Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Report Cards: Zverev and Keys

by Savannah

Readers will recall that I decided at the beginning of 2015 to keep my eye on two up and coming players: Alexander Zverev of Germany and Madison Keys of the United States. I thought I'd look at what they've done since the last time I spoke about them and how their respective careers seem to be progressing.

I'll start with Madison since there isn't much to say. she and her team seem to be continuing down the "focus on the majors" path and as I expected Madison doesn't have much to show for that strategy.

Using ESPN's Results for this year her record is pretty pathetic. Her best tournament was predictably on US soil where she made the final at the Family Circle Cup in South Carolina losing to Angelique Kerber. She was unable to defend her title at Eastbourne losing in the second round to Belinda Bencic after a first round bye. So far this year she has no single or doubles titles with a 21-11 record.

The young lady needs matches. She's still playing the same way she was playing last year. The problem areas are the same and she's shown no mental growth. She's losing to players who while not playing week in and week out have been playing some of the smaller tournaments and who are now able to out think and therefore out play Keys. You can't go out on court thinking your game will prevail no matter what. You have to pay attention to what your opponent is doing to thwart your intentions and adjust. This is why many young players are having so many problems. Yes you have to have faith in your game but your opponent isn't going to be standing across the net letting you do what you want. You have to force them out of their game plan and this is not what I see Keys doing.

Keys is not the only US player facing this dilemma but she's the one I'm doing the report card on. So far this year I'd give her a D. She is capable of much better. It's going to be interesting to see what she brings to Stanford next week.

On to Alexander Zverev.

Again using the ESPN Results page we see Zverev has a 2-5 record with no titles on the main tour. His best was in Båstad where he made the semi's losing to Tommy Robredo. He has been playing matches on the Challenger circuit though. He is in danger of believing his own hype and has been throwing tantrums on court when things don't go his way. He's still a bit too grip and rip for my tastes but if he catches the right player when he's able to impose his will he's formidable. That hasn't happened a lot so far this year though.

Still I give him credit for trying. Suffering is seasoning. No tennis player likes to lose and a smart coach will sit his or her charge down and go over what he or she needs to do when an opponent does A, B, C or D during a match. The fruits of that labor will be seen two to three years down the road for a player like Zverev who is still a growing boy. In my opinion he should be a bit more focused on Challenger level events and win a title or two there instead of trying to become a phenom on the main tour. I'll give him a C- for his work so far this year.

This and That

There was a sneaky little announcement that Maria Sharapova and her latest love Grigor Dimitrov had reached the decision to officially go their separate ways.

Dimitrov's PR people at Tony Godsick's agency put out a picture or two of Dimitrov nattily dressed,beaming and holding a racquet saying that he would now be able to focus exclusively on his tennis. There were also posts on fan sites using the exact same language about how this would be a good thing for Grigor since he would not be distracted by his high maintenance ex.

Of course no one outside of the players immediate circles know the truth of the matter.

Homosexuality and Tennis

So Jon Wertheim got dragged for being straight. Some background. There were rumors of a male player thinking about coming out. There was of course wild speculation but so far nothing has happened and the furor died down. Here is how one fan presented the issue to Mr. Wertheim.

I read your recent column and I think you continue to ignore the homophobia behind the scenes on the ATP tour. Since you are a straight man I am not sure you are aware of the homophobia due to your life experience. You write about homosexuality and men’s tennis yet your comments just prove a straight male reporter should not cover this issue! Jason Collins said he talked to a former ATP player who is gay and thinking of coming out. The ATP tour is anti gay and their comments to the press are PR lip service. The real question is would the ATP tour want a Top 10 player or the No. 1 player to be a gay man? The answer is no! The ATP tour functions on heterosexuality the media always point out the top players’ wives and girlfriends and children. The ATP tour is selling a product to audiences world wide and they do not want gay men to disrupt the product. Do you think the ATP wants one of the younger male tennis stars to come out as gay? On the WTA tour I can name ten lesbians easily. Casey Dellacqua came out as a lesbian a few years ago and it was not big news. I think Sports Illustrated is deceiving tennis fans by just repeating the standard public relations comments. The bottom line is the ATP tour is similar to the NFL—there are high profile NFL players who everyone knows are gay, yet the media protect these closet cases and engender the lie of being inclusive. Please get a gay male reporter to write about this. It is hard to take a heterosexual male journalist such as yourself discussing an issue you have no true understanding about.
—Brampton, Ontario, Canada

• I think the notion that you're disqualified from writing about anything about which you have no "internal knowledge" or life experience gets us to an ugly place very quickly.

We’re always open to dissent. Here, specifically, I’m totally open to the suggestion that the climate is less hospitable than I make it out to be. But I have spoken about this with players. And coaches. And gay employees at the ATP. And ITF. There are openly gay chair umpires. And journalists. The consensus: if a top player were to come out, there would be a few knuckleheads but, overwhelmingly, it would be met with acceptance. (I can also tell you that the top players on the ATP are well aware that gay men make up a not insignificant proportion of their fan bases.)

I actually had a bit of back-and-forth with this writer, asking if he had any evidence—anecdotal or otherwise—to the contrary or was just speaking in vague generalities. He mentioned Sergiy Stakhovsky’s remarks during Wimbledon. My response to that: yes, this would suggest some degree of homophobia in the locker room. It was also a Cannonball-Run style race to who could be first swiftly to denounce Stakhovsky’s comments.

Some day, hopefully soon, this will not be a theoretical discussion. A top ATP player will come out and we can see for ourselves how he will be received.

The Link is here. The link to the referenced article is also there.

Amy Schumerenka

This is the last time I'm talking about this issue (I hope). As long as the WTA promotes looks before talent the non tennishead part of the populace can be excused for thinking this is how tennis really is.

She does hit all the talking points one usually hears when women's tennis is being broadcast doesn't she?

The US Open Series

A few years ago some bold tennis writers were questioning the relevance of the US Open series implying that it was a watered down version of what used to be well attended tournaments featuring top US players. I said at the time that the US Open series was relevant and should continue. How do I feel today? I mean the events still feature top US players right? The series starts this week in Atlanta. Next week the top WTA players will be in Stanford. Then comes the Rogers Cup in Canada featuring both tours, Cincinnati the following week, Connecticult and Winston Salem after that and then the Big Show, the US Open.

Not a bad line up no? So why do I now feel that the US Open series needs something to bring all the top players to the yard? The Europeans still don't come until the Rogers Cup and continue to play clay events while the US Open Series starts. The bad blood between the USTA and the other federations goes back to when the USTA worked hard to get rid of Monaco because US players didn't want to travel to Europe and be forced to eat real food and be surrounded by people who don't feel the need to speak English to make them feel better. As a result the level of tennis is pretty low at some of these events. Add to that the weird broadcast schedule - try to find a television broadcast of Atlanta - and you've got a bit of a disaster on your hands. There's ESPN3 you say? It's the worst. When it works it's fine but more often than not a fan encounters buffering and frozen screens to the point that you sometimes end up five minutes behind in a match. I saw a post by a fan the other day saying he got it to work better by using some kind of a VPN or proxy to watch it. I may be using the wrong terminology but I think you'll understand. Add the commentators who could be anyone dragged off the street and thrown behind a mic for the amount of tennis knowledge they exhibit and it's simply awful for a US viewer. Something needs to be done.

From Jail to A Championship

In my last post I featured the mug shot of Bernard Tomic taken in what I now know is Florida style, shirtless, after his arrest in Florida. I wonder who paid his bail? Anyway he left Florida and flew down to play Bogotá where he was defending champion.

Some of the "we need characters in tennis" crowd must have been thrilled. I mean the saga sounds like something from a demented music video. They must also have been thrilled to see the shenanigans Tomic performed in the third set of the final where a supposed lower back/left hip injury vanished into thin air after a MTO and his win. I bet tennis gained tons of fans!

Will He or Won't He?

There's a lot of speculation about Andy Roddick coming back to the Main Tour. He's been in Atlanta with his friend Mardy Fish who is retiring from the sport after the US Open. If you don't think US tennis is desperate you should now.

© 2015 SavannahsWorld All Rights Reserved

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Fallout

by Savannah

At the Beach July 2015 photo a9e54d97-621b-49bb-8dda-9ae7feab7238_zpsgnntp3l3.jpg
Serena Williams Instagram July 17 2015

There's a reason I'm starting with this picture posted on Serena Williams Instagram and Facebook. It's a serene enough picture showing her sitting on a white sand beach staring out at the ocean. What is she thinking? That after a lot of tennis she's sitting on the beach taking in the relaxing ocean view? That for however long she's there she's giving herself a much needed mental break before the start of the US summer hard court season? Probably a little of both honestly.

Still, when I saw this picture it wasn't the calm scene or the beauty of the white sand that struck me it was her pose. There are lots of pictures of Serena on the beach and/or in the water striking various poses so what's the big deal about this image?

Keep in mind the opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone. At no point did I call Serena up and ask her "did you mean to say..." about this image that has been circulated around the world. And be sure that she didn't call me to share.

That said this post is called about what has happened in tennis after Wimbledon, in some cases before the tournament had ended.

Let's be honest. This was a dull tournament. There were some good matches but mostly things broke the way the script was written - in other words how the draws planned them to. Yes you can quibble about the outcome of the men's draw but there is no doubt a different outcome was desired for the women's draw.

Eyebrows were raised when something that hadn't happened in a major for a long time was drawn up - Venus Williams was drawn to face her sister. As I said before I don't like to see them play each other, never have, but I have this bad habit of asking "Why?" It's gotten me into trouble more then once but it hasn't stopped me from asking the question when something unusual happens. This possibility made me ask why.

Then there was the low key media campaign about what would happen if Venus won? Some clown from ESPN raised the old canard about Richard deciding who would win their head to head matches. Hand in hand with this speculation came talk of Maria Sharapova win Wimbledon. And the light bulb went off. There were certain interests who were hoping, praying even, that Venus would defeat her sister making the possibility of Sharapoa facing Serena in the semi finals with the usual outcome of their matches the last 11 years.

It didn't work out that way though and Serena won over her sister in the fourth round,Victoria Azarenka in the quarter final and yes Maria Sharapova in the semi finals.

What happened next was something that in retrospect still takes my breath away in the sheer audacity of it as it unfolded.

Any serious tennis fan knows that there are "trolls" who all come out and in sometimes the same language spout the same poison. Maybe a word or two gets changed but they're all saying the same thing. This time it started with seemingly random posting about Serena's body type and whether her hard won fitness was natural, the result of hours working to build up her endurance at 33 years of age, or if illegal substances were involved in scupting her body.

This nasty little argument started when Justine Henin was playing and will say now as I said then that there is a clear sign when a woman is using illicit substances, especially steroids. Her breasts shrink and almost disappear.
I'll give you a moment to compose yourself and climb back onto whatever you were sitting on and wipe the tears from your eyes. The physical evidence just isn't there to support that assertion. When it was there it was ignored.

There was more. In a much reviled article in the NY Times by a writer it says is a freelancer the assertion is made that most female tennis players don't want to be built like Serena with one coach going so far as to say his charge took pride in being the "snallest" read least fit, female tennis player. During this entire article not one thing is said about Australian player Samantha Stosur who has scuptured her body along the lines of a body builder. What most readers took away from the article is that other players, including Sharapova, who says she never lifts more than a five pound weight, don't want to sacrifice their femininity for fitness. Talk about rolling your eyes. I guess no one thought about these comments playing right into the narrative many ATP players spout when asked about women's tennis. What narrative? They're not fit. They're not mentally tough. They have no endurance.

I haven't forgotten the Tweets asking if a woman serving 125 mph is "normal" citing no names of course. So what does Serena do? Win the whole damn thing and show up at the Champions Dinner looking like this flaunting the very assets that some implied made her unfeminine.

La Belle photo 7ee963fc-ae87-48e4-b578-2367c2d52e0b_zpsr9fpbbx7.jpg

So back to the picture I opened this post with. Some folks think that when someone has been slandered the way Serena has that she will go off and say or do something that proves what they don't dare say about her publicly instead relying on these snide remarks and attempts at character assassination. What is she saying? You be the judge.

More Fallout

So there's this argument going on in men's tennis about the need for more "character" and less PC behavior in the men's ranks. Forget we're living in one of the best era's ever for men's tennis in terms of the quality of the tennis and behavior wise. We need more men willing to insult umpires and linespeople (not forgetting ball kids and fans), who show that they've got tempers and are not afraid to show them to any and everyone.

That said I'm sure Tennis Australia (TA) must've been thrilled to find this photo in their emails the other day.

Tomic Mug Shot photo 98065fe5-3414-45dd-b00e-8c92397f768a_zpsddgft8sl.jpg
via TMZ

I mean who wouldn't want to see a man you've invested millions in making sports headlines for getting himself arrested for a bs charge in Miami. I can see the PR now. Come see Bernard Tomic when he's not a drunken idiot at the "Blah" tournament. I know I'd run out and buy a ticket.

Then there's the other young Australian who is making a name for himself. I've written about him and have nothing more to say except that if he is not reined in by TA. Then again there's that character thing. People will pay to see hooligans right?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Taking A Deep Breath, and a Break: Middle Sunday

by Savannah

So lets see. We had a player call one of the best chair umpires in the business "dirty scum".
The spoiled brat of Australian tennis once again bit the hand that's been feeding him for a very long time (remember the story Marius Copil told about Tomic having an American Express black card and that he'd run up over a million dollars on it at the age of 17? The link is in Romanian I believe but most translation services can handle that problem for you).
The RFET in Spain is in complete meltdown mode with the head of the organization under investigation for financial shenanigans and the attempt to shame it's top players gone up in flames. (via @Genny_SS on Twitter it seems Conchita Martinez might step in temporarily. Yesterday it was a lock that either Juan Carlos Ferrero or Albert Berasetegui would be named to the position) so keep your popcorn handy on both these situations.

Oh you want to know about Wimbledon? The biggest news so far is that defending champion Petra Kvitova, who showed up at SW19 with little to no match prep and out of shape lost to one time world #1 with an asterisk Jelena Jankovic, fading so badly in the third set it was a wonder she could get the ball over the net. Serena Williams, who won a tough battle with Heather Watson, is the only current player, well maybe Sharapova too, who has the luxury of coming in cold to a major. Petra is not Serena. Petra is not Maria.

Simona Halep also found her way to an early exit. With her requirement that her coaching staff be Romanian born and bred she seems to be hampering her own career. To be the best you have to hire the best. That goes for Kvitova too. Since Petra declared that getting physically fit was too much work and that she was aiming to play well only at Slams I wonder what her coaching staff does other than pose for pictures with her in restaurants seated at tables loaded with beer and food? Her own fans think she needs a better coach. Sadly, like Halep, I think she wants things exactly the way they are. Maybe this loss will be a wake up call for her. Somehow I don't think it will be.

While we're talking the WTA lets talk about the draw as play gets set to resume on "Manic Monday".

A fan calling himself "Julian" posted the following on the main WTA fan site:

Wimbledon 2015 2nd Week (Round of 16)

Top Half showing number of Slams each player has won:

Serena Williams (20 slams) (5 Wimbledon)
Venus Williams (7 slams) (5 Wimbledon)
Maria Sharapova (5 slams) (1 Wimbledon)
Victoria Azarenka (2 slams) (0 Wimbledon)

The Draw - Top Half

(1)Serena Williams vs (16)Venus Williams
(23)Victoria Azarenka vs (30)Belinda Bencic
(4)Maria Sharapova vs Zarina Diyas
Coco Vandeweghe vs (6)Lucie Safarova

The Draw - Bottom Half

(5)Caroline Wozniacki vs (20)Garbine Muguruza
(15)Timea Bacsinszky vs Monica Niculescu
(Q)Olga Govortsova vs (21)Madison Keys
(13)Agnieszka Radwanska vs (28)Jelena Jankovic

I don't even want to hear about that "depth" thing and the WTA. This does nothing but show the weakness hidden in the women's tour. There are two players who, like them or not, have become the superstars of the WTA and play accordingly. Yeah I know Wozniacki will be back in the top three (smh).

Ignoring the top half for a minute Wozniacki, so dependent on on court coaching, is not a lock to come out of her part of the draw despite being the highest seed left. I've never seen Govortsova play but reports of her lumbering around the court abound and could make life easy for Madison Keys who wouldn't have to face a seed until the next round. With her US style of play if Govortsova is really that poor a mover Keys will romp. Aga vs JJ is a toss up. Will JJ be able to bring it two matches in a row? No one expected her to beat Kvitova but as I said in my May 11 post discussing weight/health and the WTA Kvitova was shaky. Hell right now Serena is shaky. But she gets an edge because of who she is and what she brings to the table. Caro vs Garbiñe is a toss up as well in my opinion but back to the bottome half. Watch Bacsinszky. Niculescu can give you fits if she's on but Timea is playing with no pressure, an always dangerous situation.

As for the top half with it's multiple Grand Slam winners the match I most want to see is Azarenka vs Bencic. Both are emotional players. Both have a win at all costs attitude. Both have a lot they want to prove. Pova vs Diyas should be a rout for Pova. I've yet to see Diyas play the "amazing" tennis she's said to be able to play. As for Vandeweghe, one of four US women in the round of 16 (as opposed to one US man and not the one you think) makes her current coach look like a genius. Lucie "I'm not that nice" Safarova, showed in the last round that she can fight back. That whould be an itneresting match but not a stand in line to get one and not because of Lucie. I'll leave it at that.

I don't like Venus vs Serena matches and don't like that the good folks at Wimbledon conspirted to force this match.
If Venus manages to win I think that opens thngs up for Sharapova. Which of course is the plan. If Serena makes the final she will win the tournament. And that is not a narrative the WTA wants right now. Me? I'd love for Serena to get the Career Year Grand Slam and shut the biddies up.

I should mention a Chinese woman, Duan Ying-Ying, did well making it to the third round. The play of the Chinese women is still at ITF level but let's hope they play more events outside of Asia to improve their skills.

On the men's side there isn't much to say. The men at the top and bottom of the draw got romps to the second week. It's hard for even hard core fans of Roger Federer to say he had a tough draw when no one he played has done well at a major. You can say the same thing about the ATP #1's draw. A romp.
In fact the top half of the ATP draw is like the bottom half of the WTA draw with the difference being the #1 player got this cake walk.

That said I think the seeds will hold for the ATP. Unless they don't. I mean look what happened at RG. They'd practically engraved the presumed winner's name on the trophy when, well, as far as they're concerned shit happened.

I hope everyone has enjoyed their day off. It should be an interesting week of tennis.