Thursday, May 29, 2014

WTA: The Future is Now Part 2

by Savannah

WAYYYYYYY back on April 2 of this year I wrote a post about the WTA after Serena Williams lost to Jana Cepelova in Charleston:
Serena, after saying she was mentally and physically exhausted said the following:

"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."

This week Serena lost to up and coming Spaniard (or Venezuelan) Garbiñe Muguruza in straight sets 2 & 2. She'd barely scraped by Frenchwoman Alize Lim in her opening round match. It seems that the job of carrying the WTA is harder than even she thought it was.

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Immediately fans and journalists began touting their favorite player(s) as the ones that will win Roland Garros this year. The usual names popped up: Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic (that one always gets a raised eyebrow from me)were the popular choices. Not one journalist based in a Tennis Axis country named the one woman who is poised to take a big step up: Simona Halep. I detailed the reasons why "they" say she's not a popular journalistic choice - lack of decent English being high on the list of "reasons" but I can hear the NBC/ESPN comms talking about things that have nothing to do with her game because she's one of those "Eastern Europeans" who crawled her way out of a hovel and is playing so she never has to go back to where she grew up. They don't say this openly anymore but I get the feeling it's always in the back of their minds and makes it easy for them to ignore her. I've also said she has nothing going for her except competence and the ability to think on court and adapt to circumstances. I'm hoping to see something special today when she plays Great Britain's Heather Watson.

The one woman who has everyone talking, much to what I hope is the distress of the USTA, is Taylor Townsend. She outplayed Alizé Cornet over three sets (she should've won in two but understandably got a bit tight in the second set)and showed no signs of physical distress like she has in the past. Her movement and nascent court sense is phenomenal and I kept asking myself what kind of player she'd be if she lost thirty pounds. She's 18 now and I think it's time her people got serious with her diet. If they were paying attention they saw that anytime Taylor was forced to moved by Cornet she lost the point. If Cornet was a different kind of player she would've seen that and possibly won the match. But Cornet got caught up in her frazzling and Taylor recouped her nerve and serve and won the match.
Can she make good shots? Yes. Does she execute a game plan? She did yesterday. Can she construct good points? Well she does make great shots. With her physical issues playing a full season isn't going to be easy for her. I'm sure she's proud of how she moves despite her weight but in three years when her class has taken over the top spots lugging that extra weight around will not be an asset. I'm not presumptuous enough to think Taylor's people read this space but I hope someone who travels in those circles does and gets to Zina Garrison and whoever else is around Taylor now. My critique is meant as constructive criticism, not the kind that got thrown at her by the USTA and Patrick McEnroe. By the way how's Lauren Davis doing? I agree with the person who Tweeted yesterday that the US establishment will now adopt Eugenie Bouchard and Milos Raonic as their own.

I know I haven't said much about Li Na crashing out before Serena did. There isn't much to say. Carlos Rodriguez is her coach. Has her game changed? Have the lapses of concentration stopped? Maybe what's stopped is his ability to stage manage her matches meaning that the chair umpires are enforcing rules about coaching. I'm not saying that's what happened the other day because I slept through most of the match. I do wonder if her outside interests are interfering with her tennis though. The other Asian women in the draw aren't doing so well either. But the monolith of Asia, not individual players, is said to be the wave of the future. Still there were no Chinese women in Round 2 play and Nara Kurumi of Japan got bageled by Jelena Jankovic today. In the original post I said the following:

...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 "Boybandization" of the ATP (and WTA) is coming right atcha.

I wonder who at ESPN thought this was a good way to introduce an up and coming player to the world beyond tennis?

The giggles on the other end of the line were totally unexpected.

Maria Sharapova -- known for fiery fist pumps, icy glares and relentless cries of "Come on!" that often sound more like a calculated irritant for her opponent than a positive affirmation for herself -- is pretty, not frilly. And yet here she was, giggling and gushing about her boyfriend, Grigor Dimitrov, like a Katy Perry song brought to life.

"Grigor is the best thing to ever happen in my life," she said between sighs. "He's so sweet and considerate, and because we both play tennis, he understands the life I live, because he's living it, too. I love him so much."

And the former No. 1 is not the only tennis fixture with eyes for Dimitrov.

Since January, only six players have had more visits to their players' pages on the ATP website than he has -- Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, newly crowned Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka and beloved veteran David Ferrer. And considering their average age is about 29 and Dimitrov just turned 23 this month, you can see why his appearance fees have gone up and a couple of big-named apparel companies are in a bidding war for his services. Sharapova's man is projected by many to be the man once Federer and the others are gone -- assuming he bothers to wait that long.

When the season started, Dimitrov was No. 23 with one title. He's now No. 12 with three titles. If the year-end tournament -- reserved for the top eight players of the year -- started today, he'd be in it.

And on top of everything else: He's hot.

I still haven't made it past the opening paragraphs. I also wonder why a woman got the byline and not one of the regular male reporters. This is the kind of writing you find in gossip rags where they take a release from a publicist and pretend someone did research before submitting the article.

If you want to read the entire article here is the link: The Rise of Grigor Dimitrov
If there is something worth reading past where I stopped can someone let me know?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

by Savannah

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I've actually been watching tennis. If you follow me on Twitter you know that. If you've been reading this blog for awhile you know that the time of year I love the most is when the tennis world is focused on strategizing, when point construction matters more than the speed of your serve. When a player has to forget that his or her socks or sneakers get dirty (I'm looking at you Pete Sampras) and make sure that they're in peak mental and physical shape because it's French Open Time!!!

There is nothing the sports world loves more than a sure thing. That way they can gleefully tear the sure thing apart and show how prescient they are. For awhile now there's been a lot of bitching about "the same guys win all the majors". As Randy Burgess pointed out in one of his comments why isn't Nishikori Kei getting the star treatment? He won a Masters. A Masters that was played in Barcelona on red clay. Don't forget Nishikori was trained in the United States. Remember all the drama that swirled around Maria Sharapova when she gave credit to her work in Spain for helping her with her clay court play? Commentators in the US were livid and came pretty close to calling her an ingrate and never giving credit to the people who worked so hard to make her into the next Venus Williams. Yes I went there. One thing about having a seriously ill relative is that you don't have too much time for bullshit. You have to cut to the chase. They've backed off of that tack now and are back to reporting how many new endorsements she has or posting photoshoots of her in various locations with her close personal male friend that, even when they're playing the same tournament she never comes to watch play.

But back to Kei. It's like his win never happened. No I wasn't happy about it but where are all the posts on fan sites hailing him as the new best and brightest? Oh, that's only reserved for Swiss players? My bad. I guess it's silly of me to think that a new nickname would be coined for him after that win huh? Yeah you're right. Let's focus on the players from the past who are trying to make some bank by coaching a top player or two. Funny how that can work out right Andy Murray? Then again Ivan Lendl was never a favorite of the United States players or press was he?

I hope some of you watched Madrid. I say that because while the US press ignores him it seems the powers that be in some tennis circles were doing all they could to insure that Mr. Nishikori made it to the Final there including allowing him to have what were nothing short of medical time outs on every changeover. It wasn't until Robbie Koenig and Jason Goodall loudly questioned the ethics of these time outs during the final that they stopped. When the trainer came out Nishikori was charged with a MTO making it so that he could not be treated for his injury again. That he retired in a Masters Final showed that without all of those illegal treatments he wouldn't have made it to the Final. Since it seems that many fans, at least those who post on fan sites and Twitter, didn't see the entire tournament they went with the line of bull that he got injured during the second set. Not true at all. But he's got some very unflattering nick names now.

But enough about the men. What's been going on with the WTA? We know about the new blonde face of tennis. We know that there is only one woman sitting at the top. We know that she doesn't have a coach that flies out of the stands to rescue her from her opponent. The fact that the best the United States has to offer - Madison Keys in my opinion, is still a few years away. The Sloane Stephens boomlet seems to be over and we're seeing the likes of Lauren Davis being touted as a good female player. Yeah. Right up there with Ryan Harrison on the men's side.

The biggest surprise to me is that Agniezska Radwanska isn't the force she once was. She can still beat up on the younger players who haven't the brain power to counter her style of play but her peers look to have figured her out. The woman who should be getting the star build up is Simona Halep. I've watched her play a few times now and I guess her style is too subtle for me because I don't see that she has anything special in her game. She stays focused, comes on court with a game plan and sticks to it, and has a good game, but she's not bankable to the WTA. I've heard she doesn't speak English well used as a reason she's not getting the star treatment. Yeah. Well right now after Serena Williams she's the hottest player on the women's tour. The world at large knows nothing about her and I can hear the ESPN commentators glossing over her to tell some anecdote from when John McEnroe was the face of tennis. The fact that ESPN has television rights is enough to make this woman nauseous but it is what it is.

I should mention in passing that Svetlana Kuznetsova decided to show the tennis world that she can still play top level tennis. She does this once a year so I'm guessing that was it for her. Talk about not being marketable to the WTA. Cough.

Still on the WTA I've noticed a few Asian players getting Wild Cards into Main Draws in big tournaments. I'd like to say that when you have more than one player with the same last name an effort should be made to say which one of them is playing. I mean I found a list that said a Miss Zhang was playing. I had no idea which one of the women with that surname was playing and without the first name it's hard people. I'm just saying. Li Na is still the big name though and I noticed that her matches are usually first up so that she gets the exposure in China. I don't have a problem with that it's just something I noticed. Let's not forget Li is in her thirties and that she has that festering boil named Carlos Rodriguez coaching her now. That alone has stopped me from being a big fan of hers.

You might be asking yourself what all of this has to do with the French Open. Since those of us who live in the States are going to be stuck with the know nothings on ESPN I thought a brief summary of what's been going on the last few weeks was in order. Those who live in countries where tennis is considered a major sport know most of this so I hope I haven't bored you.

All of the Slams require their own specific skill sets. Roland Garros (calling it the French Open is discouraged now) demands the most of players. Physically you have to be able to move on the clay. You have to know how to slide. Mentally you have to be able to keep your focus during long rallies while watching for your opponent to give you the opening you need to make the shot to win the point which gets back to the physical. Matches are longer and trying to shorten them is an unnecessary distraction. Let the players play. Creating a rule to get back at one player is childish in my opinion and has taken away some of the beauty of not only clay court play but tennis in general.

Still I'm excited. I'll be watching as much as I can. Who will win? Y'all know I don't do that. Let's see what the draws look like. Let's see who gets hidden in the middle of a draw and who ends up with murderers row. You don't think certain players are protected in the draw? Really? I get dragged on this all the time but I don't feel I'm wrong. People believe what they want to believe and see what they want to see. That is the way of the world.

I'm betting that the coverage in the US will focus on Wimbledon. I'm betting that no one will have a clue about Halep. I'm sure the Fanboying will be as obnoxious as it usually is. I wonder if Cliffy will know the difference between Serena, Venus and Sloane. In other words I'll have the sound off a lot. But it's the French Open and I won't be able to look away.

End Note

My sister has been doing very well. She has good and bad days physically and mentally but physically she seems to be doing better than mentally right now. With the amount of damage to her brain it's still a miracle that she's in the present as much as she is and isn't confused most of the time. A neurologist told us it could be another month before she's fully in the present. Of course I'm going to try and bogart the television in her room but again have iPad will travel. Thanks for all of your thoughts and prayers.