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.

© 2016 SavannahsWorld All Rights Reserved except where indicated


Karen Williams said...

I have to disagree with your take, i.e, upsets are sign of weakness. I think it is a sign of strength. There is depth of talent amongst the women, it is just taking them a longer time for it to come to fruition. The WTA Tour will have longevity if only because there are so many young players coming up through the ranks who will be a threat in years to come. I think the WTA is going through a period called succession planning. Once Serena, Venus, Sharapova et all have hung up their racquets, we will see players like Halep, Keys, Stephens etc compete amongst themselves and provide a new era. The women are taking a longer time to come to terms with the expectations. When the old guard came on Tour it was different. Now the women have so many responsibilities thrust upon them by media, the Tour etc that it is hard for them to find that balance. Once they do, you will start to see them making waves.

Finally, I want to touch on something that no one else will and you can fee free to delete this portion of my comment. Why is Darren Cahill being touted as some sort of super coach? As far as I know he has never coached anyone to Grand Slam glory and his coaching visits leave a lot to be desired. Cahill comes across to me as a snake oil salesman. Someone who makes you think that he has the remedy to cure everything that ails you but he really doesn't. We saw that in his coaching Sorana Cirstea (what has happened to her) and we saw it when he coached Halep against Serena.

The other day they had a feature on Tennis Channel about coaches and how they move around. I just think a lot of these coaches have a name without not having actually accomplishing anything of note. Am I wrong or am I clutching at straws here?


Savannah said...

Cahill is one of the "cool kids", one of the "in crowd", especially in Australian, US and British circles. They hype him hoping that he'll throw some of that coaching money their way. Remember every time an openng pops up especially on the mens side John McEnroe is mentioned.

It became public today that Kvitova is no longer working with her long time coach and the name being bandied about is Martine Navratilova, another one with no real coaching success.

As for the new comers who will be in charge of tennis when Serena et al retire none of them have been able to show that they're able to handle the expectations that will be thrust upon them. Look at Muguruza. Look at Sloane. Halep? None of them can handle the pressure. of expectations let alone the pressure of being the face of the tour. I haven't seen anything that makes me feel positive about what is to come.

Karen Williams said...

I think it is incredibly difficult for today's young women to live up to the expectations that has been thrust upon them. People tend to forget that after Serena won her first Grand Slam title, it took her almost 3 years to bag Slam No. 2. The expectations that she had to face were enormous. Same thing with Venus. She was touted as the future of tennis after getting to the USO Final on her first try and taking then No. 1 Hingis to 3 tough sets. I think sometimes in our rush to condemn the new generation we develop some type of amnesia when it comes to how much the older generation succumbed to pressure.

Look at Clijsters. It took her a long time to finally bag that first Grand Slam title. Justine Henin despite having a good grass game, never won Wimbledon and so it goes.

The new generation is without a doubt talented. It will just take them some time to catch up to the veterans of the sport.

The only thing I have to say to Petra is stay far away from Martina.

Savannah said...

The reason I'm calling them out is because the pressures that Venus and Serena faced far outweigh the pressures these young women face. The on court pressures were nothing compared to what was going on off court. That is why to this day I feel that young players need to have strong support from their families. As much as I don't care for them both Hingis and Sharapova also had parents unafraid to run interference and keep the hangers on and negative people away. If the family is only concerned with the money and fame I think the pressure will get to the young player sooner and result in what we're seeing now. Muguruza was AWFUL the other day. Halep? I don't know what's wrong with her.

As for Kvitova I don't think she'll hire Martina. Martina will make her work. Remember what happened to the last coach she had who tried to do that? I hope she hasn't decided her fiancé should guide her career...