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.
Spain Rafael Nadal
Latvia Jeļena Ostapenko
United States Ryan Harrison / New Zealand Michael Venus
United States Bethanie Mattek-Sands / Czech Republic Lucie Šafářová
Canada Gabriela Dabrowski / India Rohan Bopanna
Australia Alexei Popyrin
United States Whitney Osuigwe
Spain Nicola Kuhn / Hungary Zsombor Piros
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