Tuesday, February 28, 2012

This and That

by Savannah

Jurgen Melzer Memphis 2012

You know blogging tennis gives a person some side splitting moments. As they say not funny "ha-ha" but funny "ho-ho".

A couple of years ago there were reports about young Marko Djokovic being miraculously granted a WC into the tournament his older brother was playing in Thailand. None of the Grand Poobah's of tennis reporting/writing/blogging made a big deal. I know I mentioned it along with the fact that Marko plays little if at all in the tennis minor leagues -Futures, Challengers - and relies on his brother's ability to get him into singles main draws. If big brother doesn't convince the Tournament Director that his brother is invaluable to their tournament you don't see Marko. Don't believe me? Check the fan sites. Most of them have threads devoted to Challengers - some even have threads on futures - and find his name.

Sofia Arvidsson Memphis 2012

Of course all of the big shots got caught with their pants down when the ATP 500 tournament in Dubai, after announcing that they had granted a Wild Card to #104 Malek Jaziri released a Main Draw showing a Wild Card having been granted to none other than the man ranked #867 in the world Marko Djokovic. To add insult to injury the tournament withdrew its fourth Wild Card leaving Jaziri out in the cold.
Makes perfect sense right? Don't you want to see #867 playing in an ATP 500 event? If I'd been on the African continent I would've busted my ass to get to Dubai to see this young phenom.

The outcry grew so loud that the Tournament Director released the following statement (emphasis mine):

“We had four wild cards, one of them wasn’t used because it’s only for top-20 players, so we had three left. So we gave the wild cards to Sergei Bubka Jr. who took it last year and did great so we gave it to him again. And then we have of course the Emirati Omar,” said Tahlak.

“Marko Djokovic is important to us because he is the brother of the No.1 player in the world. So that helps us, automatically. As a tournament we have other things to take into consideration.”

Tahlak added: “Novak only recommended that we include his brother in our tournament. We studied that request and we ultimately made the decision that serves the tournament’s best interests and therefore the interests of the players participating in it. We will never accept for anyone to interfere in our work.”

David Ferrer Buenos Aires 2012

I can understand the TD giving into big brother's demands but why rescind the fourth WC? Jaziri is the top ranked player in the Arab world. Hasn't he earned the right to test his mettle against the best in the business? Apparenty Mr. Tahlak felt otherwise.

Timea Babos Monterrey 2012

The bigger issue in all this is will we see #867 (down from #628 in 2010) in the MD of Masters 1000 tournaments? Grand Slams? What guy who's been slogging away in 250's and the Challengers be denied a WC because big brother wants his little brother to gain experience against the best without working to improve his game? Is that far fetched? Is it? Imagine if Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer had champion by shared uterus siblings and twisted arms to get him into the big tournaments? Would the tennis press murmur into their necks, turn their heads and pretend they had no idea this was happening? I think not. So why now?

Juan Martin del Potro Marseille 2012

Everything is sports is political. In tennis this is sometimes farcically so. With the precedent set in Dubai will other TD's feel pressured to cave into the demands of the current ATP #1? Bullies never concede ground gained do they? Instead they increase their demands until someone steps to them and makes them back down. Also do not forget that big brother has tremendous support in the United States tennis establishment and we know they have no qualms about bullying other Federations. You won't hear a peep about the incident or the implications from the tennis main stream media in the States. This is a situation where bloggers have to step up and make sure ALL tennis news is reported.

In case you don't know little brother was easily swept aside by Andrey Golubev 6-3, 6-2 in his first round match.

Doubles Results

David Marrero and Fernando Verdasco won the Doubles crown in Buenos Aires.

Top seeds Max Mirnyi and Daniel Nestor were the ATP champs in Memphis.
Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka took the women's crown there.

Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci won in Monterrey.


I find it amusing that the FFT has chosen to play its Davis Cup tie versus the United States at the Monte Carlo Country Club, the stadium that hosts the clay tournament the USTA fought to get rid of because US players don't like playing in the dirt. The thing is the French players are best on hard courts, especially Jo-Wilfrid Tsonga. My guess is the French are thinking that on a slow, outdoor court the United States will suck worse and they'll escape with a win. The team Jim Courier brought into Switzerland was ready for the challenge. The pressure has now been increased.

Some are suggesting that the top four or five of the WTA is beginning to equal the top four of the ATP.

1 Azarenka, Victoria 31/07/89 BLR 8980
2 Sharapova, Maria 19/04/87 RUS 7680
3 Kvitova, Petra 08/03/90 CZE 7095
4 Wozniacki, Caroline 11/07/90 DEN 6270
5 Radwanska, Agnieszka 06/03/89 POL 5850
6 Stosur, Samantha 30/03/84 AUS 5825
7 Bartoli, Marion 02/10/84 FRA 5160
8 Li, Na 26/02/82 CHN 4390
9 Zvonareva, Vera 07/09/84 RUS 4340
10 Petkovic, Andrea 09/09/87 GER 3810

The argument is based on Caroline Wozniacki being passed by Agnieszka Radwanska and thus creating a highly competitive top four. I think it's too soon to assume that the top five will stay about the same through the entire year. I know she has her fans but Petra Kvitova is the weakest link of the five. I don't care for Aggie's neo Hingis style of play but she has shown she can be as tough minded as the Swiss Miss was.

And guess what?! There's already drama between Aggie and Victoria Azarenka. As all women know we're not like men. I don't think you'll see a Fedal type situation in the WTA. Radwanska has already accused her "good friend" of gamesmanship in Doha.


During the semifinal match Azarenka looked mortally wounded and there was doubt cast on her ability to play the final. i saw the match and thought it was nothing short of miraculous that Azarenka finished the semifinal. When she came out and played the final the next day there were no signs of injury. Unfortunately I didn't get to see the match - time difference and the need to sleep - but I did see the picture that set a million tongues wagging.


What a "talk to the hand" moment at the net.

Be that as it may it's going to be interesting to see if Radwanska moves up to be in the top three by the end of the year. Will Azarenka be able to hold onto the top spot? Will Petra Kvitova overcome her problems and live up to her potential? To continue about Kvitova does the WTA want a number one who is barely able to move? And that leads to Maria Sharapova who while better at moving is still awkward as all get out when forced out of her comfort zone.

I hope the WTA, in desperation, doesn't let it's rhetoric get ahead of it's players. Victoria Azarenka, by virtue of winning one Slam, is getting the full on star treatment now. Will she be able to handle the pressure emotionally? It's one thing to play before half empty stands in the Middle East. It's another to walk onto Roland Garros, Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows, let alone Miami and La Jolla (Indian Wells), full of howling fans carrying the weight of the top ranking on your shoulders. And lets not forget the Olympics. Don't forget that in Australia, ahead in the final, she started a pointless argument with the chair.

It's going to be an interesting year in women's tennis.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Weekend - And A Response To Criticism

by Savannah

There is a new member of the WTA winners circle. Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino won the title in Bogota. Will she be the Spanish woman to take the top ten by storm?
Meanwhile Victoria Azarenka played despite what looked like an ankle turn and won the title in Doha.
Roger Federer showed that despite that US Open victory, one that seems to have taken place in an alternate universe, Juan Martin del Potro is his bitch romping to victory over the Argentine player.
Nicolas Almagro successfully defended his title in Sao Paulo.
Milos Raonic of Canada did the same in San Jose.

Doubles Results

Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond won in Doha.
Michael Llodra and Nenad Zimonjic won Rotterdam.
Mark Knowles and Xavier Malisse are the San Jose champions.
Eric Butorac and Bruno Soares took the title in Sao Paulo.


Former WTA #1 Caroline Wozniacki has decided to go all in on her critics going as far as naming the name of the former player now commentator who has been an icon of women's tennis longer than Wozniacki has been alive.

Excerpts from her interview are below.

Dubai - Former world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki hit back at Martina Navratilova on Monday for claiming that the Dane had never deserved to be top of the world rankings.

Wozniacki also suggested she has lost respect for Navratilova, regarded by many as the greatest female player ever, implying that her TV commentating sought to stir things up and that it would be better to "think a little bit."

"I would never say Martina was No 1 when there was no-one playing," Wozniacki said, "or that she was the best when no-one was playing. That would be disrespectful."

Her comment was an echo of Navratilova's remarks at an Australian Open press conference, in which the 55-year-old legend said: "Clearly nobody feels Wozniacki is a true No 1."

Navratilova, whose 18 Grand Slam singles titles were achieved when the women's game had less depth, also criticised the modern ranking system which placed Wozniacki at the top for 68 weeks.

This places too much emphasis on the quantity of wins rather than their quality, Navratilova alleged, suggesting fellow Czech Petra Kvitova, Wimbledon champion and winner of five other titles last year, should have become No 1 instead.

When Wozniacki was asked if she had lost respect as a result of some of the remarks made about her on television, she reacted immediately.

"I think I have to be honest, lost a little bit of respect. Because I respect what they have achieved," she said, referring to players of a previous era who are now commentators.

"And I really respect what someone else (has done), I know how hard it is to reach the top level of a sport like tennis.

"I think I would never say Martina was No 1 when there was no-one playing, or she was the best when no-one was playing. I mean that would be disrespectful.

"She was unbelievable. She won so many Grand Slams, her touch was unbelievable. Martina Hingis was unbelievable as well - for me my favourite player.

"But I think they should respect players that are playing now as well. Because they know how hard it is. You don't just wake up and say okay I want to win this tournament, and it just happens like this. At that point, you are like, they should just think a little bit."

Wozniacki reacted almost as strongly when asked about Navratilova's comment that it was Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka who now formed the game's best rivalry.

"They always have to make comments, and that's what they get paid for - to be comments, because they are not playing any more. And they need to stir everything up," Wozniacki said.

"When I was No 1 they needed to make a story so in the beginning when I was coming up they were saying I was the next big thing.

"Then when I had been there for a while and it got boring... then they said she hasn't won a Grand Slam - because and because and because.

"Soon it will be if Victoria (Azarenka) loses a match, 'how could she lose a match?'"

Just picture what the firestorm would be if Serena Williams said something like this for public consumption. I'm being nice saying there would be a firestorm. There would be a lot of icky brown waste matter clogging tennis blogs and columns wouldn't there? Instead Wozniacki will be patted on the head like an over indulged child and excuses will be made. What's that comment about heat and kitchens again?

Friday, February 17, 2012

The War for the Future of US Tennis

by Savannah

I believe the future of tennis in the United States lies somewhere between the views of Wayne Bryan and Patrick McEnroe. Wayne Bryan seems to want to continue things as they are. Little kids hitting with racquets that are sometimes bigger than they are is fine in his world. Balls should be standard issue, not adjusted for kids who are still growing. Making any changes will put US kids behind the eight ball so to speak and leave us in a worse position than we are now. Player development should be handled by parents and coaches not some entity that exists only to pay high salaries and disrupt the natural development of a tennis player.

What neither man mentions is the role of the tennis factories in Florida and other places. These euphemistically names "academies" have been the places United States youngsters vie to get in to and have been the biggest creators of North American style on the court. A man like Nick Bollettieri has had more to do with how tennis is played in the United States than Player Development. Bollettieri has owned up to the fact that the style of play taught in his academy has hindered the development of players who are able to do more than pound the shit out of a ball. The idea of "hit hard and harder" is an acknowledge failure. The rise of players who are able to craft points, strategize on court and adjust to changing conditions has forced a reassessment among those responsible for the future of tennis. The argument seems to be about how to get to the point that players from the United States are more than cannon fodder in majors even in the United States.

I am sure men and women like Wayne Bryan would rather see a home grown solution and don't like the idea of someone like Jose Higueras coming in and taking the reins of player development. The question to them is who would you select? Is there someone among the establishment who doesn't think that downgrading clay court tournaments and play and increasing the speed of hard courts is the solution to the dilemma facing US tennis? Is there someone the traditionalists have in mind who can see to it that what happened to Melanie Oudin doesn't happen to other promising juniors? Will the USTA be reduced to throwing tantrums when players who have never been US citizens grab the chance to be top players in their own countries rather than second rate players in this country behind the favored players of the establishment? Will we still have to "recruit" clay courters from South America because we can't compete otherwise? Is this what the traditionalists want for the United States? Famous parentage and slick PR campaigns do not make great players. What does it mean when our most promising junior girl is an out of shape fifteen year old?

I didn't see real world answers to any of these issues in Wayne Bryan's rant. I saw the death throes of a generation of tennis "gurus" who know their time has past, that they've failed, and that there are really no juniors ready to step onto the world stage and reassert the relevance of United States tennis. Wayne Bryan's son's were trained to be the best at doubles. Where are the up and coming US doubles teams?

People were shocked at what Jim Courier was able to do in the Davis Cup tie against Switzerland. The United States Fed Cup team also played well in their opening campaign. But these victories don't mean all is right with US tennis. Far from it. Our top players are all ancient by sports standards. Andy Roddick's wife has come out and said that he will retire soon. Is someone like Ryan Harrison ready to become the next US Slam champion? On the women's side Venus Williams is suffering from an autoimmune problem that prevents her from playing a full schedule. Serena Williams is doing her best but is still not at full strength. Christina McHale has had some nice wins but right now I don't see her ready to take on the top women.

Let's face it. There is no one on the horizon who has shown the mental toughness, emotional stability and physical strength to play today's game. Going back to the future, or waiting for the top players to succumb to the ravages of time is not a strategy for future success. Leaving the men aside the women are bigger and stronger. I was stunned to see how small some of the up and coming US women are this past summer at the US Open. The big girls will hit and think them off the court.

There are things that Patrick McEnroe can be criticized for but his understanding of what is needed to pull tennis out of the Dark Ages can't be done with the current administrators and coaching arrangements. He understands the need for our program to be brought into the 21st century, that because a style of play worked twenty years ago doesn't mean it will continue to work. Spain has shown that players can have their own individual style and yet have a commitment to their tennis association. Every player considered part of the Armada has his own style. Can we say that about players from the States?

It's obvious that PMac has a hard row to hoe, that the resistance to what he's trying to do is fierce. He was given time to get our Davis Cup team up to snuff. I hope that he'll be allowed to make the fundamental changes needed to bring United States tennis into the world not as a bully but as a full participant on the world stage.

It is not going to be easy.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Patrick McEnroe Responds

As promised below is Patrick McEnroe's response to Wayne Bryan's letter.

When Wayne Bryan's letter about USTA player development began circulating on the internet, I knew I had to respond to it, but I wasn't sure if the USTA would. Today, I received USTA Player Development General Manager Patrick McEnroe's response to Wayne Bryan's letter, which appears unedited, in its entirety, below:

I admire the passion that Wayne Bryan brings to the sport of tennis. I applaud all that he has done to help his sons, Bob and Mike, become not only an amazing doubles team but genuinely great guys. Some of my greatest and most memorable experiences in tennis involve the Bryan brothers and all that they’ve done for our Davis Cup team and American tennis. That said, I couldn’t disagree more with Mr. Bryan’s opinions on the myriad subjects—including 10 and Under Tennis and USTA Player Development—that he addresses in the “open letter” that has now been prominently featured in several tennis-related blogs.

It’s easy—and frankly, it’s long been fashionable—to cast a blanket indictment against the USTA. That’s neither new nor notable. I think all of us at the USTA would agree that a lot of past criticism has been deserved, but Mr. Bryan’s scattershot attack is so full of holes, hearsay, and half-truths that I feel compelled to address it.

Let me first say that the USTA has a clearly-defined mission—to promote and develop the growth of tennis. The USTA wants more people on more courts in more places; that is our charge as an association. As General Manager of Player Development, my specific charge is to help produce more Top 100 players with the goal that we have more of them competing into the second week of the majors. That’s a different responsibility but, in the long run, achieving that goal is at least partly reliant on getting more young people involved in the sport.

The world has changed—and tennis has changed with it. Our challenges as an association and a sport continue to evolve. Let’s face it, in a rapidly-changing global environment, if we’re not changing and moving forward, we’re essentially going backward. Tennis is simply not the same sport that it was 20 years ago—even 10 years ago. Anyone who was paying attention to the second week of this year’s Australian Open realizes that the bar is being raised as we speak. Tennis is much more of a global sport today, probably the most global, other than soccer. It’s true that Americans don’t dominate tennis the way they once did, but the truth is that because of globalization, Americans don’t dominate any sport the way they once did. Even sports once considered traditionally “American,” such as baseball and basketball have become much more international. Given all of that, if we want to ensure our place at the table, we need to have a strategic vision that encompasses every level of play and player—from beginner to pro.

Tennis has often been criticized for being too expensive and inaccessible. Those criticisms have truth to them; they are challenges that all of us involved in the sport face. And these are specific issues that the 10 and Under Tennis initiative addresses. When Mr. Bryan says that tennis, “grows from Main Street,” and from “solid, fun, dynamic programming,” he’s absolutely right. Tennis is indeed a sport that grows upward from its grass roots, and by making the sport easier for kids to play and enjoy, they’re much more likely to get involved in it and stick to it. That’s exactly the idea behind 10 and Under Tennis, and for any sport, that’s step one.

In terms of 10-and-under competition, the rule change adopted by the ITF and the USTA has, in fact, opened the door for more kids to get involved in junior competition. Two years ago, fewer than 10,000 kids were involved in tournament play and in the USTA’s Jr. Team Tennis program. Now, that number has risen to more than 32,000. We’ve still got a long way to go, admittedly. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of our potential. But more kids are trying tennis, and we feel confident that this rule change will open the door for more kids to get involved—and stay involved—in our sport. And that’s a good thing.

The idea that the more-talented or more-accomplished kids are somehow being held back or hampered by the rule changes that include shorter courts, properly-sized racquets and slower-bouncing balls is absurd. Mr. Bryan says he can produce, “all kinds of kids around the country at 8, 9, 10 who can flat out nail the ball.” I’m sure that’s true, and in fact, I’ve seen plenty of them at our Regional Training Centers and our three USTA training centers. But I’m equally sure that there’s not a single sport that makes its rules for the one-half of one percent of the kids who play it. For the kids who truly are that good, they can—and should—do what the best kids in tennis and all sports have been doing for years: play up at the next level. It’s important to emphasize that this rule change applies only to tournament play for kids 10-and-younger.

It’s equally important to note that the ability to “flat-out nail the ball” doesn’t exactly translate into a bright future as a player. We’ve all seen examples of that time and again. Indeed, by playing with properly-sized equipment and a softer ball that allows for longer rallies, we will be much more likely to develop smarter players who understand how to construct points; not just those who can smash a yellow ball through the back wall. In doing that, we’ll have more players who understand how to compete—and are better-prepared to do so.

Jose Higueras, USTA Player Development’s outstanding Director of Coaching, often has said that this country has produced plenty of players who can hit the ball, but far fewer who understand how to play tennis. We believe that the new 10 and Under competitive structure can go a long way to developing smarter players, providing them with a more solid foundation and understanding of the sport, so that by the time they progress to the next level, they’ll be able to do more than “nail” the ball.

That would certainly be a huge help to all of us in Player Development, a group which, despite what Mr. Bryan may believe, work pretty darn hard to provide the most talented young players in this country—and their coaches—with the tools they need to achieve.

Mr. Bryan likes to point out that the USTA has never developed a Top 10 player. I would ask him, “Who has, from start-to-finish?” The USTA has, for years, played a vital role in the development of many top professionals, but the idea that any one person is responsible for the development of any individual player is ludicrous. Players evolve, players change, players progress. It’s an ongoing process and always has been. The coach or parent who got a player from point A to point B may or may not have the tools or know-how to help take the player to the next level. What’s more, the economics of tennis almost always come into play for most coaches, who often have to decide whether to stick with a player or with a full-time job at their club or academy. That’s a tough call, and an important one, both for the coach and the player. Whatever the scenario, whatever the need, we’re there to lend our support to both the coach and the player so that the player can progress.

But contrary to what Mr. Bryan believes, USTA Player Development isn’t in the “cherry-picking” business. We’re in the business of helping the best young players get better by providing a controlled environment in which they will have the best chance of developing. Our Player Development staff devotes a remarkable amount of time—often years—communicating with kids, their parents and their coaches to decide on the best path of progress for each individual so that they can make an intelligent and informed choice. If they decide to work with us, we do our utmost to provide them with the best training, the best advice, the best competition, and key financial support. After all, in order to improve, you need to be in a place where you can regularly compete with the best; you don’t get better in a vacuum. What we provide are more opportunities for the best to come together, compete with each other, and get better.

Mr. Bryan suggests that the USTA’s thrust is to “get rid of the influence of parents and local coaches.” Again, that’s absolutely absurd. We are well aware that all of the kids who come into our program get their start in other places, and we applaud the parents and coaches who get these kids involved in tennis and nurture their development. Indeed, since I’ve been in this job, my appreciation of the importance of coaching at every level has increased tenfold. I think we can—and should—do a better job of acknowledging those who’ve helped develop these kids along the way, but the idea that we’re out to exclude anyone is ridiculous. Indeed, the amount of time that we spend annually meeting with and exchanging ideas with private coaches is off the charts. Just last year, USTA Player Development conducted 57 camps at our Regional Training Centers, where we were able to touch thousands of kids, parents and coaches. We’re not in the business of exclusion, we’re in the business of inclusion and enhancement. We’re in the business of giving these talented kids more options for pursuing their highest goals within this sport, assisted, of course, by the input of their parents and coaches. None of us are about to apologize for that.

As in most criticism aimed at the USTA, Mr. Bryan is fond of citing the “massive staff expenditures” of this association. Yes, we’re extremely fortunate to have the revenues generated by the US Open to help us fund our programs and hire talented people, but to hear Mr. Bryan tell it, you’d think our water coolers were filled with Dom Perignon. I make a very nice living—I don’t apologize for that either. But the truth is that a lot of my very talented staff take less money to work for USTA Player Development than they could make if they took their talents elsewhere. They choose to be with us because they have a genuine passion and they want to play a part in our mission.

And in fact, it’s important to note that the majority of the revenues that are generated by the US Open aren’t directed toward Player Development, but go back into the game’s grass roots, allowing more people of every age to get involved in the sport of tennis. All of us at the USTA feel that’s a good way to invest that money.

Some six years ago, the USTA Board of Directors felt it was important to get more players involved in Player Development because they believed it was important for American players to be competitive at the US Open in order to ensure the long-term health of that event. The impetus for me to come on board was that the USTA said it would be fully-responsible for the development of those players who chose to be with us; that we would have our own training centers where the best players could come together to get better. I was hired, not as a coach, but as a General Manager, charged to put the best people in place to help achieve that goal and come up with an overall direction for the program. In the four years I’ve been on the job, that’s what I’ve worked hard to achieve, and that’s what I’ll continue to do.

Mr. Bryan bemoans the fact that I’ve hired some foreign coaches; he decries the fact that none of my coaches have children that are champion players. Frankly, I’m offended by the former and amused by the latter. I still recall the best coaching advice my father ever gave me as a junior—after splitting the first two sets of my match, he told me prior to the third set to, “do what you did in the set that you won.”

Where a coach is born or what their kids excel at is not my concern. I’ve tried to hire the best and the most passionate; I’ve tried to hire those who excel at—and enjoy—working with and developing kids. Our Director of Coaching, Jose Higueras, has coached some of the greatest ever to play the game, but his real passion is working with kids, and his understanding of the sport is second-to-none. Are we always trying to get better? Are we always looking to improve? Absolutely. But let’s just say I’m extremely comfortable with everybody’s resume and their proven passion for the sport.

Mr. Bryan wants the USTA out of the player development business, out of the coaching business and out of the rule-making business. O.k., he’s entitled to his opinion. But if the governing body of the sport isn’t making the rules, then who will? Doesn’t someone have to take the lead? Doesn’t someone have to organize and promote the sport?

When I took this job, I knew there would be rewards and I knew there would be challenges. I knew that every decision we made would have its supporters and its detractors. I really do appreciate the passion that those involved in tennis have for our sport; I think that the people who put a face on our sport are second-to-none in that regard. I understand a lot of the criticism and I’m happy to take most of it—where it’s constructive and where it’s deserved. The buck stops here. Certainly, when Americans don’t fare well on our sport’s biggest stages, nobody is calling the local pros—they’re calling the USTA. And they should.

Because of that, our charge is to do what we can to make our sport—and our players—better and more competitive in this highly-competitive global environment. That’s what we’re working on every day and that’s what we’ll continue to do. We are prepared to address any and every short-term concern with an eye toward long-term benefits. We can’t—and we won’t—allow short-sightedness to interfere with long-term vision.

Again thanks to Colette Lewis at Zoo Tennis who was the pioneer in making sure junior tennis got the coverage it deserved in the United States for posting Patrick's statement.

What do I think? Tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wayne Bryan vs the US Tennis Establishment

by Savannah

Back in January, around the beginning of the Australian Open when those of us on the other side of the international date line began our two weeks of sleep deprivation an email sent by the father of US Doubles Champions Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan made its way to the interwebs. I had meant to post about this earlier but it took Colette Lewis publication of Patrick McEnroe's response to jar my memory.

Wayne Bryan's letter was not meant to be published as a column or blog post and it's long. I think it's worth posting most of it though. I will do the same with Patrick McEnroe's response.

Dear Anonymous USTA Exec,

Again, so very appreciative that you asked my opinion re the U10s Mandate and U10 Initiative.

Let’s chop some wood and this will not be a formal submission and I will just type and roll this stuff out as fast as I possibly can and off the top of my head and hope it is helpful and hope you find yourself nodding in agreement every once in awhile:

1) The USTA has built a half mile bridge over a one mile river. Jump Street is age 6 not 10. Ask AYSO soccer. T Ball. Softball. That’s when kids start skateboarding. Playing computer games. Great rodeo stars and singers and dancers are doing their thing at 6, not getting on that horse at age 10 or singing that first tune for grandma at 10. Inner city kids are doing those amazing dance moves at 6, not 10. Incredible NBA stars are already playing on the asphalt courts at 6, not 10. World famous music teacher Dr. Shinichi Susuki has little children playing amazing orchestral concerts. Can you start tennis at 10? Sure. No prob. Come on in and have a blast playing the great game. But you want the best chance to be successful and play on your HS Team and in collegeand dream the dream of playing in the pro game some day? – - – You better be dragging that little stick around as soon as you can walk. Get a little racket in your hand at age 3, 4, or 5 and start doing little fun games at home and on the driveway and in the backyard and at the club or park. No video games or TV or skateboards at 6, tennis!! Early and often. Making this costly campaign 10 by the USTA was a huge error and waste of funds. 10 is too late. Most kids are already rolling in other sports and other things.

2) Champions are not created by million dollar slick ad campaigns! Tennis will never grow from Madison Avenue! It grows fromMain Street. Local parents. Local groups of kids getting going. Local parks. Local schools. Local clubs. Local coaches. Tennis grows from solid and fun and dynamic programming and charismatic parents and coaches and club pros. It grows with bells and whistles. With energy and enthusiasm. With fun. With laughs. With trips. Hit records are purchased because people love the song. You go to great movies that your friends recommend. Word spreads about a great restaurant – - – good food, good service, good atmosphere. Ad campaigns are overrated for sports or entertainment. People go to the US Open, not because of flyers or posters or ads, they go to see that dazzling tennis at that majestic facility. People might buy Crest rather than Colgate because of an ad campaign. They might drink Coors rather than Bud because of an ad campaign. They might fly Southwest rather thanAmerican because of an ad campaign. They will not go see the Dodgers or the Angels or Lakers or Jets or Giants or Mets orYankees because of an ad campaign. Our current US Davis Cup Team does not sell out 12,000 and 15,000 seat arenas the past few years because of ad campaigns – - – they sell out these stadiums in 11 minutes cause people like this team and want to watch them and root for them.

3) You want to help the environment – - – plant a tree in your yard. Plant two trees and you will provide yourself enough oxygen to breathe for one whole year. You want to help tennis, have your child or your nephew or that girl next door play the great game. Not trying to be negative, but all those USTA PD coaches through the years? Their kids don’t play the game. Those administrators telling us about this wonderful U10 Initiative? Their kids don’t play. If they play at all, they are sure not champions. “So, my humble opinion is that if you are a good junior coach, you will have multiple, great junior players in your program and if you are a great junior coach, some of those players will be your own children!!” Doug Pielet, South Carolina.

4) The USTA crows that it has gone out and gotten input on this U10 Initiative from across the country? No way. It is all fromCommittees. That’s why there is such a huge blow back from the tennis people out in the trenches – - – I have a large e mail list of irate parents and coaches. The coaches that are producing players and parents whose children are passionate about the sport and doing well – - – they don’t have time for Committees, but their opinions were never solicited or considered. My Mom always said that “a Rhinoceros is a Horse that was designed by a committee”. My pal at the SCTA Henry Talbert laughing says, “There is nothing worse than two Generals and a Map.” Massive changes in our tournament structure are coming from top down and not bottom up. That’s no way to run a car company the Japanese have taught the world.

5) Those USTA Staffers that have called me or who I have been on conference calls with have all said three things over and over to support this harmful and ill conceived U10 Mandate that they have seen from 35,000 feet as they said repeatedly (which is their main problem):

1. All 10s dink: As someone who has coached lots of top SCTA 10s through the years, all three of those pillars are erroneous. I can show you all kinds of kids around the country at 8, 9 and 10 that can flat nail the ball and have very complete games. Mike and Bob play short doubles matches with little kids around the country at all their Exos and Charity Events – - – usually the kids are U10s. The points are astonishing and they always use yellow balls. For these kids green balls are a joke.

2. It doesn’t matter how you do in the 10s: Did these USTA staffers ever see Tracy or Andre at 6, or Jenny Cap, orChrissie, or Lindsay, or Michael, or Pete, or Venus, or Serena at 10? Andy, Mardy, Mike, Bob, Sam, Vania, Donnie, or Ryan? Does that mean that every top 10 will be a world class player? Of course not, but every world class player was passionate and getting after tennis as a very little guy or gal. Read the ATP or WTA Media Guides.

3. It doesn’t matter if the top 10s play up: Players should never play up unless they are flat out dominating their division. Oh, play up every once in awhile to see what it’s like or play up in a weaker tournament – - – sure. Actual Story: Joey(named changed) has been playing at his club since he was 4 and 5. Loved the game. Club rat. Dad the head pro. Mom played. Starts playing the 10s when he’s 6. Gets killed. Stay in there and does better as he becomes 7 and is regularly winning matches and even wins some tournaments at 8. At 9 he is in the top 10 in the South. And now finally he is an official second year 10 and is going to give it everything he’s got to be #1 in the South. Oh – - – there is a new slick ad campaign announcing that now all 10s haveto play with these soft green balls. “Huh?”, says Joey. He wants to play with regular tennis balls like he always has. He has a big forehand, solid two handed backhand, crisp volleys, nice serve, nice kicker, sweet slider- – - good doubles player too. His Dad the pro tries to explain it to him. As a top player he is invited to a USTA Camp for the top 10s – - – but, by the way, “We will only be using green balls”. Huh? His Dad, the pro, calls me and ask me what he should do? And should he use the green balls or play up in the 12s. He plays in the 12s and after a good part of the year he gets all the way up to #121 and bless his heart, he is now in the top 100 in the 12s. “Stay in there”, says his Dad, “Hang in there”, says Coach B. How many kids have a pro Dad or people telling the player to stick out this injustice? Other players who play up simply quit and lose interest because they are always losing to older and bigger kids. I bestir myself to battle this harmful Mandate because of Joey and so many others like him.

6) QS is a tool, not a program. Most every top teaching pro I know believes in graduated learning. Works for not only tennis, butdrums, piano, surfing, dancing, speaking – - – all kinds of worthwhile endeavors. Mandating that every tournament for 10s in the US has to be with a green ball is over the top authoritarian and heavy handed and is even seen by many as mean spirited. Why oh why not a dual approach, as JP Weber of Georgia has suggested? Have all the U6 and U8 and U10 tournaments that you want and use all kind of colored and soft and even Nerf balls if you want, just don’t eliminate regular tennis for 10s!! Let kids and parents and coaches decide. This is American for crying out loud – - – let the market place decide. In a typical junior tournament you have some 20 divisions for boys and girls in the 10s, 12, 14s, 16, 18s and singles and doubles. Having some soft ball events in addition would add maybe two to four to six more divisions. If after a year or two no one enters regular 10s tennis, then you don’t need to offer it on the entry blank anymore. If they don’t play the U6 or U10 red or orange or green ball tournament, you could eliminate that after a year or two. If everyone in Virginia loves the green ball tournaments and no one ever enters the regular ball tournaments, they after a good amount of time, don’t offer it. If one county or city has all kinds of regular ball players in the 10s and not one single green baller, go with that. A little autonomy goes a long way.

7) Let’s get some empirical data going. Right now there is not one pro player on the ATP or WTA that grew up playing competitive tennis with green balls in the U10s and the last time I looked there were some pretty dadgum good players out there. And bingo, the USTA is mandating (and the ITF to be fair) that you must do it this way only. Our way uber ales. Bet: You give me 100 kids and let me do my thing from age 6 to 10 and let me do the whole program with JTT and trips to college matches each week andtournaments each weekend and team events against other clubs – - – and you take 100 kids and keep them on the soft colored balls until they are 11 and then track both groups on out until they are all 18 and see who has got the goods. I know where I would put my money . . .
There are “bribes” and “threats” being used to sell this QS and the Mandate in. I have lots of anecdotal evidence of this and put your ear to the ground and you will hear all about it. If the Mandate is so great, why do you have to resort to that?!! So many coaches and parents are afraid to speak out against it. The pros in the South have formed a regular 10s tennis circuit and it has gone very well with a good amount of entries. The green ball tourneys have been small. Now the local USTA staffers are calling the various parents and kids telling them not to play or x, y, z will happen. Various pros have had their jobs threatened for not adhering to the QS line.

Take a deep breath because there's more. Bryan goes on to discuss the rise of foreign born players in US College tennis ranks calling it the elephant in the room. To read his thoughts in detail click the link above.

The biggest bomb tossed into the country club is the following.

Get rid of USTA Player Development altogether.

1) Having observed it up close and personal for the past 23 years, I say USTA PD has been and continues to be the biggest impediment to the growth of tennis in this country and also the creation of champions. Each regime issues one harmful Mandate after another, only to then be overturned by the next regime. Can give example after example:

Example #1: The national tournament schedule. A couple of years ago, the USTA radically increased not only the number of national and regional events, but also draw sizes – - – some up to 256. It was a huge knee jerk and resulted in hurting sectional play. Three years ago only 1 of the top 20 players in the 18s in SoCal even played the Sectional. Back in the day, all 20 of the top 20 always played. Only way you could get to the Zoo. Now this latest regime has radically knee jerked in the other direction and eliminate lots of tournaments and greatly reduced draw sizes. Again, a massive pendulum swing that has so many juniors and parents and coaches totally anger and dejected. Again, no checking with the rank and file players who enjoy going to play nationals. Shhhh . . . the answer lies somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. Ha. Ha. “If you want to know how to do it, just do things the way they were back in 1987 before Player Development came along and messed things up.” Jack Sharpe, Chicago.

Example #2: Getting rid of 12 Nationals and rankings when PD first began. Very, very similar to the Green Ball Mandate. Mikeand Bob were the top two 12s in the country at the time. What did they do? Yep. They played up in the 14s so they could play the Nationals.

Example #3: Their thrust to get rid of the influence of parents and local coaches. That has really always been lurking for the full 23 years. I could write 10 pages on the negative effects of this, just suffice it to say I think that is extremely harmful to the development of a champion and a person.

Example #4: At first Key Biscayne had the magic and the pixie dust and that was where each top junior had to go to train and get the USTA blessings. No. That didn’t work. Let’s move it out to Carson. Woops. No results. Let’s go get the magic from Boca Raton. Woops. No real players coming out of there. Hey, USTA, there is no magic place or magic bullet.

Example #5: Getting rid of junior doubles rankings. Huh? I could write page after page about the harm that has caused.

Example #6: the U10 Mandate. See above.

2) As I am writing this way too long of a piece some 2 e mails have come in from Mike Kernodle and JP Weber:

“Please keep in mind that the USTA does not develop players. They find players that have been developed by grass root coaches, dangle money etc. as a carrot, bring them in to training centers and often watch them digress.” Dr. Mike Kernodle, North Carolina

“The 10 and under stuff is just the tip of the iceberg for the USTA. While we elect a new president to that org every two years there are people who work there all the time and over the years who see opportunity in growing the org even bigger and bigger and securing their jobs for longer and longer (and making higher and higher salaries). That is the number one reason in my opinion they should not be in player development in the US.” JP Weber from Georgia

3) Other recent E Mails from the truckload that I have received on these issues:

“Just a quick note to thank you for your voice and support of individual coaches ideas and efforts. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of great coaches and people out there teaching tennis that really want to do the right thing. We need always to keep the coaches empowered and believing that their own ideas and initiative are embraced.” Chuck Kriese, Maryland
“I think over the past 22 years, that is what the various and ever changing USTA Player Development regimes have done in perhaps an unintended – - – or maybe an intended way – - – the have emasculated all the local pros and coaches and parents across the US. They say in one form or fashion, “You can’t coach these kids to the top. Only we can. Send them to us here at Key Biscayne or Carson – - – or now at Boca. We’ll train them and raise them..” Or “Hey, we are taking over now.” It chills the rank and file coaches across this country. And it has never worked as they do not have one single player to show for it. They’ll try like hell to claim or put their USTA stamp on a player, but everyone sees that for what it is.” Wayne Bryan
“The lack of top players was in part due to administrators micro-managing the talent by assigning coaches to players rather than letting them choose their own development paths. There’s no evidence that more dollars are going to help the game anyway, otherwise Great Britain would have many more players than they have. You’ve got a situation here where coaches are assigned to players and that’s not an ideal scenario. I just believe in a different philosophy where the player gets to choose their own coach and that builds the trust and respect and that should be supported financially and in non-financial ways. I think a much moredecentralized system and a system that has more freedom in it is the sort of environment where talent and creativity can flourish. I think the model we have now suppresses creativity, which you need to produce players.” Paul McNamee, Australia
“And, I will add one last comment to this thought about the USTA trying to control/be involved with tennis player development: NO OTHER SPORT DOES THIS! AYSO soccer doesn’t try to govern how soccer coaches develop in the private sector; Football – NO, Baseball – NO, Basketball – NO. Not even FIFA, which could be considered one of the most powerful sport organizations in the world doesn’t get involved in player development – they let the professional soccer clubs develop their own talent from age 4 on up to pro level in each clubs own system.” Chris Boyer, Pasadena
4) They always give lip service to growing the game, but USTA Player Development only thinks about Pro Players. And, truth be told, after 23 years and well north of $200 M dollars and really probably close to $300 M, they do not have one player to show for it. Try that in the private sector.

5) Ask each pro player in the US what they think about PD. Ask the Roddick family for example. Williams sisters. Donnie Young. Most are afraid to speak out. We need more pats on the backs for our juniors and our pros and not so much neg. Note that Alex Bogomolov is ripped for saying “yes” when Russia asks him to play for their Davis Cup Team. The USTA now wants to get their money for their financial support for his tennis. For the thousands of dollars they may have given him in support does not even come close to what USTA staffers make each month. Several make two or three times what the President of the United States makes! And the USTA is a non profit!

6) There is no one way. A national approach to coaching is bound to be a failure. What if they are wrong? Was it Shakespearewho wrote: “Who will watch the watchmen?” It would amaze you the things that I have heard National Coaches say through the years. Coaching is one part technique, one part science, one part art, one part motivation, one part inspiration, one part fun, one part laughing, one part trips to college matches, one part drying tears, one part social – - – it is Mark Bey’s Tie Dyed t shirts, pizza, movies, dinners, dances, talent shows, beach parties, camp outs, and lotsa magic. There is no one way. No one knows what makes a hit record. We know it when we hear it but there is no cookie cutter for music. There was a hit song with just whistling and a refrain repeated over and over. Don’t Worry Be Happy sold millions of copies. No one knows what makes a hit movie. Gone With the Wind was a hit movie but so was Dumb and Dumber. Andre played his way. Pete played his way. Mc played his way. Bjorn played his way. Pat Mc played his way. Jose played his way. No one ever played like Jimmy. No team ever played doubles like McEnroe-Fleming. No one played doubles like the Woodies. No one has ever played doubles like the Bryans. The Beatleswere the best and most creative musicians of all times, but none of them could read a note of music. None of them studied music at a National Academy. They didn’t learn their music from National Coaches. They learned from their ears and listening toChuck Berry records and Little Richard and Elvis. They learned from playing gigs for 4 straight hours and never taking a break. They loved music and taught themselves. I always say Champions take it in through their eyes and not their ears. You have to see it before you can dream it and you must be passionate about it before you can achieve it. Attending one motivational tennis event – - – like an exciting and raucous and well played college match or pro tournament – - – is better than 30 days of practice. Juniors return to their club or park or school more fired up for tennis than ever – - – and somehow magically improved.

7) A national approach stifles creativity. And also enthusiasm. It crushes dreams. I have seen so, so many players harmed by the USTA PD program. Non of those National Coaches that come to positions of power walk on water. When they are finally fired as they all have been, they go back to the real world in the private sector and keep right on coaching. Many advertise to get lessons. Rather than making big six figures they hope to crack a hundred thousand dollars a year, teaching lotsa hours each week.
The USTA should provide the Main Frame Computer and not the Software. They should provide a level playing field for all. Fair rankings. Great programming. Not be in coaching. Coaching bleeds into a rewards system. Go to Boca Raton and wear aUSTA tatoo on your forehead and we’ll get you a WC in this tournament or that. We’ll grant you these dollars and that and take you on these trips and those. If you don’t play ball with us, you will get nothing. We will even sorta root against you. I have seen that repeatedly.

9) Reducing all those coaching salaries and there could and should be a fabulous junior WEB Sites, where you could find any junior singles or doubles rankings for any age group and any sex in any section. It should be a storehouse for records. Articles. Pictures. Upcoming events.

10) Reducing those massive staff expenditures and you could make ever entry fee in America half of what it is today, maybe even free. You could give ever kid who could not afford it a racket. Maybe even a club membership. Lessons. Shoes.

11) Reducing those massive staff expenditures you could send the top 1,000 ranked juniors in the US to the Davis Cup, the Fed Cup, and the NCAAs.

12) If the USTA is in coaching and knows it all and there is one way, then have them answer these simple questions:

1. Semi Western Forehand, Western Forehand, or Extreme Western Forehand? Should you hit the forehand like Rafa or Roger? The backhand like Wawrinka or Del Potro? Serve like Andy or Isner?
2. Two handed backhand or one?
3. Take it back early or take it back with rhythm, the back swing being part of the forward swing?
4. Tell kids to turn to the side and take the racket back early or have them face the net and throw them the ball and have them feel the kinetic chain turn and rhythm of the swing?
5. Bananas before, during or after a match? Vitamins or not? Supplements or not?

6. Gatorade or water? Salt tabs or not?
7. Backhand grip on the serve or continental?
8. Continental grip on the volleys or Eastern grip changes like Todd Woodbridge and Jack Kramer?
9. Private lessons or group workouts?
10. Singles ‘n doubles everyday or private lessons?
11. Tournaments every weekend or periodization schedule?
12. Most important to tennis success: Sports science, Technique; Fun; or Motivation?
13. Who’s at fault if the kids have no enthusiasm at a tennis workout?
14. Nationally, is it better to polish the top of the pole or work the base?
15. Quick Start for a week, a month, a year or four years?
16. Start ‘em in tournament tennis or in Junior Team Tennis? Tennis a good team sport?
17. Singles and a backdraw singles only at each tournament or singles and doubles at each tournament?
18. Should we have more Mixed Doubles tournaments for juniors?
19. Would better programming, promotion and coaching for doubles quadruple the number of kids staying in tennis and coming into tennis?

20. What is the best age to start tennis?

21. Lift weights as a juninor or not? One hour of off court training a day or not? Or more? One hour of tennis a day or two? Or three? Or four?

22. What kind of education do you get at Boca Raton? What kind of values are being imparted by the surrogate parents/coaches/mentors there? How is the behavior?

23. Why has no National Coach ever produced a champion? Why do their own children not excel at tennis?

My computer is running out of ink. I could write for another few hours, but I’ll stop. If you are still reading, you need a psychiatric examination. But, if by chance you are, thanks very much. And this will teach you to never ask my opinion again . . .

Best and hope you just make half of what the President of the United States makes.

Wayne Bryan

For those of us who have been critical of the lack of quality US players the above is devastating. It also provides a new perspective on some of the public spats US players have had with the USTA.

It is also a lot to digest. Tomorrow I'll post PMac's response.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Of Bi-Lingual Pressers and Honesty

by Savannah


I saw a lot of posts on Twitter last night about Roger Federer throwing Stan Wawrinka under a bus in his press conference. Of course I was more concerned with the death of Whitney Houston - may she rest in peace - so I waited until this morning to try and find the comments that were outraging some tennisheads.

I did find the comments excerpted but this Associated Press article, translated via Google, is the one that fans are quoting from.

The U.S. produced the upset of the round despite owning a higher Davis Cup ranking than Switzerland.
"They did really well and got the victory they deserved," Federer said. "We did have our chances but maybe they were just a touch better than us again today."

Later, speaking in French to Swiss media, Federer appeared less gracious. He claimed not to be too disappointed while pointing a finger at Wawrinka, who slumped back in his chair looking every inch the junior partner in the relationship.
"I played well enough in doubles, but Stanislas not so much," Federer said, adding that Wawrinka "didn't have his best match in singles. It's a shame, because of that defeat we weren't able to put the U.S under pressure."

My reaction? This is typical Federer. Even die hard fans of his have to admit that his post match press conferences after losses are paens to the passive-aggressive life style. The reason that this aspect of his personality isn't harped on is because most of the press, foreigh and domestic to the United States, is in love with Federer. They want to be him and if he's a little nasty in a press conference it can be overlooked because he's the GOAT and well, fans are fans.

As I said yesterday it is because the US Davis Cup team did not play with hearts in their eyes that they were able to win the tie. Federer's fans may be upset that he was caught out this way but the facts are the facts in this case. Some have gone as far as saying the AP is an inferior press organization and that the comments in French were probably mistranslated. I'm posting the original French since I know there are readers who are fluent in the language.

Here is the original French from the Swiss journal Le Temps

Original French text:
«Stan n'a malheureusement pas fait son meilleur match vendredi alors qu'il était tout près de la victoire, at-il dit
Après, j'affrontais Isner et l'on savait que tout pouvait arriver sur un match comme ça. Stan était content de ne pas avoir à l'affronter le premier jour. Moi, je me réjouissais mais je savais qu'il serait dangereux. Ce fut juste un mauvais vendredi pour nous et ça leur a donné l'occasion de conclure aujourd'hui. C'était serré mais du coup, ils avaient l'avantage dans ce double. C'est dommage car si on avait réussi à aller jusqu'au dimanche, moi, j'étais le favori face à Fish et, après, dans un cinquième match on ne sait jamais ce qui peut se passer.» Et d'ajouter encore, résigné: «C'est comme ça et il faut l'accepter.»

The article goes on to report the following comments by Wawrinka and Severin Luthi:

Wawrinka, dont le visage exprimait beaucoup plus la déception voire la rogne, n'a pas cherché à se défendre face aux critiques de son coéquipier et a lui aussi souligné la qualité de l'adversaire: «Il ne faut pas oublier que nous avons joué contre un top ten, le numéro 15 mondial et un champion du monde en double. Certes, on perd 3-0 mais on n'était vraiment pas loin d'inverser la situation en gagnant le double et en se donnant la chance de jouer encore dimanche. Il ne nous a pas manqué grand-chose. J'ai perdu mon match 9-7 au 5e.
Cela s'est joué à quelques points.>>

Depuis le début de la semaine, les Suisses ont laissé entendre que la surface ne correspondait pas à leurs attentes. Un problème de faux-rebonds et d'un jeu rendu plus rapide par des balles qui giclent plus qu'habituellement sur terre battue en raison de l'altitude. Alors, auraient-ils dû la tester plus en amont de la rencontre afin de pourvoir y remédier? «Non, je ne crois pas», estime Lüthi. «On s'est entraînés à partir de vendredi dernier et on adapté la surface qui était encore plus rapide et plus dure pendant la Fed Cup. On a fait tout ce qu'on pouvait. Malheureusement, on ne peut pas toujours choisir où on joue. Fribourg est à 700 mètres. C'est comme ça. Cela dit, on était content de jouer ici mais malheureusement le résultat n'est pas celui qu'on espérait.»

The link to Le Temps translation is at the link.

Fans should be glad the entire comment by Federer wasn't translated. In it Federer implies that Wawrinka didn't want to play Isner in the first rubber and that he sucked it up and played. He also said the US had the advantage in doubles but that he would've easily defeated Fish .

As for the surface I stand corrected. From the beginning there were complaints about it playing fast but that there was nothing they could do. They trained on it and adapted to it. Luthi blamed the surface and the altitude of 700 meters.

Wawrinka, while visibly disappointed in the criticism directed at him defended himself saying that he lost 9-7 in the fifth set and that the match outcome hinged on just a few points.

In the digital age players have to make sure their comments are consistent. I'm surprised that Federer was so harsh in French but not that he said what he said. He's been getting away with it for years.

NOTE: French speakers who can add nuance to my take on what was said are welcome. Google translations are notoriously off since they don't handle idioms well.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Gate Crashers 2012 Style

by Savannah


There was a lot of snarking about what Jim Courier, newly minted United States Davis Cup Captain, decided to wear while he prowled the sidelines. Most DC captains dress casually as if they're one of the boys to emphasize the "team" spirit thing. I guess Courier isn't about that.
He's the boss. He's in the business of tennis now and I guess that is what he's trying to project not only to the tennis world but to his players. And after the last two days who's gonna argue with the man?

The United States held onto World Group status by the skin of it's teeth. When the draw was announced and the US drew Switzerland in Switzerland many of us, myself included, prepared for the inevitable shellacking the team would endure at the hands of the top Swiss player. There was a chance the United States would win one of the singles rubbers but no way were they going to win both. There was also a chance of winning the doubles even though the US was up against the Olympic Champions. The original doubles pairing was supposed to include Ryan Harrison and Mike Bryan. Bob Bryan is back in Florida with his wife and new daughter. Instead Captain Courier subbed Mardy Fish in place of young Harrison. Genius? When you get the last laugh I guess you can be called that.

First there was Friday's play. Mardy Fish was up first against Stan Wawrinka. Fish has been streaky and temperamental on court as of late so who knew which version of Fish would show up. The version that showed up ushered Wawrinka to his seat with a 6-2 4-6 4-6 6-1 9-7 victory over the Swiss #2. You could almost hear people going "Yeah, whatever" since the next rubber would feature John Isner against a player named Roger Federer. The best the US could hope for was a 1-1 split on day one. Once again jaws dropped as Isner, in a four setter, defeated Mr. Federer 4-6 6-3 7-6(4) 6-2. At the end of play the United States was up 2-0 and the doubles match became a must win for the Swiss.

I was so unconcerned with the tie between the US and Switzerland I was out almost all day yesterday. When I got home and saw the scores I had to sit down. Had Courier found pods for his singles players? What had happened? Needless to say I went right to Twitter and found a lot of comments about the error the Swiss had made in choosing a fast indoor clay surface. The ball was bouncing high the cognoscenti were saying and the altitude coupled with the quickness of the court played into the American's hands.

I was born at night but not last night. There is no way in hell Swiss DC Captain Luthi chose that surface on his own. He got his orders and executed them. Maybe the thought process was that while I don't like clay all that much if you speed it up I'll play better and coupled with it being an indoor tie I should do well.

Some said it was the fast clay surface coupled with altitude that did the Swiss in. I was going along with that until someone pointed out that the altitude at Fribourg was about half that of the US city of Denver, known as the mile high city.

Of course the man calling the shots had played a very good indoor season at the end of 2011 so I'm sure everyone went in feeling as if they'd take this in, if not three, four rubbers.


What no one, including many of us in the States counted on was that Jim Courier brought his team in prepared to face the men across the net. They played with no fear and that in the end led to the shock on the faces of everyone on the Swiss bench. No one came in with the attitude "I can't beat this guy". Instead you saw good solid play and players that bent but didn't break. I'm guessing Mr. Courier is not a member of the GOAT club and he wasn't going to let his players continue their membership in it.

I did see the doubles today and what I saw on the court was quiet determination. There was no idol worship, no "I can't" from the American players. Yes the court played fast. Yes the ball was bouncing high. And yes, the Swiss men had no idea what to do in the face of the calm, focused play they were presented.

In the end the American's held their nerves and their serves and when the dust settled found themselves up 3-0 over the Swiss Davis Cup Team.


At the end they were breaking the Swiss seemingly at will and that was the biggest surprise of all. All the nerves, all the tension, was in the men wearing red. And that was a huge surprise.

What does this mean for the Olympics? I have no idea. It's too early in the season to start that kind of speculation. What it means right now is that Jim Courier has put his stamp on his United States Davis Cup team. It also means he can wear a business suit on the sidelines and if you've got a problem with that I'm guessing he'll meet you outside.


The French tennis federation has gone mad. That is all I'm going to say about that shit that went down on a French television station. I am not going to put up a link. I am not going to get into the why. I did that already. If that's the way they want to play, so be it.

Petra Kvitova pulled out of Paris and Doha, a Premier 5 event. I said it before and I'll say it now. She is not ready for the pressure of being a top player. That's not a bad thing in and of itself. At least she knows she's not ready.

Speaking of Paris I wonder if the WTA is going to rethink it's schedule? Don't you think it's a bit much to ask the top players to play a Slam, a Premier and a Premier 5 back to back to back? And lets not forget Fed Cup. The men have been vocal about the ridiculousness of their schedules. The women for the most part have been silent. I guess they're following the actions speak louder than words strategy. That could be a bit too subtle though.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Back To Normal - Kind Of

by Savannah

This week saw the tennis world begin to calm down as memories of the Australian Open faded and the lead up to the back to back Masters 1000/Premier 5 events of Indian Wells and Miami loom large on the horizon.

The women's tour focused on Fed Cup play so there were no main tour tournaments. Was there news from that front? Hell yeah.
The United States Davis Cup team defeated a Belarus team minus newly minted WTA #1 Victoria Azarenka 5-0. Despite rumors to the contrary Venus Williams returned to the court and did well. I wasn't able to watch any of it because my cable provider, Cablevision, is still at war with Tennis Channel. I'm glad Venus returned. I'm glad we won. I hope Venus played well and didn't fade. Not sure she can stand the rigors of a Slam right now but only she and her doctor know what she can and can't do. Anything I say is simply idle speculation.

Congratulations to Captain Fernandez.

Complete Fed Cup results are below.


RUSSIA defeated SPAIN 3-2
Venue: Olympic Stadium, Moscow, RUS (hard – indoors)

Maria Sharapova (RUS) d. Silvia Soler-Espinosa (ESP) 62 61
Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) d. Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP) 63 61
Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP) d. Nadia Petrova (RUS) 60 63
Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) d. Silvia Soler-Espinosa (ESP) 62 46 63
Nuria Llagostera Vives/Arantxa Parra-Santonja (ESP) d. Svetlana Kuznetsova/Nadia Petrova (RUS) 63 ret. (Kuznetsova foot injury)

SERBIA defeated BELGIUM 3-2
Venue: Spiroudome, Charleroi, BEL (hard – indoors)

Jelena Jankovic (SRB) d. Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) 75 75
Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) d. Bojana Jovanovski (SRB) 64 64
Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) d. Aleksandra Krunic (SRB) 61 60
Bojana Jovanovski (SRB) d. Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) 62 64
Bojana Jovanovski/Aleksandra Krunic (SRB) d. Alison van Uytvanck/Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) 76(2) 46 61

ITALY defeated UKRAINE 3-2
Venue: Lauretana Forum, Biella, ITA (clay – indoors)

Sara Errani (ITA) d. Kateryna Bondarenko (UKR) 62 63
Lesia Tsurenko (UKR) d. Francesca Schiavone (ITA) 61 62
Francesca Schiavone (ITA) d. Kateryna Bondarenko (UKR) 67(6) 75 64
Lesia Tsurenko (UKR) d. Sara Errani (ITA) 61 3-0 ret.
Flavia Pennetta/Roberta Vinci (ITA) d. Olga Savchuk/Lesia Tsurenko (UKR) 75 06 61

Venue: Porsche Arena, Stuttgart, GER (hard – indoors)

Iveta Benesova (CZE) d. Sabine Lisicki (GER) 26 64 62
Petra Kvitova (CZE) d. Julia Goerges (GER) 36 63 108
Petra Kvitova (CZE) d. Sabine Lisicki (GER) 67(2) 64 61
Angelique Kerber (GER) d. Lucie Hradecka (CZE) 64 64
Iveta Benesova/Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (CZE) d. Julia Goerges/Anna-Lena Groenefeld (GER) 63 76(4)


USA defeated BELARUS 4-0
Venue: DCU Center, Worcester, MA, USA (hard – indoors)

Christina McHale (USA) d. Anastasia Yakimova (BLR) 60 64
Serena Williams (USA) d. Olga Govortsova (BLR) 75 60
Serena Williams (USA) d. Anastasia Yakimova (BLR) 57 61 61
Christina McHale (USA) d. Darya Kustova (BLR) 60 61
Liezel Huber/Venus Williams v Darya Kustova/Anastasia Yakimova (BLR)

JAPAN defeated SLOVENIA 5-0
Venue: Bourbon Beans Dome, Hyogo, JPN (hard – indoors)

Kimiko Date-Krumm (JPN) d. Polona Hercog (SLO) 26 64 62
Ayumi Morita (JPN) d. Nastja Kolar (SLO) 26 64 63
Ayumi Morita (JPN) d. Polona Hercog (SLO) 36 76(6) 61
Kurumi Nara (JPN) d. Petra Rampre (SLO) 64 64
Rika Fujiwara/Ayumi Morita (JPN) d. Nastja Kolar/Petra Rampre (SLO) 63 57 60

Venue: Aegon Arena, Bratislava, SVK (hard – indoors)

Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) d. Pauline Parmentier (FRA) 57 61 97
Virginie Razzano (FRA) d. Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) 64 64
Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) d. Pauline Parmentier (FRA) 64 63
Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) d. Alize Cornet (FRA) 63 64
Kristina Mladenovic/Virginie Razzano (FRA) d. Jana Cepelova/Magdalena Rybarikova (SVK) 61 62

Venue: Forum Fribourg, Fribourg, SUI (clay – indoors)

Samantha Stosur (AUS) d. Timea Bacsinszky (SUI) 62 75
Stefanie Voegele (SUI) d. Jarmila Gajdosova (AUS) 60 67(8) 86
Samantha Stosur (AUS) d. Stefanie Voegele (SUI) 63 62
Jarmila Gajdosova (AUS) d. Amra Sadikovic (SUI) 63 36 86
Casey Dellacqua/Jelena Dokic (AUS) d. Belinda Bencic/Amra Sadikovic (SUI) 75 64

Women's World

Dismissed coach Ricardo Sanchez has spoken out about working with Caroline Wozniacki and her father Victor Krason who is doing business as Piotr Wozniacki. Krason is Caroline's father's legal name.

Sanchez is quoted in Yahoo Sports as follows:

...Ricardo Sanchez told Spanish sports daily Marca. “I tried (to help her) but they wouldn’t let me. Wozniacki should be a race horse, not a pack horse.”

Sanchez was fired after two months as Wozniacki’s coach following her Australian Open quarterfinal exit that cost her the top ranking. Wozniacki remains without a Grand Slam title and is now ranked fourth.

Sanchez, who has also coached another former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic, was quoted as saying he felt “deceived” by Wozniacki’s father Piotr, who has now returned to coaching his daughter on his own.

“I was told that I would be free to coach her as I wished, and then I was given very little margin to do so,” Sanchez said. “In just five weeks I went from being a coach to being just a consultant.

“Her father put together his own training system, and I was pushed into the background.”

To any serious tennis fan what happened was a surprise only to Sanchez, if it really was a surprise at all. Victor is not going to give up control of his daughter to any outsider. End of story. Moving on.

As mentioned above Victoria Azarenka did not play for Belarus this weekend citing a lower back injury. She isn't playing the Premier event in Paris this weekend either. Will we see her before Indian Wells? She is on the entry list for Qatar and Dubai.

The other surprise is that Venus has elected not to play in Acapulco, a clay event she's won in the past.

French Fed Cup officials are reportedly considering asking Marion Bartoli and her father to participate in the Fed Cup playoffs. I guess it finally occurred to them that without her they've got a snowballs chance in hell of avoiding relegation again. It's kind of like closing the barn door after the horse is gone. They needed to win this round. Instead they got creamed, only winning matches Virginie Razzano played. If they think just announcing they want to talk while not changing their position is the way to go they're sillier than I thought they were. The Bartoli's will not change their position.

Men's World

The ATP got back to business as usual by putting on three 250 events.
Juan Monaco of Argentina won the singles title in Vina del Mar. It's his first win since 2007 when he won three titles.
The doubles team of Frederico Gil and Daniel Gimeno-Traver won doubles.
Mikhail Youzhny and his beard (not the Hollywood kind) made a successful debut in Zagreb. Youzhny then paired with Marcos Baghdatis to take the doubles crown.
Tomas Berdych won Monpellier. He really likes playing in France.
Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin were the doubles champions.

This week the men will play Davis Cup.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Look Back - Oz Open 2012

by Savannah

I won't lie. I'm just now calm enough to write about the Australian Open. I'm sure all that needed to be said has been said - I've been staying away from the blogs too but then again I usually don't follow them too much. If they get totally off the chain it gets tweeted about so I know what they've said. I just needed a long period of calm and introspection. Oh all right I was past pissed and when I get pissed I need days - I mean days - to calm down. So here goes my very selective look in the rear view mirror and the lasting impressions I took away from the so called Happy Slam.

First of all there were no ethnic riots. The various ethnic groups either knew they were going to have a world wide audience or were too plastered or otherwise distracted to decide they had to fight their parents wars.

It's a little deceptive to say the above is the first thing I think about when I think of the 2012 Australian Open. The first thing I think about is how bad the lines calling was. When top tier main tour players have to practically call their own lines something is very very wrong. I haven't seen so many bad calls IN A SLAM since I don't know when. Was Kader's decision a bad one? Yes but it was in the same category as the call Shino made against Serena Williams in New York. Yes they were both valid calls. The question is do you make that call at that point in a critical match. If Shino was right Kader was right. End of story.

That doesn't mean the line calling was nothing short of shitty. When I was half asleep at 4 in the morning and could still spot a bad call the line calling was bad. Some say the calls in Melbourne are always bad. I will say they've never been this bad. I'm pretty sure the officiating organization will quietly look at what happened.

The other big thing that happened was that the United States may finally have a junior girl worth talking about. Taylor Townsend, all of fifteen, won the Junior Girls title as well as the Junior Doubles crown with her partner Gabrielle Andrews. The downside? She isn't fit. Not even remotely. Someone said she's built like a linebacker and unfortunately I can't disagree.

Petra Kvitova has a tummy bulge. Taylor has a gut. And she still won. Imagine what she'll do if she loses 20-30 pounds. Not by next week of course but she's got a good three years to get on a proper diet.

Speaking of Petra Kvitova it became painfully obvious that she is not ready for prime time. The deeper she went in the tournament the tighter she got. Her interviews showed a nervous young woman who isn't sure she wants let alone can handle the demands made of the top players. When she's made up her mind - she is much more fit than she was last year - I think she'll be able to push through.

I've said before that new WTA #1 Victoria Azarenka is not temperamentally suited to be the top ranked woman. I stick by that assessment. Literally minutes from winning the Women's championship match she got herself into an argument with the chair about some minor bullshit. I listened to British Eurosport for most of the tournament and both announcers cringed and went "No Victoria," when she started to bitch at the chair. Sam Sumyk has worked wonders with her on court demeanor - the comms I was listening to credited her 70 year old grandmother's pep talk - but no matter who got her to chill she was the calmest head among the contenders for the top spot and there she is. She is not and will never be a favorite of mine but she has at least met the criteria many tennisheads want in the number one player. She has won a Slam.


At some point during Caroline Wozniacki's last match the British commentators speculated about how long Ricardo Sanchez would stay in her camp. They said without a hint of irony that he was nothing more than a figurehead, that he had nothing to do with actually coaching Wozniacki. Her father Victor (yes I insist on using his legal name) was said to still be her coach. They waited until after the Open was over to announce he had been replaced but since he never was why the charade? I'm guessing he got a nice chunk of change for his efforts whatever they were. I'm guessing the new man has a similar arrangement.

Was I surprised that Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva won the Women's Doubles? Yes. Bepa's play has been shit since she fired hot model coach Sergiy and while I didn't see the match I did read accounts of it. Thank goodness Sveta decided to show up that day is all I got from reading about the match. Ekaterina Makarova let her ego get ahead of her and lost to a determined Maria Sharapova but in singles Makarova was the best of the Russians up to the semi finals. As for Sharapova there is such a thing as wanting it too much. She wants the number one ranking back. Let's see if Hogstedt can get her there. If not he may be sharing an umbrella drink with Sanchez on a white sand beach somewhere.

Taylor's double win wasn't the only intriguing development in junior tennis ranks.
Australian junior Luke Saville won the Junior boys title while the British team of Liam Broady and Joshua Ward-Hibbert won the Junior boys doubles title.

Maybe in two or three years the Tennis Axis powers will have something to cheer about no? Right now all they can do is cheer behind the scenes.

That is all I have to say about the 2012 Australian Open. I said I was going to be selective right at the beginning didn't I? I said what I meant and I meant what I said.

End Notes

This is Fed Cup weekend and the Unites States finds itself in the second group playing Belarus. Both Venus Williams and Serena Williams are playing for the United States. I have no access to Tennis Channel thanks to the Dolan family and their front Cablevision so I will have to find a stream. Christina McHale was set to be thrown into the fire as first up against Victoria Azarenka. Azarenka, citing a lower back problem, has been replaced by Anastasiya Yakimova who was playing very well a couple of years ago but has since fallen off. Azarenka is still available if needed

Speaking of Fed Cup what the hell is going on with the French? Marion Bartoli wanted her father along with her and she was told no. Then Aravane Rezai had to drop out. I guess their actions are what our parents meant when they told us something or another we were doing was cutting off our nose to spite our face. Is Escude making these decisions on his own or is he just carrying water.

Australia's Bernard Tomic apparently likes to speed in his high powered car. When your high powered car is an orange BMW you're making it easy for the police aren't you? Guys can make their quota fairly easily. When he got flagged this last time, during the Open and after his loss he and his father complained that he was being singled out. Gee ya think any cop can resist ticketing a speeding orange Beemer? Word is he traded in his car. I don't know if I should do a side eyes or simply roll my eyes.


Daryl Monfils made his debut playing doubles with Gael Monfils, his older brother. That's him pictured above. Some clown said he looks like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Really people? Haven't you seen enough of us by now to know we don't all look alike?

The Rotterdam tournament is the big ATP event in February. Richard Krajicek is the Tournament Director. Roger Federer is the top seed. I'm stirring a little pot and asking if there will be any awkwardness between the two men. Just saying.