The Rear View Mirror – The 2017 WTA

by Savannah

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via wtafinals.com

Caroline Wozniacki finally won a big one. At the WTA YEC she was in the group of counterpunchers. None of the women in her group have what you would call big serves. None of them play “Big Babe Tennis”, even the watered down version that passes for power tennis these days. None of them were expected to win, least of all the woman known to tennis fans as “Woz”. She’s been around for years. She’s been ranked Number 1. And yet when it comes down to respect most wrote her off as “slamless”, a woman who couldn’t win a big title. Like it or not the YEC is one of the “big ones” and when the dust settled Woz was the one holding up the trophy.

Now comes the really hard part for Ms Wozniacki and her team. Will she finally break through at the Australian Open and drop the sobriquet “slamless” from her cv? With today’s WTA who knows? Right now Caroline is playing with confidence and sometimes that is what you need to pull yourself up and roll through draws. If she feels that she can stand toe to toe with the best of the current pack she has a chance.

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via SI.com

Ah Ms Stephens. Where to start? I guess the best place to start is where we are. After an impressive win over Madison Keys at the 2017 US Open I said that the Asian swing would prove whether or not Ms Stephens was ready for prime time. She promptly lost every match she played including an embarrassing 0-5 retirement. Her ranking wasn’t high enough for Singapore although there was a lot of push to get her a WC into the event. Fortunately that didn’t happen, so she played at ZhuHai for the Elite Cup. Julia Goerges, who has seen some hard times, won that one. I will discuss Fed Cup separately but I will say for now she didn’t win any fans with her performance there.

I’m not sure why anyone in tennis expected anything different from her. She made a semi final in Australia and coasted on that win for a few years. Now she’s won a Slam. I don’t think we’ll see top level tennis from her again. She’ll always be a US Open winner, a Slam winner, and if past performance is any indication she will expect players to grovel at her feet in awe of her, they won’t, and she won’t care. I’m waiting to see what her coach Kamau Murray does. Murray got her to focus, to stay interested, through seven matches and I’m sure folks are banging down his door. He’s made it clear he’s not hanging around if “old Sloane” with the sucky attitude and horrible work ethic shows up. She was horribly unfit when she won the US Open and that’s not a good thing for someone like Sloane. Needless to say if she performs the way she has after the US Open in Australia she won’t be “slamless” but her win will be considered a “fluke”. And she won’t care.

WTA Tour Finals
REUTERS/Jeremy Lee

Simona Halep is now the top ranked WTA player for 2017. Let that sink in. Simona Halep, whose highest achievement in 2017 was reaching the finals of the French Open. Halep, who during that Final, hung her head and slumped her shoulders in defeat before the match was over. Halep who lost in the first round at the US Open. She is the woman girls are supposed to want to be, the epitome of the best of women’s tennis.

Of course she isn’t. And that is a problem. Like many of her peers Halep repeated over and over that she wanted to be Number One. Not win a Slam mind you. All she wanted to do was be the top ranked player. And she has achieved her goal with the lowest point total in recent memory.

The year end top ten rankings are as follows:

1 Romania Simona Halep 6,175
2 Spain Garbiñe Muguruza 6,135
3 Denmark Caroline Wozniacki 6,015
4 Czech Republic Karolína Plíšková 5,730
5 United States Venus Williams 5,597
6 Ukraine Elina Svitolina 5,500
7 Latvia Jeļena Ostapenko 5,010
8 France Caroline Garcia 4,420
9 United Kingdom Johanna Konta 3,610
10 United States Coco Vandeweghe 3,258

We now live in a world where players like Jelena Ostapenko, Johanna Konta and Colleen Vandeweghe are top ten players. Sad isn’t it?

We’re mere weeks away from play beginning in Australia. Pressure will be on Halep and Stephens(ranked #13). All of the top ten players will be under pressure of course but I think those two, more than any others, will be under the microscope. With Halep the draw is everything. At the US Open she was pretty much thrown under the bus. Since the Australians, Americans and Brits often walk in lock step it’ll be interesting to see if the same thing happens to her in Australia. Stephens will need a good draw too if she’s to make the second week at the very least.

Garbiñe Muguruza is ranked Number 2 in the world and just missed out on being year end Number One. Is she a great player? No. She’s just a more successful version of Sloane in terms of her attitude. Most players try and put their best foot forward for fans and media when they’re on court. Not our Garbiñe. If her opponent dares to pull her out of her comfort zone she pouts, curses and caves.

Karolína Plíšková wants it bad. She wants Number One. She wants Slams. She wants to be a superstar. More than any of the others she’s shown how much she does care and how far she’s willing to go to get what she wants. The sad thing about Plíšková is that with her physical limitations she’ll need a lot to break her way to achieve what she wants. She still can’t/doesn’t bend her knees. Her movement is horrendous. She has that huge serve and hits very good groundstrokes but if she’s taken out of her spot on the baseline she’s toast. She’s fired her old coach with an eye to making changes that will make take her to the next level. She is almost there. I just think that with her physical limitations she’s always going to be almost there. Then again…

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So you’re Kathy Rinaldi. Somehow your team has made it to the Fed Cup Final. You bring four women with you to Minsk where a team from Belarus will challenge for the 2017 Federation Cup. You have two players who must be on the team: Colleen Vandeweghe and Sloane Stephens. Who will your other two players be because, let’s be blunt, your USO champion is in terrible form mentally and physically and you may have to replace her. If you have to replace her who would you use? Alison Riske, who is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, or Shelby Rogers who is a USTA favorite. A battered Venus Williams</strong is not available. Madison Keys, the USO runner up is resting her wrist in preparation for Australia. When the USO champion shows her current form is holding what do you do? Sit her and take a chance with Rogers or Riske or play your US Open champion and hope for the best knowing you’ll have to gut out the doubles if Team Belarus forces the doubles rubber to matter.

Some have commented that in the above celebratory picture it looks as if Vandeweghe is holding the Cup so no one else can touch it. She has every right to be doing just that. Without her team Belarus would be holding that Cup. She won that cup for her country. Shelby Rogers did her best but Vandeweghe was pulling her along. Riske didn’t play and Sloane stunk up the joint.

Being Fed Cup captain is a thankless job no matter how you look at it. It’s going to be interesting to see if the women from the Czech Republic can stop feuding long enough to win another Fed Cup in 2018. Will Rinaldi be able to build a stronger team around Vandeweghe? Will there be another team like Team Belarus in the Final next year? Again, this is the WTA so who knows?

End Notes

For all intents and purposes this year is over for women’s tennis. There are a couple of $125k tournaments coming up but for the main tour players this is a time for beaches, mountains, and reflection.

For me this year ends with more questions than answers. There is no dominant player. The tour itself has become more invisible instead of more visible. What was supposed to provide more visibility, WTA TV, has, from what I’ve been reading, been a flukey mess.

Is the WTA relying more on joint tournaments with the ATP than it should since that seems to be the only way they get good TV coverage? It’s sad in this day and age that the largest sport for women athletes launched a web only streaming service when every other major sport has an APP that works on several devices?
How embarrassing that when WTA TV launched many credit card companies identified it as a phishing scam and would not authorize payment? Shouldn’t an agreement been worked out with PayPal?
And lets not talk about a top player streaming the Fed Cup final using an illegal stream.
Did it make sense to invest so much time and effort (including bending its own rules) to bring back a convicted doper who as of now seems unable to compete without the crutch she’s used for most of her career?
Why is it that fans of women’s tennis rely on Wikipedia for information on the WTA because there is almost no information on the official WTA site?
Why is it that the official site had no information on the year end tournaments and fans had to scramble to find entry lists and draws? It’s true that many fans won’t go on sites based in certain countries but shouldn’t that make it more important for the official site to have that information?
Fans are using Live Ranking sites that have nothing to do with the WTA to get up to date information.
Will there be a women’s version of the successful Laver Cup?
Will the WTA do a better job at marketing ALL of its players and not just a chosen few? Doesn’t it matter that no one outside of tennis knows who any of the top ten players are excepting Venus Williams? I guess for the current leadership it doesn’t.

While all these questions remain the CEO did a “State of the WTA” year end presentation that addressed none of the above. Instead we got a mind numbingly boring presentation about – damned if I know. I’m really tired of writing depressing year end columns on the WTA but unless something changes I think I’ll be writing the same kind of post next year. These women work hard and play to the best of their abilities during a long, grueling season. They deserve better than the half steps being put forth by the WTA.

©2017 Savannah’s World Tennis All rights reserved except where indicated

 

 

 

 

 

Somewhat Idle Chit Chat

by Savannah

The WTA will crown a new #1 player on Monday, the fifth top player of this year. Let’s look at the previous four women before we talk about the newest number one.

Serena Williams started out the year ranked in her customary number one position. She of course hasn’t played since the Australian Open due to one Little Miss Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.

Angelique Kerber found herself ranked number one on May 15 after Serena went on maternity leave. She won two Slams in 2016 but had not shown much this year.

Karolina Pliskova took the top spot from Kerber on July 17 and held on to the top spot until September 10.

Garbiñe Muguruza‘s reign began September 11 and ends today, October 8.

Simona Halep‘s time as WTA #1 begins Monday, October 9.

To be fair to Halep the grumbling about Slamless WTA Number One’s began when Pliskova reached the top spot. Was she the best player? Not by a long shot. Did she bring excitement to the sport? That depends on how you feel about laid back personalities and since that is a matter of taste there is no need to dwell on her on court persona. It is fair to look at her game though. She can hit powerful ground strokes and if given the chance she can overpower an opponent especially when she can move around on her own terms. To say that she is not a good mover is putting it mildly. She also seems unable to bend her knees. If an opponent keeps the ball low and places it where she has to run to get it she stands a good chance of frustrating her and beating her. Fans argued about whether she deserved to be number one as fans will do these days. She won three titles in 2017: Brisbane, Qatar, and Eastbourne. The argument raged about her less than stellar game and lack of big wins at majors.

Muguruza was hailed as the best player of them all. She is a decent mover and won a Slam this year. Essays were being written about how she would dominate women’s tennis for years to come. And yet there were the inevitable “issues”. Her temperament on court when she was put under pressure left a lot to be desired. Winning matches isn’t about your opponent letting you win because you’re you. She’s there to win and in order to do that she’s going to do everything she can to stop you from winning. When this would happen Mugu seemed to be taken by surprise and in the end she was just as likely to raise the level of her game as to pout her way to a loss. Not exactly the behavior you expect from a number one ranked player.

While Muguruza and Pliskova were going through their changes Simona Halep was waiting in the wings. She had more than one chance to take over the top spot but always seemed to fall just short. The problem with Halep, as I’ve said here before, is that she simply doesn’t handle pressure well. Her French Open loss is embedded in my mind. She literally slumped her shoulders and hung her head while meekly surrendering to her opponent, Aljona (Jelena) Ostapenko. Yet somehow she was still in the running for the top spot. As of tomorrow she will be the WTA #1. As of tomorrow she has won exactly one title this year. It has to be mentioned that she got enough points to become number one during her semifinal match at Beijing. She promptly lost the Final.

I’ve been arguing for years that the WTA has to find a way to use some version of quality points again. Simona is a good player. She’s not a great player. You can argue that she’s not a number one player and wouldn’t be except for the fact that the WTA’s ranking system allows a player to get to the top spot by accumulating enough points.. I’m aware of the problems with using quality points but a player shouldn’t be able to simply pile up  points over a season and become number one.

To make matters worse there is an outside chance Elina Svitolina can become the top player without even getting near a Slam final.

I don’t dislike any of the women who are competing for the top spot. It’s obvious they’re doing the best they can and being rewarded very well for it. Is it too much to ask that a top player be able to play top level tennis both mentally and physically? That a top player doesn’t need her hand held by a coach or family member to make it through a match? That skill, and not attitude, is the measure of a top player?

I said a few years ago that when the older generation (not just Serena Williams and Venus Williams) leave the stage the WTA would be in trouble. I just didn’t hink it would happen so soon. It’s no accident that older players are coming out of retirement now. If I can see the drop in the level of tennis being played surely ex pros can see it and say “why not?”

The ATP is going to be facing the same problem in two or three years. It doesn’t look like it yet because the older players are still able to compete at a high level and their fandoms still dominate the conversation. When they leave the stage the generation right behind them is not going to play the same high quality tennis ATP fans have become used to. The generation behind those men, barring injury or off court issues, seems poised to step into the large footprints the current leaders are leaving and right over the players who should be next in line. The only hindrance will be how quickly they mature mentally.

End Notes

The WTA has gone out of its way to pretend that a player returning from a doping suspension was away on a break. I think that those chickens are going to come home to roost soon. If a player admits to doping for ten years prior to her suspension how are her records against players valid? Some fans are already raising the issue in regards to Simona Halep’s record against her. Yes it would’ve been messy to take all her titles away. Yes it would’ve been messy to take her winnings away. But would you rather that or the situation that exists now where those impressive H2H’s are going to be questioned and believed to be invalid?

The fall out from the Laver Cup continues. Was it a “real tournament” and not simply an “exhibition”? Since it’s second installment will take place in Chicago in 2018 who will the players be?

It’s not too soon to ask how has the Laver Cup affected the Davis Cup is it? If the top players can make time in their schedules for the Laver Cup why can’t they play for their countries during Davis Cup?

The WTA hasn’t said a word about whether it will or won’t stage its own event or piggy back on the Laver Cup’s already established drawing power. I don’t think any of the current to WTA players has the drawing power of the top ATP players so any similar event would be problematic in terms of sponsorships if it’s not paired with a men’s event. If the WTA did a better job of promoting the SPORT of women’s tennis and not individual personalities there’s a chance the WTA would be able to pull off it’s own version of the highly successful concept.

Speaking of Davis Cup and Fed Cup Spain’s RFET fired Conchita Martinez who was acting as captain of both teams. Sergei Brugera and Anabel Medina Garrigues were announced as her replacements.

Things are going to be very interesting in Sloane Stephens camp the next few weeks. I didn’t see her play in Asia but fans were visibly surprised at her physical condition. I’m not sure why they weren’t surprised at her physical condition at the US Open but since she managed to win I guess the discussion was deferred. With her reputation of being lazy and undisciplined the US Open comms made it clear that coach Kamau Murray would not stay around if she reverted to her old habits. She’s arrogant enough to think that she doesn’t have to do any more because she’ll always be a Slam winner. That’s what I mean about being a tennis great and being great for tennis has more to do with pride in yourself and the sport that is paying you than having an attitude.

We’ll see about Ms Stephens won’t we?

I haven’t done a year end summary of the two players I picked as up and comers for this year. Sadly, I barely remember who I picked. I know the young woman was Louisa Chirico. I’ve seen her name around but she has had an off year.

I think I picked one of the young US men, probably Taylor Fritz. He’s doing okay for a US player his Federation is pushing.

As for next year I haven’t seen anyone tennis hasn’t already seized on as an up and comer to watch. As a result I’m thinking of changing my criteria a bit and picking someone who has already gotten themselves on everyone’s radar and seeing how they perform next year, how they handle the pressure. If that is my final decision I I’ll let you know just before play begins in Australia at the end of December.

©2017 Savannahs World All rights reserved