The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Stephanie Livaudais, November 19, 2019

No off-season yet for these players - WTA Coach of the Year nominees - Must-click links in women’s tennis

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Off-season? What off-season? 

The 2019 WTA season is finally, officially, over. 

The season recaps and ‘Best X of the Year’ lists are already rolling out. Voting is underway on various awards and shortlists. Most players are tanning on a beach somewhere in Bali or the Maldives, or they’re getting married, or both – sometimes, at the same time. 

But even well into the off-season, tennis is not yet really, officially, over. 

With just six days to go until the first entry lists of 2020 come out next Monday, players are still battling it out at the ITF Challenger level. Home to on-the-rise youngsters and journeywomen veterans throughout the regular season, the ITF tour usually serves as a pathway to professional tennis. But during tennis’ laughably short off-season, Challenger tournaments receive an influx of pros looking to gain precious few ranking points, build match fitness – anything to set themselves up for success in the coming season. 

For players ranked just outside of the Top 100, those few ranking points could be the difference between making a main draw and being relegated to the qualifying rounds. Take Timea Babos, for example. She’s a former Top 30 player in singles, and a heavyweight in doubles. She’s incredibly talented, but she’s fallen out of the WTA’s Top 100 rankings and has found herself in qualies more often than not – even as she lifts Grand Slam trophies in doubles. 

After winning the WTA Finals in doubles with partner Kristina Mladenovic, Babos stayed in Shenzhen, China an extra week to compete in an ITF 100K tournament in the same city, and then traveled to Taipei for the WTA’s 125K Challenger. She reached the quarterfinals and final, respectively, and Babos’ ranking now sits at No.90. Hopefully, it’s enough to guarantee herself direct entry into the Australian Open’s 128-player draw. 

Speaking of the Australian Open – which kicks off in a month and a half, if you can believe – one player has already guaranteed herself a spot as a result of her performance this week: CoCo Vandeweghe clinched the AO Wild Card Challenge after reaching the final at Houston 125K. It’s a big boost for the American, who spent 10 months away from the competition between 2018 and 2019 as she rehabbed a foot injury, returning to the courts in July and currently ranked outside the Top 200.  

And if you’re down in South Florida this week, you can catch Danielle Collins, No.31 in the world, competing at an ITF 25K in Naples. Most likely, she’s there looking for match fitness as she ended her season early in October after receiving a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. She’s also defending semifinal points in Melbourne, and could risk taking a big ranking hit if she doesn’t get back to her winning ways. 

This is always a weird part of the season: while half of the tour is in vacation mode, the other half is still grinding away on outer courts in tiny tournaments, performing incredible human drama in Taipei, or Houston, even Naples, Florida. So pay these hard-working women some respect and watch the Challengers and support your local ITF event.  

This Week in Women’s Tennis

As previously mentioned, there is still tennis being played: on Sunday Vitalia Diatchenko upset Timea Babos in the final of the Taipei 125K Challenger.

And Kirsten Flipkens defeated CoCo Vandeweghe to win the Houston 125K Challenger. Also check out Vandeweghe’s quirky Q&A with Ken Hoffman of Culture Map Houston.  

The nominees for WTA Coach of the Year are out: Craig Tyzzer (Ashleigh Barty), Torben Beltz (Donna Vekic) and Sylvain Bruneau (Bianca Andreescu). 

This is pretty cool: the French team who won the Fed Cup final got to meet with President Macron

If you aren’t following along with Garbine Muguruza’s off-season, you’re missing out. Just the other day she completed a five-day expedition to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. What, like it’s hard?

Maria Sharapova has been spending her off-season exploring Botswana and Rwanda.

15-year-old Coco Gauff was named in Time’s inaugural 100 Next list – and her blurb was written by Billie Jean King. Also, Gauff’s W Magazine feature and Q&A is a great read.

With the Olympics in Tokyo looming next season, can Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori end Japan’s 100-year wait for another medal in tennis? Also, kudos to Osaka and Nishikori for their support of the Women’s Sport Museum, both donating signed memorabilia. 

Happy two-year anniversary to Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian!

Great stuff from Jon Wertheim at SI, who chatted with Sloane Stephens on why it was so important for her to organize a diversity camp for juniors – just like the ones she attended as a kid.

Sania Mirza single-handedly put women’s tennis on the map in India, and in honor of her birthday check out Olympic Channel’s look back at her career and legacy. And, good news: Mirza’s planning a return to tennis in January after taking a break following the birth of her son, Izhaan. 

According to Stuart Miller of the New York Times, although doubles is “experiencing something of a boom” it still remains in the shadow of the singles game

Tweet of the Week

Five at the IX: Alexandra Dulgheru

Earlier in the year I had the chance to chat with the lovely Alexandra Dulgheru for what would turn out to be one of my favorite interviews of the year at Dulgheru was rehabbing from her fourth career knee surgery, and in the middle of a Romanian road trip vacation. She’s also crazy-creative off the court as well, and so most of the conversation ended up being about art.

Check out some of my favorite excerpts:

Q. When did you realize that you had such a talent for art? 

Dulgheru: I realized I had this talent when I was six or seven, and slowly sketching I was building it up. I didn’t actually follow any school, although I wanted to. Because I’m pretty sure if I go to an art school, I’m going to learn some techniques. 

But no, everything is just my talent, my hand-eye coordination. I would very much like to do, even for only a few months, to do some art school. I’d love to.  

I do a bit of everything. I’ve painted on papyrus, you know, the Egyptian paper. I painted on cloth, I painted on normal paper, I sketch. Anything that means drawing I can do, even on a wall.

Q. You once painted an incredible French garden scenery in oils. What was that process like?

Dulgheru: I actually did that one back in 2012 when I had my first surgery. It took me one year to do it, because I did it with time. I only did it on Sundays for a few hours. 

And I didn’t even have any techniques to put the paint on [brush strokes]. I just saw different paintings either in shops or galleries, and just got really close to the painting to see how the artist used the brushes and put the paints on, how thick it was. I could realize how they did it, but obviously I didn’t have the techniques, so I think I consumed four, five or six big tubes of these colors (laughing). 

And I put it in my room! It’s actually framed, the painting, and it’s hanging up in my room.

Q. You seem to turn to your art more when you’re injured – does it have a therapeutic effect for you? 

Dulgheru: I used it a lot playing tennis as a therapy. I always liked to do different things, because, you know, sometimes as a tennis player people consider you only a tennis player. But me, I have always had an inclination to art. To me, it’s not only tennis.

For me, when I’m not playing tennis, to do this is also challenging my other side as well. The side that also yearns for attention, and it’s part of me. So I kind of complete myself when I do that too. I know I’m not just a tennis player, I can do this and that and that. That’s what makes me happy when I draw, and it’s like a total therapy.

Q. Four knee surgeries would be tough for anyone, but for a tennis player, the ‘what-could-have-beens’ must be even tougher? 

Dulgheru: Definitely it hasn’t been the best career so far. I mean, I love playing tennis a lot – because it’s also something creative, you know? You’re creating. And my game is a bit creative as well. I felt like it was something I could build up with every match, every tournament. Even though there are tough moments, sometimes you don’t like playing or you’re injured, you still want to keep going.

But from the first moment when I won Warsaw [in 2009], my first tournament until now – I’m 30 – there are many years that I didn’t play. I had a sensitivity with this knee. It’s been also the result of like too much work in childhood with a different kind of mindset, and when I finally started doing things much better, with a much better plan… 

I mean, when I was younger in Eastern Europe, the mentality was a lot of hard work. Coaches, trainers, push you a lot and the recovery wasn’t in high standards. I mean, no one had the education to know that you needed recovery as much as you needed the work done. 

So that’s what happened. I pushed too much with too little recovery, and even when I won Warsaw, by that point, I had big problems in my knee already. 

Q. So what keeps you going through all of the injuries and surgeries?

Dulgheru: I think that the passion for it really helped me to get through all of this with the injuries. I mean normally, in my situation with all these troubles, I should have quit a long time ago. But I didn’t want to. 

I liked about every comeback is that… I mean, you have that feeling that, maybe I can’t be there anymore, maybe my level is not going to be as good as before, maybe I’m going to come back and everyone is going to be better than me. You know? All these thoughts in your head.

But every time coming back, my level was there. My trust was there, but I just needed to start winning some matches and get some rhythm. Every time coming back, I proved myself that I could do it. I could even be better than I was, even though only for a short while. And that was the motivation that kept me going after every injury.

Hopefully it’s going to be my last important injury. I mean, I’m going to try again like last time to really give it a shot. To play for a few more years, to end this nicely. And then I’m going to see what I’m going to do. That’s kind of my plan. 

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

Written by Howard Megdal

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