It’s (gonna be) May madness — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, May 2, 2023

Happy May and Happy Tennis Tuesday!

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Now that we got all of the pop culture references out of the way, it’s time to discuss my favorite time of year — NCAA Championships!

Yesterday evening, the bracket was revealed with the 64 teams vying for the national crown:

In a surprise to nobody, UNC was seeded No. 1, although they did receive their first loss of the season in the ACC Championship match against No. 3 NC State. The Brian Kalbas-led Tar Heels have never won an NCAA team title, faltering once in the 2014 final to UCLA and reaching the Final Four five other times (2010, 2015, 2019-22 with no 2020 event due to COVID). Since the start of the 2018-19 season, they have gone a combined 108-7 and are the favorites to win it all — again. Their entire lineup is ranked with five of their six in the Top 40 along with two Top 13 doubles duos.

Now the question is, “who can beat them?”

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The first obvious choice is NC State, who is led by WTA No. 94 Diana Shnaider, who has had three losses in her debut season. Two other Top 30 players in Alana Smith and Amelia Rajecki also add a lot of depth on top of reigning NCAA doubles champion Nell Miller contributing. The Pack have been brewing for a big title after reaching their first Final Four last year. Shnaider has been their not-so-secret weapon and they are my top pick to heat the Tar Heels’ seat.

No. 2 Texas A&M is mighty strong, but losing Carson Branstine to injury is a massive blow to the Aggies. Mary Stoiana has been a revelation for the team and is the No. 2 player in the country behind the Tar Heels Fiona Crawley. The team has potential wins in each layer of the lineup, but I just don’t know if they have all matchups in their favor.

No. 7 Stanford is always a team you don’t want to face in May. They are the winningest program in NCAA history and just routed USC for the Pac-12 title. They are also loaded in their lineup with Connie Ma and Alexandra Yepifanova leading the Cardinal, but they also have weapons in Angelica Blake, Alexis Blokhina and Valencia Xu. I see a Stanford-Texas A&M Elite Eight matchup that can be pretty mouth-watering.

Two-time defending champion Texas is No. 8 after losing reigning singles champion Peyton Stearns and the sister duo of Allura and Marbella Zamarripa to the professional circuit. They’re projected a Sweet Sixteen matchup with Pepperdine, which I would argue leaning towards the Waves — if they can handle USC first. They’re in UNC’s quarter, but I can’t see them going past the Elite Eight.

Now, how will the early rounds unfold? This weekend, the Top 16 teams will host the first two rounds. The eight highest-ranked teams out of those regionals will then host a Super Regional with the Elite Eight on being played at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona, Florida.

Looking at this bracket, I expect the Top 8 seeds to hold up and host their Super Regionals. However, there could be some second-round upsets. No. 16 Florida is most likely on everyone’s radar for a potential upset with No. 17 Georgia Tech traveling to Gainesville. I see the Yellow Jackets moving on to play UNC. UCLA had a very rough start to the season but just missed out on a hosting seed. They will be traveling to No. 11 Iowa State, who is having a program-best year. The Bruins are seasoned veterans in May and could have enough in the tank to upset the Cyclones. Auburn traveling to Miami is also a delicious second-rounder to keep an eye on, too.

If you’re curious on a team’s lineup, click here.

I’ll check back in once we have the Elite Eight, but now — time for links!

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This Week in Women’s Tennis

The Mutua Madrid Open expanded to a two-week event starting with a Round of 128. Now, we’re at the quarterfinals:

(1) Iga Swiatek vs. (27) Petra Martic
(3) Jessica Pegula vs. (12) Veronika Kudermetova
(9) Maria Sakkari vs. (29) Irina-Camelia Begu
(2) Aryna Sabalenka vs. Mayar Sherif

Simona Halep spoke out for the first time since her provisional drug suspension was announced. The future Hall of Famer spoke out about the ITF constantly postponing their hearing among other issues:

Petra Kvitova sometimes doesn’t get the credit she deserves for her longevity. The Czech recently spent her 400th career week in the Top 10, which is the second-longest for an active WTA player.

The lone unseeded player in the Madrid quarterfinals, Pepperdine grad Mayar Sherif now finds herself on the verge of a Roland Garros seeding.

Barbora Strycova (maternity leave) and Hsieh Su-Wei (injury) came back for the first time since 2021 to pair up in Madrid and have made the quarterfinals. Strycova has already returned to the singles court while Hsieh has alluded to doing the same sometime this year.

Be sure to also check these WTA Insider features on Camila Osorio and Maria Sakkari and Coco Gauff’s reflection from Giannis Antetokounmpo’s viral NBA presser.

Last week, Tennis Channel celebrated the 20th anniversary of their first live broadcast. A lot has changed since then and it’s certainly a topic I am to cover in the near future.

Bianca Andreescu came back from her Miami ankle injury this past week, but aims to be fully match-ready next week in Rome. Fingers crossed for more Coco FaceTimes:

Daria Kasatkina, who voiced support for the recent news that the All England Club will financially support Ukrainian players during the grass court season, also opened up about seeing a mental coach to get back to her Top 10 playing.

Veronika Kudermetova’s sponsor label on her dress was a topic of discussion, as it will likely need to be removed at Wimbledon following new guidelines for Russian-based sponsors.

It was announced that former WTA Top 70 player and WTA Player Council member Elena Pampoulova passed away at the age of 50 following a recent illness.

With her W60 win at her former stomping grounds, Emma Navarro is the latest collegiate player to crack the Top 100 in the WTA rankings:

Navarro’s UVA teammate Natasha Subash was profiled by the school, detailing her on and off-court impact in Charlottesville.

The Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic may be folding, forcing the Bay Area to potentially have no high-level professional event for the first time in 134 years.

Tweet of the Week

Congratulations to the GOAT, who revealed her second pregnancy on the Met Gala red carpet last night!

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