Thursday, August 22, 2013

I Hate To Be That Person...

by Savannah

...but I'm going to be. Let's look at what happened on the way to Maria Sharapova withdrawing from the US Open last evening.

via the guardian photo Maria-Sharapova-on-Court--008viatheGuardian_zps16e17bf9.jpg
via The Guardian

First there was the meh performance in London and the withdrawal from Toronto due to a lingering hip injury.

Thomas Högstedt was fired soon after Wimbledon was over. There was very little sympathy for Högstedt due to two words, Li Na.

Then came the surprise hiring of Jimmy Connors as her new coach, a choice that left many scratching their heads. No one expected the partnership to last long based on the personalities involved. It was also unclear if Connors had the ability to give Sharapova what she needed to improve her game.

The duo made their debut in Cincinnati and to say that was disastrous for Sharapova is an understatement. Connors, presumably paid a nice sum for his days in service to Ms Sharapova, found himself with time on his hands not soon after the debacle.

After that one of the most ridiculous publicity campaigns ever was unveiled. There were breathless reports that Sharapova was going to change her surname to that of the candy she shills for. Anyone with an ounce of sense called bullshit but the speculation went on for two days before Max Eisenbud, Pova's long time agent, said the name change wasn't going to happen. I know, some were really shocked. If you ever wondered why advertising is so successful I hope you'll remember this episode the next time you want to buy some product being used by smiling people on your television screen. Total hype. Total bullshit. But it got tennis people talking about her and not Victoria Azarenka or Serena Williams who had just played one of the best women's matches of 2013. And that's what it was all about right?

While all the candy hype was going on some were asking if Pova was really going to go into the US Open without a coach, the real story that needed to be fleshed out. Oh, I forgot a supposedly irate Pova had her father call Connors to fire him because it had been at his urging that she hired him. Uh huh. I was born at night not last night. Did Yuri fire Högstedt too?

So now that things had calmed down and the focus was rightly on what she was going to do during the US Open Yuri was seen around the grounds at Flushing Meadows.

The suspense was ended when the announcement was made that Maria Sharapova was not going to play the US Open due to shoulder issues.

Now is it wrong for me to ask why the shoulder injury, sorry shoulder bursitis, and not the hip injury that caused her to withdraw from Toronto was the injury of choice? Are they laying the groundwork for her to withdraw from all the Asian events this fall? Probably. Was the hip ever really a problem? Was it always the shoulder? Or was it none of the above?

I haven't seen any tennis "journalist" ask that question. Yet there are "journalists" who still question the extent of Serena's injuries and whether she was really injured based on nothing but an attitude among some that African American's don't really get sick. Yet the idiocy about Sharapova's "injuries" during the last two months are accepted without question.

I also haven't seen any "journalist" cite the following chronology of injuries that were oddly diagnosed before a bad loss. A fan calling themselves "Marlena" posted it on the fan site "Tennis Forum".

Montreal 2012: She pulled out because of a stomach bug... oh, and by the way, she had been dealing with it since the Olympics (where lost the final to Serena); some reports even had that she had picked it up right before the final.

Rome 2013: She played two matches and then pulled out citing a virus... oh, and by the way, she had also been dealing with it the week before in Madrid (where lost the final to Serena).

US Open 2013: Shoulder... oh, and by the way, she had been advised to not play Cincinnati (where she lost her first match to Stephens).

You won't see a tennis "journalist" recite that litany of happenstance either.

And yes I'm going to say it. If Serena Williams had such a history of turmoil, public turmoil, in her camp every one of the so called "journalists" would be writing and Tweeting about it.

I'm very happy to see all fans haven't gone for the okey-doke.

It's also time that tennis be covered by real journalists who know how to go after a story and hold athletes accountable instead of waiting to be spoon fed information from agents and publicists.


Karen said...

It was a stupid stunt and frankly I thought uber agent Max could do better than that. It is clear that Pova's stock is going down. In as much as they want to make it all about the off court earnings, when you keep losing to the same woman over and over and over again, after awhile not only do you look like a failure, but sponsors are going to start wondering well why are you endorsing my products seeing as you can't seem to get your shite together on the court.

A lot of folks are now talking about the Vika/Pova rivalry. That is not a rivalry seeing as the only place that Pova can beat Vika is on clay.

You are right though that if it was Serena who had pulled a lame stunt like this, they would still be figuring out ways to hang her from the nearest scaffold.

Aah tennis. Don't ever change

Randy Burgess said...

I don't know, Savannah. Sometimes I differ with you, and I'm going to differ here - and to some extent with Karen too.

If you have evidence - I mean, evidence, and not speculation - that Sharapova is somehow faking a shoulder injury, then lay it out there; but as far as I can see, all you've got is a case of rampant hostility towards her that is leading you to suspect her motives in general.

Beyond that, I don't get the comparisons you make to how Serena has been treated by the media. What has that to do with the price of doughnuts? Believe me, I'm not a Sharapova fan - her tennis bores me - but even if I were, I still wouldn't give a flying [fill in the blank] about who she's dating, what candy she's promoting, or how the press treats her. I can just barely get myself interested enough to be sympathetic about the shoulder injury, and that's about it. So why compare this relatively bland and one-dimensional player to a completely different and far more compelling player? Because of how the media treats them?! That's the media's fault, not the fault of either player.

And as for the notion that injuries in tennis players aren't sufficiently investigated by journalists - this really makes me scratch my head. In fact what it really makes me think of are all the fan conspiracies on the men's side - all the haters who think Nadal fakes his knee injuries or uses them as excuses after bad loses (Soderling, Rosol); and all the haters who still think that Djokovic's obvious physical problems several years back (throwing up, finding it hard to breath, etc.) somehow invalidate his current success.

I never thought I'd write such a long comment about a player I don't much care about. But I am drawn to defend those who I think have been unfairly attacked - even when they do such silly things as start a candy company or "hire" Jimmy Conners as coach.

Savannah said...

Randy I totally understand where you're coming from. I try to ignore most of the crap going on around Pova but sometimes it just pisses me off. And what tennis journalists do and say is so predictable.

There will never be hard evidence that it's all bull shit IMO because of the power IMG still has in the tennis world and the fact that a journalist is only as good as his or her contacts.

That said the chronology of injuries and or illnesses, if they were happening to any other player, would have not just fans but real journalists looking for a story or at least speculating about the coincidences. None of that happens with her. But when Serena was really ill and came back too soon there were all these stories written with an air of disbelief. None of that happens with Pova.

As you say haters gonna hate and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

Let's get past all the breathless "reporting" around her and look at some of the coincidences.

As for Fakervich everyone talked about the booing in Madrid but not the reason why. It was better to drag on Spanish fans than to give them credit for knowing bullshit when they see it. And I'm sure you saw Monfils match back in the day at the US Open where he was practically on life support one minute and running like a gazelle the next.

But back to the latest Pova issue. Didn't things happen just the way I said they would? Didn't "journalists" start posting "exclusive" insider information once they got their marching orders from Eisenbud?

Again I understand where you're coming from. It's just that sometimes you have to point out differences in how players are covered.

Karen said...

Randy, I understand where you are coming from. What irritates me is the fact that the losses by Pova are already put down to the shoulder injury and not to her opponent. Same thing with Nadal. Each time he loses, it is always put down to the knee, rather than the play of his opponent. It is the narratives that lazy tennis journalists continue to put forward, in collaboration with players' agents and managers.

That being said, leaking a story to a paper like The Times about a name change, then getting it in all the newspapers, and then getting the retraction out there, all to sell a candy, is simply not worthy of the Brand Sharapova. She is portrayed as a media maven, someone who knows how to work it, and yet, this publicity stunt just smacks of a career in crisis and with the spotlight turned elsewhere.

For comparison, one only has to look at Federer. As a Fed fan his decline is there for all to see (I mean he is ranked No. 7), but you don't see him doing these types of things to keep his name in the paper. Same thing with Venus. She is not the most powerful woman out there but she is doing her thing in order to promote her line. She gets players on tour to wear her clothing line and she promotes it at tournaments. That is the way to go. I doubt if there is anyone wearing the Sharapova line on Tour right now.

If it is about building your brand, and building a brand that is supposedly classy and upscale, then the name change, the coach hiring/firing just looks a little desperate and in order to get back in the good graces of the press, you go to the old standby, i.e. shoulder surgery. Give me a break already.

Randy Burgess said...

Again, I don't see a connection between stunts like the candy promotion, on the one hand, and the shoulder injury, on the other.

I think Sharapova would always be promoting the candy - ech - whether or not she was healthy. And I think she wants to beat the other players on the court & when it comes to Serena is desperate to try and find a way to do so. That's what the press says but I don't see it as contrived at all.

I don't like her tennis but I won't take away from her that she is a competitor. And I really don't like her off-court business - why candy, of all things?! - but that's none of my business.

TennisAce said...

Randy, this is my final post on this but I think you are really trying to come to grips with the issue of why are we so upset about the whole candy thing. FWIW, here are my views:-

1. The brand - it is not enough that we hear about how much money she makes while watching one of her matches. It is that we hear about the Brand every single time during a match, and the shoulder, and the candy, and the clothes and the endorsements etc. It becomes tiresome.

2. Career in Crisis - when you fire the coach who has made your tennis relevant again, made you get back to the top of the sport, made you seem like a contender when everyone, including yourself have been written off, and when you fail to achieve what you think you need to achieve in terms of career goal, i.e. beat Serena, when you hire a coach who was known to go after his opponents and be in your face, and when that fails because you lost to Stephens, of all people, a player that you own, and when you fire said coach, or as the media puts it, call your dad to fire your coach, then there is something inherently wrong in PovaLand.

3. Ye Old Standby - when everyone becomes sickened at the name change media stunt, when you are trying to market something that even die hard fans of yours refuse to buy for 6.00 a pop, when everyone and their mother is looking forward to Vika v. Serena 3.0, and no one is turning up at Henri Bendel to see your sugar accessories then yeah what better way to get the focus back than to talk about your shoulder.

Finally, it is weird that as soon as the shoulder issues are once again trotted out, we are again bombarded with a viral video of Max crying (so I hear, as I did not watch it) when told that her shoulder surgery was a success and a video about her travails regarding her shoulder issues.

I know it perhaps makes absolutely no sense to you, but bursitis is not something that turns up overnight. It is something of which the player is aware for some time, whether it be pain or stiffness etc. It is remarkable that after all this distraction, the real issue (at least it would seem that way) comes to the fore and she withdraws from the USO, the one tournament that she indicated at the start of the year would be her priority this year.

So yeah, I am no conspiracy theorist, but there is something off in PovaLand these days and it does not smell like sugar

Randy Burgess said...


OK, so it's your first but also final comment, so no problem if you don't respond - but what you say really gets my goat. Just two points in order:

First, you say, "Ye Old Standby - when everyone becomes sickened at the name change media stunt . . . then yeah what better way to get the focus back than to talk about your shoulder."

This kind of attempted mind-reading is what I object to. It makes no sense on the face of it. If Sharapova wants to compete on the court, then why would she take herself off the court by inventing a fake injury so she can withdraw? That seems to be what you are insinuating. To me this is the same kind of thinking that supports other conspiracy theories such as that 9/11 was a hoax, astronauts never really landed on the moon, the Trilateral Commission (you may be a little young for that one) runs the world in secret, etc. etc. You are free to believe what you want, of course.

And second, you say "I know it perhaps makes absolutely no sense to you, but bursitis is not something that turns up overnight. It is something of which the player is aware for some time, whether it be pain or stiffness etc."

I'm sorry to inform you that in my own life I am very well aware of bursitis, tendonitis, and many other muscle and joint problems. I suffer from them in ways that I am not going to go into, but I am not a novice here. I've seen news stories that say Sharapova was getting shots for the shoulder. Nothing in her behavior or in my own experience makes me suspect that she's making up the bursitis story. And nothing in your allegations of conspiracy on her part make me think so either. Again, you can believe what you want.

And again, I point to Nadal's knees as a comparison. Karen's comment is one that is very familiar to me - I've read it on many fan sites: "Same thing with Nadal. Each time he loses, it is always put down to the knee, rather than the play of his opponent." Well no, sorry. Everyone who watched knew that Soderling played a huge match to beat Nadal at Roland Garros. Everyone who watched knew that Rosol had an insane in-the-zone match to beat him at Wimbledon. The fact those two players had huge matches against Nadal doesn't mean that he faked his knee injuries when taking time off the tour after each of these losses. These two things (upset losses vs. bad knees) should not be equated and as far as I know, no one in the press did equate them. It is only fans who are rabidly anti-Nadal who insinuate Nadal "makes excuses."

Sure. I get that people don't like Sharpaova's off-court antics. Fine. But the conspiracy stuff doesn't add up and smacks of hate talk. I am fed up with hate being the subject de jour. In my own life I have a lot of anger over events that have hurt myself and people I care about; but even there, I find that hate does not move me forward in life. It just gets in the way. So I guess this will be my final comment on this topic, too. Enough hating. Enough.

Karen said...

Randy, sorry this popped into my inbox. This is Karen aka Tennis Ace (always depends on which email address I use to sign in). You know the funny thing about me and Pova, I actually do like her. I think she is an amazing professional. I actually admire her game and I love watching her when she is in the zone. It takes a lot of skill to be able to hit those hard flat strokes on the lines every single point. I also admire that she is an extremely hard worker. I think my main issue is how the media, with her assistance, tries to create a narrative that is very false.

In terms of the itis, I too suffer from itis as well as I used to play tennis and had to stop due to an itis. However, even Sharapova defenders are at a loss as to how she managed to get herself and her image embroiled in a very ugly situation, i.e. the name change, and then abrutly withdraw from the USO citing bursitis. Prior to the shoulder injury we were informed that her injury was the hip that she injured during her fall at Wimbledon and that is what prevented her from playing Toronto.

I would not call what we are doing here conspiracy theories. I think this is speculation that needs to be done about a player for whom the media are generally willing to look pass any faux pas.

On a final note, especially regarding conspiracy theories, you will recall this blog THASP that indicated that players were getting silent bans. The ITF, WTA/ATP all scoffed at the idea and the media even went so far as to label that particular blogger as having its own axe to grind. Lo and behold in 2013 we are made aware of players actually getting silent bans. Sometimes there is some truth to the whole conspiracy theory

Randy Burgess said...

Karen, I had no idea you were TennisAce!!

Anyway, I do agree with a couple of points you make here. The whole name-changing stunt was bizarre, inane, whatever we want to call it - just a weird thing to do, dreamed up by some idiot publicist no doubt and subscribed to by Sharapova without enough thought as to the reaction it would get.

But I really think that what from the outside appears as a twisted tale for Sharapova of late has in truth been only an unfortunate series of coincidences - bad choices, like hiring Connors and the name-change snafu, mingling with legitimate issues such as the shoulder (and the hip - her falls at Wimbledon looked painful even if nothing compared to what happened to Azarenka). It's a comedy of errors that makes her look bad.

To me it was very clear while watching that Sharapova lost the match vs. SS not because SS outplayed her, but because she lost all control over her serve midway through the 2nd set. I thought it was the yips at the time, but possibly it was a combination of the mental and the psychological - i.e. some minor pain arising in her shoulder that wasn't enough to cause her to ask for an injury timeout, but was enough to play with her mind & induce doubt. And all a player needs is a little doubt to send them off the rails during a match! For example I remember seeing Tsonga take a fall at the end of the first set against Federer in Montreal some years ago - he won the set, and the fall didn't appear to hurt him at all, but he got so shaken by it that he practically tanked the second set. (Only to come roaring back in the third set & take the match. Such are the ways of Tsonga.)

But credit Sloane Stephens for taking advantage of the opportunity when it arose - at the start of the 2nd set she looked like she'd already given up on the match, but when Sharapova gifted her all those double-faults, etc., she rallied just enough to finish Sharapova off. Not a pretty match for her but winning is what counts.

I also agree about the silent bans - that seems a real possibility, indeed at this point given what has occurred with Cilic it is tempting to conclude it is definitely going on. But versus the Sharapova situation, to me there is much more reason to suspect conspiracies whenever sports organizations are involved - it's been true of boxing, of the Olympics, and probably every sport in the world. Attempts to "protect" a sport or its image inevitably lead to deception.