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?

Billionaires Row +1 photo 0c42e55c-e3f2-4147-afe6-d8ed639cb017_zpsx2m1yox2.png

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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Friday, March 13, 2015

Serena: My Dad Approves

by Savannah

 photo Matthew StockmanGetty Images North America_zpsgwiu12xq.jpg
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images North America)

Looking cool, calm and collected, not to mention beautiful, Serena Jameka Williams sat down before a packed to the rafters press room at Indian Wells and spoke eloquently and forcefull about her reasons for returning to the venue where racist fans did their best to make a then teenaged Serena, her older sister Venus Williams and their father and coach Richard Williams feel unwelcome in the upscale retirement community. They left, after Serena won the title, vowing never to return. Fourteen years later Serena has decided that it's time to put the past behind her, to make a fresh start and resume playing tennis at one of the top tournaments on the Main Tour.

The decision has been met by incredulity, dare I say stupidity, and dog whistle racism by media and fans alike. Let's not forget that tennis media, as so eloquently outlined in an article by Andrew Jerrell Jones in his article for Britain's The Guardian newspaper, is fighting to hold onto it's members only, read white only, exclusiveness.

But let's focus on the positive. Serena still says that it was seeing "Mandela: The Long Walk To Freedom,” and what he was willing to forgive in order to move on with his life that made her reconsider her stance on Indian Wells. It has nothing to do with a new found "maturity" - a back handed way of implying that the Williams family reacted in a childlike manner and threw a fourteen year tantrum before "growing up" but a careful weighing of her life, where she was despite that incident, and not only where but who she is. Some want to ignore the fact that she's representing a charity at this event, the Equal Justice Initiative, a criminal justice group in Montgomery, Alabama so as to focus on the issue of mass incarceration of people of color.

 photo c457f6aa-edb5-42b6-87f4-814cfaa2ae92_zpskuovuihc.jpg
via @KFish_WTA

I hope that the following words spoken by Serena during her press conference will put all the theories and drama behind.

Williams made it very clear that she would not be back at Indian Wells, the site of her first big tournament victory in 1999, if she didn't have the blessing of her family. Williams made it perfectly clear that while her older sister Venus is not in the field, she has given her full support.

“If she didn’t support me, I wouldn’t be here,” Williams said Thursday during her news conference. “If she said, ‘Serena, I don’t think this is good, I don’t think you should go,’ there’s no chance I would be here right now. She 100 percent supports me and is happy that I’m here, and even encouraged me to come.”

Williams said for a long time, she was set on never returning to the BNP Paribas Open. But once she began to entertain the idea, she made sure she spoke with her family members. One of the more important blessings Williams wanted to get was from her father, Richard.

“With my dad, I was nervous about him as well. I wrote about that,” Williams said. “He had been through some things when he was growing up. When I was done telling him, it was a really emotional time for me. I said, ‘I think I should go back, but I’m not going back if you don’t want me to. The last thing I want to do is to do something that isn’t right for all of us.’”

“He said it would be a big mistake if I didn’t go back. I thought that was really admirable.”

So now let's talk about her tennis.

 photo 0b85de2f-4284-45cc-bff9-6da2676a7314_zpstbyunya7.jpg

The above picture, posted by Patrick Mouratoglou on his Facebook page, is, to put it mildly, cause for concern. The heavy taping is also visible in pictures taken in Indian Wells (the above picture was taken in Los Angeles. I hope that the taping is a precautionary measure even though it's so heavy.

Serena will play her first match Friday evening.


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Thursday, March 12, 2015

James Blake Talks About US Tennis

by Savannah

Long time readers know I'm not a big fan of James Blake. I always felt he was more interested in being liked than in going out and beating people.

 photo 0f2d86c0-abbb-47f4-97da-803d51fa29f0_zps54a2iomr.jpg
via ATP Tennis

Be that as it may he's being mentioned as the possible head of USTA Player Development, the man who would determine how up and coming US talent, male and female, will be trained to play on the world's stage. He's been off the tour for a year and a half and if he does get the Player Development job what he thinks about the state of US tennis is important.

Tennis Now got a chance to talk with Blake and got some interesting answers from him regarding how he sees US tennis going forward. I'm excerpting the part of the interview that focuses on that. The full interview is at the link.

TN: The State of American men’s tennis is a concern for everybody in the states right now, especially given what happened over the weekend in Glasgow. It’s never a good thing to lose in Davis Cup, but maybe relegation would be a good thing that would cause the leadership to tear things down and give them a shot to play some of our younger talent.

I think I agree more with your first statement. It’s never a good thing to lose. I think you want to win, you want to put U.S. tennis on the map and give us a chance because I think the situation as it is right now… a guy like John Isner he could go out and beat anyone in the world on any given day, so I would never want to take him off the team. I wouldn’t want to take him out of the World Group, because you put him in the World Group, along with the Bryans, who are favored against any other doubles team on the planet, and you have a chance to beat any team.

I’m looking forward to that draw ceremony to see who we play in September, and hopefully we’ll get back and stay in the World Group.

TN: Kids like Jared Donaldson, Noah Rubin, Michael Mhoh, Francis Tiafoe and Stefan Kozlov have American fans excited about the future. What is your take on this younger crop of kids and what do you think they need to do to in order to get to elite status?

It’s going to be a little while before we talk about elite status with them but I think it’s the best situation possible when you have, as you mentioned when you reeled off four or five names, high-quality players hopefully able to push each other. Because then you don’t have one superstar that you are hanging all the hopes of American tennis on. I think it’s a really good scenario, and I think if these guys go out and push each other—I’m not going to be the one to go out on a limb and say this one or that one is the next superstar—hopefully in the next few years it will start to flesh itself out, and we’ll see who’s got the mental capacity, who’s physically able to handle the rigors of the tour, and who is going to be pushing themselves to the top of the game.

I hope that a few of these guys, not just one of them, emerge as top-caliber pros and make all these questions of what’s wrong with American tennis go away.

TN: I’ve heard you say that American tennis should not focus its energies on creating a new crop of clay-courters just because European players who’ve been trained on clay are having success on the tour now. You’ve said—and correct me if I’m wrong—that US tennis should stick with what works and embrace the faster surfaces. If more training on clay is not a solution, do you have any ideas of how to bring it forward?

If they feel like they are clay-court players I think we should give them the opportunity to develop on clay and have those resources available, but I don’t think it’s something that we should be actively pushing because history proves that we’re better on faster surfaces. We’ve had a lot more U.S. Open champions than French Open champions. We’ve got three of the four Slams on those surfaces. I think we stick with what works best for us, and that’s generally been our skillset, because we’ve been training that way from very young.

I think if we start forcing what’s not natural on them, it’s not necessarily going to make them the best clay-courters in the world. If you know you’re a great clay-courter—guys like Jim Courier, Michael Chang—they had that ability from early on, they could see that. If players want to practice more on clay and want to compete with all the Spaniards, the Argentinians and all the guys that have been playing on clay their whole lives, then we just need to have the resources to do that. But I don’t think we should push it on the guys that want to play like Pete Sampras or Roger Federer.


TN: Your name has been thrown out there as a possible head of player development with the USTA. Is there something intriguing about your name and the words player development in the same sentence to you?

Yes, it’s very intriguing, because for me it’s one job that would get me excited to get out of bed every morning, something where I hopefully can make a difference and make a positive change in what’s been going on with the USTA and Player Development. Honestly I think they’re already on the right track. I’d be trying to help and push that forward and make a lot of things go the right way and then let the players do the rest of the work. Let the players do the real hard work and just give them the opportunities.

I think that’s the biggest thing Player Development can do. Open up doors, give them the opportunity and find out what they can do with those opportunities.

(...)

TN: On the Tennis Podcast you picked Grigor Dimitrov to be next maiden Slam winner, and you said it can be this year. What makes you believe in Grigor as that type of a talent and do you still see him breaking through despite his early season struggles?

I just see his talent. He has such an amazing wealth of ability. He doesn’t just have one thing that makes him good and I think that’s also part of the reason why he’s had some struggles at times because he doesn’t always know the best way to be effective. He has so much ability he doesn’t just fit one gameplan. If you’re a player like Milos Raonic you have a pretty straightforward gameplan, and Grigor with so many different weapons sometimes he can confuse himself. Even a guy like Roger, early on in his career had so many ways to win it took him a little while to really have his “A” game and know what made a difference and made him the best player in the world.

With Grigor I think he still has that opportunity, so I still think he is the one young guy who has the best chance to break through and win a Slam.

TN: Is some of this caused by what you saw him do at Wimbledon last year? He can be a really great big-match player.

Yes, he can be. He can beat anyone in the world. It’s just a matter of him putting it together and figuring out what works best for him on a day-to-day basis. Not just that one time in a big match, he needs to be doing it every single practice so it becomes second nature.

TN: Where do you see Jack Sock fitting in with this group. He’s got some tremendous talent. Are you still in touch with him and what are your thoughts on his future?

Yes, he’s playing Indian Wells. I’ve been in touch with him, he feels stronger than ever, which is a good thing. Hopefully he can turn a negative into a positive, hopefully being bitten by the injury bug made him realize how important staying healthy is and he will sort of rededicate himself to being in the best shape he can be in.

He does have a lot of weapons, he just has to figure out how to harness them at the right times. He has unbelievable hands at the net, he moves a lot better than people give him credit for, I think he just has to find ways to put it together, and I think consistency is a big thing. Just being able to do it every day in practice, so that when you go out there you know even if you’re not at your best that day, your level is still high enough to win matches. That’s the thing that a lot of young guys don’t have.

Three statements Blake makes jump out at me. The first is about John Isner, Bob and Mike Bryan, and Davis Cup.

Isner can beat anybody? Since when? His movement is suspect, his on court thinking and shot construction can charitably be called mediocre, and who has he beaten lately? His Davis Cup performance was shocking because Ward dismantled him with relative ease. By the end of the match Isner was thinking like a junior playing his first main tour match.

Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan are 36 years old. How much longer will they be able to play top level tennis? In his comments Blake indicates that it's written in stone that those three, Isner and the Bryans, have to be on the team. So who will be the fourth man? Will one of the new jacks get a chance to be exposed to the mad house that is Davis Cup or will one of the current crop - Harrison, Young or Sock be rotated in? It's interesting that no mention was made of who will be Davis Cup captain after all the speculation about Courier being forced out.

The comments about Grigor Dimitrov seem to be taken right out of a PR statement. The reason Dimitrov gets confused on court is because he's got so many options it's hard for him to choose just one per Blake. Doesn't that get back to point construction and the ability to think, react and improvise on court? If he's to win a Slam the way so many is the States think he's about ready to do doesn't he have to put all of this together? If you saw him play in Acapulco where he was defending champion you saw him in the same mental place as Isner at the end of the match. He had run out of ideas and had no concept of how to change the momentum of the match. And this was on a hard court. You can have all the talent in the world but if you don't know how to channel and use it it's useless.

The third statement that caused me to raise an eyebrow was about Jack Sock. Sock has been injured a lot and hasn't been able to gain traction on the tour. What does Blake say about him? He's got lots of weapons and just has to learn to use them at the right time. Sound familiar? The thing a lot of young guys don't have is the ability to find a way to win when you're not playing your best Blake says.

And that leads me to the topic that led into this discussion: bringing up young US players on clay and then switching to hard court.

The reporter asked the question that needed to be asked and Blake, disingenuously answered another question, one that wasn't asked. No one is saying that the USTA needs to focus on making the next generation clay court players. What is being said is that learning to play on clay, learning how to construct a point, learning how to prepare physically and mentally for tough matches would give young US players the things they lack: the ability to construct points, to think on court, to anticipate, to ask questions of their opponents and demand an answer. In his comments about Sock isn't he admitting that the young man can't do what the top guys do? He may be delusional about Isner but the things he says about Sock, and Dimitrov, show that he, and maybe those in charge of developing players here in the States, are being short sighted to say the least.

Think about it. Would Pete Sampras be considered anything but a servebot today? Milos Raonic is the closest to Sampras style and he tends to lose his way and be out manuevered in matches. You can say what you want about Roger Federer but he is an all surface player, able to adapt his game to any surface. You can want to play like Sampras all you want but the majors, the Slams and Master's 1000's will elude you. As long as training on clay is seen as "forcing what's not natural on them" in the eyes of the USTA we're not going to have winners of major tournaments.

I like to go to at least one day of US Open Qualies because you get to see the players the USTA is pushing as the next big thing. For the last few years I've seen young players with all the shots but with no court sense. The only way US tennis will be on top again is when the current top players throw in the towel. The level of tennis, from what I see with a few exceptions, will drop precipitously and mediocre will become great. That's harsh but it's what I see. If I'm proven wrong so be it. I'm a tennis fan and I'd love to see my prediction be wrong.


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Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Week That Was

by Savannah

Brad Gilbert @bgtennisnation · 22h 22 hours ago
I can not believe for the 2nd year in a row US down 2-0 to GB,this is unacceptable and new low for US tennis = I am so absolutely bummed out

I'll get to Brad Gilbert's statement in a few minutes. A lot happened in women's tennis this past week that I'd like to comment on.

The first has to do with Serena Williams and her long time friend and hitting partner Aleksandar (Sascha) Bajin.

 photo Ryan Pfluger  for NY times_zpspdpshg2w.jpg

When Sascha didn't show up with Serena in Australia talk started. Some saw a conspiracy masterminded by Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena's coach and to say that their comments bordered on the absurd is putting it mildly. Sascha has always referred to Serena as his boss but for these "fans" Serena has lost her mind, is dickmatized, and is unable to resist the suggestions of the Svengali now running the show in their view.

Let's all take a deep breath, take a step back and look at the situation realistically. Serena will be 34 in September. She is no longer the girl who blasted her way onto the Main Tour and began winning slams. It sounds silly because she is definitely not in her dotage but at her age she has to become more protective of her body and mind. Will this mean playing less? Yes.
Will this mean changing the way she plays? Yes.
To play the hard charging take no prisoners style she played when she was younger would be stupid and one thing Serena is not is stupid. I think she's playing just as aggressively as she always has. She's just become more subtle about it. And that seems to be a problem for some of her fans.

It's interesting that Venus Williams has worked with David Witt for years now without too much controversy. Serena has worked with Patrick for a shorter period of time and yet he's seen by some as the devil incarnate. He's destroyed Serena. He's cleaning house and replacing long term allies with his own people. And poor Serena is just standing by and letting it happen because he's got the magic stick. These people want Richard Williams and Oracene Price to start traveling with their daughter again, to restore the style of tennis they want to see her play and the hell with what Serena has decided is best for her.

Let's be honest. Serena's goal is to play the Olympics in 2016. Will she be playing less? Probably. Will she be focused on the Slams? More than likely. Does playing Indian Wells fit into this strategy? Absolutely.

Let's take a few more steps back. Remember a few years ago when Sascha first made noise about leaving Serena's team and what her response was? She wouldn't let him go. The situation now is totally different. After 2016 will she still play a full schedule? I have no idea but my guess would be no. Does it then make sense for her to let Sascha, a man she considers a brother, test the waters and maybe end up coaching another top player and not assigned the position of "hitting partner"? Would she be that selfish? The answer is apparently no.

I do have one little worry about Sascha going to work with Wim Fissette and Victoria Azarenka. I lost a lot of respect for Fissette after his stunt at the YEC with Simona Halep who turned around and fired him. We already know that Azarenka is a win at all costs woman and I suspect that if it had been her who had been on the receiving end of the advice Fissette gave Halep we'd have seen a different response. Her fans hate for it to be brought up but that ten minute medical time out that she admitted was a tactic to disrupt the rhythm of her opponent on court only to deny it later shows the lengths Azarenka will go to. I think she and Fissette are a perfect match. Sascha is coming out of a different environment, one where winning was everything but there was never the hint of cheating on the part of the woman he worked for.

I suppose Sascha is looking towards that break Fissette is said to be taking later in the year for the birth of his child. It would mean he'd be head coach for a time. That is if Azarenka and Fissette last that long.

No matter what I wish Sascha the best. We all should.

As for those who feel they know what's best for Serena they need to check themselves. Serena is still in charge of her life. Stop it.

For those who think Serena put no thought into her return to Indian Wells here's a post by Andreen Soley that I found posted on Tennis Panorama News that speaks to the reasoning behind her decision to support the Equal Justice Initiative and tie it to her return. If you still want to hate, the line is to the left.

Miscellany

Remember a couple of years ago when Petra Kvitova first came on the scene? She was this publicity shy, out of shape player who could hit the snot out of the ball and won Wimbledon? I do. I remember saying at the time that she didn't have the personality to withstand the pressure that comes with being a top tennis player.

Fast forward to 2015. Like so many others she showed up in Australia fit, the fittest I've ever seen her. Yet her results were surprisingly weak. Maybe she was used to lugging around the extra weight, I don't know. I do know that she has withdrawn from Indian Wells citing "fatigue". Really? Did her birthday this past week have any bearing on her "fatigue"? Still at least we got an explanation for her withdrawal even though the Main Draw hadn't been released yet. We're all still waiting for the reason for another withdrawal, this one in Monterrey. Yes it's an International level tournament but the WTA rule book says a reason has to be given for withdrawal. I guess the rules are made for some and not others.

2015 Davis Cup: Great Britain vs the United States Glasgow, Scotland

I've been saying for a few years now that US tennis was in a crisis. That Brad Gilbert, the insiders insider in US Tennis, made the statement posted above before the doubles rubber had been played and that it stayed true is surprising only because someone like Gilbert said it.

US men's tennis was not prepared for Andy Roddick's retirement. He'd been carrying men's tennis on his back and got tired of it. Who would be the next star? Sam Querrey, the man who said a loss was no big deal because he could go home and drive his mother's Porsche? Yeah he was going to have that killer instinct. John Isner? All serve and very little else? The man who came onto the main tour after college? The man who said he was glad to escape from the wilds of New York City and return to "God's Country"? Donald Young who needed a different game than the one preferred by the US tennis establishment and is just now starting to develop it? Ryan Harrison who just recently stopped throwing tantrums on court and buckling down to play tennis? Robbie Ginepri?
The results in Glasgow have left the US tennis program naked and exposed to the world for what it is. Some were snarking that it was a shame that the US was defeated by a team with only one player in the top 100. What they didn't mention is that that player is ranked #4 in the world. Who is the highest ranked US player? That would be John Isner who is currently ranked #20.

Who is coming up behind the men I mentioned above? They're all very young. Except for Steve Johnson who has created a bit of a buzz around himself. It would've been nice if he'd been made eligible to play one of the rubbers on the final day of singles. He might not have won but it would show that the US is looking outside of the box for talent.
Instead of that the main focus seems to be on Jim Courier, Davis Cup Captain. Many are calling for his head because he should've done better. My question is with what? Isner hasn't been having the best of years. Young is just getting used to doing well. I guess it's his fault that the only players used to pressure are the 36 year old twins Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan. We're in bad shape in singles. We're in worse shape in doubles. If the Bryans retire after the 2016 Olympics are there any men ready to step into their shoes? If you see any your eyesight is better than mine.

There are still those who are trying to put a good face on things. I understand one comm was heard to say that Isner played very well today. I don't know what match he was watching. It was Donald Young who took a set off of Murray not Isner who looked unable to think coherently during today's match.

Meanwhile look at what Sweden did with young Elias Ymer. No one expected him to win his rubber today and while he put up a good fight he didn't. Playing in the hot house environment that is Davis Cup will pay dividends three or four years from now. The US is not ready to lose now in order to win later.

Until the US tennis establishment realizes that when it comes to men's tennis they're a few years away from possibly having competitive players our status will not improve. Great Britain has that one guy in the top 100 who is pretty enthusiastic about Davis Cup. None of our guys looked that enthusiastic. None.



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Friday, February 27, 2015

The Future is...Now? The Men

by Savannah

I've been toying with the idea of doing a "future is now" post since the end of the Australian Open but could never get it right in my head. It's early in the year. The spring US Hardcourt swing hasn't gotten underway yet. Which up and comer, hyped or not, should I focus on as an example of what the future of tennis will look like? A youngster may shine one week and flop the next. With the superstars of the last (current) generation not slowing down but maturing in their thought processes and hence their approach to the game what is the right age to start looking at the players born in the '90s? Are they showing any signs of revolutionizing how tennis is played? Are any wise beyond their years?

via GQ(Getty) photo 9b0cc4a7-c38d-47d5-9881-444d2e7ac940_zpsejjqvo8y.jpg
via GQ UK/Getty

Too broad a scope. I'll focus on one player this time, one that's not on my watch list. He's got potential but like his peers he still thinks like an eighteen year old kid. Who? Borna Ćorić (Chorich) of Croatia. He got himself in a spot of bother (I love some of those British colloguialisms)by declaring himself the best of his generation around the time of the AO and facing the inevitable "who the hell do you think you are" response from fans and the press. He'd played poorly coming into Dubai where he crashed out in Qualies. Because of a withdrawal he got into the Main Draw as a Lucky Loser.

As you know I'm a big fan of young players working their way to direct acceptance into main draws by playing Qualfying and the Challenger/ITF circuit instead of being gifted Wild Cards into the main draw's of top tier tournaments. Despite his "I am the greatest" moment those around the eighteen year old seem to be thinking the same way about his schedule. He's good but he's not ready for prime time yet. I don't think anyone expected much from him when he was set to play Andy Murray in the quarter final round at Dubai. Murray, a notoriously slow starter, would probably end up playing Roger Federer in the semi finals.

Things did not go according to plan. Murray quickly realized he was not going to have an easy time with Borna and began pressing instead of doing what he usually does and work his way into a match. He seemed unable to relax (Borna wouldn't let him) and Ćorić showed no mercy when Murray began spraying errors all over the place routing the British Number 1 in straight sets.

I was surprised that the press reaction wasn't "Murray had a bad day" but "Ćorić has shown he's a future Grand Slam winner". Really? Is the hatred directed towards Murray because of his coaching choice so strong that he couldn't be granted that nicety by fans and press alike? No. Because he needs Lendl. I'm really sick and tired of that talk. Lendl walked away from Murray not the other way around. What is Murray supposed to do don sack cloth and cover his head in ashes and crawl to Lendl and beg him to come back? I don't think that's going to happen. What is happening is that the Brits are terrified because when Murray walks away from tennis they have absolutely NO ONE to take his place. They also have no one who is suitable to coach a top ten Grand Slam winner since they have no former players who were anywhere near the top ten or winning a Slam. So they snipe from the sidelines and try to force Murray to get rid of the French woman.

But back to Ćorić. As I said Murray had a bad day. I wasn't impressed with that win. I wanted to see how he played Federer who would come out loaded for bear and ready to squash the kid like a bug. Would Ćorić be able to stay calm and play a patient game or would he come out and try to blast Federer off the court? He did the latter with the results you would expect from that approach. Federer saw him coming and saw him off with a pat on the back. It was Ćorić who pressed, who rushed his shots, who sprayed errors. But that's expected. He's eighteen. Even the comms conceded that his win over an ill and shouldn't have been playing Rafael Nadal was a win over a sick man before rushing on to praise Federer's easy win.

Ćorić was never close to winning the match today and the way he played he shouldn't have been. He played just like Elias Ymer, Francis Tiafoe, and Alexander Zverev play when facing a top player. They're all still at the "blast him off the court" stage in their development. None of them show the precociousness of the previous generation some of whom had Slams in their late teens.

Too much is being asked of these kids too soon. Play Challengers. Play Qualies. They need to learn to win and more importantly learn to lose. When the lessons have been learned from both experiences then and only then will these young men (and women) be able to play up to their potential. Don't ruin their spirits by putting them into situations they're not ready for.

Segue to Acapulco where there have been some very interesting goings on with the next big thing and one could have been next big thing.

Grigor Dimitrov is called the next big thing because he has a similar backhand to Roger Federer. He's managed by Federer and Tony Godsick's agency. He's got a Nike clothing contract. And it's said he's got a famous tall Russian Grand Slam winner as a girlfriend. And he can cliff dive as well as the people who do that for a living to harvest pearls. What a man no?

At 23 he's had four coaches including his current coach Roger Rasheed. He's won three ATP Main Tour titles including Acapulco last year. Seeded third things looked to be set for him to make at least the semi finals against Nishikori Kei. It didn't quite work out that way. Ryan Harrison, one of the enfants terrible US tennis is known for, seems to have decided he wants to play tennis and not just make shots and stage elaborate meltdowns. The US based comms made a point of saying he had moved to Austin and that he was working with Andy Roddick. (There was no mention of Roddick becoming his coach or travelling with Harrison).

That was a very strange match to watch. Harrison didn't implode and won the first set 7-5. Okay fine. I figured Dimitrov would take the next two. He won the second set 6-4 and then the bottom fell out. Harrison stayed cool, calm and collected, a minor miracle, and it was Dimitrov who had the melt down before losing the third set 6-0. I don't think anyone saw that coming. They didn't see Harrison getting past Ivo Karlovic either but he did and he'll play David Ferrer in one semifinal Friday night. Win or lose Harrison, at 22, seems to have gotten over being the next big thing and is looking to be a good tennis player. I don't think he'll be seen as cannon fodder at Indian Wells or Miami. If he can build on the success he's had in Mexico it should be very interesting for him and tennis in the United States. I'm not saying he's going to win a Slam but doing well at an ATP 500 is kind of a big deal for US tennis at the moment.

Colette Lewis Interviews Michael Joyce

Michael Joyce, former coach of Maria Sharapova, sat down with Colette Lewis for Tennis Recruiting Network to talk about his coaching odyssey. He talked about how he ended up coaching Sharapova and how his career has evolved from that experience. The exchange shown below got my interest.

CL: Do you think coaching is underrated or overrated?

MJ: I think you can overcoach for sure. I find it's usually a couple of little things that if you can make them believe that they can do it, believe in playing a certain way, have an identity of what they're trying to do, that's the hard part.

I think a lot of people can sit there and watch a match and say, this person should have done this or that, that's not that hard. I could watch the Super Bowl and pick apart what they did right or wrong.

But how do you get people to do that and believe that? That's what I think is the biggest challenge in coaching, to get the player to believe in what they're trying to do, do it under pressure, do it day in and day out. I'm not a big believer in quick fixes. You can tell a player something and it might help them for a little while, but having an identity and understanding what they're trying to do, having a good attitude, confidence, all those things a coach can really help.

That's a reason I like coaching women, because I feel as a coach you can make a lot bigger strides with somebody, sometimes more than a guy. Take John Isner. How much are you really going to help him? He going to hit 30 aces, and if he doesn't, he's probably going to lose. For the men, it's pitting my strengths against your strengths and seeing who wins. Obviously there's a little coaching there, but with the women, there's not as many weapons, a lot more patterns, little things a coach can really improve a lot.

I'm a big believer that coaching is important, and the Xs and Os of tennis are important, but the most important part is what environment you're in. If you're not in an environment to flourish, you're never going to be good. That's part of the problem with LA. There are great coaches out there, but you don't what the kids are doing all the time. You give a kid a lesson for an hour, that's not going to cut it. Taking lessons from a good coach is not going to make you a great player.

You need to be in an atmosphere where you can get stronger, get fitter. That's why I think some of the other countries have more success, because they come up together, kind of piggybacking off of each other. If you practice with someone for a week and that girl goes off and does well, you think I can do that too. I'm a big believer in coming together more as a group, more than as an individual. Even though it's an individual sport, you need that competition and you need that support system.

Colette is posting the interview in two parts. I hope she asks him more about the women having "not as many weapons" as the men.


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