Sunday, July 5, 2015

Taking A Deep Breath, and a Break: Middle Sunday

by Savannah

So lets see. We had a player call one of the best chair umpires in the business "dirty scum".
The spoiled brat of Australian tennis once again bit the hand that's been feeding him for a very long time (remember the story Marius Copil told about Tomic having an American Express black card and that he'd run up over a million dollars on it at the age of 17? The link is in Romanian I believe but most translation services can handle that problem for you).
The RFET in Spain is in complete meltdown mode with the head of the organization under investigation for financial shenanigans and the attempt to shame it's top players gone up in flames. (via @Genny_SS on Twitter it seems Conchita Martinez might step in temporarily. Yesterday it was a lock that either Juan Carlos Ferrero or Albert Berasetegui would be named to the position) so keep your popcorn handy on both these situations.

Oh you want to know about Wimbledon? The biggest news so far is that defending champion Petra Kvitova, who showed up at SW19 with little to no match prep and out of shape lost to one time world #1 with an asterisk Jelena Jankovic, fading so badly in the third set it was a wonder she could get the ball over the net. Serena Williams, who won a tough battle with Heather Watson, is the only current player, well maybe Sharapova too, who has the luxury of coming in cold to a major. Petra is not Serena. Petra is not Maria.

Simona Halep also found her way to an early exit. With her requirement that her coaching staff be Romanian born and bred she seems to be hampering her own career. To be the best you have to hire the best. That goes for Kvitova too. Since Petra declared that getting physically fit was too much work and that she was aiming to play well only at Slams I wonder what her coaching staff does other than pose for pictures with her in restaurants seated at tables loaded with beer and food? Her own fans think she needs a better coach. Sadly, like Halep, I think she wants things exactly the way they are. Maybe this loss will be a wake up call for her. Somehow I don't think it will be.

While we're talking the WTA lets talk about the draw as play gets set to resume on "Manic Monday".

A fan calling himself "Julian" posted the following on the main WTA fan site:

Wimbledon 2015 2nd Week (Round of 16)

Top Half showing number of Slams each player has won:

Serena Williams (20 slams) (5 Wimbledon)
Venus Williams (7 slams) (5 Wimbledon)
Maria Sharapova (5 slams) (1 Wimbledon)
Victoria Azarenka (2 slams) (0 Wimbledon)

The Draw - Top Half

(1)Serena Williams vs (16)Venus Williams
(23)Victoria Azarenka vs (30)Belinda Bencic
(4)Maria Sharapova vs Zarina Diyas
Coco Vandeweghe vs (6)Lucie Safarova

The Draw - Bottom Half

(5)Caroline Wozniacki vs (20)Garbine Muguruza
(15)Timea Bacsinszky vs Monica Niculescu
(Q)Olga Govortsova vs (21)Madison Keys
(13)Agnieszka Radwanska vs (28)Jelena Jankovic

I don't even want to hear about that "depth" thing and the WTA. This does nothing but show the weakness hidden in the women's tour. There are two players who, like them or not, have become the superstars of the WTA and play accordingly. Yeah I know Wozniacki will be back in the top three (smh).

Ignoring the top half for a minute Wozniacki, so dependent on on court coaching, is not a lock to come out of her part of the draw despite being the highest seed left. I've never seen Govortsova play but reports of her lumbering around the court abound and could make life easy for Madison Keys who wouldn't have to face a seed until the next round. With her US style of play if Govortsova is really that poor a mover Keys will romp. Aga vs JJ is a toss up. Will JJ be able to bring it two matches in a row? No one expected her to beat Kvitova but as I said in my May 11 post discussing weight/health and the WTA Kvitova was shaky. Hell right now Serena is shaky. But she gets an edge because of who she is and what she brings to the table. Caro vs Garbiñe is a toss up as well in my opinion but back to the bottome half. Watch Bacsinszky. Niculescu can give you fits if she's on but Timea is playing with no pressure, an always dangerous situation.

As for the top half with it's multiple Grand Slam winners the match I most want to see is Azarenka vs Bencic. Both are emotional players. Both have a win at all costs attitude. Both have a lot they want to prove. Pova vs Diyas should be a rout for Pova. I've yet to see Diyas play the "amazing" tennis she's said to be able to play. As for Vandeweghe, one of four US women in the round of 16 (as opposed to one US man and not the one you think) makes her current coach look like a genius. Lucie "I'm not that nice" Safarova, showed in the last round that she can fight back. That whould be an itneresting match but not a stand in line to get one and not because of Lucie. I'll leave it at that.

I don't like Venus vs Serena matches and don't like that the good folks at Wimbledon conspirted to force this match.
If Venus manages to win I think that opens thngs up for Sharapova. Which of course is the plan. If Serena makes the final she will win the tournament. And that is not a narrative the WTA wants right now. Me? I'd love for Serena to get the Career Year Grand Slam and shut the biddies up.

I should mention a Chinese woman, Duan Ying-Ying, did well making it to the third round. The play of the Chinese women is still at ITF level but let's hope they play more events outside of Asia to improve their skills.

On the men's side there isn't much to say. The men at the top and bottom of the draw got romps to the second week. It's hard for even hard core fans of Roger Federer to say he had a tough draw when no one he played has done well at a major except for Philipp Kohlschreiber. You can say the same thing about the ATP #1's draw. A romp.
In fact the top half of the ATP draw is like the bottom half of the WTA draw with the difference being the #1 player got this cake walk.

That said I think the seeds will hold for the ATP. Unless they don't. I mean look what happened at RG. They'd practically engraved the presumed winner's name on the trophy when, well, as far as they're concerned shit happened.

I hope everyone has enjoyed their day off. It should be an interesting week of tennis.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Green Green Grass of London SW19: The Gentlemen

by Savannah

It's getting redundant. One half of the men's draw is boring (read non competitive) and one half is a Murderer's Row of competition for some. It's the same thing here. It's no accident they're starting the top of the men's draw with the top of the women's draw. Let's hope that the Ladies matches get shown since they will be the more competitive.

Long time readers know I don't usually do a lot with the men's draw and I won't here.

Top Half

N.Djokovic (SRB) [1] vs P.Kohlschreiber (GER)
J.Nieminen (FIN) vs WC L.Hewitt (AUS)
Q P.Herbert (FRA) vs H.Chung (KOR)
J.Struff (GER) vs B.Tomic (AUS) [27]

L.Mayer (ARG) [24] vs T.Kokkinakis (AUS)
J.Tipsarevic (SRB) vs M.Granollers (ESP)
M.Ilhan (TUR) vs J.Janowicz (POL)
L.Pouille (FRA) vs K.Anderson (RSA) [14]

M.Cilic (CRO) [9] vs Q H.Moriya (JPN)
A.Haider-Maurer (AUT) vs R.Berankis (LTU)
WC M.Ebden (AUS) vs B.Rola (SLO)
G.Soeda (JPN) vs J.Isner (USA) [17]

P.Cuevas (URU) [28] vs WC D.Kudla (USA)
T.Gabashvili (RUS) vs A.Zverev (GER)
J.Souza (BRA) vs S.Giraldo (COL)
S.Bolelli (ITA) vs K.Nishikori (JPN) [5]

S.Wawrinka (SUI) [4] vs J.Sousa (POR)
V.Estrella Burgos (DOM) vs B.Becker (GER)
M.Klizan (SVK) vs F.Verdasco (ESP)
D.Sela (ISR) vs D.Thiem (AUT) [32]

T.Robredo (ESP) [19] vs Q J.Millman (AUS)
D.Young (USA) vs M.Baghdatis (CYP)
L.Broady (GBR) vs M.Matosevic (AUS)
H.Zeballos (ARG) vs D.Goffin (BEL) [16]

G.Dimitrov (BUL) [11] vs F.Delbonis (ARG)
L.Lacko (SVK) vs S.Johnson (USA)
Q K.De Schepper (FRA) vs Q J-P.Smith (AUS)
Q L.Saville (AUS) vs R.Gasquet (FRA) [21]

N.Kyrgios (AUS) [26] vs D.Schwartzman (ARG)
J.Monaco (ARG) vs F.Mayer (GER)
D.Lajovic (SRB) vs T.Haas (GER)
D.Gimeno-Traver (ESP) vs M.Raonic (CAN) [7]

Don't get me wrong there are some interesting matchups in this part of the draw. Herbert vs Chung, Mayer vs Kokkinakis, Zverev vs Gabashvili who has had decent results of late.

The publicity machine is going on about tough draws full blast. They're not in this part of the draw. Marcos Baghdatis is the one player who is hot coming into Wimbledon and could stir up some trouble. Othere than that I see favorites with draws they're expected to get through. Nothing much to see here.

Bottom Half

D.Ferrer (ESP) [8] vs WC J.Ward (GBR)
J.Vesely (CZE) vs P.Lorenzi (ITA)
V.Pospisil (CAN) vs Q V.Millot (FRA)
T.Smyczek (USA) vs F.Fognini (ITA) [30]

V.Troicki (SRB) [22] vs Q A.Nedovyesov (KAZ)
R.Stepanek (CZE) vs A.Bedene (GBR)
Q D.Brown (GER) vs Y-H.Lu (TPE)
T.Bellucci (BRA) vs R.Nadal (ESP) [10]

J-W.Tsonga (FRA) [13] vs G.Muller (LUX)
D.Istomin (UZB) vs A.Ramos-Vinolas (ESP)
A.Dolgopolov (UKR) vs WC K.Edmund (GBR)
Q E.Ymer (SWE) vs I.Karlovic (CRO) [23]

A.Seppi (ITA) [25] vs WC B.Klein (GBR)
S.Stakhovsky (UKR) vs B.Coric (CRO)
R.Haase (NED) vs Q A.Falla (COL)
M.Kukushkin (KAZ) vs A.Murray (GBR) [3]

T.Berdych (CZE) [6] vs J.Chardy (FRA)
F.Krajinovic (SRB) vs WC N.Mahut (FRA)
E.Gulbis (LAT) vs L.Rosol (CZE)
P.Andujar (ESP) vs G.Garcia-Lopez (ESP) [29]

G.Monfils (FRA) [18] vs P.Carreno Busta (ESP)
A.Mannarino (FRA) vs Q M.Berrer (GER)
Q Y.Sugita (JPN) vs B.Kavcic (SLO)
N.Almagro (ESP) vs G.Simon (FRA) [12]

F.Lopez (ESP) [15] vs S.Darcis (BEL)
Q N.Basilashvili (GEO) vs F.Bagnis (ARG)
B.Paire (FRA) vs M.Youzhny (RUS)
R.Bemelmans (BEL) vs R.Bautista Agut (ESP) [20]

J.Sock (USA) [31] vs S.Groth (AUS)
M.Jaziri (TUN) vs J.Duckworth (AUS)
S.Querrey (USA) vs Q I.Sijsling (NED)
D.Dzumhur (BIH) vs R.Federer (SUI) [2]

There is much more going on in the bottom half of the draw. It's as if the words "dangerous floater" were created for this part of the draw. David Ferrer. Fabio Fognini(if he wants to). Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (if he's truly healthy). Aleksandr Dolgopolov. The junior Elias Ymer whose game has matured. Another promising young player Borna Coric whose game is maturing. The always dangerous Gaël Monfils(again when he wants to be). Not to mention three of the four top men are in this section.

So what was that about the "toughness" of the top of the draw again? I don't mean to disparage any of the men playing there but the strength of the bottom half is apparent.

I say all of this keeping in mind that this draw, any draw, is a road map, a guide to what tournament officials feel will present the best men's tennis has to offer at this time. Draws can hold or fall apart. We'll know more soon enough.

The Green Green Grass of London SW19: The Ladies

by Savannah

Okay tennisheads you have three days. Three days to get your life in order, kiss your kids and significant other, do your food shopping, make sure you have clean underwear and get some sleep. Monday, June 29 at 1100h London time, 6:00a Eastern US time, play begins for the Championships Wimbledon. We've been told the top half of the Gentlemen's Draw (weakest) and top half of the Ladies draw (strongest) will be up first.

Between now and then every tennis "journalist" will be presenting his or her analysis of who is going to win based on what their masters on the tours and public relations tell them is going to happen because they say it will. Most of these people haven't watched a bit of tennis since the French Open ended and have no idea who has been having a hard time and who has been flying under their radar if not the radar of dedicated fans who are better informed than they're being paid to be. If a player used to give top players a hard time then of course he/she is still giving top players a hard time in their minds regardless of what their recent results have been. Call it what you want: cakewalk, cupcake, soft, there are several players who have been given these gifts. The usual suspects? Of course. As regular readers know I don't do predictions. I just look at the draw(s) and having watched a lot of tennis since the French Open (as the bags and dark circles under my eyes prove) feel safe in calling bullshit on some of the accepted wisdom.

Let's start with the women, excuse me, Ladies Singles Draw.

Top Half

S.Williams (USA) [1] vs Q M.Gasparyan (RUS)
T.Babos (HUN) vs Q P.Cetkovska (CZE)
D.Hantuchova (SVK) vs D.Cibulkova (SVK)
H.Watson (GBR) vs C.Garcia (FRA) [32]

S.Errani (ITA) [19] vs F.Schiavone (ITA)
A.Krunic (SRB) vs R.Vinci (ITA)
M.Erakovic (NZL) vs Y.Putintseva (KAZ)
M.Brengle (USA) vs V.Williams (USA) [16]

C.Suarez Navarro (ESP) [9] vs WC J.Ostapenko (LAT)
A.Dulgheru (ROU) vs K.Mladenovic (FRA)
K.Flipkens (BEL) vs A.Beck (GER)
WC A.Kontaveit (EST) vs V.Azarenka (BLR) [23]

B.Bencic (SUI) [30] vs T.Pironkova (BUL)
V.Diatchenko (RUS) vs A.Friedsam (GER)
A.Van Uytvanck (BEL) vs Q B.Mattek-Sands (USA)
Q Y.Xu (CHN) vs A.Ivanovic (SRB) [7]

M.Sharapova (RUS) [4] vs WC J.Konta (GBR)
Q R.Hogenkamp (NED) vs Q.Wang (CHN)
N.Gibbs (USA) vs L.Tsurenko (UKR)
D.Gavrilova (RUS) vs I.Begu (ROU) [29]

F.Pennetta (ITA) [24] vs Z.Diyas (KAZ)
L.Zhu (CHN) vs Q A.Sasnovich (BLR)
M.Duque-Marino (COL) vs WC N.Broady (GBR)
S.Rogers (USA) vs A.Petkovic (GER) [14]

Ka.Pliskova (CZE) [11] vs I.Falconi (USA)
C.Vandeweghe (USA) vs A.Schmiedlova (SVK)
E.Gallovits-Hall (USA) vs U.Radwanska (POL)
D.Kovinic (MNE) vs S.Stosur (AUS) [22]

B.Strycova (CZE) [27] vs S.Stephens (USA)
P.Hercog (SLO) vs L.Davis (USA)
Q S-W.Hsieh (TPE) vs K.Kanepi (EST)
A.Riske (USA) vs L.Safarova (CZE) [6]

Johanna Konta has had a pretty good warm up season coming into Wimbledon. She has to be ready for the screaming, bullying and gamesmanship of Maria Sharapova though and I'm not sure she is. If she can handle all the distraction Sharapova brings and ride the support the crowd will give her she could potentially give Sharapova a hard time. Potentially. If she can't Sharapova will go through her section of the draw like a hot knife through butter.

The interesting potential meeting is between Karolina Pliskova and Lucie Safarova, who made it to the Final at Roland Garros. Lucie has to prove her run in Paris wasn't a fluke and will definitely be feeling the pressure. Pliskova owns the head to head 2-1 and hasn't tired herself out in the run up tournaments. Neither has Safarova. If the seedings hold and they meet it should be an interesting match.

Am I dismissing Sloane Stephens, Samantha Stosur, Barbora Strycova, Flavia Pennetta and Andrea Petkovic? Yes. Sloane had the chance to win her first title at Eastbourne but in keeping with the current US meme of focusing on the Slams she lost in the semi to Agniezska Radwanska

As for the top half of the top section of the draw Belinda Bencic vs Tsvetana Pironkova is the match to watch. I think Alison Van Uytvanck is a dark horse in that section if she plays her "a" game and holds on to her nerves. I know a lot of people are going to pic Ana Ivanovic but her issues are still her issues. She could make it out of her section but it's not a guarantee.

There is no reason Carla Suarez Navarro can't end up playing Victoria Azarenka, on paper. She looked completely lost on the grass the other day though and it wouldn't be a surprise to see her go out early. Kristina Mladenovic could be the one to fill the void in that section.

The top of the top see's Serena Williams seeded to face her sister Venus Williams. Both women are confident in their grass game and haven't played any warmups. Serena did lose early last year though and that should give her the motivation she needs to push herself forward. Venus should get through her section but a lot depends on how she holds up, especially since a heat wave is forecast for the first week of the tournament.

Bottom Half

C.Wozniacki (DEN) [5] vs S.Zheng (CHN)
K.Siniakova (CZE) vs D.Allertova (CZE)
L.Arruabarrena (ESP) vs P.Parmentier (FRA)
T.Pereira (BRA) vs C.Giorgi (ITA) [31]

G.Muguruza (ESP) [20] vs V.Lepchenko (USA)
M.Lucic-Baroni (CRO) vs Y.Shvedova (KAZ)
A.Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) vs M.Barthel (GER)
C.Witthoeft (GER) vs A.Kerber (GER) [10]

T.Bacsinszky (SUI) [15] vs J.Goerges (GER)
S.Karatantcheva (BUL) vs S.Soler-Espinosa (ESP)
J.Larsson (SWE) vs C.McHale (USA)
J.Gajdosova (AUS) vs S.Lisicki (GER) [18]

S.Kuznetsova (RUS) [26] vs Q L.Siegemund (GER)
Kr.Pliskova (CZE) vs T.Smitkova (CZE)
M.Puig (PUR) vs M.Niculescu (ROU)
J.Cepelova (SVK) vs S.Halep (ROU) [3]

E.Makarova (RUS) [8] vs Q S.Vickery (USA)
K.Knapp (ITA) vs M.Rybarikova (SVK)
A.Mitu (ROU) vs Q O.Govortsova (BLR)
A.Konjuh (CRO) vs A.Cornet (FRA) [25]

M.Keys (USA) [21] vs S.Voegele (SUI)
Y.Wickmayer (BEL) vs E.Kulichkova (RUS)
T.Maria (GER) vs B.Jovanovski (SRB)
Q Y.Duan (CHN) vs E.Bouchard (CAN) [12]

A.Radwanska (POL) [13] vs L.Hradecka (CZE)
A.Tomljanovic (CRO) vs K.Koukalova (CZE)
Q T.Paszek (AUT) vs C.Dellacqua (AUS)
M.Doi (JPN) vs E.Svitolina (UKR) [17]

J.Jankovic (SRB) [28] vs E.Vesnina (RUS)
E.Rodina (RUS) vs WC L.Robson (GBR)
M.Linette (POL) vs K.Nara (JPN)
K.Bertens (NED) vs P.Kvitova (CZE) [2]

To the top of the bottom.

Caroline Wozniacki is seeded to face the new male tennis fan and writer fan Camila Giorgi. Giorgi hits harder than her size would have you believe but she runs hot and cold. If she's hot she can give anyone a hard time. Garbiñe Muguruza has been in a bit of a slump and that makes her section wide open with either Mirjana Lucic-Baroni and Mona Barthel able to do some damage there. Will anyone there be able to beat Angelique Kerber though?

Timea Bacsinszky's section is hers to lose. She's a sentimental favorite for many, including me, along with Lucic-Baroni. Sabine Lisicki will try and serve her way into the second week and with heat possibly making the ground hard if she makes it out of that section she will be dangerous.

Svetlana Kuznetsova had decided to play tennis again in recent weeks but who knows if she will feel like it in London? When she does she's very hard to beat and a great fighter. Simona "no expectations" Halep will probably come in on fire. If both women play up to their potential barring a huge upset there's no one to stop those two from facing each other.

Sachia Vickery came through Qualies and will face Ekaterina Makarova in the first round. I've seen Sachia play and to say she's easily distracted is putting it mildly so I don't see her doing much here. Magdalena Rybarikova is a bit of a dark horse in this section. It goes without saying that Alize Cornet has the same pressure on her Lucie Safarova has. Was last year a fluke? We'll see.

Some US tennis "journalists" are alrady hyping the potential Madison Keys vs Eugenie Bouchard face off.
I guess they're forgetting that Key's has been AWOL for the extended grass season officially because of the flu and looked simply dreadful last week at Eastbourne. Technically there isn't anyone in that section who should trouble either Bouchard or Keys but that's on paper. We could see a surprise non seeded player coming out of there to face Makarova, Rybarikova (unseeded) or Cornet.

That last section featuring Aga Radwanska, Elina Svitolina, Jelena Jankovic and Petra Kvitova as the seeds should break the way of the seeds but Kvitova is out of shape and with the threatened heat could go out early. JJ's antics could frustrate some of the players there but from my perspective it's a total toss up as to who will come out of that part of the draw. Robson is just coming back from a 17 month lay off and I'm not sure Nara Kurumi can do much damage.

With so much uncertainty in the bottom part of the draw it's easy to say the winner will come from the top half. But it's always up to the luck of the draw isn't it?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Pressure Is Indeed A Privilege: A Look Ahead at Wimbledon 2015

by Savannah

"I don't want to think like I have something I have to do on grass. I have no expectations. I just want to enjoy without pressure."

Simona Halep

The lengthened but still short grass court tennis season is heading towards it's crowning glory, the reason for its existence. For many the Grand Slam held on grass is still the crown jewel of tennis - the tournament you must win in order to have your name mentioned along with the greats past and present of the sport. So why do so many players seem to be breaking apart like clay vessels dropped on a tile floor? Why is the woman ranked third in the world changing coaches a week before Wimbledon and making angsty statements about being unable to handle the pressure?

Then there was this statement late yesterday US time by someone many in the old tennis axis want to be the next big thing released re his coaching situation:

It’s never an easy decision to end a coaching relationship and to do so prior to the start of a Grand Slam is even more difficult. But I feel that this is the right decision for me at this time. I
I will work closely with my team and Tennis Australia through Wimbledon and we will regroup after the tournament in order to figure out the best plan for the future.


Then there's Petra Kvitova, the reigning Wimbledon Champion, who can't be arsed (don't you love those British expressions) to play any warm up events because - wait for it - she has a sore throat. Later statements indicated that it wasn't a sore throat - that she has a cold. Serena Williams had a cold during the French Open. She was sick as a dog as the saying goes. I'm waiting to see what shape Kvitova's in when Wimbledon starts since she says fitness training wears her out.

And let's not forget that the USTA and by his own admission Andy Roddick begged for an extra week between the French Open (sorry Roland Garros) and Wimbledon, got it, and almost no US players showed up.

Of the two juniors I chose to watch this year Alexander Zverev has been playing his butt off. He's not winning a lot but he's playing, gaining experience. Madison Keys has either been sick or AWOL since Roland Garros showing up in Eastbourne, a tournament played the week before Wimbledon starts. All of the US players seem to suffer from the delusion that they're so good on fast courts that no warm up is necessary. John Isner has been playing and so has Sam Querrey but I get the impression they're looking to boost their rankings for the summer US hard court swing leading up to the US Open at the end of August.

Meanwhile the real pros, the men and women who are fixtures in the second week of Grand Slams, have been going about theiri business. They're emerging from training now and some are playing exhibitions while others are sticking to their old routine of not playing warm up's leading into Wimbledon even with the extra week. Maybe that's what Kvitova is doing huh? She's a great so why does she have to exert herself before the actual tournament begins? I don't know why I didn't see that before. And I still want to see what her physical condition will be.

Let's be clear. Hype does not win Majors. You have to win seven matches in two weeks (Okay a fortnight. Sheesh. I can't be arsed to say fortnight all the time.) You can have all the shots in the world but if you don't have a game you're not going to do well. You can have all the hype, your Federation fawning over you and declaring you're the greatest thing since sliced bread but unless you have it together between your ears you're in trouble. If you can't handle your business, if the world outside of your birthplace scares you to death, if you believe that you are the exception to the rule that without discipline you're nothing then you're not going to win.

I feel for tennis after 2016. We've got so many divas and little girl losts on the horizon that maybe it will be better if the sports world at large ignores our beloved sport. Tantrums will not bring fans back. Magazine covers on second tier magazines will not bring fans back. Soft porn pictures won't bring fans.

Billie Jean King's statement about pressure still holds and it is still the measure of an athlete, of a tennis player. It's sad that the headlines going into Wimbledon are about entitled brats struggling to "find" themselves instead of steely eyed professionals looking to pound their opponents into the lawns of SW 19. Who is to blame? The Federations, especially in the US, Britain and Australia, are declaring junior players, many of whom are not even finished growing, stars of the sport. I've been thinking about this a lot and will probably post about it after Wimbledon. When you look at the consistency of today's top players it didn't come from partying or believing their own hype. It came from hard work, something the young "hype stars", and their federations, choose to ignore.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The WTA in 2016: Welcome to China

by Savannah

This is the closest you get to an off week during the European swing so the WTA chose this time period to announce its proposed schedule for next year.

The "screaming headline" from the announcement revolves around the new tournaments to be played in China.

2016 Calendar – Nine WTA Events in Chinese Mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan
Premier Mandatory: Beijing
Premier 5: Wuhan
WTA Elite Trophy: Zhuhai
International: Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Kaohsiung, Nanchang, Shenzhen, Tianjin

The announcement goes on to say the following:

The WTA's long-term strategy of growing women's tennis in Asia Pacific region is built around an expansive footprint in China and the region, featuring Singapore hosting the prestigious year-end WTA Finals for a record five years from 2014 to 2018, and a newly added WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai for another record five years from 2015 to 2019.

The season-long build up will culminate once again in Singapore for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global from October 23-Nov 1.

Other Highlights for 2016 Calendar:
· In 2016, the Louisville, Kentucky, USA becomes host to an International level WTA event for the first time in Week 34 staged the same week as New Haven, a Premier level event. The United States will host a total of nine events in 2016, including the US Open.
· With the Olympic Games Tennis event set to take place in Rio de Janeiro from August 6-14, Stanford will move to Week 29 (week of July 18), one week after Wimbledon and will be followed by Montreal.
· After the Olympics, the US hardcourt series will resume in Cincinnati (Week 33, week of August 15).
· With an expanded and enhanced grass court season, an International event in Mallorca will debut in Week 24 (week of June 13), opposite Birmingham.
· Doha will host a Premier 5 event in Week 8 of 2016 (week of February 22). Doha and Dubai rotate years hosting the Premier 5 event.

Other calendar changes approved:
· Effective in 2015, the International event in Osaka will be relocated to Tokyo and will continue to be held the week immediately after the US Open.

I'm sure part of the reason for announcing the schedule this early is to show how tournaments will fit in around the Olympics in August 2016.

Tennis nut that I am if I woke up early enough to catch a match in China I'd put it on just to see if all the PR and supposed increasing popularity of tennis in China is paying off with fans occupying more than ten to twenty seats in cavernous stadiums. I've yet to see that. The biggest crowd I've seen in Asia was in Seoul when Chung Hyeon was playing a Challenger. Fans there actually cheered at the right times and also seemed to be following the game. That is not the case in any tournament I've checked out in China, ATP or WTA.

One would also assume that tennis is part of sports broadcasting in China but you would be wrong. Apparently the Chinese were interested in broadcasting tennis before Li Na retired. Now that she has there is little to no tennis shown in the vast country. There are reports that the recently concluded French Open wasn't shown there at all. Table tennis and Badminton are big in China if I recall correctly. It isn't a logical leap that the Chinese would turn to tennis in droves, especially women's tennis.

I've said it before and I'll say it again the biggest potential market for the WTA is Europe. The stars are European, and you get good fan support for International level events there. With moderately sized indoor and outdoor arena's the women are playing before fans who appreciate their play and support them. It's hard to say that the reason for so many International tournaments in China has to do with allowing Chinese women to build up points so that they can qualify for the big tournaments. After the firestorm about the $125k events I guess this is what Stacey Allaster thinks will make relocating tournaments to China more palatable. I'm not sure that is going to happen.

It's also disconcerting to see women's professional tennis referred to as "sport entertainment". The World Wrestling Federation was forced to relabel itself World Wrestling Entertainment because all of the violence and mayhem was choreographed down to the smallest detail. It pains me to think that Allaster, in her pursuit of Asian profits, has begun using that phrase to describe the sport she presides over. Are the accomplishments of Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Monica Seles, Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova and Serena Williams fantasy? I don't look forward to empty stadiums with 10 - 20 people watching women play their hearts out while the head of their Federation diminishes what they do.

End Notes

Katrina Adams, newly elected head of the USTA, sat down with Tony Harris of Al Jazeera America to ttalk about her goals for her two year term as head of the United States Tennis Association. She has an interesting perspective on what she wants to see happen with tennis in the US.

What do you see as your core mission? What would you like for folks to say about your tenure when you're done in two years? And the challenge of getting your particular goals accomplished?

The main message that I'm giving to our members and our volunteers — it's about getting back to the ABCs so that we can accomplish the XYZs. That starts with accountability, behavior and communication.

Being accountable for what we're putting out there and for what our goals are and trying to accomplish our mission. Making sure that our behavior is engaging and that it's inclusive and that we're inviting. And communicating who we are and what we do. And not just with potential members but with our volunteers, with our business partners, with our viewers. And with our fans, especially when it comes to the U.S. Open. And in order to do that, we have to start at the top to make sure that we're laying out proper goals for ourselves, to make sure that we can accomplish them. And then, part of my goals is making sure that we grow our Hispanic base here, in the U.S., the fastest-growing population in America. And we've barely tapped into these communities to get the kids involved, get the parents involved, get the grandparents involved. It's about really being inclusive of the entire family and embracing them. But going out and making sure we're sending the right messengers out delivering the right message so that they want to be involved in the sport and understand the value of what tennis can do for them.


What is it that you want folks to say about your time in this position, when you're done?

People say, "What do you want your legacy to be?" And I'm just about making a difference. I want to change sportsmanship in America. I think the sportsmanship and the behavior of our kids and our parents, in particular, has just gone AWOL from what our sport is about. And if any of those three can be accomplished, then I've done my job and set out and accomplished the goals that I've set forth. But it's really about changing the face of tennis. And making people realize that they too are welcome.

I'm struck by her emphasis on sportsmanship in the US. I also wish her well with that.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Rear View Mirror: Roland Garros 2015

by Savannah

Serena's Joy photo Serena Joy byAP Gannett_zpsqzq94sl7.jpg
via AP Gannett

Champions 2015 Roland Garros

Men's Singles
Switzerland Stan Wawrinka
Women's Singles
United States Serena Williams
Men's Doubles
Croatia Ivan Dodig / Brazil Marcelo Melo
Women's Doubles
United States Bethanie Mattek-Sands / Czech Republic Lucie Šafářová
Mixed Doubles
United States Bethanie Mattek-Sands / United States Mike Bryan
Boys' Singles
United States Tommy Paul
Girls' Singles
Spain Paula Badosa Gibert
Boys' Doubles
Spain Álvaro López San Martín / Spain Jaume Munar
Girls' Doubles
Czech Republic Miriam Kolodziejová / Czech Republic Markéta Vondroušová
Legends Under 45 Doubles
Spain Juan Carlos Ferrero / Spain Carlos Moyá
Women's Legends Doubles
Belgium Kim Clijsters / United States Martina Navratilova
Legends Over 45 Doubles
France Guy Forget / France Henri Leconte
Wheelchair Men's Singles
Japan Shingo Kunieda
Wheelchair Women's Singles
Netherlands Jiske Griffioen
Wheelchair Men's Doubles
Japan Shingo Kunieda / United Kingdom Gordon Reid
Wheelchair Women's Doubles
Netherlands Jiske Griffioen / Netherlands Aniek van Koot

The Main Tour is on it's way to London for the second natural court Slam of the year, Wimbledon. Since there are so many end of the Slam reviews around (the one I most enjoyed was the one by Jon Wertheim) I thought I'd take a look at where tennis is at this point in time.

Why are some on the management side of tennis concerned about the popularity of the ATP number one for example? It has something to do with whether the face at the top of the heap is marketable they say. To me this is a distraction from the main problem facing not just men's tennis but all of tennis.

Let's take a look at how the French Open, sorry Roland Garros, presented itself this season.

First was the horrendous, and I mean worse than Madrid horrendous, web site. No matter how you accessed it the information you wanted wasn't at your fingertips. You had to go on what could've been called a "magical mystery tour" to find draws, the schedule, player information, anything you expect to be easily available for a Grand Slam event. Some said you had to go to the site map, you know one of the links they put at the bottom of a page that you can barely read? Yeah. Down there. We tennisheads were bitching and moaning from day one. The casual fan? I'm guessing he or she simply went onto some other sport where the staff and management want to make information about their sport easily accessible for fanatics and casual fans alike. By the time many of us figured it out the tournament was well underway and it was obvious that the FFT thought the site, for which they undoubtedly paid millions, was fine.

Then there was the small matter of post match interviews. I don't know why so many just became aware of it this year but for a few years now, thanks to a small group of tennis journalists calling themselves the ITWA, asked the FFT not to make the interviews immediately avail on its site. This was so anyone who wanted to read what Player Y had to say after that tight five set win would have to go through them. But guess what? Did you find any Twitter or Facebook posts by these pillars of tennis journalism leading you to the interviews? Don't stress yourself. It's all an attempt to make sure upstarts aren't able to write blog posts that haven't been pre approved by IMG or any other party interested in maintaining control of a players image. If maintaining that control means no access for the dedicated fan so be it. You can't have Blogger J writing an opinion not sanctioned by some suit based on comments a player made during a post match interview can you? Perish the thought. What galls me is that the FFT went along with this nonsense. It's the only Slam that restricts access this way. It's bad enough that tennis is the only sport that makes tennis interviews publishable after a 24 hour wait. Why? It's also the only sport that doesn't allow the names of who asks questions to be published. What's the big secret?

So what happened? Fans started posting the interviews themselves. You could find them on fan sites, Twitter, and some blogs. As for video from the matches of the day enterprising fans were thwarted as the powers that be removed videos from YouTube. And as the videos were removed fans reported about it on Twitter. Tennis fans will find a way. We have to.

Back to the the issue of marketability. Many of fans feel that there is a bias against the ATP number one by the press. That bias, real or not, is nothing compared to the raw racism that the WTA number one faces. No one uses animal references to describe the ATP #1. No one thinks anything is wrong when the ATP #1 curses at fans asking them to perform sex acts or calls fans "monkeys" or when the British #1 goes on a profanity laced tirade. But let the WTA #1 drop a few f-bombs and suddenly it's a moral crisis and folks begin clutching their pearls because those "fucks" will create the wrong impression for the casual fan. When the media darling of many years standing screams at, curses at and openly questions an opponents medical issues it's her fierce competitive nature not any reflection on her character. But if the WTA #1 lets her frustration using some choice profanity while doing so the entire sport is threatened.

Should I talk about the commentary? I would except that I did everything in my power to avoid the US commentators. I'm sure most of the members of @TennisTwitter know who I'm talking about. Not that British Eurosport was much better. Their "homerism" is worse in a way because they have a top player. When he's not playing they follow the lead of the tours and the PR agencies for the most part and can actually discuss a player's game and what he or she has been doing prior to the match they're playing. With the US commentators they use the matches as "white noise" while they talk about what they had for dinner, who they were hanging out with, tell tired stories of what happened back in the day, and all of this while live tennis is being played. Oh, I forgot the mandatory plug for wooden racquets and the chance of them coming back into favor. I think it's safe to say that the US comms don't watch tennis at all when they're not being paid to watch. I vowed never to watch them again after John McEnroe, on the air, said he had no idea that Venus Williams has an auto immune disease. This after it had been the talk of most of the tennis world for at least a month and a half prior to his making that remark.


So here we are. As a tennis lover I want every one to share in my love of the sport. Sadly, at least in the States, tennis seems to revel in being a country club sport. There are no efforts made to make it a sport that is being played in the 21st century with all that that implies. Instead we get the same insular views common in the 1950's: only certain types of people should be the face of the sport. The game should be played as it was played historically ignoring advances in technology and conditioning that make the sport more athletic. Rules are instituted and used to hinder specific players.

The last decade has been a true golden age for tennis. The level and quality of play improved as the sport became truly world wide and world class as the approach to the game mentally and physically changed. And yet it is a Herculean task to watch tennis on a consistent basis. A fan gets used to "illegal" streaming sites of sometimes questionable quality. We fans are denied interview transcripts that fans of other sports take for granted. Announcers are allowed to commentate tennis matches who are totally ignorant of the modern game and feel that gives them the right to ignore current players and different styles of play because they don't accept the player's approach to the game or like his country of origin.

Don't get me wrong. There are some very good men and women working the journalism side of tennis in print, on the internet and behind the mic. Anyone who has heard Vladimira Uhlirova call a match knows how good tennis commentary can be. It's too bad we don't get that same level of on air commentary during the premier tournaments of tennis. Instead we get the same old tired views recycled in Australian, British or US accents. Tennis deserves better than that.

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Question

by Savannah

Quarterfinal play starts Tuesday June 2 at Roland Garros. It's kind of like a horse race when they make the turn into the stretch. Or distance runners when they hear the bell for the final lap. Bottom of the ninth inning bases loaded two out and you're at bat. It's that kind of pressure.

Tennis bloggers and fans are all putting in their two cents about everything that has happened the previous nine days. There is one subject that keeps coming up though. It's mentioned in passing and then the fan/blogger goes on to something else. And yes I'm leaving out the so called "journalists" that report on tennis. With very few exceptions they write what they're told to by the PR agencies so what they put out isn't journalism in the strictest sense. It's more like a gossip columnist given a press release by a person's agent and the columnist turning around and printing it as if he or she or a minion did some legwork.

There were several posts on Tennis Twitter mentioning the fact that the ATP going forward will feature seven of the top eight while the WTA will feature 2 of its top eight. Cyber ink is flowing about this. Fans of mens tennis will say its dominant players are dominant and that the ATP is superior. Fans of womens tennis will say that there is so much depth in their tour that on any given day anyone can win.

I think it's a philosophical question, one that can only be answered by each individual fan, blogger, or journalist.
Why do you watch sports? Do you watch a swim meet where Michael Phelps is participating because you know he's going to win or because maybe someone will overcome him? When Usain Bolt runs do you watch because you want to see a great athlete at work or because you want to see if he can find new and innovative ways to leave his fellow competitors in the dust?

I don't propose an answer because I don't have one. We all like to watch great athletes like Ronaldo, Messi and Iker. I will still argue that the greatest basketball team ever was led by Michael Jordan. But they didn't win them all. I liked the Detroit Bad Boys too. But they didn't win everything.

Maybe as we move toward the Finals in Paris we can think about why we watch sports, about why a team or an individual garners our undying support and respect, becomes part of our personal mythology. Will you enjoy your tennis less this week by asking yourself this question? I doubt it. But instead of battling about what player, Federation, or tour is best, focus on what you expect from sports competition. After that you can decide which tour, The ATP or the wTA, suits you. And enjoy the competition without having to explain anything to anyone.