Friday, March 20, 2015

Why the WTA Should Live Up To Its Name

by Savannah

We're now into the home stretch at the BNPParibas Open Indian Wells. To say the least it was an interesting trip, especially on the women's side. Two of the biggest winners, Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland and Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine are women the casual fan has never heard of. In fact you have to be a real tennis nerd to have heard of either one of them before this last week.

Let's start with Ms Bacsinszky. We nerds know the name. She was around a few years ago and made a bit of noise but not enough to make her stand out from the pack.

via Daniel Murphy EPA photo 5718ca97-3a0f-413a-9378-4c8391f21ad7_zps0feijesa.jpg
Daniel Murphy/EPA

Timea's story is a little more interesting than that of a journeywoman tennis player though. Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times did a column about her.

He starts out this way:

When your name ends in five consonants and your best major tournament advances are seven years apart — third round of 2008 U.S. Open and 2015 Australian — you aren't a household word...

Right away he brings up the obvious: most Western European and American commentators will not have a clue how to say her name. When you have a commentator like Pam Shriver whining because a coach is speaking to his player in a language they both understand and she doesn't you understand the problem. And that coach and player Shriver was whining about were speaking French. I'll have more to say about this English only on court coaching thing in End Notes.

But there is more to Timea's story than having a name that is difficult to pronounce.

From the article:

She is 25. She was born and raised in Switzerland by Hungarian parents, father Igor and mother Suzanne. Igor was a tennis coach, Suzanne a dentist.

The quick summary is that Igor was abusive, Timea eventually demanded that her mother divorce him or she would leave them both and do whatever it was she could to make it on her own.

Suzanne left, Timea stayed with her mother and no longer has a relationship with her father.

Her story is not well known because she isn't. Tuesday night, she was only momentarily hesitant when nudged to tell it.

"I have been a kid of like a syndrome of pushy parents," she said. "I think it happens worldwide. … As a woman, as a young girl, you can never go against the power of a dad. You have no money or nothing.

"Actually, you have no chance to get out of it. Or you tank your tennis career and you lose matches. ... .On the tennis court, I knew that no one had, how do you say, the power on me."

Bacsinszky said tennis was her best opportunity for defiance and independence.

"When I was playing a match," she said, "if my dad told me, play cross court, I would say, 'Well, I'm going down the line.' I had to win the match, otherwise it would not be OK."

If this wasn't enough, soon came the gut punch.

"At home, I was kind of in a prison," she said.

She is 25, suffered a serious foot injury in 2011 and struggled for several years. She was No. 285 at the end of 2013 and is now No. 26.

The foot injury was a lot more serious than Dwyre lets on here. There were three surgeries to repair her foot and after self doubt set in she began to train in hotel management. It was in May of last year that she got a chance to return to main tour tennis and while faltering out of the gate she has not looked back. All of the hard work she's put in resulted in her upsetting Petra Kvitova in Shenzhen at the beginning of 2015, reached the third round in Melbourne, and beat Caroline Garcia twice in winning the title in Acapulco and Monterrey. She's taking time off after her loss in Indian Wells.

Heartwarming right? A woman's triumph over a very difficult circumstances, and proof that tennis is an addiction not only for fans but for the players as well. A lot of us tennis nerds will be looking to see how Timea does the rest of the year. As for the WTA? Their eyes are focused elsewhere.

The other story is about Lesia Tsurenko. If you follow the ITF circuit you know of her if not about her. Like Bacsinszky she is 25 and she's won six titles on the ITF circuit. In February 2015 she was ranked 92 in the world per Wiki.
Fans of all stripes can be forgiven if they didn't think much of her chances against the much hyped Eugenie Bouchard for whom Tsurenko was supposed to be a very small bump in the road on her way to the quarterfinals. Instead it was a flustered and teary Bouchard who made an early exit losing to an injured Tsurenko in three sets. Bouchard was said to have pulled an ab muscle causing her leave in the middle of her own serve in the third set while Tsurenko, who was warm, was forced to sit cooling off and possibly rendered unable to continue forcing Bouchard to play tennis.

What I took away from the match was not so much the result but the fact that Tsurenko has a great personality. Here's her post match oncourt interview.

posted by TennisHD2

Now that's a personality that will get the casual fan more interested in her and in women's tennis but nope she's not deemed a good enough ambassador by the powers that be. Sure she's had most of her success off of the main tour but how about throwing a few wild cards her way for International level tournaments WTA? Let's give her some of the chances others have gotten and see if she can make it at the top.

If the WTA marketed women's tennis and not one or two players it would be easier for women like Bacsinszky and Tsurenko to become if not household names, players fans both casual and serious, will start to follow. Hey they're both blonde Stacey! And she speaks English Pam! Win win!

On Court Coaching

They need to get rid of it.

That said hearing that Pam Shriver of ESPN was annoyed that Sam Sumyk spoke French to his charge Eugenie Bouchard (that's a French name Pammy) during his two on court coaching visits gave me pause. Let's forget that Sumyk hasn't been seen doing on court coaching for years and was very annoyed at the camera person getting so close while he was talking to his charge. Imagine Victor Krason giving a camera person the "back the eff up" look. Ain't gonna happen.

But back to this thing about him speaking French. What's the big deal? Yes they both speak English but the coaching session is for the player and her coach, not for the commentators and fans. Who knows who is listening? If a player has someone on her team who is monitoring the session that person can easily report back to the coach what was said. Remember when Victor got caught telling his daughter to tank a match in Polish? No? They swept that aside pretty quickly but those fans watching from Poland made a killing bet wise. But no one ever whines about Krason and his daughter speaking in Polish.

I also was taken back to find out that there is a belief out there that on court coaching was always supposed to be done in English. Really? When the majority of the top players come from Eastern Europe you expect them to stumble through an unfamiliar language during a coaching session? I don't pretend to know all the ins and outs of what went into the decision to allow on court coaching but I find it hard to believe that there was ever an "English Only" requirement. Since Stacey is intent on moving the WTA tour lock, stock and barrel to Asia how would they ever enforce that rule?

Get a grip people and don't try to claim Shriver's complaint was anything but what it was, an attempt to force the world to adhere to what the US thinks it should be. As long as there is on court coaching there will be players speaking in foreign tongues. The only solution is to get rid of it. Seems simple enough to me.

1 comment:

Randy Burgess said...

I remember that incident with Shriver talking so loudly courtside that James Blake told her to be quiet & she made it seem like she was the injured party. I was on Blake's side with that one.

As for Indian Wells I have been watching the night matches on replay, not being able to get away from my early-to-bed sleep schedule. I was particularly interested to see who it was that beat Bouchard, so I made a point of rewinding that match in particular. I liked what I saw of Tsurenko. The runs of these lesser-known players have made the women's side more interesting at this event than the men's, I think.