The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, December 1, 2020

Support the Sloane Stephens Foundation on Giving Tuesday — Interview: Sloane Stephens — Must-click women's tennis links

Hi! Howard Megdal here. You’re not going to want to miss what we have coming in 2021.

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Giving Tuesday: The Sloane Stephens Foundation

Today is December 1 (whoa), but it’s also Giving Tuesday. I’m excited Tennis Tuesday falls today because I want to recognize the Sloane Stephens Foundation and hope you can join me by supporting them today. I’ve been highlighting different members of SSF in November’s Five at The IXs to help share the Foundation’s core message leading up to today and you can catch Sloane’s Five at the IX below.

Everyone knows Sloane, the US Open champion, but if there’s one thing you might not know when she’s playing, it’s that she is alllllllll about the kids. She will sign every autograph, take every photo and if possible, will be a part of a tournament’s Kids’ Day. However, her most rewarding work is through SSF, which she created in 2013. In 2019, SSF was nominated for both the 2019 Sports Award by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award at the ESPN Sports Humanitarian Awards.

By far, the biggest positive I’ve seen to the tour’s COVID-19 shutdown has been the growth SSF has done in 2020. Sloane and her team have done an incredible job of boosting their presence on social media, creating lucrative and meaningful partnerships, but also still being able to give back to the Compton community when there have been extreme lockdowns in the area.

Since 2013, SSF has:

  • proudly served over 6,000 Compton K-12 students across 19 elementary schools, four middle schools and two high schools.

  • provided over 24,000 hours of on-court tennis instruction and off-court tutoring.

  • achieved a 100% high school graduation rate with all students proceeding to a 2-year or 4-year college.

That’s some serious work in a short amount of time, especially given that 99% of SSF’s students are eligible for free lunches and 60% of children in Compton live 200% below the poverty line. The students of SSF are split evenly between boys and girls, but 67% of the students are Latinx, while 30% are Black.

SSF wasn’t created to find Sloane’s future rival, or the next Sloane. It was created to offer opportunities to those who are marginalized and underrepresented. SSF’s students are twice as likely to be suspended from school, 2.5 times more likely to repeat a grade, five times as likely to have truancy issues and six times more likely to have behavioral issues. Through the sport of tennis, they’re bridging the systemic educational and nutritional gaps Compton still faces today.

Sure, tennis is the driving force behind Sloane and SSF, but the sport is a prime example of many societal problems. Within the sport alone, there’s economic disparity, racial injustice, and health inequity. While a large part of SSF’s work is done on the tennis court, the work through the educational enhancement, leadership development and nutritional training will help positively change future generations in Compton.

I strongly, strongly urge you to donate to SSF – no matter how large or small you can give. You can strictly donate or buy some of SSF’s recently released merch. I have both a mask and water bottle and they are amazing! You can also help support SSF by going to Amazon Smile and choosing SSF as a beneficiary of .5% of the proceeds of specific items.

Make sure to give them a follow and check out all of their links here.

This Week in Women’s Tennis

Though not confirmed by the WTA yet, the big news this week is that they will be adopting the tournament categories used by the ATP, though they may not adopt the allotted ranking points used by the men.

The Mutua Madrid Open announced that they will be extending their tournament, adding a second week and expanding the draw.

The Australian Open is still up in the air with canceling qualifying potentially on the table, but word on the street is that players will be allowed to practice during their quarantine period.

In coaching news, Karolina Pliskova announced her partnership with Sascha Bajin:

Liu Fangzhou captured the CTA tour event, featuring many of China’s top players, with a straight-set win over Zhu Lin.

I’m a massive fan of audiobooks and Billie Jean King’s Audible documentary Dollar Rebellion is next up on my list. Expect a review in the coming weeks once I finish Barack Obama’s latest book.

Katie Spellman, a Five at The IX alum, highlighted WTA Director of Player Relations Neil Robinson for her own series documenting figures in the industry.

Former Doubles World No. 1 Sania Mirza penned a tribute to Serena Williams after watching the Being Serena documentary about the legend’s return from motherhood.

The WTA shared that they have partnered with Stats Perform as the tour’s Official Data Supplier, enhancing the analytics players can see and use.

On the ITF circuit, young guns are making their mark. Robin Montgomery spoke about her recent trip to France and the history buff making a special visit, Kamilla Bartone blogged about capturing her first professional title, while Carole Monnet was featured for continuing her fine form out of Roland Garros.

First Break Academy out of Southern California is the latest recipient of the WTA Community Hero grant from WTA4Love and Lily Pulitzer’s collaboration.

The tennis community lost two massive proponents of the sport: soccer legend Diego Maradona and former New York City Mayor David Dinkins. We send our condolences to their loved ones.

Tweet of the Week

Today is the last day to sign up for the “Wine with Sloane” Zoom event and get your Lifetime Vintage wine on time!

Sign up here to help raise funds for SSF and enjoy an intimate evening with Sloane. There are still seats open to purchase wine or sit in if you aren’t a drinker.

Five at the IX: Sloane Stephens

Joey: Can you tell our readers about the process of starting SSF? What made you specifically pick the Compton community as opposed to Florida, where you did your formative years?
Sloane: I founded the Sloane Stephens Foundation in 2013. We empower children to dream and achieve big, on and off the tennis court, by countering limiting factors such as poverty, community violence, and inequitable academic opportunities. Our main program, Love, Love Compton was founded in 2015. I spend a lot of time in Los Angeles, it’s where my mom lives now, and one of her best friends had a connection to one of the school district administrators in Compton. I wanted to work in communities where students don’t necessarily think tennis is for them, or where they’ve historically lacked the access and opportunity to learn tennis and have amazing tutoring and support. We now have programs in 25 schools across the Compton Unified School District serving 6,000 K-12 students. 

Joey: The COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to the tennis calendar, but it’s done some massive growth this year. Why do you think that was? Do you see the break as a blessing in disguise where you were able to dedicate most of your sole focus into SSF?Sloane: I think the hardest times show true character, and our Compton community needs us now more than ever. It is easy to show up in the good times and have fun, but there is no more important time for SSF to show up than in 2020 with the physical and financial challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the emotional challenges of the ongoing social justice movement and homeschooling. In normal times, our students in Compton face a lot of adversity. 2020 has only made these disparities more pronounced. Our focus these days is really on health and well-being in all forms.

As I always say, tennis is the vehicle for so many opportunities in life – education, leadership, teamwork, health, so SSF works to ensure as many kids as possible have access to these opportunities and feel supported to dream big. I work with my team every day to make sure our kids are supported in whatever ways they need, we’ve organized healthy meal distributions, hosted virtual summer camp, we have a virtual leadership development series every Wednesday, and are hosting a vaccination campaign in early December so all 6th and 7th graders can receive the required TDAP and Varicella vaccines they need to return to in-person school, hopefully soon.

Joey: Do any specific memories stand out as highlights in the seven years of SSF’s existence?
Sloane: I look forward to our play days each December, and am so disappointed we couldn’t have one this year. Every December, we bring all of our students out to USC’s tennis complex for a school-sanctioned field trip to celebrate a great fall of tennis programming and educational success. It is such a fun time, and the energy is amazing! I also love that the kids are exposed to a college campus and can see that anything is possible in life. It’s one of my favorite days of the year, and I can’t wait to be back out there next year. 

Joey: Where would you like to see SSF a year from now? 5 years? Do you have specific goals in mind coming up or expanding to another area?
Sloane: In a year, I hope we are fully back on the tennis courts and in the classrooms at our full capacity, and that we can serve even more students in our existing locations to make up for lost time this year. We’ve grown slowly and deliberately to prove out our program methods, but expansion is definitely on the radar, and I have my eye on South Florida given my roots. There are so many incredible communities in need, and I want to positively impact as many students as we can. In order to do that, we need support from donors and like-minded partners to make sure any programs can be sustained for years to come. 

Joey: 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?
Sloane: It’s actually a saying I go by all the time, “you win or you learn, but you never lose.” I really believe that. Everything that you go through in life teaches you something, it all happens for a reason. My coach growing up told me that and it’s something I remind myself when I have a tough day.

We really emphasize this with our SSF kids as well. I think a child’s first experiences with a sport really make or break it, and our emphasis is on building strong fundamentals, having fun, and learning to compete with integrity – the score isn’t everything.

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 Sarah Kellam @sarahkellam, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.