2017 Indian Wells This and That

by Savannah

The big guns will begin play over the weekend at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, California. Women’s Main Draw play began March 8th and the men began play March 9th. Despite this being early in the tournament there’s been enough news to keep tennis fans not only busy but scratching their heads.

Let’s start with the Wild Card situation. The following players all received WC’s into the Main Draw:

Frances Tiafoe
Stefan Kozlov
Taylor Fritz
Reilly Opelka
Bjorn Fratangelo
Bethanie Mattek-Sands
Nicole Gibbs
Taylor Townsend
Danielle Collins
Irina Falconi
Kayla Day
Jennifer Brady
Donna Vekic

The only two who made it through are Bjorn Fratangelo who played a very disinterested  Bernard Tomic, and Donna Vekic, the only non American to receive a WC and the only one to make it to round two in what I assume was a competitive match. By that I mean her opponent was trying her best to win.

And yes it does seem as if she and her boyfriend are a package deal at majors these days. There were signs of relief from some tennis professionals when she made it through to the next round. I guess they were sick of the word “undeserved” being thrown around when she was mentioned.

I’ve been a tennis fan a long time, longer than I’ve been blogging. I’ve also been in the corporate world where a lot of underhanded shady shit goes on. That said I’m well aware that a Federation can grant WC’s to whomever it wants. We saw the same thing in Australia in January where only local talent got Main Draw Wild Cards (MDWC’S). That’s fine. Just don’t bitch and moan when your players are shut out at events in Europe. Sadly, most US players right now are cannon fodder for the top players. Their one dimensional games just don’t cut it against players who can actually strategize and construct points during a match. Let me take a minute to discuss one WC, Danielle Collins.

I’m sure she’s a nice person. She’s easy on the eyes and wears a kit that puts all of her assets on display. She’s been a NCAA champion two times. Sorry USTA, she’s not ready for prime time. Monica Puig made her look like a ball kid getting a hit with a pro player. She had no business in the MD of a tournament this big.

To be fair I did see some of Reilly Opelka’s match. He’s got a hell of a serve.

Random Thoughts

Usually it’s the WTA that’s getting dragged for it’s horrible draws. It seems that like everything else these days the WTA has been out done in that department by the ATP. By now you’ve all seen the mens singles draw. Speaking as someone who’s seen some cakewalks given to Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic the one Andy Murray just got beats all of them. Federer must be green with envy. What the hell were they thinking? I know, I know they want Murray to win here. Shouldn’t he have to play some tennis on the way to the Final though? Whoever comes out of the bottom part of the draw will be match tough. Sometimes that’s better than la-de-dahing your way to a Final. We’ll see.

What is the ATP to do about Tomic? Some commentators hinted that ATP brass was court side observing his effort, or lack thereof, against Fratangelo Thursday. I don’t think he gave a fuck. He roused himself to look as if he were trying in what turned out to be the last game of the match and made Fratangelo need five match points to win it. He gave himself away when a shot he made was called out and he challenged just for the hell of it. When it was called in he was visibly annoyed and put his hands on his hips and hung his head. That was the only part of the match I saw. Two things have to happen: Tennis Australia has to stop giving him money and the ATP needs to heavily fine him and start denying him appearance fees if he gets them. The only language he understands is money. He can live large all he wants as long as he does the work that his job requires. Will anything be done? I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Thanks to Alizé Cornet the WTA had to remove it’s horrible Tweet regarding an article that supposedly showcased how happy WTA players are to see a convicted doper descend from the heavens back onto the Main Tour. It’s bad enough that the headline bore no resemblane to what was really being said in the article. The WTA was forced to take the tweet, and the article down. Ms Cornet, who is out injured, also deleted her tweet. Of course nothing ever dies in cyberspace so if you didn’t see the exchange here’s a screen shot:

c6f9i6qwcai2846

Right now the doper and her team, along with WTA head Steve Simon, are trying to strong arm the FFT (French Tennis Federation) into granting her a WC into the French Open main draw. More WTA players are ignoring the gag order the WTA imposed and speaking out. Even Angelique Kerber said something against the doper being shoehorned into Stuttgart. ATP players have joined in the fray. They may get what they want but it’s not going to be pretty.

By the way Steve where’s that WTA streaming platform we were promised? Maybe less time should be spent trying to rehab the image of a doper and more time spent making sure your product is visible to the fans you still have? Fans shouldn’t have to resort to low quality betting sites to see women’s tennis. Fans shouldn’t have to miss almost all of women’s play except for one match featuring one of the Blonde Brigade from Canada. What a joke.

Also, don’t think we’ve forgotten that post congratulating Kerber on regaining the number one ranking while Serena Williams is still in place at the top. It was unseemly. Uncalled for. Disrespectful. But hey, keep pushing that doper!

End Note

Francesa Schiavone was never considered marketable by the WTA. She’s not blonde. She’s got an aggressive on court demeanor. Her on court noise was not considered that of a competitor like another players. Until recently, she’s been one of the top ranked players. Age has seen her performance level drop. But fans, including this one, watch her matches. After all the nonsense yesterday this was the saddest thing I read, and a testimony to how low the WTA has fallen and how badly it treats it’s players.

c6en47lwcaar3i_

Many of us tweeted our support to Franny. Let’s see what her tour does.

Next Gen? Rising Stars? They’ve Got Work To Do

by Savannah

c3mdozuwcaamubs

Let’s go way back when. Back to 2008 to be precise when the four people pictured above played in the most prestigious tennis final of all, the Wimbledon Final. Fast forward nine years and who do we find playing in the final of the 2017 Australian Open? You got it! The same four people. The two top ranked players of the ATP are off doing other things. The top WTA player is doing other things too while the WTA #2 and #9 are playing a Grand Slam final both were widely reported to be no where near capable of contending for.

So what happened? Why didn’t any of the up and coming younger players make it near the Final? Yes Milos Raonic ( who is technically too old to be next gen) was in the quarter finals. So did Johanna Konta whom many, for some strange reason, thought would hit Serena off the court. That, my friends, gets to the heart of the matter.

During one of her on court interviews Venus Williams, in response to a question, said “I know how to play tennis”. There is a world of wisdom in those words. The men and women pictured above know how to play tennis. And that means they know more than how to hit the ball hard. They know how to adjust to what is happening across the net. They know how to think their way through a problem, a question being asked by their opponent. They know the hype ends when they step on court. If you watched Konta vs Serena you saw the look of absolute shock on her face when she realized that what she’d been told had nothing to do with what the woman across the net from her was doing. It was the same with Colleen Vandeweghe. She realized that all the smoke that had been blown up her ass about Venus – too old, physically fragile – was just that, smoke. In the end there is the one intangible no one can coach against, and that is will. It was will that won Rafael Nadal his match vs tennis insider favorite Grigor Dimitrov, a man who many have tapped as the next big thing for several years now. In the end he doubted himself, blinked, and the match was over. Vandeweghe and Konta know the feeling Grigor.

I didn’t watch the Roger Federer vs Stan Wawrinka match because the winner of that match, no matter the attempts to make it seem competitive, was a foregone conclusion. The hard court record between the two men is now 13-0 in Federer’s favor. Nothing to see there at all. It was 12-0 coming into the match.

“I know how to play tennis.” Think about those words the next time some pigtailed young woman or fresh faced young man is declared the next big thing. Some young barely out of puberty boy or girl who hits the cover off the ball is poised to become the next Grand Slam winner. Think about that in a few years when the four above have been consigned to the geriatric ward of tennis by tennis experts and somehow, every now and then they display the magic only they can. When some of the new jacks can make the statement Venus made and it rings true, then, and only then, we can talk about “Next Gen” or “Rising Stars”.

© SavannahsWorld 2017 All Rights Reserved except where indicated

The End Of Tennis? Really?

by Savannah

After coming fully awake part of my morning routine is going on Twitter to see what’s been going on while I was asleep. Lately it’s been a nerve-wracking exercise but I’m glad to say that today’s posts by some on Tennis Twitter were comic relief. The sad part is that one of the posts that made me literally laugh out loud and shake my head was by a tennis journalist who for the most part deserves to be called a journalist. I understand the constraints a paid professional faces in covering a particular beat but sometimes you have to wonder if these folks can look at themselves in the mirror.

Anyone who watches both tours knows that there are myths that have been created not only by fandoms (by their very nature fandoms deal in mythologizing their idol) but by professionals, men and women who are supposed to cast an unbiased eye on what is going on between the lines during a tennis match. A good commentator should be able to find a way to make not only the dyed in the wool fan interested in a match between two players they could care less about as well as pique the interest of a casual fan, someone who may remember the name of a player or see an interesting point and stick around for awhile. It’s not the job of a commentator to do what is now called “stanning”, to put all objectivity aside and root for a particular player. Using an American football analogy there can be all types of hype around a quarterback, a running back, or a wide receiver but in the end the GAME is what’s important so even with all the hype for a particular player or team the commentators do everything they can to make the fans interested in the how and why of what is going on on the field. If US football (or baseball) comms didn’t know everything about both teams on the field they’d be out of a job. Sadly those rules don’t apply in tennis.

Part of the pleasure of watching tennis is the sound of the sport. The ball hitting the racquet. The sound it makes when it hits the court (tennis played on the three major outdoor surfaces sounds different on each one), and the sound or lack of sound the player makes. It’s hard to watch with no sound because you miss so much nuance. But that is what I do 85% of the time when watching a broadcast especially if that broadcast originates in the States. We all know tennis is an individual sport but there can never be a match without two players. Unfortunately for many US or British comms there is often only one man or woman playing especially if that player has been hyped beyond all reason. Keep in mind it’s not a problem if a fandom does this. It’s a problem when the professionals do it.

So yes it was a surprise that Roger Federer is out for the year. It doesn’t mean men’s tennis is no longer watchable. It means that the ATP had best get to stepping and try and promote itself better than it’s had to recently. Men’s tennis has been blessed with two dominant players for over a decade and it’s faltering a bit because no matter how it tries the fandom for the now top ranked player is much, much smaller than the one for the Duopoly. You can say big three all you want. The Duopoly has sustained men’s tennis and made the people in charge of publicizing the sport very lazy. Yes you do need promotable players but as I’ve said many times over the years tennis fans are like cats. We can’t be herded in the direction someone in an office being paid by a player wants us to go in. The Duopoly developed on it’s own. Fans were drawn to one of the other. Some were drawn to both. But it remains true that where fans of either player will go is up in the air. Right now where they won’t go is clear.

You think I’m making this up? Let’s look at the criteria used by most sports organizations at the management level to determine who is the most popular. The following chart shows tennis players Twitter footprint.

aLYzxU2

Weird isn’t it? Yet the word is supposedly crashing down because one man has called it a year. Not a career, a year. Then the drug cheat was added into the “woe is me” dirge making it clear that this weeping and gnashing of teeth was agent driven. Attendance is going to plummet because these two players are out. To see professionals acting as if what the agents say is gospel and not reporting it in the more neutral “some are saying” is disheartening. There are stans who will say they can’t watch tennis ever again because their fave is out but were they ever really tennis fans? No true fan of the sport can ever say that. Tennis is an addiction, an itch that has to be scratched by watching it being played at the highest level possible. Will there be a transition? Of course there will be. It’s just not the end of the world as we know it.

There are reasons I haven’t gone the “celebrity blogger” route. By not doing that I’m able to write about and comment on things the way I want. As I’ve said before I understand the pressures commentators and journalists are under. All I ask is that everyone stop running in circles screaming “the sky is falling” like so many chicken little’s. The ATP has a lot of good young players coming up the rankings. Let’s honor what we’ve been so lucky to have while at the same time pointing out that there is so much good coming down the pipe.

NOTE: The chart comes via a fan posting as “Eric Wang” on a fan site.

©2016 SavannahsWorld All rights reserved except where noted.

 

 

Milestones

by Savannah

Two years ago I started choosing two up and coming players, one male, one female, to look out for. The first two players were Madison Keys and Alexander Zverev.  Today both of them achieved milestones in their careers and I’m happy to say I picked both of them as potential stars.

Sky Sports photo e2e14eab-2553-4748-be85-f1e8afb34d15_zpssrlhbvoe.jpg
Sky Sports

Two years ago Sascha Zverev was a gangly seventeen year old whose arms and legs seemed to have minds of their own. I had the opportunity to see him live at the US Open and was impressed with his fight as well as his movement. His court sense was that of a seventeen year old – a very talented but raw seventeen year old. He was a far cry from the player I saw today who was able to hold onto his emotions – he is still an emotional player – and keep his focus on the man across the net from him –Roger Federer. Zverev was not intimidated and was able to win a tough first set tiebreak, drop an equally tight second set and come back to win rather easily 6-3 in the third.

Zverev is not only working hard on court. He is visibly bigger than he was two years ago. His quads, while not Berdychian are much stronger. When he goes after a shot out wide he is much more physically co-ordinated; the awkwardness is just about gone.

Watching him today I thought to myself how dangerous he’s going to be when he really gets himself together. I also thanked the powers above that Zverev was trained in Europe and that the USTA didn’t get its hands on him. He is tall and I’m sure they would’ve turned him into a servebot. Instead tennis is going to have a big, mobile player who can construct a point and stay in a rally. And yes he has a good serve. Some will not know how to handle that.

Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe photo b4f04fb5-c49c-4458-9de7-c8f9f95d7087_zpsumcibtuf.jpg
Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe

As of Monday Madison Keys will join Venus Williams and Serena Williams in the WTA top ten, debuting at the number ten slot, the first American woman to debut in the top ten for many years. I just wish I could be happier about her ascension.

To say Keys in inconsistent is putting it mildly. A lot of her inconsistency has been blamed on nagging injuries. A lot of it has, in my opinion, been based on an inflated view of herself and a revolving door of coaches. I’m not even sure who her coach is now and don’t want to look it up because I’m willing to bet that she’ll be getting rid of him shortly.

From what I’ve seen of her this week Keys has been serving well and played with confidence. Most US trained players play better on grass because they’re trained to think that outside of a hard court grass best suits their game. Madison has also won a pre Wimbledon warmup before, (Eastbourne 2014) something that would surely have added to her confidence. She also made the semi finals at Rome on European red clay.

So why am I lukewarm to her? I don’t see that she’s progressed in her approach tennis. Her game is the same as it was two years ago. Her win at Birmingham against Carla Suarez-Navarro shouldn’t have been a big deal. CSN won a set off her her before she woke up and realized she could handle her opponent’s game. Like Zverev Keys is an emotional player. When her ball bashing first strike approach to tennis doesn’t work she loses it. Zverev seems to be working on keeping himself in check during the big points of a match. I’ve yet to see Madison play under pressure and not need to have her hand held to try and get herself together.

Still congratulations tare due o both Sascha and Maddy. Here’s hoping the best is yet to come.

©SavannahsWorld 2016 All Rights Reserved