Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Rear View Mirror: AusOpen 2015

by Savannah

Complete list of Champions

Men's Singles
Serbia Novak Djokovic
Women's Singles
United States Serena Williams
Men's Doubles
Italy Simone Bolelli / Italy Fabio Fognini
Women's Doubles
United States Bethanie Mattek-Sands / Czech Republic Lucie Šafářová
Mixed Doubles
Switzerland Martina Hingis / India Leander Paes
Boys' Singles
Russia Roman Safiullin
Girls' Singles
Slovakia Tereza Mihalíková
Boys' Doubles
Australia Jake Delaney / Australia Marc Polmans
Girls' Doubles
Czech Republic Miriam Kolodziejová / Czech Republic Markéta Vondroušová
Wheelchair Men's Singles
Japan Shingo Kunieda
Wheelchair Women's Singles
Netherlands Jiske Griffioen
Wheelchair Quad Singles
Australia Dylan Alcott
Wheelchair Men's Doubles
France Stéphane Houdet / Japan Shingo Kunieda
Wheelchair Women's Doubles
Japan Yui Kamiji / United Kingdom Jordanne Whiley
Wheelchair Quad Doubles
United Kingdom Andrew Lapthorne / United States David Wagner

The first of the year major was ser up to be a showcase of New Guard vs the Old Guard with a couple of big exeptions. You had Madison Keys living up to the potential I for one thought she had despite and maybe because of the lack of hype around her.On the men's side there were those who thought Grigor Dimitrov would show the potential that's been ascribed to him by many who follow tennis. Instead he showed exactly why he's not quite ready to snatch the mantle of superstardom from the now reconsituted Big Four of men's tennis. The much hyped Eugenie Bouchard showed that she may be able to beat up on lower ranked players with her stunningly ugly brand of tennis but when faced with one of the top players she's got nothing and can barely think her way through a point let alone a game. Surprisingly Simona Halep crumbled as well. Maybe she needs to look beyond her country and hire a coach who has been where she wants to go. The same can be said of Bouchard's countryman Milos Raonic. With little to no game outside of his serve and basically unable to move while many think he's leading the charge for the future right now he's nothing more than a servebot.

As my friend and fellow blogger @Bridgepea pointed out on Twitter the Grand Slam channel for the US ESPN chose an interesting way to promote the women's singles final between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.
Before discussing their Final let's look back at the road both women took to get there, starting with the fact that Serena was sick the entire two weeks. At times it sounded as if she were going to hack up a lung. I thought it sounded like a pneumonia cough but I read it's bronchitis. As the top seed Serena anchored the top of the draw. She faced a veritable Murderer's row of players in her part of the draw. Yes Vera Zvonareva was just coming back and Serena should've run over her but like most players Vera elevated her game against Serena and played a spirited first set before Serena figured out what she was doing and romped in the second set.

After Vera came Elina Svitolina one of the up and comers who won the first set over Serena before Serena once again saw what she was doing and won the next two sets easily. Then came Garbiñe Muguruza who boasted a win over Serena and not much else coming into Melbourne. Once again the World Number One dropped a set and looked down and out but she came back and won. Notice the pattern so far?

Many expected Dominika Cibulkova to give Serena a hard time but Serena won in straight sets playing aggressively despite still showing signs of illness.

The big match for Serena would be against Madison Keys who won out over a reinvigorated Venus Williams in three hard fought sets. In hindsight this match was the true women's final. There was the amazing first set that Serena won in a tiebreak to five and the second set where Serena ran up a 5-1 lead and saw Madison fight off nine or ten match points before Serena won the set and match 6-2. The final would be fought between Serena and Maria Sharapova.

Sharapova faced Petra Martic (unseeded), Alexandra Panova, also unseeded but who came very close to eliminating Sharapova from the tournament before she blinked and lost the third set 5-7. Next came the number 31 seed Zarina Diyas who had nothing to bother her with, followed by the number 21 seed Peng Shuai, again nothing to bother Sharapova with, and then the match the WTA and US commentators felt would be the match of the tournament where Eugenie Bouchard would face Maria Sharapova. The only player who had a softer draw than Sharapova was Bouchard who romped through a group of players including Irina-Camellia Begu who had created a bit of buzz on her way to facing Bouchard and who seemed to forget how the game is played. She did take a set off of the WTA Golden Girl but otherwise went away meekly.

So THE FUTURE faced THE PAST and it was supposed to be a battle royal between two equally matched players. You have to wonder what Bouchard the comms were watching because frankly it was never in doubt that Sharapova was not going to lose because in the end Bouchard doesn't have the game or experience to defeat her. The match was a very routine straight set win.

After Bouchard came Ekaterina Makarova, newly arrived in the top ten who sent Simona Halep home with a surprisingly easy win over her. The same Makarova who played relentless tennis up to the semi final seemed confused on court, which is the most charitable way to describe how she played, or rather did not play.

By this time the press had worked itself into a lather predicting that Sharapova would finally win a match against Serena. It was obvious that Serena was still ill but even pale and coughing violently Serena was not going to lose to Sharapova. When it became obvious, even in the second set where Sharapova fought back to force a tiebreak, that that woman with the toughest will was surnamed Williams and that once again she would defeat the woman some want to see as her arch rival despite their head to head. That the ESPN promo featured "four time GS winner Maria Sharapova" vs Serena Williams (who didn't get her GS total mentioned at all) says where the media was for this match. Serena has fulfilled the prophecy of her father who said that between his two daughters his youngest would be The One.

The men's tournament also saw an unbalanced draw. The top seed got a cakewalk to the Final and I don't think anyone can dispute that. The bottom half of the draw was where all the drama and competition was.

I have to say that all the snide remarks by members of the British press and former players who don't have a Grand Slam to their name against Andy Murray need to sit down. Murray, under coach Amélie Mauresmo, is once again one of the Big Four. If you saw any of his match vs Grigor Dimitrov you saw how well he can play and the subtle changes Mauresmo has made in his game. Murray next faced Tomas Berdych who badly wanted to add the scalp of another top player to his belt. Instead in another long match Murray fought off the physical and psychological pressure (thug tactics) Berdych was using. At one point I thought the two would come to blows.

Oh yeah I forgot that Murray played Australian Nick Kyrgios, another future great according to the hype machine defeating him in three sets including one tiebreak set.

So meanwhile his opponent in the Final romped even defending champion Stan Wawrinka.

I will admit that I didn't watch the match so I can only talk about what I read afterwards. The first reports I read made it seem as if Murray just wasn't up to the task of defeating the current World Number One. It was much later in the day that reports began to surface about how Novak Djokovic went back to his faking ways stumbling around and actually falling to the ground during the third set. As the cries of "Fakervic" began to swell in his post match pressure Djokovic said when asked about cramping said he never said he was cramping. What was he doing falling down and stumbling around then? The answer made no sense.

Murray is known for grabbing various body parts when matches get tense and Djokovic's defenders cite this as proof that their man did nothing more than Murray does during a tight match. That this went over like a lead balloon is proved by Djokovic talking about wanting a chance to sit down and talk with Murray about any "issues" between them in the wake of the Men's Final. The article posted on " Tennis.com got very little play in tennis media outlets.

If you notice Djokovic does not practice his acting against two players and two players only. He desperately wants their respect and recognition I guess and Murray is simply one of the "others". Before the start of the Open John McEnroe was asking why Djokovic is not loved like Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. He has only to look at this match to understand why.

End Notes - Australian Open Edition

Overall I thought that the rise of the the New Jacks is still a ways off. The hype machines for various players worked overtime to make sure their particular player was part of the second week conversation and the draw somewhat aided them in that wish. In the end though tennis stars are made on the court and looking at it that way the New Jacks are still not ready for Prime Time. The technical skills the established players have, the mental fortitude, the willingness to play to the point of fatigue and then play some more is just not there in the younger generation. When Dimitrov threw his racquet in his match against Murray he announced that the match was over, that he had no more ideas, nothing more to offer. He had left his all on the court and the match wasn't even done yet. Bouchard's inability to even do the gracioius thing at the net after her loss to Sharapova is yet another example of not being ready. During Serena's on court speech after winning the Final Sharapova was at least able to look in her direction even though you know she was raging inside. A professional knows how to deal with victory as well as defeat. We've been fortunate to be tennis fans during the last few years. After 2016 I don't know what we'll be subjected to. Hype does not make for great tennis.

Serena Returns to Indian Wells

This is big news. In a first person narrative in Time Magazine Serena explains her decision.

When I arrived at Indian Wells in 2001, I was looking to take another title. I was ready. But however ready I was, nothing could have prepared me for what happened in the final. As I walked out onto the court, the crowd immediately started jeering and booing. In my last match, the semifinals, I was set to play my sister, but Venus had tendinitis and had to pull out. Apparently that angered many fans. Throughout my whole career, integrity has been everything to me. It is also everything and more to Venus. The false allegations that our matches were fixed hurt, cut and ripped into us deeply. The under­current of racism was painful, confusing and unfair. In a game I loved with all my heart, at one of my most cherished tournaments, I suddenly felt unwelcome, alone and afraid.

For all their practice, preparation and confidence, even the best competitors in every sport have a voice of doubt inside them that says they are not good enough. I am lucky that whatever fear I have inside me, my desire to win is always stronger.

Congratulations to Larry Ellison who made it clear that one of his goals was to bring the Williams family back to Indian Wells when he bought the tournament. It almost happened last year but this year it looks as if it will really happen. There are some Serena fans who will be disappointed at her decision and I understand where they're coming from. The boycott has served its purpose and maybe it is time for this chapter of tennis history, a very painful one, to be closed. The pressure is now on the people of that part of California. Let's hope they handle themselves better than they did fourteen years ago.

9 comments:

Randy Burgess said...

Thanks as always for the write-up.

Agree 95 percent with your negative assessment of Raonic, and disagree 5 percent - that 5 percent being reserved for the rare & strange sighting of Milos 2.0 (as the cliché goes). This is the Milos who suddenly appeared like a loose & angry Superman for the 2nd and 3rd set against Federer in Brisbane, and who nearly won. And there were glimpses of M2.0 during Melbourne. What is surprising about this fellow is that when he gets his confidence going, he actually has a good baseline game. I mean, scary good. It's just that M2.0 flickers out of existence so quickly. It's like someone didn't screw in the light bulb all the way. So we'll have to wait and see. I always thought Raonic's deficiencies were due to lack of movement and a boringly conservative mentality, but at this point it may be just a mental problem with tightness. So if he learns to loosen up (maybe stop with the gel?) he could become a completely different player.

On the women's side the most exciting viewing for me was Madison Keys saving all those match points against Serena. The final was for me completely predictable. Yes, Sharapova can fight hard, but what does she have to fight with? She will always be on the minus side of the ledger compared to Serena when it comes to serve, movement, & ability to improvise.

As for the men's final it didn't bother me in the slightest that Djokovic started stumbling around. I don't think he's faking; I don't think he's trying to do a psych job; this is simply how his body & mind react under duress. He has a weird physiology. As I tweeted during the match: "Djokovic going into his 'Oh I'm so TIRED' act again. Usually means a second wind coming." And a moment later: "OK, now Djokovic has fallen down. That DEFINITELY means a second wind coming."

I don't know why those who dislike Djokovic dislike him with such intensity, any more than I know why those who dislike Rafa or Federer do so with equal intensity. Myself, there are few if any players I actually dislike. For example I find Sharapova's game boring . . . and I find Bouchard's manners obnoxious . . . but not knowing either player, I don't dislike them. So I can't get much worked up about Djokovic. And I think it's true that Murray can't say much here: he gets a lot of flack for his body grabs during matches. To me that is about the same level. It is a mind-body kvetching act going on, not gamesmanship.

However there is one player I think I *am* on the verging of disliking - very much so, if what I read is correct. I wasn't watching any tennis back in 2001, so I missed the Indian Wells incident, but is it really true - as si.com/tennis is reporting - that Elena Dementieva told the press it was her belief Richard Williams fixed matches between the sisters? That is the ugliest slur I have ever heard a player utter. And this is the same Dementieva who sat there without speaking as the Russian tennis chief "joked" about the sisters? Maybe I am over-reacting. I don't know a thing about Dementieva, never followed her career and am not even sure I saw a single match of hers. But thinking about this makes me angry. And watching video of the booing incident, even more so. I had no idea it was as bad as it evidently was.

I have read that Larry Ellison has been trying for some years now to make things right enough for either or both sisters to come back; I am not sure if that would include a public apology on behalf of the tournament, or whether Serena would want it, but I hope it is considered. The fans in that stadium that day had plenty to be ashamed of. Maybe there will be some healing this summer.

Savannah said...

I'm going to look out for M2.0. It's hard for me to be a fan of his after that whole "I didn't run into the net" episode.

Re Djokovic: Before 2011 he either couldn't breathe, was about to collapse, broke his arm or leg (JK) or something that threw his opponent off. The first time I saw him do it was to Monfils at the US Open. Haven't been a fan since.

After the incident between him and Roddick at the US Open and after Federer snapped at his parents to STFU they started to do damage control. He became kinder and gentler publicly and only every now and then did something that could be called gamesmanship. He must really have thought Murray was going to win to pull what he did in the Final of a GS. It's why he now wants to meet with Murray. If I'm Murray I reel off a string of expletives ending with "when pigs fly".

As for Dementieva not too many people have forgotten or forgiven those comments about match fixing. Her recent behavior just reinforces peoples opinions about her.

I'm not sure how long they're going to be able to cover for Bouchard's sense of entitlement.

I've never read anyone put Sharapova's defiencies so clearly.

I always look forward to reading your replies. :)

Professor Livermon's Blog said...

Thanks for your writeup. There were a few things about the tournament that I thought should have been commented on more but weren't. After one of Serena's matches she explicitly stated that she does not call for coaching during the regular WTA tour events because she knows that when it matters in the grand slams she will have to figure it out for herself. I know the commentators at ESPN are loathe to criticize the tennis establishment but I was surprised that no one mentioned this as precisely the reason why the WTA should ban on court coaching.

I ended up watching very little of either final. I surmised that unless seriously injured, Serena was going to find a way to beat Sharapova and while I am a fan of men's tennis, I typically find the matches between Murray and Djokovic to be the least compelling of the Big 4 matchups. There were some good rallies but I always feel between those two that their matches drag on far too long with both players playing far too defensively given their actual skills and abilities to play more offensively.

As for the new guns vs. old. Keys seems to really be the only new gun on the women's side who as of now is capable of winning a slam. Stephens and Bouchard have unfortunately believed their hype and not worked on their games, strategies etc. If Serena does decide to retire post 2016 (which I actually think would make a lot of sense) I am hoping a reconstituted Vika or a more mature Keys goes on to dominate tennis.

On the men's side of the young vs. old debate Dimitrov is almost like the men's version of Bouchard, overhyped with little to show for it. He also seems to have the least "fight" of all the young guns. Until he develops more of a mental edge I just don't see it happening for him. As Randy stated Raonic can at times seem to play some semblance of a full game and shed his servebot image, but it seems to disappear under pressure. Nishikori, I feel like needs a bit of help to win a slam outside the French, unless the courts are playing slower. I do wonder what he could have accomplished last year at Roland Garros if he had not been injured in Madrid. He seriously had Rafa on the ropes in that match and I think his game is well suited for clay.

On a separate and pehaps gossipy note (so please feel free to ignore/delete). Serena looked radiant in her pictures at the park the day after her championship. And did anyone else find her remarks vis a vis her coach Patrick unusually emotional? I am wondering whether they are dating again...b/c it certainly seemed that their relationship had become strictly professional last year. Martina seemed a little salty about Serena equalling and now passing her. I didn't realize Steffi was a fan of Serena's: I found her remarks after the AO to be flattering and gracious. And seemingly Grigor and Maria and Nike? decided it was best for them to continue to pretend to be a couple? Looking forward to this season. I think a relaxed Serena (with the Australian behind her) is a very dangerous Serena.

Savannah said...

Hi Prof! A lot to think about in your post as well.

The talking heads of ESPN are always asking why a coach isn't called during a WTA match and lobbying for it to happen in ATP matches. Serena's comment goes against the WTA mantra and would be glossed over. Not to toot my own horn but I've said the same thing Serena did and will continue to say it. Did you know that the WTA is going to allow coaches to talk to their charges using tablets with all the stats from their matches during these coaching sessions? Excuse the language but that is so much bullshit. I mean really.

I LOVE wading in the shallow end of the pool Prof. I haven't done it in a long time though.

No one, unless they're being paid to do so by Nike or whoever decides these things believes that Pova and Dimitrov are a couple. Pictures of the wandering the streets together holding hands but otherwise not interacting with each other the way a couple would get released from time to time. Ever notice the pictures are taken in a way that you can't tell where they are strolling? I thought they were going to let t he contract expire but it looks like they reupped.

I did notice the intimate nature of Serena's remarks re Patrick. I also saw a thread where fans were raging about him continuing to coach her. There were pages and pages of people talking about how he's destroyed her game. I wonder if these fans realize that Serena at her age can't play the way she did at 19. Her game has evolved as she's matured as it should and what she needs from a coach now is different from then.

Steffi Graf left tennis and aside from a few exhibitions seems content and understands that records are made to be broken. I read her comments. Good for her.

Karen Williams said...

Savannah, it was actually Tennis Channel that advertised the women's final in the way it did. They always find a way to elevate Sharapova over Serena but that was just too good not to share.

As for those so-called tennis fans who think that Serena should never return to Indian Wells. To them, I say this is why Mary round the corner continues to live the way she does. I think that what happened with Ellison reaching out to Serena and the whole Williams family says a lot about the character of the man. He has a love for the sport that a lot of other tournament directors could and should look up to. He did what Pasarell (and I still don't know how he is a Hall of Famer) never could bring himself to do, which was to pick up the phone and talk to the Williams Family.

I can't imagine how scared Serena must have felt. Kudos also goes out to Stacey Allaster who seemed to have worked tirelessly to have her No. 1 player attend one of the biggest tournaments on the calendar. I know I have said it before but for all the faults that people find with Allaster's management she has without a doubt put women's tennis on the map. She has ensured that the women are well trained and that there is more interactiveness between the fans and the women. She has also forced the women to be more media savvy. I have to say that I completely enjoy Sharapova's tweets and I have begun to even become a fan. Serena going back to the desert is akin to Jackie Robinson changing the face and colour of baseball. It is not easy when you try to rewrite your history but kudos to Indian Wells and Serena for doing their part to accomplish this.

Karen Williams said...

Prof, I too thought that Serena was quite emotional about Patrick and what he meant in her life. I also thought it was a dig at Pova who had blasted them both at Wimbledon about their relationship. As for Dementieva, it wasn't only at Indian Wells that she said this. She also said it in 2009 at Wimbledon after she lost to Serena in the semifinals. Yeah, I have no love for Dementieva. People defended her when Tarpishev made his disparaging remarks about the Williams Sisters but like they say where I come from, show me your friends and I tell you who you are. She could have said something. She could have spoken up but she preferred to remain silent.

lbedi said...

I'm dissapointed Serena is returning to IW. How can you go back to a tournament that continues to deny the events of that day in 2001?

They have never acknowledged that Serena, Venus and Richard were the subject of abuse, threats and overt racism.

In other words the tournament and the media brandished the William's family as liars.

You cannot forgive, when the other side refuses to apologize.

Lost respect for Serena

Randy Burgess said...

I suppose there is some line-treading being done by Larry Ellison - he probably doesn't want to piss off anyone for making comments about something that occurred when he wasn't even interested in tennis, let alone had anything to do with Indian Wells. I did some Googling and all I've been able to find so far is from a 2011 story in USA Today where he is quoted about Serena and Venus as follows:

"I don't know what happened here, but it deeply offended them. I would do anything I could to make them feel welcome and comfortable so they'll come back. But they're strong people and I respect whatever decision they make, to come back or not to come back."

However Raymond Moore appears to have been more forthcoming. I don't know Bill Simons as a tennis writer, but he did an interview with Moore that got published Feb. 5 on InsideTennis.com. Among other things he quotes Moore as follows:

"Unfortunately, the situation here in Indian Wells in 2001 was [an example of] ugly human traits. When it actually happened and the booing was taking place, I turned to the person I was sitting next to and said, 'You know, she’s 19, and I cannot imagine a male tennis player ten years older than her handling it the way she is.' I only learned from her letter that she was crying in the dressing room afterward and all the way home."

Moore also compares Serena to Arthur Ashe: "In my personal knowledge of players, you have to talk about Arthur and Andre Agassi in the highest terms. There aren’t many like them. Now, I just have a feeling - from talking with [Serena], from her letter, and from her embrace of the Equal Justice Initiative [which seeks legal representation for poor defendants and prisoners denied just treatment] - that when she’s finished playing we haven’t heard the last from her."

And finally in the interview Moore is asked whether he has ever gotten tired of people raising the 2001 incident as an issue. He replies, "No, I never got tired of it. I just wished that I wasn’t so hapless, in not being able to sit down with Serena and Venus and Richard and Oracene and say, 'This is how we feel.' It was a totally helpless feeling, and I really did not enjoy it. With the benefit of hindsight, would it have been better to do that? I believe it would have, but maybe not. Maybe Serena wasn’t ready. Now she’s ready."

To me, this all sounds positive. My own personal reaction as I learned much more about this incident in the last week than I had ever known is that if I had been running the tournament back then, I would have boiled over & said something public in the strongest terms about how it was unacceptable. But people who actually run tournaments have a lot of toes they can't afford to tread on. If Serena is ready to play there, and if they handle her return with respect & graciousness, then that will go a long way with me & probably with many fans. I can only hope that those fans who actually attend the event give her respect & appreciation as well.

Savannah said...

Randy that is a great interview and thank you for posting it here.