EXCLUSIVE: The Reality Of Life As A Tennis Journalist Living In War-Torn Ukraine - UBITENNIS
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EXCLUSIVE: The Reality Of Life As A Tennis Journalist Living In War-Torn Ukraine

UbiTennis is the first media outlet to speak with Sergey Kontorchik about his experiences of the war and the reaction of the tennis community.

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Sometimes I had to write news while sitting in a shelter, especially during the first months. The alarm sirens were buzzing very, very often. Often there are also sounds of aircrafts, fighting jets, ambulances or fire trucks’ sirens, sounds of explosions, whether a missile hits something or the air defense systems working.”

 

Sergey Kontorchik is like any other tennis journalist around the world. He follows the sport religiously to keep up to date with the latest developments. The Ukrainian is the founder of website Великий теніс України or as it is commonly known in English BTU. In 2012 he decided to set up a Facebook page to promote tennis in his country. Three years later a website was launched and last year it received more than a million unique visitors for the first time.

I was inspired by tennis itself and also had this desire to be closer to the tennis world and maybe to attract more Ukrainians into the sport I love,” he tells UbiTennis.

At first the website was quite small, because I didn’t have any sponsors or team and paid for everything from my own pocket.’

I began to communicate more with our players, whenever there was a chance, I tried to visit (Davis Cup/Billie Jean King Cup) ties of the national team and other tournaments, take photos and talk to players, to look more into the history of Ukrainian tennis. Since 2015 two more people, as enthusiastic as I am, joined me and BTU. I am very lucky with the team, because without them it wouldn’t be possible to run this project so actively.”

It is hard to fault Kontorcvhik’s commitment as he covers the latest developments occurring at the French Open from his war-stricken homeland. Ukraine has been engaged in a military conflict with Russia since February 24th after they launched a so-called ‘special operation.’ As of May 24th the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has been able to verify that 3,942 civilians have been killed and another 4,591 injured. Although it is feared that the toll is significantly higher and the tally doesn’t take into account army deaths.

Kontorchik lives in Dnipro, a city located in the center of the Dnipropetrovsk Region which borders Donetsk. One of the two areas controlled by Moscow-backed separatists and goes by the name Donetsk People’s Republic. According to international law the region is part of Ukraine but Russia recognizes it as an independent nation. It is one of the areas which triggered the war.

I woke up at 6 am because of the terrible crash sounds – our airport was hit with several missiles. I checked my phone and already saw dozens of messages about Putin launching a war and Russian troops moving into our country from multiple directions, that Kyiv and north of Ukraine were attacked from the Belarus’ side. It was terrifying,” Kontorchik said of the moment he found out the war had begun.

Dnipro was always close to the frontline in Ukraine’s southeast. It has become a hub for war efforts – both humanitarian and military. Dnipro has become a place where the wounded and injured arrive from the front lines, and displaced people come as they flee the war. The same is happening now, only on a much larger scale.” He added.

UbiTennis is the first outlet to give Kontorchik a platform for him to speak about his experiences as a tennis journalist living in a war zone. Due to language barriers we interacted via a translator in order to get accurate accounts. In total more than 6000 words were spoken by him during our interview which covered a whole range of subjects.

In a way tennis has created a small sense of escapism for BTU’s writers and their owner. They have participated in various fundraising events to help support those affected by the war. One of their readers based in Italy sent ‘several pallets’ of medicine to them.

It takes away time from focusing on this horror going all around. It’s not a relaxation. Yes, it’s a distraction and it reminds you that life must go on, but it’s wrong to view it as a “now I can enjoy my time and get all excited because of tennis” mood,” Kontorchik explains.

We found out it’s really tough to watch tennis matches for us. You can’t keep your focus or interest. I’ve tried to follow some big matches and couldn’t watch for long. I was losing attention quickly. Imagine when you were so interested in something your whole life and the war makes you almost indifferent to it. Many Ukrainians say it’s tough to watch movies or read books right now. Like your brain resisted it. But it’s important to do something to not lose your head totally.”

Trying to promote tennis in a country stricken by conflict is a tough task. According to one recent report, Russian forces are said to have destroyed at least 130 educational facilities and damaged a further 1500 in Ukraine. Inevitably this will also have an impact on access to sports facilities. As for BTU they have lost all their income from advertisements. Now they rely on donations from their readers to survive.

Dealing with a new reality

Sergey has been to Roland Garros six times but not this year

Ever since the conflict started, BTU felt the need to give a voice to those in the sport who may not be able to speak with international media. One example is that of Viacheslav Bielinskyi. A 18-year-old who reached a ranking high of No.5 in the juniors last December who says players from Russia have spoken with him about their opposition to the war but they are scared to do so publicly. Those conversations were between players playing on the ITF circuit.

We have been in touch with our tennis players since the first day of the war,” Kontorchik replied when asked about his bond with his country’s tennis stars.

Right now we also try to collect their stories on dealing with a new reality, maybe to talk to those, who didn’t have a chance to talk to international media, but want to share their story with us. There are those who want to open up, there are those who want to move forward and maybe leave some horror incidents in the past.”

It seems bizarre in 2022 that some of these interviews were conducted whilst tennis players were hiding in bomb shelters. Those who managed to escape the conflict continue to voice their stance whilst playing. Elina Svitolina has previously spoken about the mental toll the war is taking on her and has raised money for her homeland. Dayana Yastremska donated her prize money won from claiming the Lyon Open title. Meanwhile, former players Alexandr Dolgopolov and Sergiy Stakhovsky have joined their country’s armed forces.

As for the Russian and Belarussian players, some have voiced anti-war messages but none has gone as far as criticizing their own governments. The main reason for this is likely to be linked to their country’s strict laws which potentially punishes those who criticize the conflict. This is why Wimbledon has decided against putting in place a document players would have to sign condemning their governments in order to play.

However, this argument is one that strikes a nerve with Kontorchik who points out that Russia annexed Crimea back in 2014 but the anti-war laws in Russia didn’t come to publication until March 2022.

There was a very limited reaction from the famous Russian or Belorussian people in general. Even from those who spend most of their time abroad, even from those who live there with their families. Many tried to speak out only after the sanctions started to prevent them from leading their usual luxurious lifestyle,” he explains.

So for the Ukrainian players it is like a double-fault: first “out” is you don’t get the response you naturally expect from the friends or colleagues; second “out” is you feel like the entire community of tennis fans, media and authorities don’t get your point at all. If these guys remain silent, Ukranian players obviously keep wondering what they think: maybe they support Putin, maybe they think it’s all Ukraine’s fault, maybe they can’t see the difference between good and evil. It’s crazy. It’s really hard to keep playing and try to build your career, even if you consider solely those factors, not even mentioning about not having a home.”

Wimbledon

Wimbledon. Day 7 Monday 05/07/2021. Credit: AELTC/Joe Toth

The conflict has triggered action from the sporting world but in tennis it is also a very divisive subject. The ATP, WTA and ITF have all suspended Russian and Belarussian players from playing under their flag, as well as removing their national federations from team events. Wimbledon has gone a step further by banning them all together which has angered other governing bodies of the sport. Resulting in this year’s Grand Slam taking place without the awarding of ranking points for the first time since the ranking system was implemented nearly 50 years ago.

This ban was an unexpected, but a very important sign of support to Ukraine, even though some people keep reminding us, they did it solely for the public image,” Kontorchik commented. “But it was also a message to other big tournaments. Wimbledon is the biggest tennis event in history, people outside of tennis know about it and they pay attention to it. Tennis, like any other sport, is an important tool of Russian propaganda and they are milking from their sporting success to the maximum.”

If we look at it from the point of view of tennis leadership, it seems incomprehensible if they are seriously pushing for the stripping the points from everybody. Under the pretext of protecting the rights of all tennis players, essentially all of them will be punished, with nobody at all to have an opportunity to earn points at Wimbledon. And this is what we called protection of the rights?”

Given the fallout over Wimbledon it is likely the other tournaments will not follow the same precedent unless they are forced to do so.

Which raises the question as to what else could be done? Kontorchik pays tribute to those who have helped raise awareness of the crises, including world No.1 Iga Swiatek who has spoken out about the war multiple times. Andy Murray and Roger Federer are among the players who have made donations to humanitarian efforts. The Swiss tennis federation has hosted Ukrainian players. Finally, former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone held a charity event in aid of Svitolina’s foundation.

On the other hand, there is also a degree of disappointment. When fears emerged that Peng Shuai could be under censorship by Chinese authorities, the WTA was swift and decisive in their response by suspending all of their events in China which has cost them millions.

The actions of the tennis world, of the top players, of the management, have been extremely disappointing in general. Many Ukrainians left comments, they are losing or they’ve already lost a desire to follow this sport if this is its sincere reaction,” Kontorchik believes.

The war in Ukraine is a “No war” or “Stand for peace” slogans (used in the sport) – but let’s be honest – how can anyone, any sane person, to ever be pro-war and against peace in general?“

Kontorcvhik‘s account of what it is like living in Ukraine during these times really places things into perspective. Like millions of his compatriots, he is inevitably affected by the war. Yet, he still continues to dedicate his time to tennis. Although nobody knows how long for in a country with an uncertain future.

Let’s be clear, the future of tennis in Ukraine is very, very uncertain. Nobody will care about tennis, when people in Ukraine will not have where to live and what to eat. The UN says prolonged war will push 9 of 10 Ukrainians into poverty or near poverty. 50% of business were shut down already, the other 50% are struggling right now. Our new modern tennis center is destroyed, courts are in no condition for players to train. It’s just the tip of the iceberg.” He concludes.

BTU has set up their own fundraiser to support those who have been displaced in the Dnipropetrovsk Region as a result of the war. You can donate to their appeal by clinching HERE.

Interviews

(EXCLUSIVE) Daria Kasatkina’s Coach Martinez Gives His Verdict On Her Current Form Ahead Of US Open

Kasatkina was the only top 10 player to play a tournament the week before Flushing Meadows but there was a good reason for her doing so…..

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Daria Kasatkina pictured with the champions trophy at the 2022 Granby National Bank Championships (image via twitter.com/wta)

Heading into the US Open Daria Kasatkina finds herself as one of the most successful players on the Tour this season in terms of matches won. 

 

The Russian world No.9 has registered 37 victories so far in 2022 with only three other women managing to win more matches than her on the WTA Tour. Ahead of her is Ons Jabeur (38), Simona Halep (39) and Iga Swiatek (48). Kasatkina is also one of eight players to have won multiple titles in 2022 with her most recent triumph occurring on Saturday at the Granby Championships where she beat Daria Saville 6-4, 6-4, in the final. 

Invariably there have also been blips for Kasatkina on the Tour. Between winning titles in San Jose and Granby this summer, she lost her opening match at two tournaments. Falling to Bianca Andreescu at the Canadian Open and then Amanda Anisimova in Cincinnati. 

Besides her results, the 25-year-old made headlines around the world after taking part in a fascinating documentary with vlogger Vitya Kravchenko where she spoke openly about her personal life for the first time, as well as the war in Ukraine. Andrey Rublev also took part in the documentary which was filmed in Spain where the two players train. 

At the centre of Kasatkina’s success on the court is her coach Carlos Martinez. A former player on the men’s Tour who has previously worked with the likes of Svetlana Kuznetsova, Marc Lopez, Kateryna Kozlova and Feliciano Lopez. The most striking aspect about Martinez is his honesty. He could easily say everything over the past few months has been great for Kasatkina but instead he points out there are still improvements to be made. His philosophy as a coach is ‘to go day-by-day and to do our best every day.’

Martinez spoke to UbiTennis shortly before Kasatkina won her sixth Tour title in Granby this weekend. The Spaniard explains why it was important to play a tournament the week before the US Open and what his expectations are for the Grand Slam. 

UBITENNIS: Carlos, we last spoke during the French Open. Since then Daria has won the San Jose Open. How would you describe her current form heading into the US Open?

MARTINEZ: She has been doing well but not since San Jose. She didn’t play her best tennis and didn’t compete very well. The mentality was good. She had a few matches where she played well but her level was not unbelievable.

She has been doing well all summer because after Miami we made more specific preparations and then she was practising hard on court. That is why since summer she has been doing well and now we have got the results.

She is very consistent and this is what I want from her, to be very consistent every week. After San Jose, she lost two matches against Andreescu and Anisimova. They were tough matches against good opponents but in my opinion she could have won both matches. She is doing well and now she is in the final of Granby. My philosophy is to go day-by-day and to do our best every day. Like this, she is going to achieve the results she wants.

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UBITENNIS: There has been a lot going on in Dasha’s personal life and when she spoke publicly about her sexuality there was a lot of media attention. Have you noticed any positive impact on her tennis since this has happened? Other athletes in the past have said they feel they perform better after coming out.

MARTINEZ: I will not talk about her personal life because I want to focus on her performance in tennis. I do not agree that since she did that interview, everything was getting better. At the beginning of the year and then in the summer she was good. To me, this is not the reason why she is playing well and winning matches. I am focused on just her tennis career and trying to help her in the best way.

UBITENNIS: Daria was the only top 10 player to play in a WTA event the week before the US Open. Why did you decide to play in Canada instead of heading to New York earlier? 

MARTINEZ: I am not focused on her ranking but the level of her performance. After losing two first-round matches I didn’t want her to wait two weeks between Cincinnati and the US Open. Because it is possible that at the end of one month she could play just two matches.

For Dasha, it is important for her to be in competitions. To have this adrenaline inside (her). I think the best preparation for her US Open is to play here (in Canada). Every single tournament to me is important, every match she plays is important for her improvement. That’s why we are here and next week we are going to be at the US Open. It’s going to be what it’s going to be. The most important (thing) is to play in the present. 

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UBITENNIS: What do you think of Daria’s US Open draw? She has only managed to reach the fourth round in New York once in her career so far. 

MARTINEZ: The draw is always tough. The first match is super tough and the second match is super tough. So there are no easy matches.

There are many good players, it depends on the part of their career…. we will see. Dasha right now is in a good shape. I like to see the present – not the past or the future. She did this in the past (reach round four) and I hope every single year she is going to be better and better.

UBITENNIS: I understand that your main job is to work on Daria’s physical training. How does she manage the mental side of being an athlete? 

MARTINEZ: I am trying to help her both ways because I think I can with my experience as a coach and as a player. We are talking a lot about tennis, the technical and tactical side. But also about how to manage situations in matches, how to see the light and these kinds of things. I am trying to support her in both ways.

Physically, tennistally and mentally. This is how I work with her. She is a very tough player mentally and tennistically.

Kasatkina is the 10th seed at the US Open and will begin her campaign against Great Britain’s Harriet Dart. In her section of the draw, she could play Veronika Kudermetova in the third round followed by Jabeur. 

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Travelling across tennis, relationships and life with John Lloyd

Ubaldo Scanagatta spoke to John Lloyd about a series of topics on his professional and personal life.

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In an exclusive talk with Ubitennis founder Ubaldo Scanagatta, John Lloyd, former British No.1 and Davis Cup Captain provides insights on tennis, a changing world and his personal history

 

Edited by Kingsley Elliot Kaye

Wimbledon and the recent publication of “Dear John”, John Lloyd’s autobiography, set up the occasion for Ubitennis to meet up with John Lloyd and have a long talk which embraced four decades of tennis and personal anecdotes.

“Friend” is the word which most often recurs in John’s tales and unveils his unique empathy in his relating to people, to life. Always eager to embrace new experiences, yet loyal to his past.

Indeed, John Lloyds’ best run in a major was halted by a friend. In 1977, in fact, he reached the final at the Australian Open, which he lost in five sets to Vitas Gerulatis:

The Slam in Australia wasn’t like it is now. It was still a big tournament, but some of the big players didn’t come over because it was over Christmas. I got to the final. I should have won that match. I lost in five sets to my friend Vitas, which was a big disappointment although if I was going to lose with someone, he’s the guy because, you know, he was a great guy. It was one of the saddest days when he passed away at 40 years old with that tragedy with the carbon dioxide poisoning.

John is not a person who allows rear-view perspective to indulge in regrets, yet in terms of tennis he admits he regrets never managing to make a breakthrough at Wimbledon, where he says he always suffered from a self-inflicted pressure:

For some reason at Wimbledon I never played my best tennis. I won two mixed doubles, which was great [in 1983 and in 1984 with Wendy Turnbull] but in singles I was always very disappointed with my performances. I had a couple of big wins.  I beat my friend Roscoe Tanner when he was seeded number 3 and a lot of people thought he was going to win the title that year. I beat him on court number 1 but it was typical of my Wimbledon performances that I lost the next day to a German player called Karl Meiler who I should have beaten [after comfortably winning the first two sets he ended up losing in 9 7 in the fifth]. I let myself down after having one of the best wins of my career. And that was my Wimbledon story.

“Dear John” was written with Phil Jones, BBC journalist, while the foreword is by a tennis great, and friend, Bjorn Borg:

Bjorn is a good friend of mine. We’ve had many good times together when we played and also when we played on the senior tour. Bjorn is a lovely man and I called him up and asked him and he said no problem, I’d love to do it.  We’ve had so many good stories. I’ve always thought he is one of the greatest champions of all time. I beat him once in Monte Carlo on clay [1975, 60 57 64, in the quarterfinals]. It was probably my best ever win although there are rumours he was out until four in the morning with some ladies…but that’s not my fault!

When we mention how there was a moment when he became very popular also outside the world of tennis, owing to his romance with Chris Evert, John opens up about the difficulties in getting married so young and to a worldwide tennis star:

We had some good times. We were married for 8 years but we were too young, both 24, on the tennis circuit, going to different places.  If we had been married 10 years later we could have had a chance. We had some good times and some bad times, but we are still friends. I married into someone who was a huge legend. It was fortunate I was well known in Britain so I was used to having press around and that kind of stuff, but it was nothing like until I got married with Chris. It opened a lot of doors to me, to be honest. I met people I wouldn’t have met before. We went to wonderful places, met amazing people.

As well as broadcasting for BBC, John Lloyd’s working life spans from selling real estate for Sotheby’s in Western Palm Beach, where he is currently living, to some coaching, and some tennis lessons in Mar-a-Lago club run by Donald Trump, former US president and a man who built a financial empire with real estate. Mr Trump’s knack for business is well proved by a story John recalls:

I’ve known Mr Trump for 40 years. I saw him about three months ago at the golf club and had a chat with him. He said “John, how about you doing some celebrity lessons at Mar-a-Lago?” I said “Mr President, that could be good”. He said “This is what we will do: I’ll tell the director of the club and you’ll charge 500 $ an hour. So that’s good and I’ll take half.” “That’s a good deal” I said. So that was the president. He knows how to do business. There was no negotiation. It was like I’ll take 250, but 250 is not bad so I’ll do that.

Donald Trump is only one of the celebrities John Lloyd met in his journeying around the world and that he writes about:

I do a lot of name dropping. I’m very good at that. I’ve been around with a lot of celebrities. I’ve had some funny stories about celebrities that people would like to hear, I hope. I’ve been fortunate. I’ve met presidents, the queen, the royal family, I’ve met billionaires, amazing businessmen.

I’m a boy from a place called Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, a small town. From a family below middle class. And I’ve seen every country in the world I’ve wanted to be. I’ve been very very fortunate.

We can infer that John Lloyd’s autobiography is not just an album of tennis memories:

I think that the word “great” in tennis is a very overused word. I think great players are players that have won slams in singles. I was a good player and a good player cannot write a book on just what he did on the court. But I’ve been very fortunate in my life. I’ve lived in four decades of professional tennis. I came in at the end of the Rod Laver era, and then came in with my era which was Borg, Connors and McEnroe. Then I went into the next era where I was Davis Cup captain with Henman, Rusedski, and Agassi, Sampras. Then the TV puts me into another one. So this book is really stories more than anything and I’m proud of it. But there’s also some serious stuff. I do a chapter about when six years ago I had prostate cancer and I’m very honest about that.

I also talk about my family and my son, who I’m very proud of. He had an addictive problem and he’s been clean now for thirteen years. When I wrote the book he asked me if I was going to mention it and I said no. And he said I want you to, because maybe it will help someone. So that was a very emotional and difficult chapter to write, about that period in my life which was without doubt the worst period, but then it became the most wonderful period to see my son turn out to be this amazing person.

Venturing back to tennis, since John has just spoken about players who were and still are good friends of his, we ask him if there were players he actually didn’t get along with. We learn that the toughest times came as a Davis Cup Captain:

I struggled a little bit with Andy Murray at times. I put in the book how much I admire him as a player, but I struggled a bit with his behaviour with coaches, the way he would say things to them. To be honest, it was one of my fears when I took the Davis Cup job that he was going to be on the court with me. I always thought to myself that if someone behaved like that and I was coaching them, I would just walk out, no matter how much they paid me. But as a Davis Cup captain, you can’t do that. I got really nervous about it. Then I came up with a good idea. At the time when I was captain he was being coached by Brad Gilbert. So I asked Brad to give me some instructions when Andy was playing, and he agreed to. And when Andy was coming up to me  and I could see he was mad, I told Andy, for instance, “Andy you need to come in to the net on the forehand more.” And he was about to say something, and I said, pointing at Brad, “He told me to tell you! It was him!” So Brad got all the shouting and I just gave him [Andy] the towel.

I struggled with Greg Rusedski a little bit too. He was fine on my team but, after he left, he was then trying to get my job and made a few remarks about me on TV, that I was picking the wrong players, the wrong chords, that kind of stuff that I wouldn’t do, sure.

This is the prompt that leads up to a comparison between tennis of different eras and John has a few prickly ideas.

Most players were good in my era. There were some guys that I struggled with a little bit, but, you know, we didn’t have entourages around us the way they do now. We had a group and we’d play matches, we’d be in the locker room and the guy who lost, it was like “Let’s go out tonight.” Now they’ve got managers and physiotherapists and parents, they are in all these groups… I always say to people I’m envious of how much money the players of today make, of course I would love that, but they don’t have as good a time as we had. I have friends that I still see. And I’m lucky I wasn’t in the era with cell phones and Ipads. I would probably have got locked up about twenty times for the things I did, but nobody could catch me.

As John has sailed through so many tennis eras and is well docked in the current harbours, we ask him if he expected players to be able to win twenty and more slams, and three players to win 62 [63, after Wimbledon 2022]. We also cannot but be curious to hear his say on the GOAT debate:

It’s a remarkable feat that these three players have done. I also wrote a chapter on this, called records. I like all those players but one of the things I like about Djokovic is that he is not scared to tell you that he wants to win the most titles, that’s his goal. Rafa and Roger come up with all this rubbish where they say “Oh no, that’s not my concern.” That’s just lies, of course it is. It’s in your DNA. Records are records, that’s what you live for if you are a player. And for them to say that is nonsense.

Who is the greatest of all time? It’s a fun conversation. I thought for sure that Novak was going to win more and then Nadal does what he does. I still think Novak is going to win more in the end, but for me when I talk about the greatest and all this, I switch it a little bit to say that what Rafa has done at the French Open, the 14 there, is the greatest sports achievement in any sport in history. So for me, whether he finishes second or third in terms of slams is not important. It’s a miracle he played 16 French Opens and won 14. It’s impossible what he did. That to me is the greatest achievement anyone has ever done.

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(EXCLUSIVE) Anne Keothavong Reacts To British Success At Wimbledon

The captain of the British Billie Jean king Cup team tells Ubitennis she believes her players can keep the momentum going beyond the grass swing.

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Image via https://www.twitter.com/tennisexplorer

This year’s Wimbledon Championships have without a doubt been a success for British tennis.

 

It all began during the first week when 10 Brits secured a place in the second round of the tournament – six in the men’s draw and four in the women’s. Making it the most successful start to the Grand Slam by British players since 1984. Continuing the momentum Liam Broady and Katie Boulter secured a place in the third round. Meanwhile, Heather Watson made it to the last 16 for the first time on her 12th attempt.

The stand-out Brit this year though has been Cameron Norrie who is only the fourth man from his country to reach the last four of Wimbledon in the Open Era. The breakthrough by the 26-year-old has been one in the making following a series of successes he has achieved on the ATP Tour. Norrie, who has featured in nine ATP finals since May 2021, will take on top seed Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals on Friday.

Watching the success from the sidelines is Anne Keothavong who is the current captain of the British Billie Jean King Cup team. As a player, she cracked the world’s top 50 in 2009 and was the first female player from her country to do so for 16 years. She played in 24 Grand Slam main draws during a 13-year period.

As it is with every Wimbledon, the task for the LTA is to continue the momentum generated by their players beyond the grass season. Something Keothavong thinks will be certainly possible.

“That’s the challenge. All the British players – men and women – have had an unbelievable grass-court season, not just Wimbledon,” she tells Ubitennis.
“Naturally there is a kind of a break to regroup after everything that has gone on but they will be back in training in no time and getting ready for the hardcourt season.”

Due to the ban on Russian and Belarussian players playing at British events this year, no ranking points have been issued. Undoubtedly an annoyance for the likes of Watson and Norrie but they have made peace with the situation already.

Keothavong is one of those nurturing the best female players in her country and providing any possible help if asked to. The British women have been thriving in recent months, especially Emma Raduanu who became the first qualifier in history to win a major title at the US Open. In total there are six Brits in the WTA top 200 and a further two younger players just outside. 21-year-old Francesca Jones is 219th and 20-year-old Sonay Kartal is 226th.

“On the women’s side, all of those players have so much confidence,” said Keothavong. “Their ranking is going in the right direction, they are able to enter tournaments which they might not have been able to do at the start of the grass-court season. It’s a good place to be but they need to remain focused and keep doing what they can do.”

The tennis community is described by some as a family. An analogy Keothavong can certainly relate to as she describes herself as a ‘big sister’ to the other girls. Throughout Wimbledon, the home players have spoken out in support of each other with Norrie mentioning their participation in the Battle Of The Brits exhibition helped them form a closer bond.

“If you ask them (the players) they probably say I am like a big sister to them,” she said. “In my role as Billie jean king cup captain, I guess it is important that I do maintain a good relationship with all of the players. I follow their progress and if they need extra support they know I’m there.”
“It’s really important to have that relationship with them as captain and we need to be open with each other. I don’t invade their privacy but they know if they need anything I’m there.”

Under Keothavong’s guidance, the British Billie Jean King Cup team has won six out of their last eight ties since 2019. Their only losses were to the formidable Czech Republic (2-3) earlier this year and Slovakia (1-3) in February 2021.

The team will return to action later this year in the Finals which will be held in Glasgow. Britain has been drawn in the same group as Spain and Kazakhstan.

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