Saturday, May 7, 2016

This Blog is Closed

by Savannah

For technical reasons I've closed this blog.

I will still be blogging, just on a different site.

I've enjoyed the Blogspot experience but I have to move the blog.

Older posts will be archived.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Ray Moore Steps Down

by Savannah

The BNPParibas Open (Indian Wells) released the following statement tonight:

MAR 21, 2016

"Earlier today I had the opportunity to speak with Raymond Moore," said BNP Paribas Open Owner, Larry Ellison. "Ray let me know that he has decided to step down from his roles as CEO and Tournament Director effective immediately. I fully understand his decision."

"Nearly half a century ago, Billie Jean King began her historic campaign for the equal treatment of women in tennis. What followed is an ongoing, multi-generational, progressive movement to treat women and men in sports equally. Thanks to the leadership of Billie Jean, Martina Navratilova, Venus Williams, Serena Williams and so many other great women athletes, an important measure of success has already been achieved. I'm proud to say that it is now a decade long tradition at our tournament at Indian Wells, and all the major tennis tournaments, to pay equal prize money to both the women and the men."

"I would like to personally thank all the great women athletes who fought so hard for so many years in the pursuit of equal prize money in professional tennis. And I'd like to congratulate them on their success. All of us here at the BNP Paribas Open promise to continue working with everyone to make tennis a better sport for everybody," concluded Ellison.

Larry Ellison had no choice but to accept Ray Moore's resignation. If this goes the way things usually go in tennis things will now calm down, tennis reporters will go back to their collective stupor, a new Tournament Director will be named, and life in the world of tennis, will go back to normal.

Let's be clear. Ray Moore, from South Africa, has done a lot of good. He fought apartheid, and stood on what for many was the right side of many causes. He rightly got in trouble for going beyond a statement of fact - the WTA as an organization is poorly run and that it's high level personnel do nothing to promote the game of women's tennis. If he had stopped there I don't think he would've had to step down today. The TD for Dubai is still in place and he said pretty much the same thing a few weeks ago.

What got him in trouble was being a 69 year old man who said things in a way that made him appear to imply WTA players should be performing a sex act on two top ATP players in gratitude for what those two men have done. He compounded his problems by talking about "lady players", an anachronistic and pejorative term for the women athletes who play professional tennis. He then went on to comment on the physical attractiveness of said athletes, something he would never say about the top ATP players when discussing them.

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention that misogyny runs deep in the top levels of tennis. All you have to do is listen to the male commentators when they're forced to work WTA matches. John McEnroe had no idea that Venus Williams, a fairly well known woman tennis player, had been diagnosed with Sjogren's Syndrome and that she'd been suffering from it's effects for over seven years. This was after it had been all over the web and in print media. His response when told about it and what it does was pretty much a shrug. When former male players are forced to work WTA matches they spend the entire time talking about men's tennis. This attitude extends to the cameramen who spend a lot of time giving us crotch shots or aiming their camera's down the front of a woman player's kit.

The WTA doesn't get off scot free either. The organization has aided and abetted this misogyny by promoting athletes who they feel men want to see. The criteria for being a WTA superstar is not what you do on court but how you look. Of European descent? Check. Tall? Check. Blonde? Check. It doesn't matter if you are flat as a board you will be presented as the sexiest woman on the planet and the way paved for you to make millions in endorsements. There are exceptions to this rule: Maria Kirilenko and Anna Chakvetadze comes to mind. So does Victoria Azarenka.

And, some will say, what about the hype around players like Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys? The desperation of the USTA shouldn't be confused with what passes for PR from the WTA. The situation with the WTA is different. It is supposed to promote women's tennis, not a particular player. This means making sure the world at large knows about it's players, is aware of their talent, and their athletic ability. It means making sure that your product is viewed by as many people as possible. Instead the WTA hired an outside firm to make deals with TennisTV, Eurosport and other major carriers of tennis content instead of controlling the marketing and image of women's tennis.

I've been writing about the failings of the WTA for years and I've sworn I'd stop writing about their nonsense several times but it seems I'm not able to do that. Every season there is some new incident that shows that the people running the WTA don't give a damn about women's tennis. And if they don't give a damn why should anyone else?

That is why the comments made by Novak Djokovic are right in line with the anti female attitude in tennis. Jo Wilfried Tsonga brought up women's hormones (menstrual cycles) as an issue affecting their play two or three years ago. Gilles Simon also spoke about women not deserving equal pay. They are only saying publicly what is said privately. If the WTA were a competent organization and didn't buy into the attitude by promoting "sexy" players the men couldn't be able to say what they do and get away with it.

Steve Tignor shared this anecdote from Billie Jean King's biography.
...Here’s what Billie Jean King wrote in her autobiography about her attempt to join forces with the men during their boycott of Wimbledon in 1973:

"At this time," she wrote, "I was leading the movement to create the Women’s Tennis Association just as Ashe and several other men had spearheaded the Association of Tennis Professionals the September before.

"Never mind that the so-called Association of Tennis Professionals would not admit female tennis professionals; I went to Arthur and the other leaders of the ATP, and I told them, ‘Look, we want to support you in this fight, so let’s work together and if you do boycott Wimbledon, we’re very likely to walk out with you.’

“Now get the picture: the men have a dispute, and we are offering, free and clear, no strings attached, to stick our necks out and support them ... So it was utterly in the men’s self-interest to accept our assistance. And did they? They wouldn’t even respond. I was never able so much as to get the ATP leaders to sit down and explore matters.”

Has anything changed? Will anything change with the resignation of Ray Moore? Sadly, the only thing I can say is no, nothing will change for the female tennis player until the WTA becomes what I think Ms King and the other founding members of the WTA wanted: an organization that works as hard as it's members do to show women's tennis as a viable, strong sport. Right now WTA members don't have that.

©Savannah's World 2016 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sometimes The Truth Hurts

by Savannah

Literally a few minutes ago tennis writer Ben Rothenberg posted a statement made by the Tournament Director (TD) of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, California.

 photo 7d814afb-ec90-4434-9779-8234095f4861_zpsljmke7ct.jpg

Fans of women's tennis were immediately up in arms but let's look at what he is saying using some hard facts about the WTA's organization.

The WTA has done nothing to promote women's tennis. It has promoted certain individuals but never women's tennis. Compare their work to that of the ATP when it comes to up and coming players just within the last month. We've seen a big promotion for their young men and not just some of them, all of them. What's the wTA been doing? Speaking out in defense of a woman who admittedly has been doping for ten years. When have you seen them speak out in defense of their top player? When have you seen the WTA promote anyone who wasn't blonde? Your top ten outside of Serena Williams and a suspended player is unknown to the majority of sports fans.

Now reread Raymond Moore's comments in that light. I've been saying the same thing about the WTA for as long as I've been writing this blog.

Let's see if and how the WTA responds.

©Savannah's Tennis 2016 All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


by Savannah

Roger Goodell, head of the NFL, is in hot water with the NFLPA. Rumors are swirling about the way he handled, or hasn't handled, let's call them indiscretions by NFL players. It took awhile for this to happen but it just may. There haven't been any real threats to his leadership despite all the shenanigans. Time will tell if he will be held responsible for his actions, or lack thereof.

Then we have the newly installed head of the Women's Tennis Association, Steve Simon . This is what he said yesterday.

"She does not want to end her career this way and I know she feels the mistake is on her," Simon told the newspaper. "She is not saying she didn’t do it. She’s responsible for what goes into her body and this has been a terrible, terrible mistake she made. But I remain convinced it was an honest mistake.”

Like many tennis insiders he then continued his double speak.

“It is effectively out of the WTA’s hands at this point because the process is independent and I think very healthy because the last thing we want in our sport is when the governing body is judge and jury,” Simon said. "We have seen the repercussions of what that can bring (in other sports) and they determine the appropriate discipline and we are 100 percent supportive of whatever that might be.”

I'm really sick of this. It's like they're saying "We know she's a drug cheat. We know she's been at it for ten years. And yes she ignored multiple warnings made through the usual channels but it was all a mistake."

This is the tack Maria Sharapova and her team have taken. I get the feeling that WADA doesn't give a rats ass about her Princess status in the minds of some in leadership capacity in tennis. The head of the WTA should be sitting down and talking with staff about the consequences of those ten years of using a drug that treats medical conditions she doesn't have. Forfeiture of January winnings? Banned from the sport? Stripping of titles? Nope. He's trying to influence the court of public opinion in to thinking Sharapova is the wronged party here. Not the players she played and won against while under the influence so to speak. Not the sport of tennis that she slandered with an ill written and conceived rant on Facebook. She can't be severely punished because she's Maria Sharapova, the face of women's tennis. It's all just a mistake.

Be aware that he did not say she declared the drug on the paperwork she submitted in Melbourne during the Australian Open. We're hearing less and less of that. If she had declared I think her lawyer would've been waving the papers around in front of cameras already.

Can you imagine the head of any national or international sport calling a positive drug test an "honest mistake"? He would be out of a job.

They keep saying "she does not want to end her career this way". As I've been saying let's wait and see what happens.

She's BACK!

Stacey Allaster...joining the U.S.T.A. in a newly created post...will oversee its pro tennis division.
via Christoper Clarey

Hasn't this woman done enough to tennis?
Why did the USTA feel the need to create a position for her? Why didn't Tennis Canada create the position?
Why is U.S. Open tournament director David Brewer will reporting to her?

Again, from Christopher Clarey's article.

(Gordon)Smith said Allaster’s responsibilities would include the United States Open, the Emirates Airlines U.S. Open Series, the Davis Cup and the Fed Cup. But he said she would also be involved at the lower levels, overseeing the pro-circuit events. One of the goals is to increase youth participation, using the pro events in the United States as inspiration.

It is a time of change at the U.S.T.A. and the United States Open, with major construction underway at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, including the completion of a new roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium. A new facility, the U.S.T.A. National Campus, is set to open this year on 63 acres at Lake Nona in Orlando, Fla., and will serve, among other purposes, as a national training center.

There is also no shortage of challenges, including keeping the Miami Open, the prestigious event that has had expansion plans blocked in the Florida courts, in the United States despite the high demand for staging Masters 1000 events internationally.

“We think it’s very important that we do everything possible to keep the Miami event in this country, and that will be very much a role that Stacey will play for us,” Smith said.

Wasn't Martin Blackman hired to be head of USTA Player Development? Wasn't Katrina Adams made Chairman of the Board, CEO and President of the United States Tennis Association?

Gordon Smith, Executive Director & Chief Operating Officer of the USTA, has added another layer of management. The way this reads is that the TD of the US Open must clear everything he does with Allaster. Adams, on paper, could also have to run everything she does past Allaster. Blackman and his team may have to submit their plans for funding, etc through Allaster who owes nothing to anyone except Smith.

The USTA had the now proverbial 99 problems. Allaster is not the solution to any of them.

©Savannah's World 2016 All Rights Reserved

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Week That Was

by Savannah

The week that the tennis world found out that the woman who had been chosen as the face of her sport was doping for the last ten years is drawing to a close. Everyone, tennis fans and non fans is talking about the fall from grace of Maria Sharapova and what it means for the future of women's tennis.

Some of her fans (and those who are paid or not paid) to promote her on social media, are promoting a few things now.

  • She wasn't "officially doping" until January 1, 2016.
  • She is being persecuted because she is Russian.
  • The effects of meldonium are negligible, no more rousing than a double expresso.
  • A TUE may be granted.

Okay lets go one point at a time.

A man or woman hitting bottom and showing up at an AA, NarcAnon or Gamblers Anonymous meeting isn't a newly formed addict. They've engaged in the behavior that brought them to that meeting for many years and have finally reached the point where they can't stand themselves either. Acknowledging the fact that they're addicts doesn't mean that as of the day of their first meeting they became an addict does it?

Let's be clear. I'm not saying Ms Sharapova is a junkie. I'm making an analogy. However, what do you call someone who takes a medication they don't need (it bears repeating that her lawyer never said she had any of the medical conditions meldonium treats and that mentioning diabetes was a really silly thing to do) for ten years? Drugs like Vicodin, oxycontin and adderall all treat specific physical conditions, temporary or permanent. Those who take them when they're not needed are called what? Addicts. In sports they're called dopers.

Let's turn to sports then, specifically Lance Armstrong. He strongly denied, for years, that he was using PED's. He destroyed the careers of those who insisted that he did use them. And when the truth was revealed sports media was left with egg on its collective face. They'd reported the denials as truths and vilified those who "were out to get Armstrong" for years. And they were wrong.

It's because of the Armstrong case that I'm still surprised that Ms Sharapova and her lawyer took a page out of that book and came out of the gate charging citing medical use that has yet to be proven, telling a closed door meeting with chosen members of the press that Ms Sharapova had listed the drug on her declaration sheets she'd given to the ITF during the AO, and putting out cheerful press releases saying "the world is with Maria" and showing her romping on the beach with an unidentified male who was wearing a shirt that said "Sven" on the back. I should note in passing that none of the men who have coached Maria since her father stepped aside have said a word. Not one word that I'm aware of as I type this.

A Russian friend made me aware that the Russian press was taking the tack that Russian athletes were being persecuted by the West for geopolitical reasons. That argument has gone from one made only in Russian language forums to non Russian fan forums. I don't know what to say except that if even after the ban close to 60 of your athletes have tested positive for a drug that was on the watch list for all of 2015 and officially banned at the beginning of 2016 there is cause for concern.

I'm seeing this argument a lot now because fans are asking if tennis and sports media would've stepped so lightly if the person found to have doped for ten years was another player. "It's not racial" they say. Uh huh. I'll be charitable and say they're delusional. Or that their jobs depend on them pushing that meme.

If the effects of meldonium are so negligible why were so many athletes using it? Did it give them a buzz of some kind? Or did it, as has been alleged, increase endurance? Tennis fans can cite matches where Sharapova showed miraculous fight and endurance and many admire her for that if for nothing else. If it was so above board why did Sharapova, a 21 year resident of the US, have to buy the drug on her own after it was prescribed by a "family doctor" who has yet to be identified? If a doctor in the US prescribed and provided it to her he or she has probably hired a lawyer by now. If the doctor is based in Eastern Europe or Russia he or she is simply shrugging their shoulders and asking "what?".

Then there's the TUE (therapeutic use exemption) solution that was being bandied about. There are four criteria that have to be met in order for a TUE to be granted. You can't meet some of the criteria you have to meet them all.

1.1.2. Criteria for granting a TUE

The four criteria that must be fulfilled before a TUE is granted are set forth
in the International Standard for TUEs:

1. “The Athlete would experience a significant impairment to health if
the Prohibited Substance or Prohibited Method were to be withheld in
the course of treating an acute or chronic medical condition.” (Article
4.1 a. of the International Standard for TUEs.)

2. “The Therapeutic Use of the Prohibited Substance or Prohibited
Method would produce no additional enhancement of performance
other than that which might be anticipated by a return to a state of
normal health following the treatment of a legitimate medical
The Use of any Prohibited Substance or Prohibited Method to increase
“low-normal” levels of any endogenous hormone is not considered an
acceptable Therapeutic intervention.” (Article 4.1b of the International
Standard for TUEs.)
Enhancement of performance should be taken to mean the return by the
Athlete to his/her level of performance prior to the onset of the medical
condition requiring treatment. This means that there may be some
enhancement of individual performance as a result of the efficacy of the
treatment. Nevertheless, such enhancement must not exceed the level of
performance of the Athlete prior to the onset of his/her medical condition.

3. “There is no reasonable Therapeutic alternative to the Use of the
otherwise Prohibited Substance or Prohibited Method.” (Article 4.1
c of the International Standard for TUEs.)
Two points should be noted in relation to reasonable Therapeutic
 Only valid and referenced medications are considered as
 The definition of what is valid and referenced may vary from one
country to another. These differences should be taken into
account. For example, a medication may be registered in one
country and not in another, or approval may be pending, etc.

4. “The necessity for the Use of the otherwise Prohibited Substance or
Prohibited Method cannot be a consequence, wholly or in part, of
prior non-Therapeutic Use of any Substance from the Prohibited
List.” (Article 4.1 d. of the International Standard for TUEs.)

Once these guidelines were posted on Twitter the TUE option kind of went away. Some fanatics tried to post only some of the requirements but other fans posted all four.

So what conclusions are to be drawn?

Ms Sharapova's lawyer John Haggerty did an interview with Simon Cambers of The Guardian newspaper where he appears to walk back several of the talking points that had been put to the public. The following is from that interview linked above.

Q) Did she put meldonium on those forms?
A) Maria never took meldonium, she took mildronate. I’m in the process … I’ve yet to review those forms so I can’t answer that question. I simply do not know.
Q) There has been talk that Maria could ask for a retrospective TUE (therapeutic use exemption). Has Maria asked for one, can she ask for one?
A) We’re evaluating all of Maria’s options and since the TUE process is confidential I’m not in a position to be able to comment either way in what she has or has not done in that regard.
Q) Is there a time limit on doing this?
A) I’m not aware of any timeframe with regard to submission of such a thing.
Q) Meldonium is not licensed in the US so there are questions about where Maria got it from, as individuals are banned from importing it into the US. Has the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) been in touch with you?
A) The FDA has not been in touch with me. It is an over-the-counter medicine that is readily available in a number of countries. Maria legally purchased it and obtained it and has been taking it per her doctor’s recommendations.
Q) So would she have been buying it outside of the US?
A) Given that goes into the medical records and out of respect for the ITF (International Tennis Federation) process, I’m not going to be able to respond to that.

Poor Lindsay Davenport. She's become collateral damage in this situation. She reported to Tennis Channel viewers what Haggerty said in that closed door invitation only meeting - that the forms submitted in Melbourne showed meldonium as one of the drugs she was taking. Sharapova's fans are still trying to say "but Lindsay said" but that doesn't wash since Sharapova's lawyer waffled when asked about it directly.

Saying that it was Mildronate and not meldonium is ridiculous since they're one and the same. Mildronate is the name it's sold to the public by. Meldonium is the active ingredient, the generic name much is the way "Advil" is the retail name for ibuprofen. I give credit to Cambers for asking where she got it from. His question provoked another non answer from Haggerty.

So back to those conclusions.

Ms Sharapova's people have been silent for a couple of days now. Again I'm writing this post so I haven't been able to check and see if anything new has been said by anyone associated with the case.

Tennis media has also gone pretty quiet. There really isn't much to say now is there? Chris Evert, with whom I've had many disagreements, did an interview with ESPN that is must see video. I think she sums things up better than anyone else has so far. As we all know she can't be called an apologist for any player other than Sharapova. In that she went along with the entire ESPN on air staff. Here is the link to her interview . It was after this that a lot of the reporting changed from rah-rah to taking a sober look at the facts.

While watching tennis yesterday in the middle of a match Mary Carillo and Lindsay Davenport started talking about if Maria Sharapova is required to give back the money she won at Melbourne it should be evenly distributed among the players she beat.

I will repeat what I said in my first post about this. All any of us can do is wait.

© Savannahs World 2016 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


by Savannah

Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea, USA TODAY Sports photo 06d21a3a-8ee3-4658-9dc7-71e8a84b24fe_zpsgrjq0ma1.jpg
via Jayne Kamin-Oncea USA Today

It's no secret. Back in the day there were sports heroes and heroines. Men and women who were sold to the public at large as examples of all that sports should exemplify - fairness, honesty, respect for one's teammates. These athletes got away with things because sports reporters made their living based on access to the star. No one was going to report Mickey Mantle's problems with alcohol because he was Mr. Yankee, blond, Southern, all aw shucks and a shy confident grin. Towards the end of Mantle's life the truth couldn't be hidden anymore. Drugs? Some MLB teams are now known to have stocked "green pills" that helped a player get over a night out partying.

Some readers may have no idea who Mickey Mantle was since baseball is really not a world sport so lets fast forward to 2016. Something called the internet (interwebs by some) has taken sports reporting out of an all male closed environment and made it something that everyone, male or female, young or old, can do. Thirty years ago there was no such thing as a blogger. Now there are superfans all over the world following the exploits, good or bad of the best of the best and maybe the almost best. Fandoms are varied and all kinds of people now write about and expose the actions of their faves, good or bad, not only to the country they live in but to the world. Some sports have taken steps to control the narrative. The NBA and NFL lead in this category. Fans were given the ability to watch the NFL Combine, the process by which prospective players try out for teams. Unprecedented. The NBA saw fans were making their own gifs of great and not so great moments so now we have NBA Memes. A superstar athlete needs more than an agent these days. He or she needs a team to handle press, internet and print media. No serious sports fan thinks their fave is posting their own Tweets, Facebook entries or Instagram photos. They have people for that and those people go along with what the agent who oversees it all wants to project to the public before posting anything.

It's no different in tennis. An image is decided on for a top player and any photos, press releases, press conferences are tightly scripted to make sure the athlete, and the people covering the beat, stick to the script. Added to the professionals are families. The more successful the player the more likely you are to find a tight knit group of people, often family, who further make sure the agreed upon image of the star is adhered to. The best examples of this are of course Venus Williams and Serena Williams whose parents stood at the gate and fought off all comers until their daughters were old enough to understand how the game is played and they were able to step back from the spotlight.

The other example of this is Maria Sharapova. Her father, Yuri Sharapov, singlehandedly manned the gate for many years stepping away when his daughter felt secure enough to manage her own affairs. This is an important step in the life of a tennis player. They are the center of their own universes and it's clear that there are some who publicly revel in the power they have over their lives and the lives of their employees. Others keep their actions behind the scenes while others publicly revel in the role of Head Bitch in Charge.

This leads to awkwardness at times. Some fans of Serena for instance didn't like the change from her parents to a team that included people they didn't know and were predisposed to dislike. It had to be pointed out to them that it is Serena calling the shots and that questioning her team was questioning her management of her career. It took time but they backed down.

The title of this blog post is entitlement though and I think the above seeming diversion is a necessary lead in to the situation the WTA, and tennis, finds itself in regarding Maria Sharapova.

It's been clear for many years that the dominant player in women's tennis has been Serena Williams. For reason's I'm not going into it was decided years ago by the people in charge of tennis, that it would be Maria Sharapova who would be marketed not just to tennis fans but to the world as the face of women's tennis. After her Wimbledon win in 2004 those inside tennis thought the sky was the limit, that she would dominate women's tennis. She's won four Slams since then but has become rich from endorsements fueled by that win twelve years ago. "Best paid female athlete in the world" is her claim to fame.

Despite the sunlight being let into various dark corners of the sport there are things that are still done behind the scenes, things that never reach the public. Late withdrawal? No problem for Sharapova while her "nemesis" is vilified by tennis media for withdrawing from tournaments that in many cases she never intended to play. We the general public will never know everything that went on behind the scenes but with the events of Monday, March 7, 2016 the only conclusion that can be drawn is that Ms Sharapova believed herself to be untouchable, that whatever tale she spun for the public would be accepted because after all she is Maria Sharapova.

The best description of Monday's stunning press conference was done by BBC reporter Tom Fordyce which is quoted below.

Black blouse, pale face. That was Maria Sharapova as she announced her failed drugs test.

Sharapova, a woman so focused on the small details that, according to her long-time agent Max Eisenbud, she will peel the label off bottles of water she drinks in nightclubs just in case someone takes a photo of her with a product she has not yet endorsed, has attacked this storm as she does a struggling opponent on court.

Announcements of failed tests are supposed to come from the sport's governing body. That can leave time for rumours to swirl and opinions to harden. Consider everything Sharapova did in that Los Angeles hotel on Monday in that light.

The backdrop: beige curtain. Sober. Calm. The outfit: black shirt with long sleeves, long black trousers. An ensemble for mourning, an image of gravity and abstinence.

The legal position once she failed that test for meldonium is straightforward. Either she has deliberately taken it, knowing it is banned - which is cheating - or she has deliberately taken it and not known it is banned - which is negligence. According to anti-doping protocols, a suspension automatically follows either way.

There is no room in that legal process for emotion. Which is why an athlete looking for sympathy and leniency will introduce it as soon as they can.

The first six words Sharapova spoke appeared to be beautifully chosen. "I wanted to let you know..." Personal. Thoughtful. Not "I have been forced to…" or "You would have found out anyway", but an act of choice, an almost moral decision to keep us informed.

"…that a few days ago I received a letter from the ITF that I have failed a drugs test." The introduction of the idea that it is all new to her, that she has been taken by surprise; that this is something happening to her from the outside.

"For the past 10 years I have been given a drug called mildronate by my family doctor…" Not Sharapova choosing to take it. Not a dodgy pharmacist or lab rat, but a family doctor.

"A few days ago, I found out it also has another name, which is meldonium, which I did not know." Not that the drug was on the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) watch-list for the whole of 2015, or that it was announced in September that it would be banned, or that Sharapova received an email to that effect six months ago.

Instead, confusing old science. No reference to Wada's announcement of its 2016 prohibited list, released on 16 September 2015, which prominently contains this sentence: "Meldonium (mildronate) was added because of evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance."

"It's very important for you to understand that for 10 years this medicine was not on the banned list, and I was legally taking this medicine."

A solid reference to the legality of taking it, rather than the fact that meldonium has never been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the US, where Sharapova has lived for the past 21 years, or that the use of a drug to treat chronic heart failure seems curious in an otherwise phenomenally fit young woman.

And so it went on. The idea that the essence of the crime was not to click on a link in an email sent by Wada, when everyone listening to her around the world also regularly does not click on links in emails.

The full article is worth a read but the important point is that Ms Sharapova claimed that she didn't click on one link in an email notifying her of the upcoming ban. It's now been revealed that there were five notifications, including wallet cards so that a player would have a handy list of banned substances. The name of this family doctor has not been revealed. Her lawyer, in his carefully crafted statement, made it clear that his client does not have any of the ailments the drug was created to treat. One claim, that it could be used to treat prediabetes has been said by the manufacturer to be false.

The other argument Ms Sharapova and her defenders are making is that the drug was legal until January 1, 2016. That is not totally true either. It was on the WADA watch list all of 2015 yet Ms Sharapova continued to take it. The legitimate purpose of the drug is to treat heart failure so why would an 18 year old professional athlete nned it?

There is also the fact that as Mr. Fordyce pointed out Ms Sharapova has lived in the United States for the past 21 years. The drug is not approved for use in the United States which means no licensed physician in this country can prescribe it.

And let's not forget that Ms Sharapova admits to having taken the drug for ten years. The prescribed course of treatment is 4-6 weeks. No one is supposed to be on this drug for a decade.

The spin from her team continues unabated though. Christopher Clarey of the NY Times reprted the following this morning.
It is possible that she will not play on tour again. She will turn 29 next month and has talked in the past about not competing past 30. Her ban could be as long as four years if she is found to have intentionally ingested a performance-enhancing substance.

The more likely outcome, according to legal experts consulted Tuesday, is that she will not be deemed guilty of intentionally trying to cheat, which would mean that she would be subject to a maximum suspension of two years.

“I think that is the most likely outcome from what I heard in the press conference,” said Paul Greene, an American sports lawyer and founder of Global Sports Advocates, who has represented athletes, including the American tennis player Robert Kendrick, in arbitration cases involving doping.


Greene said there was also the possibility of applying retroactively for a therapeutic-use exemption for meldonium, which would be based on Sharapova’s long-term medical usage. If approved, it could absolve her.

“That would be the first thing I would counsel her to do, is to apply for a retroactive T.U.E.,” he said. “It’s a tough standard to meet, a much harder standard than a forward-going T.U.E., but I’ve had a case in the past where that happened, and I’ve gotten retroactive T.U.E.s. that have wiped out adverse analytical findings. It’s not impossible.”

John Haggerty, Sharapova’s lawyer, was asked about that possibility. “Maria and I are looking at all our options,” he said. He also declined to comment, citing confidentiality, on whether Sharapova had listed meldonium, which is also known as mildronate, on her doping control form when she had given samples in the past.

Sharapova said she had been taking the drug, which Haggerty said she knew under the name of mildronate, since 2006 to treat a variety of medical conditions, including irregular EKG results and indicators of diabetes, a condition for which she said she had a family history.

Haggerty rejected suggestions from some prominent doctors that the drug was poorly suited to resolve Sharapova’s declared conditions, including diabetes, and said the drug also provided “cell protection.”

Haggerty said the confidentiality requirements of the coming hearing precluded him from identifying the doctor who prescribed the medicine, which is not approved for sale in the United States but is widely available without a prescription in Russia and some other European nations. Haggerty also indicated that it was only one of several drugs Sharapova was prescribed at the time.

“I think there’s a misunderstanding that Maria took mildronate and only mildronate, and that was to address all of her medical conditions,” Haggerty said. “She took mildronate and a number of other medicines.”

They think they can get away with that last statement huh? If that was the case why wasn't that said during the presser? If they apply for a T.U.E. won't they have to reveal everything she was taking? Do they really want to risk that? They're also waffling about her having listed the drug on her statement made to officials during the Australian Open. I get the feeling officials let her and her team know that they were not going to cover her ass by refusing to release whatever she listed.

It seems to me they're looking for someone in an official capacity to cave, to say she is above the rules other athletes live by and let her off scot free. Isn't that how things have always broken for her? That's the only conclusion I can draw since it's clear she ignored the warnings and continued to take the drug. Only a massive sense of entitlement would allow someone to do what Ms Sharapova seems to have done.

To quote Caroline Wozniacki :

“Anytime we take any medication, we double- and triple-check,” Wozniacki said. “Sometimes even a thing like cough drops and nasal spray can be on the list. So as athletes we make sure not to take something that would put us in a bad situation.”

This story is not over. I'll update when news breaks.

© Savannahs World 2016 All rights reserved unles otherwise indicated

Monday, March 7, 2016

Maria Sharapova Tests Positive

by Savannah

via Getty photo da1386f0-c3a8-4421-bc5f-cd500f89c86b_zpsxwxnpym2.jpg
via Getty

There are so many questions. I never thought she was going to announce her retirement today but I'd be lying if I said doping even crossed my mind.

Let's look at the drug itself.

Here's a description by Herman Ram of the Netherlands, the head of that country's anti doping authority.

“Enhances stamina”

While doctors in the USA and the EU cannot prescribe the drug –meldoinum is not registered as a medicine- it’s often used in Eastern Europe by people with heart failure or people who suffer from chestpains whilst doing exercise. (…)

The Latvian pharmaceutics Grindeks in Riga praises the use also for healthy people. “Enhances the stamina and brain function of heartpatients and healthy people”

And this from the National Institute of Health

To date, substances such as Mildronate (Meldonium) are not on the radar of anti-doping laboratories as the compound is not explicitly classified as prohibited. However, the anti-ischemic drug Mildronate demonstrates an increase in endurance performance of athletes, improved rehabilitation after exercise, protection against stress, and enhanced activations of central nervous system (CNS) functions. In the present study, the existing evidence of Mildronate's usage in sport, which is arguably not (exclusively) based on medicinal reasons, is corroborated by unequivocal analytical data allowing the estimation of the prevalence and extent of misuse in professional sports. Such data are vital to support decision-making processes, particularly regarding the ban on drugs in sport.

It should be noted that during her press conference Ms Sharapova never said she had any of the health issues that would make this drug something she would need (a heart condition, diabetes) but she said that family members had the issues.

So what do we know?

We know that she's been taking this drug for ten years.

Russian sources are saying that warnings went out to it's athletes around October 2015 to stop using meldonium.

Sharapova admits she got an email but says she didn't open it.

Eastern Euopean athletes use the substance regularly.

Sharapova's attorney is attempting to negotiate the length of the ban which can be either 2 years or 4 years depending on intent.

To my knowledege they haven't taken away her Australian Open points

A few weeks ago I wrote about the use of hyperbaric chambers and how they might be banned at some future date. I think the future date for Maria Sharapova has come. If she is allowed to negotiate how long her ban will be then everyone after her should be afforded the same right.

The implications of a top athlete doping, in retrospect, for ten years, gives one pause and has to be cause for concern for tennis officials.

As for fans like us it's too soon to draw conclusions or throw out wild accusations. The only time Sharapova showed emotion was when she said she doesn't want to end her career like this. For now all of the questions on the tip of our tongues should be put on hold. We'll all have to wait and see.

© Savannahs World 2016 All rights reserved except where indicated

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Marketing and Tennis: The ATP

by Savannah

The United States, France, Australia and Great Britain got to show off this weekend didn't they? France, playing their tie in Guadeloupe, a French overseas territory, had a full house cheering the French team on. Gaël Monfils, whose family originated in the territory, played well in front of the "home crowd" (Monfils was born in Paris.) Gilles Simon started out slowly and roared back. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasguet played inspired doubles and closed out the tie easily.

Great Britain once again relied totally on the Murray family for it's victory. Noted xenophobe Dan Evans lost to Nishikori Kei in the second singles rubber and didn't have to play the fifth rubber. In the only match that featured two top ten players Andy Murray faced Nishikori in the pivotal fourth rubber. The day before he and his brother Jamie won the doubles in straight sets. The two men, with everything riding on the match for their countries, played one of if not the best men's match of 2016. The Japanese wanted to keep Murray on the court for a long time and indeed the match last 4h54m. But it was Nishikori, who looked to be bossing Murray around during the two sets he won, who was panting and gasping for breath at the end.
If you have time watch the entire match. If you don't have time watch the fifth set. Amazing high level tennis by both players with the outcome in doubt up until the middle of the set.

Then there was the much ballyhooed ( in the US anyway) tie between the United States and Australia, featuring John Isner, Jack Sock and the Bryan twins Mike and Bob for the US, and Sam Groth, Bernard Tomic, John Peers and playing Captain Lleyton Hewitt for Australia.

There are a lot of people in tennis, people who should know better, who when first Tomic and then Kyrgios burst into the consciousness of serious tennis fans - not too many outside of tennis have a clue who they are - their antics provoked raised eyebrows at the least, scorn at the most. Tennis Australia (TA) had it's hands full with the two talented, vain, and arrogant players. It seemed that at least once a month TA had to come out with an explanation for behavior both on and off the court that many thought was beyond the pale.

Long story short, Tomic's first rubber was against Jack Sock. By all accounts he was focused and interested in the match and won it in four sets. His second match, the one that would make or break his team, found him the exact opposite. I saw some of that match. Truth be told he was acting like a brat and quickly dropped the first two sets. His Captain was heard pleading with him to play better on the changeover. Tomic, instead of doing what both Murray and Nishikori did during changeovers and listen to their Captains while hydrating, etc, whined about Kyrgios not being there saying that he was probably faking and that he'd gotten away with it before. Kyrgios was not tanking the match. Tomic was. The deflection was childish and stupid and unprofessional. He managed to win the third set 7-5 before losing 6-7(4) to Isner and forcing his country to face relegation.

During his presser he went in on Kyrgios again with the same complaint. TA has already had one former player walk away from the Tomic/Kyrgios situation. I'm no fan of Hewitt and to me it's a case of reaping what you sow. He was no walk in the park either.

TA has no one else though and these two will hold their Federation hostage for many years. Wally Masur said the following today:

"What's happened has happened, and for me the best thing is that they both play Indian Wells in five days time," Masur told Fox Sports News.

"That they just meet up in the locker room ... shake hands and just get on with it.

"We don't play another Davis Cup tie until September so there will be a lot of water under the bridge from now until then."

Needless to say the "heat of the moment" was thrown into the pot as well.

On the other side of the world there were better examples of sportsmanship from up and comers.
via DPA photo 295ed1d9-c3d8-4327-b3f1-47a0fd4fcb8b_zpsulpuvyu0.jpg
via DPA

Alexander Zverev was inconsolable after losing to Tomas Berdych. To be fair he should be losing to Berdych at this stage of his career. I wouldn't tell him that though.

Borna Ćorić won the rubber that moved his country on to the next round after their top player Marin Čilić wasn't able to close the tie out.

If you were a marketing person which young people would you want to promote as examples of what tennis is all about?

Yeah, I would too but there are too many people who think the game needs "personality". Be careful what you ask for.

© Savannahs World 2016 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, February 28, 2016

We'd Better Get Used To It

by Savannah

Sloane Stephens Acapulco 2016 photo 9b9a1ecc-a696-4039-9839-970bb81b9f1f_zpshiaw6cq7.jpg
via TennisTV

I've been dragging Sloane Stephens for a couple of years now right? Her attitude that one victory made her a superstar for life was as annoying as her unwillingness to get down and dirty to win a match. She hired and fired coaches in rapid succession before settling on Kamau Murray as the new person on her team. Murray, based in Chicago, briefly coached Taylor Townsend but is known for his Academy. From what I saw last night whatever Sloane needed to stop playing "do you know who I am" tennis she is now playing focused strategic tennis. No more baffling runs to the net or trying to hit a bomb when a light touch would be more than enough. Watching her play Dominika Cibulkova
last nigt in Acapulco was like seeing a different player. When Domi started pushing her back behind the baseline Sloane didnt'try to blast her way out. Instead she worked her way back in and got shots she could work with. In the end she was just that little bit better than Cibulkova and won an emotional match.

If she wants to stop being another talented US failure she has to build on her win last night. She's ranked around #25 and still gets direct entry into big tournaments like the upcoming Indian Wells. I just hope that she doesn't let last night's win go to her head and set herself back another two years. Murray thought he could get the star he needs with Townsend but the issues there were too deep. He may find his success with Sloane IF he can stop her from making herself a legend in her own mind.

Should We Forget February?

Roberta Vinci Premier Level St Petersburg Champion
Sara Errani Premier Level Dubai Champion
Francesca Schiavone International Level Champion Rio de Janeiro
Carla Suárez Navarro P5 Level Doha Champion
Sloane Stephens International Acapulco Champion

Roberta Vinci believes. After stopping Serena Williams at the US Open she's played with a confidence she didn't display before. Francesca Schiavone is maybe playing her last year, a late bloomer who found herself a Slam champion and who hasn't done much since. Sloane Stephens was discussed above. So let's talk about Carla Suárez Navarro and Sara Errani, starting with their most obvious similarity: they're both small women. Errani is listed at 5'5" (1.64m). CSN is listed at 5'4" (1.62m). We know how reliable these things are in tennis so let's accept the height measurements as fact. That is where the similarity between the two women ends however. CSN has a good game with a decent serve. Errani, well, that she is in the top 10 of the WTA feeds the talk of lack of depth on the women's tour. If you notice there were mostly cheers for CSN winning in Doha. Compare that to the howls of outrage and disgust at Errani's win in Dubai. What does that mean as we plunge headlong into the Post Serena era of the WTA? Are the people bemoaning the upcoming years as weak jumping the gun or are they merely stating the obvious based on what we've seen from the future "stars" of the WTA.

I think that sadly the upcoming years will not be good ones for the WTA. I've said that before but I do like to point out that I was saying it two years ago when rabidly pro WTA fans began calling the weakness "depth". The lack of mental maturity, lack of sound technique and lack of PR savvy (treating your coach as someone beneath your contempt is not a good way to build your reputation among fans, coaches or tennis off court professionals) is glaring. If newer fans wonder why there is so much lingering dislike of Martina Hingis despite her seemingly nice disposition these days check back on some of the things she did and said earlier in her career. How often do you have to say that tennis fans have very long memories and first impressions are lasting. Brattiness and other displays of pique because the world is not conforming to your point of view are not good looks for top players but that seems to be the default position for many of the future "stars" of the sport. Sad.

What's also sad is that there was no way to see any of the WTA tournament unless you were physically in Acapulco until the later stages of the event. That's not a good way to build your brand WTA people.

As for the ATP things are looking a bit shaky too.

First off when your top player retires due to an eye infection after having once retired with a sore throat all of your narratives about a changed man fly out of the window. If said player couldn't see he should've given his opponent the walk over. I watched a replay of the match and it seemed as if he was upset at the crowd lustily cheering his opponent and not him. It was stunning to see how quickly he retired after the end of the first set, almost running off court as if he had somewhere to be. If a woman had done that (Serena Williams) the tennis press would've been up in arms about disrespect for the sport, etc, etc. Instead there was an almost deafening silence from the usual suspects. A leopard can't change it's spots.

The men's tournament at Acapulco, the official warm up for Indian Wells for many, was interesting on many different levels, not all of them positive for the ATP.

Two years ago David Ferrer was making the long journey from South America to Mexico without too many problems. This year the wear and tear showed. Another late bloomer he's not able to get down and dirty consistantly anymore. At times he looked like an old lion prowling the baseline instead of a coiled beast ready to pounce.

The US has its hopes pinned on young Taylor Fritz who aquitted himself well but seems to have lingering physical problems at the tender age of 18. As regular readers know he's my young man to watch this year so I'll cut my comments short for now. My review of what I've seen of him, as well as my young woman to watch Naomi Osaka should be up before the start of Indian Wells.

Australia has two men it hopes will revive it's fortunes - Nicholas Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic. Tennis Australia has spent a lot of money trying to rehab the images of both men. Tomic, threw a hissy fit during the Golden Swing saying, in true entitled brat manner, that he'd rather be in Miami driving his Ferrari. I almost typed Porsche because of Sam Querrey who said almost the exact same thing a few years ago except he said that losing wasn't a big thing since he could go home and drive his mother's Porsche. Is it me or did Querrey, after being dragged on Tennis Channel of all places for being a lazy sumbitch start playing better?

Back to the Australian Golden Children. Kyrgios had a much anticipated rematch with Stan Wawrinka who he'd famously insulted during a match last year. Epic? Great shot making? Kyrgios retired with a back injury. If you remember Wawrinka retire during that previous encounter with, if I recall correctly, a back issue. As for Tomic who had escaped the jungles of South America and it's clay courts and was now playing on hard he found himself in the Final facing press favorite Dominic Thiem.

I've seen Thiem play live. I was sitting on a bench on one of the outer courts at the US Open so I got to watch his game as well as his technique. I'm obviously missing something. I don't see what all the fuss is about. His game is solid, evenly paced and dull as dishwater. There is nothing special about him from what I can see. Favorable draws will go a long way to advance his move up the ranks especially in the weak era that's coming.

Before talking about the Final I have to mention the much anticipated match that came before it in the semi finals: Dominic Thiem vs Grigor Dimitrov. Dimitrov is another player the press loses its collective shit over. First he was crowned "Baby Fed". That got old real fast so now he's just one of the top up and comers. Has been for awhile now. Watching him play Thiem the other night you could see the point where he went off the rails. It's not that he lost interest he lost focus and couldn't get it back. Racquet tosses, emotional displays, none of that helped. Thiem just had to continue to play steadily and he did, winning a match that should've been a firecracker and instead was predictable after Dimitrov lost his way.

For Thiem the final was more of the same. TA has invested a lot of time and money into Bernard Tomic and his fmily. I was watching TennisTV and one of the comms, an Aussie, was trying to flog Tomic's incipient superstardom. I can't tell you how many times he repeated that Tomic got off to a slow start against Alexandr Dolgopolov in the previous round and went on to win. I'm sure it was obvious to him, and to anyone watching, that Tomic didn't give a damn about the match. Thiem would've won in straight sets except that Tomic realized he had to do something to keep TA off his ass so he pulled himself togther enough to win the second set. By the end of the match I'm surprised he wasn't openly yawnig while hitting returns and glancing towards the parking lot to make sure his wheels were there waiting.

The ATP is going in on promoting the generation born in the '90's and is constantly releasing stats about them. The latest is focused on who has won the most titles.

@ATPWorldTour title leaders born in 1990s:

Milos Raonic 8
Dominic Thiem 5
Grigor Dimitrov 4
Bernard Tomic 3
David Goffin 2

None have won a Slam.

The WTA 1990's babies feature a Slam winner in Petra Kvitova who is showing that being thin doesn't mean that you are fit.
The other 90's babies?

Caroline Wozniacki 23 WTA Level Titles
Petra Kvitová 17 WTA Level Titles
Simona Halep 11 WTA Level Titles
Karolina Pliskova 4 WTA Level Titles
Garbine Muguruza (She did reach a GS Final) 2 WTA Level Titles
Belinda Bencic 2 WTA Level Titles
Jelena Ostapenko 7 ITF Level Titles

I know I'm leaving people out. Both Wozniacki and Kvitova were born in 1990 by the way.

I admit it. I've been spoiled. The last few years have been great tennis wise. Civility, feigned or otherwise, became the norm. The generation of cussers, racquet breakers and pary goers was succeeded by players focused on fitness, mental strength and respect for the sport on and off court. Heaven knows what we're getting now. We're going to have to get used to mediocre, overly emotional, brainless tennis on court and frat boys and brats off court. What a big comedown it's going to be.

© Savannah's World All Rights Reserved

Monday, February 22, 2016

Marketability and Tennis

by Savannah

An interesting interview with Marin Čilić's agent Vincent Stavaux by @franckramella of L'Équipe appeared over the weekend. In it he addressed the issue of his client's lack of popularity in what passes for tennis media and why companies like Nike haven't pursued him. Thanks to @markalannixon for the translation.

Tell us why we should like Marin Čilić?

"People need to find out who he really is. He's atypical on the tour. His natural kindness, not false, his amenability, his availability are to me exceptional. Everyone says: "Yes, but he lacks charisma and that sort of thing", but as soon as they meet him, they change their minds about him. We had a meeting here (in Marseille) with seniors, they were astonished by his kindness. He spoke to them in French, they were touched. And every tournament director will tell you: "Marin Čilić is special because everything he does he does with a smile." He's available when that's not always the case. He plays the game and never shows up just for the appearance money. In Rotterdam, he asked me Saturday morning, because he lacked a bit of confidence: "You believe in going to Marseille? I don't want to go there if I won't do well." I swear he said that!"

But he's not mentioned much - not by the media either -, while attention is paid more easily to the more extroverted ones ...

"To me, that's an excellent societal question. Everyone screams about and spits on the paparazzi and the sensationalist tabloids, but they have readers. It's a bit the same here. I have trouble understanding that, in relation to Marin, people prefer watching Kyrgios who throws his racquet and spits, though I have nothing against him. But hearing that sort of thing is problematic. Because what? For tennis to be fun you have to insult the umpires? Shout "fuck" everywhere? Watching a Roger at the top of his art entertaining the crowd, that's tennis to me. Not smashing racquets or whatever .. That's hypocritical."

Do you think we push too much for excess while constantly complaining that the sport is too policed?

"Stop! If people don't want to watch that sort of tennis, they can watch another sport. I'm against all rules that that make the game colourless under the pretext of making it more pleasant for the majority of people."

How do you fight for Čilić's existence in that world?

"What's a shame is that sponsor brands look strongly for that. Either you're right at the top or you're outrageous. But if you're in the category of player like Tomas Berdych, David Ferrer or Marin Čilić, you're nothing.Every time. They hide behind excuses like: "He's from Croatia, it's not a market." It's a very small argument."

Go ahead. We're giving you the chance to sell us Čilić ...

"His generosity. I think Marin Čilić is Pat Rafter's successor in the sense that he does a lot of things for a lot of people. He helps without talking about it. I was astonished when I found out years after that Rafter had built a hospital from the ground up with his own money. Marin gets involved, gives quite a lot to foundations. If people only knew what a big heart he has ..."

The thing is many of the players, male and female, coming up are in the category of Tomáš Berdych, David Ferrer and Marin Čilić. The problem is tennis has never been good at marketing players like them and worse at marketing players from Eastern Europe.

Players from Eastern Europe who play for Western European countries like Belinda Bencic and before her Martina Hingisová Molitor who played as Martina Hingis do get/got the full star treatment. Angelique Kerber is Polish but plays for Germany. And there's Simona Halep of Romania. None of them, not one, can headline an event. None of them have that "thing" that draws people to them.

It's the same on the men's side. The top male player, despite all of the effort his people put into promoting him, is not as charismatic as the two men who despite their current woes are still the biggest stars in the sport. And he doesn't wear Nike either. Let's look past him at the up and comers. Alexander Zverev is of Russian descent but both he and his brother who plays as Mischa Zverev play for Germany. Borna Ćorić of Croatia has the good looks that could get him places à la Marat Safin but none of them have the star power to draw casual fans to the sport. Čilić is a very handsome man but as his agent opines he comes from an area of the world that is not considered "a market". The same thing is said of Tomáš Berdych.

Since Čilić brought up David Ferrer I'll mention him briefly. People rant and rave about Feliciano López but in person Ferrer is the much better looking man. Still, neither one of them wear Nike or Adidas, the top brands in sports.

And yes there is Maria Sharapova who, to put it mildly does get a lot of publicity. The WTA has a type and she is still it. Did she get the push because she is based in the States while players like Maria Kirilenko, Anastasia Myskina and Elena Dementieva were unknown outside the world of tennis fanatics?

So what is going on? Why are players who have been consistently top ten so hard to market? Why is there such a push for players like Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic but not for men and women, with few exceptions, out of Eastern Europe? Is it language? Is it that many of the Eastern European countries are poor? When the duopoly is gone who will replace them in terms of marketing? I have no answer and from the interview posted above agents are hitting a brick wall with the big ad agencies and clothing purveyors. If a marketing strategy can't be created now what is going to happen in the next two or three years? Who will be the standard bearers for a sport that will be dominated by players from countries that are not "markets"?

If tennis doesn't want to fade in the minds of sports fans a solution to the marketing problem will have to be found.

© SavannahsWorld 2016 All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Ennui and Ego Do Not Champions Make

by Savannah

Where to start?

Let's look at the top eight seeds at the WTA tournament in Dubai.

After Serena's official withdrawal from the event (that's part of the story by the way)the seeds were as follows:

1. Simona Halep
2. Garbiñe Muguruza
3. Carla Suárez Navarro
4. Petra Kvitova
5. Belinda Bencic
6. Karolina Pliskova
7. Roberta Vinci
8. Svetlana Kuznetsova

Second round play ended a few minutes ago. The highest ranked player left is Ana Ivanovic who is currently ranked #20 in the world.

It's easy to say that the appearance fees paid to show up and play in Dubai are staggering. I'm sure they are. There's also Doha next week, a slightly higher ranked tournament at the P5 level where many of the players are schedule to play next week. World #1 Serena Williams will not play there either due to flu like illness. If she's got the version that leads to bronchitis she's really sick. It takes a lot of time to get over it. With Serena out of two high profile tournaments this week and next could have provided the stage for the top women to show their stuff, to prove that there is depth in the WTA and not mental weakness. Sadly, the matches I saw today did nothing to show that there is depth. Garbiñe Muguruza ended her day with a total of 68 unforced errors, 40 in the first set. An error prone Petra Kvitova threw in a multitude of errors and lost to Madison Brengle 6-0, 6-7(1), 3-6. Simona Halep was defeated by Ana Ivanovic and she didn't look as if she could be arsed to play her match today. Petra Kvitova is a two time Wimbledon Champion. Simona Halep has played her way to the number three ranking. Muguruza is on many lists as the one who will be the next dominant #1 in the world.

Muguruza has played listless tennis the last two times I've seen her. During a coaching break the top tier coach she hired, Sam Sumyk, gave her specific, and very good ways to counter what her opponent Elina Svitolina (now coached by Justine Henin) was doing to her. More off speed shots, more variety. Don't come out swinging for every shot. Muguruza looked bored with his instructions and started the second set doing exactly what her coach had just told her not to. During his second visit where he gave her another dose of specific instructions she looked like she was more interested in digging wax out of her ears. She lost a miserable, late night match to a player one tennis head described and "basic and nothing special".

Petra Kvitova, coachless since the beginning of the year, started off on fire taking the first set 6-0 vs Brengle, a journeywoman who has had some decent results lately but who was widely expected to submit quietly to Kvitova especially after that first set. But it was Brengle who signed the camera at the end of the match and Kvitova who walked off looking as if she was trying to figure out what had just happened.

Simona Halep looked as if she had no idea what she was supposed to do. And yes that's a knock on Darren Cahill, one of the most highly respected coaches of the current crop of people coaching top ranked players. He was part of the Adidas consortium of coaches and was talked about as a super coach but none of the players who worked with that group did very well.

Bençiç has played a lot of tennis in the last few weeks and has broken into the top ten but has already been declared a "legend" by some commentators at the age of 18 with no major wins. Sveta is Sveta. Vinci has played a lot recently too as she tries to break into the top ten late in her career. Pliskova has played a lot recently too. I've gone into her technical issues before so I'll just add that she's played a lot recently.

So what am I saying when I called this post the "hunter vs the hunted". Not one of these women showed the competitive spark you'd expect to see from "legends" or double slam winners or "next best things". I saw tentative play, brain farts and bad technique. Are they saving it all for Doha and after that Indian Wells and Miami?

One of the reasons I wanted to nmake this post now is because that huge back to back is coming and these women are the future of the WTA. Serena is not going to play much this year outside of the Slams and big tournaments like IW and Miami. Even the haters are saying this is a wise course for her as she winds down her historic and precedent changing career. She's been the big dog for a number of years now. This is the time for the puppies to show they can go balls to the wall and not only ball bash but think and play lower ranked players off the court. None of the pretenders has earned the right to show up at a tournament, bank the appearance fee, and walk. Kvitova maybe with her two Slam wins but she's never shown any consistency away from SW19. Is she a great? No. The word "potential" should still be used when discussing her. Halep seems to be afraid to step out into the wider world. She can be intimidated on court and has been. She's also afraid of the net.

Muguruza is a curious case. When she dumped the coach she'd been with for a long time he intimated that she had changed, the implication being that she considered herself among the elite and that she needed a big time coach. Her blatant disrespect for her coach today was shocking. Most players spend coaching time hydrating or adjusting their gear but it's clear that they're listening. Muguruza was obviously not listening and her play showed she wasn't. Svitolina may be nothing special but she wanted the win and she got it.

I've said since last year the level of tennis starting in 2017 was going to be much lower than we've been used to of late. If this is what we're going to see, ennui and ego, then the WTA, already considered the weaker tour by some, is in for a bad time. The ATP isn't really in much better shape but at least their matches the last two weeks have been competitive and interesting. Young players like Alexander Zverev, Taylor Fritz, Borna Çoriç and Chung Hyeon have been working on their games and are showing progress towards the top of their sport. What I'm seeing from the WTA is disheartening. I'm thinking we'll see players like Agniezska Radwanska, and a suddenly injury free Maria Sharapova fighting to hold onto the top ranking in women's tennis. Hell, even Angelique Kerber could be in the running no? She's alread ranked number two.

It's easier being the hunter than the hunted, a wise woman named Marion Bartoli said awhile back. Self induced ennui and a huge sense of self does not mean that your opponent is going to roll over and play dead. You've got to earn respect from your peers. So far very few seem to understand that.

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Monday, February 8, 2016

Is This The End?

by Savannah

There are those who have been railing against Fed Cup and Davis Cup. It's inconvenient. Players have to break their routines. It needs revamping for the modern tennis world. All of this can be argued yea or nay and has been. Change would take a year or two to implement and while a lot of lip service has been given to "change" but as with anything else in tennis movement will come at a glacial pace.

That said I think it's valid to say that in 2016 Fed Cup was irrevocably, perhaps fatally broken. It was broken by the antics - there is no other way to describe what happened - of one country, one that has a great history in women's tennis and now seems to have become something else, something not good for the sport of tennis specifically women's tennis.

It started in Melbourne Australia when Maria Sharapova announced that she would travel to the venue but had no intention of playing due to her latest mystery injury. The head of the Russian Tennis Federation returned fire saying if you don't play you don't go to the Olympics. Standoff? A duel at noon seemed to be imminent when Sharapova was penciled in to play doubles with up and comer Daria Kasatkina. With a lineup that included players ranked in the top 30 - Ekaterina Makarova and Svetlana Kuznetsova - it was a given that the Russians would romp against the lowly Netherlands in straight rubbers. A funny thing happened on the way to that romp though. Both Makarova and Kuznetsova lost, Sveta after playing a grueling four hour match. Speculation ran wild. Who would Anastasia Myskina play in order to give her country a chance to win the tie? In the midst of the speculation talk was that Sharapova had not brought any racquets with her and so she could not play. Add to that her mouthpiece/agent Max Eisenbud went on one of his anti Serena Williams rants and included the news that his client would no longer play Fed Cup, that this was her last appearance. My reaction was a huge so what? His client knows that she can't beat Serena and was almost in tears during their match in Melbourne. 2020 is four years away. His client will be 29 this year and 33 in 2020. With all of her ailments it's hard to see her playing much longer. (Of course if Serena retires this year we'll see a rejuvenated, injury free Sharapova working hard to try and win more titles and Slams but I digress).

Imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning to find that Myskina played Svetlana Kuznetsova? I was not surprised that she lost. I was also convinced by that move that Myskina had no intention of winning the tie, that in the end Sharapova got her demands met - she only had to be present to make the Olympics - and that Russia thought so little of Fed Cup that it seems to have deliberately tanked a tie.

via Reutes photo 7312c48d-1520-42e0-942f-4067a71f88ae_zpsqxfakmo1.jpg
Kiki Bertens via FedCup

I'm not angry. I'm disappointed. I don't know much about what goes on in Russian tennis. I only know what I read by those who read and speak the language and are better equipped to comment on what goes on in that country. The women from The Netherlands played their hearts out and their joy comes through in the still photographs I've seen. What a shame that the team they played rolled over and played dead for all intents and purposes. The Netherlands team will face France next. I wish them well.

© SavannahsWorld 2016 All Rights Reserved unless otherwise indicated

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Rear View Mirror: Australian Open 2016

by Savannah

I've seen the question asked several times on fan forums and never get answered. I don't think I'll get an answer here either but I'll ask the question: What happened to Novak Djokovic's health issues? Remember when he was always retiring from matches due to breathing problems? Or physical problems? Or something unquantifiable? It wasn't that long ago. All of a sudden those issues disappeared and now we seem to have some kind of iron man with the same name as the one who was known as, and still is by many, Fakervic. "They" don't like to talk about it but when pressed some injury or another will still pop up and if his opponent reacts to it with concern it disappears and he's off again. He did it to Andy Murray at last years Australian Open but no one wants to talk about that. What they want to sell you on is that using a hyperbaric pod after a grueling match is not blood doping. Here's the secret: it is blood doping. They will come at you and say that the ATP/ITF/WADA hasn't said it's illegal so until they do it's not.
This year they say he used it after a particularly long match against Gilles Simon, one that lasted over four hours. Of course next round he was fresh as a daisy.

Remember that year Rafael Nadal played a five hour match against Fernando Verdasco and had to play the next day or something? No hyperbaric pod was mentioned (they would've mentioned it since the powers that be hate Rafa for some reason or another)and he won his next match. This year they're trying to tell us that many other players use it but the only ones they could name were one of the Bryan twins and Bethanie Mattek Sands.

They're also trying to tell us that Boris Becker is Djokovic's coach when it's really the man who has always been his coach, Marian Vajda. And tell me what ATP #1 has ever defended a "friend" who has been accused and suspended for using PED's and mentioned in the match fixing kerfluffle?

I've tried to avoid this subject but when articles supporting his use of a hyperbaric pod (remember when they said it wasn't, that it was a variation of some kind but not the real thing?)appear alongside pleas for fans to like him someone has to say something. Every win of his is, in my opinion, bad for tennis. I bet that as soon as he retires they're going to make hyperbaric pods illegal. Wait for it.

On to happier news.

 photo 3be5d927-6fb6-487a-a2bc-02dc265d3029_zpsaueeuir9.jpg
via Getty Images

Everyone knew Serena Williams had physical problems coming into the Australian Open. A tricky draw had many thinking that she wouldn't make the Final but she did. Angelique Kerber would be her opponent, a woman I described as boringly efficient. It was Kerber who won in three sets and for once the Australian Open, scene of many petulant losses by favorites both male and female, the loser seemed genuinely happy for the winner. There were no side eyes or eye rolls. There was just happiness for Ms Kerber from Serena. That was good for tennis and especially women's tennis especially after Garbiñe Muguruza's comment in an interview with Spanish media that all of the women really and truly hate each other. Kerber was overjoyed and Serena was happy for her, genuinely happy. Now, with the Grand Slam pressure off let's see how Serena manages her schedule up to and after Rio. It's also going to be interesting to see how Kerber handles the weight of expectations that now grace her shoulders. Congratulations to both women for giving us a competitive and entertaining Final.

The complete list of winners follows:

Men's Singles
Serbia Novak Djokovic
Women's Singles
Germany Angelique Kerber
Men's Doubles
United Kingdom Jamie Murray / Brazil Bruno Soares
Women's Doubles
Switzerland Martina Hingis / India Sania Mirza
Mixed Doubles
Russia Elena Vesnina / Brazil Bruno Soares
Boys' Singles
Australia Oliver Anderson
Girls' Singles
Belarus Vera Lapko
Boys' Doubles
Australia Alex de Minaur / Australia Blake Ellis
Girls' Doubles
Russia Anna Kalinskaya / Slovakia Tereza Mihalíková
Legends Men's Doubles
Sweden Jonas Björkman / Sweden Thomas Johansson
Women's Legends Doubles
United States Lindsay Davenport / United States Martina Navratilova
Wheelchair Men's Singles
United Kingdom Gordon Reid
Wheelchair Women's Singles
Netherlands Jiske Griffioen
Wheelchair Quad Singles
Australia Dylan Alcott
Wheelchair Men's Doubles
France Stéphane Houdet / France Nicolas Peifer
Wheelchair Women's Doubles
Japan Yui Kamiji / Netherlands Marjolein Buis
Wheelchair Quad Doubles
South Africa Lucas Sithole / United States David Wagner

© 2016 SavannahsWorld All rights reserved unless otherwise indicated

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Weakness Or Strength?

by Savannah

My cyber friend and fellow blogger Karen always argues with me about my feeling that there is mental weakness in the WTA and that that is the cause for so much churn below the top ranking. She feels that it shows the depth of the women's tour.

We've agreed to disagree but I found a thread on a fan site that intrigued me and I thought I'd share it with you.

A fan calling themself "eDonkey" posted that of the top 21 WTA players(next week's rankings) only four have never made a Grand Slam Final now that Angelique Kerber will play Serena Williams for the title in Melbourne. Here's the list that was posted with those failing to make a final highlighted.

01. Serena Williams
02. Simona Halep
03. Agnieszka Radwanska
04. Angelique Kerber
05. Garbine Muguruza
06. Maria Sharapova
07. Flavia Pennetta
08. Carla Suarez Navarro
09. Petra Kvitova
10. Lucie Safarova
11. Belinda Bencic
12. Venus Williams
13. Karolina Pliskova
14. Victoria Azarenka
15. Timea Bacsinszky
16. Roberta Vinci
17. Jelena Jankovic
18. Caroline Wozniacki
19. Ana Ivanovic
20. Svetlana Kuznetsova
21. Sara Errani

For the ATP here's the top 20 where ten of the top 13 men have made a Grand Slam Final.

1 Djokovic
2 Federer
3 Murray
4 Wawrinka
5 Nadal
6 Ferrer
7 Nishikori
8 Berdych
9 Tsonga
10 Gasquet
11 Raonic
12 Isner
13 Cilic
14 Anderson
15 Simon
16 Goffin
17 Monfils
18 Bautista Agut
19 Thiem
20 Tomic

Remember we're talking Grand Slam Final's not tour finals.

I'll say it again. The WTA tour is being dominated both mentally and physically by a woman in her mid thirties. When she doesn't play (she may only play the big tournaments this year because of the Olympics) it's a shit show as to who will win. If you look at the WTA players ranked 2-6 who is a sure bet to win consistently? Aga Radwanska and Maria Sharapova, as I've said before, have their way with mentally weak or inexperienced players. Simona Halep is redefining the meaning of the word headcase while Garbiñe Muguruza looks ready to take over the world one minute and as if she wandered onto a tennis court by accident the next. By the way Sara Errani's final was the 2012 Roland Garros where she was runner up to Maria Sharapova.

I'm not quite sure why the top 21 was the cut off for the women while the top twenty was the cut off for the men. Maybe because Serena stands alone atop the heap in the WTA so the only race is between 2-21? I don't know. I do know that a club ceases to be exclusive when anyone can get in.

The Australian Open Final - WTA

It'll be Serena Williams vs Angelique Kerber for the championship in Melbourne. Serena destroyed Aga Radwanska in their semi final while the woman everyone said was going to be there - Victoria Azarenka suddenly forgot how to play tennis and lost to Johanna Konta who predictably lost to Angelique Kerber in their semifinal. *See note below

I seriously questioned whether Serena was ready for the grind of a Slam, seven matches in two weeks, and with a tricky draw to navigate but she's in the Final and will face a tenacious opponent in Kerber, who is nothing but if not boringly efficient. After the US Open you can never say what will happen in a Slam Final so I won't. As is often said you have to play, and defeat, who is across the net from you.

Tennis Journalism

January isn't even over and there are already stories the tennis press is ignoring. I'm not getting into gambling and tennis because there is an easy way to fix it - more parity in pay. The ATP Players Association came out firmly against better conditions and pay for those who make their living on the Challenger Tour when Roger Federer ruled the roost and their position hasn't changed. I do think it's interesting that when an algorithm brought Lleyton Hewitt's name into the mix the cries of "no way" drowned out the story of how a top Australian sports bettor used to sit in Hewitt's box at matches until he bet against Hewitt. "Pillar of the Sport". "Wonderful human being". "Beautiful family" (yes they went there). During one of his pressers he had his children sitting with him (to insure there were no untoward questions?) and the focus was on his youngest daughter who sat closest to him.

Then there's the so far verbal spat between Shamil Tarpishev (I know) and Maria Sharapova over Fed Cup. After losing to Serena in the quarterfinals at Melbourne Sharapova announced that she was going to St Petersburg but due to her forearm injury (I didn't see any problem with her shotmaking during the tournament or a medical time out but hey, it could've been the shoulder) she was not going to play. I guess she forgot to tell the head of her Federation, you know, the Russian Tennis Federation, the one she plays for? Tarpishev publicly told her that if she doesn't play the tie she will not be on the Russian team in Rio. When you're so used to telling your minions at the WTA and the men and women who pass as Tournament Directors what you are and aren't going to do you can tend to forget everyone isn't under your spell. Not one, zero, zip, nada, tennis reporter or press person has touched this story, one that was translated into English by the Russian news agency Tass . I'm guessing Max Eisenbud is on the phone talking really, really fast with Tarpishev as I type this while having some unpaid intern telling the "tennis media" to stay away from the story. Don't you love it?

End Notes

There ae four times a year any tennis fan worth his or her salt gets excited. When Grand Slams are played it's two weeks of the best playing the rest and hopes aboun for scintillating tennis.

If excitement and drama are what you were looking for this January I don't think you found it. We did see some potential new talent emerge on the women's side - Maria Sakkari of Greece who came oh so close to eliminating Carla Suárez Navarro, the tenth seed, Zhang Shuai of China who made it to the Quarterfinals after defeating the Number 2 seed Simona Halep are two who spring immediately to mind. There was also some troubling play from Sloane Stephens, fresh from winning her second WTA title and thought by many to have the potential to go deep here, and continuing injury problems for Madison Keys. What is it with US players being chronically injured? Maybe someone with professional cred needs to look at what the physios are doing for the USTA but, well, yeah moving on.

The ATP? There's not much to say. Tennis journalists continue to be baffled by the lack of fan enthusiasm for the ATP number one. I've given my opinion on this and I'm not going into it again. Ironically it's the enthusiasm for the ATP that keeps a tournament alive and right now there's not much new going on over there. They're still beating the drums for Dominic Thiem, Stan Wawrinka and yes Bernard Tomic but none of these men have star quality, that "thing" that lights up an arena. Aside from Serena Williams there is no one, with the exception of two men, who have it. Sharapova? The lack of fan support for her in her Round of 16 match was breathtaking and unable to be covered up by whoever was controlling the stream. Azarenka, never a fan favorite, did better with the Aussie crowd than Sharapova.

The countdown has begun to the Olympics where even the surface tennis will be played on is questionable. The end of the year, post US Open, is going to be very interesting to say the least.

Correction: As a reader pointed out Victoria Azarenka lost to Angelique Kerber in the Quarterfinals. Johanna Konta defeated Zhang Shuai. Konta played Kerber in the semifinals. Thanks Fred66!

© 2016 SavannahsWorld All rights reserved unless other wise indicated

Saturday, January 23, 2016

I Said What I Said...

by Savannah

I said I saw upsets. Oh well.

Jason Reed/Reuters photo d02928ec-8220-4141-82f1-a22d5d543d98_zpsmywii1qt.jpg
Jason Reed/Reuters

The first week of the 2016 iteration of the Australian Open is over and the business end of the tournament is about to start.
With my focus on the WTA once again let's look back at the week that was.

The following players were seeded for the Women's Singles Draw.

1. Serena Williams (USA)
2. Simona Halep (ROU)
3. Garbine Muguruza (ESP)
4. Agnieszka Radwanska (POL)
5. Maria Sharapova (RUS)
6. Petra Kvitova
7. Angelique Kerber (GER)
8. Venus Williams (USA)
9. Karolina Pliskova (CZE)
10. Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP)
11. Timea Bacsinszky (SUI)
12. Belinda Bencic (SUI)
13. Roberta Vinci (ITA)
14. Victoria Azarenka (BLR)
15. Madison Keys (USA)
16. Caroline Wozniacki (DEN)
17. Sara Errani (ITA)
18. Elina Svitolina (UKR)
19. Jelena Jankovic (SRB)
20. Ana Ivanovic (SRB)
21. Ekaterina Makarova (RUS)
22. Andrea Petkovic (GER)
23. Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS)
24. Sloane Stephens (USA)
25. Samantha Stosur (AUS)
26. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS)
27. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova (SVK)
28. Kristina Mladenovic (FRA)
29. Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU)
30. Sabine Lisicki (GER)
31. Lesia Tsurenko (UKR)
32. Caroline Garcia (FRA)

The following players are still in action:

1. Serena Williams (USA)
4. Agnieszka Radwanska (POL)
5. Maria Sharapova (RUS)
7. Angelique Kerber (GER)
10. Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP)
12. Belinda Bencic (SUI)
14. Victoria Azarenka (BLR)
15. Madison Keys (USA)
21. Ekaterina Makarova (RUS)

Needless to say due to the time difference I didn't see all of the matches but I did see parts of some and all of the earlier matches.

I have to say the biggest surprise for me was Garbiñe Muguruza losing to Barbora Strycova. It's not that she lost it's how she lost. It was as if she couldn't be bothered to contest the match. She watched Strycova's returns whiz by her without moving an inch to go after them. She was passive to the point of lethargy, a stunning sight. She's ranked #3 in the world. That ranking carries certain responsibilities. You're a star of the sport, someone contesting for Number 1 in the world and all that means. There were no reports of injury for her as of January 18, the last day the WTA updated its Injury Report page, so I'm guessing whatever was bothering her was mental.

The second biggest surprise was Simona Halep, the number two seed, who lost in the first round to Zhang Shuai in straight sets 4&3. Zhang has been a surprise (more about her below) so maybe that loss should be chalked up to experience, I don't know. I think Halep should've beaten her. I don't know if Halep is still processing the new instructions she's getting from Darren Cahill, her new coach, but I do think her loss has been glossed over by tennis media because Cahill is/was one of them for many years. Halep's issues seem to be between her ears and I don't know how long it will take her to change her outlook.

Petra Kvitova? Who the hell knows? She withdrew from her warm up events with gastric issues and went out meekly in Melbourne. The consensus seems to be that she lost to herself. I don't know what to say about this immensely talented but nonchalant woman. I don't think she cares all that much, unlike Halep who I think does care. If Petra doesn't care I certainly won't waste my time caring.

I was not surprised about Karolina Pliskova losing to Ekaterina Makarova. I've mentioned before that Karolina's technique - she doesn't use her legs for anything other than standing and moving awkwardly around the court - is going to eventually cost her. Makarova, when she's on, is a pretty good player. Pliskova losing to her 3&2 says a lot about what is wrong with Pliskova's game at the moment.

I'm mildly surprised that Madison Keys stirred herself to beat Ana Ivanovic in three sets. I saw some of this match (which means I dozed off in the middle of it) and I thought Ana would find a way to beat her. She didn't. Madison has a lot to prove in Melbourne (new, untested coach and a meh 2015) and she looks to be playing her best tennis at the moment. She'll face the surprise of the women's draw, qualifier Zhang Shuai. Zhang has not gotten as much hype as her countrywoman Zheng Saisai and after having to qualify her way in has shown that she deserves as much hype as Saisai. I read where she said she almost quit several times last year. Fortunately for her and for tennis she didn't. I haven't been able to see her play yet. Her match against Keys will be a good test. I'm not sure if she'll be able to win it but again there are no reported injuries for her so hopefully she'll play her best, win or lose.

Maria Sharapova had her usual cupcake draw so the only surprise would've been her not making the second week. After all with half a year off she should be fresh and ready to scream at lower ranked players. Her next match is against Belinda Bencic a player who is being touted as one of the Swiss greats without having really done much to earn that sobriquet. Does she have a chance to defeat Sharapova? Surprisingly they've never played each other before so this should be very interesting to say the least. Let's see if Sharapova can intimidate her into losing.

The two women to keep your eyes on are Agnieszka Radwanska and Angelique Kerber. Aga's path to the quarterfinals should be easy. I don't know anything about Anna-Lena Friedsam except that she defeated Roberta Vinci (13) to make the Fourth Round so I will give the edge to Aga. As Monica Puig found out you can't blast Aga off the court. Aga absorbs your power and feeds it back to you in a way you least expect. Carla Suarez Navarro made Round Four via a walkover and will play Australian favorite Daria Gavrilova. Pick 'em as far as I'm concerned.

Victoria Azarenka? Her team deserves all the props for getting her this far. She beat up on an injured Naomi Osaka who played in pain and couldn't compete at her best to make Round 4 where she'll face Strycova. There will be a lot of monologing, screaming and gesticulating during that match. Azarenka will not come in flat or uninterested. She's on a mission and on paper she should be able to continue on after this match.

As for Angelique Kerber
despite my not being a fan of hers my favorite WTA match of 2015 was between her and Caroline Wozniacki in Stuttgart. You have to beat her. I know nothing about Annika Beck, her next opponent, a fellow German. I think Kerber wins this.

That leaves the Queen Bee, Serena Jameka Williams. Some thought that Daria Kasatkina had a chance to beat her. We saw how Serena handled that "threat". She plays another Russian, Margarita Gasparyan next. If I'm Patrick Mouratoglou all I do is send her texts quoting Shamir Tarpishev's comments about her. I think that's enough motivation if she's healthy.

I didn't forget Johanna Konta vs Ekaterina Makarova. That match is on Konta's racquet in my very humble opinion.

So after all that what is there to say about all the seeds who are on their way to their next tournament? It's the old depth vs weakness argument when it comes to the state of the WTA. When was the last time the second and third seeds didn't make it to the Round of 16/Round Four in a major? Why is it that the big up and coming stars consistently fail at majors? What did the old guard have that these newcomers don't? Mental strength? Is the focus on looking "feminine", something that many women seem to be obsessed about now causing them to play a style of tennis that sends them packing at the first sign of pressure? Are these cultural values going to cause a huge drop in the level of women's tennis turning it into "sports entertainment" and therefore making a mockery of the greats who put the WTA on the map? It's hard for someone raised in a different culture to assess someone elses but I'm grasping at straws here trying to find an explanation for the lack of mental fortitude found in some players.

But none of that explains what happened with Muguruza yesterday. She was supposed to be in the Final. Sam Sumyk, her coach, as well as Conchita Martinez, there for Spanish Fed Cup, wore stunned, and worried, expressions for the entire match. It's one thing to go down in flames fighting tooth and nail. It's quite another to lose not having tried and seemingly not caring.

I've always tended to think the volatility of the women's game is a sign of weakness. Nothing I've seen this week has changed my mind.

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