Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Rear View Mirror: Indian Wells 2015

by Savannah

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Halep photo 1738e5e3-8584-442b-8f79-1b08decdde91_zpscrp0l0em.jpg
via Jayne Kamin-Oncea USA Today Sports

I think people forget that draws are guidelines. They're what whoever controls the computer(s) that spit out the draw hopes will come to pass. They're not oracles, they're not set in concrete. What they are is best categorized as wishful thinking.

I thought about this as I looked over some of the reactions to the just completed tournament at Indian Wells in the California desert. Boring. Dull. Uneventful for the most part. Really? I saw a tennis tournament where as usual once play begins anything can happen.

So what were people most upset about? I should say who. Lesia Tsurenko must have put WTA chief Stacey Allaster on a psych watch after the carefully crafted draft geared to continuer her "great record" of reaching Quarters or Semi's at majors collapsed and instead of the mentally tough, highly competitive player we're told about Eugenie Bouchard crumbled into tears and an injury that didn't seem to affect her much in the third quarter when she was hitting the snot out of the ball in a way that would've aggravated an ab strain. Yes, every player has an off day since they're not robots but it's interesting that this happened to the player the WTA promotes as the bestest ever in the whole wide world!

Yes I'm being facetious but hard core fans know this is the truth. It's also why it's better to promote players who are or have done well on the court not on magazine covers. As I've said ad nauseam Steffi Graf would not be given the type of coverage her tennis would deserve if she were a top player these days. Meanwhile the WTA is losing a chance, a big chance of promoting the sport of women's tennis. Then again with great foresight Allaster has been shutting down tournaments in Europe and moving them to Asia. This while the majority of the top players are from Eastern Europe and the Asian players rarely cross the date line to play in Europe and the Americas and remain mostly unknown. There was the Chinese player Zhu Lin who saw her shot double bounce when playing Francesca Schiavone and when asked if it did said "I don't remember". She's known in the West but I doubt that's the kind of thing Asian players want to be known for.

While on the WTA let's talk about that shitfest of a Final between Simona Halep and Jelena Jankovic. I was talking about what a mess the match was and she said "But it was exciting right?" I told her it was exciting in the sense that someone was going to win. It was just a matter of who would lose their ish first. As anyone who was watching saw it was Jelena who said she was losing it and indeed did. Halep was reeling and looked about to give in to pressure the way she has in most of the major final's I've seen her play but then JJ started hitting the ball to San Diego. Shots she was easily making in the first set and a half were now landing in San Francisco and she was unable to recover the poise that saw her serving for the match at 5-4. Instead of a professional we saw a little girl who was begging her coach, in English, to help her, something he seemed totally unable to do. I'm sure those who promote on court coaching were cringing at the horror show between Jelena and Chip Brooks, her older, better connected US based coach during breaks. I don't know why she didn't have her brother work with her as he has been. Then again I understand Brooks worked with JJ when she was little. Maybe that's why she reverted to infantile behavior when dealing with him.

Meanwhile Halep had been mopey, erratic, and seemingly resigned to losing. Her hand picked Romanian coaching team led by Victor Ionita, looked on seemingly unable to do anything to lift their player's competitive level. I've said before that I didn't think they were ready for prime time. I don't think it as an accident that Darren Cahill, who works with Adidas, was in Halep's box most of the tournament. When Jankovic began to crumble someone had to give Halep a sound strategy and in my opinion Ionita may have been talking to Halep in Romanian but the words came from Cahill. Just my opinion. And don't forget that Halep had an extra day of rest after Serena Williams, due to injury, gave her a walkover in the semifinal. Marion Bartoli, working as a commentator for TennisTV, said that sometimes it is hard to prepare for a match and it doesn't happen. She's the former pro so I'll accept her statement as a fact. It's just that after the WTA had really had the more competitive matches and generated most of the excitement during the tournament it's a shame that such a sub par match chose the Champion. It was Halep's biggest win so far and maybe she's got that big match monkey off her back. She's playing Miami too. It'll be interesting to see how things shake out there.

As for the ATP, well, did anyone expect anything different? Some of the current world #1's fans bristle when there's talk of cakewalk draws but why do they get upset? Anyone who wants to can see that he's had some very nice draws. Does that sound better? What can't be made to sound or look better is that stunt he pulled in Australia vs Andy Murray. His supporters wonder why he doesn't have more fans. They know why.

If the issue of soft draws isn't an issue this statement to the BBC shows it does rankle the #1 men's player.

"Nothing has been handed to me. I had to earn this, to fight for it with all the commitment to my everyday routine with my team. Hopefully I can use this confidence for the rest of the season. It's a great start."

Ahem. Anyway Roger Federer made the Final after a straight set win over Canadian (cheater) Milos Raonic. To be fair I didn't watch the ATP semifinals or final. There was no need to. I was rooting for someone but he lost to the eventual champion.

What did stun me was the way Tomas Berdych lost to Federer. He'd been having a pretty decent year and shown signs that he was ready to challenge the ATP Big Four. Instead he went back to playing brain dead tennis and was easily defeated (over awed?) by Federer.

The people who get paid to look at the draw and tell the feeble brained fans who is going to win were beside themselves with hope the Big Four would all make it to the semifinals. One didn't. So of course the tournament was dull and boring. All analysis seemed to stop and attention quickly turned to Miami.

One of the problems of being a fangirl (me) is that once your fave(s) is/are out you quickly lose interest in the tournament. I do this for free so I don't have to watch matches I'm not interested in. It's ironic that despite Serena's withdrawal there was a reason to watch both the semifinals and final on the WTA side. Would Halep cruise? Would she falter again? Did JJ still have it in her to win a major? For me there was no such anticipation on the ATP side. Once Raonic won the results were as easy to predict as the sun rising in the East.

Was the men's draw more successful than the women's? In some respects, yes. With three of the four top players and one "up and comer" in the running it should've been "Must See TV". With all the big names gone on the WTA side due to injury or defeat why then was the women's tennis more must than the ATP, at least for this fan? Let's not forget that the WTA players are making their own narratives independent of their Association so what they've done to make their sport interesting is remarkable. Serena Williams is a legend and a phenomenon not only in tennis but in sport. In a different way so is Maria Sharapova who did get a lot more support from the WTA than Serena did. But neither of them played in the semi finals and yet I wouldn't miss the semi's and the final for anything.

I'm working on my attitude for Miami. I think this tournament has suffered coming after Indian Wells, especially since Larry Ellison has put his money where his mouth is and upgraded the tournament and succeeded in getting Serena Williams to come back and play there. I know, I know, it was the former TD and Stacey Allaster who persuaded her to return. Serena hasn't said anything about that point so I won't either. She came back, she won without lifting that heavy trophy, and that was the big story at Indian Wells this year. As for her injury don't forget that picture I posted of that heavy wrap on her left knee in Los Angeles. Sometimes if one limb hurts you overcompensate with the other one. Serena said if she'd had two days to rest instead of one she would've played. I believe her.

End Note

Remember the WTA's "Strong is Beautiful" campaign? WTA players posed for heavily Photoshopped glamour shots to try and show that these athletic women were also beautiful. I don't know if the campaign drew many new fans to women's tennis but I thought it was a missed opportunity for the WTA. Give a make up artist and a photographer free range to recreat a woman's image and what you get will be different, if not totally representative of the woman they're supposed to be showing the world.

There are many tennis fans who only learned about Anna Wintour because she's a fan of Roger Federer and is often seen sitting with his family at big tournaments. Some enlightened souls may knew her from the movie "The Devil Wears Prada" a thinly veiled swipe at her management style at the magazine she's run for years, "Vogue", US Vogue to be precise.

But Wintour is a tennis fan and it's ironic that it was her magazine, a publication that has been under attack by the fashion industry recently, who showed the world that strong is indeed beautiful. Vogue has the pull to bring in Annie Leibovitz who's portraits are world renowned and with just three images she's put all the WTA fluffery to shame.

Let's start with the cover of the latest edition. It features one Serena Williams as many have never seen her before. We've seen her in full battle mode on the court but have we ever "seen" her when she's off court? When she's just being Serena? If you've seen the cover of this month's US Vogue you have.

Serena by Annie Leibovitz photo 49ac98eb-6d0a-494b-89f2-9ff876fb31c3_zpstb8xivoc.jpg
photo Vogue USA by Annie Leibovitz

All of the competitiveness, the ferocity, the intelligence and yes the woman, are visible here. No soft around the edges overly made up pretend mannequin here. Leibovitz presents us with a female athlete at the height of her power. For black women what is even more amazing is that there is no photoshopping, no skin lightening, no shading of her real nose, no heavily lined eyes. In fact because of the simplicity of the (very expensive) dress she's wearing nothing distracts you from those eyes. No ear rings, no jewelry. Just one Serena Williams in all her, dare I say it, glory.

Woz by Annie Leibovitz photo 320b0581-e558-4286-acc0-58fa329180a4_zpskbrztk40.jpg
Vogue USA by Annie Leibovitz

Then there is this startling, somewhat shocking picture of Caroline Wozniacki. We've never been allowed to see Caroline as an athlete. We've been sold a pretty blonde with an angelic face, nice body, and a pretty smile. Here she is presented as "athlete". I don't think the nick name she was given, Sunshine, would cross your mind after seeing this portrait. She is a fighter, a competitor, a woman proud of what she's made her body into. People say "Oh she's run a marathon" without understanding what it takes to run a full marathon. The woman in this photograph ran a marathon and finished it. Of that there is no doubt.

Annie Leibovitz photo serena-williams-april-2015-vogue annie leibovitz_zpsxobkrhjz.jpg
Vogue USA Annie Leibovitz

There isn't much to say about this picture. When I was growing up you always heard talk about that "woman in a red dress". Well here she is. No wonder other women envied her and men wanted her.

Yes strong is beautiful. It just took clear eyed vision to bring that point home.

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1 comment:

Randy Burgess said...

Good wrap-up!

I was doing double-takes when I tuned into the IW women's final in mid-match. Halep looked to me like she was having the worst, most poutiest day of her career, and then from out of nowhere JJ melted down like a cheeseburger left on the grill too long. I don't know JJ as a player so I would have to ask, does she do this sort of thing regularly? A melt-down of that scale reminds me almost of another player with JJ for initials, except that JJ would have mashed up his racket & cursed at a few people. This WTA JJ seems less obnoxious.

As for Berdych there was at least one person on twitter (Andrew Burton) speculating that Berdych might have been hurt & thus not able to hit his backhand as usual. I didn't see much sign of that but his serve was off too. What a weird match that was. Federer played well but B. handed it up to him.

I only watched the first few games of the men's final. With Federer, I can tell from the first game or two if he's going to have a subpar day by his standards, and it was clear he would. So I switched off. I'm a fan but watching him on his bad days hasn't been a pleasure for oh, about 6 or 7 years now.

I can't quite read between the lines to see who you were rooting for on the men's side. "He lost to the eventual champion." Umm . . . Marcos? No. Isner? Can't be! Albert R-V?? Naw. Maybe it's this guy "Bye" who Djokovic seems to own?

I do agree the WTA side of IW was more fun. But there may be hope soon for the ATP to get more interesting. If Del Potro does not injure another body part & gets a few more matches in. Or if the 3 young Aussies actually do egg each other on as various journos say they might. And there is that Coric fella. And hey even Raonic might limber up those tin-man limbs and become more appealing. He looked HORRIBLE in the 1st set vs. Nadal but then he settled down and showed he can play. Even at this early stage he is a mile more talented than someone like an Isner.

P.S. Yeah, like those Vogue pics. How could one not like strong women w/muscles? Serena has always looked good. And that's a nice off-court shot of Woz for a change.