Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Well That Was One Hell of a Week...

by Savannah

Dear Serena

Please let your cook know that I would like my crow oven fried please. And I'd like a rather large serving of it.



At some point during the semifinal of the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, South Carolina Brad Gilbert Tweeted the line of the year. Paraphrasing he wanted to let Samantha Stosur know that the keys to the woodshed were being held for her. Serena Williams let it be known that while she is not in the Golden Circle she is still a tennis force to be reckoned with. I don't think Samantha knew what hit her. Harnessing her power and playing with the precision of a surgeon Serena cut her to shreds, beat her like she stole something. As long time tennis fans know the danger of a dominant first set is that the player can lose focus and let their opponent into the match in the second set. That most certainly did not happen to Serena.

But there was more to it than that. Sascha Baijin, Serena's hitting partner, persuaded Serena to mix Luxillon strings with gut to help cut down on the errors off her racquet. She listened to him and it looks as if the new stringing arrangement is working well.

But it doesn't stop there. Serena played a mature game, a thinking person's game. The woman who used to blow her opponents off the court with raw power still blows them away. But the power is now tempered with nuance and subtlety, a deftness and lightness of touch that has developed in her game over the last few years. She and her coach, father Richard Williams, have tinkered with her approach to her matches from what I can see, and Serena, unlike some of her peers, has listened to the suggestions of those around her and done what has to be done to continue building her legend.

After Polona Hercog embarrassed herself and women's tennis by going ass up to Lucie Safarova in the other semi final (I don't know how she wasn't fined for malingering. She made absolutely no effort to play Lucie) I had to stop myself from saying they should just hand the trophy to Serena. You never know what is going to happen in a tennis match so it's never a good idea to assume an outcome.
It was apparent by five minutes into the final that Serena's concentration was not broken. I do hope that Samantha left the keys for Lucie.

I don't want to get carried away. Some of the American announcers started raving about Serena's prospects during the spring clay court season in Europe. The surface they played on in Charleston didn't allow for sliding. It's not the same as the red clay of Europe. Serena has won the French before. Can she win it again? Serena can do anything she puts her mind to.


The Power of the Suit

France overreached.

I said as soon as I heard itthat France would play it's Davis Cup tie against the United States at the Monte Carlo country club. The French players are not good clay courters. Their stars, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon are much better on hard courts. The United States reputation and record on dirt is abysmal. No American even bothers to come to play Monte Carlo.

But Jim Courier called bullshit on all that and once again his team of big serving hard courters stunned France walking away with a 3-2 win.
Are people quaking in their boots now about American's on clay? Should John Isner have stayed in France and played Monte Carlo with fresh legs or was it wise to have him fly back to Houston, Texas for the US Clay Court Championships? Time will tell. I can say that Courier is getting something out of this Davis Cup team that no one in their right mind would've thought possible.

Maybe it's the suit.

This and That

I'm still waiting to see what Victoria Azarenka gets from adding Amelie Mauresmo to her team. Tactics on clay? I don't think so. Strength of mind? Let's not go there. The French crowd on her side so that there are no more embarrassing moments like in Miami? ::Shrug:: This is one I really don't get.


Svetlana Kuznetsova has fired coach Olga Morozova and hired Israeli Amos Mansdorf. This move I understand. Sveta's game seems to have gone backwards. When Sveta is on she can play with the best of them. I hope Mansdorf gets her back on track.

The USTA is looking for officials. If you think you're up for it click HERE for details on how to apply and educational information.

Sergiy Stakhovsky gave an interview in Russian that was posted on a Ukrainian site. I think that interview was the most read interview ever given by a tennis player. The Russian was translated by a tennishead with the Twitter handle @Anna_TennisFan. I'm going to quote from her translation picking up where Stakhovsky is talking about Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and Player Council politics.

About Nadal’s offense with Federer…
He wasn’t offended by Federer, exactly. He was disappointed that his ideas – useful for the tour, as he thinks – aren’t heard. It concerns the 2-year ranking, among others. But if you start that, then every player needs to vote, and that’s not entirely correct. Look: in today’s pay for tennis players’ efforts, I personally support this new change. It protects my ranking. The earnings of most players are, really, laughable.
Going back to Nadal: the Grand Slam tournaments, as we know, pay the players an abnormally low percent of their earnings. For instance, the US Open spends 4-6% of their profit on prize money. The ATP tournaments – around 30%. Since 2004, the prizes in the big tournaments rose less than the inflation.

You lose the reason to enter the top-100. If you travel with a coach – you’ll be in a small “plus”, $20-30 thousand per year. And those are the 100 best people in this sport all over the world. If you take the 100th soccer player, the 100th golfer, any sport that’s on TV – their salaries will be immeasurably greater. Even the 100th soccer player in Ukraine earns more.

The Slams are holding everything, and if they start sharing their profits, it’ll make sense to make it to the top-100. Yes, it will look vulgar if a player who lost in the first round, makes $50-100 thousand, but how much he invested in himself to even play there. To fly to Australia – that’s already a feat. It’s 24 hours. I’m not risking flying economy there, it’s just unrealistic.
If the Slams make concessions, I’m against a 2-year ranking. Because many players will need two years to make it in the top-100. And now people are really working on it. Now, the 70- or the 200-ranked player – are the same.
Do you often communicate with Federer?
I do it constantly.

And what’s he like?
He’s a good person, but too neutral for my taste. He’s too Swiss. He wants to keep out of any bad stories too much. When players want to change something, he looks at it too passively, because it can harm his image.

I respect Nadal more in that context, because he openly supports the players’ interests.

Needless to say that last part has Federer fans up in arms. But what is surprising is that Nikolay Davydenko said the same things back in January with little or no fanfare.

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP)—Roger Federer’s reticence to join other players in voicing complaints about issues affecting the men’s game came under fire again at the Australian Open on Monday.

Former No. 3-ranked Nikolay Davydenko said he didn’t understand why the 16-time Grand Slam champion wasn’t supporting the push to address player grievances, including the schedule and the distribution of prize money.

Davydenko’s remarks came a day after Rafael Nadal criticized his Swiss rival for sitting back while others speak out and “burn themselves.”

“I don’t know why Roger is not supporting the players,” Davydenko said. “Because he don’t want … any problems. He’s nice guy. He’s winning Grand Slams. He’s from Switzerland. He’s perfect.

“He don’t want to do anything, he just try to be an outsider from this one.”

For the second time in six months, rumors of a possible strike emerged following Saturday’s player meeting in Melbourne. Davydenko said a strike was still a distant prospect, but that the players would meet again at the Indian Wells Masters tournament in March.

“The ATP should try to do something between now and Indian Wells,” he said. “For sure, all the top 100 players will go there and just see what will be changed.”

The Russian said he did not support the idea of a shorter season, a change that is backed by Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, but he agrees that prize money has not increased in line with growing profits at Grand Slam tournaments.

Am I surprised? Not at all. Rafa's resignation from his position on the Council makes more sense now but that's all I can see that is "new". It looks as if the tennis press did all it could to ignore the story. Enrico Mariariva began tweeting Google translations of the interview and they were retweeted and retweeted until fans began to ask to read the original in both Russian and in an English translation. The time is gone when any so called media can ignore a story. News will out and if/when it hits Twitter it's game over. This is both a good and bad thing - some false rumors have gone viral on Twitter - but information on these matters is vital to tennis fans who plan months in advance to attend a tournament especially a major. Journalists aren't supposed to be mouthpieces for the powers that be alone. They are supposed to report the goings on on their beats. This is not done by those covering tennis.

For the entire Stakhovsky interview click HERE

For the full Davydenko remarks here is the LINK

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Miami & The WTA

by Savannah


There are those who seem to think that Agnieszka Radwanska woke up in this year and decided she was going to play watchable tennis. The reality is that she woke up late last year.

I've never been able to watch Agnieszka play (I'm trying to learn how to spell her last name and not keep calling her Aggie or Aga). If I had not slept well the night before and I knew Agnieszka was playing I was thrilled knowing I would have a good nap. That changed towards the end of last year when I was watching one of her matches. I was actually interested and watched her dismantle her opponent with cleverness and guile. I had never realized that her strategy was to lull her opponent to sleep and then go for the jugular. It's not scintillating tennis - it reminds me of Martina Hingis who I had the misfortune of seeing play live twice - but in this age of power tennis it's definitely something many of the current crop of WTA players haven't seen much of in recent years. The ones who have - Venus Williams and Serena Williams - may be past their prime now no matter how much they want to prove otherwise. Somehow I don't think that they'll be dispensing what they know about that style to their peers.

So who has beaten Agnieszka since she started on her tear? Current WTA #1 Victoria Azarenka did it with a little sleight of hand - or should I say ankle - that ruptured what was said to have been a friendship.

Let's look at the WTA Top Ten as of Monday April 2, 2012.

1 Azarenka, Victoria 31/07/89 BLR 8980
2 Sharapova, Maria 19/04/87 RUS 7930
3 Kvitova, Petra 08/03/90 CZE 7095
4 Radwanska, Agnieszka 06/03/89 POL 6710
5 Stosur, Samantha 30/03/84 AUS 5825
6 Wozniacki, Caroline 11/07/90 DEN 5720
7 Bartoli, Marion 02/10/84 FRA 5020
8 Li, Na 26/02/82 CHN 4880
9 Zvonareva, Vera 07/09/84 RUS 3895
10 Williams, Serena 26/09/81 USA 3830

The first thing that jumps out at me is the age of the top four women verses the age of the bottom 3, numbers 8 - 10. Samantha Stosur is ranked number five and is thus the oldest player of the Golden Circle or Top Five.

Regular readers know that I've been saying for the last couple of years that Victoria Azarenka doesn't have the temperament to be a Number One. That doesn't take away from the fact that she fought her way to the top taking the Australian Open along the way but as she exhibited in Miami that no amount of work on the part of her coach Sam Sumyk can change her nature.

In case you don't remember she was getting her ass handed to her in her match against Dominika Cibulkova. The crowd on the Grandstand Court was hostile to say the least but as a top pro hostile crowds are something she's going to have to learn to deal with. Instead at one crucial point Azarenka hit a ball in the direction of a lines person. I don't think that particular lines person had done anything to Azarenka. Instead she just happened to be standing there doing the job they were being paid to do. Azarenka didn't hit a lob. She hit the ball really hard.

Some talking head said that the Number 1 shouldn't be on the Grandstand court at all. My question is why? Would it make it different if the fans were booing in an empty main court? The number one should want to play in front of any crowd and give fans reason to like him or her. Hitting balls at lines people isn't going to do that.

I should say that Cibulkova fell off my like list after she let Azarenka take the match from her and go on to win a match she should've lost. The reason why will be found in the end notes of this post.

On to Maria Sharapova. You can be a fan of hers all you want. Even I've come around to admiring her fight. But Sharapova's game is as predictable as the sun coming up in the morning. Yes she screams and hits the ball like it personally offends her but in the end she is playing the same way now as she did when she first came on the scene. Any coach worth his salt ( there are so few women coaches I think it's safe to say "his salt") should be able to construct a plan to neutralize her.

What has been happening with Sharapova is that they "hide" her in the middle of the draw somewhere. Even ranked #2 she still gets a draw consisting of players who have no weapons against her power. When she came up against Agnieszka who was not afraid of her or her reputation neither she or her coach could find a way to counter how Agnieszka played her. I do hope that Maria's coach's advice consists of more than "wait for her to implode". Agnieszka has become a player who is not going to implode mentally unless you box her in.

As for Petra Kvitova she still has the deer in headlights look when she takes the court. Her game is also very similar to Sharapova's especially when it comes to movement and I don't see that changing much.

Samantha Stosur has been a total hot mess since defeating Serena Williams at last years US Open. Like Kvitova the pressure a top player faces has gotten to her.

As for Caroline Wozniacki nothing has changed. She's trying to be a little more aggressive in her play but in the end she's still the same Caroline who needs her father to give her a pep talk or tell her what to do.

Vera Zvonareva has been in a tailspin since she made a sudden and unexpected coaching change last year. She's in the top ten but right now she's not a top ten player. To say Li Na has been inconsistent is an understatement. She won the French Open and now seems totally baffled as to what to do to generate any momentum to move higher in the rankings.

Marion Bartoli wants it badly but she's joined the ranks of other quirky players from France. She seems to have cut back on her jumping and carrying on between points but she seems to be unable to make a change in her mental approach that will propel her into the Golden Circle.

That leaves Agnieszka. Has she won a Slam? No. Winning Miami is a big deal but now lets see how she plays in the dirt. As I said I've ignored her for so long I can't honestly discuss her prior dirt play. I could look it up but I'm pretty sure the way she's playing now is not the way she was playing last year or the year before so all bets are off.

If we don't look out we'll see another Slamless wonder sitting atop of the WTA rankings. At least we know how that debate goes don't we?

End Notes

There were some jaw dropping quotes made during the Sony Ericsson Open. They speak for themselves.

Why Dominika Cibulkova will never be top five. This is from her presser after losing to Victoria Azarenka Monday.

Q. Do you think there was any particular turning point in the match?
DOMINIKA CIBULKOVA: The turning point was 6 1 up and 5 2 up on my serve, and I just didn't finish the match, you know. Until then, I was killing her from the return and just from the forehand.
After that, I just didn't want to go for so much. I just wanted her to beat herself. That didn't happen, you know. I gave her like very little small chance.

Andy Roddick suffers from foot in mouth disease.


THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q. So how do you feel? It's a horrible question, but...
ANDY RODDICK: How do I feel?

Q. Yeah, after the big excitement last night. You said it yourself, you couldn't get that excited because you had this match to play today.
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I mean, there's no real way around it. When you have to make a quick recovery, it will expose you if you're not in shape.
Most people can play a match and it's fine. It's the recovery where it kind of defines you.
You know, there are a lot of positives out of this week. I feel healthy. You know, I played matches, and I was running, you know, hard. Um, my lack of any sort of fitness regime, you know, on my leg is apparent, but that's something that is a matter of work. It's not a matter of health. That's something that's in my control.
Um, I just didn't have it physically. I got to about 4 All, and I was you know, I'm out of shape. That's it, you know. So, yeah, I mean, that's it.

Caroline Wozniacki feels entitled...

Q. Does it make you feel better that the replay on television showed that the serve was actually on the line?

Q. Does it make you feel better that the replay showed that Maria's serve at the end actually was on the line?
CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: No, it doesn't. No, because I think when the ball is so close that I think he should give her a chance to challenge at least when I don't have any challenges.
She was gonna challenge it, anyways. So if it shows it's good, it's good. If it shows it's out, it's out. The ball was so close that it might as well have been out.

Q. You seemed to have other problems with him throughout the match, kind of, or later in the match?
CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: Well, during this match? No, I didn't have any problems with him.

All of these interviews can be found in their entirety on the Sony Ericsson Open website.