The Rear View Mirror – The 2017 WTA

by Savannah

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via wtafinals.com

Caroline Wozniacki finally won a big one. At the WTA YEC she was in the group of counterpunchers. None of the women in her group have what you would call big serves. None of them play “Big Babe Tennis”, even the watered down version that passes for power tennis these days. None of them were expected to win, least of all the woman known to tennis fans as “Woz”. She’s been around for years. She’s been ranked Number 1. And yet when it comes down to respect most wrote her off as “slamless”, a woman who couldn’t win a big title. Like it or not the YEC is one of the “big ones” and when the dust settled Woz was the one holding up the trophy.

Now comes the really hard part for Ms Wozniacki and her team. Will she finally break through at the Australian Open and drop the sobriquet “slamless” from her cv? With today’s WTA who knows? Right now Caroline is playing with confidence and sometimes that is what you need to pull yourself up and roll through draws. If she feels that she can stand toe to toe with the best of the current pack she has a chance.

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via SI.com

Ah Ms Stephens. Where to start? I guess the best place to start is where we are. After an impressive win over Madison Keys at the 2017 US Open I said that the Asian swing would prove whether or not Ms Stephens was ready for prime time. She promptly lost every match she played including an embarrassing 0-5 retirement. Her ranking wasn’t high enough for Singapore although there was a lot of push to get her a WC into the event. Fortunately that didn’t happen, so she played at ZhuHai for the Elite Cup. Julia Goerges, who has seen some hard times, won that one. I will discuss Fed Cup separately but I will say for now she didn’t win any fans with her performance there.

I’m not sure why anyone in tennis expected anything different from her. She made a semi final in Australia and coasted on that win for a few years. Now she’s won a Slam. I don’t think we’ll see top level tennis from her again. She’ll always be a US Open winner, a Slam winner, and if past performance is any indication she will expect players to grovel at her feet in awe of her, they won’t, and she won’t care. I’m waiting to see what her coach Kamau Murray does. Murray got her to focus, to stay interested, through seven matches and I’m sure folks are banging down his door. He’s made it clear he’s not hanging around if “old Sloane” with the sucky attitude and horrible work ethic shows up. She was horribly unfit when she won the US Open and that’s not a good thing for someone like Sloane. Needless to say if she performs the way she has after the US Open in Australia she won’t be “slamless” but her win will be considered a “fluke”. And she won’t care.

WTA Tour Finals
REUTERS/Jeremy Lee

Simona Halep is now the top ranked WTA player for 2017. Let that sink in. Simona Halep, whose highest achievement in 2017 was reaching the finals of the French Open. Halep, who during that Final, hung her head and slumped her shoulders in defeat before the match was over. Halep who lost in the first round at the US Open. She is the woman girls are supposed to want to be, the epitome of the best of women’s tennis.

Of course she isn’t. And that is a problem. Like many of her peers Halep repeated over and over that she wanted to be Number One. Not win a Slam mind you. All she wanted to do was be the top ranked player. And she has achieved her goal with the lowest point total in recent memory.

The year end top ten rankings are as follows:

1 Romania Simona Halep 6,175
2 Spain Garbiñe Muguruza 6,135
3 Denmark Caroline Wozniacki 6,015
4 Czech Republic Karolína Plíšková 5,730
5 United States Venus Williams 5,597
6 Ukraine Elina Svitolina 5,500
7 Latvia Jeļena Ostapenko 5,010
8 France Caroline Garcia 4,420
9 United Kingdom Johanna Konta 3,610
10 United States Coco Vandeweghe 3,258

We now live in a world where players like Jelena Ostapenko, Johanna Konta and Colleen Vandeweghe are top ten players. Sad isn’t it?

We’re mere weeks away from play beginning in Australia. Pressure will be on Halep and Stephens(ranked #13). All of the top ten players will be under pressure of course but I think those two, more than any others, will be under the microscope. With Halep the draw is everything. At the US Open she was pretty much thrown under the bus. Since the Australians, Americans and Brits often walk in lock step it’ll be interesting to see if the same thing happens to her in Australia. Stephens will need a good draw too if she’s to make the second week at the very least.

Garbiñe Muguruza is ranked Number 2 in the world and just missed out on being year end Number One. Is she a great player? No. She’s just a more successful version of Sloane in terms of her attitude. Most players try and put their best foot forward for fans and media when they’re on court. Not our Garbiñe. If her opponent dares to pull her out of her comfort zone she pouts, curses and caves.

Karolína Plíšková wants it bad. She wants Number One. She wants Slams. She wants to be a superstar. More than any of the others she’s shown how much she does care and how far she’s willing to go to get what she wants. The sad thing about Plíšková is that with her physical limitations she’ll need a lot to break her way to achieve what she wants. She still can’t/doesn’t bend her knees. Her movement is horrendous. She has that huge serve and hits very good groundstrokes but if she’s taken out of her spot on the baseline she’s toast. She’s fired her old coach with an eye to making changes that will make take her to the next level. She is almost there. I just think that with her physical limitations she’s always going to be almost there. Then again…

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So you’re Kathy Rinaldi. Somehow your team has made it to the Fed Cup Final. You bring four women with you to Minsk where a team from Belarus will challenge for the 2017 Federation Cup. You have two players who must be on the team: Colleen Vandeweghe and Sloane Stephens. Who will your other two players be because, let’s be blunt, your USO champion is in terrible form mentally and physically and you may have to replace her. If you have to replace her who would you use? Alison Riske, who is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, or Shelby Rogers who is a USTA favorite. A battered Venus Williams</strong is not available. Madison Keys, the USO runner up is resting her wrist in preparation for Australia. When the USO champion shows her current form is holding what do you do? Sit her and take a chance with Rogers or Riske or play your US Open champion and hope for the best knowing you’ll have to gut out the doubles if Team Belarus forces the doubles rubber to matter.

Some have commented that in the above celebratory picture it looks as if Vandeweghe is holding the Cup so no one else can touch it. She has every right to be doing just that. Without her team Belarus would be holding that Cup. She won that cup for her country. Shelby Rogers did her best but Vandeweghe was pulling her along. Riske didn’t play and Sloane stunk up the joint.

Being Fed Cup captain is a thankless job no matter how you look at it. It’s going to be interesting to see if the women from the Czech Republic can stop feuding long enough to win another Fed Cup in 2018. Will Rinaldi be able to build a stronger team around Vandeweghe? Will there be another team like Team Belarus in the Final next year? Again, this is the WTA so who knows?

End Notes

For all intents and purposes this year is over for women’s tennis. There are a couple of $125k tournaments coming up but for the main tour players this is a time for beaches, mountains, and reflection.

For me this year ends with more questions than answers. There is no dominant player. The tour itself has become more invisible instead of more visible. What was supposed to provide more visibility, WTA TV, has, from what I’ve been reading, been a flukey mess.

Is the WTA relying more on joint tournaments with the ATP than it should since that seems to be the only way they get good TV coverage? It’s sad in this day and age that the largest sport for women athletes launched a web only streaming service when every other major sport has an APP that works on several devices?
How embarrassing that when WTA TV launched many credit card companies identified it as a phishing scam and would not authorize payment? Shouldn’t an agreement been worked out with PayPal?
And lets not talk about a top player streaming the Fed Cup final using an illegal stream.
Did it make sense to invest so much time and effort (including bending its own rules) to bring back a convicted doper who as of now seems unable to compete without the crutch she’s used for most of her career?
Why is it that fans of women’s tennis rely on Wikipedia for information on the WTA because there is almost no information on the official WTA site?
Why is it that the official site had no information on the year end tournaments and fans had to scramble to find entry lists and draws? It’s true that many fans won’t go on sites based in certain countries but shouldn’t that make it more important for the official site to have that information?
Fans are using Live Ranking sites that have nothing to do with the WTA to get up to date information.
Will there be a women’s version of the successful Laver Cup?
Will the WTA do a better job at marketing ALL of its players and not just a chosen few? Doesn’t it matter that no one outside of tennis knows who any of the top ten players are excepting Venus Williams? I guess for the current leadership it doesn’t.

While all these questions remain the CEO did a “State of the WTA” year end presentation that addressed none of the above. Instead we got a mind numbingly boring presentation about – damned if I know. I’m really tired of writing depressing year end columns on the WTA but unless something changes I think I’ll be writing the same kind of post next year. These women work hard and play to the best of their abilities during a long, grueling season. They deserve better than the half steps being put forth by the WTA.

©2017 Savannah’s World Tennis All rights reserved except where indicated

 

 

 

 

 

My Two Days at the 2016 US Open Part Two: The Matches

by Savannah

The best part about going to the US Open during the first week with Grounds Passes is that there is so much tennis being played by the famous and hopefully on their way to be famous, as well as the infamous, that sitting for an entire match isn’t done that often. Fans usually stay for at most a set before moving on to try and catch another match that features a player they want to see for one reason or another. The first match I visited, and stayed for, featured Coco Vandeweghe and Naomi Osaka. I was really anxious to see young Ms Osaka after becoming a fan when at some god forsaken hour of the morning I watched her win the undercard in Singapore late last year. I was also curious about Vandeweghe, a woman I’d heard so much about, mostly negative. I told myself that no one could be that bad as I took my seat on the newly remodeled Court 13. I looked out over Courts 14, 15 and 16, glanced at the fans who had found a way to look into the standing room only Court 17 where Gaël Monfils was holding court and from which amazed shouts of wonder erupted from time to time. That was the day Monfils inadvertently broke one of the on court clocks.

But I digress. Vandeweghe got the full star treatment from Rupert Murdoch’s rag the NY Post the day before. She was displayed on a court in high heels, a shiny silver dress and wind machine blown hair with a racquet in her hand and sitting amidst tennis balls.

The USTA has decided that she is one of the players they want to promote I supposed thinking about the fluff piece. She fits the criteria of the WTA as far as looks go and has had decent results of late so I thought I’d be cheering for Naomi to do well not to win. Boy was I wrong.

From the moment Vandeweghe stepped on court she was throwing her sense of entitlement around. She was rude to the ball kids. She was rude to the chair. She stood hand on hip because her water wasn’t brought to her fast enough. And all of that was before the match started. When it became clear that Naomi was more than happy to be there she went into her act. She banged her racquet on the net. She used hand gestures to disparage her opponent whenever she made a good shot which was often. She banged her racquet on top of the barrier between the court and fans barely missing hitting a fan in the face. The fan had turned to say something to the person next to them (tennis people talk to each other during matches whether you know the person or not) and that was why they weren’t hit.

Then came the break between the second and third sets. Vandeweghe flounced off the court after the chair had spoken to her about not taking showers I presume and wasn’t seen for the next twenty minutes or so. Osaka waited patiently for the normal time and then asked the chair if she could change. He said yes. Osaka was back before Vandeweghe who wandered back about ten minutes after Osaka came back. The chair spoke to her. Vandeweghe went “whatever” and play started. Is it any wonder the crowd, with the exception of one small group, was cheering for Osaka? I’m willing to bet that most of that behavior did not make it to US television screens. If this is the woman the USTA wants to promote they’ve got their job cut out for them. People excuse her behavior as “bratty”. I’d say her behavior is better described by the words “entitled bitch”. And that isn’t strong enough.

The next match I watched, or attempted to watch, was Taylor Fritz vs Jack Sock . Both men are considered future top ten players by the US tennis establishment so we found good seats on Armstrong and prepared to watch the much ballyhooed future of men’s tennis. I should say that I had taken a break and sat down in the air conditioned comfort of one of the onsite restaurants. I had a skirt steak with chimichurri sauce and a side of fries. A glass of rosé accompanied my meal and I had a fruit cup for dessert. I don’t eat fries so most of my meal was the steak and fruit cup. Still it was hot that day so I attributed my urge to nap to a combination of the food and the heat. I was surprised to see a lot of people leave at the first changeover. I was determined to try and make it through the first set. We left after the second changeover.

Neither Sock or Fritz have star power, that “je ne sais quoi” that some have that separates the average player from the superstar. Add to that the preferred USTA style of play – forehand, forehand, forehand, error – and it’s no wonder so many people left to find another match especially since young Frances Tiafoe looked to be making a run at John Isner . I missed my first chance to visit the new Grandstand complex but saw the end of that match where lack of match play thwarted an emotional Tiafoe who knew he should’ve won the match. I watched on the jumbotron outside of Ashe. I wonder how many people were in the stands for the end of Fritz vs Sock.

I was back out to the NTC on Wednesday with the intention of watching matches on Court 17. Picking what day to go to the Open is always a tricky thing. You buy your admission before the order of play is out, before the draws even, so you “pays your money and takes your chances”. We paid our money and picked the “off days” this year as far as matches we were interested in went. Keep in mind we no longer buy tickets for Ashe preferring to wander the grounds and see the best available. We used to buy expensive seats at Ashe and once you’ve spent money you’re obligated to go sit in a mostly empty sun drenched stadium watching matches with predictable outcomes.

It seemed as if everyone was hip to Court 17’s schedule and had camped out early. They were at capacity and it wasn’t even noon. I met a friend and my daughter and her friend went off exploring. Our biggest decision looked to be where we were going to eat. The young people went to the Old Grandstand to watch Benoit Paire vs Marcos Baghdatis while I went to eat. Ryan Harrison vs Milos Raonic had also begun. I was content to watch on the screens inside the restaurant where I had a burger, rosé and the fruit cup again. The fruit cup is really, really good. I made it to the Old Grandstand in time for Naomi Osaka’s match vs Duan Yingying. The court wasn’t packed to capacity but those of us there cheered Naomi on and despite mental lapses she defeated a one dimensional Duan. I’m going to miss that court.

With nothing else appealing we headed for the new Grandstand. As I’ve already mentioned it’s a great court and if you plan to go either this year or in the future it’s a must see. Anyway the fans were literally hanging from the rafters. It was a true SRO crowd. US commentators had tried to make it seem as if there was an SRO crowd for a Eugenie Bouchard match despite camera angles that showed that was not the case so I wonder what they said about this crowd. Both reserved seating and general admission seats were full.

I managed to find a seat and it was obvious at once that Raonic was injured. He’s not gazelle like at all but when he could barely move to his right to get balls he could reach the reason for the score became clear. It didn’t matter to the packed house though. They robustly cheered Harrison and loudly belittled any attempt Raonic made to try and play tennis. If Raonic could move he would’ve run Harrison off the court but it was a good day for the crowd favorite who crowed as if he’d beaten someone who had put up a fight.

What surprised me is that after the men’s match the place cleared out. I mean it became a ghost town. You would think a match between two US women, Catherine Bellis and Shelby Rogers would keep fans in their seats. Nope. They disappeared and the match started in a mostly empty stadium. We didn’t stay long. These women also have no presence on court and play USTA inspired forehand, forehand, forehand, error tennis. Bor-ing.

That’s my court report for 2016. The most promising players I saw need to play more outside of the US. I’m hoping Ms Osaka will play more during the Asian swing but she should also play some of the events in Europe. She lost her Ashe debut because the occasion overwhelmed her and her opponent was more experienced. I mentioned her mental lapses during the Duan match. She was up by big margins and managed to hang on riding the crowd such as it was. By next year this time she should be higher ranked. A seed? It depends on Asia and the early tournaments next year. I didn’t see Frances Tiafoe live but it’s good that he cried at the end of the match. Play more Frances. Play qualies. It’ll do you a world of good.

I’m already looking forward to 2017.

© Savannahs World 2016 All rights reserved