The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, January 19, 2021

Privileged players on full display in Melbourne — Interview: Sabrina Santamaria live from Australia — Must-click women's tennis links

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Listening to the empty complaints from Australia

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

This past week was very slow in terms of news because players were heading to Melbourne for their isolation period with WTA 500 tournaments being played next week. However, crap hit the fan when the Tennis Australia-chartered flights resulted in some positive COVID-19 tests. Over 100 players have been impacted, with no players confirming a positive test, but Sylvain Brenau, coach of Bianca Andreescu, came up positive. As someone who had COVID pop up 7 days into isolating before the holidays, players need to realize that this virus is still new and the incubation period can be weeks.

Now the topic at hand. The privilege from players…

Now, most of the complaints have been from male players, but unfortunately, the WTA had its fair share of public dismay. Novak Djokovic, who is isolating in Adelaide and still can’t figure out how to wear a mask, created a list of demands for TA and the Victorian government, but was quickly denied.

However, first, let’s look at some recent COVID-19 numbers from Melbourne:

This morning, there were a total of nine overnight cases into today. Since the start of COVID-19, there have been 20,432 cases in Victoria, with only 820 deaths. .2% of the total COVID-19 cases in the world have been in Victoria and the players have the audacity to complain. I’m honestly speechless.

Alize Cornet said her previous weeks of training are now wasted, then retracted and deleted her tweet. Belinda Bencic sees those affected by hard quarantine will be given an unfair disadvantage, even though there will still be time before the end of their quarantine and the Australian Open. Sorana Cirstea said that she wouldn’t have traveled down if she was told about isolation from flight tests, echoing Yulia Putintseva’s sentiments. However….they were. They just weren’t on the phone calls Tennis Australia had.

ATP doubles player Artem Sitak took to social media and explained that TA informed players of the risks, it’s just that the players didn’t hop on.

Paula Badosa and Marta Kostyuk went on an Instagram Live and said they weren’t complaining — but the lie detector determined that was a lie.

Rennae Stubbs went to Twitter and said it best: the players are getting free flights, hotel and $100,000 worst case. Also among the perks is $100 daily for UberEats, with players still complaining about the hotel food. Arina Rodionova spoke out in defense of TA, as well.

With that said, players being affected are finding ways to make the most of it by taking time to share their hotel workouts and more on social media.

My issue with these complaints are that it’s hard for Melbourne locals to get back home. People aren’t able to say goodbye to loved ones, but they’re letting over 1,200 foreigners in to make a LOT of money. Did you know it costs someone $3,000 to quarantine for 2 weeks when they land in Australia? Having a tennis tournament isn’t life or death. We went through a lot of 2020 with no tennis, so a few more weeks really wouldn’t hurt us.

I will never tell players to “shut up and hit,” but when millions around the world have died or had their lives forever changed, it’s not a good look. All of the players had the choice to play and accepted the risks (fully knowing things could change from beginning conversations). Scroll down for a Five at The IX with doubles player Sabrina Santamaria, who explains the player meetings, what quarantine she has to do and her thoughts of her colleagues’ statements.

You want to know who could complain, but isn’t? Sloane Stephens. Not only was she on one of the planes that require her to do a hard 14-day quarantine, but she shared she lost two of the most important people in her life due to COVID-19 this past month.

I know firsthand how the women in Sloane’s life shaped her and her grandparents are her world. I could only imagine how upsetting and frustrating it would be to see so many colleagues make light of quarantining when she has to grieve, then hop on a plane and travel around the world.

I’ll leave you with this wise note from Victoria Azarenka, who is having to hard quarantine. She has the best perception and knows how lucky and privileged they are to be in Melbourne:

This Week in Women’s Tennis

Aryna Sabalenka stormed to her third consecutive WTA title with a straight-set win over Veronika Kudermetova at the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open. With the result, the Belarussian moved up to a career-high ranking of No. 7.

Sabalenka also sat down with WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen for an episode of Champion’s Corner, where she opened up about the loss of her father and the change in perspective she’s had since heading into Melbourne.

In doubles news, Ena Shibahara and Shuko Aoyama captured their fourth title as a team, knocking out Five at the IX alums Hayley Carter and Luisa Stefani. It’s nice to see a doubles final consist of three collegiate players and my fingers remain crossed that the WTA continues to push out more doubles content.

Last week, I mentioned how you need to have Francesca Jones, Rebecca Marino and Ana Konjuh on your list to watch throughout 2021. Both Jones and Marino qualified for the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam main draw for Jones and first since the 2013 Australian Open for Marino. Konjuh lost her final qualifying round in three sets to Sara Errani. Tsvetana Pironkova also continued her stellar Grand Slam play by qualifying with ease.

In unfortunate news, Madison Keys announced she tested positive for COVID-19 and will not be in Australia, while Magda Linette won’t be in Melbourne due to a knee injury.

Maria Sharapova spoke on Bethenny Frankel’s podcast, Just B with Bethenny, to discuss her career and the mental fortitude it took to be a champion, persevering through her shoulder issues and her business endeavors.

Please watch this stellar point from Conny Perrin at the ITF W25 in Hamburg, Germany last week. INSANE!

What we know is that the BNP Paribas Open isn’t happening in March, but the tournament seems hopeful for a 2021 edition in possibly October or November. Personally, I think after the US Open and before the Asian Swing makes the most sense to appease player travel but who knows where COVID will be then.

Vania King retired from the sport last year, but the two-time Grand Slam Doubles champion spoke to The Tennis Provision about her tennis, as well as her involvement in her non-profit.

Venus Williams continues to dazzle as a designer with her latest EleVen launch for the Australian Open.

In college tennis, the University of North Carolina headlines the first team rankings of the season. Pepperdine’s Ashley Lahey holds the No. 1 singles ranking, while UCLA’s Elysia Bolton and Jada Hart top the doubles list. For the Top 10 newcomers, Payton Stearns (WTA No. 464) of the University of Texas leads the charge, however, current WTA No. 248 Eleonaro Molinaro is on the University of Tennessee roster.

College tennis has suffered many losses of programs because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but in a series of good news, East Carolina University announced that they will be reinstating the program after a pause last May.

Tweet of the Week

You know I’m here for any Qai Qai and Olympia Ohanian (who already has a better backhand than me at 3) content. I mean……just look at the cuteness

Five at the IX: Sabrina Santamaria with Australian isolation perspective

Sabrina Santamaria (Five at the IX from January 2020) is a University of Southern California graduate currently ranked No. 73 in the WTA doubles rankings with a career-high of No. 53. She gives a player’s perspective from isolation in Melbourne with her takes on the recent news. Give her a follow on Twitter and Instagram!

Joey: Obviously, the biggest news has been a lot of the complaining regarding the quarantine. Can you give us some insight on what the players were told prior to the chartered flights?
Sabrina: Since last fall in 2020, we’ve (the players) had numerous calls with the WTA, Craig Tiley, and Tennis Australia. Week after week, Craig and his team generously held meetings with us (sometimes at 4am Australia time), and were transparent with the happenings surrounding the Australian Summer of Tennis. As you’re aware, the situation surrounding this global pandemic is fluid, where information, rules, protocols, and regulations are constantly changing. There were certainly changes that were made between October to as late as December 16 in 2020 regarding the AO and WTA events, and that was communicated to us through the Microsoft Teams meetings and AO travel and quarantine information packets.

Perhaps, information dissemination slipped through the cracks, as some players weren’t on the WTA calls or had a different interpretation of the materials presented. I interpreted the information being that these various scenarios would always be up to the Victorian Government and their Health Department, and we have to respect that we’re in a global pandemic and must abide by the rules in order to keep the Australian people safe. 

Joey: What have the specific rules been for your isolation?
Sabrina: Luckily, my flight from Abu Dhabi returned no positive cases, so I am able to practice now for 2 hours a day. Prior to clearance, I was in isolation for 4 days, and on the 5th day I was able to practice. Although there were some delays, I always believe it’s better to be safe than sorry, so I didn’t mind that I was unable to practice on Day 4. There are strict rules here: we are only allowed out of our rooms for 5 hours of the day- 2 hours for practice, 90 minutes in the gym, and one hour for nutrition, the rest of the time is allocated for walking to and from the courts, and even the journey up the elevator. I can’t imagine how tedious and meticulous the planning and scheduling could have been to work out all of these details, but TA has done a tremendous job thus far. 

Joey: How have you spent your isolation time and how do you plan on spending the remainder?
Sabrina: All has been well during these first few days of quarantine. Meals have been delivered to my door, I’m binge-watching Netflix shows, reading some good books, Facetiming loved ones, and getting creative with workout routines. Now that I’ve finished my Master’s degree, I do have more free time, so I will probably continue this routine of Netflix, reading, and working out, in addition to my five hours of freedom. 

Joey: What have your personal reaction/opinions been regarding the comments?
Sabrina: I’m pretty disappointed in other players’ reactions towards the meals, the quarantine situation, and other complaints that they have been vocalizing. I certainly understand their frustrations, but I don’t believe the solution is to be so harsh with their criticisms on social media, especially during a global pandemic where people have lost loved ones, jobs, their housing, and faced so many other difficulties. This has painted a terrible picture of all of the AO players, and I hope we can rectify these negative perceptions and provide entertainment for the Australian people once we’re out of quarantine.

Joey: When we last spoke, it was pre-COVID and the 2020 season was ultimately a near-wash. What are your goals for this year? Do you have a specific schedule planned out now that the WTA has released a schedule through June?
Sabrina: At the ranking I’m at currently, I’m aiming to play most of the events that have been scheduled until June. My main goals are to win a WTA title and crack into the Top 50 this year. I’m super grateful that the WTA has provided the players jobs and income during this pandemic, so I’m really looking forward to making the most out of these opportunities. 

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.