Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Here we go again....

In 2022, Hailey Baptiste, in an interview in Charleston, told Pam Shriver that every shot in tennis was executed better by ATP players. (She also revealed that he'd named her pet after one of the ATP's kings of sexism--a man who was given a pass throughout his career for that sexism.) No one noticed. Well, I did, and I reported on it, but Baptiste was/is hardly a tennis household name.

Now world number 2 Aryna Sabalenka has revealed that she prefers to watch men' tennis; she stated that there was more strategy in the men' game and that she finds it more interesting to watch. Now three (so far) camps have formed on X: those who think that Sabalenka has betrayed the WTA, those who think that' it's ridiculous to ever watch women's tennis, and those who think that women' tennis is fine, but that it's more exciting to watch players who are faster and stronger.

The second camp has always been with us and always will be. But, as I said to someone in the third camp (and yes, it was a total waste of my time to say it), the belief that stronger and faster, i.e., male attributes, are "better" is a a product of socialization. What if we were taught that crafty and flexible were "better"? Or that the greatest skill lies in playing while sitting down and rolling on wheels? 

The second camp (and perhaps some in the third) rely on the "a man could beat Serena Williams" argument. Well, duh. Men are physically stronger--haven't they heard? The reason that I hated the Battle of the Sexes and wish that Billie Jean King had never participated in it is that it promoted the idea that tennis is tennis, when actually, men's and women's tennis are very different from one another. King shouldn't have had to defeat a man to prove that she was an elite athlete. Yet the same people who like to remind us that men and women are different seem to forget that when it comes to sport.

I wish that Sabalenka hadn't said what she said, but she's never had much of an editor, so it wasn't a surprise. I've never believed that stronger and faster is "better;" my favorite player of all time to watch was Aga Radwanska. I appreciate and enjoy (most of the time) hard hitting, but I don't consider it to be superior hitting. 

I used to watch a lot of ATP matches, but I don't now--not because of the tennis--which I enjoy--but because so many of the players are so sexist, and I don't enjoy watching people who consider me inferior.

The Sabalenka comment will be a thing for a while, and then fans and so-called fans will move on to something else. But the belief that male attributes are always superior to female attributes will, I'm afraid, not fade away.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

The Elegant Assassin leaves the game

Two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza has retired from professional tennis. This wasn't a surprise; the Spanish star has been on an extended leave from the game, and has strongly hinted that she might retire soon. Muguruza won the French Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2017. She won a total of ten singles titles, including the 2021 WTA Finals, and reached a singles ranking of number 1. Muguruza also won five doubles titles, and reached a doubles high ranking of number 10. She was on the Spanish Fed Cup team from 2015 to 2019, and was on the Spanish Olympic team in 2016.

Muguruza, who was born in Venezuela and moved to Spain when she was six, could be a bit of an enigma in terms of her persona. She sometimes appeared rather sullen on court, but then we would see her bringing her spirited (and in-form) dance moves to TikTok. She was, in my opinion, also a WTA fashion icon. In the 2020 off-season, Muguruza followed in the (metaphorical) footsteps of Amelie Mauresmo, and climbed a mountain.

Muguruza sustained an injury early in her career that set that career back a bit, but she came back strong and fulfilled the promise evident in her game. The Spaniard's combination of power and fluidity was special. She could take control of a match against any player, and she could make it look so easy, as though she were one with the court on which she stood. 

In addition to winning the French Open and Wimbledon, the Spanish star was a finalist at Wimbledon in 2015 (lost to Serena Williams), and she was an Australian Open finalist in 2020 (lost to Sofia Kenin).

Since 2017, Muguruza has served as an ambassador with Room To Read, a global non-profit that focuses on literacy and girls’ education in historically low-income communities. In announcing her retirement, Muguruza said that she has joined the Laureus World Sports Academy as an ambassador.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Some final words from the 2024 Credit One Charleston Open champion

Danielle Collins (photos by Daniel Ward)

"...I think for women with endometriosis, what I seem to have learned--and I'm not a medical expert, but I've talked to a couple of different people in the field--is that a lot of people are under the impression that painful periods are normal. Sometimes they can be normal, but sometimes they can be something more, and I just really encourage people to talk to their medical provider and to go annually to have their annual
gynecological exam. 

"I think it's really important that you communicate with those medical professionals and every once in a while maybe get a second opinion if needed. There's never any harm in doing that. And I've been really fortunate and lucky, I think, with the ability to have access to great medical staff and people that really listened to my concerns and took me seriously. I don't think it's always like that for all women, and especially in this country, we have a lot of health inequity."

Yeah, I feel like...one of my personal strengths starting at a young age was the problem solving. I remember I used to look at my dad during matches and I'd be like, 'dad, like help me!' And my dad's like, 'you know, you're going to figure it out.' You have to learn how to problem solve and think for yourself.

And I think that's something that I use to an advantage. I've, of course, had lots of people that have helped me along the way, coaches, physios at times. And I've had a lot of great instruction over the years. There've been periods [when] I've worked with people consistently. There've been people that have been here for six months or a year and have helped me...."

Danielle, to do this, no coach, no physio. You get in the car and drive up here and win this tournament. It's an amazing thing. Are you kind osurprised at yourself that you were able to do this coming off that long week in Miami?

"Yeah. I mean, I guess I'm just a low-maintenance gal, right?"

Only one survivor remains on Danielle Island

Danielle Collins (photos by Danielle Ward)

Sixty-four women competed in the Credit One Charleston Open main draw this week on Daniel Island, but--in the end--there was only one woman standing, and--to no one's surprise--that woman was Danielle Collins. Collins, who was unseeded, drove--with neither a coach nor a physio--to Charleston from Miami where, incidentally, she had just won the Miami Open. Winning two consecutive tournaments is a feat in itself, but winning a hard court tournament and then immediately winning a clay court tournament is another thing altogether.
photo by Daniel Ward

Collins dropped only one set the entire week, and that was to defending champion and 2nd seed Ons Jabeur, in the second round. Her very aggressive play took her past Paula Badosa, Jabeur, 2016 champion Sloane Stephens, 11th seed Elise Mertens, 3rd seed Maria Sakkari, and finally, 4th seed and 2017 champion Daria Kasatkina, whom she defeated 6-2, 6-1 in the final. The new champion is now on a thirteen-match win streak.
Daria Kasatkina and Danielle Collins (photo by Daniel Ward)

Quincy with Danielle and Dasha (photo by Daniel Ward)

One never likes to think that there's an inevitability about how a draw will turn out. This is tennis, and all kinds of things can happen--injuries, sudden, unexplained "flatness" on the court (e.a., Charleston in 2018), fatigue, and just plain big upsets. But as the week wore on, it did become increasingly hard to believe that anyone could stop Collins. Yesterday, before the second semifinal between Collins and Sakkari, Kasatkina was asked to give her thoughts about the upcoming match, and she said, "Collins is killing everyone, so we'll see." This morning, after the doubles final, Sloane Stephens remarked that "Danielle is smokin' everyone--she smoked me."

Collins had the highest first serve win percentage--72.73--of anyone who competed. She also won the most service games--84.21%, and she hit 21 aces in six matches (Taylor Townsend, who played only three matches, hit 29 aces). It should also be noted that on Thursday, Collins had to play two matches because of Wednesday's weather.

Sloane Stephens and Ashlyn Krueger (photo by Daniel Ward)

Collins wasn't the only winner today. Ashlyn Krueger and 2016 singles champion Sloane Stephens won the doubles title, defeating Lyudmyla Kichenok and Nadia Kichenok 1-6, 6-3, 10-7. Both teams were unseeded. This was the first doubles title for the team, and the first doubles title for both players.

l to r: Lyudmyla Kichenok, Nadia Kichenok, Sloane Stephens, Ashlyn Krueger (photo by Daniel Ward)

Some final thoughts before the final match at the Credit One Charleston Open

Daria Kasatkina (photo by Daniel Ward)

"So if you want to be--if you want to compete on the good level, you have to always improve things. And I am one of the players who needs to--so if I want to compete, I have to be always on the highest level of my ability. So I have to be always in the best shape, which is tough to keep it all the time. But that's what I am trying to do all the time."
--Daria Kasatkina



 "I feel like I've been asked a lot of times, do you think because you announced your retirement, you're playing more freely? I think when that's being said, it's kind of like a vague thing or assumption to kind of make because it's easy to say, oh, well, she's retiring at the end of the year, so she must be playing so freely. But the reality is is that I've made improvements each match, and a lot of those improvements have  been technical, tactical. Athletically, there are things that I've improved, not remendously, but little by little. And I think it's important to highlight those things."
--Danielle Collins (photo by Daniel Ward)

Saturday, April 6, 2024

We have finalists in Charleston!

Daria Kasatkina (l) and Danielle Collins (photos by Daniel Ward)

Today, 4th seed and 2017 champion Daria Kasatkina and Danielle Collins advanced to the final of the Credit One Charleston Open. Kasatkina upset top seed Jessica Pegula 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (5) in a well-played, momentum-swinging match that lasted two hours and 47 minutes. Collins defeated 3rd seed Maria Sakkari 6-3, 6-3.
Maria Sakkari (photo by Daniel Ward)

Collins is now on a twelve-match streak after winning in Miami and reaching the final in Charleston. She has show no sign of either physical or mental fatigue throughout her week in Charleston. Kasatkina has played some of her very best tennis this week, and both women have provided delightfully entertaining interviews and press conferences all week long.

Daria Kasatkina (photo by Daniel Ward)

"Danielle is, I think, playing the best tennis of her career right now," Kasatkina said of her upcoming opponent. "She's fearless. When she feels her game, she's one of the most dangerous players on tour, and she definitely feels it right now. She's in I don't know how many matches winning streak. So it doesn't matter that she was changing the surface. She doesn't care, it seems like." Earlier, at the Tennis Channel Desk, before the second semifinal, Kasatkina said that "Collins is killing everyone, so we'll see."

Jessica Pegula (photo by Daniel Ward)

Collins said of Kasatkina: "She's one of my favorite players to watch because she makes these matches so interesting. The way that she plays and her tennis IQ, how creative she is on court is phenomenal. I think against Daria I have to be very flexible. She has just about every tool in her toolbox. She can hit big. She can hit with shape. She can hit slices. She can come into the net. She does everything very, very well. She serves and returns well. She mixes up her pace. She's just solid all over. And so it's going to be a battle, and I have to be ready to play a long, tough match, if that's what's needed."

Kasatkina has a 2-1 record against Collins; they have not played each other since 2021. Here are the players' paths to the final:

Daria Kasatkina
round 1--bye
round 2--d. Ashlyn Krueger
round 3--d. Anhelina Kalinina
quarterfinals--d. Jaqueline Cristian
semifinals--d. Jessical Pegula (1)

Danielle Collins
round 1--d. Paula Badosa
round 2--d. Ons Jabeur* (2)
round 3--Sloane Stephens
quarterfinals--d. Elise Mertens (11)
semifinals--d. Maria Sakkari (3)

*defending champion

Friday, April 5, 2024

Maria Sakkari advances to the Credit One Charleston Open semifinals

Maria Sakkari (photo by Daniel Ward)

3rd seed Maria Sakkari advanced to the semifinals of the Credit One Charleston Open tonight when she defeated 9th seed and 2021 champion Veronika Kudermetova 6-2, 6-4 in the day's last quarterfinal.

"I played really well, probably the best match I've played here," Sakkari said. "Obviously the more I play on clay, the more I get used to the surface, and just felt very confident today while I was playing, and yeah, I knew it was going to be tough, but I just trusted myself."

Veronika Kudermetova (photo by Daniel Ward)

Sakkari will face off against Danielle Collins in the semifinals. The Greek star has a 2-1 record against Collins; they have not played each other since 2022. 

photo by Daniel Ward
In the other semifinal, top seed Jessica Pegula will play 4th seed and 2017 champion Daria Kasatkina. Pegula has a 2-0 record against the Russian star.

In doubles, wild cards Ashlyn Krueger and Sloane Stephens have reached the final. They defeated Olivia Nicholls and Heather Watson in the semifinals. As of this writing, the other semifinal, Lyudmyla Kichenok and Nadia Kichenok upset top seeds Nicole Melichar-Martinez and Ellen Perez 7-6, 6-7, 13-11.