Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The ATP At A Crossroads

by Savannah

2015 Davis Cup Champion photo d8644ece-909d-41fc-8dbd-aee302ab22a2_zpsxuxtdyuw.jpg
via Getty Images

Just before the Davis Cup Finals began David Lloyd , former British Davis Cup captain and brother of John Lloyd who was once married to Chris Evert, launched a scathing critique of England's best, and only, tennis star Andy Murray. He was in such a lather that he attacked not only the player but his mother, Judy Murray. What was Lloyd so upset about?

Andy Murray does not give enough back to the sport, while the Lawn Tennis Association has frittered away hundreds of millions without producing a single world-class talent.

‘The British players in recent years who have been good - Tim Henman, Greg Rusedski, Andy - they don’t in my opinion put enough back. They would say “Well, we’re winning this and winning that”. But I don’t mean that. I mean putting your heart and soul into it, a passion that is bigger than the person and even bigger than the game.

‘It’s about getting a kid who wants to play for Manchester United to want to play tennis instead. Andy is in such an incredible position with power to do that but he doesn’t. Tim is on the board of the LTA but he’s not out there grabbing people and that disappoints me.’


‘All these top players mask the failings, it is a pitiful organisation,’ said David. ‘They built a National Training Centre for £40million. That is my business, I’ve built lots of them. I know how much they cost and it’s maximum £10m, so where did the other £30m go?’

Lloyd also criticised the top players for not promoting the sport as well as they could.

‘I don’t think Andy does justice in presenting himself,’ said Lloyd. ‘I don’t think he goes out of his way to present the game. I only say things because I cannot believe we’ve been this unlucky

His criticism of the LTA (Lawn Tennis Association) is valid and no one is disputing that. What had people up in arms was his attack on the Murray family right before the beginning of the tie. Did he want England to lose? What macabre joy would he get out of that I wonder? Is he upset because Murray, of Scottish descent, came out for Scottish independence? There were many on Twitter who called Murray a hypocrite because he draped himself in the Union Jack and they at least had the balls to say that his stance on independence affected their perspective.

And what about his list of "great" British players. Rusedski, many of you will recall, was born in Canada and became a British citizen because one of his parents was born there. There was also quite an uproar about it as I recall.

Tim Henman's style of play was archaic while he was still playing.

As for the brothers Lloyd the less said the better.

You can't discuss Great Britain - England in particular - without at least touching on its caste system. The Lloyd brothers and Tim Henman are part of the inner circle, the upper class from which most tennis players were drawn. How do they go out to working or lower middle class families to try and convince them that tennis is the way to go and that they should ignore Man United? They barely concede that these people exist. It's one thing to cheer a player on the field. It's quite another thing to sit down with his family to discuss their talented son's sports options. They can't and they never will.

So why does it fall on the clan Murray to do so much? Judy Murray is doing all she can to build up girls and women's tennis in Great Britain yet she is accused of doing nothing. Are the Murray's, because of their ethnicity assumed to be able to reach kids outside of the public (really private) schools?

Needless to say Lloyd's ravings were not accepted by tennis fans, many of whom have been following the sport for years and know that the problem with British tennis isn't that the Murray clan isn't doing enough. It's that they've got no idea how to teach the modern game. If you listen to their commentary you get the impression that they despise it and long for the return of serve and volley as not just a tactic but the only way to play the game.

After Kyle Edmund's dreadful loss in the first rubber there were a lot of posts on Twitter about how well he did and that he is a bright light for the future. Uh huh. There is a British player who could possibly have taken some of the weight off of the Murray brother's shoulders but despite his change of citizenship the LTA doesn't seem in a hurry to ensure that he's eligible to play for Great Britain. It's galling that British superstar Dan Evans (ranked 185) gets credit for being on a winning Davis Cup team that he contributed absolutely nothing to. At least Edmund (ranked 102) tried.

The British reached the Davis Cup Final for the first time since 1936 on the back of Andy and Jamie Murray. They are Davis Cup Champions because of Clan Murray. They know this is the truth, a truth that galls them. What should have them in a panic is that there is absolutely no one ready to step into Andy Murray's sneakers. No one. And that is not Andy Murray's fault.

This post, the last one until summer season down under starts, is about the ATP as a whole though. Why do I say it's at a crossroads? It's widely perceived that it is the better run tour, that the caliber of it's top ten is much, much higher than that of the women's tour, that its tournaments draw more fans and more interest and that it promotes the GAME of mens tennis not just it's superstars or a specific look.

Let's look at the ATP Year End Top 20 rankings:

1 Novak Djokovic 16585
2 Andy Murray 8945
3 Roger Federer 8265
4 Stan Wawrinka 6865
5 Rafael Nadal 5230
6 Tomas Berdych 4620
7 David Ferrer 4305
8 Kei Nishikori 4235
9 Richard Gasquet 2850
10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 2635

11 John Isner 2495
12 Kevin Anderson 2475
13 Marin Cilic 2405
14 Milos Raonic 2170
15 Gilles Simon 2145
16 David Goffin 1880
17 Feliciano Lopez 1690
18 Bernard Tomic 1675
19 Benoit Paire 1633
20 Dominic Thiem 1600

What a dominant top player huh? He had a good year and fans should be flocking to him right? Well, no. That is not the way things are going. The tennis press, and some comms, are working very hard to try to rally fans to the number one. They've tried everything: guilt, shame, ethnic bias, you name it, to try and make fans like a player they are intent on not liking. I've often said that tennis fans are like cats. Try and make them go in one direction and they'll go whereever it is they want to go thank you very much.

The truth of the matter is that the current top player is a known quanity. He's been faking his way through matches for years and guess what - fans notice it! And they don't like it, or him. There is a litany of illnesses that have come and gone when it comes to him. His use of the hyperbaric chamber that wasn't a hyperbaric chamber was shoved out of public discussion by what passes as tennis journalism. The full court press is now on to make us like him. So far it's not working. The powers that be at the ATP know that an unpopular top man hurts their sport. I just don't think they can do anything to change things now.

The same is being done for the two spoiled brats from Australia, Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios. Just yesterday the head of Tennis Australia said in an interview that the two have now matured, that they've "turned the corner" and that al we can expect from them going forward is qualify tennis.

Here's an excerpt" from that interview:

Both players endured turbulent years with on and off court controversies, including brushes with officialdom and the law, overshadowing anything they did on court.

Despite being the nation's top-ranked players, neither was considered as nominees for the prestigious Newcombe Medal -- which rewards Australia's "most outstanding elite tennis player and ambassador".

But Tiley said Tennis Australia had mended its fences with the pair and he expected them to be on their best behaviour at their home Grand Slam, the Australian Open, next month.

"I'd love nothing more than both Bernie and Nick to have a great 2016, as we all would," Tiley, who is also tournament director of the season's first major at Melbourne Park, told Wednesday's The Australian newspaper.

"There's no rifts; no animosity between Tennis Australia and those two guys. They are making a real go of a professional tennis career.

"They know what our expectations are and when they meet them they get rewarded and if they don't, they don't."

I'm not holding my breath.

There have also been some critiques of the generation of players aged between 20-25. Not one superstar has emerged from that group despite all the hype surrounding many of them. I don't get the point of choosing one player and naming his entire generation after him. That's silly. But I understand the motivation.

We can argue about the top three or four but the truth of the matter is two of the men in that group were winning majors in their late teens and early twenties. They were blowing the older generation off the court and into the broadcast booth. That is not being done by the younger group. Is their skill set less? Are they less competitive than the top three or four? Are they not as mentally tough?

I did a post earlier this year about the premature rewarding of promising juniors. I postulated that it freezes them mentally and that instead of working hard to improve their games they think because they caught a top player on a bad day they're the shit and don't have to do anything but what they've been doing. I made the same point in my year end report cards on Zverev and Keys. No matter how you feel about any of the top three or four you can't accuse any of them of resting on their laurels. They have all worked to improve their game. I don't see that happening with the younger group. I do see the men in their late teens making moves to try and move to the next level though so maybe it won't be such a long wait for another rivalry to appear that equals the Duopoly that still dominates mens tennis rankings be damned. Maybe I should call it the top two plus two.

I also have a bone to pick with ATP marketing. The WTA outdid them with their second tier championship tournament. People were interested in Zhuhai. Did anyone really care about the recently concluded ATP event in South America? If you judge by Twitter mentions no one did. Unless you really follow the Challenger tour many of the players were unfamiliar to most fans. I also think that fans were worn out and unless a fairly big fish was strong armed into playing interest flagged. I know some will say the positive reaction to Zhuhai shows the "depth" of the women's tour. Meh. They had Venus Williams in Zhuhai and that was all the marketing they needed. There was no one comparable in South America. Most of the good fan sites have boards devoted to the Challenger tour now. There is interest. I get why men in the top 20 don't want to play against mostly Challenger level players. Maybe the ATP needs to look at what the WTA did and see if they can work something out that will hold fans interest at the end of a long season.

I should say that I didn't forget US men. There's nothing much to say. I am going to be paying more attention to them next year though. I've decided to keep my eye on Taylor Fritz, the player the USTA is hyping the most. Currently ranked #176 Fritz has won two Challenger titles, won the US Open Junior Boys Title, made the Boys Final at Roland Garros (a big deal for a US player at any level) and the Boys semi final at Wimbledon. His CV is as follows:

Born October 28, 1997 (age 18)
Height 1.93 m (6 ft 4 in)
Plays Right-handed (two handed-backhand)

It should be noted that his mother played professional tennis.

The young woman I'll be keeping my eye on is Naomi Osaka, ranked #156

Here's her CV:

Born 16 October 1997 (age 18)
Osaka, Japan
Height 1.80 m (5 ft 11 in)
Plays Right-handed (two-handed backhand)

She's got no main tour or ITF titles but she really impressed me at the Rising Star event in Singapore. She should have lost in the final to Caroline Garcia but she stayed focused while Garcia, the more experienced player, fell apart. It's not too much to say no one had picked Osaka going in.

Will I keep my eyes on my first two picks? Yes I will. 2016 is a crucial year for both Alexander Zverev and Madison Keys. Zverev, the younger of the two, has a few years to grow into his body and hone his game. Keys doesn't have that luxury. She's got to improve her on court focus and demeanor. No one is afraid of her. She's a big deal in the States and nowhere else. I understand managing your schedule but International events are there for a reason. If you think you're a top player but can't get over the hump then you need to play more. She's in danger of being passed by Karolina Pliskova, Belinda Bencic, and others who understand that playing hones your skills. No one likes losing but you learn everytime you play a match. Winning is the cherry on top. Zverev, one of the yonger players coming up, is improving his game. Keys is stagnant and doesn't seem to be making moves to take the next step.

End Note

Unless something drastic happens I will make my next blog post in late December. It's been a very interesting year in tennis, a year that pretty much saw the status quo continue on both tours.

On the WTA side Agnieszka Radwańska, who won the YEC and ended the year ranked #5 in the world has to hit the ground running. She was not expected to do well in Singapore and she did. I think she'll be able to pick off younger and less skilled players but the big girls know how to counter her. I don't see her winning a Slam but I think she can rise higher in the rankings by gobbling up the small fish.

As for the ATP the man on the move is Andy Murray. His wife is due to have their child early next year and I believe he's taking February off. The pressure will be on him to do very well in Melbourne though so he will have to come in ready to play at the level he did in Ghent. He's number two in the world.

I'll end by saying Happy Holidays to everyone. See you in a few weeks.

© SavannahsWorld. All Rights Reserved except where indicated

1 comment:

Matt said...

Brilliant final post for the 2015 season. It's always a pleasure to read your commentary & I'm looking forward to following both Fritz & Osaka in 2016, in addition to Zverev & Keys!

RE: Murray... It's a shame it came down to a personal attack when Andy Murray (of all the ATP players, probably alongside Nadal) has been the ONLY player to even mutter a word of interest regarding the WTA on social media (which I think you can safely say is the way fans now most readily connect with their favourite players). Murray has been nothing but supportive of the emerging talent (I recall his comments about Caroline Garcia when she played Sharapova, and almost won, at RG when the former was 16 or 17).
To date I still notice his positive comments about the WTA & its players which is nice. Tennis is a sport where both tours should support one another.. With most women almost always commenting on the men's matches. Unfortunately it's very one-sided with the exception of Murray or Nadal.