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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Kontaveit upsets Bianca Andreescu in Eastbourne

Anett Kontaveit knocked Bianca Andreescu out of Eastbourne.

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Anett Kontaveit (@ribella96 - Twitter)

The Estonian beat the Canadian on Center Court in straight sets in an hour and six minutes.

 

Anett Kontaveit only needed 66 minutes on Center Court to dispatch the world number seven and the third seed at the tournament Bianca Andreescu 6-3, 6-3 firing 16 winners while the Canadian hit 28 unforced errors.

“I thought I played a really good match today and I was consistent throughout the whole match and I feel like I kept my level up and played some good tennis”.

It was the world number 27 with the aggressive start earning the first breakpoint of the match in the opening game with a stunning forehand winner and on the following point ripped a forehand return winner to take a 1-0 lead.

The Canadian was keen to bounce back and earned her first breakpoint the following game with a backhand winner up the line and broke right back to go back on serve.

The Talinn, Estonia native once again responded by breaking right back and this time was able to consolidate the break until 3-2 when once again the Toronto native broke again to level the first set at 3-3.

Once again the Estonian broke Andreescu serve to take another lead and at 5-3 had two set points set up by a powerful backhand winner and took the first set 6-3 in 31 minutes.

The second set started with both players holding serve for the first three games until the 25 year old earned three more breakpoints and got the first break of the set.

After that it went back on serve until 4-2 when the Canadian once again had two chances to go back on serve and she broke when the Estonian struggled with her serve.

Again the resiliency and the determination of the Estonian kept her going and she broke right back the following game and served out the match. In her post match press conference she was asked how she was able to keep bouncing back in the face of adveristy.

“I think I am a pretty good returner and she is as well so sometimes it’s difficult when the other person so consistent hitting deep returns off your serve so I just tried to stay with it especially in the second set and she never gives up so I had to keep playing and be ready for it”.

Kontaveit will now face the Swiss player Viktorija Golubic who pulled off another upset beating the number six seed and fellow Swiss player Belinda Bencic.

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PTPA Outline Vision After Appointing Executive Director And Advisory Board

The PTPA has announced a new executive director and advisory board.

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The Professional Tennis Players Association has outlined their vision for the future after appointing an advisory board and an executive director.

 

Vasek Pospisil made the announcement last night as he and Novak Djokovic look to secure a legitimate players voice at the tennis political table.

In the main core of the statement they announced the make-up of the PTPA’s backroom board, “PTPA co-founders Vasek Pospisil and Novak Djokovic have named Adam Larry executive director, enlisted Carrie Gerlach Cecil to lead Brand and Communications and appointed Bill Ackman, Michael Hirshfeld, Rebecca Macdonald, Katarina Pijetlovic and Anton Rabie to its Advisory Board,” the statement read.

“Created by the players for the players, the PTPA is an integrated association for professional tennis players. The PTPA movement is uniting and mobilizing tennis players in order to create transparency and fairness throughout decision-making in professional tennis.”

The move is an interesting one as up until now it was a mystery as to what the PTPA’s strategy was and who was involved so far with there being no idea from the ATP or WTA’s side what the PTPA was trying to achieve.

Now there is an advisory board there may be sharp movement and progress made into how the PTPA can secure more player-related decisions in Tennis and ensure that there is a level playing-field in terms of decisions affecting the players.

In the statement Vasek Pospisil, Novak Djokovic and new executive director Adam Larry all gave strong hints about the PTPA’s future vision as they look to challenge the establishment in providing change for tennis.

“With the establishment of our advisory board, our branding and communications team and the appointment of Adam Larry as executive director, we have taken one step closer to toward our goal of facilitating a fair and sustainable competitive environment for tennis players today, and for generations to come,” Pospisil said.

“We are working toward growth to help all players, not just the top 100, to make sustainable livelihoods and have their rights protected on and off the court. From top to bottom, we must use our collective voices to help players today and tomorrow,” stated world number one Novak Djokovic.

“The PTPA wants to work with all of the tennis governing bodies to inspire collective reform to better the sport,” new executive director Adam Larry claimed.

What comes next for the PTPA nobody knows but this new board means that business is expected to pick up very quickly in the latest twist in the political tennis game.

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Novak Djokovic Confirmed For Olympics But Del Potro Pulls Out After Medical Advice

The Serbian will be bidding to win gold in Tokyo later this year for the first time in his career.

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This year’s Olympic tennis tournament has been given a boost after officials confirmed world No.1 Novak Djokovic will be playing at the Games.

 

The 19-time Grand Slam champion had been contemplating whether to play at the event or not amid ongoing COVID-19 conditions. Djokovic previously said he would reconsider travelling to Tokyo if fans weren’t allowed to attend. Since that comment, organisers have given the green light for up to 10,000 domestic fans to attend Olympic venues. Although foreign fans are banned from attending this year due to the pandemic.

Amid questions over Djokovic’s participation, the Serbian Tennis Federation has told Sportski Zurnal that he has pledged to play. It will be the fourth time the 34-year-old has represented his country in the Olympics. So far in his career, Djokovic has only won one medal which was bronze back in 2008. He also finished fourth in 2012.

“Novak has confirmed his desire to participate in the Olympic Games and we have already sent a list with his name on it to the Olympic Committee of Serbia. It will be forwarded from there,” the Tennis federation told Sportski Zurnal.

As it currently stands Djokovic is on course to achieve the calendar ‘golden slam.’ A rare achievement where a player wins all four Grand Slam titles, as well as the Olympics, within the same year. In singles competition the only person to have ever achieved this was Stefi Graf back in 1988.

“Everything is possible, and I did put myself in a good position to go for the Golden Slam,” Djokovic said after winning the French Open
“But, you know, I was in this position in 2016 as well. It ended up in a third-round loss in Wimbledon. This year we have only two weeks between the first round of Wimbledon and the finals here, which is not ideal because you go from really two completely different surfaces, trying to make that transition as smooth as possible, as quickly and efficiently as possible.
“So obviously I will enjoy this win and then think about Wimbledon in a few days’ time. I don’t have an issue to say that I’m going for the title in Wimbledon. Of course, I am.”

Del Potro’s comeback delayed again

There is less positive news for Juan Martin del Potro, who was the player who beat Djokovic to win a bronze medal back in 2012. The Argentine hasn’t played a competitive match on the Tour since June 2019 due to a troublesome knee injury. Back in March the former US Open champion said playing at the Olympics again was motivating him during his rehabilitation.

However, since then progress has been slower than what Del Potro would have liked. As a result, he has been advised not to play in the event and continue his recovery.

Delpo won’t be able to play the Olympics Games. The knee rehab is going well according to the doctor’s plan but he suggested Juan Martin to go on with his rehab process and training, and skip Tokyo 2020,” a statement from Del Potro’s communication team reads.

Since 2010, the former world No.3 and two-time Olympic medallist has undergone eight surgeries.One on his right wrist, three on his left wrist and four on his knee. He has won a total of 22 ATP titles so far in his career.

The Olympic Tennis event will start on July 24th at the Ariake Coliseum.

RELATED STORY: Why Are So Many Tennis Players Skipping The Olympics?

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