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.

Danielle Collins extends her streak to eleven matches and advances to the Credit One Charleston Open semifinals

Danielle Collins (photo by Daniel Ward)

She did it again. Miami champion Danielle Collins defeated 11th seed Elise Mertens 6-3, 6-4 in the third final of the day at the Credit One Charleston Open. Following the match, Collins said that earlier this year, and toward the end of last year, she was playing well and had some close matches. "It's just like the difference of 'this much' in some of those outcomes, and the margins can be so slim, especially in these long three-set matches. And when sets are going 7-5 and 7-6 -- and I had a lot of those last year--and it was just a few points here and there. So now I'm kind of dealing with those situations when the sets get closer, like, a little bit better, and I feel like I'm also doing some things in the beginning of the matches, too, where I get off to a good start, and that's working in my favor."
photo by Daniel Ward

"...it was a no-brainer to come here," Collins said of coming to Charleston straight off of her Miami victory. "I also felt good physically, so it was kind of like, let's just try to keep it rolling and see how I do."

Elise Mertens (photo by Daniel Ward)

One tiebreak, nine match points--top seed Pegula wins a "really crazy match"

Jessica Pegula (photo by Daniel Ward)

Not to be outdone by Dasha Kasatkina and Jaqueline Cristian, number 1 seed Jessica Pegula and number 12 seed Victoria Azarenka put on their own thrill show in the second quarterfinal of the day at the Credit One Charleston Open. The match, which lasted two hours and 36 minutes, brought out the best in both players, and the third set tiebreak brought fans to the edges of their seats.

Victoria Azarenka (photo by Daniel Ward)
Pegula took the first set 6-4, Azarenka took the second, 6-3. The third set was as tense as a set could be, and after breaking Azarenka toward the end, Pegula went up 5-3 and served for the match. But Azarenka saved four match points, then made it 5-all. Pegula then had a quick, easy hold, then Azarenka took the match to a nerve-wracking tiebreak. This time, it was Pegula who saved four match points, then won the tiebreak 9-7.

After the match, Pegula said that "That was a really crazy match--really, really crazy....to be honest, I wasn't feeling that great. It was really windy. I was like, ugh, I'm tight. It's windy. It's not helping. Like you don't want to make stupid errors, but you want to still kind of like play your game, and the wind amplifies the nerves like ten times...."

Pegula went on to say that she was trying not to feel like she had given up. "I think I was just trying to stay calm and be like, okay, let's just see what happens, and luckily that was good enough today." The top seed summed it all up best, however, when she signed the Tennis Channel camera WTF?

photo by Daniel Ward

Matches don't get much better than this--Kasatkina wins the first quarterfinal of the day

Daria Kasatkina (photo by Daniel Ward)

They held very long rallies. They zinged balls into the corners. They hit lobs, they spun against the wind, they hit more (successful) drop shots than I could count. 4th seed Daria Kasatkina and Jaqueline Cristian put on a show that had everyone in the stands excited inside the Credit One Stadium on Daniel Island in today's opening Credit One Charleston Open singles quarterfinal. 

Jaqueline Cristian (photo by Daniel Ward)
Cristian, who is unseeded, was somewhat of a surprise quarterfinalist. She had defeated both 2019 Madison Keys and 10th seed and hometown favorite Emma Navarro. And--in a first set that lasted an hour--the Romanian player came from behind several times to win the tiebreak 7-4. Kasatkina won the second set 6-2, and the third set 6-3. However, these were all very competitive sets that featured thrilling, high-quality tennis from both women. The match, which lasted two hours and 42 minutes, will be remembered as one of the best matches of the tournament (maybe even the best)

Kasatkina, who won the tournament in 2017, will next face either top seed Jessica Pegula or 12th seed Victoria Azarenka. Kasatkina and 2021 champion Veronika Kudermetova are the only two former champions who are still in the draw.

photo by Daniel Ward

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Danielle Collins plays two matches in one day and extends her match win streak to ten

Danielle Collins (photo by Daniel Ward)

It was a busy day for Miami champion Danielle Collins. She had to play two singles matches at the Credit One Charleston Open because most of yesterday's play was rained out. This morning, Collins played her second round match against defending champion and 2nd seed Ons Jabeur, and won it, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3. It was one of those matches in which the crowd was more or less cheering for both players; Charleston fans are very big on Collins, but they also have strong positive feelings for Jabeur.

After the match, Jabeur said: "I think it was up-and-down match. I mean, it's tough to play players that have confidence, and Danielle is playing really good. I wish I could get the win today, but I feel like already taking a set from her was a good start....It's obviously sometimes very, very difficult when she returns very well. You don't know if you need to hit hard the ball or you need to make more serves in. And sometimes it's really frustrating when you think you serve really well and she has a good return."

This evening, Collins took out 2016 champion Sloane Stephens, 6-2, 6-2, and advanced to the quarterfinals. In the first round, Collins defeated Paula Badosa.

In other "catch up" second round play, wild card (and 5th seed) Beatriz Haddad Maia defeated Caroline Dolehide, Elise Mertens defeated Varvara Gracheva, Elina Svitolina defeated Daria Saville, and Sloane Stephens defeated Leylah Fernandez for the first time.

Veronika Kudermetova (photo by Daniel Ward)

In the remaining round of 16 matches, top seed Jessica Pegula defeated Magda Linette, Victoria Azarenka defeated Taylor Townsend, 3rd seed Maria Sakkari defeated lucky loser Astra Sharma, and Daria Kasatkina defeated Anhelina Kalinina. 2021 champion Veronika Kudermetova defeated Beatriz Haddad Maia, and Elise Mertens defeated Elina Svitolina. 

Jaqueline Cristian (photo by Daniel Ward)

Local favorite Emma Navarro lost to Jaqueline Cristian, who had already defeated 2019 champion Madison Keys. Cristian defeated Navarro 6-3, 5-7, 6-1; the match lasted almost two and a half hours. It should be noted that Cristian had a first serve win percentage of 74.

Cristian, who is ranked number 83 in the world, has reached only one other clay court quarterfinal--Palermo, in 2021.

Here is the quarterfinal singles draw:

Jessica Pegula (1) vs. Victoria Azaarenka (12)
Daria Kasatkina (4) vs. Jaqueline Cristian
Veronika Kudermetova (9) vs. Maria Sakkari (3)
Elise Mertens (11) vs. Danielle Collins

Two long-time media volunteers win 2024 Charleston Open Volunteers of the Year award

Sal Kindel (l) and Lynn Coursey (photo by Daniel Ward)

This year’s Credit One Charleston Open Volunteers of the Year, Lynn Coursey and Sal Kindel, both volunteer for the media at the tournament, and some of us have known them for many years. Coursey, in fact, has a bit of a media cult following because of her “She’s…here!" introduction as each player enters the the room for her press conference.

Coursey and Kindel (photo by Daniel Ward)

Both Coursey and Kindel have worked as Charleston Open volunteers for a long time—Coursey for 20 years, and Kindel for 18. “We both started out as just regular volunteers,” Coursey explained, and the two ladies who were leading it when I moved up to be co-chair—one of them left. Nancy asked me to move up—she got shift leader, so I moved up. When Nancy got the job at the clubhouse, Sal moved up.”

Kindel became involved as a volunteer when her daughter was on the ball crew. She started at the ticket office, then—when there was a shortage among media volunteers—she was invited to cover for a week, and she never left.

Coursey’s story is different. She moved to Daniel Island in order to play tennis at the Charleson Open facility. “The second year when I came around, they had a little fan thing downtown, and all the players were on the stand, and it was just so much fun. I took a day off from work and volunteered with the USTA, and fell in love with it.” That was it for her—she became a tournament volunteer.

“It’s like a camp,” Coursey said. “You meet the same people every year, but you look forward to seeing them again.” “And it’s like you never left,” Kindel added.

Coursey’s favorite part of media volunteering is “seeing how it works, what it takes to make it work and make it work so well.”

“The people, for sure,” Kindel added, as her favorite part of volunteering. “And getting to see tennis up close.”

The two honored volunteers have many great memories of their time with the media, but—when asked to single out one or two—Kindel chose the infamous 2017 hailstorm evacuation. The media used to be housed in a temporary building we called the media tent, and when strong thunderstorms would come along, it would shake. In 2017, there was a hailstorm in addition to the thunderstorm, and we were told to evacuate, but first, we were given trash bags to wear to protect us from the rain. We were a sight.

Sal serving peak trash bag fashion (photo by Diane Elayne Dees)

Her other choice was “Jankovic, when we were in the clubhouse during the storm. She was going from table to table, thanking everyone, and sharing a gift. Very, very gracious.”
Coursey’s standout memory was also about Jelena Jankovic. She got to interview the Serbian star about what she would do if she were a volunteer. (JJ fans—I know that your imaginations are running wild right now.)

“I can’t imagine not being here,” Coursey said, and Kindel agreed: “People don’t understand why we take five days off of work.”

Both women said that anyone thinking about volunteering for media duties should just “give it a try” for “just one day,” and it would become clear why they take on the job year after year.

“I was on the subway in New York, going to the U.S. Open with my swag on,” Coursey recalled, “and a girl across the subway, from Georgia, saw it and asked me about it, and literally, the next year, she signed up—because I was on the subway.”

Although the media volunteers don’t regularly see each other outside of the tournament, they do get together for dinner before the event, and they have a party when the tournament is over. “I wouldn’t have found all the friends that we’ve made doing this,” Coursey said.

And as a member of the tennis media, I can attest to the fact that this year’s Volunteers of the Year recipients are more than worthy of the honor.They and their fellow volunteers do so many things for us—in the press room and in the stadium—and they do it all with style, dedication and humor.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Emma Navarro moves easily into the Charleston Open round of 16

Emma Navarro (photo by Daniel Ward)

It rained most of the day in Charleston, and play on Daniel Island didn't commence until a little after 5 p.m. All of the day matches had to be canceled, but the evening and night matches went on. 10th seed Emma Navarro, playing second on the Credit One Stadium court, defeated Katie Volynets 6-1, 6-1. Prior to tonight's match, Navarro had been 0-3 against Volynets. Next for the 10th seed is Jaqueline Cristian, who upset 2019 champion Madison Keys last night to get the biggest win of her career.

Anhelina Kalinina (photo by Daniel Ward)

Earlier in the evening, Anhelina Kalinina defeated 2011 champion Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 6-3. Kalinina changed the pace frequently, and used her deft footwork to take Wozniacki out of her comfort zone. The Ukrainian player also beat Wozniacki in Miami a couple of weeks ago. Kalinina's next opponent will be 2017 champion Daria Kasatkina, who--tonight--defeated Ashlyn Krueger 6-3, 0-6, 6-1.

Victoria Azarenka (photo by Daniel Ward)
In the meantime, lucky loser Astra Sharma defeated Lesia Tsurenko 6-4, 6-0, and Victoria Azarenka defeated Elisabetta Cocciaretto 6-1, 6-2. Also tonight, 2021 champion Veronika Kudermetova defeated wild card Shelby Rogers 7-6, 6-

As I write this, the match featuring Taylor Townsend and Ekaterina Alexandrova is still in progress.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Top seed Pegula takes the long road to the third round in Charleston

Jessica Pegula (photo by Daniel Ward)

The featured match tonight in Charleston lasted almost two hours and twenty-seven minutes, but--to observers--it sometimes felt as if it were dragging on even longer. Top seed Jessica Pegula and Amanda Anisimova experienced so many momentum swings that it was difficult to get a read on what was taking place.

Anisimova took the first set 6-3 in a pretty decisive fashion, going up 5-0 before Pegula was able to assert herself. The former world number 25 won that set 6-3, but then had to face a determined top seed. To make her job even harder, she also sustained a back injury. Pegula took that set 6-4. The third set was not unlike the second, in that the momentum swings occurred so frequently. It was also a tense set, in which Anisimova had to keep coming from behind. 

Throughout the match, Pegula was able to flummox her opponent with returns that stayed very low, and she had a consistently excellent read on Anisimova's shot placement. But Anisimova didn't make it easy for her. There was some stunning shot-making on both sides, but there were also a lot of errors. The third set, probably to no one's surprise, went to a tiebreak, which Pegula won. 

Amanda Anisimova (photo by Daniel Ward)

Later, at her press conference, Pegula confirmed that she hit as much as she could to Anisimova's forehand because "You don't want to go to her backhand. Her backhand is money. I always say I think she has the best backhand on tour....I don't really want to go there much." 

Pegula also talked about her determination to move her opponent around the court. "When she's set up, it's really tough, and she hits one of the cleanest balls out there and can really overpower you. So you definitely want to try and keep her moving as much as possible."

Also today, 3rd seed Maria Sakkari defeated Victoriya Tomova 6-3, 6-3, and 2016 champion Sloane Stephens defeated Magdalena Frech 6-0, 6-2. And Astra Sharma, who won the 2021 MUSC Health Women's Open 250 in Charleston, won her second round match against Arina Rodionova. Also winning today were Magda Linette, Elisabetta Cocciaretto, Caroline Dolehide, Ashton Krueger, and Taylor Townsend. Linette upset 13th seed Dayana Yastremska, and Townsend defeated Sofia Kenin. 

Danielle Collins (photo by Daniel Ward)

And then there was Danielle Collins. The newly crowned Miami champion had to face former world number 2 Paula Badosa, who has struggled on and off for months with a back injury. Badosa hit some very fast, powerful serves, which were often returned as fast and as powerfully by Collins, who occasionally left the Spanish star with a "What do I have to do?" expression on her face. Collins, who hit eight aces, won that match 6-1, 6-4. 

Paula Badosa (photo by Daniel Ward)

Finally, when the deejay broke out "Respect" as Jaqueline Cristian upset 2019 champion Madison Keys, it was a really special moment for the Romanian player. Cristian, making her Charleston debut, got the biggest win of her career, and her second top 20 victory. She had already defeated Elena Rybakina, who was ranked nunber 20 in the world at the time, and tonight she beat the world number 18 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Early in the evening, I enjoyed the final part of an interview that Tracy Austin, Alison Riske-Amritraj and Monica Puig did with Ellen Perez, and I stuck around to hear them talk about the singles draw. They all had really good things to say about both Emma Navarro and Danielle Collins, and Riske-Amritraj and Puig talked about their friendships with Collins. Earlier in the day, Riske-Amritraj walked into Collins' press conference and they had a reunion.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Top Charleston seeds talk with the media

clockwise, from top: Emma Navarro, Jessica Pegula, Victoria Azarenka, Elina Svitolina, Maria Sakkari, Beatriz Haddad Maia. Center: Ons Jabeur (all photos by Daniel Ward)

Seven of the top seeds participated in Media Day at the Credit One Charleston Open today, and they talked about everything from adjusting to clay courts to motherhood to their love of the tournament, as well as mental health, living in the now, and--a boat named Ons.

Emma Navarro told us that “Coming back this year, I feel like I’ve really earned my spot.” The 10th seed said that she felt like she had a level to work toward, and “I kind of took a slower approach, a slower and more gradual approach.”

“From the outside," she said, "it may seem like it happened overnight,..." but it was a deliberate progression, and one which has made her feel comfortable. Navarro said that she and her coach have taken this approach since she was 12, with her mastering one step before moving to the next.

She added that winning a title has boosted her confidence, and--while it's not her favorite thing--she's leaning into being more in the spotlight.

I am a very fighting girl.

Wild card Beatriz Haddad Maia told us about how nice it was to stay with a local family when she was in Charleston before, and she is still in touch wih that family. The Brazilian, famous for her long three-set matches, said that "I am a very fighting girl.... “I try to not think in the fatigue…I try not to expend energy on other things." Haddad Maia said that she is working on being "more constant in matches."

Vika Azarenka talked about her fondness for the tournament, and about her activism for mothers on the tour. Not all of them, she explained, have her level of financial security and they need support. She also talked about her son, who is now old enough to appreciate tennis, and how she wants to model for him the degree of hard work that is required if one is to be a serious athlete. 

Azarenka  also called for more empathy online and in general public discourse. 

She revealed that she not only refuses to look at the draw, but that she refuses to participate in any WTA draw ceremony, saying that she will do anything to help the tour except for that. “I actually despise the projections of people who are doing it…most of the time they’re wrong.” The two-time Australian Open champion said that she wants to live in the now, and she can't do that if she's looking ahead at the names of her upcoming opponents.

Jess Pegula told us that she has been working on her serve this year. She, too, talked about how much the tournament means to her, Pegula said that players are eager to give back to the event because they are so appreciative of it. And while--in some ways--the Charleston Open is a "home" event for her, she said that she also feels at home in several other locations because she has moved around so much.

Maria Sakkari told us that she likes the green clay as a transitional surface—it's like a hard court, but there is still sliding and having to be more patient. Each player was asked to report a question that they had never been asked by the media. All (but one) of them struggled with this topic, and Sakkari thought about it, rambled a bit, then told the questioner "I'll get back to you--you're here for a few days? It's a deal!"

It's not always good days....

The one player who was quick to answer the question about the unasked question was Elina Svitolina. It didn't take her long to say that she wished that more questions were asked about players' mental health. "It's not always good days...for the players," she added.

Like those before her, Switolina was quick to praise the Credit One Charleston Open, saying that she has "great memories from the amazing organization of this tournament." She also praised the Charleston crowds for their enthusiasm--not just for big matches, but even for practice sessions. "Players," she said, "are happy to be here."

Svitolina also talked about the challenges of playing on clay. "You have to always be on the front foot, " she explained, because there is "no room for a misstep." 

Asked what she--a very busy woman--does in her spare time, Svitolina answered that "I always try to use it in a beneficial way for me. I like to learn new things and discover something that I'm not good in." The Ukrainian star watches educational videos and research videos so that she can learn things that can help her with tennis, with managing her foundations, and "to be a good mom."  

Finally, we heard from defending champion Ons Jabeur. Fans may recall that, in 2022, Jabeur said that if she won the tournament, she wanted to do the photo shoot at Cypress Gardens because of its prominent place in the book and film, The Notebook. Jabeur came close that year--she made it to the final, but lost the title to Belinda Bencic. Last year, Jabeur won (with Bencic taking home the runner-up trophy), but there was no time for a Cypress Gardens photo shoot.

What should be done, she was asked, if she defends her title this year? Her latest Cypress Gardens idea? Name a boat the Credit One Ons Jabeur

It turns out that the Tunisian star visited the gardens on Saturday and may make another visit before she leaves Charleston, a city in which she said she would consider living. "When I play here, I feel amazing because the crowd, they bring something out in me."

Asked what--given the context of her injury-riddled season--it feels like to be the defending champion, Jabeur revealed that "With what's happened lately--doesn't help much."

And when asked if she has expectations for the clay season, Jabeur replied, "I hate expectations."  She added, though, that she thinks that the surface will be better for her injured knee than the hard courts have been this year. She also said that she's having "excellent practices."