Let’s talk US Open and vaccines — Interview: Rennae Stubbs — Must-click women’s tennis links
The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, August 31, 2021
NEW YORK — Happy Tuesday! How are we about to enter September!?
I’m currently coming to you from New York City, as I’m on my first vacation since 2019 – which includes a visit to the US Open! This may be a little shorter and will be prepped before play begins, so bear with me. I’ve only attended once in 2018 for the 4th round, but I’m excited to go again and really soak in beginning play. I’m most excited about cheering on my Five at The IX alums, where Sloane Stephens faces Madison Keys in a rematch of the 2017 final.
Now, the US Open is here and it’s always an exciting time in the tennis season. The electricity of the New York crowd really is unlike any other. In unfortunate news, there have been some key withdrawals, including Americans Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Sofia Kenin. Serena’s hamstring injury from the grass is taking longer to heal, while Venus is nursing a leg injury. Kenin’s withdrawal comes from a breakthrough COVID-19 case as she’s vaccinated.
There’s still plenty of tennis to be had with an exciting draw out in front of us. Other than Stephens-Keys, my go-to first-rounders include:
(9) Garbine Muguruza vs. Donna Vekic
(17) Maria Sakkari vs. Marta Kostyuk
(13) Jennifer Brady vs. Emma Raducanu
(14) Anastasia Pavlyuchenknova vs. Alison Riske
(5) Elina Svitolina vs. Rebecca Marino
(12) Simona Halep vs. Camila Giorgi
(16) Angelique Kerber vs. Dayana Yastremska
(20) Ons Jabeur vs. Alize Cornet
2019 champion Bianca Andreescu makes her return to the scene of her Grand Slam glory, facing off against Viktorija Golubic while defending champion Naomi Osaka begins her run for a 3rd US Open crown against Marie Bouzkova. Both are very tricky first-round opponents, but while I expect both Andreescu and Osaka to move through, Golubic is having a very productive 2021 and all that’s missing is a big upset.
Now, for predictions after drawing some inspiration from Jon Wertheim’s Seed Report, I’m feeling a tad risky, but still a bit basic:
(1) Ashleigh Barty def. (23) Jessica Pegula
(4) Karolina Pliskova def. (10) Petra Kvitova
(3) Naomi Osaka def. (19) Elena Rybakina
(2) Aryna Sabalenka def. (18) Victoria Azarenka
(1) Ashleigh Barty def. (4) Karolina Pliskova
(3) Naomi Osaka def. (2) Aryna Sabalenka
(1) Ashleigh Barty def. (3) Naomi Osaka
Keep an eye on the bottom half – Americans Coco Gauff and Danielle Collins have solid chances at doing some serious damage. 2016 champion Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza can turn on their Slam-winning form, while Barbora Krejcikova is still somehow under-the-radar with a 2021 Slam under her belt.
Now while we’re excited for action to begin, it should also be noted some good news: 100% fan capacity. The US Open crowd really does separate itself from other Slams, especially at those night sessions. However, the entire city of New York has been requiring proof of vaccination, but it wasn’t needed for US Open patrons. That changed over the weekend, with the tournament announcing that every guest 12 & over will need to show. As someone who is attending the tournament, I think that’s a fantastic move. In Columbus, Ohio, where I reside, there are no current mandates, but after being in the city, I think it should be universally mandated.
A vaccine mandate for tennis players is also something I think should be put in place. There’s been some talk already about the plans for the 2022 Australian Open. Where I stand: we’re going to be two years into this pandemic sooner than later and because so many can’t wear a mask and/or get vaccinated, it’s not going anywhere soon. More variants can start running rampant the longer people hesitate.
It was reported on Twitter that less than 50% of the WTA is vaccinated. While I’m not sure where that sample size stems from (any WTA member, just Full Members, Top 100, etc.), it’s still alarming. The fact that the least vaccinated people at the US Open will be the players, who aren’t in a bubble, blows my mind. These players are traveling all over the world, putting not only themselves, but others at risk week in and week out. I’m all for individual autonomy of one’s body, but this is more than just one person. There are players and staff who are immunocompromised, too. It’s entirely selfish for players to not protect them and their loved ones. I can only hope that the WTA creates a policy soon to double that current rate.
This Week in Women’s Tennis
I asked last week for Columbus to get a WTA tournament and IT WAS RECEIVED! A WTA 125 tournament in September headlines recent additions to the 2021 WTA calendar. There’s still no concrete site for the 2021 WTA Finals, but I’ve heard to expect something soon regarding the tournament.
This week’s must-read highlights Kamau Murray and the coach running the only Black-runned tennis event on the calendar. Events like the Chicago Women’s Open are important for representation on tour and we stan.
Elina Svitolina captured the 16th WTA singles title of her career and first of 2021 with a straight-sets win over Alize Cornet at the inaugural Chicago Women’s Open. In doubles, Nadiia Kichenok and Raluca Olaru won a three-set thriller over Lyudmyla Kiichenok and Makoto Ninomiya.
At Tennis in the Land, Anett Kontaveit won her second career WTA singles title, winning in two sets over Irina-Camelia Begu. Ena Shibahara and Shuko Ayoama took home their 8th title as a duo, knocking off Christina McHale and Sania Mirza.
2015 US Open junior champion Dalma Galfi is one of eight players to make their Grand Slam Main Draw debut this week at the US Open.
Qualifying was again held off to the general public and is a favorite amongst tennis fans and New York locals. David Kane writes what makes the pre-week to the US Open a favorite.
WTA Legend Martina Navratilova gave wtatennis.com her US Open preview, noting Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff as two of her players to watch.
Be sure to catch WTA Insider’s Media Day recap.
After Budapest withdrew their bid to host the Billie Jean King Cup, it was announced that Prague and the O2 Arena will host the event in November.
In “news that Joey is insanely jealous of,” Venus Williams surprised a group of Chicago juniors to give a clinic. What an awesome experience and I hope Venus continues to tap into some coaching.
Venus Williams also was named as part of the collaboration between the WTA and BetterHelp, with the online therapy company offering $2million of free therapy. Through www.betterhelp.com/venus, the first $1 million USD immediately available and the second $1 million covered by BetterHelp for each ace hit by WTA players for the remainder of the 2021 WTA Tour season.
Alex Macpherson profiles Emma Raducanu, who is using the momentum of her Wimbledon run – and A-level exams – to hopefully make some noise in New York.
A student at the Cleveland Institute of Art partnered with the Case Western Reserve University School of Engineering to create and install the ideal tennis umpire’s chair.
Newlyweds Elina Svitolina and Gael Monfils kick off Tennis United’s CrossCourt series discussing relationships in tennis.
Tweet of the Week
Five at The IX: Rennae Stubbs
Rennae Stubbs is a former Australian WTA player with a career-high ranking of No. 64 in singles and No. 1 in doubles. She won 2 ITF singles titles, 60 WTA doubles titles and 10 ITF doubles titles. She won four women’s doubles Grand Slams, reaching finals at all four tournaments and captured two mixed doubles Grand Slams. She also represented Australia in four consecutive Olympics from 1996 to 2008. She now dabbles in ESPN commentary, coaching and contributing to Racquet Magazine and their podcast. You can follow her on Twitter or check out her website.
Joey: You juggle a lot of different hats in the industry between commentating, podcasting and coaching. Did you envision your post-playing career being so involved? What have been some highlights for you since your retirement?
Rennae: Well I’m not sure I envisioned all of it but I certainly envisioned being involved in tennis. Throughout my tennis career I dabbled in commentary, so I always really enjoyed that work and I feel like commentary it’s almost like coaching but to the general audience or public, so coaching in general is something I’ve always enjoyed.
Joey: On coaching, you’ve worked with a few players including Karolina Pliskova and Genie Bouchard. What do you look for when potentially partnering up and what’s that process like?
Rennae: I’ve never openly pursued a player to coach. The players you have mentioned and Sam have come to me. So when a player comes to me and I see not only potential in how I can help them, but also that i like them as people. I’m the type of person that won’t take a check from a player just because i need to. I do it because I love it, I enjoy being around them and I hope I can make them better. And on all occasions that has been true. I like them, I enjoy working with them and in some ways I hopefully I have made them better tennis players, or at the least taught them something that has made them better.
Joey: You are one of the greatest doubles players of all time. What needs to be done to help amplify the popularity of doubles and even the disparity between singles/doubles players?
Rennae: Honestly. I would love that they made the doubles draw smaller at Slams, start them later and if top players want to play they might, particularly the top players. We need to get more of it on TV and highlight it but sadly in some ways the money is so big in singles now, all those top players don’t feel the need to play unlike early in my career. Doubles money paid for your expenses as a top player in some regards back in the 90s. I think it’s sadly a lost cause as we have been talking about it forever, we just need more coverage.
Joey: What are your thoughts on the PTPA and a more-than-likely merger between the ATP and WTA? Are there any concerns you feel that could emerge from the tours combining under one umbrella?
Rennae: No, I actually don’t. I do think it is by far the best thing that can happen to tennis, the men and women joining together and combining for a player union.
Joey: With the US Open approaching, what are some of the storylines that most excite you? Are there any lower-ranked players on your radar that could make a surprising run?
Rennae: Well I think the biggest story in tennis is Novak Djokovic going for the calendar Grand Slam. I don’t think it’s been talked about enough in sporting terms. I don’t know why, but that to me is the biggest story in tennis and has been since Serena was going for a Calendar Grand Slam back a few years ago. I am hoping for some fairy tale story like Carla Suarez Navarro making a deep run or of course my player Sam Stosur 10 years after her win here but overall on the women’s side will there be another surprise winner? Will Naomi withstand the pressure and defend her title? So many great story lines.
Joey: What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received and who gave it? If you could go back in time, what would you tell 18-year-old Rennae?
Rennae: I would tell Rennae to believe in herself in every way. Work hard and good things will come. Surround yourself with good people and the rest will take care of itself. My old coach Ray Ruffels used to say after a big win, “not too high Stubbsy, not to low,” meaning don’t get too excited in moments and don’t get too down, just maintain that sense of trust and calm.
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