Talking Djokovic — Players to watch in 2022 — Interview: Lisa Raymond — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, January 11, 2022

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Tennis sure hasn’t been in the news lately, right? We’ll get into all the news of women’s tennis, but lets talk about the elephant in the room — Novak Djokovic and his elephant-sized ego. Last week, the ATP World No. 1 boarded a flight from Serbia to Australia, announcing that he received a medical exemption to play, as the 20-time Grand Slam champion, who believes you can detoxify water with positivity, is unvaccinated from COVID. By the time Djokovic landed, he was detained by the Australian Border Force and had his visa cancelled and exemption withdrawn because he didn’t have the proper documentation. Essentially, players were told by Tennis Australia what was needed to enter the State of Victoria — where Melbourne is — with an exemption, but it wasn’t the same to enter the country.

Friendly reminder, if you’re traveling abroad, you have to abide by federal regulations before anything else. Of course, yesterday, Djokovic received the green light to start his pursuit of breaking his all-time male Grand Slam champion tie with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

While Djokovic remained in a detainee hotel, it was revealed that Renata Voracova, the World No. 81 in the WTA doubles rankings, was the other player who received an exemption based on the grounds they were diagnosed with COVID in the last six months. What makes it even more frustrating is that the Czech had already competed in the first week of the season in Melbourne before her Visa was revoked. She spoke upon her arrival back home and said she isn’t an anti-vaxxer like Djokovic, but her positive COVID test thwarted her plans to get the vaccine. Based on Djokovic’s dubious claims/documents — it’s looking like Djokovic either forged a positive test or traveled throughout Belgrade and Europe knowing he was exposed — it was disheartening to see Voracova and her team seemingly okay with cutting her losses.

I’ll end by applauding the WTA Tour and players by getting their vaccination in order to minimize the constant severity COVID brings. The women continue to deliver on the court and cause zero ruffles off. Your turn to learn, ATP.

Now, lets talk a few players I’m hoping you’ll keep an eye out in 2022 — something I wanted to go more in-depth on before Novaxxk inserted himself in an international incident that should have been avoided:

Amanda Anisimova

This first one is a no-brainer. The talented 19-year-old American captured her second career WTA title at one of the two Melbourne WTA 250s this past week. It’s been a tough two years for the 2019 French Open semifinalist, who seemed to be roaring with confidence until that August when her father and former coach Konstantin, passed away just before the US Open. She had a strong start to the 2020 season before the COVID pandemic washed away any momentum and she only won back-to-back matches twice. She had to miss the Australian swing last year due to a positive COVID diagnosis and wound up starting her season at a $25,000 ITF in Orlando, where she won her first match in three sets before withdrawing. 2021 showed some decent form for Anisimova, who had two more WTA quarterfinals, but it wasn’t the stellar play that brought the American to a No. 2 ITF Junior ranking.

Anisimova has all the tools and arsenal to be a Top 20 force, but it’s been about staying healthy and the want to be on court. We all got a bit of an idea good things were on the horizon in her 7-5, 6-7(4), 7-6(7), loss to Karolina Pliskova — which many called one of the best matches of the year. She definitely struggled in the wake of her father’s passing, but she just started a coaching trial with Darren Cahill, which I think is amazing. Cahill did wonders with Simona Halep for six years and of course helped Andre Agassi in the past. She’s found some form in Melbourne and with the right draw, can do some damage at the Australian Open. When she’s on, it’s incredible to watch.

Daria Saville

In case you missed it, Daria Gavrilova married longtime partner Luke Saville last month and now goes by Daria Saville. The Russian-born Aussie had Achilles surgery right after the Australia swing last year and made her comeback at the Billie Jean King Cup in November. In just her third event of 2021, she downed No. 70 Greet Minnen in three sets.

Saville is one of the most feisty and spunky on tour and will grind out points and matches until her opponent explodes. Where she lacks in power, she punches back with sheer speed and might — even after constant chronic pain in her Achilles. She showed glimpses of the level that brought her to the Top 20 last week in Adelaide by qualifying for the main draw and if there’s a place Saville shines, it’s Australia. Saville has made the fourth round of the Australian Open twice and has won nine career matches at Melbourne Park — the same amount of matches she’s won at the other three Grand Slams combined. Saville is one of the most savvy players on social media and if you’re not following her, you’re missing out, especially on TikTok. She and her dog Tofu have nearly 1 million followers on TikTok with viral hits like Tofu acting as her and Luke’s ring bearer. Enjoy the goodest boy below.

@dasha_tofu

Just wantsd to say that Tofu sid the bwst job as a ring bearer 👰‍♀️🤵‍♂️🐶

♬ original sound – Dasha Saville • Tofu Sausage

Genie Bouchard

The last player that has previously made noise but entering 2022 with a load of question marks is 2014 Wimbledon finalist Genie Bouchard. The Canadian hasn’t built back her 2014 results, but after a few years of roller coaster results and perhaps too much off-court attention, Bouchard was finding her groove upon the WTA’s COVID restart. The former World No. 5 qualified and reached the final of the WTA 250 in Prague before losing in a third-set tiebreak and also reached the third round of Roland Garros. Bouchard also reached the final of the WTA 250 in Guadalajara before shutting her season down the following week in Monterrey. The source? A bum shoulder that needed surgery.

It turns out that in her first match in Guadalajara, Bouchard tore her subscapularis and after trying methods to avoid surgery, ended up pulling the trigger in June. However, after a productive stint working as a Tennis Channel analyst, she was cleared to start practicing towards the end of last year. Already, the forehand is looking pretty sharp. Bouchard has always had the talent and the tools to be at the top of women’s tennis, but I get a major sense of maturity from her. I really expect her to continue finding her groove and working her way up the ladder because she’s way better than her No. 309 ranking.

Now onto links!



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This Week in Women’s Tennis

Ashleigh Barty continued to show that rust isn’t a word in her vocabulary by sweeping the WTA 500 Adelaide International. The World No. 1 defeated Elena Rybakina in a routine match before teaming up with Storm Sanders to claim the doubles title over Darija Jurak and Andreja Klepac.

The Melboure Summer Set had two WTA 250 events, with Simona Halep capturing her 23rd WTA singles title at Summer Set 1. The Romanian defeated Veronika Kudermetova in straight sets, while Five at The IX alum Asia Muhammad partnered with Jessica Pegula to win the doubles crown over Sara Errani and Jasmine Paolini. Amanda Anisimova clawed back from a break down in the third set to defeat Aliaksandra Sasnovich to claim Summer Set 2, with the doubles title going to Bernarda Pera and Katerina Siniakova over Tereza Martincova and Mayar Sherif.

You know the meme, “the devil works hard, but Kris Jenner works harder?” You don’t? Well, you should. However, whoever created that hasn’t met WTA Insider, who cranked out a lot of must-reads this past week:

The qualifying draw for the Australian Open has begun with rising Chinese star Zheng Qinwin, a semifinalist in Melbourne last week, headlining the field and coming back from 1-5 down in the second set tiebreak to win in three sets over 2017 semifinalist Coco Vandeweghe. The biggest upset thus far was Tessah Andrianjafitrimo’s win over No. 3 seed Zhu Lin, who was cmonig off a WTA 125 title in Seoul just a few weeks ago.

Honestly, I love Naomi Osaka making an appearance on Sesame Street:

Five at The IX alums had a fantastic first week of the season, with Asia Muhammad and Tara Moore capturing doubles titles and Luisa Stefani hitting the treadmill on the comeback from ACL surgery!

World No. 55 Camila Osorio isn’t letting a positive COVID diagnosis derail her plans for a successful Australian Open debut.

In college tennis news, the University of Texas headline the first ranking poll of the 2022 dual season, while former Texas and Yale head coach Danielle McNamara was announced as the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s new Director of Coach Education. However, the biggest news was that All-American Alexa Noel, perhaps the greatest Iowa player in history after her freshman season, is transferring to the University of Miami after the school year ends. Miami is pulling out all the graphics, but it’s a little odd when Noel is staying through May.

Ashleigh Barty extended her lead of the No. 1 ranking over Aryna Sabalenka to over 1,700 points this week, while Sania Mirza reached her highest ranking since August 2018.


Tweet of the Week

Friend of The IX Sloane Stephens announced she and her fiancé, soccer star Jozy Altidore, tied the knot on New Year’s Day and was it breathtaking! Vogue had the exclusive about the event, but Sloane also gave her Facebook Bulletin readers some never-before-seen BTS bits.


Five at The IX: Lisa Raymond

Lisa Raymond is a former professional tennis player with career-high WTA rankings of No. 15 in singles and No. 1 in doubles. She captured 4 WTA singles titles and 79 WTA doubles titles, including six Grand Slams. In mixed doubles, she won five Grand Slams and the bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics. A “Gator Great” in the University of Florida’s Hall of Fame, she won two NCAA singles crowns her two seasons in Gainesville and also led the team to the 1992 NCAA Team Championship, the same season she became the first player to win all three collegiate Grand Slams. After retiring in 2015, she’s gone into coaching and currently works with last week’s Five at The IX, Allie Kiick. On the list for the 2022 International Tennis Hall of Fame ballot, she sits down to discuss various topics like coaching, college and if she will join Kiick again on the doubles court. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

Joey: You’ve been coaching Allie Kiick for quite some time. Did you always have the idea of coaching once your playing career was over? How did you two end up connecting? You’ve also played some doubles together – will we see more of you on tour?
Lisa: I absolutely love coaching. I was fortunate enough to coach while I was still playing ( Lindsay Davenport is a close friend and asked me to join her team while coaching Madison Keys when I was still playing) and transitioned right into full time coaching one I retired. The opportunity to coach Allie came to me through her old coach Kathy Rinaldi whom is a friend and old fellow USTA Fed Cup coach. Allie wanted to make a change and hire someone full time and so I was introduced to Allie through Kathy. I immediately saw her potential and knew I could help her. Allie is a great doubles player but she doesn’t get the opportunity to play enough due to her ranking. It’s a goal for this year to play more doubles, even some with me maybe!

Joey: Can you define your coaching style? What have you seen best/not work? For Allie specifically, do you have any specific goals in 2022 not only for her, but yourself?
Lisa: As a coach, I try to really use my experience and what it took to get to that next level and share that with Allie. I’m very much a lead by example type of person/coach so If I’m running down balls on the practice court or working hard in the gym you better believe my player better be doing the same. And Allie does. She’s a gym rat as well as always pushing herself on court so the matches seem like a piece of cake compared to the preparation. I don’t get very technical with Allie. I like to keep it simple. Don’t think so much. A clear mind on court is a positive mind. I’m very positive too and again, try to help Allie learn from my mistakes or my successes on and off the court and what i did in certain situations, what it felt like on court, etc.

Joey: You had an incredible collegiate career at the University of Florida. What were the biggest takeaways from your time at UF and would you ever go into coaching at that level?
Lisa: Going to UF was probably the best decision I ever made for my career. I absolutely loved it! Andy Brandi was the best college coach around and he took me to that next level and I owe so much to him. Playing on a team, winning the NCAA team competition was the highlight by far! We still all have a group chat going and talk every holiday along with times during the year too. It was a very special group and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it.

Joey: Doubles players often get put on a lesser pedestal on tour even though the majority of recreational players play it. What can the WTA/ITF do to increase the awareness of doubles on tour?
Lisa: For me it’s all about optics. Putting matches on bigger courts, promoting the teams and players, increasing prize money. The average club player plays doubles! They want to see what the best on the world are doing so they can go out in their team matches and implement what they saw and learned. It needs more attention, period.

Joey: Your career has had some impressive moments – titles across all disciplines, an Olympic medal, even a notorious comeback from 0-6,0-5 down. What few personally stand out most in your mind?
Lisa: That comeback was a doozy! *laughs* I remember thinking “Lisa just get one game, one game!” Then, the rest became history. For me, winning the Olympic Medal and winning my last Grand Slam title in NYC with Liezel stand out. Nobody including my old coach thought I could get back to #1, win Slams again, especially with Liezel, and we proved them all wrong. That was an incredible day!

Bonus 1: What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received and who gave it? If you could go back in time, what would you tell your 18-year-old self?
Lisa: I just remember always thinking when I was young on your how much I wanted to be home, didn’t want to travel, wanted to be “normal” and be home. Then, I got a little older and started realizing how incredibly lucky and fortunate I was to travel the world playing a sport I absolutely love and making a career out of my passion. Who gets to do that? Just that 1% of the world and I was in that. Perspective; that’s what someone taught me and pointed out. And I try to tell Allie daily take it all in. You are one of the lucky ones and don’t forget that.

Bonus 2: Last year, we saw the rise of so many stars. Who is one player not on our radar that you think is heading towards big success in 2022?
Lisa: Right now, Allie Kiick is the only player I’m backing for a great 2022 !!

Bonus 3: What is your #1 tip for a recreational player?
Lisa: Remember to enjoy it. And if you can go out there and practice and play and feel like you’ve gotten .5% better that day, then you have won the day!


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