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The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, May 30, 2023

Howdy, y’all and Happy Tennis Tuesday! Sunday marked the beginning of Roland Garros, our second Grand Slam of the year! You know what that means?!


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I want the record to reflect that I did my draw for a bracket challenge, so I can’t go back after some first-round upsets that you’ll notice. The biggest question entering this fortnight, is can anyone stop the WTA’s Big Three? Iga Swiatek is entering Paris as defending champion, but carrying an injury that took her out of Rome. For the first time since she took the top ranking in 2022, she’s in real danger of losing it to Aryna Sabalenka. Do I see that happening? No, but who the hell knows at this rate what will unfold.

Already in the first two days, we’ve had Maria Sakkari, Petra Kvitova and Belinda Bencic fall and IX friend Sloane Stephens routed No. 16 Karolina Pliskova in a win I actually expected. Today’s matches include Ons Jabeur and Coco Gauff starting their campaigns, but a mouth-watering encounter between Victoria Azarenka and Bianca Andreescu. If you can, grab popcorn and watch!

Now going through my draw, I’m not sure if it’s just trauma from being terrible or playing it safe, but I admit it’s boring how it unfolds. Madison Keys is always a dangerous floater at Slams and the last three French Opens have gone to either Swiatek or Barbora Krejcikova, who have had some epic matches against one another.

Another name to seriously look out for is 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko. Her winning run showcases what she can do any day against anyone. Where I’m most curious is the section that had Sakkari and Bencic involved. I was on the fence, but I think Leylah Fernandez could squeak out a deep run in Paris again. The winner of the second rounder between Karolina Muchova and Nadia Podoroska can find themselves in the quarterfinals too.

The Big Three, plus Jessica Pegula, though? Can you really bet against them? I can eat crow a week from now, but they are just scary consistent and on the Parisian clay, can you see anything else unraveling?

Now, take these with a grain of salt, please!

Round of 16
(1) Iga Swiatek def. (13) Barbora Krejcikova
(6) Coco Gauff def. (20) Madison Keys
(4) Elena Rybakina def. (14) Beatriz Haddad Maia
(7) Ons Jabeur def. (10) Petra Kvitova
(8) Maria Sakkari def. (12) Belinda Bencic
(3) Jessica Pegula def. (13) Liudmila Samsonova
(17) Jelena Ostapenko def. (5) Caroline Garcia
(2) Aryna Sabalenka def. (19) Zheng Qinwen

(1) Iga Swiatek def. (6) Coco Gauff
(4) Elena Rybakina def. (7) Ons Jabeur
(3) Jessica Pegula def. (8) Maria Sakkari
(2) Aryna Sabalenka def. (17) Jelena Ostapenko

(4) Elena Rybakina def. (1) Iga Swiatek
(2) Aryna Sabalenka def. (3) Jessica Pegula

(4) Elena Rybakina def. (2) Aryna Sabalenka

I think we’re really in our Big Three era and it’s not going anytime soon. Sabalenka can hit anyone off the court, but Rybakina has had some big-time clay results, on top of big wins at Roland Garros. I think her road is tougher than Sabalenka’s, but it will pay off with each round.

We’ll check in next week to see how bad I am! Onto links!

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This Week in Women’s Tennis

Elina Svitolina won her first tournament since maternity leave at the Internationaux de Strasbourg, defeating Anna Blinkova in straight sets. The now-17-time WTA titlist then shared all of her winnings would be donated back to Ukraine as they continue their conflict with Russia. The doubles title went to Yang Zhaoxuan and Xu Yifan, who defeated Giuliana Olmos and Desirae Krawczyk.

At the Grand Prix Son Altesse Royale La Princesse Lalla Meryem, Lucia Bronzetti took home her first career WTA singles title in a near-three hour epic over Julia Grabher. IX friend Sabrina Santamaria captured her second tour-level crown in doubles, partnering with Yana Sizikova — who was recently cleared of match-fixing — to defeat Lidziya Marozava and Ingrid Gamarra Martins.

The French Tennis Federation has unveiled an AI tool to help players at Roland Garros combat cyberbullying. Sloane Stephens said after her first match that the racial abuse she gets is normal for her.

In one of the testiest first-rounders in Paris, Aryna Sabalenka and Marta Kostyuk faced off in a Belarussian-Ukranian affair that unfortunately ended with the French crowd booing.

Though firmly in the Top 100 now, Camila Osorio had to play qualifying at Roland Garros and missed out on the main draw. Not only did she become a lucky loser, but she was a very lucky loser.

Jamea Jackson had to retire at 22, but found her calling in coaching. In a full circle moment, she recently finished her debut season leading Princeton at the USTA National Campus, where she had spent the previous nine years.

Opening up for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Jessica Pegula has started to embrace her Korean heritage thanks to her mom, Kim.

Fangran Tian of UCLA defeated Layne Sleeth of Oklahoma to capture the NCAA Singles Championship. She’s the first-ever Chinese winner and second player from UCLA to capture the crown:

UNC’s Fiona Crawley and Carson Tanguilig had to overcome teammates Elizabeth Scotty and Reese Brantmeier to win the NCAA Doubles Championship. Being two Americans, they should receive a US Open wildcard, which they’re obviously hoping for.

Jelena Dokic spoke about the latest in Simona Halep’s doping saga and what the allegation regarding the Romanian’s biological passport could mean for the three-time Grand Slam champion.

Three players, including Madrid sensation Mirra Andreeva, will make their Grand Slam debuts this week at Roland Garros.

Congratulations to Elena Vesnina, who welcomed her second child last week:

Zheng Qinwen is chasing her first Grand Slam quarterfinal, but she’s already checked off a tricky first round in Paris.

While still on her tennis sabbatical, Garbine Muguruza announced her engagement to boyfriend Arthur Borges.

As honorary president of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Kim Clijsters hopes to bring more awareness and notoriety to the Newport, Rhode Island venue.

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Tweet of the Week

Not WTA-related, but I think representation matters across the spectrum and Ernesto Escobedo is a good guy. You never think about athletes and stutters, but remember — they’re just people at the end of the day:

Five at The IX: Pre-Roland Garros Media Day

Q. A question about the season so far. Just wondering if the way things have gone, a little bit of trouble with injuries and some stiff competition from Aryna, Elena, and the like. Have they provided you with perhaps a sense of extra motivation or different motivation heading into this tournament?

IGA SWIATEK: Well, for sure, like I said, totally different situation than last year. It’s nice to have, you know, somebody constantly like kind of watching you. We played so many matches against each other that tactically we know our game pretty well.

But we also have to kind of come up with some different solutions sometimes, which is pretty exciting, because I never had that yet in my career. I think this is what like big three had to do for sure when they played like, I don’t know, 30 matches against each other or even more.

So I’m happy to learn some new stuff. And also, for sure, you know, we are all working really hard to kind of play better and better. It is an extra motivation, for sure.

But the thing is during the season we don’t have much time to practice at all. So I’m really using this time right now, because it’s my first week since I would say even Indian Wells when I have time to like take everything slowly and just focus on my technique a little bit more. And, yeah, I think it’s going to give me a lot of confidence going to the tournament.

Q. You were talking a minute ago about the idea of becoming an adult. I’m wondering, do you mean in terms of off the court as well as on the court? In the scheme of things, you’re still incredibly young, but you have been at this for a while now at the top level in terms of playing tennis. I’m wondering, do you think of yourself as young, which of course you are in the real world? Do you think of yourself as a veteran by now on tour? How does the off-court life and the on-court life, how do those sort of mesh for each other with you?

COCO GAUFF: I feel like on court in a way I’ve been an adult my whole — since I’ve joined the tour. For sure I would say, I think you could tell in the way I handle myself on the court mostly good. You know, obviously there is moments, but I feel like in that aspect, yes.

Off court, I would say I’m definitely a person that would consider myself mature. I mean, a lot of people consider that about me, so I do think being on tour has forced me to grow up faster.

When I say “adulthood,” I think just I guess becoming more independent and finding myself off the court. I feel like I’m sure of who I am on the court, so I feel like because tennis has been so much a part of my life and it’s always going to be, but I think now that I’m going to have to — I haven’t moved out, but eventually, in a couple years, you know, living on my own and I have to realize the things that I actually like to do.

I think that’s like the weird part I feel like of being on tour so long, because you’ve lived a certain way so long, but I don’t know if this way would be substantial as I continue to get older.

Q. You were just talking about your experience the number of years that you have played here, and you also just said you don’t like the way your draw has worked out. But over the years now, when you look back, does it get any easier, or is it just as tough to play your whole major and the pressure of that?

ALIZE CORNET: No, I think it’s — yeah, it’s maybe a little easier to handle my emotions, because now I took a little bit more distance from the tennis in general, you know. I got to learn that it’s not everything, that life is beautiful, even when you play bad. Easy stuff like that that you don’t really understand when you’re 20 or 25, and tennis takes everything. Takes your whole life, your whole thinking.

So I guess now I’m a little bit more relaxed about all this, but I still want to do good. You know, I still want to win. I still want to be competitive. I want to have good emotions. I want to share my victory with the crowd, with the people I love.

So I’m not gonna say that I’m totally detached, but I think I live it better. You know, like the days before the event, I’m much more relaxed, and it helps me on the court.

But you never know. The moment I like the less is actually when the draw is made (smiling). It’s a moment I don’t like, you know. When I saw my draw, I was, like, hmm, it’s going to be a good challenge this year, Giorgi. To play Collins or Pegula, I didn’t even look at that. If I make the first two rounds it will be already a good tournament. It’s always like that.

As my mom says, on a very right way, you never know if it’s a good draw until you play it. So let’s see how it goes.

Q. Bethanie shared a picture of you and Novak and Paula at the PTPA dinner last night. She teased some big things are to come. Wonder what some of those big things might be that you can share.

ONS JABEUR: You know, we’re trying to unite players and we were trying to have our own association to be heard. You know how there is a lot of things going on with the two-weeks format, with the prize money, with a lot of things going on that I believe that players are not entirely taking what they deserve.

I feel like it’s time that so many players get educated in so many ways, because I feel like so many things they don’t know about. It’s a great thing.

We talked about a lot of other things, so hopefully we can move forward coming on. I cannot say much about what’s going on. But for me, the whole point is really to get tennis players united at least once, you know.

Q. How old were you when you first started dreaming about winning this?

CAROLINE GARCIA: It’s hard to exactly remember when it was, but I definitely remember coming back from school when I was less than 10, and so yeah, when you’re coming back to school it’s like kind of snack time and you were always in front of the TV watching Roland Garros, and it was a routine of every day, and weekend final. It was always special, you know, to see the champion lifting that trophy, and they were getting emotional, and I was getting emotional in front of my TV (smiling).

So, yeah, it’s good memories and maybe one day I will be there.

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