Tennis in the Middle East and Mexico — Interview: Francoise Abanda — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, February 22, 2022

Happy Tennis Tuesday! This past week, Jelena Ostapenko captured the biggest hardcourt title of her career at the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Her route to glory is honestly insane — her first four wins were over Grand Slam champions and she had to face her finals foe in the doubles final:

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  • R1: def. Sofia Kenin, 6-1, 6-2
  • R2: def. (6) Iga Swiatek, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(4)
  • QF: def. Petra Kvitova, 5-7, 7-5, 7-6(9) — honestly peak-WTA
  • SF: def. Simona Halep, 2-6, 7-6(0), 6-0 — a 7-0 tiebreak followed by a bagel? LEGENDARY
  • F: def. Veronika Kudermetova, 6-0, 6-4

Thank you WTA Insider for providing the tournament wrap, but also the quote of the week by Ostapenko:

“When I’m in the final, I always want to win because, as many people say, people remember only winners. It’s always, like, annoying to lose in the final.” If that ain’t a mood.

Kudermetova didn’t leave Dubai empty-handed as she and Elise Mertens defeated Ostapenko and Lyudmyla Kichenok, 6-1, 6-3.

While the tour moves onto both Doha, Qatar and Guadalajara, Mexico this week, two tweets this week from Five at The IX alums caught my attention and really only fueled my question of expansion on the WTA calendar.

The last three weeks, the WTA has had two tournaments, while the men have had 10. That’s simply terrible and definitely not #TennisUnited. The ITF World Tour calendar is just as bad, only offering four tournaments above the $25,000 level this month. I could beat a dead horse about the tournament sanctions, but why not continue to build out in the Middle East!? For starters, Ons Jabeur is a massive star in Tunisia, but combine the fact that Monastir hosts weekly $15,000 ITF World Tour events means there’s a lot of potential for a large-scale event. Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt is another place that have hosted $15,000-$100,000 ITF World Tour events. What’s stopping from them from trying to claim a WTA 250 or above? Mayar Sherif is breaking boundaries for Egyptian tennis too, why not reward these countries?

South America is another area where the men have many 250/500 events and the women? One, in Bogota, unless you want to count Mexico — though that’s Central America if we’re getting technical. Luisa Stefani attended the ATP tournament in Rio de Janeiro and tweeted how so many people asked her when there would be a WTA tournament:

Camila Osorio is a perfect example of how a WTA event can funnel a future star. She received wildcards into the Bogota 250 and would perform well before stunning the world and taking the title last year. From there, she continued to excel on the WTA level and currently sits at No. 45. Beatriz Haddad Maia is No. 70 and just made the finals of the Australian Open doubles tournament. Nadia Podoroska, currently ranked No. 106 but peaked at No. 36 following her run to the 2020 Roland Garros semifinals, has reignited tennis in Argentina, who continue to produce ITF World Tour events with the rumored potential of a WTA berth.

Not only do these tournaments help foster our future generation of WTA stars, but it gives the current crop of players an opportunity to make money and improve their game. Limiting these opportunities only increases the chance that players will have to hang up their racquets. It’s not looking good in the near future, at least as of now. Next week, there are two WTA 250 tournaments, while March is made up of two tournaments — the BNP Paribas Open and Miami Open. That’s nothing new, however there’s only five WTA tournaments scheduled for April, with Billie Jean King Cup qualifiers one of those weeks. An “easy” fix would be to upgrade some high-level ITF World Tour events, but COVID has folded many on the calendar, so right now the only one scheduled through April is a March event in Marbella, Spain.

Now, onto links!

This Week in Women’s Tennis

My read of the week is Greg Garber’s feature on 2016 Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig, who still plans on coming back from elbow and shoulder surgeries but is using her downtime to kill the commentary game.

Congratulations to Five at The IX alum Katie Haas, who was promoted to CEO of the Western & Southern Open this week.

Serena and Venus Williams graced the cover of Harper’s Bazaar and also filmed a nice chat where they talked activism, girls in sport and more:

Also, how’s this for a before and after?

Veronika Kudermetova hits a new career-high ranking, while Brenda Fruhvirtova continues to soar up the ladder in this week’s ranking update.

I was today years old when I found out my Congresswoman, Joyce Beatty, plays tennis and grew up playing in American Tennis Association tournaments.

I love the WTA/WHOOP partnership, but I don’t love how bad my heart rate is after a point compared to Maria Sakkari’s:

Granby, Canada, home to one of the best ITF World Tour events, will be a WTA 250 this summer.

This past week’s ITF World Tour champions:

  • $60,000 Altenkirchen, Germany:
    • (1) Greet Minnen def. (5) Daria Snigur, 6-4, 6-3
    • (4) Mariam Bolkvadze/Samantha Murray Sharan def. Susan Bandecchi/Simona Waltert, 6-3, 7-5
  • $25,000 Antalya, Turkey:
    • Yafan Wang def. (SR) Katharina Hobgarski, 7-5, 6-3
    • (2) Amina Anshba/Marie Benoit def. (4) Andreea Amalia Rosca/Iona Loredana Rosca, 7-5, 7-6(4)
  • $25,000 Porto, Portugal:
    • Moyuka Uchijima def. (WC) Leolia Jeanjean, 6-3, 6-1
    • (1) Valentini Grammatikopoulou/Quirine Lemoine def. (2) Adrienn Nagy/Prarthana G Thombare, 6-2, 6-0
  • $25,000 Cancun, Mexico:
    • Linda Fruhvirtova def. (2) Rebecca Marino, 6-3, 6-4
    • Anna Sinclair Rogers/Christina Rosca def. Maria Bondarenko/Darja Semenistaja, 6-1, 6-4
  • $25,000 Canberra, Australia:
    • (2) Asia Muhammad def. (1) Arina Rodionova, 6-1, 7-6(7)
    • (1) Asia Muhammad/Arina Rodionova def. (2) Alison Bai/Jaimee Fourlis, 7-6(2), 7-6(5)
  • $25,000 Glasgow, United Kingdom:
    • (WC) Sonay Kartal def. (Q) Barbora Palicova, 7-6(5), 7-5
    • (1) Quinn Gleason/Catherine Harrison def. (2) Justina Mikulskyte/Valeria Savinykh, 6-4, 6-1
  • $15,000 Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt:
    • Hiromi Abe def. (3) Elena-Teodora Cadar, 6-2, 6-1
    • Pei-Chi Lee/Ya-Hsin Lee def. Laura Hietaranta/Michaela Laki, 6-2, 3-6, [10-7]
  • $15,000 Monastir, Tunisia:
    • (7) Mana Ayukawa def. Radka Zelnickova, 1-6, 6-1, 6-4
    • Kristina Dmitruk/Maria Sholokhova def. Sofia Costoulas/Clervie Ngounoue, 3-6, 6-2, [10-5]
  • $15,000 Gurugram, India:
    • (3) Punnin Kovapitukted def. (4) Vaidehi Chaudhari, 6-1, 6-2
    • (1) Punnin Kovapitukted/Anna Ureke def. (3) Vaidehi Chaudhari/Zeel Desai, 7-5, 5-7, [10-6]

Julie Ditty Qualls, who passed away last year after a battle with breast cancer, will have the USTA Pro Circuit Sportsmanship Award named after her.

All-American: Homecoming is a new TV series on the CW that not only depicts female collegiate tennis, but spotlights athletes of color.

ICYMI, Venus Williams reflected on her run to the 1997 US Open final — her debut US Open and her first Grand Slam final:

Unsurprisingly, the UNC women’s tennis team tops the list for the Tennis Channel/USTA poll.

Althea Gibson’s autobiography, I Always Wanted to Be Somebody, has been reissued after a publishing executive heard Billie Jean King talk about sleeping with a copy under her pillow, but there were no copies available.

The USTA continues to deliver with Black History Month content, including this feature on Alcorn State head coach Darnesha Moore.

Naomi Osaka has been granted a wildcard into the BNP Paribas Open, where she won her first WTA title in 2018.

Tweet of the Week

Big mood:

Five at The IX: Francoise Abanda

Francoise Abanda is a Canadian tennis player currently ranked No. 438 in the WTA singles rankings, but holds a career-high of No. 111 in singles and No. 197 in doubles. As a junior, she peaked at No. 4 on the ITF Junior World Tour. She has won three ITF World Tour singles titles and two in doubles. She’s been a member of the Canadian Billie Jean King Cup team on eight occasions, compiling a 7-5 record, but has won her last four. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Joey: You’ve just kicked off your season with the 25k tournaments in Cancun. Do you have any specific goals for the 2022 season?
Francoise: Honestly, I have no specific goals. I’m just looking to get more matches.

Joey: You were gathering some good momentum on the court in 2020 and then COVID hit and you didn’t play for almost a year. You didn’t play a full 2021 season, but ended it with a huge win at the BJK Cup finals. Can you talk through navigating COVID and figuring out where to play, honoring restrictions, etc.?
Francoise: I had COVID-19 last February and it effected me a lot physically. I personally had a lot of symptoms which took a lot of weeks to recover. Then getting back to traveling scared me because of the horrible experience of catching COVID. Canada is one of the most strict countries with their COVID measures, where the restrictions closed down all of the gym and tennis facilities, making my training at home hard. It definitely slowed me down because tennis is already demanding, then you add in the pandemic. It was for sure challenging and broke down my momentum not only for myself, but many players on tour. The BJK Cup Finals were great! I always have great matches in BJK Cup. I had a great win over a former Top 40 player, considering how little I played. It definitely makes me motivated to keep going.

Joey: Canada has produced some stellar players the last 5-7 years, with Bianca Andreescu and Leylah Fernandez the latest to rise to the Top 20. Do you attribute the consistent rise of Canadian players to any specific reason or process?
Francoise: Tennis in Canada is getting more and more popular. We are more of a hockey nation, but tennis is right behind. We have a good structure at the National Training Centre, where I train. It has been extremely beneficial for a lot of the young Canadian players, with help financially, coaches, etc. The reason or process is very unique to each player, but the support system is there, which I think helps a lot.

Joey: You’re a player with significant WTA experience but have to currently trek through some ITF tournaments. Can you talk about the biggest differences you notice and what are some things you’d like the ITF to implement?
Francoise: I’ve noticed a lot. The tournament conditions, the prize money and the small accommodations. We’re lucky to even have a crowd at matches. I understand tennis will never be as popular as American Football, but there’s some improvements to be made. I believe the WTA Player Council continue to fight for the players, just like the men do on the ATP. I really enjoy tennis and I still wouldn’t trade it for any other sport.

Joey: What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received and who gave it? If you could go back in time, what would you tell 18-year-old Francoise?
Francoise: I would probably tell myself to put myself out there more. I believe tennis is in an interesting environment, where you meet a lot of players, their entourage and create relationships for life. I do feel in my junior career, for example, I was a bit withdrawn or I would miss the tournament player party they hosted for players. I was much too closed off, in my opinion. I did create great relationships, but not too many. Fortunately, they are quality friends I am still close to now. The reason behind is probably my personality, however it’s never too late. I am looking forward to getting back on tour ASAP.

Tennis-wise, I would probably invest in a team to have as much support as possible. It is hard to navigate though the tour alone. I am glad Tennis Canada helped me a lot. Looking back, I would take more risks like hiring a physio or massage therapist and a full-time coach.

Joey: For our readers who play recreationally, what is a tip they should take to the court?
Francoise: Being physically fit makes a really big difference. In today’s tennis, being fit is the biggest reason you win or lose those final sets.

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