The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, October 27, 2020

Thanks for the memories, Julia Goerges — Interview: WTA Photographer Jimmie48 — Must-click women's tennis links

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Julia Goerges Retires

15 years.
17 WTA singles finals (7 titles)
16 WTA doubles finals (5 titles)
2014 Roland Garros Mixed Doubles runner-up
No. 9 in singles and No. 12 in doubles.
German Fed Cup and Olympic Team member

Those are only a few of the stats Julia Goerges earned in a career that ended when she announced her retirement from the WTA last week. Though it was a bit of a quiet week in tennis, we would be remiss to not acknowledge an extremely consistent career like that of Goerges.

With nearly 500 career wins, she also made the 2016 WTA Finals in doubles with Karolina Pliskova, who was one of many to take to social media and congratulate the German.

The work ethic of Goerges will be the biggest void left, as the German went through a career resurgence in her late 20s to capture three consecutive titles, including the 2017 WTA Elite Trophy, as well as her first Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon in 2018.

Goerges was a mainstay in the game’s Top 100 for over a decade, but was also a congenial force with both the players and media. In fact, “Gools” was one of the first players to work with today’s Five at The IX, Jimmie 48! Her game, candor and smile will be sorely missed on tour.

Best of luck, Jule!

This Week in Women’s Tennis

With one week to go, make sure you join Alexis Ohanian and Billie Jean King and vote!

Aryna Sabalenka captured her first WTA on European soil in Ostrava, Czech Republic, knocking out Victoria Azarenka in straight sets. She and Elise Mertens also won the doubles title with a win over Gaby Dabrowski and Luisa Stefani. Sabalenka also sat down with WTA Insider for another edition of the Champions Corner podcast.

Professional player Brittney Collins comes from the University of Massachusetts, who captured the 2017 Atlantic 10 conference title. Now, over a $252 university error for off-campus housing, their legacy hangs in limbo. Should you want to support Collens’ and UMass’ fight, please sign their petition.

Well done to Vania King, who continues her charity work in retirement:

WTA Charities and Lilly Pulitzer announced that leading up to Giving Tuesday on December 1, they will be announcing “Community Hero” grants to help benefit youth programs led by current and former WTA players.

How about this hot shot by Astra Sharma at the ITF tournament in Macon!?

Jennifer Brady and Coco Gauff earned new career-high rankings following their tournament in Ostrava, while Aryna Sabalenka inches closer to the Top 10.

Kiki Bertens announced she had to have surgery on her achilles and will be missing the Australian swing of the 2021 season.

Remember when the WTA Rising Stars Invitational was seen as a joke? How about this 2015 field? They’ve turned out pretty alright, if I must say:

Congratulations to former World No. 12 Yanina Wickmayer, who announced that she and husband Jerome Vanderzijl are expecting their first child. The Belgian plans on returning to the tour following the baby’s birth in April.

Tweet of the Week

Serena Williams becoming a tennis mom is exactly what I needed on my 2020 Bingo card:

Five at the IX: WTA Tour Photographer Jimmie48 Tennis

Rob Prange is known on Twitter as JJLovesTennis and Instagram as Jimmie48tennis. Formerly a freelancer, he know works for the WTA as their official photographer and gives us a fantastic eye into his career. You can also see all of his work and more on his website.

Joey: Your journey into photography isn’t the norm and you’ve only been full-time for a few years now. Can you describe your journey as well as how you’ve built your niche in the women’s game compared to photographing the men too?
J48: Photography has always been a part of my life in various forms, I remember buying a cheap camera when I was 10 or 11 and just taking random photos and spending my allowance on getting them developed. My first more serious dive into photography came with the arrival of digital cameras when I was just out of school. Since I was a kid, I was a fan of motor racing and through a friend of mine, I got to know people who were actively involved in the sport and one thing let to another and suddenly I found myself trackside shooting race cars in what’s a rather dangerous work environment!

I did that for a few years for a half a dozen weekends each year and I got to cover many big events like the 24 Hours of Le Mans which was always an amazing experience and a nice counter balance to my normal work life. As always in life, priorities change though and I stopped doing it after a few years, focusing more on things that actually paid my bills. With that came a downtime in my photography too as I didn’t really fancy shooting anything else at the time. Shortly after, fate lead me to the 2009 US Open on Eurosport. Before starting to watch that week, I knew absolutely nothing about tennis…I didn’t know a single active player or even the rules…. It was all new to me. But I was hooked instantly. What followed was a time of being a very avid TV watcher and in the years that followed, tennis was always on in my home, all the time.

When I say “tennis” I mean women’s tennis of course! When I started watching tennis, the women happened to be on first and even during that first US Open I watched I just couldn’t get myself interested in the men’s game at all. I instantly disliked the way the men’s game looks and I didn’t find the stories compelling either. Nothing about it was appealing to me, and that hasn’t changed to this day and never will. I’m never shooting men’s matches even though there would be plenty of opportunities for me to do it at combined events. But even if there’s no women’s match on and Federer or Djokovic are playing, you’ll always find me in the press room doing other stuff while waiting for the next women’s match to start. 

After watching every shred of women’s tennis I could find on TV for a long time, I wanted to get a first taste of live tennis and, as fate would have it, Julia Görges & Angelique Kerber were playing an exhibition match close to where I live. That was too good a chance to pass up, seeing the players I had watched on TV for so long. So I went, and I still had my camera lying around, so why not take it just to memorize the occasion? That’s what I did, and shooting tennis turned out to be fun instantly and, even better, the photos I took (although not very good at that point!) were met by interest from other fans online too! As any photographer will tell you, nothing’s more frustrating than working into a void, so getting that instant feedback definitely was a great motivation.

Fueled by that positive first experience, I started looking for local tennis events to do more shooting at and luckily, there was a big selection of ITFs and national events happening fairly close to me, so I spend the next two summers going to any small event in reach and just kept shooting and work on my craft. I didn’t know anyone there but that’s the beauty of small-time tennis events as an aspiring photographer, you don’t have to worry about access or anything else, you can just go and get experience.

Joey: You’ve been a freelancer before moving into a partnership with the WTA. How has that been and how have you been able to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic when there’s not much tennis?
J48: When starting out as a freelancer in sports photography, your main worry usually centers about getting access as things get increasingly more complicated once you move up from small time local tournaments. Suddenly there’s the matter of press credentials, which are always limited and depending on who you work for, and if you like me back then know absolutely no one in charge of the sport you’re trying to cover, it can be a tricky spot to be in. Thankfully, I already had experience from working in motorsports where the press credential procedures work in a similar way, so I had a rough idea on how to approach it. 

Furthermore, I was also lucky that both the WTA and many tournament media managers in charge of granting press credentials have been very progressive and willing to give someone new a chance, even if your references are still limited. If you can show quality work, even if it’s on a low level, and are willing to prove yourself and be dedicated, this sport is willing to give you a chance and that’s what allowed my to get a foot in the door, starting to cover smaller International events and gain first experience on the bigger stage.

The first years as a freelancer are all about establishing yourself and creating opportunities, a process that just takes time for the people in charge to know you who you are and what you do. Thankfully, when I got more serious into tennis photography, I was self-employed already and largely making my own hours in my day job, allowing me to spend a fair amount of time covering tennis and gradually increasing that focus until it became clear that it would become a viable full-time job, something I definitely had not envisioned when I started out.

Generally, this process just can’t be rushed. Aspiring photographers often send me messages asking “How can I get press credentials to *insert big-name tournament here*? “ and the short answer is: You can’t start at the top, not in tennis and probably not in any other sport either. I had been shooting tennis for four years until I got to cover my first Grand Slam, my first credential application for the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, my home tournament, was rejected.. that’s just how it is, you have to be willing to work your way up – Just like the players do.

Thankfully, tennis is a fairly close-knit sport so being around a lot and producing decent quality work will likely get you noticed by the right people sooner or later. For me, one of those “right people” was legendary agent Max Eisenbud, who introduced me to the people in charge of the tennis side at Porsche.

That led to one of my first major assignments (that I hold to this very day), becoming Porsche’s tennis photographer, working at both the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix and extensively covering the company’s brand ambassadors on the tour, one of which happened to be Maria Sharapova.

Needless to say, for someone who was still trying to make a name for myself in the industry, getting to work with such an extremely professional brand and such an iconic athlete was a super exciting opportunity, one that led me to places I’ve never been before, like Puerto Rico and Tianjin. The experience I gained during that time definitely helped me massively, both in terms of elevating my photography as well as learning how to professionally deal with major clients and becoming comfortable working closely with players off the court as well.

As far as navigating the pandemic goes, it was the same for me as for most people in our industry: I was sitting at home. Between mid-March and mid-June there was no work to be done at all, thankfully the German Tennis Federation organized a series of national level events in the summer, allowing me to get some work done before the tour restart and leading me back to some of the venues I had gone when I first started shooting tennis. 

Joey: What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from the time you’ve started photographing tennis to now?
J48: When I first started out shooting tennis, like most photographers in a new field, I was preoccupied with the technical aspects first and foremost. A first, you are just obsessing about everything being in focus and technically clean-looking, getting in-focus forehands and backhands routinely is a first big win.

Once I developed more of a routine, the focus shifted towards the story-telling aspect of photography. Now it’s not just about getting technically good shots, that’s a given you don’t even think about anymore, it’s more about making sure to capture the key moments that tell the story of a match and a player in that particular moment.

My knowledge of the sport from watching on TV was definitely a big benefit there, it’s much easier to capture the essential moments of a match if you’re aware of what a certain situation means in the context of the sport and what the habits of the players in front of your lens are… it gives you a much better chance of predicting of what might happen next, and that’s what sports photography largely is about, you have to make sure to be in the right spot at the right time and I’ve definitely learned countless small lessons over the years to help getting these gambles right most of the time. 

Joey: Where would you like to see yourself in five years? Do you see yourself branching out to men’s tennis or other sports?
J48: It might sound like I lack ambition, but I honestly don’t want to go anywhere and I’d be more than happy to be in the exact same spot in five years time. Working for the WTA gives me the perfect opportunity to do exactly what I set out to do when I first picked up the camera and went to that exhibition event in Germany: Cover women’s tennis.

I’m very lucky to get to cover the sport I love most almost every day, getting to work with and for amazing people on a daily basis. I’d like to think that my work makes a small difference within the sport too, so what more could I ask for? Of course there’s always new ideas to explore, new things to try and new clients to get, but as far as my position in this sport goes, I’m perfectly happy where I am right now.

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 Jimmie?
J48: It’s not necessarily a single piece of advice but my dad’s support with turning this passion into a regular job has for sure been massively important in giving me the confidence to make the leap from a stable but boring job to pursuing my dream job. Sports photography is difficult to make work financially, especially in a niche like women’s tennis and particularly in this Covid-19 landscape, but thankfully the people around me have always given me the confidence to not go for the safe option but pursue my dreams and accept the risks involved.

And as far as what I would tell a 18 year-old myself would go? Probably “Don’t wait until you’re 25 to start watching tennis!”. Discovering the sport has fundamentally changed my whole life, it has become my life pretty much, and I’ve definitely missed out on a few exciting years before that. But hey, better late than never!

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 Joey Dillon