How About an ITF Finals? — Interview: John Parsons Part 2 — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, Oct. 11, 2022

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Time is flying and we’re inching closer to the WTA Finals in Fort Worth, Texas. It had me thinking of ways the sport could expand and get some more visibility. We’ve had the WTA Rising Stars Invitational in the past — which I think should be brought back, but I’ve been saying that — but what about an ITF World Tour Finals?

Think about it. The new kids on the block, the journeywomen, the former stars on the comeback trail play week in, week out all over the world for those ranking points. Players travel to places like Tunisia, Mexico, South Africa, Israel and no shade — Evansville, Indiana — likely losing money weekly. Unfortunately, many of the players that play primarily on the ITF World Tour that I’ve spoken with have discussed how they essentially expect to go in the red at the end of the week. The “minor league” is something that is long overdue for an overhaul — again a topic I’ve discussed in the past.

Something the ATP does right, in my opinion, is their ATP Challenger Tour. There, any tournament above $25,000 falls under the ATP umbrella. M15 and M25 ITF events fall under the authority of the ITF itself. As of right now, every single ITF World Tour Women’s event from W15 through W100, the ITF manages. Only WTA 125 tournaments are governed by the WTA itself. I’m getting a little sidetracked, but something I would like to see if the WTA start embracing the ITF World Tour by taking a page out of the ATP’s book and creating an ITF Women’s World Tour Finals.

From 2012-2015, the ATP hosted the ATP Challenger Tour Finals in Sao Paulo, Brazil, inviting the Top 7 point-getters at the Challengers and then a local Brazilian wildcard. I would love to see the top winners across the board battle it out for a large check and some bigger points they potentially wouldn’t have gotten. Now, there’s two ways I would be cool with it working out:

  • Your Top 7 earners and wildcard, plain and simple.
  • How about breaking things down by tier (W100, W80, W60, W25 and W15) and have maybe the Top 4 from each division battle it out round robin style.
    • Lets break it down once more — keep it there or have a bracket/round robin from there to determine a final champion. I lean towards the former, just for time constraints.

The ATP had their location for the event, but I say have it during the WTA Finals at whichever site they’re hosting it at. It’s also a good replacement for the WTA Elite Trophy that’s been defunct since 2019. It would give players like Priska Nugroho — who recently turned pro after a year at NC State and won 3 W15 events in Tunisia — a chance to play against top-ranked players, interact with the upper echelon and get visibility to a worldwide audience. And don’t you worry, I think doubles should be incorporated in some way. Because of the musical chairs players play for partners, lets do the Top 8 earners and they get randomly paired to face off in a round-robin.

Will I see this happening? Likely not, but there needs to be more collaboration between the ITF and WTA, period. This would be a great start to show a true partnership instead of two governing bodies weaving in and out of the others’ paths. The stories that are constantly being written on the ITF World Tour, in my opinion, sometimes blow those we see on the WTA Tour. When these players talk about the grind, it’s a griiiiind.

Let me know your thoughts. Am I dreaming too hard?

Now, onto links!

This Week in Women’s Tennis

In one of the WTA matches of the year, Barbora Krejcikova captured the Agel Open in Ostrava (!!!) with a thrilling 5-7, 7-6(4), 6-3 win over World No. 1 Iga Swiatek. The former Roland Garros champion is finding her form with her second consecutive title, launching her into WTA Finals territory. It’s a rare final loss for Swiatek, who won her most recent 10 championships and now moves to 10-2 overall. In doubles, Caty McNally and Alycia Parks combined their impressive singles quarterfinal showings by taking the doubles title over Alicja Rosolska and Erin Routliffe. It was McNally’s sixth WTA doubles title and the first of any kind for Parks.

At the Jasmine Open, Elise Mertens won her seventh WTA singles title by defeating Alize Cornet in straight sets. The doubles title went to Katerina Siniakova and Kristina Mladenovic, who routed Miyu Kato and Angela Kulikova to win their debut as a duo.

Vania King and Jessica Pegula are among those helping launch the Asian American and Pacific Islander Tennis Association, whose mission is to improve the visibility on the tennis court and behind the scenes in the sport.

Five at The IX alums Giuliana Olmos and Gaby Dabrowski were announced as the second team to qualify for the WTA Finals. This year, they have won two titles in three finals, while also advancing to four semifinals. There weren’t any new singles qualifiers, but the race is heating up with some important points up for grabs in San Diego.

In the warmest news of the week, Iga Swiatek announced her Ostrava prize money will be donated to Polish mental health non-profits in honor of World Mental Health Day yesterday.

David Kane is the WTA Russian guru and his one-on-one with Anastasia Potapova discussing her break from tennis reigniting the fire inside was a great read.

Tennis Kenya is gearing up to host some $15,000 ITF World Tour events following the massive breakthrough from Angela Okutoyi, who shared she’s playing collegiate tennis at the University of Auburn starting this upcoming Spring semester. Elsewhere in Africa, the Tanzania Tennis Association is continuing to grow tennis at the grassroots level thanks to local sponsorship.

The San Diego Open has already had some fire results with Louisa Chirico coming back from 1-6, 0-4 down to defeat Alison Riske-Amritraj for her first WTA main draw win since the summer of 2017, while Bianca Andreescu upset Liudmila Samsonova, then reflected on a 2023 pre-season she did to skip the short European season.

I’ll be discussing more of the Billie Jean King Cup Finals down the road, but the ITF and WTA are in talks to ensure player health and the turnaround time from the WTA Finals to BJK Cup isn’t too soon — the reason Iga Swiatek announced her withdrawal from Poland’s team.

Remember when last week I spoke about two freshmen from UNC and NC State ahead of the ITA All-American Championships? Well, Fiona Crawley of UNC brought the singles championship down the road to Chapel Hill, while Nell Miller and Amelia Rajecki made it a North Carolina sweep in Cary by taking the doubles title.

Coco Gauff recently began stepping away from focusing only on the tennis court at tournaments and exploring more of her surroundings. This week, she took a break from San Diego to attend TwitchCon and meet some of her favorite online creators.

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, WTA Legend Martina Navratilova and WTA President Micky Lawler joined members of Hologic to ring the Nasdaq opening bell.

Alex Eala is a name you’re going to want to know with her results before she hits 18 and the popularity she’s getting in the Philippines.

Today is National Coming Out Day and it’s extremely awesome to see the support Nadia Podoroska received after revealing her girlfriend on social media.

Though she didn’t win the title, Ons Jabeur’s global reach was the catalyst behind the Tunisia receiving a WTA 250 sanction — thus creating the Jasmine Open.

Tennis wasn’t the only sport in Ostrava this week, with the International Para Hockey Cup also happening. Shelby Rogers was on-site to hand Team USA their gold medals and trophy following their victory over Canada.

Tweet of the Week

Perhaps you know someone that can fit in this request for a PhD program?

Five at The IX: John Parsons Part II

John Parsons is a must-follow if you’re on Tennis Twitter, but he also hosts a college tennis podcast titled No Ad, No Problem. This week, he shares what college tennis needs to improve, NIL, his podcast and more. You can follow him both on Twitter and Instagram and listen to his podcast wherever you can stream.

Joey: College tennis lacks the television landscape that other sports seem to be picking up with ease. What can or should be done to give college tennis more visibility?
John: As I wrote about recently, 25 of the 30 NCAA championships aired on television or were streamed by ESPN during the 2021-2022 academic year. Tennis joins rifle, skiing, rowing, and men’s water polo as the five outliers. As a college sports fan, particularly of women’s sports, it’s been phenomenal to see so many sports skyrocket in popularity like softball and volleyball. But as a tennis fan, it’s sad to see the sport being left behind.

There’s clearly not a silver bullet to get college tennis on TV but three things we need to keep doing:
1. Increase in-person attendance: To get on TV, you need people demanding it to be on TV. Those people are going to be the people who attend matches. In absence of TV, let’s make sure we’re packing the stands. I’d like to see a greater investment from the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) across social media to showcase how unique a college dual match is – it’s rowdy, loud and the opposite of what the average student might think!

2. College tennis at US pro events: One exciting development this year was the inclusion of college tennis at pro events in the US. At the Miami Open, the University of Miami women’s team played a dual match against Columbia and at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, several midwestern schools played an exhibition event. These are excellent showcases of the collegiate product and the level of play to the biggest tennis fans in that region. Next step: US Open!

3. Invest in innovative broadcast solutions: You always hear that tennis is difficult to get on TV because of the length and difficulty in broadcasting across 6 courts. The former is certainly true, and I’m open to exploring additional formats. But I think the latter can be solved. You need 6 quality cameras and broadcasters who understand the rhythm of a dual match. It’s a skill! Anyone who follows college tennis knows that there’s certain moments across the courts that you need to focus on; knowledgeable broadcasters can deliver a well-packaged product. 

Joey: One of the items that’s currently on college tennis’ agenda is moving the NCAA individual tournament to the fall. What are your thoughts? How would outgoing seniors/new pros be included in that equation?
John: This is pretty controversial and I don’t think enough people are talking about it. The NCAA Tennis Committee is proposing to split college tennis into two distinct seasons: individuals in the fall and team in the spring. This is similar to how Track & Field has an Indoor Season and an Outdoor season – each considered its own sport. This would move the NCAA individual event to November; it currently follows the NCAA team event in May. Each academic year would have individuals in the fall and then team competition in the spring. At which point, if you graduated, you wouldn’t be eligible to play in the following fall season.

I understand the motivation. The current iteration of the fall season wasn’t sustainable: it’s listless, expensive, and confusing. The alternative here was probably schools no longer funding programs to play events in the fall so this proposal codifies and provides clear structure for a fall season.

Joey: When it comes to college tennis itself, has the NIL implantation surprised you in any way? Do you see/think things expanding for prize money earned – something that ultimately tennis is the lone sport that has to deal with – ever coming to the NCAA’s table?
John: I actually have been surprised with how little most tennis players are leveraging NIL; Perhaps I was too bullish on the opportunity for things like summer camps, hitting opportunities, local tennis shops/clubs. One factor is that international students can’t take advantage of NIL opportunities. Since tennis is the most international sport in the NCAA, you’ll inherently see less action there. But outside of the rare brand deal and tennis players taking advantage of baseline offerings from their schools (e.g. getting listed on Opendorse), you’re not seeing much visible impact. I say “visible” intentionally, though! Who knows what creative packages coaches are securing with the help of donors. 

I don’t see the NCAA tackling the prize money issue any time soon. Players are still being deemed ineligible because of it and I don’t think there’s much appetite for the NCAA to create more sport-specific rules. 

Joey: If you were college tennis commissioner, what would you add/change/bring back?
John: There are so many ways to answer this question! At the end of the day, college tennis needs to be fun and something that people are excited to attend. If I were commissioner, I’d pilot several format changes that include doubles as a shoot out (only played if singles is tied) and simultaneous start (4 singles, 1 doubles). We hypothesize about how these changes could be successful but there’s only one way to find out! Also, continue to do away with stuffy, tennis-centric rules like being quiet during points. As long as fans aren’t verbally abusing players then cheering and talking is all fair game. Other college sports do a better job at making their sport a destination event (concessions, music, entertainment), and tennis needs to adapt. 

Joey: Your podcast, No-Ad, No Problem is still in its infancy stages, but who are your dream guests to have on?
John: Outside of having Joey Dillon back as a return guest? I wouldn’t say I have a single dream guest but probably a few categories:

  1. Recent, former players: I’ve noticed that former men’s tennis players are much more active in following college tennis on social media than the women are. I’d love to have more recent women’s players to talk about storylines and results.
  2. Institutional gatekeepers: It would be fascinating to talk with the leadership at the ITA or those on the NCAA tennis committee. There’s a lot of valid critiques that they don’t do a good job addressing publicly. 
  3. Coaches but make them anonymous: Since we’re talking “dream,” I’d love to have coaches on but find a way to make them anonymous. Can we get a voice changer!? In absence of anonymity, most coaches are pretty boring on the record. Getting their honest perspective would be refreshing. 

Also, I’m always open to people volunteering themselves or topics for the podcast! I’m just a DM away.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Joey Dillon