Thursday, December 11, 2014

Waiting For The Other Shoe To Drop

by Savannah

So this happened.

Matt Cronin ‏@TennisReporters

Breaking: Madison Keys is now being coached by Lindsay Davenport who will work during off season but @LDavenport76 wont be full time in 2015

Update from Tom Perrotta on twitter:

Madison Keys now employs Lindsay Davenport & Wim Fissette (Clijsters/Halep). Shared coaching. Wim in Europe, Lindsay in U.S., both at Slams.

Update 2:

Ben Rothenberg ‏@BenRothenberg

Change of plans for Madison Keys: she will be coached by Lindsay Davenport and Lindsay's husband Jon Leach, not by Lindsay + Wim Fissette.

@TennisReporters

Davenport had foot surgery so Jon hitting with Keys, likes him lot, decides 2 stay with Jon. Will eventually higher members 4 small tournies.

@TennisReporters

Davenport had foot surgery so Jon hitting with Keys, likes him lot, decides 2 stay with Jon. Will eventually higher members 4 small tournies.

Lindsay Davenport ‏@LDavenport76

@TennisReporters @BenRothenberg well my hubby still has a day job, so we say helping his wife out and keeping me & @Madison_Keys in line

I hope that one about she likes hitting with Lindsay's husband so now he's her part time coach isn't true. That is not how you choose a coach, not when you're poised for the big time like Madison is.

I don't think I mentioned in yesterday's post that Eugenie Bouchard signed with IMG for modeling and tennis and will be working with Serena Williams agent Jill Smoller (the blonde woman you see in Serena's courtside box all the time) and Brad Slater.
That news broke after I started my year end post.

There are a lot of people who think these developments mean Wim Fissette will end up coaching Bouchard and I tend to agree with them. I don't think anyone wants to coach Sloane let alone someone who is used to coaching at the highest levels of the sport.

That said I think Bouchard has the same problem Sloane does. She's a "stah" and knows what is best for her. In other words she doesn't listen. Bouchard has so much wrong with her game she needs a firm hand. If Fissette ends up coaching her full time she's going to have to get over herself.

Still I have to wonder if US players are being pressured to work with US based coaches. It's just something I thought of in passing.

This is still a developing story. When they announce who will be coaching Bouchard I'll post here.

Richard Gasquet and The Davis Cup

Sacre Bleu!!! The French have discovered they have a problem with their male players. Yesterday @markalannixon posted translations of an interview where it was revealed that Yannick Noah, who has been busy doing a lot of non tennis things has offered his services. Whether he's done this before I don't know. What he said pissed off Arnaud Clément though.

Then there were the comments made by Richard Gasquet.

"If Yannick wants to help in one way or another, he just needs to call the players. We all need people like him. He has a lot to add. I was with him from time to time in 2007. He goes to a lot of concerts and I see him still occasionally. It's nice. I know Gaël talked to him this year."

Did his comments bother you?

"Not at all. I adore Yannick. I understand what he was trying to say even if the way said it was a bit delicate. He can help obviously. But we don't know how much he wants to invest or return to tennis. He can't criticise our preparation. We were at 100%. And Arnaud is still a good captain. I have no worries about him. We, the players, re-elected him just before the final, and that shows everything's fine."

Some involved with tennis like Mouratoglou have offered their services to help French tennis ...

"It would be nice if Mouratoglou coached some French players. It would be easier to take what he said. He lasted two months with Chardy. Let him prove himself by forming players. Serena isn't very complicated ..."

So Noah, who said that the French have difficulties, is okay but Patrick isn't. That last comment about Serena is probably something he'll wish he had back.

Here is the link to @markalannixon's translation. Translation of Gasquet interview from L'Equipe

It's the holiday season and everyone is stressed so I leave you with something to make you smile.
John Isner has hired Justin Gimelstob as his coach.
See I told you I'd make you laugh.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Rear View Mirror - 2014

by Savannah

via AFP photo 82420c95-3229-4ca5-bc00-652086cc5560_zpsec6b85a5.jpg
via AFP

Transition years. They mean many things to many people. For the most part they bring uncertainty. Who will win the Slams? For the ATP the next question is who will dominate the Master 1000 events? For the WTA it means who will find her way to the top of the heap and will she get there by winning a Slam or will she simply play enough tournaments to give her the points to be named top dog? The ATP came close to having a slamless number one and suddenly all the mockery and scorn for the WTA and it's roster of slamless number ones disappeared. It didn't happen but the double standard between women's tennis and men's tennis is as real as it ever was. More on that later.

Nishikori Kei didn't win a Slam but he made the Final of the US Open. He beat the best clay courter ever on his best surface. No matter how he did it it was a win. He finished the year ranked fifth in the world. And no one doubts he's due to win a Slam, maybe in 2015. It's going to be interesting to see how he handles going from the hunter to the hunted, and whether his body will withstand the beating it will have to take to stay at the top of the men's game. And he's doing it with a celebrity coach or "super coach" as they're being called now, Michael Chang in his employ. Chang won the French and is an example of what a small man can do when he puts his mind to it. Of course the tennis of his time is not the tennis of today but he seems to be able to prepare his charge for today's physical game. The knock on Asian men in tennis has always been size but do the really big men of the West dominate the sport? Not really. Marin Ćilić, the US Open champion, is the exceptional big man who has won a Slam. The top male players are physical specimens but they're not "big men". John Isner is a big man. So is Milos Raonic. People want these men to do well but right now other than the hit and hit harder mindset they haven't shown themselves to be able to withstand the grind mentally.

But I digress. I think Nishikori is the ATP Player of the Year, Slam or no Slam. I'm sure there are those who will pick someone else, someone who has won a Slam, or holds the top ranking, or is considered a demigod. This was a transition year. And the man who is poised to take advantage of this time is Nishikori. I say this not as a big fan of his, I'm not, but it is what it is. Now it's Nishikori's turn to prove that 2014 was not a fluke, that he's ready to step up.

 photo ecdb5523-1b70-4b91-befe-ddbc6e90f496_zps51a35861.jpg
via Jen Pottheiser

This was not an easy decision. I know it should have been but it wasn't. I started this end of year post talking about transition and chose a man who hasn't won a Slam as my ATP Player of the Year. In the end though Serena Williams proved beyond a doubt that she is the dominant female player of her generation. In a year where mental fatigue showed, in a year where there was just a whiff of drama in her camp, in a year where the pack was nipping at her heels she somehow found a way to hold on to the top spot via convincing wins at the US Open and the YEC. She survived a year where coaches openly told their charges to tank matches, with no consequences from the subservient tennis press or the WTA, so that she would not win a the year end tournament. There was the usual hating from the usual corners of the tennis world, dank dark places where her dominace is looked on with hatred and envy, who want anyone but Serena at the top of the women's game. But there she sits, and the haters have, for now, retreated to their caves and are plotting for 2015.

Who else did I think of? Surprisingly Caroline Wozniacki who refocused on her game and gave players fits at the end of the year. Simona Halep didn't make the cut with me because she has not shown that she can mentally handle that Sunday afternoon match with all eyes on her. Petra Kvitova? It looks as if she's finally working on her fitness. Her inability to move is what's holding her back. Maria Sharapova? She's not able to bully players anymore and that could mean trouble for her in 2015. Ana Ivanovic? I can hear it now. "You picked Nishikori for ATP Player of the Year so why not Ana who really fought her way back into the top five?" I think her being able to do that without changing much if anything about her game points to the weakness and mental frailty of everyone ranked below Serena. "But Maria is tough!" I hear you saying. She knows who she can bully and who she can't. She's in Halep's head. Kvitova has to be interested in order to win those big matches. If you scream and holler at Ivanovic she cracks.

This is why, despite the good year many in the top five had in the end I had to choose Serena Williams. Her team has her ready for just about every match. Yes she has bad days, we all do. But when it matters, when winning is the only option, a win it will be. Looking ahead I don't think she's going to play as much in 2015. She'll play the Slams, she'll play the big tournaments but right now her strategy has to be to stay healthy mentally and physically. It's not going to get any easier for her. She is vulnerable, but I feel that Serena will find a way to stay within the top five.

This and That

It's been an interesting "off season" hasn't it? To get this out of the way I haven't watched one second of the IPTL event in Asia and didn't intend to. The 2015 season starts in a few weeks and it's going to be a month of living backwards - sleeping in the day and up at night. I'm not going to do that for exhibition matches. I didn't watch the event in London either.

Not that I haven't been paying attention though. I've been Tweeting and keeping up with current events in tennis, which seems to mean keeping up with who is coaching who for 2015. So let's discuss that for a few minutes.

The most recent news is that Martina Navratilova will be joining Agniezska Radwanska's team on a part time basis. Aga has seen the WTA pass her by and while she is a mere ten points behind Ivanovic in the rankings most of the wins she has are against up and comers who haven't figured her out yet. The top women don't have big problems with her anymore. Navratilova has made no secret of wanting to coach and taking on Aga is going to be an interesting experiment. I guess Aga wants to improve her aggression the way Ivanovic and Wozniacki have so she has a better chance of winning seven matches instead of five at a Slam. I don't expect to see much in Melbourne since they won't have had much time to work together. At least that's how it looks from the outside.

Then there was the intriguing he is then he isn't situation with Sloane Stephens and Nick Saviano. Sloane was seen working at his academy and as quick as you can type 140 characters it was being reported that Saviano was her new coach. Then came the clarification: He's not her coach, not really. She's at his Academy but he's not officially her coach. Got that? This is after Thomas Högstedt was announced as her coach but he then signed on to "consult" with Simona Halep who said she must have a Romanian coach since only a Romanian can understand her. Capiche? So right now Sloane has no coach. This young woman had better remove her head from her posterior and realize the WTA has truly passed her by and that she's joined the ranks of American players who serve as cannon fodder for the real contenders on the tour. It makes no sense to be uncoachable when you haven't won a damn thing.

The other coachless wonder is Eugenie Bouchard, the latest WTA special snowflake. I really think the WTA has created a monster with Ms Bouchard. At the YEC she was heard asking then coach Saviano why they played the event. At the YEC! You're one of the best, one of the top eight women in the world, and you're not honored to make the cut, you don't get that you're in elite company, that everyone ranked below you wants to be where you are? As if that wasn't bad enough she posted a Tweet jokingly proclaiming a ball machine as her new coach. Talk about disrespectful.
Yes she's done more than Sloane but at least Sloane doesn't disrespect the sport that is allowing her to live a life many dream of. Oh wait, Bouchard already lived that life. Maybe that's it. It's not a big deal for her to be treated differently from others so the things that get other players excited don't move her. I wonder if Tennis Canada wants her to choose a Canadian? I wonder if some US based coach thinks he can work with her. As I write this she and the machine are still working together.

Wim Fissette, who famously encouraged Simona Halep to throw a match to stop Serena Williams from making the final of the YEC, advice that to her credit she ignored, will now be working with Madison Keys when she plays out of the United States. Lindsay Davenport will work with her in the US. Madison Keys is, in my opinion, the best hope for the United States as long as she stays out of the clutches of the USTA and it's coaches. She has the killer instinct, she just doesn't know how to harness and control it. I'm glad she's made moves to improve her game.

On December 9 the WTA announced a deal with London based Perform Group worth $525 million dollars. To quote from the press release
Perform is paying the rights fees and guaranteeing money to produce all 2,000 main-draw singles matches and 300 semifinals and finals of doubles matches each year. Networks that choose to produce tournaments on their own will receive subsidies from the venture, which is called WTA Media.
There's no word yet on what this will cost fans to get access to the streams. It's a good move by the WTA. This will make sure women's tennis gets more exposure. I hope it will mean higher quality tennis as well. If we return to the style of tennis that was the norm before the modern era I don't know that many people who are not already fans will be motivated to watch. No one wants to see what one tennishead called "strike and push" tennis anymore.

On the men's side there hasn't been much change. The former players who became coaches this year seem to be keeping their jobs for now so no drama there.

Andy Roddick, the last American man to win a Slam back in the dark ages of 2003, was made an honorary member of Wimbledon. That's your year end proof that the old boy tennis network is alive and well.

Meanwhile Pete Sampras lobbed a few over the wall. With Isner the highest ranked US man at nineteen Sampras said the outlook for US tennis on the mens side is bleak. He was quoted as saying the following:

"I don't see anyone, I don't really know anyone that even people are talking about to break through even into the top 10.

"We're not into the 90s anymore. It will be quite a while to see American tennis back to where it was," said the 14-times major winner who is in India to take part in the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL).

"I think the game has got so international, so global that a lot of kids are playing tennis all around the world. So it makes it tougher for the Americans.

"Maybe the world is more hungry and for whatever reasons, we are not producing juniors, young pros with potential. It's just a phase and hopefully doesn't last that long."

No one talks that bluntly about the state of mens tennis in the United States. I'm sure a lot of folks got the vapors after reading that.

Speaking of talking bluntly and the old boy tennis network Romanian player Marius Copil told the following story about Bernard Tomic to a Romanian reporter. It shows why some juniors are legends in their own minds and have a difficult transition to the Main Tour. The translation I'm using is from an article posted by Filippo Scala and appears on the TennisWorldusa.org site.

Q. Some players from your generation like Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov and Bernard Tomic have already achieved great results. What do you think made the difference compared to you?

A. Let me make you an example. In 2009, I played a Semifinal in Cremona, Italy, against Tomic, who was ranked No. 170 at that time. I was somewhere around No. 200. Do you know how many people he had with him? 6! I only had a physical coach. This is the difference. Tomic told me that he received a credit card from the Australian Tennis Federation and had already spent $ 1.5 million. It was a card with unlimited amount! On top of that, he had signed a contract with Nike since he was a junior. Had he been ranked between 50 and 100, he would have received € 300.000 a year, which would have doubled in case he had broken into the top-50. On the contrary, I receive $15.000 from my sponsor and I have to give 20% to my manager. This, I think, says it all.

Of course in the world of tennis his saying somewhere else in the interview that Sharapova isn't his type got more attention than the statement about Tomic and Tennis Australia.

Oh yeah about Grigor Dimitrov. I still don't see it. With Borna Ćorić and Alexander Zverev I see it. Both will have to create public personas that will resonate with Western audiences though. They have a bit of star power that is sorely lacking among up and comers at the moment.

That said I do see a period of mediocrity for both men's and women's tennis arriving sooner than people want to believe. I don't see superstars like we have now, men and women who transcend their sport. But who knows?

Anyway Brisbane starts in a few weeks. I'd better rest up.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

And All's Right With The World?

by Savannah

 photo e1441167-1e61-4000-a0b4-681ff1c15471_zps90511d6c.jpg
via @RogerFederer

The above picture was posted by whomever handles Roger Federer's Twitter account about 5:14p Eastern Time. The message? See we're fine. I even let Stan make bunny ears. Nothing to see here. Time to move on.

If you want to understand the power of agents and why they get paid the big bucks this story is an ideal case study.
I've been on a mini rampage this year about the lack of real journalism when it comes to covering tennis. Instead of sportswriters who delve into the nuts and bolts of the sport we have people covering tennis who simply put their names on the press releases handed to them by certain players agents. Some agents are more powerful than others though and it's no stretch to say that Tony Godsick, Roger Federer's partner in their new PR firm that split off from IMG recently, is a super agent. He's so good, so well connected, and dare I say feared, that not one US tennis writer, or any member of the tennis writers guild or whatever they call themselves, has dared mumble a word about what happened during and after the semi final match between Stan Wawrinka and Roger Federer.

Instead I've seen the French accused of being shit stirrers (this was by a fan), outright denial by many fans, and insults directed at Wawrinka's manhood.

I have to give credit where credit is due. John McEnroe broke the code of silence when he went live and admitted that something happened. That's a big deal. No one stateside has said "boo" since. And he's been attacked for doing what a reporter is supposed to do.

If you still doubt the fix was in when is the last time a player didn't face the press gathered and waiting to ask questions and instead did a one on one with a single ATP reporter behind closed doors? Imaine an American quarterback after throwing five interceptions refusing to meet the press and talking to one hand selected reporter? A top soccer manager refusing to meet the press after a bad match? The screaming would never end. Only in tennis would this be greeted with total silence by the "journalists".

What I have found disgusting is the rage of Federer fans against his wife. For some reason they've never liked her and now it seems that they blame her for tarnishing the image of the man they worship. Mirka Federer is not some "model" who does nothing but sit and look pretty in a players box. She managed Federer's career until he signed with IMG, in other words when it was too much for her to do on her own. That doesn't mean she's a saint. It means that she doesn't deserve to be insulted for her perceived WAG status. She is more than a WAG and if anything some of those who consider themselves reporters should be talking about the torrent of anger and hate directed at her. I'm not excusing what she's alleged to have done. I'm just saying that if there is anger and rage let's look at the why of that. Sometimes fans buy into a media image and take it to extremes. And agents get paid to help that dynamic along.

The story is not going to go away. Davis Cup starts this Friday. We'll all have to wait and see what happens.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

I Have A Question UPDATED

by Savannah

Last night Roger Federer defeated Stan Wawrinka saving four match points. His fans were ecstatic and making up new words to incorporate his name. It's about 1:20 in the afternoon here on the east coast of the United States and fans who paid two hundred pounds or so to see the best of the ATP play a final have been told that it will take 48 hours for the LTA to decide if they get refunds. I hate to be the one to break it to them but since tennis is being played and they're watching they won't get refunds. That's how the USTA would play it.

I watched that match last night. At no time did I see any indication that Federer was having any physical issues. Someone on Twitter said they saw he didn't bend his knees at some point in the match but if that happened I didn't see it. Neither did anyone else including the comms on TennisTV, considered the best in the business.

The drama started when Federer didn't show up for his practice scheduled at 2:30p US time. A British journalist, Barry Flatman, of the Sunday Times tweeted the tennis equivalent of "Houston we have a problem" and said the final between Federer and Novak Djokovic would not take place. By the time he tweeted that the Tennis Twitter meltdown had begun. Rumors saying Nick Kyrgios would play Djokovic circulated. Some wondered why David Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez weren't tapped to play. In the end Andy Murray, who was still in town to attend his friends wedding next week, was called on by Chris Kermode to play a pro set with Djokovic and then a doubles exho with John McEnroe against another team that included Tim Henman.

Mr. Flatman just tweeted the following:

Barry Flatman @Barry_FlatmanST · 5m 5 minutes ago
John McEnroe has now made it public: "Something went on in the locker room between Fed and Wawrinka & it extended long into the night."

It was reported that Wawrinka said something to Mirka Federer during the match last night. Inquiring minds and all that.

Since this is an ongoing story I'll stop here. I will ask this: If it was another player withdrawing from a year end final, and god forbid it was a WTA player, would tennis media be so sanguine?

This morning there are two articles in the British press, both by respected sportswriters, on what exactly happened during that crucial patch in the third set.

Here is what the Daily Mail's Mike Dickson reports happened:

According to several eyewitnesses, a vociferous argument developed between the pair in the backstage area. Tour officials decided that the best thing was to push them alone into a private room that had been converted into a gym area, as there is no communal locker room at the arena.

While the dispute is not believed to have become physical, a heated ten-minute row ensued in which both aired their grievances against the other.

Among Wawrinka's complaints is that Federer's wife Mirka made audible comments from his supporters' box – which unlike in many stadiums are right at ground level – questioning in French whether he would have the guts to close the match out.

In what had been an unusually feisty and high quality semi-final Wawrinka had four match points and served for the match at 5-4. According to French television, it picked him up saying 'She did the same thing at Wimbledon.'

Simon Briggs of the more restrained and reliable Telegraph posted the following:

Rumours of a bust-up between Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals grew more credible today as well-placed sources attested that the two men found themselves “thrashing out their differences” in the O2 Arena’s gym after Saturday’s semi-final.

Furthermore, the common thread to all the accounts of a hot-tempered match comes back to the role of Federer’s wife Mirka. The Telegraph understands that Mirka’s intense and even provocative support for her husband - which peaked just before Wawrinka served for the match at 5-4 in the third set - caused Wawrinka to complain about her behaviour during the match.

In those late stages, Mirka is understood to have directly challenged Wawrinka, accusing him of whingeing. Wawrinka wasted four match points - three of them in that critical service game at 5-4 - before Federer finally came through by a 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (6) scoreline.

When he came into the interview room, some time after the match, Wawrinka was asked: “At some point late in the third you seemed upset with someone speaking before points. Can you explain what happened there?” His response was cryptic: “Not much. Nothing special. Tense match. It's never easy.”

New information has now come to light about the aftermath of the match, when Federer and Wawrinka were encouraged by senior tennis figures to put the issue to bed at once. The two men conducted a heated 10-minute debate in the O2 Arena’s gym, in which Federer was understood to be the more assertive party.

Randy Burgess, a long and valued commentator on this blog points out that there are a couple of people who mentioned Federer wincing and not bending his knees late in the match. I was watching the match and didn't see it. I consider the reports of it happening valid though and while I didn't see it happen believe those who say they did.

Tennis journalists seem to have gone silent and when they do speak still act as though the incident and the fall out are rumors despite the two articles referenced above. I understand fans not wanting to believe it happened but journalists are supposed to be non biased and report the facts.

If there are anymore updates to the story I'll create a separate post.

Savannah

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Why All The Bother About Andy Murray?

by Savannah

 photo c01c097b-272e-4fef-8e8b-c05c6f9f79cc_zpsaec30ade.jpg
Photo via Getty Images

It's been humming along in the background since June. The British tennis establishment was beside itself that Andy Murray chose Amelie Mauresmo as his new coach. They kept their upset to a dull roar until now though. After Mr. Murray was bagelled at the year ending WTF in London there was no holding them back and now such great tennis players as Greg Rusedski and multiple Grand Slam winner Tim Henman are going all in criticizing Murray's game and his choice of coach.

First it was Rusedski criticizing Murray's second serve, something has always been a problem in his game. It's Mauresmo's fault.

Now it's Henman talking smack about the Murray/Mauresmo collaboration.

When you reflect on the match, for me his game had no identity,' said the 40-year-old BBC pundit. 'What was the plan out there? (...) 'It's about clarity of thought and that's when you've got to take a step back and look at the whole set-up, the whole team and his whole lifestyle and see whether that is working as well as it can. At the end of the day, he's the only one that can answer that.

I should mention that Marin Cilic, 2014 US Open champion, played like shit but no one is raking his coach Goran Ivanisevic over the coals. He's one of the guys.

What's amusing about all of this shade is that Murray is playing the way he's always played, poor second serve and passive aggressive rope-a-dope tennis. None of the critics are talking about what Murray did to get to the WTF's. He won three tournaments to make it and even with a week off he had to be exhausted. It's as if those wins didn't happen. Instead a bad loss means it's all the new coaches fault and she has to go.

Who do I blame? Ivan Lendl. He's the one who blindsided Murray saying he'd had enough and wants to do other stuff that doesn't involve coaching Andy Murray. There was so much discussion about what effect that dumping would have on Murray right? Of course there wasn't. Instead the tennis "press" turned to who Murray would pick next. John McEnroe was mentioned frequently. Andre Agassi's name came up. So did Pete Sampras. Not one member of the LTA was mentioned if I recall correctly. It's as if it was assumed that the person would be someone from Lendl's generation so that the players from that time could try and bring back the tennis they played and make it work with modern racquets engineered for a different type of game, one they can't play and barely comprehend.

Murray fooled them all. Not only did he go outside of the US, British, Australian tennis axis but he chose - please clutch your pearls - a woman! A French woman! Hold on Elizabeth it's the big one!

With a coaching change the first thing that happens is that you have to unlearn the old system and learn the new one.
Player and coach have to learn what buttons to push and not to push, how far each one can go with the other. The tennis philosophy of the new coach has to fit in and adjust to the mindset of the player. This takes time.

Rusedski's tome seemed to be him saying he wants to become Murray's coach. Henman's comments are supposed to be constructive criticism since he's described as a good friend of Murray. Not every British tennis fan is on the "get rid of that woman" train but as my mother used to say enpty barrels make the most noise.

I don't know what the future holds for Murray and Mauresmo. I do know that he will go to his friends wedding and then probably head for Florida where he trains. Whatever Murray decides it will be his decision.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

It's Finals Time! The WTA YEC

by Savannah

Posted by @MariaSharapova

The WTA YEC begins it's first year in Singapore Monday October 20th. The top eight women will compete against each other in Round Robin format before beginning single elimination. The breakdown is as follows:

RED GROUP (Seed):

Serena Williams (1)
Simona Halep (4)
Genie Bouchard (5)
Ana Ivanovic (7)

WHITE GROUP (Seed):

Maria Sharapova (2)
Petra Kvitova (3)
Agnieszka Radwanska (6)
Caroline Wozniacki (8)

On Monday Serena Williams will start things off playing Ana Ivanovic at 7:30p Singapore time (that's 7:30a Eastern US Time)
The second match will feature Simona Halep vs Eugenie Bouchard.

Tuesday will feature the White Group with Caroline Wozniacki playing Maria Sharapova at 7:30pm followed by Petra Kvitova vs Agnieszka Radwanska.

Why am I always surprised that Aga ends up at this event? She's not fooling too many people any more and has been trying to increase her aggressiveness but she still comes off as the weakest link in both groups. Each woman has had time to rest and no one is limping into the event this year. Yeah there were reports of this and that hurting but that was players trying to fulfill their tour commitments without flat out withdrawing and facing fines.

Am I surrpised that Bouchard played well enough to make the cut? Nope. She was going to make the cut one way or another so after Serena, Maria and Petra she was the next shoo-in. The head to head between Bouchard and Halep is one apiece.

To be honest I'm more curious about attendance than the tournament. There's a lot of pomp and circumstance going on around the event, enough to make me think the tennis isn't the feature event. Lot's of former players are going to be there. I'm assuming there's a large expat community in Singapore and that seems to be who they're appealing to. I've been looking to find reports on attendance at the recently completed China swing but haven't been successful. If someone has these figures please post a reply here.

But back to the groups. The White Group could come down Sharapova vs Kvitova. Wozniacki can make life miserable for those two though I don't see her winning the group unless something serious happens. In the Red Group the battle will be between Halep, Ivanovic and Bouchard. Bouchard owns the H2H 2-0 (!) against Ivanovic. Ivanovic H2H vs Halep is 2-1 in Ivanovic's favor.

Who do I think will play for the Championship? Many think it'll be Serena vs Pova but if Kvitova can hold her form I think she romps through the group. Keep in mind I don't do predictions well at all so make of that what you will.

The Tarpishev Incident

So this happened as reported by Merlisa Lawrence Corbett.

Shamil Tarpischev, head of the RTF, appeared on the Evening Urgant, a late-night talk show broadcast nationally in Russia. Sitting next to retired WTA player Elena Dementieva, Tarpischev joked with the host about how difficult it is to defeat the Williams sisters.

However, instead of acknowledging the Williams sisters' talents and skills, Tarpischev decided to degrade them. "The Williams brothers," he called them.

The put-down didn't stop there. Ivan Urgant, the host of the show, instigated more thoughtless conversation. He continued (h/t TennisInfoBlog.com):

Look at our athletes, elegant and beautiful. I have tremendous respect for them [Williams sisters], but once one of the sisters passed next to me, and I found myself in her shadow for about forty seconds. They are so physically powerful. Weren't you afraid to play against them?
Tarpischev and Dementieva smiled and listened to this foolishness. They ignored the fact that Russia's own Maria Sharapova is the tallest woman in the Top 100 and hits with as much power as anybody on tour.

The "Williams brothers" remark and the tone Urgant used seemed to suggest that Serena and Venus were otherworldly, some strange creatures to be feared.

The first reports of Tarpishev's remarks came, to my knowledge, on a fansite known more for flame wars than sober discussions of women's tennis, on October 7th.

On October 17th the WTA announced that it was fining and suspending Tarpishev, who has been Russian tennis for many years and is head of the Russian Tennis Federation. It was also on October 17th that NY Times tennis reporter Christopher Clarey posted an article about the incident. In a tweet responding to myself and several others who commended him on his article he said he'd just found out about the incident. In other words something that fans had been aware of for ten days didn't get reported on by a major tennis writer until the WTA announced it's suspension and fine of Tarpishev. Many fans said non tennis media had been reporting on the comments for awhile.

To summarize the head of the Russian Tennis Federation, who at one time had many women in the upper echelons of the sport, makes comments that are at the very least insensitive about two of the icons of the modern game and not one mainstream tennis "journalist" saw fit to report on the comments or express outrage. Some are saying that they were traveling to Singapore and weren't aware of the situation. I guess that "slow boat to China" is still in operation and has no modern communication facilities. Others seem to be doing their best to look the other way and pretend it didn't happen or that since the WTA has acted there is no need for them to say anything.

If we tennisheads have learned anything from this it's that the men and women who consider themselves "journalists" are nothing more than an insular, self serving clique that only reports on what the tours and PR agencies want them to report on. Meanwhile fans have taken over the function of reporting that these entitled few claim they do. That is why this clique has worked so hard to make sure the rabble - read bloggers who are not under contract to some major sports or news organization - are not allowed anywhere near the hallowed media centers. I'll state here that I'm not interested in traveling all over the world but that's me. There are capable bloggers who love the sport and still do even when knowing some of the uglier aspects of it. And let's not forget there are regular fans who while they don't do formal blogs attend and report on majors and not majors on fan sites with no perspective other than that of a fan of the sport. They don't care what agents or the Tours say. They report what they see and that seems to threaten the "tennis press".

Don't get me wrong. Fandom isn't colorblind and several excuses have been made for Tarpishev's remarks. Some say he's old. Some say Russia is still as insular as it has always been. Some say that Tarpishev was making a joke and that Russian humor is different from that of other cultures. Others were saying that Serena and Venus didn't seem to care about the comments so why should anyone else?

Serena herself put an end to that train of thought with a statement she made yesterday :

"I thought they were very insensitive and extremely sexist as well as racist at the same time. I thought they were in a way bullying," Williams told reporters in Singapore on Sunday.

"I've done the best that I can do, and that's all I can say. So I just wasn't very happy with his comments. I think a lot of people weren't happy as well.

"But the WTA and the USTA (United States Tennis Association) did a wonderful job of making sure that -- in this day of age, 2014 for someone with his power, it's really unacceptable to make such bullying remarks."

Then there's Marat Safin who said the following (Google Translation from the Russian)

"I do not even know what to discuss here. This is complete nonsense, and on level ground. Adults and behave like children in a sandbox. I am sure that no one is mean to insult or offend. It would be better leaders WTA engaged so that from tennis to make any product, instead of discussing who said what to whom. Maybe Tarpishchev not understand? We understand that nothing he had in mind. Engaged in such nonsense respected association! Do not even want to discuss "- quoted Safina" Sport-Express ".

I don't speak, read or understand Russian but for those who do here is the link to the original article in that language.

I should mention in passing that Elena Dementieva, the one who half way apologized for saying that Richard Williams fixed the matches for his daughters back in the day was present during the television interview. She did and said nothing but even now that she's retired would she dare go against a man as powerful in Russian tennis circles as Tarpishev is? And in the end what happened isn't about Dementieva and Serena. It's what the most powerful man in Russian tennis said about the two women who made his best players footnotes in the recent history of tennis.



Saturday, September 27, 2014

Let's Talk About Wuhan

Source-HongWuGettyImagesAsiaPac

For the WTA Wuhan, or more precisely the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open, was set up to be the Jewel in the Crown of the refocused WTA Main Tour, the showcase to show Asia what women's tennis was all about. All of the big names were in attendance and it promised to be bigger than Beijing.

When dealing with tennis as the good people of Hong Kong found out, what's promised is not always what's delivered.
Wuhan was something different though. The top seed, and one of the top up and comers were wiped out by gastric distress early in the event. Considering that the tennis stars were probably staying in a five star hotel and still got sick I wonder what is going on in the kitchens there? One person tweeted that when they went to China they lost seven pounds due to gastric issues. I hope that situation gets straightened out.

The other top seeds seem to have been going through the motions. What happened could be called a massacre I suppose because after the early rounds only second tier seeds were left along with the number three seed Petra Kvitova. This is what you'd expect to happen to a tournament held the week before a Premier Mandatory. Do I think the WTA should adapt the ATP numeric systen to describe its tournaments? Yes. It's a real pain in the ass to find out the point levels assigned to a tournament. And don't forget there are a couple of different levels of Premier events. Yes there are Masters 500 and Masters 1000 on the ATP side but doesn't knowing the number of points the winner will get better than having to search the interwebs to find out the same information for a WTA event?

Anyway anyone with eyes to see and follows tennis knew what the desired final matchup was going to be and lo and behold the rematch of the Wimbledon Final took place at about three in the morning Eastern time. Of course everyone was up to watch right? I know I wasn't. It was the end of a long week and unless you were being paid to stay up I'm guessing many in the States passed. Those on the west coast of the States would've had an easier time of it.

I don't know how either woman played since I was asleep. I do know that Petra won in straight sets 6-3, 6-4. I read some analyses that said Eugenie Bouchard was trying to outhit Petra instead of making her move. Like Maria Sharapova Petra is not a great mover. I'm sure whoever has been working on making her tennis less ugly will be working on that as well.

I did see some of the early round matches since they started about 11p in my time zone. The seats around the court were fairly well populated while the upper tiers were pretty empty. The fans showed up at the end of the work week but by then the matches were starting in the early morning hours and I'd end up falling asleep during the first set.
I feel that the WTA by setting such late for the US starting times wrote off the potential audience in the States given preference to Asia. If that's what she wants so be it.

I'd call the tournament a moderate success based on what bits and pieces I saw. I think next year, when top players won't be forced to play a week before a Premier Mandatory tournament will be the test. By that time some Asian stars may have emerged and something will have been done to make the viewing easier for a non Asian audience.

Next up is Beijing where the tradition of an empty stadium appears to be continuing. Nothing is worse than playing in an empty stadium and I saw parts of two matches played in one. Even the one featuring promising teenager Xu Shilin playing Sabine Lisicki was played in a mostly empty stadium. I swear only officials saw Carla Suarez Navarro play Kirsten Flipkens.

I wish I could promise more detailed posts on these tournaments but with the time difference (yes again!) I don't think that's possible.

So congratulations to Petra Kvitova for winning the inaugural Wuhan tournament. I wonder if she'll be back to defend her title next year?