The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, January 28, 2020
Kobe Bryant’s impact on women’s tennis | Wozniacki, Makarova and Moore retire | Interview: Santamaria small, but mighty on the doubles court
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Tennis Affected by Bryant’s Death
Women’s professional tennis is affected by the basketball legend’s sudden passing. It was clear the five-time NBA champion was becoming a champion of women’s sports as he took a keen interest on a different court. Following retirement, Bryant immersed himself into tennis, learning the game and hitting with local top juniors in Southern California behind the scenes.
Enjoying the individual aspect of the game, Bryant took a visit to the US Open. There, he began to keep a close eye on Coco Gauff and Naomi Osaka. Knowing what it was like to be a teenage phenom under the spotlight, he began to share advice and mentor the two rising stars.
The WTA and players were quick to send their condolences and share Bryant’s effect on their careers:
Osaka shared some words for her “big bro” following the news of Bryant’s death, while Gauff dedicated her and Caty McNally’s win to reach the Australian Open quarterfinals to the two-time Olympic gold medalist.
This Week in Women’s Tennis
In an Olympic year, many retirements are announced and adding to Carla Suarez Navarro’s announcement, the Australian Open have brought another three.
2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki retired from professional tennis following her third round loss in Melbourne to Ons Jabeur. The former World No. 1 joked about the irony of her final match being a marathon, which pushed Jabeur into the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time.
Former Doubles World No. 1 and 2016 Olympic gold medalist Ekaterina Makarova announced her retirement. Makarova’s career ends with four Grand Slams and the 2016 WTA Finals doubles title. In singles, the Russian peaked at No. 8 and amassed a staggering 32 Top 10 wins.
Following her loss in the mixed doubles event, Jessica Moore announced her retirement from tennis as well. Moore defeated Simona Halep en route to the 2008 Australian Open junior final and was poised to be Australia’s next top player. Although injuries and illness derailed Moore’s career, she found success on the doubles court and mentored the rising crop of Australian talent. She won 33 doubles titles, including two on the WTA circuit and peaked at No. 52.
In the must-read of the week, read Moore’s Athlete’s Voice column detailing her career, which also highlights partnering with Ashleigh Barty when the World No. 1 came back to professional tennis following a sabbatical.
Congratulations are in order for Conchita Martinez, who was elected into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Ons Jabeur became the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal and even the President of Tunisia took time to give the 25-year-old a phone call.
Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times profiles Wang Qiang following her major upset over Serena Williams in the Australian Open third round.
The Volvo Car Open will be the first clay court tournament to trial electronic line calling, using the FOXTENN system in April.
Beginning in February at the Dubai Duty Free Championships and the Hungarian Open, coaching from the stands will be allowed on the WTA Tour.
On the ITF Circuit, the following champions were crowned:
$25,000 Fort-de-France, Guadeloupe: Nadia Podoroska (WTA #258)
$25,000 Vero Beach, FL, USA: Daniela Seguel (#262)
$25,000 Kazan, Russia: Anastasia Zakharova (#298)
$15,000 Manacor, Spain: Ioana Loredana Rosca (#387)
$15,000 Stuttgart-Stammheim, Germany: Julia Terziyska (#476)
$15,000 Monastir, Tunisia: Gozal Ainitdinova (#503)
$15,000 Cairo, Egypt: Lucie Wargnier (#621)
$15,000 Antayla, Turkey: Valeriya Olyanovskaya (#958)
$15,000 Cancun, Mexico: Alexa Noel (#1,046)
$15,000 Liepaja, Latvia: Elza Tomase (unranked)
Tweet of the Week
Maria Sakkari is one of the few players who isn’t afraid of the tunnel cameras at the Australian Open
Five at the IX: Sabrina Santamaria
Sabrina Santamaria is a graduate of the University of Southern California and currently ranked No. 72 in the WTA doubles rankings. She opens up about being aggressive while being “vertically challenged,” taking the plunge to doubles-only and Kobe Bryant’s impact on her career as a Los Angeles athlete.
Joey: You had a decorated college career and at some point, you reached No.1 in both singles and doubles. Was pro tennis always something you had your eye on?
Sabrina: Pro tennis was definitely on my radar since the age of 16. I knew that I wanted to go to college and further develop my game though, and I’m forever grateful to have had the opportunity to play for USC. After reaching #1 in singles and doubles during my sophomore year, I started to believe even more that a professional career was feasible. After tearing my ACL in my junior year, I wasn’t so sure. But with a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears (as cliché as that sounds), I was able to get back on track and better than I ever was before.
Joey: You are on the shorter side, but you can really rip the ball. What led you to that game style instead of the normal retrieving someone you height might revert to?
Sabrina: My dad has always been my coach since Day 1, and his philosophy on my game-style is grounded in being aggressive, crafty, and taking time away from my opponents. Although I’m “vertically challenged”, I’m quick and utilize my strengths well to combat opponents that are much taller than me.
Joey: You made the choice last season to strictly stick to doubles after finding success on the WTA circuit. Describe the thought process and was it a no-brainer or a difficult one to make?
Sabrina: The first couple of years on the pro tour was tough—grinding $25ks in the middle of nowhere in countries far away from home, and without making much money. At certain points during those two years, I was losing money and it was inducing some stress. Last year, I was able to make a considerable income, play in all four grand slams, and didn’t have to worry about paying my next credit card statement.
Joey: You’re a product of the Los Angeles public courts – no academies or country clubs. With the recent passing of Kobe Bryant, what are your thoughts on his impact to LA and to you as an athlete?
Sabrina: It’s hard to find the words to describe how much of an impact he had on me as an athlete. Although it’s been devastating for Los Angeles, we’re finding joy in reminiscing all that Kobe has done for L.A. – the championships, Mamba Mentality, and showing a city that anything is possible with dedication and persistence. His famous 3am wake-up calls and consistently and constantly trying to get better inspired me so much growing up. His intensity and passion for the game goes unmatched, and I’ll always be motivated by his work ethic and meaningful words. Kobe never wasted a moment and didn’t waste a day—he gave it his all 24/7.
Joey: Is it harder as a doubles specialist without a consistent partner to set goals? Do you have any specific goals for 2020?
Sabrina: It’s definitely tougher not having a consistent partner, but a lot of girls do switch around throughout the year. I find it easier to have personal goals, rather than relying on my partner—which in this way allows me to challenge and push myself. I have specific skills goals, such as increasing my service speed and better accuracy with my returns. As for ranking, my aim is to finish in the WTA Top 30 by the end of the year.