The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, August 18, 2020

The concrete jungle where dreams are made of awaits — Must-click women's tennis links — US Open media avail

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Lets Get Ready to Rumble

The New York City bubble ahead of the Western & Southern Open and US Open has begun and qualifying for the former tournament begins tomorrow. To say the least, it will be very interesting to see how the next three weeks unfold in the Big Apple.

Within the last week, the women’s draw has continued to see withdrawals from some of the game’s best. World No. 2 Simona Halep announced her intent following her title run in Prague, preferring to stay in Europe and train on the red clay ahead of Roland Garros.

2019 semifinalist and World No. 8 Belinda Bencic also announced her decision to stay in Europe:

Defending champion and World No. 6 Bianca Andreescu was another player withdrawing from New York. The Canadian hasn’t played since October’s WTA Finals and due to the COVID-19 ranking formula, she should remain a fixture in the Top 10 for the next year.

With these announcements, only 4 of the Top 10 will be in New York and the seeds currently look like this, though Garbine Muguruza is out of Cincinnati and questionable for the US Open:

There’s the bad news. Now, here’s…more. An individual, though not a player, inside the bubble has tested positive for COVID-19. Obviously, due to protocol, they weren’t named, but tournament officials did say the person was asymptomatic and was the first positive test in over 1,400 administered. The good news here is that the USTA has implemented a fantastic contact tracing program through the RFID system on credentials.

From what I’ve seen on social media, the US Open is doing an incredible job navigating the COVID-19 pandemic with designated suites for players to call their own to the tournament hotels having a wide variety of amenities:

If you’re still hesitant about play commencing in New York, I highly urge you to stalk the players on social media (specifically Instagram) and view the stories of the players on site. They’re taking the bubble seriously and staying within the confines designated to them. Andy Murray landed and is already delivering:

Tournament Director Stacey Allaster says about 90% of the players have already arrived and done their initial COVID-19 tests. The tournament has purchased 500,000 masks for their protocol and among the items they’ve invested in are “social distance ambassadors” whose focus is to ensure players and guests are adhering to mask-wearing.

Will there be more positive tests? Most likely. That’s just statistics combined with how global the Tour is. However, tonight the Western & Southern Open qualifying draw gets released and all eyes will be on the Big Apple. Every Tournament Director, player, fan etc. will be zeroing in on if the USTA can pull this event off. You can bet your bottom dollar the other sports leagues are watching, especially the NFL.

Not to sound dramatic, but this is more than just two tennis tournaments, it’s potentially the start of sports’ new normal.

Now, ladies, start your engines.

This Week in Women’s Tennis

With a special update to the book Richmond – One of America’s Tennis Towns, Original 9 member Rosie Casals is leading a free Zoom meeting to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the Original 9 and discuss the early days of the Virginia Slims Tour

Jennifer Brady won her first career WTA title at the Top Seed Open in Lexington, Kentucky, taking out Jil Teichmann in the final. Brady was playing some of her best tennis before COVID-19 and the American credits her new coach and tough preseason as the catalyst.

Also, Brady and I have the same celebration formula:

Simona Halep continued her winning ways in 2020, taking the Prague Open over Elise Mertens. The World No. 2 won in Dubai before the Tour’s shutdown and brought her winning streak to nine matches.

Something to keep an eye out in New York:

Very much looking forward to what Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff, Sloane Stephens and Serena Williams have planned while they continue to use their platform for the disenfranchised.

In doubles news, Hayley Carter and Luisa Stefani, both Five at the IX alums, took the Lexington title, helping the duo reach new career high rankings. Kristyna Pliskova and Lucie Hradecka paired up to take the doubles crown to the delight of the Czech fans.

Kim Clijsters believes she still has plenty of good tennis ahead of her as the Hall of Famer’s comeback continues. Based on her results in the World Team Tennis season, she’s not wrong.

The WTA’s WTA4Love campaign continues to positively impact the local communities of their tournaments. This past week in Lexington, the organization donated 24,000 meals to a local food pantry.

Coco Gauff may only be 16, but she’s looking to continue her storm up the rankings with the Tour’s restart.

France has continued to limit public gatherings due to the COVID-19 crisis and Roland Garros’ plans may have to shift as a result.

Mary Carillo has had a journalism career for over 40 years and she sat down with WTA Insider to discuss her WTA experience, switching career paths and her inspirations sport gives her.

Curious on how “lucky losers” work with no qualifying? Should any main draw player be unable to play in the US Open, the highest singles-ranked doubles player will act as an alternate. Five at the IX alum Asia Muhammad currently sits atop of the standings:

World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty shared her feelings that led to her first retirement, plus more, in an episode of One on One with ABC Australia.

Another Five at the IX alum, Kristie Ahn, partnered with Tennis Warehouse to teach you some short but effective ways to take your game to the next level.

Cici Bellis is more than hungry to continue her comeback from injury in New York, especially after a strong performance last week in Lexington.

Robin Montgomery, one of the world’s top juniors, has turned professional and signed with IMG Tennis:

Andre Agassi inspired Nike’s latest line of tennis wear and I can’t wait to see which players will be rocking the denim and spandex.

The media will definitely be missed at the Bud Collins Media Center, but there will be a select few in New York:

2007 NCAA team and 2008 singles champion Amanda McDowell was announced as a member of the Georgia Tech Hall of Fame Class of 2020. Stay tuned for a Five at the IX with the Yellow Jacket.

Tweet of the Week

Because this needed its own section: Two days before her 86th birthday, Angela Buxton passed away. Buxton won two Grand Slam doubles titles with Althea Gibson, ignoring the racist and xenophobic times tennis was in. Buxton and Gibson’s friendship went beyond the court and lasted four decades.

Five at the IX: US Open Conference Call

The US Open held a conference call today ahead of the two-tournament bubble they’re hosting. Here are five of the more important quotes from the eve of the Western & Southern Open.

Q. Where do you foresee the greatest risk in this plan, the area you’d be most concerned about in terms of the possibility of an outbreak of COVID-19 during these tournaments?

DR. BERNARD CAMINS: That’s a really good question. Tennis is definitely different from hockey, basketball or baseball. The Medical Advisory Group actually discussed the protocols implemented by other professional sports. We created one specifically for the two tournaments that we are involved in.

I think the biggest thing that we really worried about was to make sure that we can keep players from socializing too much, too close to each other, not wearing the mask, not following our universal masking protocols.

In the four days that I have been involved and watching everybody, everybody actually has been following those recommendations carefully, and we even have hired extra staff to be our health and safety ambassadors who are doing that. Those are the really big issues that we thought about.

The other thing that we have installed is a tiered approach. Only tier one individuals are really interacting with other tier one individuals. The other tiers hardly, if any, have contact with tier one individuals.

Q. If a player tests positive once the tournament starts, it’s not automatic disqualification? You have to make a judgment call on that?
STACEY ALLASTER: With the US Open, yes, because they would be automatically withdrawn. That is a New York Department of Health protocol and CDC guideline, not a USTA decision ultimately.

MIKE DOWSE: There’s two ways to look at it in a sense. Our health and safety protocols, when you are in our environment, you are part of the Western & Southern and US Open guidelines. Anything around that, even above that, are the New York State guidelines.

As Dr. Camins alluded to, we are working very closely with the State Department of Health. We have approved our plan, and that is why we are putting forth these two competitions.

To clarify, if a player during competition were to test positive, under the New York State guidelines, that player would be withdrawn from the tournament, and we would begin isolation/quarantine protocols as outlined by the State of New York.

Q. Obviously this is the first huge event of the COVID era. Talk about what it’s like as the sport regroups in New York. More importantly, what do you think the impact of this event will be on the mindset in New York and in a country where we’ve had some really tough times?
MIKE DOWSE: Specific to what this means for tennis and for the City of New York, I can just share with you, and Stacey touched on it, the vibe of the players and everyone involved with the players has been incredible the last week. Seeing them show up, doing air hugs and whatnot, they’re so excited to be back into the sport. The energy is very positive.

Being the governing body of the sport of tennis in the U.S., we obviously have our tentacles out in all the communities. The feedback and comments we’re getting are that people are extremely excited.

To me, what really excites me about this opportunity, it’s been a very challenging time for our society. This is a great opportunity to bring everyone together.

The other thing that excites me, and I shared it in my opening statements, the reports we’re hearing from retail, pre-strung racquets, that’s where entry level new players come in, and the sales of tennis balls, have nearly doubled in the last 90 days. That’s showing tennis has a huge opportunity to benefit society coming out of this.

Again, you couldn’t pick a better sport to play after being locked up for several months, right? It’s primarily outdoors, fun. We joke it’s not a social distancing sport, you’re still socializing, it’s just a physically distancing sport.

So far the vibe has been great. We are missing some of the players, but overall the numbers are really strong on the strength of our field. I’m just excited to see some great tennis that we haven’t seen for several months.

Q. The level of the virus in the United States right now is so much higher than Europe. A lot of your conversations must have been about what kind of an obligation sports have to communities that they live in. From some of the answers I can hear you’ve had those conversations. Could you give us any insight into the burden of the tests that you need, how that contrasts with the difficulty in getting tests in some places in the U.S., how you’ve thought about those issues of sports obligations to the larger community.
MIKE DOWSE: To put it in context again, we never had pressure from our board to host this tournament at an all costs. We always took it through the approach through the three guiding principles we talked about earlier. We feel confident we’re doing the right thing.

Again, the protocols are incredible that this team has put together for health and safety. We talked about the excitement for tennis and what it means for our industry. Financially we have been able to make this work for all the different stakeholders involved.

I want to remind everyone, this was not a host at all costs. It had to adhere to our three principles. We’re confident it has.

To the broader society question, we know where the tests comes in on that. I’ll let Bernard speak to that.

DR. BERNARD CAMINS: That’s a really good question. We did discuss it.

First and foremost is that the first requirement is that New York City or the New York region had to be in phase four, right, where professional sports can actually go on or move forward. We’ve taken that lead.

While I agree with you that testing potentially in other parts of the country are not as available, just like other sports organizations, like the NBA, MLB, we did find a partner who can run our tests and have a fast turnaround time. That would be the only way this would work, right? If we couldn’t get that done, we wouldn’t be able to hold this tournament even if New York was in phase four. Those are all the things we looked into.

Again, I think this is a good way to showcase New York City, that it is a great international event that we can host and put forward.

Q. With the uncertainty that’s inherent to this pandemic, what gives you confidence that this is the right plan and decision to host these tournaments in this particular way at this time?
MIKE DOWSE: As I said in my opening statement, we have 100% confidence we’re doing this properly. Again, it was not a host at all costs. We were very disciplined in our approach. Again, that was health and well-being number one. Number two, in the best interests of tennis. Three, does it financially make sense for the players, the USTA and the broader tennis ecosystem.

The thing I’m most excited about is the energy, as I shared earlier, from the players as they’ve come in and the broader tennis community. People are starved to see these great athletes competing in these two big tournaments. I’m really optimistic that we’re going to look back at this in a few months and really be proud of what everyone accomplished, what this has done for our sport of tennis.

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.