RG 2017 – The Rear View Mirror

by Savannah

The ATP and the WTA finish the European spring clay court season in different places. I’ll get to that in a moment. Right now let’s look at what they have in common.

The respective top ranked players for both tours are struggling. Despite her apparent fitness Angelique Kerber has gone back to the player she was before what looks increasingly like her fluke year where she won two Slams. It’s an uneasy place for her to be mentally when so much is wanted from her by the tennis world, especially the world of women’s tennis. As it stands she is not even being talked about except in terms of her not being number one after Wimbledon. Her problems appear to be mental and that is not surprising. The game is changing in front of her eyes and right now she doesn’t seem to have the ability to adjust. This could simply be her annus horribilis.

As for the ATP Number One Andy Murray  I really think he’s feeling the effects of his bout with shingles. Fatigue is one of the side effects of the disease which can last for years (see page two of the link). Watching him play his semi final you could see after that marathon fourth set that he had nothing left.

At the end of the day the ATP presented two of its top players in the Final. The FFT and the ATP were ready with celebrations centered around Rafael Nadal winning his tenth Roland Garros. There were good showings by their highly touted Next Gen players but as is fitting none of them were able to handle the physical and mental pressure of a Slam. I give them another five years to step out of the shadow of the players that are still dominating their sport into their thirties. It speaks well of the professionalism of not only the players but their teams that are more than mere entourages. The families are part of the protective cocoon around a champion and comport themselves accordingly. It’s a testament to these high level teams that a champion player in an individual sport has the ability to focus on nothing more than his or her career.

The story on the WTA side is a bit different. Without a dominant player (and I’m not talking about a doper) a free for all is taking place. I talked about Kerber’s problems but I think the WTA, when it comes to Slams, has a huge issue hanging over it, one the men’s tour doesn’t have. That is on court coaching. I’ve been beating this drum ad nauseam for years but if you watched the WTA Final you saw what happens when a player has become so reliant on it that she has lost the ability to think her way out of problems on court. You could literally see when Simona Halep panicked. She was broken to love and her opponent held to love after Halep had been up 3-1 in the third set. You can even argue that the match was over when she lost the second set. She NEEDED her coach to come console her and give her a pep talk. She didn’t want him to come down she needed him to come down and that, in the end, is what lost her the match and the Number One ranking. Kristina Mladenovic had the same issues. She overcame them in one match staging a miraculous come back but the the need to have her coach tell her what to do led to her downfall.

Everyone is talking about how the level of tennis will rise when Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka return to the tour. Azarenka looks very fit right now. You would never know she’d recently given birth. But match play is an entirely different situation. Both Vika and Serena are strong willed and despite the layoffs want to/will want to hit the ground running so to speak. The body changes during pregnancy and I’m sure both will work on their core but I think both will see that the tour has changed. Will it help them? I can honestly say I don’t know.
I do know that of all the players Serena alone has never relied on OCC. In my opinion this is why she is so mentally tough.

And what about Alona (Jelena) Ostapenko? She’s not a kid. She’s twenty. She’s been around a long time, long enough to develop a not so good reputation behavior wise. She working with Anabel Medina Garrigues (yes, the one who was caught on camera trying to fluff up the balls during a match versus Serena Williams) and it looks as if she’s worked on toning down some of Ostapenko’s bad behavior but we’re going to have to wait and see what Ostapenko does going forward. It’s my understanding that Medina Garrigues was with her only for Roland Garros. If that is the case her first order of business is to get her to stay. Still I don’t think she should be expected to wipe the court with her opponents though. This is a great achievement but I don’t know if she’ll ever have this perfect storm again. There are several women who have won Roland Garros and were never able to win a major, or much of anything, again. That said she will always be able to say she is a Grand Slam winner.

As per usual the WTA was caught flat footed in terms of promotion. They’re now overcompensating (of course) but the over the top reaction proves that they’ve got no clue how to promote the sport of women’s tennis. No matter what happens to the ATP going forward they have a clear marketing strategy not only for their current stars but for their up and comers. The whole situation with Ostapenko’s name for example should’ve been cleared up a long time ago. That way you don’t have the spectacle of her fans berating journalists for not knowing her proper name.

I should mention in passing that a commentator was talking about the Eastern European style of tennis as it relates to the women’s game. I’m sure he wasn’t an American and if he was (I really didn’t get his name) he needs to be calling more matches.

And what about the state of US tennis? It’s still the mess it’s been for some time. It was nice seeing two up and coming US Junior girls, Whitney Osuigwe (her father is an IMG coach) and Claire Liu play for the Junior girls title. It was good seeing Donald Young in a Championship match at a Slam. But Madison Keys is said to have injured herself again. The other players, male and female, continue to be useless on clay although Young and Ryan Harrison should be given props for spending so much time in Europe during the clay season and managing to not publicly whine about being unable to find mass produced, salty and many times fake food in the acknowledged capital of cuisine in the world. Of course all the US players are focused on grass court play hoping to do well there.

What will happen at Wimbledon? Who knows. Many tennis pundits had Halep winning the title which lets me know they have no idea about tennis. No way Halep was going to win in such a high pressure situation.  Still if the draw breaks nicely for her she could find herself in a Final again but that is speculation. Grass court play starts Monday June 12.

Champions List

Men’s Singles
Spain Rafael Nadal
Women’s Singles
Latvia Jeļena Ostapenko
Men’s Doubles
United States Ryan Harrison / New Zealand Michael Venus
Women’s Doubles
United States Bethanie Mattek-Sands / Czech Republic Lucie Šafářová
Mixed Doubles
Canada Gabriela Dabrowski / India Rohan Bopanna
Boys’ Singles
Australia Alexei Popyrin
Girls’ Singles
United States Whitney Osuigwe
Boys’ Doubles
Spain Nicola Kuhn / Hungary Zsombor Piros
Girls’ Doubles
Canada Bianca Andreescu / Canada Carson Branstine
Legends Under 45 Doubles
France Sébastien Grosjean / France Michaël Llodra
Women’s Legends Doubles
United States Tracy Austin / Belgium Kim Clijsters
Legends Over 45 Doubles
France Mansour Bahrami / France Fabrice Santoro
Wheelchair Men’s Singles
United Kingdom Alfie Hewett
Wheelchair Women’s Singles
Japan Yui Kamiji
Wheelchair Men’s Doubles
France Stéphane Houdet / France Nicolas Peifer
Wheelchair Women’s Doubles
Netherlands Marjolein Buis / Japan Yui Kamiji

Who Will It Be?

by Savannah

Jelena Ostapenko
Caroline Wozniacki
Kristina Mladenovic
Timea Bacsinszky
Elina Svitolina
Petra Martic
Carla Suarez Navarro
Simona Halep
Alizé Cornet
Caroline Garcia
Veronica Cepede-Royg
Karolina Pliskova

Prepare yourselves hard core tennis fans. Memorize the names listed above. Bone up on their head to heads and past achievements. Their quirks. Their looks. Their games. The burden rests on our shoulders. No one outside of tennis cognoscenti will have a clue as to who any of these women are. If they’re golf fans they may have heard of Caroline Wozniacki but that’s it. The WTA has done such a fine job of promoting women’s tennis that whoever makes it to the Final is guaranteed the lowest US TV ratings ever. The good people at NBC must be seething that Venus Williams couldn’t do it today. There was a chance she’s make the Final but clay is her worst surface. Still she did very well in Paris. I’m a big fan but I always thought it was a long shot for her to go deep in the second week.

Wozniacki vs Ostapenko and Mladenovic vs Bacsinsky are already set for the Quarter Finals. The remaining women’s matches remain to be played. If the seeding holds it’ll be Svitolina vs Halep and Pliskova playing the winner of Garcia vs Cornet, a match either woman can win.

People  talked alot about there being no previous Slam winner in the bottom half of the draw. Now there is no previous Slam winner in either half. And since the WTA has done such a great job of promoting women’s tennis (Yes I’m saying it again)  people will be tuned in to watch and hang on every shot. I know I will. But then again I’m one of those people who know who most of these women are because I spend a lot of time following tennis. The casual fan will probably pass. And that is sad.

All of these women, household names or not, played their asses off on the most demanding of surfaces. They defeated whoever was across the net from them, household name or not (You can argue that the only real household name left was Venus but this column isn’t totally about that). They don’t deserve their matches going forward being called a “Scrub Bowl”. Whoever wins will have her efforts diminished because “quirky” results often come from Roland Garros.

The players are not to blame for this happening. They belong to the Women’s Tennis Association. It’s the WTA’s  job to make sure their members names are front and center. Women’s tennis is the most successful of women’s sports and yet few outside of hard core fans can discuss any of the women listed above with any knowledge. Add to that the fact the the WTA is virtually invisible on television in any shape form or fashion and you leave sports fans with the impression that women’s tennis is a side show, a lesser part of the tennis world while hey, what about those Next Gen guys huh?

We’ll know more soon. Best of luck ladies.

©2017 Savannahs World All Rights Reserved

Will Lack of Fitness & “Courtsense” Finish Off the WTA?

by Savannah

We’re barely through the first week of the French Open at Roland Garros and already some things are standing out for me as a result of watching both ATP and WTA matches. As you can tell by the title of this post the most blatant things are related to the WTA and it’s crop of new players.

In what was arguably the worst match of the event so far Kristina Mladenovic, as thirsty a player as exists in competition today, played Jennifer Brady on Court Philippe Chatrier that by the end had me screaming “I don’t care who wins get off the damn court! Close it out!” Mladenovic was playing with back issues per the comms and you could see her grimace in pain from time to time. You could also see her desperately looking to the stands for help. She very much wanted to call her coach down but of course the ITF doesn’t allow on court coaching (OCC) so she had to figure it out for herself. It was not pretty.

It also made me appreciate the older generation of players more. They didn’t cry and ask for someone to come down from the stands to hold their hands. They had to think their way through, adjust to what their opponent was doing, and soldier on.

Garbiñe Muguruza was also desperate to call down her coach during her match against Anett Kontaveit but she may have surprised herself by buckling down and eventually winning without her having to not listen to what her coach says while disrespecting him. I’ve railed against OCC for quite sometime now but with the current crop of players, many of whom began playing the main tour when OCC was in full effect the amount of whining and tears and temper tantrums seems to have increased. With it has come a huge drop in the level of tennis, one that will only get worse unless OCC is seen as the detriment to the sport it is and is discontinued.

Fitness? Most of the women are thin so they’re fit right? Wrong. You can be thin without being fit. The rash of injuries are coming about because, in my opinion, they’re dieting but still trying to look “feminine”. Remember Aga Radwanska‘s coach going on a rant about that a few years ago? That’s a nice collection of Slam trophies Aga has isn’t it? If you don’t build up strength – and muscle tone – the exertion of a three set match on clay, or any surface really, will bring you down. When your lungs are burning, your arms are heavy and your legs are jelly it’s hard to focus on what’s happening across the net if you can barely hold it together physically.

Some are nostalgic, and have been for a long time, for a return to the style of play exhibited by Martina Hingis in her day and it seems they’re going to get it if trends hold. I guess it’s been long enough for people to forget how boring that style of play is. It was also a time when women’s tennis was ridiculed for not being “real tennis” and led to the idea that it was “less” than men’s tennis, an idea that is still alive and widespread in the world of tennis.

There’s nothing wrong with strength of mind and body. There’s nothing wrong with being physically able to play a sport that makes so many demands on your body and mind. There’s nothing wrong with being able to adjust what you’re doing without someone dashing down from the stands and holding your hand. Both Muguruza and Mladenovic showed that they can do it. Sadly I don’t think their exhibition of mental toughness will be evident past Roland Garros when it’ll be back to hand holding and tears from athletes who are much better than that.

© 2017 Savannahs World All rights Reserved

The 2017 Roland Garros Draws

by Savannah

Every tennis head as seen the draws but I’ll post them in case you haven’t starting with the ATP Singles Draw.

A. Murray [1] vs A. Kuznetsov
WC L. Lokoli vs M. Klizan
M. Baghdatis vs N. Almagro
Qualifier vs Jm. Del Potro [29]

J. Isner [21] vs J. Thompson
P. Lorenzi vs R. Berankis
K. Khachanov vs Qualifier
Jl. Struff vs T. Berdych [13]

A. Zverev [9] vs F. Verdasco
Ph. Herbert vs J. Donaldson
D. Dzumhur vs N. Kicker
Qualifier vs P. Cuevas [22]

S. Querrey [27] vs H. Chung
E. Escobedo vs D. Istomin
R. Albot vs J. Chardy
T. Kokkinakis vs K. Nishikori [8]

S. Wawrinka [3] vs Qualifier
A. Dolgopolov vs C. Berlocq
Qualifier vs A. Seppi
F. Tiafoe vs F. Fognini [28]

R. Gasquet [24] vs Qualifier
Qualifier vs V. Estrella Burgos
T. Monteiro vs WC A. Muller
D. Brown vs G. Monfils [15]

Jw. Tsonga [12] vs R. Olivo
K. Edmund vs G. Elias
K. Anderson vs M. Jaziri
P. Kohlschreiber vs N. Kyrgios [18]

D. Ferrer [30] vs D. Young
F. Lopez vs Qualifier
K. Kravchuk vs F. Delbonis
E. Gulbis vs M. Cilic [7]

M. Raonic [5] vs S. Darcis
R. Dutra Silva vs M. Youzhny
Qualifier vs WC Q. Halys
G. Garcia-Lopez vs G. Muller [26]

P. Carreno Busta [20] vs F. Mayer
Qualifier vs J. Janowicz
T. Robredo vs D. Evans
S. Robert vs G. Dimitrov [11]

J. Sock [14] vs J. Vesely
A. Bedene vs R. Harrison
M. Kukushkin vs WC T. Sandgren
J. Millman vs R. Bautista Agut [17]

G. Simon [31] vs N. Basilashvili
V. Troicki vs E. Donskoy
R. Haase vs WC A. De Minaur
B. Paire vs R. Nadal [4]

D. Thiem [6] vs B. Tomic
Qualifier vs N. Mahut
WC M. Bourgue vs B. Coric
Y. Sugita vs S. Johnson [25]

I. Karlovic [23] vs Qualifier
H. Zeballos vs A. Mannarino
Yh. Lu vs Qualifier
Qualifier vs D. Goffin [10]

L. Pouille [16] vs WC J. Benneteau
T. Bellucci vs D. Lajovic
WC B. Bonzi vs D. Medvedev
Qualifier vs A. Ramos-Vinolas [19]

M. Zverev [32] vs Qualifier
Qualifier vs D. Schwartzman
J. Sousa vs J. Tipsarevic
M. Granollers vs N. Djokovic [2]

Here is the WTA Singles Draw.

A. Kerber [1] vs E. Makarova
L. Tsurenko vs Qualifier
L. Chirico vs J. Ostapenko
M. Puig vs R. Vinci [31]

S. Stosur [23] vs K. Kucova
K. Flipkens vs M. Minella
Qualifier vsE. Rodina
J. Boserup vs P. Kvitova [15]

C. Wozniacki [11] vs WC J. Fourlis
Qualifier vs WC T. Andrianjafitrimo
C. Bellis vs Qualifier
A. Tomljanovic vs K. Bertens [18]

S. Zhang [32] vs D. Vekic
V. Golubic vs A. Sasnovich
C. Giorgi vs O. Dodin
C. McHale vs S. Kuznetsova [8]

G. Muguruza [4] vs F. Schiavone
A. Kontaveit vs M. Niculescu
J. Larsson vs N. Vikhlyantseva
WC M. Georges vs Y. Putintseva [27]

M. Lucic-Baroni [22] vs C. Buyukakcay
M. Erakovic vs S. Rogers
Qualifier vs M. Doi
J. Brady vs K. Mladenovic [13]

V. Williams [10] vs Q. Wang
WC A. Anisimova vs K. Nara
J. Jankovic vs Qualifier
E. Mertens vs D. Gavrilova [24]

T. Bacsinszky [30] vs S. Sorribes Tormo
M. Brengle vs J. Goerges
Qualifier vs Qualifier
L. Arruabarrena vs D. Cibulkova [6]

E. Svitolina [5] vs Y. Shvedova
M. Barthel vs T. Pironkova
WC A. Lim vs M. Linette
D. Kovinic vs A. Konjuh [29]

A. Sevastova [17] vs A. Beck
R. Ozaki vs E. Bouchard
K. Bondarenko vs Qualifier
A. Barty vs M. Keys [12]

E. Vesnina [14] vs Qualifier
V. Lepchenko vs A. Petkovic
S. Cirstea vs S. Peng
M. Sakkari vs C. Suarez Navarro [21]

D. Kasatkina [26] vs Y. Wickmayer
Qualifier vs WC A. Hesse
Yy. Duan vs T. Maria
J. Cepelova vs S. Halep [3]

J. Konta [7] vs Sw. Hsieh
Qualifier vs T. Townsend
WC C. Paquet vs K. Pliskova
N. Hibino vs C. Garcia [28]

B. Strycova [20] vs A. Riske
A. Cornet vs T. Babos
N. Osaka vs Qualifier
WC F. Ferro vs A. Radwanska [9]

A. Pavlyuchenkova [16] vs Pm. Tig
V. Cepede Royg vs L. Safarova
M. Duque-Marino vs I. Begu
M. Rybarikova vs C. Vandeweghe [19]

L. Davis [25] vs C. Witthoeft
I. Khromacheva vs P. Parmentier
E. Alexandrova vs K. Siniakova
S. Zheng vs K. Pliskova [2]

 I’m beginning to think more and more of Grand Slam draws as snapshots, a rendering not only of ranking but of what has been happening in tennis in the months leading up to these events that are called “majors” in tennis.

Both tours are coming to this event in states of flux. At the present time neither tour has a dominant number one, someone that everyone wants to beat even if it means they’ve expended so much energy that they lose badly in the next round.

Tennis commentators are always talking about the element of fear in the locker room and how that affects on court play. That player everyone fears and loathes is usually ranked number one. Going by that standard both the mens and women’s tours are afraid but for different reasons. On the ATP side the British finally has a male player ranked number one. Unfortunately talk of illness has dogged him of late and it’s a legitimate question as to whether he’s physically up to a grueling seven match march to the final of the tournament held on his least favorite surface.

Then there’s the somewhat astounding mental and physical collapse of the man who had been dominating the tour before Andrew Murray took over the top spot. It’s as if we’re watching the previous incarnation of the man when he would begin to falter and fade physically during a match. It’s all happened rather suddenly and there is no easy explanation for why it happened. Some are pointing to a self declared guru who now travels with him especially since he fired not only his long time coach but his trainer and everyone else he’s been working with for years. Personally I don’t see what someone like Andre Agassi can do to help him. I know some will argue that people said that about Ivan Ljubicic and Roger Federer. Everyone loves a good story though and in the final analysis this work with Agassi seems to be more about Agassi and his family getting an all expenses paid trip to Paris than him seriously going back to the grind of traveling. It also gives the USTA the chance to brag that’s it’s former champions, who never played the modern game for more than a short period of time, do have something to contribute. We’ll see.

There are some young players who could surprise, among them Alexander Zverev. He’s in the top of the top half of the draw and his immediate section, aside from the tricky Pablo Cuevas, shouldn’t present too many problems for him. If he ends up facing Nishikori Kei that will be his first really big test.

It should be mentioned in passing that the ATP has done a good job promoting the young “Next Gen” players. I don’t think any of them is ready to do major damage at this, the most demanding of the Slams, but they could do enough to ruin some players day.

And now to the WTA.

The only player they’ve been promoting will not be playing at Roland Garros, and rightly so. When she and her agent couldn’t strong arm the FFT or the AELTC for that matter the WTA was left scrambling to get a good PR push going for its other players, you know, the ones who haven’t doped. They could’ve promoted their number one but she’s gone back to being the player she was before winning two Slams in a year. It’s almost by default that they’re now pushing Petra Kvitova who is coming back, I hope not prematurely, from an injury sustained during a home invasion.

So who has a chance? Top of my list would be Elina Svitolina. She’s got the game and if she can hold up has a good chance of going deep. Keep in mind the French Open is about endurance and sometimes those with good games can’t physically hold up.

Garbiñe Muguruza? As I’ve said before I saw her play live a couple of years ago now and she almost lost to Carina Witthöft. Since her French Open win she’s done nothing to write home about. Her opening match against Francesca Schiavone, a previous French Open champion as well, should give her a good work out and give us an idea what her chances are of repeating her title run. I think if she could get it through her head that no one is really afraid of her she would be able to raise her level of play and commit to what she needs to change. She must like having a celebrity coach though. If I were Sam Sumyk I would’ve told her long ago to kiss where the sun don’t shine and gone away although after the crappy way he treated Victoria Azarenka his stock may have gone down a bit. He needs her to do well as much as she needs to do well.

I’m not ready to get on the Kristina Mldenovic bandwagon just yet. The woman wants it and wants it bad. I’m not sure that will be enough to get her through though. She still has those little mental lapses that you can’t afford to have in best of three matches on the premier clay court in the world. You can make corrections in a best of five match. A mental lapse in best of three can break you in more ways than one.

Karolina Pliskova? She may end up in the top spot by default but she has too many problems with her game to be a favorite to win in my mind. She doesn’t bend her legs. She doesn’t like the low ball. Her movement is shit and that’s after she says she’s been working on it. With the weakness of the WTA tour right now she could still find herself in the semi’s or even the Final though. To me she’s a younger version of Daniela Hantuchova, another player who needed to dominate using her serve to control the center of the court.

By the way I read a fan comment saying that Karolina’s legs are too long for clay. The world wide web has room for every body.

The only other name I want to mention is Johanna Konta. I don’t get it. I don’t see it. I can never get past that horrible service motion of hers which for some reason always goes unmentioned by the tennis comms I’m used to hearing. I think that her heart is set on Wimbledon but again, the weakness of the WTA could see her wind up playing in the second week.

I’m starting my French Open with a breakfast of croissants with butter and honey. Or maybe thick cut English marmalade. The sleep deprivation won’t be as bad as it is during the Australian Open but it will be real.

End Note

There’s been a lot of controversy about the latest homophobic comments by Margaret Court, a relic of a bygone era and a fundamentalist preacher of some kind. Ever since her importance to tennis was raised by some who wanted the current GOAT to have another hurdle to overcome she’s been opening her mouth and breathing sulfur all over the tennis landscape. You lay down with dogs you get up with fleas. The tennis world gave her this platform and like any preacher she’s going to shout her message from the rooftops. It’s the height of hypocrisy to act as if you’re shocked and appalled by what she says especially if you’re part of the contingent that opened the door of her cave and let her out. People are calling for the arena named after her to be renamed. They’re asking that she stop being invited to Slams outside of Australia. I doubt if any of this will happen.

 

Positive Changes Are Coming

by Savannah

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) made announcements on March 30 that will affect tennis in two ways: how it’s governed and how the tours will be organized.

Let’s look at organization first.

One of the problems often cited by those who are deeply into the sport is the fact that many people play at a “pro” level but rarely, if ever, make any money doing so. Some say it’s because of this that match fixing is rampant at the Challenger and Futures levels. Yes those are terms usually used to refer to the lower levels of mens tennis. In women’s tennis you have various levels based on the amount of prize money an event pays out. The ITF, in a press release, said the following:

In order to address..issues, the Board has approved the implementation in 2019 of a new ITF Transition Tour, featuring a new category of interim tournament at entry-level that will better aid the transition from junior to professional tennis and ensure a continued opportunity for players from any nation to join the player pathway. These tournaments will be held within a localised circuit structure that reduces costs and increases opportunity for players, and reduces staging costs for organisers.

Transition Tour tournaments will be created through the repositioning of the existing $15,000 (Level I) tournaments on the ITF Pro Circuit that will no longer be held as part of the Pro Circuit in 2019.

Transition Tour tournaments will offer ITF Entry Points instead of ATP/WTA ranking points, with the two systems linked to ensure that the more successful players are able to use their ITF Entry Points to gain acceptance into ITF Pro Circuit tournaments.

The ITF’s proposed restructuring will radically reduce the number of professional players competing for ATP and WTA ranking points. The ITF’s extensive modeling work has led to a recommended professional player group of no more than 750 men and 750 women players. This new approach will
introduce a clearer and more effective professional pathway and ensure that prize money levels at ITF Pro Circuit events are better targeted to ensure that more players can make a living from the professional game.

Some say this is just shuffling deck chairs while others say it’ll make a somewhat chaotic process better. It’s hard to say. The ITF is giving itself, and the tours, two years to implement this new system. I think it’s a good idea. The tours have been unable to regulate themselves around the issue of Challenger/ITF events so it fell to the ITF to try and impose order. All people can offer now is opinions. 2019 will be here soon enough.

Another issue the ITF chose to address at it’s upcoming meeting has to do with the granting of Wild Cards (WC’s) when a player comes back from a drug suspension.

You have to be naïve to think current events have nothing to do with them deciding to look at putting in writing what would in any other sport be common sense. A WC is a reward for a job well done. A player can be given one if they’ve worked hard and achieved certain milestones in his or her career in terms of wins. It’s also given to a player who had achieved a high rank and due to injury or pregnancy had to take time off from the tour. It perverts the meaning of a WC when it’s given to a player coming off of a drug suspension no matter how long the suspension was for.

Needless to say the news didn’t break in the US. It was reported in Danish sports media and quoted Thomas Kønigsfeldt, one of the sixteen members of the ITF Board of Directors who is quoted as saying the following:

He said that current rules allow wildcards to be decided by tournaments without consideration to what caused the players’ absence or loss of ranking. Instead, a period of one year without wildcards should be enforced for players returning from bans for anti-doping rule violations, so that they are not viewed as being treated favorably by the tennis system.

“We need clear rules, and it is clear that this is not the case here. I have a clear sense that the ITF Board of Directors has agreed that we must do everything possible to combat doping.”

He goes on to say players and other board members feel the same way he does.
Good. I don’t understand how tennis can say it’s anti doping then turn around and reward dopers. It’s really not a good look.

At any rate the ITF seems to be stepping up and taking the sport in needed directions. Let’s see what happens going forward.

© 2017 Savannahs World All Rights Reserved

This and That

by Savannah

It’s been quite some time since I’ve used up cyber ink to post about tennis. A lot has happened hasn’t it? Where to start? How about with some positives.

A couple of years ago I chose a then virtually unknown teenager named Alexander Zverev as my one to watch. As I write this he’s made his first ATP M1000 final defeating John Isner in three sets. It should’ve been over in two sets but for a bit of a walkabout by Sascha in the second set but there’s no need to quibble. Of course now everyone and their brother is on the Zverev bandwagon and it feels good to say I was one of the first to see his potential. His emotions are under much tighter control now but those diva-ish moments still happen.

Venus Williams is still striding her way through women’s tennis head high and ruining peoples days. She doesn’t win everything anymore but she goes deep enough in tournaments to keep her ranking in the top ten. Good for her.

Speaking of Venus someone asked why Tommy Haas is still playing at his age. I answered this way. Both Haas (never been a fan) and Venus could be thinking the best years of their tennis lives were disrupted by injury and illness. Now that they’re as healthy and fit as they can be they want to do what they love and that is play tennis. Why not? Tennis journalists were praising Andre Agassi to the heavens if I recall correctly. Martina Navratilova played until she couldn’t anymore. There’s precedent for this. If an older player manages their schedule and adjusts their training and diet to keep them in peak form I say let them play.

While senior players are looking after themselves and enjoying their wins it seems the Brits are in a spot of bother about their stars. When I say that of course I’m talking about Andrew Murray who, after losses on his least favorite surface said he felt maybe he should be worried. It’s not that he was losing he was losing early. Murray just turned 30 and is now at the age where back in the day tennis players would be looking for something else to do. That said, I think the Brits need to calm down. Murray’s style of play is, at least in my opinion, an acquired taste. When he’s on he’s on. When he’s not, he’s just not. They’re also trying to downplay that he had shingles, a very painful skin condition and one that takes a while to recover from. I guess they’re freaking out because after Murray there really isn’t anyone. Yes they’re pushing Kyle Edmund and legend in his own mind Dan Evans but really Edmund, if he can find a way to beat his contemporaries on a regular basis, could become top twenty it looks like that possibility is still in the realm of wishful thinking.

As for the British women who is there besides Johanna Konta? It looks as if Laura Robson, once the fair haired girl (and like Konta also an Aussie import) won’t be more than an ITF player. Heather Watson? Again nothing has changed. When she reaches the business end of a shot, let alone a match, her decision making makes you wonder where her brain is. Every now and then she stirs herself to get a good result but for the most part it’s second, maybe third round, and out.

Meanwhile in the US we’re not much better off than the Brits. At least their man is ranked number 1. Diminutive Lauren Davis has been our most consistent player. I don’t see Madison Keys winning a major although with the right draw she could come close. Catherine Bellis, Louisa Chirico, Taylor Fritz, and Reilly Opelka are the ones getting all the hype from the USTA but it was Frances Tiafoe who got a win over Jeremy Chardy and young Ernesto Escobedo who are out there doing the hard work. As always with US tennis it comes down to expectations based on who you are vs talent no matter who you are. That’s why Naomi Osaka is playing for Japan and not the United States. The USTA didn’t want her. The Japanese federation jumped right in and the rest is history. Unfortunately Tiafoe, whose family is from Sierra Leone, and Escobedo, whose family comes from Mexico, have not other rich Federation ready to come in and throw money at them. Both young men are American by birth so it’s the USTA they have to deal with.

I mentioned the ATP top player so it’s only fair to mention the WTA’s top ranked player, Angelique Kerber. She’s not having fun this year at all. She’s ranked number one because Serena Williams is expecting her first child in late summer. Keep in mind the WTA rushed out PR touting her attaining the top ranking before the new rankings were official at the end of last year. There was all kinds of talk from tennis journalists about how she would dominate. Welp. Once again we see it’s easier being the hunter than the hunted. She may fluke her way to another Slam but right now it looks as if she’s running scared. Waiting in the wings is Karolina Pliskova. Her game is still what it has been, one dimensional and if you make her have to move and bend you’ve got a good chance of beating her. But if things continue as they are she could be the next number one player.

If you think I’m talking about everything but the one topic that is dominating the tennis world I am. There isn’t much to say on the subject. I’ve felt from the beginning that the ITF recommendation of a four year ban was the right way to go. The two year ban, while a slap on the wrist in my opinion, was a good compromise. When the CAS threw out the ITF report and decided, based on nothing but PR, that the suspension should be reduced there was nothing to do but throw up your hands.

What’s even worse is that the WTA has pulled out all the stops to try and make it seem everyone, her peers and the press, thought she’d be done wrong and that the doping ban was equivalent to an injury or pregnancy break. It’s not. Thankfully the French Tennis Federation threw a huge bucket of cold water on those who, in my opinion, were leading the charge to destroy women’s tennis with their shenanigans. No Main Draw Wild Cards for dopers. End of story. To avoid a second embarrassment she and her team rightly decided that they would accept what they’ve got and play Qualies at Wimbledon.

Steve Simon, the hapless head of the WTA, has put a lot of effort into trying to rehabilitate a doper. Meanwhile it’s almost impossible to see a women’s tennis match and it doesn’t seem that anything is happening on that front. In the final analysis tennis fanatics are tennis fanatics. If they can’t see the version they love they’ll look at what is available. By the time the WTA get’s it’s thumb out of it’s ass they will have lost many fans to men’s tennis which is easy to see on many platforms.

So many have worked so hard to promote women’s tennis as a sport not a side show. It hurts to see it reduced to its current state. Yes I’ve said this before and I have to keep saying it. I don’t get paid to write this blog so I’m beholden to no one but myself. If Steve Simon is representative of the upper echelon of US tennis no wonder the USTA is in the state it’s in. Maybe if they stopped giving each other awards and focused on marketing the sport and developing talent no matter where it comes from maybe, just maybe, a US player can hold up a trophy from a major tournament.

End Note

Roland Garros. While the clay season continues in Europe and South America this tournament is the official end of the clay court season for much of the main tour. As usual I’m sad to see it come to an end. From the start of the Golden Swing to the last match in Paris I feel you see tennis at its best. The physical and the mental, combined with creativity, all come into play during a clay court match in the way it doesn’t on other surfaces. Each shot is a question or an answer. The ante is raised during each rally until someone makes a declarative statement meant to close out the discussion. It’s beautiful to watch.

© Savannahs World 2017 All Rights Reserved

The Anna Kournikova Effect

by Savannah

Main tour play begins today in Key Biscayne, Florida for the WTA, marking the end of the US spring hardcourt swing. The two tournaments, both more than a Masters 1000/Premier Mandatory but less than a Slam, that make up the swing are places where players, big names and not so big names, can pause and assess how their year is going. It’s also a time for both tours to trot out the best of the up can coming players, the people being groomed to take over not only the sport but the lions share of endorsements, clothing contracts, etc. At this time, just as the spring swing ends and the European clay season is about to begin I think a general review of what is ahead for tennis as a sport played by individuals who garner followings for their desire to win, their style, or way of going about winning tournaments, charisma.

Ah that word charisma. Let’s look at some past greats. Bjorn Borg had it with his long blond hair and business like approach to his game. Chrissie Evert, cute, blonde and feminine, had it. Monica Seles, at that time a pudgy young woman from Eastern Europe was deemed not to have it. Steffi Graf, lately an icon, didn’t have it. Neither did Martina Navratilova.

The one player, the one who has had the most influence on women’s (and men’s)tennis is a woman who barely won on the tour. She was plucked from the many to become the face of women’s tennis. If you look at how so many young women players today present themselves it’s obvious that she’s still the template. There’s even been talk of putting her in the Tennis Hall of Fame. For what? Being cute and blonde? If the effort succeeds instead of trying to elbow its way into being recognized as a major world sport tennis will be doing everything it can to show it’s still a sport bound by the social mores of a bygone era.

I’m sure you all think I’m picking on the women but I’m not. Let’s look at the mens tour and some of its past greats. It’s not all about looks there. With the ATP it’s a bit more subtle but no less toxic.

There are many people in and around mens tennis behind the scenes or in its management who want to return to the era of wooden racquets? Why? Because it’s what they know. They want to return to lightning fast courts as well. They’d like the clay court season to be shortened. That would mean a return to the days when Roland Garros could be ignored by the tennis federations of the US, Britain and Australia, the three countries that have suffered the most by the ascension of modern technology and players who play a style of tennis they can’t (or won’t) understand.

And that is really what this column is about.

A year or so ago I wrote about there being too much money in junior tennis, and that it’s warping the play of those who are supposed to be assuming the mantle of greatness from today’s top players. To long for the past, before this time period that has been described as a golden age, is a bit telling about where tennis is right now..

It’s not only that the young men and women of today don’t score high in the charisma department (with exceptions of course). It’s that for the most part they play mediocre, paint by the numbers, tennis. There are no innovators. No players who present something new for fans. Instead we’re seeing big servers from the US, quick players from Australia, fancy players from France and barely above average from Great Britain.

The fault for this lies with the Federations. Instead of encouraging innovation and creative play they want to roll out players who play the “style” of their country. Germany has found a player who can bring more to the table, a mobile big man, in Alexander Zverev and so has Australia in Nick Kyrgios although he plays great tennis only when he feels like it. Their other great hope is a money pit they can’t get rid of. The US has two big men, Reilly Opelka and Taylor Fritz. Fritz is the more mobile of the two. That should tell you all you need to know. Great Britain has Kyle Edmund and one other player whose name escapes me at the moment.

Women? Well the US is really pushing Madison Keys who seems to get injured quite a bit but they’re very excited about Kayla Day, who has the Patty Schnyder gangsta walk down but is still developing her game. If it wasn’t for Johanna Konta there wouldn’t be anyone to talk about. The French have Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic. Otherwise there are a lot of long blonde braided ponytails.

What do all these players have in common aside from being boring? They’re getting major clothing and commercial deals without having accomplished much on court. It used to be that you had to have accomplished something before you started rolling in the dough. Now, all you need is the right “look” and the proper management company and you’re rich. Never made it to a final of a big tournament? No big deal. The way you look is enough. By the time fans figure out you’re not even a flash in the pan you’ll be rich in your own right.

Federations need to be supportive of their players. Tennis is an expensive sport and even wealthy parents need some help along the way. When Federations dictate how a player should play the sport is not being advanced but held back and interest wanes even among fans. For example I subjected myself to a match between Taylor Fritz and Jack Sock at last years US Open. I barely made it a set. Forehand, forehand, forehand, forehand, error. Rinse and repeat. Both men made beautiful shots but the tennis was boring.

Who do I think will be a star? I picked Zverev the younger two years ago, before the bandwagon began. Many of the other players seem to be stuck, among them Borna Coric who seems to have no idea how to move his game forward. As for the women I keep hearing names like Ana Konjuh but I’ve yet to see her play an impressive match. The latest blonde is Anastasia Potapova. I’ve yet to see her play but I have seen action shots of her long ponytail streaming behind her as she celebrates a winning shot. The (new) future of tennis.

The best match at Indian Wells/BNPPO 2017 was between two veteran women neither of whom has ever been given the star treatment by the WTA. Svetlana Kuznetsova played Elena Vesnina in a match that showcased court sense, strategy, and good bordering on great tennis. Sveta is 31. Elena is 30. Neither has ever graced the cover of any edition of Vogue. You could tell that people started tuning in during the match by the number of mentions by tennis twitter as it progressed because people were raving about the quality of the match. People have come to expect mediocrity and when they get good play they will watch. For some reason the young players seem to think all they have to do is show up on court in the latest and greatest in tennis gear and headphones and play, no offense, club tennis. Until we get players who want it bad enough to play through pain, in sweat sodden clothes, for hours if need be, we’re not going to see the level of tennis we’ve gotten used to for a long, long  time.

It seems we’re entering another Kournikova era in tennis, where winning doesn’t matter, where image is once again everything, and the future greats toil away in anonymity.

 ©2017 Savannahs World All Rights Reserved