The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, April 14, 2020

#TennisUnited: Is it time for a Commissioner? | Interview: Danielle Lao discusses handling tennis’ sudden stop and leading her tennis with her heart | Must-click women's tennis links

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WTA & ATP Finally Come Together

Last week, the WTA and ATP announced a joint digital collaboration, titled #TennisUnited, which partners the WTA’s Bethanie Mattek-Sands and the ATP’s Vasek Pospisil. Each Friday, they’ll have special guests, not only players but also key members from the sport, to discuss how they continue training throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, tennis’ philanthropic efforts and the best social media posts of the week.

It goes without saying that the WTA and ATP collaborating was never an option until COVID-19 put a halt on the entire sports world. In the past, many ATP players and leaders have criticized the WTA, with players saying women don’t deserve equal prize money or the WTA latches onto the ATP for tickets and viewership at joint events. On top of that, at those joint events, the WTA nine times out of ten gets moved to courts outside of the main stadium.

Enter COVID-19. The pandemic on top of Roland Garros disregarding both tours in their announcement of a new tournament date, the WTA and ATP have suddenly partnered up. Is the “friendship” between the tour just for the time being? I think the tours having a healthy collaboration only enhances the sport as a whole. It also bears my question: should the tours  formally join together and/or should there be a governing body or commissioner to oversee?

The International Tennis Federation works quite closely with the tours and oversees the Grand Slams, Olympic Games and Davis/Fed Cup, on top of the game’s minor leagues, the ITF Pro Circuit. The Pro Circuit already helps create WTA/ATP rankings, so if there was to have an “advisory board,” the quicker option would be having the ITF take reigns. However, the ITF is its own business with their own partnerships. There would be more than a conflict of interest should massive decisions such as postponing and canceling the tour take place. An entire new organizing body would need to step in place. All of this is hypothetical, but it stemmed from the main question I want to ask: should tennis have a commissioner?

John McEnroe and Brad Gilbert have joked during their television commentary about rules if they were the commissioner of tennis for a day. COVID-19 has altered the history of tennis and I think if there’s any time for the tours to finally bond together, formally or informally, now is it. At the end of the day, the tours are their own business with their own boards, investors, relationships, etc., so it’s hard to even begin those conversations. However, the Original 9 saw such a huge disparity for women from the men and did something about it. When the BNP Paribas Open was cancelled, I brought up the topic of a player union forming. I think it’s crucial for players to have a say when they’re the horse in the race.

I think forming a joint player union with a third party would be the logical first step, then incorporating the tours and ITF to create a board where they’re heard and the players are an equal component. Ultimately, they would then incorporate that commissioner to oversee everything to make sure the tour’s and player’s demands are met and treated as equal. I can’t see the tours formally disbanding and then forming together, but I don’t think it’s out of this world to suggest a collaboration that’s bigger than them. Without the tour, there are no tournaments, there are no TV deals and there is no growth. With the tours suspended through July, with more cancellations most likely on the horizon, I think the governing bodies could really start having deep conversations on joining and growing the game as a whole. 

“He said, she said” only hurts and stagnates the sport.

This Week in Women’s Tennis

In COVID-19 related news:

  • The WTA announced their “WTA 4 Love” initiative to directly support those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • The Rogers Cup, scheduled for August in Montreal, has been postponed to 2021 after Quebec announced new public safety measures.

  • Katrina Adams announced her recovery from COVID-19 and is supporting efforts through plasma donation.

  • The ITF announced their furloughs and executive pay cuts while the tour is shut down, while Wimbledon will pocket £114 million for their wise decision to purchase pandemic insurance.

  • Tennis Australia is already exploring contingency plans should the 2021 Australian Open be affected by COVID-19.

  • The collegiate tennis season was abruptly cancelled and the impact affects more than just a cancelled NCAA tournament.

  • Victoria Azarenka added her name to the list of players donating to raise funds for those impacted by COVID-19.

The WTA’s In The Moment series highlighting the Original 9 continued this week with Nancy Richey reflecting on playing in the amateur and Open eras and how grateful she is to have her mark on the history of the sport.

Billie Jean King partnered with the Women’s Sport Foundation and Yahoo! Sports to lead a panel of some influential female athletes to encourage and mentor young females in sport.

World No. 19 Alison Riske, wife of Universal Tennis Rating’ Chief Tennis Officer Stephen Amritraj, gave a webinar for UTR to discuss her journey and ways she’s handing the break on tour.

Alize Cornet announced that she will be publishing her first book this September, about her life and travels on tour.

Taylor Townsend was the subject on this week’s podcast, where she talked quarantine, puzzles and her idols Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova.

The lives of chair umpires aren’t ever discussed, but Pierre Bacchi sat down to discuss his journey from restaurateur to becoming one of the world’s best umpires.

Daria Kasatkina’s TikTok debut, Sara Errani’s trick shot and Sharon Fichman’s pancakes are only some of the highlights on the WTA’s most recent Social Buzz.

Reigning Mutua Madrid Open champion Kiki Bertens is the latest player to sign up for the tournament’s virtual tennis tournament.

Though not on tour, Monica Puig and the ATP’s Jamie Murray are still filming’s My Tennis Life and this week’s episode features the two answering fan questions.

Rising star Leylah Fernandez was the subject of two features, where she discusses her already-successful 2020 season and how analyzing greats like Lionel Messi and Mike Tyson to better understand the mindset and qualities it takes to be a champion.

Tweet of the Week

aka Kristie Ahn’s TikTok’s of the Week

IV at the IX: Danielle Lao

Danielle Lao is a 2013 graduate and two-time All American from the University of Southern California. She is currently ranked No. 203 in singles and has two ITF singles and three ITF doubles titles to her name. She discusses how college tennis paved her path as a person and tennis player, originally forgoing professional tennis and the small changes she notices she needs to make to break through the Top 100.

Joey: I’ll start with your college experience at USC, which you recounted in your book The Invaluable Experience. You thrived in the environment and certainly grew as a player. What were your biggest takeaways? Any regrets?
Danielle: There were lots of takeaways from the college experience, but the biggest one was the wholesome feeling of developing as a person and competitor. It was the experience of stacking one productive day on top of another with people that were working to bring the best out of you. I have zero regrets, because I truly believe USC was the perfect place for me to grow.

Joey: Although you were playing the best tennis of your career leaving USC, you decided to quit and pursue a corporate job. You played your first tournament as a pro that October and four weeks later, you were in the Top 600. Can you describe that arch and the process of that journey?
Danielle: It was confusing, because I was set up to take two very different paths. On one had you had the path your education prepared you for and on the other you had the path that your athletic career has paved the way for. First things first, I had to soul search a bit to see if I was ready to leave the game. Sometimes it’s confusing to decipher what the world wants you to do and what you truly want to do. I wanted to still play tennis, but the thought of it scared me. My business rationale was always kicking in: Why would I pursue a career where I’d lose money to start when I had the opportunity to make money? At some point though, I realized that I would live a life full of regret if I never pursued the dream. Doing well in the fall segment of the 2013 was a good enough start to shut out my business minded brain and follow my heart.

Joey: Obviously the biggest news for someone in your profession is the uncertainty of when the tour resumes. How do you navigate tennis training with the self-isolation and social distancing, on top of not knowing when you can play tournaments again?
Danielle: This is definitely adverse times for all athletes. Although we may not be competing at the moment, I feel it is more imperative now (more than ever) to focus on the things we can control and not on the things we cannot. I have arranged certain parts of my house to be a space for exercise and also purchased versatile equipment to help keep me in shape. There hasn’t been much tennis play because of the new rules in California, so I’m definitely missing the sport, but doing my best to keeping shape so when the season resumes, I’ll be able to have the fitness to make the transition easier.

Joey: In 2017, you gave yourself one more year of trying to make Grand Slam qualifying after narrowly missing out on cuts. Your last chance, you qualify for your first Slam and then repeat in 2018. You’ve come close at this year’s Australian Open and last year at Wimbledon. What’s the biggest difference you notice between that final round and main draw?
Danielle: The level definitely rises. When you reach the main draw of a slam, you are playing people who have really settled into that top 100 level. I feel that every player in grand slam qualifying has the ability to play at the level of a top 100 main draw player. The difference that sets the two apart is the players inside the top 100 can sustain a consistent high level for longer periods of time, day in and day out.

Joey: You definitely attack your training and tennis with goals in the back of your mind. What are your immediate goals for the rest of the year? Are you giving yourself a timeline on when to retire? Where do you see yourself doing once that happens?
Danielle: At the beginning of the year, I wanted to make the main draw of all slams and build my ranking to be top 100. Now that the year has shortened, it might be tough to climb the rankings in a shorter amount of time, but that doesn’t discourage me to go for it. As for making the main draw of slams, that goal hasn’t changed either, so I will be shooting for it in whatever slams there are left in the year.

I have always known that there are other post tennis options for me like coaching, but it’s never been a plan of mine, yet. I wondered for a long time why I couldn’t commit to specific post tennis plans. It seemed real irresponsible in my eyes to not have “the back up plan” so I kept searching inside what that would be. Within the past year or so though, I’ve realized my heart is so into playing, I’m incapable of having a back up plan at the moment. 

Sidenote: It’s like being in a relationship or a marriage. You don’t really plan to have another significant other or another spouse, despite the fact that there is no guarantee that your current relationship will last forever. It’s a goofy analogy, but do you understand what I am trying to say?

Having said that though, this crazy time of COVID-19 has given me time to detach from tennis and think more about the future. At some point I would love to give back to the sport and mentor the competitive youth. I don’t think it’ll be from a teaching pro role, but perhaps a mental coach or a college coach. I have loads of time now to brain storm while still keeping my heart in the game. 

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 High Post Hoops
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala,@ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Howard Megdal

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