Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Year that Was - 2013

by Savannah

The recently ended tournament season for the WTA and ATP was really about two players: Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal. No amount of hype by agents or in some cases the tour itself (I'm looking at you WTA), can change that. Serena was too old. Rafa was too beat up physically. There were other stars for the tours to hype, stars they wanted to hype. Anybody but these two seemed to be the mantra.

But when the dust settled Williams and Nadal sat on top of the heap. And what about the players who were supposed to take their place at the top of the heap? By the end of the year Victoria Azarenka's mind seemed to be elsewhere. Her problems on court were not physical but mental. Maria Sharapova's shoulder injury once again appeared, this after she had been said to injure her hip in a fall at Wimbledon. They're saying she has shoulder bursitis now and the spineless tennis media simply parrots every word her agent says. Li Na is now working with known cheater Carlos Rodriguez and showed that without his "guidance" she was no match for a physically tired and mentally fried Serena Williams at the WTA YEC in Istanbul.

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Never in doubt is the only thing you can say about Serena being named WTA Player of the Year. Looking forward to 2014 the question becomes what next for this living legend? Will she play as full a schedule as she did this year? Will she play Båstad again? Or will she, with her huge lead over the top ten, focus on majors and the Slams and give herself a rest?

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As you all know I don't talk about the ATP that much since I'm a fan girl but I have to mention the achievement of Rafael Nadal in coming back to dominate the mens tour in 2013 after he'd been consigned to the scrap heap by many in tennis, fans and "journalists" included.

What's amazing is that he had such a dominant season while building in time to rest. Everyone knows he doesn't play well indoors but he came ohsoclose to winning the WTF in London.

His challenges next year are different from Serena's. His tentative schedule for the beginning of the year looks like this:

Abu Dhabi Exhibition
ATP 250 Doha
(1 week break)
Australian Open
(2 week break - potential Davis Cup ties vs Germany on indoor hard)
ATP 250 Buenos Aires (Clay) - 10-16 February
ATP 500 Rio (Clay) - 17-23 February
(1 week break)
ATP 1000 Indian Wells

I'd say that's a pretty good start.

What makes Rafa and Serena different from other players is their ability to think and adjust to what the person on the other side of the net is doing. Are there times where they can't think themselves out of trouble? Of course. But they both have a will to win, to find a solution, that, coupled with their skill set allows them to battle their way through matches that other players would give up on.

Both Serena and Rafa work hard at their tennis and neither one sits back and rests on his or her laurels. Tennis is hard work on and off court and neither of them thinks they can do it on raw talent alone. That approach catches up with you eventually especially since even lower ranked players are more physically fit than ever and many have an understanding of the work that's needed to be at the top.

I ignore the end of season awards given by the tours for best shot, best dis of the chair by a player, etc. They're a way to get players not at the top a little post season PR. Nothing wrong with that. I used to do a whole thing about the best this and that but after this season in my opinion the only two players who deserve props are the ones I've singled out.

There is one coach that deserves to be singled out though and that is Marko Jankovic who took over coaching duties for his sister Jelena Jankovic. I for one thought it was an act of desperation for JJ to put her brother in charge of her tennis but she got the last laugh as she ended up among the top eight for the WTA YEC at Istanbul. She's cut down somewhat on her schtick and is playing tennis I wouldn't have thought she could play at the beginning of the year. She's a dark horse to fight her way into the top three or four and I think if she continues to play the way she has she'll kick someone out.

As for the ATP my end of season nod is for a team and goes to Rafael Nadal's coaching staff. He played most of the year with no tape on his knees. He was able to play grueling matches with nothing more than the normal wear and tear of a match.
As far as his thought processes he was ready for whatever challenges he faced. That is all a player can ask and his team delivered. So congratulations to Toni Nadal, Francisco Roig Genís, Rafa's Physio Titin Maymo, and the entire Nadal Parera family for keeping their player fit and focused during 2013.

A special shout out goes to Patrick Mouratoglou who has stepped into what had been a family affair with little or no public signs of discord. He gets credit for helping Serena manage herself this past year. That doesn't mean he "saved" her as some imply. It just means he gave her the means to rein herself in, to take all that emotion and fire and channel it productively. He, Aleksandar "Sascha" Bajin and the rest of Serena's team kept their charge focused and ensured that nothing happened to tarnish her reputation on the way to achieving her goals for the year.

Congratulations to all!

The Year Ahead - 2014

So what's coming? Judging by all the coaching changes you'd think that a lot of changes are on the way in the WTA. Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki have changed coaches for starters. Sharapova has chosen Sven Groeneveld as her new coach. Groeneveld was the guru behind the Adidas coaching collective and the US tennis establishment loves him. But looking at what he accomplished he's only had success one year and that was with Ana Ivanovic, the year she won the French Open. Maybe that's why Sharapova hired him. Normally I'd say anyone is an improvement over Jimmy Connors but in my opinion that was a PR move that, like the Sugarpova name change thing, was laughable. There's an old saying about not being able to teach an old dog new tricks. Nothing can be done about Sharapova's lack of mobility and I'm wondering if she'll change her ball bashing ways. If she does I'll be surprised.
If she continues to get draws that guarantee her reaching the quarterfinals she should have a decent year.

Caroline Wozniacki has added Thomas Högstedt to her coaching staff, something that was rumored and vehemently denied after it was announced that Sharapova had let him go because he didn't want to travel anymore. It was finally announced late in the year along with the fact that Caroline's father was taking a back seat. That is something I'll believe when I see it. Caroline's problems are similar to those of Sharapova in the sense that she will have to make major changes to her game in order to be seen as a serious threat to the top players. I hope Högstedt will be telling her more during those horrible on court coaching visits than "she's gonna cave any minute now". Still I expect to see her father back on court screaming at her in Polish by the end of the year.

Since the off season is in full effect until the end of December every country is busy hyping it's top junior players. Keeping my focus on the women Canada's Eugenie Bouchard was named WTA Newcomer of the Year, a surprise to absolutely no one who was paying attention. She fits the marketing model for the WTA and since we've been told ad nauseam that the Asian market prefers blondes she's perfect for their plans going forward. Last year's winner Laura Robson is still playing a junior level game and ended 2013 ranked #46. Sloane Stephens, who many thought should've been last years Newcomer of the Year finished 2013 ranked #12. Bouchard ended 2013 ranked #32, about where Stephens ended last year.

Not to be left out Belgium's Fed Cup coach, Ann Devries is saying Alison Van Uytvanck is a more complete player than Sharapova. Okay Ann. All that means is that she can move and has a good variety of shots in her repertoire. She's 19, and has won a title, a $125k in Taipei and ended the year ranked #100. I do wish they would leave players alone and let them develop at their own pace instead of labeling them "the next ____________" and putting more pressure on them than what they put on themselves.

The ATP equivalent of Newcomer of the Year is Jiří Veselý of the Czech Republic. I don't know anything about him other than what I've read on Wiki. He's won one challenger and nine futures and ended the year ranked #84. He did win the Junior Australian Open Title and made the US Open Junior's final. He exited the French Open in the first round and Wimbledon in the second round in 2010 - 2011. I'll be paying more attention next year.

End Notes

I think that come this time next year the top four or five on both tours will look pretty much the same as it does now and that all of the movement will be between those ranked between six to twenty. On the ATP side will Juan Martin del Potro or Richard Gasquet make serious runs at the top? Gasquet has gone to the enemy camp so to speak and hired Spaniard Sergi Bruguera i Torner (his full name) who won the French Open twice in 1993 and 1994. This continues the trend of French players going outside of France for coaching help.

Will last years breakthrough star Jerzy Janowicz be able to keep his emotions in check? Will Tomáš Berdych live up to his potential? Will an American end the year in the top ten? Will Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gaêl Monfils be able to stay healthy for more than a couple of weeks at a time? Will the British have someone other than Andy Murray to brag about? Will Murray be able to repeat at Wimbledon? Will British tennis, where we saw the LTA importing a Canadian to run it's tennis operations bypassing the man who took the helm of the ATP be able to stop being a patronage system for favored players and be able to compete on the world stage?

What about the WTA's huge investment in Asia? Will they be able to attract fans to women's tennis or will it still rely on joint events with the ATP to try and fill seats? Hell will they begin marketing women's tennis and not individual players? If the off season is an example I don't think so. All I'm seeing are soft porn pictures of players posted on women's tennis fan boards. Of course the people posting these pictures may have the mental age of 13 but some of this stuff is coming from the tour in my opinion.

You don't see that thing happening with the ATP do you? It's about the tour not the individuals. Yes you have fandoms that try and dominate all conversation about the men's tour (along with some commentators) but the official stuff is all very nice and above board.
Does that mean that in the final analysis the mens tour is run better than the women's tour? If so why? Is Martina Navratilova right to say it's easier for Roger Federer to be "universally loved" than it is for Serena? Can we ignore issues of race and gender when it comes to the polarizing effect she has on tennis? I don't think you can and that's why I will continue to call the WTA out for it's emphasis on blondes with long hair as representative of women's tennis. It also doesn't help that a player like Sara Errani is in the WTA top ten.

It seems that every year I end up saying the same thing about the WTA and I'm really tired of it. I'm hoping that the WTA will begin to promote women's tennis not just certain women who play tennis going forward. I hope the WTA stops behaving as if it's a fly by night organization getting rid of established tournaments with a high interest in its product to take risks in an area where the favored net sport is played with a shuttlecock not a yellow ball and where the YEC promised to be played in an empty stadium where canned cheers give the illusion of fan support.

Yeah, I know I did it again. I said the same shit I say every year. Maybe this year the WTA will realize it's potential to make a difference in 2014. Maybe pigs will begin flying.

Unless something major happens I'll see you at the end of December. Happy Holidays!!!

ETA: I just read that Rafa will indeed play Miami in 2014. I'm not sure how I feel about that.

Monday, November 4, 2013

WTA Official End Of Year Rankings

by Savannah

Here are the top twenty women players for 2013.

1. Serena Williams 13260
2. Victoria Azarenka 8046
3. Li Na 6045
4. Maria Sharapova 5891
5. Agnieszka Radwanska 5875
6. Petra Kvitova 4775
7. Sara Errani 4435
8. Jelena Jankovic 4170
9. Angelique Kerber 3965
10. Caroline Wozniacki 3520
11. Simona Halep 3335
12. Sloane Stephens 3185
13. Marion Bartoli 3172
14. Roberta Vinci 3170
15. Sabine Lisicki 2920
16. Ana Ivanovic 2850
17. Carla Suarez Navarro 2735
18. Samantha Stosur 2675
19. Maria Kirilenko 2640
20. Kirsten Flipkens 2495

Serena Williams is 5,214 points ahead of Victoria Azarenka, the only woman who comes even close to her point total. The rest of the top ten are eating the dust of the top player.

Source: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images Europe) photo 1424d51a-f9ac-4646-8e22-983c741a6d8e_zps5b93ad9f.jpg
Source: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images Europe)

Serena had a great year, a career year to be honest in 2013. She played a full schedule for the first time in recent memory and the toll it took on her mentally and physically was clear in Istanbul. She was running right up to the wall and somehow managed not to run into it. It looked for awhile in the final that Li Na would slam her face first into it but that turned out to be an illusion since Li was being stage managed by her coach, her every move dictated by him. Once Li was forced to stop cheating Serena showed that even running on fumes her killer instinct, her will to win would overcome any of her rivals.

I'm going to be honest here. Serena is 31 now. Her team got her over the finish line this time but will she be able to repeat what she accomplished this year? Will she hit the ground running in Melbourne this coming January? Will she be able to play the schedule she played one more time? In my opinion I don't think she will. She will play the majors including Miami during the US spring hard court swing and Charleston. The big question is will she play Basel again? She got a great welcome from the tournament and the fans there but a championship season depends on more than sentiment. And lets not forget the 2014 YEC will require the women to go from Europe to Asia and all that entails.

In fact the WTA's increased emphasis on Asia is going to force all the players to have to make interesting choices about where and when they play. I'll take the time now to say I'm going to miss Istanbul. The fans there are enthusiastic about women's tennis, a sentiment that's not shared by many fans anywhere else in the world.

But back to the top players.

I'm not sure Victoria Azarenka will hold on to the Number Two ranking. She appeared almost disinterested at the end of the year and you have to wonder if her mind is elsewhere. She appeared in her boyfriend Stefan Gordy's last video and the bright lights can be distracting. Li Na is close but if she has become dependent on Carlos Rodriguez to guide her every move I don't know if on her own she'll be able to push past Victoria, assuming Victoria is still interested. Don't forget Victoria's infamous ten minute medical time out because "she had to win" and it seemed like a good idea to feign injury. The warning Kader Nouni gave to Li may have set the tone for how other chair umps will approach the problem of Carlos Rodriguez. Let's see if he chairs any more of her matches next year or if another ump seems to always in the chair for her matches.

I'm reading all this stuff about Maria Sharapova stepping away from the sport because of her "recurring shoulder issue". Yeah right. With Azarenka and Li ahead of her now and threats being made about her exit I can see more soft draws to get her through to the quarters of majors, pretty much what they've been doing all of her career.
Don't forget Sharapova has all those endorsements that depend on her being a tennis star. Of course we don't know the terms of those contracts and maybe they're going to expire. I'll believe Sharapova is leaving the game when I see it.

I would love to know how Agniezska Radwanska feels looking back on her year. On the outside looking in I'd think she's a bit disappointed. I also think she had some kind of injury this year. Remember all those Player's Party pics where she was wearing flats all the time? Aga is not that girl. I was also surprised that she checked out of the YEC so early. It was obvious that mentally she was on a beach somewhere having an umbrella drink or two. She has firmed up her game and become a bit more offensive minded though and it'll be interesting to see how she plays in Oz.

There isn't much to say about Petra Kvitova. Instead of playing all those exhibitions in the Czech Republic she needs to get in better shape. As an asthmatic - she was seen using her inhaler court side during the YEC - she's always going to have some issues. Her gut hanging over the top of her skirt shouldn't be one of them.

I'm not even going to give more than a sentence or two to Sara Errani. She has no business in the top ten of the main tour. If you get a chance go and see her play live. She's a junk baller with no serve. She can give people a hard time given the right circumstances but I'm still pissed about the two hours of my life she took playing a match that had fans in the stands going "for fuck's sake".

Of the three women left, Jelena Jankovic, Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki they can move up in ranking but it's going to depend on how they think about how they ended the year and what they expect of themselves for next year.

Wozniacki as we all know finally announced that her father will be stepping aside and that Thomas Högstedt will be her coach for 2014. I'm not quite sure what he will bring to her game but there's no doubt she has to improve her aggressiveness on court. JJ, under her brother's tutelage, has to be happy about how she ended the year. If she can keep it up she's going to make herself relevant again.

As for Kerber she shouldn't have been shoe horned into the YEC and she may think more of her abilities than she should. She's got a wonky serve and trouble closing out the big girls. She's not my cup of tea but it seems some are really anxious to make her a favorite.

I am going to mention two players not in the top ten, Simona Halep and Sloane Stephens. She had a very nice end to the year and won a total of six titles out of the blue. Fans are predicting her to take the top ten by storm. One thing about the WTA is that doing well on the International level and so so in the majors is a route to the top that many have taken in the past. JJ and Wozniacki of course come to mind. You just play as much as you can physically stand and suddenly you're in the top five or approaching the top three. Halep is going to have to play big tournaments better. She's going to have to get past Jelena, Angelique and Caroline. None of them are going to hold the door open for her.

Stephens problems are different from those of Halep. Sloane became the Queen of Semifinals in 2013 since she could never get herself into a final. The one thing I think Sloane needs to do is trust her instincts. She does think pretty well on court when she's not throwing temper tantrums because frankly her opponents don't give a shit that she beat an injured Serena in Melbourne early in the year. It's fascinating that she plays a great first set with minimal interference from her coach. After a good first set the coach comes out and whatever he tells her she goes off the rails and stops doing what she was doing. All that smoke blown up her skirt by those around her didn't help her one bit and at some point someone is going to have to cull the herd that surrounds her now. I don't know what happened to her first coach but he seems out of the picture now. He played up her strengths and her on court attitude was so much better. Sloane you're not the shit. Not yet anyway. You're young I know but you've got to start handling your business.

Finally I can't say enough about the effect the increased WTA presence in Asia will have on the players. It has to be depressing to play in mostly empty stadiums where canned cheers are pumped in to give the illusion that there are really lots of fans there when that's obviously not the case. As for fans twelve to fourteen hour time differences don't make it easy to see matches and no one likes scoreboard watching. I'd like to be wrong but I don't think I am.
I plan to watch as much women's tennis as I can and I'm sure other fans will as well.

I also hope the WTA will start promoting the SPORT of women's tennis and not try and sell women's tennis as a bunch of hoochie's who happen to play tennis. We're often told that blondes are big in Asia so I guess that's the emphasis on players like Sabine Lisicki, Kerber and yes, Sharapova. That's why I don't see Pova walking away from the sport. They're going to find some way for her to win big again. You can bet that it won't involve her making too many changes to her game though. I think that horse is long gone.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Best of the Rest

by Savannah

Simona Halep Sofia Nov 2 2013 via WTA photo f5bd6281-72ef-4939-b8e0-50ea82d1f56c_zpsb3d51095.jpg

I thought from the beginning that the tournament of the also rans was a dumb idea. Then I thought that maybe it wasn't such a dumb idea since it gave the women who play and win on the International level do deserve a chance to shine so I backed off criticizing the idea of the tournament.

After the shenanigans of this year I've reached a different conclusion: the tournament is being used to give WTA favorites a chance to win something pushing it's original raison d'être to the background.

Lucie Šafářová should've been among the eight women who journeyed to Sofia. Instead Ana Ivanovic, who has won...nothing this year on any level was granted a Wild Card. A wild card into a tournament where only the deserving are supposed to play for the trophy. Yes I know there was another wild card granted to Tsvetana Pironkova but I can half way understand that the Federation of the country where the event is taking place would demand one of its own be part of the field, especially since a WC was granted to someone who had no business being there. Lucie did win Quebec after all.

But I digress. While the male dominated tennis press drooled over Ana the real cream of the field went pretty much unremarked upon. Simona Halep, the Romanian the tennis press ignores in favor of Sorana Cirstea had won five titles coming into Sofia and she's the one everyone should've been looking at. Most serious fans of the game who don't think with their little head (or don't have a little head to think with) were talking about Simona though.

It amazes me that people still spill gallons of cyber ink on Ivanovic who wasn't playing well before she dropped so much weight. Because of all the smoke that's been blown up Ana's ass by TD's and tennis "journalists" she's never been forced to have to rethink and improve her game. She's pretty much playing the same way she did years ago barely acknowledging that the game has changed, that the skill set required to be at the top of the sport has changed. But she keeps getting soft draws and manages to win a few matches before being eliminated from contention. It's just like a parent coddling a child. Said child will have to step out of the nest and find out the world doesn't think the sun rises and sets on his or her head. Chaos often ensues afterward.

With her win in Sofia Halep has won a total of six titles this year and will be ranked #11. Ivanovic is currently ranked #16.

I think that Halep, if she remains injury free has a chance at wreaking havoc among the players ranked 4 to 10. A lot will depend on how she handles the transition from the hunter to the hunted.


There were no shenanigans like those surrounding the WTA YEC and Angelique Kerber when it came to the ATP WTF in London. The top eight men made it and it was based solely on ranking. It's the little things that matter when it comes to running an organization. The ATP is considered classier because publicly it is. No one expects an association to flaunt its rules so that a favorite will get into its championship tournament. When it comes to the WTA however it's pretty much the wild west when it comes to rules. Don't like one? Wait a minute and the rule will be violated without a second thought. In case you don't know who made it into the WTF here are the eight in their groups.

Group A

N. Djokovic (SRB)
J. del Potro (ARG)
R. Federer (SUI)
R. Gasquet (FRA)

Group B

R. Nadal (ESP)
D. Ferrer (ESP)
T. Berdych (CZE)
S. Wawrinka (SUI)