it’s not about that. It’s more about the principle behind it, so this can’t happen again for future girls, take the opportunity away from them.

Q. You’ve always played your own schedule. Obviously played a lot in the States. What has it been like playing these tournaments in Europe, taking on a fuller schedule?

TAYLOR TOWNSEND: It’s been great. One of the things that when you’re on tour, you kind of have the mundane schedule or you play the same tournaments. Once you hit a certain ranking bracket, you’re playing kind of the same events every year.

For me it was incredibly exciting for me to be able to come to tournaments I’ve never been to, places I’ve never been to. I was out walking around the streets of Madrid every day after my matches and practices. Equally the same here. It’s really kind of exciting because, like, it’s new. I’m exploring different places, doing different things I’ve never done. It’s really quite fun.

I’m glad that I did it. I was talking to someone. I’ve done the training and playing the tournaments in the States. I’ve done that before. I’ve had success. I’ve proven myself on that level. I know that in order for me to continue to put myself in these situations, I have to play these tournaments, I have to play against the top players, I have to be in these draws. You have to do it the hard way, whether it be qualifying into these tournaments, whether it be qualifying into the slams. It’s just the path that I have to take in order for me to continue to get the experience on this level.

I’ve really embraced that and understood that, like, this is just the road. It’s no secret. Anybody who has made these jumps and these elevations have gone from level to level. It’s just something that I’ve embraced.

I’m enjoying it. It’s been great just to show and prove to myself week in, week out, no matter if it’s on the singles or doubles court, that I belong at this level.

Q. Just a question on Asian-American Pacific Heritage Month back in the States. In terms of your Asian-American identity, how you kind of articulate it? What does it mean to you? It’s different for all of us. Not the month, but what your identity means to you.

JESSICA PEGULA: Heritage? I feel like mine is kind of maybe a little bit different. I’m half Korean. But my mom was adopted, she was adopted very young. She doesn’t speak Korean. She’s really not Korean at all in that aspect. Even when we came over, my grandparents, which were her adopted parents, that she didn’t like anything they recommended we feed her. She wanted spaghetti and meatballs and candy.

It’s kind of funny. I don’t know a lot of my heritage because she really didn’t want to know that much and she didn’t really grow up in it.

I think for me it means maybe a little bit different, but sometimes I forget the impact you have on especially like when I see a young Korean girl or family, they come up to me and they, like, love my mom and they love me just because they see themselves being represented on a bigger stage or an area where there’s not a lot of Asian-Americans, let alone Asian-American women, especially in sports. Especially my mom being in the NFL, NHL, it’s kind of like non-existent.

I don’t think I realized it till maybe, I don’t know, three or four years ago when I started to play better, have better results. My mom was more in the spotlight. You get those people that come up to you, Oh, my God, my daughters love you, they’re such big fans. They’re also half Asian. We’re from Korea, we came over here. You realize the importance of representation.

I think for me that’s kind of what it means, is seeing the difference you make. Even though I didn’t exactly grow up fully Korean, it’s something that now I think me and my family and my sister have also wanted to learn more about because we realize how important it is for those that come over here and those that are in Asia and they see us in these different lights kind of representing them when there’s not a lot of us.

Yeah, that’s what it means to me.

Q. A little bit of an offbeat question. Philosophically – weird intro- do you think the concept of a ‘clay court specialist’ exists in the current women’s game or is that a thing of the past?

IGA SWIATEK: Oh, my God. I don’t know. I mean, you have much more experience in terms of comparing the past results of players than me. I don’t know.

Well, I think if we want to be the best in tennis, you have to play well on all these surfaces. I’m lucky enough to have the grass court season only for three weeks, but I’m still getting it. I know it’s an important part of the tour and I should be better at it.

For sure I feel like, yeah, you should be good on all surfaces. As you could see, Rafa, he’s called clay court specialist, but he won so many tournaments on hard court and grass as well. The goal is to be good everywhere.

Yeah, for sure there are always going to be players who feel more comfortable on clay or on hard court, so it’s just a matter of – I don’t know – the technique and being used to it.

Yes, it’s tricky. I don’t know. I think, I think, I think it kind of leans more to, like, implying that the player only can play on clay. I guess having more variety is nice. But just saying the player feels more comfortable on clay, I think that’s the most proper kind of thing to say.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
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Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
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Saturdays: Gymnastics
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Written by Joey Dillon