NCAA May Madness is Here! — Quotes from Madrid — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, May 3, 2022

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year — I like to call it “May Madness”

After yesterday’s Selection Show, 64 of the country’s best teams will battle it out over the next couple of weeks to take home a team national title. The bracket was released and I’ve filled out my legendary predictions:

This year’s championships is a bit more exciting to me than last year’s because there’s at least five teams that could win it all and I wouldn’t bat an eyelash. Last year, UNC went into NCAAs undefeated and were upset by the underdogs of Pepperdine. A team that had some of the most depth I’ve ever seen in my time as a collegiate tennis fan couldn’t get Brian Kalbas his first NCAA title, but I think this year may finally be it for the Tar Heels. The ITA National Team Indoor champions have lost only two matches this year, but they’re two of their last three matches. They’ve lost 5-2 to Duke and 4-3 to Virginia, so they aren’t indestructible but their doubles is probably the most solid in all of college tennis and they pretty much have their pick of the litter to secure the three singles points.

Now, who can stop the Tar Heels? I’ve been mighty impressed with Texas A&M, who only have one loss the entire year — a 4-3 loss to Cal in the opening round of ITA Indoors. That means they’re currently carrying a 21-match winning streak. One that includes their first-ever SEC title. Carson Branstine, a former top American junior who switched to represent Canada where she won multiple Grand Slam junior titles with Bianca Andreescu, finally made her collegiate debut and has been exceptional for the Aggies. Branstine started her career at Southern California before transferring to Virginia, but due to eligibility issues and injuries, she never played a match. Now at College Station, Branstine has compiled a 16-6 record and has asserted herself as one of college’s top players. She gives A&M a ton more depth and the Aggies are running high on confidence. The goal is to peak in May and they’re the team in my opinion that’s best set up for success.

What about last year’s finalists, Pepperdine and Texas? Both are near-assurances to go far, but Pepperdine has a tough draw to make the Elite Eight against UNC, after a tricky potential second rounder with Southern California, then possibly Miami? I don’t know, but they do have some fantastic players in Shiori Fukuda and Savannah Broadus, specifically. As for reigning champions Texas, they’re the team most likely the one that can beat UNC. Peyton Stearns is leading the Longhorns and is riding off of a 6-0, 6-0 win over No. 10 Layne Sleeth in the Big 12 final. That’s unheard of! She has only one loss this year and if there was one American to put your money on to take the NCAA singles title, she should be among your Top 2 picks.

The ACC is perhaps the best conference when it comes to women’s tennis and NC State and Duke are two teams that could go all the way too. Though Duke won their conference tournament and has the head-to-head wins over UNC and NC State, my gut says the Wolfpack will make another Final Four over the Blue Devils. However, pencil that in your planners if the matchup happens in the Elite Eight.

Let’s talk some upsets I can see happening. I can see UCLA pulling off a bit of a Cinderella run this year. Normally among the upper echelon of college tennis, the Bruins have struggled the last two seasons. Abbey Forbes and Elysia Bolton lead the charge for UCLA and while they have a tough Regional at Oklahoma State, it’s the most wide open for taking. I can also see them knocking out Virginia to make the Elite Eight. For that to happen, UCLA has to win the doubles point and earn two singles points from Forbes and Bolton.

What about UCLA’s Pac-12 rival Stanford — the winningest program in NCAA tennis history? The fact that I haven’t uttered their name yet is near-appalling. The Cardinal took home the Pac-12 tournament title in Ojai and if there’s one thing you historically should not do, it’s bet against them. Freshmen duo Connie Ma and Alexandra Yepifanova are a force and are the toughest 1-2 combo this season. Between these two and their doubles, you’re near-guaranteed 2-3 points every match. Should they play Oklahoma in the Sweet 16, I wouldn’t be surprised if the grab the upset. Oklahoma is having an incredible seasons of “firsts” and I wonder if the pressure of their historic season will snowball into an early exit.

Now, how will May Madness unfold?

First- and second-round competition takes place May 6-7 and features four teams playing in a single-elimination format. The winner of each site advances to super-regional competition May 13 or 14. Each super-regional site will feature two teams playing a single-elimination format. The super-regional winners advance to the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex in Champaign, Illinois, where the eight teams will compete for the national championship May 19-22. The event will be hosted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Did you want to know where on your television you could watch the NCAA Championships? Yeah? Well, unfortunately, it won’t be. The TennisONE app was named as the exclusive streaming site for the championships, which bummed me out incredibly. I used to love gluing myself to the TV and catching the coverage on ESPN and not having it on live TV just doesn’t make any sense to me. So many potential new fans of the game will be missed out because the NCAA wanted to alienate the market some. The 2007 Georgia Tech dream team’s compilation of the match is actually the catalyst behind me discovering, and eventually falling in love with, college tennis.

If you’re curious on a specific team’s lineup, you can check out the coach’s submissions here. John Parsons broke down his biggest takeaways from the lineups, including a surprise that Georgia’s No. 1 player, Lea Ma, isn’t listed at all.

Grab some peanuts and crackerjacks, because the Madness will begin this weekend. Once the team tournament ends, the singles and doubles portions begins and I’ll make sure to give you an update on that front.

Now, PLAY BALL and onto links!

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This Week in Women’s Tennis

In some more college tennis news, Tennessee Head Coach Alison Ojeda recently gave birth and not only is her daughter’s name perfect for the Vol alum, I loved her openness about her journey to motherhood and balancing coaching. Florida alum Victoria Emma, now pursuing a professional career after injury cut her Gator career short, opened up about the mental health struggles and demons she’s faced as an athlete.

Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki both attended the Met Gala last night. However, Venus was a SERVE:

The Mutua Madrid Open is now a multi-week event with the draw covering 9 days of play, so there aren’t any new WTA champions this week. Iga Swiatek withdrew following her Stuttgart title, citing a shoulder injury. However, WTA Insider, per usual, kept us fed with a few features:

  • The must-read is this catch-up with Monica Puig, who made her return to the Hologic WTA Tour after her elbow injury kept her out since the 2020 Roland Garros tournament.
  • Paula Badosa going from wildcard to the highest seed in the draw in just one year.
  • Iga Swiatek inspiring her fellow players throughout her insane winning streak.
  • Simona Halep discussing the changes she’s wanting to take on with new coach Patrick Mourataglou.
  • Marathon match queen Sara Sorribes Tormo realizing that while it’s great to win the tour’s longest matches, sometimes less is preferred.
  • Naomi Osaka discussing some injury issues, but shocking the media by saying she wants to play mixed doubles at Wimbledon.

In just her third professional event since maternity leave, Taylor Townsend captured the second $100,000 ITF World Tour event of her career. She previously made two quarterfinals and in all three tournaments, had to overcome Katie Volynets. This past week, she trailed Volynets 1-6, 0-4 before winning 1-6, 6-4, 6-2. Congratulations, Aydn’s mom!

Last week’s ITF World Tour finals:

  • $100,000 Charleston, South Carolina:
    • (WC) Taylor Townsend def. (5) Xiyu Wang, 6-3, 6-2
    • (1) Katarzyna Kawa/Aldila Sutjiadi def. Sophie Chang/Angela Kulikov, 6-1, 6-4
  • $60,000 Zagreb, Croatia:
    • (2) Jule Niemeier def. (3) Reka Luca Jani, 6-2, 6-2
    • Anastasia Detiuc/Katarina Zavatska def. (3) Lina Gjorcheska/Irina Khromacheva, 6-4, 6-7(5), [11-9]
  • $60,000 Istanbul, Tukey:
    • (JE) Diana Shnaider def. (Q) Nikola Bartunkova, 7-5, 7-5
    • Maja Chwalinska/Jesika Maleckova def. Berfu Cengiz, 2-6, 6-5, [10-7]
  • $25,000 Santa Margherita di Pula, Italy:
    • (1) Aranxta Rus def. Marie Benoit, 6-4, 6-4
    • (2) Justina Mikulskyte/Nika Radisic def. (4) Leyre Romero Gormaz/Arantxa Rus, 4-6, 7-5, [10-7]
  • $25,000 Cairo, Egypt:
    • (8) Anastasia Zolotareva def. (3) Selena Janicijevic, 7-6(5), 7-6(4)
    • (4) Oceane Babel/Weronika Falkowska def. (2) Caija Wilda Hennemann/Mariia Tkacheva, 6-4, 6-1
  • $25,000 Monastir, Tunisia:
    • (5) Nigina Abduraimova def. (6) Yvonne Cavalle-Remiers, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2
    • (3) Nigina Abduraimova/Hiroko Kuwata def. (2) Paige Hourigan/Valeria Savinykh, 6-1, 3-6, [12-10]
  • $15,000 Antalya, Turkey:
    • Ksenia Laskutova def. Ines Murta, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4
    • (1) Ksenia Laskutova/Misaki Matsuda def. Rina Saigo/Yukina Saigo, 7-5, 6-4
  • $15,000 Shmykent, Kazakhstan:
    • Tatiana Barkova def. (1) Zhubek Kulambayeva, 6-2, 6-4
    • (1) Zhubek Kulambayeva/Stephanie Judith Visscher def. (3) Ekaterina Maklakova/Victoria Mikhaylova, 6-0 6-4
  • $15,000 Chiang Rai, Thailand:
    • (3) YeXin Ma def. (2) Haruna Arakawa, 6-4, 6-1
    • Xinyu Gao/Fang Ying Xun def. Man Ying Maggie Ng/Ho Ching Wu, 6-3, 7-6(4)
  • $15,000 Sao Paulo, Brazil:
    • (2) Martina Capurro Taborda def. (6) Nadine Keller, 6-1, 6-3
    • (2) Marina Capurro Taborda/Fernanda Labrana def. Fernanda Astete/Marian Gomez Pezuela Cano, 6-2, 6-1

In coaching news, Emma Raducanu split up with recent hire Torben Beltz, citing a need to continue figuring out the tour more on her own and working with a sparring partner to handle to day-to-day play from her peers. Meanwhile, Simona Halep opened up about her new partnership with Patrick Mourataglou.

IMG is hosting a 12&Under tournament for both boys and girls with hopes of finding the next GOAT to cash in on. Honestly, not sure how I feel about it, especially since many young teens either flame out or don’t capitalize on the gamestyle and/or success they do at that age.

While Jelena Ostapenko has made millions on court, she’s still preparing for what the next phase of her life will be like and the 2017 Roland Garros champion is envisioning fashion design, real estate and possibly university.

Last week’s Universal Tennis Pro Tennis Tour results:

  • $25,000 Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany:
    • 1st place playoff: Julia Avdeeva def. Conny Perrin, 7-5, 6-4
    • 2nd place playoff: Daniela Ciobanu def. Leah Luboldt, 6-2, 6-0
    • 3rd place playoff: Zdena Šafárova def. Marketa Panackova, walkover
    • 4th place playoff: Senka Deletic def. Ena Kajevic, 1-6, 6-4, retired
    • 5th place playoff: Katharina Jacob def. Alexia-Shara Iancu 7-6(7), 6-3
  • $25,000 Newport Beach, California:
    • 1st place playoff: Anne-Christine Lutkemeyer def. Pamela Montez, 6-7(4), 6-1, 6-2
    • 2nd place playoff: Megan McCray def. Kate Fakih, 6-2, 6-2
    • 3rd place playoff: Karolina Jacobson def. Jane Dunyon, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1
    • 4th place playoff: Alexandra Ozerets def. Mariya Vyshkina, 6-2, 6-2
    • 5th place playoff: Simone Kay def. Carolyna Fowler, 6-4, 6-2

Tweet of the Week

I mean…..mood

Five at The IX: Mutua Madrid Open Week 1

Q. How did some of the experiences that you had at the domestic violence women’s shelter and all that, I guess, give you perspective, if it did, on certain things? In general, tennis nowadays is on a day-to-day basis. What’s happening in the world is spilling over into the sport, so instead of usually it’s just tennis there is a war going on and there was a pandemic and all that. So just in general, how do you view tennis at the moment?

BIANCA ANDREESCU: I actually spoke to a couple of women and their stories of what they went through, and if I go into detail I’m going to cry, because it’s like the saddest thing ever.

There is this one lady who was basically running away from her husband that wanted to kill her, like that kind of stuff. It’s just absurd things. I can’t believe any human being has to go through that.

Just being in that environment really, first of all, makes me appreciate my life. Like I said before, for me, tennis is just a platform that I love, now I love it again, to, yeah, basically help and contribute to a better world in a way.

That’s kind of how I’m viewing tennis. I’m not identifying myself with the sport anymore, because I felt like last year, if I lost, I hated myself. If I won, it was like the best thing ever. Last year I was losing way more than I was winning, I think. I don’t know exactly my record. I was in the right place, but now I’m viewing tennis as just another opportunity to get better as a person and it’s something I’m passionate about, so I want to enjoy myself out there.

Q. You spent the four weeks obviously at the academy. What kind of player of your caliber at this stage in your career, what can you improve in four weeks, like how different was it going in versus coming out?

SIMONA HALEP: Confidence, big time. I was in doubts when I arrived there. I didn’t know how much I can play and how good I can play still.

But now I’m a different person. I feel more confident. I feel that the pleasure helps me to work harder, to work more. I spend more time on the court.

I think it’s everything coming from inside, and at this point I feel happy with myself. I feel that I have the chance to play good tennis again.

Actually, it’s my No. 1 priority in this moment, and I feel again that fire. I think it helps me to wake up in the morning and to go to give everything I have.

Q. You come from doing really well in Istanbul, also in Billie Jean King Cup. Today you win Osaka. You’re in the third round here in Madrid after trying other times. Where is the ceiling? Where is the sky?

SARA SORRIBES TORMO: We will see tomorrow. We will have to just focus on tomorrow, doing things properly as until now, step by step like now, and like before, just to enjoy day after day, improving little by little, because it’s very complicated for things to work properly all the time. It’s very difficult to win matches.

You know, if you only look at the match and about winning, it’s a little bit empty, let’s call it, and I like to think I improve step by step, little by little, small steps that I improve because of what my teams tell me. That’s the way I focus, and, you know, as long as I continue that path, well, the ceiling will be higher and higher.

Q. Last year was spectacular with a lot of titles. You went up in the ranking. In these four months in 2022, things are just not clicking. Here in the game you were a little bit tight. Is there an explanation?

GARBINE MUGURUZA: Well, I think you have said a couple of everything, explanations. Results come and go. Last year I had a very good season, the best season, especially result-wise and stability. Well, not in every tournament, but I managed to get a lot of trophies.

This year it’s been different. It also started a little bit up-and-downs in this year, but, well, no, not because of that I think that it has been a bad year. Right now I have a lot of tournaments in front of me ahead to try to recover the feelings that I had last year.

You know that each season is a new world.

Q. Throughout the season you have talked about how the nerves and the pressure of playing as a top player is something you have been trying to manage. You seem to be managing it quite well. What have been the keys for you to, yeah, get these early wins, start your tournaments on a really positive note? What do you tell yourself as you ramp up?

PAULA BADOSA: Yeah, it’s super tough. I think it’s even tougher here because you really want to do well. You have pressure playing at home (smiling). So I’m really proud and happy at how I’m managing all these kind of emotions.

In that moment, I just try — of course you have that battle in your head, but I try to focus on what I have to do every point, give me positive messages and fight. I try to keep it quite simple in that moment, because there is a lot of things that can go through your head.

So that’s what I try to do. For the moment it’s working well. (Smiling.)

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