Naomi Osaka – WTA World #1

by Savannah

dx1ciemu8aacwccPhoto via@AustralianOpen

On Monday twenty one year old Naomi Osaka will become the number one player of the Women’s Tennis Association. This time last year she was ranked #72 in the world. There is so much to note about Ms Osaka, things that need to be made known to the tennis public before the tennis “media” has a chance to set her image in stone for the casual fan or the fan becoming interested in women’s tennis because of Ms. Osaka.

Ms Osaka is of Haitian and Japanese descent. She was raised in the United States and at one time was working with the USTA. The USTA did not see her as worthy of their full backing but the Japanese Tennis Federation thought otherwise. Since Ms Osaka was born in Japan she was eligible to play for them. Osaka’s father, Leonard François, hasn’t looked back. It’s kind of amusing to wonder how the people who made that decision view it now. A couple of years ago, before Naomi hired Aleksandar “Sascha” Bajin as her full time coach, Mary Jo Fernandez was already wondering if Osaka and her family could be convinced to  come back to the US tennis establishment. It was already clear to them that they’d made a huge mistake in relegating Ms Osaka to the also ran category. After tonights victory and Osaka’s ascension to Number One must be galling. The fact that Naomi now holds two Grand Slam titles, won back to back at that, must have them pulling out their hair by the roots.

It’s not only that Naomi won, it’s how she won and who she won against. Petra Kvitova has come back from a hellish experience to challenge for the number one ranking of the WTA. Instead of her career being over after the assault she’s come storming back and for many her attaining the number one ranking would’ve been the feel good story of the year.

The match itself was played at a very high level. The ball striking was superb and both women were creating out of this world angles while hitting screamers. But it wasn’t all about the screamers. There was strategy. There was creativity by both women. And there was an emotional falling apart by Naomi after blowing a chance to win the match in two sets. Naomi took a bathroom break leaving the court in tears. The next time she cried it was with relief and joy.

And just in case you won’t be able to some if not all of the match Rod Laver Arena was full. For a women’s tennis match.  The official Twitter account of the Australian Open said total attendance for the Women’s Final was 25,482. The previous record was 20,036 set in 2013 when Victoria Azarenka defended her title against Li Na.

What happens next? We may not see the results of Naomi ascending to the top for another 10-15 years. Girls in Caribbean countries as well those in Asian ones may begin to ask themselves “why not me?” and begin to pick up racquets. Sponsors may be more willing to assist these young women. Where will the next Leonard François come from? François followed in the steps of Richard Williams and Oracene Price when planning for his daughter’s tennis future (Naomi’s older sister Mari went to Stanford and played tennis there).

There is still some resistance to Naomi from those who survived the wars that were fought on tennis message boards when Venus Williams and Serena Williams arrived on the scene and every match they played was a battle to prove not only that they could play but that they belonged. Mr. François couldn’t have done what he did without the Williams family daring to be different. Without his time spent as Serena Williams hitting partner Bajin wouldn’t know what it takes to be a champion and how to nurture that quality in a shy, quirky, barely out of her teens young woman.

So let’s not feel that by cheering for this young woman we’re disrespecting the woman who is finally being recognized as not only the greatest female player but as one of the all time greats of the sport male or female, something her father predicted so many years ago. She has only a few more steps to take in reaching her goal. Naomi is just starting on the road. We can celebrate both and wish them well as they stride forward.

dx2x7h6x0aece0t          Picture via @AustralianOpen

©2019 Savannahs World Tennis. All Rights Reserved except where indicated.

 

In Praise of Andy Murray

by Savannah

I’m sure Sir Andrew Barron Murray, OBE is somewhere laughing at all the praise heaped on his head by the very same people who heaped scorn on him for hiring a woman – a French woman at that – as his coach. The same people who sneered at the effect his mother has had and continues to have on both him and his brother-are now writing paeans to his greatness and crying about how sorely he’ll be missed. I’m sure he’s got a few good old Celtic words for them because if there’s one character trait I ascribe to Murray without knowing him personally it’s that he can spot a phony a mile away. People who have lived through trauma but especially childhood trauma learn to cut the needs of life down to what is needed and what is not needed to live their best life. I’m not saying a trauma survivor does this without outside help but that tends to be how they live their lives. Murray is one of the few who admitted that he has seen a sports psychologist.

Highly competitive people are not always the nicest of people. Some hide it better than others as we all know. Murray didn’t care if we saw the competitor inside of him. He yelled. He screamed. He cursed. He threw tantrums. And he did it all in full view of fans both in person and watching on television from around the world. Remember when his wife and his team moved away from their court side seats because the  words directed at him were so raw?

It was only as he aged that he began to let the other side of him show. He didn’t hide his sentiments when he spoke out for Scottish independence (another thing that had the British tennis establishment aghast). He also didn’t hide that he stanned for women’s tennis often tweeting during important matches and talking about players just like any fan would. This elicited snickers from some in men’s tennis, many of whom now praise him to the heavens.

Through all of this Murray continued to try and play tennis for England. He did what no Englishman had done for decades in winning Wimbledon. And it appears that he did it all playing through excruciating pain. His public retirement, saying in effect that he couldn’t do it anymore took courage. He cried. Retiring from tennis for him was not some casual thing. He’d given it his all and now there was nothing more he could give.

I haven’t always been a fan of Andy Murray, especially in his early years when he did everything but literally show his ass on court with no consequences. In the last few years though I have come to respect the man, warts and all. I’m sure he’ll be in the broadcast booth. I’m not sure if he’s got the personality to be a coach right now. That may come with time. For now I wish him the best and hope he doesn’t silence his voice when it comes to tennis.

Andy Murray was British tennis for a very long time. He is going to be difficult to replace.

© 2019 Savannah’s World Tennis. All RightsReserved

 

 

What’s That on the Windshield?!

by Savannah

It’s almost mid January. There’s a cold snap in the area of the north east United States where I live and it’s summer in Melbourne, Australia. I haven’t written about tennis since the 2018 US Open. It’s not that I haven’t been following tennis it’s just that when your day to day life is lived in existential dread why pile more angst onto the pile of stuff on the bed? The official end of the tennis calendar year has come and gone and the new calendar has started. The people who run tennis want all of us who love the sport to focus on the Australian Open and I will but right now I’m going to start sorting through the pile of stuff and get to what “they” don’t want you to focus on.

Let’s start with the newly unveiled ATP Cup that  will be taking the place of Hopman Cup. I admit I never used to pay attention to the Hopman Cup because in my mind it was an exhibition and all exhibitions are hit and giggle events no? If what I saw this year was what usually goes on at Hopman Cup I’ve been mistaken about what it was and missed out on some great tennis. The powers that be have decided that the ATP Cup is a much more exciting venture and will bring more fans to the sport. I read the announcement by TD Craig Tiley – there will be more on him later – and read it again. I mean it’s called the ATP Cup. What will the WTA players be doing while this fabulous new event is taking place? Tiley said in passing that they would figure something out with the WTA. Figure something out.

Steve Simon has proven himself worse than the person who preceded him Stacey Allaster. She played her favorites – Genie’s Army anyone? – but nothing much got past her on the business side. Yeah I know the whole Asian thing is looking like a bust but I don’t think the ATP Cup would’ve gone right by her. Lindsay Davenport on Tennis Channel the other day went on a mini rant about how reactive and not proactive the WTA has become. I know that there is a WTA Player’s Council but have they spoken up? Then again why should the players have to carry their own water when there are men and women making pretty decent salaries swanning around the world (I love British expressions. They somehow get right to the heart of things) taking pictures and giving each other awards while the women’s tour sinks into oblivion. The WTA has two marketable stars, neither of whom is a doper, and they treat them like stepchildren with red hair. When they retire who is going to bring the fans to the yard so to speak? (Sorry Kelis). Are people lining up to see the current top ten with one or two exceptions? Is there any player people will line up for the way fans line up for someone like Stefanos Tsitsipas or Denis Shapovalov?

One of the reasons I haven’t written about tennis is because I feel like I’ve been saying the same thing for over ten years. The WTA does not know how to market women’s tennis. I could spend an hour or more talking about why there are no Shapovalov’s or Tsitsipas’ in the WTA but when it all comes down to it it’s poor marketing and homogenization of the sport and the lack of coherent plans to market players people may want to see like Aryna Sabalenka or Maria Sakkari. Who outside of tennis fanatics even knows who they are? Who outside of tennis fanatics knows who Simona Halep is? Someone called Halep a media darling the other day. Really? Not in my neck of the woods. The latest issue of Tennis magazine doesn’t have her as part of its photo montage cover. Instead of promoting these young women they’re spending all their time promoting a doper who should’ve had her Slam wins taken away from her as some advocated for. It’s painfully obvious that without her special medicine she wouldn’t have been able to win them.

When professional basketball became a majority African American sport there were whispers that it’s days were numbered. Instead it became a world wide phenomenon that has players from all over the world clamoring to play. The people behind the marketing of the NBA showed how to turn a potentially bad situation into one that is making money hand over fist. It did not become a league of Harlem Globetrotters, sports entertainment. It became a one of the pre eminent sports leagues in the world right up there with pro soccer and the NFL. Right now it seems that once the older generation of women tennis players retires the WTA will turn into a sports entertainment outfit, an afterthought. I don’t think that’s what the pioneers had in mind when the WTA was created.

A Malign Influence

Justin Gimelstob has been a malignancy on tennis for many years now. From the time he suggested that his brother should sexually assault -rape – Anna Kournikova to now when he faces serious assault charges and will be in court on January 31 after the Australian Open professional tennis has looked the other way. It’s only now coming to light that he’s been a one man crime spree for many of the years he’s spent climbing the ranks from a mediocre, forgettable player to a power behind the scenes. If it weren’t for Simon Briggs of the British newspaper the Telegraph tennis fans would have no way of knowing the role Gimelstob is about to play in controlling who runs the ATP. Briggs article lays out exactly why this dangerous individual should’ve been expunged from professional tennis years ago. Here is a LINK to Briggs update. If you live in the States the so called tennis journalists have been almost completely silent. If they have spoken out they’ve said “let’s wait and see”. These same people have no qualms about trying to destroy the career of the most dominant player in tennis, male or female, though.

While Lindsay Davenport deserves praise for calling out her own Association fans should not forget she defended Gimelstob when he made the comments about Ms Kournikova.

This And That

What does it mean when a man who runs his nation’s tennis association, is tournament director of it’s Slam, is so closely tied to a player and his agent that it’s hard to separate his actions from the wants and needs of said player and that player’s agent? Once again tennis “journalists” are standing on the sidelines while fans are exposing the situation and asking the questions that need to be asked. Yes I’m talking about Craig Tiley. I don’t think he’s the only one but he’s the one who hasn’t bothered to try and cover his tracks. It doesn’t matter that the fans exposing this situation represent a particular fandom. It matters that nothing they have said has been denied or proven wrong. If we had better journalists working the tennis beat fans wouldn’t have to do their own digging.

Remember quality points?  Several years ago now it mattered not that you won but who you defeated. Beating someone ranked #150 in the world didn’t count as much as beating someone ranked #5. I know people will dispute this but the rules changed when Venus Williams and Serena Williams began beating everyone regardless of rank and rocketed up the rankings. The then powers that be decided that a point system based on number of tournaments played and how many matches you won minus quality points would benefit players. The dropping of quality points resulted in the slew of slamless number one players on the women’s tour. I have advocated in this space for some time that quality points need to be reinstated and was pleasantly surprised to see a fan make the same observation a few days ago. Then again if women’s tennis is practically invisible I guess reinstating quality points isn’t the top priority now.

The Australian Open – 2019 Edition

The draws have been released. Warm up events have been played and Sunday night here in the US tennis fans will be glued to televisions, PC’s, and mobile devices watching the sport we love.

The draws are pretty much as expected. Yes Venus and Serena are in the same part of the draw. Yes there are joke sections of the draw. It’s crazy that the bottom of the top half and the top of the bottom half are where the knife fights will take place for the men and that the bottom half of the women’s draw is pretty soft but hey, it’s Grand Slam tennis and given the circumstances none of the above should surprise anyone.

I for one will be paying close attention to the daily schedules and see if any sense of fairness exists after all that’s been said about scheduling here. I doubt it but it’s nice to dream.

My windshield is pretty messed up at the moment though and the windshield wipers aren’t getting all the crap off.

© 2019 Savannahs World Tennis unless otherwise indicated

 

 

 

 

The Rear View Mirror: US Open 2018

By Savannah

There’s a hell of a lot to unpack from the 2018 version of the US Open that completed a week ago today so this might be a pretty long post.

The Shot Clock

The USTA has been pushing hard for a shot clock and it was unveiled during the US Open series this year.

Long story short it was a bust. The matches did not become shorter; instead they lasted about the same time as they do elsewhere. So, what was/is the point? It really looks more and more as if the shot clock is aimed at players who take time to think about their next shot instead of gripping and ripping, a style favored by US players. Tennis is much more exciting when you know a player has a strategy and that if it’s not working he/she takes time to work out a different one and try it out. They’ll never admit that their big idea is a waste of time (no pun intended).

Three vs Five Set Slams

This idea, like the shot clock, should be quietly put to bed. This seems to be an idea pushed by those who believe the upcoming generation is not able to focus long enough to make a best of five set match interesting. That sounds like a problem that needs to be faced by Federations, training facilities and coaches not Slams. Again, this is a solution looking for a problem.

The New Stadiums

They finally got it right. The new Louis Armstrong Stadium is a work of art. It’s fan friendly – there are vents built into the structure to allow as much heat as possible to escape during a match. I read that some players complained about the acoustics on court but that was not a complaint I heard a lot. Yes, there are more paid seats in this larger stadium but the “cheap seats” are really one of the best bargains at the Open. AND if you go in via the right gate you will be in shade for your entire stay. Compared to the other new stadiums and courts that is a blessing. Also you can see the tennis quite well which of course is the reason you’re there in the first place.

Take, for example, Court 17. If any court was designed to maximize the torture both fans and players this is the court. There is literally, no shade for any living thing until late afternoon when the sun starts to go down. If being roasted to death is your thing this is the court for you.

Then there’s the new Grandstand.. It’s not as bad sun wise as Court 17 but it’s better to visit that court in the late afternoon.

As most of you know the outer courts, smaller courts nestled into a leafy environment have been replaced with modern concrete ones fully exposed to the sun. There really isn’t a bad seat in them but again, bring plenty of sunblock and a big hat or an umbrella.

Cooling Centers

Last year Chase Bank set up a cooling center where preregistered fans could escape the heat and grab a free bite to eat. This year the free bite to eat was gone and replaced by offerings of fruit and soft drinks. There are also big screen tv’s in the lounge area as well as rest room facilities. The only grumble I had was that there was nothing good for this diabetic to eat. So after cooling off it was off to the AmEx pavilion to get my bracelet and to Armstrong.

The Nike Pavilion

This is sorely missed. Part of the fun of going to the Open was buying the latest shirts, hats or other gear trademarked with the logo of your favorite player. Yes it was expensive but when you consider the Open is already an expensive vacation for many people dropping a lot of money on casual wear you will have for a long time was worth it.

I don’t know why Nike is gone. Its space has now been taken over by Mercedes Benz. They have some fan centered things set up inside that pavilion but if you want a souvenir you can wear all you can buy is USTA stuff. Generic, boring USTA stuff. The same stuff they’ve been selling for years. I hope the situation can be worked out so that no matter who your fave is you can buy replicas of their gear without paying shipping charges.

The Tournament

As usual the USTA made money. The crowds were bigger than ever. As usual there was drama. I’m going to try to go step by step in somewhat chronological order, starting with the heat.

The best innovation of this tournament was the heat rule being instituted for ATP players, something I’m sure will be replicated for the Australian Open. Anyone who has attended the US Open can tell you war stories about their battles with the heat and humidity of New York City in the summer. There was one year where no matter how much water you drank you didn’t have to go to the bathroom. But I digress.

It was no secret that the weather that prevailed during Fan Week was not going to last. To go a bit off topic a big shout out goes to Katrina Adams  for giving this week a name and scheduling events for the many fans who come to watch not only the Qualifying Tournament but see the top players walking around and drop in on practice sessions to see what players and their coaches are working on and how that work translates to their match play.

Back to the weather. New York City government had been issuing heat advisories since the weekend. Still it took the spectacle of those “manly men” dropping like flies to make officials jury rig a heat protocol for the men. It doesn’t matter why they did it. It matters that they did. We went on Wednesday of week one, the “cooler” of the first few days and it was miserable. Armstrong’s vents work fine if there’s a breeze. If there isn’t one you bake in there too. Not like you would in Ashe but it gets quite warm. We made it through one match and decided to try and find some shade in the food court and eat before leaving.

The officials also took the health of junior players into account and began to start their matches in late afternoon instead of late morning when there is no escaping the brutal sun and heat.

The Draws

There isn’t much to say about the draws, especially since the tournament is long over. I thought that they were par for the course these days where one part of the draw is murderer’s row and the other is a cake walk.  I’ve seen worse. The good news is that the ITF has decided dropping the number of seeds from 32 to 16 is a really bad idea.

When the Umpire Becomes the Story

One fan site I like has a thread that documents the “best” racquet destructions for the calendar year. The winners of this little “contest” are mostly men. And yet despite their antics the men rarely face any consequences.

Then we had the unbelievable display by Karolina Pliskova. She didn’t like calls made by the chair umpire during her match vs Maria Sakkari. As she walked ahead of her opponent according to tennis protocol she began to hack away at the supports of the chair the umpire was seated in. Yes, the umpire was sitting in her chair while an enraged player hacked away at its foundations. Pliskova’s opponent needed to execute some fancy footwork to get out of the way of the flailing racquet and avoid injury herself. Was there outrage? Threats of a boycott? A heavy fine? None of that happened. Her rampage was not condemned and there were no demeaning cartoons published in the wake of her attack on the chair umpire. If the umpire had not been in her seat this would’ve been a different situation but the umpire was in her seat and faced potentially serious injury from either the player herself or as the result of her damaged perch collapsing. But tennis officials felt it was a justified reaction I guess and Ms Pliskova the elder was fined $4,000 and her reputation remains intact among tennis officials and journalists, at least publicly.

Fast forward to the Women’s Final at the US Open. A player, frustrated with herself, broke her racquet. That is a common occurrence in tennis, especially by ATP players as has been mentioned. She was given a warning. While she was putting herself back in position to play her coach made a gesture that she couldn’t see and the player was given a coaching violation.

Let’s stop here a minute. I watch a lot of tennis and have for a very long time. Back in the day Justine Henin looked to her coach for guidance no matter if she was serving or receiving serve. If she was on court her coach was visibly coaching her. She was never ever given a coaching violation.

Actually you don’t have to go to the past. Sloane Stephens coach does the same thing Henin’s did. He even talks to her throughout the entire match. He’s been shown doing this whenever she plays. Never has Stephens been hit with a coaching violation. But one gesture from Serena Williams coach, one she didn’t even see, caused her to be assessed a coaching violation.

If you’re new to tennis and don’t know the history of the Williams family and the sport that they play better than almost anyone in two tennis generations I’ll give a Cliff Notes version of what they’ve been subjected to.

From the time they began to dominate the sport both Serena and Venus Williams were accused of cheating in some shape form or fashion. Either their father was dictating who would win or lose if they were playing each other, or that something else was irregular about their ascent. There were whispers of doping yet neither has ever failed a drug test. There is excessive drug testing while other top players are rarely tested. And the tests have found nothing. Their medical records were hacked and it was shown that after serious injury medically approved drugs were part of the treatment of said injuries and approved under the TUE process. But some have sought to characterize this as cheating.

Knowing this background it makes perfect sense that Serena would bristle at being labeled a cheater when illegal coaching seems to be all right for some players. The family has worked very hard to maintain public cool in face of the false accusations hurled at them over the years but sometimes enough is enough. Pointing a finger at someone and defending your honor are categorized as “aggression” towards the chair umpire while an actual physical attack that could’ve resulted in physical harm to an umpire was excused as a fit of pique.

For some reason the anger of African American people is seen as more threatening than a physical attack by a European player. This blog is not the place to get into the whys of that but it has to be mentioned as a possible explanation for the reaction of the chair umpire who has been cursed at by male players from top to bottom and has never given a game penalty against any of them. If a man had done what Serena did there would’ve been some head shaking and nothing more.

Where do we go from here? Thanks to Carlos Ramos who hasn’t done a major men’s match in ages, all chair umpires are going to have to become “sticklers” for the rules and apply them equally whether the player is male or female, number one in the world or number one hundred in the world. The rules will have to be applied whether the player is a main tour staple or a junior just beginning a professional career. The rules must be applied whether the player is a favorite of tournament officials (yes that happens kiddies) or not.

During Davis Cup play on Sunday September 16 Marin Cilic broke his racquet to pieces on a red clay court. I asked if he got a warning, a point penalty or a game penalty. I haven’t gotten an answer.

Naomi Osaka

A few years ago I was half asleep watching a stream of the junior tournament held before the YEC in Singapore. I had heard about a player named Naomi Osaka and figured I could get a glimpse of her before falling asleep. Imagine my surprise when I saw her. I stayed awake for that match and her winning match in that tournament. As best I could I followed her progress after that.

When she came to New York to play the US Open in the Main Draw we saw her on the old Grandstand court. We were impressed and became bigger fans.

Last Saturday she was the better player but I was afraid that her confidence would waver, something I’ve seen happen to her before, and that the match would go three sets. Instead she held her nerve and at the age of 20 won the 2018 US Open. I can’t tell you how happy I am for her and her family. I thought she’d accomplish a Slam win in another couple of years but I’ll take it.

Congratulations to her, her father and mother, her coach Sascha Bajin, and her team from Japan. Knowing tennis the Japanese members of the team will become household names.

End Notes

More than a million more people watched the US Open Women’s Final than watched the men’s final. As much as tennis seems to hold a grudge against the Williams family the casual fan they claim to be trying to attract tunes in to watch either sister play. I know in my family my younger sister who never watches tennis always watches when a Williams sister is playing. This year she’s decided she likes Naomi too.

It’s too bad that outside of the Slams finding women’s tennis is practically a full-time job. I broke and subscribed to WTA TV because despite its lousy platform it’s the only way to be assured of seeing women play tennis. The streaming platform for men’s tennis, TennisTV is superior in every way. It was foolish for the WTA to leave that platform and have nothing decent to replace it with.

Future Stars

It’s going to be interesting to see how Aryna Sabalenka does in Asia. Those are hard court tournaments and with proper pacing and rest between events she can continue to impress with her play. The same can be said for Maria Sakkari. Neither woman fits into the mold the WTA prefers it’s players to fit into but both had excellent summers and can do major damage as tired players move on to play in Asia.

I’m starting to be concerned about the career path of young Cori Gauff. Believe me I understand the financial pressures of tennis on a “regular” family and that it would be nice to recoup some of the money that has been invested in a child’s career. Gauff has great potential. At 14 she is still growing and promises to be taller than Venus. Parents see the success of Venus and Serena and want it without realizing that Richard Williams and Oracene Price stuck to a plan about their daughters. Neither one of the sisters played a lot of junior tennis and so they were in their late teens when the began to play on the main tour. I for one am glad Cori’s success has been limited. It means that she will have to continue to grow and play more mature tennis as she does so. The fact that so much talk centers on Cori and not Whitney Osuigwe is telling.

Another potential US star is Amanda Anisimova. At 17 she is being given the star treatment by both the USTA and the WTA. I see that she can hit the ball hard and has a highly developed forehand like most US players but when faced with someone who is not going to let her dictate play, who is going to ask her the difficult questions during a match she falls apart.

The big star on the men’s side during the Open was Stefanos Tsitsipas. At 20 he is already ranked in the top 20 after a great summer and should be looking ahead to the European indoor and Asian outdoor events to try and move up the ranks leading up to the Australian Open in January. He has an interesting game and if he is managed correctly on and off court has the potential to become a star of the men’s tour.

There was one other youngster who impressed me. His name is Thiago Seyboth Wild. He’s 18 and was born in Brazil. He convincingly beat the boy who won both the French Open and Wimbledon boys crowns,  Tseng Chun Hsin. He’s got a big game but he’s not a ball basher or serve bot. Remember you first heard about him here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Idle Chit Chat

By Savannah

I’ve been writing this blog for quite some time. I was encouraged to do so by Craig Hickman who thought I had a unique perspective on the sport.

The blog started out as a sarcastic (snarky) view of the world of tennis but has evolved into something else. I like to think that a critical when necessary, and a celebration when deserved is what a reader will find here. I used to post weekly, but I don’t anymore mainly because the things I brought up when I posted on “BlogSpot” are still going on and while what I say here may be new to some the topics are not new for me. I’m not the best writer on the planet, far from it, but it’s no fun going over topics you’ve been writing about for years.

I’ve been doing this long enough to remember how opposed many “journalists” were to the rise of bloggers covering the sport. They felt that we bloggers were an uncouth lot who showed no respect to players and would drag the level of tennis journalism down. Attitudes like this, influenced Roland Garros’s decision to stop posting post-match interviews on its site.

And yet here we are. Unlike every other major sport tennis, the WTA and the ATP, have not only restricted access to information they’ve stopped posting vital information on their respective websites. Try finding any current information about players on the WTA site. The ATP site, which at one point was vastly superior, has now become almost as bad as the WTA site. It is possible to find the stats of ATP, but good luck. Sadly, if you want WTA stats you have to visit fan sites. Basic info like head to heads or recaps of matches send the average fan to a search engine where more than likely he or she will end up on a fan site.

For example, I was looking for draw information on the Los Cabos tournament. Checking the ATP web site, I got the impression nothing had been released by the tournament. On a hunch I did a search. Of course, there was information out. Where did I find it? On a site that is run by a fan. It’s the same thing if you want to know who will be playing a tournament. For some reason tennis thinks its entry lists and draws are state secrets. The Slams do a better job? Did you try and get any information on the Australian Open and Roland Garros sites this year? Both websites were works in progress with updates being made while the tournaments were taking place. So far only Wimbledon, in many ways the stodgiest of the Slams presented itself on its website as a tournament. There were entry lists. There were draws. There was tournament information that went beyond where and how to buy tickets. They did have to adjust, but the corrections were done quickly as soon as fans began to vent about the problems.

To make a comparison that almost every sports fan will get: the World Cup of Football (soccer in the US) was taking place at the same time Wimbledon was. I usually compare tennis web sites to the websites of sports I’m familiar with like basketball, football, and baseball. It doesn’t matter. The thing is whatever you wanted to know about not only the team from a particular country but the players from those countries was there for the fan who follows everything to every four year fans like me. The NBA, NFL and MLB would be embarrassed to put their names on websites as inferior as the tennis tour web sites. The fans of those sports wouldn’t have it.

Tennis is a great sport with players and fans who want to spread the word about it and get away from the perception of it as a bastion of elitism. It seems that the people who run tennis don’t have the same opinion.

Thank goodness tennis fans have stepped up to the plate (a baseball analogy) and are filling in the gaps left by those whose business it should be to make the sport accessible to all. It shouldn’t be so hard to be a tennis fan.

Conspiracy Theories

Yes, they exist in tennis. It seems that TUE’s (Therapeutic Use Exemptions) are the latest things to be considered controversial. Why? Who knows? Who knows why a player would allow pictures of herself to be published showing a male friend (allegedly) tossing her salad? If you don’t know what that is Google is your friend.

I mean don’t we all wake up in the morning and decide we’re going to be plagued by blood clots and the health issues they cause? And of course, we all plan to go out and step on a piece of glass that goes clear through your foot. Doesn’t everyone? The issue seems to be that the TUE’s were retroactive. I mean if you knew you were going to suffer life threatening medical issues wouldn’t you apply for a course of treatment for something that hasn’t happened to you yet?

Idiots. A TUE has to be granted to an athlete retroactively. The athlete has to be injured or suffer a medical emergency before a treatment plan is decided on, a plan that may include painkillers or other drugs that make the healing process easier.

It’s no secret, and it’s very obvious who is behind this nonsense. It’s not a stretch to compare what’s going on to the “scandal” of those emails. No doctor will prescribe a heavy-duty drug for a disease, or medical condition you don’t have. The people who run WADA were not born last night. It’s not doping if a real accredited doctor prescribes a course of treatment to address proven medical issues. It is doping when you claim that your third cousin twice removed suffers from diabetes, so you should take a heart drug because hey, you never know. Any so-called journalist who promotes this nonsense deserves to be ignored by fans.

This and That

The US Open series is officially under way. Monday July 30 will feature play from San Jose, California. I’ve always liked the US Open Series even though it means having to listen to the nonsense spouted by US tennis commentators, many of whom do not watch any tennis until they step into the broadcast booth or watch a match from a broadcast studio near their homes.

There are strong fields in Washington DC (which is not part of the US Open Series) and in San Jose. With the Roger’s Cup taking place next week expect inexplicable losses.

By the way if you want to see any of San Jose you have to subscribe to WTA TV or check to see if you can watch ESPN3.

I took my own advice and have been watching the tournaments that are being contested this week. There are a lot of complaints about lower ranked players turning up in Finals just before the tour moves to the US. and Canada. Everyone has to start somewhere, and I’ve been seeing some interesting prospects. It’s really not fair to put these men and women down. Five years from now some US comm will be asking who Player X or Player Y is and ask about their road to the top twenty. Or the top ten. Or the top five. And no, I’m not going to talk about the level of tennis we’ll be seeing in another five years. I talked about that five years ago.

©2018 Savannah’s World Tennis. All Rights Reserved Unless Otherwise Indicated

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rear View Mirror: Wimbledon 2018

by Savannah

The Gentlemen’s Final

It’s almost a week now.

I thought that the bitterness would be gone by now and that I’d be able to feel less conflicted about the Lawn Tennis Association but here I am on July 20, 2018 and I don’t see how I can avoid talking about why the annoyance continues and the fact that it will continue to be a bitter pill to swallow.

I’m not one of those people who thinks that the Wimbledon Championships are the be all and end all of tennis. I’m not really a fan of grass court tennis. I do appreciate the skill set required to win it. I do like that the mental transition from European red clay to “lawn tennis” requires. The physical demands are different as well. Still it is what it is, and pursuit of the Wimbledon title is the stated goal of every tennis player male or female.

It’s always assumed that the process for winning that title is conducted in a fair manner and that despite some of the manipulations done by the LTA to take a player’s prior grass court play at the tournament in its seeding process that has seemed to always be the case. Fandoms will bitch and moan about how their fave is seeded and why but once the draw is out and play begins there is very little interference by officials in the tournament.

But something happened during the 2018 event.
First there was the spectacle of the top half of the men’s draw. To say one player was given a proverbial cake-walk to the Final is not really disputed by anyone. The bottom half of the draw was set up to be a tooth and nail war of attrition. Whoever survived to the semi’s will have had to fight his way there.

It should be noted in passing that there was a lot of hype surrounding what is and will remain for a long time the best Final in modern tennis history. It ended in near darkness. Looking back, I wonder if that match would’ve been allowed to play out the same way today. There was no roof ten years ago and rules were rules. The decision was made to let play continue because it was clear that to stop play would’ve meant the dynamic of the match would change, and that an overnight rest could possibly favor one player and not the other. It was a fight to the finish and the best man on that day got to lift the trophy.

There will always be a question about the 2018 Men’s Final.

The problems started with the scheduling of the matches. Anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention to tennis the last five years knows that when two big servers face each other you’re going to have a long match. The marquee match so to speak should’ve been first up. As is usual with tennis nothing is ever straightforward.

There had been a match between two big servers in the Quarterfinals. Pictures were posted on Twitter that showed the stands were mostly empty. Someone decided that was not a look they wanted duplicated on Centre Court.

It should be noted here that the USTA and the LTA have a very close working relationship. It can be said that the USTA had two of its players in that semifinal and did not want it to look as if no one cared about that match, fearing that if the semifinal between the non-Americans went first there would be an exodus of fans that would result in US viewers seeing those empty seats.

An argument can be made that they were doing one of the players a favor since he had played a long match in the previous round. I would counter with the following: “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Optics won. And the result was predictable.

The “American” match went first. Predictably it went several hours. Tennis Twitter was raging, and many felt that as soon as the fifth set started the second match should be moved to Court 1. One player had played there during the tournament. The other hadn’t.

The bigger problem was that that stadium was packed to the rafters because there were three Brits playing doubles and there was no way to move those matches that had already begun. The only other option was to start the second match the next day. Yes, there would be issues around scheduling again since the Women’s Final was to be played the next day, but it would’ve been fair to both men. I think that there would’ve been a riot if the Women’s Final was moved to Court 1: there had already been a lot of grousing about the scheduling of the women’s matches. Logically there was no way both the Women’s Final and Men’s Semifinal would not be played on Centre Court. And once again there would be the issue of optics: would fans bolt after the men’s match leaving the women to play before empty stands or would they, knowing they’d hit the jackpot getting two top tier matches for the price of one and remain? My guess would’ve been the later but hey, I’m was sitting at home and no agents and coaches were yelling in my ears.

Both men admit that they were asked what their preference was. For obvious reasons (to me anyway) they disagreed. The second men’s semi began under the roof on Centre Court because it would be dark soon.

It’s been revealed since then that there was no guidance from the rule book regarding the situation. The only guidance that existed stated that if a match begins under the roof and has to conclude the next day it has to be completed under the conditions under which the match began.

It always amazes me when people who are in control of the Crown Jewel of tennis never think to cover all bases. The 2008 Final happened ten years ago. Darkness was a factor. It’s easy to say, “well we put up a roof and that provides lights so that issue is solved.” Except it wasn’t.

The discussion now centers around whether there should be a rule stating that if a fifth set gets to a tie at 9 all or 12 all the US Open rules kick in and a tiebreaker is played. The problem with that is that this situation is usually caused by one player. Should there be a rule named after him that could be invoked not only when he, but other players are in the same situation? Will there be any other player who causes this much mayhem with schedules?

There are no easy answers. Still, I keep coming back to the fact that EVERYONE KNEW this was going to happen and that no one thought about keeping Court 1 open “just in case”. Yes, the optics would’ve been bad if everyone ran to Court 1 but it is what it is. There had to be a better way.

The Ladies Final

Serena Williams had no business being in that Final. I can’t say it enough. If you haven’t watched “Being Serena” you must find time to do so between now and the US Open. That way all of the idiots talking about other players who have come back after giving birth can be ignored. Anyone who has seen “Being Serena” knows what I’m talking about. Any woman who has had a C-section knows what I’m talking about. Any person who has had abdominal surgery knows what I’m talking about. It takes months to feel like yourself again. It takes months for your “core” to firm up. Why? You don’t have to be a doctor to understand slicing through muscles means that they have to heal – that they have to put themselves back together again. For a person leading a regular life this is difficult. For a world class athlete, the healing process moves to another level. Sleeping without discomfort. Lifting a bag of groceries. Lifting and holding a child. These are how most of us would measure success after abdominal surgery. Playing professional tennis doesn’t factor into our return to normal life.

Playing professional, top level tennis is normal life for Serena Williams Ohanian and she wanted to return to that life as quickly as possible. As soon as she was given the okay she was back on the court practicing. She’s come a very long way from that first horrible outing to where she was last Saturday. No one who saw her initial return would’ve been able to predict she’d make the Final.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Serena and her coach are a team. He knows the strength of her will, her need to win. He understood the choice he gave her. If she wanted to return to the top of her sport, there would be sacrifices. When Serena took the court for the Ladies Final the sports world witnessed the personification of will. There was no way she should be there.

I’m not forgetting the other woman in this equation. Angelique Kerber deserved to be there. She played her “human backboard” style of tennis rolling over her opponents. It’s odd how Kerber plays that style and is never criticized for it while Caroline Wozniacki, who plays a similar style, is always described as a “pusher”. Be that as it may I’ve never been able to warm up to Kerber. She’s done nothing wrong publicly or as far as I know behind the scenes. She is personable and professional whenever I’ve had to chance to see her.

The one thing you can’t do when playing Kerber is give her pace. She wants you to do that. If you do she’ll win the match or tournament. If anything showed that Serena had been away for a while it was how she played the Final. It was as if she couldn’t help herself. Boom. Boom. Boom. When she should’ve been slicing and trying to get little drop shots working for her. Make Kerber have to provide her own pace and she crumbles. Mercifully there was no clock and Serena could’ve taken her time to collect herself. That didn’t happen.

The only drama around the Ladies’ Final was when it was scheduled. In tennis a continued match would start after the match that was scheduled to be played first on the same court. Normal had already been upended though and the Ladies Final was up second. Again, that is on the LTA.

End Notes

Fourteen-year-old Cori Gauff of Florida and Mouratoglou Academy is now the top ranked Junior Girl in the world She’s the youngest to achieve that ranking in a few years. She’s almost as tall as Venus Williams already and she’s still growing. She’s a good mover. My fear is that they will push her too hard too fast. I think that with Mouratoglou in the picture there’s less chance of that happening.

Lost in all the other drama was the Roland Garros/Wimbledon double win achieved by Tseng Chun-hsin of Chinese Taipei. He was also the runner up in the Australian Open. There are men who have been on the tour for years who haven’t come close to that record. As with Gauff the worry is that he’ll be pushed onto the main tour before he is ready mentally and physically. His mental process will be very different in five years. The same for Cori. There are many very good Juniors who have had trouble making the transition to the main tour. Many of them succumb to injury and loss of confidence by playing against older, mature player before they’re ready.. For juniors of this caliber, especially now that careers don’t end at the age of thirty, there is no real rush. There is the lure of money and financially strapped parents may want to start seeing a return on their investment sooner rather than later and I understand that. I’d just hate for these two talented young people to fall by the wayside.

As usual the commentary provided by ESPN was abominable. At one point Chris Evert declared Mallorca independent from Spain. To her credit Ms Evert recovered and made the following comments:

In response to an idiot comparing his fave having elbow surgery to what Serena survived she posted “Yes, it is the same as giving birth, then having multiple life saving surgeries and being bedridden, breastfeeding and coming back in 8 months… yes…you’re right…”

She also spoke up about Margaret Court’s “record” number of Slams saying that no one used to go to the Australian Open because it was held during Christmas back when Court played. She was not the only player to speak up about that “record”, with a former ATP player saying that the real record was set by Stefanie Graf at 22 Slams, a record Serena has already broken. And even that can be argued since Monica Seles was unable to play after being stabbed for quite some time. There are always exceptions in tennis. That’s why “records” that appear out of the blue referencing a back in the day player should always be taken with a grain of salt.

Final Thoughts

The US Open Series will officially start next week and while play on a natural surface will continue in Europe another week the players have to start preparations for the US summer hard court season. We won’t see most of the top players until the Rogers Cup tournaments in Montréal and Toronto. It’s a good time to see some of the men and women who are usually relegated to outer courts at big tournaments and the Slams. Don’t forget that they’re playing against people who have about the same skill level as they do and won’t be “punching up” so much. I’ve always liked the time between Slams for just that reason.

There is one more thing that should be noted as Wimbledon fades from view.

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posted by  Jul 17

There was that other sporting event that was held on the day of the Gentlemen’s Final, something Called the World Cup but still.

And yes it’s time to move on.

©2018 Savannah’s World Tennis. All Rights Reserved except where indicated

This & That: Wimbledon Days 1&2

by Savannah

It’s kind of appropriate that Day 2 ended with a double fault by the woman who has perhaps benefitted the most from what passes for the WTA hype machine. Even after she admitted – she had no choice- that she’d been doping for ten years and that while every single athlete on the planet got the email and stopped taking that PED she alone missed it and according to some of her stans, was being persecuted by people out to get her for various and sundry reasons. The WTA broke its own rules to shoe horn her into a tournament a week before she should’ve been eligible and then proceeded to vilify events that wouldn’t give her a WC into the Main Draw. The subtext of all the hype was that she didn’t need meldonium, and that she was going to rise quickly through the ranks of a weak tour taking her “rightful” position in the top five. Things have not gone quite as planned though. Her days of bullying and screaming at people while not gone are not having the effect they once did. No one cares anymore.

Except they should. The women’s tour has long been seen as the poor cousin of the men’s tour. Many male players openly mock the women who sacrifice just as much as they do to play a sport many see as “effete” and “niche”. For the WTA to sacrifice it’s reputation for one player is pathetic. In any other sport – ANY OTHER SPORT – titles won while doping would’ve been stripped. Instead she was allowed to return as if she had been out for an injury. The hypocrisy surrounding her return and the return of a player who has won 23 Grand Slams after suffering major postpartum medical complications is there for all to see. All of the people “outraged” that Serena Williams was seeded sat on their hands while the women’s tour made itself into a laughing stock. When so called journalists can’t see the difference between the return of a doper and the return of a true champion the word “journalist” shouldn’t be applied to them.

From a US perspective the other big news on the women’s side was Sloane Stephens going down to defeat in Round 1 after making the Final at Roland Garros. It was only news to those who willfully ignore Stephens history and want to make her into someone she’s not.

Stephens showed up in London on the Friday before play began. Keep in mind most players had already been in town for at least a week: some had been there longer.I have no idea why Stephens showed up late, didn’t play a warm up event, and thought she was going to breeze into the second week of Wimbledon. She was woefully unprepared both mentally and physically and it showed.

Sloane is lazy (as attested to by former coaches) and arrogant. I guess it’s a good thing that she slinked out of London without going the route of fellow US player Jack Sock who is lazy, arrogant, crude and rude. Then again that seems to be a requirement for US men so maybe singling out his behavior isn’t warranted.

But back to Stephens. She will continue to get a free ride from the US media because her surname isn’t Williams. They want to show her off as that woman of color who didn’t have to come from outside of the US tennis system. Good luck with that. I wonder how long Kamau Murray is going to stick around?

There are two Petra Kvitova’s. One is a big, clean hitter of the ball, who can be a bit of a serve bot due to her lack of good movement and yet can come to the net if it’s on her own terms. Then there is the woman her fans call “P3tra”. You can always tell when P3tra is on court because she’s incapable of hitting winners or taking control of the court. Petra came to Wimbledon as fit as I’ve ever seen her and even I thought that she’d make a deep run and possibly win it all, especially since she’s won five tournaments this year on multiple surfaces. The evil twin made her appearance though and Petra will be able to rest and prepare for her next event.

In all fairness I did see about three minutes of the match and Petra seemed to be grabbing at her right hip.

It’s also a thing that being as fit (thin) as she is she just might not be used to playing at that weight. The paunch is gone, she’s mostly muscle now, and should’ve been able to wage war on her opponents. Instead she’s gone. Somewhere P3tra is laughing.

Then there is the weird case of Caroline Garcia. I know she’s the top ranked woman in France but every time I sit down to try and watch her my mind wanders. I wish I could say she works my nerves or has irritating on court habits but as far as I can see she doesn’t. She seems to be a very nice young woman. You don’t play professional tennis if you’re not hyper competitive but when she takes the court I wake up when her match is over. My feeling is that she doesn’t do anything “special” and yet I can’t say that with authority because, well, she bores me. At least Johanna Konta repels me. I don’t watch her matches but that’s because she just makes me want to scream. Or throw things. Or something.

I watched some of Vera Zvonareva vs Angelique Kerber earlier today. Vera showed flashes of the player she used to be but it was pretty obvious that Kerber would win. If Vera is playing this time next year her results could be better.

I expect that there will be a renewal of the Eugenie Bouchard hype. She made it through Qualies and won her first round match. Look out world!

I’ve been watching mostly women’s tennis so far. I plan to do so for the rest of the week.  This way when I talk about all of the women playing the same and looking alike I’ll have a frame of reference.

End Notes

I absolutely love the Adidas shorts kit. it looks cool without the player being half naked and allows freedom of movement.

Serena isn’t in a full body compression suit but she is wearing compression hose. Once again the same people who criticized the cat suit are hot and bothered by compression hose. They need to focus on her tennis and the fact that after going through what she did she’s back on court and playing competitively.

There is no easy answer at the present time re seeding of players coming back from maternity leave. I stick to my proposal that a panel of tennis players who have given birth, assisted by medical professionals, be consulted. The player’s on the panel should have given birth within the last five to ten years or so. If, like Kim Clijsters and Victoria Azarenka a player has had a complication free vaginal delivery there should be nothing special done re ranking. On the other hand if there were life threatening complications that force a player to need special care and attention well after her baby has been delivered the special panel should consult with the ITF and the WTA about her return and how it should be handled, especially if the player was top ten when she went on maternity leave.

And please, miss me with that noise about paternity leave.

©2018 Savanahs Tennis World. All rights reserved