With Hologic, WTA enters a new era — Lindsay Davenport talks Indian Wells — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, March 8, 2022

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First, last week, I said how the tennis bodies needed to take a stand alongside other leagues against the Russian and Belarusian invasion of Ukraine. They listened and released a joint statement announcing the suspension of October’s Kremlin Cup, removing flags in players’ information online/on television and suspending all ITF tournaments and team competition entries for the two countries. The two tours, four Grand Slams and ITF have all donated $100,000 each as part of their Tennis Plays for Peace initiative.

I find it fitting that I get to have Tennis Tuesday with IWD because of the biggest WTA news of the week — the announcement of the tour getting a new title sponsor with women’s health manufacturer Hologic. It’s the WTA’s first global title sponsorship since their 6-year, $88 million deal with Sony Ericsson that ended in 2010.

From the WTA’s press release:

The multi-year alliance, the largest global sponsorship in WTA history and Hologic’s first worldwide sponsorship, aims to achieve significant progress through a shared vision of greater wellness and equality for women. The groundbreaking partnership allows both organizations to rally around their collective mission to champion women while modernizing their respective industries of healthcare and sports.

As one of the world’s top medical technology innovators, Hologic focuses primarily on improving women’s health and wellbeing. That includes industry-leading products in every category of its business: diagnostics, imaging systems and surgical devices. Hologic’s areas of emphasis include state-of-the-art preventive care, reducing disparities in healthcare access and education, and unique research that helps countries worldwide better prioritize women’s health.

Though exact details of the deal weren’t released, it’s significantly larger than the Sony Ericsson deal and “the largest global sponsorship in WTA history,” which bodes well for the WTA and their future. We all know the WTA’s future was a bit uncertain after the tour pulled out of China in the wake of Peng Shuai. It came out that the WTA standing up to a global power for the greater good of their female athletes was the benefactor behind the Hologic partnership. It’s refreshing to see a league — a women’s one at that — be rewarded for bypassing the norm and simply doing the right thing.

“We’ve been watching very closely some of the brave and really high-integrity moves that the WTA has made almost by themselves,” Hellmann said. “And that brought to our attention both the potential need they may have for title sponsorship, as well as really wanting to stand with and support the stance they are taking despite really negative impact on their business.”

Hellmann added: “It put their calendar at risk. It put a huge audience at risk, but they stood up for what they believed to be right and stood up for their players and therefore, by extension, the voice of women throughout the world.”

Something that had been on my mind recently was thinking of areas the WTA could look into for a title sponsorship. Perhaps a bit stereotypical or even vain, my ideas pretty much stemmed in the beauty sphere — like the tour’s previous sponsor in the early 2000s, Sanex. I’m actually really excited about this Hologic venture because of Hologic WTA Labs, “a WTA initiative focused on health innovation and research-based projects specific to female athletes.” Look at players like Serena Williams, Danielle Collins or Caroline Wozniacki. They’ve suffered from pulmonary embolisms, rheumatoid arthritis and/or endometriosis. Many players have spoken out about having to compete during their cycle. This partnership not only has the potential to impact the players personally, but could enhance the health of all female professional athletes across the globe. With Hologic as the official WTA health partner, players will also stress the importance of annual screenings in the wake of WTA Legends Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and the late Jana Novotna all having their own cancer diagnoses.

Moving forward, “Hologic will be integrated into the WTA across all platforms, including net signage at all WTA tournaments and virtual advertising at WTA 1000 and 500 events.”

Before we get into links, it’s also the start of the BNP Paribas Open — what many call the “fifth Grand Slam.” With play starting tomorrow, here are a few links to check out:

Now, link time!

This Week in Women’s Tennis

At the Abierto GNP Seguros in Monterrey, Mexico, Leylah Fernandez saved five championship points — including one when where the lights went out and delayed the match — en route to a 6-7(5), 6-4, 7-6(3), win over No. 5 seed Camila Osorio. It’s the second career WTA title for the second-seeded Canadian, who defended her crown in Monterrey. The doubles title went to two Five at The IX alums — Sabrina Santamaria and Catherine Harrison. It’s the first career WTA title for both players, with Harrison winning on her first try and Santamaria getting over the hump on her fifth attempt. They rallied from a set, break and 40-0 down to win over Han Xinyun and Yana Sizikova, 1-6, 7-5, [10-6].

In Lyon, France, No. 8-seeded Zhang Shuai won her third career WTA singles title at the Open 6e Sens Métropole de Lyon with a hard-fought 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over wildcard Dayana Yastremska. It was a near-perfect Cinderella run for Yastremska, who spent two nights underground in a parking garage before fleeing Ukraine with her sister for France. The doubles title went to Vera Zvonareva and Laura Siegemund, who previously captured the 2020 US Open. The defeated the all-Brit duo of Alicia Barnett and Olivia Nicholls, who made their WTA Tour debut this past week and came back from 6-0, 4-0 down in their semifinal.

Former Top 20 player Varvara Lepchenko was given a four-year ban by the ITF following a hearing to discuss her positive test for adrafinil and/or modafinil metabolite. In 2016, the American previously tested positive for meldonium, but was labeled “no fault” for that since she took it when the drug was legal. Her previous history wasn’t a factor in the ruling, which the 2012 Olympian is appealing. If unsuccessful, she will be eligible to return in August 2025 when she is 39.

World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty withdrew from both the BNP Paribas Open and Miami Open citing she still needs time to recover from her Australian Open triumph. Barty has been vocal in the past about how being so far from home for long periods of time has negatively affected her mental health and contributed to her hiatus from the tour. She aims to return for Australia’s Billie Jean King Cup qualifier in April. Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins also withdrew from Indian Wells citing continuing injury.

I absolutely loved Blair Henley, another Five alum, getting interviewed by Popcorn Tennis. Take a read and enjoy the queen Blair is.

OUDaily featured women’s tennis player Alexandra Pisareva, while The University of Miami profiled Diana Kohdan about how they’ve handed the Ukraine-Russia conflict thousands of miles away from family and receiving support from their programs.

In Serena Williams news: The good? She raised over $111 million for her venture firm, Serena Ventures. The bad? The New York Times printed the article with a photo of sister Venus. The great news? The GOAT spoke to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour to discuss a variety of topics but revealed she’s not retiring at the moment.

Rebecca Marino reaches her highest ranking in a decade following her win at the ITF W60 in Arcadia. Last week’s champions are:

  • $60,000 Arcadia, California:
    • (5) Rebecca Marino def. Alycia Parks, 7-6(0), 6-1
    • Ashlyn Krueger/Robin Montgomery def. (2) Harriet Dart/Giuliana Olmos, walkover
  • $25,000 Nur-Saltan, Kazakstan:
    • (5) Anastasia Zakarova def. (Q) Mariia Tkacheva, 6-3, 6-1
    • Kamilla Bartone/Ekaterina Makarova def. (3) Anna Siskova/Maria Timofeeva, 1-6, 7-5, [10-8]
  • $25,000 Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic:
    • Adriana Reami def. (4) Joanne Zuger, 6-3, 7-5
    • (2) Irina Khromacheva/Nnatalika Stevanovic def. Darja Semenistaja/Anastasia Tikhonova, 6-1, 7-6(5)
  • $25,000 Joue Les Tours, France:
    • Magali Kempen def. Nastasja Schunk, 6-3, 6-4
    • Emily Appleton/Ali Collins def. Mona Barthel/Yanina Wickmayer, 2-6, 6-4, [10-6]
  • $25,000 Bendigo, Australia:
    • (3) Asia Muhammad def. (7) Olivia Gadecki, 6-2, 6-4
    • Gabriella Da Silva Flick/Alana Parnaby def. Chihiro Muramatsu/Kyoka Okamura, 2-6, 6-4, [10-8]
  • $25,000 Guayaquil, Ecuador:
    • (1) Tessah Andrianjafitrimo def. (5) Hanna Chang, 6-3, 6-3
    • (4) Andrea Gamiz/Sodia Sewing def. Nicole Fossa Huergo/Noelia Zeballos Melgar, 6-4, 7-5
  • $15,000 Nagpur, India:
    • Sahaja Yamalapalli def. (3) Emily Seibold, 6-5, retired
    • Shrivalli Rashmikaa Bhamidipati/Sathwika Sama def. (1) Vaidehi Chaudhari/Emily Seibold, 6-7(3), 6-4, [13-11]
  • $15,000 Antalya, Turkey:
    • Rosa Vicens Mas def. (6) Dejana Radanovic, 6-4, 5-7, 6-1
    • (1) Miriam Kolodziejova/Jesika Maleckova def. Rina Saigo/Yukina Saigo, 6-4, 5-7, [10-6]
  • $15,000 Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt:
    • (JR) Polina Iatcenko def. (LL) Darya Shauha, walkover
    • Pei-Chi Lee/Ya-Hsin Lee def. (WC) Polina Iatcenko/Darya Shauha, 6-3, 6-0
  • $15,000 Monastir, Tunisia:
    • (2) Julia Terziyska def. Kathleen Kanev, 7-5, 5-7, 6-1
    • Eleni Chistofi/Michaela Laki def. (1) Haruna Arakawa/Natshuo Arakawa, 7-5, 6-3

Leylah Fernandez and Dayana Yastremska are the new names added to the list of players surviving match point down and eventually winning their match.

Barbora Krejcikova became the first player since Serena Williams in 2010 to be ranked in the Top 2 of both the singles and doubles WTA rankings simultaneously. She’s the tenth player overall to have a career-high of at least No. 2 in both rankings and the first since Aryna Sabalenka in 2021.

Sofia Kenin is among the main draw wildcards for the BNP Paribas Open. 2018 champion Naomi Osaka was originally offered one, but eventually got into the tournament on her own ranking. That wildcard ended up going to Dayana Yastremska.

The wtatennis.com staff had their roundtable to discuss the Middle East swing and noting some players to look out for ahead of the Sunshine Swing in the United States.

With Ukraine on the mind of many, Elina Svitolina is hosting a fundraiser in Indian Wells alongside the Bryan brothers and Jessie Pegula.

More WTA 125 tournaments were added to the 2022 calendar, bringing the season’s total to 22. The first WTA 125 of the year kicks off this month in Marbella, Spain and more tournaments will take place in Europe, along with North and South America.

Alex Macpherson of wtatennis.com profiled Zheng Qinwen, who is the newest Top 100 debutant after her run to the Monterrey quarterfinals. Since the tour’s COVID-19 break, Qinwen has been on fire, winning eight ITF World Tour titles and over 80 singles wins.

In “this is pretty neat,” the Old Dominion women’s tennis team is using some interesting technology to improve their serves.

If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s Romanians voting for Simona Halep. The three-time Grand Slam champion was awarded the February wtatennis.com Shot of the Month — who has now gone two-for-two in the fan-voted poll this year.

Tweet of the Week

Five at The IX alum Kristie Ahn announced her retirement and her plans to pursue a career in UX design. We wish her all of the best in this next phase of her life!

Five at The IX: Lindsay Davenport Pre-IW Presser for Tennis Channel

Q. I have a couple of questions about Maddie since you just mentioned her but you’ve worked with her and are friendly with her. The first is, how do you kind of assess her game where she is now being the Australian Open semifinal run, and if you have any thoughts of why she has been somewhat inconsistent with that great serve and forehand you would think she might have been more consistent up to now?

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: Yeah. I always try to say it like always before I talk about her, is I adore her. She’s like part of my family.

Her run in Australia, especially for some of us that knew how much she was struggling in the last year playing, she spoke about it openly, which I think sometimes helps players when they actually finally get some things off their chest, it was remarkable. Her run in Adelaide and then backing that up winning five more matches in Melbourne was awesome to see again.

For her to bring that kind of intensity and that level, I just said about — you want to be able to bring your best tennis a certain percentage of the time. The very top players bring it three-quarters of the time or roughly around that time. That’s something that Maddie has always struggled with. Even the last couple tournaments she just lost her opening match in both tournaments in Mexico after this great run in Australia.

It’s hard for her to keep that momentum, and for those of us, we’ve kind of always wondered why that is. We’ve tried very hard to get her to be able to play at that level. Staying healthy has also been a challenge for her the last couple years, a number of different kinds of injuries. But I think she proved to herself and maybe some of the doubters in Australia that she still can play at that very, very high level. She can still be a threat to do real damage at the big tournaments.

But the consistency has always been a factor. I’ve given my two cents on what could maybe help. I wish I knew what the answer was to try and get her to play at that level more often.

It’ll be a challenge for her in the desert. She’s never been able to play her best tennis out at Indian Wells. She knows that. She wants to change that desperately. She’s going to get there early and try and figure out the lighter air if it gets hot, about trying to control her shots.

I wish I knew exactly what the reason was, but it has been a struggle for her, and it’s been a goal of hers, as well, to try and get better at that.

Q. As I’m sure you know, she started this organization Kindness Wins and it is promoting being kind to yourself, being kind to others, being kind through a struggle. I’m wondering why you feel, knowing her so well, that this is a cause that’s so close to her heart that she would start an organization.

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: Yeah, it’s been remarkable to see kind of the transformation of her. I first met her when she was 18. At that time I actually always point back, there was a match at Indian Wells that year, 2015, she lost to Jelena Jankovic in a very close three-set match. This was the first time I was ever kind of brought in immediately after the match, going to find her and talking to her and her just showing me her phone and all of these hate messages that she was getting on social media. Like, I could not believe it. Just for losing a tennis match, and people talking about her game and failing and even like physical appearance. It was shocking to me, who played in an era when we actually didn’t have to deal with that. We worried about what a newspaper article might say about our game.

It affected her so much, and finally she just decided to do something about it. She’s kind of been on a mission ever since about just trying, everybody, to just try and be a little bit kinder to everyone. It’s a lot easier for people to sit there without seeing someone and write something, but going in person and trying to change people’s philosophies about that, it’s always been important to her really since she was in her late teens.

She puts a lot of effort into her foundation and trying to help, especially young women, young girls in high school, sometimes junior high, about trying to navigate those really tricky years. It’s tough to do that while you’re playing. I never really found a good balance of trying to play and trying to do outside stuff, but I think it really brings her a lot of joy and a lot of peace to know she’s really trying to make a big difference in young people’s lives.

Q. Question about Ash Barty: This week I think Ash now has 117 weeks at No. 1. She’s tied with Justine Henin. She has 110 weeks consecutively, as well, which is like fifth all time. And every time I post this stuff on Twitter I get a lot of negative comments like the pandemic and the way the rankings went to a two-year system has significantly changed the way the rankings are and that people are trying to take her down a notch. I wanted to ask you, as someone who held a top ranking for 98 weeks, how can we quantify her amazing achievements over the last few years? Is she in a special category? Is the jury still out in terms of where she’ll rank in the tennis pantheon?

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: Yeah, I think everything the pandemic threw at us was uncharted territory. I think everybody did the best they could, and I think that the adjustments that all sports had to make, especially tennis, as well, with the ranking system, were the correct ones. She, for me, is absolutely legitimate, 117 weeks or whenever it starts turning over.

I spoke about Paula Badosa a couple of minutes ago. You could say the same thing about Ash Barty and watching her all of a sudden graduate to becoming so comfortable on the big stages and believing in her game and also realizing what her game could do to opponents and how much it could disrupt them, how she uses her shots to play to the pattern she wants to play to get the shots she wants to play.

She’s going to go down as obviously one of the great players.

I always question how long is she going to play. I don’t think we’ll see her playing very — like as long as some other players. I just personally don’t believe she’s going to be playing in her 30s. She seems like she is a homebody that really wants — doing what she loves to do right now but wouldn’t hesitate for one second to stop doing it if she wanted to do something else, which you can do nothing but respect.

So we’ll see how many Grand Slams she can kind of accumulate, how many more weeks she’ll get to. I think right now she’s in a wonderful position on tour with just how she plays because nobody else plays like her. She creates so many problems for the other players. They haven’t solved how do I handle a slice backhand considering I really only see it when I play her, and she’s really taking advantage of that.

Forehand is one of the big weapons on tour. She’s the smartest server out on tour, most complete all-around player. Just has so many things going for her that the other players just haven’t figured out how to solve yet.

Q. I wanted to ask about what’s happening in the world around us here. You saw Svitolina play in a tournament the other day after initially saying she wouldn’t face a Russian opponent, we’ve seen the various international tennis bodies say that Russians can play, and Belarusians as well, but without their flag and without identifying country. What kind of emotional state does this bring to a tournament? Indian Wells is going to be noteworthy for so many reasons, but this is kind of the first big tournament since this whole political situation, since Russia invaded Ukraine. There’s going to be a lot of emotional moments here. How will that affect what we’re going to see?

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: Oh, so much so. I mean, who was not brought to tears with Yastremska’s story. I teared up — I’m tearing up now just seeing her say goodbye to her parents and even just winning her match. This is so much more than the sport. There’s so many people involved that we all know, on both sides truly. It’s absolutely heartbreaking for everybody, especially for the players obviously from the Ukraine, for Svitolina who has family there still.

You know these players aren’t sleeping at night. You know their energy is worried about everything going on back at home. Yastremska even spoke about how she doesn’t know what she can do after this tournament in Lyon, considering she now has her 15-year-old sister to take care of.

And also for the Russian players that really have nothing to do with this. For Medvedev, could there be a worse week he got the No. 1 for the first time for him? It’s been pretty crazy involved for everybody.

I think it’s going to be very emotional out in the desert. I think it’s going to be really hard for a number of players to compete, not be on empty emotionally. I mean, like everyone in the world, I just hope it doesn’t last much longer. It seems like it might, but it just seems unfathomable what is happening and what some of these people are having to go through.

Q. As soon as a player shows any promise, particularly a really young player, everybody is getting on the bandwagon. The expectations are going to be absolutely fantastic, they’re going to be top 10, going to be No. 1 in the world, they start bringing them out, doing a lot of promotions and everything like that, and often it happens that the player suffers from that, at least for a period of time. I think of Jennifer Capriati and Melanie Oudin. How do you account for that, because you get why people are enthusiastic but it’s not always helping the player to have that kind of pressure.

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: Yeah, you know, it’s so funny, I was talking to somebody a couple days ago, and they were asking me if I went to college. I said, no, I was good as a teenager, I got into the top 10, but truly what turned out to be one of the biggest blessings for me was I was the same birth year as Jennifer Capriati, and poor Jennifer, being so good so young — I mean, I was playing in the 14- and 16-and-under nationals when she was making her breakthrough on the pro tour at 13, 14, took the brunt of a lot of that — took all of the media.

Chanda Rubin and myself were the same age, so we got to sit back, develop our games, get a taste of what it’s like to play on the pro tour, kind of figure out was this something we both wanted to do, how did we feel about it. We spent a lot of time together but didn’t have to face that kind of stuff.

I always say it was the biggest blessing for me ever.

It’s a lot. It’s so much for these players, and we’ve seen players who have great teams around them still struggle with everything that goes with being a successful super talented player, especially on the WTA. Even with teams that have gone through it before, when it becomes being more than just about the tennis — everyone who’s good in the juniors is doing it because they absolutely love to play. Something drew them to the sport when she were most likely under 10. It takes a certain kind of personality to want to be in an individual sport, kind of assume all that pressure, assume the responsibility, practice the same shot a thousand times a day with no one else cheering you on, like teammates or anything, and that’s why you do it, because you love to play.

Then all of a sudden you’re introduced to a lot more than just tennis and how do you balance that, how do you figure out what’s important.

That is one of the big conundrums in the sport is trying to keep these young ladies because a lot of them are teens. We’re going to see with Emma, how do you keep them focused, not consumed by everything else going on.

Some teams do well; Maria Sharapova was amazing at handling all that. Other players got lucky; they got better when they were older. Li Na comes to mind; she was much older, much more mature when she had to handle becoming a global superstar. I think that probably helps a little bit.

But unfortunately we’ve seen too many great young talents kind of crumble under whether it’s the pressure or all the commitments, and that’s something that needs to be lessened, and that falls on the people around the player and trying to help guys them.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Joey Dillon