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.

© 2016 SavannahsWorld All Rights Reserved except where indicated

Sunday, January 17, 2016

WTA AO 2016: I See Upsets

by Savannah

No movie will ever use that phrase to highlight the release of a potential blockbuster but hey, that's what I see when I look at the ATP and WTA draws for the 2016 edition of the Australian Open. Everyone has seen the draws already. Everyone has read the expert opinions on what will and won't happen. I guess everyone has made their Suicide Pool picks too. Note: I'm lousy at predictions so I give opinions here but no predictions.

So why am I talking about upsets?

A caveat for those who are reading this space for the first time. I don't talk much about ATP draws because I stan for a particular player so my opinions would tend to be biased therefore I do talk about the WTA quite a bit. There is one thing I can say about both draws though. There are some very nice traps set in both draws. When the top ranked players on both tours are given sacrificial lambs to start their campaigns it's very easy to pencil them in for the next round. I predict one or both will either be upset or come close to being upset because the players they're drawn against have nothing to lose. A fearless foe is a dangerous foe.

I base one observation on shoe style. As in Serena Williams hasn't been seen in heels in awhile. I know, I know the knee inflammation is gone and she's fine. We'll see shortly.

I also have questions about Simona Halep. I posted here last year that Halep anywhere near the net is a crap shoot. If you let her hit groundies to her hearts content she will carve you to pieces with the angles she can create. If you watched her match vs Svetlana Kuznetsova she didn't tank she played three sets. And in the end Sveta won because for once she seemed to give a damn and used her experience to beat Simona.

Halep doesn't like the heat either. With the temps in the 40's Celsius (100's Fahrenheit) this will be a factor. I don't know if they'll close the roofs due to heat since even when they're closed for inclement weather there are complaints that the tournament is turning into an indoor one.

The bottom of the bottom half will be interesting for other reasons. Sticking with the seeds Madison Keys hasn't played a competitive set since late last year. She's also got a new coach, Jesse Levine, an American whose highest rank was 199 back in July 2013. Her former coach, Lindsay Davenport, hinted that Keys is still carrying the injury that kept her out a good part of 2015. She was considered one of the top prospects for the United States about a year and a half ago. When she did play last year there was no discernable maturation in her game. The seed in her section is Ana Ivanovic. I'm not a big fan of Ana's style of play but I don't see any one getting in the way of her playing Madison, if Madison is healthy and mentally prepared.

I see Venus Williams vs Johanna Konta as a toss up with Venus having a slight edge based on experience on the Grand Slam level. Konta has proven that she is hungry and capable. Whether she will be able to beat Venus, who has never done well here, remains to be seen. Makarova's health is still suspect and there could be some surprising results in that part of the draw where the other seed is Karolina Pliskova. Pliskova's technique is still suspect to me and as the tournament wears on the heat can become a major factor for her as well.

Sabine Lisicki has shown nothing lately and I wouldn't be surprised if she's upset early.

So, will we see Victoria Azarenka vs Garbiñe Muguruza in the top half of the bottom section of the draw? There are some tantalizing possibilites in that part of the draw. Samantha Crawford, the WC from the United States is Azarenka's potential second round opponent assuming Crawford gets past Danka Kovinic who has a decent game and Azarenka gets past Alison Van Uytvanck. I've seen Van Uytvanck play very good tennis but Azarenka still should have the edge. With Victoria Duval coming back from illness I think Elina Svitolina gets past her. The quarter featuring Muguruza and Caroline Garcia should see Muguruza coming out with little trouble. What was the question? Oh yeah, it's very likely that we'll see Azarenka vs Muguruza.

I never though I'd say this but I see Agnieszka Radwanska doing very well in Melbourne. She's hungry and despite magazine covers and photo shoots that border on soft porn I think she will surprise here. Sure Eugenie Bouchard and a newly reinvigorated Monica Puig are in her quarter but neither player is mature enough to handle Aga's style of now you see it now you don't tennis in my opinion.

The top of the top? Too many ifs to have an opinion. Like I said I see upsets.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Chill of Samantha Crawford and Woz in Beast Mode - WTA 2016

by Savannah

Samantha Crawford Getty Images photo 3c02a0c3-09f5-4574-8ef6-37f6c3cd81c8_zpsdfp13gbu.jpg
Getty Images

One of the most anticipated matches by tennis cogniscenti was the one between Belinda Bencic and Samantha Crawford. Non tennis nerds are forgiven for asking "who?" when it comes to both players. Bencic is an up and coming Swiss player and Crawford is a little known player out of Georgia. Each woman has taken a different road to the semi limelight of up and coming WTA players but Bencic, because of her association with Martina Hingis, is probably the better known player in tennis circles.

Coming into her match vs Crawford Bencic dismantled Sara Errani 6-1, 6-2 causing Errani to decry the late withdrawal of an unnamed player saying that said player ruined the draw. Maybe she was thinking that if the unnamed player had withdrawn earlier she would've moved from the ninth seed to the eighth and avoided Ms Bencic. But that did not happen and we ended up with Bencic vs Crawford.

Crawford, like Chung Hyeon, is one of those players you hear whispers about. Nothing distinct coming into this match but whispers all the same. It was a match many wanted to see. Sadly unless you were in Brisbane there was no way to see the match since it took place on a non televised court with not even a chance of a stream popping up somewhere it's not supposed to. So fans scoreboard watched and hung out on Twitter and when the dust settled Samantha Crawford had defeated Belinda Bencic 7-5, 7-5.

Needless to say at this point the whispers got very loud. Crawford was set to play fan favorite Andrea Petkovic next and many thought surely that would be the end of her run. As the saying goes "not hardly". This match was televised and I'm sure I was among the many who, watching Crawford play for the first time, were slackjawed watching in disbelief as Samantha dismantled Petkovic 6-3, 6-0. Petkovic had no idea what had just hit her and almost in spite of itself the United States has a potential star on it's hands.

Samantha is a big woman, 6'2", and has trained with Michael Joyce, ex coach of Maria Sharapova, whose name is already being linked by some to Crawford but make no mistake Ms Crawford's game is nothing like Sharapova's. First of all she can move well. Her forehands leave vapor trails. There are reports that her volleying is above average. She is facing another test tonight vs a resurgent Victoria Azarenka who starts the year fitter than I've seen her in a very long time.

Win or lose tonight this young woman is going to be hyped by the USTA. Let's hope she has people around her to protect her from the wiles of the USTA and let her continue her development. She's got a Wild Card into the Main Draw of the Australian Open. All eyes will be on her.

The other story of 2016 is Caroline Wozniacki. We're used to her by now, brick wall, counter puncher, father who goes for the histrionics during his courtside coaching sessions so who is this woman, wearing last years kit, who showed up in Auckland? I have never, ever, seen the Wozniacki who wiped the floor with Christina McHale 6-0, 6-2 and followed up with a beat down of Alexandra Dulgheru 6-1, 6-0. This Caroline was aggressive, in your face, hitting winners, you name it. Her father Victor Krason stayed in the stands while his daughter swaggered around the court. Absolutely amazing play from a player we all thought we knew. She'll be playing Sloane Stephens next. Sloane is being coached by Kamau Murray of Chicago now. I was going to say at the moment but I'm trying to be nice so early in the year.

This and That

The other stuff going on with the WTA is worthy of a right eyebrow quirk.

Let's start with all the withdrawals. Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova head the list. I wasn't surprised about Serena. The most recent pictures I'd seen of her she was wearing flats to formal events, something she last did when she had surgery on her foot. She played a bit at Hopman Cup before officially withdrawing and allowing Victoria Duval to get some much needed match play after her illness.

Sharapova? A forearm injury was cited as her reason for withdrawing. Like I said it's too early in the year to be mean so I'll accept her surprise withdrawal at face value.

There was Petra Kvitova citing gastric issues in Shenzen. Garbiñe Muguruza's foot was giving her problems.

Remember when they went in on Caroline Wozniacki for saying that the WTA made it's athlete's play hurt? Apparently there's not going to be any more of that in WTAland.

Speaking of Muguruza she went way off the reservation with her widely reported comments to the Spanish journal El Pais . In a wide ranging interview she said that all of the WTA players hate each other and that ayone who says anything different is lying. Her defenders are saying it was a joke citing the article as proof because after she said that she reportedly giggled. Others are saying she is very sarcastic in both Spanish and English and that her words shouldn't be taken at face value. The only Spanish I know is not repeatable in proper company so I linked to the article above. The Google translation is horrible as you would expect but the controversial part is translated as follows:

The players are very difficult to make friends, we are very competitive and we are all the time on tour. And it is very difficult to make friends among other players because the next day we will compete. The boys is different, but the girls ... we all hate. Literal. And those who say otherwise are lying, "emphasizes having a good laugh. "Although we also look at things very women. We go over and suddenly think, 'I have the best nail ". Laughs again. "You can not avoid. It is incredibly different than with the boys. " Can it be macho? "I've often thought, because I see guys who are friends with each other. When we go to those events, a little commitment, before the tournament, the truth is I miss someone with whom to gossip: 'My God !, how would this dress? ".

New girl trying to fit in or haterade? We don't know enough about her to decide.

Finally there was the kerfluffle betwen Jelena Ostapenko and Naomi Broady in Auckland. Ostapenko, frustrated because Broady wasn't rolling over and playing dead for her threw her racquet. It hit a ball kid. Under the rules that means automatic disqualification. Except in this case where the chair did absolutely nothing. Broady protested but seeing she was getting nowhere resumed playing and beat Ostapenko.

Remember when you were a kid and your Mom told you that in a dispute they always see the person who reacts not the one who started it? That's exactly what happened here. On their way to "shake hands" at the net Ostapenko lit into Broady who understandably went off. That is all everyone seems to be focused on. Is Broady a bit of a drama queen? Maybe. Is Ostapenko a menace to society? Judging by all of the support that flowed Broady's way I'm thinking Ostapenko is one of those insufferable brats who thinks that the tennis world should be bowing to her invincibility. My question is why is no one going after the chair for not doing his job? I'm betting he's part of the in crowd in Australia and they're perfectly happy to let Broady and Ostapenko be tarred and feathered by tennis fans instead of their boy.

So what, you may ask is going on with the ATP? Last I checked for the most part they seem to be going about their business and playing tennis.