RG 2017 – The Rear View Mirror

by Savannah

The ATP and the WTA finish the European spring clay court season in different places. I’ll get to that in a moment. Right now let’s look at what they have in common.

The respective top ranked players for both tours are struggling. Despite her apparent fitness Angelique Kerber has gone back to the player she was before what looks increasingly like her fluke year where she won two Slams. It’s an uneasy place for her to be mentally when so much is wanted from her by the tennis world, especially the world of women’s tennis. As it stands she is not even being talked about except in terms of her not being number one after Wimbledon. Her problems appear to be mental and that is not surprising. The game is changing in front of her eyes and right now she doesn’t seem to have the ability to adjust. This could simply be her annus horribilis.

As for the ATP Number One Andy Murray  I really think he’s feeling the effects of his bout with shingles. Fatigue is one of the side effects of the disease which can last for years (see page two of the link). Watching him play his semi final you could see after that marathon fourth set that he had nothing left.

At the end of the day the ATP presented two of its top players in the Final. The FFT and the ATP were ready with celebrations centered around Rafael Nadal winning his tenth Roland Garros. There were good showings by their highly touted Next Gen players but as is fitting none of them were able to handle the physical and mental pressure of a Slam. I give them another five years to step out of the shadow of the players that are still dominating their sport into their thirties. It speaks well of the professionalism of not only the players but their teams that are more than mere entourages. The families are part of the protective cocoon around a champion and comport themselves accordingly. It’s a testament to these high level teams that a champion player in an individual sport has the ability to focus on nothing more than his or her career.

The story on the WTA side is a bit different. Without a dominant player (and I’m not talking about a doper) a free for all is taking place. I talked about Kerber’s problems but I think the WTA, when it comes to Slams, has a huge issue hanging over it, one the men’s tour doesn’t have. That is on court coaching. I’ve been beating this drum ad nauseam for years but if you watched the WTA Final you saw what happens when a player has become so reliant on it that she has lost the ability to think her way out of problems on court. You could literally see when Simona Halep panicked. She was broken to love and her opponent held to love after Halep had been up 3-1 in the third set. You can even argue that the match was over when she lost the second set. She NEEDED her coach to come console her and give her a pep talk. She didn’t want him to come down she needed him to come down and that, in the end, is what lost her the match and the Number One ranking. Kristina Mladenovic had the same issues. She overcame them in one match staging a miraculous come back but the the need to have her coach tell her what to do led to her downfall.

Everyone is talking about how the level of tennis will rise when Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka return to the tour. Azarenka looks very fit right now. You would never know she’d recently given birth. But match play is an entirely different situation. Both Vika and Serena are strong willed and despite the layoffs want to/will want to hit the ground running so to speak. The body changes during pregnancy and I’m sure both will work on their core but I think both will see that the tour has changed. Will it help them? I can honestly say I don’t know.
I do know that of all the players Serena alone has never relied on OCC. In my opinion this is why she is so mentally tough.

And what about Alona (Jelena) Ostapenko? She’s not a kid. She’s twenty. She’s been around a long time, long enough to develop a not so good reputation behavior wise. She working with Anabel Medina Garrigues (yes, the one who was caught on camera trying to fluff up the balls during a match versus Serena Williams) and it looks as if she’s worked on toning down some of Ostapenko’s bad behavior but we’re going to have to wait and see what Ostapenko does going forward. It’s my understanding that Medina Garrigues was with her only for Roland Garros. If that is the case her first order of business is to get her to stay. Still I don’t think she should be expected to wipe the court with her opponents though. This is a great achievement but I don’t know if she’ll ever have this perfect storm again. There are several women who have won Roland Garros and were never able to win a major, or much of anything, again. That said she will always be able to say she is a Grand Slam winner.

As per usual the WTA was caught flat footed in terms of promotion. They’re now overcompensating (of course) but the over the top reaction proves that they’ve got no clue how to promote the sport of women’s tennis. No matter what happens to the ATP going forward they have a clear marketing strategy not only for their current stars but for their up and comers. The whole situation with Ostapenko’s name for example should’ve been cleared up a long time ago. That way you don’t have the spectacle of her fans berating journalists for not knowing her proper name.

I should mention in passing that a commentator was talking about the Eastern European style of tennis as it relates to the women’s game. I’m sure he wasn’t an American and if he was (I really didn’t get his name) he needs to be calling more matches.

And what about the state of US tennis? It’s still the mess it’s been for some time. It was nice seeing two up and coming US Junior girls, Whitney Osuigwe (her father is an IMG coach) and Claire Liu play for the Junior girls title. It was good seeing Donald Young in a Championship match at a Slam. But Madison Keys is said to have injured herself again. The other players, male and female, continue to be useless on clay although Young and Ryan Harrison should be given props for spending so much time in Europe during the clay season and managing to not publicly whine about being unable to find mass produced, salty and many times fake food in the acknowledged capital of cuisine in the world. Of course all the US players are focused on grass court play hoping to do well there.

What will happen at Wimbledon? Who knows. Many tennis pundits had Halep winning the title which lets me know they have no idea about tennis. No way Halep was going to win in such a high pressure situation.  Still if the draw breaks nicely for her she could find herself in a Final again but that is speculation. Grass court play starts Monday June 12.

Champions List

Men’s Singles
Spain Rafael Nadal
Women’s Singles
Latvia Jeļena Ostapenko
Men’s Doubles
United States Ryan Harrison / New Zealand Michael Venus
Women’s Doubles
United States Bethanie Mattek-Sands / Czech Republic Lucie Šafářová
Mixed Doubles
Canada Gabriela Dabrowski / India Rohan Bopanna
Boys’ Singles
Australia Alexei Popyrin
Girls’ Singles
United States Whitney Osuigwe
Boys’ Doubles
Spain Nicola Kuhn / Hungary Zsombor Piros
Girls’ Doubles
Canada Bianca Andreescu / Canada Carson Branstine
Legends Under 45 Doubles
France Sébastien Grosjean / France Michaël Llodra
Women’s Legends Doubles
United States Tracy Austin / Belgium Kim Clijsters
Legends Over 45 Doubles
France Mansour Bahrami / France Fabrice Santoro
Wheelchair Men’s Singles
United Kingdom Alfie Hewett
Wheelchair Women’s Singles
Japan Yui Kamiji
Wheelchair Men’s Doubles
France Stéphane Houdet / France Nicolas Peifer
Wheelchair Women’s Doubles
Netherlands Marjolein Buis / Japan Yui Kamiji

Who Will It Be?

by Savannah

Jelena Ostapenko
Caroline Wozniacki
Kristina Mladenovic
Timea Bacsinszky
Elina Svitolina
Petra Martic
Carla Suarez Navarro
Simona Halep
Alizé Cornet
Caroline Garcia
Veronica Cepede-Royg
Karolina Pliskova

Prepare yourselves hard core tennis fans. Memorize the names listed above. Bone up on their head to heads and past achievements. Their quirks. Their looks. Their games. The burden rests on our shoulders. No one outside of tennis cognoscenti will have a clue as to who any of these women are. If they’re golf fans they may have heard of Caroline Wozniacki but that’s it. The WTA has done such a fine job of promoting women’s tennis that whoever makes it to the Final is guaranteed the lowest US TV ratings ever. The good people at NBC must be seething that Venus Williams couldn’t do it today. There was a chance she’s make the Final but clay is her worst surface. Still she did very well in Paris. I’m a big fan but I always thought it was a long shot for her to go deep in the second week.

Wozniacki vs Ostapenko and Mladenovic vs Bacsinsky are already set for the Quarter Finals. The remaining women’s matches remain to be played. If the seeding holds it’ll be Svitolina vs Halep and Pliskova playing the winner of Garcia vs Cornet, a match either woman can win.

People  talked alot about there being no previous Slam winner in the bottom half of the draw. Now there is no previous Slam winner in either half. And since the WTA has done such a great job of promoting women’s tennis (Yes I’m saying it again)  people will be tuned in to watch and hang on every shot. I know I will. But then again I’m one of those people who know who most of these women are because I spend a lot of time following tennis. The casual fan will probably pass. And that is sad.

All of these women, household names or not, played their asses off on the most demanding of surfaces. They defeated whoever was across the net from them, household name or not (You can argue that the only real household name left was Venus but this column isn’t totally about that). They don’t deserve their matches going forward being called a “Scrub Bowl”. Whoever wins will have her efforts diminished because “quirky” results often come from Roland Garros.

The players are not to blame for this happening. They belong to the Women’s Tennis Association. It’s the WTA’s  job to make sure their members names are front and center. Women’s tennis is the most successful of women’s sports and yet few outside of hard core fans can discuss any of the women listed above with any knowledge. Add to that the fact the the WTA is virtually invisible on television in any shape form or fashion and you leave sports fans with the impression that women’s tennis is a side show, a lesser part of the tennis world while hey, what about those Next Gen guys huh?

We’ll know more soon. Best of luck ladies.

©2017 Savannahs World All Rights Reserved

Dominika Cibulkova – 2016 WTA Champion

cwdqs6hwcaa9d6_
via AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The WTA YEC Final: Who?

by Savannah

Unless you’re a dyed in the wool tennis fanatic you’re excused for having the above reaction when told who will be contesting for the title of best women’s tennis player of 2016. I doubt many outside of us tennis fanatics have ever heard of either Angelique Kerber or Dominika Cibulkova . In fact I’d be willing to bet a casual fan would’ve had no idea who any of the Final 8 were. Ask them.

Angelique Kerber?
Agnieszka Radwańska?
Simona Halep?
Karolína Plíšková?
Garbiñe Muguruza?
Madison Keys?
Dominika Cibulková?
Svetlana Kuznetsova?

Hell Sveta didn’t even know she’d be participating in this years Final until the very last minute thanks to the WTA’s continued lack of concern for its players and the resulting crappy schedule they’re forced to play. To say that the publicity photo’s of happy blonde women were too little to late is putting it mildly. There was no time to do proper photo ops or introduce the women to the public beyond the niche world of tennis fandom. Even for tennis fans Sveta became the main story, managing to run on fumes until the semifinal when she hit the proverbial wall. The WTA has got a woman that Steve Simon called a “representation” of women’s tennis (watch the video of his ridiculous press conference) that is not Serena Williams but at what cost? If no one gives a damn about your product what difference does it make if she’s got the look you want and an acceptable nationality? For the last several years the WTA has chosen not to promote women’s tennis as a sport choosing to promote the look of a now certified doper over the best athlete in it’s ranks. Its attempt to ignore the fact that it’s “face” doped for ten years (the amount of time that can be verified) and act as if her returning to the sport she’s disgraced is something to be cheered is cringeworthy to put it mildly.

So here we are. Dominika Cibulkova will face Angelique Kerber for the crown. Kerber is 5-4 vs Cibulkova in their head to head. I barely care about this final. I can imagine how the generic casual fan will feel especially since the Final is taking place in Singapore. There is a twelve hour time difference between the east coast of the US and that country. Meanwhile the NFL has a game in London that will start at 9a Eastern time in the US and 6a on the West Coast of the US. The NFL has a lot of problems but publicity isn’t one of them. That generic fan in the US will, if he or she is awake, watch that as opposed to two women they’ve never heard of. The fault for that lies firmly with the WTA. Even in his little presser Simon did not touch on potential US viewers choosing instead to focus on the potential in Europe and China, the emphasis being on potential. Citing Europe is kind of ironic since so many women’s tournaments there have been shut down in favor of China where the women play in empty stadiums.

No matter how you feel about the two finalists they’ve both done what they had to do to get to this position. One of them will be crowned 2016 champion. It’s a shame that very few outside of those in the stadium will bother to wake up to watch. They deserve a better Association than the WTA.

And that is truly a tragedy.

©2016 Savannahs World All rights reserved

Finally the Final Eight

by Savannah

With her 6-2, 6-1 victory in Moscow Svetlana Kuznetsova secured the final spot at the WTA YEC in Singapore that starts on October 23. Assuming she’s flying direct the flight time is 10h 30m. She’ll be playing on the 24th. Most of the other players have been in Singapore for a few days, some for over a week.

Then there’s the case of Johanna Konta , who is one of the women who have been in Singapore for awhile despite the fact that her status was unknown. She was featured in some of the publicity shots that were released. She’s now reduced to the level of First Alternate.

What a way to run your year end tournament WTA.

Why is it that everything the WTA does brings the term “Mickey Mouse” to mind.
Fans of women’s tennis still have no idea what the new streaming platform for WTA matches will be after TennisTV announced weeks ago that the WTA will no longer be part of it’s platform which will now feature a streaming App for devices like AppleTV and Roku. I guess it’s more polite to call them incompetent but the other, more derogatory term, still applies.

Anyway here is the list of the Final Eight with their groupings.

Red Group

Dominika Cibulkova
Madison Keys
Angelique Kerber
Simona Halep

White Group

Agnieszka Radwanska
Karolina Pliskova
Garbiñe Muguruza
Svetlana Kuznetsova

Day 1 Order of Play is as follows:

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2016

CENTRE COURT
TIME
17:00 – [3] SIMONA HALEP (ROU) V [6] MADISON KEYS (USA)
19:30 – [1] ANGELIQUE KERBER (GER) V [7] DOMINIKA CIBULKOVA (SVK)

Live streaming will be done on the WTA site and on TennisTV. There are online sites to verify what time play will start in your part of the world.

Good luck to all the participants. They deserve better than the WTA.

©2016 Savannahs World All Rights Reserved