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

Dominika Cibulkova – 2016 WTA Champion

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via AP

One thing the WTA has been working hard at is trying to make fans accept that the woman now ranked #1 will be a dominant champion. Part of that strategy included her winning the Year End Championships held in Singapore. As usual the eight women were divided into two groups. The Red Group included Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep, Madison Keys & Dominika Cibulková. The White Group was made up of Agnieszka Radwańska, Karolína Plíšková, Garbiñe Muguruza and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Kerber, Muguruza and Kuznetsova have won Slams. Aga has been on the verge of taking over the top spot in rankings. Halep is expected to become a dominant player at some point as are Keys and Plíšková. Radwańska managed to win the YEC last year after going 1-2 in Round Robin play.

Sveta Kuznetsova turned out to be the star of the White Group. Whatever magic Aga had last year wasn’t there this year. Muguruza played the way I saw her play at the US Open in 2015. If Sveta’s marathon trip from Moscow to Singapore hadn’t finally caught up with her there’s a chance she would’ve left Singapore without winning a match. If she stays with Sam Sumyk there’s a lot they have to work on, starting with her attitude. She seems to think she’s a star and that the rest of the tour quakes in their sneakers at the thought of playing her. Yes, she’s delusional.

Plíšková’s technique is still horrible. She’s said she’s working on bending her knees but so far it’s not working well for her. Because her lower body doesn’t help her fatigue becomes a factor over the course of a tournament.

Aga has a similar issue. She doesn’t develop upper body strength. She doesn’t develop lower body strength. It’s not that she can’t she won’t. That’s why her execution is so important. It’s also why she can easily defeat younger players. They go for her feints and tricks. Those who have played her before don’t have those problems with her.

There’s not much to say about Halep anymore. Her issue is her inability to play well under pressure. She’s also allergic to the net . Cahill has done his best but I’m not sure she’s ever going to be the contender so many thought she’d be.

Madison Keys was my “one to watch” a couple of years ago. When I picked her as one to watch she was raw with very little strategy to her game. Several coaches and a couple of years later it’s obvious that she’s got no court sense other than to hit the ball as hard as she can. Some fans have taken to calling her a baseball player and it’s hard to argue against that sobriquet. She swings for the fences no matter what her opponent is doing. Home run hitters strike out a lot. So does Madison.

So we ended up with a final between Kerber and Cibulkova. I was surprised when I saw the head to head 5-4 for Kerber. That was close. I was even more surprised when I woke up this morning and saw that Cibulkova had won the first set and was on the verge of winning the second set. Kerber tried to get herself in gear but little Dominika was not having it. As you see she’s the one who lofted the trophy.

So where do we go from here? Serena Williams will be back next year. At 36 she’s still capable of winning a Slam if things go her way. She played a very limited schedule this year and after the US Open took the rest of the year off because she was “tired of playing hurt”.

Victoria Azarenka is due to give birth and there’s no doubt that she will be back on tour as soon as she’s physically able. Somehow I don’t think she’ll let motherhood get in the way of her tennis. Then again you never know.

As I’ve already mentioned there wasn’t a coherent PR campaign for the YEC. Some fans were calling it a preview of the future of the WTA. There are no big stars among this group. If the spin for the number one is her sense of calm on the court you’re talking boring. Don’t get me wrong, there were some good matches. I was actually awake for some of them. In the end it didn’t matter to me if I was awake or not or if I caught a replay. And I’m the kind of fan who tried to see the Future Stars competition in Singapore.

So congratulations Dominika Cibulkova. You’re the champion of women’s tennis for 2016.

©Savannah’s World 2016 All Rights Reserved Except where indicated

Make Sure To Watch…

by Savannah

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

I’m stunned.

More on this as developments warrant.

The WTA YEC Final: Who?

by Savannah

Unless you’re a dyed in the wool tennis fanatic you’re excused for having the above reaction when told who will be contesting for the title of best women’s tennis player of 2016. I doubt many outside of us tennis fanatics have ever heard of either Angelique Kerber or Dominika Cibulkova . In fact I’d be willing to bet a casual fan would’ve had no idea who any of the Final 8 were. Ask them.

Angelique Kerber?
Agnieszka Radwańska?
Simona Halep?
Karolína Plíšková?
Garbiñe Muguruza?
Madison Keys?
Dominika Cibulková?
Svetlana Kuznetsova?

Hell Sveta didn’t even know she’d be participating in this years Final until the very last minute thanks to the WTA’s continued lack of concern for its players and the resulting crappy schedule they’re forced to play. To say that the publicity photo’s of happy blonde women were too little to late is putting it mildly. There was no time to do proper photo ops or introduce the women to the public beyond the niche world of tennis fandom. Even for tennis fans Sveta became the main story, managing to run on fumes until the semifinal when she hit the proverbial wall. The WTA has got a woman that Steve Simon called a “representation” of women’s tennis (watch the video of his ridiculous press conference) that is not Serena Williams but at what cost? If no one gives a damn about your product what difference does it make if she’s got the look you want and an acceptable nationality? For the last several years the WTA has chosen not to promote women’s tennis as a sport choosing to promote the look of a now certified doper over the best athlete in it’s ranks. Its attempt to ignore the fact that it’s “face” doped for ten years (the amount of time that can be verified) and act as if her returning to the sport she’s disgraced is something to be cheered is cringeworthy to put it mildly.

So here we are. Dominika Cibulkova will face Angelique Kerber for the crown. Kerber is 5-4 vs Cibulkova in their head to head. I barely care about this final. I can imagine how the generic casual fan will feel especially since the Final is taking place in Singapore. There is a twelve hour time difference between the east coast of the US and that country. Meanwhile the NFL has a game in London that will start at 9a Eastern time in the US and 6a on the West Coast of the US. The NFL has a lot of problems but publicity isn’t one of them. That generic fan in the US will, if he or she is awake, watch that as opposed to two women they’ve never heard of. The fault for that lies firmly with the WTA. Even in his little presser Simon did not touch on potential US viewers choosing instead to focus on the potential in Europe and China, the emphasis being on potential. Citing Europe is kind of ironic since so many women’s tournaments there have been shut down in favor of China where the women play in empty stadiums.

No matter how you feel about the two finalists they’ve both done what they had to do to get to this position. One of them will be crowned 2016 champion. It’s a shame that very few outside of those in the stadium will bother to wake up to watch. They deserve a better Association than the WTA.

And that is truly a tragedy.

©2016 Savannahs World All rights reserved