Somewhat Idle Chit Chat

by Savannah

The WTA will crown a new #1 player on Monday, the fifth top player of this year. Let’s look at the previous four women before we talk about the newest number one.

Serena Williams started out the year ranked in her customary number one position. She of course hasn’t played since the Australian Open due to one Little Miss Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.

Angelique Kerber found herself ranked number one on May 15 after Serena went on maternity leave. She won two Slams in 2016 but had not shown much this year.

Karolina Pliskova took the top spot from Kerber on July 17 and held on to the top spot until September 10.

Garbiñe Muguruza‘s reign began September 11 and ends today, October 8.

Simona Halep‘s time as WTA #1 begins Monday, October 9.

To be fair to Halep the grumbling about Slamless WTA Number One’s began when Pliskova reached the top spot. Was she the best player? Not by a long shot. Did she bring excitement to the sport? That depends on how you feel about laid back personalities and since that is a matter of taste there is no need to dwell on her on court persona. It is fair to look at her game though. She can hit powerful ground strokes and if given the chance she can overpower an opponent especially when she can move around on her own terms. To say that she is not a good mover is putting it mildly. She also seems unable to bend her knees. If an opponent keeps the ball low and places it where she has to run to get it she stands a good chance of frustrating her and beating her. Fans argued about whether she deserved to be number one as fans will do these days. She won three titles in 2017: Brisbane, Qatar, and Eastbourne. The argument raged about her less than stellar game and lack of big wins at majors.

Muguruza was hailed as the best player of them all. She is a decent mover and won a Slam this year. Essays were being written about how she would dominate women’s tennis for years to come. And yet there were the inevitable “issues”. Her temperament on court when she was put under pressure left a lot to be desired. Winning matches isn’t about your opponent letting you win because you’re you. She’s there to win and in order to do that she’s going to do everything she can to stop you from winning. When this would happen Mugu seemed to be taken by surprise and in the end she was just as likely to raise the level of her game as to pout her way to a loss. Not exactly the behavior you expect from a number one ranked player.

While Muguruza and Pliskova were going through their changes Simona Halep was waiting in the wings. She had more than one chance to take over the top spot but always seemed to fall just short. The problem with Halep, as I’ve said here before, is that she simply doesn’t handle pressure well. Her French Open loss is embedded in my mind. She literally slumped her shoulders and hung her head while meekly surrendering to her opponent, Aljona (Jelena) Ostapenko. Yet somehow she was still in the running for the top spot. As of tomorrow she will be the WTA #1. As of tomorrow she has won exactly one title this year. It has to be mentioned that she got enough points to become number one during her semifinal match at Beijing. She promptly lost the Final.

I’ve been arguing for years that the WTA has to find a way to use some version of quality points again. Simona is a good player. She’s not a great player. You can argue that she’s not a number one player and wouldn’t be except for the fact that the WTA’s ranking system allows a player to get to the top spot by accumulating enough points.. I’m aware of the problems with using quality points but a player shouldn’t be able to simply pile up  points over a season and become number one.

To make matters worse there is an outside chance Elina Svitolina can become the top player without even getting near a Slam final.

I don’t dislike any of the women who are competing for the top spot. It’s obvious they’re doing the best they can and being rewarded very well for it. Is it too much to ask that a top player be able to play top level tennis both mentally and physically? That a top player doesn’t need her hand held by a coach or family member to make it through a match? That skill, and not attitude, is the measure of a top player?

I said a few years ago that when the older generation (not just Serena Williams and Venus Williams) leave the stage the WTA would be in trouble. I just didn’t hink it would happen so soon. It’s no accident that older players are coming out of retirement now. If I can see the drop in the level of tennis being played surely ex pros can see it and say “why not?”

The ATP is going to be facing the same problem in two or three years. It doesn’t look like it yet because the older players are still able to compete at a high level and their fandoms still dominate the conversation. When they leave the stage the generation right behind them is not going to play the same high quality tennis ATP fans have become used to. The generation behind those men, barring injury or off court issues, seems poised to step into the large footprints the current leaders are leaving and right over the players who should be next in line. The only hindrance will be how quickly they mature mentally.

End Notes

The WTA has gone out of its way to pretend that a player returning from a doping suspension was away on a break. I think that those chickens are going to come home to roost soon. If a player admits to doping for ten years prior to her suspension how are her records against players valid? Some fans are already raising the issue in regards to Simona Halep’s record against her. Yes it would’ve been messy to take all her titles away. Yes it would’ve been messy to take her winnings away. But would you rather that or the situation that exists now where those impressive H2H’s are going to be questioned and believed to be invalid?

The fall out from the Laver Cup continues. Was it a “real tournament” and not simply an “exhibition”? Since it’s second installment will take place in Chicago in 2018 who will the players be?

It’s not too soon to ask how has the Laver Cup affected the Davis Cup is it? If the top players can make time in their schedules for the Laver Cup why can’t they play for their countries during Davis Cup?

The WTA hasn’t said a word about whether it will or won’t stage its own event or piggy back on the Laver Cup’s already established drawing power. I don’t think any of the current to WTA players has the drawing power of the top ATP players so any similar event would be problematic in terms of sponsorships if it’s not paired with a men’s event. If the WTA did a better job of promoting the SPORT of women’s tennis and not individual personalities there’s a chance the WTA would be able to pull off it’s own version of the highly successful concept.

Speaking of Davis Cup and Fed Cup Spain’s RFET fired Conchita Martinez who was acting as captain of both teams. Sergei Brugera and Anabel Medina Garrigues were announced as her replacements.

Things are going to be very interesting in Sloane Stephens camp the next few weeks. I didn’t see her play in Asia but fans were visibly surprised at her physical condition. I’m not sure why they weren’t surprised at her physical condition at the US Open but since she managed to win I guess the discussion was deferred. With her reputation of being lazy and undisciplined the US Open comms made it clear that coach Kamau Murray would not stay around if she reverted to her old habits. She’s arrogant enough to think that she doesn’t have to do any more because she’ll always be a Slam winner. That’s what I mean about being a tennis great and being great for tennis has more to do with pride in yourself and the sport that is paying you than having an attitude.

We’ll see about Ms Stephens won’t we?

I haven’t done a year end summary of the two players I picked as up and comers for this year. Sadly, I barely remember who I picked. I know the young woman was Louisa Chirico. I’ve seen her name around but she has had an off year.

I think I picked one of the young US men, probably Taylor Fritz. He’s doing okay for a US player his Federation is pushing.

As for next year I haven’t seen anyone tennis hasn’t already seized on as an up and comer to watch. As a result I’m thinking of changing my criteria a bit and picking someone who has already gotten themselves on everyone’s radar and seeing how they perform next year, how they handle the pressure. If that is my final decision I I’ll let you know just before play begins in Australia at the end of December.

©2017 Savannahs 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

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