Sunday, June 29, 2008

Heard Around - Middle Sunday

by Savannah

So the Brits, hidebound and hemmed in by tradition, schedule no play this Sunday. This helps maintain the fiction that the tournament is thirteen days - Monday is officially Day 7- for who knows what reason. I'm sure some of us could get into a debate about the relationship between Wimbledon and the Summer Solstice but this is a tennis blog.

Moving on the chief executive of the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), one Mr. Roger Draper, has backtracked on the stated goal of LTA president Stuart Smith original goal of Britain having five players in the top 100 of the sport by 2008. That goal has now been pushed back to 2010. Sometimes people make interesting statements when their backs are against the wall. Consider this one from Mr. Draper.

Asked about the success of other nations including Spain and Serbia who have several players in the top 50, Draper claimed Britain's relative lack of success could be partly explained by a lack of desire among some players. "It's desire and hunger," Draper added. "When we say at age 10 that you have to give up school and you'll be travelling round the world for three or four months a year with no guarantee you're going to make it (as a professional), that decision is much easier if you are in Slovakia or Croatia.

For the rest of Roger Draper's comments please go to the Source

Court 2

The jinx court. The place champions go to die. This is the reputation the present Court 2 at the AELTC has. Needless to say fans of the Sisters Williams are not happy about the Schedule of Play for Monday June 30 which has them playing their singles and doubles matches on that court while a match featuring Anna Chakvetadze vs Nicole Vaidisova is on Court 1 and Svetlana Kuznetsova plays Aggie Radwanska on Center Court. Conspiracy theories rage unchecked on tennis boards and fans are in high dudgeon (I'm dragging out all of those English phrases. Sue me.) crying racism, desire to not see a Williams holding up the Venus Rosewater trophy, etc., etc.

As someone who came of age in the sixties and who sees a conspiracy when a a bug crawls out from under a rock I'm not participating in the frenzy. Some fans are saying that the officials went with what they see as the most competitive matches. I have nothing against the four women who will be gracing Center Court and Court 1 with their presence but based on the ladies past performances only Aggie Radwanska promises to bring good tennis. Sveta Kuznetsova, with number one staring her in the face has a known reaction to playing in pressure situations. It's amazing that after the horrendous start to her year Anna Chakvetadze is playing as well as she is. The least said about Nicole Vaidisova's year so far the better. Meanwhile
Bethanie Mattek who up to now has been known mainly for her original get ups on court has shown during week one that she does have a game, a deceptively good one. I didn't watch Alisa Kleybanova's match - I may get to it today thanks to Wimbledon Live -but she's here in the Round of 16. Venus went on walkabout yesterday during the second set of her match and it's known that someone Venus has never played before can give her fits. Remember Pironkova boys and girls?

There's enough for the conspiracy theorists to chew on but I'm not totally buying it. Why? Because tennis is a sport. Sports are driven by money. They get money when they get viewers. Will vast hordes of tennisheads tune in to watch Sveta and Anna? I don't think so. Will not only tennisheads but the casual fan tune in to watch Venus or Serena? Hell yeah. So how do you make sure the fans are tuned into your network and not watching the best online coverage provided by any of the Grand Slams? You put your biggest draws on the one court the online service is not covering. What court is that? Court 2. Case closed in my very humble opinion. If the Brits stick with this Middle Sunday crap and don't care that the majority of die hard and potential fans are at work on Monday thus diminishing their audience why should tennisheads?

The WTA and the Depth Problem

I caught a lot of flak last year when I said that Ana Ivanovic was not ready to be the top seed at one of the women's events in California. She did prove me wrong that time. When due to the retirement of Justine Henin she became one of the potential inheritors of Top Woman I didn't think she would make it. I'm no great fan of Maria Sharapova but I felt her play, when she did play, had been good this year and that if she became number one so be it. How she defended and acquitted herself in that role remained to be seen and would show who she was as a human being and a tennis player.

Well Ivanovic won the French and became number one. Fanboys (including the press) went into overdrive over the pretty woman from Serbia and we were treated to the type of writing usually limited to press releases about the latest starlet or Disneykid. Meanwhile I'm thinking that maybe I was wrong and that Ana had matured enough to handle the pressures of being top dog. Her parents are educated and they'll be able to help her. As for Sharapova she had shown her ass from day one, telling the WTA where to go and what to do when they got there and saying she was too mentally fatigued to deign to play anything leading up to Wimbledon. It should be mentioned in passing that neither Williams sister ever plays a grass warmup. Just sayin'. Ana decided she too now breathed the same rarefied air and dropped out of the tune up she was going to play citing the same need to rest her fragile sensibilities after becoming number one and winning her first Slam.

Well now I'm here to do the "I told you so" dance made famous by Debbie Reynolds as Debra Messing's mother on "Will and Grace". Maria ran into a Russian woman who was not afraid to play her in Alla Kudryavtseva and proceeded to do so. Ana ran into a diminutive Chinese doubles specialist named Zheng Jie who dismantled her giving a clinic in how a smaller player can beat a taller player. When Alla was asked if she was surprised at winning she said no, that she had walked on court intending to win. What a breath of fresh air! Boris Becker said during his online commentary of Nadal vs Kiefer that you do what it takes to win. How nice to know there are unheralded players out there who think like that.

A lot of talk but what does this have to do with the WTA and depth? For whatever reason Henin retired she was the best player on the WTA. No one called her golden, she fought through brutal draws to get to her finals, and she beat whoever was thrown in front of her. The way was now clear for all the wet dreams of the powers that be at the WTA and the ad agencies to come true. Wonder where they threw all those damp hankies since neither of their marketing darlings seems to be able to stand a competitive draw or think and strategize her way through a tennis match. Meanwhile players the head honcho of the WTA would not call golden have made good showings on the hallowed lawns. Think Tamarine Tansugarn folks. If Kuznetsova makes it to number one I'm sure there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in women's tennis. They're probably pushing for Jelena since they can push the Serbian angle. Whatever. You can do all in your power to help someone become the top player but the proof of the pudding is on the court. I'm glad the Alla's and Jie's of the world ignored the script and played good tennis using strategy and skill against their opponents. Who knows what the future holds for either woman. I think Ana is two years away from both the emotional and on court maturity to represent her sport as number one in the world. I also think that the WTA had better start realizing that champions are made on court not in board rooms.

End Notes

Venus held her wits about her long enough to deliver the fastest serve ever by a woman at Wimbledon. It was clocked at 127mph and came at the end of her match against Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain who had qualified her way into the Main Draw. Nice work Vee. By the way Ms Martinez Sanchez played serve and volley in the second set, something that simply amazed Tracy Austin.

If you can find it somewhere on line catch Pam Shriver's interview with Richard Williams. It's short, no more than five minutes, but it's one of the best things a reporter has done during week one. She managed to bring Patrick McEnroe and Brad Gilbert into the conversation and you kind of wished there had been more time for an in the studio interview. Some may find Richard's drawl hard to understand but the three men, and Pam, showed a respect for the sport and each other we don't always get a chance to see. When Pam asked Richard if he tells Venus she should come in more he said that he suggests to his daughter how to play otherwise he'll lose his job.

If you haven't already try and scrape your nickels and dimes together and get Wimbledon Live. It was so nice having the option of listening to Boris Becker commentate Rafa's match as opposed to the crew served up by NBC/ESPN. Becker gives interesting insights into the mind of a top player and talks about what is going on in the match. He was fascinated by Rafa's quirk of changing racquets at random points during a match. He did not comment on his home boy's delaying tactics in the third set but I let give him a pass on that. I was also able to see Venus match really live and not on tape delay. Won't have that option tomorrow but I've talked about that enough.

In a highly anticipated Junior Boy's match Bernard Tomic made quick work of
Carlos Boluda-Purkiss winning in straight sets 1&2. Tomic needs to tone down the ego though. He said he won not playing his best tennis. Then again he may be just right for the ad agencies.

My Player of the Week goes to Dinara Safina. While some play at having injuries I watched - again online- as Dinara fought her body to try and advance to the next round. She had had all of the alloted medical time outs and the physio's could only stand by as she fought, on one leg, to overcome a determined Shahar Pe'er. I also have to give Shahar her props. When the match was over and Dinara turned away from her comforting gesture she didn't do cartwheels on the court or break into a dance. She very calmly signed autographs and did her interviews while a distraught Dinara made her way off court. This was Shahar's biggest win in what has been a dismal year for her and she could've been forgiven for celebrating a little. My respect to both women.

The boo of the week goes to Brad Gilbert who I think wanted to make something of Dinara's turning away from Shahar at the end of the match. There was nothing to make of it Brad.

End Shots
More pics from Week One

Nadia Petrova

John McEnroe and Tim Henman

Caroline Wozniacki

Tamarine Tanasugarn

Richard Williams


Helen W said...

Hey Savannah great summary! I have been concentraing on the men's side of things so it was wonderful to get your insights.

FWIW, I watched NBC's coverage of Nadal - Kiefer, and for the first time I can recall JMac was actually giving props to Rafa. (I also had Wimbledon Live on as backup.)

BTW, do you know why Wimbledon Live didn't show the matches on Court 2 yesterday? I wish they would!!!

Craig Hickman said...

Excellent, Savannah.

One can chase money and still be disrespectful, though.

And I must point out that that picture of Tim Henman is rather illicit.

What's he doing with his left hand?

Helen W said...

Those have got to be Rafa's water bottles, no?

persona non grata. said...

There is something dodgy about that photo.
Either my mind's stuck in a gutter or that has definitely been photoshopped.

Thanks for the round-up; by the by. Like helen w, I've been focusing on the ATP. It's nice to see a shake-up in the WTA and hopefully, it'll herald a new; more tennis centric era.

Savannah said...

Craig, only you! :)

PNG there's lots of us roaming around in that gutter. Welcome aboard.

Helen I thought the same thing but who knows? The pic is great because of the color and spacing.

Mad Professah said...

Every singles one of the Williams matches scheduled on Court 2?

That is just wild...

Well at least they're in hte Quarters in doubles and singles