The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, April 28, 2020
Is college tennis the best pathway for pros? | Interview: Kristie Ahn aims to inspire others - and she's doing just that on TikTok and beyond
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Is college tennis the best pathway for pros?
First off, last Wednesday, the tennis world blew up with just a few tweets from Roger Federer:
Some of the WTA’s best (as well as top coach Darren Cahill and ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi chimed in with their responses:
Now, just a week before Federer’s tweet and the impending discussion surrounding a joint tour, I brought up having a joint commissioner in tennis. Either I’m psychic or Roger Federer is a secret subscriber to The IX.
Plain and simple: College Tennis is the Pathway to Pros
Many players and fans of the game say college tennis was where a phenom’s career eventually dies. Now, that’s no longer the case.
The ATP has had plenty of successful pros lately, including John Isner and Kevin Anderson. There is a strong contingent of college alums on the Challenger tour and doubles rankings. On the WTA side, the most successful players that were a constant Top 100 force were Lisa Raymond and Jill Craybas. There have been some strong cases like Irina Falconi, Mallory Burdette and Nicole Gibbs, but they’ve been few and far between. Again, those days are gone.
Currently in the singles Top 200, there are 10 players with collegiate ties — led by World No. 48 Jennifer Brady (UCLA ‘15). 2019 Australian Open semifinalist Danielle Collins (UVA ‘16) currently sits at No. 51, but has peaked at No. 23. However, there has been an explosion of doubles players coming from college and up the WTA rankings. In the doubles Top 200, there are 31 college alums — with Ena Shibahara sitting at No. 25. To compare, the ATP has 20 Top 200 singles and 40 Top 200 doubles players out of the NCAA system.
Another incredible feat — the 2013 USC women’s team has four current professionals – Top 100 doubles players Sabrina Santamaria, Kaitlyn Christian and Giuliana Olmos and singles World No. 203 Danielle Lao. 2011 USC alum Maria Sanchez is also ranked No. 88 in doubles.
There are too many players who peaked in the ITF Junior rankings and never formed a sustainable professional career. For instance, 2011 ITF World Champion Noppawan Lertcheewakarn peaked at No. 149 that same year and ended up retiring in 2017. 2015 champion Dalma Galfi rose to No. 136 in 2017 and currently sits at No. 233. Just because you dominate in the U18 tournaments doesn’t mean you can hang with the big guns.
There are exceptions: players who have been too good, too soon. Coco Gauff is currently the best example. She’s been hyped since a young age and has provided the results already, breaking the Top 50 in singles and doubles this year just before turning 16. Another example? Cici Bellis, who at 14 won her debut Grand Slam match at the 2014 US Open and rose all the way to No. 35 in 2017. She turned down a Stanford scholarship to turn pro and in 2018, began suffering from elbow and wrist problems. Those injuries put Bellis out of the game for 18 months and she made her return to action last November. In the past, Bellis has mentioned that she comes from fortunate means to not worry about paying for college and taking the gamble on tour, like Jessica Pegula, but then between on-court money and endorsements, could fund her own college tuition once she retires.
The cost to work your way up is extremely expensive and it can take many years to get to a point where you’re finally having a net profit. Currently, the average age of the Top 100 is increasing, as well as the average age for retirement. College tennis helps offer a longer and more durable career through having a college degree as a great back-up plan, as well as four years of top-tier training, equipment, nutrition, etc. You also are taught better time management, teamwork and leadership skills, as well as the chance to network on and off of the tennis court. You’re not required to sign for all four years. Many successful pros do 1-3 years of college and most schools offer tuition to return following the end of their career – albeit not as an athlete on the team.
Even more recently, more college players balance their university workloads and tennis with professional tournaments. Technology company Oracle is a big benefactor behind collegiate tennis, largely in part of the late Mark Hurd, co-CEO and Baylor tennis grad. The Oracle Pro Series was announced in 2019 with the addition of 25 gender-neutral ITF $25,000 events held at college campuses around the country. The events are free to fans and offer players more opportunities to play professional tournaments to get better as players and also offer a firmer stepping stone. They also offer one male and one female alum a $100,000 grant to offset training and tournament costs.
Former University of Oklahoma coach Dave Mullins, who currently acts as the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s Managing Director of Community Engagement & Coaching Empowerment, listed nearly every argument players, parents or coaches have against college tennis and dished out the true benefits of using college as a pathway. Unless you can truly afford to store away enough money for four years of college and bankroll a career going up the professional ladder, it’s a no-brainer to at least do one year of college tennis. Also, if a top program is in your community, attend matches! They’re free and many offer clinics to fans and kids and may have a future top professional on the squad.
This Week in Women’s Tennis
With some areas around the United States reopening their parks and businesses, the USTA offered more guidelines to those who will resume tennis activities.
While there’s certainly been a boom in tennis out of Canada, there’s one player who’s consistently at the top, but never mentioned. WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen has a Doubles Dossier discussion with World No.7 and 2019 Wimbledon finalist Gaby Dabrowski.
Can you name all of the first titles won by the WTA’s Top 20? Walk down memory lane here.
Venus Williams continues to hold daily Instagram Live workouts and recently paired up with newly-unretired football player Rob Gronkowski. If you’ve ever wanted to feel more unathletic, the duo worked out with their US Open and Super Bowl trophies as weights. It’s not the first time Venus and Gronk have collaborated – first as honorary Laker Girls (it’s a must-watch) and teamed up for an upcoming CBS show, GAME ON!
US Open champion Bianca Andreescu sat down with the Tennis Channel to discuss visualizations, her recovery from her knee injury and how she’s handling the tour’s standstill.
Episode 3 of the joint WTA-ATP digital show #TennisUnited, was joined by Victoria Azarenka and Feliciano Lopez.
The latest edition of tennis.com’s My Tennis Life with Monica Puig centered around the TikTok addiction the 2016 Olympic gold medalist is enduring during self-isolation.
After success on Instagram Live, 2013 Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki has started a YouTube channel to provide at-home workouts to her fans. This week’s challenge is the #BinePlankChallenge – Viel Glück.
Tweet of the Week
Kristie Ahn continues to thrive on TikTok, but learn how to master the platform in our interview below!
Five at the IX: Kristie Ahn
Kristie Ahn is currently the World No. 96 and has 7 ITF singles titles and 2 ITF doubles titles under her belt. Ahn was a four-time All-American at Stanford, guiding the Cardinal to two Pac-10 and two NCAA championships. Coming off a career-best 2019 that included her first Grand Slam wins en route to the US Open fourth round, Ahn discusses her role on the WTA Players’ Council, Title IX, her isolation training and of course, her viral TikToks.
Joey: The tour is at a standstill for the time being thanks to COVID-19 but it’s unfortunate in your case as you’re just coming off a career-best season and earned your way up to play the big events. How have you been able to process the halt of tennis and how have you been able to keep up with training? Do you have any specific goals once your action resumes?
Kristie: Luckily (or unluckily), I have been kept busy by my role on the Players’ Council. There are so many issues that need to be addressed, so I’ve found that I’ve actually been quite busy during this quarantine. We have weekly meetings, sometimes multiple, and during the time in-between, I’m looking into possible solutions on how best to move forward.
I have only been able to keep up with the physical aspect of my training, not the tennis. I’m fortunate enough that I have a home gym setup with some weights, but when the weather’s nice, I’ll also go out for a run.
I can’t imagine anyone’s going to have a goal when we first return. My feeling and hope is that everyone is going to be so happy to be back on court competing, that for a brief moment, those goals we all had in the beginning of the year will take a back seat and we can all be thankful to be back.
Joey: You’re one of the active WTA players who played all four years of collegiate tennis. Because of Title IX, you were able to earn a Stanford degree and improve your tennis. Can you talk about the biggest impacts and takeaways you have from your collegiate years?
Kristie: Title IX has not only allowed me to further my education while continuing to play the sport I love, but also allowed me to be on a team, to play for something bigger than just myself. Stanford was not just an incredible experience because of the education I received, but more importantly because of the sense of community among the students.
Joey: You’re newly elected to the WTA Players’ Council, which has benefitted from new and young blood. What’s that process like and what goals do you and the Council have for your term?
Kristie: 2020 has been a whirlwind from the fires in Australia to the shutdown of the tour because of COVID 19. Currently, we are trying to figure the best way to help players during this time, not only financially, but also with resources to the WTA medical staff to support both physical and mental struggles players might be having at this time. We’re also conscious about the future, how many tournaments can we salvage? What will the ranking system look like? How will travel bans affect return to play?
Joey: As you were breaking into the Top 100, you mentioned how 2019 could’ve possibly been your last year playing because of conversations and the financial backing of your parents. Now that you’re in the green, how much longer do you see yourself playing? Do you have an idea of what you’d like to do once you finish playing?
Kristie: Just to be clear, my parents stopped supporting me in 2017, which was the original terms of our deal. I’ve been in the green for the past 3 years, but that is not the reason why I stayed in this sport. I don’t see myself playing for much longer. I never have. I’ve always viewed tennis as a platform to help inspire others, but never as something I want to do long term. I don’t know much about what I will do, but it will probably be somewhere in the tech sector as that was part of my major and something I feel more comfortable in.
Joey: Throughout social distancing, you’ve certainly gone viral with TikTok. Were you surprised at the reaction and do you have a specific favorite? Also asking for a friend, what are the biggest keys to a successful TikTok?
Kristie: I was definitely surprised at the reaction. I made those videos for my friends and followers to help them get a little laugh during quarantine, but I never expected them to get as much traction / attention as they have. My favorite is definitely the one where I bounce on my racket as a tennis ball…it took a lot of takes so it was satisfying when I finally got it right. And honestly, just have fun. TikTok is all about having a good time which that means something different for everybody.