The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Lindsay Gibbs, August 27, 2019
What's in a Rivalry — Cat McNally interview — Must-click women's tennis links
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What’s in a rivalry?
By now, it’s likely that you know that Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova faced off in the first round of the U.S. Open on Monday night, and, like usual, Serena trounced Sharapova 6-1, 6-1.
After the match, the main theme was, why in the world is this considered a rivalry?
And I get why everyone balks at that word. Trust me. Serena has a 20-2 edge in their head-to-head, and has won 19 matches in a row. Nineteen! Sharapova has not beaten Serena since George W. Bush’s first term. It’s been forever. The hype surrounding the match, every single time, is outsized for what it is.
And I get why that rattles people, especially since the amount of star-power that Sharapova has been able to sustain over the years has a lot to do with the fact that she is blonde, white, modelesque, and a ruthless brand builder. On the court, she has a very impressive resume, but she doesn’t come close to comparing with Serena. There is, literally, no comparison.
But I always feel like this conversation swings too far in the other direction, implying that this rivalry is all in Sharapova’s head, and that Serena just treats her like any other opponent. Anyone who has watched tennis closely over the years can tell you that is not true. Serena comes out laser-focused every time Sharapova is across the net. I mean, Serena’s husband wore a “D.A.R.E” t-shirt to the match last night. Serena once mean-girled Sharapova in a Rolling Stone article, and then Sharapova talked in press about Serena having an affair, and then Sharapova went on to basically craft the entire narrative of her book around Serena.
Perhaps it’s better to call it a feud than a rivalry, as this Vox explainer from 2017 does, but you cannot pretend like either one of them treats this like it’s “just another match.” The two do not like each other, and Serena takes beating Sharapova extremely seriously. Honestly, that’s part of what makes it fun.
This week in tennis
First of all, congrats to The IX favorite, WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen, who was the well-deserved recipient of the International Tennis Writers Association Bud Collins Award.
Also, another friend of The IX, Reem Abulleil, has started a Patreon page where she’s going to be dishing lots of insider information. Support her!
An absolute must-read from NYT Magazine: Did Venus Williams ever get her due?
Monica Puig was not happy that Kamau Murray left her right before the U.S. Open to reunite with Sloane Stephens.
Take a trip down to Coco Gauff’s hometown.
Practice??? Yes, this is a story about practice. But it’s adorable and you want to read it.
Long overdue: Althea Gibson gets her U.S. Open statue at last.
Ben Rothenberg has a good look at Naomi Osaka’s split with her former coach Sascha Bajin earlier this year. Read until the end.
Another successful U.S. Open Pride event, organized by the incomparable Nick McCarvel. Great to see the WTA website highlight it as well.
Garbine Muguruza is pondering more changes after a first-round U.S. Open loss.
Fashion break! Which outfit is your favorite?
Great piece by David Kane on Paula Badosa, a 21-year-old former junior champion who opens up about her battles with anxiety and depression.
The U.S. Open is making changes to make sure fans are more informed about code violations and the like, which, sure? That’s fine.
I love a good #handshakegate, and Camila Giorgi always delivers.
Tweet of the Week
Five at The IX: Cat McNally
Serena will play 17-year-old American sensation Cat McNally in the second round of the U.S. Open on Wednesday. McNally had a big breakthrough this summer at the Citi Open, making it tot he semifinals in singles and winning the doubles title with Coco Gauff. I talked to her then, so wanted to share that conversation, so you could get to know her a little bit.
I saw that you were really following the US women’s national team at the Women’s World Cup. What was your favorite part of their performance in France?
Yeah, definitely. I was staying at a house in Wimbledon village. So every game we were watching it, following it, and I just love the players on the team, their fight. There’s so feisty, and just huge inspirations. So yeah, I was following it. And I love watching soccer.
They’re very outspoken about women’s sports and about equality. As a female athlete yourself, does that inspire you to speak out?
Yeah, definitely. I think more of myself, I don’t really worry about that kind of stuff, but I think they do a really good job of showing what they believe in and pushing for equality.
Who was your favorite tennis player growing up?
Roger Federer. Still to this day, he’s my favorite. I just love the way he plays the way he carries himself on the court. So I try to do the same thing.
Have you gotten to meet him yet?
Yeah, I’ve gotten to meet him twice. Once in Australia, 2017. And then I saw him again at the Wimbledon ball in 2018. So that was an amazing experience.
What did you talk about?
We talked to him for about 15 minutes when we were in Australia. And we kind of just talked about where I’m from Cincinnati, because he’s played that tournament so many times. And it was really cool, he was just talking about like the local places that he’s been. And he was just really laid back and it just seemed very surreal the way he acted.