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

The Anna Kournikova Effect

by Savannah

Main tour play begins today in Key Biscayne, Florida for the WTA, marking the end of the US spring hardcourt swing. The two tournaments, both more than a Masters 1000/Premier Mandatory but less than a Slam, that make up the swing are places where players, big names and not so big names, can pause and assess how their year is going. It’s also a time for both tours to trot out the best of the up can coming players, the people being groomed to take over not only the sport but the lions share of endorsements, clothing contracts, etc. At this time, just as the spring swing ends and the European clay season is about to begin I think a general review of what is ahead for tennis as a sport played by individuals who garner followings for their desire to win, their style, or way of going about winning tournaments, charisma.

Ah that word charisma. Let’s look at some past greats. Bjorn Borg had it with his long blond hair and business like approach to his game. Chrissie Evert, cute, blonde and feminine, had it. Monica Seles, at that time a pudgy young woman from Eastern Europe was deemed not to have it. Steffi Graf, lately an icon, didn’t have it. Neither did Martina Navratilova.

The one player, the one who has had the most influence on women’s (and men’s)tennis is a woman who barely won on the tour. She was plucked from the many to become the face of women’s tennis. If you look at how so many young women players today present themselves it’s obvious that she’s still the template. There’s even been talk of putting her in the Tennis Hall of Fame. For what? Being cute and blonde? If the effort succeeds instead of trying to elbow its way into being recognized as a major world sport tennis will be doing everything it can to show it’s still a sport bound by the social mores of a bygone era.

I’m sure you all think I’m picking on the women but I’m not. Let’s look at the mens tour and some of its past greats. It’s not all about looks there. With the ATP it’s a bit more subtle but no less toxic.

There are many people in and around mens tennis behind the scenes or in its management who want to return to the era of wooden racquets? Why? Because it’s what they know. They want to return to lightning fast courts as well. They’d like the clay court season to be shortened. That would mean a return to the days when Roland Garros could be ignored by the tennis federations of the US, Britain and Australia, the three countries that have suffered the most by the ascension of modern technology and players who play a style of tennis they can’t (or won’t) understand.

And that is really what this column is about.

A year or so ago I wrote about there being too much money in junior tennis, and that it’s warping the play of those who are supposed to be assuming the mantle of greatness from today’s top players. To long for the past, before this time period that has been described as a golden age, is a bit telling about where tennis is right now..

It’s not only that the young men and women of today don’t score high in the charisma department (with exceptions of course). It’s that for the most part they play mediocre, paint by the numbers, tennis. There are no innovators. No players who present something new for fans. Instead we’re seeing big servers from the US, quick players from Australia, fancy players from France and barely above average from Great Britain.

The fault for this lies with the Federations. Instead of encouraging innovation and creative play they want to roll out players who play the “style” of their country. Germany has found a player who can bring more to the table, a mobile big man, in Alexander Zverev and so has Australia in Nick Kyrgios although he plays great tennis only when he feels like it. Their other great hope is a money pit they can’t get rid of. The US has two big men, Reilly Opelka and Taylor Fritz. Fritz is the more mobile of the two. That should tell you all you need to know. Great Britain has Kyle Edmund and one other player whose name escapes me at the moment.

Women? Well the US is really pushing Madison Keys who seems to get injured quite a bit but they’re very excited about Kayla Day, who has the Patty Schnyder gangsta walk down but is still developing her game. If it wasn’t for Johanna Konta there wouldn’t be anyone to talk about. The French have Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic. Otherwise there are a lot of long blonde braided ponytails.

What do all these players have in common aside from being boring? They’re getting major clothing and commercial deals without having accomplished much on court. It used to be that you had to have accomplished something before you started rolling in the dough. Now, all you need is the right “look” and the proper management company and you’re rich. Never made it to a final of a big tournament? No big deal. The way you look is enough. By the time fans figure out you’re not even a flash in the pan you’ll be rich in your own right.

Federations need to be supportive of their players. Tennis is an expensive sport and even wealthy parents need some help along the way. When Federations dictate how a player should play the sport is not being advanced but held back and interest wanes even among fans. For example I subjected myself to a match between Taylor Fritz and Jack Sock at last years US Open. I barely made it a set. Forehand, forehand, forehand, forehand, error. Rinse and repeat. Both men made beautiful shots but the tennis was boring.

Who do I think will be a star? I picked Zverev the younger two years ago, before the bandwagon began. Many of the other players seem to be stuck, among them Borna Coric who seems to have no idea how to move his game forward. As for the women I keep hearing names like Ana Konjuh but I’ve yet to see her play an impressive match. The latest blonde is Anastasia Potapova. I’ve yet to see her play but I have seen action shots of her long ponytail streaming behind her as she celebrates a winning shot. The (new) future of tennis.

The best match at Indian Wells/BNPPO 2017 was between two veteran women neither of whom has ever been given the star treatment by the WTA. Svetlana Kuznetsova played Elena Vesnina in a match that showcased court sense, strategy, and good bordering on great tennis. Sveta is 31. Elena is 30. Neither has ever graced the cover of any edition of Vogue. You could tell that people started tuning in during the match by the number of mentions by tennis twitter as it progressed because people were raving about the quality of the match. People have come to expect mediocrity and when they get good play they will watch. For some reason the young players seem to think all they have to do is show up on court in the latest and greatest in tennis gear and headphones and play, no offense, club tennis. Until we get players who want it bad enough to play through pain, in sweat sodden clothes, for hours if need be, we’re not going to see the level of tennis we’ve gotten used to for a long, long  time.

It seems we’re entering another Kournikova era in tennis, where winning doesn’t matter, where image is once again everything, and the future greats toil away in anonymity.

 ©2017 Savannahs World All Rights Reserved