Focused Clijsters Beats Kenin In WTT Showdown

WASHINGTON, July 16, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

If only Kim Clijsters and Sofia Kenin could have predicted the future 15 years ago. Back in 2005, a young and precocious six-year-old, Kenin, met her idol, Clijsters, at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne, Fla., the former site of the Miami Open (known then as the NASDAQ-100 Open). Clijsters gave Kenin some valuable tips on what it would take to become a professional tennis player. She showed her protege around the stadium court – even introduced Kenin to Andy Roddick.

“She was this cute, little, young adorable girl with the sweetest voice,” Clijsters recalled in an interview with WTT broadcaster Nick Gismondi about meeting Kenin. “She was intrigued by tennis and so entertained by everything going on. She was a star in the making.”

Now, Kenin, 21 and ranked No. 4 in the world, won her first Grand Slam at this year’s Australian Open and her career has taken off very nicely in the past 12 months. Meanwhile, Clijsters, 37, a former No. 1 in both singles and doubles, has come out of retirement for the second time and is showing the competitive fire that enabled her to win a total of six major titles – four in singles and two in doubles.

Both Kenin and Clijsters are in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia this month playing World TeamTennis for the Philadelphia Freedoms and New York Empire, respectively. On Wednesday afternoon, they faced each other in a first-week WTT showdown – and guess what? Clijsters showed she’s still got game.

During their 22-minute set, which followed mixed doubles, and women’s and men’s doubles, Clijsters won 14 of 15 first-serve points and fired four aces – including two during her service hold in the sixth game – that gave her a 4-2 advantage. It happened after Clijsters broke Kenin in the third game, thanks to serving back-to-back double faults. Then, Clijsters bookended a couple of nice forehand winners around a pair of unforced errors by Kenin that won her the set, 5-3, and increased New York’s lead over Philadelphia to 20-14.

Soon, teammate Jack Sock closed out the Empire’s victory with a 5-3 set win over Taylor Fritz to give New York a 25-17 triumph that leveled its season record at 1-1. The loss was Philadelphia’s first and dropped the Freedoms to 2-1.

“We knew it was going to be a tough battle out there today,” said Clijsters during a post-match interview. “I think we were a little bit extra focused and ready to take it from the beginning of each set. It was a great team effort.”

Clijsters’ victory against Kenin improved her win-loss record in singles to 2-0 on the young season and it represented Kenin’s first loss after earlier wins over Jennifer Brady and Caty McNally.

“I think it helped me that I had the mixed doubles already,” said Clijsters, who teamed with Neal Skupski to win 5-4 over Taylor Townsend and Fabrice Martin that set the tone for the remainder of the afternoon. “I was on point and able to return and serve in a match situation. I served really well today. I think that was the biggest difference.”

Ein: Hopeful, pragmatic for Citi Open

In an interview with Tennis Majors’ Simon Cambers, Citi Open owner Mark Ein talks about preparations and protocols as well as fears and responsibility in the age of Covid-19, as the ATP Tour prepares to restart in Washington, D.C., in four weeks. While Ein is hopeful, he’s also pragmatic, too. “The only thing that (might stop it) is the travel issues; can people get in and out of the country?” 

Svitolina sticking to Europe

Elina Svitolina, who advanced to the finals of the bett1ACES exhibition tournament in Berlin this week suggested on Tuesday that she will bypass the US Open next month and remain in Europe with an eye towards playing on clay.

Kermode named Vice Chairman of PTO 

Former ATP chief Chris Kermode has been named Vice Chairman and member of the Board of Directors of the Professional Triathletes Organization.

Boulter advances to Progress Tour semifinals

Katie Boulter of Great Britain, the top player remaining in the injury-plagued Progress Tour Women’s Championships at Roehampton, made quick work of Emily Arbuthnott to reach the exhibition tournament semifinals. The former World No. 82 and British Fed Cup player needed just 70 minutes to win 6-1, 6-3. The 374th-ranked Boulter broke the No. 946 Arbuthnott in each of her first five service games and put away the match on her first match point opportunity.

Boulter joins No. 289 Jodie-Anna Burrage in the semifinals and they will face each other on Thursday to decide who wins their group. Burrage defeated Alice Gillan 6-1, 6-0. Top seed and 254th-ranked Katie Swan, who retired from her first group match on Tuesday, withdrew from the remainder of the tournament with a right hip injury.

Three: A different kind of podcast

With plenty of time to pass during the global pandemic and the tennis lockdown that has ensued, there is no shortage of audio and video podcasts devoted to tennis. Most of these are very good about promoting themselves via social media when new episodes have dropped. One video podcast that debuted last week is Three, hosted by Gill Gross and featuring writer and International Tennis Hall of Fame historian Joel Drucker and Amy Lundy Dahl, director of film at The Tennis Congress.

Gross, host of Monday Match Analysis, said in the show’s promotional video, “We want to create the kind of show that you can go back to at any time. We’re going to be tackling big topics that have to do with the Big Three.”

The show’s title Three is a reference to the “Big Three” of men’s pro tennis – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Ironically, the debut episode was devoted to three-time major champion and “odd man out” Andy Murray.

Dahl: “I’m interested in the bigger picture of where these guys stand in society and what they represent to people.” Drucker: “These guys are the titans of the sport, the icons of tennis. … Everything can be played out through these three.”

Appreciating Bethanie-Mattek Sands’ volleys

Naomi Osaka – Not throwing away her shot 

Greatest wheelchair tennis rally ever?

Celebrating IPC Wheelchair Tennis week 

What they’re sharing on social media

Priscilla Hon and Daria Gavrilova / As much as I would like to play …

Sofia Kenin / How does she do that?