Chicago Fall Tennis Classic Spotlights Second City’s Love For Tennis

Chicago Fall Tennis Classic

WASHINGTON, September 29, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

This week’s Chicago Fall Tennis Classic at XS Tennis Village on the Chicago South Side is showing that the Second City has a great tennis community.

Certainly, the WTA has taken notice.

This week’s WTA 500 tournament, under the umbrella of the Chicago Tennis Festival, is the third such women’s event the city has hosted in the past two months. Recently, XS Tennis Village was the site of a WTA 125 tournament that was won by Clara Tauson over Emma Raducanu. It was followed a week later by the Chicago Women’s Open, a WTA 250 event, in which Olympic bronze medalist Elina Svitolina defeated Alizé Cornet to win the title.

Major credit goes to Kamau Murray, who formerly coached Sloane Stephens to the 2017 US Open title. He is the founder and CEO of XS Tennis, located in the city’s Washington Park neighborhood near the University of Chicago, south of the Loop, and has been the tournament director for each of the Chicago tennis tournaments. These have been the only Black-produced events on the WTA Tour this year.

When XS Tennis Village opened in 2017, it was Murray’s idea to bring “top-level tennis to the city and to serve inner-city youth on the South Side,” wrote Jamal Collier in a Chicago Tribune article last month. The South Side complex is spread over 13-plus acres and cost $16.9 million to construct. It has 27 indoor and outdoor courts and includes a 10,000 square-foot gym and academic center.

“Chicago has a great tennis community,” Murray told the Chicago Tribune. “And they deserve to be able to see tennis in their backyard.”

Many of the XS Tennis academy’s students have served as tournament ball kids. According to Murray, “For these kids, being able to interact with these players and be literally courtside, catching the serves that come to the corner … that’s a life-changing experience.”

There are eight current Top 20 players in this week’s Chicago Fall Tennis Classic field, including top seed Svitolina from Ukraine, who is ranked 6th; No. 9 Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, No. 12 Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, No. 13 Anastasija Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, No. 16 Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, No. 17 Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, No. 18 Elise Mertens of Belgium and No. 20 Bianca Andreescu of Canada.

Kim Clijsters: Back on court, ‘I enjoy challenges’

It’s been two decades since Belgium’s Kim Clijsters reached her first Grand Slam final at the French Open in 2001 and a decade after she won her last major title at the 2011 Australian Open.

Yet, the 38-year-old Belgian mother of three, who splits her time between living in Bree, Belgium and New Jersey in the United States, was back on court this week as the recipient of a wild card to play in the WTA Tour’s Chicago Fall Tennis Classic, ready and eager to play.

The former World No. 1, who is already a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, faced Australian Open quarterfinalist Hsieh Su-Wei in the first round Monday afternoon. Although she lost 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 to the 97th-ranked Hsieh in her first match of the year – and just her fourth in two years – the unranked Clijsters showed over the course of the two-hour and 18-minute match she can still play competitive tennis. Just as importantly, she has the desire, too.

Clijsters started well, serving the first of her three aces on the very first point of the match while jumping out to a 3-1 lead. However, Hsieh, who at age 35 was the youngster on the court, strung together eight straight games to win the first set and set the tone for the remainder of the match. She pushed ahead in the second before Clijsters came from a break down to send it to a decider. Later, Hsieh took control of the final set and won the final four games to advance to the second round. (On Tuesday, Hsieh was eliminated by No. 6 seed Ons Jabeur, 6-1, 6-0.)

Among the telling stats: Clijsters hit 45 winners but also made 54 unforced errors. She also faced 20 break points and her serve was broken seven times by Hsieh. Clijsters was outpointed 112-103.

During an on-court interview after the match, a relieved but nonetheless elated Hsieh quipped: “We all know [Kim] is a very great, great, great player. Outside the court, she’s very nice, very polite, very kind. I’ve always liked her a lot. I’m very excited to play her; I’m lucky I didn’t play her 10 years ago!”

On Sunday, during a pre-tournament video news conference, Clijsters said: “I have friends back at home in Belgium who said, ‘Oh, before I’m 40, I would like to run a marathon’ or something like that. And I was like, ‘Yeah, so this is kind of my marathon a little bit.’ But I enjoy the challenges.”

After battling through knee surgery at the end of last year and COVID-19 early this year, Clijsters’ 0-4 record since returning to the WTA Tour is very deceiving. It will be interesting to see what lies ahead for her.

“I enjoy when I’ out there and seeing how I react the next day,” Clijsters said. “And like, ‘Oh, this thing is reacting this way.’ Or my anticipation, how can I train to improve that? Things were just so normal back in the day. As long as I feel like I’m still improving, that’s what motivates me.”


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After her match against Hsieh, Clijsters said during her news conference she was excited to be back out on court after a long period of recovery. “Super excited to be here and to start my match,” she exclaimed, quoted by the WTA website.

“The match, you know, some good things and bad things, inconsistency. Physically being able to get through these matches without big concerns, that was the main goal,” Clijsters explained. “I came close today, but I still have a good feeling. I’ve made progression, and I think that’s the most important thing. What I’m looking at is that I’m improving overall, and that’s the positive thing.”

Ashleigh Barty: Withdraws from Indian Wells

Because of strict travel restrictions into and out of Australia, this year has seemed like one long, endless road trip around the world for No. 1-ranked Ashleigh Barty. Following the Australian Open in February, Barty left her home country (which requires a mandatory two-week quarantine for those entering the country) and hasn’t retuned. Perhaps, the toll that it has taken has caught up with the two-time Grand Slam champion, who earlier this year won her second major title at the Wimbledon Championships.

On Monday, Barty withdrew from next week’s WTA 1000 BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells in the California palm desert. Perhaps, this is an indicator she will skip the remainder of the WTA calendar – including the year-end championship event, which last week was moved from Shenzhen, China to Guadalajara, Mexico due to coronavirus concerns – and head home to Australia. If she does, it would enable her to get her quarantine time out of the way and start off-season training to prepare for the Australian Summer Series of tournaments beginning in January.

Roger Federer: Breaks silence in a series of weekend interviews

Roger Federer cut a highly recognizable profile last week during the Laver Cup in Boston over the weekend, his first major public appearance since undergoing knee surgery this summer. Federer was interviewed by Jim Courier for broadcast during the Laver Cup on TV and he also sat down with his agent Tony Godsick on CNBC, who along with Federer help found the Laver Cup four years ago, to discuss the business side and well-being of the event.

In a recent interview with British GQ, who caught up with the 40-year-old Federer during a recent Uniqlo shot on Lake Constance (which separates Switzerland from Germany), he talked about his ongoing collaboration with the Japanese brand as well as about US Open champion Emma Raducanu, and his desire to play, again.

Emma Raducanu: All dressed up for a night out on the town

US Open women’s champion Emma Raducanu, who recently made a splash at New York’s Met Gala two days after winning her first major title, was seen at Tuesday’ night premiere of the new James Bond film “No Time to Die,” which took place at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

By the numbers

Hubert Hurkacz became the first man on the ATP Tour since Guy Forget at Bordeaux in 1991 to win both singles and doubles titles at the same event without dropping a set in either draw. On Sunday, Hurkacz defeated Pablo Carreño Busta to win the singles title of the Moselle Open in Metz, France. Then, he teamed with fellow Polish Jan Zielinski to win the doubles title.

What they’re sharing on social media

Yulia Putintseva / We can change the world …

Belinda Bencic and Elina Svitolina / Windy City sightseeing