Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Alexander Zverev and Madison Keys 2015 Report Cards

by Savannah

Madison Keys
End of Year Rank: 18
Age: 20

 photo 5037f553-cb5c-4fa4-9102-fdf9d191600a_zpsslxva1xf.jpg
Source: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images AsiaPac

Wins: 31

Best Tournament(s):
Australian Open: Semi Finalist
Charleston: Finalist
Strasbourg: Quarter Finalist (W/O to Kristina Mladenovic)
Wimbledon: Quarter Finalist
US Open: Round of 16

Notable Loss(es):
Eastbourne R32 To Belinda Bencic (Defending Champion)

There are huge chunks of the year missing from Madison's stats. I know that she was supposed to be out with injury and I understand that she is entitled to her off time but the images that have really stuck with me from 2015 are those of her at Coachella with Sam Querrey and other friends of hers. She has not accomplished enough to take a sabbatical like the world number one did after the US Open but it seems she, like other young US players, feel they're on the same level as the top players on their tour.

Sadly when Madison did play there was no discernible improvement in her game from 2014. At least in 2014 she won a title. This year she wasn't able to defend that title.

Madison has the potential to be a very good player but she is going to have to show more discipline when her opponent isn't cooperating with her plans and countering her every move. This year Madison seemed to get frustrated and fall apart when this happened. There was no evidence of a Plan B in her repertoire.

In other words she doesn't think well on court. No matter her potential she's got to kick her game up a notch or she is going to end up one of those mid level players with a decent following of fans who will be singing the lament "woulda coulda shoulda".

Grade for 2015: C

Alexander Zverev
End of Year Rank: 81
Age: 18

 photo f2c0d022-7b9e-47b4-b0f9-f267fca9c784_zps9wkskn0j.jpg
via Getty Images

Wins: 14
Losses: 17

Best Tournaments:
Rotterdam: Round of 16
Irving Tennis Classic (CH): Quarter Finalist
Open du Pays D'Aix (CH): Semi Finalist
Neckarcup (CH): Champion
Bästad: Semi Finalist
Citi Open: Quarter Finalist

Notable Achievement:
Winner ATP 2015 Star of Tomorrow Award

Alexander Zverev is right about where he should be for his age. He hasn't won any majors but that is okay. I think winning a major too young (or doing very well at a major at too young an age) makes a young person think there's not much more they have to do to improve their game. After all they beat such and such a great player so what they're doing has to be fine right? It's as if they're not paying attention to what the top players are doing. Male or female their games are constantly evolving, constantly changing. If you're playing the same game you played at eighteen when you're 24 something is wrong. If you're playing the same game you played at 18 at 30 you're playing Challenger level tennis.

I had to laugh when I saw that they gave this award to him instead of Chung Hyeon, who at 19 is ranked #51 in the world but maybe they wanted to make up for the way they treated him during the year. Many of his losses came after he had to play three rounds of Qualifying. I saw this at the US Open. He was playing Qualifying while some questionable players were direct entries into the Main Draw.

I hope that the young man is angry about 2015 regardless of the Award. It would be nice if he can win an ATP 250 during 2016 and be given wild cards into main draws at mid level events but we'll see. In order to do this he is going to have to keep his emotions in check especially during the business end of a match. This year he would start talking to himself, throwing up his hands and go into full meltdown mode. He's got about a year to stop doing that.

Grade for 2015: C

End Notes:

There were several times during the year that I wanted to drop these two as my players to watch and choose others. My choice on the men's side would've been easy: Chung Hyeon had a much better year than Zverev and is ranked 30 points higher. Right now it seems that he is being watched and praised by a small group of aficionados who see that a great tennis mind is being formed. He's not ready to win majors yet but I can see him winning a 250 or two and maybe going to the quarters in a M500. He does get frustrated on court but I haven't seen amy yelling and screaming breakdowns from him. You can almost hear him thinking "I'll do better next time" while going off to scout the top players on his own.

The women's side would've been difficult. Belinda Bencic? Elina Svitolina? Anna Karolina Schmiedlova? Daria Gavrilova? Alison van Uytvanck? I think Louisa Chirico of the US at 19 Is going to have to step up her game. There are lots of people in the States who want her to do well but does she have that steel will to get beyond being a rich girl dabbling in a rich person's sport? She's 5'9" (1.524m) tall, a decent height, and has a decent game. We'll see.

As for the other women named they have decent games but Bencic and Gavrilova can go full diva on you in the blink of an eye. Gavrilova wants her high emotion to distract her opponent and it has worked for her but once players learn to ignore your insanity on court they do and they beat you. I'm not impressed by Svitolina or Schmiedlova to be honest. I don't see great there. I see decent.

The one young woman I'm going to be looking at next year will be Osaka Naomi. Due to her mixed race heritage (her father is Haitian) she does not have the thin body of Asian women. She also has the ability to stay focused and win matches she shouldn't. Yes I'm talking about her match vs Caroline Garcia in Singapore. No one, not even me, saw her having a chance in that match but she won it.

By the time play starts again at the end of December I'll have made up my mind who I will follow in 2016.

My write up on the ATP will come a week or so after Davis Cup.

© SavannahsWorld All Rights Reserved except where indicated

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Where Do We Go From Here?

by Savannah

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Congratulations to Venus Williams who had a good end of year in Asia and ended the year ranked #7, a triumph over illness and the people who had written her off.

Let's look at the official year end rankings up to #50 for 2015.

1. Serena Williams USA 9945 +1460 points
2. Simona Halep ROU 6060 +1
3. Garbine Muguruza ESP 5200 +18
4. Maria Sharapova RUS 5011 -2
5. Agnieszka Radwanska POL 4495 +1
6. Petra Kvitova CZE 4210 -2
7. Venus Williams USA 3790 +12
8. Flavia Pennetta ITA 3621 +5
9. Lucie Safarova CZE 3590 +8
10. Angelique Kerber GER 3590 No Change In Position

11. Karolina Pliskova CZE 3285
12. Timea Bacsinszky SUI 3133
13. Carla Suarez Navarro ESP 3090
14. Belinda Bencic SUI 2900
15. Roberta Vinci ITA 2785
16. Ana Ivanovic SRB 2645
17. Caroline Wozniacki DEN 2641
18. Madison Keys USA 2600
19. Elina Svitolina UKR 2590
20. Sara Errani ITA 2525
21. Jelena Jankovic SRB 2445
22. Victoria Azarenka BLR 2276
23. Ekaterina Makarova RUS 2201
24. Andrea Petkovic GER 2185
25. Svetlana Kuznetsova RUS 2006
26. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova SVK 1875
27. Samantha Stosur AUS 1865
28. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova RUS 1840
29. Kristina Mladenovic FRA 1725
30. Sloane Stephens USA 1715
31. Irina-Camelia Begu ROU 1630
32. Sabine Lisicki GER 1568
33. Lesia Tsurenko UKR 1445
34. Camila Giorgi ITA 1325
35. Caroline Garcia FRA 1320
36. Daria Gavrilova RUS 1300
37. Coco Vandeweghe USA 1247
38. Dominika Cibulkova SVK 1246
39. Monica Niculescu ROU 1245
40. Madison Brengle USA 1238
41. Barbora Strycova CZE 1170
42. Alison Van Uytvanck BEL 1157
43. Alize Cornet FRA 1155
44. Mona Barthel GER 1135
45. Teliana Pereira BRA 1132
46. Varvara Lepchenko USA 1125
47. Johanna Konta GBR 1107
48. Eugenie Bouchard CAN 1065
49. Yanina Wickmayer BEL 1043
50. Julia Goerges GER 1040

For the top ten I've added how many places they've moved up or down from last year.

I've written a lot about the WTA this past season, most of it critical. I don't want to go over ground I've already covered so I'll focus on how the women's tour ended. The word that came to mind right away was "messy".

Why "messy"? The WTA went all in leading up to the US Open and Serena Williams chance to make history. I thought the hype was a bit over the top and would only add to what had to be butterflies as big as bats in Serena's stomach and encroaching brain freeze in her mind. If anyone watched "The Soprano's" the hype reminded me of when Tony brpught a sable coat home for Carmela thinking that it would cover a multitude of his sins.

The oversell brings up what for me has been a consistent marketing issue for the WTA. Under Stacey Allaster's long reign the sport of women's tennis was pushed aside in favor of promoting a "look". She's gone now and I'm thinking that the new guy should be given a chance to start making his own mark. It seems as if he's started with the problematic $125k events. Previously taking place almost exclusively in Asia new ones are scheduled in Buenos Aires, Argentina, San Antonio, Texas, West Hempstead, New York and Bol, Croatia. Keep in mind these tournaments are not part of the main tour, and that top ten players need not apply (see page 15 of the WTA Handbook http://www.wtatennis.com/SEWTATour-Archive/Archive/AboutTheTour/rules2015.pdf )so any rumors you hear about a top tenner playing one of these are just folks trying to push ticket sales.

The fact that no new 125k's were announced for Asia gives hope to many fans that the obsessive focus on China may be lessening. I know the company line has been that China is the up and coming market but broadcast deals aren't cheap and I'm guessing only the guaranteed government money is keeping these events going. It's a cliché that Chinese tournament equals mostly empty stadium.

But I digress. After Serena's loss in New York instead of a drone telling the tennis press that Serena was taking an already planned sabbatical she was left hanging once again as fans, and some members of the press, criticized her for taking time off and planning to play some exhibition events later in the year. Only fans who pay close attention knew that the total silence from the WTA meant that this break was planned and was going to happen whether or not she made history.

Then there is the ill advised lawsuit filed by Eugenie Bouchard against the USTA/WTA. No matter how you feel about it the fact remains that the Plaintiffs, instead of trying to quietly settle out of court have hit back hard at Ms Bouchard. In an interview her lawyer described her as being "upset" because the USTA is "being really aggressive" with her. I don't even know how to respond to that. I have no reason to think her lawyer is misrepresenting how she feels but what did she expect? He's talking about her being paid "millions and millions" isn't he? If she gets a jury (in New York for a civil case there are usually six jurors with two alternates) where no one has a clue about tennis and how she was playing coming into the US Open she could end up getting exactly what she, through her lawyers, is asking for. How would having to bestow a large settlement on Ms Bouchard affect the corporation doing business as the USTA? Would it affect it's construction at the BJK NTC in Queens New York? What about the other work it does? Did she expect a champagne reception to be thrown in her honor?

The full USTA filing can be found
HERE . The most interesting thing to me is the following:

Without relieving the Plaintiff of its burden of proof of establishing his injuries or damages, if any, any damages sustained by the Plaintiff were proximately caused or contributed to by the intervening or superseding intentional conduct or negligence of third-parties that the Plaintiff has not named in this action.

So she wasn't alone in the room. There is some pretty wild speculation out there about who the unnamed third party is but wouldn't it have made sense for Ms Bouchard to have mentioned that she and Mr or Ms X entered the room together? Why didn't she name the third party/parties to avoid speculation? Messy business this.

So, where does the WTA go from here?

There was a surprise winner at the YEC. Will she become a Slam contender? Will Serena pick up where she left off when it comes to Slams? Will Venus be able to continue to move up in the rankings? Will Petra Kvitova become a more consistent player in 2016? Will Garbiñe Muguruza be able to push Serena for the top ranking? What about Simona Halep? Will she figure out a way to handle pressure and hold it together enough to really challenge for Slams titles? What about Karolina Pliskova?

We know Flavia Pennetta is retired and will drop out of the top ten. Lucie Safarova has been ill and didn't play at all during the Fed Cup tie just recently completed. Fans don't like to talk about it but Venus health will continue to be an issue. At the present time with Pennetta out the top ten is really Kerber at #9 and Pliskova at #10. We can talk about whether Pliskova - or Muguruza for that matter - deserve their rankings based on the quality of their play over the year. Personally I don't think Pliskova is a top ten player. Her game is still a bit too juvenile for my tastes. Muguruza had a great beginning to and end of 2015. Her collaboration with Sam Sumyk seems to be working well and I'm sure she's aiming for bigger and better in 2016. Sumyk's job appears to be easier than Cahill's right now but we'll only know by the end of the spring hard court season in the US if Cahill has found a way to help his charge deal with the pressure of late tournament play.

Is the style of tennis going to change? Yes. Will it be at a lower level than we've become accustomed to? Yes. Will top players retire after Rio or after the US Open? Who knows?

And not forgetting the mess that led up to the YEC will the new guy try and imitate the ATP and arrange a week off leading into it? That gives time to build up anticipation among fans and the media. This year the YEC didn't stand out and I feel play was affected by people having to fly long distances to and from Asia.

How would I rate the year? It may surprise some but I'd give it a B based on excellence of Serena, the promise of Garbiñe, Belinda Bencic and maybe, just maybe, Madison Keys? I'll give my report card on the young players I chose to focus on this year next time.

I hope next year I can give a higher grade.

©2015 SavannahsWorld All Rights Reserved except where indicated

Sunday, November 1, 2015

And Then There Was One

by Savannah

 photo 3e2564cb-c022-4176-9cb9-af9b0ad7ff74_zpsu296flkj.jpg
via @Jimmie48Photography

Many years ago there was a movie called "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum". Well a funny thing happened on the way to the WTA YEC Final. We knew early on that the world number one Serena Williams would not be traveling to Singapore. Despite the scandal that some tried to make of this don't think for one second that the WTA didn't know early on that no matter what happened in New York Serena would not be going back to Asia. There was talk about her "not doing her duty" to the tour from what you could say were the usual sources but it didn't gain much traction. There were also rumors planted about a pregnancy and who Serena was dating. Yes I said planted. If you can't beat her on the court try and destroy her reputation especially after the rumors and papped pictures floating around of a certain player frolicing on the beach with a friend. Diversionary tactics. If everyone was going on and on about who Serena was or was not dating the fact that Maria Sharapova took off from Wimbledon to the YEC would not become a major topic of conversation or discussion. Of all the players in Singapore she was the most rested. I heard a comm making a big deal about Petra Kvitova taking a few weeks off from play but when it came to the Ban Sidhe there was nothing said about that long rest she had.

Add that to the fact that there was absolutely no sign of injury when play began. There were all kinds of rumors about Sharapova being too injured to play Singapore, that she was risking her career in doing so, that she was there but would do PR only. If you saw any of her matches it was obvious that was all bull, an attempt to make it appear she was limping and not striding confidently into the YEC. The sympathy card? I'd say so. Especially after her commetns about her peers lacking competitive fire because they wished Serena good luck in her quest for the CYGS did nothing to enhance her image among the majority of tennis fans. She came off looking petty and mean after that and there was nothing they could do about it.

Am I off topic again? I don't think so. I feel that the atmosphere around the 2015 YEC in far off Singapore needs to be established. The WTA would never admit it but this was the preview of what it will be when Serena retires. Will she retire after Rio? It depends on what her goals are. If she has achieved all she wants by the end of next year we could see her retire. And my goodness what a mess the WTA has on its hands.

The main problem with the WTA is that it doesn't promote women's tennis per se. It promotes individual players. I've said this before and I'll be brief. They wanted a certain look for their brand. Serena isn't it. Garbiñe Muguruza isn't it. Simona Halep isn't it. Agniezska Radwanska isn't it. None of the Czech women are it despite the long limbs and blonde hair. And the one they chose is trying to pull down the pillars of the temple in a shameless money grab.

There was very little publicity around the event. We hard core fans knew who was who but a casual fan? Petra Kvitova? Who is this Muguruza person? Halep? Who can say Radwanska's first name?

But even if you know how to pronounce the names and could find the countries they came from on a map who cared? The thing is none of the women who earned their way to Singapore has that "it" factor, the thing that brings all the fans to the yard. Don't get me wrong, there were many contrasting styles on display in Singapore and fanatic tennis folowers felt that there was a chance to see what the "best of the rest" had to offer. But when you don't promote the sport and instead promote a look you've got a dicey situation on your hands.

But wait! Isn't Maria Sharapova a world wide brand? Isn't she a superstar? Wouldn't the fans come out to see the woman we've been told is the much desired face of tennis in Asia where they're said to worship tall blonde women? After all she's the highest paid female athlete on the planet right?

I think we saw that the hype is just that, that when push came to shove no one was breaking down the doors to see Sharapova. She played the night match for the entire week and the relatively small 10,000 person stadium was as empty as all the other stadia were on the Asian swing. I'm watching a replay of the Final now and the place is full. And Sharapova is nowhere in sight. I'm sure the talk will be people bought their tickets ahead of time expecting to see Sharapova but there are peopel who live in the area who post on fan boards and their on site reports proved that not to be the case. One person said that he bought tickets that put him in the second row courtside on the night of the match so that during the week sales were not good. These people also indicated that the weekend would be sold out because student exams would be over and indicated that the YEC should have been held this week instead of last week. I guess the event at Zhuhai was already set though so that couldn't happen.

Let's be clear. This was supposed to be the coronation of one Maria Sharapova. She cakewalked through her group and owned the head to head against Petra Kvitova. But it was Kvitova who played the final. To a packed house.

I don't know where to start with Agniezska Radwanska. Her coach's comments about her wanting to appear feminine and not look like a female athlete grated. I actually thought she was the weakest player coming in, weaker than even Lucie Safarova who had just gotten up from her sick bed to come to Singapore. She actually had a losing record in her group but through the formula's used to determine things made it to the semi final, final and the winners circle. I've never been a fan, her style bores me to tears. But it was no surprise that she defeated Muguruza. Like Aga or not she is not easy to play and when you allow her to stay focused she can ninja you off the court. Aga's greatest successes have been against up and comers of late, women who haven't gotten to the "how to beat Aga" chapters of the players handbook. Muguruza is a much improved player though and I expect her to come charging out of the gate in January. She will have to better manage her schedule now though, and I'm sure she and her coach Sam Sumyk will do just that.

So in the end we have Aga Radwanska holding the trophy declaring her the best player of 2015. Hard core fans - and I'm guessing they were the only ones braving the huge time differences for Europe and the US to try and watch live matches - know she was not. She was making some changes to her game and it seems that she's more comfortable with those changes now but she was not a factor in three of the four majors this year getting wins in Tokyo and Tianjin before beginning play in Singapore.

The woman whose reputation suffered the most in Singapore was Simona Halep. She fell apart under the pressure, something we've seen her do more than once recently. If as it's widely rumored Darren Cahill will become her head coach once the Adidas program he was part of folds he's got a lot of work to do. I watched him work with her during during Qualie week at the US Open and while she was willing to listen it seemed as if there are things she is not able to do on a court. Yet she is ranked Number two in the world. There is some talk about how small she is compared to many of her contemporaries but I don't know if that is her problem. Is she going to stay in the top ten by playing as many tournaments as she can? Will she be able to get the number one ranking after Serena retires taking us back to the Slamless Number One era?

The WTA top ten is as follows:

[1] Williams, Serena United States
[2] Halep, Simona Romania
[3] Muguruza, Garbiñe Spain
[4] Sharapova, Maria Russia
[5] Radwanska, Agnieszka Poland
[6] Kvitova, Petra Czech Republic
[7] Kerber, Angelique Germany
[8] Pennetta, Flavia Italy
[9] Safarova, Lucie Czech Republic
[10] Bacsinszky, Timea Switzerland

I will say this. The WTA's new leadership has to work harder at promoting women's tennis, especially since there doesn't seem to be a superstar on the horizon. If they don't the outlook is bleak. Push parity. Depth. Whatever. Look at what other sports do. It was not easy to get the powers that be in tennis to take women's tennis seriously. I hope all their hard work and sweat wasn't for nothing.

© Savannahs World 2015 All Rights Reserved unles otherwise indicated