Taking Lessons from the World’s Best — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, July 19, 2022

Happy Tennis Tuesday, y’all! It’s no secret that there’s a lull in the tennis world following Wimbledon and before the North American hardcourt season begins. Yes, there are some European clay court tournaments which I’ll recap in the links section, but there isn’t much going on — if I’m being frank. In the past, I’ve discussed me venturing out of my comfort zone and playing in an ITF World Tour event — a $25,000 tournament held where I live in Columbus, Ohio. Since then, I’ve played in another three, including yesterday in Champaign, Illinois.

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Lets be crystal clear — I am nowhere near the level of these players. I’m a 3.5 NTRP player with many glimpses but no consistency of a 4.0 level. On the UTR scale, I’m a 4.06, while the “easiest” opponent I’ve faced is an 11.22. However, having an ITF profile and saying I’ve competed in actual professional tournaments was something I’ve dreamed of for 20 years.

Now, how can your Average Joe face off against players with Grand Slam glory? Technically, anyone can. You sign up and pay for an IPIN account, which is ITF’s entry system portal. You then obviously enter the tournaments you hope to play, up to 6 per week. Then, you ultimately wait and see if you get into a tournament after withdrawals. I’ve never gotten into one directly and only have as an alternate. Before COVID, you had to go on-site and sign in to be an alternate, but since, you call in remotely. For me, this was a game-changer since if I don’t get in, I technically didn’t spend any travel and if I do, great!

I called and signed in and the USTA Supervisor let me know that if I were to get in, I would need to pay my $40 entry fee in order to play. Yes — at this level, I’m paying to lose. If I were to make the final round of qualifying, then I believe I would earn some money, but depending on the level, only those in the main draw receive pennies.

After refreshing for what seemed like hours, the draw was up and I have a system: I first look at the alternate list, then the draw for last accepted and go from there. This time, I was a bit confident since I was only 22 out and I’ve gotten in when being between 35-67 before. I opened the draw and saw “BYE” as last accepted, so I knew I was in. Then, I started from the bottom and scrolled up.

Then scrolled up some more.

Then scrolled up some more.

Then scrolled up some more before seeing that there was only one bye for the top seed and there was my name — set to play the No. 2 seed, ATP No. 827 Stefan Dostanic. Stefan, a 14.00 UTR, is currently a member of the USTA Collegiate Summer Team after an All-American season at the University of Southern California that saw him finish in the ITA’s Top 10. He also made a $25,000 final last month, so my dreams of getting a game point in a pro match were going to be tough.

I went to bed early — for me, at least — and was up around 4am to make the 4 hour trek to Champaign. I wanted to get there a little bit before my match so I wouldn’t feel rushed. Well, my Waze starts off the ETA in your local time zone, so I technically got there an hour earlier than intended. Of course, I realized this as I was entering Indiana because #EasternTimeZoneLife. I get to Champaign pretty early, so I decide to go to Chick-Fil-A since I won a gift card at a charity tennis event over the weekend and do some work since I only put in a half-day. Then, it was time to go to the Adkins Tennis Center, which was recently home of the 2022 NCAA Division I Tennis Championships.

I had been there once, in 2013, to watch a friend play, but it was exciting to pull up and be a player. I walked into the facility and the first court to my right had my name on the scoreboard — a first, for me. I knew it was going to be a quick match, but still to feel a little bit like an actual player was so exciting. The other tournaments I’d played — two $25,000 and a $15,000 — had roving umpires and beginning to set up for main draw play, but this was a different level for me. I also was given a “credential” with my name on it when I checked in and paid — another first.

After checking in, I regripped my racquet and walked to my court and set up my phone to record on the SwingVision app, a training tool where I can look back and see the good — and the bad — to improve upon. I overheard the umpires discussing two walkovers already and my heart skipped a beat wondering if I was one of them because I wasn’t planning on being in Champaign after my match. Fortunately, I didn’t have to worry about it because at 10am, Stefan showed up.

The roving umpire flipped the coin and incorrectly said Stefan could choose, but after his error, I let Stefan keep his decision, which he chuckled about. It helped disarm my reservations a little bit. My first two tournaments, my opponents weren’t rude or jerks about anything. In fact, my second opponent chatted with me a little and offered some advice and then sent me a DM the following day offering a ton of encouragement. My third opponent wasn’t necessarily rude, but he wasn’t warm and barely offered a warmup. You’ll notice at this level when there is such blatant discrepancy between players, that the better player will scoff, joke or make a mockery. That’s honestly one of my biggest fears, because ultimately, we’re just out here fulfilling a dream.

We warm up and I didn’t play too bad, but it’s just the warmup — nobody’s going all out. The match starts and Stefan serves an ace to start, followed by some big serves and winners. I’ve averaged about 10 points in my first three matches and I knew that would be tough to do. Some folks on Twitter encouraged me with some fun polls too:

Quickly, I learned that today was going to be quicker than normal because Stefan took the first 17 points of the match before sending one wide. Thank God. My honest worst fear was getting a Golden Set against me. I lost the first set on a double fault after attempting an underhand first serve — something I like to do once a match, especially if I’m serving my last point of a set. The second set had some better points, but I still wasn’t winning anything. Stefan’s shots were just so heavy, beyond anything I’d ever seen before, including from those I’ve played in the past, who all have an ITF ranking. Golden Set watch was on court because I was serving down 0-5, just four points away from embarrassment. Luckily, at 0-15, Stefan hit a bail that was an inch or two out. I could breathe a little bit, but still annoyed because I am competitive and wanted a better result. Of course, like the other matches, I lost 6-0, 6-0, this time in 31 minutes.

After the match, I stayed around and watched some matches, including some Ohio State guys playing, and attempted to sign in for doubles since my last tournament I didn’t and there ended up being byes. I started asking too late because many on-site already had a partner or they didn’t want to play doubles. Whether it was that or they didn’t want to play with me? I’m not sure, but I don’t take offense to it. I was trying to get in for the experience, say I played a main draw and walk away with some money. It ultimately wasn’t meant to be.

Watching the other matches, I definitely feel with how I played, I would’ve been able to get at least 10 points — perhaps even my current goal of a game point. However, the draw wasn’t in my favor. I overheard a parent say to a player how 85% of their end result boils down to the draw. Of course, there’s no exact measurement, but I understood what they were saying, especially when players are independent contractors essentially paying to have a chance at future glory. It’s hard to put your hopes and dreams in a computer and pray for the best.

I left before doubles sign-in closed because I knew I wouldn’t find anyone, which fortunately I did because I wouldn’t have gotten in. I did strike up a few shallow conversations, but did meet a rising Ohio State freshman, who was really great. I feel out of my element at these tournaments. I taught myself at the age of 10 against the garage and never had much formal training. I was also obese for most of my adult life and taking advantage of my health transformation. Still, I don’t look like these players.

It’s super intimidating to be in this environment, but I give every professional — full-time or not — a lot of kudos for pursuing these tournaments. You’re putting your financial and physical well-being on the line consistently for a potential opportunity. Plus, there’s so much down time and if you don’t know anyone or have anything planned, can be quite lonely. I was only there for a few hours and couldn’t imagine doing it week in, week out. On the flip side, it only made me hungrier to achieve my goal of getting a game and seeing how much I can improve. From my first to my fourth tournament, I’m a much better and stronger player. Perhaps the time will come, but maybe it won’t. I’m enjoying the ride for what it is now.

I’ll leave you with this moment of laughter. I guess you can say I officially made it if I have a social media troll?

This Week in Women’s Tennis

Barbara Hallquist DeGroot was the first female to receive an athletic scholarship from the University of Southern California for tennis. She opened up about the profound impact Title IX afforded her beyond her time as a Trojan.

Petra Martic had to wait quite some time to win her second WTA singles title, but she emerged as champion of the Ladies Open Lausanne with a straight-sets win over qualifier Olga Danilovic. The doubles title went to Danilovic and Kristina Mladenovic, who received a walkover over Tamara Zidansek and Ulrikke Eikeri.

Qualifier Bernarda Pera captured her first WTA singles title at the Hungarian Grand Prix with a win over Aleksandra Krunic in the final, re-launching the American back into the Top 100. The doubles title was won by Ekaterine Gorgodze and Oksana Kalashnikova, who had to win a match tiebreaker over Katarzyna Piter and Kimberley Zimmermann.

Sabine Lisicki, on the comeback trail following her ACL tear at the end of 2020, shared that Lindsay Vonn reached out to offer advice from her own knee reconstruction.

Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina was set to receive a hefty bonus from the Kazakh Tennis Federation, but she asked that the funds go back to rising juniors in Kazakhstan, as well as to local animal shelters.

WTA Insider compiled some of the best stats of 2022 thus far and of course, Iga Swiatek reigns supreme in many.

In case you were concerned, Ashleigh Barty is enjoying retirement with no regrets and has no plans on partaking in professional golf.

Madison Keys hosted a grass-court event in her native Iowa to raise money for her Kindness Wins foundation, as well as the All Iowa Lawn Tennis Club Foundation.

Top US juniors Alexis Blokhina and Vivian Ovrootsky are two of the American representatives playing tennis at this year’s Maccabi Games, a sporting event held for Jewish athletes from all over the world:

Congratulations to Maria Sharapova, who shared she and fiance Alexander GIlkes welcomed their first child, a boy named Theodore.

Serena Williams has committed to playing the National Bank Open in Toronto next month, while Naomi Osaka accepted a wildcard to play in the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose.

The ITF World Participation Conference began today and former player Casey Dellacqua discussed some of the topics to be expected at the event.

This — is amazing:


Could pickleball be the thing that unites all of America? I’ll say perhaps not, but I would love to be wrong here.

New pro Emma Navarro, the 2021 NCAA champion, is already off to a great start by capturing the ITF World Tour $60,000 event in Liepaja, Latvia. The former UVA star also earned her career-best win over No. 74 Aranxta Rus in the quarterfinals.

Genie Bouchard had her second annual pizza party at Joe’s Pizza and it’s safe to say, it was a success.

The 23rd Women’s Hospital Classic in Evansville, Indiana kicked off this week, but as a $60,000 event for the first time. Meanwhile, the Dow Tennis Classic will be returning again as a WTA 125 event this fall.

Tweet of the Week

This needs its own blurb. Daria Kasatkina coming out as gay and wanting the Russia-Ukraine war to end is extremely honorable. Good for her for living her true self in a home culture that tells her opposite.


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