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Irish men’s tennis hopes to continue hot start in Kentucky

It’s a new season for Notre Dame men’s tennis. Following a mediocre season last year, the Irish are looking for improvement both in and out of ACC play this year. Irish head coach Ryan Sachire and his team — filled with savvy veterans and some high-flying freshmen — know that this weekend presents a key opportunity to showcase that improvement.

The Irish have gotten off to a blazing start this season, crushing DePaul and IUPUI on Jan. 13, sweeping Chicago State on the road and winning a 4-3 thriller against Western Michigan last week at Eck Tennis Pavilion. Their lone defeat came against Northwestern on Jan. 15 in Evanston. 

The Irish will head to Lexington, Kentucky, this weekend to play in the Kentucky Regional of the ITA Kickoff. They are seeded No. 2 in the tournament and will take on No. 3 Washington on Friday at 5 p.m. in the opening round. The Irish last played Washington in the second round of the 2013 NCAA Championships. The Huskies won 4-3 in a match that lasted more than four hours.

Should the Irish prevail, they will play the winner of No. 1 Kentucky and No. 4 Liberty in the final. The victorious squad will earn a spot in the ITA National Indoor Championships. That tournament will be hosted by the University of Illinois in February. 

Notre Dame was last invited to the Kentucky Regional in 2014. That season, they would go on to qualify for the ITA National Indoor Championships. Overall, Sachire has brought the team to the competition three times during his tenure, most recently in 2019.

This weekend’s competition provides a premier opportunity for the Irish to continue their success this season and reach a milestone that they failed to last year. In a season which will be defined by momentum and consistency, playing in these sorts of big-stage matches before ACC play begins will be crucial for the team.

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Irish sweep four games in two days

Notre Dame women’s tennis were back in action this weekend as they hosted a series of matches in Eck Tennis Pavilion. The Irish were on a hot streak as they secured a win of all four matches, bringing their official team record to 4-0 on the season. 

The first matchup of the weekend was against Michigan State where the Irish won with an astounding 7-0, pulling in essential momentum for the weekend. Junior Julia Andreach and sophomore Carrie Beckman started the afternoon out in No. 3 double spots for the Irish (6-0). Page Freeman and freshman Bojana Pozder were at the No. 1 spot and freshman Rylie Hanford and junior Yashna Yellayi notched a 6-4 win at No. 2. 

Again, the singles matches sealed their victories, as Michigan State couldn’t win any match. Pozder was the only single player — at No. 5 — that needed a third set. But ultimately the Irish pulled through in time to play Butler only a few hours later. 

The Irish lost one of three total matches against Butler, but still triumphed over the Bulldogs. 

Notre Dame saw a switch up in their doubles for the second game of the night. While Hanford and Yellayi played together again in the No. 2 spot (6-0), sophomore Maria Olivia Castedo and freshman Akari Matsuno played in the No. 3 spot, securing the doubles win for the Irish (6-2). 

The singles win was not as easy against Butler as it was against Michigan State. Sophomore Nibi Ghosh won her match in two games at the No. 1 spot (6-1 ,7-6). While multiple matches had to go to three sets, the Irish were able to win out 5-1 in singles. The only Butler point came from Hanford’s match, where she went three rounds (6-4, 4-6, 6-3) 

Even with this slight hiccup, the Irish came back stronger than ever against Xaviar Sunday. Again, Notre Dame did not drop a single point. 

The doubles teams of Yellayi and Hanford (No. 2) and Beckman and Andreach (No. 3) were back in action, and they did not disappoint. The third spot team dominated with a 6-1 victory, while the second spot team struggled, but ultimately earned the point (7-6, 7-3).

Notre Dame again swept singles, this time with Freeman in the No. 1 spot (6-2, 6-3). Again, only one player saw a third set; this time it was Ghosh in the No. 3 spot. Other than Ghosh, two 6-3 matches was the closest Xavier came to winning a point. 

The fourth and final match of the weekend proved to be the toughest for the Irish. Against UIC, Notre Dame dropped two of the total three points on the weekend. Despite this, the Irish did not show their fatigue and they, again, pulled through, delivering a 4-0 victory. 

The first point for UIC was during the doubles matches. Andreach and Beckman won their match in the No. 1 spot, but Pozder and Castedo could not in the second. For the first time of the weekend graduate student Alez Kuo and junior Sydney Sforzo played together, but they could not bring in the victory needed. 

The other dropped point came in the top spot of singles, where Freeman went to three sets but ultimately fell to her opponent. The Irish, however, did not play any softer, and Notre Dame won four of the remaining five games straight, only needing a third set for junior Meghan Coleman’s win in the sixth spot. 

Head coach Alison Silverio was impressed with her team’s performance on the weekend.

“To come out and play four matches, two double headers. Is that easy, physically or mentally?” Silverio remarked. “It’s a total team effort. Everyone that was inside the lines to everyone that was outside the line was a full unit.”

The Irish not only showed commitment to their team, but an incredible sign of endurance playing four matches in two days. However, Notre Dame does not have an easy schedule ahead of them. 

Notre Dame faces No. 14 University of Southern California on Saturday. This past weekend showed how strong of a roster the Irish have, but next weekend will be a true test to their talent. 

The Irish will travel to Georgia where they will face off against the Trojans in a neutral site on Saturday, Jan 27 at 11 a.m. ET. 

Contact Olivia Schatz at oschatz@nd.edu

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‘Break Point’ is good, but doesn’t win any grand slams

Riding on the success of its documentary series “Formula 1: Drive to Survive”, Netflix has greenlit a slew of new sports documentary series to come out on its platform over the next two years. The first of these new documentaries to come out is “Break Point” — a series that ostensibly gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look into the goings-on of a tennis player’s life while they are on tour.

Since it is produced by Box to Box Films, the same company behind “Drive to Survive”, the premise of “Break Point” will be familiar to anyone who has watched the former show. Episodes of “Break Point” follow certain players around on different tournaments of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tours. The first half of the show was released on January 13 and the second half of the show is being released in June.

While the show was not able to feature interviews with some of the sport’s biggest names (Rafael Nadal, for instance). The show shines in its interviews with the players that did give the cameras behind-the-scenes access. Box to Box Films is masterful at building storylines that endear viewers to the subject of that episode — a skill they utilize well on “Break Point.” Throughout the course of the show, I felt myself beginning to support the players that I had seen before but never really learned much about, such as Paula Badosa and Ons Jabeur.

There were some points of the show that were less than stellar, however, and they are mostly found in the things that they did not include. Some of the omissions simply boil down to the fact that the show cannot include too much about players who they are not following. For instance, one of the most exciting games of the French Open was the quarter-final game between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. It is understandable that the show does not include this game because neither Nadal nor Djokovic were an official part of the show.

It does not make sense, however, that the show does not include information that is necessary for the viewers’ full understanding of a given situation. For instance, in the episode “California Dreaming”, the show makes a big deal out of the fact that the episode’s main player Taylor Fritz decides to play against Nadal with an injured foot. What the show leaves out is that Nadal was also injured with a fractured rib. This omission gives viewers the impression that an injured Fritz was able to beat a 100 percent healthy Nadal, something that the show has already stated is extremely hard to achieve. A casual viewer is then could be misled about how good of a player Fritz is after watching the show.

While the show is an interesting watch, it lacks the draw to non-fans of the sport that its predecessor “Drive to Survive” is so amazing at doing (and its poor explanation of how a tennis game works certainly does not help in the endeavor.) But if you or anyone you know ever wanted to learn about what the life of a tennis player is like, then I definitely recommend this show to you.

Title: “Break Point”

Starring: Nick Kyrgios, Matteo Berrettini, Ajla Tomljanović, Taylor Fritz, Maria Sakkari, Paula Badosa, Ons Jabeur, Félix Auger-Aliassime, and Casper Rudd

Favorite episodes: “Great Expectations” and “King of Clay”

If you like: Tennis and “Formula 1: Drive to Survive”

Where to watch: Netflix

Shamrocks: 3.5 out of 5

Contact Claire at cmkenn4@nd.edu.

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Roger Federer completes 24 year tennis career

After more than two decades of play, Roger Federer has finished his legendary tennis career. Announced on September 15, through Twitter, Federer said that he must listen to his body as it tells him that his time as a competitive player is over. Federer played his final match last Friday: a doubles match with friend and rival Rafael Nadal at the Laver Cup.

As a child, Federer began his story with tennis as a ball boy in his hometown of Basel, Switzerland. Though he was talented in many sports, he chose tennis after working with Australian player Peter Carter. At age 14, Federer moved to Ecublens from Basel to train at the National Swiss Tennis Center. His first breakthrough would come at age 19 when he beat four-time defending champion, Pete Sampras, at Wimbledon. His first major single title, however, would come two years later at the 2003 Wimbledon.

Federer would go on to win seven more times at Wimbledon, six times at the Australian Open, five times at the US Open and one time at the French Open for a total of 20 major singles titles, the third most men’s major singles titles overall. He has spent a total of 310 weeks at number one, 237 of those consecutively, and became the oldest player to reach number one at age 36. Federer holds the record for the greatest number of consecutive major singles semifinals reached at 23 and has an overall singles record of 1251-275 (82%). Finally, he has never had to halt a match due to injury – a surprising fact given he’s played 1,526 singles matches and 224 doubles matches.

For his numerous wins, Federer has won over $130 million in prize money, but most of his income has been made off the court. Known for his vast number of brand sponsorships, Federer became the first active tennis player to earn more than $1 billion – one of only six athletes to do so. Even in the past three years, when injuries and surgeries have kept him largely out of play, he remained the highest-paid tennis player and was even the highest-paid athlete in 2020, according to Forbes.

For a lot of people, though, when Federer is brought up, two other names come up in the conversation: Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. These three men are often referred to as the “big three” of men’s tennis, and together they have dominated the past 19 years of play. Between the three of them, they have won 63 of the past 77 major men’s singles titles, and their matches are incredibly memorable.

Federer and Nadal’s Wimbledon final in 2008 is largely considered one of the best matches in tennis history, and it is hard to forget the image of Nadal comforting a crying Federer after their 2009 Australian Open final. Likewise, Djokovic’s 2019 win over Federer at Wimbledon took almost five hours and is still seared into the brains of many of their fans. With Federer retiring, this “big three” era of tennis is finally over. While his career on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tour is done, Federer has said that he would still like to play exhibition games in the future. It seems that he will also continue to be a part of the sport in other capacities as well. The Laver Cup itself is run in part through Federer’s management company TEAM8, and Federer has used a lot of his influence to put it on the ATP tour schedule. He has even confirmed that he will attend next year’s Laver Cup in Vancouver. So, although Federer has retired, tennis fans should all breathe a sigh of relief, secure in the knowledge that he is not stepping away from the game completely.

Claire McKenna

Contact Claire at cmckenn4@nd.edu

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Sports

Guffey: Why tennis is the best fan experience in sports

On Sunday, Sept. 11, Carlos Alcaraz won the U.S. Open in New York and subsequently became the youngest men’s tennis player to reach No. 1 in the world. That name was especially familiar to me. At only 19 years old, Alcaraz has become quite popular among young tennis players. I texted my brother, “didn’t we see him practice?” The answer was yes, we did.

Less than a month earlier, I had gone to the Western & Southern Open, a hard court tournament in Cincinnati just before the start of the U.S. Open. It’s less well known than the grand slam, but all of the major players — both on the men’s and women’s sides — go there every year without fail. It was at this tournament my family and I saw Alcaraz practicing on a court with just three rows of bleachers set up on either side. (There are high schools with more seating room than that.)

I had gone to the Western & Southern nine years ago and hadn’t been back since this August, but it had me thinking: Professional tennis is the best sports experience for fans out of any sport out there. Don’t believe me? Here’s why. 

There’s nowhere else you can get closer to athletes

Carlos Alcaraz, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams. One day in Cincinnati gave me and my family the opportunity to see all of these top-ranked players, along with dozens more. We went on one of the qualifying days, where players are competing to make it into the main draw of the tournament. This means the top players are probably not playing actual matches, but that’s even better. Instead of having an assigned seat in a large stadium court setting, you can stake out your favorite players on the practice schedule and attend their 30-minute to two-hour practice sessions. 

And most will stay after practice to sign hats and tennis balls for all the fans who stuck around for the entire practice session. When I went to the tournament in 2013, Novak Djokovic stayed for nearly an hour interacting with fans along every inch of the fence.

What other sport has professional practices open to everyone in the venue? The athletes even just walk on their own to the courts, meaning the player casually walking next to you could be No. 1 in the world or someone’s hitting partner. You never know. 

And, you have the freedom to choose who you watch. For instance, in the early days of bigger tournaments, you buy your grounds ticket with an assigned seat in the center court stadium. However, you have free reign to any of the practice courts and other matches for the entire day. It’s almost too much freedom as you have to decide which players you want to see the most. 

It’s international and year-round

The men’s ATP tour and fellow women’s counterpart WTA tour spans over 30 countries with players of more than 100 nationalities. And while you most likely know of the four grand slams in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York, the tours are hosted in countries and cities all over the world, giving its global fan base a chance to see their favorites anywhere.

Talk to a tennis fan in the U.S., and I would bet there’s a good chance their favorite tennis pro isn’t American. But even though they’re from a different country, they can most likely see them play in person in several cities across the U.S., from Miami to D.C. 

And with the four major tournaments spread out from January to September, there’s never a shortage of high-level tennis to watch.

It’s fun

As a disclaimer, I have played tennis my whole life, and it’s sort of a family sport, so I am a bit biased when it comes to rating how enjoyable tennis is to watch. But, there’s nothing tennis fans care about more than seeing good tennis, and it’s easy to get sucked in. 

Whether you want to check eating strawberries and cream at Wimbledon off your bucket list or need something to do in Cincinnati for a day, try a tennis tournament. Go to watch tennis, hang out with friends, drink, eat — whatever! I promise it’ll be a grand slam.

Contact Alysa Guffey at aguffey@nd.edu.

The views in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Sports

Breen: The U.S. Open

The conclusion of the U.S. Open, overshadowed overwhelmingly this year by Serena Williams’ retirement, has had me thinking.

It is difficult for me to parse out my relationship with the sport of tennis. Unlike football, basketball or even baseball, I cannot help but feel a little vulnerable when discussing my memorable life encounters with the tennis court.

Being born on Cuyahoga County soil in September 2001 automatically endowed me with rights as a Cleveland Browns, Indians and Cavaliers fan. No one can or would argue that. But did that birth guarantee me any right to be a tennis fan? I suppose that no circumstance of birth could ever take away one’s right to be a tennis fan. Perhaps the better question is: What circumstances of birth impel one to be more likely to exercise his or her right as a tennis fan? In theory, I am American and should be rooting for American tennis players during the four grand slam tournaments, the U.S. Open most of all. Yet, as I came to notice growing up, in practice most people will not exercise their rights as tennis fans unless they are born in particular areas of that county, Cuyahoga, and its composite suburbs.

As my mental topography of my home suburb of Shaker Heights expanded as I grew up, so did my knowledge of the various tennis courts in the city. What were the circumstances of my birth that allow me to remember right now a certain catalogue of tennis courts dispersed around my hometown?

The only locations of tennis courts that I know in Shaker are located at country clubs or schools. I have noticed some tennis courts in homeowners’ backyards on my summer jogs around the
suburb, but I do not know the names of the homeowners. Tennis is exclusive. All the country clubs cost thousands of dollars to belong to and all the schools but one I can think of are private. The one public location that comes to my mind that is free for anyone to play tennis is located at Shaker Heights High School. I have seen how often those courts get used on the summer nights where I have practiced baseball on the high school’s field right across the street. They get busy. I suppose I have seen the tennis courts at the country clubs or private schools grow crowded from time to time. I do not think I have ever seen someone play tennis on a court in the backyard of someone’s private home.

It has been years since I have played a tennis game. Growing up, I used to participate in tennis camps at a local country club my family belonged to.

I remember one year my brother and I decided to get more into the sport. The club’s tennis pro encouraged us to sign up for a tennis tournament. We showed up in our neon Nike athletic gear like we always had at the camps, and we were the only kids not wearing a suit of white. It was one of the most embarrassing days of my young life. That day I did not belong.

The circumstances of my life have blessed with incredible opportunities like the chance to attend the University of Notre Dame. The circumstances of my life have also allowed me to encounter the sport of tennis within an exclusive level. With the Williams sisters fading out of the sport of tennis, what reason do I have to keep up with the sport? Cool tournament names like the Australian Open surely will not be enough.

Contact Peter Breen at pbreen2@nd.edu.

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A legacy of Irish women’s national championships

1987 – Women’s Fencing National Championship

Notre Dame’s first women’s varsity team national championship came via one of the school’s premier programs. Notre Dame fencing has accumulated 12 national championships to date. In 1987, the program had won three, all as just a men’s team. The women’s program joined the party, winning their first team title, led by All-American Molly Sullivan.

The women’s team, due to a smaller field, only competed in foil. But Sullivan garnered a third-place overall finish, and her teammates Janice Hynes and Anne Barreda added the necessary supplemental performances to claim the team title. Making the first-ever women’s team title in Irish history sweeter, it was also claimed on home soil. The Irish won the 1987 championships in South Bend, something they didn’t accomplish again until 2022. While the ‘87 title remains the women’s team’s only championship, the Irish women haven’t stopped winning bouts. Fencing championships became co-ed in 1990, and the Irish have claimed eight titles, including back-to-back championships heading into the 2022-23 season. 

1995 – Women’s Soccer

Eight years after the fencing team broke the ice, Notre Dame women’s soccer joined the championship club. After coming up short the previous year, losing 5-0 to UNC in the national championship, Notre Dame entered the year with a singular goal in mind. Their defense keyed the title run, as they didn’t allow a goal in their first eight games, en route to 16 shutouts on the season. 

In the NCAA Tournament, the Irish shut out all six opponents. In the semifinals, they ousted North Carolina, ending the Tar Heels’ nine-year championship streak. To punctuate the run, the Irish took on an undefeated Portland squad and battled out a triple overtime game, finally delivering the game-winning goal. Junior Cindy Daws won the tournament’s most outstanding offensive player, and sophomore Kate Markgraf (then Sobrero) earned the most outstanding defensive player. 

2001 – Women’s Basketball

Muffet McGraw was knocking on the door, making the Final Four in 1997. Then she qualified for the next three NCAA Tournaments, failing to reach that national stage again. But in the 2000-01 season, McGraw led a team ready to go the distance. The Irish lost just twice before the NCAA Tournament, although one loss came in the Big East Championship to UConn. 

The Irish mowed through their first four NCAA tournament games to get back to the Final Four. There, UConn was waiting, but Notre Dame didn’t trip up this time. They won 90-75, advancing to a national championship versus in-state rival Purdue. The Irish trailed by double digits, but behind Niele Ivey and Ruth Riley, the Irish weren’t to be denied. Down 66-64, national player of the year Riley scored the game’s final four points. She shined alongside Ivey, who notched 12 points and six steals in the finale. 

2004 – Women’s Soccer

Nine years after their first title, the women’s soccer program added another. This time, it was the likes of stars Katie Thorlakson and Erika Bohn lifting the Irish in an impressive effort. Again, defensive success propelled the Irish, as they started their NCAA Tournament run with three consecutive shutouts. They faced off versus their 1995 national championship opponent, Portland, in the Elite Eight and won 3-1. In a thrilling Final Four, the Irish first disrupted the Cinderella squad, Santa Clara, in the semifinals. Then, they triumphed over UCLA in penalty kicks to claim the national championship. Thorlakson and Bohn won most outstanding defensive and offensive players of the tournament. Melissa Tancredi and Candace Chapman also earned spots on the all-tournament team. 

2010 – Women’s Soccer

In 2010, the women’s soccer squad earned their third national title. That’s the most of any women’s program at Notre Dame and the third-most of any program overall, behind fencing and football. In terms of the program’s championships, this one was arguably the most unlikely. The Irish entered as a four-seed in their own region, but they hit a spurt of pure dominance in the NCAA Tournament. 

After a pair of dominant victories to open the postseason, the Irish slaughtered top-seeded UNC 4-1. Then they outscored their final three opponents 4-0, concluding a surprisingly dominant title run with a trio of shutouts. They edged an unbeaten Stanford squad in the finale, 1-0. Six different players made the all-tournament team for the Irish, led by Melissa Henderson and Jessica Schuveiller. The Irish women’s soccer team made it back to the Sweet 16 last season, but they’re still seeking a return to the College Cup.  

2018 – Women’s Basketball

Seventeen years after she claimed her first, Muffet McGraw earned her second national title as a coach. The Notre Dame legend had come so close, losing in the title game four times earlier in the decade, and in the Final Four once more. This time, she pushed her squad over the edge. The Irish were a top seed but faced stiff resistance, eventually reaching the Final Four, where the real heroics started.

The Irish faced down longtime rival UConn in the semifinals and trailed by seven at the half. Jackie Young scored 32 points, however, and Arike Ogunbowale added 27, as the Irish forced overtime. There, Ogunbowale’s buzzer-beating jumper shocked the world and sent the Irish to the championship. This time, the Irish trailed by 13 at half, but they erased the deficit in a dominant third quarter. An even fourth quarter led to a wild overtime. There, Ogunbowale simply did it again, draining a buzzer-beating three and sending the Irish into a state of euphoria.

Aidan Thomas


Contact Aidan at athoma28@nd.edu

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Serena Williams finishes legendary tennis career

Serena Williams’ historic tennis career has come to an end, completing the evolution away from tennis she announced in an August op-ed for Vogue. Last Friday Williams played her last game of tennis in the Arthur Ashe Stadium against Ajla Tomljanović.

Any tennis fan or person familiar with the movie “King Richard” probably knows the humble career beginnings of Serena and Venus Williams. The two sisters learned to play tennis on the public courts of Compton, California under the careful instruction of their father, Richard Williams. Beginning her professional career at age 14, Williams won her first major singles title at the 1999 US Open as a 17-year-old. From there: she went on to win at every major tournament multiple times: another five times at the US Open, three times at the French Open, seven times at the Australian Open and seven times at Wimbledon. Altogether she has won a total of 23 major titles, more than any other tennis player in the Open Era – man or woman. 

William’s accolades go beyond those 23 major titles, though. According to ESPN, she has collected 858 tour victories, 73 singles titles, an Olympic gold medal and spent a total of 319 weeks at No. 1 in women’s tennis. With her sister, Williams has also won 14 major women’s double titles and three Olympic gold medals. 

The impact of Williams, along with her sister, goes beyond just their victories. After an injury took Serena out of the competition in 2010, the only Black female player in the US Open women’s single draw was Venus. In the 2020 US Open, the number of Black women playing for the United States increased to 12 out of 32. Many of today’s young Black players credit the Williams sisters for their interest in the predominantly white sport. Such players include Coco Gauff, Taylor Townsend and Frances Tiafoe.

What’s next for Williams? Her attention now turns to the work of her company Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm she started in 2014 that focuses on health, wellness and athletics. Serena Ventures is one of the few venture capital firms owned by a Black women. 

Williams wrote in Vogue that “seventy-eight percent of [Serena Venture’s] portfolio happens to be companies started by women and people of color, because that’s who we are.” She believes that representation matters on and off the court. “It’s important to have women like that who believe in you and push you to think bigger and do bigger,” she said. 

Her other plans include expanding her family with husband Alexis Ohanian. Williams noted that her daughter Olympia’s current wish is to have a baby sister. She “feel[s] that whenever we’re ready, we can add to our family.”

In the end, Williams’ last run at this year’s US Open was a reminder of who she was as a player throughout her phenomenal career — a fighter. The directors of the US open had a magnificent celebration of Williams’ career after her first round, almost as if expecting her to lose. Instead, William fought through the first round and then the second. She fought valiantly — grunting, sweating, swinging — all the way until her final volley sent the ball into the net for the last time.