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

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