Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Day That Was

by Savannah

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Photo via Andy Brownbill/AP

Face it. The only match the WTA wanted hyped was the "showdown" between its new blonde Eugenie Bouchard and its "old" blonde Maria Sharapova. It's minions, otherwise known as tennis on air personalities on ESPN2, were talking crazy during every Bouchard match leading up to this one. At one point Chris Evert said that all of the tour was copying Bouchard and hitting from the baseline thus eliminating, oh, twenty odd years of women's tennis history with a comment that she knew was blatantly untrue. Fortunately I have the option of watching coverage on ESPN3, the online version of the network where they wisely hired commentators who usually work on TennisTV and where comments were made after a point was played and there was no wild hyperbole.

Everything was in place for a "showdown". Bouchard had swept through her early rounds like a hot knife through butter and amazingly some thought that she was going to sweep past Sharapova in the same way. I kept wondering what Bouchard these people had been watching. Beating up on Zarina Diyas is not playing a Grand Slam champion, like the champion or not.

The only hot knife through butter was Maria Sharapova who let everyone know she was not ready to roll over and play dead for the WTA's hype machine. I don't know what they were saying over on the broadcast TV side of the house but the only enthusiastic crowd support for Bouchard coming into the match was bought and paid for. Yesterday's match saw that many of the corporate folks decided to skip the match and those that were there were decidely meh about the whole thing.

I can't say it enough. Bouchard has no game to hurt the big dogs. She stands on the baseline and bludgeons the ball back with about as much finesse as a WWE performer would show. Constructing a point consists of battering the ball harder and harder. She did try to move Sharapova around but guess what? When you're moving her around and she's still teeing off on your shots it's time for Plan B. Oh wait, there was no Plan B.

I really can't believe that Bouchard was arrogant enough to come into a major without a coach. Does she really think she knows all there is to know and that she has nothing left to learn? Look to the top players. They've worked and worked on their games, and kept people around them who support them, make sure they're rested and mentally prepared for the chance of winning seven matches in a major. Knowing enough to know you can't do it on your own is the first step to becoming a champion. Bouchard has yet to take that first step.

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Photo via Ryan Pierse/Getty Images AsiaPac

The match I was looking forward to was Ekaterina Makarova vs Simona Halep. Halep came in as the number three seed and Makarova a newly minted top ten player. What happened next was a bit of a surprise.

I'll be honest. I've pretty much ignored Makarova and haven't seen much of her since she made her run to the top ten.
I have been watching Halep and to say I was surprised at some of her moves at the end of last season is putting it mildly. Firing Wim Fissette after his public statements that she should throw a match was a feather in her cap. She's not a win at all costs type of woman and firing a darling of the tennis world took guts. What happened next though showed either naïveté on her part or strong arming by the Romanian tennis federation. Halep announced that her next coach would be someone who understood her, someone who understood the Romanian approach to life in general and tennis in particular. Some said that what she needed was a coach who has been where she wants to go not a person used to coaching at the ITF level. That she made a mistake in taking the path she did re her coaching situation was glaringly obvious during her match. ESPN3 showed her coaches just before the match started and they looked terrified. If your coaches are terrified how are you going to feel? Halep admitted this during her post match presser.

Reading that transcript is revealing to say the least. (All emphasis mine).

Q. Do you feel stress before the match or does it hit you when you get out there?

SIMONA HALEP: Like I said, in the practicing I hit well. But, yeah, when I started to play, I just felt a little bit my body, it's stressed, my mind maybe. Yeah, I felt only during the match. Not before or yesterday, but just today.

Q. Do you have strategies to cope with that?

SIMONA HALEP: Yeah, like I said, I have experience. I had experience to play quarterfinals in Grand Slams. But sometimes you cannot manage the situation. I tried. I did everything I could this match. But, you know, just mentally because during the points maybe I didn't fight very well today. I just lost my concentrate to win the points, to win the match. So I didn't believe any more in second set, and that's maybe why I lost 6-0.

As I said her coaching team looked terrified so where she should've gotten support she got nothing. This is also an indictment of on court coaching in my opinion not that it matters to the powers that be at the WTA.

On the other side of the net Makarova played the way you expect a top ten player to play. She had a game plan and it worked since her opponent allowed it to. It's going to be interesting to see what Halep does going forward. She knows that fans and objective journalists see her as part of the future of tennis and if you read the entire transcript you'll notice there's a lot of "I" in there. Yes you are talented. Yes you have the potential, after 2016, to become the top player in the WTA. But there are lots of players who have the same potential laboring away in ITF events.
If she keeps the same people around her she's in for a crash landing. She needs someone who has been there, someone who will make her listen to them and give her the tools to deal with her nerves. If not, she'll be looking up at where she should've been.

End Notes

Continuing on coaching or lack thereof Martina Navratilova is very upset with her new charge Agniezska Radwanska. All of the quotes come from @stephintheUS who documented all of this for us fans.

Martina said Aga didn’t do anything in their game plan. She hit to Venus’ backhand too much. Didn’t hit as hard as she was in practice.

Martina said Aga never looked at the player box in that third set. “I could have just watched it from a hotel room for all the good I did"

It seems that Aga's regular coach Tomasz Wiktorowski lobbied hard for Martina because she is strong enough to deal with Aga. That last tidbit comes from @LazyGoldfish. So quiet little Aga is a diva off court huh? Doesn't want to listen huh? It's almost unprecedented for a coach to speak as bluntly as Martine did and I'm sure she did it on purpose. Ivan Lendl left Andy Murray in the lurch so to speak but he taught Murray to listen to his coaches. It seems that's the lesson some of these new kids on the court need to learn and fast.


Pink. I hate pink. Said in the tone of voice used by Indiana Jones in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" when confronted with the moving floor that turned out to be his phobia.

Wear pink in your private life to your heart's content. Do not, I repeat, do not wear it on the court.

And that is all I am going to say about that match from yesterday.


Randy Burgess said...

Thanks for posting again. There are no tennis fans in my very small household (one fiancee, one cat, and me), nor in my immediate circle of friends, so I have no one to talk to about matches!

Chris Evert as commentator: Arrggghhhh turn off sound. Change stream. Do anything to avoid. I really don't know why, but nearly everything she says is grating - like fingernails on a chalkboard.

And it's not just her. The last few nights I did what you did - I completely avoided the main ESPN stream in favor of the mix of various Brits & other strangely accented non-U.S. commentators. Somewhat to my surprise, I found Robbie Koenig positively refreshing last night in calling the 2 men's matches - maybe because he didn't have Jason Goodall with him? Anyway Robbie gives off a spirit of delight in tennis as tennis - he gloats over good play & keeps the gossip to a minimum. By contrast the ESPN team seems to do a lot of quipping & ass-covering & gossiping & speculating. I do like Chris Fowler, I think he's savvy & professional, but sometimes even he can sound like he is fishing for compliments about how insightful he is etc etc. Just call the match & forget the self-marketing.

There was no way I was going to watch Sharapova/Bouchard no matter who called it.

Lastly, very interesting what you bring up about Martina/Aga. I follow Martina in Tweeter and she is not one to hold back. I was especially interested to hear that she wanted Aga to over to her box. I know zip about how coaches look at things so I don't what that remark signifies. I'm assuming Martina does not have a set of hand signals to tell Aga what to do. So is it simply a feeling of connection & mutual partnership & investment in each other that Martina is looking for from Aga? That would be my guess.

I think it was Courtney N. who tweeted a pic of Aga's sour face during that match. What a puzzle she is. If she does not get the picture & start truly listening to Martina, Martina will fire herself in a heartbeat. She does not seem like a person who suffers fools or wastes her time.

Randy Burgess said...

P.S. Love this comment of yours: "Oh wait, there was no Plan B." True of not just her but of oh so many.

Savannah said...

You are right about no Plan B becoming the norm now. This is why old school players like Pova, Serena and Venus can still dominate. They were taught how to think and figure things out for themselves. Pova uses on court coaching more than either Venus (who has called David down in the past) or Serena, who I don't think has ever called Patrick down to the court.

The WTA is aiding and abetting the downgrading of tennis with on court coaching and now use of tablets. Shame.

rcm said...

I always look forward to your posts. I must say I usually watch tennis with the sound muted.
I"m sort of an old lady so I watch most sports with the sound muted. I am spoiled by having grown up listening to baseball on the radio.
Tennis isn't the only sport afflicted by insipid narratives and superficial self-promoting commentary. Olympics coverage is the worst!
Argh. A bit wordy here. Let's just say I like your writing and insights and look forward to your posts.

Savannah said...

Thank you rcm and welcome!

Don't be a stranger.