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.
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?
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)
(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.
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.