The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Lindsay Gibbs
A French affair -- Fed Cup recap -- an interview with Kathy Rinaldi
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A French affair
If for some unfathomable reason you’ve been a Fed Cup skeptic, well, this weekend surely thawed out your cold, frozen, soul. I’m happy for you. Truly.
For those who are coming here from other sports, Fed Cup is the women’s tennis team competition in which players compete for their countries. But this weekend felt extra special.
This weekend in the Fed Cup semifinals, France defeated Romania 3-2, and Australia defeated Belarus 3-2. Both matches came down to the deciding doubles rubber — again, for those who are coming here from other sports, the terminology can be confusing, I know; each country hosts another country in a “tie,” and there are four singles “rubbers” played, two on Saturday and two on Sunday; if the countries are tied 2-2 after singles, then it’s time for doubles.
The storylines coming from these two ties were just sublime. In the Romania vs. France semi, Simona Halep (ROU) beat Caroline Garcia (FRA) 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-4 in one of the best matches of the entire season, to give Romania a 2-1 lead on Sunday afternoon. France’s hopes looked in peril. But then captain Julien Benneteau tabbed the unheralded veteran Pauline Parmentier, who had lost her last three Fed Cup matches, for the fourth rubber. It was an inspired decision, as she defeated Irina Camelia Begu, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2.
That left the doubles, which for France meant Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic — a formerly unstoppable doubles duo who haven’t played together or been on speaking terms, really, for more than two years. Still, they put any differences in the past and took down the dynamic Monica Niculescu and Halep in thrilling fashion, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4. Allez!
Meanwhile in Australia, it was the 22-year-old Ash Barty who once agains won both her singles matches — over formidable foes, Victoria Azarenka and Aryna Sabalenka — and her doubles match, pairing up with vet Samantha Stosur. This puts the Aussies into the final for the first time since 1993!
Honestly, I could gush about all of this for hours, but there are a lot of links this week, and I want to make sure you get to my interview with Team USA Fed Cup captain Kathy Rinaldi, so here are two more things to get you excited about the final: Daria Gavrilova, video bomber. And nobody celebrates like the French.
The final — which will take place in Australia in November — is going to be a blast.
This Week in Tennis
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Of course, the semifinals were not the only Fed cup action. The Czech Republic stays in World Group as well. I’m not emotionally ready for the Lucie Safarova sendoffs, but here we are. As I’ve always said, a happy Lucie is a happy Lindsay.
Sofia Kenin stepped up big time for the United States to clinch their win over Switzerland, and officially stay in the World Group.
Germany’s in the World Group, too. As Andrea Petkovic said, “We’re oldies but goodies.”
Also, Spain stayed in the World Group; Garbine Muguruza had a tough this weekend, but thankfully, Carla Suarez Navarro stepped up.
Great Britain made history by getting back into the World Group for the first time in 26 years. Captain Anne Keothovang deserves major kudos.
Great stuff from Matt Zemek of Tennis With An Accent on how Ash Barty is setting herself apart from her peers.
I could watch this celebration from Simona Halep on loop forever.
Speaking of celebrations, hey there, Yulia Putintseva.
In other news: Is this the year that Angelique Kerber completes her Career Slam with a French Open victory?
I love this feature from Alex Macpherson on the tennis talent in the Ukraine coming up behind Elina Svitolina.
Petra Kvitova on the Beyond the Baseline podcast.
And there’s a new No Challenges Remaining podcast up recapping the big tennis stories of the last couple of months.
I love this anecdote about Naomi Osaka from WTA Insider.
Look, I understand this isn’t about women’s tennis in particular, but Justin Gimelstob is a Tennis Channel commentator, so I feel the victim impact statement from the man he plead “no contest” to assaulting is worth a read.
THIS WEEK we get the tacky, over-the-top, luscious treat that is indoor clay tennis at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart. Here is this sensational draw.
Unfortunately, Halep already had to withdraw with a hip injury. Get well soon!
Courtney Nguyen of WTA Insider breaks down the battle for No. 1 at Stuttgart between Osaka and Kvitova.
Halep was in the battle for the No. 1 ranking too, before she withdrew. I’m obsessed with Osaka’s honest reaction to that news. From WTA Insider: “Personally, it affects me because she was really close [to catching me]. Phew! I feel like a dodged a bullet there.”
Also via WTA Insider, Karolina Pliskova has been battling an illness for the past three weeks, but still hopes to be well enough to defend her title in Stuttgart this week.
There is also an outdoor clay-court tournament in Istanbul.
Carla Suárez Navarro is the top seed there, but she’s already been upset by her countrywoman, Lara Arruabarrena. Romanian Mihaela Buzărnescu is the top seed remaining.
Tweet of the Week
I couldn’t decide on just one winner this week, and since I make the rules (don’t tell Howard), you’re getting two tweets this week. (Editor’s note: he knows.) This Marie Bouzkova #10yearchallenge is just legendary. I’m actually tearing up.
Then there’s Serena:
Five at The IX: U.S. Fed Cup Captain Kathy Rinaldi
Fresh off of Team USA’s big Fed Cup win over Switzerland, captain Kathy Rinaldi spoke with The IX on the phone about an eventful week, on and off the court.
Going into this weekend, Sonya Kenin was 0-3 in Fed Cup matches, but you had the faith to sub her in for Madison Keys on Sunday, and she repaid you by clinching the tie. How far back does your relationship with Kenin go?
The first time I met her she was seven years old, at a pro-am, celebrity event. I got pulled off the court, and she came in to hit for me. I was so impressed — the way she was bouncing up and down back then, her focus. Then she was on the Junior Fed Cup winning team, which I coached, and I was with her when she won the Orange Bowl. Going way back, I’ve spent a lot of time with her and her dad, so it’s really amazing to see her age 20, almost top 30 in the world. She played so well in the final agains the Czech Republic, even though she lost those two matches, and played well against Ash Barty against Australia. So I just had faith that she could perform on this stage.
On the other end of the spectrum, Madison Keys had a tough loss to Viktorija Golubic in the first rubber. How did you break the news to her that she would not be playing singles on Sunday?
Obviously, you want to set your players up for success. She struggled that day, and I just sat down with her, and talked about the decision. That’s the great thing about a team atmosphere, when one is down, others will step up. Madi’s a great team player, and as you saw, she came out to the bench and supported her teammates and cheered and celebrated on Sunday.
How key is it to have one of your star players be able to take a backseat like that?
It’s priceless. I think that’s all you can ask for your players. In tennis, I mean, everyone plays for themselves, everyone is a star. But to have players like Sloane and Madi put the team first, that’s leadership in my opinion, that they’re able to put others in front of themselves, and prioritize what’s best for team.
What were you favorite off-the-court moments in San Antonio?
We had several fun moments. I would say a sentimental moment was [Jessica Pegula] and [Jennifer Brady’s] rookie speeches at the team dinner. To see them on the team for the first time, and then get to play in the doubles rubber, it was wonderful. I’ve seen them strive and do great things recently, andthat was very sentimental.
One of the funniest moments was the lassoing. During a practice, I said that we had a Spurs trainer coming out to do a warm-up. But instead, we had cowboys come out and teach lassoing.
We all did an escape room on Wednesday night after the team dinner. Then, on Sunday after the victory, at Sloane’s suggestion, we all went to Cracker Barrel for Easter Dinner. There were a lot of fun times.
Okay, I have to ask: How did the escape room end up? I’ve seen it tear groups apart in the past.
(Laughs.) The teamwork was good — though, I mean, we definitely had room for improvement. We didn’t escape. There was this scale there, and we didn’t realize we had to calibrate the scale. We missed it by 1:30, which we were all really upset about. We’re all super competitive, of course.