The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, December 22, 2020

WTA/ATP "Tennis is Life" collab is (hopefully) a good sign for 2021 — Best Five at The IX answers of 2020 — Must-click women's tennis links

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On Friday, the WTA and ATP released a joint short film titled Tennis is Life. It’s an extremely well-done video showcasing how intertwined the tours are, but also showing appreciation to the healthcare workers, tour staff and tournaments for making tennis’ return possible

The film ends with a single line — “This is being stronger, united,” which ties in the #TennisUnited web series Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Vasek Pospisil were hosting throughout all of 2020. It’s a clear sign that the frigid and sometimes testy relationship between the WTA and ATP is a thing of the past. I’ve aired my theories here throughout the year, but I think the biggest reason is the fact that the ATP’s Big Three — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic — are on the tail ends of their careers while the WTA has been fostering an deep pool of talent of the next generation.

Could I be wrong? Maybe, but the ATP’s current young crop haven’t stepped up to the plate aside from Dominic Thiem’s win at this year’s US Open. The WTA has a lot more depth compared to the ATP and I think the COVID-19 shutdown of tennis helped shed a light on that. Also, the talks of potential unionization and a tour merger helped clear out any stale issues from the past. The norm that society had a year ago today is now no longer our norm, and that’s the same for the tennis world. It’s time to adapt and find our new normal.

2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, who joined compatriot Felix Auger-Aliassime to help give back to those less fortunate in Canada and Togo, respectively, opened up about how sport is used to unite humankind, a big takeaway of the Tennis is Life campaign:

Now, there’s no announced plans for any future collaborations between the WTA and ATP, but judging from the quotes of WTA President Micky Lawler and ATP SVP of Marketing and Business Development Dan Ginger, that should change. They both share an ode to uniting in some form and the film could be a way to test the waters of sports’ reaction. This is a welcome addition to the dumpster fire 2020 has been.

I’m more than hopeful and MORE than hoping that this is only the beginning and that 2021 will finally bring more awareness to the amazingness the WTA is. By collaborating with their male counterparts in a time where it’s more important and more impactful to collaborate than butt heads, it adds more to the layer that Bianca addresses — sport being the human unifier. Time to stop saying it and start acting like it. This is a fabulous start.

This Week in Women’s Tennis

The 2021 WTA calendar was announced — at least for the first seven weeks. The tour will start with a WTA 500 in Abu Dhabi, followed by the Australian Open qualifying in Dubai. After a week break, there will be two WTA 500 tournaments onsite at Melbourne Park, followed by the Australian Open. The second week of the Australian Open will also feature a WTA 250 in Melbourne.

This week’s must-read is by The Guardian’s Tumaini Carayol, who spoke to Julia Goerges after her sudden retirement in October.

The podcast, co-owned by last week’s Five at The IX Nina Pantic, had Judy Murray and co-producer Rosemary Reed to discuss their SkyTV docuseries Driving Force.

Congratulations to Linz Tournament Director Sandra Reichel, who was named the city of Hamburg’s Sportsperson of the Year.

If Leylah Fernandez has her way, you’ll be seeing a lot more of her on the game’s biggest stages – very soon.

Two $25,000 ITF Pro Circuit events will take place in Potchefstroom, South Africa and will be named the Ilana Kloss International, named after former player and activist Kloss, who is also partnered to WTA founder Billie Jean King.

Though she’s been having plenty of doubles success throughout a COVID-ridden 2020 to crack the Top 120, India’s Ankita Raina still has her eyes set on reaching the Top 100 in singles.

The WTA’s Adam Lincoln continued his Legacy Spotlight features and this week covered French great Francoise Dürr, who hilariously named her dog Topspin because her game had none!

Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki were just some of the names to say goodbye to the game this year.

In WTA baby news, 2013 Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Kamilya, while Mandy Minella gave birth to her second daughter, Maya.

More congratulations are in order for Maria Sharapova and Five at The IX alum Asia Muhammad. Both announced their engagements — Sharapova to longtime boyfriend Alexander Gilkes and Muhammad to ATP No. 343 Dayne Kelly of Australia.

Marie Bouzkova, who was named the Karen Krantzke Sportsmanship Award winner for the 2020 WTA season, spoke to David Kane about her season, as well as her off-season trip to the far state of Alaska.

Baseline at announced some of their 21 under 21 to watch in 2021, including Kaja Juvan, Caty McNally, Clara Tauson and Anastasia Potapova.

Cancer Research Racquet and WTA Charities have partnered for a second time to help raise funds for cancer research and are doing so in memory of 1998 Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna, who lost her ovarian cancer battle in 2017.

Need a last-minute holiday recipe? Anett Kontaveit has you covered with Avocado Chocolate Truffles!

Lastly, but certainly not least, Happy belated Birthday to WTA Legend Chris Evert!

Tweet of the Week

Who doesn’t love a good dad joke about tennis?

Five at the IX: Best of 2020’s Tennis Tuesdays

With the end of 2020 approaching, I wanted to highlight some of the best of my Five at the IX interviews this year. Next week, I’ll highlight the best advice they’ve not only received, but what they wish they told their 18-year-old selves.

Joey: While you rehab, you’ve signed on to be a Volunteer Assistant Coach for the University of Florida. What have you learned about yourself as a player and what’s the best advice you give to the players?
Vicky Duval: I think that was one of the best decisions I made for myself last year. I was at a stage where I felt very frustrated and sad that my body kept letting me down and I played with high levels of pain. The college environment is so different; it’s very high energy and obviously the focus is on team work. I felt lucky to be working under coaches who really valued my input and girls who genuinely absorbed my feedback about their game. I was working toward something bigger than myself, helping the team achieve success, and that felt great. It rekindled by passion for tennis and my desire to apply the same critical thinking to my own game on the tour. 

Joey: You were recently elected to the WTA Player Council and have been part of key discussions as COVID-19 suspended play. What has your experience been like and what other goals or ideas would you like to bring up when the Tour resumes? Do you have any thoughts or concerns with the potential merger with the ATP?
Gaby Dabrowski: It’s been crazy busy. I never expected it to feel like a second job, but it does. Except you’re not getting paid (laughs). I care a lot about player issues. I’ve learned about what happens on the “business” side of things and what is going on behind the scenes. It’s good to understand the other side, but at the same time most players get the short end of the stick in a lot of ways, especially lower ranked players. Personally, I would like many things be different to help a broader group of players. One thing I’d like to see is a different prize money distribution. It is currently very top-heavy and I’d like to see more money go into qualies, the first few rounds, and doubles. I think this will be especially important whenever we are able to resume after COVID because players need a safety net. 

I’m not that familiar with how mergers work, but I do know that it will need to benefit both sides and be done in a way where the men and women have equal power in terms of decision making. 

Joey: You’re most known (at least right now) for playing Emma Stone’s body double in the Battle of the Sexes. Billie Jean King is such a pioneer for women’s athletics. Can you describe the impact she’s had on you on and off of the court?
Kaitlyn Christian: Of course Billie Jean King was a pioneer in working for equality in mens and women’s sports.  It is because of her groundbreaking work that I was able to get a college scholarship under Title IX to play college tennis and attend USC. I have always respected and admired her on every level, and the chance to meet her and spend time on the court with her will be one of the most memorable moments in my life. Reading her book, “Pressure is a Privilege” changed my entire mindset on and off the tennis court and made me have a much greater appreciation for the life I am lucky enough to live. When you are around BJK, you get the feeling that she really cares and is always invested in other people’s well-being and this is what makes her special.

Joey: After a phenomenal playing career, you worked in sports media and collegiate coaching before joining the administrative side of tennis. Unfortunately, women are the minority in each of those sections. As someone rising in the corporate ranks, what needs to be done to give women more opportunities?
Megan Rose: I’m lucky in that I have worked for strong women who believe in reaching down and pulling others up behind them. Although it is nice to think that people in the decision-making seats will realize that having women in leadership positions is the right thing and the smart thing to do, I think it will ultimately be women supporting women that will be able to make the biggest difference. It’s important to help younger women focus on leadership development at the early stages of their careers; skills like emotional intelligence, negotiation, and communicating with power and authority are all areas that will help make sure women are ready to raise their hands when opportunities present themselves. I’ve had the opportunity to surround myself with female leaders in the sports industry and that power in community and representation I think will ultimately be the turning point.

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 Allen: 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.

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

Written by Howard Megdal

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