Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Future Is Now

by Savannah

I'm really just dead. I need some weeks off where I don't think about tennis and can kind of regroup. I've had a long couple of years."

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images North America photo f1704834-998a-4f7a-ba6e-a2e5ea98f4f4_zpsbc950392.jpg

Serena Williams said it all during her post match presser April 1 after losing to Jana Cepelova. I pride myself on having heard of most players in the top 100 but I never heard of Ms Cepelova before last night. Serena did not blame the quick turnaround from Miami to Charleston saying she's done it before and she didn't blame the thigh that was heavily wrapped during a medical time out.

"I'm going to go on a vacation, for sure. I need some time off. I just need to take a deep breath and regroup, and I think it will actually help me for the rest of the clay court season coming up."

It took tennis fans to say what Serena didn't. Serena has carried the WTA tour on her back for the last two years. She's played tournaments large and small bringing the smaller events larger audiences and of course more money. But watch the haters come out of the woodwork to criticize her for not playing Fed Cup for the United States. Nothing Serena does is ever good enough for some.

So where is the WTA going now? CEO Allaster sees the future in Asia and is doing everything in her power to set up new events or move existing ones to that part of the world. The WTA has also picked it's new Queen, Eugenie Bouchard. Forget the fact that the player a lot of fans are watching right now is Simona Halep. Halep speaks little to no English so that will hamper her in becoming well known in the immediate future. The German women, who looked to be ready to storm the top ranks of the sport have fallen off and look to be a collection of head cases.
Players like Dominika Cibulkova, Agnieszka Radwanska, and Angelique Kerber (yes Kerber plays for Germany but is ethnically Polish and lives in Poland) are the players trying to force Serena, and Li Na out of the top positions. Yeah I'm going to pay big bucks to see these women. I'm not saying this to be a bitch I'm saying it because none of them has the "it" factor. Aga's game is an acquired taste. Domi is a ball of action and a fighter and may be the only one who comes close to that "it" factor, that star factor. Kerber's game is the cure for insomnia. It used to be Aga who would send me to never never land but she's actually been improving her aggressiveness. Halep does a lot of things very well and when focused she will find a way to beat you. But she doesn't light up the court.

I haven't forgotten Victoria Azarenka. She's found a life outside of tennis. She's also been injured and came back too soon trying to meet the demands of the tour. I don't look for anything from her until late spring into summer. And don't forget she is not a fan favorite thanks to the shenanigans that she engaged in early in her career. As for Maria Sharapova I get the feeling the jig is almost up with her. She can intimidate some of the up and comers or those who's time has come and gone but no one in the top five is really afraid of her. Her biggest claim to fame right now is a candy and all of her endorsements not her game.

I'm going to skip the US women. I'm tired of talking about them. Their play speaks for itself.

So with the WTA's major talent pool seemingly centered in Eastern Europe right now it's focus is on Asia. After Li Na who is there? Instead of looking for ways to strengthen European tournaments the WTA is getting rid of them. Too bad. If nothing else the WTA may be forced to promote women's tennis instead of a single person. Yeah, I'm not holding my breath either.

The Fed Cup/Davis Cup Crisis

I've always argued that the format for Davis Cup and Fed Cup didn't need changing. Patriots would always turn out and play for their country and all was right with the world. I was wrong. I see that Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic and Nishikori Kei of Japan, both top players for their country, will not play in the tie between the two nations. I don't know any Japanese player who is anywhere near Nishikori's level. Meanwhile the Czechs will rely on Radek Stepanek who is more of a doubles player now. Fed Cup is having similar issues.

What should be done? I have no idea. It seems that both of these competitions are evolving into events featuring the up and coming. The big boys and girls need to be ready for main tour events and may deign to play Davis Cup or Fed Cup when their country makes them an offer they can't refuse. The reason this is somewhat alarming is that players are maturing much later now and their quality of play is much, much lower than Challenger level at times. If fans know they're going to an exalted Challenger instead of an event featuring the best countries have to offer attendance will go down and the stars will feel justified in not playing events that throw off their training schedules not to mention their yearly schedule. Look at what the WTA did after the first round of Fed Cup this year. How do you hold Premier Mandatory events after Fed Cup which every top player is under pressure to play?

The tours are going to have to sit down with the ITF and work something out. Berdych has suggested every two years. That's a nice starting point for discussion.

End Note

My sister is responding very well to treatment. She can follow commands now and is awake large parts of the day. She will be moved to a long term care facility shortly. This is very exciting news. Now if I can get rid of this bug I picked up...

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Quick Overview and Review

by Savannah

I've been away for the blog for some time and an explanation is due. My sister suffered a stroke on March 3 and I've been spending most of my days sitting with her in the ICU. I'm ahead of myself this morning so I thought I'd offer brief comments on what's going on in the world of tennis. As you know I have been Tweeting a bit but I can be more expansive here.

Karen sorry I took so long to post your comment from March 1. I will ask you this though. If we went back to the old technology would a player like Dominika Cibulkova have a chance? What about some of the Asian players, male and female, who are slight and in some cases very short. Li Na is pretty tall so she doesn't need a longer racquet. I would argue that there is variety in tennis these days. People talk about baseline play with scorn but none of the players games are the same from that location. I think that people like John McEnroe need to shut up and pay attention to the nuance of the modern game. From his commentary I get the impression that he doesn't watch much tennis played outside of the United States and only the ATP inside his country. His comments about women's tennis are as sexist and dismissive as they've always been. I understand that the US wants to prop up the name recognition of it's players but if they keep putting mindless, out of shape ball bashers on court the results aren't going to change.

JMac has also been dismissive of men's doubles which is surprising given that without the Bryan Brothers, and lets not forget Serena Williams, there is no US tennis. McEnroe was out of shape and a partier back in the day. His call for a return to the old school game seems like a way to get the unthinking, underperforming US men higher up in the rankings. I've said it here before. You need to know how to think on court and other than the people I just mentioned most US players can't at the present time. That's a failure of instruction. Maybe because that failure points to his sibling he's trying to deflect criticism?

I also found Jose Higueras comments about the sense of entitlement felt by many young American players and how it's hindering their progress a breath of fresh air. It needs to be shouted from the rooftops. That said I've also been saying for years that the USTA needs to look beyond the country club set to places like Appalachia, urban areas, and other non traditional locales for people who have the will to compete but due to cut backs in after school sports and recreational facilities aren't exposed to the game. There's a lot of hype around 15 year old Francis Tiafoe at the moment but how did he start? His parents worked around a tennis court and he picked up the game. How many more like him are out there?

Higueras may be voicing issues he is facing in his work with the USTA high performance program, the same one headed by Patrick McEnroe. Look beyond the country clubs guys. There are a lot more like Francis Tiafoe out there.

The Murray and Lendl Breakup

Andy Murray has been injured. While he was out Ivan Lendl found out he likes playing on the Senior Tour and has found expanded business opportunities for himself. What happens next is up to Murray. We all know he is, as we say here, a piece of work. Frankly who is going to put up with his shit? I think he felt Lendl would kick his newly firm ass so he listened to him. He got what he wanted from the arrangement so I'm thinking the split was mutually agreed to. We're not privy to what the exact details of the contract were (I'm not anyway so if anyone is feel free to comment) so we'll never know if Lendl fulfilled his obligations, took his money and moved on per the agreement.
I know there are Us coaches who would love to get their claws into Murray again. The usual suspects? You betcha. Frankly I don't see any European taking on an American coach for reasons stated above. It's going to be interesting.

Miami and the WTA

Fans of women's tennis are up in arms about the meagre television coverage the WTA is getting from Key Biscayne. Even I was taken back by Maria Sharapova's match against Nara Kurumi not being aired anywhere. Have any of her matches been blacked out before?

I've been saying for a few years now that until the WTA starts selling its product and not it's players no one is going to give a shit about it except for the stars and even they play to half empty stadiums. I put on the Roberta Vinci vs Barbora Zahlavova Strycova match playing now on Stadium Court in place of the Li Na vs Alisa Kleybanova one (Klebs withdrew with a viral illness) and for all intents and purposes the stadium is empty. Tennis fans are pretty savvy. They're watching David Ferrer and Richard Gasquet playing their respective matches.

It pains me to see the women working so hard and playing the best tennis they're capable of before row after row of empty seats. Are there different levels of tennis played on both tours? Yes. Has the ATP done the better job of promoting their TOUR? Yes. I saw someone on Twitter saying this morning that the WTA should pull out of Miami and focus on a tournament in China. Right. The women would be playing before empty seats and no viewers on television or streams legal or illegal due to the time difference. The WTA is in crisis. The sky is blue. Water is wet. Moving on.

Idle Chit Chat

So Fabio Fognini and Flavia Pennetta are the new tennis it couple. I've seen both up close and personal and that is one beautiful pairing. That hug he gave her after her win in Indian Wells said a lot. By the way has Grigor Dimitrov's lady love shown up at any of his matches? Petra Kvitova shows up at Radek Stepanek's matches and vice versa. Inquiring minds and all that rot.

Boris Becker has had double hip surgery. Keep pushing those hard courts United States. Labeling all those who criticize them haters really works. Not.


Friday, February 28, 2014

They're Still Trying

by Savannah

I don't think it's a secret that I find much of John McEnroe's commentary lacking to put it mildly. He seems to have no idea what is going on in the modern game and who is playing if they're not from the United States. He also seems to want to turn back the clock on the game, to do away with modern racquets and go back to the days of small, preferably wooden ones. He advocates the return of serve and volley as the primary method of play upgrading it from what it is now, a tactic, a part of a players game not the be all and end all of the game, the only way to play.

 photo e292a306-9998-4be5-99fd-540fdb1015ec_zps30c48f42.jpg
photo via Warren Little Getty Images

It turns out that I was right. I came across an article written by Mark McClusky in 2003 entitle "Tennis Swaps Grace for Strength". It's an interesting read.


...McEnroe, along with several other prominent retired players, is challenging the game's international governing body, the International Tennis Federation, to do something to rein in the power provided by today's tennis rackets. As the U.S. Open gets underway this week, McEnroe wonders if rackets haven't become too big a factor in the game.

"I think that the sport has lost something," said McEnroe of the changes wrought by the current rackets. "It's lost some subtlety, some strategy, some of the nuance."

There are surprisingly few rules governing the size, shape and construction of a tennis racket. According to the rules published by the ITF, a racket can't be longer than 29 inches, and the hitting surface of the racket can't be larger than 15.5 inches long and 11.5 inches wide.

Additionally, rules prohibit any device that changes the racket's shape or weight distribution. And no power sources, such as batteries or solar cells, are allowed to be incorporated into the racket.

Obviously, those guidelines allow for a great deal of experimentation. Rackets today allow players to launch the ball at previously unthinkable speeds, approaching 150 mph. They're high-tech weapons made of graphite, Kevlar, titanium and exotic alloys. There's even a racket with a chip built into the handle that allows the racket to stiffen upon impact with the ball.

All of this technology has led to major changes in how the game is played at the top level. Today, almost every player is content to stay at the baseline and pound the ball in long rallies with the opponent, hitting crushing shots with a great deal of topspin. The aggressive serve-and-volley game has almost completely disappeared.

"It's very hard to volley against all this pace and topspin," said Bud Collins, the tennis writer for the Boston Globe and the dean of American tennis journalists. "It's an easier game to play from the baseline because you aren't taking chances. That's what I don't like: No one is taking chances. It's very difficult to serve and volley. You have so many people playing the same way now, and that's the problem."


This Homogeneity means that a match like the 1980 Wimbledon final, which matched the serve-and-volleyer McEnroe with the baseliner Björn Borg, might never take place again. That match is widely considered the greatest ever played.

"I don't think we're going to see anybody like McEnroe or like Pete Sampras," said Collins. "It's going to be very difficult to develop those games."

Ironically, while the rackets might be turning the professional men's game into monotonous slugfests, they have led to a boom in the popularity of the women's game, as players like the Williams sisters and Jennifer Capriati have boosted the power and athleticism of the sport, with the help of high-tech rackets.

"If the power has killed the men's game, it's really helped the women's," said Jon Wertheim, senior tennis writer at Sports Illustrated. "The women are at just the right spot -- no one is just looping the ball back and forth like they used to. The only thing is, in 10 years, the women will get to the same point that the men are now."

Many in the game have been advocating that rackets be more tightly controlled. Earlier this year, several former top players -- including McEnroe, Boris Becker and Martina Navratilova -- sent a letter to the ITF encouraging the governing body to revisit the question of rackets.

In the letter, the players wrote that tennis has become "unbalanced and one-dimensional."

"The reason for this change is clear to see," they wrote. "Over a period of years, modern racket technology has developed powerful, light, wide-bodied rackets that are easier to wield than wooden rackets were and have a much larger effective hitting area.

Nara Kurumi Getty Images Rio 2014 photo a9cdd234-2b62-4d56-82e3-83a85ddbacad_zps16ede1b2.jpg
Photo via Getty Images

"From the spectators' point of view the game has become one-dimensional so that even on fast courts 90 percent of the matches are baseline contests," it said, adding that on slower court surfaces such as clay, matches have become "tedious and even boring."

Current players have been mostly silent regarding the state of the racket. Of course, they're enjoying success with the current equipment. Andy Roddick, who holds the record for the fastest serve on the men's tour at 149 mph, dismissed the concerns of the former players.

"I don't know if the ITF is going to take it too seriously," Roddick told Agence France-Presse in July. "I find it kind of surprising that they would go through the full-out effort and make it something to be talked about."

The ITF last addressed the question of racket size in 1996, when they lowered the maximum allowable length of a racket from 32 inches to the present 29 inches. But Collins thinks they haven't gone far enough to "disarm," as he puts it.

 photo a276dcd4-0fc9-4c5b-ae81-9f60b59cd3f4_zpsa619c35e.jpg
Photo by J Pat Carter AP

"I think we should go to a racket no longer than 27 inches, or no wider than 9 inches," said Collins. "That would take away a lot of the hitting space, and you'd be forced to play a more attractive game. Players would have to be more accurate in their strokes, hit it more in the middle of the racket face. They wouldn't be able to hit the passing shots they hit now. And the serve and volleyer would have a better chance."

No one who is advocating taming rackets in the professional game thinks that recreational players should stop using them. The analogy that both McEnroe and Collins make is to baseball, where aluminum bats are used at every level except the pros, where wood is used.

They envision a system allowing weekend tennis players to continue enjoying the increased power and control allowed by larger rackets, while the pros would use slightly different tools to balance the game. Current players would certainly have an adjustment period, but McEnroe doesn't think it would be too much of a problem.

"I think that the top players, most of them, would still be great players whatever they played with," he said.

(...)

"The idea behind the letter was to simply continue to press them to come up with some guidelines or something so the game wouldn't continue to go in this direction," said McEnroe. "We wanted to show the game the best that it could be."

ernests Gulbis Marseille 2014 photo 7ed2d47a-c2a1-4c4d-b0d6-f4d6dcdde4eb_zps360d62d4.jpg
BERTRAND LANGLOIS/AFP/Getty Images

Fast forward to today. John McEnroe has his own academy and works as a commentator for major tennis tournaments. Martina Navratilova makes her living as a commentator also mostly during majors. And Boris Becker is coaching a player in the Top 3 of the ATP but was formerly a - you got it - commentator. Of the three Becker would seem to be in the right place to try to effect the change his friends advocated. It remains to be seen if he has any influence over whether or not the modern game will revert to the "grace" and "aggressive" play of the past. I'm going to say he won't because modern players are more fit, more athletic, and mentally strong. Looking at the current spate of British, American and Australian players I'd say that those countries embrace of an older style has hindered their ability to compete at the highest level, seeming to excel only at the smaller national tournaments where they play each other. Move them to big international events and they're nothing more than fodder for the best in the world.
The only American players able to compete internationally are surnamed Williams, the same ones featured in the link above.

 photo e716baf2-b670-4e4b-a24c-43928de44356_zps635ca29e.jpg
Source: Buda Mendes/Getty Images South America

When you've done something well and dominated an individual sport you like to think your way will be emulated by future generations. It doesn't always work that way. I grew up with milk delivered to my door. The junk man and his horse drawn wagon showed up once a week. He also sharpened knives. Times have obviously changed and will continue to do just that. The huge heavy consoles that housed televisions, record players and radios have given way to flat screens, video games and Roku or AppleTV. Landlines are almost a thing of the past. I think these people, who are still trying to bring back wooden racquets would do best to apply the creativity they used to defeat their opponents back in the day to help modernize their thinking and their countries approach to tennis. Baseball, the United States somewhat fading national past time, is not the same game it was when Babe Ruth played. Tennis should not be held hostage to a past that can't come back. Babe Ruth is still considered a great of his sport. The tennis players from a prior age will still be considered stars but should recognize the need to stop trying to hold back progress.

The Week In Review

So far anyway.

The Golden Swing is still taking place with WTA International and ATP 250 tournaments taking place in Florianopolis and Sao Paulo Brazil. Acapulco is now a hard court tournament and has been dominated by Spaniards for a few years. As I lamented last week it's now a hard court event. It's also claimed it's first victim. David Ferrer injured himself trying to win the event again. Reports are it's a strained adductor muscle, presumably in his hip. He played one more tournament on the Golden Swing than was indicated on his public schedule and I thought he'd do well to pass up Acapulco. As one tennis head I know said Venus Williams is just now recovering from a similar injury she suffered back in 2010.

The Acapulco Final four is an interesting lot. Alexandr Dolgopolov, Grigor Dimitrov, Andy Murray and Kevin Anderson who is into the semifinals due to Ferrer's injury and withdrawal. The much anticipated match between Dimitrov and Ernests Gulbis was a bust. Gulbis had flown half way around the world to play this tournament and it caught up with him. Dimitrov had no choice but to win.

Oh I almost forgot. There is a women's tournament, International Level, taking place in Acapulco as well. The only way you can watch it is if you find ESPN Deportes stream in your internet travels. TennisTV isn't showing any of it. In fact on Thursday all of the women's matches were on the Grandstand Court while all of the men's semifinals were on Cancha Central. It's a little more balanced Friday with Dominika Cibulkova, Zhang Shuai, Caroline Garcia and Christina McHale joining the men on Cancha Central. Those big gaps you'll see in TV coverage in the United States are when the women are playing.

There is one woman who isn't supposed to be there though and that's Caroline Garcia of France. She beat the new WTA Golden Girl Eugenie Bouchard of Canada 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. If you got a chance to see any of the WTA matches there is a very nice clip provided by the WTA of Bouchard being fawned over by photographers as she poses on a Mexican beach. Someone had better get hold of this young woman and tell her that right now her focus should be on tennis not photo ops and promotional junkets. I know she's trying to do what her tour wants her to but she'd better look at what happened to some of the other WTA Golden Girls. And I'm not referring to their ages.

There's another big tournament, the ATP Dubai M1000. The Final will feature Roger Federer vs Tomas Berdych.

Venus Williams has opted to play Kuala Lumpur instead of Fed Cup. Pearls are being clutched as I type this. She's right though. She wants the points and since she's feeling well wants to keep her hot streak going. Besides it's time that the young ones show the USTA that the money that's been spent on them has been worth it.

Referencing the article I led this post with there are fans now calling for Boris Becker's head after his charges loss to Federer today in Dubai. That didn't take long.

Fernando Verdasco has hired Sweden's Thomas Enqvist as his new coach. His time with the Adidas Team was disastrous in my very humble opinion.

The BNP Paribas Open known to tennis fans as Indian Wells begins on March 6. Let the complaints about the slowness of the courts, the superiority of serve and volley vs baseline focused tennis, grunting and the usual bullshit begin.













Friday, February 21, 2014

This and That February 21 2014

by Savannah

Now that my main distraction of the Winter Olympics - Figure Skating - is over I can focus on the sport I jones over - tennis of course.

www.news.cn Simona Halep photo 13e58bd9-fc98-4785-88f2-cbf8a510e7bf_zps3d2757cd.jpg
Photo via www.news.cn

I'll start off by saying gifts come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they're gift wrapped with big bows and sometimes they come in plain paper wrapping. I'll just say that I hope that gifts from one member of a family to another can take strange forms. Sometimes they're sweaty and come at a cost. Let's hope that sisters understand that and that the recipient of the gift can make the best of it.

AHEM!

abnamrowtt.net Berdych photo 23728321-6fe3-46fb-bdb8-1717466cde41_zpsecc9b54d.jpg
Photo via abnamrowtt.net

Scheduling has been on my mind especially as it relates to Fed Cup and the WTA schedule. Should a Premier event be scheduled right after Fed Cup? It's almost as if players are punished for being patriotic. It also does nothing to counter the argument that both Fed Cup and Davis Cup are intrusive and disrupt the flow a player needs so that he or she gets sufficient rest.

Dubai, another Premier event, had to entice Serena Williams to take a Wild Card into the event to add a marquee name after Victoria Azarenka pulled out with a foot injury.
This sort of thing is happening a lot on both tours now. After Rafael Nadal pulled out of Buenos Aires
David Ferrer came in to save the tournament. Some ignorant "fans" have given a name to this phenomenon and call the player coming in to save the day a "vulture". Damn auto correct wouldn't let me type *vulturing*. They're the same type of fan who would call for a return to wood as a surface in tennis. I mean really? I guess they aren't aware that if a tournament doesn't feature a player of a certain rank in its draw fines kick in. And I'm guessing they aren't aware that the surface they're asking to return was retired from tennis more than 50 years ago. I guess they want wood racquets back too. They're kind of the "Flat Earth Society" of tennis.

But back to Davis Cup and Fed Cup. I'm a fan of both and I hope that the ITF and the Tours can find a way to keep the spirit of team play alive on the pro level. Some steps are being taken - some scheduling changes have bee/are being made and I'm guessing in a couple of years there will be major changes in format as well.

REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci photo FerrerBuenosAires2162014_zps618eb660.jpg
Photo via Reuters Marcos Brindicci

It looks as if the ATP 250 tournament at Memphis may be in trouble. To be honest I didn't watch any of it and it seems not too many people bothered to show up. Some will say it has to do with the lack of a United States star in tennis but I think it's more than that. Tennis is an international sport and fans root for whoever they want. Yes they favor their own players but that doesn't mean they won't pay money to see good players from other countries.

Rogelio V. Solis, AP Nishikori Kei photo 68fcfd11-5601-4605-a21c-2d2fbf5d84e1_zpsd74f161a.jpg
Photo Rogelio V. Solis AP

I noticed at last years US Open that the crowds were smaller. The grounds were still packed and there were many out of towners but there were less people. People save up for years for the trip to New York to see the best that tennis has to offer but I think economics has caught up with tennis. A middle class family may be less able to put money aside for a trip to Flushing Meadows even if they live in one of NYC's five boroughs or the surrounding suburbs. And lets not say that if there was less television coverage people would come. That's not the case. Live tennis is the best tennis and fans know that. With even the nose bleed ticket prices pretty high people will settle for watching television.

If that's happening at the US Open imagine what's happening in Memphis. Yes there are those for whom tickets aren't an issue but that base isn't broad enough to sustain the cost of putting on a tournament in a mid level city like Memphis. There was a lot of talk that this may be the last year the tournament takes place in Memphis and that it will be sold, possibly to a South American country. It will be sad if this happens since outside of the US Open there are very few huge tournaments in the States now. Let's see. Indian Wells, Miami, Stanford, Cincinnati come to mind. That adds up to five. Will one of the WTA tournaments add an ATP component? Charleston? Who knows. I sincerely hope it doesn't move to Asia where literally no one will be in the stands and few will be watching on television or on line.

End Note

The Golden Swing is in full effect. I'm so sorry that Acapulco has gone from clay to hard court. It was one of my favorite tournaments. Venus Williams won there. David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro owned the joint. No more. Ferrer is scheduled to play as of now but names like Andy Murray, John Isner and Grigor Dimitrov are now in the Main Draw. Ferrer won Buenos Aires and is now playing Rio. I know he wants to play Acapulco but maybe he should give himself a bit of a rest. Meanwhile Rest in Peace clay tournament. I for one will miss you.








Monday, February 10, 2014

The Disaster that is United States Tennis

by Savannah

This was a Fed Cup week for the women of the WTA so the ATP stepped into the breach with three 250 tournaments.

via PBZ Zagreb photo f5eadb00-78e4-4f0b-90a5-7db5e53ecfa7_zpscbd63e52.jpg
via PBZ Zagreb

Marin Cilic got a nice win over Tommy Haas in Zagreb. I saw some of the play up to the semi finals and Haas was playing well after being pushed by opponents so it's not like Cilic was facing an untested man across the net. I didn't see the Final but from the score it looks as if it was a decent match with Cilic winning 6-3, 6-4. Some would say he routined Haas. I can't say yea or nay. Team Figure Skating from Sochi occupied my time.

Meanwhile two of the Clown Princes of tennis ended up hoisting trophies.

TAM Per photo 6227b735-c8ed-4f83-810f-5d5a524a6279_zps315e0228.jpg
TAM Perú

Fabio Fognini, who when he's not on top of his game and feels he doesn't have a chance can put on a horrid display on court obviously felt good in Viña del Mar winning the final over Leo Mayer 6-2, 6-4. I like to see Fognini when he's playing his best so I'm sorry I missed this one yesterday.

via AFP photo 3fb449e9-1e77-47ea-9e43-7ba8d6c2bf6b_zpsfad90510.jpg
via AFP

Gaël Monfils is one of the biggest underachievers in tennis. With the talent he has there is no reason he couldn't easily be in the top five contending in Slams and M1000's. Instead when he feels pressed he goes into his act becoming a showman instead of a tennis player. Whenever I see Gaël start clowning I know he is finished.

Yesterday he played Richard Gasquet for the title in Montpellier and to be honest I expected Gasquet to win. I was surprised to see that Gaël won. Maybe he has matured and the new look is in effect inside and out. I hope so. He is too talented not to take advantage of it.

The Fed Cup Disaster

Italy didn't even think it had to send it's "A" team to play the United States in the US city of Cleveland, Ohio. The only player I'd heard of before was Karin Knapp. Mary Jo Fernandez, our Fed Cup coach, picked a good team in my opinion: Madison Keys, Alison Riske, Christina McHale and Lauren Davis who would team up with Riske to play doubles. I'm geoblocked from Fed Cup TV so I didn't make a particular effort to watch but I have to say that I was surprised that Madison Keys didn't win a singles match. Not one. At least McHale won a set. Keys went down to Camila Giorgi (sorry I have heard of her) 6-2, 6-1 and never took the court again. Is she injured? Did they make sure her brain was functioning? The only match the US won was when Riske and Davis took the doubles in straight sets. I wonder if the Italian team cared since they'd won the tie already.

This result was a disaster for American tennis and completed a Fed Cup/Davis Cup wipe out. Our men couldn't beat a team carried by one man and our women, who to their credit have been playing better lately, couldn't rise to the insult of have having a "B" team sent to play them and at least make the tie competitive.

Is it poor coaching? Is it because our top player didn't play? I call bullshit. These young women have had millions of dollars invested in them by the USTA and can't even beat Camila Giorgi and Karin Knapp. Nastassja Burnett and Alice Matteucci played doubles for Italy. Ironically there have been no calls for Mary Jo to step down because to be honest who would be stupid enough to take the job? Mary Jo is an insider and with her husband still a mega agent they're not going to go after her like they would any other Captain are they?

Serena Williams is 31 years old. She's focused on her legacy. Venus Williams is playing for pride and her legacy as well. I've been saying for a while now that after the Williams Sisters retire there is NO ONE. Of all the up and comers I've seen the only one who impressed is Victoria Duval and she may go to college instead of turning pro right away. Sloane Stephens? Forget her. She thinks she's playing for her legacy when she doesn't even have one and by the looks of things may never have one.

Andy Roddick was US tennis for years but he rightly decided it was time for him to step down and do other things. Those who were supposed to step into his shoes? Ain't happening.

But this means nothing to the US tennis establishment. There isn't an American in the top ten except for Serena and that drives them up the wall. There is this kid playing juniors now, Francis Tiafoe, who is sixteen and picked up tennis pretty much on his own. He's still four or five years away.

I'm sure there are frenzied meetings going on about what to do but I don't know if they can do anything. Offer Duval the moon to keep playing? Force Tiafoe to go up against the big boys when he hasn't finished growing mentally or physically yet? Our players can't think on court. Therefore they can't adapt on court. They think they're the shit without having any great achievements, hell without any achievements outside of lower level events or events tailor made for them. Hell at least the Brits have Andy Murray. We've got no one.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Catching Our Collective Breath

by Savannah

Stan Wawrinka 2014 AO Champion Aaron Favila/AP photo 8d71c4a3-cdb2-4981-84a1-c26e346329f1_zpse335d859.jpg
Aaron Favila AP

I've been a lazy woman. Well, not exactly. I was a little under the weather and then, well, needed a minute to get over what happened at the Australian Open. It wasn't the result as much as it was the so called "fan" reaction to it.
There are issues with an internet that is open to all regardless of maturity or state of haterdom if that's a word. Some are so blinded by hate of a particular player that they're unwilling to see what's in front of their eyes. Instead, through their blinders they project their insecurities and ethnic or racial biases onto a player, a man or woman they don't know personally. The player is vilified for breathing by some of these people.

And let's be clear these ethnic and/or racial biases are found in players too. Sometimes it's amazing to read comments by players implying that since they can't beat Player A they must be doping or cheating in some way.

Li Na 2014 Aus Open Champion AFP photo 133456d2-9c21-40fe-acc9-f1c77ed69ac9_zps3170210b.jpg
AFP

It's a nasty fact of tennis that is really pretty out in the open but rarely ever commented on by those media giants of the tennis world. It goes without saying that commentators often betray their biases and make viewers who enjoy the sport and root for players based on ability angry enough to turn the sound off when their viewing options are limited but when Federations betray their bias it's really disheartening.

But enough of that. My mother always said "empty barrels make the most noise" and nothing in my life experience has proven that statement wrong.

 photo 3cdcaa62-a3d5-46dd-8ea6-c2638a2233b9_zpsfc353f9e.jpg
Xinhua/Li Jundong

This past week there were two women's events, one in Thailand and the other indoors in Paris. Having just finished getting my sleep pattern back to normal I didn't even try to see any of the Pattaya City tournament.

kubot lindstedt aus open 2014 champs photo ea0e48d0-c639-4576-8102-9a89a1c00cf9_zps77838ba5.jpg

That is going to be a problem for Stacey Allaster's Asian focus but I don't think she cares about little things like that. I guess viewers will come from the Asian continent.

I did watch the GDF Suez event despite the time difference. I would wake up early, put on TennisTV and yes, I would fall asleep again. I did see the semifinals and finals though since they started a bit later in the morning for me.

Mladenovic Nestor Mixed Dbles Champs 2014 aus open Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty photo 6aae5756-638f-4ade-9ab3-0aca7c70214a_zpsa2796ca8.jpg
Saeed Khan AFP/Getty

Alizé Cornet fought hard but in the end back to back three set matches did her in. Her match against Andrea Petkovic was, lets call it interesting. If you love on court drama and histrionics that was the match for you. I have to say Petko's meltdown and tirade against chair umpire Mariana Alves was justified. She's a horror and has always been but she's a Gold Badge. If you don't believe it Wiki is your friend. I'm sure Petko will be fined for throwing her racquet (not smashing it) and tearing at her clothes while raging but a Gold Badge chair umpire should be invisible. Alves never is.

Alexander Zverev 2014 Aus Open Jr Boy Champ Quinn Rooney/Getty photo 18bb93ff-2dfe-4773-8477-3beb90efc2bb_zps2b3d70ec.jpg
Quinn Rooney Getty

Of course the big news out of that tournament is that the top seed, Maria Sharapova, was defeated by fellow Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova who went on to win the event. While not denying Pavs will and determination she is not the best advertisement for women's tennis. Ranked #21 she is visibly unfit and no one would say she scampers around the court like a gazelle. That she's more fit that she was last year isn't saying much. Right now she reminds me of Lindsay Davenport before she got fit.

 photo 250e760b-fa34-4ecf-88b3-efb1aed43771_zpsa08781de.jpg

Pavs also has issues of focus and concentration that need to be addressed. If she is willing to work at getting more fit she could easily push her way into the top ten. Slimness is not guarantor of ease of movement on the court but the focus and determination it takes to improve your fitness could lead to better focus and concentration on the court.

Speaking of WTA rankings a fan calling themselves "shevedbarilescu" made the following point about the top sixteen WTA players.
The top 16 is currently represented by 14 Europeans, 1 American and 1 Chinese. Of those the American and the Chinese are the only active players to have won a Grand Slam title in the last 12 months. Coincidentally Serena and Na are also the two oldest players in the top 16. Worrying times for Stacey.

I had never looked at the top sixteen that way. Let's look at the women ranked 1-10.

1 WILLIAMS, SERENA 13000
2 AZARENKA, VICTORIA 6581
3 LI, NA CHINA 6570
4 RADWANSKA, AGNIESZKA POLAND 5750
5 SHARAPOVA, MARIA RUSSIA 5416
6 KVITOVA, PETRA CZECH REPUBLIC 4745
7 ERRANI, SARA ITALY 4440
8 JANKOVIC, JELENA SERBIA 4310
9 KERBER, ANGELIQUE GERMANY 4030
10 HALEP, SIMONA ROMANIA 3760

Serena Williams won two Slams last year. Victoria Azarenka won one. Li Na won the French in 2011 so technically the fan is wrong but I assume they're including the Australian Open from this year. I started this post last week but there was no movement in the top ten rankings.

Let's look at the ATP Top Ten.

1 Nadal, Rafael (ESP) 14,330
2 Djokovic, Novak (SRB) 10,620
3 Wawrinka, Stanislas (SUI) 5,710
4 Del Potro, Juan Martin (ARG) 5,370
5 Ferrer, David (ESP) 5,280
6 Murray, Andy (GBR) 4,720
7 Berdych, Tomas (CZE) 4,540
8 Federer, Roger (SUI) 4,355
9 Gasquet, Richard (FRA) 3,050
10 Tsonga, Jo-Wilfried (FRA) 2,885

Keeping to the criteria I set, highlighting the players who won a Slam last year there are three men in the top ten who won a Slam with one man winning two. Including the Australian Open for this year Stan Wawrinka is highlighted.

Will Aga Radwanska ever win a Slam? Things would have to really break her way for that to happen in my opinion.

 photo 79779762-99b9-469d-856b-4834b1e307c1_zpsb2a1156e.jpg
Chris Hyde Getty Images Asia/Pac

In fact all of the women in the top ten outside of the top two will have problems winning a Slam. If Serena Williams does play Indian Wells this year she will have a lot to prove to the tournament and the fans who will welcome her as a conquering heroine as well as to herself. It can't be an easy situation for her after so long but if she was inspired by "Mandela" then she may be able to overcome the hoopla. We'll see.

I'm sure some feel I'm slighting Li Na but once Serena and Victoria Azarenka were out she was the logical choice to win the event. She'll also need the right chair umpires to avoid paying hefty fines for coaching won't she?

 photo AnhelinaKalinina2014AustralianOpenJunior7d9qEpwIyq-l_zpsd3544db9.jpg
Matt King Getty Images AsiaPac

Davis Cup

The big winners on court this weekend were Great Britain and Japan. The Czech Republic won their tie 3-2 against The Netherlands and will play Japan who defeated Canada 4-1. Canada was missing it's big threats Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil to injury didn't stand a chance to be honest. Japan will be up against the Czechs next round and with Nishikori Kei their strongest player I'm not sure if they'll prevail. This far ahead of the next tie it's hard to make positive statements because anything can happen between now and then.

Great Britain will face Italy next round and with it's leader Andy Murray having to be taken off court Sunday in a golf cart Britain has more immediate worries than the next Davis Cup tie. Indian Wells and Miami are coming up not to mention the French Open and it's run up tournaments. I wonder if Murray will pass up the French again?

As for the United States its gamble that clay would neutralize Murray (quick name someone else on the British DC team) backfired. We don't have anyone who can challenge an ATP top ten right now and on our worse surface we didn't stand a chance. There are some junior boys with a bit of hype around them but they're a good three to four years away mentally and physically.

As for the top ten men David Ferrer and Juan Martin del Potro are on the bubble. Both need good South American clay court swings and United States spring hard court swings to stay in the top ten.

Ekaterina Makarova 2014 Pattaya City Champion photo 0f753b2c-d5f2-4892-98d9-510c3ac13daf_zps36064836.jpg

Ekaterina Makarova was the winner in Pattaya City.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova GDF Suez 2014 Kenzo Tribouillard. AFP photo 7a4acd17-fa0f-4b32-bd0c-8ee84cb5cc17_zps22d19095.jpg
Kenzo Tribouillard AFP

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova triumphant in Paris.

Fed Cup

The US Fed Cup team will be led by Madison Keys. Her teammates are Alison Riske, Christina McHale and Lauren Davis.

We'll be facing an Italian team minus Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. Karin Knapp will lead the Italians. Her teammates are Camila Giorgi, Nastassja Burnett, and Alice Matteucci.

I think we stand a chance on a hard court. Go Team!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tennis Questions and Answers Part Deux

by Savannah

I know many of you probably think I'm a hater. I did kind of rant about the journalistic ethics or lack there of of the so called tennis media. I got on their case about giving Nishikori Kei short shrift after his epic three plus hour match against the ATP #1 and I dragged them about not following up with Maria Sharapova when she was evasive and dismissive of their questions and wouldn't tell them which hip was hurt so badly it affected her match versus Dominika Cibulkova.

Let's fast forward to last night's three plus hour match versus the ATP #1. This time the man playing was one Grigor Dimitrov, the man the ATP is dying to make happen. Was there a difference in the post match presser? You bet there was.

INTERVIEW
Grigor Dimitrov 22-01-14
Wednesday, 22 January, 2014

Q. Do you think you'll look back on this match as an opportunity that got away or a step forward in your progression?
GRIGOR DIMITROV: Well, there's a lot of mixed feelings right now. I'm a bit shattered. It's tough losing that match, my first quarterfinal. I came out expecting nothing less than to win.

All the credit to Rafa. He's been a tremendous competitor, great guy off the court. We had a great battles the past year and now again, and hopefully in the future more.

The one thing I'm really excited is to actually get back on the court in the upcoming weeks and start working and come up to the same stage and try to do it again.

Of course I'm deeply disappointed. I mean, I'm not going to lie. But, you know, in the end of the day I have to take the positives and the negatives out of the match and just kind of move on.

Happy with the situation at the moment. Again, all the credit to Rafa. I think he played a great match. Also his physicality came over towards the end of the match. He's not one of the best, I think he's the best player right now.

Hopefully we're going to have more battles in the future together.

Q. You exchanged some words at the net with him. What did he say to you?
GRIGOR DIMITROV: I mean, I don't want to say what he told me. The one thing is we have tons of respect for each other, again, on and off the court. You know, he just wished me luck and, of course, all those things.

In the end of the day I know I'm going to play him again. We have a lot of jokes here and there with him, but that's great. Of course, congrats to him and I think the team. That's just how it goes in the slams, in matches like this.

You know, he's a good man.

Q. What have these two weeks done for your confidence and belief going forward?
GRIGOR DIMITROV: Confidence, yeah, obviously always going to be there in a way. It's one thing you've worked so hard and you kind of get rewarded a little bit, you know, coming to that first quarterfinal to me was, of course, big.

But I had expectations for myself. That wasn't just to go out there and play. So, you know, that's to me the biggest disappointment, the negative part of it, of course.

But in the end of the day, you know, I want to get to that position again, quarters, semis, final, whatever it is, any big tournament. That's my goal. That's why I'm actually excited to get on court in the upcoming weeks.

Of course I shed a few tears, but it should hurt. It should hurt. And it does hurt, so...

You know, I can take a lot of things, but at the moment I'm just a bit all over the place, yeah.

Q. Going into that fourth set having lost the last two tiebreaks so closely, how hard was it to go into that fourth set?
GRIGOR DIMITROV: Not easy. Not easy. I felt that he actually stepped up his game a little bit more. Again, his physicality came in even more. He held his ground better in the fourth set.

Even though I felt I had gaps here and there, he was never letting me take a charge of the point or any of his service games. He actually served really good in the fourth. We both struggled a little bit here and there occasionally, but that's in the game.

Again, I think, I mean, it's just different when you play against Rafa than any other players. In a way you know what to expect. Even though you know what to expect, sometimes it still goes his way.

But I'm excited. I'm excited. I think in a way the fourth set could have gone either way. Depends of the start. But, you know, the outcome wasn't very positive for me.

Q. Rafa said after the match that you have all the qualities to become a great champion. Do words like that mean something to you?
GRIGOR DIMITROV: It's nice to hear. It's nice to hear, you know. I'm flattered. But till it actually happens, even if you say it, it doesn't justify the presence [sic]. We know each other, me and him.

Again, tons of respect for each other. I appreciate what he said, of course. But I think I still have a long way to go out there and I need to improve. I need to improve every day. I felt that, you know, those two weeks, even though I haven't played my best tennis throughout the whole weeks, I still felt I've improved.

Actually the work that I've done in the past months, it actually comes in. To me, at that stage, at that point, that's the most important thing. It's good to refresh a little bit and get back.

Q. You mentioned his physicality in the fourth set. Do you see that's an area of your game you still need to improve?
GRIGOR DIMITROV: I think in a way. I think every player, if you just look around, you know, you need your legs. That's basically just what it is nowadays. The game has become so physical throughout all the years. You know only the strong guys are surviving.

You see up in the last eight out here, I mean, all those guys are Grand Slam champions. They're experienced guys. They're strong guys. Of course, everything has to, of course, build up and take its toll until you actually reach that stage.

But of course, I mean, I have areas. I know I have areas that I can definitely improve even more. I think it's just what I have right now is still work in progress. When I come out on the court or in the gym every day, I don't work for the day after. I look in the future.

At the end of the day, tennis is not a sprint. It's a marathon sport. You play five sets here, best of five. You know, it's always nice to see where you're at, especially in events like that.

Q. If you had that forehand again on the set point...
GRIGOR DIMITROV: Go out there now.

Q. Sorry. Would you go the same way? Were you worried about his forehand?
GRIGOR DIMITROV: Which one?

Q. Second set.
GRIGOR DIMITROV: What about the first? I'm more mad about the first one.

What can I say? It hurts. You know, I'm happy that I took the decision. Once you take decision, never look back. Same thing in life: you make mistakes, you make mistakes. It's in the past.

Obviously I got to put that in the past. You know, it's just a tough shot, you know (tearing up). It's a tough choice. I'm sure I could have done something different. I'm sure I could have done something different.

But in a match everything comes down to a split of a second. You know, it's whether in or out.

Amazing how they came up with all those questions for Dimitrov isn't it? Why weren't they asked of Kei? Again I'm not a trained journalist so maybe I'm a bit naīve. A man plays another man for over three hours and only one gets asked about his process, his thoughts? Kei speaks English. They know that. He spent time in the States. But it seems to me that all of the "reporters" have bought into the "Dimitrov is the future" meme so he is more deserving of fans interest and time, because, well, because.

And funny, he wasn't asked about his girlfriend.

Speaking of the ladies...

i.eurosport photo 11e1127c-fc96-4a1c-aded-9dc817591972_zpsa2da616b.jpg
i.eurosport

The now old school group Public Enemy warned told us a long time ago "don't believe the hype". Just before her match against Dominika Cibulkova Simona Halep announced that she would be working with Wim Fissette who last worked with Kim Clijsters. I was a little surprised since Halep had been playing so well but I don't follow her that closely and didn't know she was playing without a coach. Her match against Cibulkova showed that she desperately needs one.
A coach isn't there to make hotel reservations and set up your itinerary. He or she is there to help you handle the pressure not only of a Grand Slam Quarterfinal but also the pressure of expectations.

Some of Simona's fans were already putting her in the top three and challenging for the top spot. Cibulkova dismantled her and yes Halep was tight but she was never in the match. I'm glad to see she didn't go for a "name", that she went for someone who stays out of the limelight and works with what his charge has to help get her to where she wants to be.

That said I was already looking forward to the next match, Victoria Azarenka vs Agniezska Radwanska. I was unimpressed by what I'd seen from Azarenka up to yesterday/last night but figured she would up her game now that she was in the quarters. To be fair she did try. But Aga has learned to add aggression to her "now you see it now you don't" hocus locus mind fuck of a game. And she totally destroyed Azarenka's mind in their match neutralizing Vika's weapons and making her look like a rookie on the court.

The women's semifinals will see Agniezska Radwanska vs Dominika Cibulkova and Li Na vs Eugenie Bouchard. What can I say? You can't count any of these women out.

I've been posting about double standards lately but David Ferrer shoving a line judge out of the way so he can put his towel down defines the tennis "media"'s inability to be fair. If you haven't seen it here's a gif someone made.

Now just imagine the firestorm if Serena Williams did that. A hefty fine, banned from the sport, you name it.
So far from the "tennis media"? Crickets.