RG 2017 – The Rear View Mirror

by Savannah

The ATP and the WTA finish the European spring clay court season in different places. I’ll get to that in a moment. Right now let’s look at what they have in common.

The respective top ranked players for both tours are struggling. Despite her apparent fitness Angelique Kerber has gone back to the player she was before what looks increasingly like her fluke year where she won two Slams. It’s an uneasy place for her to be mentally when so much is wanted from her by the tennis world, especially the world of women’s tennis. As it stands she is not even being talked about except in terms of her not being number one after Wimbledon. Her problems appear to be mental and that is not surprising. The game is changing in front of her eyes and right now she doesn’t seem to have the ability to adjust. This could simply be her annus horribilis.

As for the ATP Number One Andy Murray  I really think he’s feeling the effects of his bout with shingles. Fatigue is one of the side effects of the disease which can last for years (see page two of the link). Watching him play his semi final you could see after that marathon fourth set that he had nothing left.

At the end of the day the ATP presented two of its top players in the Final. The FFT and the ATP were ready with celebrations centered around Rafael Nadal winning his tenth Roland Garros. There were good showings by their highly touted Next Gen players but as is fitting none of them were able to handle the physical and mental pressure of a Slam. I give them another five years to step out of the shadow of the players that are still dominating their sport into their thirties. It speaks well of the professionalism of not only the players but their teams that are more than mere entourages. The families are part of the protective cocoon around a champion and comport themselves accordingly. It’s a testament to these high level teams that a champion player in an individual sport has the ability to focus on nothing more than his or her career.

The story on the WTA side is a bit different. Without a dominant player (and I’m not talking about a doper) a free for all is taking place. I talked about Kerber’s problems but I think the WTA, when it comes to Slams, has a huge issue hanging over it, one the men’s tour doesn’t have. That is on court coaching. I’ve been beating this drum ad nauseam for years but if you watched the WTA Final you saw what happens when a player has become so reliant on it that she has lost the ability to think her way out of problems on court. You could literally see when Simona Halep panicked. She was broken to love and her opponent held to love after Halep had been up 3-1 in the third set. You can even argue that the match was over when she lost the second set. She NEEDED her coach to come console her and give her a pep talk. She didn’t want him to come down she needed him to come down and that, in the end, is what lost her the match and the Number One ranking. Kristina Mladenovic had the same issues. She overcame them in one match staging a miraculous come back but the the need to have her coach tell her what to do led to her downfall.

Everyone is talking about how the level of tennis will rise when Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka return to the tour. Azarenka looks very fit right now. You would never know she’d recently given birth. But match play is an entirely different situation. Both Vika and Serena are strong willed and despite the layoffs want to/will want to hit the ground running so to speak. The body changes during pregnancy and I’m sure both will work on their core but I think both will see that the tour has changed. Will it help them? I can honestly say I don’t know.
I do know that of all the players Serena alone has never relied on OCC. In my opinion this is why she is so mentally tough.

And what about Alona (Jelena) Ostapenko? She’s not a kid. She’s twenty. She’s been around a long time, long enough to develop a not so good reputation behavior wise. She working with Anabel Medina Garrigues (yes, the one who was caught on camera trying to fluff up the balls during a match versus Serena Williams) and it looks as if she’s worked on toning down some of Ostapenko’s bad behavior but we’re going to have to wait and see what Ostapenko does going forward. It’s my understanding that Medina Garrigues was with her only for Roland Garros. If that is the case her first order of business is to get her to stay. Still I don’t think she should be expected to wipe the court with her opponents though. This is a great achievement but I don’t know if she’ll ever have this perfect storm again. There are several women who have won Roland Garros and were never able to win a major, or much of anything, again. That said she will always be able to say she is a Grand Slam winner.

As per usual the WTA was caught flat footed in terms of promotion. They’re now overcompensating (of course) but the over the top reaction proves that they’ve got no clue how to promote the sport of women’s tennis. No matter what happens to the ATP going forward they have a clear marketing strategy not only for their current stars but for their up and comers. The whole situation with Ostapenko’s name for example should’ve been cleared up a long time ago. That way you don’t have the spectacle of her fans berating journalists for not knowing her proper name.

I should mention in passing that a commentator was talking about the Eastern European style of tennis as it relates to the women’s game. I’m sure he wasn’t an American and if he was (I really didn’t get his name) he needs to be calling more matches.

And what about the state of US tennis? It’s still the mess it’s been for some time. It was nice seeing two up and coming US Junior girls, Whitney Osuigwe (her father is an IMG coach) and Claire Liu play for the Junior girls title. It was good seeing Donald Young in a Championship match at a Slam. But Madison Keys is said to have injured herself again. The other players, male and female, continue to be useless on clay although Young and Ryan Harrison should be given props for spending so much time in Europe during the clay season and managing to not publicly whine about being unable to find mass produced, salty and many times fake food in the acknowledged capital of cuisine in the world. Of course all the US players are focused on grass court play hoping to do well there.

What will happen at Wimbledon? Who knows. Many tennis pundits had Halep winning the title which lets me know they have no idea about tennis. No way Halep was going to win in such a high pressure situation.  Still if the draw breaks nicely for her she could find herself in a Final again but that is speculation. Grass court play starts Monday June 12.

Champions List

Men’s Singles
Spain Rafael Nadal
Women’s Singles
Latvia Jeļena Ostapenko
Men’s Doubles
United States Ryan Harrison / New Zealand Michael Venus
Women’s Doubles
United States Bethanie Mattek-Sands / Czech Republic Lucie Šafářová
Mixed Doubles
Canada Gabriela Dabrowski / India Rohan Bopanna
Boys’ Singles
Australia Alexei Popyrin
Girls’ Singles
United States Whitney Osuigwe
Boys’ Doubles
Spain Nicola Kuhn / Hungary Zsombor Piros
Girls’ Doubles
Canada Bianca Andreescu / Canada Carson Branstine
Legends Under 45 Doubles
France Sébastien Grosjean / France Michaël Llodra
Women’s Legends Doubles
United States Tracy Austin / Belgium Kim Clijsters
Legends Over 45 Doubles
France Mansour Bahrami / France Fabrice Santoro
Wheelchair Men’s Singles
United Kingdom Alfie Hewett
Wheelchair Women’s Singles
Japan Yui Kamiji
Wheelchair Men’s Doubles
France Stéphane Houdet / France Nicolas Peifer
Wheelchair Women’s Doubles
Netherlands Marjolein Buis / Japan Yui Kamiji

This and That

by Savannah

It’s been quite some time since I’ve used up cyber ink to post about tennis. A lot has happened hasn’t it? Where to start? How about with some positives.

A couple of years ago I chose a then virtually unknown teenager named Alexander Zverev as my one to watch. As I write this he’s made his first ATP M1000 final defeating John Isner in three sets. It should’ve been over in two sets but for a bit of a walkabout by Sascha in the second set but there’s no need to quibble. Of course now everyone and their brother is on the Zverev bandwagon and it feels good to say I was one of the first to see his potential. His emotions are under much tighter control now but those diva-ish moments still happen.

Venus Williams is still striding her way through women’s tennis head high and ruining peoples days. She doesn’t win everything anymore but she goes deep enough in tournaments to keep her ranking in the top ten. Good for her.

Speaking of Venus someone asked why Tommy Haas is still playing at his age. I answered this way. Both Haas (never been a fan) and Venus could be thinking the best years of their tennis lives were disrupted by injury and illness. Now that they’re as healthy and fit as they can be they want to do what they love and that is play tennis. Why not? Tennis journalists were praising Andre Agassi to the heavens if I recall correctly. Martina Navratilova played until she couldn’t anymore. There’s precedent for this. If an older player manages their schedule and adjusts their training and diet to keep them in peak form I say let them play.

While senior players are looking after themselves and enjoying their wins it seems the Brits are in a spot of bother about their stars. When I say that of course I’m talking about Andrew Murray who, after losses on his least favorite surface said he felt maybe he should be worried. It’s not that he was losing he was losing early. Murray just turned 30 and is now at the age where back in the day tennis players would be looking for something else to do. That said, I think the Brits need to calm down. Murray’s style of play is, at least in my opinion, an acquired taste. When he’s on he’s on. When he’s not, he’s just not. They’re also trying to downplay that he had shingles, a very painful skin condition and one that takes a while to recover from. I guess they’re freaking out because after Murray there really isn’t anyone. Yes they’re pushing Kyle Edmund and legend in his own mind Dan Evans but really Edmund, if he can find a way to beat his contemporaries on a regular basis, could become top twenty it looks like that possibility is still in the realm of wishful thinking.

As for the British women who is there besides Johanna Konta? It looks as if Laura Robson, once the fair haired girl (and like Konta also an Aussie import) won’t be more than an ITF player. Heather Watson? Again nothing has changed. When she reaches the business end of a shot, let alone a match, her decision making makes you wonder where her brain is. Every now and then she stirs herself to get a good result but for the most part it’s second, maybe third round, and out.

Meanwhile in the US we’re not much better off than the Brits. At least their man is ranked number 1. Diminutive Lauren Davis has been our most consistent player. I don’t see Madison Keys winning a major although with the right draw she could come close. Catherine Bellis, Louisa Chirico, Taylor Fritz, and Reilly Opelka are the ones getting all the hype from the USTA but it was Frances Tiafoe who got a win over Jeremy Chardy and young Ernesto Escobedo who are out there doing the hard work. As always with US tennis it comes down to expectations based on who you are vs talent no matter who you are. That’s why Naomi Osaka is playing for Japan and not the United States. The USTA didn’t want her. The Japanese federation jumped right in and the rest is history. Unfortunately Tiafoe, whose family is from Sierra Leone, and Escobedo, whose family comes from Mexico, have not other rich Federation ready to come in and throw money at them. Both young men are American by birth so it’s the USTA they have to deal with.

I mentioned the ATP top player so it’s only fair to mention the WTA’s top ranked player, Angelique Kerber. She’s not having fun this year at all. She’s ranked number one because Serena Williams is expecting her first child in late summer. Keep in mind the WTA rushed out PR touting her attaining the top ranking before the new rankings were official at the end of last year. There was all kinds of talk from tennis journalists about how she would dominate. Welp. Once again we see it’s easier being the hunter than the hunted. She may fluke her way to another Slam but right now it looks as if she’s running scared. Waiting in the wings is Karolina Pliskova. Her game is still what it has been, one dimensional and if you make her have to move and bend you’ve got a good chance of beating her. But if things continue as they are she could be the next number one player.

If you think I’m talking about everything but the one topic that is dominating the tennis world I am. There isn’t much to say on the subject. I’ve felt from the beginning that the ITF recommendation of a four year ban was the right way to go. The two year ban, while a slap on the wrist in my opinion, was a good compromise. When the CAS threw out the ITF report and decided, based on nothing but PR, that the suspension should be reduced there was nothing to do but throw up your hands.

What’s even worse is that the WTA has pulled out all the stops to try and make it seem everyone, her peers and the press, thought she’d be done wrong and that the doping ban was equivalent to an injury or pregnancy break. It’s not. Thankfully the French Tennis Federation threw a huge bucket of cold water on those who, in my opinion, were leading the charge to destroy women’s tennis with their shenanigans. No Main Draw Wild Cards for dopers. End of story. To avoid a second embarrassment she and her team rightly decided that they would accept what they’ve got and play Qualies at Wimbledon.

Steve Simon, the hapless head of the WTA, has put a lot of effort into trying to rehabilitate a doper. Meanwhile it’s almost impossible to see a women’s tennis match and it doesn’t seem that anything is happening on that front. In the final analysis tennis fanatics are tennis fanatics. If they can’t see the version they love they’ll look at what is available. By the time the WTA get’s it’s thumb out of it’s ass they will have lost many fans to men’s tennis which is easy to see on many platforms.

So many have worked so hard to promote women’s tennis as a sport not a side show. It hurts to see it reduced to its current state. Yes I’ve said this before and I have to keep saying it. I don’t get paid to write this blog so I’m beholden to no one but myself. If Steve Simon is representative of the upper echelon of US tennis no wonder the USTA is in the state it’s in. Maybe if they stopped giving each other awards and focused on marketing the sport and developing talent no matter where it comes from maybe, just maybe, a US player can hold up a trophy from a major tournament.

End Note

Roland Garros. While the clay season continues in Europe and South America this tournament is the official end of the clay court season for much of the main tour. As usual I’m sad to see it come to an end. From the start of the Golden Swing to the last match in Paris I feel you see tennis at its best. The physical and the mental, combined with creativity, all come into play during a clay court match in the way it doesn’t on other surfaces. Each shot is a question or an answer. The ante is raised during each rally until someone makes a declarative statement meant to close out the discussion. It’s beautiful to watch.

© Savannahs World 2017 All Rights Reserved

2017 Indian Wells This and That

by Savannah

The big guns will begin play over the weekend at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, California. Women’s Main Draw play began March 8th and the men began play March 9th. Despite this being early in the tournament there’s been enough news to keep tennis fans not only busy but scratching their heads.

Let’s start with the Wild Card situation. The following players all received WC’s into the Main Draw:

Frances Tiafoe
Stefan Kozlov
Taylor Fritz
Reilly Opelka
Bjorn Fratangelo
Bethanie Mattek-Sands
Nicole Gibbs
Taylor Townsend
Danielle Collins
Irina Falconi
Kayla Day
Jennifer Brady
Donna Vekic

The only two who made it through are Bjorn Fratangelo who played a very disinterested  Bernard Tomic, and Donna Vekic, the only non American to receive a WC and the only one to make it to round two in what I assume was a competitive match. By that I mean her opponent was trying her best to win.

And yes it does seem as if she and her boyfriend are a package deal at majors these days. There were signs of relief from some tennis professionals when she made it through to the next round. I guess they were sick of the word “undeserved” being thrown around when she was mentioned.

I’ve been a tennis fan a long time, longer than I’ve been blogging. I’ve also been in the corporate world where a lot of underhanded shady shit goes on. That said I’m well aware that a Federation can grant WC’s to whomever it wants. We saw the same thing in Australia in January where only local talent got Main Draw Wild Cards (MDWC’S). That’s fine. Just don’t bitch and moan when your players are shut out at events in Europe. Sadly, most US players right now are cannon fodder for the top players. Their one dimensional games just don’t cut it against players who can actually strategize and construct points during a match. Let me take a minute to discuss one WC, Danielle Collins.

I’m sure she’s a nice person. She’s easy on the eyes and wears a kit that puts all of her assets on display. She’s been a NCAA champion two times. Sorry USTA, she’s not ready for prime time. Monica Puig made her look like a ball kid getting a hit with a pro player. She had no business in the MD of a tournament this big.

To be fair I did see some of Reilly Opelka’s match. He’s got a hell of a serve.

Random Thoughts

Usually it’s the WTA that’s getting dragged for it’s horrible draws. It seems that like everything else these days the WTA has been out done in that department by the ATP. By now you’ve all seen the mens singles draw. Speaking as someone who’s seen some cakewalks given to Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic the one Andy Murray just got beats all of them. Federer must be green with envy. What the hell were they thinking? I know, I know they want Murray to win here. Shouldn’t he have to play some tennis on the way to the Final though? Whoever comes out of the bottom part of the draw will be match tough. Sometimes that’s better than la-de-dahing your way to a Final. We’ll see.

What is the ATP to do about Tomic? Some commentators hinted that ATP brass was court side observing his effort, or lack thereof, against Fratangelo Thursday. I don’t think he gave a fuck. He roused himself to look as if he were trying in what turned out to be the last game of the match and made Fratangelo need five match points to win it. He gave himself away when a shot he made was called out and he challenged just for the hell of it. When it was called in he was visibly annoyed and put his hands on his hips and hung his head. That was the only part of the match I saw. Two things have to happen: Tennis Australia has to stop giving him money and the ATP needs to heavily fine him and start denying him appearance fees if he gets them. The only language he understands is money. He can live large all he wants as long as he does the work that his job requires. Will anything be done? I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Thanks to Alizé Cornet the WTA had to remove it’s horrible Tweet regarding an article that supposedly showcased how happy WTA players are to see a convicted doper descend from the heavens back onto the Main Tour. It’s bad enough that the headline bore no resemblane to what was really being said in the article. The WTA was forced to take the tweet, and the article down. Ms Cornet, who is out injured, also deleted her tweet. Of course nothing ever dies in cyberspace so if you didn’t see the exchange here’s a screen shot:

c6f9i6qwcai2846

Right now the doper and her team, along with WTA head Steve Simon, are trying to strong arm the FFT (French Tennis Federation) into granting her a WC into the French Open main draw. More WTA players are ignoring the gag order the WTA imposed and speaking out. Even Angelique Kerber said something against the doper being shoehorned into Stuttgart. ATP players have joined in the fray. They may get what they want but it’s not going to be pretty.

By the way Steve where’s that WTA streaming platform we were promised? Maybe less time should be spent trying to rehab the image of a doper and more time spent making sure your product is visible to the fans you still have? Fans shouldn’t have to resort to low quality betting sites to see women’s tennis. Fans shouldn’t have to miss almost all of women’s play except for one match featuring one of the Blonde Brigade from Canada. What a joke.

Also, don’t think we’ve forgotten that post congratulating Kerber on regaining the number one ranking while Serena Williams is still in place at the top. It was unseemly. Uncalled for. Disrespectful. But hey, keep pushing that doper!

End Note

Francesa Schiavone was never considered marketable by the WTA. She’s not blonde. She’s got an aggressive on court demeanor. Her on court noise was not considered that of a competitor like another players. Until recently, she’s been one of the top ranked players. Age has seen her performance level drop. But fans, including this one, watch her matches. After all the nonsense yesterday this was the saddest thing I read, and a testimony to how low the WTA has fallen and how badly it treats it’s players.

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Many of us tweeted our support to Franny. Let’s see what her tour does.

The Week That Was: ’17 AO Week 1

by Savannah

I was a bit upset with myself for not writing a post about the first week of the 2017 Australian Open Saturday (or was it Sunday? I get so confused about what day it is this time of the year). After the matches last night and early this morning here on the east coast of the United States I’m glad I didn’t.

Up to last night the big story was the ATP #2 losing early, racist comments by an ESPN commentator re Venus Williams who is gleefully introducing herself to a new generation (what was that you said Duan Yingying?) and a three hour plus WTA match between Svetlana Kuznetsova and Jelena Jankovic (JJ will be working with Guillermo Canas for a bit), and Agnieszka Radwanska  being escorted to the exit by Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. Going into last night’s matches I had two wishes: That Jo-Wilfried Tsonga would beat Dan Evans and that Angelique Kerber would find a way to beat Coco Vandeweghe. One out of two ain’t bad. I had no idea that Mikhail “Mischa” Zverev would decide that last night was the time to remind the tennis world that there are two Zverev brothers on the tour. I should’ve known that when Kerber needed three sets to see off the brainless Carina Witthoef (I’ve seen Witthoef play live and will stand by my judgement of her tennis brain) that Kerber would be vulnerable to the obnoxious Vandeweghe.

I thought that this year would be tough for Kerber. Her game is not the strongest and despite her obvious attempt to be even fitter than she was last year it was always going to be a battle for her to hold onto the number one ranking. She mostly played her way into number one if you remember her 2016 schedule. She got a ton of points winning Australia and the US Open last year but in between those wins she played a lot and lost a lot. All of the PR surrounding her ascent was more the WTA wanting (needing?) someone not Serena Williams as its number one. I mentioned their unseemly haste in kicking Serena to the curb to elevate and promote Kerber. I have nothing against Kerber. She seems like a very nice person. But the WTA betrayed its anti Venus Williams and Serena Williams bias once again by insinuating that Kerber was somehow “saving” women’s tennis. Don’t forget they’ve been trying to give the savior title to Eugenie Bouchard for awhile now.

But enough of that. Kerber was vulnerable as the hunted and she lost badly to Vandeweghe who was, from what I saw of the video, her usual obnoxious self at the end. The USTA is going to try and push her as the heir apparent to the Williams but they’re going to have a hard time doing it. Vandeweghe is known and hated by many, many fans and changing that view of her will be hard. Her attempted intimidation a chair ump the other night was only the latest in a list of horrid things she’s done on court. Garbiñe Muguruza we’re counting on you.

Andy Murray‘s loss is a bit harder to understand. He had a fairly easy draw and Mischa Zverev was supposed to be roadkill not a bump in the road. There is a huge difference between modern tennis and old school serve and volley tennis and to this viewer Murray was not able to force Mischa out of his game plan. I’m calling the older Zverev by his first name to differentiate him from his younger brother Alexander (Sascha) Zverev. Add to that Mischa’s forehand was on fire and you had a recipe for disaster. It was Murray who, when confronted by a man playing like it was 1989 had his brain freeze. His vaunted (by US and British tennis media) Ivan Lendl had nothing to contribute. For most of the tournament he seemed to be asleep in his front row seat. He played when serve and volley was still fairly common and should’ve been able to give his player some guidance as to what to do. You knew Murray was in trouble when ESPN stopped showing him and began showing Murray’s real, full time coach Jamie Delgado.

One of the things I’ve said over my years of doing this blog is that a soft draw does not a champion make. Murray has had a lot of soft draws lately and this one was no different. When you’ve been phoning it in for your early round matches it’s hard to kick it up a notch when facing someone you’ve rarely seen play and who was not considered a threat by you or your team. Sometimes it’s better to have to face the players who are going to give you a hard time early instead of tennis version of the “bum of the week” from the world of boxing.

Both number one’s are out now and it’s interesting seeing the mental gymnastics the so called tennis pundits are putting themselves through. The US spring hard court swing is looming large now. Will it confirm 2017 as the “Year of Living Dangerously” for top players? Will older fan favorites be able to reassert themselves? Will new jacks, sorry, Next Gen players be able to step up? Did Nishikork Kei take a shower during his match last night? Enquiring minds want to know you know.

©SavannahsWorld 2017. All Rights Reserved

The Asian Swing 2016

by Savannah

Both the ATP and the WTA are winding up their sojourns in Asia. The WTA will return for it’s end of year events in Zuhai and Singapore while the ATP will end it’s year on indoor courts in Europe.

We’re several years into what is now called the Asian Swing, enough time to evaluate the growth of the sport especially in China. Japan has had high level women’s and men’s tournaments for awhile as evidenced by it’s “Prince of Tennis” anime cartoon. It’s the addition of China, and that country’s stated goal of adding a fifth Slam to the tennis calendar. As we know the Australian Open has rebranded itself the Asian Pacific Slam and it’s my opinion that the Australian Open isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Will Beijing, Shanghai or maybe Wuhan be upgraded? That remains to be seen. Of the three only Beijing brings both tours to one place. It’s also questionable whether a Slam so soon after the US Open is feasible. Travel stress would affect the players and the time differences will affect the number of viewers in countries that are outside of the Asia Pacific rim.

The other problem that stares you in the face is the lack of butts in the seats. The venues themselves are beautiful. Shanghai’s lotus style main court is architecturally beautiful and is my personal favorite but all of the tennis venues in China have their own “specialness”. The only thing missing is fans. These are huge stadiums and the visuals are horrible when the camera pans the venue and the fans are maybe two to three rows deep around the edge of the court, if that. It’s also obvious that the problem isn’t unique to one tour. Both tours have had their best playing to empty stadiums.

When thinking about tennis lackluster performance in China so far I remind myself about how the Chinese dealt with ice skating. Their first athletes in the sport were pretty bad but now they’re at the pinnacle of the sport. Right now it appears that the women are progressing ahead of the men but there doesn’t seem to be any one ready to make the break through yet. Time will tell. Until that happens I think things will stay as they are with crowds in Japan and to a lesser extent in South Korea but low attendance in China.

This and That

Not one, but two British newspapers weighed in on the shameful displays put on by World Team Tennis in regards to Maria Sharapova . If you haven’t read either article here are the links.

The first is by US based sports writer Andrew Jerell Jones.

The second is by a British bases sports writer Oliver Brown.

Not one US sports outlet found it in his or her best interests to call the event what it really was – a blot on the sport of tennis and a slap in the face to clean athletes everywhere.

Tennis Channel acted as if the suspended doper was coming back from an injury related sabbatical and not still serving a doping suspension.

Despite the disgraceful behavior by the USTA, the WTA and Head there is an individual who if it wasn’t for her status as the mother of women’s tennis would’ve been raked mercilessly over the coals by fans. I have no idea why she, or anyone involved thought this was the best thing to do for the sport they love. I just hope they all wnet home and scrubbed the dirt off when the event was over.

It’s one thing when a fan site high handedly bans all discussion of the subject. It’s another when the pro’s, who know better, try to help a doper sweep her offenses away.

©2016 Savannahs World All Rights Reserved

Bethanie Mattek-Sands and DHEA – A Love Story

by Savannah

TUE-Gate is still going on. So far three top African American females and one lesbian WNBA player’s record releases have gooten the most coverage from the media. That said media obviously doesn’t understand what “out of competition” means or that an opiate (think heroin, morphine, oxy) would give no in competition advantage to anyone their mewlings can be dismissed out of hand.
What is interesting is that the press, with one exception, has ignored a much bigger story. It involves the US tennis player Bethanie Mattek-Sands and her attempts to get a TUE for her use of male synthetic hormone (testosterone) due to the imminent collapse of her adrenal system (kidneys).

Yesterday on a fan site someone calling themselves “Marlene” released a heavily redacted CAS hearing result on an athlete. We know it was a woman due to the conclusions drawn. We know it was an United States citizen because the doctor involved resides in Arizona. It soon became obvious who the athlete was since the TUE she requested had been made public.

The CAS report is a sobering read on how an athlete can try and game the system and how in the end, the system of checks and balances did work. The report is seventeen pages long so I will excerpt from the conclusions only.

6.15 In her submissions as part of the TUE application process and this proceeding, both Dr.
Serrano and Dr. Larrimer attributed the Appellant’s symptoms to hypopituitarism. Dr.
Serrano, in his August 17, 2014 letter to the 1TF TUEC wrote “{mjy initial opinion was
and still is that of hypopituitarism,” while Dr. Larrimer concluded in his July 25, 2014
letter, “Ida believe she has Hypopituitarism, “1

6.16 The Respondent challenged the accuracy of that diagnosis in its Answer and at the hearing, on a number of grounds, including submitting evidence that:
• Hypopituitarism is a malfunction between the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. The
relationship between the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland plays a critical role in the
secretion of several hormones in the body, including the production of Cortisol through the
adrenal gland. If this relationship was malfunctioning, one would expect that secretion of
all, or at least several, of these hormones would be inhibited. The inhibited productions
would be demonstrable in blood tests. However, in the blood tests collected closest in time
to the Appellant’s doctors’ diagnosis of hypopituitarism, nothing indicates that any of the
hormones that rely on the pituitary gland, other than Cortisol, which as discussed appeared
depleted beginning in 2013, were at all deficient This is inconsistent with hypopituitarism,
• The effect of hypopituitarism would be that the adrenal gland could not function without
lifetime treatment. This is paradoxical to the Appellant’s doctors’ assertions that, under
the proper supervision and circumstances, the Athlete could been weaned off of
hydrocortisone or other Cortisol supplementation.
6.17 At the heaving, Dr. Serrano acknowledged that he was not an expert in endocrinology, but
conceded a number of the criticisms levied by the Respondent. He also seemingly
attempted to backtrack from his own diagnosis of hypopituitarism by suggesting that his diagnosis was based on Dr. Larrimer’s diagnosis of the same. Two troubling aspects of this position are that (i) it is at odds with his contemporaneous submission in which he
stated that his initial opinion, presumably dating back to 2012, was that the Appellant
suffered from hypopituitarism, and (ii) despite apparent rehance Dr. Larrimer’s diagnosis, he was Unable to offer any insight into how Dr. Larrimer came to his conclusion.3
6.18 Accordingly, there is serious doubt that hypopituitarism could be the proper diagnosis of the Appellant’s adrenal insufficiency, regardless of when said deficiency manifested itself, meaning that the Appellant has likely still not yet been properly diagnosed.4

C. DHEA and Symptoms

6.19 Finally, one matter that raises doubts about the appropriateness of DHEA specifically as a treatment for the Appellant, that has yet to be adequately explained by the Appellant or her expert, is the juxtaposition of the timing of the manifestation of her symptoms, her DHEA use, and her objective blood and salivary tests.

6.20 By her own account,^ B symptoms began in 2010 and continued on and
off for 2 years before she saw Dr. Serrano and before she was a granted the HC TUE in December 2012.

6.21 But as discussed above, the blood and salivary tests from September and November 2012, the period of time before the Appellant began taking HC, unequivocally show that the Appellant’s Cortisol and DHEA levels were within, or above, the reference range for her demographic. In other words, during one of the periods when the Appellant’s impairments were at their worst, her Cortisol and DHEA levels were not depleted, Without questioning the Appellant’s veracity in stating that she felt better while talcing DHEA, it is difficult then to reconcile the objective evidence with her doctors’ recommendations that simply increasing her DHEA levels back to normal level today should cure her symptoms (notwithstanding any other potentially beneficial medical reasons to do so).
6.22 Considering all of these points, the Sole Arbitrator must conclude that the lack of a clear diagnosis of an existing medical condition is fatal to the Appellant’s appeal.

6.23 Because the failure to adequately identify a medical condition in itself precludes the granting of a TUE, there is no need to address the remaining standards at this time. But nothing in this opinion should be interpreted to suggest that, should the Appellant undergo further examination and receive a verifiable diagnosis – which the Sole Arbitrator strongly
advises her to do – any treatment options are precluded, as the Appellant’s health is obviously of Critical importance.
6.24 In this connection, the Parties agreed that an abrupt termination of the Appellant’s HC treatment could adversely affect her health. As a result, she must be given some time to reduce her current intake of HC and replace it by a treatment that addresses her properly diagnosed indication, subject to the cumulative conditions for granting a TUE set forth in Article 4.1(a)-(d) of the International Standard. The Sole Arbitrator considers that the
Appellant would have sufficient time to achieve this by April 30.2015.
6.25 The Appellant must therefore be authorized to continue to take HC, at levels no higher than permitted in the Appealed Decision until the Appellant is granted a new TUE by the ITF TUEC, based on a proper medical diagnosis but in any event no later than April 30. 2015. For the avoidance of doubt, the Appealed Decision’s revocation of the DHEA TUE is confirmed.

If that is too much for you here’s my summary:

The unnamed athlete went to her governing body, the ITF, and presented documentation that showed she had serious adrenal issues and that she needed hydrocortisone to stop the deterioration of her physical condition. The athlete and her doctor then said that the HC was not sufficient and he recommended adding DHEA to her course of treatment. The ITF approved the diagnosis and proposed treatment and routinely sent the information to WADA where cooler heads prevailed and the addition of DHEA was denied. Further investigation showed that the original doctors statements were contradictory and the conclusion was reached that the athlete had still not received a proper diagnosis of what the root cause of her stated symptoms were. The CAS also asked for the athlete to pay for all costs associated with her appeal.

There were whispers about who the athlete was (don’t forget this report is from 2015) but no one seemed interested in pursuing the publicly available, non-redacted report until now.

You can like or dislike a journalist but when he/she is doing a public service you have to give him or her credit for what they’ve done.

In his report for the New York Times Ben Rothenberg not only named the athlete, <strong> Bethanie Mattek-Sands </strong> but revealed some information about her doctor. No one has challenged his report. Instead there’s been deafening silence from the ITF, the USTA and the WTA. Despite her TUE being denied Mattek-Sands played for over a year using DHEA, “an endogenous steroid hormone.” WebMD says the following “it functions as a precursor to male and female sex hormones, including testosterone and estrogen.”

Meanwhile the campaign to try and discredit the four women who were first outted by the hack continues unabated.

Tennis fans need answers. How could the ITF grant exemptions in this situation when the medical reports didn’t jibe with any known medical results. It’s very clear. If “A” is happening then so should “B, C or D”. If B, C or D isn’t happening then how can “A” be happening? It’s not rocket science.

Secondly how the hell wasn’t this made public and Mattek-Sands not receive some kind of discipline from her Federation (The USTA) or the WTA tour where she remains a top doubles player. If she was penalized in any way by either organization they’ve been very quiet about it. It’s situations like this that allow internet trolls to push meme’s saying the entire system is rotten in order to make one player’s situation appear normal and not out of the ordinary.

So what about it USTA? What about it ITF? What about it WTA? Are you all running around a room screaming and pulling your hair out by the roots? This report is over a year old and to this fan nothing whatsoever has been done to Ms Mattek-Sands. I wonder if the same “hands off let’s pretend it didn’t happen “attitude would have prevailed if some other athletes had done the same thing.

So far this is the only report that shows how an athlete tried to game the system. That the system worked in the end is small consolation.

©2016 Savannahs World Tennis all rights reserved

 

The WTA Has It’s Work Cut Out For It

by Savannah

No One Wants to See the U.S. Open Women’s Final Without Serena

 

The above piece, by Eben Novy-Williams at Bloomberg greeted tennis fans and fanatics late Friday evening, early Saturday morning as ticket prices for the women’s US Open Final once again fell precipitously below three figures for the second year in a row. There was immediate outcry of course with German tennis fans jumping in to say they’d most definitely be watching and some hard core fans on this side of the Atlantic Ocean saying they’d be watching too. And that is, sadly, the point.

When told new #1 Angelique Kerber will play Karolina Pliskova many will reply “Who?” after giving the proverbial blank stare. And for that the WTA, followed closely by the USTA is to blame. Don’t forget it’s Nike that has done the lion’s share of promoting Serena. Not her Federation that seems to do all it can to make sure she fails, and not the WTA that ignores her unless it absolutely has no choice. People can bitch and moan about the Bloomberg piece but he is saying out loud what everyone in sports knows: there is no women’s tennis without Serena Williams . Yes the sport will go on and there will be new top players but who will care? If the WTA promoted women’s tennis as a sport and not as a “look” women’s tennis wouldn’t be in the position it is. People would want to see the two women who will play this afternoon. People would care.

Lost in the story of cheap tickets is the fact that there were so many tickets still available. Fans dumping previously purchased tickets or never sold before tickets?

Serena Williams is 34 years old. Her body is not going to do what she wants it to do without a lot of rest and pampering. Everyone in her box was wearing a concerned look during the semi final but that isn’t newsworthy. And her coach doing his job and becoming a lightening rod for criticism is vilified.

We all knew this day was coming. It’s so sad that once again unless there’s a miracle women’s tennis will fall back into the shadow of men’s tennis.

It didn’t have to be this way.