Kristie Ahn turning Indian Wells disappointment into viral TikTok videos


When Indian Wells was cancelled early last month, it spelled the beginning of a domino effect in the tennis calendar, as tournaments the world over were postponed or deferred to 2021 due to coronavirus. For American tennis player Kristie Ahn, the severity of the situation was not lost on her - but neither was the irony.

Last year was her best season to date, as she secured her first ever win at a major at the US Open, progressed to the last 16, and broke into the top 100 for the first time in her career.

The 27-year-old earned her first ever wild card for Indian Wells as a result, but the tournament's cancellation - the day before it was meant to begin - stopped her in her tracks.

Disappointed as she was, it proved perfect material for her now-famous video sharing on social media platform TikTok. Dubbing her video with audio from the cartoon movie Robots, Ahn lip-synced a line which summed up her experience: "Gotcha, because you were all excited and then - boom!"

"I scroll through TikTok and I'll hear an audio of someone else making a video and see if it works for tennis," she says of her creative process. "When I heard that one I was like 'Wow, it's like I'm walking through the gates of Indian Wells and then they shut it in my face because of coronavirus'. It hit close to home, but I'm glad people could laugh with me about it."

Thousands of people are. The Indian Wells video picked up over 16,000 views when she reposted it on Twitter, and considering she only has 8,000 followers of her own, Ahn's videos are being shared far and wide.

From on-court coaching, 'what your racket says about you' and tennis players' obsession with keeping tournament towels, her relatable and hilarious video content is keeping fans of the game entertained - as well as her fellow players: "I think we can all take the videos light-heartedly, a lot of players laugh, they're like, 'that's so me'."

Though she is gathering a loyal following now, she actually started recording videos last June on a private TikTok account, in part due to the British summertime rain that kept her cooped up in her hotel room during the Nottingham Open.

"It just rained the entire week. I was raving about TikTok to my roommate and she said let's do one. They were terrible - absolute foolishness - but it was a really fun. Then I did a couple when I was staying at a hotel at the US Open by myself, it just becomes an easy way to pass the time."

On lockdown in New Jersey at her parents' home last month, she was convinced to go public: "I had no intention going public but I figured during this time a lot of people could use a laugh."

She never expected to get the kind of response she has, especially as a tennis player with a usually relatively low profile who self-describes as an "extroverted introvert". She audibly winces when I describe her as an "influencer" now, and shakes her head when I suggest this might help her make the segway into a broadcasting career, as she has made appearances on the Tennis Channel in the last couple of weeks.

"I'm pretty sure my parents would disown me if I went into another non-traditional role," Ahn laughs, referring to her Korean-American parents, who she says have been pushing her to use her Stanford education to start a career outside of tennis for years.

She says her role on the WTA player council is helping to give her new experiences in the business area of the game, and now more than ever is trying to help guide and support players during this financially and emotionally difficult time.

But with no certainty as to when anyone will be back on the court, Ahn's TikTok profile will also be how she keeps busy for the foreseeable future.

In one of her most popular videos she dubbed audio from cult film Mean Girls, where she suggests Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal's famous friendship excludes Novak Djokovic. The video received hundreds of comments from the so-called 'Big Three's' easily perturbed fanbase.

"Ahh, the controversial one," Ahn laughs, when asked about said video. "I never expected it to blow up. I made that as poking fun about how the media portrays the relationship between the Big Three, so it was a little banter. But other people are very sensitive, so I had to mute [the replies] on that thread, because it was getting to be too much."

Did it catch the attention of Djokovic himself?

"He has no idea who I am - it's totally fine," she says, chuckling. If she keeps this up, he may well do soon.


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