The IX: Tennis Tuesdays with Lindsay Gibbs, February 5, 2019
Yastremska and Bertens bounce back, must-read links, and Team USA's Nicole Melichar on Fed Cup
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Two weeks ago we launched Tennis Tuesdays, right in the middle of the madness of the Australian Open. Tennis majors were my entryway into the sport, and I know that for many people, they’re what the sport is all about. But, truth be told, putting this week’s newsletter together was the most fun I’ve had so far. Because women’s tennis isn’t just eight weeks a year under the bright lights in Melbourne, Paris, Wimbledon, and New York.
Women’s tennis is also about the week-in, week-out excitement of the WTA Tour. And because this newsletter will come into your inboxes every week, that will allow us to give these smaller tournaments just as much attention as the big ones. Which is, honestly, what makes The IX so special. The majors just tell you the highlights; here at The IX, we’ll be able to look at the full story.
For example, at the Australian Open, Kiki Bertens was seen as a Top 10 flop when she crashed out in just the second round to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. However, the Dutchwoman was able to quickly right the ship at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy — a Premiere event — with victories over Pavlyuchenkova, Aryna Sabalenka, and Donna Vekic in the final to win the eighth title of her career.
Those who only watch the late stages of majors might be confused as to why Bertens is ranked No. 8 in the world. But the 27-year-old has now won four titles in the past calendar year, and has shown she is a big-match player: She’s 8-2 in finals in singles. There’s nothing flukey about her.
And the last time most of the world saw 18-year-old Dayana Yastremska, she was being consoled by Serena Williams at the net after losing to Williams in the third round of the Australian Open. She didn’t dwell on that loss for long, though. At the Hua Hin Championships in Thailand, the Ukranian had a magical run to the title, taking out two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza in the quarterfinals and coming back from 2-5 down in the third to take down Alja Tomljanovic 6–2, 2–6, 7–6(3) in the championship match.
This week, the WTA Tour is on hiatus to make way for Fed Cup action. For the uninitiated, Fed Cup is the team competition for women’s tennis. There are many different levels to the madness, but the main thing you need to know is that this week is the World Group quarterfinals: Czech Republic vs. Romania; Belgium vs. France; Germany vs. Belarus; and USA vs. Australia. Each tie (which is basically Fed Cup lingo for “event”) consists of two singles matches on Saturday, and two singles matches — plus a deciding doubles match, if it comes to that — on Sunday.
As a special treat, this week we have an interview with Team USA’s doubles specialist Nicole Melichar, who gives us her take on the format. But first, here are all of the links you need in your life.
This Week in Women’s Tennis
Over at Tennis with an Accent, the great Matt Zemek takes a look at why Donna Vekic and Alja Tomljanovic came up short in their finals over the weekend.
Kiki Bertens talks to our friend Courtney Nguyen of WTA Insider about her big victory in Russia.
Read Steve Tignor’s five takeaways from this week, even if just for his description of the St. Petersburg trophy ceremony: “Once again, the tournament went all out, staging a 20-minute, on-court pop concert after the final, complete with a roof-raising singer, dancers in smocks, and women being hoisted and spun high in the air.”
The WTA has announced some pretty significant changes to its 2019 calendar. The biggest thing worth noting? The New Haven tournament, which has been a destination for top women the week before the U.S. Open for 21 years, has shut its doors. The WTA sounds somewhat hopeful they can find a replacement as soon as this year.
Naomi Osaka is raking in the sponsorship dollars, and deservedly so.
WTA and Porsche have renewed their sponsorship, which we love to see.
The No Challenges Remaining podcast’s Australian Open recap episode is a must-listen, as always.
One of my favorite stories from last week? Vera Zvonareva — two-time Slam finalist who is on the comeback trail after taking a few years off due to injury and pregnancy — made it to the semifinals in St. Petersburg, including an incredibly impressive win over Daria Kasatkina.
Simona Halep has a new coach.
Tweet of the Week
Confession time: Because Substack’s one flaw is that it won’t let me embed video tweets, I can’t fully share my actual favorite tweet this week, which was Vekic’s response to this WTA “highlight.” But Petra was a very, very close second.
The Five at IX: Nicole Melichar
Nicole Melichar is a 25-year-old doubles player. Last year was the best year of her career, as she partnered with 43-year-old Czech legend Kveta Pesche to make four finals and win two titles. Wimbledon was their best tournament — the duo made it to the final, where they lost, and Melichar won mixed doubles with Alexander Peya. This took Melichar to No. 15 in the world, which was enough to get her a nomination into her first Fed Cup tie — which happened to be the Fed Cup final. Team USA lost, and Melichar never got to play, but it was still a life-changing experience. And she’s back on the team this week in Asheville, North Carolina to face the Aussies. She spoke with me about her partnership with Pesche, the thrill of getting called up to Fed Cup, and provided some fashion spoilers.
Lindsay: How did you partner up with Kveta Pesche, and what have you learned by playing with someone with 25 years of experience on the tour?
Nicole: We met on tour just playing against each other. Sometimes we played practice matches, and at the end of 2017, we both had scouted each other out and thought we’d match up well, so we arranged to play with each other. We compliment each other — I’m tall, she’s small, I have a great serve, she is great at net. Her experience is such an asset. The longer you’re on tour, the more clear things become. There isn’t anything she hasn’t seen before. She’s been in Grand Slam finals, she’s had injuries, she’s had to deal with every single bad call there is. Her experience, her ability to play through nerves, it helps to always know that you can get through it.
Lindsay: How did you first find out you made the Fed Cup team last year?
Nicole: I had been bugging [Fed Cup captain Kathy Rinaldi] the whole year. One of my dreams is to play in the Olympics, so I called her up a month before Fed Cup telling her that I’m available and that I want to play. She said the neutral thing, the thing she tells everyone, that she’s taking us into consideration. And then she called me a couple of weeks before the final. She had a depressed voice, I thought she wasn’t going to pick me, and then she told me she had picked me. She had tried to trick me!
Lindsay: What was the experience like?
Nicole: I didn’t get to play, but the whole experience was incredible, being with the team and practicing, living every single point with your teammates. Lisa Raymond and I were sitting next to each other on the bench, and we were saying that we’re almost more exhausted than the ones playing the match, because you’re hanging onto every point.
Lindsay: Historically in Davis Cup, the men’s team competition, doubles takes place in the middle of the tie, as the third match. That way every tie is guaranteed a doubles match. As a doubles player, would you prefer that format, or do you like the current Fed Cup format?
Nicole: If it comes to that deciding match, I feel like I love it, because the spotlight is on the doubles players. But if Fed Cup wanted to be different than Davis Cup, my idea would be to put double first — then it would always count, and be a really special way to kick it off. Right now, too many of the doubles points don’t count.
Lindsay: One of my favorite parts of Fed Cup, besides all the kick-ass play, is seeing the fashion choices that each team makes to wear to the team dinner, which kicks off the event. I love seeing each team dressed alike, but outside of their tennis clothes. What fashion statements can we expect from Team USA this time?
Nicole: For the Fed Cup final, it was Allison Riske that picked up the outfits. It was actually really cute. This tie, I have no clue, but I think it’s nice that we dress up the same and look like a team, and I think they do a good job of picking something that looks good on all different body types. Since it’s cold, I think they mentioned something in regards to a leather jacket and boots.