The Rear View Mirror: 2017 US Open

by Savannah
Lots to say about this Slam. I think it set a precedent for starting the most misleading narratives about players ever. These misleading narratives started when the USTA, as was expected by me anyway, gave a returning doper pride of place. It was bad enough that they gave her a Wild Card. The USTA, never knowing when enough is enough, went on to schedule her return from doping for Opening Night knowing that there are fans who have a tradition of attending opening night ceremonies and that Ashe would be pretty full no matter what. Of course this was spun as fans dying to see her return by tennis media. If you have never attended the US Open you’d probably fall for the spin. Far more telling were the subsequent matches where fans behaved as they usually do during Week 1 and spend their time on the “outer courts” instead of in the cavernous and unfriendly confines of Ashe.

That leads me to the Women’s Singles Champion Sloane Stephens. Like her or not she does have talent. By the time she went out with injury she’d had a parade of coaches and you didn’t have to be an inside tennis person to realize that coaches didn’t want to work with her. During one of her matches the comms talked about her having the reputation of being “lazy”. The woman who was told as a child she’d never play top level tennis is the one holding the winners trophy. Did she achieve this in a vacuum? Nope. All credit is due Kamau Murray who told her point blank he was not there for her bullshit. Either she behaved as a professional or he was gone. That was why she hugged him so hard after the match. I wonder how Taylor Townsend felt at that moment? And I wonder if Sloane will decide that she’s good enough not to need him. I’m sure he’ll make sure the door doesn’t hit her on the way out if she does. People will be flocking to him now. I hope someone in her circle tells her that all top players have coaches, that no one goes it alone. You can have all the talent in the world but if it’s not being used properly it’s as if you don’t have any.

Of course Sloane was not the one the USTA was geared up to celebrate. They felt that Madison Keys would be the one holding up the trophy. I guess they haven’t been paying attention to Ms Keys and her ways. Whenever Madison gets broken she falls apart. She has absolutely no Plan B and she begins to hit harder and as a result sprays errors all over the place. Also remember while Sloane was out injured she was in the commentary booth and got a chance to observe a lot of players. Her dismantling of Keys showed that under the right supervision she can follow a game plan and defeat an opponent. Still, let’s not call her the new queen of women’s tennis just yet. A lot depends on whether she stays with Mr. Murray and follows his rules. The Asian Swing is also going to be telling. She needs, no must, do well there to be taken seriously as a top player.

Then there was the kerfuffle about Andy Murray‘s withdrawal due to a chronic hip injury that may keep him out the rest of the year. People assumed that with the withdrawal of the man seeded second in the draw all of the seeds would move up a place with the number three seed becoming the number two seed, number four becoming three, etc. Instead they decided to use a formula that shuffled the seeds but left the top half of the draw intact. Sturm und drang ensued. I can say I have never seen such an outpouring of anger about a draw in all the years I’ve been seriously following tennis. To say fans of the number three seeded player were up in arms is an understatement. They accused Andy Murray of waiting until the last minute on purpose to help his friend who was seeded number one. They accused the tennis powers that be of conspiring against their favorite. Fortunately none of that worked. Unfortunately they began talking about the top seed not facing any member of the top four on his way to the Championship. Of course they conveniently forgot the “Murderer’s Row” their favorite faced in London earlier this year where he didn’t face a member of the “Big Four” or any player who could hurt him. They also forgot that they argued vehemently that their favorite should inherit the draw that once belonged to Andy Murray. If they had had their way and number three became number two I think the argument about not facing a top player wouldn’t even be being made. That members of the “impartial” media are making this argument tells you all there is to know about the incestuous nature of tennis journalism.

Was there good news from the final Grand Slam of 2017? Why yes there was. It looks as if tennis greatness is going to skip a generation. Alexander Zverev (20). Andrey Rublev (19). Denis Shapovalov (18). Frances Tiafoe (19). These are the young men fans wanted to see at Flushing Meadows. And let’s not forget thirteen year old Cori Gauff. Or Junior Boys champion Wu Yibing. What about boys runner up Axel Geller who plays a very free wheeling loose style similar to Shapovolov? Gauff is the only girl I saw who is playing a different style from all the pony tailed blondes. Naomi Osaka (19) is also a Next Gen prospect. Osaka has what I call “quiet power”.

All of these young people need work especially on the mental aspect of the game. There is no excuse for sloppy or non existent foot work. There is no excuse for not being able to adjust to what your opponent is throwing at you. You shouldn’t get broken and have as your only option to hit harder and harder.

Is there going to be a lull? I think so. The rankings on the women’s side are like a merry-go-round and are not based on results but on number of points a player has attained. When your top ranked player doesn’t make it to the second week of a Slam after having won one earlier in the summer something is wrong. But that’s another post for another day.

I give this tournament an A- . Yes they stood up to an irate fandom but they get points taken away for reaching the level of track and field where a twice suspended doper is being praised. I was going with a B+ but that would distract from what the men and women, boys and girls, achieved over the last two weeks.

End Notes

I didn’t make it to the Qualifying Tournament this year but I was on the grounds Opening Day and the following Wednesday.

There were the usual snafu’s getting in this year. I think they were compounded by the use of E-ticketing. On Day One if you had a paper ticket you could breeze on through.

The biggest shock was the absence of the Nike kiosk. It was replaced by a Mercedes Benz set up that allowed people to sit behind the wheel and enter a contest I presume. I don’t drive so I could care less. I did care that the only merchandise for sale was for the USTA/US Open. Frankly it sucked. Usually I treat myself to some obscenely priced Nike shirt and one less expensive US Open shirt for the current year. I don’t know what issues caused Nike not to be given the center space it usually occupies but I hope they’re back next year. There are lots of us willing to pay $35 for a hit featuring our fave. There was an Adidas store but I didn’t get a chance to check their merchandise out.

By next year the new BJK NTC footprint should be ready. That would mean the temporary Armstrong Stadium, which was really the old Grandstand, will be gone. The bad part about the temporary stadium was that it was right next to the East Gate. There were good matches scheduled there but if I’m on Court 7 I’m not going to walk all the way to Armstrong and then back to the other courts for more action. If I’m in Armstrong my next stop is the LIRR.

The grounds were much more crowded this year than last year. Keep in mind people bought their tickets in the spring so the surge in attendance had nothing to do with any particular player. The outer courts were jam packed while the bigger courts – the new Grandstand, and the horrific Court 17, were mostly empty. The match where Johanna Konta lost to Aleksandra Krunic was on the Grandstand. Where I was sitting in Court 7 watching Denis Shapovolov you could see into the Grandstand. It as virtually empty. Tiny Court 7 was full. People were willing to stand to watch the kid play. That scheduling shows how out of touch some in the establishment are.

Food? It was as per usual. Expensive. I got my double cheeseburger from David Chang’s “Momofuku” and totally enjoyed it. I also had a steak sandwich from Pat LaFrieda. Delish.

The biggest hit with me was the Chase Center. You got a baseball hat, light refreshments including beer and wine and large screen televisions in a comfortably air conditioned environment. Chase also offered a “charge and watch” thingy which didn’t work.

The American Express center was a huge disappointment. Other than a wrist band and a small gift there was nothing there for fans.

There were also lots of “Fan Pass” centers around the grounds which if you collected enough you got prizes.

If i had to grade the BJK NTC itself in terms of scheduling, crowd control, and amenities I have to give it a B.

I hope to be back next year to see the completed site.

© 2017 Savannah World All Rights Reserved

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

My Two Days at the 2016 US Open Part Two: The Matches

by Savannah

The best part about going to the US Open during the first week with Grounds Passes is that there is so much tennis being played by the famous and hopefully on their way to be famous, as well as the infamous, that sitting for an entire match isn’t done that often. Fans usually stay for at most a set before moving on to try and catch another match that features a player they want to see for one reason or another. The first match I visited, and stayed for, featured Coco Vandeweghe and Naomi Osaka. I was really anxious to see young Ms Osaka after becoming a fan when at some god forsaken hour of the morning I watched her win the undercard in Singapore late last year. I was also curious about Vandeweghe, a woman I’d heard so much about, mostly negative. I told myself that no one could be that bad as I took my seat on the newly remodeled Court 13. I looked out over Courts 14, 15 and 16, glanced at the fans who had found a way to look into the standing room only Court 17 where Gaël Monfils was holding court and from which amazed shouts of wonder erupted from time to time. That was the day Monfils inadvertently broke one of the on court clocks.

But I digress. Vandeweghe got the full star treatment from Rupert Murdoch’s rag the NY Post the day before. She was displayed on a court in high heels, a shiny silver dress and wind machine blown hair with a racquet in her hand and sitting amidst tennis balls.

The USTA has decided that she is one of the players they want to promote I supposed thinking about the fluff piece. She fits the criteria of the WTA as far as looks go and has had decent results of late so I thought I’d be cheering for Naomi to do well not to win. Boy was I wrong.

From the moment Vandeweghe stepped on court she was throwing her sense of entitlement around. She was rude to the ball kids. She was rude to the chair. She stood hand on hip because her water wasn’t brought to her fast enough. And all of that was before the match started. When it became clear that Naomi was more than happy to be there she went into her act. She banged her racquet on the net. She used hand gestures to disparage her opponent whenever she made a good shot which was often. She banged her racquet on top of the barrier between the court and fans barely missing hitting a fan in the face. The fan had turned to say something to the person next to them (tennis people talk to each other during matches whether you know the person or not) and that was why they weren’t hit.

Then came the break between the second and third sets. Vandeweghe flounced off the court after the chair had spoken to her about not taking showers I presume and wasn’t seen for the next twenty minutes or so. Osaka waited patiently for the normal time and then asked the chair if she could change. He said yes. Osaka was back before Vandeweghe who wandered back about ten minutes after Osaka came back. The chair spoke to her. Vandeweghe went “whatever” and play started. Is it any wonder the crowd, with the exception of one small group, was cheering for Osaka? I’m willing to bet that most of that behavior did not make it to US television screens. If this is the woman the USTA wants to promote they’ve got their job cut out for them. People excuse her behavior as “bratty”. I’d say her behavior is better described by the words “entitled bitch”. And that isn’t strong enough.

The next match I watched, or attempted to watch, was Taylor Fritz vs Jack Sock . Both men are considered future top ten players by the US tennis establishment so we found good seats on Armstrong and prepared to watch the much ballyhooed future of men’s tennis. I should say that I had taken a break and sat down in the air conditioned comfort of one of the onsite restaurants. I had a skirt steak with chimichurri sauce and a side of fries. A glass of rosé accompanied my meal and I had a fruit cup for dessert. I don’t eat fries so most of my meal was the steak and fruit cup. Still it was hot that day so I attributed my urge to nap to a combination of the food and the heat. I was surprised to see a lot of people leave at the first changeover. I was determined to try and make it through the first set. We left after the second changeover.

Neither Sock or Fritz have star power, that “je ne sais quoi” that some have that separates the average player from the superstar. Add to that the preferred USTA style of play – forehand, forehand, forehand, error – and it’s no wonder so many people left to find another match especially since young Frances Tiafoe looked to be making a run at John Isner . I missed my first chance to visit the new Grandstand complex but saw the end of that match where lack of match play thwarted an emotional Tiafoe who knew he should’ve won the match. I watched on the jumbotron outside of Ashe. I wonder how many people were in the stands for the end of Fritz vs Sock.

I was back out to the NTC on Wednesday with the intention of watching matches on Court 17. Picking what day to go to the Open is always a tricky thing. You buy your admission before the order of play is out, before the draws even, so you “pays your money and takes your chances”. We paid our money and picked the “off days” this year as far as matches we were interested in went. Keep in mind we no longer buy tickets for Ashe preferring to wander the grounds and see the best available. We used to buy expensive seats at Ashe and once you’ve spent money you’re obligated to go sit in a mostly empty sun drenched stadium watching matches with predictable outcomes.

It seemed as if everyone was hip to Court 17’s schedule and had camped out early. They were at capacity and it wasn’t even noon. I met a friend and my daughter and her friend went off exploring. Our biggest decision looked to be where we were going to eat. The young people went to the Old Grandstand to watch Benoit Paire vs Marcos Baghdatis while I went to eat. Ryan Harrison vs Milos Raonic had also begun. I was content to watch on the screens inside the restaurant where I had a burger, rosé and the fruit cup again. The fruit cup is really, really good. I made it to the Old Grandstand in time for Naomi Osaka’s match vs Duan Yingying. The court wasn’t packed to capacity but those of us there cheered Naomi on and despite mental lapses she defeated a one dimensional Duan. I’m going to miss that court.

With nothing else appealing we headed for the new Grandstand. As I’ve already mentioned it’s a great court and if you plan to go either this year or in the future it’s a must see. Anyway the fans were literally hanging from the rafters. It was a true SRO crowd. US commentators had tried to make it seem as if there was an SRO crowd for a Eugenie Bouchard match despite camera angles that showed that was not the case so I wonder what they said about this crowd. Both reserved seating and general admission seats were full.

I managed to find a seat and it was obvious at once that Raonic was injured. He’s not gazelle like at all but when he could barely move to his right to get balls he could reach the reason for the score became clear. It didn’t matter to the packed house though. They robustly cheered Harrison and loudly belittled any attempt Raonic made to try and play tennis. If Raonic could move he would’ve run Harrison off the court but it was a good day for the crowd favorite who crowed as if he’d beaten someone who had put up a fight.

What surprised me is that after the men’s match the place cleared out. I mean it became a ghost town. You would think a match between two US women, Catherine Bellis and Shelby Rogers would keep fans in their seats. Nope. They disappeared and the match started in a mostly empty stadium. We didn’t stay long. These women also have no presence on court and play USTA inspired forehand, forehand, forehand, error tennis. Bor-ing.

That’s my court report for 2016. The most promising players I saw need to play more outside of the US. I’m hoping Ms Osaka will play more during the Asian swing but she should also play some of the events in Europe. She lost her Ashe debut because the occasion overwhelmed her and her opponent was more experienced. I mentioned her mental lapses during the Duan match. She was up by big margins and managed to hang on riding the crowd such as it was. By next year this time she should be higher ranked. A seed? It depends on Asia and the early tournaments next year. I didn’t see Frances Tiafoe live but it’s good that he cried at the end of the match. Play more Frances. Play qualies. It’ll do you a world of good.

I’m already looking forward to 2017.

© Savannahs World 2016 All rights reserved