The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, December 15, 2020
We need more female WTA coaches — Interview: Nina Pantic — Must-click women's tennis links
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Why are most WTA coaches male?
When I spoke to Sacramento State head coach Cami Hubbs last week and she couldn’t answer why a lot of Power 5 programs are lead by males, it got me thinking about the representation on the WTA tour.
I emailed WTA Communications Manager Chase Altieri to ask for data since I know he’s been heavily involved in incorporating WTA Coaches on the website and in the press. In a spell of manifestation, I then saw WTA Photographer Jimmie48 laud about the new WTA Coaches page on Twitter:
First off, the WTA should be applauded for providing this resource. I think it’s a fantastic addition to the website and it’s a fantastic start. It’s definitely missing some names for current and previous players coached (Sven Groeneveld and Michael Joyce, for example), but having something so accessible is incredible.
There are 121 coaches listed on the page and of that……16 are women.
I figured it would end up being pretty low, but……that low?! Yikes. I will give the benefit of the doubt, because these are only some of the coaches on tour that I’m assuming gone through a certified course and there are some women that haven’t gone that route.
The biggest question: why? In my opinion, it boils down to financials and what it takes to rise in the WTA rankings. I think the cost to have a male coach that can also act as a sparring partner is a huge draw. Only the best of the best can afford to bring a coach and a hitting partner, so why not essentially get a BOGO deal?
With that said, I think it’s a bogus excuse, because a woman coach can hit just as clean as a male counterpart. Maybe I’m naïve and there’s enough science and data to show otherwise, or that men can engage in the necessary rallies for a longer period of time? I still call BS.
I think we’re finally getting to a point where women are over the societal norms the tennis tours have created. If you want to see more representation, it boils down to opportunity. But where does it start? Do we need to hope that top players have successful partnerships with women? Or should the WTA continue their grassroots efforts to create more female coaches and incorporate it in the agenda of the ITF or national governing bodies?
That being said, the Women’s Tennis Coaching Association, led by Five at The IX alum Sarah Stone, will have the biggest impact on the coaching numbers in the next few years. I remember when WTCA launched in 2015 and the growth they’ve witnessed should be applauded. They’ve become a staple on tour and their conferences have continued to grow every year.
Like Cami said last week, they can even relate better than men when it comes to the women’s side. One of my biggest hopes for the 2021 WTA season is that we see a substantial increase in female coaches on tour. I’m certainly (but also cautiously) optimistic.
This Week in Women’s Tennis
The WTA revealed their 2020 player award winners and if you read my picks a few weeks ago, they were pretty spot on:
Player of the Year: Sofia Kenin
Most Improved Player of the Year: Iga Swiatek
Newcomer of the Year: Nadia Podoroska
Comeback Player of the Year: Victoria Azarenka
Doubles Team of the Year: Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic
WTA Coach of the Year: Piotr Sierzputowski (player: Iga Swiatek)
Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship Award: Marie Bouzkova
Peachy Kellmeyer Player Service Award: WTA Players’ Council (Kristie Ahn, Gabriela Dabrowski, Madison Keys, Johanna Konta, Aleksandra Krunic, Christina Mchale, Kristina Mladenovic, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Sloane Stephens, Donna Vekic)
This week’s must-read is from the WTA’s David Kane, who highlighted the depths the Tournament Directors from Istanbul, Ostrava and Linz kept the show running and completed their events without much issue.
UTR announced their own professional series to help juniors, collegiate and professional players compete and earn a living outside of the WTA/ITF realm.
Adam Lincoln at the WTA gave more perspective of Karen Krantzcke, the namesake behind the annual sportsmanship award, who passed away from heart failure at only 30.
Naomi Osaka stunned on the cover of Vogue and spoke to the magazine about her activism journey. She is only the second tennis player to grace the cover of the 128-year-old fashion magazine.
If you’re a big college tennis fan like I am, you’ll enjoy this week’s Five at the IX, Nina Pantic, and alum Irina Falconi speaking with USTA General Manager Tim Cass about the importance of a that sector of the game.
Dayana Yastremska announced she tested positive for COVID-19 and has since recovered:
ICYMI, Naomi Osaka and Jennifer Brady’s three-set semifinal at the US Open was named the top match of 2020 by tennis.com. The website also agreed with the WTA media votes in naming Sofia Kenin their WTA Player of the Year.
Former Top 30 player Barbara Rittner expressed her concern for the long-term effects WTA and ATP tournaments will face in the wake of this year’s COVID-19 pandemic.
Monica Puig bid farewell to tennis.com’s My Tennis Life as the web series completed its fourth season.
Because of the times we’re facing, I wanted to highlight the jobs currently open in the tennis industry. As someone who has been in the WTA, there definitely should be more women represented at the front office:
WTA: Marketing Analyst, Editorial Director, Website Editor, Social Media Manager, Social Media Director, Sports, Sciences & Medicine Intern
USTA: USTA Foundation Specialist, Education Manager, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer
Tweet of the Week
Very much here for the International Tennis Hall of Fame’s latest exhibit, Breaking the Barriers
Five at the IX: Nina Pantic
Nina Pantic is Tennis Channel’s Content Manager and co-host of the tennis.com podcast, but was an accomplished player in her own right. She captured one ITF Pro Circuit singles title and held career-high rankings of No. 530 in singles and No. 488 in doubles. She played three seasons at UCLA before graduating early and taking her talents to Missouri as a graduate student. Upon graduation, she joined the Tennis Channel/tennis.com team, where she’s been since. You can give her a follow on both Twitter and Instagram.
Joey: You were a top recruit before college and even won an ITF Pro Circuit event. You ended up having the opportunity to play at a prestigious program at UCLA before graduating early and being a grad student (and No. 1 player) at Missouri. Can you describe your tennis journey and did you ever consider pursuing a pro career after Missouri?
Nina: I put a lot of training and effort into trying to go pro as a teenager so pursing a pro career after school never felt like an option, especially since I knew I wanted to get a Master’s degree and that added on two more years. I didn’t feel like my game improved at school so focusing on academics made sense. I’m also one of those nerdy people that genuinely enjoys studying, especially reading and writing, so I got completely absorbed in English and journalism.
I’d describe my journey as unusual because I did squeeze two degrees into four seasons of eligibility (with a year of Graduate Assistant coaching at the tail end). As great as UCLA is, my time at Mizzou was incomparable in helping me figure out my career. My path shows just how much flexibility and opportunity there is in college tennis especially with the right people supporting your goals. Not everyone’s journey is the same and it doesn’t have to be four years at one school, and it also doesn’t have to be perfect to be successful. I used to think not going pro and transferring were signs of failure, but learned that nothing could be farther from the truth.
Joey: You’ve been a part of the Tennis Magazine/tennis.com content team in some capacity since 2014. Can you talk us through a normal day for you? Is there a certain assignment that most sticks out in your career?
Nina: I reached out to the right people at TENNIS magazine back in 2013 as part of a Mizzou magazine design class assignment, and they took a chance on me. I’ve been a part of the editorial team for TENNIS.com, TENNIS Magazine and Baseline since moving to NYC in 2014. While the offices were in Chelsea, normal days were surprisingly close to 9-5 with some weekends of coverage for the bigger events. I began managing Baseline.Tennis.com in 2015 and seeing a website go from a blank page to where it is now has been incredibly rewarding, especially since I oversee the team of remote writers.
There has been a lot of travel to tournaments, which is an important aspect of covering tennis authentically. I’ve been to Wimbledon, Melbourne, Barcelona, Newport, Delray, Miami, Washington, Indian Wells, Toronto, Doha and, of course, the US Open. Working at a tournament is the opposite of a 9-5, you’re running around like crazy during 15-hour days meeting people, chasing stories, doing interviews and watching matches. It’s the best part of the job.
Tennis Channel took over our operations a few years ago but my day-to-day didn’t change drastically, so I’m still based in New York. My work just became even more remote though we do have an office in Midtown.
The assignment that stands out to me has to be when I interviewed Roger Federer one-on-one in Barcelona in 2016 for a Wilson feature. Federer and I sitting on a couch is my Twitter photo cover and I don’t ever intend to change it. I’m not a fan girl by any means, but I’m fully aware of how incredible this era of tennis has been and how lucky we are to witness and cover it.
Joey: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work and how were you best able to maneuver around the tours’ shutdowns?
Nina: Seeing as most of my job can be done from anywhere it hasn’t been the craziest transition for normal, day-to-day writing. The biggest challenge was adjusting to a sudden and very long mid-year offseason and still digging up a lot of stories to tell. As the shutdown carried on though, players were actually easier to work with as they had more time on their hands (it’s just not as compelling to interview athletes who aren’t competing for something).
Obviously tournament access has completely changed: you’re either granted entry to the bubble or you’re operating remotely. While I miss being on-site close to the action and interacting with players face-to-face, the tours have done an incredible job with virtual credentials. From the week the tours resumed we didn’t miss a step and were back to interviewing the likes of players like Serena Williams right away. They had to adjust to seeing us on screens, too, yet everyone has really worked together to help each other through this difficult period. I would even dare to call it a bonding experience. In many ways our access improved, and switching the podcast to Zoom was a huge step in improving our quality and communication skills while seamlessly adding a video element.
I have been part of one bubble, three weeks of World TeamTennis in West Virginia. It was an unbelievable result of teamwork and organization, and it’s an experience I’ll never forget that I believe helped everyone—players, coaches and staff—improve their relationship with the sport and their connections with people.
Joey: You and Irina Falconi have a successful podcast on tennis.com. For our readers, what are the must-listen episodes? Are there any guests you haven’t had on yet that are on your bucket list?
Nina: You should listen to every single episode since everyone has a unique story to tell, not just the famous names. The absolute must-listens would be Mary Carillo, Caroline Wozniacki, Vasek Pospisil, Sascha Bajin, Eugenie Bouchard and Tennys Sandgren. Each of those guests surprised me in certain ways.
I have a long bucket list of guests but my top ones includes Roger Federer, Oracene Price, Nick Kyrgios, Monica Seles, Chris Evert and John McEnroe.
Joey: Is there a certain career goal you have in mind? Where do you envision yourself down the road? Do you see yourself being involved with tennis the rest of your career?
Nina: I’d like to do more hands on work with interviewing players for TV and video. I dabbled in commentary at WTT and will be looking to do more of that as well as on-camera work. I also did some stadium hosting in Midland and the Bronx and definitely plan to do more once tournaments normalize. It’s totally different to writing, but given how media is being created and consumed these days it’s the most logical progression, and I’ve surprised myself with how comfortable I am with a microphone.
Tennis is the sport that comes the most natural to me for obvious reasons so I do see myself being in it, in some capacity, forever.
Bonus: What was the best piece of advice you’ve received and who gave it? If you could go back in time, what would you tell 18-year-old Nina?
Nina: During our podcast interview, Mary Carillo told me to “Just say YES” to ideas and opportunities even if they seem crazy or impossible. I would absolutely never doubt her.
If I could go back in time, I’d tell my teenage self to chill out over results and trust the process more.