Women’s Tennis (Re)Opens In U.S. – Albeit Just For The Weekend

WASHINGTON, May 22, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

The UTR Pro Match Series presented by Tennis Channel, dubbed the “(Re)Open,” returns this weekend with three days of women’s play featuring Americans Alison Riske, Amanda Anisimova and Danielle Collins, and Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia, all ranked in the Top 60. Play begins Friday afternoon at Noon EST (5 p.m. London, 6 p.m. Central European) and continues through Sunday in West Palm Beach, Florida, on a single hard-court surface located on the grounds of a private residence. It is the first women’s pro tennis event in the United States since the sport’s lockdown began in early March due to the global coronavirus outbreak.

If Tennis Channel‘s production this weekend is similar to the men’s UTR Pro Match Series of two weeks ago, there will be plenty of close-ups from court side, reverse angles, cameras attached to jibs from behind and looking down from the baseline – even cameras attached to drones that capture high overhead looks that one does not ordinarily see during tour events.

As Tennis.com writer Steve Tignor explained earlier this week:

“It’s not a tour event; the scoring system is experimental; they’ll have to retrieve their own balls and towels; and the only fan in attendance may be a cow. But it’s a chance to play tennis, a chance to get off Zoom, a chance to earn some money. For us, it will be a chance to re-connect with their games and personalities.

“None of these four are currently worrying about their Grand Slam totals, and none were on a hot streak right before the lockdown. Ranked from No. 19 to No. 56, they represent the WTA’s vast, ever-shifting middle ground. They’ve all had ups and downs, breakthroughs and setbacks – some more serious than others – over the last few years, and all are at slightly different stages of their careers. Judging by their social-media accounts, they’ve all been going through the same emotional phases – a mix of fear, boredom, and goofiness – as the rest of us during the lockdowns.”

Friday’s order of play begins with No. 28 Anisimova versus No. 51 Collins followed by No. 19 Riske against  No. 56 Tomljanovic and concludes with Riske facing Anisimova.

On Saturday, play resumes at Noon EST with Riske versus Collins, then Anisimova against Tomljanovic and concludes with Collins facing Tomljanovic.

Play wraps up Sunday with third-place and championship matches starting at Noon EST. All matches will be televised by Tennis Channel and Tennis Channel International plus the UTR Facebook page. Tennis Channel‘s Steve Weissman and Lindsay Davenport will provide commentary and analysis remotely from Tennis Channel‘s studios in Los Angeles.

During group play, matches will use a best-of 3 “Fast-Four“ format. On Sunday, it will also be best-of-3 full-sets with the the third set being a 10-point super tiebreak.

Anisimova, 18, who won her first career WTA Tour title last year at Bogatá and became the youngest American to win a title since Serena Williams in 1999, was asked during a pre-tournament press conference on Wednesday what positives she has drawn from the quarantine. She said: “I think this time has given us a lot of free time to reflect on our lives and see what we’re grateful for and to take a step back. I mean, obviously, it’s difficult, but you can try to look at in in a positive and that’s what I’ve tried to do during this time. 

“It’s been really difficult not playing in tournaments at all and not knowing when we’re going to play again. So, it’s nice to see (the UTR) is following a lot of safety protocols and we’re going to feel comfortable and I’m really excited to play.”

GQ Japan: A message of hope from Naomi Osaka

Japan’s Naomi Osaka graces GQ Japan with 連載:希望へ、伝言 – “A Message of Hope.” The cover art was drawn by Naomi’s older sister Mari. Naomi, born in Japan to a Haitian father and Japanese mother, has been shuttering in Los Angeles during the tennis lockdown, where she has recently been featured in Glamour and interviewed by CNN. In her GQ Japan “message of hope,” she begins:

“Of course, life is not the same as it was a few weeks ago, and may never be the same. However, it has been amazing to see the human spirit and how much we all care for one another. It has made me value my relationships with family, friends and my team even more than ever before.

“I have spent a lot of time reflecting, but also reminding myself of how lucky I am to have my career. And I am more focused than ever to enjoy my tennis when the Tour returns. 

“…The most challenging part of course is not being able to play tennis. I have played tennis almost every day for as long as I can remember. For the first few days of social distancing, it was definitely refreshing not to have to pick up a racket… But now I miss tennis so much. I miss the competition and the daily grind.”

Behind The Racquet – Elina Svitolina

Earlier this week, World No. 5 Elina Svitolina became the latest to pen a first-person essay for Noah Rubin‘s Instagram series Behind The Racquet. The 25-year-old native of Odessa, Ukraine, who is spending her hiatus in the Swiss mountains with her boyfriend and fellow tennis professional Gaël Monfils, came to realization as she improved her game and became a Top 10 player she was putting too much pressure on herself.

“No matter what you are ranked, you always want more. When I was number 30 in the world, I thought, ‘If I am in the Top 10 I will be happy,’ but when I found myself in the Top 10, I was crying after losing matches. It never ends and it’s never enough,” writes Svitolina.

However, once Svitolina learned to pave her own way – to trust her abilities –she learned she could overcome the toughest moments.

“I learned to enjoy every match, even the toughest battles,” writes Svitolina. “I have been a Top 10 player for over three years now. It is important to maintain a consistent frame of mind and I have brought this to my game as well.”

Svitolina, who achieved a career-high ranking of No. 3 in September 2017 and has been ranked in the Top 10 for three consecutive years, started the abbreviated 2020 season with a 9-5 win-loss record. Just before the coronavirus shutdown, she won a title in Monterrey, Mexico. Svitolina has 377 career victories and has won 14 singles titles.

“Tennis gave me everything I have today,” writes Svitolina. “I’m very fortunate to have chosen tennis as my profession because it taught me so much. Tennis taught me discipline, introduced me to great people and showed me unbelievable places. I do not take these things for granted. Tennis gave me my life.”

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“Compared to the other players, my journey has been gradual. I was always moving one step at a time, trying not to lose the momentum of improving my game. I played the $10,000 events, then the $25,000 events, and slowly started getting into Grand Slams. Then I was playing on the biggest stages and trying to break into the Top 10 but I put too much pressure on myself. No matter what you are ranked, you always want more. When I was number 30 in the world, I thought, ‘If I am in the Top 10 I will be happy,’ but when I found myself in the Top 10, I was crying after losing matches. It never ends and it’s never enough. I learned to enjoy every match, even the toughest battles.⁣ ⁣ When I was transitioning to the professional circuit, there was a lot of doubt. People expect you to improve quickly and you compare yourself to other players who are the same age but ranked higher. You have this negative voice in your head but you have to put doubts aside and work hard every single day.⁣ ⁣ I think the toughest thing was that my parents were involved in my tennis. No matter where I played, they always followed. My parents wanted me to win every match. At a certain point, it’s important for every parent to step away and my parents realized this five years ago. When my parents stopped traveling with me, I didn’t count on them anymore. If I lost a match, I only blamed myself and through this process, I found my own way.⁣ ⁣ I still think about my childhood sometimes. Perhaps it could have been better if my parents hadn’t pushed me so hard. Yet these tough moments made me the person I am today. I have been on the road from a young age. It was challenging but when I thought about what I wanted to achieve, it motivated me. I would reset goals every few years so it did not feel like a constant cycle of traveling and losing, because I lost almost every week. Playing in front of crowds and winning tournaments gave me energy and motivation.⁣ ⁣ Tennis gave me everything I have today. Tennis taught me discipline, introduced me to great people and showed me unbelievable places. Tennis gave me my life.” @elisvitolina⁣ ⁣ Go to behindtheracquet.com for extended stories, podcast and merch.

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What they’re saying

• World No. 8 Matteo Berrettini of Italy, during a recent Eurosport Italy “Call-azione” show, expressed the opinion that tennis professionals should not be put in the position where they are helping subsidize their fellow pros with financial aid. He said: “I took a moment to reflect on my priorities, not because I don’t respect the other players, because I believe that no player – in any kind of sports – should be put in the position of helping another player financially. I think that this responsibility belongs to the federations, ITF, ATP, WTA … they are the ones who make tournaments happen, and us, the players pay them back with our performances. They have to take care of us. The real problem is deeper.”

Caroline Garcia of France, currently ranked No. 46, was asked this week on Tennis Channel Live on what it meant to win the 2019 Fed Cup for France: “It gave me motivation to go back to the practice courts, go to back to training and push myself and say…’that’s why I’m doing it.’”

Marin Cilic of Croatia, who won the 2014 US Open over Kei Nishikori for the only Grand Slam title of his career, told Reuters this week that “It would not be the best scenario” should this year’s US Open be played in front of no fans. He likened it to playing practice matches. “It’s always going to be … in the years to come, ‘oh, you know that guy won a US Open in 2020 without fans’. I don’t think it’s going to have that weight.”

What they’re writing

Simon Cambers, British freelance tennis writer, wrote on Twitter Thursday: “Should have been heading for Paris today to get ready for @rolandgarros and even though we knew it was coming, it still feels really sad not to be going. Something very special about Paris and Roland-Garros, especially in May and June.”

What they’re podcasting

On this week’s Racquet Magazine Podcast, host Rennae Stubbs interviews Hall of Fame great Chrissie Evert on fame at an early age and living in the tennis bubble, among many topics.

What they’re sharing on social media

LTA / Small acts of kindness 

Iga Swiatek / Different perspectives 

Karen Khachanov / A Happy Birthday