Serena’s Comeback To Tennis Refreshing, Well Worth The Wait

Serena Williams (photo: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images for LTA)

WASHINGTON, June 23, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

It’s been a year since Serena Williams has appeared in a top-level tennis match on the WTA Tour. She missed three straight Grand Slam events because she was not where she needed to be physically to compete. However, it was well worth the wait to see her return this week.

In her comeback Tuesday evening, following a year’s respite while recovering from a leg injury suffered during last year’s first round of the Wimbledon Championships, Williams earned a satisfying win alongside Ons Jabeur in the doubles draw of the WTA 500 Rothesay International Eastbourne in Great Britain. The event is a Wimbledon grass-court warmup event taking place this week on England’s south coast.

Williams and Jabeur defeated a very good doubles team of Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic and Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain, 2-6, 3-6, 13-11. Then, on Wednesday evening, they followed up their first-round success with a 6-2, 6-4 quarterfinal win against an even better team, Shuko Aoyama of Japan and Chan Hao-ching of Taiwan, in which they combined for seven service aces and converted three of seven break points, to move into Friday’s semifinal round against unseeded Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia and Magda Linette of Poland.

However, on Thursday morning, Jabeur pulled out of the Eastbourne event with a right knee injury. While it would have been fun to see if Williams and Jabeur could lift the trophy, winning the tournament was never their ultimate goal. Now, it’s on to Wimbledon for each to prepare for next week.

As Williams walked out on Centre Court at Devonshire Park both Tuesday and Wednesday, Irene Cara’s familiar empowerment anthem, “What A Feeling,” from the 1983 film “Flashdance” echoed over the stadium’s loud speakers and the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion received two very deserving standing ovations.

By the end of the 93-minute first-round match, Williams and Jabeur were celebrating with each other as well as feeding off the crowd, who were on their feet applauding. The American/Tunisian duo won on their third match point after saving a match point during the match tie-break. They made quite a recovery after losing the opening set.

“I caught some fire behind me,” said the 40-year-old Williams, who is currently ranked No. 1,024 in singles due to her sabbatical and received a wild card entry into next week’s Wimbledon singles main draw. The World No. 3 Jabeur, who will rise to a new career-high ranking of No. 2 next week, will be seeded third. “I needed that. It was good. …

“It was so fun to play with Ons. It was great, we had a lot of fun, and our opponents played amazing. We were just trying to stay in there after the first set.”

Williams gave props to her doubles partner during their on-court interview: “She’s been playing so well – I knew I needed to play some matches – and she’s always been so sweet to me on tour. So, I thought it would be fun to play.”

Jabeur added: “It’s an honor she picked me, to be honest; I still can’t believe it. It was so much fun. I was a little bit nervous before, playing with such a legend, but she made me really good on the court, and even when I made mistakes, she’d keep encouraging me.”

While Williams has won an Open Era-record 23 major singles titles, she’s also garnered 14 Grand Slam doubles titles. She and Jabeur received a wild card into this week’s Eastbourne doubles draw and are making the most of their opportunity. It was Williams’ first doubles matches since she and Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark reached the doubles final at Auckland in January 2020. Meanwhile, Jabeur has teamed this season with Aryna Sabalenka, Ellen Perez and Garbiñe Muguruza in three previous tournaments.

By the end of Wednesday’s match, which advanced Williams into her 30th career doubles semifinal and the first for Jabeur, they had come up with a team monicker – “Onsrena.”

“I’m getting used to this,” Jabeur said, with a big smile on her face. Added Williams: “I think we played together much better today. Although, I thought we played really good together yesterday, too.

“Ons really held me up today. She was playing so good, I was just like looking at her [and thinking], ‘Wow, this is great!’”

Williams was asked Tuesday if she and Jabeur might play Wimbledon doubles together. “We’re taking this show on the road!” she exclaimed. Then, Williams quickly added: “No, a day at a time, a day at a time.”

ATP Tour: Off-court coaching trial to begin next month

On Tuesday, the ATP Tour announced that “off-court” coaching will be allowed on a trial basis during the second half of the 2022 season. The trial will permit coaching from designated coach seats during qualifying and main draw matches at ATP Tour events, beginning the week of July 11.

The trial extends to the US Open and the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals in Turin, Italy, in November.

Tuesday’s announcement brings an alignment between the ATP Tour and the Hologic WTA Tour, which already is experimenting with off-court coaching.

According to the ATP Tour website, the following off-court coaching will be permitted under the following conditions:

• Coaches must sit in the tournament’s designated coach seats.

• Coaching (verbal and non-verbal) is allowed only if it does not interrupt play or create any hindrance to the opponent.

• Verbal coaching is permitted only when the player is at the same end of the court.

• Non-verbal coaching (hand signals) is permitted at any time.

• Verbal coaching may consist of a few words and/or short phrases (no conversations are permitted).

• Coaches may not speak to their player when the player leaves the court for any reason.

• Penalties and fines will still apply for abuse or misuse of the above coaching conditions.

The trial will be evaluated following the conclusion of the 2022 season in order to assess possible inclusion of off-court coaching in subsequent seasons.

Patrick Mouratoglou, former longtime coach of Serena Williams who is now coaching Simona Halep, applauded the ATP’s off-court coaching decision. “Congratulations to the ATP for ‘legalizing’ a practice that has been going on at almost every match for decades. No more hypocrisy,” he wrote on Twitter.

However, among the critics of the off-court coaching trial is longtime New York Times tennis correspondent Christopher Clarey. He wrote on Twitter: “Sad day for tennis in my view. And that the US Open is part of it makes it even sadder. Tennis does not need in-match coaching. It just thinks it does.”

Another critic is Craig Gabriel of Australia’s 9 Radio, who wrote on Twitter: “By putting on this trial of off-court coaching, the ATP has just thrown its hand up in the air and given up. The WTA gave up ages ago. It does nothing to improve the game, or matches.”

Naomi Osaka: Starts Hana Kuma media company with help from LeBron James

Former World No. 1 and four-time major titlist Naomi Osaka of Japan may be absent from next week’s Wimbledon Championships on the court due to an Achilles’ injury, but it hasn’t kept her from being busy off of the court.

On Tuesday, it was revealed that Osaka, 24, who is the highest-paid female athlete in the world – with earnings of $57 million last year, mostly from a variety of sponsorships – is behind an entertainment company, Hana Kuma, she formed with her agent and business partner, Stuart Duguid, in partnership with American basketball superstar LeBron James’ The SpringHill company, which specializes in entertainment and marketing. Her company’s name stands for “flower bear” in Japanese and will include scripted and unscripted television series, documentaries, anime and branded content.

“There has been an explosion of creators of color finally being equipped with resources and a huge platform,” Osaka, born in Japan to a Haitian father and Japanese mother, said in a press release about Hana Kuma. “In the streaming age, content has a more global perspective. You can see this in the popularity of television from Asia, Europe, and Latin American that the unique can also be universal. My story is a testament to that as well. I’m so excited for what we are building at Hana Kuma. We will bring stories to life with this goal in mind: to make unique perspectives feel universal and inspire people along the way.”


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In an interview with the New York Times, the Los Angeles-based Osaka said: “I honestly can’t say if I’ll personally be in anything right now. What excites me is being able to inspire people and tell new stories, particularly ones that I would have wanted to see when I was a kid. I always wanted to kind of see someone like me.”

James told the New York Times that he’s impressed with Osaka’s “grace and power” on and off the tennis court and felt it made her a good fit for SpringHill, “which exists to empower athlete creators.

“We don’t take for granted the position we are in to lend a helping hand, in this case to Naomi, to help empower her to do even more great things,” James added.

Hana Kuma is the latest off-the-court venture for Osaka, who already has started portfolio that includes a skin care company, Kinlò. Last month, she and Duguid started a sports representation agency, Evolve. They recently announced the agency had signed mercurial Australian player Nick Kyrgios.

Currently ranked 42nd, Osaka is 12-6 this season in limited play. She has appeared in just six tournaments, reaching the title match of the Miami Open. Her most recent match was a first-round loss to Amanda Anisimova at the French Open last month.

Wimbledon seeds not the conversation topic they once were

When the Wimbledon Championships seedings for the men’s and women’s singles draws were announced by the All England Club on Tuesday, they adhered to the current ATP and WTA rankings, just like at the Australian Open, French Open and US Open. They’re not the conversation piece they once were, when Wimbledon made seed adjustments based on past performance on grass.

With current World No. 1 Daniil Medvedev of Russia denied entry in the tournament because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and World No. 2 Alexander Zverev of Germany injured, it means that defending champion and World No. 3 Novak Djokovic of Serbia is the men’s top seed, followed by Rafael Nadal of Spain, Casper Ruud of Norway, Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, Carlos Alcatraz of Spain, Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, Hubert Hurkacz of Poland and Matteo Berrettini of Italy.

On the women’s side, current World No. 1 Iga Swiatek of Poland is seeded first, followed by Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, Paula Badosa of Spain, Maria Sakkara of Greece, Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic, and Danielle Collins and Jessica Pegula, both of the United States.

“Personally, I was all for seed adjustments, since seeds are meant to be predictive,” Ben Rothenberg, Racquet Magazine senior editor wrote on Twitter. “The men’s seeds especially would make a lot more sense for Wimbledon if Hurkacz and Berrettini were moved ahead of Ruud.

“Alternately, since there’s no rankings points at Wimbledon this year, let absolute chaos reign.

“No seeds, 128 chips in the bowl. Why not have some fun and let things get weird this year?”

By the numbers

British No. 1 Cameron Norrie leveled his tour-level win-loss record on grass at 12-12 with his 6-4, 6-2 win over Brandon Nakashima of the United States in the second round of the ATP 250 Rothesay International in Eastbourne, England. The victory advanced him to the Eastbourne quarterfinals for the second time.

Norrie’s .500 grass-court record compares to 35-23 (.603) on clay and 83-64 (.565) on hard courts.

“Quotable …”

“I think it surprised everyone. But it’s very good to have her ack and it really amazed me how she had all this hunger for the game and still has it. I think it is a great inspiration. I hope she can be back for much more time, because I think she does very good for tennis.”

– World No. 4 Paula Badosa on Serena Williams’ return to tennis, as quoted by the WTA Tour website.