The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, May 18, 2021

Can anyone stop Iga Swiatek from more Parisian glory? — Quotes from Rome — Must-click women's tennis links

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Iga Swiatek: Roland Garros’ No. 1 Favorite?

If there’s one person to bet on to capture the Coupe Suzanne Leglen at Roland Garros, it has to be Poland’s Iga Swiatek.

The rising star captured the biggest WTA title of her career — outside of her Grand Slam glory in Paris last year — at the WTA 1000 Internazionali BNL d’Italia. It wasn’t just winning the tournament that turned heads, but her 6-0, 6-0, demolition of Karolina Pliskova in the final.

Since 2000, there have only been four WTA finals that resulted in a double bagel, which was more than I expected, to be honest. It’s so rare for a WTA main draw match to get that score, let alone a final.

The claycourt season has seen a variety of champions, but 2019 French Open champion Ashleigh Barty was probably the biggest favorite to reclaim glory. However, in her quarterfinal match, she was leading Coco Guaff by a set when she retired with an arm injury.

Simona Halep, the 2018 champion, is probably up there in terms of odds, but her chances of simply playing Paris are slim following a calf tear when leading Angelique Kerber in Rome.

Then you also have Serena Williams, who is forever a favorite, but following an opening round loss to Nadia Podoroska in Rome followed by today’s loss to Katerina Siniakova in Parma, things aren’t looking so good. I don’t think Team Williams needs to ring the alarm bells and I don’t know if it would be smart to play in Strasbourg next week either. Coupled with the fact that she can’t stay in her Paris apartment and the bubble required for players, I also wouldn’t be shocked if she skipped Roland Garros to best prepare for the grass season.

There are also players like Pliskova, Aryna Sabalenka, Petra Kvitova and Elina Svitolina, who can all play exceptionally well on the red clay. Kvitova is the only Grand Slam champion from that list and the others have faltered early in Slams than deep runs. Also throw in Sofia Kenin, who did make the final in Paris last year after losing 6-0, 6-0 in Rome. Perhaps a good omen for Pliskova?

Speaking of omens, Swiatek and her favorite player, Rafael Nadal, are becoming more in sync on the clay:

Also, she’s got jokes:

Swiatek can certainly capture Roland Garros again. She lost in a highly-entertaining third round encounter with Barty in Madrid and has found her groove in Rome. She’s not entered to play Strasbourg, so the Pole should be fresh by the time Roland Garros begins. What separates Swiatek from other players, especially those her age, is her mental fortitude. She’s transparent about her work with sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz and is near-fearless on the court.

Do I think Swiatek will go back-to-back? At the moment, no, because my gut says we’re in for a very unpredictable Roland Garros. However, her play in Rome shows she’s a current Top 5 player and she decimated the field last year. All-court players like Barty and Halep trouble Swiatek, but it’s the power players — such as Garbine Muguruza in Dubai and Ana Konjuh in Miami — that can aggressively take her out. It really boils down to the draw — and how the draw holds up.

Anything is possible, but like always, take a container full of salt with my predictions.

This Week in Women’s Tennis

The tour continues this week with two new WTA 250s — the Emilia Romagno Open in Parma, Italy and the Serbia Ladies Open in Belgrade, Serbia. Serena and Venus Williams accepted wildcards into Parma, with Serena winning her first match before being upset by Katerina Siniakova and Venus dropping her opener to Anna Karolina Schmiedlova. In Belgrade, Yulia Putintseva is the highest-ranked player in the draw.

WTA Insider always delivers, so here is a list of some must-see items:

  • Rome recap delving into Swiatek’s big week, but also Jelena Ostapenko and Coco Gauff finding their groove.

  • Champions Corner sit down with Swiatek.

  • Another Champions Corner, but with doubles champions Giuliana Olmos (a Five at The IX alum) and Sharon Fichman, who saved two championship points to win the biggest title of their careers after sneaking in the draw as last-minute alternates.

We won’t go into the disaster that was my Rome predictions, but Serena Williams’ opening round loss was also the GOATs 1,000th career match. The WTA’s Alex Macpherson chronicled the 23-time Grand Slam champions every hundredth match for the occasion.

David Kane profiles Barbora Strycova, who opened up about properly saying goodbye to tennis and what her plans are before she gives birth this year.

In rankings news, Iga Swiatek soared in the Porsche Race to Shenzhen, but more importantly, makes her overdue Top 10 debut. In doubles, Kristina Mladenovic reclaimed her No. 1 ranking following a Rome runner-up finish.

We’ll discuss more NCAA Championships in detail, but the Elite Eight is set for play tomorrow:

Joel Drucker took us back in time for the Mother’s Day Massacre — when Bobby Riggs defeated Margaret Court in the first-ever Battle of the Sexes.

South Africa will debut participants at the WTA Finals’ Future Stars event after Donna le Roux and Lilitha Ndungane captured their U14 and U16 tournaments in Bloemfontein.

Shout out to BJK for highlighting International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia:

According to Craig Tiley, the 2022 Australian Open has no plans to move to an alternate location, contrary to rumors.

Matt Cronin details the big coaching change for Sofia Kenin — who had been working with her father her entire life until this month.

One on One with Chris Evert continues this week with an episode with Belgian Justine Henin.

Things aren’t looking good for Cici Bellis. The American announced she’s taking continued time off, presumably for her elbow injury, and did her final episode of’s My Tennis Life, months before the end of the season.

You got to give Karolina Pliskova some credit. After suffering the worst defeat of her career, she went to Instagram and brushed it off. I don’t know if I’d have the same mentality.

Jackie Bohannon, a former WTA-ranked professional in 2007, was named one of America’s Top Coaches by Tennis Channel and their TOPSPIN newsletter.

Tweet of the Week

This left me speechless. Could you imagine dominating a sport so often, you had no idea you double bageled a Grand Slam final?!

Five at the IX: Internazionali BNL d’Italia

Q. Yesterday you said that you’re not surprised by your success because you’re ambitious. I’m thinking you had to be surprised by the way this final went.

IGA SWIATEK: That’s true. You know, I don’t know actually what Karolina was saying about her performance, but from the beginning I felt that she may be a little bit nervous, and I wanted to use that and actually play as many games with that vibe as I can. That’s why it was pretty fast at the beginning.

But it’s not easy to actually win the first set 6-0, because you always have in the back of the mind that your opponent may start playing better and they can change the tactics completely, and then you have to adjust and then you’re going to start worrying.

So when I was on the breaks, I was visualizing that I’m starting that match from the beginning every time. Actually, I did that so well that I didn’t even know that it was 6-0 in the first set.

So that was kind of funny, because I asked my coach what was the score after the match (smiling). Yeah, I think mentally I was really in good shape today.

Q. On Monday you’ll finally be in the top 10. I know that that’s been a frustration with the frozen rankings and everything like that, but talk about what that means to check off two pretty significant milestones. You now hold two of the three biggest clay events on the circuit, which is pretty crazy too. Can you just reflect on what has been continuing to be a remarkable 8 months, 12 months, however long it’s been? I don’t know, 6 months?

IGA SWIATEK: I don’t know either. Yeah, it is pretty crazy and I’m really proud of myself that I’m actually starting to be more consistent, because that was my goal from the beginning. Actually, I feel right now that I am doing huge progress in that matter.

But it was actually a bit frustrating after French Open, because sometimes you can’t, you know, see the result of your work. Obviously winning a Grand Slam is great, but after that comes rankings, and this year it was different.

So I’m really proud that I’m gonna have, you know, in my resume that I’m top 10, because I always wanted that. Yeah, I also want to be consistent. So right now our goal is to, you know, keep me in that place and go further. Yeah.

Q. At Roland Garros last year she lost like 28 games in the whole tournament. I was wondering is the way she can make opponents feel, is that unique at all to like her style of play, or are there other top players who can do the same?

KAROLINA PLISKOVA: You know, it’s tough to say because it’s my first meeting with her, and really tough to say after today because I was not playing the best at all, like not even close to my best. Not even, you know, like — yeah, maybe let’s say 5% from what I can play.

But she was also super good so she made it super difficult to me. Really tough to say after today. I think I have to have one more meeting with her just to know a bit more about her game.

But, I mean, you can see her results on clay, so they are great. It’s not just like, you know, luck. She was struggling a bit this week, but I guess she went through some moments and she was just feeling really solid today.

In Paris I know she lost just like couple games, not even a set. So I think, yeah, also the confidence she has on clay which is why she’s playing so great now.

Q. Congratulations on a fantastic week. Can you just talk a little bit about, yeah, just the journey to this title, of being last-minute entrants, and coming through an incredibly difficult draw in some very tight matches, a lot of third-set deciding tiebreakers in there, and today saving match points to get it done?

GIULIANA OLMOS: Thank you. Yeah, it was kind of an amazing week this week. We were obviously one out. We weren’t even in the tournament. I had a feeling someone would withdraw. Someone always withdraws.

Honestly, looking back at the draw, I felt like every match was like a final, like every match was just so tough, which I think makes this win even more special for us.

I think we just had a really good week. Sharon and I have been playing together a lot this year. We have had some good momentum. We had a tough time I think the last couple of weeks. She was coming back from an injury. I had been playing a lot, was kind of tired.

I think we just learned a lot from the last two weeks, last two tournaments. I think this week we were able to make a lot of adjustments in the middle of matches. I think that’s why we were able to come back a lot.

I think just in the 10-point tiebreakers we just played really aggressive, and we really trust each other on the court. We just played with a lot of heart and it went our way. I don’t know. It was a great week. I’m just really happy that we got in.

Q. It’s got to be so worrisome when you have an injury like that and not knowing how quickly it’s going to come back, especially after you guys had started so well. Did you feel as though — first of all, how did it hold up? I mean, seeing it hold up over a very intense seven-day tournament I’m assuming has to feel pretty good for you. But also, do you feel like just on the tournament as a whole there was a match or a moment that things seemed to maybe turn around or click for you and Giu-Giu this week?

SHARON FICHMAN: Yeah, you know, I think that things actually have been clicking over the last few weeks, because this is our third tournament, I believe, that we have been playing together since I came back.

So I would say like we had some really great moments in Stuttgart, we had some great moments in Madrid, we had some tough, challenging moments, as well, some adversity that we had to go through some unfortunate luck during some of the matches, which happens. That’s sports.

And I think we learned some lessons from that so that, you know, I thought that the challenges that we were facing this week, I really thought we did a great job as a team to kind of take those lessons that we learned in the last couple of events and really make sure that we do our best to stick to our plan and not make the same mistake. You know what I mean?

So I’m really proud of us for that. Things that didn’t go our way in the last couple of events, we really took things into our own hands, used our brain, didn’t play well all the time this week, but we played really smart when we needed to. We raised our level when we needed to.

So I would say that it was like building up not necessarily like an “aha moment” this week. I’d say it was like a buildup from the last couple events and then just kind of rolling with it as the week went on here.

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,
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.