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

 

 

 

 

 

Make Sure To Watch…

by Savannah

You either love or hate Ben Rothenberg but you can’t deny that he broke a major story today about the WTA’s streaming plans for 2017, or lack thereof. Simon said that as of now it’ll be the second quarter of 2017 before the WTA has a platform that will support streaming of WTA matches once the TennisTV contract ends in 2016. No Middle Eastern stream. No Brisbane or Auckland. No Indian Wells or Miami. Zero. Zip. Nada. So what you’re seeing via TennisTV or Tennis Channel Plus will be it for a long while WTA fans.

I’m stunned.

More on this as developments warrant.

Is It Incompetence?

by Savannah

Monday, September 26, 2016 the paid subscription site, TennisTV announced that beginning in January 2017 it would no longer carry WTA events explaining that the WTA would be streaming its matches via a different platform. It also provided a Q&A
for users who may want to cancel or amend their subscriptions to the service. It should be noted that earlier in the year TennisTV announced that it would become available on streaming devices – AppleTV, Roku, etc – in January 2017.

There are many fans who prefer one tour over the other and many who prefer the WTA threatened to cancel existing subscriptions or not renew when it became time to do so. There were also a lot of questions about what the new WTA platform would be, what it would be called (WTATV?) and where it will be found.

I remember being upset when what was MastersTV, an ATP only platform, added the WTA to it’s stable and became TennisTV. I’ve gotten used to it though, enjoying the one stop shopping and making it unnecessary to watch dodgy streams where the person controlling the stream might decide he or she wanted to watch something else in the middle of a match causing the viewer to have to scramble and find another one. I didn’t like the geo blocking that became common but looking at the overall picture there were often other options available to watch whatever TennisTV wasn’t showing. Am I upset now? I’d have to say no. Surprised is more like it. I don’t understand why, just when TennisTV is finally expanding to streaming devices, an important move especially in the US market, the WTA would opt out of the service.

I live in the States so I can only talk about the status of women’s tennis in the country I reside in. To say it’s disrespected is an understatement. The top commentators (whether I think they’re the best is another matter) are always reluctant to call women’s matches unless they’ve played women’s tennis and still keep up with it. When someone like John or Patrick McEnroe are forced to call a women’s match the bulk of the commentary ends up being about the ATP tour. They show no shame in not having a clue about what is going on in the women’s tour. During a mixed event like the upcoming Beijing tournament the women get the worst of the scheduling both on court and on television. Even with TennisTV only the top ranked women’s matches would be available during a mixed event. I can understand the frustration of WTA fans about this. I’ve been annoyed about it myself at times. But to pull your already poorly marketed product off of the best streaming platform available, one with a world wide reach, is sheer lunacy in my opinion.

It’s even worse when you realize that millions of people in the States have cut the cord and no longer use television, network or cable, in the traditional sense. Honestly once you have a streaming device there is no need to use broadcast TV in any of it’s iterations. Every network, cable or broadcast, has an APP on these devices and the viewer can pick and choose what they want to watch. Ironically Tennis Channel beat TennisTV to the punch in making it’s content available for streaming. Tennis Channel is a purely US service though. TennisTV has world wide exposure.

I held off writing this column because I figured that the WTA would make its announcement if not yesterday when it should have, then no later then today so that fans would not be left hanging. There’s no doubt that a separate platform will cost money. When you add in production costs, the salaries of on air talent, etc the new service will not be cheap. Some are hoping for day to day or match per match pricing but in the end that is more expensive than buying an annual subscription.

Whatever the WTA decides to do they can’t put off an announcement much longer. To do so says to fans of women’s tennis that WTA officials were either blindsided (I doubt that since a decision like this isn’t taken overnight),that their decision to opt out was made in haste, or that they don’t think the value of their product is equal to that of ATP. If none of that then the only answer left is that they’re incompetent, that they decided to opt out without a definite plan for what the next step would be. I’d hate to think it’s the later.
Fans of women’s tennis deserve better.