Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Tale of Two Juniors - And of American Tennis

by Savannah

One is born November 30, 1995. The other is born February 17, 1995. Both have played at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Madison Keys, the February baby, made a nice run at the 2011 US Open at the tender age of 16 and many saw her as one of the bright lights of the junior circuit. She plays the American power game and has powerful ground strokes the way most American's do. She is tall and fit and while her movement could stand some improvement, although lack of movement hasn't hurt Petra Kvitova, she appears poised to make the transition to the main tour. She plays fast and isn't afraid to go for her shots, exactly what you'd expect of an American player.
The latest meme among American commentators is first strike tennis and Madison is in that mold.
The other teenager is named Victoria Duval. I posted about her back in 2007 and ironically the link is still available. Victoria was 12 at the time, a long way from her Main Tour debut on Arthur Ashe Stadium, at night, against the pro Kim Clijsters who has said this is her last US Open.
Ironically I kept missing her interviews but from what I understand she has a high pitched voice that many find adorable. What I find adorable is her tennis.
Victoria has been on a mini winning streak coming into the Open and while I didn't expect her to win - Clijsters is too wily to let a 16 year old defeat her on Ashe - I wanted to see what her attitude was. Long story short, I liked it. She didn't come on court with the attiude of "woe is me". She came with the mind set every player should take onto the court - "I'm here to win this bad boy and I'm going to fight to the best of my ability to do so". Victoria played well enough to have a 3-2 lead in the first set. Clijsters picked up her game after that and since Clijsters likes to play quickly it was over quickly.

So what did I like about her tennis? She's quick. She's fit. She's intelligent on the court. As an American she has the groundies but her game is much more than hit hard and harder. She showed potential for a subtlety I don't see in Madison's game yet, a court sense that some of the more highly touted and/or older young American women currently on the main tour.

I found an interview with Victoria on Tennis Panorama News that gives insight into teenager. I hope you enjoy the insight as much as I did.

There were several tennis heads who asked last night why Madison, who had done so well last year, was forced to play Qualifying and not given a Wild Card directly into the Main Draw. I wondered the same thing while I was watching her qualifying play. "Politics" was the answer given by one wag, and no one asked any questions about why not after that.

Whenever you have a large organization politics rears it's head. The women who received wild cards are Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Melanie Oudin, Nicole Gibbs, Mallory Burdette, Victoria Duval, Julia Cohen, Casey Dellacqua,and Kristina Mladenovic. Gibbs and Burdette are NCAA champion and runner up respectively so I understand them getting wild cards. Julia Cohen is a stalwart of the Challenger circuit. Case Dellacqua showed a bit of potential but has been injured I believe. Kristina Mldenovic also got a lot of hype a year or so ago but has yet to make an impression on the main tour.

Then we come to America's sweetheart, Melanie Oudin. This is the American Slam so is it so odd that she get a wild card and not have to play Qualifying? I guess. I mean there's always the chance she'll catch fire like she did in 2009 and go deep into the tournament right? As for Bethanie Mattek-Sands she's also suffered from injuries and hasn't played much or well lately.

You can make the argument that if you give Oudin a WC Madison should've been in there somewhere right? Bethanie is old in tennis years and no matter how well she is now her best days can be said to be gone. I don't know. Oudin played well three years ago and hasn't done anything since. Madison played well last year. It's just my opinion that she should've been given a Wild Card. If she lost in the first round, so be it. She's seventeen. I mean they're still trying to flog life into Coco Vandeweghe who from what I've seen will never be a top twenty let alone top ten player. You go with potential from my way of thinking but politics is politics. Madison will have to, like Victoria, suck it up and commit herself to fitness and discipline herself so that next year she won't have to rely on the good will of others to get her into the maid draw.

Speaking of fitness I'm anxious to see how Taylor Townsend looks once the junior tournament gets underway. She's the top ranked junior girl right now but I've yet to see her look even remotely fit. She's young, born April 18, 1996, so she's a full year behind Victoria and Madison but in this day and age there is no excuse for not being fit. I'm old enough to remember Lindsay Davenport's portly days, and how she was the butt of so many of the American men and often cited as a symbol for women tennis players being "fat and out of shape". Lindsay got her act together and we see how she ended her career.

There is one other teen, Samantha Crawford who is getting a lot of interest. I haven't seen her play yet and this is the first time I'm hearing all the talk. I'll have more to say if I get the chance to see her play.

I haven't found any listing of Taylor's height and weight - I looked hard - but I don't think the BMI is favorable for a teen let alone for an athlete. Again, she has time to change her fitness habits. I wish that some of the junior play made it's way into coverage. CBSsportsnetwork would be an excellent venue for that but I'm sure there's more to it than my simplistic viewpoint lets on.

Staying on the subject of fitness I did see Jack Sock play yesterday. Giving the fitness level in the ATP I was surprised to see him lugging a gut around. I mean they've put the hype beast behind this young man and all they kept saying was that he may now be more serious about his tennis and get more fit. One of the comms asked if he's a party animal and his partner hemmed and hawed saying he's a typical 19 year old. I remember the same things being said about Sam Querrey a few years ago. What is it that makes young American women fight like hell to succeed while the men seem to be blase at best? Querrey of course said that if he lost he still got to drive his mother's Porsche so it was no big deal if he lost. Unless Sock loses that gut I don't see him making the elite level of men's tennis.

End Note

I didn't subject myself to the fawning of the McEnroe brothers during Roger Federer's match against Donald Young. In sparing my health I understand that John in particular went on a particularly bitter rant against Young who as hard core fans know went on a now infamous anti USTA rant last year.

If that is the case the rant goes beyond being unprofessional. As was pointed out on Twitter last night lets look at ALL of the young American men who went pro the same time Young did. The picture ain't very pretty. Many of them are now out of the game all together or a coaching at the college level. That is more of an indictment of the USTA system than the failure of one young man isn't it? It's easier to dump on Young than the USTA Player Development organizaiton isn't it? Young didn't blow smoke up his own ass did he?

1 comment:

Randy Burgess said...

I saw both night matches, Duval's and Young's. You couldn't hardly get a greater contrast between attitudes, never mind the results.

I like Duval & her game for pretty much the reasons you give. She's just tall enough, 5'9", that as she puts on some lean muscle and grows into her late teens, and gets some skills & experience together, so that when she goes to net she can do something positive rather than just hit the ball back to her opponent - why, then, she can translate her excellent court movement and attitude & willingness to come forward into . . . well, who knows? Hopefully something special. But even on this night she was a breath of fresh air.

As for Young v. Federer, yes, the Mac brothers were in full "Woe is Donald" mode. Unfortunately Donald is full of woe. But probably the brothers at this point aren't helping.

I actually found John's comments much less offensive - he seemed to feel empathy & genuine emotional pain. Not that I know anything about tennis politics, but to me the real conflict of interest was with Patrick - isn't he, as director of player development for the ATP, the one who has had the most direct involvement with Young's career & thus the most potential for conflict of interest as a commentator anyway?

I'm not saying Patrick should recuse himself from commenting on the match; but it would be nice if he made clear that yes, he did and does have a history with Donald Young in a role as other than commentator, and thus he has a pretty big stake in all this & a potential for bias.

My two cents. I just plain like John better as a commentator than Patrick, even though John can sometimes be a blowhard, especially if paired with the wrong partner. I'm basically OK with both of them, but Patrick somehow seems too much "by the book" while John seems to have more passion for the game & more empathy for the players.

But hey, maybe I'm biased, because when I was a kid, John was one of the few male players whose game I loved. With his hands, he was an artist at the net. His temperament was another matter: I think he ranted and raved not because he wanted to be a bad boy, but because he was terribly afraid of losing and didn't know at that age how to handle it. In this way he was different than Connors: Connors actually seemed to enjoy being nasty, whereas Mac seemed human and frail.

I still remember reading the Steve Tignor column in which John told Tignor that in a big match (I forget which one) versus Borg, Borg came up to him when they were both at the net between points and said something like, "Hey, it's OK - you don't have to be angry or upset or act out; just chill. We're playing this great match together, and isn't that fantastic?" And as Tignor recalls, somehow this allowed John to relax into the moment.

I never saw the match in question nor tape of it, but it's a nice image to think of: one icon of men's tennis reassuring another that win or lose, it was just good to be involved in a fabulous match together.