Tales from the International Tennis Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony - UBITENNIS
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Tales from the International Tennis Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

The Original Nine highlighted a poignant ceremony during which Conchita Martinez and Goran Ivanisevic were celebrated as well

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The Original Nine at their Hall of Fame induction (Credit: @WTA_insider on Twitter)

Since 1995, I have attended every International Tennis Hall of Fame induction ceremony. This span has covered more than a quarter of a century, and for me it has always been one of the highlights of the season to be in Newport, Rhode Island, for the festivities. I witnessed Chris Evert’s induction in 1995, saw Jimmy Connors accept his honor three years later, observed John McEnroe giving his singularly lengthy speech in 1999, and was there when Martina Navratilova entered the shrine in 2000.

 

A cavalcade of superstars followed in the ensuing years including Ivan Lendl in 2001, Mats Wilander the following year, Boris Becker in 2003 and then Stefan Edberg and Steffi Graf in 2004 as the Hall of Fame celebrated their golden jubilee year. Summer after memorable summer on the weekend after Wimbledon, players with big names and prodigious achievements stepped forth to claim the highest honor in the game. Yannick Noah and Jim Courier were recipients in 2005, Gabriela Sabatini and Pat Rafter followed in 2006, and Pete Sampras broke down in tears as he joined the Hall of Fame in 2007. Four years later, Andre Agassi took his place among the immortals. Leading women players Lindsay Davenport, Amelie Mauresmo and Justine Henin were recognized for their accomplishments from 2014 to 2016. Kim Clijsters and Andy Roddick were the headliners in 2017, when I had the good fortune to be inducted as a contributor for my lifelong dedication to tennis journalism. And then across the next couple of years Michael Stich, Helena Sukova, Li Na and Mary Pierce moved into their home away from home, landing in Newport.

Last year, the pandemic prevented the ceremony from being held, and so this time around there was a combined ceremony for the classes of 2020 and 2021. In my view, for many reasons, this year’s celebration was among the most poignant and powerful that I have ever seen.

After a scorching afternoon, the skies turned gray and the fog rolled in, but that only heightened the drama and vast appeal of the proceedings. Fittingly, it all commenced with the arrival of the “Original Nine”. For the first time in Hall of Fame history, a group was honored for their contributions as if they were an individual, and no one among the cognoscenti of tennis would dispute that these magnificent and audacious women were fully worthy of the honor they were receiving.

On September 23, 1970 in Houston, Texas, the nine female competitors—Billie Jean King, Rosie Casals, Nancy Richey, Kerry Melville Reid, Judy Tegart Dalton, Kristy Pigeon, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Peaches Bartkowicz, and, last but surely not least, Julie Heldman—signed one dollar pro contracts with the estimable promoter and World Tennis Magazine founder Gladys M. Heldman.

They played their first tournament at the Houston Racquet Club which was sponsored by Virginia Slims and offered $7,500 in prize money. They were in defiance of the governing bodies of their countries, knowing they were risking suspensions and potentially having their careers severely disrupted, realizing that they might find themselves erroneously labels as outlaws by the male establishment of tennis. Yet they refused to be swayed from their convictions that women deserved equal treatment in tennis rather than prize money that went eight to one against them and sometimes was even worse than that when compared to the men.

By 1971, a full fledged circuit was in place for the women. King established herself as the first female athlete ever to earn $100,000 in a year. In 1973, the women were paid equal prize money at the U.S. Open with Margaret Court and John Newcombe both taking home $25,000 as the champions. Women’s tennis flourished thereafter, largely because the “Original Nine” had paved the way for them.

In any event, seven of the nine players were assembled in Newport the weekend before last, with Dalton appearing on Zoom and warmly addressing her fellow players and the audience. Richey was not present but even her decision not to show up in Newport could not diminish the deep enthusiasm all of the others shared in knowing how much they had contributed to not only women’s tennis but women across the board in society as a result of what they did 51 years ago.

King spoke first at the ceremony and put into context what the “Original Nine” had done to shape the future of their sport. As she said, “The nine of us along with our fearless leader Gladys Heldman had one vision for the future of women’s tennis. We wanted any girl if she was good enough to have a place to compete, to be recognized  for her accomplishments and not only for her looks, and most importantly to be able to make a living playing professional tennis. Today’s women professional players are living a dream. Women’s tennis is the leader in women’s sports.”

Next up at the podium was the taciturn Kerry Melville Reid, eternally shy and ever modest. Reid was a perennial world top ten player who won the Australian Open in 1977. This Australian star spoke fondly about winning the Virginia Slims tournament in Newport fifty years ago, taking the title over Francoise Durr after upending King in the semifinals. The final went to 4-4 in the third set tiebreaker so it was simultaneous match point for both players, but Reid held her nerve to secure the victory. She reflected, “Looking how far women’s tennis has come since then, I am really proud to have been a part of that… I thought if it is good enough for Judy and if Billie Jean is doing this, they are putting their careers on the line. So I decided to join the Original Nine and I am really happy that I did.”

Kristy Pigeon followed Reid in the speaking lineup. This left-handed American dynamo came out of California, possessed a big serve and adventuresome game, and was the No. 8 ranked player from the U.S. that landmark season of 1970.

Pigeon recollected, “In 1968 I broke into the international tennis scene. At that time women played on the back courts ad women’s sports were trivialized. That same year at age 17, I became the top junior in the world by winning the Wimbledon and U.S. titles. I set a new goal and that was to go to college, play on a team and receive a scholarship. No such thing. The phone didn’t ring. Then in 1970 Jack Kramer [tournament director of the Pacific Southwest tournament in Los Angeles] got aced by nine women. We were misfits, trouble makers, rebels. So we were just crazy enough to change the world of tennis. I am proud of our efforts that led not only to a broader range of opportunities for women players, but also for other sportswomen and collegiate athletes as well.”

One by one, these distinguished members of the “Original Nine” were conveying their thoughts with originality, humor and verve. Ziegenfuss was no exception to that rule. Ranked seventh among Americans in 1970, she was first rate in singles but even better in doubles.

Always known for her salt of the earth persona and a fundamental decency, Ziegenfuss spoke from the heart and did an excellent job of defining who the “Original Nine” are and what they have meant to the sport.

She said, ‘This award means our story is officially part of tennis history for ever and ever, and it means for generations to come my relatives will be able to trace their bloodline back to me and discover our group’s contribution to the world—that is fun. Just think: we grew up with white tennis balls, wood rackets, one tennis magazine (World Tennis) and no Stan Smith tennis shoes.”

That line drew considerable laughter among those seated at the ceremony, including from Smith himself. He is the President of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and was the world’s best player in 1972 when he won Wimbledon, but is perhaps best known now for his Adidas tennis shoe that bears his name. He was more than willing to smile freely at Ziegenfuss’s gentle humor.

Ziegenfuss continued, “What is even more amazing is we’re older than the internet, color television, personal computers and cell phones- not to mention our friend Alexa. And, by the way, Alexa knows who we are and even pronounced Bartkowicz ad Ziegenfuss correctly. Talk abut we’ve come a long way baby!”

Becoming even more philosophical, Ziegenfuss said, “The game of tennis has always given to me more than I could ever give back to it. The game prepared me for adulthood, it gave me skills to earn a living and gave me friendships to last a lifetime. Tennis has always been there for me. It is part of my past, my present and hopefully my future. It has given me so much joy playing it, coaching it, following it and parenting it. I am very proud that my daughter Allison Bradshaw played the women’s tour for three years. Maybe one day her children, Mathew and Ashley, will follow in our footsteps.”

After Ziegenfuss wrapped up her thoughtful speech, it was time for Julie Heldman to address the public. Julie was raised by the great Gladys Heldman and thus grew up with the game and with her mother’s overriding passion—World Tennis Magazine. Julie was ranked second in the United States in 1969. She reached the top five in the world as well. She was among the most cerebral players of her era and later became an outstanding television commentator.

Her speech was in my view the best of all. Her words resonated not only with me but anyone out there who wanted complete clarity on the significance and ultimate impact of the “Original Nine.” Heldman was remarkably eloquent and even lyrical.

She said, “I feel thrilled and profoundly honored that the Hall of Fame is inducting us as a group and acknowledging our contributions to women’s tennis and to women everywhere. By now most of you have seen the iconic photo of our group taken in Houston in 1970, just before the start of the groundbreaking tournament that we have come to celebrate. The photo shows eight top women tennis players grinning and raising one dollar bills alongside my mother, the architect and engineer of the early tour. She is no longer with us but we remain grateful for all the miracles she pulled off.”

Heldman explained why she was not in that famous photo. “I hadn’t planned to compete in Houston because at that time I was so deeply wounded physically and mentally that I couldn’t compete in a tournament for another five months. But I, like the other eight women, understood the importance of the moment. And when I heard that my pals and rivals were taking a risk for women’s tennis, I  jumped in to join them. So I competed in Houston by playing just one point out of solidarity to stand up against the male denominated tennis associations that were threatening our right to earn a living. Billie Jean King and I went out on a side court and after a few moments of pity-pat tennis I intentionally hit the ball into the net— an act that that was totally foreign to my nature.”

As Heldman added, “Once we cemented the deal by shaking hands at the net, our group became the ‘Original Nine’. The nine of us were rebels but we were not alone. The Houston tournament could only accommodate eight players, but plenty more women would have taken the risk if they only had the opportunity. Sure, it is true that not every woman player chose to join us right away but lets not forget that soon after the tour got underway women players arrived in droves from around the world, ready to stand together. Without that kind of solidarity the tour might have fizzled out quickly. The Original Nine are being honored today for our courageous stand but also as the symbol of all the early competitors on the women’s pro tour who banded together for the present and future of women’s tennis.”

Nearing the end of her lucid, enlightening and far reaching speech, Heldman said, “This honor has been 51 years in the making, but it remains exquisitely timely. Since 1970, vastly increased numbers of girls and women have participated inn sports and many have excelled.  And once again the sound of rebellion is in the air, spearheaded by the women’s National Soccer Team, but repeated throughout women’s sports, echoing our long ago demand to be respected and paid for doing what we did best. By honoring the “Original Nine” today the International Tennis Hall of Fame is sending a message to female athletes in all sports. The message is ‘keep fighting. Your time is coming.’”

Heldman’s address soared mightily from beginning to end, and so Casals was following a very tough act. But Rosie— who along with King and Richey had already been inducted in Newport previously for her individual accomplishments—made her presence known with her usual spunk and sincerity.

“I am frightened to death of all these speeches,” she said. “And I am supposed to be the closer. So I am going to close this wonderful evening.”

She congratulated some of the 2020 inductees and thanked Ilana Kloss for her role in helping the “Original Nine” get the recognition they deserve. Then Casals said, ‘Thanks to all of you for completing our journey and allowing the “Original Nine” once again to make our history in the game that we have loved and helped shape into the future. To my warriors who stood tall and invincible so long ago so women’s tennis could be what it has become— the showcase for women’s sports. One last time—I am proud to stand with them and before all of you as a humble believer that anything is possible if women stand together.”

The time had become to hear from Lucy Garvin, former President of the USTA and a longtime friend and admirer of the late Dennis Van Der Meer. Van Der Meer was elected as a contributor to the class of 2021, and deservedly so for his singular role as a teaching professional over the decades. Van Der Meer was regarded universally at the “teacher of teachers” and in his industry no one was more highly regarded.

Gavin closed her speech by saying, “The genius of Dennis Van Der Meer is very clear. He was a brilliant coach, a revolutionary in his thinking, a true visionary and a mentor to thousands including myself. He was the teacher of teachers. His greatest gift was his love of people and the game of tennis. He is what Hall of Famers are all about, truly an icon.”

Goran Ivanisevic at his Hall of Fame induction (Credit: @atptour on Twitter)

After Van Der Meer’s widow and critical partner on and off the court Pat thanked Garvin and the Hall of Fame for the honor, Raquel Giscafre appeared on Zoom to present Conchita Martinez. Giscafre was the top ranked player from Argentina in the 1970’s and established herself as one of the premier tournament promoters on the WTA Tour starting in the mid-1980s.

She saluted Martinez for her multitude of successes. As Giscafre said of the Spanish stylist, “She was in the top ten in the world for nine years in a row. In 1995 she was ranked No. 2 in the world. She was the first Spanish woman to win Wimbledon in 1994, beating the great Martina Navratilova in the final. She reached the final at the French and Australian Opens and was at least a semifinalist in every Grand Slam. She also won four consecutive Italian Open titles.”

Giscafre lauded Martinez for leading Spain to five Fed Cup triumphs, for becoming the first Spanish woman to be captain of their Davis Cup team from 2015 to 2017, and for serving as Fed Cup captain from 2013 to 2017. And then Giscafre spoke of the great courage displayed by Martinez.

Martinez was true to her character— understated, dignified, appreciative, and honorable. She was terrific.

“It is a great honor for me to be here today and to be a part of world tennis history,” said Martinez. “It is my first time here [in Newport]. It is just an amazing feeling and something I will treasure all of my life.”

Eventually she spoke of the joy she found in winning Wimbledon 27 years ago. She said, “When asked by journalists and fans during which title is the most special to me, I have no doubt it is Wimbledon. I had mixed feelings about playing on grass at that time, probably because Spanish players did not have much experience of playing on this surface. But every year I improved my game on grass, working hard and accepting that I had to change things to get results. And, boy, did I get great results. I am so proud to have been the first Spanish woman to take the title home. The memory of playing against and defeating Martina Navratilova— who was going after her tenth championship at Wimbledon— will stay with me forever.”

She spoke of her pride in simultaneously being captain of both the Fed Cup and Davis Cup teams in her country and of playing for her country, which she clarified was never easy. “The responsibility is huge,” she said. “You feel you are carrying the hopes of your country on your shoulders.”

As she wrapped up her remarks, Martinez said, “This wonderful sport has given me unforgettable moments, moments that require dedication, sacrifice, effort, patience, positivity, optimism, and, above all, belief in yourself. If you want your dreams to come true, these words must become part of your daily life.”

And so it all would end the only way it could, with the 2001 Wimbledon champion accepting his honor with grace, humor and reverence. Ivanisevic—who also made it to three other finals in the 1990’s but lost twice to Pete Sampras (1994 and 1998) ands once to Andre Agassi (1992) was introduced by John McEnroe on film. McEnroe said, “Can I just say at the top—- I love Goran Ivanisevic and I am absolutely thrilled to induct someone at the International Tennis Hall of Fame who is arguably crazier on the court than I was. But here’s the truth— he has been great for the sport of tennis…The bottom line is this—both on and off the court Goran did things his way and we could certainly use more players like him.”

Ivanisevic— who reached a career high of No. 2 in the world —was deeply touched by McEnroe’s introduction of him. He then said, “42 years ago I started this journey from a little town of Split in Croatia and today 42 years after I am in Newport.”

He had to talk about his fans and how frustrating he made it for them. Ivanisevic said, “It was not easy to be my fan. Wow! It was frustrating and sad. Probably a lot of people got divorced because of me. But for sure one thing—it was entertaining to be my fans.”

He spoke briefly about an outstanding Croatian journalist named Neven Berticevic who had been kind to him in print across the years, proclaiming, “Thank you, Neven, for writing every beautiful word about me.”

And then Ivanisevic gave a heartfelt salute to his parents for all they did to shape and guide him through the years. “And now,” he said, “the most important thing—the two most important persons in my career, my Mom and Dad, two people who sacrificed their health and career and gave me unconditional love for me to succeed. Mom and Dad—there are not enough thank you’s, not enough words that I can say or do for everything what you have been doing for me. And if I have to go again on this trip I gonna choose you again to be my Mom and Dad and we go through it together again. I love you and thank you for everything.”

Ivanisevic mentioned his three kids and his wife, spoke movingly about his country and amusingly about Wimbledon for giving him a wild card in 2001 that led to a long awaited triumph on those lawns, and left the stage having made everyone who was there delighted they had witnessed his induction.

It was an outstanding ceremony and one of the most enjoyable I have ever seen. It brought out the best in a good many people and gave us all an even deeper appreciation for those who were elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. I am already looking forward to 2022.

___________________________________________________________________________

Steve Flink has been reporting full time on tennis since 1974, when he went to work for World Tennis Magazine. He stayed at that publication until 1991. He wrote for Tennis Week Magazine from 1992-2007, and has been a columnist for tennis.com and tennischannel.com for the past 14 years. Flink has written four books on tennis including “Dennis Ralston’s Tennis Workbook” in 1987; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of the Twentieth Century” in 1999; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time” in 2012; and “Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited”. The Sampras book was released in September of 2020 and can be purchased on Amazon.com. Flink was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2017.

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The Generation Inspired By Serena Williams

On Tuesday Williams revealed for the first time that she will begin to step away from the sport after a career lasting more than two decades. Throughout her career she has helped shaped the women’s game into what it is now.

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Image via https://twitter.com/WTA/status/1557532696972238856/photo/3

It is fair to say that the landscape of women’s tennis wouldn’t be what it is today if it wasn’t for Serena Williams and her sister Venus.

 

It was during October 1995 that Williams made her WTA debut as a 14-year-old who was thrashed 6-1, 6-1, in her opening match in the qualifying draw at the Quebec Open. As the years passed she went from being an unknown name to one of the most successful female athletes in the history of sport. An athlete can rarely evolve into an entire brand but Williams was one of the few who has managed to do so.

In 1999 she claimed her first of 23 Grand Slam titles at the US Open where she became the first Black woman to win a major tennis event in the Open Era. Before her, the last to do so was Althea Gibson 49 years earlier. Little did she know at the time that among those watching her rise on the Tour would be some who ended up being her rivals.

Her legacy is more than her being Serena. I started playing because of her. I’m sure there’s so many other girls that started playing because of her, so she literally built champions,” Naomi Osaka told HBO’s The Shop in 2021.

Osaka was one of the many players who managed to take on Williams on the Tour after growing up idolising her. They have played against each other five times with the most memorable clash occurring in the final of the 2018 US Open which was marred by controversy involving Williams and a run-in with the umpire.

“When she broke me in that one game and I had to try and save break points. I was like ‘What would Serena d– Oh, she’s right there.’ Oh wait, what am I doing?” Osaka revealed afterwards.

Williams, who turns 41 next month, was at one stage unbeatable in the sport due to her sheer power. At her highest she won 34 matches in a row during the 2013 season and spent a total of 319 weeks as world No.1. She has won 73 titles on the WTA Tour, including an Open Era record of 48 on hard courts alone.

“I’ve learned a lot from them [Serena and sister Venus]. People always tell me that you’re going to be next whatever blah blah blah and Serena has been considered the GOAT for at least the second half of her career and she never succumbed to that pressure,” America’s Coco Gauff told reporters in Toronto earlier this week.
“I think she overcame it and I think that’s something I take from her and try to learn from it. Not that I’m at her level and experiencing the same pressure she is, but in the moment I try to emulate that.
“For me, I grew up watching her. That’s the reason why I play tennis and tennis being a predominantly white sport it definitely helped a lot because I saw somebody who looked like me dominating the game and it made me believe I could dominate too.”

One of the most striking things about Williams is that her influence on the sport has been in various ways. She inspired many non-white players in her home country to take up tennis. Some argue that the all-African American final at the 2017 US Open between Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys was a product of the Williams sister’s effect. Others have been inspired by her ability to form a successful business portfolio outside of tennis, the fact she returned to the sport after becoming a mother or her stance on campaigning for equal rights. The bottom line is that Williams appeals to many people for various reasons which Keys once summarized.

“Venus and Serena Williams were both huge inspirations for me to play tennis. What they’ve done on court is incredible. What they do off court in business, helping other girls and championing for equal pay is also so inspiring. They motivate me to do and be my best,” Keys wrote on Twitter in 2019.

Emma Raducan recently praised the length of Williams’ career. Later this month she will play in her 81st Grand Slam main draw 24 years after making her debut at the 1998 Australian Open. There is almost a 21-year gap between her winning her first WTA title (February 1999) and her last (January 2020).

“It’s incredible her career. She has achieved so much,” Raducanu said. “And to see her around in this US swing is really inspiring. She keeps playing because she obviously loves the game.
“That longevity of a career is something that a lot of the players, me especially, aspire to achieve.”

As the likes of Osaka, Raducanu and others battle it out on the Tour, Williams has taken a backseat in recent months. In an eloquently written article for Vogue Magazine, she explains that the term retirement is a phrase she struggles to use. However, this will most likely be happening at this year’s US Open. She conceded it is time to move on and the desire to grow her family made competing as a professional athlete no longer feasible.

You know that at one point she’s going to retire. But when she actually is going to announce it, it’s just shocking. Because you think these kinds of players will play forever,” Bianca Andreescu commented.
“She’s not afraid to be herself and to show all her emotions on the court, off the court, what she stands for. I know she’s doing a lot of things off the court as well to help inspire. It’s incredible.’
“I hope that I can achieve maybe half of what she achieved and continue on her legacy in some way.”

Williams was once asked when she thinks about being referred to as the greatest female player of all time. She responded that she would rather be considered as “one of the greatest athletes of all time.” Perhaps her legacy in tennis has nothing to do with what she has won throughout her career. Instead, it is embedded in the generations of players who have been inspired by her.

At this week’s National Bank Open Williams bowed out of the tournament on Wednesday to Belinda Bencic in what was her final match at the tournament.

“I’ve always loved playing here. And, yeah, I wish I could have played better, but Belinda played so well today.” She said during her on-court interview.
“I’m terrible at good-byes. But good-bye, Toronto.”

As for what lies ahead, the American star will play a few more tournaments before saying goodbye to life as a tennis player for good.

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Wimbledon Daily Preview: Compelling Matchups Scheduled All Around the Grounds on Thursday

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A look at the grounds of The All-England Club (twitter.com/wimbledon)

Day 4 play is headlined by top names such as Rafael Nadal, Iga Swiatek, Coco Gauff, and Stefanos Tsitsipas.  Those names are all considerable favorites in their second round matches, so other matchups on Thursday’s schedule may be more compelling and competitive.  And with many of those encounters scheduled at the same time, multiple screens are recommended.

 

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s five most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Thursday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.


Filip Krajinovic (26) vs. Nick Kyrgios – Second on No.2 Court

Despite his usual poor behavior, Kyrgios survived in five on Tuesday against British wild card Paul Jubb, who is ranked outside the top 200 in the world.  But Nick is in strong form this month, with an 8-3 record on grass, having reached the semifinals of both Stuttgart and Halle.  Krajinovic is also in the midst of a strong grass court season, coming off a run to the final of Queen’s Club.  Like Kyrgios, he also required five sets to advance in the first round.  That was actually Filip’s first-ever win at SW19, as he was 0-4 prior to this fortnight.  Krygios leads their head-to-head 3-0 at all levels, though they haven’t played since 2015.  On grass, Nick’s formidable firepower should be plenty to prevail again over Filip, as long as he can maintain his composure.


Elena Rybakina (17) vs. Bianca Andreescu – Second on Court 12

On Tuesday, Andreescu achieved her first career victory at The Championships.  Bianca had only played five tour-level matches on grass ahead of this year, though she’s now 5-2 on grass this month.  Rybakina reached the fourth round of Wimbledon a year ago, but lost two of her three grass court matches coming into this event.  In their first career meeting, I give the slight edge to Andreescu based on recent form.  And while Elena has accumulated 22 wins this season, only four of them have come at Majors, and none of those four against a top player like Bianca.


Barbora Krejcikova (13) vs. Viktorija Golubic – Second on Court 18

This is only Krejickova’s fourth singles match since February due to an elbow injury.  Her opening round victory was her first since returning to the tour.  Golubic was a surprise quarterfinalist here a year ago, when she defeated both Danielle Collins and Madison Keys.  Yet she has not been able to follow-up on that result, as she has a losing record since that run.  They have split four previous meetings at all levels.  Their most recent clash occurred two years ago in Dubai, with Barbora prevailing 6-1, 6-2.  But her lack of match play, along with Viktorija’s grass prowess, make Krejcikova an underdog on this day.  While results on other surfaces have not followed, Golubic is now 13-7 on grass since last season, which includes a semifinal appearance earlier this month in Nottingham.


Karolina Pliskova (6) vs. Katie Boulter (WC) – 1:30pm on Centre Court

Pliskova was the runner-up a year ago, losing the championship match to Ash Barty 6-3 in the third.  Unfortunately a hand injury forced her to miss the first two months of 2022, and she’s only 9-10 this season as a result.  Boulter is a 25-year-old Brit who pushed Aryna Sabalenka to three sets at last year’s event, and is 8-3 on grass at all levels this season.  And just like week, Boulter beat Pliskova on grass in Eastbourne 6-4 in the third.  Now can Katie repeat that result on her country’s most prestigious court?  She’ll certainly have the full support of the Centre Court audience, and her experience last year on this court could prove extremely valuable.  Considering Pliskova has only twice won back-to-back matches this year, an upset on Thursday feels entirely possible.


Alex de Minaur (19) vs. Jack Draper – Third on No.1 Court

This could easily become the most competitive show court match of the day.  And the British crowd will be vociferously behind Draper, especially late in the day on the tournament’s second biggest court.  Jack is a 20-year-old Brit who last year took a set off Novak Djokovic on Centre Court.  And he’s collected 31 match wins at all levels this season, which includes four Challenger titles as well as a semifinal run just last week in Eastbourne.  But de Minaur is also having a strong season.  The Australian has 25 wins, all at tour level, and was also a semifinalist in Eastbourne.  Both players won their first round matches in straight sets, so they’re surely feeling fresh and confident.  While Alex’s defensive skills will force Jack to strike some extra balls, Draper’s offensive weapons will be rewarded on this surface.  And the crowd’s encouragement may be the x-factor Draper needs to prevail.


Other Notable Matches on Thursday:

Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) vs. Jordan Thompson – Tsitsipas prevailed in four sets on Tuesday, bringing his Wimbledon record to just 4-4.  He’s 1-0 against Thompson, who is only 8-12 this season at tour level.

Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Ricardas Berankis – Nadal is now 31-3 on the year, and seemed rather unbothered by his chronic foot injury in the opening round.  Earlier this season in Australia, he defeated Berankis in straight sets.

Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove (LL) – A victory for Swiatek on Thursday would be her 37th consecutive win, tying her with Martina Hingis for the longest women’s singles win streak across the past three decades.  Lesley is a 30-year-old ranked 138th in the world who at last year’s Wimbledon earned for first-ever main draw win at a Major by defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Simona Halep (16) vs. Kirsten Flipkens – Halep is on an eight-match win streak at Wimbledon, dating back to her title run in 2019.  36-year-old Flipkens has said this will be her last-ever singles tournament.  She was a semifinalist here in 2013. 

Coco Gauff (11) vs. Mihaela Buzarnescu – Gauff scarcely survived the first round, overcoming Elena-Gabriela Ruse 7-5 in the third.  But Coco should be able to settle into the tournament from here, especially against Buzarnescu.  She’s currently 127th in the world, and on Tuesday won her first WTA-level match in nearly a year.


Thursday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Roland Garros Daily Preview: The Second Major of 2022 Begins on Sunday

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A shot from the grounds of the French Open (twitter.com/rolandgarros)

The second Major of the year is upon us, with its unique Sunday start.  Roland Garros is the only Grand Slam event where first round singles play is spread across three days. 

 

The men’s draw is headlined by 13-time champion Rafael Nadal, defending champion Novak Djokovic, 2021 runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas, and the ATP’s breakout star of the last 12 months, Carlos Alcaraz.  The 19-year-old Spaniard will play his opening match on Sunday, as will top ATP names like Dominic Thiem and Sascha Zverev.

The women’s draw features 12 Major singles champions, five of whom have won this event: Iga Swiatek, Barbora Krejicikova, Simona Halep, Jelena Ostapenko, and Garbine Muguruza.  The 28-year-old Spaniard plays perpetual draw-buster Kaia Kanepi on Sunday.  The Order of Play also includes the red-hot Ons Jabeur and US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez, who faces France’s Kiki Mladenovic.

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s two most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Sunday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.


Ons Jabeur (6) vs. Magda Linette – 11:00am on Court Philippe Chatrier

Outside of Iga Swiatek, Jabeur is the WTA player with the most momentum heading into Paris.  Before losing to Swiatek in the final of Rome, Ons was on an 11-match win streak, coming off her title run in Madrid.  She’s now 17-3 on clay this season, and has reached the fourth round of this tournament the last two years.  She’ll be a considerable favorite against Linette on Sunday, though Magda could easily test the sixth seed.  The 30-year-old from Poland was a quarterfinalist this year at clay events in Charleston and Strasbourg, and she owns victories over some top names at Majors, including Ash Barty and Elina Svitolina.  They’ve met twice before on clay, with both matches going to Jabeur.  That includes a three-set encounter at this event a year ago.  I expect a similar result on Sunday.


Hugo Dellien vs. Dominic Thiem (PR) – 11:00am on Court Simonne Mathieu

Thiem is a two-time French Open finalist, but he is still fighting for his first win in over a year.  Since coming back from his wrist injury, he is 0-6 at all levels, with all those matches occurring on clay.  Earning that elusive win in the best-of-five format may prove challenging for an out-of-form player.  This will be Thiem’s first match against Dellien, a 28-year-old from Bolivia who has played 43 matches on clay this season at all levels.  He’s accumulated 30 wins, and advanced to two Challenger finals.  However, Hugo is yet to defeat a top 40 player this year.  While Dominic is not currently a member of that group, and is not performing at that level, taking out a Major champion at a Grand Slam event remains a daunting task.  At a tournament where Thiem has fond memories of success, I expect Dominic is earn his first win since last May.


Garbine Muguruza (10) vs. Kaia Kanepi – Second on Court Simonne Mathieu

Muguruza is a two-time Major champion, and won the third-biggest title of her career at November’s WTA Finals in Guadalajara.  But since that title run, Muguruza has struggled mightily, with a record of 7-8 in 2022.  She’s won back-to-back matches only once this season.  And in the opening round, she’s drawn one of the sport’s most dangerous floaters.  Kanepi has made a career out of upsetting top seeds at Majors.  As per Tennis Abstract, she owns nine top 10 wins at Grand Slam events, over the likes of Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep, and most recently at January’s Australian Open, Aryna Sabalenka.  Kaia is a seven-time quarterfinalist at Majors, including two times at Roland Garros.  Her only previous meeting with Muguruza took place eight years ago in Melbourne, when Muguruza prevailed in three sets.  But considering Garbine’s recent form, and Kaia’s history at Majors, this match is definitely deserving of an upset alert.


Carlos Alcaraz (6) vs. Juan Ignacio Londero (Q) – Fourth on Court Philippe Chatrier

Alcaraz has rapidly become one of the ATP’s players.  Carlitos is 28-3 in 2022, with four titles.  He is No.3 in the year-to-date rankings, and is within 200 points of the two players ahead of him (Nadal, Tsitsipas).  The teenager arrives in Paris on a 10-match win streak on clay, having taken back-to-back titles in his home country.  Londero is a former top 50 player who reached the fourth round of this event in 2019.  But he is coming off multiple seasons with a losing record, and hasn’t played a match since early-April.  Alcaraz should not have much trouble dismissing Londero on Sunday, though it is always a treat to see the Spaniard’s formidable skills on display.


Leylah Fernandez (17) vs. Kiki Mladenovic – Fourth on Court Suzanne Lenglen

Fernandez has not immediately been able to follow-up on her thrilling US Open run from last summer.  Despite winning a title in Monterrey, she hasn’t reached a quarterfinal at any other event this year.  But still only 19-years-of-age, Leylah undoubtedly has some big results ahead of her.  Mladenovic was top 10 player in 2017, the same year she was a quarterfinalist at her home Slam.  But the Frenchwoman is 2-4 in Paris since, and only 2-10 this season at all levels.  While Kiki will certainly be motivated by the Parisian crowd, it would be surprising if she could upset Leylah, as the Canadian remains a dogged competitor who thrives on big stages.


Other Notable Matches on Sunday:

Sloane Stephens vs. Jule Niemeier (Q) – Stephens was the 2018 runner-up in Paris, and reached the fourth round a year ago.  But she’s 0-4 on clay in 2022.  Niemeier is a 22-year-old German who won an ITF-level event on clay last month.

Grigor Dimitrov (18) vs. Marcos Giron – Dimitrov is only 12-11 lifetime at Roland Garros, though he was a semifinalist in Monte Carlo this season.  This is a rematch from last year’s French Open, when Giron defeated Dimitrov after Grigor retired during the fourth set.

Felix Auger-Aliassime (9) vs. Juan Pablo Varillas (Q) – Auger-Aliassime is still looking for his first main draw win at Roland Garros.  He is 8-6 on clay this year.  Varillas is a 26-year-old from Peru who has won 19 matches on clay this season at all levels.

Maria Sakkari (4) vs. Clara Burel – Sakkari has some scar tissue to overcome at this event, as in last year’s semifinals, she was one point away from defeating eventual champion Barbora Krejicikova.  Burel is a 20-year-old from France who is a former junior No.1.

Sascha Zverev (3) vs. Sebastian Ofner (Q) – Zverev has reached the second week of this tournament four consecutive times.  Ofner is a 26-year-old from Austria who prevailed at a Challenger event in Prague last month.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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