The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, May 26, 2020

Are we ready for US Open action? — Interview: Ashley Harkleroad — Must-see women's tennis links

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

Continue reading with a subscription to The IX

Get unlimited access to our exclusive coverage of a varitety of women’s sports, including our premium newsletter by subscribing today!

Join today

We’re here for you. And we are so thankful you, our subscribers, have been here for us. Let’s keep growing together! Tell a friend. Forward this offer along. Become a founding member and supercharge our move toward longer-term goals to expand our coverage. And thank you for making sure that whatever happens next, women’s sports coverage always has a home.)

NY State of Mind: The US Open Struggle

With tennis postponed until the first week of August, with only two weeks of play leading up to the US Open, the biggest question bears is…..should we even have the year’s “final” Grand Slam?

Just a month ago, USTA executives said that having a no-fan US Open wouldn’t be possible. Now, however, that idea is gaining traction. ATP player Dan Evans even called the idea “iconic.” However, as much planning needs to be done to sustain the event, and everything is still up in the air due to COVID-19.

New York is still the current epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis, with the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center having been transformed from Grand Slam venue to makeshift hospital.

With that said, Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to see professional sports make a return to the Big Apple and as a leader throughout this crisis, he won’t allow that to happen if the risk is too great.

First things first: the COVID-19 curve has to flatten. There is absolutely no way New York can host it if it doesn’t.

Plan B: moving it to Indian Wells, California, where the first major tennis cancellation happened in March. However, if there was a second “hotbed” of cases, Southern California would qualify. The state is still under strict stay-at-home orders throughout the summer. Could you plan a Grand Slam without breaking those guidelines?

Florida was another option many have brought up, specifically the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona. I personally like this option the best. The facility has over 100 courts, where players can practice and play matches while sticking with social distancing. The state of Florida has already been opening businesses, beaches, parks, etc. If any sanctioned action were to happen, everyone needs to be tested anytime they step onto the facility and continue to maintain their distance and follow all of the rules organizations recommend. For the USTA’s stance on maintaining safety on the tennis court, click here.

Now, let’s say the tournament is a go. There are still two major areas of concern: players and travel.

Tennis is one of the most global sports and the Top 100 rankings reflect that. Each country has its own protocol when it comes to traveling out, and traveling in. The United States is no exception. I’ve heard rumblings of the tour only allowing one credential outside of a player to keep the amount of people behind the scenes and in the locker rooms to a minimum. Will the players who typically travel with a full team want to do that?

One thing that helps the argument for a US Open are the exhibitions all around the world with no fans, minimal staff and athletes maintaining their social distance. The UTR tournament in Florida this week had the most prolific players make a return to the courts. Petra Kvitova is set to make her return to the courts in an 8-player field in Prague and more exhibitions keep popping up, from Atlanta to Austria to Australia.

By the time the US Open rolls around, players will be fresh and eager to go, but options are extremely limited if the amount of COVID-19 cases don’t decrease. The USTA plans to have an announcement in June whether or not the tournament will be held. While all of us want sport to reopen, this is bigger than tennis. The tour has been doing a good job at looking at the bigger picture and I have no doubt they’ll continue to do so until they’re absolutely certain that hosting events won’t (directly and indirectly) threaten the global population.

This Week in Women’s Tennis

This week’s must-read is from Colette Lewis, who profiled Alison Baumgardner, a pre-Title IX trailblazer who was the first female to play in the SEC when she joined the University of Alabama men’s tennis team. Roll Tide, Roll.

The French Federation of Tennis announced a 35 million relief fund, with the majority going to clubs impacted, but also money going to those ranked Nos. 101-500.

Madison Keys had the second annual #WorldKindnessDay on social media through her Kindness Wins Foundation. Athletes from many different sports added to Keys’ mission of spreading more positivity.

Charleston will host a 16-player exhibition in June that includes Australian Open Sofia Kenin, US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, Sloane Stephens and Victoria Azarenka. In other exhibition news, the first women’s UTR tournament featuring Alison Riske, Amanda Anisimova, Danielle Collins and Ajla Tomljanovic was ended prematurely due to rain.

The WTA continues to deliver on a closer eye at the tour’s best chair umpires. Jenny Zhang was a late bloomer, but the Beijing Olympics and the tour’s Asian boost altered her career plans.

Kim Clijsters sat with Blair Henley with the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the Belgian reiterated that she has no plans to halt her comeback that was halted early due to COVID-19.

Forbes announced their highest paid athletes and Naomi Osaka was announced as the highest-paid female athlete……..ever. Speaking of Osaka, the two-time Grand Slam champion has been having Instagram Lives with different players and the highly-requested pairing with Iga Swiatek delivered.

The Podcast spoke with Andy Gerst who went from being a Tennis Warehouse playtester to coaching some of the game’s best including Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova.

Oh, Canada! Bianca Andreescu and Genie Bouchard joined the latest episode of Tennis United with special guests Wayne Gretzky and Steve Nash. Host Bethanie Mattek-Sands also gave CNBC a close look into day into her quarantine life.

Reka Zsilinszka was a Top 10 ITF junior and then NCAA champion. Now, she’s wrapping up med school and opens up about facing the COVID-19 crisis like a tennis opponent.

Silvia Farina, whose WTA career expanded three decades, was close, but never cracked the World’s Top 10. However, the Italian opened up about her 17-match winning streak in Strasbourg that included a hat-trick of titles.

Roland Garros was supposed to be happening, but the WTA took a look back at some of the greatest first-rounders in Paris. They also traveled back to discuss Steffi Graf’s final Grand Slam triumph in 1999.

The entire 63-match World Team Tennis season will be played at a single location in front of a 20% capacity at the The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

Tennis Hall of Famer Helena Sukova penned a tribute to her mom, Vera, who was a driving force behind the first Czech boom in women’s tennis.

Something to keep an eye on: a possible doubles comeback from former World No. 4 Jelena Dokic.

WTA Insider added two more Coaching Dossiers to the queue, this time with Izo Zunic and Alan Ma.

WTA Community Ambassador Judy Murray spoke with rising star Rosie Sterk, who received the Li Na Inspiration Award at the 2020 WTA Finals, to discuss her success in Shenzhen, staying busy at home and her future plans that include college tennis.

Johanna Konta opened up about the potential WTA-ATP merger and stated the obvious: it needs to be a “merger of equals.”

Tweet of the Week

Kristie Ahn has an answer for all the men who question her ability to play tennis.

Five at the IX: Ashley Harkleroad

Ashley Harkleroad reached No. 39 in both the WTA singles and doubles rankings, winning eight ITF singles and five ITF doubles titles. As a junior, she won the 2001 Wimbledon doubles title, reached the 2002 French Open singles final. She takes time to discuss her tennis journey and retirement, being a tennis mom and the advice Andre Agassi gave her when she shocked the tennis world by posing for Playboy.

Joey: You had a stellar junior career and a successful journey on Tour. Your best results were coming before you had your ovary cyst burst. During that layoff, you had your first child and only came back for three tournaments in 2010. What’s your take on your career? Were you satisfied with the way it ended?
Ashley: I started playing professional tournaments at a very young age. I did very very well in the juniors, I sometimes joke that back in the day the ITF Junior Circuit was tougher than the pros! Most of the juniors that were ranked Top 10 in the world were already top 150 on tour. I did have a lot of fantastic junior results and I’m very proud of that. I am very proud of my accomplishments and feel that I did the best I could considering I started at such a young age.

I got a little burned out around 18 years old but hung in there until I was 24.  I didn’t love being on the road multiple weeks at a time.  I always missed my friends and family and I had a lot of freak injuries such as the ovary cyst and skin cancer. These freak, but very extreme injuries took a tole on me mentally and physically.  I always felt that I would retire early.  I did try to come back after having my son Charlie, but without a full blown staff, nanny, etc. it was just too hard to come back with a baby. 

I was pleased with my career, I try to live with no regrets although when I see girls that I use to compete against that are still out there playing it does make me think I could have hung in there a little while longer but I didn’t. I got into real estate and started buying multi-unit buildings with my husband and my dad and that is where tennis has taken me.  Tennis was the first chapter of my life and now I’m in my second or maybe third.  I am appreciative of all the experiences tennis gave me. 

Joey: One of the top tennis stories in 2020 was the return of Kim Clijsters. Has the comeback bug ever struck you? What are some stories or players on your radar post-COVID and into 2021?
Ashley: I have at times thought about a comeback. I weigh the pros and cons. Bottom line is, I make more money now than I did on tour and if I look at it as a career choice and/or job, I always thought it was best to remain in retirement.  Having said that, I do sometimes miss the highs I would get from a win, or a big match or tournament. 

Joey: Both of your children have tested out tennis, but your daughter Cissy has taken an extra liking to the game. Though she’s young, where would you like to see tennis take her? Are you extra cautious of the tour after your career?
Ashley: Both of my kids are naturally talented when it comes to tennis.  My son is gifted at all sports.  He has won a lot of USTA tournaments as well as my daughter but he is definitely more interested in other sports right now such as basketball and soccer.  My dream for my kids for them to get a scholarship at one of the best colleges in the country, doing what they love, meeting lots of friends and enjoying their life.  If my daughter wants to be a professional tennis player, I would support her in any way she needs me. But right now, she’s 9 and around Top 20 in southern California Girls 10s.  We are keeping it fun and light at the moment. 

Joey: After you retired from tennis, you’ve dabbled in commentating, exhibitions and some local coaching. Do you see yourself rejoining the tour or USTA as a coach and share your wisdom?
Ashley: No, I never envisioned myself coaching on the tour unless it was my own kid.  I did enjoy commentating, but I wish I had more experience and confidence to do it on a regular basis. I commentated for a brief moment when my kids were babies, but now that they are older, my time is super limited.  Exhibitions are actually more fun than the tour because its all about fun, laughing, making the crowd happy and not totally about the outcome of winning and losing.  

Joey: What was the greatest piece of advice you’ve received and who gave it? If you could go back, what is something you would tell 18-year-old Ashley?
Ashley: You know, I received a lot of advice over the years.  Stay in the moment is so cliché, but living in the present is a real gift you can give yourself, I would probably tell 18 year old Ashley that. I would also tell her “everything is going to workout and smile more!” Tennis-wise I would have told, 18-year-old Ashley to stop playing it so safe and go for it! My husband told me to try to save up a million dollars cash in the bank before I retire. That was great advice because it gave me a goal and a picture of what I need to do to have a life after tennis, and definitely having money was key especially since I wanted to invest in real estate when I was done playing tennis. 

Another piece of advice I got was after I posed for Playboy, I never knew how to answer some of the questions about why I did that shoot.  Andre Agassi told me to keep it simple and say “Yeah. That was me, it was fun, I had a blast and glad you like it” and be done.  Keeping it simple was super key when it came to Playboy questions! 

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 High Post Hoops
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.