Naomi Osaka – WTA World #1

by Savannah

dx1ciemu8aacwccPhoto via@AustralianOpen

On Monday twenty one year old Naomi Osaka will become the number one player of the Women’s Tennis Association. This time last year she was ranked #72 in the world. There is so much to note about Ms Osaka, things that need to be made known to the tennis public before the tennis “media” has a chance to set her image in stone for the casual fan or the fan becoming interested in women’s tennis because of Ms. Osaka.

Ms Osaka is of Haitian and Japanese descent. She was raised in the United States and at one time was working with the USTA. The USTA did not see her as worthy of their full backing but the Japanese Tennis Federation thought otherwise. Since Ms Osaka was born in Japan she was eligible to play for them. Osaka’s father, Leonard François, hasn’t looked back. It’s kind of amusing to wonder how the people who made that decision view it now. A couple of years ago, before Naomi hired Aleksandar “Sascha” Bajin as her full time coach, Mary Jo Fernandez was already wondering if Osaka and her family could be convinced to  come back to the US tennis establishment. It was already clear to them that they’d made a huge mistake in relegating Ms Osaka to the also ran category. After tonights victory and Osaka’s ascension to Number One must be galling. The fact that Naomi now holds two Grand Slam titles, won back to back at that, must have them pulling out their hair by the roots.

It’s not only that Naomi won, it’s how she won and who she won against. Petra Kvitova has come back from a hellish experience to challenge for the number one ranking of the WTA. Instead of her career being over after the assault she’s come storming back and for many her attaining the number one ranking would’ve been the feel good story of the year.

The match itself was played at a very high level. The ball striking was superb and both women were creating out of this world angles while hitting screamers. But it wasn’t all about the screamers. There was strategy. There was creativity by both women. And there was an emotional falling apart by Naomi after blowing a chance to win the match in two sets. Naomi took a bathroom break leaving the court in tears. The next time she cried it was with relief and joy.

And just in case you won’t be able to some if not all of the match Rod Laver Arena was full. For a women’s tennis match.  The official Twitter account of the Australian Open said total attendance for the Women’s Final was 25,482. The previous record was 20,036 set in 2013 when Victoria Azarenka defended her title against Li Na.

What happens next? We may not see the results of Naomi ascending to the top for another 10-15 years. Girls in Caribbean countries as well those in Asian ones may begin to ask themselves “why not me?” and begin to pick up racquets. Sponsors may be more willing to assist these young women. Where will the next Leonard François come from? François followed in the steps of Richard Williams and Oracene Price when planning for his daughter’s tennis future (Naomi’s older sister Mari went to Stanford and played tennis there).

There is still some resistance to Naomi from those who survived the wars that were fought on tennis message boards when Venus Williams and Serena Williams arrived on the scene and every match they played was a battle to prove not only that they could play but that they belonged. Mr. François couldn’t have done what he did without the Williams family daring to be different. Without his time spent as Serena Williams hitting partner Bajin wouldn’t know what it takes to be a champion and how to nurture that quality in a shy, quirky, barely out of her teens young woman.

So let’s not feel that by cheering for this young woman we’re disrespecting the woman who is finally being recognized as not only the greatest female player but as one of the all time greats of the sport male or female, something her father predicted so many years ago. She has only a few more steps to take in reaching her goal. Naomi is just starting on the road. We can celebrate both and wish them well as they stride forward.

dx2x7h6x0aece0t          Picture via @AustralianOpen

©2019 Savannahs World Tennis. All Rights Reserved except where indicated.

 

What’s That on the Windshield?!

by Savannah

It’s almost mid January. There’s a cold snap in the area of the north east United States where I live and it’s summer in Melbourne, Australia. I haven’t written about tennis since the 2018 US Open. It’s not that I haven’t been following tennis it’s just that when your day to day life is lived in existential dread why pile more angst onto the pile of stuff on the bed? The official end of the tennis calendar year has come and gone and the new calendar has started. The people who run tennis want all of us who love the sport to focus on the Australian Open and I will but right now I’m going to start sorting through the pile of stuff and get to what “they” don’t want you to focus on.

Let’s start with the newly unveiled ATP Cup that  will be taking the place of Hopman Cup. I admit I never used to pay attention to the Hopman Cup because in my mind it was an exhibition and all exhibitions are hit and giggle events no? If what I saw this year was what usually goes on at Hopman Cup I’ve been mistaken about what it was and missed out on some great tennis. The powers that be have decided that the ATP Cup is a much more exciting venture and will bring more fans to the sport. I read the announcement by TD Craig Tiley – there will be more on him later – and read it again. I mean it’s called the ATP Cup. What will the WTA players be doing while this fabulous new event is taking place? Tiley said in passing that they would figure something out with the WTA. Figure something out.

Steve Simon has proven himself worse than the person who preceded him Stacey Allaster. She played her favorites – Genie’s Army anyone? – but nothing much got past her on the business side. Yeah I know the whole Asian thing is looking like a bust but I don’t think the ATP Cup would’ve gone right by her. Lindsay Davenport on Tennis Channel the other day went on a mini rant about how reactive and not proactive the WTA has become. I know that there is a WTA Player’s Council but have they spoken up? Then again why should the players have to carry their own water when there are men and women making pretty decent salaries swanning around the world (I love British expressions. They somehow get right to the heart of things) taking pictures and giving each other awards while the women’s tour sinks into oblivion. The WTA has two marketable stars, neither of whom is a doper, and they treat them like stepchildren with red hair. When they retire who is going to bring the fans to the yard so to speak? (Sorry Kelis). Are people lining up to see the current top ten with one or two exceptions? Is there any player people will line up for the way fans line up for someone like Stefanos Tsitsipas or Denis Shapovalov?

One of the reasons I haven’t written about tennis is because I feel like I’ve been saying the same thing for over ten years. The WTA does not know how to market women’s tennis. I could spend an hour or more talking about why there are no Shapovalov’s or Tsitsipas’ in the WTA but when it all comes down to it it’s poor marketing and homogenization of the sport and the lack of coherent plans to market players people may want to see like Aryna Sabalenka or Maria Sakkari. Who outside of tennis fanatics even knows who they are? Who outside of tennis fanatics knows who Simona Halep is? Someone called Halep a media darling the other day. Really? Not in my neck of the woods. The latest issue of Tennis magazine doesn’t have her as part of its photo montage cover. Instead of promoting these young women they’re spending all their time promoting a doper who should’ve had her Slam wins taken away from her as some advocated for. It’s painfully obvious that without her special medicine she wouldn’t have been able to win them.

When professional basketball became a majority African American sport there were whispers that it’s days were numbered. Instead it became a world wide phenomenon that has players from all over the world clamoring to play. The people behind the marketing of the NBA showed how to turn a potentially bad situation into one that is making money hand over fist. It did not become a league of Harlem Globetrotters, sports entertainment. It became a one of the pre eminent sports leagues in the world right up there with pro soccer and the NFL. Right now it seems that once the older generation of women tennis players retires the WTA will turn into a sports entertainment outfit, an afterthought. I don’t think that’s what the pioneers had in mind when the WTA was created.

A Malign Influence

Justin Gimelstob has been a malignancy on tennis for many years now. From the time he suggested that his brother should sexually assault -rape – Anna Kournikova to now when he faces serious assault charges and will be in court on January 31 after the Australian Open professional tennis has looked the other way. It’s only now coming to light that he’s been a one man crime spree for many of the years he’s spent climbing the ranks from a mediocre, forgettable player to a power behind the scenes. If it weren’t for Simon Briggs of the British newspaper the Telegraph tennis fans would have no way of knowing the role Gimelstob is about to play in controlling who runs the ATP. Briggs article lays out exactly why this dangerous individual should’ve been expunged from professional tennis years ago. Here is a LINK to Briggs update. If you live in the States the so called tennis journalists have been almost completely silent. If they have spoken out they’ve said “let’s wait and see”. These same people have no qualms about trying to destroy the career of the most dominant player in tennis, male or female, though.

While Lindsay Davenport deserves praise for calling out her own Association fans should not forget she defended Gimelstob when he made the comments about Ms Kournikova.

This And That

What does it mean when a man who runs his nation’s tennis association, is tournament director of it’s Slam, is so closely tied to a player and his agent that it’s hard to separate his actions from the wants and needs of said player and that player’s agent? Once again tennis “journalists” are standing on the sidelines while fans are exposing the situation and asking the questions that need to be asked. Yes I’m talking about Craig Tiley. I don’t think he’s the only one but he’s the one who hasn’t bothered to try and cover his tracks. It doesn’t matter that the fans exposing this situation represent a particular fandom. It matters that nothing they have said has been denied or proven wrong. If we had better journalists working the tennis beat fans wouldn’t have to do their own digging.

Remember quality points?  Several years ago now it mattered not that you won but who you defeated. Beating someone ranked #150 in the world didn’t count as much as beating someone ranked #5. I know people will dispute this but the rules changed when Venus Williams and Serena Williams began beating everyone regardless of rank and rocketed up the rankings. The then powers that be decided that a point system based on number of tournaments played and how many matches you won minus quality points would benefit players. The dropping of quality points resulted in the slew of slamless number one players on the women’s tour. I have advocated in this space for some time that quality points need to be reinstated and was pleasantly surprised to see a fan make the same observation a few days ago. Then again if women’s tennis is practically invisible I guess reinstating quality points isn’t the top priority now.

The Australian Open – 2019 Edition

The draws have been released. Warm up events have been played and Sunday night here in the US tennis fans will be glued to televisions, PC’s, and mobile devices watching the sport we love.

The draws are pretty much as expected. Yes Venus and Serena are in the same part of the draw. Yes there are joke sections of the draw. It’s crazy that the bottom of the top half and the top of the bottom half are where the knife fights will take place for the men and that the bottom half of the women’s draw is pretty soft but hey, it’s Grand Slam tennis and given the circumstances none of the above should surprise anyone.

I for one will be paying close attention to the daily schedules and see if any sense of fairness exists after all that’s been said about scheduling here. I doubt it but it’s nice to dream.

My windshield is pretty messed up at the moment though and the windshield wipers aren’t getting all the crap off.

© 2019 Savannahs World Tennis unless otherwise indicated

 

 

 

 

The Rear View Mirror: US Open 2018

By Savannah

There’s a hell of a lot to unpack from the 2018 version of the US Open that completed a week ago today so this might be a pretty long post.

The Shot Clock

The USTA has been pushing hard for a shot clock and it was unveiled during the US Open series this year.

Long story short it was a bust. The matches did not become shorter; instead they lasted about the same time as they do elsewhere. So, what was/is the point? It really looks more and more as if the shot clock is aimed at players who take time to think about their next shot instead of gripping and ripping, a style favored by US players. Tennis is much more exciting when you know a player has a strategy and that if it’s not working he/she takes time to work out a different one and try it out. They’ll never admit that their big idea is a waste of time (no pun intended).

Three vs Five Set Slams

This idea, like the shot clock, should be quietly put to bed. This seems to be an idea pushed by those who believe the upcoming generation is not able to focus long enough to make a best of five set match interesting. That sounds like a problem that needs to be faced by Federations, training facilities and coaches not Slams. Again, this is a solution looking for a problem.

The New Stadiums

They finally got it right. The new Louis Armstrong Stadium is a work of art. It’s fan friendly – there are vents built into the structure to allow as much heat as possible to escape during a match. I read that some players complained about the acoustics on court but that was not a complaint I heard a lot. Yes, there are more paid seats in this larger stadium but the “cheap seats” are really one of the best bargains at the Open. AND if you go in via the right gate you will be in shade for your entire stay. Compared to the other new stadiums and courts that is a blessing. Also you can see the tennis quite well which of course is the reason you’re there in the first place.

Take, for example, Court 17. If any court was designed to maximize the torture both fans and players this is the court. There is literally, no shade for any living thing until late afternoon when the sun starts to go down. If being roasted to death is your thing this is the court for you.

Then there’s the new Grandstand.. It’s not as bad sun wise as Court 17 but it’s better to visit that court in the late afternoon.

As most of you know the outer courts, smaller courts nestled into a leafy environment have been replaced with modern concrete ones fully exposed to the sun. There really isn’t a bad seat in them but again, bring plenty of sunblock and a big hat or an umbrella.

Cooling Centers

Last year Chase Bank set up a cooling center where preregistered fans could escape the heat and grab a free bite to eat. This year the free bite to eat was gone and replaced by offerings of fruit and soft drinks. There are also big screen tv’s in the lounge area as well as rest room facilities. The only grumble I had was that there was nothing good for this diabetic to eat. So after cooling off it was off to the AmEx pavilion to get my bracelet and to Armstrong.

The Nike Pavilion

This is sorely missed. Part of the fun of going to the Open was buying the latest shirts, hats or other gear trademarked with the logo of your favorite player. Yes it was expensive but when you consider the Open is already an expensive vacation for many people dropping a lot of money on casual wear you will have for a long time was worth it.

I don’t know why Nike is gone. Its space has now been taken over by Mercedes Benz. They have some fan centered things set up inside that pavilion but if you want a souvenir you can wear all you can buy is USTA stuff. Generic, boring USTA stuff. The same stuff they’ve been selling for years. I hope the situation can be worked out so that no matter who your fave is you can buy replicas of their gear without paying shipping charges.

The Tournament

As usual the USTA made money. The crowds were bigger than ever. As usual there was drama. I’m going to try to go step by step in somewhat chronological order, starting with the heat.

The best innovation of this tournament was the heat rule being instituted for ATP players, something I’m sure will be replicated for the Australian Open. Anyone who has attended the US Open can tell you war stories about their battles with the heat and humidity of New York City in the summer. There was one year where no matter how much water you drank you didn’t have to go to the bathroom. But I digress.

It was no secret that the weather that prevailed during Fan Week was not going to last. To go a bit off topic a big shout out goes to Katrina Adams  for giving this week a name and scheduling events for the many fans who come to watch not only the Qualifying Tournament but see the top players walking around and drop in on practice sessions to see what players and their coaches are working on and how that work translates to their match play.

Back to the weather. New York City government had been issuing heat advisories since the weekend. Still it took the spectacle of those “manly men” dropping like flies to make officials jury rig a heat protocol for the men. It doesn’t matter why they did it. It matters that they did. We went on Wednesday of week one, the “cooler” of the first few days and it was miserable. Armstrong’s vents work fine if there’s a breeze. If there isn’t one you bake in there too. Not like you would in Ashe but it gets quite warm. We made it through one match and decided to try and find some shade in the food court and eat before leaving.

The officials also took the health of junior players into account and began to start their matches in late afternoon instead of late morning when there is no escaping the brutal sun and heat.

The Draws

There isn’t much to say about the draws, especially since the tournament is long over. I thought that they were par for the course these days where one part of the draw is murderer’s row and the other is a cake walk.  I’ve seen worse. The good news is that the ITF has decided dropping the number of seeds from 32 to 16 is a really bad idea.

When the Umpire Becomes the Story

One fan site I like has a thread that documents the “best” racquet destructions for the calendar year. The winners of this little “contest” are mostly men. And yet despite their antics the men rarely face any consequences.

Then we had the unbelievable display by Karolina Pliskova. She didn’t like calls made by the chair umpire during her match vs Maria Sakkari. As she walked ahead of her opponent according to tennis protocol she began to hack away at the supports of the chair the umpire was seated in. Yes, the umpire was sitting in her chair while an enraged player hacked away at its foundations. Pliskova’s opponent needed to execute some fancy footwork to get out of the way of the flailing racquet and avoid injury herself. Was there outrage? Threats of a boycott? A heavy fine? None of that happened. Her rampage was not condemned and there were no demeaning cartoons published in the wake of her attack on the chair umpire. If the umpire had not been in her seat this would’ve been a different situation but the umpire was in her seat and faced potentially serious injury from either the player herself or as the result of her damaged perch collapsing. But tennis officials felt it was a justified reaction I guess and Ms Pliskova the elder was fined $4,000 and her reputation remains intact among tennis officials and journalists, at least publicly.

Fast forward to the Women’s Final at the US Open. A player, frustrated with herself, broke her racquet. That is a common occurrence in tennis, especially by ATP players as has been mentioned. She was given a warning. While she was putting herself back in position to play her coach made a gesture that she couldn’t see and the player was given a coaching violation.

Let’s stop here a minute. I watch a lot of tennis and have for a very long time. Back in the day Justine Henin looked to her coach for guidance no matter if she was serving or receiving serve. If she was on court her coach was visibly coaching her. She was never ever given a coaching violation.

Actually you don’t have to go to the past. Sloane Stephens coach does the same thing Henin’s did. He even talks to her throughout the entire match. He’s been shown doing this whenever she plays. Never has Stephens been hit with a coaching violation. But one gesture from Serena Williams coach, one she didn’t even see, caused her to be assessed a coaching violation.

If you’re new to tennis and don’t know the history of the Williams family and the sport that they play better than almost anyone in two tennis generations I’ll give a Cliff Notes version of what they’ve been subjected to.

From the time they began to dominate the sport both Serena and Venus Williams were accused of cheating in some shape form or fashion. Either their father was dictating who would win or lose if they were playing each other, or that something else was irregular about their ascent. There were whispers of doping yet neither has ever failed a drug test. There is excessive drug testing while other top players are rarely tested. And the tests have found nothing. Their medical records were hacked and it was shown that after serious injury medically approved drugs were part of the treatment of said injuries and approved under the TUE process. But some have sought to characterize this as cheating.

Knowing this background it makes perfect sense that Serena would bristle at being labeled a cheater when illegal coaching seems to be all right for some players. The family has worked very hard to maintain public cool in face of the false accusations hurled at them over the years but sometimes enough is enough. Pointing a finger at someone and defending your honor are categorized as “aggression” towards the chair umpire while an actual physical attack that could’ve resulted in physical harm to an umpire was excused as a fit of pique.

For some reason the anger of African American people is seen as more threatening than a physical attack by a European player. This blog is not the place to get into the whys of that but it has to be mentioned as a possible explanation for the reaction of the chair umpire who has been cursed at by male players from top to bottom and has never given a game penalty against any of them. If a man had done what Serena did there would’ve been some head shaking and nothing more.

Where do we go from here? Thanks to Carlos Ramos who hasn’t done a major men’s match in ages, all chair umpires are going to have to become “sticklers” for the rules and apply them equally whether the player is male or female, number one in the world or number one hundred in the world. The rules will have to be applied whether the player is a main tour staple or a junior just beginning a professional career. The rules must be applied whether the player is a favorite of tournament officials (yes that happens kiddies) or not.

During Davis Cup play on Sunday September 16 Marin Cilic broke his racquet to pieces on a red clay court. I asked if he got a warning, a point penalty or a game penalty. I haven’t gotten an answer.

Naomi Osaka

A few years ago I was half asleep watching a stream of the junior tournament held before the YEC in Singapore. I had heard about a player named Naomi Osaka and figured I could get a glimpse of her before falling asleep. Imagine my surprise when I saw her. I stayed awake for that match and her winning match in that tournament. As best I could I followed her progress after that.

When she came to New York to play the US Open in the Main Draw we saw her on the old Grandstand court. We were impressed and became bigger fans.

Last Saturday she was the better player but I was afraid that her confidence would waver, something I’ve seen happen to her before, and that the match would go three sets. Instead she held her nerve and at the age of 20 won the 2018 US Open. I can’t tell you how happy I am for her and her family. I thought she’d accomplish a Slam win in another couple of years but I’ll take it.

Congratulations to her, her father and mother, her coach Sascha Bajin, and her team from Japan. Knowing tennis the Japanese members of the team will become household names.

End Notes

More than a million more people watched the US Open Women’s Final than watched the men’s final. As much as tennis seems to hold a grudge against the Williams family the casual fan they claim to be trying to attract tunes in to watch either sister play. I know in my family my younger sister who never watches tennis always watches when a Williams sister is playing. This year she’s decided she likes Naomi too.

It’s too bad that outside of the Slams finding women’s tennis is practically a full-time job. I broke and subscribed to WTA TV because despite its lousy platform it’s the only way to be assured of seeing women play tennis. The streaming platform for men’s tennis, TennisTV is superior in every way. It was foolish for the WTA to leave that platform and have nothing decent to replace it with.

Future Stars

It’s going to be interesting to see how Aryna Sabalenka does in Asia. Those are hard court tournaments and with proper pacing and rest between events she can continue to impress with her play. The same can be said for Maria Sakkari. Neither woman fits into the mold the WTA prefers it’s players to fit into but both had excellent summers and can do major damage as tired players move on to play in Asia.

I’m starting to be concerned about the career path of young Cori Gauff. Believe me I understand the financial pressures of tennis on a “regular” family and that it would be nice to recoup some of the money that has been invested in a child’s career. Gauff has great potential. At 14 she is still growing and promises to be taller than Venus. Parents see the success of Venus and Serena and want it without realizing that Richard Williams and Oracene Price stuck to a plan about their daughters. Neither one of the sisters played a lot of junior tennis and so they were in their late teens when the began to play on the main tour. I for one am glad Cori’s success has been limited. It means that she will have to continue to grow and play more mature tennis as she does so. The fact that so much talk centers on Cori and not Whitney Osuigwe is telling.

Another potential US star is Amanda Anisimova. At 17 she is being given the star treatment by both the USTA and the WTA. I see that she can hit the ball hard and has a highly developed forehand like most US players but when faced with someone who is not going to let her dictate play, who is going to ask her the difficult questions during a match she falls apart.

The big star on the men’s side during the Open was Stefanos Tsitsipas. At 20 he is already ranked in the top 20 after a great summer and should be looking ahead to the European indoor and Asian outdoor events to try and move up the ranks leading up to the Australian Open in January. He has an interesting game and if he is managed correctly on and off court has the potential to become a star of the men’s tour.

There was one other youngster who impressed me. His name is Thiago Seyboth Wild. He’s 18 and was born in Brazil. He convincingly beat the boy who won both the French Open and Wimbledon boys crowns,  Tseng Chun Hsin. He’s got a big game but he’s not a ball basher or serve bot. Remember you first heard about him here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rear View Mirror: Wimbledon 2018

by Savannah

The Gentlemen’s Final

It’s almost a week now.

I thought that the bitterness would be gone by now and that I’d be able to feel less conflicted about the Lawn Tennis Association but here I am on July 20, 2018 and I don’t see how I can avoid talking about why the annoyance continues and the fact that it will continue to be a bitter pill to swallow.

I’m not one of those people who thinks that the Wimbledon Championships are the be all and end all of tennis. I’m not really a fan of grass court tennis. I do appreciate the skill set required to win it. I do like that the mental transition from European red clay to “lawn tennis” requires. The physical demands are different as well. Still it is what it is, and pursuit of the Wimbledon title is the stated goal of every tennis player male or female.

It’s always assumed that the process for winning that title is conducted in a fair manner and that despite some of the manipulations done by the LTA to take a player’s prior grass court play at the tournament in its seeding process that has seemed to always be the case. Fandoms will bitch and moan about how their fave is seeded and why but once the draw is out and play begins there is very little interference by officials in the tournament.

But something happened during the 2018 event.
First there was the spectacle of the top half of the men’s draw. To say one player was given a proverbial cake-walk to the Final is not really disputed by anyone. The bottom half of the draw was set up to be a tooth and nail war of attrition. Whoever survived to the semi’s will have had to fight his way there.

It should be noted in passing that there was a lot of hype surrounding what is and will remain for a long time the best Final in modern tennis history. It ended in near darkness. Looking back, I wonder if that match would’ve been allowed to play out the same way today. There was no roof ten years ago and rules were rules. The decision was made to let play continue because it was clear that to stop play would’ve meant the dynamic of the match would change, and that an overnight rest could possibly favor one player and not the other. It was a fight to the finish and the best man on that day got to lift the trophy.

There will always be a question about the 2018 Men’s Final.

The problems started with the scheduling of the matches. Anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention to tennis the last five years knows that when two big servers face each other you’re going to have a long match. The marquee match so to speak should’ve been first up. As is usual with tennis nothing is ever straightforward.

There had been a match between two big servers in the Quarterfinals. Pictures were posted on Twitter that showed the stands were mostly empty. Someone decided that was not a look they wanted duplicated on Centre Court.

It should be noted here that the USTA and the LTA have a very close working relationship. It can be said that the USTA had two of its players in that semifinal and did not want it to look as if no one cared about that match, fearing that if the semifinal between the non-Americans went first there would be an exodus of fans that would result in US viewers seeing those empty seats.

An argument can be made that they were doing one of the players a favor since he had played a long match in the previous round. I would counter with the following: “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Optics won. And the result was predictable.

The “American” match went first. Predictably it went several hours. Tennis Twitter was raging, and many felt that as soon as the fifth set started the second match should be moved to Court 1. One player had played there during the tournament. The other hadn’t.

The bigger problem was that that stadium was packed to the rafters because there were three Brits playing doubles and there was no way to move those matches that had already begun. The only other option was to start the second match the next day. Yes, there would be issues around scheduling again since the Women’s Final was to be played the next day, but it would’ve been fair to both men. I think that there would’ve been a riot if the Women’s Final was moved to Court 1: there had already been a lot of grousing about the scheduling of the women’s matches. Logically there was no way both the Women’s Final and Men’s Semifinal would not be played on Centre Court. And once again there would be the issue of optics: would fans bolt after the men’s match leaving the women to play before empty stands or would they, knowing they’d hit the jackpot getting two top tier matches for the price of one and remain? My guess would’ve been the later but hey, I’m was sitting at home and no agents and coaches were yelling in my ears.

Both men admit that they were asked what their preference was. For obvious reasons (to me anyway) they disagreed. The second men’s semi began under the roof on Centre Court because it would be dark soon.

It’s been revealed since then that there was no guidance from the rule book regarding the situation. The only guidance that existed stated that if a match begins under the roof and has to conclude the next day it has to be completed under the conditions under which the match began.

It always amazes me when people who are in control of the Crown Jewel of tennis never think to cover all bases. The 2008 Final happened ten years ago. Darkness was a factor. It’s easy to say, “well we put up a roof and that provides lights so that issue is solved.” Except it wasn’t.

The discussion now centers around whether there should be a rule stating that if a fifth set gets to a tie at 9 all or 12 all the US Open rules kick in and a tiebreaker is played. The problem with that is that this situation is usually caused by one player. Should there be a rule named after him that could be invoked not only when he, but other players are in the same situation? Will there be any other player who causes this much mayhem with schedules?

There are no easy answers. Still, I keep coming back to the fact that EVERYONE KNEW this was going to happen and that no one thought about keeping Court 1 open “just in case”. Yes, the optics would’ve been bad if everyone ran to Court 1 but it is what it is. There had to be a better way.

The Ladies Final

Serena Williams had no business being in that Final. I can’t say it enough. If you haven’t watched “Being Serena” you must find time to do so between now and the US Open. That way all of the idiots talking about other players who have come back after giving birth can be ignored. Anyone who has seen “Being Serena” knows what I’m talking about. Any woman who has had a C-section knows what I’m talking about. Any person who has had abdominal surgery knows what I’m talking about. It takes months to feel like yourself again. It takes months for your “core” to firm up. Why? You don’t have to be a doctor to understand slicing through muscles means that they have to heal – that they have to put themselves back together again. For a person leading a regular life this is difficult. For a world class athlete, the healing process moves to another level. Sleeping without discomfort. Lifting a bag of groceries. Lifting and holding a child. These are how most of us would measure success after abdominal surgery. Playing professional tennis doesn’t factor into our return to normal life.

Playing professional, top level tennis is normal life for Serena Williams Ohanian and she wanted to return to that life as quickly as possible. As soon as she was given the okay she was back on the court practicing. She’s come a very long way from that first horrible outing to where she was last Saturday. No one who saw her initial return would’ve been able to predict she’d make the Final.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Serena and her coach are a team. He knows the strength of her will, her need to win. He understood the choice he gave her. If she wanted to return to the top of her sport, there would be sacrifices. When Serena took the court for the Ladies Final the sports world witnessed the personification of will. There was no way she should be there.

I’m not forgetting the other woman in this equation. Angelique Kerber deserved to be there. She played her “human backboard” style of tennis rolling over her opponents. It’s odd how Kerber plays that style and is never criticized for it while Caroline Wozniacki, who plays a similar style, is always described as a “pusher”. Be that as it may I’ve never been able to warm up to Kerber. She’s done nothing wrong publicly or as far as I know behind the scenes. She is personable and professional whenever I’ve had to chance to see her.

The one thing you can’t do when playing Kerber is give her pace. She wants you to do that. If you do she’ll win the match or tournament. If anything showed that Serena had been away for a while it was how she played the Final. It was as if she couldn’t help herself. Boom. Boom. Boom. When she should’ve been slicing and trying to get little drop shots working for her. Make Kerber have to provide her own pace and she crumbles. Mercifully there was no clock and Serena could’ve taken her time to collect herself. That didn’t happen.

The only drama around the Ladies’ Final was when it was scheduled. In tennis a continued match would start after the match that was scheduled to be played first on the same court. Normal had already been upended though and the Ladies Final was up second. Again, that is on the LTA.

End Notes

Fourteen-year-old Cori Gauff of Florida and Mouratoglou Academy is now the top ranked Junior Girl in the world She’s the youngest to achieve that ranking in a few years. She’s almost as tall as Venus Williams already and she’s still growing. She’s a good mover. My fear is that they will push her too hard too fast. I think that with Mouratoglou in the picture there’s less chance of that happening.

Lost in all the other drama was the Roland Garros/Wimbledon double win achieved by Tseng Chun-hsin of Chinese Taipei. He was also the runner up in the Australian Open. There are men who have been on the tour for years who haven’t come close to that record. As with Gauff the worry is that he’ll be pushed onto the main tour before he is ready mentally and physically. His mental process will be very different in five years. The same for Cori. There are many very good Juniors who have had trouble making the transition to the main tour. Many of them succumb to injury and loss of confidence by playing against older, mature player before they’re ready.. For juniors of this caliber, especially now that careers don’t end at the age of thirty, there is no real rush. There is the lure of money and financially strapped parents may want to start seeing a return on their investment sooner rather than later and I understand that. I’d just hate for these two talented young people to fall by the wayside.

As usual the commentary provided by ESPN was abominable. At one point Chris Evert declared Mallorca independent from Spain. To her credit Ms Evert recovered and made the following comments:

In response to an idiot comparing his fave having elbow surgery to what Serena survived she posted “Yes, it is the same as giving birth, then having multiple life saving surgeries and being bedridden, breastfeeding and coming back in 8 months… yes…you’re right…”

She also spoke up about Margaret Court’s “record” number of Slams saying that no one used to go to the Australian Open because it was held during Christmas back when Court played. She was not the only player to speak up about that “record”, with a former ATP player saying that the real record was set by Stefanie Graf at 22 Slams, a record Serena has already broken. And even that can be argued since Monica Seles was unable to play after being stabbed for quite some time. There are always exceptions in tennis. That’s why “records” that appear out of the blue referencing a back in the day player should always be taken with a grain of salt.

Final Thoughts

The US Open Series will officially start next week and while play on a natural surface will continue in Europe another week the players have to start preparations for the US summer hard court season. We won’t see most of the top players until the Rogers Cup tournaments in Montréal and Toronto. It’s a good time to see some of the men and women who are usually relegated to outer courts at big tournaments and the Slams. Don’t forget that they’re playing against people who have about the same skill level as they do and won’t be “punching up” so much. I’ve always liked the time between Slams for just that reason.

There is one more thing that should be noted as Wimbledon fades from view.

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posted by  Jul 17

There was that other sporting event that was held on the day of the Gentlemen’s Final, something Called the World Cup but still.

And yes it’s time to move on.

©2018 Savannah’s World Tennis. All Rights Reserved except where indicated

On “Being Serena”

by Savannah

There is a scene in the HBO sports documentary “Being Serena” between Mrs. Williams and her coach Patrick Mouratoglou. He has been patient up to that point with the work she was doing to come back to pro tennis but he had had enough. He tells her point blank that the time for fooling around is over. He tells her she has to stop breast feeding if she wants to begin to drop the weight she needs to in order to be effective on court again. He tells her she has to choose between her family and tennis. In tears, she says that he makes it sound as if she hasn’t been trying and he assures her he knows she has. That said, he reiterates, you have to stop breast feeding.

We know what her choice was.

If nothing before that made you understand the plight of a female athlete – the horrific medical situation, trying to get herself in shape for her wedding, even the decision to wear Nike sneakers instead of some fancy shoe for her wedding, that moment, for me, brought home what all women have to face when deciding to conceive and bear a child and to return to the work place. We Regular Jane’s don’t have millions on the line or the ability to hire a full time nanny but I’ll never forget what it was like going back to work six months after my daughter was born – but the emotional trauma is there just the same. Serena’s tears were my tears, were every woman’s tears when the reality of having to go back to work slaps you in the face.

The exchange also highlighted what being a coach is all about. There are many fans who have been down on Patrick Mouratoglou from day one. This is not a masters thesis so I will not go into the reasons behind their feelings. If you have watched the special you see how emotion can’t be part of training, that someone has to be the steely eyed bastard who pushes a tennis player. It’s not all sweetness and light. It’s not coming out on court, hitting a few balls and saying “I’m good” before sashaying off to some social event. The comedian Kevin Hart put it best: “Everyone wants to be a star but few want to put in the hard work”.

Serena also gave us a peek into her personal life. We get to see her interact with her husband. We got to see how afraid he was when his wife had to be rushed back into surgery after a reoccurrence of the blood clots that once again threatened her life. We got to see her interacting with her sisters and her friends. We get to see people dancing at the wedding. And we get to see her struggle to get back into shape, to prove to her coach – and to herself – that she could make it back to being the elite athlete she was. At one point she says she wants to get back to being in the shape she was in Melbourne, and then surpass that.

I was going to put off writing this but I thought it better to do it now, before the end of the French Open. She’s gone past the point in the tournament where I thought it would be a great step for her. As I watched her play in the special compression body suit Nike designed for her I thought about the woman in her head scarf talking to her doctor about when the net they placed inside of her to catch and stop any clots from reaching her heart could be removed and how as soon as that impediment was gone she was back hitting and asking her hitting partner Jarmere Jenkins how bad she was. No matter what, it’s an amazing comeback for her and with the support system she has I think she will attain her goal – the life of an elite athlete with a family to greet her at the end of the day.

©2018 Savannahs World Tennis All Rights Reserved

All Roads Lead to Paris

by Savannah

I haven’t blogged in a long time. I felt that I had run out of things to say about the sport of tennis, the sport I love, that I haven’t said before. I was going to post something during, then after, the US spring hard court swing but when I looked up again it was European Red Clay Season and what happened in March was now the past.

Long time readers know that clay is my favorite surface. I have several reasons for that. It requires full commitment of body, mind and intellect. For the most part you can’t just ball bash your way to a title. Nuance, skill, and the ability to create points, to innovate, are required of a good clay court player. I’ve said this before. It’s not a requirement that a point end in three shots but many young players, yes from the United States, grow frustrated and can’t function in a long rally. That is not their fault it is the fault of their training, nothing more.

Still stuff has been happening and as usual not all of it reflects well on the sport.

Most recently one of the top female players, Karolina Pliskova, lost it over a blown call by the chair umpire. At the end of the match the on court zen of the player many call “robotic” on court went by the wayside as she first refused to shake the hand of the chair umpire and then proceeded to destroy the chair the woman was sitting on. Thank goodness the chair is seated very high or else the chair umpire would’ve been badly injured. This occurred at a WTA sanctioned tournament so in view of incidents that happened in the recent past of course the question was what the penalty would be and how long a suspension would be imposed. There was never an official announcement from the WTA so it was the Czech press that reported the fine was $4,500 USD and that there would be no suspension of the player. I guess this means going forward that any player can lose their shit at a WTA tournament, bust up the joint, and that the WTA will meekly look the other way or apply a fine barely over the minimum stated in its rule book. Of course it still depends on who you are and how the tennis powers that be perceive you doesn’t it?

The ATP has it’s own little contretemps going on as well. One of the men who has been steadily moving up the ranks of late is Nicolás Kicker of Argentina. As the NY Times reports he was accused of match fixing. He refused to cooperate with the Tennis Integrity Unit that opened an investigation after bettors questioned his actions in two Challenger Level matches in 2015 when he was a much lower ranked player. As of now he can’t play tour sanctioned matches until his punishment is decided.

Match fixing is wrong and should be strongly punished. It still makes you wonder why there are ATP tournaments sponsored by betting houses if they want to clamp down on nefarious activities at the Challenger level and lower. The easy solution would be to increase prize money but if I recall correctly the Players Association is against that.

Pregnancy and the Female Athlete

To be honest I wanted Serena Williams to be seeded at this years Roland Garros but I’m not surprised that she wasn’t. Some things that have been said as a result of her not being seeded are surprising and show how ignorant many are about what pregnancy is and what a high risk pregnancy can mean to any woman but particularly an athlete.

Have there been pregnant tennis players before? The easy and obvious answer is yes. Kim Clijsters gave birth and was back playing well about a year afterwards. Ms Clijsters had, from what we know, a perfectly normal pregnancy and delivery. Ms Williams did not. Li Na retired from tennis after becoming pregnant. Anne Keothavong retired from active play as well.

When Serena came back it was obvious that she was still breast feeding and that her core wasn’t ready for the stress of playing tennis. When this was given as a cause for her obviously poor play some said “But Clijsters!” I’m assuming now that more people understand what Serena went through giving birth and afterwards.

The contrast between the two situations highlights the problems around pregnancy and specifically tennis. With a normal delivery and post-partum period it’s understandable that a female tennis player will want to, and can, return to competition. When a high risk pregnancy results in a C-section more is involved than just “getting back to normal” and being able to play tennis. Muscles have to heal. Blood vessels have to get back to their previous level of operation.

It’s my opinion that rules have to be crafted that take into account the differences between “normal” and “high risk”pregnancy. It would help if women like Anne Keothavong, Kim Clijsters, and yes Serena Williams, Li Na and Victoria Azarenka, have input into what the WTA and ITF decide the regulations should be regarding a player returning from pregnancy. I’m not including women like Chris Evert or Lindsay Davenport because things have changed so much since they had their children it’s almost impossible to discuss what pre natal care is today.

All the factors surrounding an individual player have to be looked at before a decision is rendered regarding how her return to tournament play is handled. Men don’t have babies. I don’t think it’s unfair to ask that the people crafting any new guidelines should be women who have given birth. Knowing how tennis works though I doubt that approach will be taken.

Roland Garros 2018

The draws are out. Almost everyone is in Paris preparing for the most exciting and grueling two weeks in tennis. Some players are still involved in tournaments that will end just before the start of the French Open.

It has to be noted that the Roland Garros site, when initially unveiled, was horrible. Whoever designed the site responded quickly though and added a visible link for fans to access the Draws and Schedule of Play. Personally I’ve found it better to access the schedule of play via the Twitter feed of the tournament. Someone has gone to the trouble to create a very pretty layout for the OoP and this person for one likes that the effort was made.

That said the ITF should make up with IBM in time for next year’s Slams.

You really didn’t think I was going to wade into the muck with the draws did you?

ALLEZ!

©2018 Savannah’s World All rights reserved

The One That Got Away

by Savannah

A few years ago someone at the USTA, most likely someone in their Player Development sector, made a decision about a young player named Naomi Osaka. Ms Osaka, her family was told, was not eligible (worthy) of their strong support. Ms Osaka’s father, Leonard François, had a Plan B. His wife, and the mother of his two daughters, was born in Japan. Naomi had an option to play for the Japanese Tennis Federation and took full advantage of that option. The Japanese Association was more than happy to have her. That is why after her huge win – mark my word it’s huge – at the BNPParibas Open (Indian Wells) Ms Osaka posed with the flag of Japan instead of the stars and strips of the United States.

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via Instagram

In hindsight the USTA passing on Naomi was probably the best thing that happened to her. I’m sure it didn’t feel that way at the time. After all Ms Osaka has lived in the United States most of her life despite being born in Japan. She still lives mainly in Florida. However, the USTA hasn’t produced a dominant player in many years. Venus Williams and Serena Williams also came up outside of the USTA’s clutches for many years. Andy Roddick, the last US male player to achieve anything, retired several years ago. Away from the USTA Ms Osaka learned the craft of tennis. How to think. How to play using the entire court. Instead of being a serve bot she has a good serve that her coach, Aleksandar (Sascha) Bajin, will make even better.

Last year Mary Jo Fernandez was saying that Ms Osaka has until she turns 21 to make a firm decision about what country to play for, hinting that the USTA was now interested in having her play for the country she was raised in. I will be very surprised if that happens. The USTA made its decision years ago. Now they will have to live with it.

©Savannahs World Tennis 2018 All Rights Reserved except where indicated