Next Gen? Rising Stars? They’ve Got Work To Do

by Savannah

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Let’s go way back when. Back to 2008 to be precise when the four people pictured above played in the most prestigious tennis final of all, the Wimbledon Final. Fast forward nine years and who do we find playing in the final of the 2017 Australian Open? You got it! The same four people. The two top ranked players of the ATP are off doing other things. The top WTA player is doing other things too while the WTA #2 and #9 are playing a Grand Slam final both were widely reported to be no where near capable of contending for.

So what happened? Why didn’t any of the up and coming younger players make it near the Final? Yes Milos Raonic ( who is technically too old to be next gen) was in the quarter finals. So did Johanna Konta whom many, for some strange reason, thought would hit Serena off the court. That, my friends, gets to the heart of the matter.

During one of her on court interviews Venus Williams, in response to a question, said “I know how to play tennis”. There is a world of wisdom in those words. The men and women pictured above know how to play tennis. And that means they know more than how to hit the ball hard. They know how to adjust to what is happening across the net. They know how to think their way through a problem, a question being asked by their opponent. They know the hype ends when they step on court. If you watched Konta vs Serena you saw the look of absolute shock on her face when she realized that what she’d been told had nothing to do with what the woman across the net from her was doing. It was the same with Colleen Vandeweghe. She realized that all the smoke that had been blown up her ass about Venus – too old, physically fragile – was just that, smoke. In the end there is the one intangible no one can coach against, and that is will. It was will that won Rafael Nadal his match vs tennis insider favorite Grigor Dimitrov, a man who many have tapped as the next big thing for several years now. In the end he doubted himself, blinked, and the match was over. Vandeweghe and Konta know the feeling Grigor.

I didn’t watch the Roger Federer vs Stan Wawrinka match because the winner of that match, no matter the attempts to make it seem competitive, was a foregone conclusion. The hard court record between the two men is now 13-0 in Federer’s favor. Nothing to see there at all. It was 12-0 coming into the match.

“I know how to play tennis.” Think about those words the next time some pigtailed young woman or fresh faced young man is declared the next big thing. Some young barely out of puberty boy or girl who hits the cover off the ball is poised to become the next Grand Slam winner. Think about that in a few years when the four above have been consigned to the geriatric ward of tennis by tennis experts and somehow, every now and then they display the magic only they can. When some of the new jacks can make the statement Venus made and it rings true, then, and only then, we can talk about “Next Gen” or “Rising Stars”.

© SavannahsWorld 2017 All Rights Reserved except where indicated

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

Who To Watch in 2017

by Savannah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2017 Savannahs World All Rights Reserved

The Rearview Mirror: The ATP in 2016

by Savannah

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

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

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

The Top 10 of 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best of 2016

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

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

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

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

End Notes

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

©2016 SavannahsWorld. All Rights Reserved.

Bored Now

by Savannah

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

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

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

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

Anyway there should be some good NFL games on tomorrow.

 

© 2016 Savannah’s World All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

The 2016 ATP WTF: WTF?!

by Savannah

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

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

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

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

McEnroe Group

Andy Murray
Stan Wawrinka
Nishikori Kei
Marin Cilic

Lendl Group

Novak Djokovic
Milos Raonic
Gaël Monfils
Dominic Thiem

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

But back to the composition of the groups.

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

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

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

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

End Note

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

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

©Savannahs World 2016 All Rights Reserved

The Rearview Mirror: The WTA in 2016

by Savannah

The WTA season ended with a whimper. Its year end Number 1 ranked player Angelique Kerber lost the YEC to Dominika Cibulkova , a player who is looked at by many as a bit of a side show. She’s listed at 5’3″ but that is arguably PR. She plays a high energy game and has been known in the past to run out of steam or ideas. She didn’t in Singapore and soundly beat Kerber who showed adjusting is not her strong suit and that with the right attitude she is easily beaten. The same thing happened to Kerber at the Olympics when playing in a similar fashion Monica Puig defeated her for the Gold Medal.

In addition to the year ending without a dominant top ranked player the last thing the WTA needed was the inability to expose its brand to more fans. Yet that is the situation fans of women’s tennis are facing. Steve Simon, the CEO of the WTA admitted when pressed that there will be no streaming platform for women’s tennis until maybe the second quarter of 2017. He wasn’t all that definite on that.

Add to that the doping scandal it seems to want fans to forget about and the future of the WTA hasn’t been shakier. I’m not talking about the “depth” of competition. I’m talking about marketing. Product placement. And finally level of competition.

So, one at a time.

Marketing has been a total failure for several years now. There are two players who kept the WTA relevant, Venus Williams and Serena Williams . Yes there’s a lot of talk about a doper being the player who put butts in the seats but you have to deal with reality. She is not the one who brought fans to see women’s tennis. I remember many of her matches being poorly attended and fan negatives pretty high. Something to do with screaming. It didn’t help that as she got older her thug tactics against opponents were harder to explain away or sweep under the rug. It also became somewhat of a joke that no matter what she couldn’t beat the woman who sat on top of the WTA rankings for many years. Instead of the WTA taking the opportunity to promote women’s tennis when she was caught doping they doubled down on the her being the “face of the WTA” and became the only professional sport to allow propaganda from a doper to be featured on its official website. The people in charge are also acting as if her return from her doping suspension will see the revival of women’s tennis with both Williams in the twilight of their careers. It’s a mistake of massive proportions. Her people are working very hard to make it seem as if fans are not concerned about the optics of what’s been happening but the proof will indeed be in the pudding so to speak. When given the chance fans voice their displeasure at what the WTA has done in this situation and rightly ask if any other player would be afforded such leniency by their Association.. What happens this summer will go a long way to see if the WTA made a big mistake regarding it’s first real, long term doping scandal.

That leads right to a discussion of product placement. Many casual fans still think that Anna Kournikova was one of the greatest players ever. If that doesn’t tell you how well the WTA has marketed its players, and maybe the greatest female player ever, nothing else will. Their entire focus has been making the casual fan believe the best players all look like Ms Kournikova did back in the day – Young, blonde and “sexy”. Every player out of the US, Canada and Eastern Europe has tried to make herself fit this mold. It doesn’t help that they all play alike. When your top player doesn’t fit what you feel is the “ideal look” for a woman player you’ve got big problems but nothing that a dedication to promoting the SPORT of women’s tennis couldn’t have overcome. When the “look” is more important than the tennis you end up with the Eugenie Bouchard marketing disaster.

One thing that helps promote a sport is high quality play combined with interesting personalities. It’s one thing if all the players look alike. It’s another thing altogether if they all play alike. If that level of play is mediocre no one is going to care what the players look like. If the players don’t have engaging on court personalities (engaging doesn’t mean arrogant) and the tennis is snooze worthy you’ve got a problem. And let’s face it outside of Serena and Venus the current players are DULL!!! DULL!!! DULL!!! I recently heard Tracy Austin trying to say Kerber’s on court demeanor is “calm”. That’s one way to describe it. The other player who has people bandwagoning is Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza . The team that’s supposed to pull that wagon hasn’t been found yet. After finding a way to win the French Open Muguruza has done nothing to justify the hype around her. She reminds me of Petra Kvitova in a way except that Kvitova, when she wants to, can rally herself and utilize her god given talent and beat people. Muguruza doesn’t seem to want to rally herself at all. Instead she’s laboring under the illusion that her opponents should be in awe of her. So far none of them have obliged her. If it wasn’t for a tired opponent at the YEC she wouldn’t have won a match there.

So, next year?
It’s going to be hard to say since we won’t have a viable platform to watch the WTA until the second quarter, and that isn’t even a given as I’ve already said. Keep in mind that without a streaming platform there won’t be many sources for the people who run illegal streams to use. In the US Tennis Channel is focusing on young US players. If you have money to spare they have Tennis Channel+ which features both mens and women’s tennis. We also have ESPN, the outlet with the rights to all four Slams. But Doha. Dubai. Indian Wells. The Golden Swing. TennisTV used to carry the WTA matches. Not any more. I don’t think TC+ will be carrying them either or Simon would’ve mentioned that there is an agreement with them to defuse the widespread anger and disappointment of fans upset at losing access via TennisTV. Keep in mind most of the contracts for on air talent are finalized early in the year. The best are already signed up.

There are also many fans who only watch the WTA. I have to say I was surprised about that. I’m a fan of tennis and appreciate the differences between the two tours. The ATP is going to hit the ground running with prospective fans able to watch its product on various live and streaming platforms. The potential to keep or add viewers among cord cutters is huge. The WTA is always talking about the billions of fans who will potentially watch it’s product in Asia but I don’t understand them shutting out the millions of potential viewers who will actually pay to see women play tennis live and will look at it when they want to at home. With the time differences between Europe, South America, the United States and Asia being able to watch at your convenience is a big plus for fans.

Most of you know I don’t do predictions but I do have some ideas.

  • I think Serena has one more Slam in her.
  • I think we’ll see a revolving door at the top of the rankings because Kerber will not be a dominant Number 1.
  • Several of the top players from the last ten to fifteen years will “age out” and retire.
  • The stature of the WTA will be reduced due to incompetent management. While Simon hasn’t shown he’s got the right stuff to run women’s tennis a lot of the things he’s stuck with were put in place by his predecessor and are not easily ended or redirected.
  • Sadly I think we’re stuck with on court coaching, the single worst thing that has been done to women’s tennis so far.

I also hope that Simon is unable to implement some of the changes he’s talked about – no AD scoring for one, and eliminating “real” tie breakers. Those changes would turn women’s tennis from a sport to sports entertainment and leave mens tennis as “true” tennis. All the work that the founders put into getting respect for the women who play tennis would’ve been for nothing.

©Savannahs World 2016 All Rights Reserved