Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Whisper's Are Getting Louder...

by Savannah

The debate about the 5th Slam is over, at least for 2013. Indian Wells dropped that mic and Miami's flow is not working.
Is it time to take another look at the two events place in the calendar? Is it time for Miami to think about becoming a clay court tournament so that European players will be more inclined to stay and play? Will IMG give up it's control of the event?

Actually all of the questions are interrelated.

First the IMG story. The players highest in tennis fans esteem, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, left the fold last year. With no pipeline to the inside story I can only speculate and say that the decision was purely a business decision. The controversial head of IMG, Theodore Forstmann, died in November 2011. In doing some research I came across this:

The sale is expected to draw interest from big entertainment players ranging from Creative Artists Agency and William Morris to French media group Lagardere, according to the people familiar with the matter. Large private equity firms and billionaires are also expected to participate, the people said.
Forstmann Little has been holding on to the IMG investment for longer than a typical investment period for private equity, and has for years rebuffed overtures from prospective buyers. Buyout interest increased following Teddy Forstmann’s departure in April 2011 as IMG Chairman and CEO, and his death later that year.

Notable buyers that had approached Teddy Forstmann included former Yahoo CEO Terry Semel, who was willing to pay $1.5 billion for IMG in 2008. Sources told Reuters at the time Teddy Forstmann wanted at least twice the amount.

Both men have opted to work with their personal PR people.

Turmoil always opens the door to chaos and that seems to be what is reigning in Miami right now. The tournament admits that ticket sales are down. Indian Wells had record attendance.

Then the issue of so much hard court play came up. Victoria Azarenka, who seems to be the only top rated woman who uses her vocal chords on and off court raised it in relation to her injury. Rafa has been a one man band about it for awhile now.
I guess that's why the idea of Miami switching to clay has been floated.

Now to me clay is red clay, not the artificial stuff used in the United States. Hard court purists decry the slow hard courts of Indian Wells because the big servers don't do well on it. I have to think that for players coming off the South American swing it's a god send. Of course most North American players don't make that swing.

If the slow hard courts of Indian Wells hamper North American players why aren't they well represented in the late stages of Miami? The only American doing well is...Serena Williams. Oh yeah Sam Querrey is still around but if he makes the final I'll be surprised. Very surprised.

I don't think the USTA, after mounting a full court press to get rid of Monte Carlo as an event, will let Miami change to clay without a fight. I'm pretty sure it's loyal press will soon start posting stories about the glories of hard court play. We've already seen the idiotic results of strict enforcement of the twenty five second rule, an emphasis that makes it easy for largely immobile hard servers to stay competitive while those who play a more sophisticated game are supposed to suffer. The most experienced chair umps, after a long rally, give the players time. Steve Ulrich, with the freedom retirement brings, called the rule "crazy". And he's an American.

Then of course there's the issue of top players dropping like flies. Almost every day has brought another player pulling up lame or citing illness as the reason for their withdrawal. That is why Sam Querrey is still around. Milos Raonic said he has strep throat and is unable to play so Querrey got the walkover. I can imagine tournament officials holding the remaining seeds hostage to ensure their appearance.

Lastly if Miami is moved where would it go? The last thing the USTA wants is a player focused TD like Larry Ellison getting control of the event. I'm guessing it'll be some organization that will allow things to go on as they have been.

But the issue going forward will still be hard courts and their effect on players. The game is much more physical, requires much more thought than a fast hard court will allow. There has even been talk of reviving indoor carpet.

I think in the end Miami will stay where it is in the calendar and remain a hard court event. Sorry a fast hard court event.
Of course I could be wrong. Time will tell.


 photo 0683ff8f-accb-4724-8b2b-b3d4560c573c_zpsd350b16a.jpg

I think that we will soon be able to add Sloane Stephens to the trash heap next to Melanie Oudin. I'm being so harsh because I watched Sloane play a brilliant set of tennis against Aga Radwanska yesterday on her own, with no coach flying out of the stands to tell her what to do. After that set her new coach, USTA darling David Nainkin, came and talked to her. And that was it for Sloane. She stopped doing everything she'd done well and played right into The Queen Vulture's hands. I didn't hang around for the third set so missed seeing Sloane get served a bagel.

Any player can beat any other player on any given day. Look at what Alejandro Falla almost did to Tomas Berdych yesterday. And let's just forget how hard Serena had to fight to come back against Dominika Cibulkova.

On second thought lets not forget Serena's match. Domi was all over Serena like a cheap suit. Serena couldn't find the court. Her footwork was nonexistent. Her smashes were finding the net. But she took a deep breath and ended up a winner. Her father got so nervous he left the court. Patrick Mouratoglou looked like he was on pins and needles. But Serena sat on the sidelines and fought her way out of the trap she'd set for herself. This is what Sloane is going to have to learn to do. And attitude is not going to win anything for her. The top players see her coming now and be ready for her. Sloane, dearie,(I'm a big OUAT fan), all those people blowing smoke up your ass because you defeated a severely injured Serena in Australia are bullshitting you. You are not a top ten player. In fact you sound as if you'd be content to be a top thirty player. Think I'm kidding? This is what a fiery Sloane said at her post match presser yesterday:

Sloane Stephens: "I'm 16 in the world. I can lose in the first round the next 2 months and I prob would still be top 30. "

The above was posted by @jonwertheim but he wasn't the only one who posted it yesterday. That is not what you want an up and coming player to say. It's not what you want an up and coming player to even conceive of thinking. Unless Sloane has the cojones to go outside of the US coaching establishment I don't see her game maturing much beyond where it is now. That injured woman you played in Melbourne is sitting on top of the rankings Sloane. She didn't get there by being content with a lower ranking.

Ironically Sloane is allegedly seen by Sam Smith as being the only athlete among the younger players. It's something I've noticed but been loathe to bring up after the Patrick McEnroe comments about sixteen year old Taylor Townsend.

But Smith has a point. There is a difference between being slim and being fit. I've seen more spare tires around the waists of women much more mature than Townsend, players considered the top picks from their countries. No one is saying women have to go the Ana Ivanovic route but there has to be a happy medium.

As for the lack of television coverage for WTA matches I'm saying the same thing I've been saying. Improve your product and you will get butts in the seats and television coverage. Right now the WTA is getting what it pays for. It sucks for fans of women's tennis but it is what it is. All the photo shoots and red carpets won't change what happens on court. It says something when two 31 year old women are fitter than the young'uns. It would also help if the WTA got rid of on court coaching. It's a crutch a top player shouldn't want or need.


Karen said...

Great write up Savannah and I agree with most of what you have said. One casualty from the proposed sale of IMG will be Sharapova. It is not a coincidence that in the Bloomberg power rankings which were released recently her star power has dipped, which is why she has been trying so hard to get herself back in the spotlight by writing inane stuff on camera, promoting the life out of her candy and supposedly dating a young hot guy. Clearly, her agent is of the view that these are the things that she needs to do to get back in the conversation because clearly that whole twitter thing did not work out as well as expected.

As for Miami, of the 2 hard court tournaments it is my favourite. Indian Wells and Ellison have done what they are supposed to do to promote their event. They ensure that fans both near and far get to see players play tennis. I even forgive them for not having the cameras turned on much earlier, but Miami without a doubt sucks regarding coverage. Today (Wednesday's play) sees delayed coverage on ESPN2. Who the hell wants to see delayed tennis played when you can stream it online and know the results? Phewt

Savannah said...

Karen it's going to be a very interesting year behind the scenes for tennis. Let's not forget that Adam Drewett is ill and has to be replaced on the ATP board.

I'm so glad you said Sharapova is "supposedly dating" a hot young guy. I don't believe that either.

Miami turns the cameras on late too. Singles play starts about 1p eastern I think. I won't see most of it though since I will be out. Bother.

Randy Burgess said...

Hey Karen - nice to see you here.

Talking about Sharapova, I don't see her as being at the mercy of her agent when she does the stuff she does off-court.

I'm not endorsing her actions per se. The world certainly doesn't need more candy; it's irrelevant what she does or doesn't do with a pen when confronted with the obligatory "sign the camera" event after winning a match; I still wish she'd stop the shrieking; and I still wish she'd do what ever other top player worth their salt has done and learn to come to net. Her matches are SO boring at times.

But all that aside, to me her public persona seems just fine: she's an independent, self-centered, wealthy, career-driven young woman with clear goals in her own mind & a sense of being her own person. As just one more example, I haven't yet seen her succumbing to this hideous on-court coaching bug that so many other "top" WTA players seem infected with. I've always admired independence & strength - e.g. the Williams sisters - and I see no reason not to at least grudgingly admire the same trait in Sharapova, even if I'll never be a fan.

On another topic I wasn't able to catch the Sloane Stephens match - if I recall it was blacked out in my area on ESPN3 (?#@#) - but I find it interesting that Savannah noticed the same thing that Steve Tignor pointed out in his column, namely the total collapse of her game after her coach gave her advice following the first set. Grrrr.

Karen said...

Randy, I had to go back to your comment on more than one occassion and wonder who you were talking about. When was the last time you watched a Sharapova match? She calls her coach out at every given opportunity and the joke in social media is that he keeps telling her that her opponent will collapse and she will win. Right now of the Big 3 in women's tennis, Vika and Serena are the only 2 who don't call a coach down courtside.

The screeching will always be there and until they shut the men up, I say let the women screech and grunt all they want.

Savannah said...

Sharapova's coach comes down and talks to her all the time. The fun for me is does she listen, really listen to him? He was blathering on and on recently ad she went out and did nothing he told her to do.

If the tour has a problem with the screaming they should've done something when Pova first came on the scene, not now when she's gotten away with it for years. Azarenka is simply following in her footsteps.

If either of you, or anyone, saw the Haas/Djokovic match the other night Djokovic was grunting like I don't know what. For awhile Haas was matching him and then it seemed that Haas just said "fuck this" and focused on his tennis. Not one word was said by the comms, the men I consider the best in the business, about Djokovic's grunting.

Karen said...

Djokovic only grunts sometimes. Last night while I was watching the JJ/Vinci match at one point I had to look up from what I was doing because someone starting sounding like Errani. I realised that Vinci, Errani's doubles partner was grunting like Errani and she was doing this while hitting slice backhands. I was like WTF.

For me I can tell when a shriek or grunt is because of effort and intensity and when it is just plain gamesmanship. If you listen closely to when some players are playing you can tell that the grunt is coming when they are really playing hard and running. Others, it only comes out intermittently. There are days when it bothers me and other times I just don't care.

Randy Burgess said...

Hmm, guess I'm not watching enough Sharapova matches to have seen when her coach comes down & talks to her. Oh well, I suspect I'm not missing much.

As for shrieking vs. grunting, it's certainly true that some of the men grunt a lot - Djokovic and Rafa among them. With Rafa it goes back a long way - I just watched tape of his 2nd match with Federer, the 5-setter Miami final, back when Rafa was still a kid & Federer hadn't yet gotten a mental block against him. Grunt grunt. But somehow that sort of grunting bothers me less than the shrieks. Serena will grunt once in a while and I barely notice it. And Federer always grunts on his 2nd serve - not very loudly - and never on his first serve. Strange.

And apropos of nothing, Haas played wonderfully against Djokovic. So nice to see. On some of the point replays I concentrated on watching just his feet, & suddenly I understood what it means to say someone has "twinkle-toes."

Savannah said...

Randy Haas' footwork is a wonder, especially for a man his age. His sneakers are squeaking not because he's trying to disconcert his opponent. They squeak because he's literally turning on a dime.

He's playing modern tennis with all the mental and physical agility it requires.

He is also quite the physical specimen.