Improving Tennis at the Olympics — Quotes from Tokyo & Beyond — Must-click women’s tennis links
The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, August 3, 2021
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Wrapping Up Tokyo
Before I continue, I have to apologize — yet again — for making predictions. Apologies to all three of my medalist picks — and fourth place — who did not make it to the semifinals.
The Olympics were another prime example of the WTA’s depth and honestly, it’s still as exciting as hell.
It was quite an eight days in Tokyo for the 2020 Olympic Games and just like in Rio, a surprise winner emerged. While her run wasn’t as unexpected as Monica Puig’s in 2016, I’m not sure anyone had Belinda Bencic as their champ. The Swiss played controlled and inspired tennis to capture the first singles Gold medal for her country with a three-set win over Marketa Vondrousova. Roger Federer, who was expected to play mixed doubles with Bencic before his withdrawal, was quick to lead the charge of the tennis world sending congratulations to the World No. 12. The big question here is now can she use this run to capture a Grand Slam?
Vondrousova was perhaps even more unlikely to make a run for the podium, where she had to use her protected ranking — something she hadn’t used in well over a year — to leap over countrywoman Karolina Muchova for the final Czech spot. Now, she’s the best Czech finisher in Olympic singles history, doing one better than Petra Kvitova in 2016.
Elina Svitolina emerged with the bronze medal with a massive come-from-behind win over Elena Rybakina. The newlywed was down a set and a break and in the second-set tiebreak, Rybakina had a putaway volley at 5-5 to set up match point, but missed it wide. The Ukrainian seized the moment and never looked back. You have to feel for Rybakina and the other bronze medal match losers. They make the semifinals and essentially leave with a certificate.
In doubles, Katerina Siniakova and Barbora Krejcikova continued their doubles dominance, giving Czech Republic their first post-Soviet gold medal. They knocked out Bencic and Viktorija Golubic, denying Bencic a rare double-gold run. The bronze medal is perhaps my favorite story of the entire Games. Five at The IX alum Luisa Stefani and Laura Pigossi were last-minute additions to the Games and made an inspired run to the semis. They defeated the Nos. 7 and 4 seeds en route before losing to Bencic and Golubic. Already saving match point in their second round, they did it again to defeat Elena Vesnina and Veronika Kudermetova to win their country’s first medal in tennis.
In mixed doubles, Elena Vesnina held match point, but was denied a second career Gold medal, losing to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Andrey Rublev with partner Asla Karatsev. Ashleigh Barty, who was upset in the opening round of singles, partnered with John Peers to take home the bronze medal after Novak Djokovic withdrew from competition. Like Rybakina and Kudermetova, it was brutal to see Nina Stojanovic essentially be shafted because Djokovic missed out on his singles opportunities.
Now that I’ve recapped, there’s a few things I’d love to see moving forward when it comes to tennis at the Olympics:
Dates/Team Competition: How about we extend the event to at least two full weeks and have a team event? Expand the country entry limit so more doubles players have opportunities to play, too. Sixteen teams, five matches of two singles, two doubles and one mixed doubles. We’ve seen how Hopman Cup is universally loved and I’ll even say keep scoring to two out of three sets, no-ad with a 10-point tiebreaker. The Asian Games and SEA Games have team events on top of individuals and with the next Games only three years away, the ITF and WTA/ATP can clear out the calendar in advance to make it possible.
Ranking points: Unfortunately, medal glory isn’t enough for some players, mainly the men, but we need to incentivize the players to make it the best Games possible. With that said, how can you give ranking points when certain players are phased out because of their country? Which leads me to….
Edit max per country rule: I get having a cap on players per country to help globalize the entry list as much as possible, but players like Muchova, Danielle Collins or Anastasia Potapova making the cut but missing out because of higher-ranked players doesn’t sit the best with me. If you make the entry cutoff and want to play, why not just play as individuals under the Olympic flag? I don’t know where things can be expanded, maybe maximum of four players per discipline, but increase the amount of gender on a team over six? Maybe it’s perfect just the way it is? I don’t think so, but luckily I’m not in charge of rules.
Increase the mixed doubles draw: a 16-team draw is too small and is a slap in the face to the doubles players hoping to get in, but getting bumped out by singles rankings. Not only increase the draw to 32, but prioritize doubles rankings for more than just seedings — make it so doubles players can play the event. The same can be said for the main doubles event too.
Doubles scoring: It’s a travesty the scoring for both doubles draws were the same as on the main tours. For something special like the Olympics, it would’ve been nice to see two out of three sets. I’ll even compromise and have no-ad scoring with a tiebreaker at 6-6. The 10-point match tiebreaker is essentially a crapshoot and can swing either way. I already don’t like it on the circuit and it, in my opinion, slightly lessens the value of the doubles medal. Phew don’t set me ablaze here.
This Week in Women’s Tennis
The WTA announced their Fall calendar which includes the BNP Paribas Open in October, a new WTA 250 in Chicago this month and a variety of European events. The WTA Finals will not be held in China, but there is no announcement of their replacement. If I were a betting man (LOL), I would assume it would be somewhere in Europe, perhaps Prague or London, but I would love to see an American city take it selfishly.
Varvara Lepchenko has been a mainstay on the WTA Tour for two decades, but had never won a WTA-level title. That changed this week when the American captured the WTA 125 LTP Women’s Open in Charleston, South Carolina. Inspired by a reunion with her old coach and hits with Serena Williams, the former World No. 19 came from a break down to outlast Jamie Loeb in three sets. Rebecca Marino and Liang En-Shuo took home the doubles title.
At another WTA 125 event, Anna Karolina Schmiedlova won the Serbia Ladies Open over Aranxta Rus. It was her first WTA title in three years, after capturing three WTA 250 crowns in her career. The doubles title went to Olga Govortsova and Lidziya Marozava, who defeated Alena Fomina and Ekaterina Yashina.
The topic of athletes and mental health have largely been on display at the Olympics because of Simone Biles. However, Biles pointed out Naomi Osaka giving her the courage to be transparent and the narrative is quickly, and positively changing.
Some Olympic reading:
A look back at WTA Insider’s Doubles Dossier with Luisa Stefani.
WTA Insider’s recap of the Tokyo Games.
Greg Garber’s piece on Monica Puig five years after her incredible run in Rio.
The best time of the year, the North American hardcourt swing, begins this week. It’s a special event for the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic, who is celebrating their 50th anniversary this week. I did a Five at The IX with tournament director Vickie Gunnarsson in February, which you can view here.
Genie Bouchard is still recovering from shoulder surgery, but she will still be on your television screens this summer. The Canadian made her commentary debut this week with Tennis Channel and she will be a fixture throughout the hardcourt swing.
The Winner’s Open, a WTA 250 in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, received a visit from Simona Halep before the two-time Grand Slam champion jetted off to prepare for Montreal.
Next week, the WTA 1000 in Montreal kicks off with Ashleigh Barty, Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep leading the seeding announcement. It’s nice to see Montreal still be able to host after barely scraping by with approval by the Canadian government.
In retirement news, Kiki Bertens formally retired after her second round doubles loss in Tokyo. Also, David Kane had a great conversation with Timea Bacszinsky, who announced her departure last week.
Junior Wimbledon champion Ane Mintegi Del Olmo not only captured her maiden Slam, but she got to meet the King of Spain. No big deal. What were you doing at 17? I was working at Burger King.
Jordaan Sanford, a Five at The IX alum, spoke with Danielle Collins, who opened up about her friendship with idols Venus and Serena Williams, as well as her endometriosis surgery that has given her relief en route to a first career WTA title last month.
Tweet of the Week
The IX has a bronze medal — courtesy of Five alum Luisa Stefani!
Five at The IX: Champs & Medallists
“I was married, and then right before Covid, I got divorced. I was thinking before Covid and my divorce to retire, start a family, start a new life. But when that didn’t happen, the only thing that kept me alive was tennis. Tennis was the only thing that kept me happy. So I went back to playing, and I discovered a new passion and how much this game gave me. No matter what happens outside of tennis, I’ll always have that passion and that game. That’s where everything started as a little girl, since I was six years old. And that’s something no one can take away from me.” – Varvara Lepchenkno
“I think I accomplished it for them. I think they did so much in their careers. I’m not sure I will ever be able to do what they have done. But maybe I could help them to accomplish this one by giving them this Olympics. So it’s both for Martina and for Roger.” – Belinda Bencic
“To win such a big battle for the bronze medal definitely means the world to me. Everyone in Ukraine is watching – we don’t win so many medals, you know – so for sure, it’s very special for me and for Ukraine.” – Elina Svitolina
“Words can’t express what this medal means. It’s a dream. I always wanted this medal, I always wanted this. I’m over the moon and speechless. Everything I’ve done, everything I’ve given up to get here, I always thought it was worth it, but now I have a medal to prove it. And we know that everyone in Brazil was behind us.” – Laura Pigossi
“It’s not natural to me, but I’m always trying. Every word I say before a point is ‘Be brave, be brave.’ It still sometimes doesn’t happen, but I know it’s important because otherwise I cannot beat players on this level.” – Anna Karolina Schmiedlova