San Diego Open-Leaders & Elephants
Here is another guest post, this time from tennis journalist, Karen Helf. She writes about some important issues in tennis, especially on the women’s side, so please take the time to read the piece in its entirety. You can follow Karen on X (aka Twitter) at https://twitter.com/FollowTTours. FYI, the Cymbiotika San Diego Open Finals were played yesterday. Krejcikova was the Singles Champion and she and Siniakova won the doubles.
Thursday at the San Diego Open began with four Americans competing in the singles and doubles semi-finals; [WC] Sofia Kenin, [Q] Emma Navarro, Danielle Collins, and her doubles partner Coco Vandeweghe. Vandeweghe will end her career at home alongside Collins in Saturday’s Final verses Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova. The WTA tour has not had an assembly of three Americans competing in a Singles Semi-Final since the 2017 US Open; Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens, Coco Vandeweghe and Venus Williams.
Danielle Collins and Barbora Krejcikova opened the Thursday day session. Their first tour meeting appeared a mis-match by ranking but if one has been paying attention, former Australian Open Semi-Finalist, Collins has been effectively deploying her aggressive first strike tennis with great success. While Krejcikova had more answers and more in the tank today, Collins gave it her all.
Throughout the week Collins battled opponents and moreover her uncooperative body. She credited the San Diego Open Physio Team for helping put her body back together employing kinesiology tape, massage and cupping. This effort was done to quell back pain such that completing remained a possibility. Her 3-set defeat over Jelena Ostapenko was a master class in determination and mental strength. Danielle doesn’t quite understand why, but she tends to bring her best tennis when she is under physical duress. She’s made no secret her persistent health struggle, endometriosis.
Following her straight set quarter-final “upset” of No. 2 seed, Caroline Garcia, Collins was asked if she remains standing on changeovers to put pressure on her opponent? The real reason, if she sits, her back immediately tightens up. Standing is no tactic other than her physical survival. Danielle acknowledges she is not wholly unique as most players are managing physical issues especially late in the season. Learning what works, when to rest, when to push are keys to success and use as important as putting in reps on the practice court. That knowledge comes with experience and maturity. San Diego No. 1 seed, Ons Jabeur has had a 2023 full of physical challenges as well. That said her outlook remains positive as she moves on to compete in Guadalajara as the No. 1 seed.
Qualifier, Emma Navarro finally fell to Sofia Kenin, 62 57 64. Ranked No. 61 on September 11th, Emma will now enter the WTA Top-50 for the first time in her career. The University of Virginia alum credits the college route for much of her current success. She knows that she did not have the maturity to join the tour after high school. She also credits attending public school and having regular friends who did not care about tennis as key to keeping grounded. Emma is an aggressive player with a lethal backhand down the line.
If I had to choose one word to describe Emma it would be, undeterred. I witnessed so many match moments when it would have been easy for her to give up, to think it’s done, hopeless. To the observer, it appears she does not go there. Following a 60 2nd set loss to No. 3 seed, Maria Sakkari, she stepped back up to the service line with belief, determination and no hint of defeat. She prevailed, 64 06 76. She credits her composure, “to staying in her bubble.”
The San Diego Open has delivered fans some outstanding tennis. The Saturday singles final of Barbora Krejcikova verses Sofia Kenin should be no exception. I would be remiss not to mention the late night performances of Brazilian, Beatriz Haddad Maia. If you’ve never witnessed her matches live, add that to your WTA tennis to-do list.
NOTE: The 2024 San Diego Open will get a schedule upgrade moving to February 2024. This lead-up to the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells early in the season will bode well for player “freshness” and fewer injury concerns. That said, the late season 2023 field put on quite a show. My standouts in addition to Krejcikova were Danielle Collins, Beatriz Haddad Maia, [Q] Emma Navarro, Finalist Sofia Kenin, and Anastasia Potapova. Following her Sunday Doubles Final with partner Collins, we bid farewell to San Diego native and WTA Tour veteran, Coco Vandeweghe.
Elephant in the Room
The Elephant in the room at San Diego is unquestionably the 4-year ban handed down to Simona Halep from the International Tennis Integrity Agency for illegal substance use. Halep, who has been provisionally suspended from the tour since October 2022, states she will appeal the ruling.
In San Diego, every player from Maria Sakkari, Danielle Collins to Sofia Kenin spoke of their desire that tennis remain clean. How that happens is less clear. Players are tested regularly and must avail themselves to on-demand testing via an App called, Whereabouts. Some say the App is outdated and needs modifications while others think it works well enough. Given the on-demand tour travel schedule, knowing where you will be tomorrow is not always a straight forward answer. It seems the process could be streamlined using technology somehow? TBD
No one, including myself, felt compelled to speak to the guilt or innocence of Simona. I believe Collins said it best, that through the process of maturing, she has learned that there are times when it is best, “to keep her mouth shut.” She acknowledges that adding commentary under the circumstances won’t add value so she’ll stay out of this battle. Smart tactic.
For me the biggest picture is why people are compelled (perhaps convinced) to use substances that harm the body and skirt the rules. Substance abuse among young people is one of our country’s biggest epidemics. And yet the root cause as well as the characteristics of those making the choice to abuse substances is complex. In the case of athletes the pressure to seek a competitive edge is the obvious reason. For those who find their kid, grand kid, brother, cousin, sister, friend using, the “Why?” answer may be similar.
People are quick to judge and believe that a drug user is a “typical” derelict. Let me add it is my belief that no person should be considered throw away by society. Parents love to believe-“My kid is a good kid, a smart kid who would never use.” Yet use among honor roll high school students, college graduates, young people working at Fortune 500 companies, the image of American success, is rising daily. It’s a failure we must not sustain.
One substance that now has a reputation of “helping” young people improve their performance on tests is Xanax. The hook, friends of friends share their experiences about how the drug helps them to relax, to focus better when taking tests. Getting better grades and accepted into a good college is often a parental focus. Most kids want to please their parents. With such a “noble” objective, the decision to use can become logically justified. The initial drug dealer connection may be a “well intentioned” friend, teammate even a coach. This can be especially true if a scholarship is in play. The reality, Xanax addiction can be just as lethal as Fentanyl. And young people often mix it with alcohol, a deadly combination. Like many pharmaceuticals, Xanax withdrawal should not be done cold turkey. The neurological impacts can result in crashes and lethal seizures.
Enter Social Media. What parents, teaches, coaches, clergy et. al need to understand is that our technology platforms, especially Social Media and online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay are being used as drug storefronts and supply chain distribution centers directly to kids. There is an entire Emoji language signaling to kids who to connect with online if you are looking for cocaine, Xanax, mushrooms, anything and everything under the sun with just a key stroke. Many adults are wholly unaware. I was until a personal tragedy woke me up. Please see the DEA article link below.
San Diego Open Semi-Finalist, Emma Navarro spoke of the other danger, Social Media abuse. While she is not sure what can be done, she believes the push to encourage betting on tennis has significantly escalated the problem for players. Including posts expressing harm to her family. Post loss messages are frequently threatening. Both Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys have been outspoken about the abuse they have endured throughout their careers. While players understand there are benefits of telling their story via sharing, increasingly the risks are a serious downside. One tactic Navarro uses is to send all messages not from people she follows to a completely different folder. A folder she can ignore. That said, It’s still not easy not to look or to not be bombarded with these posts shared by others. In many ways, Social media has become the land of harsh judgement
Parental education, awareness and oversight is key. The pressures to perform, negative impacts of social media can escalate feelings of hopelessness. The ease and appeal of obtaining substances online to check-out as a coping mechanism raise the risks. Thanks to technology drug acquisition for children is more efficient than ever. I have decided I will never give Amazon Gift cards to anyone. Those cards can and are sometimes used to purchase drugs via marketplace accounts. Nah, sounds crazy right? It’s not. While I wholeheartedly believe our technology companies have a moral obligation to do everything possible to identify and shut down these accounts, waiting and relying on that to happen is a fools mistake in my opinion.
Add the negative effects of Social Media, abuse, isolation, depression, FOMO, kids are dealing with a set of “virtual reality” pressures that can be hidden from loved ones. Online bullying remains rampant. Learning to understand those pressures and helping kids find ways to release the pressure value without numbing or checking out is critical.
I recall a presser response from David Ferrer at the Western & Southern Open about his academy and helping to develop young players. David stated his belief that the most important job of a coach is to talk to the player and to help them better understand themselves. Today talking is nearly extinct. In the younger generation more-so. Who even makes phone calls these days? Yet without sitting down, making eye contact and truly listening we cannot fully know or understand one another. Getting back to that basic is foundational to success on and off-court.
More Information for Parents, Teachers, Coaches: