The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, May 5, 2020
Tennis begins to roll out live play; are we ready? — Interview with Asia Muhammad — Must-click women's tennis links
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Professional Tennis Starts Initial Rollout
Before we go into the exhibitions that are popping up around the world, we should expect a formal announcement of the player support fund created by the ITF, WTA and ATP. The Associated Press is reporting that over $6 million gathered will impact over 800 players on both tours. With no sanctioned action until the end of July, the fund will help players with living and training costs until play resumes.
Last month, the first series of professional tennis was played since COVID-19 shut down the sports world on the eve of the BNP Paribas Open. A group of ATP players have been playing in the International Tennis Series, streamed from a single camera on ESPN3, on a single tennis court at a private home. This past week, Germany hosted a closed-door event for a handful of ATP players that also adhered to the social distancing and marked balls accordingly to avoid any true player-to-player contact.
Now, WTA players are getting their share of action this week at the Saddlebrook Tennis Academy with the US Pro Tennis Series, streaming on ESPN3. Saddlebrook is providing free accommodations for the players participating. Francesca Di Lorenzo, WTA No. 128 is the highest ranked singles player, but doubles No. 19 Nicole Melichar is playing as well.
The Universal Tennis Rating has hopped on the bandwagon and have created tournaments for professionals. Their May 22-24 event in West Palm Beach will feature Amanda Anisimova, Danielle Collins, Alison Riske and Ajla Tomljanovic and will have players wear headsets on changeovers to talk to remote commentators. Australia, Spain and Great Britain are also in the works to create their own tournaments.
Now, this bears the obvious question: is this smart while the United States resulted in one-third of the 3.6 million COVID-19 cases worldwide, a number that continues to rise?
Honestly, I’m torn. It’s “easy” for baseball, basketball and football players to have their seasons paused – they have guaranteed money. In tennis, the majority of players only make money from their tour prize money. If they have any endorsements, many are dependent on on-court results. The tour may be at a crossroads, but it’s even more of an issue for players and their lives/careers. The prize money at these tournaments aren’t much, but until the full logistics of the player fund are ironed out and announced, this can only help.
For the time being, I can’t see these events getting any bigger than the ones planned. There’s still too much uncertainty and even though I was a little critical of the tours shutting down through July, it was certainly the right call. At the end of the day, players will have to practice and train before the tour resumes and that’s what I compare these events to, just with cameras streaming.
The WTA office will sure be tuning in to see how these tournaments unfold with an announcement for post-July plans expected by May 15. The USTA will also be taking a keen eye on these, with the US Open plans still very much up in the air.
Personally, I don’t find it the most smart thing to do and would have delayed this until the end of the month to see if the COVID-19 curve continues to flatten. There is still too much unpredictability in the numbers, especially with no vaccine expected until early 2021. I think it’s important for everyone to slowly phase back into their normal everyday lives, though I know it can be seen as tone-deaf when there were over 86,000 new cases and just under 1,000 deaths worldwide yesterday alone.
However, with that said, if social distancing and the right measures to prevent any and all transfer are implemented, this will be a great test to see how professional tennis with no fans can fare.
This Week in Women’s Tennis
BREAKING: Roland Garros announced this afternoon that they have pushed their tournament back a week to ideally host qualifying and main draw over three weeks.
Many WTA players continue to use their name and voice to help raise awareness and money for those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic:
The WTA is one of 14 organizations joining “The Real Heroes Project,” with players donating their jersey/uniform and renaming it in honor of healthcare workers on the front line
Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, Naomi Osaka and Madison Keys took part in a Mario Tennis Aces charity tournament, the #StayAtHomeSlam. Keys was the only one to win her opening match, with ATP player Taylor Fritz and TikTok superstar Addison Rae taking the $1 million prize and donating to No Kid Hungry.
Kiki Bertens defended her Mutua Madrid Open title, just virtually. The Dutch defeated Fiona Ferro in the final of the 16-player tournament, played on PlayStation 4’s Tennis World Tour. A portion of her €150,000 prize will be donated to her peers affected by the tour’s standstill.
Former doubles World No. 15 Alla Kudryavtseva was beginning her comeback from maternity leave when the COVID-19 pandemic arose. She’s using the downtime to give back to fans through a doubles webinar with six modules, discussing and analyzing the game with some of her friends on tour.
Carla Suarez Navarro was planning on retiring this year, but COVID-19 has put a dent in those plans. The former World No. 6, who is volunteering daily at a food bank in the Canary Islands, wants to say goodbye on a tennis court and a 2021 farewell isn’t out of the picture.
Serena Williams was one of the many stars joining Chase to give a virtual commencement address to the Class of 2020, whose ceremonies have been cancelled due to the pandemic.
Former World No. 58 Louisa Chrico and Kristie Ahn, who have collaborated on some awesome music covers (must watch), are teaming up to help raise money for the World Central Kitchen not through tennis, but music.
Billie Jean King and Andy Murray chatted on CNN to discuss the potential WTA-ATP merger. Both King and Murray stressed that the WTA needs to be an equal partner in the merger, not an acquisition. Murray has been the most prominent, and at sometimes the only, ATP voice to defend the WTA and I certainly wonder if it was more strategic for Murray to be the male representative on public television.
Madison Keys and Serena Williams are two of the latest players to enter fans’ Zoom chats to interact with their best supporters and answer their questions.
2015 Wimbledon junior champion Sofya Zhuk may only be 20, but to doctors, her spine is consistent with those thrice her age. The Russian, who peaked at No. 116 in 2018, has been forced to say goodbye to tennis due to a back injury and has her eyes set on modeling and real estate following her forced retirement.
World No. 51 Danielle Collins spoke to Beyond the Baseline to discuss her Rheumatoid Arthritis diagnosis, which was discovered last summer in the midst of her career-best year.
ITF Gold Badge chair umpire Julie Kjendlie comes from Norway, not the most ideal tennis hotbed. In the latest WTA Officiating interview, she discussed her journey to becoming one of the game’s elite umpires and the importance of the WTA fostering future female umpires.
WTA Legends Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert sat down for an Instagram Live to reminisce on their playing careers and their epic 80-match rivalry.
Many players are using the downtime to begin their own off-court ventures. Johanna Konta launched her podcast on Spotify, while Elina Svitolina debuted her food blog, The ES Club.
“The Ojai,” a renowned tennis tournament in Southern California whose former champions include Maureen Connolly, Billie Jean King, Tracy Austin and Lindsay Davenport, was cancelled for the first time since World War II. Former World No. 18 Stacy Margolin Potter spoke to the local newspaper reflecting on her 1979 win over Kathy Jordan during a severe bout with food poisoning.
Victoria Azarenka is known for her ruthless determination on the court and is now getting a taste of her own medicine while self-isolating at home: from her three-year-old son, Leo.
Wim Fissette, coach of Naomi Osaka, hosted an SAP Webinar for 23 WTA coaches utilizing the SAP Tennis Analytics data and showing that through data, you can create specific strategies for different opponents.
In the latest episode of tennis.com’s My Tennis Life, Monica Puig showed fans how to create one of her favorite dishes, a Broccoli Cheddar Chorizo Quiche.
Tweet of the Week
Again, TikTok master Kristie Ahn:
Five at the IX: Asia Muhammad
Asia Muhammad is the singles World No. 191 and doubles World No. 49 with 10 ITF singles, 33 ITF doubles and 6 WTA doubles titles under her belt. The Las Vegas native chats about maintaining training during COVID-19, why she plays well Down Under and being the older sister of professional basketball player Shabazz Muhammad.
Joey: You’ve had a good start to the year, winning a $25k in Australia, but now tennis is at a standstill because of COVID-19. How has that altered you 2020 goals and what were they? Also, how do you manage to train throughout social distancing?
Asia: Yeah I had a really solid start to the year. I felt great and then everything just stopped pretty suddenly! My goals were mapped out but since, that timeline has definitely gotten altered my goals are up in the air at the moment. Training throughout the social distancing the last couple of weeks have been tough tennis-wise. I took some time off in the beginning which was nice but in the meantime working on things mentally. I can’t wait until I can get on court, hopefully soon, but also when it’s safe to do so. We’re still on lockdown in Vegas. I’m working out everyday sometimes twice a day because why not (laughs). My trainer sends me stuff and has been very involved, so at least I’m staying active in the meantime and not having to think of everything myself!
Joey: You’ve won 5 singles and 5 doubles titles in Australia, plus this year, you won your second WTA doubles in Auckland. What makes that region bring out your best tennis?
Asia: Honestly that’s a great question! (laughs) I’m really happy there, I love Australia. When I play in that region, I feel really good. Maybe, I don’t put as much pressure on myself.
Joey: You’re an extremely accomplished doubles player, winning 39 titles. Obviously your game style and hands compliment doubles more, but what makes doubles so special? Have you ever considered going doubles-only?
Asia: I love doubles! But, I love singles also. I haven’t thought about only playing doubles; I feel I have time for that. I feel I have a lot more to accomplish in singles.
Joey: You’re a proud Las Vegas native, growing up in the Andre Agassi Foundation and staying with your coach, Tim Blenkiron, your entire career. You also lead Las Vegas’ World Team Tennis franchise. Las Vegas isn’t the biggest tennis hotbed, but share what it’s done/continues to do for your tennis?
Asia: It’s definitely a challenge at times but my family is here and so is Tim. I love Vegas and I’m so excited we have a WTT team! It’s nice to play in my hometown. Training wise we’re also really close to California so I can go there to practice if I ever need to. But we also have players come here. When I’m here for off-season, it’s great and really refreshing. It’s important to be around my family.
Joey: You come from a family of athletes, with your brother Shabazz playing professional basketball. Though he’s younger, what advice or tips has he given you that have benefited you and your tennis?
Asia: Shabazz has always been a really hard worker and has a strong mindset. He’s very supportive and understands the vicissitudes being a professional athlete. So I keep him on speed dial. (laughs)