Monday, July 22, 2013

The US Open Effect and A Look Back at The Championships 2013

by Savannah

I actually started my Wimbledon post. I was going to have all these wise and pithy things to say about what happened but sometimes life gets in the way. Two people very close to me told me they were ill, one very seriously. One has been a tennis friend for quite some time and I'm sending best wishes to her during this difficult time.

Then Florida happened, or should I say "Floriduh" happened and while I wasn't totally surprised it was still depressing.

So here I am some weeks after the British made sure their man won Wimbledon - I mean he was the only one who knew how to play the grass that wasn't new or different this year - and just like the United States customizes it's Davis Cup surfaces the extra time Mr. Murray had to play on the not new or different grass paid off.

But Wimbledon will be the second part of this post.

Let's talk about the continuation of the European tennis season or Clay Part Deux. There's no other way to say it. Some weird and totally unexpected shit has been going down during afterWimbledon. That's what I'm going to call it. Some hard court aficionados think the grass season should be extended and that clay court play after The Championships is some kind of sacrilege.

Fortunately cooler heads prevail and the Europeans keep right on doing what they have been and playing on clay. You all remember how the ATP, under the "guidance" of the USTA and it's subsidiaries, the LTA, TA and to a lesser extent the FFT tried to get rid of Monte Carlo and downgraded Hamburg moving it to what was hoped would be an after thought time of the year so that everyone would have to come to the US earlier and play on the concrete right? Well it ain't exactly working out the way they thought it would. More on that later.

Fabio Fognini Hamburg Champion 2013 photo 69773467-6f24-48a9-8ecc-76ad1bee7307_zpsaf9ebf2a.jpg

First of all this player named Fabio Fognini won not one but two ATP crowns in Germany - Stuttgart and Hamburg. Yes, the Hamburg just mentioned above. Fabio isn't new to the game. He's been around. He struts like a bantam rooster on court and while he's had moderate success has never really been thought of as a contender. Lets just ignore all the geopolitical stuff going on between Italy and Germany for now. The last thing German fans expected was this peacock of a man to come into their house and destroy their nascent hopes of rejoining the Big Boy's Club. Surely Tommy Haas, obviously a graduate of Professor Xavier's school, was going to win one if not both events right? Haas has kept his German passport but is also an American citizen. He's been playing very well and hell I expected him to win at least one event.

I think what Fognini does is bug the shit out of Haas. He struts and mugs and generally drives him nuts. Gaël Monfils needs to study what Fognini does. He's Monfils with discipline. He's not making it up as he goes along. He knows what he's doing when he goes into his act. The proof is that he's got back to back trophies he's taking home to Italy while Haas didn't even get a plate from Stuttgart. Philipp Kohlschreiber got that bad boy.

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You may recognize the man in the hat as one Ivo Karlovic. Dr Ivo as he's known to tennisheads was diagnosed with viral meningitis a few months back and no one expected him to seriously contend this year. Well he's the champion of the inaugural Bogota tournament. You know, the one that replaced the tournament in Los Angeles that used to be part of the US Open series, the one that the Americans let go to Colombia so that that heretic Larry Ellison couldn't get his hands on it. Some guys from the United States went there but they came home rather quickly despite the lightening fast surface some compared to glass.

In fact there's a danger of there being no American men in the ATP Top 20 for the first time since 1973 when the modern ranking system began. Sam Querrey - you remember him right? - is ranked #20 right now but his 250 points from winning Los Angeles last year- the tournament that's now Bogota - will drop off and he'll be ranked lower than 20.

But I digress.

Yvonne Meusberger Bad Gastein Champion 2013 photo aa09f6e5-c8b5-461a-ab93-554724534329_zpsad88801f.jpg

You have to be a hard core tennis fan to know who Yvonne Meusberger is. She's a staple on the ITF circuit but she always does well at Bad Gastein. This year she did really well and won the whole damn thing to win her first main tour title. Don't worry though. She's not someone ESPN will be talking about. She doesn't have that certain "je ne sais quoi" does she?

Serena Williams B photo 82892088-4be9-4c7c-bdfd-5b65b637068b_zpsfb763d07.jpg

Then there was the WTA International tournament in Båstad, Sweden. Venus Williams was scheduled to play but due to medical issues she had to pull out. Her sister Serena Williams was set to play too. And play she did.

Until this week Serena had never won an International level tournament. She's played them. She just never stuck around to pick up a trophy. Serena however has a new attitude, one that's been visible for those who have no preconceived notions of her can easily see. She's more focused. She concentrates. She uses her intellect to overcome her opponents and she's learned how to slide. The sliding is new. The other things aren't. It's just that her level of intensity has risen and it doesn't matter if a bansidhe is screaming across the net from her or if she's playing someone ranked way below her. She accepts their challenges and instead of getting flustered as she would sometimes do when playing someone for the first time she absorbs their attacks and adjusts her game so that she can eventually win.

Congratulations to all the winners this week.

The 2013 Championships: A Look Back

Murray Wimbledon Ball 2013 photo 8cf3f458-01f0-421e-8cfd-32b7cda34ea8_zps3f3a81c3.jpg

I'm happy for Andy Murray. He got the monkey off his back and can go on with the rest of his life. There is talk that he will soon be Sir Andrew Baron Murray and that Judy is already practicing being Dame Murray. Will Kim Sears get to wear a tiara if she manages to get Andrew down the aisle? And lets not forget Scotland is holding a referendum next year to decide if it wants to split from the United Kingdom, a referendum most think will lead to secession and Scotland standing on its own. If that happens will Sir Andrew, uh, Andy, keep a title bestowed by what would become a foreign country? Decisions, decisions.

Marion Wimbledon Ball 2013 photo 5d341d6a-b837-4706-976c-6e33edfa5c1b_zps4765bdcf.jpg

While the American and British press go bonkers over someone from the tennis Axis nations winning the biggest tournament in tennis there has been another, far uglier story sitting like a period bump in the center of the forehead of tennis commentary and that is the horrid way announcers, mostly British by the way, have reacted to Marion Bartoli winning the Ladies Championship. "How dare she have beaten Fraulein Lisicki!" they rage. Fraulein Lisicki wears cute short skirts, she's easy on the eyes, SHE'S BLONDE and has big doe like eyes. How dare this French woman, who is none of those things, beat the Fraulein!!!

Truth be told the British media acted like assholes the entire Fortnight. It started with Annabel Croft's insults directed towards WTA #1 Serena Williams. Croft made several comments about Serena's derriere and how her kits were so much bigger than the other players. Croft, who has one title to her name and whose highest ranking was #126 (12/21/1986) thought that her comments wouldn't get out. They did.

In case you missed it this is what Croft said:

One of the LTA invitees said: 'Annabel made many personal asides about Serena, saying that she was huge. She said all Serena's dresses were very carefully designed to hide her bulk.

'She then moved on to concentrate on what she termed as Serena's huge backside. She said she was in the ladies' changing room and wondering who was going to wear what looked like a wedding dress.

'She then saw Serena getting into this dress and that the train had been carefully designed to wrap around Serena's huge backside. It was quite offensive.

Did she apologize? This is what she's quoted as saying:

I apologise to anyone who might have taken offence, but it was meant as a harmless piece of banter. Serena has a magnificent bottom that every woman should aspire to.

Yeah that's an apology to Serena alright.

Everyone focused on the comments made by John Inverdale about Marion but the worst column of them all was written by one Mr. Greg Couch, an American. His magnum opus is entitled Women's Final Terrible For Tennis . Did he write about the merits of Marion's game vs that of Serena or Maria Sharapova or Victoria Azarenka, the women who sit at the top of the women's game? Did he talk about Marion's approach vs that of Li Na or Aga Radwanska? Nope. How's this gem?

Women’s tennis is desperate for stars. And this is the sport’s greatest stage, greatest opportunity. Yet with so little depth, two underdogs got here. Lisicki had a small chance to catch on in the US. Small, because I have a feeling no one was watching. But she did beat Williams, and could have been the Wimbledon champ. She is super-powerful. She is comfortable and personable in front of a camera.

And in terms of growing interest in the game, she could appeal to the average testosterone-defined fan sitting on his couch in front of the TV: She’s an attractive, powerful blonde woman in a short skirt.

Bartoli – more hard truth – is not going to sell in the US. She doesn’t have magazine looks, and plays in an ugly way.

Or this:

On top of that, there is no way Bartoli should be able to win Wimbledon.

Someone should have been able to take advantage of her lack of moment and reach, with those two-handed strokes. But all the top players kept losing before her, so she never played anyone in the top 10.

And this:

“You felt like you achieved something you dreamed about for maybe a million hours,’’ Bartoli said. “You went through pain, you went through tears, you went through low moments, and actually, it happened.’’

Nah, we can’t sell that.

Now if I had summarized and said that Couch said that Bartoli is too fug to win and that the cute German girl should've won for the betterment of women's tennis you would've thought I was hating wouldn't you? The kicker is unlike me, Couch is PAID to analyze tennis for the masses. Instead the "attractive, powerful blonde woman in a short skirt" got taken apart by this woman he can't/won't fantasize about and so she didn't deserve to win.

There have been two embarrassing cries on tennis courts within the last five years. One happened after the mens final in Melbourne when the winner had to console the runner up. The other was Sabine Lisicki in tears DURING her match. I don't even want to think about what was going through Couch's fevered brain while that was going on.

You see, and this is between me and you, once Maria Sharapova lost early they looked for someone, anyone, who could beat Serena Williams. Did their sub rosa harassment of Serena take it's toll on the Great One? We'll never know but when Lisicki came from behind to beat Serena you could hear the "Hallelujahs" as the tennis establishment fell to its knees. The mistake Lisicki made was believing the smoke being blown up her ass. She thought that Marion was going to roll over, eat a Twix on the sidelines, and that she'd walk over her prone body to accept the Venus Rosewater trophy. When Marion made it clear she was not having it things rapidly fell apart.

Now I have nothing against Lisicki. Her comeback is nothing short of miraculous, but come on people. Marion had been to a final before. She'd lost to none other than the Queen of Wimbledon Venus Williams. She learned from that. But no one that I heard commentating made that connection until the match was over and Marion was holding up the trophy. Too bad. Marion won Wimbledon playing like her idol, Monica Seles. Look up some old video of Monica. People like Couch, Croft and Inverdale would've deemed her unfit to win too.

The other match that made an impression on me was the Girls Final between Taylor Townsend and Belinda Bencic. There was a game in the first set that lasted twenty minutes. This was of course a day match and was played under the broiling sun. Taylor won the game and the set but after that she had nothing. Nothing mentally and nothing physically. Her coach(es) need to sit her down and go over that match with her. There is no way Bencic should've won that match. All Bencic did was wait for Townsend to fade physically and then she went about her business and took her apart.

I know we all gave Patrick McEnroe grief when he publicly shamed Taylor but I'm going to say it now. Girl you have got to get fit. You put aside the bows and cute hair. Now it's time to push away from the table and get in the gym. You will never attain your potential if you don't.

There are larger women playing tennis but look at the top ten. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that when we see Marion again she's going to have slimmed down. She's hungry now and wants more. She doesn't want to be a one slam wonder. And that is going to mean no more candy bars on the sidelines. Yes Taylor moves well IN THE EARLY STAGES OF A MATCH. She visibly slows down when things get physically demanding.

One of the critiques I read about United States tennis is that no one has that killer instinct. No one wants to sacrifice going to Chipotle in order to ensure that they're the best they can be on the court. This has been a problem in the States for a few years now. And don't hand me that crap about Taylor being built like Serena. Serena never had a paunch.

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She's heavier here but she's not overweight. I doubt any of her people will read this but Taylor you are on the way to being another United States could've been if you don't work on yourself. No one on the main tour is going to be quaking in their sneakers to face you unless you give them a reason to. Right now everyone is looking at Belinda Bencic. I think you want everyone looking at you.

The US Open Series

This is getting boring. Every year the USTA dangles the promise of a huge paycheck in front of the top players hoping to lure them to the States to play the series of hard court tournaments dubbed the US Open Series. Breaking News: They aren't coming.

Look at the Stanford Main Draw. Look at Atlanta. They'll be here when the have to, for the Rogers Cup and Cincinnati, the back to back summer M1000/WTA Premiere events. And they're coming kicking and screaming. Once proud tournaments have main draws that are barely above Challenger or ITF circuit tournaments.

And let's face it there are no Americans who will draw a crowd unless their surname is Williams. I mean are you going to swelter in high heat and humidity to see Jack Sock?

Will things get better for the US Open series? Are there any up and coming Americans who will put butts in the seats like Serena Williams did in Båstad?

Name someone. I'm waiting.


So Jimmy Connors is now Maria Sharapova's coach. While you're thinking of a young US player who will put buns in the seats tell me what Connors will bring to Pova's game that she doesn't already have? Isn't it ironic that after Thomas Högstedt told Li Na via the internet that he was no longer her coach that there are stories floating around that he dumped Pova? Isn't it kind of funny that there was talk that he was going to be Caroline Wozniacki's new coach until she issued a statement saying no? I wonder if they were smart enough to put a clause in his contract forbidding him to work with top ten or twenty players?

All I know is that this is a deal made in IMG heaven. Connors gets the big payday he wanted and Pova is not in the embarrassing position of not having a coach. See? Was that hard to figure out?

Oh. So Roger Federer changed the size of his racquet. He's playing in Gstaad this week. He played Hamburg too.

Agniezska Radwanska got in a bit of trouble at home in Poland. She posed au naturel for the ESPN body issue. I'm surprised no one talked to her about the ramifications of doing that. Her hair is still its natural color in the ESPN pictures. Maybe blonde Aga is the new honey badger of the WTA.


Karen said...

Roger was not the only guy who cried after losing a GS final. Lest we forget, Murray walked off the court even before the trophy ceremony was over last year and he did it in 2010 as well down in Australia. These men and women put a lot into winning and when they lose it hurts. Unfortunately, it seems as if Federer is the only one who fun is made of when he cries. Whatever.

As for Couch, I refused to even click on the article. I blame the WTA for this. Stop selling the women as if they are cutesy cutesy girls. Sell what it is that they are. Professional athletes.

I hate the USO Series. I hate it because you never get to see any damn tennis and the commentary sucks

Randy Burgess said...

"Surely Tommy Haas, obviously a graduate of Professor Xavier's school," etc.

X-Men reference?? If so I'm not sure what Tommy's super-power is, other than maybe being able to age more slowly than the normal human.

I missed Tommy's match vs. FF, unfortunately - but I have to say that I am finding FF increasingly interesting. When he's not strutting around in that odd stiff-legged walk of his, complaining about this or that, he can play some tennis.

As for Bartoli . . . as you say, she'd been to a big final before. She knew what the pressure would be & handled it. Plus, she did what you're supposed to do to get to a final - she beat the players they put in front of her. Tennis would be extremely boring if the big names won every match they were supposed to win.

I don't know if you saw the Chris Clarey piece in the New York Times about Bartoli's win - some nice touches, e.g. "And it was quite a delight to see Bartoli running free after her convincing victory over Lisicki, loping across the Centre Court grass in the direction of her friends and family and father Walter, whom she had pushed away as coach in recent weeks in favor of a new team effort but whom she embraced once the title had been won."

Savannah said...

I blame the WTA as well Karen.

I've been raging against the WTA's ideal player for awhile. Lisicki fits that model. Marion doesn't. Neither does Serena but as Båstad showed fans will come out to see her play and root for her even against a home girl (Johanna Larsson).

The US Open series isn't working because the dominant players called the USTA's bluff and won't come here until they have to. If by chance a dominant, preferably male, player emerges from the morass that is the USTA PD program he'll be worked to death and have a very short career (unless he gets to use that hyperbaric chamber that isn't a hyperbaric chamber thingie).

You are correct about the men crying thing and how Federer's breakdown is the one everyone talks about. I think it's because he is seen by many as FedGod and when he shows he's human his worshippers/fans don't handle it well.

As for commentary you can forget any semblance of analysis during the US Open series and the US Open. It's almost better to use a stream from Europe if you want to know what is really going on in the match.

But back to the women. If their Association doesn't respect them as athletes who else will?

Savannah said...

LOL. Yes Randy I was making an X-men reference. Like The Wolverine Haas seems like he's defying time.

Fognini can play tennis. All the other stuff is just for show. As I said he KNOWS what he's doing when he goes into his act. He KNOWS it's totally distracting to his opponent if his opponent lets it be a distraction. So far Haas has fallen into his trap twice in as many weeks. If you remember Del Bonis was doing okay until he began to pay attention to what Fognini was up to. It was all down hill after that. Del Bonis did get tight and that just fed into the madness.

That quote from Clarey is the perfect antidote to the juvenile ragings of so called journalists. Thanks for that.