The View From Here: Wimbledon 2017

by Savannah

Aren’t you sick of predictions based on the draw by now? I mean everyone picked Alona Ostapenko to win Roland Garros right? It’s time to stop looking at draws solely through the lens of ranking and popularity with the press and look at what could really happen in London over the next two weeks – sorry fort night.

Let me back up a bit. Rankings for the top players matter because where they’re ranked determines where they’re seeded and who they face in the early rounds. Then there’s Wimbledon where they tell you up front they can do whatever they want with the men’s seeding but basically leave the women’s seeding’s alone. That’s why the man ranked #2 in the world is seeded #4 and that’s all right because the man seeded #3 is worshipped as a god by some in the media.

Be that as it may I think all of the volatility will be on the women’s side. I read an article today where the WTA #1 Angelique Kerber is pretty much saying don’t expect her to do well. If she does, well all right then but if not, hey, it is what it is.

I still don’t get why people keep picking Simona Halep to do well at a Slam. She doesn’t do pressure people. And Darren won’t be able to come down and give her a pep talk when she’s at the business end of a match as the saying goes. She folds mentally and all her opponent has to do is keep her out there. Still depending on how things break, Slamless or not she has a chance to become ranked #1. Cue the articles praising her “consistency” and talking about how Darren Cahill has done a great job getting her the ranking. Keep in mind she may not win Wimbledon or any other Slam. This kudo would be more for her coach than her.

And that leads to Karolina Pliskova who despite all the shortcomings of her game also has a chance to become number one if Kerber falters. The hype would be a bit different for her though. Halep can move well (as long as it’s not to the net) where KaPlis can’t. As I’ve said before she is an updated version of Daniela Hantuchova. She needs to plant herself firmly on the baseline and come in on her terms. Force her out of her comfort zone, make her have to bend to get a return, and she’s toast. Again, she doesn’t have to win Wimbledon to become Number one but if she and Halep win one match at Wimbledon Kerber will need to make the Final to hold on to the top ranking. Since Pliskova the elder won Eastbourne she’s gained an advantage over Halep in this particular race to the top.

I’d be remiss in not emphasizing the fact that there is no on court coaching here. Some have criticized Ostapenko for constantly looking to her coach. These same people were okay when Justine Henin used to do the same thing. They also ignore Halep’s dependency on Cahill. I guess if the woman’s coach is a man it’s all right for her to look at her coach after every shot. Tennis journalism is so, weird. I use that word. Weird.

Still I don’t think any of the women mentioned above will hold the Venus Rosewater trophy. I think with the WTA the “top” players will do well at lesser tournaments (P5’s and Premier Mandatories) but that at Slams “unknown” will have the advantage, someone like Ostapenko who will put it together for two weeks while the others succumb to the pressure and fall by the wayside. I just don’t think any of the “top” players, regardless of ranking, have the mental or physical toughness needed to hold themselves together for the duration of a Slam.

So welcome back to the era of Slamless Number one’s people. Enjoy Wimbledon. I’ll check back in on Middle Sunday. By that time everything I’ve predicted will probably have fallen apart.

©2017 Savannahs World Tennis All Rights Reserved

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

Who Will It Be?

by Savannah

Jelena Ostapenko
Caroline Wozniacki
Kristina Mladenovic
Timea Bacsinszky
Elina Svitolina
Petra Martic
Carla Suarez Navarro
Simona Halep
Alizé Cornet
Caroline Garcia
Veronica Cepede-Royg
Karolina Pliskova

Prepare yourselves hard core tennis fans. Memorize the names listed above. Bone up on their head to heads and past achievements. Their quirks. Their looks. Their games. The burden rests on our shoulders. No one outside of tennis cognoscenti will have a clue as to who any of these women are. If they’re golf fans they may have heard of Caroline Wozniacki but that’s it. The WTA has done such a fine job of promoting women’s tennis that whoever makes it to the Final is guaranteed the lowest US TV ratings ever. The good people at NBC must be seething that Venus Williams couldn’t do it today. There was a chance she’s make the Final but clay is her worst surface. Still she did very well in Paris. I’m a big fan but I always thought it was a long shot for her to go deep in the second week.

Wozniacki vs Ostapenko and Mladenovic vs Bacsinsky are already set for the Quarter Finals. The remaining women’s matches remain to be played. If the seeding holds it’ll be Svitolina vs Halep and Pliskova playing the winner of Garcia vs Cornet, a match either woman can win.

People  talked alot about there being no previous Slam winner in the bottom half of the draw. Now there is no previous Slam winner in either half. And since the WTA has done such a great job of promoting women’s tennis (Yes I’m saying it again)  people will be tuned in to watch and hang on every shot. I know I will. But then again I’m one of those people who know who most of these women are because I spend a lot of time following tennis. The casual fan will probably pass. And that is sad.

All of these women, household names or not, played their asses off on the most demanding of surfaces. They defeated whoever was across the net from them, household name or not (You can argue that the only real household name left was Venus but this column isn’t totally about that). They don’t deserve their matches going forward being called a “Scrub Bowl”. Whoever wins will have her efforts diminished because “quirky” results often come from Roland Garros.

The players are not to blame for this happening. They belong to the Women’s Tennis Association. It’s the WTA’s  job to make sure their members names are front and center. Women’s tennis is the most successful of women’s sports and yet few outside of hard core fans can discuss any of the women listed above with any knowledge. Add to that the fact the the WTA is virtually invisible on television in any shape form or fashion and you leave sports fans with the impression that women’s tennis is a side show, a lesser part of the tennis world while hey, what about those Next Gen guys huh?

We’ll know more soon. Best of luck ladies.

©2017 Savannahs World All Rights Reserved

This and That

by Savannah

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The law of unintended consequences is a weird thing. It comes into play when the person who falls victim to it least expects it. When David Law of @DavidLawTennis posted the above picture on his Twitter feed I’m sure he wasn’t intending on making a commentary about what is wrong with tennis journalism. After all this was just a snapshot of his colleagues, his fellow tennis journalists. Whether he intended to or not he did end up making a very profound statement about his peers and why tennis is covered the way it is.

Look closely. Or not. You really don’t have to look too closely to see that all of the men in the picture are white men. Some have gray hair and some don’t but that is the extent of the diversity shown. No women. No people of color. No younger men. Back in the days when print journalism ruled there was the expression S”a picture is worth a thousand words”. In this case I think the expression is all that’s needed.

Ivan Lendl

I’m probably the only person who is disappointed in Andy Murray‘s decision to work with Ivan Lendl again. Lendl, you’ll remember, walked away from his coaching gig with Murray because he didn’t want to travel. Murray, to the consternation of the crew pictured above, chose Amélie Mauresmo as his coach. The two did well together but I think they both underestimated the demands of parenthood and parted on speaking terms. Almost immediately the old boy network began calling for him to go back to Lendl. Was it because the partnership with Mauresmo was bad? No one said that. It had to do with who Mauresmo is and the fact that she didn’t fit into the OBN’s view of the world.

So why is Lendl back? Why didn’t he work with fellow Czech Tomas Berdych? Who knows? It’s been reported that Berdych really wanted Lendl in his camp and that he is extremely disappointed that Lendl decided to work with Murray again.

I have no idea why Lendl does what he does. The entire situation reminds me of a romantic one where your lover/partner walks out on you saying “It’s not you it’s me” and then shows up again a bit later saying that they made a mistake. Yeah. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

So why am I talking about the Murray/Lendl situation and not the Milos Raonic/John McEnroe situation? Is it better for Raonic who has shown he will hire former players as coaches that he feels will help him master a particular surface (Carlos Moya).

Keep in mind that United States and Canadian tennis federations are very close. Also keep in mind that John McEnroe has been begging for anyone in the current crop to players to hire him. Forget the fact that he knows as much about playing modern tennis as I do. But he’s been a commentator for years you say? Yes he has – one of the least informed and ignorant ones to sully the airwaves. He makes it up as he goes along, painfully so, but he is still a force in US tennis circles where it’s an open secret that they wondered why one of their own hasn’t been selected to rub shoulders with the current tennis elite. During a recent broadcast on Tennis Channel the camera went to McEnroe on the sidelines after almost every point. Don’t ask me why. As for JMac he looked as if he were having a grand old time and why shouldn’t he? He got what he wanted and so did the US tennis establishment. Next they’ll be pushing for drug cheat Agassi to work with someone.

Frankly I don’t see what these older players bring to the modern top player. The modern players are physically fit, play a physical game and for the most part are quick mentally and physically. That was not the case when Jmac and the others played. To me the hiring of these older players is a type of welfare system for them. They made nowhere near the kind of money players make today and if they can get on the gravy train they will. That is all I see when I see these older men (it’s all men except for Mauresmo’s brief time in the sun) sitting in players boxes and being gloated over by US comms and the tennis press (see above)as some kind of demigod(s).

It’s funny that on the women’s side the only foray into hiring an older player was made by Agnieszka Radwanska when she hired, and quickly fired, Martina Navratilova. Navratilova has shown she’s kept herself better informed than John McEnroe has and yet no one is willing to take her on as a coach. Why? Why aren’t there more women coaches in the WTA? Why are the same names recycled between the women when there is need for a change in their teams? Are the women being sexist when it comes to who coaches them? It could go back to the Academy for them where men pretty much rule the roost. Ironically it’s Australian women – Daria Gavrilova comes to mind – who have hired female coaches. I should mention that Madison Keys worked with Lindsay Davenport for a minute. We were told that the demands of parenthood made Lindsay staying with the emotional Keys untenable.

The Olympics

Countries are announcing their Olympic rosters over the next few days. I find it ironic that players like John “God’s Country” Isner don’t feel it’s in their best interest to play for the United States and would rather take the opportunity to gain points playing smaller tournaments. It’s their choice and in the end a player has to do what he or she thinks is best. It’s ironic that the oft criticized Venus Williams and Serena Williams talk openly about their excitement in playing for the country that made them rich. There are priorities and there are priorities in life as well as sports.

End Notes

It’s grass court tennis time. It goes without saying that it’s not really my favorite surface. The modern game is too fast, to physical, to make play on the surface fun to watch or totally safe for the players. Add to it the damp of the British summer and you’ve got a disaster waiting to happen.

In case you haven’t noticed Dominic Thiem is the new boy wonder in men’s tennis. Maybe new isn’t the right word. He’s been talked about as the next big thing for some time now but he’s played a lot and played well recently. Coming into Wimbledon where he’ll have to play and win seven matches I wonder if Thiem will be able to hold up for the two weeks. It’s rare to see a male player use the tactic many female players have used to reach the top. I’m surprised none of the tennis journalists have talked about the analogy.

Anastasija Sevastova said after a recent win that women’s tennis is better than men’s tennis at the moment because anyone can win at any time. I still call it weakness.

Petra Kvitova lost to Jelena Ostapenko today. Not the best thing for Petra going into Wimbledon. She’s got a former Czech player, František Čermák coaching her now after ending a long term relationship with her former coach. Petra still looks fit to play. It doesn’t seem that she has the endurance to play her style of tennis over the length of a three set match.

The above mentioned John Isner threw down 17 aces against Juan Martin del Potro during their match yesterday. At one point Delpo turned to the crowd and said “It’s so boring”. He is so right. It’s that style of play that caused me to stop watching tennis for awhile. Tennis is about the mental challenges one player gives to another. Ace after ace after ace is not, in my opinion, tennis. Thank you Juan Martin for expressing what some of us feel.

©SavannahsWorld 2016 All Rights Reserved