Reality TV, visas and Australian Open picks — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, January 18, 2022

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, Oi, Oi! Happy Tuesday and Happy Australian Open — which is conveniently known as the “Happy Slam.”

I’ll get into my infamous draw picks soon, but let’s talk perhaps the biggest off-court news of the week. The WTA, ATP and Grand Slams announced that they’ve struck a deal with Netflix to produce a docuseries similar to F1’s Drive to Survive. In a future Tennis Tuesday when things were slow, I planned on writing about a few ways the WTA could better market themselves and a reality TV series was number 1 on my list. In fact, I briefly mentioned it on Twitter last week when a similar series was announced for golf.

I’m really excited about this series, as I’m sure some of you remember a Tennis Tuesday reflection I did on two WTA documentaries from 2000-2001 (view here and here). While it seems that the series will focus on specific players, and I’ve heard rumblings of some names, I really hope they do showcase the operations of the tour. Remember, the WTA is the premier women’s sport governing body and their success has shaped many of the leagues and organizations of other female sports. I’d love to see the boardrooms and the meetings that go down that make critical decisions. I’ve discussed plenty that this period for the WTA — specifically this next year — will significantly impact the tour’s future for perhaps decades to come.

Some topics I’m hoping will be addressed: China and Peng Shuai, the exploration of new markets and the growing friendship between the WTA and ATP. I’d also like to see the travel side of the game; what specific flights or routes do players prefer, the process behind visas, rules/umpires and other logistics. I’ve given Novak Djokovic plenty of airtime, so I won’t delve into his final and rightful deportation. However, since we’re slightly on the topic of visas, the WTA finally gave a statement on Renata Voracova’s deportation. The WTA had been doing such a fine and transparent job with Peng Shuai, I was a bit disappointed they took so long inserting themselves. With that said, Voracova is reportedly seeking compensation for her entire ordeal and honestly, I hope she gets more than just her travel expenses covered. Minimum should be first round prize money for doubles and possibly mixed doubles.

I just have one, simple request:

Now, time to talk Melbourne!

We’re back with Grand Slam action and the last couple of weeks have had some surprising results. Melbourne Summer Set champions Simona Halep and Amanda Anisimova aim to seize a draw headlined by Adelaide champ Ashleigh Barty that was revealed over the weekend.

Sloane Stephens, friend of The IX, is kicking off her season with a first-round matchup against reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu. It’s, in my opinion, the juiciest opener aside from other Adelaide champion Madison Keys’ Day 1 upset over 2020 champion Sofia Kenin. This will be the first Grand Slam action for Raducanu since her inspiring run in New York, but like her new Nike ad insinuates the Brit says there’s no pressure ahead of her Melbourne debut.

Like always, the draw is completely open. Sure, there may be a list of 5-10 names that could walk away with the trophy, but the beauty of how deep the WTA is continues into this year. I’m super excited, to be honest. I know I joke about my predictions, but I don’t think we’re going to see a lot of seeds hold up to their round. The second and fourth quarters of the draw are the most open in my mind. The second quarter holds both champions from last week — Paula Badosa and Madison Keys — as well as Sydney runner-up Barbora Krejcikova, Elina Svitolina and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka. The final sliver of the draw is perhaps the most open due to the yips No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka is facing. The Belarusian is 0-2 to start the year, serving a combined 39 double faults. Don’t be surprised to see Storm Sanders pull of the upset in the first round — she has game and will be a Top 100 singles fixture this year.

Round of 16
(1) Ashleigh Barty def. (13) Naomi Osaka
(6) Maria Sakkari def. (21) Jessica Pegula
(24) Victoria Azarenka def. (6) Barbora Krejcikova
Madison Keys def. (8) Paula Badosa
(6) Anett Kontaveit def. (12) Elena Rybakina
(14) Simona Halep def. (3) Garbine Muguruza
(7) Iga Swiatek def. (10) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
Ann Li def. (23) Leylah Fernandez

Quarterfinals
(1) Ashleigh Barty def. (6) Maria Sakkari
(24) Victoria Azarenka def. Madison Keys
(14) Simona Halep def. (6) Anett Kontaveit
(7) Iga Swiatek def. Ann Li

Semi-Finals
(1) Ashleigh Barty def. (24) Victoria Azarenka
(14) Simona Halep def. (7) Iga Swiatek

Final
(1) Ashleigh Barty def. (14) Simona Halep

I think this will be Barty’s biggest breakthrough to date. She looked fantastic in Adelaide and in her first-round match. I see the winner of Barty-Osaka taking it all, but again, the bottom half could be a wild one. I’ve been one to have many Top 16 seeds reach that round, but the younger stars like Leylah Fernandez and Ann Li could swipe that away. Like always, take these with a truckload grain of salt.

Of course, a special best of luck to our Five at The IX alums — who make up two (Shelby Rogers and Sloane Stephens) spots in singles and seven in doubles!


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This Week in Women’s Tennis

We’re sending our best wishes and positive vibes to WTA Legend Chris Evert, who shared her Stage 1C ovarian cancer diagnosis in a piece she co-authored with ESPN reporter Chris McKenndry.

Paula Badosa outlasted Barbora Krejcikova in a third-set tiebreaker to claim the her third WTA title at the Sydney Tennis Classic. The doubles title went to Anna Danilina and Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil, who came back from a set down to defeat Vivian Heisen and Panna Udvardy.

At the Adelaide International 2, Madison Keys brought some vintage form to take out Alison Riske in an all-American final to win her sixth WTA crown. Eri Hozumi and Makoto Ninomaya saved a championship point to win their first title as a doubles duo over Tereza Martincova and Marketa Vondrousova.

Your weekly dose of WTA Insider delivering:

If you ever think you’re busy, just take a look at Leylah Fernandez’s team. Just this week alone, the Canadian announced three new sponsorships. Perhaps the biggest one is her deal with Lululemon, who is going to use the 19 year-old as the face of their foray into the tennisphere. The 2021 Canadian Press Female Athlete of the Year also inked deals with Gatorade and Google.

Storm Sanders is looking to be more than a great name ahead of her first-round encounter with No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka.

Though I don’t necessarily agree with it, Coco Gauff is hoping to be on TikTok less as she continues to mature on tour.

I love that USTA Pro Circuit GOAT Julie Ditty Qualls is going to continue to be part of the tour after her passing last year:

Emina Bektas, a graduate of that school up North The University of Michigan, is among three collegiate alums making their Grand Slam main draw debut this week.

Anett Kontaveit joined Twitter last week and kept her head up following her epic 7-6(16-14) in the third loss in the Sydney semifinals:

Sydney champ Paula Badosa hit a new career-high ranking, while Adelaide winner Madison Keys made an impressive jump in this week’s rankings.

If you’re concerned about COVID and the masses of people at Melbourne Park, hopefully the news of a 50% capacity cap will help ease those thoughts.

2009 US Open semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer is training for a comeback from maternity leave, but the Belgian made an appearance on her country’s version of The Masked Singer. I high-key hope Serena Williams appears on the US’ version at some point.


Tweet of the Week

Ashleigh Barty is obviously the World’s best player, but the mark she’s leaving as an Aborigine could be her biggest impact.


Five at The IX: Last Week’s Champions’ Pressers

Q. What is the biggest takeaway that you get out of a week like this?

MADISON KEYS: I think the biggest takeaway is that things can switch at any moment. As long as you can continue to have the right mindset and keep going for things and keep working hard, things will get better if they’re not going well as long as you just have the right mindset and continue to have a good attitude about it.

I’m just really happy that I’ve been able to put a lot of good matches together. But the biggest thing that I’m taking away from this week is even after being in positions where I lost the first set or things might not be going my way, just having a really collected mindset of I can figure this out, and if I don’t I go back onto the practice court and I figure it out tomorrow. Being really conscious of that on the court.

Q. Yesterday you talked about vibes, trying to keep perspective. What are the tricks or habits that you have now that help you to do that?

MADISON KEYS: Just really trying to, like I said, remind myself that things can change at any moment. In one week you can go from losing first round somewhere, then you can be in the finals the next week.

Tennis is one of those sports that as long as you keep going forward with the right mindset and you keep working hard, things can change very easily. I mean, it doesn’t really matter what you did the week before.

Obviously it’s great to have that confidence under your belt, but it really doesn’t matter. It resets every single week, which is the great part and the really terrible part about tennis (smiling). But I really just tried to, you know, go out for a coffee, go out to dinner when I can.

Then the biggest thing honestly is my team is very low stress. That’s a big thing for me. Not having that excess stress just within the team helps a lot. Tennis is just a lot of fun. Being on the practice court, working really hard but having fun, just remembering that it is a game and not the end all, be all of life.

Q. You’re a former No. 7, currently ranked No. 87. You said what you were experiencing last year was the number being attached to your name and that wasn’t helpful. Theoretically I’m assuming you would be wanting to get back in the top 10 because you know you’re capable of that. Are the goals different now? Being happier is more important and the ranking takes care of itself? I’m trending upwards already… What is your aim in that kind of space?

MADISON KEYS: I think where I’m at currently is if I can enjoy tennis and be collected on the court, just really kind of know where I am in that moment when things aren’t going super well and all of that, not just focusing on winning and losing, really sticking to how do I want to play this match, what am I doing well, what am I doing wrong, how do I need to improve, all of that, I think winning and losing takes care of itself.

I think if I can continue not to be too preoccupied with my ranking or winning a match, all of the small things that go into that, defending points, all that, it kind of just takes care of itself. You can continue to get more confidence by winning matches but not having that focus be on winning the match.

At the end of the day just trying to go out and compete at the highest level that I can and at the highest level I know I’m capable of competing at is the end of the day my absolute goal. I think if I can keep my mindset on that, then winning happens on its own.

There’s going to be days where it doesn’t go well and I lose, and it is what it is. We go back on the practice court and we have a tournament again the next week.

Q. We saw you play this match, the match against Kasatkina, and the ability to be aggressive and step in, really, really gun your shots. I know that maybe in the past, obviously you always had the power, but you seem to be dropping back more behind the baseline the last few years. So can you talk a little bit about that evolution and that change in your game and how much more comfortable you are now as an aggressive player?

PAULA BADOSA: Yeah, I think that was my goal. That was something I really worked hard on of course on practices, but I think it’s very important to do it on matches, because it’s when you start to maybe be more afraid to do that.

I think I did a very good step forward on that, starting with my coach, Jorge, he helped me a lot on this big change. Trying, sometimes it’s tough for me, but going more to the net or going more for it in the returns.

I’m really happy about that. For me, it’s very special to win tournaments on hard court, because maybe I was playing very good on clay and I was maybe being more with power but more spin, trying to play with more spin.

So for me, this change, it was tough mentally at the beginning. And even I think I was starting to do that in Ostrava, and then in Indian Wells it went very well but it was different courts. I think here in Australia the courts are faster, so that change was a little bit tough for me. We were talking about that. But I think my coach helped me a lot on this big change, because one of the things that I have to improve a little bit is to accept that I have to miss, and sometimes I don’t want to miss, so that’s a little bit the battle that I have mentally.

But I’m really happy that I’m starting to do it and that I’m winning tournaments and amazing players and in these kind of courts that they are maybe not the ones that I feel more comfortable.

Q. You’re on a pretty fantastic streak with respect to tiebreakers. You have won like 10 straight. Haven’t lost one since the Olympics. You talked about small margins and how one point one way or the other can decide things. Two big wins in tiebreaks at this point. Talk about what has been the key for you to maybe change mentality, change how you treat a tiebreak that seemingly has gotten these wins for you.

PAULA BADOSA: Yeah, I know the last tiebreak I lost. I even remember against who it was, so imagine. Mladenovic in Olympics.

But, yeah, I think it’s small details in that moments. I don’t know. I like to play at the limits. I try to give everything there. I try to compete to play that point and finding the balance of being aggressive, as well.

So, yeah, for the moment I have been winning all the tiebreaks, but for sure I will lose some tiebreaks. But still, I’m very happy that in that important moments I’m bringing my best tennis and I think that if you want to win tournaments you will have to win a lot of tiebreaks, so I’m very happy about that.


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: Anne Tokarski, @annetokarski, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Joey Dillon