Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Future Is Now

by Savannah

I'm really just dead. I need some weeks off where I don't think about tennis and can kind of regroup. I've had a long couple of years."

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images North America photo f1704834-998a-4f7a-ba6e-a2e5ea98f4f4_zpsbc950392.jpg

Serena Williams said it all during her post match presser April 1 after losing to Jana Cepelova. I pride myself on having heard of most players in the top 100 but I never heard of Ms Cepelova before last night. Serena did not blame the quick turnaround from Miami to Charleston saying she's done it before and she didn't blame the thigh that was heavily wrapped during a medical time out.

"I'm going to go on a vacation, for sure. I need some time off. I just need to take a deep breath and regroup, and I think it will actually help me for the rest of the clay court season coming up."

It took tennis fans to say what Serena didn't. Serena has carried the WTA tour on her back for the last two years. She's played tournaments large and small bringing the smaller events larger audiences and of course more money. But watch the haters come out of the woodwork to criticize her for not playing Fed Cup for the United States. Nothing Serena does is ever good enough for some.

So where is the WTA going now? CEO Allaster sees the future in Asia and is doing everything in her power to set up new events or move existing ones to that part of the world. The WTA has also picked it's new Queen, Eugenie Bouchard. Forget the fact that the player a lot of fans are watching right now is Simona Halep. Halep speaks little to no English so that will hamper her in becoming well known in the immediate future. The German women, who looked to be ready to storm the top ranks of the sport have fallen off and look to be a collection of head cases.
Players like Dominika Cibulkova, Agnieszka Radwanska, and Angelique Kerber (yes Kerber plays for Germany but is ethnically Polish and lives in Poland) are the players trying to force Serena, and Li Na out of the top positions. Yeah I'm going to pay big bucks to see these women. I'm not saying this to be a bitch I'm saying it because none of them has the "it" factor. Aga's game is an acquired taste. Domi is a ball of action and a fighter and may be the only one who comes close to that "it" factor, that star factor. Kerber's game is the cure for insomnia. It used to be Aga who would send me to never never land but she's actually been improving her aggressiveness. Halep does a lot of things very well and when focused she will find a way to beat you. But she doesn't light up the court.

I haven't forgotten Victoria Azarenka. She's found a life outside of tennis. She's also been injured and came back too soon trying to meet the demands of the tour. I don't look for anything from her until late spring into summer. And don't forget she is not a fan favorite thanks to the shenanigans that she engaged in early in her career. As for Maria Sharapova I get the feeling the jig is almost up with her. She can intimidate some of the up and comers or those who's time has come and gone but no one in the top five is really afraid of her. Her biggest claim to fame right now is a candy and all of her endorsements not her game.

I'm going to skip the US women. I'm tired of talking about them. Their play speaks for itself.

So with the WTA's major talent pool seemingly centered in Eastern Europe right now it's focus is on Asia. After Li Na who is there? Instead of looking for ways to strengthen European tournaments the WTA is getting rid of them. Too bad. If nothing else the WTA may be forced to promote women's tennis instead of a single person. Yeah, I'm not holding my breath either.

The Fed Cup/Davis Cup Crisis

I've always argued that the format for Davis Cup and Fed Cup didn't need changing. Patriots would always turn out and play for their country and all was right with the world. I was wrong. I see that Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic and Nishikori Kei of Japan, both top players for their country, will not play in the tie between the two nations. I don't know any Japanese player who is anywhere near Nishikori's level. Meanwhile the Czechs will rely on Radek Stepanek who is more of a doubles player now. Fed Cup is having similar issues.

What should be done? I have no idea. It seems that both of these competitions are evolving into events featuring the up and coming. The big boys and girls need to be ready for main tour events and may deign to play Davis Cup or Fed Cup when their country makes them an offer they can't refuse. The reason this is somewhat alarming is that players are maturing much later now and their quality of play is much, much lower than Challenger level at times. If fans know they're going to an exalted Challenger instead of an event featuring the best countries have to offer attendance will go down and the stars will feel justified in not playing events that throw off their training schedules not to mention their yearly schedule. Look at what the WTA did after the first round of Fed Cup this year. How do you hold Premier Mandatory events after Fed Cup which every top player is under pressure to play?

The tours are going to have to sit down with the ITF and work something out. Berdych has suggested every two years. That's a nice starting point for discussion.

End Note

My sister is responding very well to treatment. She can follow commands now and is awake large parts of the day. She will be moved to a long term care facility shortly. This is very exciting news. Now if I can get rid of this bug I picked up...


Randy Burgess said...

Glad your sister is better. Hang in there.

Randy Burgess said...

PS about the tennis: Now & then Bodo can still write an okay column when he casts aside his cliches. And having read your piece first, I was struck this morning by how much his latest column, "Talent in Turmoil," resembles your observations. In particular, where you note that "Serena has carried the WTA tour on her back for the last two years," Bodo calls her "the only bankable player on hand" in the WTA. He then runs down the rest of the list & shakes his head.

Myself, I don't know. I am such a jaded viewer that perhaps the only thing that ails women's tennis is me. So many of the top players seem to me inconsistent, mentally fragile, or lacking the necessary firepower for anything more than brief runs.

I did watch some of the Miami games including the final. I admire how hard Li Na has worked to improve her overheads & net game, but mentally she was not up to the task this day. When it got to 5-2 and she began thinking about the sleeping dragon on the other side of the net, her fear of what might happen took over. I really do think Serena needed an excuse to wake up this time around & Li Na's fear was just right for that.

As for the fatigue Serena now cites to explain the Charleston upset . . . surely that is more mental than physical? What might invigorate her most would be better opponents.

Savannah said...

Randy LOL at that last comment. Serena does own most of the players in the top ten doesn't she?

I'm watching this match between Belinda Bencic and Elina Svitolina, two young women who are being talked about as the future of the WTA. I'm ready to take a nap to be honest. I'm seeing a lot of angst and drama but the tennis is meh.

The TennisTV comm mentioned that Bencic is being talked about as the next Hingis and I thought about When Hingis, Venus, Serena, and going back Evert, Seles and those players were young. They weren't smashing racquets and getting obscenity violations were they? Their approach to the game was mature and balanced. Why do the young ones today think they need to bring the drama?

The two I'm watching now are very young but neither has shown the maturity I saw Madison Keys display in her losing effort yesterday. Of all the young ones I'm most closely watching Madison.

Matt said...

Hi Savannah,

Thanks so much for your detailed (& always enjoyable) analysis, yet again! But most of all I'm really glad to hear your sister is responding well to treatment. Sending positive thoughts to you, her & your families over the coming days & weeks, all the way from Melbourne xx

Professor Livermon's Blog said...

Hi Savannah, Thank you once again for insightful commentary. Yeah, I really don't know where the WTA goes right now. There really are no bankable stars on the horizon and Serena can't play at the level that she's played at the last two years forever. It does seem strange that the WTA tour is banking on Asia when rising stars are seemingly from Europe. The WTA so wants Bouchard to be the next Sharapova. One thing I will say about Eugenie is that in the few matches that I've watched of her she does seem to have a poise that other players seem to lack. Beyond that, though I don't see that "it" factor...perhaps it can be developed, but I agree with you, there was something about the first time you saw Graf, Seles, Serena and Venus in a big match and you just knew....even if they weren't going to be at the top forever they had a certain je ne sais quoi about them. I just don't see it in any of the current crop of younger rising stars (the exception being Halep who at least knows how to win) and perhaps as you have mentioned Keys who even in her losses seems focused and purposeful unlike well you all know who I am talking about... So we'll see.