Serena Williams

by Savannah

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via Tennis Australia

She did it. Despite all the hate directed at her and her sister, despite the ones who prayed she would not be able to win again, despite the lax attitude of her association, Serena Williams  won the women’s title at the 2017 Australian Open.

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It’s probable that Serena will win one more Slam this year, barring injury, and that we won’t have to hear Margaret Court’s name again. Don’t forget you never heard it until Serena started knocking on the door that would let her pass Steffi Graf. Make no mistake about it. If the current crop of “best” is what women’s tennis has to look forward to no one will surpass whatever records Serena goes on to claim for her own.

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There were whispers though, the same ones that have dogged Serena and her sister Venus Williams since they began their take over of women’s tennis. Venus would “let” Serena win. Venus will be a good big sister and not stand in her baby sister’s way. Richard no longer travels with his daughters and Oracene Price wasn’t seen in Melbourne this year. They wouldn’t dare say anything about Patrick Mouratoglou or David Witt so the collusion would have to be between the sisters. Yeah. That’s why Venus played as best she could against Serena. Both were tense to open the match but once they settled it was clear who would win.

Congratulations to Richard Williams and Oracene Price, who set their daughters into unchartered territory in a racist and hostile environment and who have lived to see them once again stand atop women’s tennis. You don’t get there because you want to. You get there with hard work and sacrifice and they will be a tough act to follow.

End Notes

I want to apologize for some factual errors in my blog post about the Next Gen an Rising Stars in the ATP and the WTA respectively. I’m not succumbing to or trying to distribute alternate facts. Again, I’m sorry.

© 2017 Savannahs World All Rights Reserved except where indicated. None of the pictures are mine

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

by Savannah

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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 Rearview Mirror: The WTA in 2016

by Savannah

The WTA season ended with a whimper. Its year end Number 1 ranked player Angelique Kerber lost the YEC to Dominika Cibulkova , a player who is looked at by many as a bit of a side show. She’s listed at 5’3″ but that is arguably PR. She plays a high energy game and has been known in the past to run out of steam or ideas. She didn’t in Singapore and soundly beat Kerber who showed adjusting is not her strong suit and that with the right attitude she is easily beaten. The same thing happened to Kerber at the Olympics when playing in a similar fashion Monica Puig defeated her for the Gold Medal.

In addition to the year ending without a dominant top ranked player the last thing the WTA needed was the inability to expose its brand to more fans. Yet that is the situation fans of women’s tennis are facing. Steve Simon, the CEO of the WTA admitted when pressed that there will be no streaming platform for women’s tennis until maybe the second quarter of 2017. He wasn’t all that definite on that.

Add to that the doping scandal it seems to want fans to forget about and the future of the WTA hasn’t been shakier. I’m not talking about the “depth” of competition. I’m talking about marketing. Product placement. And finally level of competition.

So, one at a time.

Marketing has been a total failure for several years now. There are two players who kept the WTA relevant, Venus Williams and Serena Williams . Yes there’s a lot of talk about a doper being the player who put butts in the seats but you have to deal with reality. She is not the one who brought fans to see women’s tennis. I remember many of her matches being poorly attended and fan negatives pretty high. Something to do with screaming. It didn’t help that as she got older her thug tactics against opponents were harder to explain away or sweep under the rug. It also became somewhat of a joke that no matter what she couldn’t beat the woman who sat on top of the WTA rankings for many years. Instead of the WTA taking the opportunity to promote women’s tennis when she was caught doping they doubled down on the her being the “face of the WTA” and became the only professional sport to allow propaganda from a doper to be featured on its official website. The people in charge are also acting as if her return from her doping suspension will see the revival of women’s tennis with both Williams in the twilight of their careers. It’s a mistake of massive proportions. Her people are working very hard to make it seem as if fans are not concerned about the optics of what’s been happening but the proof will indeed be in the pudding so to speak. When given the chance fans voice their displeasure at what the WTA has done in this situation and rightly ask if any other player would be afforded such leniency by their Association.. What happens this summer will go a long way to see if the WTA made a big mistake regarding it’s first real, long term doping scandal.

That leads right to a discussion of product placement. Many casual fans still think that Anna Kournikova was one of the greatest players ever. If that doesn’t tell you how well the WTA has marketed its players, and maybe the greatest female player ever, nothing else will. Their entire focus has been making the casual fan believe the best players all look like Ms Kournikova did back in the day – Young, blonde and “sexy”. Every player out of the US, Canada and Eastern Europe has tried to make herself fit this mold. It doesn’t help that they all play alike. When your top player doesn’t fit what you feel is the “ideal look” for a woman player you’ve got big problems but nothing that a dedication to promoting the SPORT of women’s tennis couldn’t have overcome. When the “look” is more important than the tennis you end up with the Eugenie Bouchard marketing disaster.

One thing that helps promote a sport is high quality play combined with interesting personalities. It’s one thing if all the players look alike. It’s another thing altogether if they all play alike. If that level of play is mediocre no one is going to care what the players look like. If the players don’t have engaging on court personalities (engaging doesn’t mean arrogant) and the tennis is snooze worthy you’ve got a problem. And let’s face it outside of Serena and Venus the current players are DULL!!! DULL!!! DULL!!! I recently heard Tracy Austin trying to say Kerber’s on court demeanor is “calm”. That’s one way to describe it. The other player who has people bandwagoning is Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza . The team that’s supposed to pull that wagon hasn’t been found yet. After finding a way to win the French Open Muguruza has done nothing to justify the hype around her. She reminds me of Petra Kvitova in a way except that Kvitova, when she wants to, can rally herself and utilize her god given talent and beat people. Muguruza doesn’t seem to want to rally herself at all. Instead she’s laboring under the illusion that her opponents should be in awe of her. So far none of them have obliged her. If it wasn’t for a tired opponent at the YEC she wouldn’t have won a match there.

So, next year?
It’s going to be hard to say since we won’t have a viable platform to watch the WTA until the second quarter, and that isn’t even a given as I’ve already said. Keep in mind that without a streaming platform there won’t be many sources for the people who run illegal streams to use. In the US Tennis Channel is focusing on young US players. If you have money to spare they have Tennis Channel+ which features both mens and women’s tennis. We also have ESPN, the outlet with the rights to all four Slams. But Doha. Dubai. Indian Wells. The Golden Swing. TennisTV used to carry the WTA matches. Not any more. I don’t think TC+ will be carrying them either or Simon would’ve mentioned that there is an agreement with them to defuse the widespread anger and disappointment of fans upset at losing access via TennisTV. Keep in mind most of the contracts for on air talent are finalized early in the year. The best are already signed up.

There are also many fans who only watch the WTA. I have to say I was surprised about that. I’m a fan of tennis and appreciate the differences between the two tours. The ATP is going to hit the ground running with prospective fans able to watch its product on various live and streaming platforms. The potential to keep or add viewers among cord cutters is huge. The WTA is always talking about the billions of fans who will potentially watch it’s product in Asia but I don’t understand them shutting out the millions of potential viewers who will actually pay to see women play tennis live and will look at it when they want to at home. With the time differences between Europe, South America, the United States and Asia being able to watch at your convenience is a big plus for fans.

Most of you know I don’t do predictions but I do have some ideas.

  • I think Serena has one more Slam in her.
  • I think we’ll see a revolving door at the top of the rankings because Kerber will not be a dominant Number 1.
  • Several of the top players from the last ten to fifteen years will “age out” and retire.
  • The stature of the WTA will be reduced due to incompetent management. While Simon hasn’t shown he’s got the right stuff to run women’s tennis a lot of the things he’s stuck with were put in place by his predecessor and are not easily ended or redirected.
  • Sadly I think we’re stuck with on court coaching, the single worst thing that has been done to women’s tennis so far.

I also hope that Simon is unable to implement some of the changes he’s talked about – no AD scoring for one, and eliminating “real” tie breakers. Those changes would turn women’s tennis from a sport to sports entertainment and leave mens tennis as “true” tennis. All the work that the founders put into getting respect for the women who play tennis would’ve been for nothing.

©Savannahs World 2016 All Rights Reserved

Dominika Cibulkova – 2016 WTA Champion

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via AP

One thing the WTA has been working hard at is trying to make fans accept that the woman now ranked #1 will be a dominant champion. Part of that strategy included her winning the Year End Championships held in Singapore. As usual the eight women were divided into two groups. The Red Group included Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep, Madison Keys & Dominika Cibulková. The White Group was made up of Agnieszka Radwańska, Karolína Plíšková, Garbiñe Muguruza and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Kerber, Muguruza and Kuznetsova have won Slams. Aga has been on the verge of taking over the top spot in rankings. Halep is expected to become a dominant player at some point as are Keys and Plíšková. Radwańska managed to win the YEC last year after going 1-2 in Round Robin play.

Sveta Kuznetsova turned out to be the star of the White Group. Whatever magic Aga had last year wasn’t there this year. Muguruza played the way I saw her play at the US Open in 2015. If Sveta’s marathon trip from Moscow to Singapore hadn’t finally caught up with her there’s a chance she would’ve left Singapore without winning a match. If she stays with Sam Sumyk there’s a lot they have to work on, starting with her attitude. She seems to think she’s a star and that the rest of the tour quakes in their sneakers at the thought of playing her. Yes, she’s delusional.

Plíšková’s technique is still horrible. She’s said she’s working on bending her knees but so far it’s not working well for her. Because her lower body doesn’t help her fatigue becomes a factor over the course of a tournament.

Aga has a similar issue. She doesn’t develop upper body strength. She doesn’t develop lower body strength. It’s not that she can’t she won’t. That’s why her execution is so important. It’s also why she can easily defeat younger players. They go for her feints and tricks. Those who have played her before don’t have those problems with her.

There’s not much to say about Halep anymore. Her issue is her inability to play well under pressure. She’s also allergic to the net . Cahill has done his best but I’m not sure she’s ever going to be the contender so many thought she’d be.

Madison Keys was my “one to watch” a couple of years ago. When I picked her as one to watch she was raw with very little strategy to her game. Several coaches and a couple of years later it’s obvious that she’s got no court sense other than to hit the ball as hard as she can. Some fans have taken to calling her a baseball player and it’s hard to argue against that sobriquet. She swings for the fences no matter what her opponent is doing. Home run hitters strike out a lot. So does Madison.

So we ended up with a final between Kerber and Cibulkova. I was surprised when I saw the head to head 5-4 for Kerber. That was close. I was even more surprised when I woke up this morning and saw that Cibulkova had won the first set and was on the verge of winning the second set. Kerber tried to get herself in gear but little Dominika was not having it. As you see she’s the one who lofted the trophy.

So where do we go from here? Serena Williams will be back next year. At 36 she’s still capable of winning a Slam if things go her way. She played a very limited schedule this year and after the US Open took the rest of the year off because she was “tired of playing hurt”.

Victoria Azarenka is due to give birth and there’s no doubt that she will be back on tour as soon as she’s physically able. Somehow I don’t think she’ll let motherhood get in the way of her tennis. Then again you never know.

As I’ve already mentioned there wasn’t a coherent PR campaign for the YEC. Some fans were calling it a preview of the future of the WTA. There are no big stars among this group. If the spin for the number one is her sense of calm on the court you’re talking boring. Don’t get me wrong, there were some good matches. I was actually awake for some of them. In the end it didn’t matter to me if I was awake or not or if I caught a replay. And I’m the kind of fan who tried to see the Future Stars competition in Singapore.

So congratulations Dominika Cibulkova. You’re the champion of women’s tennis for 2016.

©Savannah’s World 2016 All Rights Reserved Except where indicated

Why Now?

by Savannah

It’s ironic that three of the athletes who had their personal medical information leaked today were women of color and the one woman who wasn’t a woman of color is a lesbian. Make of that what you will.

Here is the WADA statement.

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Ironically the information released shows all four women: Simone Biles , Serena Williams , Venus Williams and Elena Delle Donne followed the rules and notified anti doping agencies of their prescribed use of substances on the banned list, mostly out of competition. Biles was and is being treated for ADHD and has a TUE (thereputic use exemption). No rules were broken. None of them are guilty of anti doping offenses committed during the recently completed Olympic Games in Rio.

If anything this shows that top competitors follow the rules and perform at the top of their abilities.

I don’t understand why this information has been leaked now.

© 2016 Savannahs World All Rights Reserved

The Rear View Mirror: The 2016 US Open

by Savannah

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via http://www.sportslivenews.com/

 

2016 Champions
Men’s Singles
Switzerland Stan Wawrinka
Women’s Singles
Germany Angelique Kerber
Men’s Doubles
Brazil Bruno Soares / United Kingdom Jamie Murray
Women’s Doubles
United States Bethanie Mattek-Sands / Czech Republic Lucie Šafářová
Mixed Doubles
Germany Laura Siegemund / Croatia Mate Pavić
Boys’ Singles
Canada Félix Auger-Aliassime
Girls’ Singles
United States Kayla Day
Boys’ Doubles
Bolivia Juan Carlos Aguilar / Brazil Felipe Meligeni Alves
Girls’ Doubles
United States Jada Hart / United States Ena Shibahara
Men’s Champions Invitational
Australia Pat Cash / Australia Mark Philippoussis
Women’s Champions Invitational
United States Lindsay Davenport / United States Mary Joe Fernández

Some thoughts:

Not one main tour US singles player made it to the Finals. Serena Williams made it to the semi finals and was barely able to move in that match. Steve Johnson , the man who said former champion Juan Martin del Potro shouldn’t get a Wild Card over what I assume he felt would be a more deserving US player didn’t survive his match vs del Potro. US Wildcards? Pfft. Gone. If you blinked you missed seeing them crash and burn. New US men’s #1 Jack Sock ? he was exposed as being nothing more than a forehand. He was almost the least fit man I saw play.

Despite all of the US juniors getting so much hype in the press it was Canada’s Félix Auger-Aliassime who took home the boy’s trophy. Kayla Day of the US who doesn’t look a day over twelve, was the only singles player to win a title.

The stadium for the Women’s Final was reported to be about 85% full. Tickets prices for the women’s final fell through the floor going for about $31 each. If there’s a compelling match fans usually storm the gates and grab up any available ticket. That didn’t happen. It’s widely reported that the men’s final was a sell out.

Does that mean the men’s tour is stronger? Let’s look at how the two finalists got there. The ATP #1 spent less than 10 hours on court.

Novak Djokovic

1st rd: bt Jerzy Janowicz (POL) 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1
2nd rd: bt Jiri Vesely (CZE) walkover
3rd rd: bt Mikhail Youzhny (RUS) 4-2 retired
4th rd: bt Kyle Edmund (GBR) 6-2, 6-1, 6-4
QF: bt Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA x9) 6-3, 6-2 retired
SF: bt Gael Monfils (FRA x10) 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2

Stan Wawrinka

1st rd: bt Fernando Verdasco (ESP) 7-6 (7/4), 6-4, 6-4
2nd rd: bt Alessandro Giannessi (ITA) 6-1, 7-6 (7/4), 7-5
3rd rd: bt Dan Evans (GBR) 4-6, 6-3, 6-7 (6/8), 7-6 (10/8), 6-2
4th rd: bt Illya Marchenko (UKR) 6-4, 6-1, 6-7 (5/7), 6-3
QF: bt Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) 7-6 (7/5), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2
SF: bt Kei Nishikori (JPN x6) 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-2

There was a lot of talk about the cake walk Djokovic had in Paris. This draw made that one look competitive and he still only played two full matches. In my opinion he didn’t deserve to win and fortunately he didn’t. I’m not a great fan of Wawrinka but at least he had to play tennis to reach the final. Apologists are saying it wasn’t Djokovic’s fault he played a total of four matches including the semi final and final. If any other player, with one exception, had that happen there would be question marks and asterisks next to his name if he had somehow managed to win.

As for the women the Final proved that there is only one draw in women’s tennis and that is Serena Williams. Some want to sneak Maria Sharapova‘s name in there but to be honest that is just not true. Tennis media loves her and she does have stans but when it comes to putting butts in the seats outside of semi finals and finals where people have bought tickets so they can say they were there I’ve never seen a stadium packed to overflowing just to see her. Tennis media of course buys into the hype around her because they need access. Fans don’t have to suck up.

It’s hardly been mentioned that Angelique Kerber played her way into the number one spot. Once again when discussing the WTA we’re talking more about ranking than proficiency. Keep in mind how Kerber was dismantled in the Olympic Final by Monica Puig and how she did almost nothing coming into the US Open. The best that can be said is that she’s not a Slamless number one.

Her opponent, Karolina Pliskova will always be able to say she beat Serena in the semi final of a major. The part about Serena being injured will always be left to fans to point out just like it was with Sloane Stephens who still thinks she’s a super star. Pliskova is one of the worst movers in tennis. It’ll be interesting to see how she does in 2017.

Overall I think tennis came out of the US Open in a holding pattern. The Asian swing will feature heavily in who does and doesn’t make the year end finals of both tours. Will players enter events they normally wouldn’t so that they can stumble into the finals of their respective tours? We’re already seeing some changes in where top players will begin play in 2017. Does anyone think Kerber, without a lot of assistance from her draws will hold on to the top spot especially if she cuts back on the amount of tennis she plays? Will the ATP top player continue to deserve his nickanme of “Fakervic” especially after yesterday’s shenanigans? Will some continue to make excuses for him?

It’s a shame most of the play in Asia will go unwatched by the majority of tennis fans in the West due to the time difference. There should be some exciting results with so much at stake.

© SavannahsWorld 2016 All Rights Reserved except where indicated

The WTA Has It’s Work Cut Out For It

by Savannah

No One Wants to See the U.S. Open Women’s Final Without Serena

 

The above piece, by Eben Novy-Williams at Bloomberg greeted tennis fans and fanatics late Friday evening, early Saturday morning as ticket prices for the women’s US Open Final once again fell precipitously below three figures for the second year in a row. There was immediate outcry of course with German tennis fans jumping in to say they’d most definitely be watching and some hard core fans on this side of the Atlantic Ocean saying they’d be watching too. And that is, sadly, the point.

When told new #1 Angelique Kerber will play Karolina Pliskova many will reply “Who?” after giving the proverbial blank stare. And for that the WTA, followed closely by the USTA is to blame. Don’t forget it’s Nike that has done the lion’s share of promoting Serena. Not her Federation that seems to do all it can to make sure she fails, and not the WTA that ignores her unless it absolutely has no choice. People can bitch and moan about the Bloomberg piece but he is saying out loud what everyone in sports knows: there is no women’s tennis without Serena Williams . Yes the sport will go on and there will be new top players but who will care? If the WTA promoted women’s tennis as a sport and not as a “look” women’s tennis wouldn’t be in the position it is. People would want to see the two women who will play this afternoon. People would care.

Lost in the story of cheap tickets is the fact that there were so many tickets still available. Fans dumping previously purchased tickets or never sold before tickets?

Serena Williams is 34 years old. Her body is not going to do what she wants it to do without a lot of rest and pampering. Everyone in her box was wearing a concerned look during the semi final but that isn’t newsworthy. And her coach doing his job and becoming a lightening rod for criticism is vilified.

We all knew this day was coming. It’s so sad that once again unless there’s a miracle women’s tennis will fall back into the shadow of men’s tennis.

It didn’t have to be this way.