Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Cheatergate and the 2013 Australian Open

by Savannah

No one but die hard fans are accepting the okey doke.

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After admitting on court that she took a ten minute MTO because she was "overwhelmed" Victoria Azarenka changed her tune and said she "misunderstood" the question Sam Smith asked her on court.

The Economist , hardly known for sports commentary, has a major story about the event itself and the aftermath. Below is a summary.

In the wake of Ms Azarenka’s semifinal Pam Shriver, a retired American player, suggested that timeouts should be limited to game breaks directly before the service games of players claiming they are hurt. Since players usually feel greater pressure serving than receiving, the argument goes, timeouts are more likely to disadvantage the next server, which would discourage players from requesting them on spurious grounds. This might indeed reduce the strategic potential of timeouts slightly, but it falls far short of solving the problem. Players feeling nervous may still feel they have a better chance of holding their serves after a timeout, while a player in a dominant position can lose rhythm and momentum following a delay even when scheduled to receive.

Another proposal is to eliminate timeouts for non-acute injuries, and instead allow players access to unlimited assistance during the normal breaks that occur in matches, at change of ends and between sets. However, timeouts were instituted because sometimes players need treatment for periods longer than the normal breaks. This option risks the same adverse consequences as scrapping on-court medical treatment altogether.

Perhaps the most effective solution would be a point-docking system. If players forfeited just a single point per timeout, that would probably eliminate the temptation to cheat the system, since in tight matches, each point is immensely valuable. The ability to remain fit throughout a match is as just much a skill as having a good backhand. Playing poorly loses you points—so why shouldn’t, in a modest way, getting injured?

No athlete competes to come in second. In tennis players learn to smile and accept the plate while someone else gets the cup but natural competitors are never content with second place. The other comments Azarenka made during the Sam Smith interview was "I couldn't lose. I had to win." I'm paraphrasing but that is what she said.

Anyone who reads this blog consistently knows I've never been a fan of Azarenka and have always said she doesn't have the temperament to be a top player. She's moved herself up the rankings and has managed to keep herself at number one for a number of reasons but a leopard can't change it's spots.

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There were milestones at this Australian Open: Novak Djokovic winning his third straight Oz Open, young Ana Konjuh of Croatia assuming the mantle of top junior girl, and Nick Krygios of Australia making a strong showing winning the Junior Boys title.

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With the ongoing train wreck that is Bernard Tomic and Lleyton Hewitt in the twilight of his career I'm sure the people at Tennis Australia are glad to have not only Krygios but Thanasi Kokkanakis on the horizon.

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Jarmila Gajdosova and Matthew Ebden won the Mixed Doubles crown, another feather in Tennis Australia's cap.

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Italy could still hold it's head high as the team of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci won the women's doubles crown.

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Going back to the Juniors for a minute Australian Junior Boys team Jay Andrijic and Bradley Mousley won the title giving TA another feather in its cap.

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As for Junior Girls doubles Canadian Carol Zhao teamed with Ana Konjuh to win.

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There was Li Na not only twisting her untaped ankle but then falling on the court and the sickening vision of her head bouncing off the court and being grateful that her pony tail protected her from really serious injury.

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Li was visibly dazed afterwards but went on to complete her match.
The other injury news was of course Serena Williams not only injuring her ankle during her first match but playing an ill advised doubles match against the eventual champions and who ended up hurting her back and crashing out of the tournament earlier than everyone expected.

Maria Sharapova once again had an easy path to the Quarterfinals beating up on people she should have and once again crashed out at the first sign of resistance from a seed.

There was the spectacle of Roger Federer cursing at a bemused Andy Murray who had to know at that point that he had the match won.

Tennis fans always associate the word "headcase" with WTA players. How else would you describe how Petra Kvitova has performed since her Grand Slam win? The Czech tennis federation has a lot of questions to answer about Petra's off court regimen including not scheduling time to practice in heat and humidity during the "off season" and keeping her in the Czech Republic playing indoor exhibitions. But isn't it time to start applying the word to players like Tomas Berdych, also of the Czech Republic? What about Juan Martin del Potro the Argentine who showed he has the game to beat the top players but rarely does?

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A full list of Wheelchair and Quad winners is posted at the end.

But these are not the things casual fans know about the 2013 Australian Open. Yes Serena smashed her racquet to smithereens and Tweeted a picture of her monstrously swollen ankle making the conversation at my hair dresser quite lively especially when the ladies of the CBS gab fest "The View" talked about it. When a magazine like "The Economist" uses a lot of ink (real not virtual) to talk about Medical Time Outs in Tennis the first Major of the year did not achieve it's objective. When the number one ranked player of the WTA gets booed by the tennis savvy Australian fans every time she makes a mistake the WTA isn't being well represented by it's top player.

When I told Haruka that Azarenka had gotten herself in trouble again the first words out of her mouth were "That woman has no filter".

I'm as susceptible as the next person to being seduced by a charm offensive on behalf of a player. The image makers know how valuable it is for a top athlete to have a positive image not only with the press but with fans. Look at what's been done on LeBron James behalf. There are fans like me who appreciate the work that has to be done not only by the PR people but the athletes themselves to help change the public perception of them. But the athlete has to be aware that as soon as the game or the match is over they have to put the talking points they've been drilled on first in their minds.

There is also this question: If Victoria Azarenka was a man would her naked ambition be treated differently? John McEnroe was an obnoxious boor. So was Jimmy Connors. But they're revered. I ask this question even though I don't think I'll ever be a fan of Azarenka. It needs to be asked even though the criticism she's received is justified.

Was this a memorable Australian Open? The surface is still a problem that will have to be looked at yet again. The difference between the US Open and the Australian Open is that TA, unlike the USTA, accepts that there are always things that can be corrected and works on doing just that.

As I noted there were a lot of positive and memorable things that happened for tennis at Melbourne. The impact these events will have on the upcoming year won't be known for some time. Neither tour came out smelling like roses again lets wait and see what's going on in November.

Wheelchair and Quad winners

Wheelchair Men's Singles
Shingo Kunieda
Wheelchair Women's Singles
Aniek van Koot
Wheelchair Quad Singles
David Wagner
Wheelchair Men's Doubles
Michael Jeremiasz / Shingo Kunieda
Wheelchair Women's Doubles
Jiske Griffioen / Aniek van Koot
Wheelchair Quad Doubles
David Wagner / Nicholas Taylor

Australian Open


TennisAce said...

How can you say in one breath that the vitriol being spewed at Azarenka is not only sexist, but then go on to compare it to Connors & McEnroe and then backtrack as if to say it is not sexist? It is inherently sexist the way how Vika is viewed. Long before this tempest in a teapot, Vika was booed and heckled as she played in Australia.

Who can forget last year during her run to her maiden Slam victory, every single match she played was met with the whooping sounds of so-called tennis fans? Frankly speaking the tennis media now has a #1 who can win Majors and who is showing a bit of backbone. I love her. I want her to continue along the same path. Not for the theatrics of trying to please everyone.

Lest you forget, in school we learned in Aesop's fables of the man, his son and the donkey. This is Vika's fate. If she ever tries to please everyone, there will always be someone out there who will have something negative to say.

I say let her be who she is. She is a fighter and one of the toughest players out there mentally. Many other players would have folded under the criticism and to her credit, Vika has not gone on a charm offensive trying to get everyone to like her because that is not going to happen. She is letting her tennis do the talking and I for one am extremely proud of her

Savannah said...

I guess I wasn't clear. JMac and Connors behaved much worse and they're considered icons. In that sense it's not fair how Azarenka is vilified for blatantly she says winning is everything.

That said there is a reason Aussie fans aren't fond of Azarenka. It was Australia where she threw that massive hissy fit and went off on the chair and other officials. it's also why I maintained she doesn't have the temperament to be a top player. She is top ranked right now but her temperament - she truly has no filter - will keep her controversial. Vika may not feel the need to go on a charm offensive but her tour and her sport need her to be an ambassador and when people are holding up signs saying "Cheaternka" that is not what she is.

vw said...

Jarmila Gajdosova --isnt' this Jamie Groth?

Ana Konjuh of Croatia used to be or still is the GF of junior player Filip Krajinovic of Serbia.

One thing is certain, Vika needs a good PR firm. I like that she doesn't wave the white flag to any player though.

Connors and McEnroe were jerks but improved with age so there might be hope for current jerks.

Savannah said...

VW Jarmila Groth divorced Sam Groth and went back to using her maiden name.

Randy Burgess said...

It's not just Azarenka's bitchy attitude that's problematic - it's the noise she makes each time she hits a tennis ball. Apologists may say it's no big deal. To me she is almost as unwatchable as another noisemaker named Sharapova.

I will also say I'm not a big fan of Nadal's drawn-out "Unnnhs," either - his grunting has gotten worse with age. When he was younger it was barely noticeable.

Karen said...

What saddens me in the whole Vika mess is that everyone is willing to believe what the media wants to believe. Why is it that no one took her word for it that she did in fact have an injury? How many times has Nadal called MTO's at strategic points in a match and I have seen some of the same ones who are crucifying Vika defending Nadal's right to the MTO?

As my friend Dootsiez said on her blog, if you are a fan of any of the Big 4 in men's tennis, you don't get to call Vika a cheat (and she is not even a fan of Vika).

The facts are this: Sloane would not have won that match. Sloane had game point to make it 5-all. Sloane held serve once in the whole match. Sloane was playing one of the best returners on the women's Tour. Sloane never stood a chance.

Was Azarenka choking? No doubt about it? Was she caught up with the idea that she was making it to another GS final, I doubt it. Frankly speaking of Vika choked at any point in the last year it was when she served for the match against Serena at the USO.

Randy Burgess said...

Karen, people got the idea that Azarenka used her timeout to deal with her panic attack because that's what Azarenka said. She was the source. Yes, later when she changed her story she said she had "misunderstood," but she speaks and understands English much too well for that to be credible.

You can't say the media put words in her mouth. She put the words there herself. Then she decided she didn't like what followed so she used new words.

TennisAce said...

But Randy how many times have you had to clarify what you have said? I know for me a lot of times I have had to say to people I did not mean that, this is what I meant? In the heat of the moment, after a struggle during a match, after having blow 5 MPs, after being heckled, after going off court for an MTO, could it not have been possible that Vika misinterpreted the question? In my honest opinion, I have watched that match many more times and Vika never even answered the question that was asked of her because the interviewer never even finished the question. There were many pregnant pauses in the questioning which Vika was expected to fill. The fact that the media has basically intimated and/or implied that the questions that were being asked related to the lost MPs and not the MTO is just their way of pushing the conversation