The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Lindsay Gibbs, September 3, 2019

Coco and Naomi -- U.S. Open news -- Kristie Ahn's journey

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Enjoying the journeys

By now, you’ve seen what might be the sports moment of the year, which is the post-match interview and embrace between Coco Gauff and Naomi Osaka.

Trust me, I enjoyed it just as much as everyone else did. The fact that Osaka could look outside of herself in that moment, and guide Gauff through it, and push Gauff to show a bit more of herself with the world, was just beautiful. We are so lucky to get to see those two perform, hopefully, for years to come.

But the truth is, we don’t know for sure that they’ll be back. Because nothing in this sport is guaranteed. There have been plenty of other examples of that throughout this U.S. Open.

Five years ago, I would have told you all point blank that we’d have seen multiple quarterfinal — and beyond — appearances at majors by 23-year-old Donna Vekic and 22-year-old Belinda Bencic. They were the teenage sensations, the sure-fire things. But when they meet in the quarterfinals on Wednesday, it will be Vekic’s first Slam quarterfinal, and Bencic’s second. Her first came five years ago at the U.S. Open. When Taylor Townsend was the top junior in 2012, it seemed inconceivable that she wouldn’t make it to the second week at the U.S. Open until 2019.

However, tennis is a brutal sport, and nothing is guaranteed. That’s why it’s so important to take a moment and appreciate every single milestone, but also allow everyone’s career to develop on their own timeline. Sometime that timeline might change speeds, even reverse itself, along the way. But that’s okay.

Because this quartefinal between Bencic and Vekic? It means more because of all they had to overcome to get back to a stage that they seemed destined to reach. And Townsend’s future is that much more intriguing because after the world broke her down, she built herself back up.

That doesn’t mean we can’t have expectations for youngsters — Bianca Andreescu is still my pick to win it all — but we have to give everyone’s story some breathing room. Cherish the ups, support through the downs, and enjoy all of the fabulous entertainment along the way.

This week in tennis

I thought I would finish up Tennis Tuesday’s during Serena’s match, but she barely gave me time to open up the document. She won her quarterfinal in less than 45 minutes.

Lopsided loss aside, you should get to know Serena’s quarterfinal opponent and China’s No.1, Wang Qiang.

I keep forgetting about Elise Mertens, and that is not smart. Don’t be like me. she faces Andreescu int he quarterfinals tomorrow.

Tumaini Carayol on Naomi Osaka and Belinda Bencic, and, by extension, Serena Williams and Martina Hingis, is a must-read.

Loved to see Donna Vekic make it to the quarterfinals.

I miss Dinara Safina so much, and so this piece on Kristie Ahn’s full-circle moment with Safina just made my week.

Here’s Sloane Stephens’ side of #coachgate.

People Magazine wrote about Carla Suarez Navarro’s (imo ridiculous) $40,000 fine for retiring from her first-round match. What a world.

Don’t overlook Elina Svitolina in the semifinals, Serena fans.

Read Louisa Thomas about the moment of the tournament, between Naomi and Coco.

Taylor Townsend isn’t done yet.

A great Christopher Clarey piece on this phenomenal crossroads in women’s tennis.

Bianca Andreescu could very easily be a major champion by the next Tennis Tuesday, so get on the bandwaggon.

Azarenka and Barty are killing it in doubles.

Tweet of the week

Five at The IX: Kristie Ahn

Kristie Ahn was by far one of the best stories of the first week of the tournament. She was crushed by Elina Svitolina in the fourth round, but her post-loss press conference provided great insight into how much her life has changed over the past few weeks.

Q. Breaking the top 100. What do you take from this going forward?
KRISTIE AHN: Well, according to Courtney it’s not official until it’s official.

COURTNEY NGUYEN: It’s official.

KRISTIE AHN: It’s crazy. It’s not like all encompassing euphoric as you think it will be. Maybe it’s because in years past I’ve hyped it up so much. Right now, like, it feels good. At the same time it’s like I want more versus I think in 2017 I would have, like, thrown a party for making top 100.

Like I’ve always said, I’m happy I’m playing good ball. Hopefully that just opens doors to who knows what number is the limit.

Q. Is that because of some of the successes that you had this year? Has the bar moved in your mind?

KRISTIE AHN: I think it’s a little bit of that, but it’s also more just kind of how I’m approaching things. If you do the right things, the end results will come.

Versus two years ago, I felt like I was kind of playing lights out, out of my mind. Oh, wow top 100, doesn’t feel like it’s my level. It’s, like, something that you hype up so much in your mind. When you’re right on the cusp, it actually breaks you more than it, like, helps you.

Q. You had your knee taped again today. How is it feeling?

KRISTIE AHN: It felt really good with the tape. Pretty sore. I don’t think my movement was inhibited at all today, which I’m really happy about. Everything is feeling so much better than it was in the beginning of the week. I’m quite happy about that.

Q. What is the practical effect of breaking the top 100? From a practical perspective, what changes for you?

KRISTIE AHN: The tournament schedule. Yeah, I would like to obviously play a lot more WTA tournaments. It’s just kind of funny because, like, I think other than Monterey and Bogota, I barely played any until San Jose.

I can definitely set my sights higher. Hopefully I can peak at the right times, play a less ITF heavy and more WTA heavy schedule. But have the flexibility that if I play ITFs, I’m not stepping down, not putting that extra pressure on myself.

Q. There’s got to be a difference between feeling good about things and feeling proud about things. How proud, without being narcissistic, are you right now?

KRISTIE AHN: Yeah, it’s been a really whirlwind of one week, one and a half weeks. So I’m very proud of not only my tennis, but also my effort. I feel like my ability to be able to step up in moments, obviously not today like I would have liked, but the past couple days.

It’s my first time in 11 years of not letting something like that eat me up, actually being able to embrace it. I think I’ve come a long way for that, as well. So, yeah, definitely proud.

Q. As of today there’s only 12 women left in the tournament. What is it like to look around an empty locker room and realize you’re one of the last 12?

KRISTIE AHN: Like, it’s weird because I noticed that yesterday. The gym, the locker rooms, everything kind of empties out. You’re like, Whoa, there’s not many of us. Pretty much the people who are in the locker rooms are still in the tournament.

I share locker room space with Serena Williams. That’s pretty cool (smiling).

Yeah, that’s something I’m trying to get better at, is holding my head up high, being proud that I am one of the 12, not just like, Oh, my God, googly eyed, I can’t believe I’m here. It’s being able to own it, walk the walk as well.

Q. I’m not saying you’re equals, but do you feel you’re in the same world as Serena now?

KRISTIE AHN: Well, she spoke to me, so yeah (laughter).

Q. What did she say?

KRISTIE AHN: I don’t want to. But she said, Kristie Ahn. I spun around. I’m like, She knows who I am. We had a little conversation, it was great.

But, like, I’m always going to be star struck from seeing her. Yeah, definitely this gives the confidence that no matter who I step out on court with, I can believe in myself. Every top player, it’s going to be a different matchup. I think the belief is finally starting to come together finally.

Q. You’re the first Asian-American to make the round of 16 at a slam since 2000, Lilia Osterloh. That’s a pretty big achievement. What does that mean for you?

KRISTIE AHN: I mean, for me, this is why I play, to hopefully be able to reach out to those Asian-Americans. We’re a pretty small community, but I think a lot of our parents are immigrants, so we kind of all feel the same way, had similar upbringings.

To be able to do this, what others haven’t been able to do, haven’t been able to do for a long time, it’s kind of like putting us back on the map. You can strive, you can have both, you can have the education, keep your parents happy, but also be able to have your own ambitions and go for it.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Lindsay Gibbs, @Linzsports ThinkProgress
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal High Post Hoops
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaste

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.