Saturday, June 13, 2009

The WTA - A Look Ahead

by Savannah

I get tired of writing negative things about the WTA. I really do. It's as if every time a women's tournament takes place the words errorfest, disaster, and horror show come to mind. Holding serve seems to be a lost art and despite all the screaming and carrying on the women's game has become so monotonous that you can predict what a match is going to look like before it even starts. The only time excitement comes into play is when those pesky sisters from the United States take the court. Otherwise it's scream, hit to the right corner, hit to the left corner, screaming all the while. Serve? What's that?

Some are suggesting that the only explanation lies in the Chaos Theory saying that a world in which Svetlana Kuznetsova wins the French Open is one where common sense and what should be have been thrown out of the window.

Others cite Justine Henin's retirement from the sport as the beginning of the end of women's tennis. I see her "retirement" differently. Yes she had personal problems and yes she may have been burned out but it's still ironic that it came when those pesky sisters - they who must not be named - returned uninjured and fully focused to the tour. In my very humble opinion when her Svengali had no answers for her against Marion Bartoli at Wimbledon seeds of doubt had to enter her mind. She beat an injured Serena (too vain to wrap her injured thigh) and a weak Venus(it was later revealed her thinness was due to a return of anemia) at the US Open and while the tennis press didn't present her wins that way it was obvious to true tennisheads that her great victories came against injured players.

Still I give Justine her due. She never had a draw filled with qualifiers, juniors, and lower ranked players. She always had to fight her way to her finals playing the best along the way and perhaps that is what her die hard fans remember most. Yes her character can be called into question but in the end she won her titles. They weren't handed to her. She deserved more than the back of Larry Scott's hand when she left no matter the reason.

The recipient of all the largesse the tour had to offer has returned. For weeks the press had been calling her return "needed" and that it heralded the "return of order" to women's tennis. Her father Yuri Sharapov would not be travelling with her and everything was going to be blue skies and rainbows.

Except it hasn't worked out that way. As long as Maria Sharapova was playing the weak of body and mind she could gut out a win. I watched her match on Thursday and saw her eyes narrow and her spine stiffen as she beat Yanina Wickmayer in three sets.

But Li Na, who lost to Maria a couple of weeks ago came into today's match loaded for bear and while she bent she didn't break. There is a lot of speculation as to why Li doesn't play more events - she's often said to be inured - but today she kept her wits and held her nerve and she won in straight sets, 4 and 4.

Is it a sign of the apocalypse that Sveta, Li, and others, are steadily moving up the rankings? Why is the casual fan always reduced to asking "who"? when one of the women on the tour manages to win a competition? I've said it before and I'll say it again. The tour has let it's players down. The names of Li Na, Zheng Jie, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Victoria Azarenka and Vera Zvonareva should be as well known as that of the Golden Child. Despite all the trash talk the tour is still saddled with a slamless Number One whose breakdown during the French Open final was as tragic as it was predictable. Once Dinara Safina couldn't have her coach come down on court and hold her hand she fell apart.

I doubt you'll see analysis like this in the US tennis press but this article by Nick Pitt appeared in the Times OnLine.

Ranked 20th in the world, and a semi-finalist in the Beijing Olympics, Li is competent rather than exceptional. She was a good trial-horse to make a judgment on whether Sharapova, who recently returned to the courts after surgery to her right shoulder last October, might be a contender at Wimbledon. The answer is clear and negative. The reasons are that her service has lost power and her speed and agility are not good enough. She was half-a-yard slow throughout and her service was broken six times in 10 service games. In their five previous meetings, Li had won just one set. Yesterday she won two with some ease on Sharapova’s favourite surface.

More worrying still was the absence of the intensity that used to be Sharapova’s greatest strength. Six years ago, her grunting and screaming shattered the tranquillity of the Edgbaston lawns and the birds flew away, unable to compete. Yesterday, the birds sang happily, for Sharapova’s decibels have declined with the speed of her first serve. There were moments when Sharapova gave vivid reminders of the flat-driven ground-strokes that helped her win here on her second visit, in 2004, before winning the Wimbledon title three weeks later. A couple of forehand cross-court winners on the run, an exquisite drop shot and a backhand down the line were scintillating. But errors, usually the result of slow footwork, were much more common.

Is there a favorite going into Wimbledon? I said going into the French that someone unexpected would win. Wimbledon is different. Vera Zvonareva is making her comeback from injury at Eastbourne. Sveta got a wild card into the event. I don't think Vera will be at the top of her game coming back after such a long absence but I'm looking forward to seeing where she is. Does Sveta now have the confidence to compete on the grass as well as she did in France? Will Maria Sharapova get her mind and body in sync and win again at SW 19? Will Elena Dementieva regain the form she showed at the beginning of the year or will one of the new jacks find herself attending the Championship Ball?

I'm not picking the woman everyone is talking up, Venus Williams, or her sister Serena Williams. They'll be in it but there's always the chance some unheard of teen will knock one of them off in the early going. Whoever wins is going to have to bite, claw and scream her way to the Venus Rosewater trophy. It's going to be a very interesting tournament.

End Notes:
James Blake is in the final at Queens Club. He'll face Andy Murray.

Tommy Haas found a way to win over Philipp Kohlschreiber at Halle. He'll face Novak Djokovic who beat back a determined attack by Olivier Rochus.

I'm going to take a few days off next week what with Wimbledon coming up. I'm going to be focused on the WTA during the Fortnight. If anything comes up that needs to be discussed I'll of course post and comment.


Karen said...

Hi Savanna, interesting post and thank you very much for that. I have not read the links that you have provided just yet, but I think a lot of people who have seen Maria play (mostly players) have said that her serve does not have the same amount of pop (Alona at Warsaw). I am not sure that Maria will ever get back to the screaming banshee type player again, and frankly I dont think she even cares. My belief is that she is out there as a result of sponsor commitments. Usually when players have been off the tour for a while with injuries, they usually work on other aspects of their game. I am surprised that she did not use the time to work on her footwork (which was always needed) as well as her groundgame (shoulder injury be damned). As to Venus/Serena I am not quite sure about them at Wimbledon this year as Serena seems to have lost a bit of her intensity during the clay season, as a result of that injury but from the pictures I have seen she is still looking like her fine self. As to Justine, the less said the better. Clearly she has forgotten that by the time other players had started beating her ass she upped and left. That beatdown that both Sharapova and Serena gave her prior to her retirement, as well as Safina on Justine's favourite surface should still be stuck in her mind. Can someone else see the parallels with a lot of these people's lives and Serena. Everybody is taking up fashion design, acting, opening schools etc. Everything that Mlle Williamses have been doing for years, and guess what, they still played tennis. Makes you appreciate their victories even more.

Savannah said...

Say it again Karen!