Getting Ready to Rumble on the hardcourts — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, July 26, 2022

Happy Tennis Tuesday, y’all! I never want to point blank say there’s a lull in the WTA calendar right now, but again — the weeks between Wimbledon and the North American hardcourts swing give us a bit of a mid-year breather. Sure, there’s WTA 250 tournaments happening in Europe, but the majority of players are gearing up for a very busy US Open Series.

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I figured I would give a few storylines to keep aware of as things kick off next week with the Citi Open in Washington D.C. and the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose.

Russian & Belarussian Players

This — no surprise — is my biggest question mark entering the hardcourt season. Players like Victoria Azarenka, Aryna Sabalenka, Daria Kasatkina and Veronika Kudermetova have produced some fantastic results not only on hardcourts, but in North America as well. Azarenka is a three-time US Open finalist, while Kasatkina and Kudermetova land in the current Top 10 in this year’s Race to the WTA Finals. Still, players from these countries were banned from playing any of the tournaments in the United Kingdom, including Wimbledon. Sure, Sabalenka played in the Netherlands and made the final, but that was her only action since Roland Garros. While these players might have gotten a head start on training for the summer hardcourts, they’re technically not as match-fresh as they’d like to be. This could bode some problems for Sabalenka and Azarenka specifically, who really need repetitions to garner some consistency.

Now, while they’ve been essentially banished to only the practice courts, they’re still professional athletes. I think playing next week in Washington D.C. (Azarenka) and San Jose (the rest) will give them enough practice to make a presence at the WTA 1000 events. I’d also be curious if any of them play in Cleveland the week before the US Open since they’ve been out of commission longer than they would’ve liked. There’s positive and negatives for doing that, but if any players were to play four weeks in a row, I would lean towards Kasatkina and Kudermetova.

If I were to guess (lol), expect Azarenka to have the best summer out of these four. This is usually her prime part of the season and she’s rose to the occasion this time of the year when previous results wouldn’t indicate that.

Venus & Serena

We entered Wimbledon unsure of if we’ve seen the last of Venus and Serena Williams, but it looks like we’ll see plenty of the sisters this summer.

Next week, Venus will be making her return to the singles court at the Citi Open in Washington D.C., having received a wildcard by the tournament. She’s also set to compete at the National Bank Open in Toronto, where Serena will be playing following her Wimbledon first-round loss. Serena has entered the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, but don’t be surprised if Venus will pop up with a wildcard there, too. This will be the first time Serena is expected to play both WTA 1000 events back-to-back for the first time since 2015.

I find these summer entries a little surprising given how little they’ve played — and quite frankly, shared a lack of training. However, you all know I’m here for it and the Williams sisters can do whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want. They’ve earned the right to say farewell in public, do it privately or just continue to push themselves as much as they can on the court. With that said, don’t be penciling in Grand Slam No. 24 for Serena just yet, as much as I’d like to. Let’s hold off and see how the summer unfolds before I give any of my (infamous) predictions.

Emma Raducanu

A year ago, we barely knew Emma Raducanu’s name following a second week run at Wimbledon, but she’s now a Top 10 player and currently one of the world’s most marketable athletes. This past week, she — controversially — received the ESPY Award for Best Female Tennis Player and all eyes will be on the Brit as she looks to defend the history-making title in New York. While she finally entered the Top 10, Raducanu hasn’t fared as ideal as she’d like in her first full season on the WTA Tour. The reigning US Open champion is holding a 9-12 win-loss record this year and has only won back-to-back matches twice — both on clay. The injury problems she’s been having throughout the year may not be surprising given her young age and quick rise to the Tour’s top, but it is still concerning nonetheless.

Like she did at Wimbledon, I don’t expect to see Raducanu defend her title, but I don’t expect her to flame out in the first round, too. She’s won her opener at Grand Slams at all three thus far, but unfortunately, lost her second round. Of course, it all depends on the draw, but perhaps Raducanu can pull some inspiration from last year’s run and the New York crowd that guided her all the way in her ten matches. She’s set to appear in Washington D.C., Toronto and Cincinnati, which should give her enough big-time matches to be seasoned enough for the US Open. Still, she will be a huge question mark when the fortnight begins.

Now, onto links!

This Week in Women’s Tennis

Five at The IX alum Kristie Ahn is killing it in retirement, leading a fantastic social media team at the Hamburg European Open this week. I honestly hope more tournaments learn from the German event and hire her because she’s been *chef’s kiss.*

From failing to make a final before last week, Bernarda Pera sure is making things look easy now. The American captured her second consecutive WTA title at the Hamburg European Open. Pera earned the title with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Anett Kontaveit — stretching her winning streak to 12 matches and 24 sets. The doubles title is perhaps my personal favorite of the week. 2021 USC grad Angela Kulikov was making her WTA debut and has been killing the ITF World Tour with Sophie Chang.

The duo had gone 4-1 in ITF finals and left Germany with their debut WTA crowns:

At the 33rd Palermo Ladies Open, Irina-Camelia Begu won her fifth WTA singles title with a straight-set win over local surprise Lucia Bronzetti. The doubles title went to Anna Bondar and Kimberley Zimmerman, who only needed two sets to defeat Amina Anshba and Panna Udvardy.

Seven former Top 50 Japanese female players — including Kimiko Date and Ai Sugiyama — have teamed up to create JWT50, an initiative to foster the upcoming generation of players from Japan break through the world’s upper echelon.

Normally a staple of the summer calendar, 2022 will be missing the World Team Tennis season. The organization announced that they will be pausing following the last two seasons being held at one site instead of their normal home-and-away format. They’re also looking for new franchise teams and I’m already trying to figure out how I can get one in Ohio.

Though about six months pregnant, Elina Svitolina was on hand for Iga Swiatek’s fundraiser for Ukranian aid and opened up about how critical it is to keep her country’s crisis in the news. The event, which also featured Agnieszka Radwanska, helped raise over £400,000 for UNICEF Polska, United 24 and the Elina Svitolina Foundation,

Petra Kvitova helped unveil her own Hall of Fame museum in her hometown of Fulnek, Czech Republic. The building has been in the works for years and includes her two Wimbledon trophies, as well as a gallery wall full of tournament credentials.

Timea Bacsinszky may have been involved in hundreds of coin tosses for her own matches, but the Swiss Olympic silver medalist struggled being the coin flipper at the Swiss Open Gstaad:

Coach Michael Joyce, who has worked with Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, sat with the podcast to discuss his transition from player to coach and the roller coaster it’s taught him.

Peter Bodo profiles Daria Kasatkina’s decision to not only come out, but also speak out against their war on Ukraine.

Naomi Osaka has split from coach Wim Fissette following a partnership that produced two Grand Slams at the 2020 US Open and 2021 Australian Open.

Here for this Billie-ception:

Two big Division I programs have new head coaches. First Adam Herendeen was announced as Texas Tech’s new lead following a very successful stint at Furman. Over at the Ivy League, Jamea Jackson, a former Top 50 WTA player and a coach at the USTA for the past 9 years, will be overseeing the program at Princeton. In other college news, enjoy this read on Duke’s Chloe Beck, who is finding her groove for the Blue Devils after a freshman season cut short because of COVID-19.

Maybe it’s the former Georgia resident in me, but Atlanta needs to become a full-time stop on the WTA calendar. Coco Gauff, armed with her own signature shoe that I need, Taylor Townsend and Sofia Kenin were in the Peach State during the ATP 250 Atlanta Open to have a women’s exhibition.

Tweet of the Week

I’m going to be a bit selfish and plug the first podcast I’ve ever done! I sat down with No Ad, No Problem to discuss my journey from tweeting/writing about professional tennis to playing it:

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