I’m a Bagel Boy — Quotes from the WTA Finals — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, November 16, 2021

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

I was going to discuss the unfolding of the Peng Shuai situation where the WTA finally commented, but I want to give it the proper dissection. I would’ve had time this weekend to do so, but then I got into a professional tournament. Like, an actual ITF tournament. I have some thoughts on Shuai, the WTA and China, especially given the climate of the WTA Finals in Guadalajara, so stay tuned for that.

So, you might be asking, “how the hell did you do this and why?”

If you can’t tell by a lot of my Five at The IX interviews, I really, really enjoy the ITF Pro Circuit. Some call it the minor leagues, but this is where the future is really putting their reps in or perhaps some players of former glory are working to recapture their past momentum. Then, there are some on the WTA/ITF Circuit called “bagel girls,” players who travel to tournaments all over and lose 6-0, 6-0. A famous one is 74-year-old Gail Falkenberg. While there may be a few who believe that they can earn their way to Grand Slam status, the majority are just doing it simply because they can and love the game and competition. That’s where I fall in.

If you look at UTR ratings, where players are rated from 1-16. For example, Aryna Sabalenka is the highest-rated WTA Finals player at 13.18. Your truly? A 4.02. I play pretty solid on my Men’s 3.5 league and am way better in doubles than singles. With a lot of my recent weight loss, I’m hoping to play a lot more singles and really push myself. This is where the $25,000 ITF here in my hometown of Columbus comes into play.

Essentially anyone can play a professional tournament. First, you have to sign up for IPIN, the ITF’s entry system, which costs you $65. I gained access to the Men’s Circuit, as well as the Seniors Circuit since they now introduced 30 and over tournaments and my 30th birthday was in September. In 2018, I signed up to play this tournament and was the 4th alternate on-site.

Disappointed, I still got to be part and make the qualifying draw. However, had I showed up the next day as said alternate, I would’ve gotten in and played a match. For years, I wondered “what if” and when COVID hit, the chances of getting into tournaments became a lot less likely with fewer tennis tournaments and smaller draws.

When I was in the hospital in October, I decided to just do it. I had nothing to lose. The entry list came out the following week and the randomized alternate list put me at dead last. No. 308 and I would need some miracles to unfold in order to play the tournament.

By the time the withdrawal deadline came, I think I was around No. 120, which wasn’t too terrible. However, three or so days before the sign-in, there’s something called a freeze deadline, where players aren’t allowed to withdraw anymore without penalty. When the freeze deadline hits, the tournament withdraws anyone who doesn’t label that specific tournament their first priority. For reference, there are usually at least six tournaments all over the world a week and you can label them 1-6. When that was done, that put my at the No. 38 alternate. My gut said I would get in since a lot of Ohio State players, who would be given wildcards, were getting in on their own and another player got a wildcard into an ATP Challenger this week. There were also two other ITF tournaments in the United States this week, a $15k at Michigan State University and a $25k at the University of Texas. Usually, people around my alternate number slide in, but I was still unsure.

I got a COVID PCR test on Thursday to ensure my playing, since the tournament physician has to approve your playing, and then called the ITF Supervisor on Sunday to sign in. Pre-COVID, you would just show up on-site, but everything until play is handled remotely. My brother also signed in and heard from the Supervisor that everyone who signed in would get in, but I still didn’t believe it and thought he misinterpreted. I was unusually pessimistic but just didn’t want to get my hopes up to be let down. That night, I played a USTA League match to get more singles practice in and as I waited, I found out I GOT IN. There were 8 byes in the draw, which all went to ATP/ITF ranked players. I was fortunate to be given one of the two all “unranked” matchups, with my brother being the other. I was playing another professional debut, Reece Yakubov, who is a freshman for Ohio State.

Reece was a Top 40 senior in high school last year and ranked No. 5 in the Midwest and a 5-star recruit. I knew I most likely wouldn’t get a game since his own UTR is 11.01, but to play a Buckeye at their new indoor tennis center is something I was so excited about. I worked at the old indoor center for two years before being their communications assistant my senior year. I know the coaches, players and staff and was excited for this full-circle moment. I knew what I was getting myself into but I wanted to win some points and hopefully make it to an hour.

Yesterday, I got on site, checked in and paid my $40 entry fee. Yep, men’s qualifying doesn’t pay out at the $25k level, but they do for the women. I hit with my brother for 20 minutes before to warm up and then set my phone up behind my court to record it all. A USTA official did our coin toss and we were off to warm up. I won the toss and chose to serve and the first point was a winner, but a rally! However, I lost the first 13 points of the match and I started to wonder if I was going to get a golden set against me. Then, Reece fortunately double faulted and then hit a ball out. Up 15-30, I had a chance to get a game point but hit a stupid backhand. His kick serve on the ad side exposed my poor positioning and he got a lot of winners of his serve there. I lost the first set 6-0, but I didn’t feel I played too bad and just wanted to continue that. I even had a service game that lasted two deuces.

The second set started off terribly for me, where I double faulted three times to get broken. My serve is one of my strongest games and perhaps I was a bit gassed from trying to go toe-to-toe and then also a little bit of nerves. I eventually got some more points, but it was over at about the 45-minute mark. Game, set, match Yakubov, 6-0, 6-0.

I left the court a little upset at how I played, but overall pleased with how I handled the situation. There are actual professional players looking to make a living grinding next to me or college players looking for more competition watching my match. Plus, I see Ohio State players and coaches, people who have known me for 10 years, watching me too. I put up a good fight and don’t feel like I got embarrassed liked I’ve seen on some ITF streams. I didn’t hit any winners, but only had 10 unforced errors, but 9 double faults. My highlight was at 0-4, 0-40 in the second set when I knew it would be my last serve. I went for the underhand surprise and caught him off guard and had a decent rally.

I received some nice compliments from my Ohio State colleagues, whether they were just being friendly or not. A mom of a junior that won his first match said it was closer than the score showed, which I agreed and appreciated. I stuck around to sign in for doubles, where a player looking kicked me out to find a better partner. Honestly, can’t blame him there, so I signed in with my brother and we were three out of the main draw, which would’ve been tracked on the ITF Live Scores, had a chair umpire and paid some money.

Main draw play wasn’t in the cards, but I hope to play a few more ITF Men’s events and see where on the Seniors calendar I can play. Will I go to Brazil, or Turkey or Tunisia? No, but there are plenty of USTA Pro Circuit events I can sign in for and possibly see where I can raise my game. Reflecting on this, I have a lot more respect for these “bagel girls,” some I’ve definitely poked fun at over the years. If you have the means and opportunity to go for a dream, no matter how crazy or lofty it is, go for it. It’s always going to be no if you never try. I never thought I’d be talking about being a “pro athlete,” but nearly two years ago, I told my bariatric surgery CNP that this was a personal goal of mine and 13 months post-op and a month after being in this hospital 9 days, to step on the court and fulfill a dream? Words really can’t describe what it means to me.

I feel like I’ve been rambling a bit too much and honestly, I could go on and on about this idea that became reality, or the ITF Circuit itself, but I’ll let you get to the links!

Forever The IX‘s Bagel Boy,

Joey


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This Week in Women’s Tennis

I’m going to recap the WTA Finals next week, so I won’t delve too deep into it. However, the semifinals are set! Before matches start, take a look into tennis.com’s Game, Set, Perfect Match, a quiz to see which WTA Finals participant you best identify with. I got Anett Kontaveit, so

This weekend, Alison Riske captured the third WTA title of her career at the Upper Austria Ladies Linz, outlasting lucky loser Jaqueline Cristian. Natela Dzalamidze and Kamilla Rakhimova won the doubles title with a win over Wang Xiyu and Zheng Saisai.

Our friends at the Sloane Stephens Foundation is hosting their second annual #WineDownWithSloane in a venture with Lifetime Vintage. Sloane will be leading a virtual blind tasting of 4 wines with a sommelier, with all proceeds benefitting the Sloane Stephens Foundation. The event is on December 8th at 8pm EST and the last day to order the wine without rush shipping is 11/24, but you have until 11/30 to order. You must be 21 to partake and tickets are $150 for 4 half bottles of wine, or 4 full bottles for $300. Mocktail kits and charcuterie add-ons from Murray’s Cheese are also available.

A few WTA Finals features you should definitely take a look at: three from Greg Garber – one on Anett Kontaveit, another on Paula Badosa and lastly on Five at The IX alum Giuliana Olmos. The other two are from WTA Insider, who recapped Media Day for the world’s best, as well as a look into Karolina Pliskova, who knows how to stay calm, cool and collected inside the pressure cooker.

Maria Sakkari opened up about having no support from the Greek Federation and having to work extra hard to show the world what she’s capable of.

Emma Raducanu announced she’s partnering with Torben Beltz, one of the game’s brightest coaches. Beltz recently ended his reunion with Angelique Kerber and also brought Donna Vekic to a Top 20 ranking in their partnership.

Fashion is always part of the process in women’s tennis and Marija Zivlak looks into the outfits the players are rocking at the WTA Finals.

Venus and Serena Williams attended the premiere of King Richard, the movie about their father starring Will Smith and Venus (and “baby” Olympia) rocking beads had us feeling some kind of way.


Tweet of the Week

Ons Jabeur constantly kills me on Twitter. She’s winning the WTA tweet game


Five at The IX: AKRON WTA Finals Guadalajara

Garbiñe Muguruza on the WTA Finals being staged in Latin America for the first time: “I feel like this is going to motivate young girls from Spain, from Latin America, that they can relate to and hear us talk, get a more familiar feeling of tennis, not always seeing far or foreigner players. I feel like this time they can be more close to us. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I feel it’s great because tennis in Latin America, women’s tennis is not a priority. I feel like now people can see it. I feel like it’s kind of something that now it’s possible that seemed impossible, and now it’s possible.”

Iga Swiatek on defeating No. 7 seed Paula Badosa: “Well, I think it was a really solid match from me. I’m pretty happy that I had a chance to show my tennis finally, overcome all these factors around, just play the game. I really enjoyed myself today on court, which is really important for me. Also I hope Paula, she’s going to have the best result here. I’m going to be cheering for sure tomorrow.”

Karolina Pliskova on the atmosphere and fans in Guadalajara: “I love it. Honestly, I’m surprised. I think that’s the best thing about this tournament for me, about competing here, about all of my matches here. Especially today I felt like the crowd really helped me to somehow find a way, the belief, because things were not really going my way. Still, there were so many people that supported me, screamed my name. The atmosphere overall I think all of these matches here, they have been great.”

Anett Kontaveit on winning against Karolina Pliskova for the first time after three previously unsuccessful encounters “I think every time you step on the court, you have a new opportunity. The previous matches don’t really matter. It’s a new day and you have to beat the player you’re playing against. That’s how I approach the match.”

Maria Sakkari on the current state of Greek tennis and compatriot Stefanos Tsitsipas: “It’s probably the biggest moment of tennis in Greece right now, having two players in the Top 10, two of the best players in the world. It’s actually very, very good for tennis in Greece. Tennis is growing very fast. It’s a sport where everyone loves no matter what the age is. I think we’re both very proud that we have achieved that. Tennis in Greece has been so big the last two years because of us.


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: Anne Tokarski, @annetokarski, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Jessica Taylor Price, @jesstaylorprice, Freelance Gymnastics Writer

Written by Joey Dillon