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.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Before the Madness Begins...

by Savannah

I thought I'd think out loud about some issues in tennis before Monday when issues, for the most part, will be pushed into the background.

I'll start with the US Open Series. The winner on the WTA side has been announced and it seems her win has finally pushed tennis fans over the edge. Here's an excerpt from the announcement on the WTA official site:

NEW YORK, NY, USA - WTA Rising Star Karolina Pliskova has clinched the Emirates Airline US Open Series title, meaning she'll be going for a record $4.3-million payout at the upcoming US Open.

Pliskova finished atop the Bonus Challenge standings with 150 points, benefitting from the provision that allows players who earn points in three or more Emirates Airline US Open Series events to double their point totals. With a final at the Bank Of The West Classic in Stanford, a round of 16 showing at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati and a quarterfinal in New Haven, she got that double.

If Pliskova wins the US Open, she will add a $1 million bonus to the $3.3 million she'll get for the title - that potential $4.3-million payout would be the biggest payout in tennis history, male or female.

Rounding out the Top 3 are Serena Williams, who won the title in Cincinnati, and Simona Halep, who made back-to-back finals in Toronto (falling to Belinda Bencic) and Cincinnati (falling to Williams).

Williams and Halep could earn bonuses of up to $500,000 and $250,000, respectively.

There is something wrong when a player has made two finals, another player won a title, and your "winner" has won, nothing. All she did was show up for three tournaments. And truth be told she tanked her semifinal in New Haven with a display that left the comms struggling to find words to describe what she was, or wasn't doing during that match.

With #TennisTwitter still shaking it's collective head over the rule change that made this travesty possible maybe the WTA will rethink the change.

I know, I know. I shouldn't hold my breath. It was "rising star" Karolina Pliskova this year. Who knows maybe one of the "rising stars" from the US will win sometime soon...oh wait she won't have to win. Just do moderately well at three events and voila you get a huge payday. The WTA, the organization that took away quality points for whatever reason and ended up with Slamless Number One ranked players who did nothing but chase points and in one case ruin her health in the process. This is the same organization that wants to turn womens tennis into "sports entertainment" and is doing so with the spectacle of the poor wittle ladies coaches coming out to hold their hands and talk them through a match. The coaches don't even have to think anymore since the WTA has provided them with technology that tells them what they should be telling their charges based on their observations of the match being played. The ITF, the folks who run the Grand Slams, don't allow that nonsense there and that is why very few of the players do well in Slams. I did see some of the players trying to get used to not calling down their coaches during the US Open series and that is a good thing. Maybe they'll realize that they can think their way through a match and don't need a security blanket or pacifier to get through.

WTA $125k's

I decided to see how the advent of the WTA $125k events along with the ITF events in Asia were affecting Chinese women with their rankings. After all the big knock on the events was that they would artificially inflate the players rankings.

I'll start wiht Zheng Saisai. She is currently ranked #70 according to the WTA site. Her results are listed HERE

She is in the Main Draw at the US Open.

Wang Qiang is also in the Main Draw of the US Open. According to Wiki her rank is #82. The WTA site says she is ranked 112. Her results are HERE

Duan Ying-Ying is ranked #103 according to the WTA site. Her results are listed HERE . She was in the Qualifying Tournament in New York City.

What do they all have in common? Wins on the ITF circuit, mostly in Asia, and early exits in main tour tournaments outside of Asia. I think they can look at the South Korean player Chung Hyeon and what he's doing with his career for a blueprint of how they could really do better and play better tennis. He's exposing himself to wins and losses on the ATP main tour and improving his game as he goes. Just because you're a big fish in a small pond doesn't mean you can be a big fish in the ocean. These women are being asked to move from the small pond to the ocean without very much play against the bigger, stronger fish you find in the ocean.

Of course the system in Korea is not the same as it is in China so comparing the two may not be exactly like comparing apples to apples. But unless these women are allowed to play in Europe and the US on a regular basis they will remain the small fish being gobbled up by the big ones.

US Open Qualifying Draw

Today is the last day of the tournament. The only US man to make it through to the final round is Tommy Paul.

On the women's side Jessica Pegula, Melanie Oudin, Claire Liu, Catherine Bellis and Shelby Rogers made it to the last round. Rogers will be in the main draw while Bellis lost. These are the results as I type this. Still it's a great showing for US women.

© Savannah's World 2015 All Rights Reserved except where indicated.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Now It Begins

by Savannah

As you undoubtedly know by now both the Men's and Women's US Open draws were released earlier today. If you haven't seen them here is the WTA Draw.

Qualifier vs LUCIC-BARONI, Mirjana CRO
Qualifier vs WC MATTEK-SANDS, Bethanie USA

[19] KEYS, Madison USA vs KOUKALOVA, Klara CZE
SMITKOVA, Tereza CZE vs MITU, Andreea ROU
SINIAKOVA, Katerina CZE vs [15] RADWANSKA, Agnieszka POL

HANTUCHOVA, Daniela SVK vs DOI, Misaki JPN
PUIG, Monica PUR vs [23] WILLIAMS, Venus USA

Qualifier vs DELLACQUA, Casey AUS
ZHENG, Saisai CHN vs BRENGLE, Madison USA
Qualifier vs [8] PLISKOVA, Karolina CZE

MLADENOVIC, Kristina FRA vs [30] KUZNETSOVA, Svetlana RUS

[17] SVITOLINA, Elina UKR vs Qualifier
DAVIS, Lauren USA vs WATSON, Heather GBR
PEREIRA, Teliana BRA vs [13] MAKAROVA, Ekaterina RUS

KING, Vania USA vs VINCI, Roberta ITA
WC DODIN, Oceane FRA vs [21] JANKOVIC, Jelena SRB

[25] BOUCHARD, Eugenie CAN vs RISKE, Alison USA
HERCOG, Polona SLO vs DIYAS, Zarina KAZ
Qualifier vs VAN UYTVANCK, Alison BEL

[5] KVITOVA, Petra CZE vs Qualifier
KRUNIC, Aleksandra SRB vs KOVINIC, Danka MNE
GOERGES, Julia GER vs [32] SCHMIEDLOVA, Anna Karolina SVK

[18] PETKOVIC, Andrea GER vs GARCIA, Caroline FRA
WC CHIRICO, Louisa USA vs Qualifier
WITTHOEFT, Carina GER vs [9] MUGURUZA, Garbine ESP

[16] ERRANI, Sara ITA vs Qualifier
Qualifier vs BECK, Annika GER
RODINA, Evgeniya RUS vs Qualifier
BABOS, Timea HUN vs [22] STOSUR, Samantha AUS

[26] PENNETTA, Flavia ITA vs GAJDOSOVA, Jarmila AUS
Qualifier vs NICULESCU, Monica ROU
WC LOEB, Jamie USA vs [4] WOZNIACKI, Caroline DEN

GOVORTSOVA, Olga BLR vs [28] BEGU, Irina-Camelia ROU

[20] AZARENKA, Victoria BLR vs HRADECKA, Lucie CZE
DULGHERU, Alexandra ROU vs [11] KERBER, Angelique GER

Qualifier vs WANG, Qiang CHN
GIORGI, Camila ITA vs LARSSON, Johanna SWE
Qualifier vs [24] LISICKI, Sabine GER

[27] CORNET, Alize FRA vs NARA, Kurumi JPN
Qualifier vs WC VICKERY, Sachia USA
PUTINTSEVA, Yulia KAZ vs Qualifier
ERAKOVIC, Marina NZL vs [2] HALEP, Simona ROU

Come on now. Y'all knew that Serena was not going to get an easy route to the Final. Once again we see the WTA version of "someone, anyone take Serena Williams out so our goddess Steffi Graf will remain the only recent winner of a CYGS until Eugenie Bouchard is ready to take over". Forget that Graf wouldn't get half the hype Bouchard or Maria Sharapova gets(she would not be deemed marketable). Right now tennis purists are praying in front of hastily built shrines to Fraulein Forehand hoping that Serena fails in her quest.

I'm not joking. I'm serious.

I watched the draw live and the way they were carrying on I thought Maria Sharapova was in the same half of the draw Serena is in. She's in the bottom half of the top half and will have to get past an inconsistent Daria Gavrilova her biggest challenge in her part of the draw. The cries of "Oh poor Maria" from the ceremony were a bit disingenuous. Oh I forgot she's supposed to be injured and has played no warm ups coming into New York. Will that affect her? Who the hell knows? Her shoulder, that was supposed to be fixed how many years ago is still "giving her problems" so throw in the leg and you've got the perfect narrative to explain a loss by her.

The bottom half of the draw is weaker. I half watched Petra Kvitova destroy Madison Keys in New Haven last night, a match she should have and did win. This is her usual warm up event and while she doesn't do well in the heat and humidity of New York City she'll have at least played a warm up.

Everyone else seeded can best be described as inconsistent over the summer. Whoever comes out of the top half will be battle tested. The bottom half? Meh. Anyone can come out of that section.

The ATP draw? The usual players got the usual cake walks. Nothing to see here. Moving on.

[1] DJOKOVIC, Novak SRB vs SOUZA, Joao BRA
Qualifier vs [25] SEPPI, Andreas ITA

[23] BAUTISTA AGUT, Roberto ESP vs WC HERBERT, Pierre-Hugues FRA
BOLELLI, Simone ITA vs [14] GOFFIN, David BEL

[10] RAONIC, Milos CAN vs SMYCZEK, Tim USA
VERDASCO, Fernando ESP vs HAAS, Tommy GER
Qualifier vs [18] LOPEZ, Feliciano ESP

[32] FOGNINI, Fabio ITA vs JOHNSON, Steve USA
Qualifier vs SCHWARTZMAN, Diego ARG
CORIC, Borna CRO vs [8] NADAL, Rafael ESP

Qualifier vs [26] ROBREDO, Tommy ESP

[19] TSONGA, Jo-Wilfried FRA vs NIEMINEN, Jarkko FIN
Qualifier vs [16] MONFILS, Gael FRA

[9] CILIC, Marin CRO vs Qualifier
POUILLE, Lucas FRA vs Qualifier
LU, Yen-Hsun TPE vs KUKUSHKIN, Mikhail KAZ
Qualifier vs [17] DIMITROV, Grigor BUL

[27] CHARDY, Jeremy FRA vs WC SHANE, Ryan USA
MAYER, Florian GER vs KLIZAN, Martin SVK
KRAJINOVIC, Filip SRB vs Qualifier
ALBOT, Radu MDA vs [7] FERRER, David ESP


[22] TROICKI, Viktor SRB vs WC TIAFOE, Frances USA
GULBIS, Ernests LAT vs BEDENE, Aljaz GBR
YOUNG, Donald USA vs [11] SIMON, Gilles FRA

[15] ANDERSON, Kevin RSA vs Qualifier
BECKER, Benjamin GER vs ISTOMIN, Denis UZB
GIMENO-TRAVER, Daniel ESP vs [20] THIEM, Dominic AUT

[30] BELLUCCI, Thomaz BRA vs WARD, James GBR
Qualifier vs Qualifier
Qualifier vs MANNARINO, Adrian FRA

KUDLA, Denis USA vs Qualifier

[24] TOMIC, Bernard AUS vs DZUMHUR, Damir BIH
HAASE, Robin NED vs BROWN, Dustin GER
KOKKINAKIS, Thanasi AUS vs [12] GASQUET, Richard FRA

[13] ISNER, John USA vs JAZIRI, Malek TUN
Qualifier vs YOUZHNY, Mikhail RUS
DELBONIS, Federico ARG vs [21] KARLOVIC, Ivo CRO

[29] KOHLSCHREIBER, Philipp GER vs Qualifier
MAYER, Leonardo ARG vs [2] FEDERER, Roger SUI

This and That

I guess after the mess Eugenie Bouchard made of the reputation and career of Sam Sumyk no established coach would come near her. That's how I see the announcement of Jimmy Connors as her next coach. Photos were posted on Instagram of her working with Connors away from BJK National Tennis Center.

People seem to think that Connors short lived time with Maria Sharapova reflects badly on him. He worked decently with Andy Roddick but women's tennis is a different animal. I never thought that the stint with Sharapova was real. I always felt that it was something cooked up by a publicist to get Pova some press at that time. That this arrangement was kept away from prying eyes in Flushing could mean it's a more legit and serious undertaking on both sides.

As usual the issue will be whether Bouchard accepts that she has to make changes in her game and actually listens to what a coach has to show and say to her. If she doesn't pay attention I don't see Connors being willing to put up with her mess. He'll walk. Sloane Stephens has finally found a coach who doesn't put up with her ish, screaming confrontations in parking lots aside, and she's won a title now. So does that make her a threat in New York? If Sloane wasn't listening I think Saviano would've been out of there by now. We'll know if Bouchard is taking her new coach serioiusly by the length of time he stays. He is not going to be "Sumyk'd" if I can coin a phrase.

Anyway here's a short video I found posted by Luigi Gatto

US Open Qualifying

I made it out to Flushing Meadows yesterday to watch some matches and practice sessions.

I saw Darren Cahill putting Simona Halep through her paces. He was cutting her no slack and neither was the guy she was hitting with.

I saw a bit of Carla Suarez Navarro too before heading to courts P1 - P5 and the gallery between Courts 5 and 6. On my way there I saw Alexandra Krunic, Naomi Osaka and Francesca Schiavone walking by. Krunic was doing a work out with her coach. She's very slight.

I watched the match between Alexander Zverev and Horacio Zeballos. Zeballos has nothing on a hard court and Zverev made short work of him. The only reason I wouldn't call Zverev a servebot is because of his movement. Maybe it was his opponent yesterday and he wasn't interested in putting on a bigger show for the nice crowd that showed up to watch him although he did engage with some fans. The outer courts have always been where you stop, look at part or all of a set, and move on. When the first set was over the places of those who left were quickly filled. People have heard of him.

Then I walked over to Court 17 and watched Taylor Townsend vs Pauline Parmentier. I can't even. Taylor is out of shape mentally and physically. You would never mistake her for an athlete. No muscle tone. No game. Just shots. I think I said the same thing about her last year when I saw her. So how did she win? Because Parmentier has no brain. If she'd had the common sense to make Taylor, who was puffing and blowing during the match, move she'd have had a fairly easy win. Taylor is always strong in the first set. It's the next two that get her. Try as she would to give the match away Parmentier was too polite to accept the gift hence the straight set win. Even the little amen corner of French coaches and players couldn't make up for the lack of court sense, hell tennis sense, from Parmentier. It was a horrible, horrible match by both women and I think I was the only person who wasn't cheering wildly for Taylor to win. It was not a performance to cheer on.

Note: I edited out my last comment re Taylor Townsend. She played on Thursday (reading is fundamental) and lost to Daria Kasatkina 6-2, 6-2. Apparently Daria does have a brain wired for tennis.

© Savannahs World 2015 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, August 16, 2015

WTA Generation Next Steps Into the Spotlight

by Savannah

Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images North America photo 74881e88-114c-44e6-a410-d56111eefcb0_zps7fdyg3xh.jpg
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images North America

Well we could talk about the WTA's generation next but last nights loss by Serena Williams to Belinda Bencic was really about generation past. Luckily I could avoid the babbling idiots on ESPN who seemed to be taken aback by the Romanian community's embrace of its own Simona (SI-MO-NA)Halep something that every other tennis fan and commentator outside of the US has gotten used to and expects and watched the match on TennisTV where Vladka Uhlirova was working with a man named "Errol". I never got his surname.

Anyway during the commentary Errol kept mentioning Hingis. That's right. Martina Hingis, in his mind, was out there playing Serena Williams. At least they're honest on TennisTV. The entire rise of Bencic, nasty attitude and temper aside, has been shadowed by her coaching situation. Her father is the one who comes down and speaks in what I guess is their native Slovakian to his daughter but when Bencic did something well it was Hingis face that got shown almost as much as his. Oh and don't forget Melanie Molitor. She's right up there in mentions with her daughter.

Serena made no excuses last night and I'm not here to give her any. I think this was a strategic loss, and a good one. Let's see what she does re Cincinnati (well Mason, Ohio). And while we do that let's not forget Caroline Wozniacki's justifiable tirade against the WTA. There are many reasons Serena can't say it but Sunshine can and did.
In case you missed what she said (and I'm sure the WTA is glad there was a lot of other breaking news last week in tennis) here is her quote .

“I haven't practised for a week because I wanted to make sure that I was 100 per cent healthy,” said Wozniacki, the fifth seed and former world No. 1. “I went out there and actually my leg and my back (are) feeling pretty good, so that's good. But today was the first time that I've practised for a week. Normally I want to be able to play up to my best tennis and you're not going to do that if you don't practise.

“But the rules if you're a top-10 player are so that this was my commitment tournament and you're forced to play. If you don't, you get huge money fines. You get zero points to your ranking. Plus, they wouldn't allow me to play small tournament in this half of the year, which is crazy. I've been on the players’ council for a long time and I'm not anymore because these rules are things that players complain about all the time, but we can't do anything about it.”

But back to Generation Next in the WTA. The good thing is whatever sledging they do remains behind the locker room doors. Other than that they're a bland lot of blondes who tend to be very fit and play technically strong games. With the final in Toronto being between Simona Halep and Belinda Bencic it's going to be interesting to see what narrative emerges for these ladies. Halep has no history with the Hingis family so that story line is useless. We know what they're going to say about Bencic, who looks eerily like a young Monica Seles, already.

What I'll be looking for is Halep's ability to make her style of play a viable follow up to the Williams era. She can play very good tennis at times but it's no secret that she crumbles when she has to face Maria Sharapova. Pova wins their matches by just stepping on court. Sharapova, a few years younger than Serena is probably salivating at the thought of playing Halep in majors after 2016.

Will Bencic be able to stifle the creativity of Halep? Will Halep dent the confidence of Bencic? Will Bencic be able to adjust her game and force Halep to scramble? Let's not forget that it was the Williams who drove Hingis out of tennis. She just couldn't compete. When they retire it would be sad to see women's tennis go backwards and the style of tennis brought to the world by the above mentioned Monica Seles, fade.

I know that the level of competition will fall though. The young women coming up are so dependant on on court coaching and now that idiotic tablet app for the coaches I'm sure the WTA will push harder to get the ITF to agree to on court coaching in Slams. That's the only way some of these young women will ever win one. Halep, who is now working with Darren Cahill, seems committed to making the next step. Let's see what she does on the big stage today.

©Savannah's World 2015 All Rights Reserved (except where indicated)

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Nick Kyrgios Situation

by Savannah

via Vishal Gautam photo dc309753-6a28-4a27-9be5-3d7a14c8760b_zpso5yqdlxz.jpg
via Vishal Gautam

I'd been contemplating writing a column about Nick Kyrgios for some months now. It was going to revolve around a young man of color coming up in Australia and what could have shaped the way he reacts to the outside world as a result of that. Of course my perspective is based on being a woman of color in the United States which in some respects isn't that different from being a person of color in Australia. The attack on Kyrgios by Dawn Fraser who is described by some Australians as being a known racist (she also threw in Bernard Tomic so she's not just a racist but a xenophobe as well I suppose) made me think more about writing about him from that perspective.

Needless to say after the events in Montréal this week what would have been a quasi sympathetic look at this young man is not possible.

Let me be clear. I really, really, don't care for Stanislas Wawrinka, a man who left his family not once but twice, once because his family was an inconvenience holding him back from pursuing his quest for tennis greatness, the second time for the usual "irreconcilable differences". The second separation only became public when he blamed his impending divorce for his on court woes. His long suffering wife was not having it and publicly revealed that the couple had been separated for five months already so she was not the cause of his problems. She said lots of other things too but I am not going there. Divorces are ugly. Athletes are promiscuous. That is old familiar territory and in the "sky is blue" category when it comes to discussing athletes and the ever present groupies, professional or otherwise.

I'm also an avid sports fan. I have been since my Dad and I used to watch the Friday Night Fights way back in the day as well as baseball, American football, and later basketball. I'm therefore very familiar with male sports culture and the way it's presented to the public. I can go on and on about whether this is right or wrong but that's not what this column is about. What I want to focus on is the sanctity of the locker room. It's the first commandment of sports, of any sport, team or individual, male or female. What happens, what gets said, who has beef with who, stays there. If some of this leaks out it's often after a sports figure has put himself or herself in a position where the information or behavior being revealed has been made public by the actions of the athlete themselves. Are there locker room snitches? Of course. A good reporter has to cultiviate sources inside the sport. He or she has to be a "team player" though and know what to reveal and what not to reveal. A player who violates the Code becomes a pariah. Hope Solo's off court behavior tarnished the triumph of her team but she did that on her own. No one who played with her said jack. Reporters kept their mouths shut.

Which brings us to what would have been a normal match between Stan Wawrinka and Nick Kyrgios during the Masters 1000 event being played this year in Montréal. Kyrgios, who had already gotten away with calling a chair umpire "dirty scum" during another tournament, playing Wawrinka, was not on my list of must see matches. I had every intention of ignoring the match until I saw a Vine posted by Ricky Dimon (@Dimonator) on Twitter. I was among 11 million people who watched the Vine slack jawed. On court, next to a microphone, Kyrgios threw what had up until then could still be called an alleged affair, not only in his opponents face but in the publics as well. To say chaos ensued is putting it mildly.

Tennis Channel, which broadcast the match live, disgraced itself by at first refusing to talk about the incident and only after what I can only imagine was a Keystone Cops routine taking place behind the scenes subjected us to a paen to Justin Gimelstob presented by none other than Justin Gimelstob before gingerly addressing the situation, one that had already crossed over to main stream sports media. Why would the comments of an up to then mostly unknown outside of tennis circles player make main stream sports media? Because what he did is never, ever done. It was a code violation of the nth degree and all athletes blood had to run cold. Would this person embolden other like minded players to start revealing things about team mates or other competitors legions of PR flaks get paid big bucks to keep hidden and/or spin? Would their behind the scenes behavior leave the gossip sites and move onto "legit" sports pages? Make no mistake the implications of this young man's actions reach far beyond tennis.

That is why the story that was published this morning by Danielle Rossingh saying that Kyrgios faces up to a three year ban, a fine of $100,000 on top of the $12,500 fine already imposed is so important. Tennis Australia can issue all the mealy mouthed statements it wants. Kyrgios can use his "apology" as a shield if he still can since more video has emerged of him starting in on Wawrinka's private life early in the match (and next to the microphones) but he has to be made an example of. No one "picked on" him. No one took his words out of context. No one has taken his prior behavior out of context. This is a self inflicted wound, one that he will apparently have some time to think about. It was the newly outraged Justin Gimelstob, ATP Board member, who first mentioned suspension of some kind being demanded by players. Maybe I should say "fearful players". All of sports, all sports, depend on the perception of their sport being played by high minded men and women who live by the hallowed concept of sportsmanship. The public, much more sophisticated than in the past, gladly goes along with this illusion since it allows them to indulge in their fantasies of what they are really like and idolize those who embody their self image.

The slut shaming of a young female athlete is the secondary story here but to me it's equally as important as the violation of The Code. Who will ever see her play now without thinking about her relationship with Wawrinka and its possible role in the break up of his marriage? Who won't, in some part of the subconscious, be calling her a "slut"?
Go on and say you won't but when you catch yourself saying "she's the one who was messing with a married man, broke up his marriage and then went from one player to another" to a friend or fellow sports fan or tennis enthusiast, don't be surprised. This will shadow her career, or what's left of it.

The other person who was slandered? Well he's a manly man betrayed by his "friend". He'll get all the sympathy and good press.

And Nick Kyrgios? His fate remains to be seen. He's got his apologists but will they be a good enough shield to hold back what has to be done to maintain the wall of silence around sports locker rooms everywhere? The ball is in the ATP's court now. Let's see how big their cojones are. They can't not do something. The entire sports world is watching.

© Savannahs World 2015 All Rights Reserved

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Why Madison Key's Loss in Stanford Is Worrisome

by Savannah

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Getty Images

"This one can't close out a match and you know that."
Jon Leach to Madison Keys 8/5/2015

Except that last night Ajla Tomljanovic did close out a match leaving a devastated Madison Keys to quickly leave the scene of the crime, uh, sorry the court.

Madison Keys started out on a high hitting winners at will and with such ease it looked as if Tomljnovic would be on her way to her next tournament causing me to go back to watching the mens match in Washington. Imagine my surprise when I checked the scoreboard and saw Tomljanovic won the second set and was well on her way to winning the third. Watching the third set it became clear why there was such a turn around in the match.

Tennis is about adjustment, about reacting to what your opponent is doing and adjusting your game accordingly. It's nice when your opponent is unable to do that and leaves you free to play however you want. A good player will adjust however and that is when you have to do the same. In other words you have to go to your personal Plan B.

When I tuned back into Madison's match she was spraying errors all over the place when her shots weren't finding the net. There was one exchange where Tomljanovic took a bit off a return and Keys hit it like it had insulted her or something. That shot ended up in the net. That was the story of the third set blow out.

Madison has been playing on the main tour for a few years now. It's stunning that she hasn't learned the lesson about having a Plan B. Is it a question of coaching or a question of temperament and ego. Madison Keys has the potential to be one of the best women players of the next generation. She's got to learn to stop throwing a hissy fit when her opponent doesn't do what she wants her to do and forces her to have to hit more than two shots to win a point. I could go into a discourse about how the US wants its players to play one-two tennis and how it's holding its players back but that's for another time. I'll just say that the reason players who grow up on clay have a better all around game is because that surface forces you to constantly adjust, to constantly have to figure out what your opponent is going to do next. The US focus on first strike tennis can, with a favorable draw, get it's players to the quarter finals of a major but not much beyond that point. To get past that point requires a skill and mental agility US trained players don't have at this point.

If Madison Keys, with all her potential, turns out to be a mediocre player that is on the USTA and her coaching. Yes, even the sainted Lindsay Davenport bears some responsibility for what happened Wednesday night. Madison played just like Taylor Townsend does Wednesday - my way or the highway tennis. Of course Taylor has issues Madison doesn't and I don't want to get into a discussion about her woes now.

Leach went on to tell Madison that Tomljanovic would say thank you if she handed her the match. Did anyone hear the hearty "Hvala" Tomljanovic said to Keys at the end? I think I did.

That "D" grade I gave Keys for her performance so far this year? It stands until after the US Open.

© Savannah's Tennis All Rights Reserved

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Week In Review

by Savannah

The US Open Series has started with one lone ATP tournament in Kitzbuhel holding things down in Europe but what happened last week? Do you care? If you don't why are you reading this blog? Tennisheads need tennis like a fish needs water. It's our raison d'etre. So lets look at the week that was.

Fans? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Fans

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Fans are flocking to see tennis in Asia! The WTA knows it will take time but more and more fans are showing up to tournaments they say.

The above picture from Baku shows fans in the stadium during semi final day. On Day Two of the tournament there was one fan - one - in the stands.

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That seems unbelievable but the WTA never refuted the fan report. Sometimes I look around for attendance figures at the Asian events but I never seem to be able to find them.

Attendance was a bit better at Nanchang where Jelena Jankovic was the top seed and eventual champion. The week before attendance in Istanbul, formerly a city where fans turned out for women's tennis, was abysmal. There was more than one fan in attendance but attendance was nowhere near what is was when the YEC was held there.

How can tennis survive in such an atmosphere? Don't ticket sales make or break a tournament? Not when the local governments not fans are supporting the tournament. I don't know how much money it takes to put on a tournament but there is staff that has to be paid, umpires and other tournament officials who need to be accommodated. One fan isn't going to cut it.

I watched the semi final between Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Patricia Tig. Well I tried to watch it. There were a few people in the stands that I could see - no panoramic stadium views were provided - but they were as quiet as church mice. I made it through the first set and put on something else. How must the players feel playing in an empty stadium with no one but coaches (if they're traveling with a coach) there for you. When your sympathy for the players makes it impossible to focus on their play there's no need to watch a match. The WTA cited low ticket sales as it's reason for moving a lot of tournaments to Asia but no ticket sales don't project the image the WTA, or I presume the Chinese want to show to the world.

This and That

Grigor Dimitrov wanted Ivan Lendl to coach him. It's reported that Lendl told him the same thing he told Tomas Berdych, that he doesn't want to travel anymore. According to The Telegraph he will be coached by Sweden's Johan Ortegren.

Washington DC's Citi Open, long a part of the US Open series, is not part of it anymore. That could be because they signed a contract with Tennis Channel instead of ESPN. Tennis Channel is giving the Citi Open wall to wall coverage.

The person who runs the official Roland Garros Twitter account called Dominic Thiem, who has won back to back ATP 250 titles at Umag and Gstaad, a King of Clay. I'm following the never argue with an idiot advice.

ESPN's Decision

This is bad for tennis. Those of us who live and breathe the sport want other sports fans to watch and see the beauty of the sport in all of it's forms. One style of tennis isn't better than another. Instead it comes down to personal preference. Some like rip and grip tennis. Some prefer a match where strategy and thought may a dominant role. For US fans, unless your cable provider has Tennis Channel as part of it's basic package you have to hope that NBC Sports Network is part of your package. Otherwise you'll be forced to find streams from Europe in order to watch the second major of the tennis year.

The situation with the Australian Open seems to be up in the air but if I were a bettor I'd say ESPN will continue coverage. Remember I've always said the United States, Australia and Great Britain were the heart and soul of the tennis axis and that France is like a poor relation. As soon as I hear more, or if you hear more, feel free to post comments here.

© Savannah's Tennis All Rights Reserved