For Girls’ Champion Lea Antonoplis – Memories Remain Strong After Forty-One Years - UBITENNIS
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For Girls’ Champion Lea Antonoplis – Memories Remain Strong After Forty-One Years

Lea Antonoplis returned to Wimbledon, with her husband, Ken Inouye and their daughter, Kristina, over four decades after winning the Junior Girls’ championship…

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Looking back at the events that took place forty-one years ago, one thing is abundantly clear – the world was dramatically different. In 1977, Jimmy Carter became the US President. Soon after taking office, he pardoned those who had opted out of the Vietnam War by avoiding the draft. In the Middle East, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat became the first Arab leader to visit Israel, meeting with Prime Minister Menachem Begin. The home computer became a reality. The same year, optical fiber was used to transmit television programs for the first time.

 

In the world of music, the Supremes performed their last concert in London and so did Elvis Presley, but in Indianapolis, Indiana before dying at his Graceland mansion, later in the year, at the age of forty-two. Led Zeppelin set a record when 76,229 spectators attended the group’s concert at the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan.

At the All England Lawn & Tennis Club, Virginia Wade put on a record-setting performance in 1977. She established a standard that has yet to be surpassed. Nine days before her thirty-second birthday she defeated Betty Stöve of the Netherlands, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 to win the Ladies’ singles title in the Centenary Year of The Championships. She was the last British woman to loft the Venus Rosewater Dish.

Forty-one years ago, Lea Antonoplis (now Lea Inouye) also put her name in the Wimbledon record book. The 18-year-old from Glendora, California, was a last-minute addition to the draw. Yet, she played her way to the Girls’ singles title, downing fellow American, Mareen “Peanut” Louie, 7-5, 6-1 in the final.

The semifinals was a test for both youngsters. Antonoplis edged Anne Smith, the US talent who had won the Roland Garros’ Junior Girls’ title, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. Louie was extended to three sets before defeating Sylvia Hanika of Germany, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. (In a historically significant quarterfinal victory, Antonoplis routed Claudia Casabianca of Argentina, a player with one of the game’s most theatrical names, 6-2, 6-2. In September, Casabianca would go on to win the US Open Girls’ Junior championship,)

Antonoplis, an athletic serve and volleyer, was the “Greek Freak” (at 5’5”) before the moniker was bestowed on the 6’ 11’ Giannis Antetokounmpo of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. Blessed with an effervescent personality and an ever-present grin, she had uncanny quickness and hands as skilled as a surgeon’s. Her fiery, bold skill set was highlighted by an ability to play superbly with the Wilson T2000, a racquet that very few players – other than Jimmy Connors – could use to their advantage.

She remembered, “I started playing with the T2000 in late 1975 and used it at both my Junior Wimbledons. It was very heavy (compared to today’s racquets) and powerful.  Since I was a serve and volleyer and a pretty flat hitter, it added power to my strokes. It was definitely a big help on the grass.”

Commenting on her good fortune to slip into the 1977 Wimbledon Junior Girls’ championship, she admitted, “I almost didn’t play. I was the first alternate on the US Junior Team. Peanut (Louie) and Anne (Smith) were chosen to play.  So, the first week of Wimbledon, I played the Ladies’ tournament and got to the fourth -round and lost to Sue Barker in straight sets. I had a great tournament.  But, on the middle Saturday, I was told a player had dropped out and I could play Junior Wimbledon. I moved to the dorms just like the year before. I still had no family with me and no coach to help out.  But, once I got into Junior Wimbledon, Sue Bodnar, a lady that I housed with during the Easter Bowl, (when it was played in New York), decided to fly over and watch.”  

As Frank Sinatra sang in his epic hit song “Young at Heart” – “Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you… If you’re young at heart…”

Always young at heart, Antonoplis played The Championships for the first time a year earlier. “In 1976, I went alone to Wimbledon – No family, no coach, no close friend,” she said. “My family couldn’t afford to go, so they just put me on the plane.  Mike Meissenburg, a close friend who I had known since I was twelve, had played the summer circuit in the England, and told me about a place to stay. It was a B&B – the Beaver Hotel – in Earl’s Court near the Queen’s Club. It was great because I could be near the practice courts and the tube. It was also a place I could afford. I stayed there until the end of the first week and then I moved to the dorms where they were housing the Junior Wimbledon players.

“Since my first Wimbledon was a little intimidating and overwhelming, I can’t say I remember that much about playing Natasha (Chmyreva of Russia).  I do recall that she was physically imposing and had gotten to the fourth-round in the Ladies’ tournament, so I didn’t think I could win our quarterfinal match. We played on the court in front of the big clock and it was packed, because she was a big deal and I had made a name for myself by getting to the third-round of the Ladies’. Many people thought it would be a good match.” 

The Russian won, 2-6, 6-2, 6-2, but the result really belies Antonoplis’ “it was pretty good” comment.  She continued, “It was hard to break her serve, it was just like my match with Martina (Navratilova) in the Ladies’ event. Two matches later, Natasha won Junior Wimbledon for the second year in a row. That final was the last match she ever played at Wimbledon. I never got to know her because they kept Natasha pretty secluded. This was right after Martina had defected and the Russians clamped down on Natasha. She stopped playing in 1978.”

(An aside is needed because most tennis fans have no idea who Natalia “Natasha” Chmyreva is or how extraordinarily talented she was.  In 2014, Natalia Bykanova, an outstanding Russian tennis journalist and a long-time personal friend, wrote a detailed story about Chmyreva titled “The Champion That Tennis Lost.”  In it she describes how a one-of-a-kind talent, whose career came to an end after reaching No. 13 in the world as a teenager, was literally brought to “heel” by the old Soviet system. It is a must read – http://tennis-buzz.com/tag/natalia-chmyreva/)

As mentioned, Antonoplis made “a name for herself” when she lost to Martina Navratilova 6-1, 6-4 in the third round of the Ladies’ competition at Wimbledon. “Martina was always a gracious person and I got to know her as a player and later, I worked with her when I was on the WTA board,” the former Junior Girls’ Wimbledon winner said. “Since it was so hard to break Martina’s serve, playing her was about holding your own serve.  If you didn’t serve well and didn’t get into the net, you couldn’t win. For me, playing Martina was ‘who could get to the net first?’ She had a bigger serve than me and was quicker, so my odds of winning, like everyone else’s, were low.”

Her Wimbledon success made 1976 very special, but there was more to come. “I came home and because I wasn’t a pro or a member of the WTA, I played all the summer junior tournaments,” Antonoplis recounted. “Since I was already in the US Open singles, I needed to play a warm-up tournament and I decided to go to the Tennis Week Open in Orange, New Jersey. Most of the players boycotted (the event) because Renée Richards had entered. A lot of low ranked pros and juniors played.  No one in the Top 50 for sure.  But, the press was there in force.  I got to the semis and that is when I played Renée.”

The 17-year-old triumphed 6-7, 6-3, 6-0.  Looking back on the encounter, Antonoplis said, “I can still remember playing that match like it was yesterday. She was so nice. There was no way to think of her as a villain, like the press was making her out to be (and the WTA was too).  She was so soft spoken and intelligent.  I never felt nervous about playing her, plus after watching her matches, I knew I could win.  After I did, the WTA and the press started changing the narrative.  They said that if a junior could beat her, then Martina and Chris (Evert) could for sure. Then, they let her into the US Open a few weeks later.  She was well liked by almost everyone, and I credit her for raising the awareness of women’s tennis that needed a boost at that point to move forward.”

Though Marise Kruger of South Africa defeated her 6-3, 6-2 in the singles final, Antonoplis, besides admitting that she is still in touch with Richards, added, “I must say that was the most incredible summer of my tennis career.” 

Having drawn attention at The Championships, the year before, her “she’s a player with a future” creds were validated when she reached the fourth-round in Ladies’ play, losing to Sue Barker of Great Britain at Wimbledon in 1977.

“When I got into the tournament, the adidas representative, (Claus Marten), came to me and asked if I thought I could win Junior Wimbledon and I said, ‘Yes’,” Antonoplis recalled. “So, I was given outfits to wear for the whole tournament. I never before had a clothing sponsor. It was super cool to be a kid and get that much stuff – clothing, shoes, bags, sweats, everything. It sounds funny today with all that players are given at such a young age, but it was really big then.”

Playing for a championship, as prestigious as Wimbledon, can be both exciting and nerve-racking. “Before our final, Peanut and I were moved to the Center Court waiting room before going to play on Court 1,” Antonoplis said. “Virginia Wade and Betty Stöve were also in the waiting room. It was amazing to see how nervous Virginia, who was about to play the biggest match in British history, was.  There was a Ficus tree in the room and she was pulling off the leaves as she paced around. I was just amazed to be in there with them.”

Inspired by “the act of adidas believing in me” and having Claus (Marten) and Sue (Bodnar) watching, Antonoplis was on a mission. “I really wanted to win for them,” she said. “We played next to Centre Court and it was really noisy with every point Virginia won. We finished about twenty-minutes before they ended, and I got to see the last game and watch everyone sing ‘For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow.’ The Queen, who was celebrating her Silver Jubilee, and Margaret Thatcher were there.  It was one of the more memorable moments I have ever seen at Wimbledon.  That day was one of the greatest of my life.”

(Tennis administrators are a breed unto themselves. This was very apparent in 1977 when the USTA selected Louie and Smith to play the Wimbledon Girls’ tournament and made Antonoplis a US alternate though she was higher ranked than they were and would finish the year as the No. 1 junior in the world.)

Thatcher is part of another recollection. “I remember being picked up (for the Ladies’ tournament) by the Wimbledon transportation service,” Antonoplis said. “Everyone around my B&B (the Beaver Hotel) was amazed.  At that time, the cars dropped you off right in front of the steps that lead to Centre Court entrance. I felt like a queen because all the fans watched to see who would get out of each car.  In 1977, I was in a car coming into the grounds and there was a Bentley in front of us.  Margaret Thatcher got out and stood on the steps for a minute.  I got out and was right next to her for fifteen seconds.  That couldn’t happen today.”

Analyzing her career, she offered, “I think I played my best tennis from 1976 to 1985.  After that, I had ‘off and on’ injuries that made it hard to stay in shape.  I was a serve and volleyer, with a good backhand. As I lost foot speed with age and injuries, my singles game dropped off and I played a lot of doubles with a lot of success. I made it to the WTA Championships in New York one year and was seeded at the Grand Slams.  I played with Barbara Jordan mostly.”

After playing intercollegiate tennis at USC, she became a regular on the pro tour. Following her retirement, she spent a couple of years coaching Alycia May, (a talented junior from Beverly Hills, California, who competed at UCLA for season, before joining the professional ranks). When May stopped playing, after two years, Antonoplis was approached about becoming the Head Professional at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club. She took the job, and the rest is history…

“I taught at lot of people including Hollywood movies stars and million-dollar financial advisors,” she said. “After two years, I wanted to make a change and one of the financial advisors offered me a job. I took it and have been a financial advisor for twenty-four years. I always loved studying the stock market. As a teenager, I would spend a lot of time reading about companies and investing.  I started buying my first stocks when I was 18-years-old. I still enjoy it today. I think having to make quick and educated decisions while playing tennis gave me confidence to help others decide on their investments.  I trust my instincts and my research. Tennis gave me the confidence to do that.

“This Wimbledon will be the first time I have come to the tournament since I retired in 1989.  I played singles, doubles, or both from 1976 to 1989.  So, it’s forty-one years since I won Junior Wimbledon and twenty-nine years since I last attended the tournament, and I am really looking forward to it.”

Additional Wimbledon memories are sure to ensue as Lea Antonoplis Inouye, shares her “look back” adventure with her husband, Ken and daughter, Kristina.

A visit to The Championships is guaranteed to do that.

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EXCLUSIVE: The Big Business Of Data Analytics In Tennis

Ubitennis speaks with the founder of Tennis Data company Sportiii, whose company is currently working with Stan Wawrinka’s coach Magnus Norman.

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Mike james with doubles player Ante Pavic and Tomislav Brkic at a Challenger tournament.

As tennis players head into their off-season, it is normally the same routine. A couple of days of rest followed by numerous training blocks to get them ready for the following season. They are guided by their coaches, physios and for a growing number with the help of a computer by their side.

 

With technology continuing to rapidly develop, the use of data statistics is becoming big business in the world of tennis. A method where players analyse the numbers behind their performance. Ranging from their service percentages to the average length of rallies they are playing. The idea being that their training is then customised to take into account those figures.

However, how much of a big deal is it?

Mike James is the founder of Sportiii Analytics. A company that provides detailed information on player’s strategies and patterns. They have a partnership with the prestigious Good To Great Academy in the pipeline and supply information to Stan Wawrinka’s coaching team. British-based James has more than a decade of experience in coaching and has previously mentored the likes of former top 20 doubles specialise Ante Pavic. At present Sportiii are working with several ATP and WTA players, but are unable to name them due to a confidentiality agreement.

“We are fortunate enough to be able to use Dartfish. Dartfish created a tagging part of their software package around 10 years ago. It allows us to make customized tagging panels or coding as they say in football or rugby. Essentially, we can tag or code whatever the player, coach or federation wants to look for.” James explained during an interview with Ubitennis.
“We are taking 30 KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) of information which allows us to take the data and move that into a strategy for the players and their teams to know what is working and what isn’t.”

Tennis is far from the only sport to be influenced by the rapid rise of technology. Although, is it really a necessity? During the 1980s with the likes of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, they both managed to achieve highly successful careers without detailed statistical information. Some would argue that they most important aspect is a person’s talent on the court and how they mentally cope with different situations. Not how many rallies they win in under five shots.

Although James points out that without services like his, there is a chance that player’s could be training the wrong areas of their games. Therefore hampering their own development in the sport.

“If we know the 70% of the returns are going back into the court in the men’s game, then we know the first ball after the serve is extremely important. Also, if we know that 70% of the match is between zero and four, the serve and return is vitally important.” He said.
“Players hitting 20, 30, or 40 balls in a row before they have a break. They are not training the game, they might be training the technical aspects of their game but they cannot train tactically playing this many balls without a break.”

A method for the many, not the few

There are still a few stigmas when it comes to companies such as Sportiii. Many would think this service would be something mainly of interest to coaches and nobody else. However, James reveals that this isn’t always the case.

“Of course, some coaches want to know the information, but we have players we deal with without their coaches because they are the ones interested. If it’s going to work best with statistics, numbers and strategy, you’re going to want both the player and coach fully buying in to this way of thinking. That’s going to get the best result for sure.”

Novak Djokovic has previously worked alongside Craig O’Shannessy, who is the founder of Brain Game Tennis and writes numerous statistical articles for atpworldtour.com. Meanwhile, Alexander Zverev once said ‘all the big guys are using data analysis, they just don’t like to talk about it.’ There is clearly a market, but is it only for those who can afford it?

Despite the rise of prize money earnings, the disparity on the tour remains substantial. Rafael Nadal was the highest earner of 2019 on the ATP Tour with $12.8 million in winnings. In contrast, the 300th highest earner, Federico Coria, made just over $81,000. Less than 1% of Nadal’s tally. According to one report from The Telegraph, leading agencies in the tennis data industry are selling their top packages in the region of £80,000 ($103,000) per year.

“We look to do individual tailor made packages depending on a player’s ranking, age, experience, support team, if they are funded by their federation or if they are funded by private sponsors.” James commented on how Sportiii handles the situation.
“But at the end of the day, of course the first part of a player’s budget is for their coach and then maybe the Physio. But I think having an analyst or strategy consultant is becoming higher in the pecking order for players going into 2020.” He added.

The future

James pictured with Magnus Norman (left) and Jonas Arnesen (middle)

Next year Sportii will officially begin their work with Swedish tennis academy Good To Great, which is located to the north of Stockholm. Regarded as one of the top academies in the country, it was founded by Magnus Norman, Nicklas Kulti and Mikael Tillström. Their role will be providing information to those who use the facility.

“We’re really looking to steepen the learning curve and support their academy pro team. But also help develop their junior players they have coming through.” James explained about the collaboration.
“We support their team with educational workshops and I think this is the next phrase for data analytics. That will be going into junior tennis and not just looking at the top of the game.”

The desire to focus more on the younger generation of athletes emulates that of the ATP with their Next Gen Finals in Milan. An end-of-season event that features the eight best players under the age of 21. At the tournament, they use a series of new innovative methods. Including electronic line calling, the use of a handset to speak with coaches during changeovers and wearable technology.

There is no doubt that the new generation of players is more comfortable with the use of technology. But what does that mean for the future of coaching? Would it be possible that one day the profession could be replaced by a computer instead? This could appeal to those looking to save costs, however James isn’t convinced the complete removal of the human element will happen.

“If players are more certain and confident in knowing what they need to do, in my opinion the level goes up.” He states. “Then, if the level goes up, maybe we are not at the pinnacle of the sport seeing Rafa, Roger, Stan and Novak playing video game tennis. I think we are still going to get another level of tennis in 5-10 years, which is very exciting for the sport.”

It is inevitable that technology will have a greater presence in tennis over the coming years in some shape or form. The only question is where do you draw a line?

To find out more information about Sportiii you can visit www.sportiiianalytics.com or check out their social media pages.

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Vasek Pospisil and Denis Shapovalov secure Canada the spot in Davis Cup semifinal

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Canada reach their third Davis Cup semifinals after Vasek Pospisil and Denis Shapovalov won the decisive doubles match.

 

Vasek Pospisil opened the quarter final clash between Canada and Australia with a 7-6 (9-7) 6-4 over John Millman.

Millman broke his serve in the second game of the match. Pospisil broke back to draw level to 4-4 and saved two set points to force the first set to a tie-break. Pospisil won a tight tie-break at 9-7. The second set went on serve until the 10th game when Pospisil broke serve at 5-4 to close out the match.

“I have been playing really well this week and trying to keep the momentum going. I am playing pretty relaxed, which is good. I am enjoying my time on the court after being injured, which has changed my perspective a bit, and maybe that’s helped me for the last couple of months”, said Pospisil.

Alex De Minaur rallied from a set down to beat Denis Shapovalov 3-6 6-3 7-5 drawing the tie level to 1-1.  Shapovalov converted his second break point in the fourth game to take a 3-1 lead and held on his next service games to win the first set 6-3. De Minaur earned the only break point in the second game to win the second set 6-3 forcing the match to the decider. De Minaur broke Shapovalov to take a 6-5 lead and sealed the match on his second match point.

Pospisil won both his second match of the day when he teamed up with Shapovalov in the doubles match. The Canadian team beat John Peers and Jordan Thompson 6-4 6-4.

“This is unbelievable. We have a great team and we had the potential to get this far, but the guys put their hearts on the line this week. They are playing unbelievable tennis, and they wanted so bad to play unbelievable tennis. I am so proud of them”, said Canadian captain Frank Dancevic.

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Andy Murray’s Presence In Davis Cup Quarter-Final Clash Undecided

Will the former world No.1 be chosen to play or not?

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MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 16: Andy Murray of Great Britain during a training session of Davis Cup by Rakuten Madrid Finals 2019 at Caja Magica on November 16, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Mateo Villalba / Kosmos Tennis)

Great Britain’s bid to reach the last four of the Davis Cup could take place without three-time grand slam champion Andy Murray amid his current fitness on the court.

 

Murray, who is the only British man in the Open Era to reach world No.1, was absent from his team’s clash with Kazakhstan on Thursday. Instead the duty was down to Kyle Edmund and Dan Evans. Edmund was in impressive form as he downed Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3, 6-3, but Evans was edged out in three sets by Alexander Bublik. Leaving it down to the doubles pairing of Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski to clinch the crucial win to claim the overall 2-1 victory.

“I had every confidence in Kyle, saw firsthand what he was playing like indoors in Paris and what he’s been doing in practice. I thought he was going to play well, and he did play well, he played really well.” Team captain Leon Smith told reporters in Madrid.
“Then Evo (Evans) again was totally in the match, a bit like yesterday, bar a couple of points.’
“And then Jamie and Neal got into a great head space again. And the doubles players expressed themselves. And I think that’s where, you know, it is an advantage for us in these situations.”

The Brits have topped their group with two out of two wins after beating the Netherlands earlier in the week. Their reward is a quarter-final meeting with Germany, who has three top 100 singles players and two top 20 players in doubles. However, it is uncertain if Murray will be present in the tie after recently admitting that he is not in his best form. Saying he had ‘lots of cake and junk’ following the recent birth of his third child Teddy.

“I told you guys I wasn’t feeling in the best shape coming in, and it showed a little bit in the match,” Murray said earlier in the week.
“The weight and things like that, that’s my fault. I won’t put myself in that position again.
“If you’re weighing four or five kilos more than you’re used to, that is probably going to affect how you feel moving around the court.”

The frank admission has placed Smith in a predicament concerning who to play in the quarter-final clash, which only features a total of three matches. The tie will not take place until tomorrow afternoon. Meaning a final decision on Murray will likely occur tomorrow instead of this evening.

“It’s important after five weeks of not playing any competitive tennis that you play a match. It wasn’t his ideal match at all, but it was a match nonetheless, and that gets you going again, it gets you going.” Smith said of Murray.

Meanwhile, Germany is keeping quietly confident over their chances of ending British hopes. They have already scored wins over Argentina and Chile in the group stages. It has been 26 years since they last won the Davis Cup trophy.

“I think this new format is a little bit closer, the nations are a little bit closer together. So we have actually a very, very good doubles team, and I think every other nation knows that. So they are a little bit tight also against us to win both singles.” German captain Michael Kohlmann said.
“We are going to prepare the best and hopefully our singles guys and everybody’s fit and ready to play tomorrow.”

The upcoming tie will be the first meeting between the two countries since 1973.

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