Monday, October 5, 2015

The New Head of the WTA is Steve Simon

by Savannah

Marilyn Chung The Desert Sun photo c540eef5-9c7c-43b7-ab5c-fbd02d1e4469_zpsoonhreuz.jpg
via Marilyn Chung The Desert Sun

The WTA announced this morning that its new CEO is Steve Simon, best known as the Tournament Director for the BNP Paribas Open Indian Wells.

In its official statement the WTA said the following:

“Steve Simon, with his successful career leading one of tennis’ most prestigious tournaments, is the perfect person to run the WTA,” the Board said in a statement. “Steve produced results, pursued excellence and he kept innovating, making the fan experience even better. He has a very clear vision for the sport and is held in high regard by all.”

Simon has run the Indian Wells tournament since 2004. Outside of the Grand Slams, it has become the largest two-week combined tournament and is the most attended WTA and ATP World Tour tennis tournament in the world.

“I am humbled and at the same time very excited about the opportunity that has been presented to me by the Board,” Simon said. “I will be focused on building upon the successful platforms that have been put in place by my predecessors, Stacey Allaster and Larry Scott, with a sole focus on driving excellence and innovation, while creating a premium experience for the fans.”

“Steve Simon is the right person for the job,” said WTA founder Billie Jean King. “His track record is marked by success. He is thoughtful, respectful and he has excellent business judgment.”

Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki each praised Simon.


Simon will begin his duties immediately as he also winds down his role at Indian Wells. It is anticipated he will be fulltime with the WTA effective November 30, 2015.

Simon is also a former collegiate tennis player and competed in 1981 in the Mixed Doubles at Wimbledon.

Ironically just before the announcement Micky Lawler, WTA President, said the following in an interview with blogger Peter Bodo re the Asian swing that has seen disturbingly high withdrawals from fatigued and brain dead playrs.

"We know, the Chinese know, the Singaporeans [hosts of the upcoming WTA championships] know that this part of the year -- it's just too much...
We need to look at spreading things out," Lawler added. "We don't need to call it a 'Road Map' [again] or anything like that, but we need to sit down and work out some significant changes, and we need to start on that soon."

...The Road Map to which Lawler referred was implemented in 2009, in response to concerns that the tennis "season" was too long and insufficiently streamlined. The result was, among other things, a tour featuring the current, post-US Open Asian swing, followed by the WTA Finals and an eight-week, year-ending offseason. The longer offseason was intended to mitigate the toll taken by injuries and the demands placed on the top players by a more rigorous commitment structure.

Simon will have a very difficult row to hoe. Outside of Serena Williams and Venus Williams the tour is dominated by Europeans, many of whom are from Eastern Europe including Russian Maria Sharapova, Romanian Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova from the Czech Republic and new member of the top five Garbiñe Muguruza, the only top player from Western Europe in that rarified air. Angelique Kerber of Germany and Flavia Pennetta of Italy are the other Western Europeans in the top ten, Ranked #10 and #7 respectively.

European fans, who feel disrespected by former CEO Stacey Allaster's focus on Asia were looking for someone who would be able to make sure efforts were made to reinstate many of the indoor European events that were sent to Asian cities, feel another North American, at a time when tennis in the US is at it's lowest point in many years, will not help them. Lost in this view is that many US tournaments have also disappeared. Simon will have a delicate balancing act to perform trying to reconcile the discontent on both sides of the Atlantic. How he handles the widespread discontent with Asian events held in mostly empty stadiums is going to require a lot of skill as well especially since the public doesn't know how binding the contracts with the Chinese government are.

For now all WTA fans can do is wait. Lawler clearly indicated that something has to be done about the post US Open WTA schedule especially since the ATP doesn't seem to be having similar issues.

© SavannahsWorld 2015 All Rights Reserved except where indicated

Sunday, October 4, 2015

This and That 10/5/2015

by Savannah

Venus Wuhan 2015 photo 469bc3b1-41e1-4b2a-804b-58df1cd49830_zpsgbpazdmk.jpg

She's 35. Older than most active players male or female. The tennis world had pretty much labeled her a sentimental favorite, a woman who could make it to the quarters of majors but not much farther. The mechanics of her serve, so many moving parts they said, were scrutinized every time she put the ball in play.

Wuhan is one of the major WTA tournaments on the Asian Swing that takes place after the US Open - more on that later - and it was widely expected that she would not figure in the final as younger women were expected to take the spotlight and win this point heavy event. It didn't help that she had aggravated both hamstrings and took the court for the final with both upper thighs heavily taped and limping a bit.

Garbiñe Muguruza, one of the WTA Rising Stars had been playing inspired tennis coming into the semifinal against Angelique Kerber. It seemed that new coach Sam Sumyk had a willing and able student and that he was poised to win a WTA P5 after being dismissed by WTA darling Eugenie Bouchard.

I was surprised at how well Muguruza was playing and thought Venus would be pressed really hard in the final. Instead it was Venus who dominated the Final. There were no visible signs of her ankle injury from Muguruza during the short match but she looked exhausted and frustrated when she retired down 0-3 in the second set while Venus calmly chatted with her coach David Witt. Sumyk looked ready to explode. The Muguruza who showed up for the Wuhan Final is the one I saw at the US Open, unable to think clearly on court without a lot of guidance.

 photo dd314a74-b783-40a1-bffe-c4632f149ff2_zpstlhbkci6.jpg

The most amazing thing about all of this is Venus has a chance to make the YEC in Singapore.
Yes she's one of many but who saw this possibility at the beginning of the year? Congratulations to Ms Venus Williams.

Speaking of Eugenie Bouchard she's now working with Thomas Hogstedt. Yes that Hogstedt. The one who dumped Li Na via newspaper article (or email)for Maria Sharapova who then dumped him, then worked for a hot minute with Caroline Wozniacki saying he didn't want to travel so much anymore when he stopped working with her. Yet there he is in Beijing working with Bouchard.

In an article posted on Eh Tennis Yahoo the following is reported:

When we reported just before the US Open that experienced coach Thomas Hogstedt was in the mix for a tryout with top Canadian Genie Bouchard, we were told that while he was keen and ready to come on board, Bouchard and her team had reservations.

Those reservations seemed to have abated and Hogstedt is indeed by Bouchard's side, as she (hopefully) prepares for a return Monday in Beijing, China against Andrea Petkovic.


As well, he has the Sharapova stamp of approval, in a sense – which is no small thing in the Bouchard camp. We're told that before she began working full-time with Saviano to begin the 2014 season, Team Bouchard had approached (Michael)Joyce, who also had passed the Sharapova test and worked with her a long time, first as a hitting partner when her father Yuri was her coach, then as coach when Yuri stepped aside.

The thing was that Joyce had a good deal with young player Jessica Pegula, who was going through knee surgery and recovery and was out of the game for an extended period. Understandably, he wasn't going to give that up (Pegula's family owns the Buffalo Bills and Sabres, so you can imagine he was well taken care of ) without some sort of guarantee. And that guarantee wasn't forthcoming.

So if you've worked with Pova you're the person for Bouchard. Interesting that the article points out the financial benefits of Michael Joyce coaching Jessica Pegula and not the financial wherewithal of the Bouchard family.

Bouchard skipped Wuhan due to the lingering effects of her concussion but it looks as if she will play in Beijing. A lot of eyes will be on her.

The Post US Open Schedule - WTA Style

Let's see. In two days of play in Beijing five players retired: Simona Halep, Coco Vandeweghe, Lesia Tsurenko, Alja Tomljanovic and Zarina Diyas.

You can argue that back to back to back tournaments is asking a lot of players, especially the elite, but there is also the fact that if Halep hadn't shown up in Beijing she would've lost $300,000 in bonus money. I don't think the other women who retired had to worry about that though.

Should be Asian swing come right after the Oz Open? The players, even though coming off a Grand Slam tournament, would be fresher. I don't know how the weather is in China that time of year though.

I think the back to back events take a toll because it's the end of the year. Players have been playing with injuries all year that by now have become nagging and annoying. Not to mention being brain fried. Caroline Wozniacki said that the WTA forces injured players to play and was ridiculed by some. Retirements by the likes of Vendeweghe, Tsurenko, Tomljanovic and Diyas don't make much difference to tournament directors. Halep retiring makes a big difference.

There is already speculation about what the YEC will look like if the top six women in the world aren't able to play.
I don't think that'll happen but it's a valid observation at this point.


Here is the leader board:

RTS Player Current Total Points Replaced Adjusted RTS Total
1 Simona Halep 5840 60 5780
2 Maria Sharapova 4322 1 4321
3 Garbiñe Muguruza 3512 1 3511
4 Petra Kvitova 3482 1 3481
5 Lucie Safarova 3222 1 3221
6 Angelique Kerber 3220 105 3115
7 Flavia Pennetta 3034 1 3033
8 Venus Williams 2972 0 2972
9 Karolina Pliskova 3040 100 2940
10 Carla Suárez Navarro 3010 100 2910
11 Agnieszka Radwanska 2955 100 2855
12 Belinda Bencic 2865 30 2835
13 Roberta Vinci 2565 30 2535

Lucie Safarova is out. Maria Sharapova's participation is anyone's guess due to her injury. Muguruza is suffering from injury. Petra Kvitova looked terrible losing to Sara Errani in Beijing committing 49 unforced errors. Then there's this quote from Simona Halep: "I hope I can play. I will see - I need treatment and a break, for sure." posted by @tennis_photos. Those fans talking about players ranked 7-14 playing the YEC may be on to something.

End Notes

There have been a lot of posts on #TennisTwitter about Player X "saving" Tournament Y. What does that even mean? Does it mean that the level of tennis outside of the elite is crap? Garbiñe Muguruza, now a top four player, has only one title to her name this year, Hobart way back in January. You can believe me or not, but the drop in the level of tennis that will come after 2016 is going to be quick and ugly.

Bernard Tomic, who saw charges against him dropped after a set to in Miami was photographed partying with Sydney business man Joe Elias on his yacht. Google Joe Elias of Sydney, Australia. It's an interesting read.

The ATP has made it clear it expects Andy Murray to play at their WTF year end tournament. He's also expected to carry the weight for his country in Davis Cup.

Victoria Azarenka shows her tongue still has a life of its own. This statement was made after her last tournament:

I'm sure that endeared her to many people within the WTA.

The Young'uns

The young players I picked to watch this 2015, Madison Keys and Alexander Zverev have not, in my opinion, shown much maturity in their games. Keys still gets brain freeze when her game isn't working and Zverev has been taking too many wild cards instead of refining his game in the tennis equivalent of the minor leagues.

The one player who does seem to be making the most of his age and using the Challenger circuit to his advantage is Chung Hyeon. You know he's on the right track when there are haters already saying he wouldn't be ranked so high if he hadn't vultured so many Challenger events. Yeah, he's doing the right thing.

Meanwhile Canada has got it's hype machine in overdrive over fifteen year old Félix Auger-Aliassime. Get back to me in three years people.

They're also hyping Charlotte Robillard-Millette, sixteen (born in 1999). I guess they don't think you're ever too young for the hype machine. Richard Gasquet, who was hyped as the future of French tennis at 9, should write a book. So should Donald Young.

©Savannah's World 2015 All Rights Reserved unless otherwise indicated

Thursday, October 1, 2015

She Did The Right Thing

by Savannah

via @AFP photo 0bf81dd1-1129-4f32-9687-f5e0e51b83cb_zpsqm25ikaj.jpg
via @AFP

Patrick Mouratoglou said it earlier this week. Rabid fans jumped all in his shit and took the occasion to call him names instead of dealing realistically with what he said. What did he say that incensed some parts of Serena Williams fanbase? Merely that 2015 is done, that she will not play again until 2016. You have to wonder if it was the message or the messenger that got fans in an uproar.

Let's look at 2015 for 34 year old Serena Williams. She held three of the four Grand Slam titles coming into the US Open. A win there would have given her a Career Year Grand Slam, something no one has done since Steffi Graf back in the day. Everyone, even my non tennis watching family, was talking about Serena. Thanks to a nice endorsement deal from Chase her picture is everywhere in New York City. You couldn't turn on a sports program without seeing her image or hearing a discussion about what she could achieve in New York. The women's final, usually the poor sister to the men's final, sold out long before the first ball was struck in competition at the BJK Tennis Center. Even the WTA, long known for it's blonde obsession got into the act. Serena. Serena. Serena.

And some want to believe that there was no pressure on her.

Everything is not about race but in a still mostly white sports environment where the achievements of athletes of color are looked at by some as anomalies sadly, once again, I have to go there.

The people who want to believe that Serena is some kind of a machine, that the pressure of hearing CYGS over and over and over wouldn't and couldn't get to her represents the myth of the unthinking, instinctual African American athlete. Pain? Nah? Pressure? What? Some, and I'm including some "fans" in this category, conciously or unconsciously accept this meme.

For an African American woman it's even worse. We have to bear the burden of being "strong", of being able to overcome difficulties that would reduce women of other races to tears and anti depressants. "We don't do that" is drilled into many African American women from childhood. So when we see a great athlete, maybe the greatest female athlete ever, admit that she's unable to play her sport just after a bitter and alnost inexplicable loss now some want to see it as a betrayal, an expression of weakness that a "strong black woman" would not give in to. Enough. It's 2015 people. I for one would not want to have lived through the year Serena did. She wants to be away from the madding crowd? Let her be. She's showing, through example, that there are times you need a professional, personal and emotional time out, that there is nothing wrong with admitting that and that "me" time is perfectly okay.

Fans have to get over living their fantasies through athletes or celebrities. Many of the so called "fans" are women, mostly African American or African Caribbean women who have deified Serena. She is not a deity. She's a woman. Sojourner Truth asked many years ago "ain't I a woman?" Stop asking Serena to live up to preconceived notions of strength and black womanhood. Maybe in doing that some of the pressure will come off of you too.

I'm not done people. The haters have also crawled out of the woodwork. I was surprised to see so many, well some, saying that Serena should be fined by the WTA, that she should be punished for daring to put herself first. Newsflash. It's no longer legal to whip black people senseless or throw them in boiling cane syrup because they've done something that affronts you personally. To them I will say this: What makes you think Serena did not discuss this with the WTA? The people who make high handed, often inexplicable decisions to play or not to play, nothing is said about them at all. There are still some who question how near death Serena was a couple of years back but accept that a shoulder injury, said to have been healed many years ago, is still troubling someone. Double standard? I'd say so. Leg injury is it now? No questions asked. Her camp says that's what it is and it is. Period, end of discussion. No outcry about that player withdrawing from a Mandatory that I recall. Did you see any? Nope, because she's injured per her people. I have no idea if these folks are being paid to look the other way or they think currying favor with a particular agent will make or break their career. If you call yourself a journalist, a reporter, how about doing what you say you're doing and report, not just slap your name on press releases. I get the feeling that "they" wanted an injured, brain dead Serena in Singapore so that one of the blondes would be able to eliminate her and tarnish her otherwise outstanding season, CYGS or not. I wonder if the chorus of "she should've cheated" will pick up where it left off if a similar situation comes up between players this year. We'll have to wait and see won't we?

So the race to Singapore, minus Serena Williams, and an ill Lucie Safarova, will showcase the WTA as some have always wanted it to be seen. Let's see how exciting that will be, and how many casual fans brave the time difference to watch.

© Savannahs World 2015 All Rights Reserved unless otherwise indicated

Friday, September 25, 2015

Meet The New ITF President - David Haggerty

by Savannah

Mike Stobe/Getty Images for Usta photo 8e2eecfa-46ea-4acb-b950-0e9ff9ddd185_zpsge3wwqfo.jpg
Mike Stobe Getty Images for USTA Haggerty is on the left

An American man has taken the helm of the ITF, the organization that controls Davis Cup, Fed Cup and the Grand Slams at a time when American tennis is at its weakest in many years. The USTA is viewed with some skepticism here because of the USTA's attempts to dilute or get rid of the European Spring clay court season but let's look at Haggerty and see what is known about him at present.

Christopher Clarey wrote this about him in May 2015.

David Haggerty, the former United States Tennis Association president who helped lead the effort to build a roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium and a new national training center in Orlando, Fla., will run for president of the sport’s global governing body, the International Tennis Federation.


...For me, tennis has been my life, and I care deeply about it. It has been my livelihood but also my passion, and I think the I.T.F. should be a leader of the governing bodies, should have a seat at the table. And we haven’t always had that. We haven’t had necessarily the respect that I think we need to have, and that comes through mutual respect.”

The I.T.F., founded in 1913, owns and operates the two leading team competitions — the Davis Cup for men and the Fed Cup for women — along with many lower-tier events. As the recognized international federation, it also oversees the antidoping program and the increasingly prestigious Olympic tennis tournament.

The sport’s fragmented power base makes major, coordinated change complicated. There have been clashes in recent years between the I.T.F. leadership and the WTA leadership over Olympic qualifying rules, as well as grumbling from top men’s players about the Davis Cup’s format and impact.

The Davis Cup remains quite popular in some parts of the world, including Australia and France. Although the United States has won it a record 34 times, the event has lost visibility and prestige in the country. Haggerty, an I.T.F. vice president who described himself as an internationalist, said he thought the Cup needed significant change, which the I.T.F. has been studying.

“Davis Cup and Fed Cup are our most important properties, but they aren’t working the way that they can work,” said Haggerty, who also wants the sport to reach out to fans by making greater use of analytics.


The I.T.F. remains a European-dominated organization. Only three Americans have held the top post: L. J. Carruthers, Russell Kingman and, most recently, Walter Elcock from 1974 to 1975.

When Elcock was the U.S.T.A. president, he made the breakthrough decision to give equal prize money at the 1973 United States Open for men and women. Haggerty, an industry insider, also demonstrated a decisive streak in his two-year term in 2013 and 2014.

A former executive at Prince, Dunlop and Head who began playing tennis at age 6, he led major changes at the United States Open. He and the U.S.T.A. board addressed player concerns by approving a major increase of prize money and by ending the longstanding Super Saturday schedule in which the men played singles semifinals on Saturday and the final on Sunday, with the women’s final sandwiched between the men’s semis. After years of debate, the U.S.T.A. also approved the construction of an Ashe Stadium roof, which is now being constructed at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, and other infrastructure improvements. Last month, the U.S.T.A. broke ground on its new training and developmental complex at Lake Nona in Orlando that will include more than 100 courts.

“I was very proud of what the U.S.T.A. board did,” Haggerty said. “We made some very big decisions, and that’s the sort of thing that needs to happen with the I.T.F.”

Here is an excerpt from the official ITF announcement :
David Haggerty was elected ITF President at the ITF Annual General Meeting in Santiago, Chile on Friday. The 58-year old from the United States succeeds Francesco Ricci Bitti, whose 16-year term as ITF President ends today. Haggerty will serve a four-year term from 2015-19.

Haggerty was elected on the second ballot with 200 votes, over Anil Khanna (IND) with 192 votes. Rene Stammbach (SUI) and Juan Margets (ESP) were eliminated on the first ballot.

Haggerty is known to advocate a change in Davis Cup and Fed Cup format which would see the event played in one place over a two week period. Here is a report from Inside The Game about what Haggerty would like to do re the two events.

Haggerty proposed as an example an eight-team format at the end of each season with them all coming together in one destination over a two-week period.

He admitted, though, actually implementing that is not as straightforward as it sounds.

"You can’t bilaterally make this decision," said Haggerty, who is also a former chairman of the United States Tennis Association.

"You need some collaboration to free up the calendar and make sure the players want to play.

"It’s one of the biggest challenges to making the Davis Cup and the Fed Cups the events that players would want to play every time the event is held."

The same day that Haggerty won is also the day that it was announced that Davis Cup will adopt the fifth set tiebreak format effective 2016. Will the three Slams that don't have that rule ( the US Open does) follow suit?

With Stacey Allaster no longer running the WTA what will Haggerty's relationship be with her successor? Will the horrible and sport ruining on court coaching now be available at the Grand Slam level for the women? One shudders at the possibility.

The win is a surprise since Rene Stammbach of Switzerland and Juan Magrets of Spain were the favorites. Both nations are powerhouses in tennis at the moment with Spain having 14 players in the ATP top 100.

So what do I think? I think Haggerty is a stealth candidate for not only the United States but Australia and Great Britain. Many of the "reforms" the tennis axis has sought could possibly be implemented now especially since Haggerty won with 200 votes.

I'm not alone in feeling that changes will come. Here is a tweet I found a few minutes ago from Daniel Kaplan of Sports Business Journal in response to Ivan Ljubicic.
daniel kaplan ‏@dkaplanSBJ 14m14 minutes ago
@theljubicic @ITF_Tennis International sporting orgs, from IOC to FIFA, have long had love/hate relationships with America. no secret

I'm sure there will be more to come with this story. I will update as more details emerge.

©SavannahsWorld 2015 All Rights Reserved except where indicated

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Stacey Allaster - An Update

by Savannah

 photo 4d9ed3f7-cc7d-4ae4-b871-c243c8e9f220_zpslwovho4y.jpg
via sport-asia

The article below appeared in The Globe and Mail

When Stacey Allaster’s daughter, Alexandra, learned that her mother, one of the most powerful female executives in pro sports, was leaving her job as head of women’s tennis, the 11-year-old said: “Good, now you can drive me to my hockey games.”

That effectively explains the Women’s Tennis Association’s announcement on Tuesday – that Allaster will step down as its chairman and chief executive officer effective Oct. 2, leaving a role she has held since 2009. The native of Welland, Ont., said that 150 days of worldwide travel a year have taken a toll on her, and she wants to spend more time with her husband and two kids.

“I love the WTA, but this is what’s right for me personally and for our family, and if I’m being honest, this has been two years in the making,” said Allaster, reached at her home in St. Petersburg, Fla.

“We always knew that once the kids hit the teenage years, that the international travel wasn’t in alignment with how much I want to be there for them. I turned 50 two years ago and have been on this path.

“I came out of the U.S. Open completely worn down, and I don’t want to wake up and be one of those women who has a heart attack or stroke. The WTA needs someone who is at 150 per cent, and I’m not there any more.”

Allaster was also deeply moved by the recent death of her husband’s brother, and two years ago by the passing of ATP Tour CEO Brad Drewett, saying they “provided a personal wake-up call about life, family and priorities.”


“Stacey has been a visionary leader for tennis this past decade. She brought positive fundamental change while serving as an exemplary role model and she executed our biggest and best financial strategies during a very difficult economy,” WTA founder and legendary tennis player Billie Jean King said in the statement. “Stacey performed her job with tenacity and heart which is what is required for transformational change.”

The news surprised many in the sport, even Tennis Canada’s president and CEO Kelly Murumets, who grew up with Allaster in Welland.


Several current and former players reacted on Twitter to the departure of a CEO who was known for visiting with players at tour stops and asking their opinions.

“What a great leader and role model she was to us! Stacey, congrats on everything you have done for our tour and thank you,” retired star Kim Clijsters tweeted.

“Stacey was truly an inspiring person and did a wonderful job as the CEO of the WTA! We will miss seeing you around,” Monica Puig wrote.

“A very brave decision. Stacey worked relentlessly to bring the game to another level. Respect her family priorities,” a tweet from from Chrissie Evert said.

The WTA said its search for Allaster’s replacement has begun.

The University of Western Ontario graduate says she plans to take a long break, which she never did between previous jobs.

She hopes to stay in St. Petersburg, eventually teach sports business, serve on corporate boards and work with youth sports organizations.

“As a girl at age 12, I was given a racquet, a membership at the Welland Tennis Club and lessons, and look what that opportunity gave me,” Allaster said.

“I achieved everything I wanted to do at the WTA. I felt a great deal of pressure to be successful as a woman in this role, and to give back to the sport that has given so much to me, and I feel I accomplished that.”

The question as to whether she was pushed or walked out under her power and volition wll probably never be answered. The excuse of failed politicians everywhere seems to be what they're going with and that'll have to do for now.

©Savannahsworld 2015 All Rights Reserved unless otherwise indicated.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Stacey Allaster Is Gone

by Savannah

In a prime example of corporate speak the WTA released the following statement with not a bit of fanfare.

ST. PETERSBURG, FL, USA - The WTA has announced the transition of its long-term chair and CEO, Stacey Allaster, effective October 2, 2015.

Allaster joined the WTA in January 2006 as its president and in July 2009 was promoted to chair and CEO. Named by Forbes Magazine as one of the "Most Powerful Women in Sports", she has led the WTA through significant growth, marked by fan-friendly improvements to the game, innovative use of data and technology, a focus on global growth with Asia Pacific being the strategic priority, enhancing the health and well-being of the athletes, while also championing gender equality.

Under her leadership, the WTA secured one billion dollars in diversified contracted revenues, including a landmark international media agreement that will maximize fan exposure to women's tennis as the game is broadcast around the world. She also oversaw a record-setting WTA Finals in Istanbul and secured a strategic partnership with Singapore to stage the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global from 2014 to 2018. The WTA Finals Singapore is the largest financial partnership ever negotiated in the history of the WTA's season finale.

"It's been a privilege to lead the organization that Billie Jean King founded and to have worked with the world's best female athletes, dedicated tournament promoters and passionate and professional WTA team members. For 25 years I have dedicated my professional life to the sport and I'm proud of the work I leave behind," Allaster said. "But the recent loss of my brother-in-law and the ATP's CEO, Brad Drewett, has provided a personal wake-up call about life, family and priorities and it is time for me to shift some time and energy that way. When I joined the WTA my goal was to leave the organization on a stronger footing and I feel a humble sense of pride in what we have all accomplished here. I have focused on what it means to be a champion and I have tried to be a strong role model for women to encourage success in the sports industry," said Allaster.

"Stacey has been a visionary leader for tennis this past decade. She brought positive fundamental change while serving as an exemplary role model, and she executed our biggest and best financial strategies during a very difficult economy," said WTA founder Billie Jean King. "Stacey performed her job with tenacity and heart which is what is required for transformational change."

Allaster has been an advocate for women and was instrumental in securing equal prize money for women tennis players at six WTA events and all four Grand Slams. She also played an integral role in the development of the Roadmap, the WTA's long-term plan that streamlined the calendar to enhance the overall health of the players while delivering top players on a more consistent basis to fans and tournaments. Since the introduction of the Roadmap, prize money has increased 100%.

"Stacey has been an outstanding leader for the WTA and she will be missed throughout the industry," said WTA Board Member Lisa Grattan. "We will turn our attention now to the future and we are confident her successor will deliver for fans, tournaments, and partners in the outstanding manner that they have come to expect. Our process to hire a new CEO is underway."

Corporate speak. A lot of words that say absolutely nothing. I could've just said Stacey was gone and referenced the post but I thought it important to post the whole thing. Why? It's no secret I've not been a fan of Allaster. I've criticized her on everything from promoting the tour (badly) and her blindness to the fact that there are a lot of good players who aren't blonde.

That said the wording is interesting. In US politics when a politician says he/she is leaving the stage to spend more time with his/her family you know they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar or some other such shenanigans. I don't know if this is true of other cultures but to these jaded ears it sounds a bit suspect.

The other thing that is odd is that there is no interim head, or new head, being announced especially since Allaster is out as of October 2. If this was a "jump or we'll push" situation there is usually someone waiting in the wings rehearsing their speech saying that they are humbled and honored to be ascending to the position and that they will work hard to make sure the high standards set by his/her predecessor will be maintained.

Seriously though the biggest question is the WTA's expansion into Asia. China's economy is in turmoil and since the tournaments there all have government support instead of the support of sponsors I think it's fair to ask openly how the problems affected the WTA. Some were whispering about it but not much had been said openly. Will the $125K tournaments disappear? Will the European indoor season be revitalized? Will the new events in China go away? Will we see more of an effort to promote the tour as opposed to individuals going forward?

As I write this I haven't read any speculation as to who will take Stacey's place. If I do I will update the blog.

US Open Fallout

I didn't watch the US Open Finals this year and I apologize for that disservice to my readers. Am I glad that Flavia Pennetta, a fixture on the WTA tour for many years, won? Yes. After all she's been through if someone had to win I'm glad it was her and that she has some happiness in her life both personally and professionally. From what I've read the tennis wasn't of the highest quality but those who had spent money, lots of money, to attend the women's final showed up and I'm glad for that. We'll never know how many of the attendees bought severely discounted tickets but at least there were butts in the seats.

As far as the ATP is concerned I wish my apology could be more sincere. From the minute the men's draw was released it was obvious who would be playing in the Final. It also goes without saying that the two men who contested the Final are two of the players I least like to watch, one because of his cult following, the other because of his constant bull shit.
So imagine my surprise when I read reports of the match saying that the fans were so pro one player and against the other that it was no longer possible for the professional tennis press to ignore that the current number one's popularity is non existent and to try and find reasons for that.

What did they come up with? There's the "we don't understand why fans don't see he's matured" school of thought that is pretty laughable on the face of it. He has done what his handlers are telling him to do - hug babies, kiss fans on the cheek and do charity work. Oh and smile alot. I guess they feel that if he does these things fans will forget the injury faking, disrespectful player who told fans to "suck his dick" in his native language. Even when that comment was exposed, no pun intended, the professionals ignored it focusing on the cute wife, new baby and the whole kinder, gentler public persona. They also think fans will forget about the hyperbaric chamber that's not a hyperbaric chamber used by the player. It's not working and it seems they don't know what to do. As has been said here before tennis fans have long memories and while the push is on to clean up Nick Kyrgios act five, ten years from now fans will not have forgotten and will judge him by his antics now. The expression "you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear" still holds.

As for the other player in the men's final his fans have long been obnoxious. Speak ill of the player they worship and they swarm you insulting your brains, heritage and anything else they can think of. That they were so out of control at the final was something that once again the professionals couldn't ignore. What's even more ironic is that the same professionals are also worshippers at the shrine and have never had to face the reality of their obsession head on.

I have to say that while there have been tons of articles about what Novak Djokovic needs to do to improve his image with fans I haven't seen one that addressed the boorishness of Roger Federer's fans. There may be one or two around but I haven't seen any. Then again if some of Federer's followers would go so far as to post a link on an ATP fan site taking a reporter to task for not being adoring enough maybe there is a reluctance to take these folks on.

End Notes

I did make it out to the US Open. I was there once during Qualies and twice, Tuesday and Wednesday of week one, during regular play.

As has become usual I avoided Ashe like the plague, moving between Courts 5 and 6 near where the new Grandstand Court will be, and Courts 11, 15 and 17.

So who did I get to see, especially on the more intimate outer courts?

Standing out for me was Chung Hyeon of Korea. As I said the young man is working his way up the ladder and his game up close is fun to watch. He's not hitting a thunderous groundie on every return and is trying to add a bit of finesse to his play.

The next day I say Dominic Thiem on the same court. His tennis is dull as dishwater and sitting in the blazing sun didn't do much to encourage me to stay awake.

Frances Tiafoe got a full house. Vicky Duval and Alicia Black were sitting one row in front of us. I do hope neither took offense at the lack of people asking for autographs. New Yorkers are too cool for that sort of thing.

As I said before Tiafoe's game has not matured much if at all. He's got to add more to his game. Right now he's at the risk of becoming another US trained Johnny One Note.

Most disappointing was Garbiñe Muguruza. I saw her twice. If her first round opponent had a brain she would've been out that round. Since I saw her she's said to have hired Sam Sumyk who last coached or should I say tried to coach Eugenie Bouchard. Maybe he can get her to play a full match and not stop and wait for her supposedly awed opponent to make a mistake or two.

The Asian Swing

Moving forward I watched Jarmila Gajdosova get taken out by Xu Yi-Fan in Tokyo
early the other morning and was anxious to see how she did in her first round match vs Belinda Bencic. I think Xu is still preparing for that match since she lost love and love and it wasn't even that close. Bencic is bigger and stronger than Xu although I've seen her name mentioned a bit as an up and comer. Xu couldn't come close to catching up to Bencic's shots and movement.

This weeks Tokyo event is the only one I'm watching this week. I'm trying to watch the first match of the day paying particular attention to the crowds, or lack thereof. Center Court at this stadium is huge. It hasn't been anywhere near close to being full. Sadly when the later matches are on I'm asleep so I can only talk about the first matches which are notoriously under attended. It'll be interesting to see how attendance improves or doesn't in the tournaments played on the Chinese mainland.

©2015 SavannahsWorld All Rights Reserved

Friday, September 4, 2015

Time To Be Seen and Not Heard for Juniors?

by Savannah

Remember back in the day when no one talked about Junior Tennis? Yeah there were kids out there playing their hearts out but many of them ended up going to college on scholarships and played tennis on weekends in parks or country clubs.

All of that changed a few years ago though and I'm wondering if it might not be time to go back to the days when kids weren't tagged #1 with a bullet like the old Billboard record charts and they were relatively free to pursue or not pursue a pro career. What changed? Richard Williams and Oracene Price's daughters changed the way the world at large viewed tennis. All of a sudden every parent with a dollar and a dream to borrow a phrase felt their child had the goods to become the next Williams sister and the race was on. If your child could hit a tennis ball over the net he or she was dragooned into playing tennis because Venus and Serena. The siren song reached as far as Eastern Europe and as near as the lower 48 states in North America.

An important article was posted this week by Steve Tignor on the current wild card system employed by the Grand Slams where their up and coming players are given the chance to play on the big stage of a Slam and see how they do against the best in the business. Most of these players end up as cannon fodder, hitting or practice partners for the top players rarely making it past the first or second round of play. Here is Tignor's opening salvo:

The way it's done now, each major gives most of its wild cards to its home players. The few that don't go to the other Slam countries, in a reciprocal arrangement. For example, six of this year’s men’s main-draw wild cards went to Americans, one went to Pierre-Hughes Herbert of France, and another to Lleyton Hewitt of Australia. It’s understandable, on one level: The national federations run these tournaments, and their first mission is to promote tennis in their home countries. But there are only four countries that host Grand Slams: Australia, France, Great Britain, and the United States.

Should players from these countries have a leg up forever?
What about all of the worthy—and often worthier—hopefuls from other nations? The umbrella organization for the federations, the ITF, is in the business of promoting the game not just in four places, but around the world. And with the recent prize-money increases at the majors, a free ride into the first round is more valuable to a young or struggling player than ever. It can also be valuable, as Hewitt’s long, multi-year good-bye has shown, to an aging legend, too.

But are all of these wild cards to "rising stars" a help or a hindrance? As is pointed out in the article Donald Young was picked to be the next big US player. Now, at age 26, he is doing what he could have done at age 19 and playing Challengers not only in the States but overseas as well. He's not storming the top ten but he's playing well enough to beat the likes of Gilles Simon who is not an easy out. With tennis careers lasting longer Young has a chance of getting and maintaining a career in the top 20, something that would've been laughable five years ago.

What does this have to do with junior tennis? There is a lot of hoopla and promotion around Juniors now. There are racquet and clothing contracts available. Some majors go out of their way to put top juniors on televised courts not only for junior matches but when they play main tour players. Tennis is all about the pleasure of pressure but is the focus on juniors causing some players to stay stuck at that level of play? How often have we seen promising juniors getting Wild Card after wild card and instead of rising in the rankings sinking, no plummeting in the opposite direction because their games, mentally and physically, aren't able to cope with those of the top pros.

I watched the match between Danka Kovinic and Anna Karolína Schmiedlová last evening and feel it was a prime example of the lowering of tennis IQ in players labeled "promising" or "rising stars". Kovinic can hit the snot out of the ball but can't control her power. AKS has been playing a lot of main tour matches this year and while her skills are developing you'd think she would've won the match easily based on where she played and how she's done for a player her age. Instead we got a marathon of junior level tennis where AKS won because Kovinic thinks there's only one way to hit a ball. AKS was barely standing but she has a bit of subtlety in her game and won. Was it exciting? Yes, in the sense that someone was going to have to win and maybe someone will faint kind of way. Was it great tennis? No.

I also got to watch one of my "ones to watch" this season, Alexander Zverev, 18 play both qualies and a main draw match live. Zverev's got a pretty decent game. Of course it still needs work, but he plays his age. Shot selection can be improved on as well as paying closer attention to what his opponent is doing.

I also watched Chung Hyeon age 19 on an outer court, and Frances Tiafoe age 17. Both were in the Main Draw, Chung based on his ranking, Tiafoe via a Wild Card. Tiafoe has all the shots. He moves well. He's got a big personality. But on court he's 17. Chung, who forced Stan Wawrinka to three tiebreak sets, has been playing a mix of Challengers, ATP 250 events and Slams. It shows. His game is much more mature than Tiafoe's, and right now I don't see Tiafoe being able to duplicate what Chung did even in defeat. Tiafoe's game is not maturing. I think it would've been better to hold a Slam WC for Tiafoe until he is 19 and has hopefully gained a measure of tennis maturity by playing Challengers and ATP 250's not only in the States but overseas.

Are Wild Cards overused for young players from countries with long tennis histories? Yes. Is too much emphasis being put on doing well at a Slam instead of doing well at tennis, especially in the US? Yes. Should the emphasis on "the next great one" be downplayed? Yes. Labeling a youngster a success when he/she has yet to prove that they can do more than hit the cover off the ball or has connections in a particular Federation is wrong.

I've been a critic of Patrick McEnroe and his stewardship of the USTA Player Development program but one thing he was right about was teaching young prospects to play on clay. Here's a quote from Andre Agassi who, along with Pete Sampras and Jim Courier, are being recruited by PMac's successor Martin Black to help mentor young American men. Keep in mind they're talking about young men by the way.

Agassi thinks the drought can be explained through domination and change in the game.

"I think the biggest problem over the last decade has been Federer, [Rafael] Nadal and [Novak] Djokovic," Agassi said. "You throw in Murray and you have one hell of a generation who have clearly raised the standard."

He said that the new game doesn't naturally suit itself to the American game as it once did.

"Back in the day, me, Pete, [John] McEnroe and [Jimmy] Connors, we hit the ball through the court," Agassi said. "We struggled a bit on clay, but our game still translated throughout the year for the most part. Now with the spin and the athleticism, you need that clay mentality in every part of the game."

I've been saying this for years but now that Agassi has said it maybe some of the éminence grise of tennis will pay more attention to what has to happen if the US is going to be competitive in tennis again. We don't need any more players with all the shots and no game. The Zverev's, Chungs, Schmiedlova's and Bencic's of the world are "hungry to win" and are working on improving their games not their celebrity profiles. So yes, it's time for everyone involved with Junior tennis especially in the US to take a step back, let the kids develop their games on their own at their own pace. If your game is set at 18 there is no where for you to go. It's definitely time to let the kids be seen and not heard.