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

Somewhat Idle Chit Chat

by Savannah

The WTA will crown a new #1 player on Monday, the fifth top player of this year. Let’s look at the previous four women before we talk about the newest number one.

Serena Williams started out the year ranked in her customary number one position. She of course hasn’t played since the Australian Open due to one Little Miss Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.

Angelique Kerber found herself ranked number one on May 15 after Serena went on maternity leave. She won two Slams in 2016 but had not shown much this year.

Karolina Pliskova took the top spot from Kerber on July 17 and held on to the top spot until September 10.

Garbiñe Muguruza‘s reign began September 11 and ends today, October 8.

Simona Halep‘s time as WTA #1 begins Monday, October 9.

To be fair to Halep the grumbling about Slamless WTA Number One’s began when Pliskova reached the top spot. Was she the best player? Not by a long shot. Did she bring excitement to the sport? That depends on how you feel about laid back personalities and since that is a matter of taste there is no need to dwell on her on court persona. It is fair to look at her game though. She can hit powerful ground strokes and if given the chance she can overpower an opponent especially when she can move around on her own terms. To say that she is not a good mover is putting it mildly. She also seems unable to bend her knees. If an opponent keeps the ball low and places it where she has to run to get it she stands a good chance of frustrating her and beating her. Fans argued about whether she deserved to be number one as fans will do these days. She won three titles in 2017: Brisbane, Qatar, and Eastbourne. The argument raged about her less than stellar game and lack of big wins at majors.

Muguruza was hailed as the best player of them all. She is a decent mover and won a Slam this year. Essays were being written about how she would dominate women’s tennis for years to come. And yet there were the inevitable “issues”. Her temperament on court when she was put under pressure left a lot to be desired. Winning matches isn’t about your opponent letting you win because you’re you. She’s there to win and in order to do that she’s going to do everything she can to stop you from winning. When this would happen Mugu seemed to be taken by surprise and in the end she was just as likely to raise the level of her game as to pout her way to a loss. Not exactly the behavior you expect from a number one ranked player.

While Muguruza and Pliskova were going through their changes Simona Halep was waiting in the wings. She had more than one chance to take over the top spot but always seemed to fall just short. The problem with Halep, as I’ve said here before, is that she simply doesn’t handle pressure well. Her French Open loss is embedded in my mind. She literally slumped her shoulders and hung her head while meekly surrendering to her opponent, Aljona (Jelena) Ostapenko. Yet somehow she was still in the running for the top spot. As of tomorrow she will be the WTA #1. As of tomorrow she has won exactly one title this year. It has to be mentioned that she got enough points to become number one during her semifinal match at Beijing. She promptly lost the Final.

I’ve been arguing for years that the WTA has to find a way to use some version of quality points again. Simona is a good player. She’s not a great player. You can argue that she’s not a number one player and wouldn’t be except for the fact that the WTA’s ranking system allows a player to get to the top spot by accumulating enough points.. I’m aware of the problems with using quality points but a player shouldn’t be able to simply pile up  points over a season and become number one.

To make matters worse there is an outside chance Elina Svitolina can become the top player without even getting near a Slam final.

I don’t dislike any of the women who are competing for the top spot. It’s obvious they’re doing the best they can and being rewarded very well for it. Is it too much to ask that a top player be able to play top level tennis both mentally and physically? That a top player doesn’t need her hand held by a coach or family member to make it through a match? That skill, and not attitude, is the measure of a top player?

I said a few years ago that when the older generation (not just Serena Williams and Venus Williams) leave the stage the WTA would be in trouble. I just didn’t hink it would happen so soon. It’s no accident that older players are coming out of retirement now. If I can see the drop in the level of tennis being played surely ex pros can see it and say “why not?”

The ATP is going to be facing the same problem in two or three years. It doesn’t look like it yet because the older players are still able to compete at a high level and their fandoms still dominate the conversation. When they leave the stage the generation right behind them is not going to play the same high quality tennis ATP fans have become used to. The generation behind those men, barring injury or off court issues, seems poised to step into the large footprints the current leaders are leaving and right over the players who should be next in line. The only hindrance will be how quickly they mature mentally.

End Notes

The WTA has gone out of its way to pretend that a player returning from a doping suspension was away on a break. I think that those chickens are going to come home to roost soon. If a player admits to doping for ten years prior to her suspension how are her records against players valid? Some fans are already raising the issue in regards to Simona Halep’s record against her. Yes it would’ve been messy to take all her titles away. Yes it would’ve been messy to take her winnings away. But would you rather that or the situation that exists now where those impressive H2H’s are going to be questioned and believed to be invalid?

The fall out from the Laver Cup continues. Was it a “real tournament” and not simply an “exhibition”? Since it’s second installment will take place in Chicago in 2018 who will the players be?

It’s not too soon to ask how has the Laver Cup affected the Davis Cup is it? If the top players can make time in their schedules for the Laver Cup why can’t they play for their countries during Davis Cup?

The WTA hasn’t said a word about whether it will or won’t stage its own event or piggy back on the Laver Cup’s already established drawing power. I don’t think any of the current to WTA players has the drawing power of the top ATP players so any similar event would be problematic in terms of sponsorships if it’s not paired with a men’s event. If the WTA did a better job of promoting the SPORT of women’s tennis and not individual personalities there’s a chance the WTA would be able to pull off it’s own version of the highly successful concept.

Speaking of Davis Cup and Fed Cup Spain’s RFET fired Conchita Martinez who was acting as captain of both teams. Sergei Brugera and Anabel Medina Garrigues were announced as her replacements.

Things are going to be very interesting in Sloane Stephens camp the next few weeks. I didn’t see her play in Asia but fans were visibly surprised at her physical condition. I’m not sure why they weren’t surprised at her physical condition at the US Open but since she managed to win I guess the discussion was deferred. With her reputation of being lazy and undisciplined the US Open comms made it clear that coach Kamau Murray would not stay around if she reverted to her old habits. She’s arrogant enough to think that she doesn’t have to do any more because she’ll always be a Slam winner. That’s what I mean about being a tennis great and being great for tennis has more to do with pride in yourself and the sport that is paying you than having an attitude.

We’ll see about Ms Stephens won’t we?

I haven’t done a year end summary of the two players I picked as up and comers for this year. Sadly, I barely remember who I picked. I know the young woman was Louisa Chirico. I’ve seen her name around but she has had an off year.

I think I picked one of the young US men, probably Taylor Fritz. He’s doing okay for a US player his Federation is pushing.

As for next year I haven’t seen anyone tennis hasn’t already seized on as an up and comer to watch. As a result I’m thinking of changing my criteria a bit and picking someone who has already gotten themselves on everyone’s radar and seeing how they perform next year, how they handle the pressure. If that is my final decision I I’ll let you know just before play begins in Australia at the end of December.

©2017 Savannahs World All rights reserved

The Rear View Mirror: Wimbledon 2017

by Savannah

There’s no getting around it. This Wimbledon sucked. There was no “must see” singles match although some are arguing that Gilles Muller vs Rafael Nadal was one I get the feeling those people were rooting for Nadal to be beaten before the semi finals anyway. When Muller lost next round there was no great outpouring of sympathy towards him from those who had been cheering him during his last match. The one riveting match was a men’s doubles match.

Andy Murray‘s refusal to retire even though he was visibly struggling is to be commended. It showed that he respects the sport and his place in it. Still, his remarks defending women’s tennis – read Serena Williams and Venus Williams – drew more comment from the tennis writers who think tennis is the ATP and that the WTA is a side show. That new WTA CEO Steve Simon is working hard to make women’s tennis invisible it is still a major part of tennis with millions of fans, fans who are upset that the only way to see women’s tennis on an ongoing basis is at a Slam. Mixed events don’t count since the WTA has it’s own contract with Premier/BeIn sports which makes it impossible to see female athletes playing on a regular basis.

But enough of that. Why was this Wimbledon disappointing? There was just nothing to hold a casual fans attention. How many casual fans have heard of Garbiñe Muguruza? If you don’t know why see the above paragraph. As I predicted someone out of left field won the tournament. Muguruza has done squat since winning the French Open but as usual, when a Williams is across the net the mentally dead suddenly remember how to play tennis. Venus did not claim injury, fatigue, or age, as a reason for her loss despite the “journalists” trying to get her to do so. Minus that they had to fall back on praising the winner although there isn’t much there to praise. They tried to create some drama around her coach Sam Sumyk not being there but it leaked out that his wife was going into labor and he stayed home to be with her. Some even went so far as to say Conchita Martinez should take over as her coach forgetting Martinez already had Fed Cup and Davis Cup on her plate. To her credit Muguruza said she spoke with her coach every day so the Conchita boomlet faded away. I don’t think anyone would be surprised if she fades back into the pack. Hey remember Aljona Ostapenko?

As for the men’s winner I really, truly, have no words. Let’s look at what he’s done so far this year. He got an extra day’s rest in Melbourne that no other player got. Along the way he admitted to taking an unneeded medical time out. For no reason whatsoever other than that he knew he wouldn’t win the Slam he skipped clay season. After losing to Haas in a Wimbledon warm up he then strolled into Wimbledon as #4 in ranking but seeded third ahead of the #2 player. His draw? I think Cilic was the highest seed he faced and he, unfortunately, couldn’t compete in the Final due to an injury that had him in excruciating pain through most of it. The tennis media reacted as if he’d faced murderer’s row and the paeans rolled off the presses. No mention that of all the players he was the one who had the freshest legs and the cup cake draw.

The one good thing that happened is that other fandoms have had enough and are pushing back against the people who think if you admire someone else somehow you’re a lesser being and don’t recognize someone they see as royalty. I saw less of the usual gloating from fans who react like prepubescent girls in front of the latest hot movie star when it comes to their faves.

The rankings? Numbers 3 & 4 on the ATP side switched places. Karolína Plíšková became the WTA’s newest slamless number one with fewer points and fewer accomplishments than any of the previous slamless #1’s for the WTA. I will throw in a worse game as well. Some have tried but there is no way this woman can be considered among the greats of the game. She’s in the top spot due to the number of points she has now. Simona Halep, who I once thought had Slam potential is a few points behind Plíšková and it’s likely the two will alternate at the top of the rankings for the summer. I don’t think either one has Slam potential. To be hones I think Kristina Mladenovic has a better chance than either Halep or Plíšková.

Where do we go from here? With both Murray and Novak Djokovic injured some interesting things can happen on the men’s side. We may not see either man before Cincinnati. The women will continue to toil in virtual anonymity and before small crowds until the US Open when they’ll be visible again for many fans. Halep and Plíšková rotating as number one is not all that interesting to me. Still I think it’ll be Plíšková who will hold the number one ranking come US Open time and dshe still won’t win it. Someone else will come out of the blue and take that title. And no it won’t be that doper who will get a WC into the main draw.

Champions

Men’s Singles
Switzerland Roger Federer
Women’s Singles
Spain Garbiñe Muguruza
Men’s Doubles
Poland Łukasz Kubot / Brazil Marcelo Melo
Women’s Doubles
Russia Ekaterina Makarova / Russia Elena Vesnina
Mixed Doubles
United Kingdom Jamie Murray / Switzerland Martina Hingis
Boys’ Singles
Spain Alejandro Davidovich Fokina
Girls’ Singles
United States Claire Liu
Boys’ Doubles
Argentina Axel Geller / Chinese Taipei Hsu Yu-hsiou
Girls’ Doubles
Serbia Olga Danilović / Slovenia Kaja Juvan
Gentlemen’s Invitation Doubles
Australia Lleyton Hewitt / Australia Mark Philippoussis
Ladies’ Invitation Doubles
Zimbabwe Cara Black / United States Martina Navratilova
Senior Gentlemen’s Invitation Doubles
Netherlands Jacco Eltingh / Netherlands Paul Haarhuis
Wheelchair Men’s Singles
Sweden Stefan Olsson
Wheelchair Women’s Singles
Netherlands Diede de Groot
Wheelchair Men’s Doubles
United Kingdom Alfie Hewett / United Kingdom Gordon Reid
Wheelchair Women’s Doubles
Japan Yui Kamiji / United Kingdom Jordanne Whiley

©2017 Savannah’s World All Rights Reserved