Let the Finals Begin! — Quotes from Fort Worth — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, Nov. 1, 2022

Happy Tennis Tuesday, and Happy November! Last week, I talked about some potential storylines to look out for as the WTA Finals begins, but we finally have our groupings! Note, yesterday was the opening day of play with Maria Sakkari getting revenge on Jessica Pegula from last week’s Guadalajara final and Aryna Sabalenka escaping Ons Jabeur.

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Another story was the sparse crowd on Day 1 — perhaps a direct result of the WTA’s lack of marketing tactics. We will shelve that discussion for the postseason. That being said, there’s lots of tennis to be discussed. Shall we?

Tracy Austin Group

1. Iga Swiatek
4. Coco Gauff
6. Caroline Garcia
8. Daria Kasatkina

Nancy Richey Group

2. Ons Jabeur
3. Jessica Pegula
5. Maria Sakkari
7. Aryna Sabalenka

For the Tracy Austin group, I think it’s safe to say that Iga Swiatek will be one of the two semifinalists to emerge. One prediction I don’t like saying is that this group doesn’t bode well for Daria Kasatkina. All three of her opponents are amongst the best returners in the game and I think her serve will get eaten up.

The match-up of the round robin — in my opinion — will be Coco Gauff vs. Caroline Garcia with the winner of that claiming the No. 2 position in their group. My gut says Gauff will come out on top, but Garcia has the previous WTA Finals experience that could be the biggest intangible. You also have to factor in the fact that Gauff is also playing doubles with Jessica Pegula. Will she tire out?

As for the Nancy Richey group, I think who makes the semi-finals will come down to sets won. The first day of play saw the lower two players win their opening matches, so it’s not looking good for Ons Jabeur and Jessica Pegula. While they’re both having the best year of their career, their WTA Finals debut started with some bumps. Again, we’re going with gut here, but I think Sabalenka can escape this group with a perfect 3-0 record and the top spot in their group.

The second player? It’s truly hard to say. I can see Pegula beating Jabeur and Jabeur beating Sakkari, putting a lot of pressure on the Sabalenka-Sakkari and Sabalenka-Pegula matchups. Though she lost her opening matches in both singles and doubles and is also coming in off of a lot of tennis, I think Pegula will crawl out into the semifinals but the odds slightly lean in Sakkari’s favor.

Who knows what will happen, but my preliminary semi-finals have Iga Swiatek vs. Jessica Pegula and Aryna Sabalenka vs. Coco Gauff. Perhaps it may be an implicit bias favoring the Americans? Again, there’s way too much tennis left in the week, but I wouldn’t be the most shocked if we saw Iga Swiatek and/or Aryna Sabalenka in the WTA’s grand finale. The indoor courts seem to favor Sabalenka and Swiatek did mention being a big fan of the Dunlop ball that is being used — the same in her title-winning run in San Diego.

Feel free to roast me next week, but until then — onto links!

This Week in Women’s Tennis

Perhaps the biggest non-WTA Finals news was the announcement of the United Cup. The event will take place in January and combine ATP and WTA players from the same country. Essentially, it’s a rebranded and ramped up Hopman Cup with more teams, more prize money and ranking points.

Elisabetta Cocciaretto claimed her first WTA 125 title at the Abierto Tampico with a win over Magda Linette in the final. The doubles title went to Tereza Mihalikova and Aldila Sutjiadi, who downed Americans Ashlyn Krueger and Elizabeth Mandlik.

Sven Groenfeld shared that he’s stepped away from the coaching Bianca Andreescu, who apparently also lost her trainer Abdul Sillah to Naomi Osaka after trying to split duties between the two. In other coaching news, Dmitry Tursunov spoke out about deciding to leave Emma Raducanu and join the team of Belinda Bencic and Caroline Garcia parted ways with Bertrand Perret on the eve of the WTA Finals.

Martina Navratilova discusses her thoughts on the WTA’s Elite Eight ahead of Fort Worth.

New Balance continues to invest in Coco Gauff, who’s well on her way to be the WTA’s big shining star:

While Daria Saville continues to rehab from ACL surgery, she’s killing it — like always — on social media. One recent post talked about the pay disparities between the men and women.

Congratulations to Caroline Wozniacki, who gave birth to her second child with husband, David Lee.

The WTA Finals have pretty much seen it all, but what are the big stats to know?

Why Serena, yes I have:

Fort Worth may be a head-scratcher for some, but Texas does have some rich history producing players like Zina Garrison and Nancy Richey.

The WTA continues to pave ways for more breast cancer research thanks to their ACEing Cancer initiative.

TW: abuse

If you thought the days of Jim Pierce and Damir Dokic were gone, you’re wrong:

Tweet(s) of the Week

Superb Halloween content from the WTA. Bravo!

Five at The IX: WTA Finals Media Day

Q. Iga, we’ve seen sometimes someone succeeding so much and hitting many goals, they’re not always able to maintain the drive. But for you, it seems that you have plenty of drive. And I’m curious, have you always been this way, and are you putting any extra effort and work with Daria or with your coach into finding a way to stay that driven? Does it come naturally to you, or do you feel you’re next level now when it comes to the drive?

IGA SWIATEK: Well, I feel like I also accepted that I don’t have to feel – I don’t know – always 100% motivated. You know, sometimes especially after Grand Slams when you are playing these smaller tournaments, you feel the energy level is a little bit lower. But on the other hand, when I’m going on court, it’s still the same, and I always want to win. I’m basing my motivation on that.

And even when I don’t feel like – I don’t know – I want to compete, I want to win. I know that when I’m going to be on court, it’s going to be the same.

So I wouldn’t say the motivation level is going like that. But even when it’s going a little bit down, it’s enough for me to perform my best. It’s okay sometimes to not be so pumped, you know?

Q. Where do you place the importance of this tournament in the year, and what is the significance of an event where it is such a limited field based on a season’s results?

GABRIELA DABROWSKI: I place it as one of the top events of the year. It’s always a goal of mine if I’m playing with a consistent partner to be able to qualify for the WTA Finals. I think I mentioned that a few times throughout this year.

It matters a lot to me to qualify for this event and to try to do well. I think it’s a huge honor to be part of it because it is the culmination of our season and it is indicative of everyone’s level throughout the year and their consistency as teams.

It’s just the best tennis that you can find right now. So I think it’s really special to be here.

GIULIANA OLMOS: Yeah, I think it’s really cool to be here. This is my second time qualifying. I think, like Gabby said, it’s kind of a culmination of the hard work and the results you’ve had throughout the year.

Yesterday being at the dinner, seeing all the teams, all the singles players being called up, I’m really here with the best players in the world. Even though we’re in that group, it’s still kind of surreal to me that I am here, that we are here. I think it’s really cool.

I think it’s just an honor and privilege to be here. I definitely think it’s kind of like a fifth slam. I would kind of put it at that caliber. Kind of like after US Open, I feel like we kind of started a swing again and you’re preparing for that next slam. This is kind of that tournament. It’s the last one of the year, so everyone obviously wants to end on a high note.

Yeah, just want to enjoy it and do the best we can.

Q. What for you is the significance of getting to this event for the first time, being one of those top eight at the end of the year?

JESSICA PEGULA: I think the significance is just, it’s just more of a reward and a confidence boost for me I think to just show what a great season I have and how consistent I’ve been.

I don’t think I started the year thinking about making WTA Finals, but I think as the year went on and it became more of a goal, it was something I’m more proud of now that I was able to accomplish.

So, yeah, it’s a huge honor. I think we’re just all really excited to be here. Again, I think it’s more of a reward for our really great season.

And I think obviously you want to win, but at the same time to me it feels different because it’s not a tournament. It’s a different format, less players.

I don’t know. It’s a different… it’s just a different week, but it’s kind of a fun way to cap off the year. So, again, it feels kind of more like a reward I feel like, but an earned reward. So it’s satisfying.

Q. What significance do you place on being one of the top eight and making it to the WTA Finals for the first time? Also, one statistic was mentioned. Also is that you are the youngest American in almost 30 years to make it to the WTA Finals, the youngest player, period, in I think it’s more than 15 years. What significance, if any, do those kinds of things have for you?

COCO GAUFF: I don’t really pay attention to it. Not that I’m not grateful. Obviously I’m really grateful. When it comes to these statistics and stats about my age, I guess…

I mean, it’s cool, but I feel like it’s my life, so I don’t look at it as amazing or outstanding as other people look at it.

I’ve gotten asked that a lot about different things in my age. But it is always crazy to me when I find somebody brings up a stat or something about my age, and I feel like almost every tournament is a new thing. It’s going to be somebody else’s turn soon (laughing).

But for the most part I just don’t really pay attention to it because it’s my life, so I don’t feel like I’m doing anything. When I’m stepping on the court, my opponent, at least I don’t think they look at me any different because I’m younger.

Q. So over the past year or so there’s been a shift to Hawkeye system calling on the lines. Since that’s the case here, is there any part of you that misses having line judges to challenge the calls, or do you like the new system?

ONS JABEUR: Honestly, I like the new system because it’s easier to know, and you don’t have to question yourself if the ball was in or out, should I challenge it.

Sometimes it plays with your mind. You can challenge a ball, and you are for sure it’s in, and you challenge it, and it’s out. So even the next one you are sure the ball is in, and you want to challenge it, but you don’t have the courage to do it.

But, yeah, definitely that doesn’t raise any questions for you during the match and makes you focus more on just playing.

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