The Rear View Mirror: 2018 Roland Garros

by Savannah

The winners have been crowned and tennis is moving on to it’s next season played on a natural surface. Of course there is quite a bit of red clay play after Wimbledon but the powers that be want you to ignore all of that and focus on the US hard court season. The fact that many players opt to stay in Durope and preserve their bodies angers many but it is what it is.

Before leaving Paris lets look back at some of what happened and what it says about the relative state of both tours.

Simona Halep Women’s Champion

via WTA/Roland GarrosaAkFlzj

There was no guarantee that Ms Halep would reach the final. The last time we saw her play on Chatrier she was losing to a member of the WTA Brat Pack, Aljona Ostapenko.

Her head was down and she cut a forlorn and lonely figure on the huge court. Would that all change in 2018? Would Halep, who had come so close, once again hold on to the top ranking in the WTA but be hounded as “slamless”?

There were no big announcements from her camp. Additions to her tam were done in a low key way without the position of her head coach ever being challenged. Everything was quiet when she entered Paris as far as the public was concerned. If you looked at her yes she was fitter than I’ve ever seen her. Yes there seemed an air of determination in how she carried herself but none of that erased what for me was her worst moment last year.

And yet she won it all. There are some who will argue that the French Open is “quirky”, that many win it who never lift a trophy again. I don’t think that will be the case with Halep. The way she wore her opponent down in the Final (more on that in a bit) was impressive. She couldn’t have played worse than she did in that first set and she was on her way to losing the second set when she saw an opportunity and took it. She didn’t need on court coaching. I’m not naive enough to think there was no coaching going on but head coach Darren Cahill did not have to rush down from the stands to tell her to cut the shit and play. It’s going to be interesting to see how she carries herself at Wimbledon. She doesn’t need the crutch. Maybe she’ll be the first of the new generation to put it aside and use her brain.

There was no Ostapenko across the net this year. Ostapenko had done nothing of note after her big win last year and went out quietly in the first round. Instead United States player Sloane Stephens found herself in the Roland Garros Women’s Final. To her credit she played flawless tennis for a set and two games into the second set. It was then that her lack of fitness caught up with her. Of course she denied it later but anyone who watched the match knows exactly when her legs went away. Right after that she began to suck air for all she was worth but Halep, seeing what her physical condition was, began to run her ragged. To Stephens credit she put up a good fight but she had nothing left.

During the NBC broadcast Mary Carillo went on a riff about how Sloane doesn’t practice hard in order to leave it all for her matches. I’ve seen a Stephens practice live and in person and I laughed to myself hearing her compare Stephens practices to those of Pete Sampras. I thought it was a nice way of saying that Sloane is lazy. Not once did her physical condition get mentioned by any of the US comms. I said last year that the worst thing that could’ve happened to Stephens was winning the US Open as out of shape as she was. What can be done on a hard court can’t be done on a European red clay court. You have to be physically and mentally at the top of your game. The terre battue takes it all out of you and if you haven’t worked until your legs are jelly and your arms are about to fall off, if you haven’t changed your diet so that the portions served at a five star restaurant look like a feast to you you can’t win playing modern tennis at Roland Garros. There was not an ounce of fat to be seen anywhere on Simona Halep’s body. Stephens is lugging around at least ten pounds too many.  Comparing her regimen to Sampras’ is not a complement. Sampras wouldn’t stand a chance against today’s top players unless he decided to play the post US Open Asian hard court and European indoor swings when everyone is beat up and resting up for the WTF in London.

I was glad to see Simona win. To be honest I was disappointed to see Stephens in the Final. Then again maybe this will be her wake up call. Kamau Murray has his work cut out for him.

Rafel Nadal Parera Men’s Champion

via ATP/Roland GarrosRafael Nadal, Roland Garros 2018, Photocall, Photo : Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Dominic Thiem must be wondering what more he could’ve done. He was extraordinarily fit. He’d played almost every week of the clay season preparing himself for the rigors of Roland Garros. He was mentally ready as well. And yet for a large portion of the match he was reduced to standing with his hands on his hips wondering how the hell he’d done everything right and his opponent still won the point. What must’ve gone through his mind when Rafa’s serving hand cramped horribly (nerves) and he barely missed a beat, accepting the time violation and working through his pain until the muscles of his hand relaxed. Instead of being able to maybe steal a set Thiem accepted the runner up trophy with grace.

Don’t let the official picture above fool you. Rafa was a bundle of nerves most of this tournament. For long time Rafa fans Toni not only being there but sitting with his coaches was acknowledgement that Rafa needed that calming influence. US tennis media has often criticized Toni Nadal for being too tough on his nephew saying that he should be allowed to relax and have some fun. The Nadal family ignored that noise and went about their business. When Rafa was coming apart at the seams it was Toni he got to come in and calm the waters.

I’m a jinx so I rarely watch or talk about Rafa’s matches but I’m making an exception in this case because the man I saw playing today is a far cry from the teenager I started watching so many years ago. As he matured so did his game. He is a top player because he’s not wedded to one style of play. Injury led to better care of body, and mind. If he was still playing today the way he played in 2005 something would be wrong. It’s a lesson a lot of players have to learn and why I’m so against young players having success early in their careers. Children become adults and that maturation process should be reflected in how they conduct their lives whether they are pro athletes or not. The maturity, the subtlety, the ability to take the best of your opponent and turn it to your advantage that I saw yesterday was awe inspiring. I felt Thiem’s frustration. Against anyone else he’d have won that match.

The US tennis establishment is still stuck on Sampras and Andre Agassi. We know what secrets were hidden about Agassi so they focus on Sampras because he isn’t perceived to have been “dirty”. If, as Carillo hinted, Sampras was lazy he wouldn’t be doing much in the ATP of today. The fact that he hated the clay created a mind set in US tennis that has still not been overcome.

But that’s a discussion for another day. Rafa wanted to win that match in three sets and despite his opponent’s excellent play he imposed his will on the match and won. He’s been imposing his will for a long time now. It’s how he did it not that he did it that has changed. It is wonderful to see how this boy has become a man.

End Notes

There is a lot of excitement around fourteen year old Cori Gauff and there should be. She is playing with a maturity not usually seen in a player her age and if she stays healthy and grows her game she could turn out to be the young star the WTA needs. She’s working with the folks at Mouratoglou Academy and it shows. She was comfortable on the clay, can already slide, and most importantly has rudimentary knowledge of how to construct points. She’s also not finished growing yet – she still has her baby face – and it looks as if she will be at least as tall as Venus Williams. She also wants it badly and that’s not a problem. My issue is that she’s fourteen. I want to see what she’s doing when she’s in her adult body at eighteen and again at about twenty two. I sincerely hope that they don’t rush her no matter what she wants.

Speaking of height there is a sub rosa debate going on in men’s tennis about big men. It seems as if there are big men and small men with few in between, especially in the United States. When I saw Denis Shapovalov in person both on and off court at last years US Open I was surprised that he is not that big. According to Wiki he is six feet tall (1.83 meters) but he looks to be at least an inch or two shorter. Chung Hyeon is listed at six feet two inches (1.88 meters) and I think that’s about right having seen him play up close on an outer court at the US Open. Lucas Pouille is listed at six feet one inch (1.85 meters). Alexander Zverev is tall at  six feet six inches (1.98 meters). All of these men can move well. They’re not gazelles but they move well enough. There are other big men like Zverev whose movement can best be described as glacial.

I don’t know what the end results will be. The US is looking to push players like Taylor Fritz and Riley Opelka betting that the cycle will turn and serve dominated tennis will come back. Their competition is going to be smaller and faster. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

As for the WTA up and coming it’s sad but most of them have no on court personality. Add to that the fact that they all play alike and you’ve got a bit of a recipe for disaster marketing wise. When you say the names Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka, Aga Radwanska, a personality type leaps to mind. They play different styles and present themselves differently on and off court. Mention some of the up and comers and I dare you to have an impression other than “blonde” come to mind. Even Simona doesn’t have a riveting on court personality. Sadly those that do are mostly brats. Yes there’s Madison Keys, Garbiñe Muguruza, Caroline Garcia and Sloane Stephens but are they poised to be the superstar mega earners their predecessors are? Time will tell. Arrogance is a personality trait but you can be arrogant as all get out and not be able to sell your sport.

The Complete Winners List

Men’s Singles

Rafael Nadal

Women’s Singles

 Simona Halep

Men’s Doubles

 Pierre-Hugues Herbert /  Nicolas Mahut

Women’s Doubles

 Barbora Krejčíková /  Kateřina Siniaková

Mixed Doubles

 Latisha Chan /  Ivan Dodig

Boys’ Singles

 Tseng Chun-hsin

Girls’ Singles

 Cori Gauff

Boys’ Doubles

 Ondřej Štyler /  Naoki Tajima

Girls’ Doubles

Caty McNally / Poland Iga Świątek

Legends Under 45 Doubles

Spain Àlex Corretja / Spain Juan Carlos Ferrero

Women’s Legends Doubles

France Nathalie Dechy / France Amélie Mauresmo

Legends Over 45 Doubles

France Mansour Bahrami / France Fabrice Santoro

Wheelchair Men’s Singles

Japan Shingo Kunieda

Wheelchair Women’s Singles

Japan Yui Kamiji

Wheelchair Men’s Doubles

France Stéphane Houdet / France Nicolas Peifer

Wheelchair Women’s Doubles

Netherlands Diede de Groot / Netherlands Aniek van Koot

©2018 Savannahs World Tennis All Rights Reserved except where indicated

 

The Rear View Mirror: 2017 US Open

by Savannah
Lots to say about this Slam. I think it set a precedent for starting the most misleading narratives about players ever. These misleading narratives started when the USTA, as was expected by me anyway, gave a returning doper pride of place. It was bad enough that they gave her a Wild Card. The USTA, never knowing when enough is enough, went on to schedule her return from doping for Opening Night knowing that there are fans who have a tradition of attending opening night ceremonies and that Ashe would be pretty full no matter what. Of course this was spun as fans dying to see her return by tennis media. If you have never attended the US Open you’d probably fall for the spin. Far more telling were the subsequent matches where fans behaved as they usually do during Week 1 and spend their time on the “outer courts” instead of in the cavernous and unfriendly confines of Ashe.

That leads me to the Women’s Singles Champion Sloane Stephens. Like her or not she does have talent. By the time she went out with injury she’d had a parade of coaches and you didn’t have to be an inside tennis person to realize that coaches didn’t want to work with her. During one of her matches the comms talked about her having the reputation of being “lazy”. The woman who was told as a child she’d never play top level tennis is the one holding the winners trophy. Did she achieve this in a vacuum? Nope. All credit is due Kamau Murray who told her point blank he was not there for her bullshit. Either she behaved as a professional or he was gone. That was why she hugged him so hard after the match. I wonder how Taylor Townsend felt at that moment? And I wonder if Sloane will decide that she’s good enough not to need him. I’m sure he’ll make sure the door doesn’t hit her on the way out if she does. People will be flocking to him now. I hope someone in her circle tells her that all top players have coaches, that no one goes it alone. You can have all the talent in the world but if it’s not being used properly it’s as if you don’t have any.

Of course Sloane was not the one the USTA was geared up to celebrate. They felt that Madison Keys would be the one holding up the trophy. I guess they haven’t been paying attention to Ms Keys and her ways. Whenever Madison gets broken she falls apart. She has absolutely no Plan B and she begins to hit harder and as a result sprays errors all over the place. Also remember while Sloane was out injured she was in the commentary booth and got a chance to observe a lot of players. Her dismantling of Keys showed that under the right supervision she can follow a game plan and defeat an opponent. Still, let’s not call her the new queen of women’s tennis just yet. A lot depends on whether she stays with Mr. Murray and follows his rules. The Asian Swing is also going to be telling. She needs, no must, do well there to be taken seriously as a top player.

Then there was the kerfuffle about Andy Murray‘s withdrawal due to a chronic hip injury that may keep him out the rest of the year. People assumed that with the withdrawal of the man seeded second in the draw all of the seeds would move up a place with the number three seed becoming the number two seed, number four becoming three, etc. Instead they decided to use a formula that shuffled the seeds but left the top half of the draw intact. Sturm und drang ensued. I can say I have never seen such an outpouring of anger about a draw in all the years I’ve been seriously following tennis. To say fans of the number three seeded player were up in arms is an understatement. They accused Andy Murray of waiting until the last minute on purpose to help his friend who was seeded number one. They accused the tennis powers that be of conspiring against their favorite. Fortunately none of that worked. Unfortunately they began talking about the top seed not facing any member of the top four on his way to the Championship. Of course they conveniently forgot the “Murderer’s Row” their favorite faced in London earlier this year where he didn’t face a member of the “Big Four” or any player who could hurt him. They also forgot that they argued vehemently that their favorite should inherit the draw that once belonged to Andy Murray. If they had had their way and number three became number two I think the argument about not facing a top player wouldn’t even be being made. That members of the “impartial” media are making this argument tells you all there is to know about the incestuous nature of tennis journalism.

Was there good news from the final Grand Slam of 2017? Why yes there was. It looks as if tennis greatness is going to skip a generation. Alexander Zverev (20). Andrey Rublev (19). Denis Shapovalov (18). Frances Tiafoe (19). These are the young men fans wanted to see at Flushing Meadows. And let’s not forget thirteen year old Cori Gauff. Or Junior Boys champion Wu Yibing. What about boys runner up Axel Geller who plays a very free wheeling loose style similar to Shapovolov? Gauff is the only girl I saw who is playing a different style from all the pony tailed blondes. Naomi Osaka (19) is also a Next Gen prospect. Osaka has what I call “quiet power”.

All of these young people need work especially on the mental aspect of the game. There is no excuse for sloppy or non existent foot work. There is no excuse for not being able to adjust to what your opponent is throwing at you. You shouldn’t get broken and have as your only option to hit harder and harder.

Is there going to be a lull? I think so. The rankings on the women’s side are like a merry-go-round and are not based on results but on number of points a player has attained. When your top ranked player doesn’t make it to the second week of a Slam after having won one earlier in the summer something is wrong. But that’s another post for another day.

I give this tournament an A- . Yes they stood up to an irate fandom but they get points taken away for reaching the level of track and field where a twice suspended doper is being praised. I was going with a B+ but that would distract from what the men and women, boys and girls, achieved over the last two weeks.

End Notes

I didn’t make it to the Qualifying Tournament this year but I was on the grounds Opening Day and the following Wednesday.

There were the usual snafu’s getting in this year. I think they were compounded by the use of E-ticketing. On Day One if you had a paper ticket you could breeze on through.

The biggest shock was the absence of the Nike kiosk. It was replaced by a Mercedes Benz set up that allowed people to sit behind the wheel and enter a contest I presume. I don’t drive so I could care less. I did care that the only merchandise for sale was for the USTA/US Open. Frankly it sucked. Usually I treat myself to some obscenely priced Nike shirt and one less expensive US Open shirt for the current year. I don’t know what issues caused Nike not to be given the center space it usually occupies but I hope they’re back next year. There are lots of us willing to pay $35 for a hit featuring our fave. There was an Adidas store but I didn’t get a chance to check their merchandise out.

By next year the new BJK NTC footprint should be ready. That would mean the temporary Armstrong Stadium, which was really the old Grandstand, will be gone. The bad part about the temporary stadium was that it was right next to the East Gate. There were good matches scheduled there but if I’m on Court 7 I’m not going to walk all the way to Armstrong and then back to the other courts for more action. If I’m in Armstrong my next stop is the LIRR.

The grounds were much more crowded this year than last year. Keep in mind people bought their tickets in the spring so the surge in attendance had nothing to do with any particular player. The outer courts were jam packed while the bigger courts – the new Grandstand, and the horrific Court 17, were mostly empty. The match where Johanna Konta lost to Aleksandra Krunic was on the Grandstand. Where I was sitting in Court 7 watching Denis Shapovolov you could see into the Grandstand. It as virtually empty. Tiny Court 7 was full. People were willing to stand to watch the kid play. That scheduling shows how out of touch some in the establishment are.

Food? It was as per usual. Expensive. I got my double cheeseburger from David Chang’s “Momofuku” and totally enjoyed it. I also had a steak sandwich from Pat LaFrieda. Delish.

The biggest hit with me was the Chase Center. You got a baseball hat, light refreshments including beer and wine and large screen televisions in a comfortably air conditioned environment. Chase also offered a “charge and watch” thingy which didn’t work.

The American Express center was a huge disappointment. Other than a wrist band and a small gift there was nothing there for fans.

There were also lots of “Fan Pass” centers around the grounds which if you collected enough you got prizes.

If i had to grade the BJK NTC itself in terms of scheduling, crowd control, and amenities I have to give it a B.

I hope to be back next year to see the completed site.

© 2017 Savannah World All Rights Reserved

Who To Watch in 2017

by Savannah

This is late. I should’ve done my post about who to keep an eye on in 2017 at the end of December. Sadly I was too busy frazzling over things out of my control and have just managed to calm myself down enough to refocus on tennis. Just in time too. The new season is underway and the Australian Open is next week. So with no further blathering lets see who I think are the teens to watch in 2017.

In mens tennis the young person to watch is Denis Shapovalov. He’s young, born April 15, 1999 which makes him 17 years old. He’s got a very aggressive approach to his sport and showed some promise during last year. Presently he’s ranked #238 but he won the Wimbledon Juniors in 2016 and made the junior doubles Final.

He’s exactly six feet tall which makes him just about right for the modern game.
I read that his focus this year will be Challengers which is as it should be. Occasional forays onto the main tour are good for someone his age since he can still hone his skills playing players who move in and out of the top ranks of mens tennis while at the same time testing his mental and physical abilities on the main tour.

Like Alexander Zverev he has the looks and on court personality to be a marketing dream for the mens tour. Like Zverev he should also ease his way into the main tour. So many who tried to jump right into the thick of things too young see their junior tennis become their approach to the game and they never mature. Let’s see if he can get close to the top 100 and not let his Federation push him to do more before he’s mentally and physically ready.

The choice of who to watch in women’s tennis got complicated for me. My first choice was Louisa Chirico  mainly because she defied the USTA and played a tournament they didn’t want her to play. Being independently wealthy can give you big brass ones like that. She’s 20, born May 16, 1996, and is already in the top 100 at #58.

Then young Destanee Aiava appeared on my radar. Hell she appeared on everyone’s radar with her showing at the Australian Open warm up event in Brisbane where she beat US player Bethanie Mattek-Sands .

Miss Aiava was born May 10, 2000 and despite what it says when you do an online search for her she is not 4’11” tall. She’s about 5’8″ or so, a decent size. What makes her different from some of the other young players? She was really, really pissed off when she lost to the veteran and slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova. She really thought she should win. Of course every sixteen year old thinks they’re immortal too but that is the kind of fire you want to see in a young player.

My only fear is that Tennis Australia will ruin her. I hate to say it but getting a good coach who hasn’t been in that system will be crucial. Of course she has to stay in the good graces of her Federation but Tennis Australia, like the USTA, is full of people there for the money grab not player development.

Oh well. It looks as if I’ve talked myself into keeping an eye on both women and for the same reason. They’ve both got independent spirits. Chirico is financially secure enough to be able to chart her own course. Aiava doesn’t have that luxury but from what I saw she does have the will to possibly chart an independent course. Time will tell.

© 2017 Savannahs World All Rights Reserved