Tuesday, November 18, 2014

And All's Right With The World?

by Savannah

 photo e1441167-1e61-4000-a0b4-681ff1c15471_zps90511d6c.jpg
via @RogerFederer

The above picture was posted by whomever handles Roger Federer's Twitter account about 5:14p Eastern Time. The message? See we're fine. I even let Stan make bunny ears. Nothing to see here. Time to move on.

If you want to understand the power of agents and why they get paid the big bucks this story is an ideal case study.
I've been on a mini rampage this year about the lack of real journalism when it comes to covering tennis. Instead of sportswriters who delve into the nuts and bolts of the sport we have people covering tennis who simply put their names on the press releases handed to them by certain players agents. Some agents are more powerful than others though and it's no stretch to say that Tony Godsick, Roger Federer's partner in their new PR firm that split off from IMG recently, is a super agent. He's so good, so well connected, and dare I say feared, that not one US tennis writer, or any member of the tennis writers guild or whatever they call themselves, has dared mumble a word about what happened during and after the semi final match between Stan Wawrinka and Roger Federer.

Instead I've seen the French accused of being shit stirrers (this was by a fan), outright denial by many fans, and insults directed at Wawrinka's manhood.

I have to give credit where credit is due. John McEnroe broke the code of silence when he went live and admitted that something happened. That's a big deal. No one stateside has said "boo" since. And he's been attacked for doing what a reporter is supposed to do.

If you still doubt the fix was in when is the last time a player didn't face the press gathered and waiting to ask questions and instead did a one on one with a single ATP reporter behind closed doors? Imaine an American quarterback after throwing five interceptions refusing to meet the press and talking to one hand selected reporter? A top soccer manager refusing to meet the press after a bad match? The screaming would never end. Only in tennis would this be greeted with total silence by the "journalists".

What I have found disgusting is the rage of Federer fans against his wife. For some reason they've never liked her and now it seems that they blame her for tarnishing the image of the man they worship. Mirka Federer is not some "model" who does nothing but sit and look pretty in a players box. She managed Federer's career until he signed with IMG, in other words when it was too much for her to do on her own. That doesn't mean she's a saint. It means that she doesn't deserve to be insulted for her perceived WAG status. She is more than a WAG and if anything some of those who consider themselves reporters should be talking about the torrent of anger and hate directed at her. I'm not excusing what she's alleged to have done. I'm just saying that if there is anger and rage let's look at the why of that. Sometimes fans buy into a media image and take it to extremes. And agents get paid to help that dynamic along.

The story is not going to go away. Davis Cup starts this Friday. We'll all have to wait and see what happens.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

I Have A Question UPDATED

by Savannah

Last night Roger Federer defeated Stan Wawrinka saving four match points. His fans were ecstatic and making up new words to incorporate his name. It's about 1:20 in the afternoon here on the east coast of the United States and fans who paid two hundred pounds or so to see the best of the ATP play a final have been told that it will take 48 hours for the LTA to decide if they get refunds. I hate to be the one to break it to them but since tennis is being played and they're watching they won't get refunds. That's how the USTA would play it.

I watched that match last night. At no time did I see any indication that Federer was having any physical issues. Someone on Twitter said they saw he didn't bend his knees at some point in the match but if that happened I didn't see it. Neither did anyone else including the comms on TennisTV, considered the best in the business.

The drama started when Federer didn't show up for his practice scheduled at 2:30p US time. A British journalist, Barry Flatman, of the Sunday Times tweeted the tennis equivalent of "Houston we have a problem" and said the final between Federer and Novak Djokovic would not take place. By the time he tweeted that the Tennis Twitter meltdown had begun. Rumors saying Nick Kyrgios would play Djokovic circulated. Some wondered why David Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez weren't tapped to play. In the end Andy Murray, who was still in town to attend his friends wedding next week, was called on by Chris Kermode to play a pro set with Djokovic and then a doubles exho with John McEnroe against another team that included Tim Henman.

Mr. Flatman just tweeted the following:

Barry Flatman @Barry_FlatmanST · 5m 5 minutes ago
John McEnroe has now made it public: "Something went on in the locker room between Fed and Wawrinka & it extended long into the night."

It was reported that Wawrinka said something to Mirka Federer during the match last night. Inquiring minds and all that.

Since this is an ongoing story I'll stop here. I will ask this: If it was another player withdrawing from a year end final, and god forbid it was a WTA player, would tennis media be so sanguine?

This morning there are two articles in the British press, both by respected sportswriters, on what exactly happened during that crucial patch in the third set.

Here is what the Daily Mail's Mike Dickson reports happened:

According to several eyewitnesses, a vociferous argument developed between the pair in the backstage area. Tour officials decided that the best thing was to push them alone into a private room that had been converted into a gym area, as there is no communal locker room at the arena.

While the dispute is not believed to have become physical, a heated ten-minute row ensued in which both aired their grievances against the other.

Among Wawrinka's complaints is that Federer's wife Mirka made audible comments from his supporters' box – which unlike in many stadiums are right at ground level – questioning in French whether he would have the guts to close the match out.

In what had been an unusually feisty and high quality semi-final Wawrinka had four match points and served for the match at 5-4. According to French television, it picked him up saying 'She did the same thing at Wimbledon.'

Simon Briggs of the more restrained and reliable Telegraph posted the following:

Rumours of a bust-up between Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals grew more credible today as well-placed sources attested that the two men found themselves “thrashing out their differences” in the O2 Arena’s gym after Saturday’s semi-final.

Furthermore, the common thread to all the accounts of a hot-tempered match comes back to the role of Federer’s wife Mirka. The Telegraph understands that Mirka’s intense and even provocative support for her husband - which peaked just before Wawrinka served for the match at 5-4 in the third set - caused Wawrinka to complain about her behaviour during the match.

In those late stages, Mirka is understood to have directly challenged Wawrinka, accusing him of whingeing. Wawrinka wasted four match points - three of them in that critical service game at 5-4 - before Federer finally came through by a 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (6) scoreline.

When he came into the interview room, some time after the match, Wawrinka was asked: “At some point late in the third you seemed upset with someone speaking before points. Can you explain what happened there?” His response was cryptic: “Not much. Nothing special. Tense match. It's never easy.”

New information has now come to light about the aftermath of the match, when Federer and Wawrinka were encouraged by senior tennis figures to put the issue to bed at once. The two men conducted a heated 10-minute debate in the O2 Arena’s gym, in which Federer was understood to be the more assertive party.

Randy Burgess, a long and valued commentator on this blog points out that there are a couple of people who mentioned Federer wincing and not bending his knees late in the match. I was watching the match and didn't see it. I consider the reports of it happening valid though and while I didn't see it happen believe those who say they did.

Tennis journalists seem to have gone silent and when they do speak still act as though the incident and the fall out are rumors despite the two articles referenced above. I understand fans not wanting to believe it happened but journalists are supposed to be non biased and report the facts.

If there are anymore updates to the story I'll create a separate post.

Savannah

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Why All The Bother About Andy Murray?

by Savannah

 photo c01c097b-272e-4fef-8e8b-c05c6f9f79cc_zpsaec30ade.jpg
Photo via Getty Images

It's been humming along in the background since June. The British tennis establishment was beside itself that Andy Murray chose Amelie Mauresmo as his new coach. They kept their upset to a dull roar until now though. After Mr. Murray was bagelled at the year ending WTF in London there was no holding them back and now such great tennis players as Greg Rusedski and multiple Grand Slam winner Tim Henman are going all in criticizing Murray's game and his choice of coach.

First it was Rusedski criticizing Murray's second serve, something has always been a problem in his game. It's Mauresmo's fault.

Now it's Henman talking smack about the Murray/Mauresmo collaboration.

When you reflect on the match, for me his game had no identity,' said the 40-year-old BBC pundit. 'What was the plan out there? (...) 'It's about clarity of thought and that's when you've got to take a step back and look at the whole set-up, the whole team and his whole lifestyle and see whether that is working as well as it can. At the end of the day, he's the only one that can answer that.

I should mention that Marin Cilic, 2014 US Open champion, played like shit but no one is raking his coach Goran Ivanisevic over the coals. He's one of the guys.

What's amusing about all of this shade is that Murray is playing the way he's always played, poor second serve and passive aggressive rope-a-dope tennis. None of the critics are talking about what Murray did to get to the WTF's. He won three tournaments to make it and even with a week off he had to be exhausted. It's as if those wins didn't happen. Instead a bad loss means it's all the new coaches fault and she has to go.

Who do I blame? Ivan Lendl. He's the one who blindsided Murray saying he'd had enough and wants to do other stuff that doesn't involve coaching Andy Murray. There was so much discussion about what effect that dumping would have on Murray right? Of course there wasn't. Instead the tennis "press" turned to who Murray would pick next. John McEnroe was mentioned frequently. Andre Agassi's name came up. So did Pete Sampras. Not one member of the LTA was mentioned if I recall correctly. It's as if it was assumed that the person would be someone from Lendl's generation so that the players from that time could try and bring back the tennis they played and make it work with modern racquets engineered for a different type of game, one they can't play and barely comprehend.

Murray fooled them all. Not only did he go outside of the US, British, Australian tennis axis but he chose - please clutch your pearls - a woman! A French woman! Hold on Elizabeth it's the big one!

With a coaching change the first thing that happens is that you have to unlearn the old system and learn the new one.
Player and coach have to learn what buttons to push and not to push, how far each one can go with the other. The tennis philosophy of the new coach has to fit in and adjust to the mindset of the player. This takes time.

Rusedski's tome seemed to be him saying he wants to become Murray's coach. Henman's comments are supposed to be constructive criticism since he's described as a good friend of Murray. Not every British tennis fan is on the "get rid of that woman" train but as my mother used to say enpty barrels make the most noise.

I don't know what the future holds for Murray and Mauresmo. I do know that he will go to his friends wedding and then probably head for Florida where he trains. Whatever Murray decides it will be his decision.

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.