The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, April 20, 2021

Highlights of the WTA calendar, scoring app — Interview: Emily Webley-Smith — Must-click women's tennis links

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WTA’s Updated Calendar & App

It was a bit of a slow week and then all of a sudden, the WTA decided to roll out some fantastic news pretty much back-to-back.

First off, we have a completed 2021 WTA calendar through the US Open!

Let’s break down the big takeaways here:

  • Week of May 17 – Belgrade, Serbia will be hosting a WTA 250 that was originally supposed to be in Anning, China. Well, Anning was supposed to originally be this past week, but COVID-19 has postponed it. Belgrade is only going to be a tour stop this year with Djorde Djokovic, brother of Novak, at the helm. He’s hinted that Ana Ivanovic will be part of the tournament, most likely in an exhibition and not a comeback as others are rumoring.

  • May 24 – The Strasbourg WTA 250 will commence here due to the one-week postponement of Roland Garros

  • June 7 – The WTA 250 in Nottingham, England is currently up in the air. It usually helps kick off the grass season, but most likely nothing is confirmed because of Roland Garros.

  • July 12 – Simona Halep no longer has a hometown WTA tournament. The WTA 250 in Bucharest has moved their sanction to Budapest, Hungary. Also, the incredibly popular WTA 250 in Prague, Czech Republic, which usually featured a large $500,000 purse in the past before hosting a $3M WTA $125k last year, is taking on the summer hardcourt swing. They will hold a new date with a new surface. Because of the Czech contingent, expect this field to be unreal, most likely with Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova taking the Top 10 player entries.

  • July 19 – Unfortunately, the Citi Open in Washington, DC is no longer hosting a WTA 250 tournament. Though they never were seen as equals to the ATP’s 500 tournament, the women’s roots runs deep, starting with an ITF in the early 2000s before moving to the WTA level in 2011. Their sanction is moving to Gdynia, Poland, where Iga Swiatek’s father’s company is organizing the red claycourt tournament. The reigning Roland Garros champion is sure to be the headliner for the event.

  • August 23 – Last, but certainly not least, OHIO! I believe I mentioned this a few weeks ago, but the news that Topnotch Management has a sanction formerly held by New Haven. It will be held the week following the Western & Southern Open and the week before the US Open. As I reside in Columbus, I am already clearing my schedule and will be more than happy to report from the 330 — or 216.

  • Unfortunately, the debut of the WTA 250 in Cologne, Germany will be postponed until 2022, while the ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands will see a second consecutive year without their event as well.

  • The good news is that the WTA $125k Series is increasing their amount of tournaments throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia. As of now, the tour plans to have over 15 WTA 125 events in 2021.

The second piece of news is that we finally have a WTA scoring app!

It’s been long overdue for WTA fans to have access to quality live scoring. The WTA announced in their press release that we should expect a joint WTA-ATP scoring app to kick off the 2022 season. I’m very hopeful that the app will be even and include doubles head-to-head records, the doubles Porsche Race to Shenzhen and ITF World Tour events above the $15k level. When the old joint app existed, it bothered me to no end that it was completely one-sided.

To download, be sure to visit the Apple App store or Google Play store.

This Week in Women’s Tennis

Congratulations to Vanderbilt grad Astra Sharma, who went from a disastrous scoring error when defending finalist points in Bogota, to capturing her first WTA singles title at the MUSC Health Women’s Open in Charleston the following week. She stormed back from the brink of defeat to deny top seed Ons Jabeur her first title, 2-6, 7-5, 6-1.

You must read this Jackson Duffey piece on Lisa Spain Short, the University of Georgia’s first-ever women’s tennis scholarship holder.

What a fortnight for Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, who won her home tournament, hopped on a flight and battled her way into the Charleston semifinals. She’s closing in on the Top 100 and nearing a direct entry into Roland Garros.

Six of the final sixteen in Charleston were 20 years old or younger, giving a glimpse of what seems to be an even brighter WTA future than we imagined.

Also, this point has me winded after only watching it:

Remember last week when I previewed the Billie Jean King Cup Playoffs and gave predictions? Hopefully you didn’t bet using my advice because, phew. Elisabetta Cocciaretto led Italy to an upset over Romania, while Poland outlasted Brazil in their matchup. The Netherlands, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Latvia, Canada and Great Britain were the other teams to advance to the BJK Cup Qualifiers.

The Tour continues into the claycourt season with tournaments in Stuttgart and Istanbul. The Porsche Tennis Grand Prix is one of the top WTA 500 tournaments of the entire season and this years’ field is stacked. Simona Halep is aiming for her first Stuttgart title, that would complete her entire European red clay trophy set. World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and former champions Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova also look to leave Germany with keys to a Porsche Taycan Turbo S Cross Turismo.

On the ITF World Tour, Polona Hercog headlined this week’s action by capturing the $60,000 event in Oeiras, Portugal. To make sure you’re updated on everything college-related, former UNC doubles star Jessie Aney, who spent her fifth year playing hockey at UConn, won her second consecutive $15,000 singles title in Kazakhstan.

The WTA announced a series with Chris Evert, whom their year-end No. 1 singles trophy is named after, titled One on One with Chris Evert. In it, the Hall of Famer will sit down with ten former year-end No. 1 players for an open and frank discussion. Don’t miss the series premiere, her first episode with Simona Halep and the just-released episode with Ashleigh Barty.

Serena Williams announced she is partnering with Amazon Studios in a deal that will be providing a docuseries on the GOAT’s life, as well as the 23-time Grand Slam champion executive producing other features.

Clara Tauson leads the players in the Top 100 with the biggest ranking moves of 2021 thus far. Could you name the other four?

Iga Swiatek and Olympic Ski champion Mikaela Shiffrin, both nominated for Lauerus Sport Awards, took to Instagram Live to discuss a variety of topics including psychology and the presence of pressure as athletes.

Lastly, I agree with Bianca Andreescu here. What is, “is?”

Tweet of the Week

Again, we need as much dog content on the WTA as possible. Thank you for your service, Kruz!

Five at the IX: Emily Webley-Smith

Emily Webley-Smith hails from Great Britain and is currently ranked No. 444 in the WTA singles rankings and No. 168 on the WTA doubles rankings. She holds career-high rankings of Nos. 240 and 113, respectively. Over her career, she’s won 4 ITF singles titles and 26 ITF doubles titles. She’s participated in two Wimbledon singles main draws, winning a round in 2004, as well as five Wimbledon doubles draws and Roland Garros last year. Give her a follow on both Twitter and Instagram, she’s a fantastic tennis follow to cheer on.

Joey: You were playing some great tennis prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, especially in doubles. Since then, you got to play your first Grand Slam on your own merit in Paris. Where do you stand with tennis following the Tour’s restart/ranking update?
Emily: The restart and the ranking procedure changes are not an easy task. At some point someone will always be unhappy. For me I’m happy to be able to compete, and work when a lot of the world still aren’t able to, and i  loved playing my first French Open. However after a good 2019, coming up I have a lot of points to defend and it is hard to do that with how few tournaments we have and how much stronger each event is. I am working on it…..

Joey: Though you play singles, your best results are on the doubles court. Have you fully transitioned into a doubles specialist, but playing singles where your ranking allows? What goes behind that decision?
Emily: I am better at doubles than I am at singles and I made the decision 3 years ago to base my schedule on my doubles so that I would have a better chance of achieving my goal of playing the other 3 Grand Slams. I enjoy both singles and doubles equally however, and I love getting the chance to compete on the singles court when I get in to the tournaments I have chosen for my doubles. Getting higher than my career high in singles without a coach would have been a very tough ask, whereas in doubles I feel that it is possible.

Joey: With there being so few ITF tournaments and not too many chances to play in WTA events, how do you structure your playing schedule?
Emily: Scheduling is extremely difficult right now, especially at my ranking where I can play anything from 25k to WTA Premier. While I was not defending last year, I wanted to step up and play more at WTA-level and in a COVID-safe environment. Now that I am, I am trying to find the balance with getting more matches at ITF-level in the short term, but with the goal to compete regularly at WTA in the not-too-distant future.

Joey: You’ve played in so many countries and interesting locations. Can you name a few experiences that stick out the most throughout your career — good or bad?
Emily: There are so many! All kinds of adventures across the world and a life well travelled that’s for sure that I’m extremely grateful for. All of the good and bad make me what I am today, but for the details you need to wait for the book…..

Joey: You’re in the later years of your career. How long do you see yourself playing on the tour? Do you have any specific goals you still want to achieve?
Emily: Are you trying to say I’m old?! I see myself playing for as long as I still love playing, competing and travelling as much as I do now, and while I still think I can improve. From a physical point of view I’m in the best shape of life which gives me the best chance of playing as long as I can. I would love to play all the Grand Slams with my parents watching, this is a huge goal for me. And Rome on the pretty court. And I would love to travel with a coach, this would be an amazing opportunity.

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 Emily?
Emily: The best advice I have ever received is from my Mum, who told me that you are a person a lot longer than you are a tennis player. I have tried to remember this as I travel around the world and interact with people on and off the court. We all have the capacity to be better people, to respect each other and to be kind. And this is very important to me. To my 18 year old self? I would say be yourself and be kinder to yourself. I would never speak to others how I spoke to myself at that age, and it took me a while and a lot of time on my own to find out how to be myself and be ok with that. Tennis makes you question yourself every single day and this is not an easy thing to deal with. To make sure that your own self worth comes from something other than winning and losing, is very important.

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.