The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, February 4, 2020

Kenin shines, Mugurza finds form in Melbourne | Debrecen disaster for WTA | Interview: Falconi has fresh perspective after year sabbatical

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Kenin Breaks Through, Muguruza Reclaims Form

The Australian Open concluded this past weekend with Sofia Kenin stunning the field and taking her first Grand Slam title.

The 19-year-old American knocked out a resurgent Garbine Muguruza, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 in the final that ended on a Muguruza double fault. Kenin halves her ranking in half to No. 7 and leaps over Serena Williams to become the top ranked player from the United States. Also something to note, former World No. 1 and 2009 Australian Open finalist Dinara Safina was in Kenin’s box throughout the tournament. Keep an eye if a formal partnership forms.

In a must-see, learn more about Kenin’s background in this fantastic mini documentary by the WTA:

Well-liked by her peers in the locker room, players were quick to go on Twitter to congratulate Kenin:

Kenin’s win opens the conversation of the depth of the women’s tour. The 2019 WTA’s Most Improved Player only faced one seed en route to her title – albeit a win over World No. 1 Ash Barty in the semifinals. Kenin’s triumph marked the eighth time in the previous twelve Grand Slam a first-time champion emerged. It bears the ultimate question: is the WTA loaded with talent or can the Top 10 not rise to the occasion?

I think a combination of the Williams sisters and Maria Sharapova on the verge of retirement, slower court speeds and a shift in the mentality has brought the exciting unknown the WTA sees on a weekly basis. In 2019, we saw players like Bianca Andreescu and Coco Gauff debut on the big stage and forgo the “deer in the headlights” effect we’ve seen in the past. Players, regardless of ranking, think they can beat anyone at any stage.

While the headlines rightfully focused on Kenin’s maiden Slam, Garbine Muguruza’s surprise run to the Melbourne final has been a long time coming. Ripping the bandaid and firing Sam Sumyk and hiring Conchita Martinez has already paid dividends, who also cuts her ranking in half and reenters the Top 20 at No. 16. However, the seven-time WTA titleist refuses to call it a “comeback,”

While Muguruza and Sumyk’s relationship created multiple Grand Slam titles and a No. 1 ranking, it was evidently toxic. Martinez, who stepped in Sumyk’s place to guide Muguruza to her 2017 Wimbledon title, is delighted at their reunion. Martinez also credits Muguruza’s climb to Mount Kilimanjaro’s summit as a massive shift in the Spanaird’s mentality. 

This Week in Tennis

In doubles, Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic secured their third Grand Slam championship as a duo with a decisive rout over Hsieh Su-Wei and Barbora Strycova. Hsieh reclaimed the Doubles World No. 1 ranking this week over Mladenovic.

Different partner, same result: Barbora Krejcikova defended her Australian Open mixed doubles trophy, partnering with Nikola Mektic to knock out Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jamie Murray in a champions tiebreaker. 

A name to watch is Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva, who became the first player from Andorra to win a Grand Slam title of any kind in the Girls’ Singles division. Filipino Alexandra Eala and Priska Madelyn Nugroho of Indonesia took the Girls’ Doubles title to cap the season’s first Grand Slam.

Madison Brengle won the biggest title of her career at the WTA $125k event in Newport Beach, California with a three-set win over Stefanie Voegele.

12-year old Brenda Fruhvirtova, the younger sister of 2019 champion Linda, took the prestigious Les Petit As title over American Clervie Ngounoue. The future is bright, y’all.

The tournament in Debrecen, Hungary scheduled to play in two weeks, was suddenly cancelled after entry lists have been finalized. Originally in Budapest, the tournament was relocated, but according to Hungarian press, no contract was finalized after the WTA’s visit to seal the venue.

However, the WTA continued to promote the tournament and have players enter and set up travel. With both WTA and ITF entry lists completed, over 60 players have to make new accommodations for that week. The WTA will expand the qualifying draw for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship, scheduled for that same week. 

The only option for most players in qualifying and doubles will have to go on-site to an ITF tournament with hopes of there being open spots. It’s embarrassing for the WTA to drop the ball on a tournament that not only affects the players, but their rankings — especially during an Olympic year. 

Alison Van Uytvanck won the title in Budapest last year and was planning on returning. Now, she will hope to salvage a percentage of those points in Dubai or potentially at a $60,000 ITF tournament in Cairo, Egypt.

Congratulations to Agnieszka Radwanska, who announced she and husband Dawid Celt are expecting their first child.

This week’s winners on the ITF circuit:
$60,000 Andrezieux-Boutheon, France: Ysaline Bonaventure (WTA#115)
$60,000 Burnie, Australia: Maddison Inglis (#130)
$25,000 Nonthaburi, Thailand: Ankita Raina (#171)
$15,000 Antayla, Turkey: Georgia Andreea Craciun (#386)
$15,000 Cairo, Egypt: Anastasia Zolotareva (#857)
$15,000 Cancun, Mexico: Ingrid Gamarra Martins (#688)
$15,000 Manacor, Spain: Mina Hodzic (#1045)
$15,000 Monastir, Tunisia: Yuliya Hatouka (#529)

Tweet of the Week

Tennis fanatics first came to know Sofia Kenin when Kim Clijsters spent the day with her at the 2005 Miami Open. Now 14 years later, Kenin is a Grand Slam champion as Clijsters is gearing up to come back to the tour next month

Five at the IX: Irina Falconi

Irina Falconi is a former Top 100 player with one WTA singles title, six ITF singles titles and three ITF doubles titles to her name. After a year away from the game, she’s back playing on her own terms. She opens up about the Australian Open, where more efforts should be made for lower-ranked players and her goals this year. You can also catch her every week on the Podcast with Nina Pantic.

Joey: The Australian Open just ended. What were your thoughts on the women’s tournament? Also, you participated in the final set 10-point tiebreaker this year. Does the change in scoring offer any benefit or adjustments you typically wouldn’t normally make?
Irina: I called Kenin and Muguruza in the final and I called Kenin to win it about 4 matches before the final. There are times when you can just feel a player is going to win a tournament and that’s how I felt about Kenin. Her only objective out there was to win and her confidence was just oozing out of her! She played fearless and she didn’t care whether or not she was down in a game, a set, or match- her belief in herself was stronger than her doubt. 
With regards to the 10 point tiebreaker- I think I would have like it more if it would have gone my way (laughs). In a 10 point tiebreaker, every point counts. In a regular set, you can get down 4 or 5-0 and still come back to win that set. I know it shouldn’t matter- but it feels like the value of a point is more in a 10 pointer. I also think there is definitely some drama to an advantage set, but I understand the reasoning behind it. 

Joey: You’ve served on the WTA Player Council and also assisted in Team USA’s Player Council. What are some changes you would like to see tennis make at the grassroots and professional levels?
Irina: I think that there have been many positive changes throughout my career. Prize money increase has always been an issue that comes up. And to see that number keep going up is amazing for the sport. Coming back to the sport after being away for a year has shown me a lot that can be done in the lower level tournaments. At a $25,000 event, if you’re staying in a hotel- unless you win the tournament, you’re barely making a profit. I’d like to see accommodation included in all ITF tournaments. It would help the lower ranked players a lot. 

Joey: You came back from a sabbatical last fall. You said you weren’t sure if you would come back. Can you describe what led to your decision to step back, but then also come back?
Irina: I was taking a walk with my fiance and I realized that I was waking up without a goal, a purpose- some sort of drive that I would have normally had on the tour. My sister, who’s also my financial advisor, asked me to come in for a meeting and she bluntly said “Hey, you’re not freakin done.” And I think that I needed that wake up call to get back on the horse. The next day I went to practice and i haven’t looked back since. I tell people that as long as I’m happy, I’ll keep playing. 

Joey: Do you have any concrete goals for 2020 since you don’t have any points to defend until the end of September?
Irina: My most immediate goal is to win an ITF title, and make the qualifying French Open cut without having to use my special ranking. When you have a SR, the goal is always to get to that SR or higher before your year ends. 

Joey: You played college tennis for two years at Georgia Tech, an academically rigorous school with an elite program. You were the third WTA player to finish her degree through the tour’s collaboration with Indiana University East. Once your career ends, what do you see yourself doing?  
Irina: I love the idea of commentating and coaching. I was able to do a little bit of both and I really loved it. I think it helps that I know all the players on the tour- which allows easier and smoother conversation. Coaching at the pro level is also something I look forward to doing- I’ve even got a few job offers once I am done with my own career!

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.