The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, January 12, 2021

Three Australian Open qualifying players to watch in 2021 — Interview: Katrina Adams — Must-click women's tennis links

(Hi! Howard Megdal here. The IX helps build the necessary infrastructure for women’s sports media. By connecting these worlds, it gives women’s sports the networking boost men’s sports can take for granted.

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Keep These Names On Your 2021 List

Happy Tennis Tuesday! This is actually my first anniversary handling tennis duties for The IX and thank you for the ride it’s been! I surely wasn’t expecting a pandemic to halt a lot of the WTA season, but it’s a new year and more normalcy is on the horizon, I think!

Day 3 (Day 1 recap, Day 2) of the 2021 Australian Open qualifying tournament, this year held in Dubai because of COVID-19 protocols, is coming to an end and the field is tough:

Three players who have made the final round of qualifying are at various levels of their career, but making the main draw could be the launchpad for a successful 2021 campaign.

Francesca Jones

Although she hails from Great Britain, Francesca Jones followed in the footsteps of Andy Murray and went to Spain of the age of 9 to train. She had a stellar ITF junior career, peaking at No. 31 in the rankings, but what’s even more regardless is that she competes with a rare genetic disorder, Ectrodactyly Ectodermal Dysplasia. Both of her hands and both feet have less than the normal five digits, but that hasn’t stopped the Brit from currently sitting at a career-best No. 241. She earned her first win at a Grand Slam over No. 28 seed Monica Niculescu after previously falling in the 2018 and 2019 Wimbledon qualifying openers. Though she plays mostly on the European clay, expect to see more of the 20-year-old on the WTA stage very soon.

Ana Konjuh

You know her name and unfortunately, know her issues with four surgeries. However, she’s only 23. In July of 2017, Ana Konjuh entered the World’s Top 20 thanks to a US Open quarterfinal and fourth round finish at Wimbledon. The Croat struggled with elbow injuries, playing only 13 events from July 2017-February 2019 until she made her official comeback at an ITF W25 event in her native Zagreb this past September, capturing the title. Because of her Special Ranking being too low for Direct Entry, she received a wildcard from Tennis Australia and has certainly made the most of it. With just seven events on her ranking, the 2013 Australian and US Open junior champion sits at No. 476. However, if she can maintain her elbow that will “never be 100%,” expect to see her swinging on your television screens this year. She is a must-follow and someone to root on.

Rebecca Marino

Now Rebecca Marino is a different comeback compared to Konjuh. The Canadian was a Top 40 star before she left the game in 2013 due to the pressure and depression the tour made her feel. However, she made her comeback from literal ground zero in February 2018 and found herself in the Australian Open qualifying less than a year later. She was picked to lead the Canadian contingent at the 2019 Pan American Games, but a foot injury caused her to withdraw and she hadn’t participated in any professional action since the French Open that year. She’s aiming to reach her first Grand Slam main draw since the 2013 Australian Open, just a month before she first said goodbye. The World No. 312 is a big hitter with an amazing serve, but my favorite quality she possesses is her candor. She’s also someone to cheer on this year if you’re looking for an underdog. The talent and drive is still there.

Until then, we’re less than a month out until Melbourne!

This Week in Women’s Tennis

Last year, I mentioned how the WTA needs to promote doubles more. They haven’t, but someone has created an Instagram: @doubledownwta. Give them a follow and like their highlights!

The first WTA tournament of the 2021 season continues in Abu Dhabi, with the Aryna Sabalenka coasting to her 14th consecutive win to reach the final. She will face Veronika Kudermetova, who reached her first WTA singles final with her semifinal win. Expect some hard hitting from these two.

Five at The IX alums Hayley Carter and Luisa Stefani reached their biggest WTA final as a duo, where they are set to face Ena Shibihara and Shuko Aoyama. 2021 could be quite the season for the American-Brazilian combo out of the NCAA system.

For some stellar Abu Dhabi reads by the WTA team:

  • Marta Kostyuk speaking out about her depression and finally letting go of the expectations people had for her when she first rose up the rankings in 2018.

  • Ons Jabeur aiming for her first WTA title this year after a breakthrough 2020.

  • Elina Svitolina opening up about working with a mental coach and acknowledging the importance of being open about her mental health.

  • Sofia Kenin reflecting on a whirlwind 2020 campaign that saw the American capture her first Grand Slam title and the 2020 WTA Player of the Year award.

World No. 29 Dayana Yastremska has been put on a provisional suspension by the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme after failing an Out-of-Competition test that contained mesterolone metabolite. The young Ukrainian quickly released a statement regarding the affair:

The WTA’s Adam Lincoln travelled back in time to discuss the beginning of the tour’s first Virginia Slims season, 50 years ago last week.

Kirsten Flipkens was a couple of games from knocking out No. 1 seed Sofia Kenin in Abu Dhabi before she was forced to retire after colliding with a court advertisement. She’s now in jeopardy for the Australian Open, but could this be the last straw for one of the least needed items on a tennis court?

Serena Williams, Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka will help headline a Australian summer of tennis kick-off event in Adelaide. However, ATP player Jeremy Chardy is accusing those quarantining in Adelaide of getting preferential treatment.

Amanda Anisimova was withdrawn from Abu Dhabi following a presumed positive COVID-19 test, but plans to be in action at the Australian Open.

Congratulations to WTA players and partners Alison Van Uytvanck and Greet Minnen, who announced their engagement!

Want to feel ancient? D’Arcy Maine covers 21 players under 21 to keep an eye out on in 2021.

Congratulations to Five at The IX alum Vicky Duval, who won the $25k UTR Pro Tour event in Naples, Florida. It was her first action since September 2019:

Tweet(s) of the Week

The tennis journalism community lost a bright spot with the passing of Wall Street Journal’s Tom Perrotta. Pete Bodo wrote this amazing tribute for his colleague and friend. Please give it a read:

Ben Rothenberg also tweeted a thread of his favorite Perrotta articles:

Five at the IX: Katrina Adams

Katrina Adams is a former professional tennis player with a career-high singles ranking of No. 67 and doubles ranking of No. 8. She won 1 ITF singles title, 22 WTA doubles titles and 8 ITF doubles titles. She reached the quarterfinals or better at all four Grand Slams in doubles before retiring in 1999. Following her career, she’s been behind the scenes of tennis, working on various board and commentating before she became the youngest-ever and first Black President of the USTA. She currently serves on the ITF Board of directors and has her book coming out through Harper Collins next month. She sits down with us to discuss that, her collegiate career, expanding diversity in tennis and more. You can see more on her website, or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

Joey: Your book, Own the Arena, comes out February 23rd. What made you want to write the book and can you describe the book-writing process itself? What were the biggest benefits and toughest challenges you experienced writing?
Katrina: Honestly, I never wanted to write a book, but I was constantly nudged and urged for a few years. In the end, when the direction was decided to be a leadership book, allowing me to share some of mu best habits, experiences, good and challenging, I decided to move forward.

I did work with a ghost writer so it helped giving me direction. There were a ton of interviews done on my behalf from a group of people that I wanted to reflect on and highlight in my development process. 

As the manuscript evolved and the story was unfolding, I enjoyed learning about myself, what mattered most what was important to me. People are important and every step that we take is aided by someone else. We don’t get anyone by ourselves. In the end, I wanted to create a masterpiece in making others understand why it’s important to give back and make a difference. Everything one does impacts someone else. Own your Arena and move mountains. I’m quite pleased.

Joey: Can you take our readers through a normal day in the life for you? 
Katrina: Wow, that’s a loaded question. Each day is different, depending on what my focus is. During 2020, it was much of the same, not leaving home and working from various positions in my apartment, Sometimes I worked from my office, other times from my bed or couch. During the spring and early summer, it was from my balcony.

There are multiple video calls throughout the day. In focusing on my program, the Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program, the focus was on raising money, having lost the opportunity to host our annual gala. The ultimate goal was and still is getting the kids back on the courts and supporting them with virtual learnings, both for academics and tennis, while not being in full operation.

Other days are filled with preparing for upcoming meetings, often ITF Board or committee meetings. These were more numerous in 2020 than normal, because, well, we could! I also sit on several other boards so you can imagine that amount of time spent prepping for meetings or engaging in the calls.

 I have also focused on the release of my book, preparing for virtual events and multiple interviews that are lined up.

Joey: The IX is an obvious ode to Title IX and as a phenomenal collegiate player yourself, can you talk about what Title IX means to you and your career on and off the court?
Katrina: College tennis was everything for me and I am so grateful that Title IX was in place to afford me the opportunity to attend one of the best schools in the World on a tennis scholarship. Northwestern University played a huge role in molding me into who I am today. Playing on a team, learning how to think about others, supporting their needs as a competitor, strategizing and training together, I wouldn’t trade that in for anything. These are basic qualities to succeed in business,. Learning to work together, relying on one another, stepping aside for someone else to shine, all of which are components of being successful. 

I recognized early on how fortunate I was, specifically when I learned that so many women before me, didn’t have the same opportunities. I have watched so many women excel in business because they were able to play collegiate sports, mostly on scholarships.

The women who fought for other’s futures are SHEROS for being the fearless leaders that they were.

Joey: You’ve certainly helped break color barriers in the sport of tennis, most prominently as the first African-American President of the USTA, but you’ve also done countless work for the Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program and the National Junior Tennis & Learning network. Diversity has been a big initiative with the USTA, but in your eyes, what more can be done to enhance tennis to disenfranchised communities?
Katrina: I have been Blessed to wear many titles but the key in being the first is to not be the only, not in this situation. It was imperative that my role, recognition and success provided a platform for other African Americans and people of color to walk in my footsteps and not just be in my shadow.

Diversity and Inclusion is probably more important TODAY than any other time in my lifetime. Having a diverse and inclusive leader in any organization/company offers hope for others who want to follow. Mayor Harold Washington was the first Black Mayor of Chicago in the 80’s and the second one is now in Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Mayor David Dinkins was the first African-American mayor of New York City and unfortunately, he died as the ‘only’ one. Their leadership have inspired many but getting to the top has multiple roadblocks that are hard to overcome.

I took my position of being role model quite seriously. I knew that everything move I made, everything I dash or everything I wore, was being scrutinized. Just look at how people want to discredit Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris because her go to look is Chuck Taylor’s, slacks and a blazer. Why are people focusing on her look, which attracted a younger voting base but it was her look long before the election.

Having diversity of thought at the table is crucial in moving critical thinking in the right direction.

Tennis has changed and continues to change but our kids of today need to see more of our champions in the spotlight. On TV, in commercials, doing PSAs, being visible off the court so that the kids can see them and want to be them. Our players aren’t afforded the same visibility of other sport superstars. Almost hourly, our kids, see Lebron, Mahomes, Zion or Russell Wilson. Tiafoe isn’t a superstar in the eyes of mainstream media and sponsors but he’s a hero in the Black communities of our sport. We have been luckier on the women’s side of our sport, which is evident of the success of so many black players, lead by Venus and Serena, Sloane and now Gauff.

If we continue to put resources in these communities, providing them playing opportunities, the numbers will grow. Resurfacing disrepair courts is critical in making our sport look more inviting and fresh.  Too many courts in the lower income communities have cracks and grass growing on them. What child finds that cool and inviting? We are fortunate to have the NJTL network that embraces so many underserved youth, providing them an opportunity to excel but our sport is expensive once you learn to compete and it’s essentially impossible to succeed against those who have resources unless you have a sponsor, Hopefully the changes that have been made on the junior competitive track, will afford the very kids a better opportunity to stay in our sport and succeed.

Joey: What was the best piece of advice you’ve received and who gave it? If you could go back in time, what would you tell 18-year-old Katrina?
Katrina: That’s also a loaded question… My parents always told me to be myself and do my best. I’ve tried to live each day the way. 

What I would tell my 18 year old self is to be be less critical and more patient. I would also tell me myself to be more inquisitive and ask more questions. I prided myself in knowing everything, when there were times that I knew nothing but I felt I would embarrass myself if I raised my hand or interjected with a question. Asking questions can be empowering. Knowledge is power so don’t cut yourself short by being silent.

Own your inquisitive mind and fill it with answers that you don’t have by asking 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 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.