The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Lindsay Gibbs, January 22, 2019
Meet Lindsay Gibbs, inspiring Australian Open stories, and what it's really like to face Serena
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The Wonder Women of the Australian Open
Hi everyone, and welcome to the very first Tennis Tuesday over here at The IX. I hope that this is the first of many, many Tuesdays that we spend together reflecting on the wild, wonderful world of women’s tennis. First of all, I feel like I should introduce myself. I’m Lindsay Gibbs. My primary job is as a sports reporter at ThinkProgress, where I cover the intersection of sports and politics. I also co-host a feminist sports podcast, Burn It All Down, and write about women’s basketball at The Athletic DC and High Post Hoops.
But first and foremost, I’m a tennis fan. In fact, my entire career is thanks to tennis. I began my sports writing career blogging about tennis. In 2012, I started a tennis website, The Changeover, with a couple of other tennis fanatics, and I spent years as a freelance tennis writer, primarily at Bleacher Report, Sport on Earth, VICE Sports, and Excelle Sports. I am absolutely, positively thrilled that thanks to The IX, I will now have an excuse to write about tennis on a weekly basis again. Because, with all respect to all the other sports, nothing compares to women’s tennis. (Editor’s note: your mileage may vary on this one.)
This Australian Open perfectly encapsulates everything that makes the sport great. I mean, let’s just focus on the two semifinalists that are set: Petra Kvitova and Danielle Collins. You couldn’t ask for two better stories.
This is Kvitova’s first major semifinal since her left hand was almost irreparably damaged by a knife attack during a home invasion in late 2016. In the on-court interview after her quarterfinal win over Aussie Ashleigh Barty, Jim Courier asked her if she every thought she’d make it back to this stage. The question left her in tears — which she later clarified in press were happy tears.
“Sometimes I’m not really recognizing anything from the past,” she told reporters. “But when Jim asked that, it wasn’t really easy for me to kind of see myself being in a semifinal after everything.”
Tennis is simply more exciting when Kvitova — with her aggressive game and tender personality — is playing the tennis that has won her two Wimbledon titles. She is also one of four players that still has a chance to be No. 1 at the end of the tournament. Wouldn’t that be something?
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves — first, she has to get through Collins, the 25-year-old American who has shocked the world in Melbourne. You’ve probably already heard this, but it bears repeating: Before this tournament, Collins had never won a match at any of the four majors. She was 0-5. And it’s not like she’s had an easy draw; during this fortnight, the supremely confident and composed Collins has taken out No. 14 Julia Goerges, No. 19 Caroline Garcia, No. 2 Angelique Kerber (in 56 minutes!), and then came back from a set down to take out Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the quarters. Perhaps it’s because she’s already in her mid 20s, or because she gained so much experience in four years playing for the University of Virginia, but the most amazing thing about Collins’ run is that she doesn’t seem surprised by it.
“Not being a child prodigy, I went a different route,” Collins said. “I wasn’t really sure if I could make it playing professional tennis when I was that age. Going to college was really crucial for me and my development. I think it’s made me hungrier.”
Collins and Kvitova actually faced off a few weeks ago in Brisbane, in a tense match that Kvitova barely escaped, 6-7(6) 7-6(6) 6-3. Expect a similar fight from both in the semis.
This Week in Women’s Tennis
The other semifinal will be set tonight/tomorrow morning (don’t you love time zones??) after the final two women’s quarterfinals are played.
First, we’ll see No. 4 Naomi Osaka take on No. 6 Elina Svitolina. Both players are still in the running for that No. 1 ranking after the Australian Open.
Svitolina, who won the biggest title of her career at the WTA Championships in Singapore last year, infamously has never made it past the quarterfinals of a major. But, in her win over Madison Keys in the fourth round, she showed the mental strength and maturity she’s often lacked in big moments. The 24-year-old Ukranian also won both of her matches against Osaka last year, so we know she has the tennis. (Also? You need to check out the joint Instagram account she launched this tournament with her boyfriend, French men’s tennis player Gael Monfils. Trust me. It’s important.)
Osaka, meanwhile, has dazzled, scrapped, and charmed her way to the quarterfinals. Often, after a breakout like Osaka had winning the 2018 U.S. Open, players struggle at the next major, but Osaka has bucked that trend. Here’s a good look at her offseason, which included a trip to her father’s birthplace, Haiti. (Of course, the infuriating whitewashing continues.)
The other semifinal will be between No. 7 Karolina Pliskova and No. 16 Serena Williams. Serena looked back to her major-winning form in her fourth round victory over the ultimate draw loser, No. 1 Simona Halep. Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times takes a look at Serena’s new practice trick: practicing with the with male pros.
Pliskova — the fourth player with a chance to become No. 1 — has beaten Serena in a major semifinal before, though. And her amazing all-female coaching team of Rennae Stubbs and Conchita Martinez seem to have her in top form. Is this the tournament where she breaks through and gets her maiden major title?
Of course, majors aren’t just about those who made it to the end — plenty of moments were worth savoring along the way. Here’s Rothenberg again, this time on Amanda Anisimova, the 17-year-old American who upset No. 11 Aryna Sabalenka in the third round.
I love Karen Crouse on the grudge match between Sharapova and Wozniacki in the third round, which Sharapova won 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. Sometimes, you just have to embrace the drama.
A thrilling tennis match was delayed because of bird poop. Seriously.
Victoria Azarenka’s comeback from maternity leave hit another snag last week, with a first-round loss to Laura Siegemund in Melbourne. Reem Abulleil reports on Azarenka’s candid, teary press conference after the defeat, where the former Australian Open champion opened up about her struggles.
I know this isn’t women’s tennis specifically, but he was such a fan of women’s tennis that I want to make an exception. The best two reads on Andy Murray’s possible retirement, from Brian Curtis at The Ringer and Giri Nathan over at Deadspin
Murray might be gone, but his legacy lives on. Amelie Mauresmo is coaching Lucas Pouille, the talented yet enigmatic Frenchman — is there any other kind? — who happens to be in the quarterfinals.
Obviously, I absolutely love Kvitova. I do not, however, love her coach’s comments about on-court coaching, and how women need it more than the men.
Finishing on a heartwarming note: WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen wrote one of my favorite articles of the tournament, on 18-year-old Ukranian Dayana Yastremska, who willed Serena Williams to victory 10 years ago from her living room, and then played her in the third round of the Australian Open this year. Their meeting was, clearly, a dream come true.
“And then I had another thought. Maybe one day I will play with her in a big arena. And this day is going to be tomorrow. The time passes so fast. I remember that from childhood and it’s a dream come true. So I’m going to try to win her. I’m going to try to show my best tennis. And maybe later I will tell her this small story.”
Yastremska was overcome with emotion on court after losing to Serena, and there was a really touching moment right after the match ended, when Serena consoled her on court. (More on this below.)
Tweet of the Week
Five at the IX: Dayana Yastremska
I already mentioned how much I loved Yastremska talking about growing up as a fan of Serena, and then having to face her. I thought her post-match press conference gave phenomenal insight into what it’s like to face one of your idols and what sets Serena apart from other top players. Here are five related questions from her press conference, which you can watch in full here.
Q: Before the match, how comfortable were you?
A: Before the match, it felt very simple and normal. Like I was just try to stay focused like it’s a normal match. But when I just enter the court it just completely changed everything. I felt the crowd, I felt the real Serena. I don’t know, I just think I put extra pressure on myself. But it feels great, like it’s a nice experience playing with her.
Q: What did she say to you when the two of you met, you walked around the net to go up to her, she put her hand on your shoulder, what did she say to you?
A: She said, “Don’t cry, you’re still young. Come on, you don’t have to cry.’” And just those things, nice things. … She told me even a couple of nice words when we met in the changing room. She said, “You’re young, you’re very good, and you will be a good player in the future.”
Q: What did that mean to you?
A: Well, it’s nice to hear those words from a legend. If she thinks so, maybe that’s true. (Laughs.) So yes, it’s nice to hear from her.
Q: When you think back on this whole tournament, what will you think of it?
A: Well, I can take a big experience, a huge experience, I think I’m going to have many more times being in this kind of atmosphere. But I think the main experience has been playing with Serena. I could feel her energy, I could feel how is a legend playing, so I can take a lot of things for myself and to learn. So I’m going to get back and stronger next time, I hope I will be better.
Q: You’ve played other top players, Grand Slam champs, No. 1 ranked players. What would you say is the biggest difference when you’re on court against Serena compared to other top players?
A: One thing I can say, it’s everything, small details. Her discipline, her quality of shot, her, how addicted she is to every ball. So I can’t say just one thing is the difference between top players and her, because I think in every part, in every part, in every thing she has it is completely different. I don’t know how do describe that, it’s just there’s something special. And what I’m trying to do is to go to that level, and so the people talk about me in the same way — that I have something special.