Sunday, April 26, 2015

From Sunshine to Caroline Wozniacki

by Savannah

Woz vs Halep Stuttgart 2015 photo 131a92d6-d7db-4177-8bbd-cd7ec73a3808_zps8an7kyho.jpg
via Getty Images

She started out in tennis as the third Designated Blonde for the WTA. The template of course was Anna Kournikova who got plenty of hype but never managed to win the big one at the pro level. Since she was Russian the next
Designated Blonde was Maria Sharapova. Groomed by the US tennis mills in Florida to be the answer (read antidote) to Venus Williams who could never be a DB she's managed to continue to be a presence thanks to a very good PR team and pretty good draws.

But neither Sharapova or Kournikova had an official nick name given to them by the CEO of the WTA. It was young Caroline Wozniacki (Karolina to her father and I presume her family) who was nick named "Sunshine". She was soon a slamless number one, unable to generate much offense and quickly earned the ire of dyed in the wool fans of almost every fan grouping.

But then something happened. "Sunshine" fell in love. It became more important to be with her beloved than to win matches. Besides she was getting married and would soon be living another life. Or so she thought. Never underestimate the power of a professional association and Caroline was in the PGA's crosshairs. She was not a proper "golf wife" who knew her place. She was out there in tennis outfits being competitive and getting sweaty. Not what they want a golf wife to be.

I've read a lot of theories about what happened to her engagement, not all of them favorable to Caroline, but it's all rumor and conjecture so in the end what difference does it make? The engagement was broken in a particularly ugly way and Caroline found herself the object of sympathy in her world and smug triumph in his.

Many people, male or female, would have curled into the fetal position and hidden in a dark room for a long time. Instead after a brief time out of the public eye Wozniacki reappeared. She was suddenly being more aggressive, no longer content to be known as a "pusher", the ultimate pejorative aimed at a tennis player. It seemed that after a revolving door of coaches she realized the most important voice in her world was that of her father. Things were going well in Wozniacki world it seemed. Then all of a sudden she went public admitting that she was working with Spanish great Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. ASV had been in the news for all the wrong reason recently and after the obvious jokes about money were made the ultimate question was what could ASV do for Caroline? I think after this weekend we know exactly what she helped Wozniacki with.

The first, and biggest thing, is that Caroline now knows how to slide properly. By that I mean sliding INTO the shot not after the shot. Sliding properly means you can walk and chew gum at the same time, that you can launch yourself into a slide and control the shot you want to make, something James Blake who wanted to be the man controlling the fate of up and coming US players labelled "unnatural".

If you haven't watched the match between Wozniacki and Simona Halep, find a way to watch it. It's an historic match for Wozniacki, a match where she put "Pushniacki" and "Sunshine" to bed and introduced us to Caroline. Good for her.

I was never really a fan of Wozniacki and I admit it had a lot to do with the WTA fawning over her. They should really stop that. You know who else has been playing very, very well this spring? Carla Suarez Navarro, a woman wo is definitely not a DB. Many were surprised to see Halep take the court with lighter hair and a pontail instead of her usual bun. Halep will never be a DB either and I'm sad to see her try. If you're talking about great tennis players of 2015 however there is no avoiding Halep or CSN as she's known to tennisheads.

I'm not going to say I'm a huge fan of Wozniacki now but I will say I applaud her quest to be herself, that she's not afraid of becoming something other than a cute face in a designer tennis kit. That takes a lot of guts. And Ms Wozniacki clearly has them.

Fed Cup

I was trying to avoid talking about the recent round of Fed Cup because it would make me have to discuss someone I don't want to waste cyber ink on. In an effort to put that task off a bit longer let's talk about Barbara Rittner's team that took the court for her country, Germany. Instead of doing the obvious Rittner fielded Sabine Lisicki and Julia Goerges. I have no idea why she did that but the results were inevitable with both women losing their singles rubbers although Lisicki put up a bit more of a fight. It was left to Angelique Kerber and Andrea Petkovic to force the tie into a deciding doubles match. Petkovic was paired with Lisicki and they lost in straight sets.

Even more puzzling is why Maria Jose Fernandez chose a team made up of Serena Williams and no one else of consequence. A bit harsh you say? Is it? The story bruited about was that Venus Williams withdrew at the last minute and that both Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens declined to play. I call bullshit. The story that Venus withdrew at the last minute harkens back to the days where the WTA would sell tickets using the Williams name knowing full well neither woman was going to play and let the blame fall on the sisters for being "unreliable". I think even John McEnroe knows about Venus health issues and Maria Jose is too smart to not have had a Plan B.

When the last minute story didn't float that well we heard that Madison Keys had been exempted from play because she was going to be in intense training with her coaching team. I guess that field trip to Coachella was part of the plan. As for Stephens, who was originally said to be doing "charity work" I have no idea what she was really doing. At least Madison allowed herself to be photographed at Coachella and released the pictures herself. If she needed a break and wanted to go, fine. I haven't seen any pictures of Sloane's charity work anywhere. There was also talk that Maria Jose doesn't like Sloane's work ethic, or lack thereof.

Be that as it may it was all on Serena's shoulders to win the tie and she fell short. Totally understandable. As usual the now PR savvy World #1 put a good spin on the result and said that she needed to work towards being ready for clay season. That was very nice of her.

As for the women who did go I guess they picked Lauren Davis because she's small like Sara Errani. Surely that would count for something? It didn't and it shows how brain dead the US tennis establishment is. I am no fan of Errani but even with her shit game and non existant serve on real (read red) clay she wasn't going to lose to Davis. Christina McHale has been having a rough go of it lately and being in the pressure cooker atmosphere of Fed Cup wasn't going to help her.

It's not as if Maria Jose didn't have other choices you know. Madison Brengle has been playing very well of late and on red clay in Stuttgart made it to the semifinals. Bethanie Mattek Sands has been playing doubles with Lucie Safarova and they're doing quite well for themselves. I'm not sure why they weren't considered. Politics like in Germany I guess.

Of course the biggest story out of Fed Cup was HandshakeGate. Is Eugenie Bouchard a spoiled, entitled brat? Yes. Does she care what others think of her? Not one bit. The only person she cares about is the one running the WTA and as long as she's behind her she could care less what anyone else thinks. I will end with this YouTube video of her post match interview, one that didn't get as much play as the fake out handshake. You draw your own conclusiions. To say this woman is a PR nightmare is an understatemnt.

Aga and Martina Navratilova Part Ways

When the Radwanska camp announced that Martina Navratilova was going to become part of the retinue the almost universal response was "it'll never work". This week it appears Navratilova bowed to the inevitable and submitted her resignation. Aga's fans and her father have been howling for her coach Tomasz Wiktorowski to resign not only as her coach but as Fed Cup captain. There are strong rumors he's done the latter but it seems that he's still Aga's coach. Why do they want him out? It's said that Aga's support team has become more of a party team. Her boyfriend is her hitting partner and the physio isn't working her the way she needs to be. All of that from her estranged father Robert. Here's the story from a Polish press source .

Watch this space for the continuing saga "As The Tennis Ball Spins".

Friday, April 10, 2015

Not So Idle Chit Chat

by Savannah

It's been a long time since I've done an Idle Chit Chat post. What does that mean?
Well there will be a lot of, well chit chat but unlike blind items on gossip sites the miscreants will be named. Not that all of them are miscreants. Some are simply playing the hand they've been dealt. But all of them are dealing with the results of actions they've taken. Where do we start?

Let's start with one M. Gilles Simon. Gilles is now on the Players Council and sat down for an interview to discuss the long simmering argument about better pay for those men who are not in the Top 100. It's interesting to find out that while Challenger level players have representation on the Council their position is akin to that of a nation with auditor status at the United Nations. At least that's how it comes across in this interview translated by Mark Nixon whose blog translates pressers and interviews given in languages other than English. Simon looks at the situation in strictly business terms. Here are some excerpts from the L'Equipe interview by Vincent Cognet.

Does the pro tour have different tiers?

“I’d say it has three tiers: there are those who make a lot, those who make enough to live on, and those who are still investing. It doesn’t shock me that there are three tiers. The question is: at which tier do we want to point fingers? Everyone agrees that the ATP number 1000 shouldn’t make a living.”

Why not?

Because it’s not professional. Every player will give you a different number: one will say the top 200 deserve to earn a living, another the top 300. The only certainty is that there’ll always be a three-tiered tour.

Unless it’s changed in a way that everyone can make a living!

There are more than 2000 guys on the ATP tour. That would be difficult. Of course, I’m in favour of the maximum number of players being able to make a living. But what I find more shocking is that there’s too big a gap between players at the same category of tournament.

Which means?

The best in the world travel with their coach [sometimes two], their stringer, their doctor, sometimes their hitting partner. On the other hand, you have number 80 in the world who gets there without being able to afford a coach. Those two types of players face each other in the first round of a Grand Slam. To me that shouldn’t be possible. That’s what I was teasing Roger [Federer] with: “Under these conditions, isn’t it a little easier to win?” It’s even worse on the women’s circuit. By not offering enough money, they don’t have a chance to train and improve. So, obviously, the best, who are already stronger, will stay the strongest! They changed that by getting more prize money for the first rounds of a Grand Slam. To clarify, that pays for your coach.

What have you done for the “second tier”, meaning the qualie players?

We haven’t forgotten those who are ranked between 100 and 300. Everyone says that we should increase the Challenger prize money. OK, but how do you do that? In ten years, from 2007 to 2017, their funding has already doubled. The paradox is that we can demand that the Grand Slams double their prize money (which is already huge), but can’t do anything about a Challenger.


Because a Grand Slam generates enormous revenue and a Challenger generates none. Because the players ranked between 100 and 300 generate none. So, logically, the same thing applies to them that applies to a world number 80: how to train and improve. We’ve increased the qualie prize money for Slams 120% in four years. In four years, you’ll make the same for the last round of qualifications as you did for the first round of the draw.

Why doesn’t the system change at the Futures level?

Guys competing there aren’t considered professionals. They’re considered to be players who are investing in their futures. Most importantly, we, the ATP, can’t do anything – it’s run by the ITF. We have zero hold, zero power with Futures. I love my sport, I want there to be competition, I fight for that, but I see how difficult it is.


OK, lets ask the question in a different way: are the top 100 players ready to give up some of their prize money to subsidise the lesser tours?

I may be wrong, but I’d say no. I know this will cause some screaming, but the players reckon that the Masters 1000’s make too much money compared to what they give us. The Slams were reproached for the same reason, though to a lesser extent. Everyone is interested in how much money the players make. No one talks about who’s pocketing the money at the end. Because no-one knows who that is. So, if you have to find money, the players will tell you that’s who should give to the Challengers.

There’s always a worry there …

I sometimes have a problem with players who ask for more money than they generate. Is it in our tour’s interests, seen as a whole, that those guys make more money? I’m pointing out that I use the same reasoning for the women’s tour and for doubles. It’s more of a general reflection than simply a question of money for the rich and the poor.


So you’re not the Players’ Council, you’re the Top 100 Council. And you only look at the problems that concern you.

-We’re the council for the Top 100 because we’re the council for the tour. Because, today, the tour is the ATP 250’s, the ATP 500’s and the Masters 1000. In fact, there is a Challengers section. I went there. We talked for two hours about that. Me, I say: instead of talking about prize money which, in any case, isn’t generated, let’s talk more about the expenses.That might move things along a bit.

...A pro structure costs a fortune. It cost me 250,000 Euros last year.

I've always thought of Challenger players like Triple A players in Major Leage Baseball here in the States. Players move back and forth between the Majors and Minors due to injury, burn out or what have you. I guess I was wrong. Was the Players Council always like this? Was it always only concerned about the Top 100 or was it at one time concerned with all players? I don't know. If it's only concern is the Top 100 maybe the name should be changed? Again I don't know. The issues Simon raises are legitimate but the solutions he's endorsing seem a bit cold hearted to me.

The Co Opting of a Legend

Someone has to explain the purpose of this piece to me. It was obviously dictated by Max Eisenbud. I guess they wanted it to appear that Billie Jean King wrote this herself? Uh huh. I was born at night but not last night.

One member of Tennis Twitter said the piece was PR'y. Hell it's a press release with a legend of the game's name attached. Why would she allow herself to be used in this manner? I could speculate but all of it would be ugly and imply a need for money by Ms King. I have a lot of respect for Ms King and what she's done almost single handedly for women's tennis so I will leave it at that.

The Strange Case of Petra Kvitova

So Petra Kvitova showed up in Australia fitter than she's ever been and promptly declared she was too tired to play when she left the country after a solo win at one of the warmup events. Too tired? She's 24 years old. According to an article in the Czech press she used the word "empty" to describe how she felt after her one win down under. She also admits to having seen a psychologist, I would assume a sports psychologist, to deal with her feelings or lack of feeling about playing the sport that has made her rich. Her coach confirmed that she will pick and choose where and when and how often she plays going forward, and that fitness isn't really part of her overall plan.

If you remember when Petra first came on the scene and won Wimbledon I was among some who said she seemed very uncomfortable with the business side of tennis. Her lack of fitness was talked about as much as her power game. It looked as if a new dominating star had arrived and that if she would get fit she'd challenge for the top ranking of women's tennis.

It now seems that Petra isn't interested in reaching the top level of tennis. Her coach has indicated fitness will not be a big part of her match prep going forward.

I'm summarizing because all of the links are in Czech. Czech fans are calling her a lazy bum. I don't think it's wise to go against what seems to be their consensus.

This and That

US fans were excited about Taylor Townsend working with Zina Garrison and a team out of Chicago. Taylor seemed to be improving her court sense and combined with her movement that is good despite not being in the best of shape it looked as if she might live up to some of the potential she exhibited as a Junior.

During Miami I heard a commentator mention in passing that Zina Garrison was working somewhere that was not Chicago now and I wondered what that meant for her work with Taylor. It turns out that Taylor will now be working with Donald Young, Sr. I'm struggling to find something positive to say about this new arrangement. She's had how many coaches now? And none of them have addressed her biggest problems and I'm not just talking about her weight. Like most young US players she's got all the shots but she doesn't have a coherent strategy when she steps on court. Her attitude seems to be I can hit through my opponent and get to most of what they send my way. All well and good. But what about a player who relies on off speed stuff? Who sees what you've got and counters it?

This is not just a Taylor Townsend problem it's a US tennis problem and I'm not getting into that again. Not this post anyway.

Amélie Mauresmo Is Pregnant

Miami 2015 via Art Seitz photo 0f03f799-39ce-4202-9678-8d4b6f0d89b6_zpsvocx3nqr.jpg
Photo Via Art Seitz

With a low key announcement via Facebook and Twitter Amelie Mauresmo announced that she will become a mother sometime in August this year. Most responses I saw were positive and the negatives were so full of ignorant speculation I was rendered almost speechless. I'll get to that in a few minutes.

For the serious fan a lot of things fell into place, especially Andy Murray, Amélie's charge, adding an assistant coach to his team. If Amélie is carrying the child she is about five months pregnant and in about three months travel will be difficult for her. Murray's new assistant coach will be up on how he does things and the transition will be seamless.

As for the idiocy. It's one thing to suspect that most of the "fans" posting on the two huge sites for the ATP and WTA are twelve. It's another thing to have questions like "How could this happen if she's gay?" and speculation that the whole reason Murray chose her was to donate sperm for her child. Let's not get into the fanfics that have already been proposed. The sadder thing is that when the adults call these children out for the nonsense they're spouting they say they're just trolling and that is supposed to explain everything.

There is nothing more beautiful than a child who is wanted and loved. I say congratulations to Amélie and her partner and hope a safe birth and a healthy child are in their future.

As for those "fan" sites the moderators have to decide between inflated hit counts and a readable, enjoyable place for the young and old to discuss tennis. Just my very humble opinion.

Monday, April 6, 2015

USTA Names New Head of Player Development

by Savannah

A few things jumped out at me reading the article by Tom Perrotta of the Wall Street Journal on the appointment of Martin Blackman as head of Player Development for the USTA.

First of course is his background in USTA politics and his past as Senior Director of Talent Identification for that organization.

Second is the endorsement by Nick Bollettieri who raves about Blackman bringing "stability".

Mr. Blackman is moving his family to the new USTA training facility in Lake Nona, Florida, something that was high on the must do list of the USTA.

Then there is this:

Blackman said he would try to strengthen partnerships with private coaches and ask current and former American champions for advice. He mentioned Agassi, Courier, Sampras, Lindsay Davenport, Venus and Serena Williams, Andy Roddick, and Blake.

“I’m really going to listen to what they have to say about what has worked,” Blackman said.

American tennis champions have traditionally trained with private coaches. But as the country’s performance in pro tennis, particularly men’s tennis, plummeted in the late 2000s, the USTA decided to spend more on development and hired McEnroe in 2008.

And this:

In the years since, McEnroe endured criticism over the program’s structure, player turnover, and sometimes strained relationships with private coaches, players, and parents, who felt that the USTA would only support players enrolled in the program, rather than those who sought partial help but wanted to keep private coaches.

In 2013, McEnroe adopted a new strategy: fewer full-time students and more time devoted to outside players and coaches who could visit and train.

Though American men’s tennis continues to struggle, the U.S. has a promising crop of junior boys, including 13 ranked in the top 100 of the International Tennis Federation’s 18-and-under rankings and three in the top 10. Women’s tennis is strong, with the Williams sisters and young pros like Madison Keys, 20, and Sloane Stephens, 22.

I'm wondering what insight Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi can give though. As far as can be determined Sampras was as clean cut as he appeared. We all know Agassi used illegal drugs while playing and was never called out or sanctioned for his behavior. Today Sampras would be called a servebot and Agassi would be famous as a scalp in the WADA Anti Drug plan. Jim Courier, because of Davis Cup, is more familiar with the men's game and the strategies behind it than either of those former players.

Both Andy Roddick and James Blake played until relatively recently but towards the end, with the men's game becoming more strategic and based on skills US players don't have their play could best be described as anachronistic. With the hiring of Mr. Blackman I don't see the level of US tennis changing much if at all.

In the end however it seems to be that the most important thing for US men's tennis is the Benjamins. The US system seems to demand that players have their own coaches who are free to take money from the USTA, use its facilities, and duck all the blame for the current state of men's tennis.

There is going to be a drop in the level of tennis after 2016 and it still seems to me that the USTA and it's coaches are preparing for that drop. Their fervent hope would appear to be that the "hit hard and harder" approach, "Serve Bot Tennis" if you will, will be on the ascendancy again and US men will be able to compete on an international level once more.
That to me is what is most important to the tennis establishment in the United States. They care the most about the men's game and don't really care about women's tennis although it's nice that they're including Lindsay Davenport in the discussion. It should be noted that current women's number one Serena Williams is not being coached by an American and has changed her approach to the game. Her new hitting partner, Robbye Poole is American though.

It seems to me that Mr. Blackman is the establishment choice. They know him. He's not going to upset the apple cart. The money will keep flowing to private coaches and all will be right with the world. Will this improve the state of tennis in the United States? It depends a lot on what players like Francis Tiafoe achieve going forward. I don't think you'll see results from players like him for another five years or so. Meanwhile the Europeans keep coming and rising up the rankings with the ability to construct points, superior court knowledge and mental abilities and overall better games even in their late teens. We already know about Chung Hyeon, Borna Ćorić, Elias Ymer and Alexander Zverev. They're making waves while US prospects like Ryan Harrison are just getting past the stage where superior play from an opponent results in tantrums.

Somehow I get the feeling that as long as Mr. Blackman keeps the old ways in place he'll be fine. After all, it is always "all about the Benjamins baby".

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Martin Blackman New Head of USTA Player Development

Martin Blackman to Head USTA Player Development

The former pro says he will ask current and former American champions for advice

SENNAIT BLACKMAN photo 595d8a29-dd81-4dda-9bcc-12cf2e93aae2_zpsmth5nfmt.jpg
photo by Sennait Blackman

Updated April 5, 2015 7:21 p.m. ET

After a seven-month search, the U.S. Tennis Association on Monday will name a successor to Patrick McEnroe as general manager of player development: Martin Blackman, who worked for the USTA under McEnroe for two years before leaving to start his own tennis academy.

Blackman, 45, was a top junior who trained alongside Andre Agassi and Jim Courier at Nick Bollettieri’s tennis academy. At Stanford, he was Patrick McEnroe’s doubles partner. After six years on the pro tour, he became a college coach, and helped build the Junior Tennis Champions Center in Maryland.

At the USTA from 2009 to 2011, Blackman was senior director of talent identification and established the USTA’s regional training partnerships with private academies throughout the country. Since 2012, he has run his own academy in Boca Raton, Fla.

“He’s got a lot of credibility, more credibility than I do, in the coaching and development world,” McEnroe said in an interview this weekend. “He’s taken a good, long road, and people will appreciate him for all he has done.”

Blackman was born in New York City, before moving to Barbados when he was 2 years old. For two summers, Blackman’s family lived on the Upper West Side and he trained at the Port Washington Tennis Academy. When Blackman was 13, Bollettieri offered him a scholarship.

Bollettieri, now 83, said his former student is someone “who listens but will not be bullied.” “Martin brings education, he brings stability and he is a no-nonsense person,” Bollettieri said.

Blackman will work part time until June as he turns his academy over to another coach (McEnroe will stay on to help the transition). In 2016, Blackman and his family—he is married with four children—will move to Lake Nona, a planned community in Orlando where the USTA is building a $60 million tennis center with training facilities, housing for visiting players and their coaches, and more than 100 courts, including both green and red clay. The USTA will hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the facility on Wednesday.

Since McEnroe announced that he would leave player development at last year’s U.S. Open, many people have been rumored as potential successors, including James Blake, who expressed interest in the job; Courier, a former No. 1 player and the current Davis Cup captain; Paul Annacone, who coached Pete Sampras and Roger Federer; and former pro Todd Martin, who is now the CEO of the Tennis Hall of Fame.

But USTA officials signaled that they were less interested in star power than a candidate with a development background who would commit to the USTA full time and move to Orlando. McEnroe, who is also an ESPN commentator and lives in New York, was unwilling to move.

Blackman isn't expected to shake up player development’s staff or strategy. Katrina Adams, the USTA’s chairman and chief executive, and Gordon Smith, the USTA’s executive director and chief operating officer, said that they were happy with the program’s current direction and hired Blackman to build on it.

“He has played every level of the game—he understands what it takes to be a champion and he understands what it takes to be a collegiate player,” Adams said.

Blackman said he would try to strengthen partnerships with private coaches and ask current and former American champions for advice. He mentioned Agassi, Courier, Sampras, Lindsay Davenport, Venus and Serena Williams, Andy Roddick, and Blake.

“I’m really going to listen to what they have to say about what has worked,” Blackman said.

American tennis champions have traditionally trained with private coaches. But as the country’s performance in pro tennis, particularly men’s tennis, plummeted in the late 2000s, the USTA decided to spend more on development and hired McEnroe in 2008.

In the years since, McEnroe endured criticism over the program’s structure, player turnover, and sometimes strained relationships with private coaches, players, and parents, who felt that the USTA would only support players enrolled in the program, rather than those who sought partial help but wanted to keep private coaches.
In 2013, McEnroe adopted a new strategy: fewer full-time students and more time devoted to outside players and coaches who could visit and train.

Though American men’s tennis continues to struggle, the U.S. has a promising crop of junior boys, including 13 ranked in the top 100 of the International Tennis Federation’s 18-and-under rankings and three in the top 10. Women’s tennis is strong, with the Williams sisters and young pros like Madison Keys, 20, and Sloane Stephens, 22.

Still, Blackman will be first in line to take criticism if American players, particularly the men, don’t have better results in the near future.

“I’m up for it,” Blackman said. “If you understand that it takes teams to make players, and if you understand where our coaches’ sweet spots are, we can do some damage.”