Let’s talk the Paris Olympics — Quotes from Dubai

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Howdy, y’all, and Happy Tennis Tuesday! The Sunshine Double — one of my favorite parts of the season — is on the horizon, but this week we’re saying bonjour and gearing up for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games!

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First, to recap the 2021 Tokyo winners:

  • Singles
    • Gold: Belinda Bencic (SUI)
    • Silver: Marketa Vondrousova (CZE)
    • Bronze: Elina Svitolina (UKR)
    • 4th place: Elena Rybakina (KAZ)
  • Doubles
    • Gold: Barbora Krejcikova & Katerina Siniakova (CZE)
    • Silver: Belinda Bencic & Viktorija Golubic (SUI)
    • Bronze: Laura Pigossi & Luisa Stefani (BRA)
    • 4th place: Veronika Kudermetova & Elena Vesnina (ROC)
  • Mixed Doubles:
    • Gold: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova & Andrey Rublev (ROC)
    • Silver: Elena Vesnina & Aslan Karatsev (ROC)
    • Bronze: Ashleigh Barty & John Peers (AUS)
    • 4th place: Nina Stojanovic & Novak Djokovic (SRB)

This will be the first Olympic Games on clay since the 1992 Barcelona Games and to me, the surface is perhaps a bigger intangible than the moment itself. Considering Paris is after Wimbledon and in the middle of US Open preparation, it will be super interesting to see who will emerge on the podium. That being said, who will be there? The rankings cutoff for the Games is the cycle after Roland Garros finishes so there’s a lot of tennis to unfold. However, there are a few names already penciling their berth with wins in the Pan-American and Asian Games.

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The singles draw will be represented of 64 players, while the doubles draw features 32 teams and mixed doubles will have 16 duos. There is no team event, which is something I’d like to see incorporated in future Games but something I think we won’t ever see because of the tennis calendar. To be eligible, players have to be in good standing with their federation and have also made themselves available or participated in Billie Jean King Cup play for their country. Of course, there will be exceptions due to injury, pregnancy, rise in rankings, etc. and players can appeal to the ITF to be inserted into the Games.

The top 56 direct acceptances will be entered in the draw, with 6 ITF allocations filling it out (Asian, Pan-Am, African Games winners, plus special entries). You might be saying “Joey, there’s 50 Americans and Czechs that can play, how is that fair?!” And reader, you’re right! A country can send no more than 12 players total — six men and six women. Of those six women, no more than four can play singles and for countries like the United States, Czech Republic and, if they’re allowed, Russia and Belarus, there’s a lot on the line. First, Protected Rankings can really mess things up. Karolina Muchova would’ve qualified for the 2021 Tokyo Games, but Marketa Vondrousova used her PR to enter and received the nomination before winning a silver medal. Jennifer Brady is one player that could knock out an American and Muchova could come full circle when she returns from wrist surgery. Doubles qualifying is also interesting because if you’re in the Top 10 not only do you get direct acceptance, but they can essentially have their pick of a partner as long as they’re in the Top 300 which is a direct goal for New Zealand’s Erin Routliffe.

Lets use the United States as an example. They currently have eight singles players in the Olympic race‘s Top 56. Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula are all but assured their spots in Paris and could make up one of the country’s doubles teams after their recent success together. However, in doubles, Nicole Melichar-Martinez and Taylor Townsend are both in the Top 10. They could team up or perhaps make things really intriguing. That’s four players already with likely a dozen players vying for those last two spots. Madison Keys, a 2016 Rio semifinalist, is the No. 3 American but hasn’t played this season due to injury, while No. 4 Emma Navarro is making her presence known with a quiet sneak attack up the rankings. Grand Slam champions Sofia Kenin and 2016 Rio participant Sloane Stephens can also spruce up their season and find themselves in Paris. I just know I wouldn’t want to be the USTA now or come June.

One big run can turn the tides on securing entry, so the big question is if you should even start tabulating teams this early? Obviously not, but if there’s a Top 20 player that is from a small country — at least in the rankings — like Iga Swiatek, Ons Jabeur and Jelena Ostapenko, they’re 99.999999999% guaranteed a place in Paris. And again, will Russian and Belarussian athletes be allowed to particpate in the Games due to the war in Ukraine? My gut says yes or we would’ve heard about it by now. I can’t see the IOC deciding something like that last-minute and subject to a lot of legal trouble on the eve of the Games. Aryna Sabalenka could take advantage and claim a medal in her second Games. Both she and Naomi Osaka will look to erase their early stage losses in Tokyo with a big run.

Many will pencil in two-time Roland Garros champion Swiatek as the gold medal favorite, but the Olympics isn’t just a tennis tournament and it’s produced some magic in recent years. Monica Puig’s 2016 run to Puerto Rico’s first-ever gold medal in any sport is still one of my all-time favorite tennis moments. I didn’t have Belinda Bencic leaving Tokyo with a duo of medals, but here we are. The Olympic Spirit brings out the best in athletes so start paying attention these next couple of months to see who might be peaking come August.

Onto links!

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This Week in Women’s Tennis

Jasmine Paolini became the third Italian woman to win a WTA 1000 title when she defeated qualifier Anna Kalinskaya at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. The doubles title was won by Storm Hunter and Katerina Siniakova, who beat Nicole Melichar-Martinez and Ellen Perez to claim their first championship of 2024. Be sure to check out WTA Insider’s Champion’s Corner with both Paolini and Hunter/Siniakova.

I followed Mccartney Kessler while she played college tennis at Florida, but I was extremely impressed with her start of the year Down Under in Auckland and at the Australian Open. She’s continued to soar to new heights and won the biggest title of her career at the WTA 125 Puerto Vallarta Open with a three-set tussle over Taylah Preston. Renata Zarazua gave home fans something to cheer about by winning the doubles title with Iryna Shymanovich over Angelica Moratelli and Camilla Rosatello.

wtatennis.com recapped the Middle East swing and what it meant for specific players and their 2024 season.

While Simona Halep awaits her doping verdict from the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Kim Clijsters spoke out about teams handling player supplements and there being no reprecussions.

Both Jasmine Paolini and Anna Kalinskaya are at new career-high rankings following their epic week in Dubai.

Ryann Cutillo didn’t anticipate working in tennis after playing at Wake Forest, but she’s landed her dream job working at the Johnny Mac Tennis Project in New York City.

Amelia Island, which used to host an amazing green clay tournament before Charleston, will be the host for a Billie Jean King Cup tie between Ukraine and Romania.

College tennis is FUN:

Coco Gauff, who recorded an episode of the WTA Insider podcast with an ask to Beyonce, was named to TIME’s Women of the Year list.

Dayana Yastremska has released another original song, “Hearts,” which was inspired by her home country Ukraine and their battle with Russia and Belarus.

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Want to know who will be in the Top 15 next year? Head to Palermo:

Five at The IX: Dubai

Q. Taking a stand, being outspoken, being an advocate can generate backlash. There’s always going to be people that disagree with you. How do you manage that? You are in the public eye. You’re on social media. How do you deal with that?

COCO GAUFF: For me, I feel like a lot of times I usually do put a lot of thought in things before I say anything.

I think we can all have a conversation. Most people I would say when it comes to things like that – tennis I feel like people are more disrespectful about that – actual real issues other than how bad I’m playing, people are usually respectful in disagreement. That’s at least from what I see. There’s probably some comments I don’t see. I do filter a lot of it.

For me, if you disagree, that’s fine, unless obviously if it comes to disagreeing about somebody’s way to live, right to live, that’s different.

I don’t know. I just feel like I have to take a strong stance. Yeah, I feel like every figure in history that we studied that we considered great people, there was a lot of people during that time that considered them a terrible person.

My goal is to tell my grandkids that I was on the right side of history. That’s why I’m not too worried about that.

But I always do look at comments to see other people’s opinion. I’m not saying everything I say is right. I do like to see all sides of things.

For Twitter? Twitter can be a little mean. I sometimes on and off delete that. Everything else is pretty chill, I would say.

Q. You’re 28 years old. Some people can go and win a 1000 early in their career. You worked hard for it, waited for it. Is there more appreciation now compared if you had won a big title when you were 20?

JASMINE PAOLINI: I don’t know. I think every person has her own steps, story. I need some more time to believe maybe that I could play at this level how I did this week. It’s not going to be like this I know every week. It’s tough. It’s the best players in the world.

But I’m here enjoying my tennis, enjoying the matches on court. I’m just loving what I do, just trying to live the present, to stay there, to make the best I could do in that moment.

Yeah, I’m really, really happy. I don’t know what to say anymore (smiling).

Q. Before this tournament started, there was a lot of talk about there being initially 17 of the top 20. Looking at the two finalists now, both are out of the top 20, and one from qualifying. What does that say about…

IGA SWIATEK: The calendar is tough. Not many players will be able to go to further rounds of tournaments all the time. Yeah, there will be injuries. There will be pull-outs. There will be people that are too fatigued to play their game. That will also contribute.

Sometimes the underdog wins and it’s just easier for them. It’s a mix of these things, I would say. Yeah, that’s how the thing will look like, I guess.

Q. 17 wins this year, fifth quarterfinal in ’24. Is that good for you in terms of the momentum? Do you look back and say you can use this to fuel you to progress through tournaments?

ELENA RYBAKINA: Well, I’m happy that I’m still winning the matches. But I can see by the level that of course physically and everything it’s dropping a bit. I don’t know how much I can push and how much I can recover in this half day.

I mean, we see because, as I said before, it’s good problem to have. No one expected me to play so many matches in the past two weeks. I think it’s already good what I’m doing.

Whatever happens this week, I know that there is other tournaments in front. I’m not a machine that can work every day the same in the end of the day (smiling).

Q. You seem to be seeing this in good perspective. You don’t seem too bummed? Is that maturity? What is it?

ARYNA SABALENKA: I’m faking it (laughter).

No, I mean, I’ve been on tour for a while. Acting like some of the players – if you know who I’m talking about – being really – I don’t know how to call it – against the opponent, being said here. I passed this stage.

I know you can win and you can lose here. It’s just a matter of how you look on all those losses, like what you take from it, what you going to learn.

I’m just, like, trying to stay positive and try to forget this interesting match. I already start thinking about the next one and about the preparation and what can we do differently. If you keep working, if you keep fighting for it, you will get it.

I’m just, like, trying to forget this match as fast as I can.

THE MODERATOR: Any more questions? Thank you.

ARYNA SABALENKA: Now I’m going to go cry (laughter).

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Written by Joey Dillon