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.

 

 

Teach Your Children Well…

by Savannah

During a crucial fifth rubber between Canada and Great Britain 17 year old Denis Shapovalov became frustrated and hit a ball hard hoping it would just sail out of the stands without doing any damage. Instead the worst happened: chair umpire Arnaud Gabas took the shot right in his face, his left eye to be precise. Young Shapovalov immediately apologized to M. Gabas not once, but several times. He even posted a public apology on his Twitter account.

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 Of course it wasn’t intentional on Mr. Shapovalov’s part and I feel his apologies are sincere. I couldn’t help but think about another player who routinely gets frustrated and hits balls in the direction of officials and into the stands yet thinks it’s part of his gimmick and is not worth his apologizing for. He has apologized for screaming at ball kids and once making a ball kid cry but I couldn’t find anything to show that he has apologized for hitting balls into the stands that had the potential to harm. As anyone who has raised a child knows they often operate on a “monkey see monkey do” basis. If the bigger name player had been publicly censored and fined for his actions maybe young Denis cracks his racquet on the ground instead of getting the bright idea of hitting wildly into the stands.

It was also interesting how many in tennis media were calling for the young man to be seriously fined and given a significant suspension. These same people see nothing wrong when another player does the same thing. The last time they were so upset it was for a lines person getting yelled at by a player for a foot fault.

I’m sure he will be fined. Will he be suspended from Davis Cup for a bit? I’m not privy to behind the scenes machinations between the ITF and probably Tennis Canada especially since Shapovalov has a potentially winning game and look about him that Federation desperately needs.

Let the punishment fit the crime is all I’m saying. It’s never a drivers intention to hit a pedestrian but if it happens there is punishment to be meted out. The infraction was serious. Let’s see if tennis has the cojones to make the punishment significant enough to deter any tennis player regardless of rank from hitting a ball out of the arena.

UPDATE: Russell Fuller ‏@russellcfuller 2h2 hours ago
Denis Shapovalov will be fined $7000 by the referee: maximum fine of $12000 would only have applied had his actions been deemed intentional

Russell Fuller ‏@russellcfuller 2h2 hours ago
ITF confirm no further action is anticipated against Shapovalov, and add there’s no damage to umpire Gabas’ cornea or retina

Russell Fuller ‏@russellcfuller 1h1 hour ago
Heather Watson was fined $12k (& Serena $10k) for smashing racquets into Wimbledon’s turf last year
Potential consequences much greater here

©2017 Savannahs World All Rights Reserved except where indicated

Serena Williams

by Savannah

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via Tennis Australia

She did it. Despite all the hate directed at her and her sister, despite the ones who prayed she would not be able to win again, despite the lax attitude of her association, Serena Williams  won the women’s title at the 2017 Australian Open.

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It’s probable that Serena will win one more Slam this year, barring injury, and that we won’t have to hear Margaret Court’s name again. Don’t forget you never heard it until Serena started knocking on the door that would let her pass Steffi Graf. Make no mistake about it. If the current crop of “best” is what women’s tennis has to look forward to no one will surpass whatever records Serena goes on to claim for her own.

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There were whispers though, the same ones that have dogged Serena and her sister Venus Williams since they began their take over of women’s tennis. Venus would “let” Serena win. Venus will be a good big sister and not stand in her baby sister’s way. Richard no longer travels with his daughters and Oracene Price wasn’t seen in Melbourne this year. They wouldn’t dare say anything about Patrick Mouratoglou or David Witt so the collusion would have to be between the sisters. Yeah. That’s why Venus played as best she could against Serena. Both were tense to open the match but once they settled it was clear who would win.

Congratulations to Richard Williams and Oracene Price, who set their daughters into unchartered territory in a racist and hostile environment and who have lived to see them once again stand atop women’s tennis. You don’t get there because you want to. You get there with hard work and sacrifice and they will be a tough act to follow.

End Notes

I want to apologize for some factual errors in my blog post about the Next Gen an Rising Stars in the ATP and the WTA respectively. I’m not succumbing to or trying to distribute alternate facts. Again, I’m sorry.

© 2017 Savannahs World All Rights Reserved except where indicated. None of the pictures are mine

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

The Rearview Mirror: The ATP in 2016

by Savannah

According to the tennis press we should all be celebrating the ascension of Andrew Barron Murray to the number one ranking in mens tennis. After all he’s been part of the “Big Four” for years now. Finally the tennis media has someone they can rally behind and promote as the best of the current crop and hope that fans will keep flocking to see mens tennis.

The thing is during the WTF’s there were Tweets sent out that there were still tickets available for purchase. In London. With the British Number one playing to secure his spot at the top. And no matter the celebration and positive press afterwards that has to be troubling for the people who run men’s tennis.

It also has to be worrying that the year end top ten are not players who will have the fans rushing to the tennis courts.

The Top 10 of 2016

1. Andy Murray (GBR) – First Brit and 17th different year-end No. 1 continues 13 years of Big 4 dominance at the top of Emirates ATP Rankings
2. Novak Djokovic (SRB) – Finishes in Top 2 for sixth straight year and in Top 3 for 10th consecutive year
3. Milos Raonic (CAN) – Made biggest jump to No. 3 from previous year (14) since Djokovic in 2007 (16 to 3)
4. Stan Wawrinka (SUI) – Finishes No. 4 for third straight year and in Top 10 for fourth season in a row
5. Kei Nishikori (JPN) – Second Top 5 finish in three years and third straight year in Top 10
6. Marin Cilic (CRO) – Second Top 10 finish in three years and best Croat year-end ranking since Ljubicic (5) in 2006
7. Gael Monfils (FRA) – First time finish in Top 10 and ninth Frenchman in year-end Top 10
8. Dominic Thiem (AUT) – The 23 year old is youngest in Top 10 and first Austrian in year-end Top 10 since Muster (9) in 1997
9. Rafael Nadal (ESP) – Top 10 for 12th year in a row and one of six players with 12-more Top 10 finishes
10. Tomas Berdych (CZE) – Seventh consecutive finish in the Top 10

To be honest Raonic as the #3 player in the world only shows how weak men’s tennis has become. His ranking shows that it’s possible to play yourself into a top ranking just like they do in the WTA. The women are still criticized for utilizing that tactic to get to the top. When the men do it no one says a word.

The ATP, unlike the WTA, is working to develop interest in it’s up and coming players. They’re staging a Next Generation tournament, the “Next Gen ATP Finals” to be held after the WTF in 2017 in Milan and feature the top eight under 21 players. To quote from the release the event will be hold at the Fiera Milano stadium from 7-11 November, 2017, and will remain in Milan for a five-year period, through 2021. The top 7 in the race plus one wild card will make up the field.

There’s no sense saying anything more about a process that will start in January. It’s an interesting way to create interest in future players and it has the potential to do exactly what the ATP wants this event to do. It’s a good move for a tour that is looking at a drop in the level of tennis played by its members.

And we’ll be able to see men’s tennis. For a few weeks, outside of the Slams, it’ll be the only tennis fans can see. That will be enough time for fans to pick an up and comer to follow.

Once again the ATP shows why it’s the better managed of the two tours.

The Best of 2016

The other odd thing about 2016 was that the best tennis was not played in top tournaments. Instead you had to watch the Olympics, Fed Cup and Davis Cup to see great tennis. That has to be worrying to both tours and gets back to what I said about the current ATP top ten, and what can be said about the WTA top ten as well. Marin Cilic vs Juan Martin del Potro was the best mens match I saw in 2016. That it happened at the DC Final only adds to the cachet the match had. And debunks another issue tennis media has been pushing – that the DC Final should be held at a neutral site. That means that instead of the heated atmosphere in Zagreb where plenty of Argentine fans made their way to the stadium causing an atmosphere rarely seen in tennis these days.

Monica Puig defeating Angelique Kerber at the Olympics Final was the best women’s match of the year. There was also Barbora Strycova’s performance at Fed Cup, the second year in a row she’s played above her rank.

Kerber took advantage of Serena Williams playing injured for most of the year to take over the top ranking.  I have to say that the WTA was unseemly in its rush to crown Kerber and act as if Williams was a rapidly fading memory while promoting a doper’s return as if it’s something to be proud of.  While the WTA turned over its official site to a doper and her publicity team it couldn’t find the time to work out television rights for 2017 and on.

Priorities. It’s why the ATP will always see itself as superior to the WTA

End Notes

At the end of December I’ll post who my must watch players will be for 2017. This year I chose Taylor Fritz and Naomi Osaka. I’ll talk about them and the year they had at that time.

©2016 SavannahsWorld. All Rights Reserved.

Bored Now

by Savannah

Andy Murray will face Novak Djokovic for what the ATP is billing as it’s Battle Royale, the match to determine who will close out the year as its top ranked player as the recently crowned #1 Murray will face #2 Djokovic. There was supposed to be some tennis played by both men on the way to this final. Sadly only one man had to play tennis. He also played two matches that went over three hours in a matter of days while the other player , because his group played first in the Round Robin phase of the tournament, got a full day of rest.

I know, I know. It’s all luck of the draw. I guess it’s also luck of the draw that Djokovic didn’t face one player who had the remotest chance of beating him. When Gaël Monfils had to withdraw due to a lingering injury he faced another player, David Goffin, who has never beaten him either.  While his practice sessions were taking place Andy Murray had to face players who made him have to play top level tennis in order to beat them. One mental slip and Murray could’ve lost his group. Instead the ATP got the match up it wanted. Except that one player could be running on fumes.

Some expected Nishikori Kei to put up a fight in his semifinal vs Djokovic. Instead he went ass up and managed to win only two games in a match that lasted a bit over an hour. He didn’t even bother to take a shower, uh, potty break to slow things down.

It should be mentioned that Murray’s run to the top didn’t see him face top ten players. Whatever. Both players should get equal rest before they play the final. Otherwise it looks as if there’s some kind of favoritism going on.  But that is not something that would happen in the ATP right?

Anyway there should be some good NFL games on tomorrow.

 

© 2016 Savannah’s World All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

The 2016 ATP WTF: WTF?!

by Savannah

When you obsessively follow a sport you’re exposed to all kinds of wacky theories about it. When I first discovered tennis fan boards back in the day it was the ESPN board that took up most of my time. To say that board was the best and the worst of what a tennis fan board could be is putting it mildly. When it became unbearable many of the people who really wanted to discuss tennis went elsewhere. I not only went elsewhere I started this blog so that I could laugh at some of the insanity so called fans were spouting about their faves, and those who weren’t their faves.

One of the things I took a lot of grief for was saying that the draws for tennis events weren’t random. You wouldn’t believe, or maybe you would believe, the grief I got. I was stupid. Some kind of nut. Of course the draws were random.
You don’t hear that so much now do you?

For example, how is it that Andy Murray has yet to face a top ten player on his way to taking over the top ranking? Odd isn’t it? The same thing used to happen to someone named Roger Federer up until he reached the quarter finals of a tournament. With Murray it continues right up to the final. I don’t have to prove anything. If you feel that’s not true prove me wrong.

Then there’s the case of the draw for this years ATP WTF in London. Anyone who knows the slightest bit about tennis, and many who know more, were shocked at how things are set up. I say set up because there is no way both sections are competitive. Just to remind you let’s look at the two groups.

McEnroe Group

Andy Murray
Stan Wawrinka
Nishikori Kei
Marin Cilic

Lendl Group

Novak Djokovic
Milos Raonic
Gaël Monfils
Dominic Thiem

As an aside some made fun of the names of the groups in the WTA YEC. When I saw the names of the groups here I rolled my eyes so hard my eye sockets still hurt. Really? Red and Blue. Blue and White. Suckers vs Saps. Anything but what they’ve done.

But back to the composition of the groups.

The now ATP #2 has never, ever lost a match to anyone in his group. Not Raonic (7-0), Monfils (13-0). Thiem (3-0). So that group is competitive right? Some tried to spin it saying he’s got a winning record against the men in the ATP #1’s group too. Please. To make the #2’s group even more absurd Raonic is said to have a muscle tear and it’s possible that he’ll withdraw. That would allow alternate Tomas Berdych to become part of that group. Yeah. That head to head is 25 – 2.

If you think this isn’t a set up for the now #2 I’m sure you know by now that he plays Sunday. That means he gets an extra day off when the elimination tournament begins. Some are saying that the ATP really wants to set up a horse race between #1 and #2. Yeah, that’s why #1 may not make it out of his group.

I don’t know who’s got what on who but this is the most absurd draw (grouping) I’ve ever seen. One man gets a romp while the other is going to have to fight his way out of the ring.

This year the ATP year end tournament truly deserves to be called WTF.

End Note

I’m very glad that Andy Murray is giving full credit to his coach, Jamie Delgado, for seeing him through to the top of the heap. It’s kind of a raised middle finger to those who insisted he needed Ivan Lendl to be kept in check and achieve greatness. There has been some mewling about where Lendl has been but I haven’t seen anyone ask the question that needs to be asked. Instead they’re falling over themselves to say he’ll be in London. So what? He did none of the heavy lifting, got all the credit from US and British tennis writers and comms, then ghosted when it was time to work hard again. Delgado was an afterthought to these people.

Congratulations to Mr. Murray and his (real) team.

©Savannahs World 2016 All Rights Reserved