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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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

So Now We See the Real Man

by Savannah

by Eloy Alonso/Reuters photo The-Davis-Cup-trophy-008_zps896e67c3.jpg

In an absolutely stunning display of arrogance Roger Federer left no doubt about his feelings towards his countrymen and Davis Cup's role in his tennis life. What surprised me is that the comments weren't edited or the entire interview filtered through PR speak to lessen the impact of this words.

I don't want to be accused of selective quoting or quoting out of context so I will post the entire interview with Sandra Harwitt of the Associated Press. All emphasis is mine.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Roger Federer is skipping the Davis Cup this year after leading Switzerland to its first title in 2014.

Federer played the entire Davis Cup season last year, with Switzerland beating France 3-1 in the final. The Davis Cup was the only major competition the 17-time Grand Slam champion had not won.

Federer won't be in the lineup when Switzerland opens defense of the title in Belgium on March 6-8. And Federer said he has no plans to play Davis Cup the rest of the year either.

"It wasn't a difficult decision," the 33-year-old Federer said Monday at the Dubai tournament. "I have played for so long, and I think by winning it I can finally do whatever I please, to be quite honest."

The Swiss team in Belgium will also be without 2013 Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka.

Federer has played in 26 Davis Cup ties since 1999 for an overall 50-17 win-loss record.

"It's been a big burden for me throughout my career and one of the things that have caused more difficulties in my life than many other things, I must say," Federer said.

"I always feel there is so much guilt put on you from the federation or from the ITF more so than anybody else. So I'm happy I was able to finally tick that off and do it altogether."

Federer said his decision to dedicate himself to the 2014 Davis Cup campaign was more for his teammates than himself.

"I totally did it for the boys more than for me, to be quite honest," he said. "I just really wanted Michael (Lammer) and Marco (Chiudinelli) and Stan to get it because they deserve it. So for me, this year, it was very clear that I was not going to play."

While the Davis Cup is not in Federer's plans, Wawrinka has not decided on whether to play later in the year.

"I hope that Stan is going to play, next round or September or whatever it's going to be to keep us in the World Group," Federer said. "Who knows? You never know if they can win it without us, as well. It's an opportunity, but clearly we are not the favorites now playing against Belgium."

Federer, however, could have to show up for one more Davis Cup tie in the next two years in order to qualify directly for the Swiss Olympic team for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

ITF rules state that a player must compete in Davis Cup for his country once in the season leading up to or in the Olympic year to be eligible to compete at the games.

Federer could also be offered a wild card entry into the Olympic tournament.

Well shit. I'm sure glad the burden of representing his country is off his shoulders since it's clear that Davis Cup is just something he did to make the other Swiss players feel better. I think the word I'll using to describe the attitude is patronizing. I was going to choose paternalistic but there are so many other connotations associated with that word patronizing is the better choice. How do you defend the cavalier attitude that comes through even in the non emotional world of cyberspace?

What the publication of this interview has done is left his fans unable to defend against charges of arrogance. To read this over several times as I've done since I thought I read it wrong brings up another word to describe Mr. Federer - condescending. No doubt about it he thinks he's entitled to the Olympic Wild Card and until now I would've bet money that he would get it. The implication that he is above his Association and the ITF is apparent. And they have no one to blame but themselves. Both organizations are now in the position of looking like sneaker licking lackeys of one player above all others. I mean we have sick and injured players lining up to play for their countries and this guy thinks he just has to live and breathe to be given with no effort what so many others have worked so hard for.

Harwitt is not one of the people you hear about in terms of the tennis press but she is a power in her own right behind the scenes in tennis circles. That this was published with her byline is telling. She could've left it as an AP article leaving her out of it. She didn't.

As I type this I haven't heard of any statement being released to explain that Mr. Federer didn't mean what he said and that non fans stop doing the "I told you so" dance. This is a PR disaster of Federer's own making. Let's see how his minions get him out of this one.


A Slight Correction

ASAP Sports released the transcript of Federer's post match interview in Dubai and the quotes Harwitt has in her article are directly from that presser. Here they are in their original format along with a follow up question. The previous question was about the number of fans who came out to watch him play.

Q. I imagine there will be a big crowd for that.

ROGER FEDERER: I hope so. I don't know. When I do play doubles, I'm excited about it. Michael Lammer is one of the guys, some of my best friends, was one of best friends on tour and in my life, and he's a guy I have never played doubles with.
So I really want to do that before he retires because he's not far off. And we won the Davis Cup last year. I have played doubles with Marco, with Yves, with Stan, with most of those guys but never with Michael other than back in the Junior Swiss Championships when we were 14, 16, 18. So we go way back. That's why we are both excited about it, and I'm very thankful for the wildcard from the tournament organizers.

Q. When you have had a little bit more of an extended break than maybe you had planned on or hoped, when you get back there, do you feel like it's great to be here again? Have you missed the actual matches?

ROGER FEDERER: A bit of both, you know. I like being on the beach. I like being in the gym and on the practice courts and I like being on the match courts. I like everything of it. I think it's important to get the right mix of things.
I was going to take a big break regardless of how actually Australia was going to go because the body needed some healing and the mind needed some refreshing.
I needed to think about the game plan and the tournament plan I was going to do in the next few months and next year or so. I mean, pretty much I know everything till, Jesus, summer of '16. So from that standpoint, it was good to have that break.
It wasn't a buildup as such where the focus was only on fitness. It was important to play enough tennis, and it's nice getting back out there and having thousands root for you and for your opponent, because you can only practice that much after a while without anybody watching you. It just gets a bit boring after a while. So I prefer to play matches after all.

(...)

Q. Davis Cup, you mentioned just now, was it a difficult decision not to defend the title by playing the first round? What do you think the chances are of staying in the World Group? Will you play in September?
ROGER


FEDERER: No, it wasn't a difficult decision. I have played for so long, and I think by winning it I can finally do whatever I please, to be quite honest.

It's been a big burden for me throughout my career and one of the things that have caused more difficulties in my life than many other things, I must say, because I always feel there is so much guilt put on you from the Federation or from the ITF more so than anybody else. So I'm happy I was able to finally tick that off and do it altogether.
I mean, I didn't do it just for that. I totally did it for the boys more than for me, to be quite honest. I just really wanted Michael and Marco and Stan to get it because they deserve it. So for me this year it was very clear that I was not going to play anymore after this win, but I have to see how things go.

I hope that Stan is going to play, you know, next round or September or whatever it's going to be to keep us in the World Group. Who knows? You never know if they can win it without us, as well. It's an opportunity, but clearly we are not the favorites now playing against Belgium.

But I'm sorry for the team because the team is pretty much intact from the staff and from captain and everybody. They are all some of my best friends, so that was the tougher part of it, less the tennis itself.

The entire transcript is HERE

Thursday, February 19, 2015

So...

by Savannah

Monica Almeida/The New York Times photo d0a7de80-659d-4f82-ac5f-a27d86b4b08a_zps269aa6d3.jpg
Monica Almeida/New York Times

I gave myself some time to think about the interview Christopher Clarey of the NY Times had with Victoria Azarenka and published in the February 18 sports section. The article establishes the official time line as told by Sam Sumyk to Clarey and gives his (Sumyk's) account of what happened and when.

As many of you recall there was an article in the Sunday Magazine section of the above mentioned NY Times written by the same man, Christopher Clarey

For those who haven't read it or have and need a refresher in light of what's happened here are relevant quotes from Clarey's original article.

...But as her latest unwanted break from the game comes to an end after three and a half months, her coach, Sam Sumyk, says she is finally pain free.

“I think her motivation is pretty good, but I don’t want to get too excited or say too much,” Sumyk said. “Because at the same time last year, I thought 2014 would be a great year for her. All the lights were green. And look what happened.”

What happened in the first month of the season was a painful inflammation in her left foot. Sumyk said she later developed plantar fasciitis in the same foot, followed by tendinitis and a knee problem.

“I pushed, and I pushed last year, which was not smart,” Azarenka said. “Because it was rushed decisions and part of it was I didn’t trust my own intuition sometimes.”

...Azarenka remains a resident of Monaco but is finishing work on a residence in Manhattan Beach, Calif., an affluent Los Angeles suburb where her coach, Sumyk, and her agent, Meilen Tu, who are married, live a Frisbee throw from the ocean...

Azarenka described Sumyk as her life teacher, not just her coach, and she is adamant that there is too big a gap between her image and reality.

The publication date of the interview is given as January 3,2015.

Some life teacher. In the interview published today Sumyk says the following:

Sumyk said the offer from Bouchard came after he had decided to split with Azarenka — a split he said was motivated, in part, by the desire to keep progressing.

“I’m always looking for challenges,” Sumyk said. “I hate comfort. The moment I am in a comfortable situation, it’s the end of me growing up as a coach or as a person, if you want. I want to be the best coach possible.”

(...)

Sumyk said that when he returned to Los Angeles from Australia, he received, to his surprise, three coaching offers in two days. He said Bouchard told him plainly that he was the coach she wanted, just as Azarenka had five years earlier.

“I’m very grateful that another great player is thinking about me,” he said.

So everything was good to go, he had no plans to stop coaching Azarenka but he still had three offers waiting for him. Isn't that standard for a good coach? People are always on the lookout for a new coach. Why was Bouchard's request the one that changed his mind? Again from the interview that was published Wednesday.

Does his choice mean that he believes more in Bouchard’s prospects than he does in the 25-year-old Azarenka’s?

“I believe in both pictures,” he said. “I believe Vika is a fantastic player and can be fantastic and even better. I believe Eugenie is in a building process. And I believe she has a lot of great tools also to make it happen. I believe for both of them the future is bright.”

After mentioning that Azarenka was reluctant to talk about the split from Sumyk she is quoted as saying the following:

“In terms of like their situation, I will never comment on that; really it’s none of my business,” she said of Sumyk and Bouchard. “I’m sure we are going to meet again on the court, and there’s going to be a lot of buzz: Oh my God, blah, blah, blah. But I really don’t care about that. I really try to stick to what I’ve got to do and to be focused on my next step, my team.”

What do I think? I think that Azarenka has no pressure on her whatsoever. Neither does Wim Fissette. While I'm not a fan of his (his antics regarding what his then charge Simona Halep should do in the YEC still leave a bad taste in my mouth)I think it says something that a few weeks ago he was talking about not wanting to travel due to the impending birth of a child and his new tennis academy that he's now in Doha working with Vika. A coaching change is always difficult and it will take time for their relationship to gel and hopefully become one that will make Azarenka return to upper echelon of her sport. Her fans were happy about her return to main tour play in Australia and I believe they will be patient.

It's no secret to long time readers that Azarenka has never been a particular favorite of mine. Clarey mentions the medical time out that still haunts her reputation as well it should. No amount of excuses will change what she did.

Still it appears that she was the one done wrong in this situation and the tennis world, and fans, will give her and her new team time to get it together. I feel the same way about this that I felt when Li Na had to find out she'd lost her coach online. I was a business professional and manager for many years and the one thing you learn early is never to burn your bridges. Despite the digital age and the impersonal relationships it has spawned common courtesy as my mother used to call it, still means something.

I think Azarenka will be fine. The old folks had two expressions that apply to this situation. "Suffering is seasoning" is one. The other is the one I used in my response to Jo. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger".

Azarenka has been the total professional here. That says something about her character and the people around her. I'm not going to become her biggest fan but I wish her well. That is all anyone can do at this point.






Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Victoria: No Bitterness

by Savannah

I just read this interview Victoria Azarenka did with Christopher Clarey of the New York Times about the changes in her tennis life. I'll post most of it and comment later since I'm literally on my way out of the door.

No Bitterness From Victoria Azarenka After Surprise Split With Coach
FEB. 18, 2015

It ended abruptly for Victoria Azarenka and her longtime coach Sam Sumyk, at least from Azarenka’s perspective.

During their five years together, Azarenka won two Grand Slam singles titles, rose to No. 1 and then dropped in the rankings last season while struggling with injuries and personal issues.

But Azarenka showed distinct signs of resurgence last month at the Australian Open, and she said she was surprised when Sumyk informed her of his decision to terminate the partnership the day after her fourth-round loss to Dominika Cibulkova.

“I never will forget what we achieved together and always will be grateful, but yeah, it was a bit surprising for me,” Azarenka said in a telephone interview on Tuesday from Doha, Qatar. “To me, it’s just sad. There’s no other emotion. There’s no anger. There’s no anything else but just sadness, because it’s like a breakup in a way.”

The week after the Australian Open ended, Sumyk was already coaching Eugenie Bouchard, the 20-year-old Canadian who reached the Wimbledon final last year and is now ranked No. 7.

On Tuesday, Azarenka, now at No. 50 after playing sparingly in 2014, confirmed that she was training in Doha with Wim Fissette, the Belgian who has coached Kim Clijsters and Simona Halep.

“Vika is one of the best players in the world, and hopefully I can make her even a better player than she is right now,” Fissette said of Azarenka in an email. “I felt from the first conversation with her that she really is very motivated to get back to the top of women’s tennis, and I feel that now being with her in Doha.”

Sumyk said his decision to leave Azarenka, who is Belarussian, for Bouchard was not driven by money.

“No, my deal with Vika was very good,” he said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles on Tuesday. “I would like to tell you, ‘O.K., I don’t like money.’ No. Like everybody, I’ve got to pay my taxes, but pleasure is my No. 1 priority.”

Sumyk said the offer from Bouchard came after he had decided to split with Azarenka: a split he said was motivated, in part, by the desire to keep progressing.

“I’m always looking for challenges,” Sumyk said. “I hate comfort. The moment I am in a comfortable situation, it’s the end of me growing up as a coach or as a person, if you want. I want to be the best coach possible.”

Sumyk said he had also told Azarenka she could benefit from hearing a fresh voice. “I’m not going to go into why I said that,” he said. “That’s between us, but that’s what I told her.”

Azarenka needed a crash course in coaching candidates after Sumyk’s unexpected departure. Fissette coached Clijsters during her successful comeback to the tour from 2009 to 2011, and then helped Halep get to the French Open final and reach No. 2 last year. Halep’s decision to split with Fissette after the season was unexpected, and she attributed it to wanting to work with a fellow Romanian.

Fissette was a candidate to coach the young American Madison Keys, but Keys elected to work with Lindsay Davenport and Davenport’s husband, Jon Leach, and went on to reach the Australian Open semifinals last month.

Azarenka said her agent Meilen Tu had made the initial contact with Fissette before Azarenka followed up.

“I know he had great experience with other players, and for me, what’s important is the personality more than the titles,” she said. “I don’t look for a coach to be a one week or one month. I look for somebody now I can have a good long-term relationship with.”

Fissette said Azarenka would spend some time training at his academy in Belgium. “As I just started an academy in January, we had to find a good compromise, and I believe we did,” he said. “I’ll be with her at most of the tournaments.”

Sumyk, a Frenchman, is married to Tu, a former American touring professional. They live in Newport Beach, Calif., where Azarenka also owns a home. But Azarenka said that Sumyk’s decision would not affect the player-agent relationship.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the long term, but I’m happy with my situation right now,” Azarenka said.

“I think it’s their business to kind of block it out, business and family,” she said of Tu and Sumyk. “But if we would have ended things with Sam in a bad way, I think it would have been weird. But I feel we ended it on good terms. I mean it’s difficult to call it good, because it feels sad. But in a way, it was a good ending, so there’s no weirdness.”

In an interview before the season, Azarenka called Sumyk her “life teacher” and talked extensively about his role in helping her understand not just her game but herself.

Last year, she said she struggled with depression after breaking up with her boyfriend, the musician Stefan Gordy, also known as Redfoo.

Now she has to cope with more change in her inner circle as she prepares to play in Doha next week.

“It was tough, because of the relationship we have,” she said of Sumyk. “It’s more than just a player and a coach, so that’s a tough part. But the professional decision I have to respect that, and I do.”

Sumyk said that when he returned to Los Angeles from Australia, he received, to his surprise, three coaching offers in two days. He said Bouchard told him plainly that he was the coach she wanted, just as Azarenka had five years earlier.

“I’m very grateful that another great player is thinking about me,” he said.

Does his choice mean that he believes more in Bouchard’s prospects than he does in the 25-year-old Azarenka’s?

“I believe in both pictures,” he said. “I believe Vika is a fantastic player and can be fantastic and even better. I believe Eugenie is in a building process. And I believe she has a lot of great tools also to make it happen. I believe for both of them the future is bright.”

Azarenka was reticent to discuss Sumyk’s decision to work with Bouchard. But she did make it clear that her tweet on Feb. 12 — “Level of excitement right now on a scale 1 to 10 is about a 100” — had nothing to do with Bouchard losing her first match under Sumyk that day to Mona Barthel. Instead, Azarenka said the tweet had everything to do with her finally getting to see the film “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

“I read the books and everything and watched the trailer 100 times with my friends, so when we finally got the tickets, I was so excited, so I tweeted that,” she said. “And after the movie, I come out and see like on the Twitter: ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe she said that.’  ”

Azarenka said she did not even know Bouchard was playing that day. “In terms of like their situation, I will never comment on that; really it’s none of my business,” she said of Sumyk and Bouchard. “I’m sure we are going to meet again on the court, and there’s going to be a lot of buzz: Oh my God, blah, blah, blah. But I really don’t care about that. I really try to stick to what I’ve got to do and to be focused on my next step, my team.”

Azarenka said she believed the atmosphere on the women’s tour had become much more collegial and that she intended to keep it that way.

“I think we had enough drama in the women’s game, and I think the guys show us in a way really a great example: that you can be competitive but you still can be friendly,” she said. “So for me, I’m not going to try to think of this situation like it’s a drama.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Victoria Azarenka Makes It Official

by Savannah

V&W via her Twitter photo 8a84ef3c-eaf0-425e-9787-d1727562a89f_zps25363ee2.jpg
victoria azarenka @vika7 · 3h 3 hours ago
Welcome to the team Wim! @wimfissette

With this simple announcement and photo on Twitter Victoria Azarenka confirmed that she will be working with Wim Fissette as her new coach.

After being blind sided by her coach of five years defection Azarenka had kept her social media presence low key and self centered until a fan in Doha spotted her hitting with Fissette and posted the pictures online. There were some reports that Vika would only be working with Fissette for about a week but the above Tweet implies a longer contract is in effect. I don't think Fissette would sign on for a one week trial as was reported in Belgian tennis circles since he has a known track record. His compatability with his new charge is what had to be proven.

What will he do for Azarenka? To be honest her former coach did all the heavy lifting changing her from a temperamental court presence to one who is in better control of herself and her game. Fissette will need to smooth out some rough areas in her approach to playing tennis though. The most frequently mentioned area by her fans is her serve.

I had to make sure Azarenka's news was deemed worthy by the WTA official site and I saw that they have indeed published something about it. Good. I wouldn't want one player to be favored over all others when it comes to coaching changes. I do wonder why they chose to picture Fissette with Kim Clijsters though.

I don't see Azarenka scheduled to play before Indian Wells so that is more than enough time for her and her new coach to make decisions on what to change and how to change it. I thought she'd play one of the warm up events to IW but it doesn't appear that she will.

I wish Victoria luck with her new arrangement personally and professionally.

Madison Keys

While looking to see where Azarenka is next scheduled to play I saw that Madison Keys has pulled out of Acapulco. Don't forget that that event is now played on a hard court and would've been a nice warm up for her before entering the cauldron of IW especially with Serena returning after over a decade away. I haven't read about her being injured either. I hope this isn't the US "focus on the majors" attitude coming from her and her team.

Miscellaneous

I watched Elias Ymer play Tommy Robredo in Rio last evening. Robredo is never an easy out even for seasoned veterans and while he's still coming back from injury I had no expectations of Ymer winning a set let alone the match.

Ymer was given a Wild Card into the Main Draw of this event and while a match against Robredo is a good way to see where you are especially on clay I wish he'd gotten into the Main Draw via Qualies instead. Handing a prospect WC's ends up being counterproductive because it can make the weight of expectations that much heavier and increase the sense of failure and being unable to compete at the highest level of more of a thought pattern than it needs be at a young age.

His game is still suited to hard court play but he is thinking a bit better than he was when I first saw him.

Meanwhile the kid I'm following for the next year Alexander Zverev played himself into the MD at Marseille where he will face Gaël Monfils in first round play.



Sunday, February 15, 2015

This and That In Tennis Week of 2/15/2015

by Savannah

USTA Player Development News

Colette Lewis gives an update on the search for a new head of USTA Player Development.

The successor to USTA Player Development General Manager Patrick McEnroe has not yet been named, but the subject surfaced again this week when it was announced that James Blake had been named chairman of the USTA Foundation's Board of Directors. The 35-year-old Blake, who retired from professional tennis in 2013, was considered a front runner for McEnroe's position, and although I've been told this appointment doesn't necessarily rule him out, it could indicate the USTA is still actively considering other candidates.

I received this statement yesterday from Chris Widmaier, the USTA's Managing Director of Corporate Communications regarding the timeline for filling the position.

...the USTA is still in the search phase for our new General Manager of Player Development. Quite a number of potential candidates have been identified and have been interviewed to date. Our top priority is securing the best candidate for the position and therefore have not set a strict deadline to conclude the search.

Those in the running are Tom Gullikson, Martin Blackman, and Craig Tiley, the tennis coach at Illinois for the last twelve years. Mary Jo Fernandez name has also come up. Although her husband is not with IMG any longer he is still an agent. Can you say conflict of interest? And not for the first time? What better way to find potential clients? Oh but of course Mary Jo wouldn't dare do that would she?

Antwerp - The Anti Climax

Andrea Petkovic played an amazing week of tennis in the Belgian city and while I'm not a big fan I was looking forward to the Final where she would face another woman who flew under the radar and played a great week, Carla Suárez Navarro. After suffering with injuries for three straight years I wanted to see if Petkovic could insert herself into the conversation regarding the post 2016 WTA.

Instead of that Carla, known in tennis circles as CSN, withdrew from the final with a stiff neck that made it impossible for her to serve or play without discomfort. Voila. Petkovic is the champion. And the Tournament Director, Kim Clijsters, got to play an exhibition set that she won 5-3. Clijsters made the amazing, to me anyway, statement that implied that without her in the game Belgian fans weren't interested in tennis. Ego much? Crowds were sparse during the work week but picked up dramatically on the weekend with court side seats appearing to be full. There are some who said that the the poor attendance during the week was why the WTA was abandoning Europe for Asia. I don't know what those people were inhaling, injecting or smoking but NO that is not a good analogy. Unless things have changed radically those big beautiful tennis stadiums in China remain mostly empty for the length of a tournament. I heard - the WTA and CTA don't release figures - that attendance at Shenzen was abysmal. I can't verify that since it's depressing to watch tennis in an empty stadium with "fans" who know nothing about the sport yakking it up during matches and cheering in the wrong places. Most of the top women players with a few exceptions and one big exception are from Eastern Europe but there is no way for fans to see them play. The corporate line is that those countries are too poor to support tennis. Newsflash. Outside of a comparatively small elite China is a poor country as well.

I saw one tennis journalist who said the tournament's return was cursed. That's a bit extreme no? In this day and age players pay much more attention to their health and well being and you get situations like this. CSN is not known for phantom injuries popping up at the last minute so I think she deserves to be cut some slack here. The title doesn"t come with an asterisk next to Petkovic's name.

The LTA Makes Good On It's Threats

I've been talking about the situation in Britain with the Lawn Tennis Association and tennis players for a few years now. Every new head of the LTA threatens to cut the stipends it pays it's players until or unless they show more than an effort on the court. It seems that the organization is finally putting its money where its mouth is and the fall out has begun.

Michael Downey, formerly of Tennis Canada, took over a little over a year ago in January 2014. With no deep ties to anyone in England he seems to be moving the LTA out of the 1950's and into the 21st century reality of tennis. How? A ranking inside of 250(!) will no longer assure a British player of a WC into Wimbledon. Why did it anyway? This BBC Sports article says the following (emphasis mine):

... an LTA spokesperson says it now plans to nominate those who "have the best chance of performing well".
Of the eight players given wildcards in the 2014 singles main draw, only Naomi Broady won her first-round match.

LTA chief executive Michael Downey and director of player development Bob Brett, both of whom joined the governing body in the past two years, were known not to be fans of the previous criteria.

"This revised approach will enable the LTA to give consideration to attributes in addition to rankings," an LTA spokesperson added.

"These additional attributes will include attitude, professionalism, game development and recent form."

One can only hope that the USTA will be able to implement the same criteria for its players going forward.

Meanwhile one British player has threatened to throw in the towel saying without his stipend he can't afford to keep playing for England. Daniel Cox, ranked 245 in the world, says he can't take the pressure. His local area newspaper reported the following:

Cox says every tournament he travels to presents a huge financial gamble because he has to win sufficient prize money to at least cover his costs.

Last year Cox’s great gamble paid off when he qualified for the sporting nirvana – Wimbledon – where he faced former world number 25 Jeremy Chardy in the first round.

Although he eventually lost that match, Cox certainly announced his arrival at the sport’s top table by thrilling the British spectators and taking a set from the Frenchman.

However, the pressure on Cox merely to qualify for the All England Championships was almost too much to bear and he admits he paid a heavy price.

The Lincoln professional says his nerves are constantly stretched because of the pressure on him to win sufficient prize money just to cover his flight and hotel costs.

“All the stress I had before Wimbledon ended with a massive high because I got in,” said Cox.

“But when I came down after the high, that’s when it all hit me. I was in such a bad state of mind I didn’t want to get up in the morning and was unable to make even the smallest decision.

The article goes on. Again all emphasis is mine.

The opportunities for British players to earn enough money to live on have been reduced following changes in the professional game.

The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) reduced its Tournament Bonus Scheme and Cox predicts it could lead to more of the UK’s best players being forced to quit.

“The LTA have made so many cuts,” added Cox. “It is very frustrating for us as professionals. We are in the top 10 in the country and we are not told why the bonus scheme was cut.

“I believe the number of professional players in this country will be slashed. I have friends who have quit already because they can’t afford it anymore.

“Between now and this year’s Wimbledon tournament is probably going to be the most important time of my career.

“I have to make it pay, or I have to find a company willing to sponsor me.

“Most players have a coach with them and many also have a physio. I can’t afford to do any of that.

“The top 100 or 200 players in the world have their coach with them on court, while I am there alone.

“It means I have twice as much to think about compared to the other guy, because their coach will organise rackets, organise practice sessions, organise his flights.

“All of that stuff takes the pressure off you as a player so you can concentrate on actually winning.

No offense Mr. Cox but right now there is only one huge player from the British Isles and he's not you. If being top ten in your country is a goal in itself so be it. Does it guarantee you a place in a major where your Federation is footing most of your bill? Should it? Don't forget these are outsiders making decisions the LTA couldn't bring itself to make. The threat that the number of pro players in England will fall is hollow since none of the current crop of male players is anywhere near the top 100. Remember Dustin Brown traveling from tournament to tournament in his van? He's played himself into a ranking where he doesn't need a Wild Card anymore and he plays Main Tour and Challenger tour events.

If they dared make the same decision the LTA has made in the US I'm sure the whining would be just as loud. Let's see if the new heads of the LTA stick to their guns.

The Winter/Summer South American Golden Swing

The temperature is somewhere below freezing at the moment in New York City but the Golden Swing is underway in South America where summer is holding sway.

The first tournament I watched some of was in Quito, Ecuador. To say that the lights going out in the middle of a semifinal didn't do much to elevate the continent's reputation in terms of its infrastructure but when the players could compete the level was good. This is the tournament that replaced Viña del Mar. Attendance looked to be okay.

The tournament in Sao Paulo Brazil just ended with a Qualifier Luca Vanni pushing veteran Pablo Cuevas to his limits. Next week will see Rio de Janeiro host mens and women's tournaments. The swing ends in Acapulco which has sadly become a hard court event. I guess all the big name US players will be there. I'll watch with nostalgia coloring my vision of the tournament. I really enjoy the few weeks respite from the hard courts. Changing Acapulco's surface just forces the change in tactics and style of tennis on someone like me faster.

Dubai/Doha

I'm not quite sure why do many WTA fans want this part of the tour done away with. What would take the place of these tournaments? More play in China? That makes no sense when the big US spring hard court tournaments at Indian Wells and Miami will follow. Oh, did I mention those two events are point heavy? Maybe the thinking is more players will go to Acapulco? Surely they're not going to go to Kuala Lumpur? Monterrey? I really don't know what the thinking is behind the push to do away with those events.

Kei Nishikori

I picked him as my Player of the Year for 2014. He played as if he was ready to compete against the Top Four and I expected him to start 2015 with a bang. Instead he's been struggling against players he should be able to beat in his sleep if he were playing with the form he had at the end of 2014. As that great tennis sage Marion Bartoli said "It's easier to be the hunter than the hunted". There's still a lot of 2015 to go though.














Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Bouchard Speaks about Coaching Change in Antwerp

by Savannah


The WTA has posted the first public remarks by Eugenie Bouchard on her hiring of Sam Sumyk. The interview appears on its official web site.

I've just started working with Sam. We've spent some time training in Montréal the past week or so, and now we're here for our first tournament together. I really respect him as a coach - he's done great things. Nothing is guaranteed, but I hope he can help me improve and help me reach my goals.

"When I was looking for a coach I wanted someone who's played or who's been coaching someone who'd been there, getting to No.1 or winning Grand Slams, and he's done that. He's what I wanted."

How exactly did the two link up? "My fitness trainer, Scott, has been friends with Sam for a while now. They've both been on tour for a while. After the Australian Open was done, Scott found out that Sam wasn't going to be working with Vika anymore, and he suggested we meet. The rest is history."

And what have they been working on so far? "We work on a few different things I hadn't worked on before. I like his mentality and his approach. We haven't been working together very long yet, only a week, so we'll see how it goes, but I'm excited to play this week in our first tournament together.

"But generally I'm keeping my game style. Each coach has their own philosophy and their own ideas. I want to keeping playing the aggressive way I like to play, but we'll be changing a few things here and there. I'm always trying to improve, and that's the point of a new coach - hearing a new voice."

The complete article can be found HERE

Her remarks are the exact opposite of those made by Simona Halep after firing Wim Fissette. Halep, you will recall, said she needed someone who understands her and is coming from a Romanian perspective.

Nothing official or unofficial has come from Victoria Azarenka's camp but there are rumors that she and Sumyk parted back in December. Meilen Tu, Sumyk's wife, is said to still be working as Azarenka's agent.

More updates as warranted.