The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, June 22, 2021

Two Wimbledon Dark Horses emerge — RALLY4EVER gets Australia's attention — Must-click women's tennis links

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Can Samsonova and Jabeur Blossom win at Wimbledon?

First up, our friends at the Sloane Stephens Foundation are a finalist in the PLAY category of LA2050’s grant competition. They need as many votes as they can to take home a $100,000 grant. Click this link and fill out by June 28th to give them a vote so they can continue to impact the Compton community and eventually branch out to other marginalized communities.

Now, this past weekend, two more WTA players added themselves to the “1st Title” club.

In Berlin at the bett1 Open, a WTA 500 event, qualifier Liudmila Samsonova strictly stunned the tennis world by emerging as champion. The World No. 106 had to win seven matches to secure the crown and what a seven wins they were:

Her run honestly came out of nowhere, with the Russian only having two Top 70 wins this season — No. 11 Kiki Bertens in Miami and No. 70 Paula Badosa at the Australian Open. She had only been to the round of 16 of a WTA once before, too — simply stunning.

By becoming the first qualifier to take a WTA 500 since 2014 in only her second-ever WTA grasscourt main draw, Samsonova rocketed into the Top 100 for the first time. Not only did Samsonova seal her place on the WTA’s radar, but she secured the last remaining Wimbledon wildcard, avoiding having to play qualifying.

History was made in Birmingham at the Viking Classic Birmingham, where Ons Jabeur became the first Arab woman to claim a WTA singles title. The Tunisian has certainly been a trailblazer, but it’s been a long time coming for the 2011 Roland Garros junior champion.

This was the third career final for Jabeur, who won the first set in her previous two finals, lost an extremely close second set before losing the third. Her first final was the 2018 Kremlin Cup, where she lost to Daria Kastakina, who she got revenge in Birmingham’s final. The congratulations soon poured in for Jabeur, from Andy Roddick to Victoria Azarenka to multiple high-profile people in Tunisia tweeting to the World No. 24.

While her week wasn’t as stunning on paper as it was compared to Samsonova, it was still a pretty solid week at the WTA 250:

  • R1: def. No. 111 (Q) Caty McNally 6-4,6-2

  • R2: def. No. 66 Leylah Fernandez 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(3)

  • Quarterfinal: def. No. 82 Anastasia Potapova 6-4, 6-0

  • Semi-final: def. No. 70 Heather Watson 6-3, 6-3

  • Final: def. No. 35 (4) Daria Kasatkina 7-5, 6-4

Now, what does that mean for Wimbledon? Samsonova has never played in the main draw, while Jabeur has only reached the second round once in 2018. It all boils down to the draw, of course, but Samsonova should be the top player to make a seeded player sweat in the first or second round. As for Jabeur, she’s been one of the most consistent players since the start of 2020 and following the tour’s restart last year, has lived up to her seeding or done better at every Grand Slam. We know I’m not a betting man here, but hear me out. Ons Jabeur is making the second week and following Barbora Krejcikova’s Cinderella run, who knows how deep she can go.

Nearly every year, we have a surprise semifinalist at Wimbledon. Magdalena Rybarikova, Ekaterina Makarova, Elena Vesnina, Barbora Strycova, Julia Goerges, Zheng Jie, Tsvetana Pironkova. I wouldn’t say Jabeur would be a surprise, honestly, but Samsonova has the momentum to add her name to the list.

Qualifying has begun for the 2021 Championships and World No. 94 Maria Camila Osorio Serrano headlines the draw. Tweet me your dark horses, as well as qualifying picks! I’d love to hear them!

Best of luck to Five at The IX alums Danielle Lao, Ellen Perez, Tara Moore, Kristie Ahn and Asia Muhammad as they begin their qualifying battles for a berth in the main draw.

Now let the games begin!

This Week in Women’s Tennis

Steve Flink profiled Jane Brown Grimes, a 2014 inductee into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, who is finishing up her PhD at the University of Cambridge where she’s dissecting women’s tennis from 1968-2007. I honestly hope she turns it into a book so I can read it ASAP.

Naomi Osaka announced her withdrawal from Wimbledon following the Roland Garros press debacle, but does share her intentions on competing at the Tokyo Olympics.

Be sure to check out WTA Insider’s Champions Corner with Berlin champion Liudmila Samsonova and Birmingham winner Ons Jabeur. They also bundled up the top minutes from Media Day at the Viking International Eastbourne.

Former World No. 4 Kiki Bertens announced that the 2021 season will be her last on tour after an Achilles injury and the COVID-19 break were the tipping points in imagining life after tennis.

World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty will be heading into Wimbledon with no grasscourt preparation and an injury — that made her retire in the second round of Roland Garros — that has her team a bit baffled.

The WTA’s Writers Roundtable recapped the claycourt season and gave some of their thoughts while the grass season suddenly approaches its end.

David Kane spoke with 2005 Roland Garros quarterfinalist Sesil Karatancheva, who is undecided if she will come back as a player following a 2019 injury, but is hoping to mentor the next Bulgarian generation with her academy’s launch.

Another must-read: Martina Navratilova’s Pride Month column for the WTA.

The US Open announced that they will be hosting the 2021 Championships at 100% fan capacity. I can hear the crowd roars and taste the Honey Deuces already.

Honestly, we all need this pep talk from Serena Williams:

After a calf tear in Rome forced her out of Roland Garros, reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep is cautiously optimistic about defending her title, even though she withdrew from the tuneup in Bad Hamborg.

The Olympic ranking cutoff was June 14 and national federations are starting to compile their nominations. One of the countries too-loaded is the Czech Republic and World No. 22 Karolina Muchova expressed her disappointment after missing out on the team. World No. 40 Marketa Vondrousova was able to use her Protected Ranking of No. 19 from a 2019 injury to slide past Muchova:

Tweet of the Week

Belinda Bencic deserves any award for somehow winning this point. Bravo!

Five at The IX: A must-watch

I’ve mentioned in the past about RALLY4EVER, an organization former Top 100 doubles player Louise Pleming has started that began with her unlikely friendship with a homeless man, Bryan. Their story is quite warming and recently captured the attention of ABC News in Australia.

I hope to have a true Five at The IX with RALLY4EVER members in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, please, please, please give this a watch and see how tennis is positively changing people’s lives.

This isn’t your normal Five at The IX, but I highly encourage you take (at least) five minutes and listen to Louise’s story:

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,
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.