Swiatek Storms the Desert; Miami next? — Final quotes from Indian Wells — Must-click women’s tennis links

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

Happy Tennis Tuesday! The BNP Paribas Open wrapped up this weekend with a new champion in Iga Swiatek.

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Though Ashleigh Barty is a rightful No. 1, Swiatek is arguably the tour’s hottest player. With the win in Indian Wells, the Pole not only captured her 11th consecutive victory, she also became the first player in 2022 to win 20 matches. Swiatek is now 11-0 in WTA 1000 events this year and has captured her third event at the level. Her wins in those finals? Epic:

  • 2021 Rome: def. Karolina Pliskova, 6-0, 6-0
  • 2022 Doha: def. Anett Kontaveit, 6-2, 6-0
  • 2022 Indian Wells: def. Maria Sakkari, 6-4, 6-1

Though Indian Wells is known as “tennis paradise,” the tennis couldn’t meet that demand due to the infamous swirling winds. Swiatek noted that she had to “win ugly” versus playing with precision in order to capture her second consecutive WTA 1000 title.

Barty will still hold the No. 1 ranking following Miami, but Swiatek could make the margins very close if she’s able to pull off the Sunshine Double. Barty will have 6,980 points to her name and a Miami victory would give Swiatek 6,711. Will we see a Pole reach No. 1 for the first time this year? I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying yes. Swiatek is the real deal and has shown that she’s not only comfortable ruthlessly beating players like she did at Roland Garros in 2020, but she’s more than able to consistently crank out three-setters as she did in Indian Wells. Swiatek dropped the first set in each of her first three matches before knocking off Madison Keys, 6-1, 6-0 and Simona Halep, 7-6(6), 6-4 before taking her 6-4, 6-1 decision over Sakkari.

The doubles title went to a surprising champion in Xu Yifan and Yang Zhaoxuan, who defeated first-time duo of Asia Muhammad and Ena Shibahara, 7-5, 7-6(4). It was the end of an incredible 27-combined match winning streak for Friend of the IX Muhammad, who captured three consecutive $25,000 ITF World Tour singles titles in Australia this past month, alongside two doubles titles and another four matches in Indian Wells.

Now, the tour takes a “day off” before main draw play begins for the Miami Open.

The draw was released with 27 of the World’s Top 30 and there are some juicy first-rounders with my favorite being Amanda Anisimova vs. Shelby Rogers. Qualifiers aren’t placed yet of course, so there may be a few that pop up featuring those. Looking at some potential second rounds that are must-watches:

  • (23) Simona Halep vs. (WC) Daria Saville
  • (13) Angelique Kerber vs. Naomi Osaka
  • Zheng Qinwen vs. (8) Ons Jabeur
  • (16) Jessica Pegula vs. Sloane Stephens
  • (26) Madison Keys vs. (WC) Sofia Kenin
  • Amanda Anisimova/Shelby Rogers vs. (10) Jelena Ostapenko

Now, it’s time for my infamous predictions, so bear with me here.

Round of 16
(1) Aryna Sabalenka def. (15) Elina Svitolina
(23) Simona Halep def. (6) Karolina Pliskova
Naomi Osaka def. (3) Anett Kontaveit
(8) Ons Jabeur def. (9) Danielle Collins
(12) Victoria Azarenka def. (5) Paula Badosa
(4) Maria Sakkari def. (17) Elena Rybakina
(7) Garbine Muguruza def. (10) Jelena Ostapenko
(2) Iga Swiatek def. (14) Coco Gauff

(23) Simona Halep def. (1) Aryna Sabalenka
Naomi Osaka def. (8) Ons Jabeur
(4) Maria Sakkari def. (12) Victoria Azarenka
(2) Iga Swiatek def. (7) Garbine Muguruza

(23) Simona Halep def. Naomi Osaka
(2) Iga Swiatek def. (4) Maria Sakkari

(23) Simona Halep def. (2) Iga Swiatek

I’m a little surprised how this unfolded, but I was impressed with Halep’s run to the Indian Wells semifinals. She’s starting to come into form and has already matched her three WTA semifinals she made last year in 2022 already. Big hitters Aryna Sabalenka, Karolina Pliskova and Naomi Osaka could certainly change that narrative. Swiatek is riding high on confidence and I can see her making it to the final weekend, as I can with Sakkari, who performed extremely well in Miami last year.

Miami is always up in the air following some Indian Wells fatigue, so it’ll be interesting to see which storylines arise and which surprises break through this year. My sleepers include 2018 champion Sloane Stephens, but her section includes Elena Rybakina and Jessica Pegula, two other players who can go deep. Madison Keys and Amanda Anisimova could recreate their Australia magic with some wins here and I’m curious to see how Miami goes for Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins, who retired with concern in the Middle East and withdrew from Indian Wells with an undisclosed injury.

We’ll see how I fare and laugh when I’m very off. Until then, onto links!

This Week in Women’s Tennis

In news I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of, the Grand Slams announced that they will be piloting a 10-point final set tiebreaker at 6-6. I may be unpacking this as a Tennis Tuesday topic because what made the Grand Slams individually exciting was seeing how deep a final set could go.

The WTA Insider reads you need to check out:

Richard Osborn sat down with WTA Legend Monica Seles, who chatted about the legacy of Serena Williams, seeing herself in Rafael Nadal and more.

Mark your calendars for more WTA tennis in the States! It was announced yesterday that the 2023 calendar will add the ATX Open in Austin, Texas. Though the site isn’t known, it will be held the week of February 26.

The week after Miami are the Billie Jean King Cup qualifiers. I will be attending the USA-Ukraine tie in Asheville, where the USTA shared that 10% of the ticket revenue and donations from local sponsors will be donated towards a relief fund dedicated to efforts in Ukraine.

Happy 29th Birthday to our friend Sloane Stephens, who shared 29 blessings on her most recent Facebook Bulletin. She also announced the 20 $1,000 scholarships — the Sloane Stephens Doc & Glo Scholarship, named after her late grandparents.

Last week’s ITF World Tour results:

  • $25,000 Anapoima, Colombia:
    • (6) Marina Melnikova def. (4) Paula Ormachea, 6-2, 6-1
    • Ylena In-Albon/Reka Luca Jani def. (1) Maria Lourdes Carle/Laura Pigossi, 1-6, 6-3, [10-7]
  • $25,000 Antayla, Turkey:
    • (SE) Petra Marcinko def. Elisabetta Cocciaretto, 1-6, 6-4, 6-4
    • Diana Shnaider/Amarissa Kiara Toth def. (2) Amina Anshba/Maria Timofeeva, 6-4, 6-2
  • $15,000 Palmanova, Spain:
    • (5) Guiomar Maristany Zuleta de Reales def. Solana Sierra, 6-3, 6-2
    • (3) Veronika Rejavec/Nina Potocnik def. (1) Anelica Moratelli/Aurora Zantedeschi, 7-5, 6-3
  • $15,000 Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt:
    • (7) Elena-Teodora Cadar def. (2/Q) Eudice Chong, 7-5, 6-3
    • (1) Eudice Chong/Hong Yi Cody Wong def. (4) Karola Patricia Pejenaru/Martha Matoula, 6-3, 6-3
  • $15,000 Monastir, Tunisia:
    • (1) Sakura Hosogi def. (SR) Manon Leonard, 6-3, 6-3
    • (3) Elena Milovanovic/Elissa Vanlangendonck def. (WC) Anri Nagata/Kisa Yoshioka, 6-4, 6-7(4), [10-3]
  • $15,000 Marrakech, Morocco:
    • (Q) Eleonora Alvisi def. (JE) Clervie Ngounoue, 6-3, 6-1
    • (2) Naima Karamoko/Ines Murta def. Lucija Ciric Bagaric/Clervie Ngounoue, 6-2, 6-7(2), [10-5]
  • $15,000 Gonesse, France:
    • (3) Lara Salden def. (8) Sofia Nami Samavati, 6-2, 7-6(6)
    • (1) Flavie Brugnone/Tamara Curovic def. (4) Julia MIddendorf/Nicole Rivkin, 6-2, 6-3

Last week’s Universal Tennis Pro Tennis Tour results:

  • $25,000 Cornella de Llobregat, Spain:
    • 1st place playoff: Nastja Kolar def. Darja Semenistaja, 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-4
    • 2nd place playoff: Celia Cervino Ruiz def. Kamilla Bartone, walkover
    • 3rd place playoff: Borislava Botusharova def. Ekua Youri, walkover
  • $25,000 Charleston, South Carolina:
    • 1st place playoff: Alexa Graham def. Kennedy Shaffer, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3
    • 2nd place playoff: Mckenna Schaefbauer def. Peyton Capuano, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2
    • 3rd place playoff: Alexandra Mueller def. Lexington Reed, 6-4, 6-4
    • 4th place playoff: Margaret Navarro def. Kinaa Graham, walkover
    • 5th place playoff: Kristina Mathis def. Mia Robinson, 6-2, 6-4

Genie Bouchard will make her competitive comeback following shoulder surgery at the $100,000 ITF World Tour event in Innisbrook, Florida. The former World No. 5 is currently No. 1,454 and hasn’t played in exactly a year.

Honestly, I’d tune into this:

Iga Swiatek reaches a career-high of No. 2, while Maria Sakkari ties the highest-ever ranking of a Greek player — male or female — in the latest WTA ranking update.

The Physical Activity Council’s participation report produced by Sports Marketing Surveys shared that 2021 brought significant growth not only in playing numbers, but equipment sales as well:

WTA CEO Steve Simon chimed in on the ongoing conversation about players being banned because of their nation’s leaders. He rightfully disagrees with the notion, saying that individuals shouldn’t be penalized because of their leader’s choices.

Tweet of the Week

Billie Jean King may be 78, but those hands are still unreal!

Five at The IX: Indian Wells Week 2

Q. The No. 2 ranking now, and you’ve equaled Aga as the highest-ranked Polish players. Did that come into your mind at all during the match? How are you feeling about something like that?

IGA SWIATEK: Honestly, it did, just like for like two seconds. It’s always the case that you have to kind of push these thoughts aside. On one hand, you have to kind of fight for it because you don’t want them to distract you, but on the other hand, you have to accept them and not stay focused on that.

For sure before the match I heard when I was preparing on TV something. I got the volume down because I didn’t want it to distract myself. For sure my main goal today was to just be focused on tennis and actually continue what I was doing for the whole week.

But, yeah, it came to my mind. Probably in the final and in those important matches, it’s the hardest thing to do, to push it aside a little bit for a while and just focus on playing.

Yeah, it’s really important because I wouldn’t be so focused if I was thinking about that.

Q. Iga spoke about your rivalry being a cool thing. Talk about what makes that rivalry special for you?

MARIA SAKKARI: Well, she said we’ll be playing for 10 more years, but I don’t think I’ll be playing for 10 more years tennis (laughter).

There’s an age difference between me. But I believe what she says. As long as I’ll be playing for, there will be a lot of matches between the two of us.

I think, as I mentioned a few days ago, there are few girls that now have a different level and we’re playing each other more and more. I’m excited for that. I’m excited because it means that if I get to play her every week, her or Ash or, I don’t know, Sabalenka, Krejcikova, all these girls, it means that we’re in a good place.

Q. Can you talk about your progression of self-belief when you’re out there fighting and getting to that point where you know you can go for your shots and believe in them?

MARIA SAKKARI: Well, I have to say that I’ve hit a lot of balls the last few years, so that plays a huge role in my confidence and in my game because, and of course, I mean, I think I’ve stated many times, but having a team like the one I have and having people that they constantly repeat that they believe in you and that they trust you and that they’re just very proud no matter what, it just makes things a lot more easier.

At some point it’s not only, it’s also about you, that you have to believe in yourself, and I think, as I said many times, I’m turning 27 this year, which is not old, but not young as well, and I’m just more mature and things change in that age.

Q. When you look back to the first match you played at Roland Garros, you think about the Iga that took the court that day versus the one today, how different?

IGA SWIATEK: Oh, my God.

Q. What’s the biggest difference?

IGA SWIATEK: I mean, I develop every aspect of my tennis and my mind as well. I feel like I’m a grown up right now. Back then I was so stressed that I’m playing on a stadium like Philippe Chatrier I didn’t really feel my body appropriately.

Everything changed honestly. I think that was one of the matches that gave me a lot of that experience. It was a great tournament for me. I made it to the fourth round. I think I was, like, 18 or something. Yeah, I mean, that was the first match basically when I played against such a player as Simona. Since then a lot has changed. Right now I’m glad I’m on that level that I can really play good tennis against players like that.

Q. I don’t think you guys have played too often together, maybe 10 or 11 tournaments together. So what do you think — but you’ve had success in the past — what do you think was the key for these two weeks to win the title?

YANG ZHAOXUAN: I think we, like we working together every day. We talk about everything for the match or after we do, like I think we help each other like every day.

XU YIFAN: Also, our games fits each other. Also I think one of the most important things is just we try to encourage each other every day and even though winning or losing or on court or sometimes off court as well. Yeah. But, yeah. Yeah. That’s it. Yeah, it doesn’t seem like it’s helping us winning this tournament, but I think it’s important, yeah.

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