Friday, April 10, 2015

Not So Idle Chit Chat

by Savannah

It's been a long time since I've done an Idle Chit Chat post. What does that mean?
Well there will be a lot of, well chit chat but unlike blind items on gossip sites the miscreants will be named. Not that all of them are miscreants. Some are simply playing the hand they've been dealt. But all of them are dealing with the results of actions they've taken. Where do we start?

Let's start with one M. Gilles Simon. Gilles is now on the Players Council and sat down for an interview to discuss the long simmering argument about better pay for those men who are not in the Top 100. It's interesting to find out that while Challenger level players have representation on the Council their position is akin to that of a nation with auditor status at the United Nations. At least that's how it comes across in this interview translated by Mark Nixon whose blog translates pressers and interviews given in languages other than English. Simon looks at the situation in strictly business terms. Here are some excerpts from the L'Equipe interview by Vincent Cognet.

Does the pro tour have different tiers?

“I’d say it has three tiers: there are those who make a lot, those who make enough to live on, and those who are still investing. It doesn’t shock me that there are three tiers. The question is: at which tier do we want to point fingers? Everyone agrees that the ATP number 1000 shouldn’t make a living.”

Why not?

Because it’s not professional. Every player will give you a different number: one will say the top 200 deserve to earn a living, another the top 300. The only certainty is that there’ll always be a three-tiered tour.

Unless it’s changed in a way that everyone can make a living!

There are more than 2000 guys on the ATP tour. That would be difficult. Of course, I’m in favour of the maximum number of players being able to make a living. But what I find more shocking is that there’s too big a gap between players at the same category of tournament.

Which means?

The best in the world travel with their coach [sometimes two], their stringer, their doctor, sometimes their hitting partner. On the other hand, you have number 80 in the world who gets there without being able to afford a coach. Those two types of players face each other in the first round of a Grand Slam. To me that shouldn’t be possible. That’s what I was teasing Roger [Federer] with: “Under these conditions, isn’t it a little easier to win?” It’s even worse on the women’s circuit. By not offering enough money, they don’t have a chance to train and improve. So, obviously, the best, who are already stronger, will stay the strongest! They changed that by getting more prize money for the first rounds of a Grand Slam. To clarify, that pays for your coach.

What have you done for the “second tier”, meaning the qualie players?

We haven’t forgotten those who are ranked between 100 and 300. Everyone says that we should increase the Challenger prize money. OK, but how do you do that? In ten years, from 2007 to 2017, their funding has already doubled. The paradox is that we can demand that the Grand Slams double their prize money (which is already huge), but can’t do anything about a Challenger.

Why?

Because a Grand Slam generates enormous revenue and a Challenger generates none. Because the players ranked between 100 and 300 generate none. So, logically, the same thing applies to them that applies to a world number 80: how to train and improve. We’ve increased the qualie prize money for Slams 120% in four years. In four years, you’ll make the same for the last round of qualifications as you did for the first round of the draw.
(...)

Why doesn’t the system change at the Futures level?

Guys competing there aren’t considered professionals. They’re considered to be players who are investing in their futures. Most importantly, we, the ATP, can’t do anything – it’s run by the ITF. We have zero hold, zero power with Futures. I love my sport, I want there to be competition, I fight for that, but I see how difficult it is.

(...)

OK, lets ask the question in a different way: are the top 100 players ready to give up some of their prize money to subsidise the lesser tours?

I may be wrong, but I’d say no. I know this will cause some screaming, but the players reckon that the Masters 1000’s make too much money compared to what they give us. The Slams were reproached for the same reason, though to a lesser extent. Everyone is interested in how much money the players make. No one talks about who’s pocketing the money at the end. Because no-one knows who that is. So, if you have to find money, the players will tell you that’s who should give to the Challengers.

There’s always a worry there …

I sometimes have a problem with players who ask for more money than they generate. Is it in our tour’s interests, seen as a whole, that those guys make more money? I’m pointing out that I use the same reasoning for the women’s tour and for doubles. It’s more of a general reflection than simply a question of money for the rich and the poor.

(...)

So you’re not the Players’ Council, you’re the Top 100 Council. And you only look at the problems that concern you.

-We’re the council for the Top 100 because we’re the council for the tour. Because, today, the tour is the ATP 250’s, the ATP 500’s and the Masters 1000. In fact, there is a Challengers section. I went there. We talked for two hours about that. Me, I say: instead of talking about prize money which, in any case, isn’t generated, let’s talk more about the expenses.That might move things along a bit.

...A pro structure costs a fortune. It cost me 250,000 Euros last year.

I've always thought of Challenger players like Triple A players in Major Leage Baseball here in the States. Players move back and forth between the Majors and Minors due to injury, burn out or what have you. I guess I was wrong. Was the Players Council always like this? Was it always only concerned about the Top 100 or was it at one time concerned with all players? I don't know. If it's only concern is the Top 100 maybe the name should be changed? Again I don't know. The issues Simon raises are legitimate but the solutions he's endorsing seem a bit cold hearted to me.

The Co Opting of a Legend

Someone has to explain the purpose of this piece to me. It was obviously dictated by Max Eisenbud. I guess they wanted it to appear that Billie Jean King wrote this herself? Uh huh. I was born at night but not last night.

One member of Tennis Twitter said the piece was PR'y. Hell it's a press release with a legend of the game's name attached. Why would she allow herself to be used in this manner? I could speculate but all of it would be ugly and imply a need for money by Ms King. I have a lot of respect for Ms King and what she's done almost single handedly for women's tennis so I will leave it at that.

The Strange Case of Petra Kvitova

So Petra Kvitova showed up in Australia fitter than she's ever been and promptly declared she was too tired to play when she left the country after a solo win at one of the warmup events. Too tired? She's 24 years old. According to an article in the Czech press she used the word "empty" to describe how she felt after her one win down under. She also admits to having seen a psychologist, I would assume a sports psychologist, to deal with her feelings or lack of feeling about playing the sport that has made her rich. Her coach confirmed that she will pick and choose where and when and how often she plays going forward, and that fitness isn't really part of her overall plan.

If you remember when Petra first came on the scene and won Wimbledon I was among some who said she seemed very uncomfortable with the business side of tennis. Her lack of fitness was talked about as much as her power game. It looked as if a new dominating star had arrived and that if she would get fit she'd challenge for the top ranking of women's tennis.

It now seems that Petra isn't interested in reaching the top level of tennis. Her coach has indicated fitness will not be a big part of her match prep going forward.

I'm summarizing because all of the links are in Czech. Czech fans are calling her a lazy bum. I don't think it's wise to go against what seems to be their consensus.

This and That

US fans were excited about Taylor Townsend working with Zina Garrison and a team out of Chicago. Taylor seemed to be improving her court sense and combined with her movement that is good despite not being in the best of shape it looked as if she might live up to some of the potential she exhibited as a Junior.

During Miami I heard a commentator mention in passing that Zina Garrison was working somewhere that was not Chicago now and I wondered what that meant for her work with Taylor. It turns out that Taylor will now be working with Donald Young, Sr. I'm struggling to find something positive to say about this new arrangement. She's had how many coaches now? And none of them have addressed her biggest problems and I'm not just talking about her weight. Like most young US players she's got all the shots but she doesn't have a coherent strategy when she steps on court. Her attitude seems to be I can hit through my opponent and get to most of what they send my way. All well and good. But what about a player who relies on off speed stuff? Who sees what you've got and counters it?

This is not just a Taylor Townsend problem it's a US tennis problem and I'm not getting into that again. Not this post anyway.

Amélie Mauresmo Is Pregnant

Miami 2015 via Art Seitz photo 0f03f799-39ce-4202-9678-8d4b6f0d89b6_zpsvocx3nqr.jpg
Photo Via Art Seitz

With a low key announcement via Facebook and Twitter Amelie Mauresmo announced that she will become a mother sometime in August this year. Most responses I saw were positive and the negatives were so full of ignorant speculation I was rendered almost speechless. I'll get to that in a few minutes.

For the serious fan a lot of things fell into place, especially Andy Murray, Amélie's charge, adding an assistant coach to his team. If Amélie is carrying the child she is about five months pregnant and in about three months travel will be difficult for her. Murray's new assistant coach will be up on how he does things and the transition will be seamless.

As for the idiocy. It's one thing to suspect that most of the "fans" posting on the two huge sites for the ATP and WTA are twelve. It's another thing to have questions like "How could this happen if she's gay?" and speculation that the whole reason Murray chose her was to donate sperm for her child. Let's not get into the fanfics that have already been proposed. The sadder thing is that when the adults call these children out for the nonsense they're spouting they say they're just trolling and that is supposed to explain everything.

There is nothing more beautiful than a child who is wanted and loved. I say congratulations to Amélie and her partner and hope a safe birth and a healthy child are in their future.

As for those "fan" sites the moderators have to decide between inflated hit counts and a readable, enjoyable place for the young and old to discuss tennis. Just my very humble opinion.



Monday, April 6, 2015

USTA Names New Head of Player Development

by Savannah

A few things jumped out at me reading the article by Tom Perrotta of the Wall Street Journal on the appointment of Martin Blackman as head of Player Development for the USTA.

First of course is his background in USTA politics and his past as Senior Director of Talent Identification for that organization.

Second is the endorsement by Nick Bollettieri who raves about Blackman bringing "stability".

Mr. Blackman is moving his family to the new USTA training facility in Lake Nona, Florida, something that was high on the must do list of the USTA.

Then there is this:

Blackman said he would try to strengthen partnerships with private coaches and ask current and former American champions for advice. He mentioned Agassi, Courier, Sampras, Lindsay Davenport, Venus and Serena Williams, Andy Roddick, and Blake.

“I’m really going to listen to what they have to say about what has worked,” Blackman said.

American tennis champions have traditionally trained with private coaches. But as the country’s performance in pro tennis, particularly men’s tennis, plummeted in the late 2000s, the USTA decided to spend more on development and hired McEnroe in 2008.

And this:

In the years since, McEnroe endured criticism over the program’s structure, player turnover, and sometimes strained relationships with private coaches, players, and parents, who felt that the USTA would only support players enrolled in the program, rather than those who sought partial help but wanted to keep private coaches.

In 2013, McEnroe adopted a new strategy: fewer full-time students and more time devoted to outside players and coaches who could visit and train.

Though American men’s tennis continues to struggle, the U.S. has a promising crop of junior boys, including 13 ranked in the top 100 of the International Tennis Federation’s 18-and-under rankings and three in the top 10. Women’s tennis is strong, with the Williams sisters and young pros like Madison Keys, 20, and Sloane Stephens, 22.

I'm wondering what insight Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi can give though. As far as can be determined Sampras was as clean cut as he appeared. We all know Agassi used illegal drugs while playing and was never called out or sanctioned for his behavior. Today Sampras would be called a servebot and Agassi would be famous as a scalp in the WADA Anti Drug plan. Jim Courier, because of Davis Cup, is more familiar with the men's game and the strategies behind it than either of those former players.

Both Andy Roddick and James Blake played until relatively recently but towards the end, with the men's game becoming more strategic and based on skills US players don't have their play could best be described as anachronistic. With the hiring of Mr. Blackman I don't see the level of US tennis changing much if at all.

In the end however it seems to be that the most important thing for US men's tennis is the Benjamins. The US system seems to demand that players have their own coaches who are free to take money from the USTA, use its facilities, and duck all the blame for the current state of men's tennis.

There is going to be a drop in the level of tennis after 2016 and it still seems to me that the USTA and it's coaches are preparing for that drop. Their fervent hope would appear to be that the "hit hard and harder" approach, "Serve Bot Tennis" if you will, will be on the ascendancy again and US men will be able to compete on an international level once more.
That to me is what is most important to the tennis establishment in the United States. They care the most about the men's game and don't really care about women's tennis although it's nice that they're including Lindsay Davenport in the discussion. It should be noted that current women's number one Serena Williams is not being coached by an American and has changed her approach to the game. Her new hitting partner, Robbye Poole is American though.

It seems to me that Mr. Blackman is the establishment choice. They know him. He's not going to upset the apple cart. The money will keep flowing to private coaches and all will be right with the world. Will this improve the state of tennis in the United States? It depends a lot on what players like Francis Tiafoe achieve going forward. I don't think you'll see results from players like him for another five years or so. Meanwhile the Europeans keep coming and rising up the rankings with the ability to construct points, superior court knowledge and mental abilities and overall better games even in their late teens. We already know about Chung Hyeon, Borna Ćorić, Elias Ymer and Alexander Zverev. They're making waves while US prospects like Ryan Harrison are just getting past the stage where superior play from an opponent results in tantrums.

Somehow I get the feeling that as long as Mr. Blackman keeps the old ways in place he'll be fine. After all, it is always "all about the Benjamins baby".

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Martin Blackman New Head of USTA Player Development

Martin Blackman to Head USTA Player Development

The former pro says he will ask current and former American champions for advice

SENNAIT BLACKMAN photo 595d8a29-dd81-4dda-9bcc-12cf2e93aae2_zpsmth5nfmt.jpg
photo by Sennait Blackman

By TOM PERROTTA
Updated April 5, 2015 7:21 p.m. ET

After a seven-month search, the U.S. Tennis Association on Monday will name a successor to Patrick McEnroe as general manager of player development: Martin Blackman, who worked for the USTA under McEnroe for two years before leaving to start his own tennis academy.

Blackman, 45, was a top junior who trained alongside Andre Agassi and Jim Courier at Nick Bollettieri’s tennis academy. At Stanford, he was Patrick McEnroe’s doubles partner. After six years on the pro tour, he became a college coach, and helped build the Junior Tennis Champions Center in Maryland.

At the USTA from 2009 to 2011, Blackman was senior director of talent identification and established the USTA’s regional training partnerships with private academies throughout the country. Since 2012, he has run his own academy in Boca Raton, Fla.

“He’s got a lot of credibility, more credibility than I do, in the coaching and development world,” McEnroe said in an interview this weekend. “He’s taken a good, long road, and people will appreciate him for all he has done.”

Blackman was born in New York City, before moving to Barbados when he was 2 years old. For two summers, Blackman’s family lived on the Upper West Side and he trained at the Port Washington Tennis Academy. When Blackman was 13, Bollettieri offered him a scholarship.

Bollettieri, now 83, said his former student is someone “who listens but will not be bullied.” “Martin brings education, he brings stability and he is a no-nonsense person,” Bollettieri said.

Blackman will work part time until June as he turns his academy over to another coach (McEnroe will stay on to help the transition). In 2016, Blackman and his family—he is married with four children—will move to Lake Nona, a planned community in Orlando where the USTA is building a $60 million tennis center with training facilities, housing for visiting players and their coaches, and more than 100 courts, including both green and red clay. The USTA will hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the facility on Wednesday.

Since McEnroe announced that he would leave player development at last year’s U.S. Open, many people have been rumored as potential successors, including James Blake, who expressed interest in the job; Courier, a former No. 1 player and the current Davis Cup captain; Paul Annacone, who coached Pete Sampras and Roger Federer; and former pro Todd Martin, who is now the CEO of the Tennis Hall of Fame.

But USTA officials signaled that they were less interested in star power than a candidate with a development background who would commit to the USTA full time and move to Orlando. McEnroe, who is also an ESPN commentator and lives in New York, was unwilling to move.

Blackman isn't expected to shake up player development’s staff or strategy. Katrina Adams, the USTA’s chairman and chief executive, and Gordon Smith, the USTA’s executive director and chief operating officer, said that they were happy with the program’s current direction and hired Blackman to build on it.

“He has played every level of the game—he understands what it takes to be a champion and he understands what it takes to be a collegiate player,” Adams said.

Blackman said he would try to strengthen partnerships with private coaches and ask current and former American champions for advice. He mentioned Agassi, Courier, Sampras, Lindsay Davenport, Venus and Serena Williams, Andy Roddick, and Blake.

“I’m really going to listen to what they have to say about what has worked,” Blackman said.

American tennis champions have traditionally trained with private coaches. But as the country’s performance in pro tennis, particularly men’s tennis, plummeted in the late 2000s, the USTA decided to spend more on development and hired McEnroe in 2008.


In the years since, McEnroe endured criticism over the program’s structure, player turnover, and sometimes strained relationships with private coaches, players, and parents, who felt that the USTA would only support players enrolled in the program, rather than those who sought partial help but wanted to keep private coaches.
In 2013, McEnroe adopted a new strategy: fewer full-time students and more time devoted to outside players and coaches who could visit and train.

Though American men’s tennis continues to struggle, the U.S. has a promising crop of junior boys, including 13 ranked in the top 100 of the International Tennis Federation’s 18-and-under rankings and three in the top 10. Women’s tennis is strong, with the Williams sisters and young pros like Madison Keys, 20, and Sloane Stephens, 22.

Still, Blackman will be first in line to take criticism if American players, particularly the men, don’t have better results in the near future.

“I’m up for it,” Blackman said. “If you understand that it takes teams to make players, and if you understand where our coaches’ sweet spots are, we can do some damage.”

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Weight of Expectations: The Kids Part 2

by Savannah

"Who the hell is this CiCi Bellis?" I kept asking myself. Everywhere I looked I saw her name and age, 15, and the words prodigy and future star somewhere in the next sentence or two. So this morning I decided to look her up and see just what recommends her to tennis stardom in the near future.

The closest I found was this glowing article by someone named Ashlee Vance from August of last year for Bloomberg Business.

Silicon Valley is hardly wanting for prodigies, but until Tuesday it hadn’t produced one on the tennis court. Enter Catherine “CiCi” Bellis, who beat 12-seeded Dominika Cibulkova at the U.S. Open. The win was remarkable because Bellis is only 15 years old and was playing in her first Grand Slam match. The most recent 15-year-old to pull off such a feat was Anna Kournikova—back in 1996, three years before Bellis was born.

In some respects, Bellis’s success shouldn’t be all that surprising. Where the Williams sisters defied the odds by rising up from the mean streets of Compton, Calif., to become superstars, Bellis comes from a privileged background far more conducive to tennis development. She grew up in Atherton, Calif.— the elite among elite suburbs in Silicon Valley. Gordon Bellis, the youngster’s dad, made enough as an investment manager to supply his daughter with a backyard tennis court while wife Lori home-schooled CiCi.

Even by tennis’s hoity-toity standards, these were luxe surroundings. The only comparable situation would be the case of Ernests Gulbis, the mercurial Latvian player on the men’s tour and son of Ainārs Gulbis, a super-rich investment banker.

(...)

Given the track record of other out-of-nowhere Valley startups, it would be unwise to bet against her.

Notice the tennis names Mr Vance mentions. If those don't set off warning bells for Vance they do for hard core tennis fans. Neither Kournikova or Gulbis lived up to their potentials. But of course this girl - she is a girl - is going to be a success because SILICON VALLEY!!!

Yeah.

via usatis photo 939b21b7-b932-412c-b052-fc407e9cd2ac_zpspzobxnaj.jpg
via USATIS

Well young Ms Bellis got her ass handed to her yesterday by the world #1 Serena Williams. Can I say that Serena let the girl win two games? The 6-1, 6-1 score is deceiving. It really wasn't that close.

I wonder though what sport other than tennis would allow a fifteen year old girl face the best player of this generation? In what sport would the hype machine try to spin it that the kid had a chance. I mean would it have been fair to let a college freshman go one on one with Michael Jordan back in the day? No you say? Then why build this girl up as the second coming because she beat Dominika Cibulkova and has had a decent ITF career so far. No offense meant to Dominika but Serena is several levels above Cibulkova and in my opinion it does more harm than good to expose someone this young to the juggernaut that is Serena Williams. As I said earlier this year exposing young players, male or female, to the rigors of the main tour before they're physically and mentally ready is not a good thing. It can lead to regression and self doubt. Tell me how many players have made the successful jump from the Juniors to the main tour? Look at the kid I'm following this year, Alexander Zverev. Poor guy is not doing well at all at the moment although he is playing Qualies something I think is a good thing.

Jeong via ITFtennis.com photo 9ac11f41-4b69-4d5e-965a-7f6133de6911_zpszqkih5cs.png
via ITFtennis.com

Why isn't the hype machine talking about Chung Hyeon from South Korea? At 6' tall he doesn't have to worry about a height disadvantage. He's very mobile and very fast and can make shots from anywhere on the court. The hype machine may not be on his case but the tennis cognoscenti are. I mean when you hear the likes of Robbie Koenig and Jason Goodall falling over themselves to describe the potential of this young man you know that away from the ever vigilant (sarcasm alert) tennis "press" the people who matter are already paying attention to him. Oh but wait. He's from South Korea. His team is composed of Koreans. His English is very limited something we know drives the US tennis establishment up the wall. So he can't be publicized because he's too foreign. Better young Bellis who comes from a background the US tennis establishment understands and who can communicate with them without an interpreter.
I've been told by @Tonicate that the correct Romanization of the young Korean's name is "Jeong" but that the pronunciation sounds more like "Chung". Since he's using "Chung" I'll use it too. However it's spelled keep your eyes on him. I think he's going to be a good one.

Ćorić via his Twitter Profile photo 8deddd11-4e1e-49a2-9a49-3b3fc79e3398_zpsi7by6crb.jpg
via his Twitter profile

Borna Ćorić is another youngster with an outsize personality, a cockiness if you will, that Australian, British and US tennis people like. He's had to dial back his "best of his generation" quote and seems to be progressing, building a career. To my knowledge his English is limited too but with his buzz cut and personal charm I guess he's more approachable for the Westerners who have just stopped their pronouncements about Eastern Europeans dragging themselves out of their hovels to play tennis. Just stopped.

So Madison Keys. If you saw her complete breakdown towards the end of her match against Sloane Stephens you saw a player unable to handle the pressures she's under. After her run in Australia everyone was saying she was the next big thing, the American poised to succeed Serena, the one who should obliterate anyone across the net from her when she played. I think it was a mistake for her not to play anywhere until the IW/Miami swing. You have to learn to win and lose before you step on the big stages of tennis. Yes they said she was injured but did she play either of the warm up tournaments in Mexico at least? No.

This focus on the Slams and since we're talking WTA Premier Mandatory events is wrong and puts more pressure on young players no matter where they come from. You build a tennis career just like you construct a point. Everything can't be an "ace". You can't "servebot" your way through life and you can't do it with a tennis career. Make these young people play. Let them learn that taking the court, win or lose, is how you deal with life.

I have to mention that for many African American tennis fans Keys unfortunate comments about not identifying as African American have made her someone to root against. Keys is what 19? She's from a wealthy background and as many mixed race people do she's struggling with her identity. Should her parents have done more to tell how how the world sees her? It's easy for people hiding behind computers to say "yes they should have" but not being part of that family and it's dynamic the only thing outsiders can do is "don't judge". She may always struggle with her identity. We're all on this plane to learn so I say leave her alone about that for now. It was a mistake by her handlers to let that statement go in that interview but I'm betting they're unaware, and to be honest really don't care what people of color think or feel when they hear statements like that.

The way Keys was sobbing, bawling if you will, on the sidelines in the second set all of these issues are getting to her. I like the way Jonathan Leach handled the awkward situation. Men confronted with crying women usually lose it. He whispered directly into her ear so that the mic wouldn't pick up what he was saying. That was a good move on his part and Madison did settle down after that and win a couple of games to avoid being fed a bakery product. I still think she should play some International level events. Let her construct her career. With tennis careers extending into what used to be considered the golden years of tennis she's got enough time to get it together.

As for the woman who defeated Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens, I think she realizes that Nick Saviano is her last chance to be relevant in tennis. At least I hope she does. I think she's afraid of him, and that's a good thing for someone with her personality. She had more to prove versus Madison and she played like it. She's still playing. Unseeded. Let's see how she handles herself.

I haven't mentioned much about US young men. There's not much to say. Too short. Lousy games. Unable to think their way through a point let alone a match. Yes Donald Young is playing better tennis but he's hardly a newbie. Ryan Harrison is also trying now. No temper tantrums so far. But neither of them are new jacks. The true new jacks like Francis Tiafoe are doing the right thing and playing Challengers. Some folks out there get it.


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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Rear View Mirror: Indian Wells 2015

by Savannah

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports Halep photo 1738e5e3-8584-442b-8f79-1b08decdde91_zpscrp0l0em.jpg
via Jayne Kamin-Oncea USA Today Sports

I think people forget that draws are guidelines. They're what whoever controls the computer(s) that spit out the draw hopes will come to pass. They're not oracles, they're not set in concrete. What they are is best categorized as wishful thinking.

I thought about this as I looked over some of the reactions to the just completed tournament at Indian Wells in the California desert. Boring. Dull. Uneventful for the most part. Really? I saw a tennis tournament where as usual once play begins anything can happen.

So what were people most upset about? I should say who. Lesia Tsurenko must have put WTA chief Stacey Allaster on a psych watch after the carefully crafted draft geared to continuer her "great record" of reaching Quarters or Semi's at majors collapsed and instead of the mentally tough, highly competitive player we're told about Eugenie Bouchard crumbled into tears and an injury that didn't seem to affect her much in the third quarter when she was hitting the snot out of the ball in a way that would've aggravated an ab strain. Yes, every player has an off day since they're not robots but it's interesting that this happened to the player the WTA promotes as the bestest ever in the whole wide world!

Yes I'm being facetious but hard core fans know this is the truth. It's also why it's better to promote players who are or have done well on the court not on magazine covers. As I've said ad nauseam Steffi Graf would not be given the type of coverage her tennis would deserve if she were a top player these days. Meanwhile the WTA is losing a chance, a big chance of promoting the sport of women's tennis. Then again with great foresight Allaster has been shutting down tournaments in Europe and moving them to Asia. This while the majority of the top players are from Eastern Europe and the Asian players rarely cross the date line to play in Europe and the Americas and remain mostly unknown. There was the Chinese player Zhu Lin who saw her shot double bounce when playing Francesca Schiavone and when asked if it did said "I don't remember". She's known in the West but I doubt that's the kind of thing Asian players want to be known for.

While on the WTA let's talk about that shitfest of a Final between Simona Halep and Jelena Jankovic. I was talking about what a mess the match was and she said "But it was exciting right?" I told her it was exciting in the sense that someone was going to win. It was just a matter of who would lose their ish first. As anyone who was watching saw it was Jelena who said she was losing it and indeed did. Halep was reeling and looked about to give in to pressure the way she has in most of the major final's I've seen her play but then JJ started hitting the ball to San Diego. Shots she was easily making in the first set and a half were now landing in San Francisco and she was unable to recover the poise that saw her serving for the match at 5-4. Instead of a professional we saw a little girl who was begging her coach, in English, to help her, something he seemed totally unable to do. I'm sure those who promote on court coaching were cringing at the horror show between Jelena and Chip Brooks, her older, better connected US based coach during breaks. I don't know why she didn't have her brother work with her as he has been. Then again I understand Brooks worked with JJ when she was little. Maybe that's why she reverted to infantile behavior when dealing with him.

Meanwhile Halep had been mopey, erratic, and seemingly resigned to losing. Her hand picked Romanian coaching team led by Victor Ionita, looked on seemingly unable to do anything to lift their player's competitive level. I've said before that I didn't think they were ready for prime time. I don't think it as an accident that Darren Cahill, who works with Adidas, was in Halep's box most of the tournament. When Jankovic began to crumble someone had to give Halep a sound strategy and in my opinion Ionita may have been talking to Halep in Romanian but the words came from Cahill. Just my opinion. And don't forget that Halep had an extra day of rest after Serena Williams, due to injury, gave her a walkover in the semifinal. Marion Bartoli, working as a commentator for TennisTV, said that sometimes it is hard to prepare for a match and it doesn't happen. She's the former pro so I'll accept her statement as a fact. It's just that after the WTA had really had the more competitive matches and generated most of the excitement during the tournament it's a shame that such a sub par match chose the Champion. It was Halep's biggest win so far and maybe she's got that big match monkey off her back. She's playing Miami too. It'll be interesting to see how things shake out there.

As for the ATP, well, did anyone expect anything different? Some of the current world #1's fans bristle when there's talk of cakewalk draws but why do they get upset? Anyone who wants to can see that he's had some very nice draws. Does that sound better? What can't be made to sound or look better is that stunt he pulled in Australia vs Andy Murray. His supporters wonder why he doesn't have more fans. They know why.

If the issue of soft draws isn't an issue this statement to the BBC shows it does rankle the #1 men's player.

"Nothing has been handed to me. I had to earn this, to fight for it with all the commitment to my everyday routine with my team. Hopefully I can use this confidence for the rest of the season. It's a great start."

Ahem. Anyway Roger Federer made the Final after a straight set win over Canadian (cheater) Milos Raonic. To be fair I didn't watch the ATP semifinals or final. There was no need to. I was rooting for someone but he lost to the eventual champion.

What did stun me was the way Tomas Berdych lost to Federer. He'd been having a pretty decent year and shown signs that he was ready to challenge the ATP Big Four. Instead he went back to playing brain dead tennis and was easily defeated (over awed?) by Federer.

The people who get paid to look at the draw and tell the feeble brained fans who is going to win were beside themselves with hope the Big Four would all make it to the semifinals. One didn't. So of course the tournament was dull and boring. All analysis seemed to stop and attention quickly turned to Miami.

One of the problems of being a fangirl (me) is that once your fave(s) is/are out you quickly lose interest in the tournament. I do this for free so I don't have to watch matches I'm not interested in. It's ironic that despite Serena's withdrawal there was a reason to watch both the semifinals and final on the WTA side. Would Halep cruise? Would she falter again? Did JJ still have it in her to win a major? For me there was no such anticipation on the ATP side. Once Raonic won the results were as easy to predict as the sun rising in the East.

Was the men's draw more successful than the women's? In some respects, yes. With three of the four top players and one "up and comer" in the running it should've been "Must See TV". With all the big names gone on the WTA side due to injury or defeat why then was the women's tennis more must than the ATP, at least for this fan? Let's not forget that the WTA players are making their own narratives independent of their Association so what they've done to make their sport interesting is remarkable. Serena Williams is a legend and a phenomenon not only in tennis but in sport. In a different way so is Maria Sharapova who did get a lot more support from the WTA than Serena did. But neither of them played in the semi finals and yet I wouldn't miss the semi's and the final for anything.

I'm working on my attitude for Miami. I think this tournament has suffered coming after Indian Wells, especially since Larry Ellison has put his money where his mouth is and upgraded the tournament and succeeded in getting Serena Williams to come back and play there. I know, I know, it was the former TD and Stacey Allaster who persuaded her to return. Serena hasn't said anything about that point so I won't either. She came back, she won without lifting that heavy trophy, and that was the big story at Indian Wells this year. As for her injury don't forget that picture I posted of that heavy wrap on her left knee in Los Angeles. Sometimes if one limb hurts you overcompensate with the other one. Serena said if she'd had two days to rest instead of one she would've played. I believe her.

End Note

Remember the WTA's "Strong is Beautiful" campaign? WTA players posed for heavily Photoshopped glamour shots to try and show that these athletic women were also beautiful. I don't know if the campaign drew many new fans to women's tennis but I thought it was a missed opportunity for the WTA. Give a make up artist and a photographer free range to recreat a woman's image and what you get will be different, if not totally representative of the woman they're supposed to be showing the world.

There are many tennis fans who only learned about Anna Wintour because she's a fan of Roger Federer and is often seen sitting with his family at big tournaments. Some enlightened souls may knew her from the movie "The Devil Wears Prada" a thinly veiled swipe at her management style at the magazine she's run for years, "Vogue", US Vogue to be precise.

But Wintour is a tennis fan and it's ironic that it was her magazine, a publication that has been under attack by the fashion industry recently, who showed the world that strong is indeed beautiful. Vogue has the pull to bring in Annie Leibovitz who's portraits are world renowned and with just three images she's put all the WTA fluffery to shame.

Let's start with the cover of the latest edition. It features one Serena Williams as many have never seen her before. We've seen her in full battle mode on the court but have we ever "seen" her when she's off court? When she's just being Serena? If you've seen the cover of this month's US Vogue you have.

Serena by Annie Leibovitz photo 49ac98eb-6d0a-494b-89f2-9ff876fb31c3_zpstb8xivoc.jpg
photo Vogue USA by Annie Leibovitz

All of the competitiveness, the ferocity, the intelligence and yes the woman, are visible here. No soft around the edges overly made up pretend mannequin here. Leibovitz presents us with a female athlete at the height of her power. For black women what is even more amazing is that there is no photoshopping, no skin lightening, no shading of her real nose, no heavily lined eyes. In fact because of the simplicity of the (very expensive) dress she's wearing nothing distracts you from those eyes. No ear rings, no jewelry. Just one Serena Williams in all her, dare I say it, glory.

Woz by Annie Leibovitz photo 320b0581-e558-4286-acc0-58fa329180a4_zpskbrztk40.jpg
Vogue USA by Annie Leibovitz

Then there is this startling, somewhat shocking picture of Caroline Wozniacki. We've never been allowed to see Caroline as an athlete. We've been sold a pretty blonde with an angelic face, nice body, and a pretty smile. Here she is presented as "athlete". I don't think the nick name she was given, Sunshine, would cross your mind after seeing this portrait. She is a fighter, a competitor, a woman proud of what she's made her body into. People say "Oh she's run a marathon" without understanding what it takes to run a full marathon. The woman in this photograph ran a marathon and finished it. Of that there is no doubt.

Annie Leibovitz photo serena-williams-april-2015-vogue annie leibovitz_zpsxobkrhjz.jpg
Vogue USA Annie Leibovitz

There isn't much to say about this picture. When I was growing up you always heard talk about that "woman in a red dress". Well here she is. No wonder other women envied her and men wanted her.

Yes strong is beautiful. It just took clear eyed vision to bring that point home.


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Friday, March 20, 2015

Why the WTA Should Live Up To Its Name

by Savannah

We're now into the home stretch at the BNPParibas Open Indian Wells. To say the least it was an interesting trip, especially on the women's side. Two of the biggest winners, Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland and Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine are women the casual fan has never heard of. In fact you have to be a real tennis nerd to have heard of either one of them before this last week.

Let's start with Ms Bacsinszky. We nerds know the name. She was around a few years ago and made a bit of noise but not enough to make her stand out from the pack.

via Daniel Murphy EPA photo 5718ca97-3a0f-413a-9378-4c8391f21ad7_zps0feijesa.jpg
Daniel Murphy/EPA

Timea's story is a little more interesting than that of a journeywoman tennis player though. Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times did a column about her.

He starts out this way:

When your name ends in five consonants and your best major tournament advances are seven years apart — third round of 2008 U.S. Open and 2015 Australian — you aren't a household word...

Right away he brings up the obvious: most Western European and American commentators will not have a clue how to say her name. When you have a commentator like Pam Shriver whining because a coach is speaking to his player in a language they both understand and she doesn't you understand the problem. And that coach and player Shriver was whining about were speaking French. I'll have more to say about this English only on court coaching thing in End Notes.

But there is more to Timea's story than having a name that is difficult to pronounce.

From the article:

She is 25. She was born and raised in Switzerland by Hungarian parents, father Igor and mother Suzanne. Igor was a tennis coach, Suzanne a dentist.

The quick summary is that Igor was abusive, Timea eventually demanded that her mother divorce him or she would leave them both and do whatever it was she could to make it on her own.

Suzanne left, Timea stayed with her mother and no longer has a relationship with her father.

Her story is not well known because she isn't. Tuesday night, she was only momentarily hesitant when nudged to tell it.

"I have been a kid of like a syndrome of pushy parents," she said. "I think it happens worldwide. … As a woman, as a young girl, you can never go against the power of a dad. You have no money or nothing.

"Actually, you have no chance to get out of it. Or you tank your tennis career and you lose matches. ... .On the tennis court, I knew that no one had, how do you say, the power on me."

Bacsinszky said tennis was her best opportunity for defiance and independence.

"When I was playing a match," she said, "if my dad told me, play cross court, I would say, 'Well, I'm going down the line.' I had to win the match, otherwise it would not be OK."

If this wasn't enough, soon came the gut punch.

"At home, I was kind of in a prison," she said.

She is 25, suffered a serious foot injury in 2011 and struggled for several years. She was No. 285 at the end of 2013 and is now No. 26.

The foot injury was a lot more serious than Dwyre lets on here. There were three surgeries to repair her foot and after self doubt set in she began to train in hotel management. It was in May of last year that she got a chance to return to main tour tennis and while faltering out of the gate she has not looked back. All of the hard work she's put in resulted in her upsetting Petra Kvitova in Shenzhen at the beginning of 2015, reached the third round in Melbourne, and beat Caroline Garcia twice in winning the title in Acapulco and Monterrey. She's taking time off after her loss in Indian Wells.

Heartwarming right? A woman's triumph over a very difficult circumstances, and proof that tennis is an addiction not only for fans but for the players as well. A lot of us tennis nerds will be looking to see how Timea does the rest of the year. As for the WTA? Their eyes are focused elsewhere.

The other story is about Lesia Tsurenko. If you follow the ITF circuit you know of her if not about her. Like Bacsinszky she is 25 and she's won six titles on the ITF circuit. In February 2015 she was ranked 92 in the world per Wiki.
Fans of all stripes can be forgiven if they didn't think much of her chances against the much hyped Eugenie Bouchard for whom Tsurenko was supposed to be a very small bump in the road on her way to the quarterfinals. Instead it was a flustered and teary Bouchard who made an early exit losing to an injured Tsurenko in three sets. Bouchard was said to have pulled an ab muscle causing her leave in the middle of her own serve in the third set while Tsurenko, who was warm, was forced to sit cooling off and possibly rendered unable to continue forcing Bouchard to play tennis.

What I took away from the match was not so much the result but the fact that Tsurenko has a great personality. Here's her post match oncourt interview.


posted by TennisHD2

Now that's a personality that will get the casual fan more interested in her and in women's tennis but nope she's not deemed a good enough ambassador by the powers that be. Sure she's had most of her success off of the main tour but how about throwing a few wild cards her way for International level tournaments WTA? Let's give her some of the chances others have gotten and see if she can make it at the top.

If the WTA marketed women's tennis and not one or two players it would be easier for women like Bacsinszky and Tsurenko to become if not household names, players fans both casual and serious, will start to follow. Hey they're both blonde Stacey! And she speaks English Pam! Win win!

On Court Coaching

They need to get rid of it.

That said hearing that Pam Shriver of ESPN was annoyed that Sam Sumyk spoke French to his charge Eugenie Bouchard (that's a French name Pammy) during his two on court coaching visits gave me pause. Let's forget that Sumyk hasn't been seen doing on court coaching for years and was very annoyed at the camera person getting so close while he was talking to his charge. Imagine Victor Krason giving a camera person the "back the eff up" look. Ain't gonna happen.

But back to this thing about him speaking French. What's the big deal? Yes they both speak English but the coaching session is for the player and her coach, not for the commentators and fans. Who knows who is listening? If a player has someone on her team who is monitoring the session that person can easily report back to the coach what was said. Remember when Victor got caught telling his daughter to tank a match in Polish? No? They swept that aside pretty quickly but those fans watching from Poland made a killing bet wise. But no one ever whines about Krason and his daughter speaking in Polish.

I also was taken back to find out that there is a belief out there that on court coaching was always supposed to be done in English. Really? When the majority of the top players come from Eastern Europe you expect them to stumble through an unfamiliar language during a coaching session? I don't pretend to know all the ins and outs of what went into the decision to allow on court coaching but I find it hard to believe that there was ever an "English Only" requirement. Since Stacey is intent on moving the WTA tour lock, stock and barrel to Asia how would they ever enforce that rule?

Get a grip people and don't try to claim Shriver's complaint was anything but what it was, an attempt to force the world to adhere to what the US thinks it should be. As long as there is on court coaching there will be players speaking in foreign tongues. The only solution is to get rid of it. Seems simple enough to me.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Night To Remember

by Savannah

Emotions Julian Finney Getty Images photo 1270c7ba-61eb-426a-bd84-96a1a2e7a397_zpsqwahgtey.jpg
Julian Finney Getty Images North America

For the first time during the first five days of the BNPParibas Open (including Qualifying) at Indian Wells there was a packed house. The tension was palpable. What would happen when Serena Williams walked onto Center Court ending her families 14 year boycott of the event? Would there be cheers? Would some "fans" boo or give a less than friendly greeting? Tennis fans can be a surly lot when they want to be.

Harry How Getty Images North America photo 68c5a275-2a74-4233-a746-ca6c7c5d6a2b_zpshkgxavws.jpg
Harry How Getty Images North America

It was not a moment any fan of tennis would miss for the world. And it seemed that those who packed the stands wanted to make sure the Williams family knew that they were not the same rabid bunch that devastated a 19 year old girl with racist insults and implying horrible things about her father. They welcomed her with open arms and Serena, who likes to project an ice queen image, was caught up in the emotion.

Harry How Getty Images North America photo ffc49476-2561-420f-83d1-b20a562d8b4c_zpsqgs7olsk.jpg
Harry How Getty Images North America

I stood in my living room crying. My daughter was crying. Jill, Isha and most of the people in Serena's box were either in tears or bleary eyed. We can only speculate what Oracene, her eyes behind dark glasses, her face immobile, thought. It's said that Richard was there. And Sascha was seen leaving the court area after Serena made her entrance.

 photo Julian FinneyGetty Images North America_zpsemzzb353.jpg
Julian Finney Getty Images North America

It was not an easy return match for Serena. Her opponent, Monica Niculescu of Romania, barely serves above 80mph and dares you to make her hit the ball directly. Serena did it enough times to win in straight sets of 7-5, 7-5.

How much did this match echo around the world?

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These guys showed up and sat front row. They haven't had much good to say about each other for awhile but there they were flanking John McEnroe who was rocking a purple paisley shirt I had hoped not to ever see again. It was a night for healing.

And a man known as King James sent this message along: LeBron James @KingJames · 12h 12 hours ago
Pride or Progress... Which one will u choose? Congrats @serenawilliams at Indian Wells. Keep it going… https://instagram.com/p/0MeyjZCTFE/

Serena left the court with a wave and a slight smile.

 photo Leaving Harry HowGetty Images North America_zpsdyxpw5uv.jpg
Harry How Getty Images North America

Later it was revealed that Lindsay Davenport broke down in tears along with many others seeing Serena walk back onto Center Court. It was a night that many, many people will remember in tennis for a long time. As Lebron James said it came down to pride or progress. As they always have the Williams family chose progress.

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