The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Lindsay Gibbs, March 19, 2019
Bianca Andreescu's triumph -- Indian Wells review -- Rennae Stubbs interview
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Well, friends, I have to admit, it wasn’t hard to pick a top-of-the-newsletter topic this week. Because really, what else is there to talk about other than Bianca Andreescu?
In case you missed it, and I’m so very sorry for you if you did, the 18-year-old Canadian had an absolutely earth-shattering 10 days at Indian Wells, where she started as a wild card ranked No. 60 and finished a first-time WTA champion ranked No. 24 in the world. She’s the only wild card to win Indian Wells, and is only the fourth unseeded champion in Indian Wells history. The other three? Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters, and Naomi Osaka. Not bad company.
At the time of last week’s newsletter — which, I am going to remind you forever, featured an exclusive interview with Andreescu!!! — the Canadian was into the quarters, and her run was already defying belief. But she wasn’t done. In the final eight, she demolished No. 20 Garbine Muguruza 6-0, 6-1, and then gutted out an upset over No. 6 Elina Svitolina in the semis, 6-3 2-6 6-4.
In the final, she defeated three-time major champion Angelique Kerber, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. And goodness, this match was much more thrilling than even that scintillating scoreline suggests. The shotmaking (hello, drop shots!), the movement, the pace, the angles, the fight from both women, it was all just incredible. But what impressed me the most, what will stick with me for a long, long time, was Andreescu’s ability to fully grasp the difficulty of the moment, and rise to the occasion anyways.
Thanks to microphones capturing her coaching timeouts, we know that in the second and third sets Andreescu was cramping, her feet were in agony, the heat was getting to her, and she was exhausted. She told her coach at the start of the third set that she was overwhelmed by Kerber’s ability to return her serve, run down her every shot, and hit the ball so flat and fast that she eliminated Andreescu’s angles. The teenager’s body was breaking down and her opponent — a much more seasoned and accomplished champion — was stepping up. She had absolutely every right to cave, to wilt under the pressure, to fade away. It still would have been a remarkable week. She still would have earned a life-changing amount of money. Her short-term career trajectory still would have been altered for good.
But that wasn’t enough. Andreescu knew the finish line was in sight. She recognized her body’s pain, she understood Kerber’s talent, she knew exactly how big the moment was and how monumental of a task she had in front of her. And she did it anyway.
There’s no way to know what exactly is next for Andreescu, but I fully anticipate it will serve as a foreshadowing of championships to come, rather than a one-off fight. But either way, she taught me a lot on Sunday about playing through pain, seizing the moment, and not settling for good enough.
This Week in Tennis
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The New Yorker takes on Andreescu, and it’s a must-read.
I’ve listened to WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen’s podcast with Andreescu twice already. I suggest you do the same.
Here’s Andreescu on the power of meditation. Seriously, how is she only 18?
A post-Indian Wells look at the Race to Shenzhen.
Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka won the Indian Wells doubles title. Love that duo.
Elina Svitolina has launched her own foundation in Dallas, Texas, and it involves the Bush Tennis Center, and President George W. Bush issued a statement praising her, and honestly I never thought I’d write a sentence with those two as co-stars, and I’m a bit shook.
Love this on the Chan Sisters, and playing with a sibling, from WTA’s Stephanie Livaudais.
Maria Patrascu is taking on the ITF, and fighting back against its drastic changes to the minor leagues of tennis. Great piece from the NYT.
Christopher Clarey on Belinda Bencic. Enough said.
Over at Tennis with an Accent, Matt Zemek writes about Aryna Sabalenka’s loss to Kerber.
Also at Tennis with an Accent: Is Svitolina the new Halep?
The New York Times dives into the new Miami Open, which is at a football stadium, and I honestly still don’t really get it.
Speaking of Miami, yeah, I guess it’s that time now! Thankfully, Steve Tignor is here to break the Miami draw down for us. Sloane Stephens is the defending champion, which is yet another thing that had slipped my mind.
Tweet of the Week:
Five at The IX: Rennae Stubbs
Rennae Stubbs does it all. The six-time major champion in doubles and former doubles No. 1 might be retired from tennis, but the Aussie has not gone away. She’s ESPN commentator, co-host of the fantastic Racquet Magazine Podcast, and, along with Conchita Martinez, the co-coach of No. 7 Karolina Pliskova.
Somehow, she found time to answer questions for The IX through email during Indian Wells. Here’s Stubbs on her partnership with Pliskova, on-court coaching, Indian Wells memories, and the future of tennis.
GIBBS: It’s so refreshing to see women’s tennis legends like yourself and Conchita coaching the next generation. What made you want to work with Karolina?
STUBBS: Honestly, she asked. She called me prior to Singapore 2017 looking for someone to help her finish out her year when she stopped working with her coach. I did interim work with her there and I think she really enjoyed the week with me, she also did quite well and so the trust was established that week. The following year when she was struggling again, she called me in the Summer of 2018 to see if I was interested in helping her out again. With my commitments to TV with ESPN, it didn’t allow me to work with her at a 100% capacity. So I called my friend Conchita who I trust and respect to see if she could help with some of the weeks and work load when Iwas doing TV. Karolina was open to the idea and it all worked really well. Conchita and I have a similar thought process with coaching and tennis philosophy — passion being one of them — so I believe that Karolina has benefited from our love of this sport and also, our belief in her as a player.
GIBBS: Karolina had such a phenomenal Australian Open, but obviously the loss to Naomi Osaka in the semifinals was tough. What advice did you give to her after that match?
STUBBS: Honestly, my first words to her were how proud I was of hers efforts. One thing that I stress to her is fighting to the end, not quitting on herself , and trying for every point and every game, and above all staying positive throughout a match, something that she has struggled with in the past. So to see her fight from start to finish, particularly after such a tough match against Serena the day before and not having a lot of time to recover, she battled so well after a tough start, right till the end. Naomi was just that little better in the end but it was a wonderfully hard fought match from both.
GIBBS: Your coaching timeout with Karolina in Brisbane at the start of the year was a master-class in motivation — it went viral and clearly helped her turn things around. Do you think there should be on-court coaching in majors, and has your opinion on that evolved since becoming a coach yourself?
STUBBS: Not really, I have always been against on-court coaching, because I believe you separate yourself out there if you’re a good thinker as well as a great player, and some are better thinkers then others. The ability to change a losing strategy is a plus, and that strength is nullified by a good coach who can tell his/her player how to adjust. Having said that, it’s not going anywhere and for me who also works in TV, it’s great for us and the audience to hear from coaches and players in the middle of matches to know what’s going on with a player and the ability of a coach to help change an outcome. I believe in the future we will see it at Slams, and that could really help some players under pressure change outcomes.
GIBBS: Indian Wells always provides thrilling doubles play. What is your favorite memory from Indian Wells as a player?
STUBBS: Indian Wells fans really do love their doubles, and it was always such a pleasure to play here because of that love for the game of doubles. I have so many found memories, obviously winning here a couple of times were great memories.
But actually one memory, even though it was a loss, was my last match with Lisa Raymond here. We lost a really tough match to [Agnieszka] Radwanska and [Maria] Kirilenko, but I remember so vividly the love from the fans who were lined up three or four deep to get onto the court to watch us play and cheering us on. Maybe it was the old-school way of playing doubles, with us serving and volleying, and their appreciation of that, but I will never forget that love. We had true doubles fans enjoying our partnership and it always is one of my fondest memories. I hated losing, but it still meant so much to both Lisa and me to here people cheering us on so vehemently.
GIBBS: Naomi Osaka obviously solidified herself as the present and future of tennis at this Australian Open. But were there any other young WTA players — let’s say 21-and-under — who tennis fans should expect to see in the quarterfinals or beyond at majors this year?
Women’s tennis is so deep now and there are so many young players really making a mark. I think its safe to say Aryna Sabalenka is one to watch, she proved herself last year, particularly at the end of the year and the run she had, so she will be one to watch. Sofia Kenin, Dayana Yestremska and Amanda Anisomova. Those three in particular are really setting a tone with the tour that they are going to be around for a while and will be threats to an opponent in the coming future. Not only are they young, but they are hungry and are not afraid of the spot light, so stay tuned with these four players. (Ed. Note: She answered this questions before Andreescu’s run.)