The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, February 2, 2021

Celebrating Black History Month & the Aussie Summer! — Interview: USTA's Milagros Sequera Huss — Must-click women's tennis links

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Celebrating Black History Month

First, I wanted to give a few items your attention as Black History Month kicked off yesterday.

The Intercollegiate Tennis Association announced their plans to roll out a focus on coaches, student-athletes and administrators throughout the month.

The International Tennis Hall of Fame revealed they will be holding virtual events on top of their special digital content surrounding those that had an effect on the history of Black tennis.

The USTA is also acknowledging the American change-makers in the sport that will include essays from players and profiles on pioneers.

Sloane Stephens nominated her mom, Dr. Sybil Smith, for Good Morning America’s “Inspiration List.”

Also, Coco Gauff and Jaden Smith released a collaboration with New Balance titled “My Story Matters” as the brand unveiled special shoes in their 574 and 990 sneakers:

Lastly, I wanted to link all of my Five at The IXs that featured some amazing Black women that you should definitely check out if you missed any. They all offered some amazing answers ranging from their tennis careers to the racial disparity in tennis to navigating the corporate side of the game not only as a women, but a Black woman.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, Oi, Oi!

The Australian Summer of Tennis is here and boy, are we in for quite a week. Action has already heated up with three tournaments scheduled this week at Melbourne Park. World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and Serena Williams headline the Yarra Valley Classic, while the Gippsland Trophy features Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka. The third event, the Grampians Trophy, will feature only players who were forced to hard quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure. Bianca Andreescu was scheduled to participate, but withdrew yesterday, leaving Belinda Bencic the highest-ranked player.

Tuesday action saw Aryna Sabalenka, arguably the hottest player on tour, see her 15-match win streak snapped by giant slayer Kaia Kanepi:

Some other storylines we should look out for:

Will Serena Williams finally capture Grand Slam No. 24? All eyes will be on the GOAT, who admitted that she probably wouldn’t have made the trip if the Australian Open wasn’t postponed due to her Achilles injury. However, she was in stellar form in her opening round win over Daria Gavrilova.

Can Sofia Kenin recapture her 2020 Melbourne fortnight? The 2020 WTA Player of the Year certainly shows up on the big stage, but she’s never had as big of a target on her back as she does defending her maiden Grand Slam. The American admitted to nerves as she continued her Melbourne win streak, but a WTA 500 event is no comparison to a Grand Slam.

The comebacks of Ashleigh Barty and Bianca Andreescu. We’ve already noted Andreescu’s withdrawal from the Grampians Trophy, so the 2019 US Open champion will head into the Australian Open with no matches played since the 2019 WTA Finals. Will she even play? She’s been quite active on social media, but when it comes to her tennis health, she’s been radio silent. As for Ashleigh Barty, the World No. 1 hasn’t played since February 2020 and opted to forgo the tennis calendar when COVID-19 originally shut the tour down. The local fans hope to see her do at least one better from her semifinal showing last year, but the Queenslander is just eager to get matches under her belt with no expectations.

How will players adjust to fans? The Australian Open will allow up to 30,000 fans a day at Melbourne Park. It’s the first real showing of full crowds the players have seen in nearly a year. Johanna Konta, who was born in Australia before changing citizenship in 2012, appreciated the normalcy in the country. How will the energy affect players? Only time will tell.

However, lets give Australia a massive round of applause. They’ve done it right and they are averaging six cases a day this past week. SIX. Victoria had a total COVID-19 case amount of 22 from January 18-31, with the majority most likely stemming from Australian Open travel. It’s simply unreal.

With that said, let’s get this 2021 season fully going!

This Week in Women’s Tennis

There is a project on Wikipedia, Women in Red, to help bridge the gender bias across the platform. There are many pages needed to be created for women’s tennis players, including Five at the IX alum Kennedy Shaffer, WTA Chair Umpire Marija Cicak and many current/former collegiate standouts.

Ahead of her first action since October 2019, Bianca Andreescu opened up about her long injury layoff and struggling with the WTA’s shutdown of COVID-19.

Naomi Osaka announced she was an investor in the NC Courage, an National Women’s Soccer League team and the Japanese star discussed how Billie Jean King and Serena Williams inspired her to take the leap to ownership.

Don’t miss out on some of the pre-tournament presser highlights from Ashleigh Barty, Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka – courtesy of WTA Insider.

It’s no secret that Simona Halep has been a mainstay in the WTA’s Top 10. However, the Romanian has spent seven consecutive years among the world’s best – the 8th longest streak in tour history.

I love when Naomi Osaka fangirls over Serena Williams – because, same:

Five at the IX alum Blair Henley profiled Jennifer Brady, who is finally reigning in on her potential, but on her own terms.

Carla Suarez Navarro completed her chemotherapy treatment and has her eyes set on saying goodbye to tennis with a berth in the summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

Top junior recruit Maxi Duncan spoke to Colette Lewis at to discuss her college commitment to Harvard, as well as appearing in the latest Apple Watch ad.

The podcast sat down with Jessica Pegula ahead of the start of her Yarra Valley Classic campaign. The Sports Illustrated tennis podcast featured trailblazer Dr. Renee Richard, who has a book about her practice and 21st century healthcare coming out.

The Dow Tennis Classic, a $100,000 ITF Pro Circuit event that has been standing for 32 years, will have their 2021 event in November and use their original February date for a week of virtual events.

Stanford University headlines’s 2021 Winter recruiting rankings, earning all 18 first-place votes (including yours truly).

Tweet of the Week

How about a toast to Venus Williams, who won a WTA match for the 28th consecutive season?! Sister Serena and Martina Navratilova trail with only 25.

Five at the IX: Milagros Sequera Huss

Milagros Sequera Huss is a former professional tennis player, peaking at No. 48 in singles and No. 29 in doubles. She captured 1 WTA singles title, 3 WTA doubles titles, 11 ITF singles titles and 18 ITF doubles titles throughout her career. A former Venezuelan No. 1, she represented her country in the 2000 and 2008 Olympic Games, as well as at the 1999, 2003 and 2007 Pan American Games capturing two singles gold medals in 2003 and 2007. After retirement, she graduated from Virginia Tech and also secured a Master’s Degree from San Diego State University. Since 2016, she has been working for the USTA and is currently their Manager of Adult Tournaments. You can follow her on Instagram here.

Joey: You had an amazing career spanning a decade and played two Olympic Games, with the Beijing Games being one of your last competitive events. What stands out the most when you reflect over your career? Also, you were only 28 when you retired. What made you decide to end your career that “early” and did you always envision staying involved in tennis post-playing?

Milagros: I did it!

Since I was a little girl, I dreamt about competing at the highest level and representing my country in the biggest stages, including the Olympics, and I did that proudly. It was a lot of hard work and sacrifices, but it paid off and some more. Tennis has given me and continues to give me amazing things, and I’m forever grateful to this sport.

Unfortunately, I had to end my tennis career due to a shoulder injury. My last shoulder surgery was a full reconstruction of my right shoulder, and even though I did all I could to recover, a visit to the doctor’s office confirmed I needed another surgery to play tennis, maybe again — forget about play tennis at a high level. That was a hard reality check and a long drive home, rethinking priorities, dreams, and a new life. I did envision staying involved in tennis in some capacity. Interestingly enough, not long after, I decided to volunteer for the USD women’s tennis team. That decision to volunteer and see the impact my voice could have on the players’ tennis and life was inspiring and motivated me to see tennis through another lens.

Joey: A lot of players on the WTA Tour currently take advantage of pursuing a college education on top of their playing. You actually got both your undergraduate and graduate degrees after retiring. What was that experience like? The IX is obviously dedicated to Title IX. I’m curious if after your playing career and being involved with the USTA if you would have gone the collegiate route if you had a redo?

Milagros: Let me start by saying that it is fantastic that players today have the opportunity to further their education while pursuing their dream. I wish I had that opportunity when I was playing. However, after my tennis career, I always thought that I would go back and earn a college degree.

Pursuing my undergraduate was very different than pursuing my graduate degree. While completing my undergraduate degree, I had two pregnancies and moved to three different states. The hardest part was the sleepless nights and managing deadlines with two kids under three years old and a husband who traveled for work. I will say that I was so happy when I clicked submit on my last assignment.

My graduate degree experience was fantastic. I learned about the skills that I needed for my professional development and gained mentors and friends alike throughout the program. I love learning new things, completing my graduate degree from SDSU was one of the top ten moments of my life.

In today’s collegiate tennis environment, I would probably go to college first, then pro, if I had the skills and financial resources. Back when I was playing, I did not have the financial support to go to college and come back to play professionally. What I earned in one week’s tournament was the budget for the following week. So, for the most part, it was a conscious effort to make a sustainable career — Having that struggle taught me many great skills that translate to a professional career. I love learning, so for me going back to school was always part of the plan.

Joey: You hail from Venezuela, which doesn’t have anyone in the Top 500 WTA singles rankings, but the World No. 211 in doubles. There aren’t many ITF or WTA tournaments in South America anymore, but with the rise of Nadia Podoroska, there could be a surge. What do you think needs to be done to foster more professional efforts in Venezuela (and beyond).

Milagros: It is motivating to see South American players doing well on the WTA/ATP tour, as they can create a push for the next generation.

As far as what can be done in Venezuela to foster more professional efforts, I see a three-fold answer – 1. There needs to be a focus on increasing tennis participation across all levels by making tennis more accessible. As you know, Venezuela has struggled through a financial and safety crisis that continues to affect everyone in the country. Nonetheless, tennis is a sport that is not easily accessible or affordable. Creating a business plan that can put racquets on all kids’ hands will positively impact these kids’ lives and provide them a positive outlet during tough times. 2. Venezuelan Tennis Federation could provide an infrastructure that could leverage schools and physical education classes to provide a first look at tennis across all the country’s schools. 3. Provide a pathway for high-performing tennis players. Players can count on financial resources and free coaching (paid by sponsors or NGB) to facilitate improvement and ease the player’s/parent financial strains.

As far as increasing WTA and ITF tournaments in South America — there is a huge need for financial support to hold events. I know COSAT and Argentina Tennis Association are working very hard to create a pathway for female professional tennis in the South America region. I am very hopeful that both organizations’ leaders can establish a tour that can increase player participation and visibility for tennis in the area.

Joey: You’ve been at the USTA for almost five years now. Can you talk about your tenure and what a normal day in your current role looks like? Obviously with COVID, there aren’t as many tournaments, so how do you see 2021 panning out?

Milagros: Yes, working for the USTA has been a fantastic opportunity for my professional development. I started in the Professional Department, understanding the ins and out of hosting pro events. My current role is within the Community Tennis Department, which aims to increase participation across recreational programs. I currently manage the National Adult tournaments calendar, a portfolio of over 100 tournaments in various age-divisions. I oversee almost everything to do with Adult tournaments including, tournament structure, rules and regulations, rankings, rating tournaments, tournament operations, committee liaison, and senior world championships selection. Consequently, I have a similar role with wheelchair events, and this includes recreational and professional tournaments. Also, I work closely with the Digital team to implement the new USTA Serve Tennis platform by providing requirements for both programs.

COVID-19 has impacted most of the Adult and Wheelchair National tournaments in Q1, which is not surprising. Nonetheless, we are hopeful that we can get back to playing nationally soon with the news of a vaccine plan in place.

When tournaments are not happening, we continue to educate players and stakeholders in the new Adult Tournament structure, focus on working with Section staff to increase local playing opportunities, educate stakeholders on the new platform, and align with the committees on the goals and strategic planning for 2021-2022.

Joey: Where do you see yourself in your career five years from now? Do you have any specific career goals you’d like to attain?

Milagros: I am not sure where I see myself five years from now — what I can tell you is that I am very passionate about what I do now. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to continue to learn and become a better version of myself while staying involved in a sport that I love.

I would love to be involved in collegiate athletics at some point in my life. However, I genuinely believe in having a growth mindset, and my passion for learning something new every day keeps me motivated. Yes, having a big title or earning a big promotion would be nice. However, my main focus is on improving every aspect as a professional, wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend.

As a professional athlete, I learned that if I love what I do, keep my core values, and continue to push myself to be better is an excellent definition of success regardless of a ranking number or a company title.

Bonus: What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, and who gave it? If you could go back in time, what would you tell 18-year-old Milagros?

Milagros: Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. My mentor Jeff Campbell gave me this quote, and I’ve embraced it as part of my daily routine.

Your failure is part of learning, smile, and analyze the lesson. What others think of you has zero impact on your ability to work hard to reach your dreams. You have a voice — use it positively to inspire others.

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, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.