Sunday, October 19, 2014

It's Finals Time! The WTA YEC

by Savannah

Posted by @MariaSharapova

The WTA YEC begins it's first year in Singapore Monday October 20th. The top eight women will compete against each other in Round Robin format before beginning single elimination. The breakdown is as follows:

RED GROUP (Seed):

Serena Williams (1)
Simona Halep (4)
Genie Bouchard (5)
Ana Ivanovic (7)

WHITE GROUP (Seed):

Maria Sharapova (2)
Petra Kvitova (3)
Agnieszka Radwanska (6)
Caroline Wozniacki (8)

On Monday Serena Williams will start things off playing Ana Ivanovic at 7:30p Singapore time (that's 7:30a Eastern US Time)
The second match will feature Simona Halep vs Eugenie Bouchard.

Tuesday will feature the White Group with Caroline Wozniacki playing Maria Sharapova at 7:30pm followed by Petra Kvitova vs Agnieszka Radwanska.

Why am I always surprised that Aga ends up at this event? She's not fooling too many people any more and has been trying to increase her aggressiveness but she still comes off as the weakest link in both groups. Each woman has had time to rest and no one is limping into the event this year. Yeah there were reports of this and that hurting but that was players trying to fulfill their tour commitments without flat out withdrawing and facing fines.

Am I surrpised that Bouchard played well enough to make the cut? Nope. She was going to make the cut one way or another so after Serena, Maria and Petra she was the next shoo-in. The head to head between Bouchard and Halep is one apiece.

To be honest I'm more curious about attendance than the tournament. There's a lot of pomp and circumstance going on around the event, enough to make me think the tennis isn't the feature event. Lot's of former players are going to be there. I'm assuming there's a large expat community in Singapore and that seems to be who they're appealing to. I've been looking to find reports on attendance at the recently completed China swing but haven't been successful. If someone has these figures please post a reply here.

But back to the groups. The White Group could come down Sharapova vs Kvitova. Wozniacki can make life miserable for those two though I don't see her winning the group unless something serious happens. In the Red Group the battle will be between Halep, Ivanovic and Bouchard. Bouchard owns the H2H 2-0 (!) against Ivanovic. Ivanovic H2H vs Halep is 2-1 in Ivanovic's favor.

Who do I think will play for the Championship? Many think it'll be Serena vs Pova but if Kvitova can hold her form I think she romps through the group. Keep in mind I don't do predictions well at all so make of that what you will.

The Tarpishev Incident

So this happened as reported by Merlisa Lawrence Corbett.

Shamil Tarpischev, head of the RTF, appeared on the Evening Urgant, a late-night talk show broadcast nationally in Russia. Sitting next to retired WTA player Elena Dementieva, Tarpischev joked with the host about how difficult it is to defeat the Williams sisters.

However, instead of acknowledging the Williams sisters' talents and skills, Tarpischev decided to degrade them. "The Williams brothers," he called them.

The put-down didn't stop there. Ivan Urgant, the host of the show, instigated more thoughtless conversation. He continued (h/t TennisInfoBlog.com):

Look at our athletes, elegant and beautiful. I have tremendous respect for them [Williams sisters], but once one of the sisters passed next to me, and I found myself in her shadow for about forty seconds. They are so physically powerful. Weren't you afraid to play against them?
Tarpischev and Dementieva smiled and listened to this foolishness. They ignored the fact that Russia's own Maria Sharapova is the tallest woman in the Top 100 and hits with as much power as anybody on tour.

The "Williams brothers" remark and the tone Urgant used seemed to suggest that Serena and Venus were otherworldly, some strange creatures to be feared.

The first reports of Tarpishev's remarks came, to my knowledge, on a fansite known more for flame wars than sober discussions of women's tennis, on October 7th.

On October 17th the WTA announced that it was fining and suspending Tarpishev, who has been Russian tennis for many years and is head of the Russian Tennis Federation. It was also on October 17th that NY Times tennis reporter Christopher Clarey posted an article about the incident. In a tweet responding to myself and several others who commended him on his article he said he'd just found out about the incident. In other words something that fans had been aware of for ten days didn't get reported on by a major tennis writer until the WTA announced it's suspension and fine of Tarpishev. Many fans said non tennis media had been reporting on the comments for awhile.

To summarize the head of the Russian Tennis Federation, who at one time had many women in the upper echelons of the sport, makes comments that are at the very least insensitive about two of the icons of the modern game and not one mainstream tennis "journalist" saw fit to report on the comments or express outrage. Some are saying that they were traveling to Singapore and weren't aware of the situation. I guess that "slow boat to China" is still in operation and has no modern communication facilities. Others seem to be doing their best to look the other way and pretend it didn't happen or that since the WTA has acted there is no need for them to say anything.

If we tennisheads have learned anything from this it's that the men and women who consider themselves "journalists" are nothing more than an insular, self serving clique that only reports on what the tours and PR agencies want them to report on. Meanwhile fans have taken over the function of reporting that these entitled few claim they do. That is why this clique has worked so hard to make sure the rabble - read bloggers who are not under contract to some major sports or news organization - are not allowed anywhere near the hallowed media centers. I'll state here that I'm not interested in traveling all over the world but that's me. There are capable bloggers who love the sport and still do even when knowing some of the uglier aspects of it. And let's not forget there are regular fans who while they don't do formal blogs attend and report on majors and not majors on fan sites with no perspective other than that of a fan of the sport. They don't care what agents or the Tours say. They report what they see and that seems to threaten the "tennis press".

Don't get me wrong. Fandom isn't colorblind and several excuses have been made for Tarpishev's remarks. Some say he's old. Some say Russia is still as insular as it has always been. Some say that Tarpishev was making a joke and that Russian humor is different from that of other cultures. Others were saying that Serena and Venus didn't seem to care about the comments so why should anyone else?

Serena herself put an end to that train of thought with a statement she made yesterday :

"I thought they were very insensitive and extremely sexist as well as racist at the same time. I thought they were in a way bullying," Williams told reporters in Singapore on Sunday.

"I've done the best that I can do, and that's all I can say. So I just wasn't very happy with his comments. I think a lot of people weren't happy as well.

"But the WTA and the USTA (United States Tennis Association) did a wonderful job of making sure that -- in this day of age, 2014 for someone with his power, it's really unacceptable to make such bullying remarks."

Then there's Marat Safin who said the following (Google Translation from the Russian)

"I do not even know what to discuss here. This is complete nonsense, and on level ground. Adults and behave like children in a sandbox. I am sure that no one is mean to insult or offend. It would be better leaders WTA engaged so that from tennis to make any product, instead of discussing who said what to whom. Maybe Tarpishchev not understand? We understand that nothing he had in mind. Engaged in such nonsense respected association! Do not even want to discuss "- quoted Safina" Sport-Express ".

I don't speak, read or understand Russian but for those who do here is the link to the original article in that language.

I should mention in passing that Elena Dementieva, the one who half way apologized for saying that Richard Williams fixed the matches for his daughters back in the day was present during the television interview. She did and said nothing but even now that she's retired would she dare go against a man as powerful in Russian tennis circles as Tarpishev is? And in the end what happened isn't about Dementieva and Serena. It's what the most powerful man in Russian tennis said about the two women who made his best players footnotes in the recent history of tennis.



Saturday, September 27, 2014

Let's Talk About Wuhan

Source-HongWuGettyImagesAsiaPac

For the WTA Wuhan, or more precisely the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open, was set up to be the Jewel in the Crown of the refocused WTA Main Tour, the showcase to show Asia what women's tennis was all about. All of the big names were in attendance and it promised to be bigger than Beijing.

When dealing with tennis as the good people of Hong Kong found out, what's promised is not always what's delivered.
Wuhan was something different though. The top seed, and one of the top up and comers were wiped out by gastric distress early in the event. Considering that the tennis stars were probably staying in a five star hotel and still got sick I wonder what is going on in the kitchens there? One person tweeted that when they went to China they lost seven pounds due to gastric issues. I hope that situation gets straightened out.

The other top seeds seem to have been going through the motions. What happened could be called a massacre I suppose because after the early rounds only second tier seeds were left along with the number three seed Petra Kvitova. This is what you'd expect to happen to a tournament held the week before a Premier Mandatory. Do I think the WTA should adapt the ATP numeric systen to describe its tournaments? Yes. It's a real pain in the ass to find out the point levels assigned to a tournament. And don't forget there are a couple of different levels of Premier events. Yes there are Masters 500 and Masters 1000 on the ATP side but doesn't knowing the number of points the winner will get better than having to search the interwebs to find out the same information for a WTA event?

Anyway anyone with eyes to see and follows tennis knew what the desired final matchup was going to be and lo and behold the rematch of the Wimbledon Final took place at about three in the morning Eastern time. Of course everyone was up to watch right? I know I wasn't. It was the end of a long week and unless you were being paid to stay up I'm guessing many in the States passed. Those on the west coast of the States would've had an easier time of it.

I don't know how either woman played since I was asleep. I do know that Petra won in straight sets 6-3, 6-4. I read some analyses that said Eugenie Bouchard was trying to outhit Petra instead of making her move. Like Maria Sharapova Petra is not a great mover. I'm sure whoever has been working on making her tennis less ugly will be working on that as well.

I did see some of the early round matches since they started about 11p in my time zone. The seats around the court were fairly well populated while the upper tiers were pretty empty. The fans showed up at the end of the work week but by then the matches were starting in the early morning hours and I'd end up falling asleep during the first set.
I feel that the WTA by setting such late for the US starting times wrote off the potential audience in the States given preference to Asia. If that's what she wants so be it.

I'd call the tournament a moderate success based on what bits and pieces I saw. I think next year, when top players won't be forced to play a week before a Premier Mandatory tournament will be the test. By that time some Asian stars may have emerged and something will have been done to make the viewing easier for a non Asian audience.

Next up is Beijing where the tradition of an empty stadium appears to be continuing. Nothing is worse than playing in an empty stadium and I saw parts of two matches played in one. Even the one featuring promising teenager Xu Shilin playing Sabine Lisicki was played in a mostly empty stadium. I swear only officials saw Carla Suarez Navarro play Kirsten Flipkens.

I wish I could promise more detailed posts on these tournaments but with the time difference (yes again!) I don't think that's possible.

So congratulations to Petra Kvitova for winning the inaugural Wuhan tournament. I wonder if she'll be back to defend her title next year?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Where Do We Go From Here? Part 2 The WTA

by Savannah

Serena Williams via Getty Images photo af75e243-263c-4b9e-93f7-6dae85427747_zps012d9408.jpg
Photo via Getty Images

There is no doubt who the Queen of Tennis is. Serena Williams has dominated her sport for the last couple of years, and her victory over an overmatched Caroline Wozniacki gave her her 18th Grand Slam Victory,more than the man some worship as a deity on earth despite the Herculean efforts of some, more than the candy pusher, and equal with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. No one wanted to think this could happen but it has and barring injury or lack of interest there's no reason to think she doesn't have one more in her. This was not her best season, there was no way she was going to duplicate 2013, but she still managed to reach this milestone.

But Serena is not the WTA tour and at 32 she is a tennis senior citizen. So what about the rest of the tour? Where are the future superstars coming from? Can they be identified or are they going to be chosen for us by the large PR firms that control much of what goes on in tennis?

The current generation has sorted itself out. After Serena who has accomplished so much on the court, there are the image driven successes of Maria Sharapova, who has won 5 Grand Slams and was supposed to win more according to the hype. There is Serena's older sister Venus Williams who has 7 Grand Slams to her name but influenced how the modern game of women's tennis is played more than anyone. When you watch Venus at her best and then look at someone like Maria Sharapova for example, you can see how Venus game is the basis for not only the Russian's game but many other players.

There was a lot of hype around Serbians Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, the so called Serbian Sisters, but of the two only Ivanovic has won a Slam. Jankovic created the template for reaching #1 without a Slam. She played any and everywhere no matter the level of tournament. There were jokes that she would fly to far off places to pay $10k or $25k events in between main tour events in her never ending quest for points. I don't think she's ever physically recovered from that effort although she did try to beef up her strength and endurance with disastrous results. She can still beat players who aren't familiar with her style but has never won a Slam.

I'll get to Caroline Wozniacki in a minute. A direct descendant of Jelena Jankovic's quirky style is Agnieszka Radwanska. Her now you see it now you don't style used to drive players wild but now she only beats young guns or those who never quite reached the upper echelons of the sport. I feel that her chance to win a Slam has passed and that her efforts to improve her serve and aggressiveness came too late to make a difference for her. She came close to but never made the top spot.

Before I discuss the woman WTA CEO Stacey Allaster nick named "Sunshine" I have to throw in the disastrous effect that on court coaching has had on women's tennis. It's very hard for a player reliant on her coach running down from the stands to hold her hand and give her perspective on what's happening on the court to win a Slam. Keep in mind a Slam is run under ITF rules and wisely they have rejected on court coaching. In 2014 we saw Li Na win in Melbourne, Maria Sharapova win in Paris, Petra Kvitova win in London and Serena Williams in New York. This post will be a lot longer if we go into the coaching from the stands players rely on. Does everyone get coaching of some kind during a match? Of course. Have any of these women made on court coaching into an art form all it's own? No. Caroline Wozniacki and her father Victor Krason do the equivalent of a Vegas floor show with his dramatic visits to talk to his daughter while she dries off, hydrates, and stares into space. Like Radwanska and Ivanovic Wozniacki has added aggression and better shot making to her game and both are playing pretty good tennis. Will Wozniacki ever win a Slam and justify her former #1 ranking? It's possible. The draw would have to break her way for that to happen and that's not out of the realm of possibility.

But this post is about where the WTA goes from here. The short answer is that there is no easy answer.

We all know about the WTA moving almost all of its tournaments from Europe and the States to Asia. It's too early to talk about the success or failure of that yet. It's not too early to talk about the attempts of Asian promoters to either poach the Australian Open or add a 5th Slam/two week event in Asia.

Leslie Wilson Jr reporting on the recent ITF meeting in Dubai talked about the pitch the Asian Tennis Federation made.

The ATF President Anil Kumar Khanna made the following point:

“The ITF is not a financially successful body. Right now it is not making a surplus, at best it is making $500,000 [Dh1.83 million] a year and our development expenses have gone down significantly to what it was 10 years ago,” he said.

“So basically what the ATF is telling the ITF is that it must make a profit of $50 million, like the Grand Slams are making a profit of $100 million, at least for the sake of it’s 210 member nations, so that it can have worldwide development.

“This can be generated through its own Grand Slam-like tournament, a two-week event which can be called the ITF World Championship. Even if the ITF can make even $50 million, we will be happy.

“That money will not belong to one nation it will belong to 201 nations. It will be money well spent in Asia, in Africa, in Central America, in South America. Today we find tennis getting centred around only Europe making it is easier for Europe-based players to succeed.

“Asians on the other hand face logistical hurdles having to travel far, spend more and get little in return, should they lose.”

Mr. Khanna seems to be aware of the backlash the WTA is facing because of it's Asian focus and skillfully brings in the continents of Africa and South America as well as Central America as potential beneficiaries of a new ITF event in Asia. It's not clear to me that players from those continents or parts of hte world would benefit from a two week event in Asia but I guess we'll have to wait and see what happens. I don't see the Australian Open going away. It's worked too hard and spent too much money to update it's facility and shame the other Slams into upgrading thier plant as well to simply pack up and go away. But money talks and you know what walks. The WTA has already gone for Asian money and the security of government involvement in sports. The ATP hasn't and I feel that is the organizaiton Mr. Khanna is pitching to.

Meanwhile the WTA is doing it's best to pump up the rankings of Asian women by instituting special $125k tournaments geared specifically to the Asian market with rules that go against those in the WTA rulebook. There was a lot of conversation about Peng Shuai entering Nanchang in violation of WTA rules. Subsequent events will take place in Ningbo (October 27) and Taipei. One will take place in Limoges, France starting on November 3, the same time as the one in Taipei. While Mr. Khanna talks about the expense fo Asian players traveling overseas the same situation exists for non Asian players traveling to Asia.

At any rate the WTA is still populated by a majority of players from Europe and the States. And it's not even doing a very good job promoting the players it has. Petra Kvitova? She's won two Slams. Many would say "who"?
Simona Halep? She's been the hottest player on the tour but again many have no idea who she is. How will the WTA promote non Westerners?

Taking a look at the WTA top 20 we find the following:

[1] WILLIAMS, SERENA USA
[2] HALEP , SIMONA ROU
[3] KVITOVA, PETRA CZE
[4] SHARAPOVA, MARIA RUS
[5] RADWANSKA, AGNIESZKA POL
[6] LI, NA CHN
[7] BOUCHARD, EUGENIE CAN
[8] KERBER, ANGELIQUE GER
[9] WOZNIACKI, CAROLINE DEN
[10 IVANOVIC, ANA SRB
[11] JANKOVIC, JELENA SRB
[12] ERRANI, SARA ITA
[13] CIBULKOVA, DOMINIKA SVK
[14] MAKAROVA, EKATERINA RUS
[15] SAFAROVA, LUCIE CZE
[16] PENNETTA, FLAVIA ITA
[17] PETKOVIC, ANDREA GER
[18] WILLIAMS, VENUS USA
[19] SUÁREZ NAVARRO, CARLA ESP
[20] STOSUR, SAMANTHA AUS
[21] PENG, SHUAI CHN

The only player people who don't count tennis as part of their major sports obession would consider the next best is the young woman from Canada. Remember I'm talking about new faces in the sport not the established players. You would never know about the others unless you have someone in your life who lives and breathes tennis.

But what about the quality of the tennis being played you ask? Enough of the personalities and hype. How well are they playing?

Sadly not so well. There are players like Lucie Safarova who based on talent should be in the top ten but for some reason seem to lose the plot when the pressure is on. Tennis is played not only on the court but between the ears. If you can't think your way through a match and adjust to changes the player across the net is making in her game you end up losing matches you should've won. It is so frustrating to watch a women's match that starts out competitive and ends up with one, sometimes both players going on walkabout and the one who manages to bring herself back to the match ends up the winner while you, the fan, shake your head at the errorfest you've paid your hard earned money to see in person.

I blame a lot of this on oncourt coaching and the inability of up and comers, and some veterans to think through a match. On court coaching ensures that they don't have to. It's this that has diminished the quality of women's tennis. With low quality tennis - where Grand Slam matches are played at the same level as International's - why would fans pay to see the WTA product? They're not. And I think this is part of the reason Allaster and her organization are willing to take the hit and move almost their whole tour to Asia. What do they have to lose? Empty stadiums are the norm when it comes to women's tennis. Is there another Serena on the horizon? No. Are there good players around? Yes. Will they become exceptional players? That remains to be seen. Get rid of on court coaching. Stop making Juniors think they're stars when they haven't accomplished anything. There is no one size fits all in tennis and while Federations all have a preferred style a player should be able to create her own style within that framework. We don't need a new Serena or Venus. We don't need another marketing success based on looks and not on performance. We need a combination of the two, one that occurs naturally instead of a player being selected as The One to the detriment of other players who could use the help financially and with coaching.

Sadly, I don't think any of this is going to happen.

Li Na

There were press reports going back to the US Open that Li Na was going to retire due to injury. She'd been playing for a long time with kinesio tape on her knee but not once was the extent of her injury, and her pain, discussed in the Western press. The Chinese sports prsss on the other hand, where the imminent retirement was reported as fact, was accused of making shit up and the WTA pressed on with promoting her triumphant return to Wuhan to play in the tournament made possible by her success on the International stage.

Let's look at that success for a minute. Li Na played on the tour 15 years, much of that time under the supervision of the Chinese Tennis Federation. Li ended up in a battle with her Federation to keep her earnings and the right to choose coaches outside of their system. It was at the end of that fight that Li's game improved and she began to have success at larger tournaments. She was already in her late 20's by then though and now, at 32, she's had to call it quits due to injury. I doubt she's the type of player Federations want to cite as a role model to their juniors let alone their professionals.

Li is still the face of Asian tennis in spite of her battle with her Federation. Maybe I should qualify that and say she's the face of Asian women's tennis? She's shown what it takes to make it to the top level in her sport and her not being able to play anymore is a great loss. She will be making publicity appearances and hopefully she'll be able to talk to girls who want to be like her.

What is sad is that it's only within the last two years that we in the West got to know her not as an Asian player but as a woman with great wit and sparkle. Her peers knew her. We Western fans didn't. That wit and sparkle, the ability to laugh at herself and her husband was part of what made her a fan favorite.

You will be missed Na.

End Notes

In last weeks post on the ATP I mentioned that Spain's Davis Cup loss wasn't that big a deal since it was better to rebuild now than wait until all of their top players were unable to play well.

Well Thank You Carlos Moya. There was a lot of politics behind him becoming Spain's DC coach and it was thought that Spain would return to DC glory. Instead Moya has stepped aside saying that being Davis Cup coach was not what he expected it to be. Really? Well what did you think it was going to be like Carlos? You sitting on the bench while the stars of Spanish tennis romped over the opposition? That it wasn't going to be work?

At any rate someone else, who is willing to do the work, who is willing to do team building, will step in. Juan Carlos Ferrero? Who knows? Whoever it is will be better than Moya who was handed the job on a silver platter.

ETA: The RFET has chosen Gala León García as its new Davis Cup Captain. She is a former top 30 player, 40, and has been working as the sports director of the RFET. Link is in Spanish.




Friday, September 19, 2014

Where Do We Go From Here? Part 1 The ATP

by Savannah

 photo MarinCilic2014OpenDay15iy2BBxqbnnil_zps4038c1e8.jpg
Source: Julian Finney/Getty Images North America

Tennis is a funny sport. And tennis fans are, let's say a bunch of spoiled brats. For the last few years there's been a constant whine about "the same four guys are always winning the big ones". The cry has been for someone new to step up and seize the mantle from "those same four guys".

The thing is what they really meant is somewhat tricky. For some this meant that someone from the tennis axis countries - Great Britain, France, Australia and the United States. For others this meant that one of the "top four" is more deserving of cakewalk draws because he is who he is. I don't think either of these groups was satisfied with how the US Open turned out. They got what they wanted - new blood - but not the new blood they wanted - or the old blood they wanted for that matter.

To be clear I'm not a fan of Marin Cilic I'm an admirer. No matter how he felt privately about the circumstances behind his suspension publicly he did his mea culpa, apologized, and instead of going off and sulking in a corner or dragooning famous friends to bemoan his fate to anyone who would listen he worked on his tennis.

The men and women who make up the tennis press - using the term loosely of course - had already passed judgement on Marin Cilic's place in the hierarchy of tennis so they were doing their usual reading of press releases from the tours or the agents of players deemed more worthy instead of watching how Cilic was playing on his return. Instead they went on a mission to try and force tournaments to give Wild Cards - Main Draw Wild Cards mind you - to someone who when he was playing regularly on the main tour really wasn't all that. It was as if they decided that Cilic, who took his punishment with class, was a non story coming into the US Open.

Meanwhile fans of one of the original Top Two were angry that despite a draw that he went through like a hot knife through butter lost to - gasp! - someone who they and most observers thought he powned on his way to the US Open. I've said it so much it's almost a mantra for me: a soft draw doesn't make a champion. But what do I know? The Powers That Be gave him an even softer draw in New York. When I saw the draw I figured he had his usual stroll to the quarter finals where he would run into a player with some backbone. I was wrong. He made it to the semifinals and faced someone who had just come off of injury and had often cracked under pressure, Nishikori Kei. As we all know Nishikori played Cilic in the US Open Final so once again a soft draw didn't help it's recipient one bit.

To say the attitude of some in the "press" regarding the US Open final was horrendous is putting it mildly. Their main cry seemed to be "no one is going to watch"! You'd think that after all the whining about wanting new blood in a Slam final they really didn't mean it. They wanted someone deemed worthy not two men who they'd virtually ignored most of the year. But the two men who played the best met each other in the Final and the outcome was one no one predicted. No one.

After the Australian Open there was a big push to make Stan Wawrinka into the next shiny bright object. To make someone into the next bestest thing they have to have something to polish and make shine. Wawrinka isn't that guy.

Oh he got the cute nick names -Stanimal being the one that makes me cringe the most, and people were pushing him to become the next President of the Players Association but did "they" really think players would vote for someone who had never joined their oganization?

This is what annoys be about tennis reporters. They knew Wawrinka had never belonged to the players association but they promoted his candidancy as if he were the second coming of a deity. Meanwhile the players elected Eric Butorac. You could hear some peoples heads explode while asking "who"? Again, if they'd been reporting instead of going for the okay doke Butorac's election wouldn't have come as such a surprise, or disappointment.

Men's tennis continues to be a mostly non American affair with John Isner at #16 the only American in the top twenty. Despite being a legend in his own mind when it comes to his relationship to his sport Isner is considered a minor player overseas. We all know about his "God's Country" comment that offended many fans and we know about the shit fit he threw when he was bumped to the second court in Washington DC because Europe wanted "top" players matches broadcast back to their fans.

It's also time to retire that "Top Four" narrative that includes Andy Murray. He's currently ranked #12 in the world and while a return to the top isn't out of the question he's not part of the top four let alone part of the top ten.

The tennis press has seized on Grigor Dimitrov as the Chosen One. He hasn't shown me that he's got that "thing" the stars have. I'm not impressed with his game either but some would call me a "hater" when I say that. Whatever. Declaring someone the next big thing doesn't work in tennis. The player himself determines whether he joins the "superstar" category not the hopes and dreams of agents.

The transition from one era to another is taking place in men's tennis but it's going at a much slower pace than some want. The argument can be made that one guy is in the top three because of favorable draws that have seen him cruise to the business end of a tournament more often than not and not because he's playing out of his mind tennis. Nishikori made that clear in the US Open semi final. If Cilic continues his current form he's the man to watch going into the Asian and indoor swings leading up to the WTF. He's within the top ten now at #9. He has the potential to go higher. As a big man with good movement if he continues to play the way he did in New York he'll be shoving guys aside as he moves to the top.

While the British, The United States and Australian programs seem to be in some disarray those of other, smaller countries, are shoring themselves up and preparting for the future by developing new talent pretty much out of the spotlight. Lots of people chortled when Spain lost in Davis Cup to Brazil but he who laughs last laughs longest. They know who their top players are and none of them have anything to prove. Unlike the US and Australia who relied/are relying on aging players to keep themselves in the conversation the Spaniards are planning long term. The British have only one man as well and he is learning the system of a new coach. This is where the reorganization of USTA Player Development comes into play.

Colette Lewis, who singlehandedly brought real reporting to Junior Tennis in the United States has written her take on what the new Director of Player Development needs to do. Here are two points that she makes regarding USTA PD:

2. PD's voice must be heard on the topic of minimum prize money for Futures events on the USTA Pro Circuit. To allow $10,000 Futures tournaments to continue to exist without any increase in prize money for 20 years demonstrates a lack of big-picture thinking. It would cost $115,000 to upgrade the 23 men's $10Ks to $15Ks. A less complicated and cheaper action item would be hard to find.

3. Too much money is going to too few juniors. Selecting prospects is what competition is for. Anointing players based on potential and providing them with everything is risky at best and a waste of PD resources at worst. Better to give 100 kids $1000 than 1 kid $100,000.

Here is what she would like to see in the new head of PD:

1) have a background in coaching juniors and either a player they coach, or a son or daughter in the system
2) be familiar with the demands of the current pro game, whether as a coach or player at that level in the past decade
3) be well-versed in the current advances in coaching and sports science
4) have a love of the game that extends to sectional/national junior tournaments
5) demonstrate an ability to convey to the USTA president, board and all USTA members the goals and mission of Player Development, a plan to reach them, and a means to determine if they have been met
6) possess business and marketing skills to attract sponsorship and support from commercial interests
7) inspire loyalty, leading to reduced turnover
8) be delighted to live in Lake Nona, Florida

Items two and three are no brainers and it's shocking that this has to be mentioned at all. I've said before that the McEnroe brothers seem to be totally unaware of anything that has gone on in tennis since they stopped playing. John makes it obvious with his commentary (I should say what passes for commentary from him), and if Ms Lewis had to make these two points part of her wish list it implies that Patrick McEnroe is as stuck in the past as his brother.

To read her post in full go here .

In a second post Ms Lewis reports that up and coming junior Francis Tiafoe is being courted by Jay-Z's sports management team. He's 16. He plays like he's 16. He's got a big personality and loves the roar of the crowd but imagine a kid knowing Jay-Z is interested in him? Think of parents who, with stars in their eyes, picture their child as part of a future "Big Four"? Who is going to tell them to slow their roll, to keep their child away from the vultures? Is it going out on a limb to say no one?

The biggest problem with many US juniors (I'm focusing on the men now) is that they're stars before they've accomplished anything. Instead of fighting to become international stars they're fighting to be top of the heap in a very limited, insular world that refuses to see the sport has passed them by. What if players like Donald Young and Ryan Harrison had developed games better suited to their size instead of being forced to play a style that is totally unsuited to not only their physiques but their personalities? I've always felt Young should have a game more like another small man, Nikolay Davydenko instead of trying to be the next Pete Sampras or Andy Roddick. Dare I say Roddick fell from high potential to average once his coaching was taken over by US based men? I do. At one point he had an all around, all surface game. In the end he was a servebot who was outthought and outmanuevered on court.

So where does the ATP go from here? I think it's on it's way. It hasn't invested as heavily in Asia as the WTA has and continues to play tournaments where there is am already established fan base. The old powers are in trouble of their own making and it will take awhile for them to turn things around. Does it mean a lower quality of men's tennis for a few years? Yes and no. Cilic played wonderful, dominating tennis this summer. Jo Tsonga is working hard on his game realizing that now might be the best chance he has. Richard Gasquet, sadly, is another victim of the hype machine. He may be able to turn things around but he looks disinterested and lost at times on court. Gaël Monfils is probably the biggest waste of talent out there. If he can learn to hold his focus and not fall back on old, bad habits he could surprise us all.

After Andy Murray who is there in Britain? Australia seems to be banking on a young man with a volatile personality but without the right for his time smarts of Lleyton Hewitt.

In the States Tiafoe is only 16. We won't know much about him for another four to five years.

I feel that there will be another period of men from those pesky "other countries" dominating the game. Unless some tennis associations take their heads out of the sand that period will last a long time.




Sunday, September 7, 2014

This and That: Shenanigans

by Savannah

There are three WTA events scheduled for the week after the US Open - Québec City, Hong Kong, and Tashkent. All of the American women playing next week are in Québec City - Venus Williams, Shelby Rogers, Madison Keys, Anna Tatishvili, Madison Brengle, Melanie Oudin, Allie Kiick and Irina Falconi. That's 8 women out of a total of 24 in the Main Draw. Get that international experience ladies.

 photo b3094654-21e4-43fb-b06a-f5eec63aeff8_zpsc0ef715f.jpg
via ESPNW with no accreditation. Its obviously not mine.

Oh, and Stacey Allaster's darling Eugenie Bouchard, as everyone knew but paying fans, will not be playing Hong Kong. Sabine Lisicki is now the top seed there with Daniela Hantuchova the second seed. What I don't get is that Bouchard ducked out of playing Québec City using the excuse that she was playing Hong Kong. It turns out she was never on the entry list for that tournament but will turn up in Wuhan. Will that be a bigger payday for her?

I thought that the WTA had cleaned up it's bait and switch tactics but I guess I was wrong. Remember when Serena Williams was hated by fans because it seemed she would enter tournaments and then withdraw? It turned out that Serena was never entered into those events but her name was used to sell tickets. And she wasn't the only one. The WTA really went all in on fan sites that posted their entry lists back then and from what I understand it's still very difficult to get information on WTA events. Now the same fan sites are flooded with apologists for what just happened in Hong Kong with Bouchard. That never happened with Serena who was hung out to dry by her Association.

There are still some cultures where your word in your bond. Apparently Honk Kong is one of them.

Meanwhile, US Open sensation Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia will be playing in Tashkent, honoring her committments. Can you imagine Sloane Stephens going from New York to Tashkent? She couldn't even make it to Québec City, a short flight from New York City. Too lowly a stage for a great player like Sloane?

Oh well. The entry list for Wuhan is stacked. Even Sloane is going to be there. I wonder how many will actually make it there? It's a Premier Level tournament though so I don't think they'll pull anything there.

End Note: I wasn't going to publish this short post now but I think the WTA needs to be called out on its tactics when it comes to a tournament like this. The attempts to belittle the TD in Hong Kong as being naïve are disingenuous at best.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Final Four

by Savannah

Caroline Wozniacki photo 28f1af09-7479-44b7-9809-315732c2d890_zps3f75213e.jpg
Photo via Alex Goodlett Getty Images

Serena Williams photo aaff2148-ab0f-435b-95a5-c66e85f4c8b0_zpsc256f843.jpg
Photo via John G Mabanglo EPA

The WTA is trying, rather lamely, to make it seem as if Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki are besties. Both women are loyal to the WTA and will go along with whatever PR their association wants. I mean the ATP had success with making us believe Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer were besties until Rafa quit the Players Association because of differences with Federer.

But I digress.

As you all know I don't do picks. I don't play Suicide Pools or any of the games associated with tennis because I want to be free to enjoy the tennis without wondering if I'm going to finish second or third in a pool or game.

That said the obvious pick would be Serena Williams. I mean she's the top player. Her head to head vs Caroline Wozniacki, her "best friend", is 8-1. But this is the 2014 US Open where anything can happen. Serena has not played her best in this tournament. Most fans breathed a sigh of relief when she made the Quarter Finals, her first ever this year, and the Final. I want to say she'll romp but Wozniacki has had it with playing defensive, get every shot back, tennis. She's discovered the joys of aggression, of taking it to her opponent. Is she picturing her ex with every return she hits? Who knows? Whatever makes it easy for you girl. She'll still have to face Serena in a Final in a year that's been kind of "meh" for her. Whatever demons were tormenting her she seems to have them under control but I don't think this will be an easy match. I think Woz will win a set. I think they'll play each other tough. It shouldn't be a toss up but it could be. Woz has had a successful year and seems willing to take it to her opponents.

It should be a good match.

 photo KeiNishikoriviaArtSeitzSplashNewsCorbis_zpse616cf00.jpg
via Art Seitz/Splash News

Marin Cilic photo 01e7a61a-dd15-451d-910f-cbe444e6e80d_zpsb4ccca21.jpg
via Getty Images

If you follow me on Twitter you know how I feel about the so called tennis "journalists" who are saying the ATP Final at this years US Open is going to suck. I think it's disgusting that men and women who are paid for their expertise are upset that one player didn't make the Final and therefore no one is going to watch. That is why tennis is in trouble. The same people were whining that "it's always the same guys" in the Final of a major and "majors have become predictable. Handed a Final where both men have had to go through a Murderer's Row of opponents instead of doing what most sports writers would do they're whining because a player who had a cake walk to the Final, who never had to play a match in the debilitating heat of the BJK Center, didn't make it. When Nishikori Kei won his match I got the impression that fans of the cult of the FedGod were sipping champagne and celebrating what would have been a record setting Final victory. I guess they hadn't been paying attention to how Marin Cilic had played this tournament. They're only "journalists" and it's supposed to be their job to make note of such things but they went for the PR, for the ish to put it somewhat politely, and penciled in their idol. The Twitter silence was deafening. They had to wait to be told what to think. And that is pathetic.

What do I think? I expect a good match. I expect both men - one a big man who can move, the other a small man who plays with finesse - will play their hearts out. I expect at least four sets. I have no idea who will win. This match is a toss up. Unlike the Women's Final, where all will depend on Serena, this Final will depend on who plays better.

I read that not one journalist from Croatia made it to New York. Their editors must be kicking themselves.

I'm not going to get into how the story line became the coaches of the players who played the semifinals. I mean really? It seemed that the consensus was Edberg would out think them all. Ha! The coach can't play the match. And truth be told it was never about them. Commentators wanted to make it about their time in the sun and it really wasn't. Sad that this became the narrative.

I wonder how late interns will be up putting together the promo for Cilic vs Nishikori. Good times.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Patrick McEnroe Out At USTA

by Savannah

 photo Patrick-Mcenroe-006MatthewStockmanGettyImages_zps6ef8defa.jpg
Photo via Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Those of us of a certain age remember the song "The Weight" by a group called "The Band". Aretha Franklin recorded a popular version.

This song popped into my head when the story broke during the Kei Nishikori/Stan Wawrinka match that Patrick McEnroe was out as head of the USTA's Player development program.

Mary Pilon and Andrew W. Leren of the New York Times report the following:

No American man reached the fourth round of the Open this year — the second straight year that had happened, and the second time in the tournament’s 134-year history.

(...)

“I always saw this job as full time,” McEnroe said in a news conference Wednesday. “I’m pretty committed to doing what’s right for the U.S.T.A. and for player development in general. Obviously I did some other things, still do some other things as well. That’s obvious. I think when I initially took the job, that was seen as a positive. I know there have been critics about that over the years. It certainly comes with the territory.”

(...)

David A. Haggerty, the chairman and president of the U.S.T.A., said McEnroe had done a “fantastic job.” The U.S.T.A.’s executive director, Gordon A. Smith, echoed the sentiment, saying that “Patrick has created a great staff.” Smith added, “It’s going to be hard to replace Patrick.”

(...)

McEnroe has come under fire for his role in player development as elite players have struggled in major competitions. In interviews with several athletes, parents and coaches, McEnroe was described as not spending significant time at the Boca Raton complex. McEnroe has taken some of the blame from critics for the lack of American stars beyond Serena Williams, the world’s top-ranked female player.

(...)

As head of player development, McEnroe was paid about $875,000 in 2012, according to the U.S.T.A.’s financial forms, and more than $1 million in each of the three previous years.

Critics of his role in player development have pointed to his numerous television appearances and have questioned how he could focus on being an analyst while also earning a seven-figure paycheck from the U.S.T.A

It is mentioned in the article that Serena Williams is the only United States star and that she is not a product of the USTA player development system.

To anyone who watched any of the first week of this years US Open where US players found it difficult to manuever around a court let alone win matches the problems in US tennis were glaringly apparent.

I should state here that I have never been a fan of PMac. His openly rooting for players close to him and his brother, his fanboying over one particular foreign born player, and his fat shaming of Taylor Townsend haven't done much to endear this observer to him. I don't think it's fair to blame him for all the problems in US tennis. He took over in 2008. Most of the known US players were already in the pipeline by then. Still as Shakespeare wrote "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" and since he was sitting on the throne everything wrong is his fault.

I could write hundreds of words about individual players but the main problem the US players have is that they usually only play each other. Why they feel that going to Europe is a fate worse than death is beyond me. Why the US tennis establishment lets them get away with it is ridiculous.

Let's be serious. Why did Ryan Harrison get a Wild Card into the Main Draw? And who thought Madison Brengle deserved one? Sloane Stephens and her "I'm a stah" attitude was shown the door quickly. John "I have to play on Center Court or I suffer" Isner (yeah PMac's favorite said the same thing but I'm not talking about him here). Let's not even get into Sam Querrey.

It's often been said you have to win to know how to win. US players, not just the ones named above need to get over their jingoistic, zenophobic attitudes and go play tennis! That means playing 250's and International level tournaments in places where McDonald's isn't part of the local menu. It means learning how to construct points, to play in places where the amenities and cameras are few. It means playing against players who haven't been raised to think their arrival on the planet was akin to the second coming. It means learning to think the game of tennis so that when your tennis association is looking at who to give Wild Cards to it's not a popularity contest but a contest based on merit. Stop whining as one US female did, that the Europeans "disrespect" US players. You have to give respect to get it.

I do know that there is a lot of resistance to pushing up and coming players to learn to play on clay courts, not that green shit but the red dirt, something that PMac was for. I've written here that the USTA needed to expand beyond the country club and look at players with the will and desire to win. Most of the players still come from privileged backgrounds despite some notable exceptions.

The other thing that needs to be said is that PMac would probably still have his job if there was a US male player storming up the rankings. The disdain of the US tennis establishment for women's tennis is glaring and something they don't even try to hide. US women appear to be in better shape than the men but that argument proves to be bogus when we saw that they were all gone when the second week rolled around, again with one notable exception.

It's going to be interesting to see who replaces McEnroe. Chris Evert gave a spirited defense of his tenure on ESPN last evening and I'm sure there are others who feel the way she does.

I have absolutely no say on the matter but I would hope that someone steps in who will take the blinders off, who will go against the "star system" of US tennis and encourage players to go overseas and play in those lower ranked tournaments, who will continue to push for players learning to play on red clay, who will encourage players develop an overall game before become serve bots or players with all the shots and no game. I'd hope that fitness becomes a major part of player development. And that Wild Cards are given on merit not just popularity or what woulda, coulda shoulda been for some players.

There is no where for US tennis to go but up.