The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, March 30, 2021

Breaking down the post-COVID WTA ranking system — Interview: Victoria Chiesa — Must-click women's tennis links

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Also, I know I said it was 2020 on yesterday’s subject line. I know, at some level, it is not 2020 anymore. Apologies for the error all the same.)

Finally, some WTA ranking improvements

First, we are halfway done with the Miami Open and the quarterfinals are set — and they are juicy! Putting out every and any good vibe for an Osaka-Andreescu semifinal.

Throughout the first week, there have been some high-quality matches, but the biggest news came from the WTA itself. The governing body announced a revised ranking system that makes it fair for those traveling without penalizing those who can’t or won’t.

Stay with me. This is a bit complicated, but this — hopefully — makes sense.

The biggest takeaway from the announcement is that points from events hold a minimum of 52 weeks and a maximum of 104 weeks. Players who will see a drastic difference come April 5? Those who performed well in 2019 at Miami (champion: Ashleigh Barty), Guadalajara (Veronika Kudermetova), Monterrey (Garbine Muguruza) and Charleston (Madison Keys). When the ranking news broke, I was watching Tennis Channel and Lindsay Davenport asked a pretty valid question: what about Sofia Kenin’s 2020 Australian Open title? We’ll get there.

You may be thinking, “Hey Joey, what about tournaments like Madrid and Charleston? They’re coming up but didn’t play last year!” I got you! Those specific tournaments will drop off after 104 weeks.

Those pre-COVID tournaments that didn’t happen during the modified Australia swing? Fortunately, only a handful of events fall in that category including the WTA 500 in Brisbane, but those points will fall off after 104 weeks.

Now, let’s get into the red clay season that was put into the Fall after the US Open. Looking at you, Roland Garros, Rome, Istanbul and Strasbourg. The 2019 points last 104 weeks, plain and simple. But the 2020 points? This is where it gets tricky.

They will stay on for only 52 weeks in two instances — either the points earned in 2020 are better than their 2021 result or they didn’t compete at the event in 2021. If those 2020 points are used, they will only last a total of 52 weeks, which will then be replaced by the 2021 points. Lets use Iga Swiatek winning Roland Garros last year and she loses first round in May — this is just an example! Her 2,000 points will fall off in October and be replaced with the 10 points she received in May.

When the tour returned in July, some events were moved around within a month’s timeframe of their original date. Lexington, Prague and Palermo fall into that category. Like the case across the board, 2019 points fall after 104 weeks. 2020 points will last either when the event is played in 2021 or 52 weeks, whichever falls earlier.

The Asian Swing of the season holds a lot of points and there is still plenty of uncertainty of when — or if tournaments there will be held this year. They are the majority of tournaments held in 2019 that weren’t played in 2020, but are, as of now, going to be held. So they will drop off after 104 weeks. However, enter the curious case of Indian Wells. Held in 2019, cancelled last year and still unsure of a date in 2021, those points will stay on a player’s ranking until the next time the tournament is played. Bianca Andreescu might be counting her lucky stars, but based on her play in Miami, she may not even need those 2019 points.

“Great, Joey. But what about last year’s Australian Open or other tournaments that were held in both 2020 and 2021?” Again, I got you!

So for the Australian Open, Dubai, Doha, St. Petersburg, Lyon, Guadalajara and Monterrey, the 2020 points will fall off after 104 weeks. When the tournament is held in 2022 or after 52 weeks, the 2021 points will be dropped and the 2022 added — whichever comes earlier. Fortunately, there shouldn’t be a large gap, but Sofia Kenin keeps her 2,000 points until 2022.

It’s a great step towards a normal, 52-week ranking system we’re used to seeing. However, what about the ITF tournaments? There’s been no communication — at least publicly — that describes how the lower-ranked players will advance. Part of the issue that led to this fix were players who were playing well since the tour’s restart weren’t moving up enough, like Swiatek or Genie Bouchard. Now, that’s still the case for those on the ITF World Tour. Five at The IX alum Tara Moore, who is part of the ITF’s Player Panel, raises a fantastic point. Definitely watch the video she did with Quicktake to hear more from an ITF player’s perspective.

Again, it’s a start, but it’s not a 100% fix. More ITF tournaments need to roll out and a clear vision for those points need to be addressed. However, I do think it’s a great start to award current tennis, but honor the restrictions all around the globe.

This Week in Women’s Tennis

The WTA and ATP joined together with a shared message: #StopAsianHate. On this note, Naomi Osaka said what she said. As the kids say, that’s on period.

WTA Insider caught up with Sara Sorribes Tormo, who, based on her leading the tour in two-hour-plus matches and matches won down match point this year, isn’t afraid of grinding it out. They also spoke with Nina Stojanovic, who is looking to be a leader for Serbian tennis like Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic were for her. They also covered Media Day, where Ashleigh Barty detailed a 50-hour travel journey and Naomi Osaka opened up about her sister’s retirement.

Both Naomi Brody and brother Liam are great follows on Instagram, but the ATP caught up with them in Miami and learned more about the duo from Stockport.

Greg Garber notes that while Bianca Andreescu was on the sidelines for a lot longer than many anticipated with her knee injury, she’s looking to make her presence on the WTA tour a lot more thorough.

There will be a new Doubles No. 1 after the Miami Open, but don’t worry, it’s a familiar face who you should watch for hours. In other ranking news, Naomi Osaka can overtake Ashleigh Barty in the singles rankings, depending on specific outcomes.

If anything, please make sure to watch Wanda Sykes stan her women’s tennis. I’ve now started manifesting her commentating at some point in 2021.

Y’all better submit your stories of how the Original 9 impacted or inspired you! You may even make it all the way to the International Tennis Hall of Fame!

Something to keep an eye out on: Naomi Osaka’s winning streak.

Congratulations to Barbora Strycova, who announced she is expecting her first child! She hasn’t said if she plans on returning to the tour, but she was on the fence throughout 2020.

You’ve heard the annoying and outdated myth that women’s tennis is about returns and a lack of serve. Joel Drucker explains that is far from the case with the current crop of WTA stars.

The University of North Carolina continue to dominate the collegiate team rankings. Katarina Jokic of the University of Georgia highlights the top of this week’s singles rankings, while Victoria Flores and Kenya Jones of Georgia Tech lead the doubles rankings.

Daria Gavrilova is on the sidelines recovering from Achilles surgery, but she is dominating tennis TikTok.

In junior tennis news, top-seed Alexandra Yepifanova captured the Grade 1 ITF International Open of Southern California with a straight-set win over No. 10 seed Reese Brantmeier.

Maria Sharapova continues to be busy in business in retirement. The future Hall of Famer announced a furniture line for Rove Concepts — the “Maria Collection.”

Tweet of the Week

As someone who has only covered WTA in the media and the only tournaments I’ve been to have been combined, I never noticed this. Interesting how something so small in retrospect speaks loudly.

Five at the IX: Victoria Chiesa

Victoria Chiesa is a must-follow for #TennisTwitter. She’s currently a Content Producer for the USTA in their Corporate Communications department and also assists in editorial for the US Open. Previously, she worked on the editorial team for the WTA and also was a Coordinator of Sports Information for all 23 sports at Adelphi University. Known for her #umplyfe ramblings, she gives us a look at Hawkeye Live, more female umpires, as well as her background leading up to where she is today. Follow her on Twitter at @vrcsports.

Joey: You work in Communications for the USTA and you also did a lot of web work with the WTA. Can you describe your journey into tennis and how it unfolded to where you are today?
Victoria: I played tennis growing up and in high school, and I think I decided that I wanted to write for a living probably around the time I joined the school newspaper in the ninth grade. Marrying the two things that I loved the most together just seemed like a logical fit — I just didn’t know at the time how it would happen. After I got to college, I started working in my school’s sports information office while I was pursuing a journalism degree — but rather than going the traditional journalism route, I’ve been fortunate to have built out a little bit of a hybrid career with those skills in sports so far.

In my senior year of college, I decided that the “traditional journalism” route in a newsroom environment wasn’t for me — and got my first taste of that hybrid career path I described as a sports information director. I stayed at my university for both graduate school and for my first full-time job as an SID, traveled to a bunch of states and NCAA Championships, and had a blast working with student-athletes. You do a little bit of everything in that role, especially in Division II athletics, and I picked up a lot of valuable skills in graphic design, photography, content strategy and marketing, while also honing the writing skills that I already had. While I was in that role, professional tennis was never too far away — I dabbled in some blogging, had some freelance opportunities come my way, and one thing just led to another from there. I was really fortunate to have the support of the athletic administration of the school I worked for, in that they allowed me to chase tennis opportunities while I was full-time there that helped me get to where I am now.

Joey: If you’re known for anything, it’s certainly for knowing the rules and defending your umpires. Can you explain that side of your “persona,” but also the future of umpires. What are your thoughts on tournaments using Hawkeye Live as a replacement. Also, how can officiating grow the number of not only female umpires, but opportunities across the board?
Victoria: For some context, I spent about five years from my senior year of high school into college as a USTA-certified official, working at local tournaments in my area in New York, and honestly, that just gave me such an appreciation for that side of the sport. I met a lot of incredible people who dabbled in officiating on tour, and just getting that insight into their world was really fascinating to me. When I got started in the tennis media space, I really found a home for that knowledge. I noticed pretty quickly that the literacy about officiating was really lacking from those authoritative voices who were and are writing and commentating on the sport. I think that, in other sports, officiating commentary is very much built into the viewing experience on television — rules analysts during the Super Bowl or the World Cup, things like that. Tennis does not have anything similar to that. In fact, the perspective you get a lot of the time is, nearly universally, the opposite — that of the former player or coach. For better or worse, they already have a preconceived notion about umpires and officiating that’s going to color how they speak about them and situations that come up in a match.

What I’m trying to do is provide a different perspective, leaning on the little bit of knowledge that I have to try and bridge that gap a little bit. I’m not saying that I seek to be, or think I am, an official authority or anything like that at all. I’m speaking for myself. I’m just one person with a Twitter account who has some background knowledge, and I would love to see a former gold-badge umpire as an ESPN guest personality during Wimbledon — but if I can help even one person in my little corner of the internet learn something new about tennis that they didn’t know before by tweeting about a rule or providing insight to something that they’re seeing on their screens, then that makes me really happy.

As far as the future of officiating, it’s an interesting question. Live electronic line-calling is something that seems like it’s here to stay, and for all of its benefits, there’s a lot of unknowns that come with it, too — fiscally and otherwise. Now, I’m not arguing against technology as an officiating aid. I think it’s done great things for tennis and there are even areas where it can be better utilized in regards video review for on-court situations. People think that because I speak the way I do about officiating matters, that I’m anti-technology or old-school, which is not the case. Live ELC was expedited out of necessity due to the pandemic, and I completely understand the need to limit on-site personnel in the interest of health and safety. However, there’s no ignoring that the majority of the game’s best chair umpires started out as line umpires — in fact, some international officials who you see in the chair at smaller tour tournaments often are the ones calling lines at bigger tournaments as they continue to get experience. So people often ask me, ‘Well, what’s to learn if there’s no line calls to overrule?’ or similar questions. For me, it’s not just about the actual calling of the lines that’s important in this conversation. There are other intangibles at play — for example, how to handle the environment of being on a big court at a big tournament is also something that these people learned standing at the back of the court. That’s something that will still be there once we get back to having full stadiums, even if live ELC stays.

Also, the privilege of being selected to Grand Slams is something that every official strives for, and it’s harder to get there in a scenario without line umpires. Is that going to affect the motivation for people who might’ve thought they had a chance to make officiating a viable career? It’s tough to predict. This also has an impact at the grassroots level — those people who aren’t pursuing officiating as a full-time career at the professional level are often heavily involved in tennis at the national, regional or local level, and losing them at the top of the game might have an effect on how they see tennis as a whole. Milos Raonic was very articulate about this in particular during the Australian Open, and it was so refreshing to see that perspective coming from a pro player. I think that the decision-makers in the sport really need to consider what these developments are going to mean to all sides as they move forward.

Joey: You’re a great writer, but for those who may need some introduction, what are three of your pieces throughout your career that are a must-read?
Victoria: I’ve been really fortunate to meet a lot of great people in this sport so far and have the opportunity to tell their stories — from the grassroots to the professional levels. This is a little bit related to the points I made above, but over the past two years, I’ve been able to pull the curtain back on officiating, so to speak, by writing a lot of getting-to-knows and profiles on the tour’s umpires. You know, you see these people week-to-week and you know their faces, but you don’t really know them. They’re not there to be the “story,” but they’re a part of this whole broader story that is the tour — so it’s been a fun exercise for me to work with a lot of them in this way. The aptly-named “Interview with an Umpire” series was my personal project when I was working with the WTA. I might be cheating here by pointing to the final installment featuring Marija Cicak because it also includes links to all seven that I worked on, all of which are unique reads in their own ways.

Recently, I also had the opportunity to talk to the three women who’ve umpired men’s finals at the US Open in a larger feature piece about women in officiating. Alison, Eva and Louise are three of the most experienced umpires in tennis, and to speak to them about their careers, how they got to where they are and gender equity in officiating was really enlightening. The latter two were also candid with me about being moms on the tour, and while that has been part of the conversation of the sport in regards WTA players in recent years, it’s much less public-facing in officiating — but, for me, an equally important conversation. The final, polished piece is something I’m really proud of.

Joey: You’ve seen your career evolve from collegiate sports to tennis full-time. Where do you envision your career in, say, 10-20 years? Are there any specific projects or places that you would love to take on?
Victoria: I’m a big believer in the idea that you’re meant to be where you’re at at any given time. I do the best I can to stay in the moment and I don’t like to look too far ahead. I always try to learn something from the situation I’m in and the people I’m with. I never thought I would spend time working in collegiate athletics, and I ended up there. Tennis has given me so much in such a comparatively short time, and I hope it has a lot more planned for me.

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 Victoria?
Victoria: A friend of mine often says, “The grass is green where you water it,” and I’ve really been taking that to heart recently. I think we often get so wrapped up in what’s next for us that we don’t take enough time to appreciate and cultivate where we’re at. As far as what I’d tell my 18-year-old self, that one is tougher. I guess I would just tell her that everything that she’s worried about will work out for the best — better than she ever imagined it would — even though she thinks she’s plotted out every possible scenario and outcome.

Oh — and I would definitely make sure to remind her to stay hydrated.

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 Sarah Kellam @sarahkellam, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By Jessica Taylor Price, @jesstaylorprice, Freelance Gymnastics Writer

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.