The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, June 30, 2020

Missing Wimbledon and can tennis really continue? — Interview: Leslie Allen — Must-click women's tennis links

(Hi! Howard Megdal here. The IX helps build the necessary infrastructure for women’s sports media. In this moment, freelance budgets have been cut, reporters are losing their jobs. Women’s sports always bears the brunt of that first.

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Grass is Greener at Wimbledon

This week would have marked the beginning of the 2020 Wimbledon Championships, however, we’re still at home trying to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic (more on that soon).

The tournament was one of very few, but quite possibly the only major sporting event to take out pandemic insurance. Their gamble following the 2003 SARS outbreak proved plentiful, where the crown jewel of tennis will receive a payout of roughly £114m over a 17-year period. However, for now that’s all they’ll receive since due to the current climate, they won’t be able to secure insurance for the 2021 championships.

Once a vaccine is approved and administered, I’m curious to see if more organizations and events take out pandemic insurance. While the SARS outbreak was extreme, it didn’t disrupt the professional sports arena the way COVID-19 has. Wimbledon paid £1.5 million-a-year for their insurance policy and their progressive ways saved them in the long run. Will insurance be as manageable or costly? Historically, pandemics are a once-in-a-century incident, but COVID-19 has been unprecedented.

However, literally and figuratively, the grass will be greener on the other side.

Until then, enjoy this lovely piece of optimism provided by the Duchess of Cambridge and the brilliant Wimbledon digital team:

Will ATP players ruin tennis’ comeback?

The COVID-19 outbreak from Novak Djokovic’s Adria Tour has been monumental with the World No. 1, his wife Jelena, coach Goran Ivanisevic and a slew of players including Grigor Dimitrov and Borna Coric testing positive for the virus. Since then, Alexander Zverev was seen partying after having his team release a statement that he would self-quarantine for 14 days, while Dominic Thiem is gallivanting across Europe playing in multiple exhibition tournaments in multiple countries. Essentially:

Nick Kyrgios, never afraid to use his voice, expressed his dismay, which numerous players agreed with:

The biggest question — can tennis, especially the Western & Southern Open and the US Open, maintain enough protocol to prevent a disaster adjacent to the Adria Tour? At the press conference announcing the US Open’s plans, Tournament Director Stacey Allaster said it would be up to the players themselves to honor the guidelines set. I hope the US Open will lay the hammer down before the tournament and set even more strict, black-and-white guidelines for the players and staff to adhere by. We’re in a digital age and nobody is an exception to a camera phone. However, I think we’re past that. It’s time to hold the players accountable and if they’re seen ignoring the rules, withdraw them from the tournament.

How is it fair to the hundreds of other players looking to make a sustainable living, even putting food on the table for some, when the men’s elite is pretty much giving a middle finger to the governing bodies? The tournament is already incorporating no qualifying, fewer doubles and shortened credential lists, on top of no media. Tennis players are used to being selfish, especially in an isolated environment the tours. They need to check their ego at the door and fully realize that games shouldn’t be played when millions around the globe are dying.

The women — including Adria Tour’s Donna Vekic, who has been following the isolation protocols — remain unproblematic. I leave you with this, thanks to Karolina Pliskova and her team at a Czech exhibition:

This Week in Women’s Tennis

The WTA celebrated Pride Month with a special feature on Doubles World No. 12 Demi Schuurs, an open letter by Alla Kudryavtseva on tennis opening her eyes to different viewpoints and a collaboration between WTA Charities and You Can Play:

After much scrutiny from the tennis community, the US Open will be including wheelchair events at the event in August.

Team Peace, captained by Bethanie Mattek-Sands, downed Madison Keys’ Team Kindness 26-22 in the six-day Credit One Bank Invitational benefiting the Medical University of South Carolina. In other exhibitions, Belinda Bencic captured the Bratislava Open with a straight-set win over Viktoria Kuzmova.

Keys, the defending Volvo Car Open champion, visited Charleston earlier in the year with a visit to Meeting Street Academy, a network aiming to bridge the gap of educational inequality in the city.

Bakers, doctors, perfumers and….spies? Many WTA pros don’t return to the court in any capacity once they hang up their racquets. The tour highlights some of the most unique opportunities players have taken on in retirement.

Tennis Australia has partnered with UTR to host a series of socially-distant professional events totalling $450,000 in prize money. Ellen Perez was the winner of the first week in Sydney.

One of two Aussies among the Original 9, Kerry Melville Reid reflected about taking a stand, as well as her fondest memories on tour.

Taylor Townsend opens up about the fat shaming throughout her career and embracing the roller coaster her journey has been.

Thailand’s greatest WTA player, Tamarine Tanasugarn, played her best tennis on the lawns of Wimbledon. She discussed her seven trips to the second week at SW19, her Toyko 2021 goals and being a trailblazer for Thai tennis.

Twenty years ago, Jelena Dokic stormed her way to the semifinals of Wimbledon. Now, the Aussie opens up about ceasing contact with abusive father Damir and life in Melbourne.

In case you missed it, the latest episode of Tennis United features Elise Mertens, Genie Bouchard and Rennae Stubbs.

Tweet of the Week

Sachia Vickery didn’t hold back when ATP star Alexander Zverev was seen partying after being exposed in the COVID-ridden Adria Tour. Here’s your daily reminder to keep wearing a mask…

A solid runner-up is this gem from Sloane Stephens, who keeps giving us fun facts on social….including this interesting favorite movie:

Five at the IX: Leslie Allen

Leslie Allen is a former professional tennis player who peaked at No. 17 in singles and No. 10 in doubles. She was an NCAA champion at the University of Southern California and was the winner of the 1981 Avon Championships of Detroit, becoming the first African-American woman since Althea Gibson to win a significant professional title and was also the Mixed Doubles runner-up at the 1983 French Open. Following her retirement, she has gone into real estate and began her own business, Win4Life and charity, the Leslie Allen Foundation. You can follow her on Twitter or join her W4L Facebook group.

Joey: After your playing career ended, you’ve been busy leading your organization, Win4Life. Can you describe the journey that led you to creating it and what a normal day entails for you and W4L?
Leslie: I happened to be sitting on the US Open transportation bus next to Paul McNamara, who was then the Australian Open Tournament Director and just we’re just shooting the breeze because we played at the same time and were now working on the business side of the game. He said that he had a bunch of boys that came over from Australia and they were playing up in Harlem and I said “well, did you bring any girls?” and he said “no, but get some girls together and bring him down to Australia for Kid’s Day.”

After holding tryouts, I started working with them off the court, I started thinking “what is this trip about or what do you say to a sponsor?” I realized that so many of them were good tennis players, they needed to work on their life skills. I wanted them to be on point with etiquette, what to be on court, with knowing what to wear and how to articulate. By the end of our first group, I felt comfortable enough to send them for anything – from going down to City Hall and picking it up for us to speaking with college coaches. Many of these players are myopic about their sport and don’t really spend a lot of time developing life skills. I wanted them to be exemplary and an example both on and off of the court.

Although I work in real estate, I tend to be now a little bit more with Win4Life, but before COVID, it could vary. A lot of times, I would travel to a venue to lead training or working with athletes, videotaping them to see what how they’re portrayed when speaking to a room. I also work with alums of the program to share their experience so my current students can see that the process works and hold them accountable for the experience they create. I want it to represent what their life would be in college, professional sports or the business world – whatever it may be.

As for me personally, I start my day usually with some yoga to clear my head and then divide my day into quadrants – with a sheet of paper. I’m an endless list person so I try to have my day well-planned out. Lately, I’ve been doing some closings on houses, helping sell masks or giving webinars/podcasts.

Joey: You were a standout at the University of Southern California. Can you talk about how Title IX impacted your career on and off of the court?
Leslie: My journey with Title IX began before USC. I was in high school and there were no women’s sports teams in my high school and I decided that I wanted to play on my boys’ high school team. When tennis suddenly became popular in America in the in the mid-70s and I was just finishing up high school they said “oh, you can’t play on your tennis team because you’re a girl,” even though I was the best player in the area. The state tournament had started and just randomly one morning on a TV show on my little 13-inch black-and-white TV sitting on my dresser, I heard a person talking about the Women’s Law Fund and that Title IX had been passed. I knew my school was partially federally funded, so my family ended up suing the state and the Ohio Athletic Association so I could play. They ended up creating a special bracket for me in the tournament.

Title IX first provided me and opportunity I was denied in high school, then I was allowed to go to school on an athletic scholarship. I started at Carnegie Mellon on an academic scholarship, before transferring to the Fashion Institute of Technology. Then, I walked on at USC, where I was at the bottom of the lineup, but I was able to finally improve my tennis by playing among some of the best players in the country.

Joey: You were the first African-American WTA Tournament Director at the Acura U.S. Women’s Hardcourts in Stratton Mt., Vermont. Throughout the years, the U.S. has lost many WTA tournaments, though the USTA Pro Circuit hosts dozens of ITF events throughout the year. In your opinion, as someone who has been on the tournament side, how can the U.S. bring back more elite tournaments to the calendar?
Leslie: I think American tennis in order to grow it you have to have a high-level tournaments that athletes have access to. The tour has made the shift from being totally American- centered to now World-centered and it’s sometimes driven by where players are from, which generates most interest or the most income in a tournament. But I think as a governing body, it’s vitally important for smaller ones, like the ITF events and Challengers, to exist as kind of a farm team to give our players a place to play so they don’t have to travel halfway around the globe chasing something and they can at least be in the on the continent. However, I’m hopeful that when tennis comes back, that more American tournaments will be included.

Joey: You were also the first African-American player to win a significant pro tournament since Althea Gibson and definitely were a trailblazer in your own right. While there has been a lot of progress when it comes to diversity in tennis, there still work that needs to be done, which you referenced in an open letter to the USTA. In your eyes, what more can be done and where do we start?
Leslie: When I worked for the Tour, with a sponsor, Kraft and I was the Media & Promotions Manager on the site around the globe, it was very seldom that I interacted with anybody that was a person of color. A big part of W4L is that I wanted to develop a core group of young athletes that if an opportunity arose, I could send somebody from a diverse background. If you have all of those life skills and know how to network, just don’t show up and stand in the corner and talk to the people you know. Know how to work the room. There are opportunities out there because countless times when I would show up at an event, help would be needed and I can offer a student from W4L to help and gain experience. If you don’t know these opportunities exist, you can’t even aspire to do them. It’s like Billie Jean King says, “you got to see it to be it.”

The circuit always used to be a very male-dominated behind the scenes, so I would never see very many women unless it was specifically doing the PR for the WTA. Then, it became when I was working, there were a few more women and female writers, but it’s still more a good old boy network of men. Now, there’s a little more diversity but not enough in leadership positions in my opinion. That’s where work needs to be done.

Joey: What was the best piece of advice you’ve received and who gave it? If you could go back in time, what would you tell 18-year-old Leslie?
Leslie: I would say the best piece of advice was something that Althea Gibson once said to me and she said I need to think about winning WTA tournament because I told her my goal was just to get in them, to be in the main draw. When she said “with your wingspan, you need to think about winning WTA tournaments” after the first hour that she saw me and several of the Africa-American players play, I just remembered thinking “this is the two-time Wimbledon US Open champion telling me she thinks I can win WTA Tour title. I need to change everything I need to step up my game.” It was such a far-fetched dream to want to be a pro, so I would never say that out loud. I would just say things like “I want to see how good I can get or I want to see if I can get good enough.”

Going back in time, I would say “don’t be afraid to use your voice.” It’s that simple.

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 Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Howard Megdal

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