This and That

by Savannah

It’s been quite some time since I’ve used up cyber ink to post about tennis. A lot has happened hasn’t it? Where to start? How about with some positives.

A couple of years ago I chose a then virtually unknown teenager named Alexander Zverev as my one to watch. As I write this he’s made his first ATP M1000 final defeating John Isner in three sets. It should’ve been over in two sets but for a bit of a walkabout by Sascha in the second set but there’s no need to quibble. Of course now everyone and their brother is on the Zverev bandwagon and it feels good to say I was one of the first to see his potential. His emotions are under much tighter control now but those diva-ish moments still happen.

Venus Williams is still striding her way through women’s tennis head high and ruining peoples days. She doesn’t win everything anymore but she goes deep enough in tournaments to keep her ranking in the top ten. Good for her.

Speaking of Venus someone asked why Tommy Haas is still playing at his age. I answered this way. Both Haas (never been a fan) and Venus could be thinking the best years of their tennis lives were disrupted by injury and illness. Now that they’re as healthy and fit as they can be they want to do what they love and that is play tennis. Why not? Tennis journalists were praising Andre Agassi to the heavens if I recall correctly. Martina Navratilova played until she couldn’t anymore. There’s precedent for this. If an older player manages their schedule and adjusts their training and diet to keep them in peak form I say let them play.

While senior players are looking after themselves and enjoying their wins it seems the Brits are in a spot of bother about their stars. When I say that of course I’m talking about Andrew Murray who, after losses on his least favorite surface said he felt maybe he should be worried. It’s not that he was losing he was losing early. Murray just turned 30 and is now at the age where back in the day tennis players would be looking for something else to do. That said, I think the Brits need to calm down. Murray’s style of play is, at least in my opinion, an acquired taste. When he’s on he’s on. When he’s not, he’s just not. They’re also trying to downplay that he had shingles, a very painful skin condition and one that takes a while to recover from. I guess they’re freaking out because after Murray there really isn’t anyone. Yes they’re pushing Kyle Edmund and legend in his own mind Dan Evans but really Edmund, if he can find a way to beat his contemporaries on a regular basis, could become top twenty it looks like that possibility is still in the realm of wishful thinking.

As for the British women who is there besides Johanna Konta? It looks as if Laura Robson, once the fair haired girl (and like Konta also an Aussie import) won’t be more than an ITF player. Heather Watson? Again nothing has changed. When she reaches the business end of a shot, let alone a match, her decision making makes you wonder where her brain is. Every now and then she stirs herself to get a good result but for the most part it’s second, maybe third round, and out.

Meanwhile in the US we’re not much better off than the Brits. At least their man is ranked number 1. Diminutive Lauren Davis has been our most consistent player. I don’t see Madison Keys winning a major although with the right draw she could come close. Catherine Bellis, Louisa Chirico, Taylor Fritz, and Reilly Opelka are the ones getting all the hype from the USTA but it was Frances Tiafoe who got a win over Jeremy Chardy and young Ernesto Escobedo who are out there doing the hard work. As always with US tennis it comes down to expectations based on who you are vs talent no matter who you are. That’s why Naomi Osaka is playing for Japan and not the United States. The USTA didn’t want her. The Japanese federation jumped right in and the rest is history. Unfortunately Tiafoe, whose family is from Sierra Leone, and Escobedo, whose family comes from Mexico, have not other rich Federation ready to come in and throw money at them. Both young men are American by birth so it’s the USTA they have to deal with.

I mentioned the ATP top player so it’s only fair to mention the WTA’s top ranked player, Angelique Kerber. She’s not having fun this year at all. She’s ranked number one because Serena Williams is expecting her first child in late summer. Keep in mind the WTA rushed out PR touting her attaining the top ranking before the new rankings were official at the end of last year. There was all kinds of talk from tennis journalists about how she would dominate. Welp. Once again we see it’s easier being the hunter than the hunted. She may fluke her way to another Slam but right now it looks as if she’s running scared. Waiting in the wings is Karolina Pliskova. Her game is still what it has been, one dimensional and if you make her have to move and bend you’ve got a good chance of beating her. But if things continue as they are she could be the next number one player.

If you think I’m talking about everything but the one topic that is dominating the tennis world I am. There isn’t much to say on the subject. I’ve felt from the beginning that the ITF recommendation of a four year ban was the right way to go. The two year ban, while a slap on the wrist in my opinion, was a good compromise. When the CAS threw out the ITF report and decided, based on nothing but PR, that the suspension should be reduced there was nothing to do but throw up your hands.

What’s even worse is that the WTA has pulled out all the stops to try and make it seem everyone, her peers and the press, thought she’d be done wrong and that the doping ban was equivalent to an injury or pregnancy break. It’s not. Thankfully the French Tennis Federation threw a huge bucket of cold water on those who, in my opinion, were leading the charge to destroy women’s tennis with their shenanigans. No Main Draw Wild Cards for dopers. End of story. To avoid a second embarrassment she and her team rightly decided that they would accept what they’ve got and play Qualies at Wimbledon.

Steve Simon, the hapless head of the WTA, has put a lot of effort into trying to rehabilitate a doper. Meanwhile it’s almost impossible to see a women’s tennis match and it doesn’t seem that anything is happening on that front. In the final analysis tennis fanatics are tennis fanatics. If they can’t see the version they love they’ll look at what is available. By the time the WTA get’s it’s thumb out of it’s ass they will have lost many fans to men’s tennis which is easy to see on many platforms.

So many have worked so hard to promote women’s tennis as a sport not a side show. It hurts to see it reduced to its current state. Yes I’ve said this before and I have to keep saying it. I don’t get paid to write this blog so I’m beholden to no one but myself. If Steve Simon is representative of the upper echelon of US tennis no wonder the USTA is in the state it’s in. Maybe if they stopped giving each other awards and focused on marketing the sport and developing talent no matter where it comes from maybe, just maybe, a US player can hold up a trophy from a major tournament.

End Note

Roland Garros. While the clay season continues in Europe and South America this tournament is the official end of the clay court season for much of the main tour. As usual I’m sad to see it come to an end. From the start of the Golden Swing to the last match in Paris I feel you see tennis at its best. The physical and the mental, combined with creativity, all come into play during a clay court match in the way it doesn’t on other surfaces. Each shot is a question or an answer. The ante is raised during each rally until someone makes a declarative statement meant to close out the discussion. It’s beautiful to watch.

© Savannahs World 2017 All Rights Reserved

2017 Indian Wells This and That

by Savannah

The big guns will begin play over the weekend at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, California. Women’s Main Draw play began March 8th and the men began play March 9th. Despite this being early in the tournament there’s been enough news to keep tennis fans not only busy but scratching their heads.

Let’s start with the Wild Card situation. The following players all received WC’s into the Main Draw:

Frances Tiafoe
Stefan Kozlov
Taylor Fritz
Reilly Opelka
Bjorn Fratangelo
Bethanie Mattek-Sands
Nicole Gibbs
Taylor Townsend
Danielle Collins
Irina Falconi
Kayla Day
Jennifer Brady
Donna Vekic

The only two who made it through are Bjorn Fratangelo who played a very disinterested  Bernard Tomic, and Donna Vekic, the only non American to receive a WC and the only one to make it to round two in what I assume was a competitive match. By that I mean her opponent was trying her best to win.

And yes it does seem as if she and her boyfriend are a package deal at majors these days. There were signs of relief from some tennis professionals when she made it through to the next round. I guess they were sick of the word “undeserved” being thrown around when she was mentioned.

I’ve been a tennis fan a long time, longer than I’ve been blogging. I’ve also been in the corporate world where a lot of underhanded shady shit goes on. That said I’m well aware that a Federation can grant WC’s to whomever it wants. We saw the same thing in Australia in January where only local talent got Main Draw Wild Cards (MDWC’S). That’s fine. Just don’t bitch and moan when your players are shut out at events in Europe. Sadly, most US players right now are cannon fodder for the top players. Their one dimensional games just don’t cut it against players who can actually strategize and construct points during a match. Let me take a minute to discuss one WC, Danielle Collins.

I’m sure she’s a nice person. She’s easy on the eyes and wears a kit that puts all of her assets on display. She’s been a NCAA champion two times. Sorry USTA, she’s not ready for prime time. Monica Puig made her look like a ball kid getting a hit with a pro player. She had no business in the MD of a tournament this big.

To be fair I did see some of Reilly Opelka’s match. He’s got a hell of a serve.

Random Thoughts

Usually it’s the WTA that’s getting dragged for it’s horrible draws. It seems that like everything else these days the WTA has been out done in that department by the ATP. By now you’ve all seen the mens singles draw. Speaking as someone who’s seen some cakewalks given to Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic the one Andy Murray just got beats all of them. Federer must be green with envy. What the hell were they thinking? I know, I know they want Murray to win here. Shouldn’t he have to play some tennis on the way to the Final though? Whoever comes out of the bottom part of the draw will be match tough. Sometimes that’s better than la-de-dahing your way to a Final. We’ll see.

What is the ATP to do about Tomic? Some commentators hinted that ATP brass was court side observing his effort, or lack thereof, against Fratangelo Thursday. I don’t think he gave a fuck. He roused himself to look as if he were trying in what turned out to be the last game of the match and made Fratangelo need five match points to win it. He gave himself away when a shot he made was called out and he challenged just for the hell of it. When it was called in he was visibly annoyed and put his hands on his hips and hung his head. That was the only part of the match I saw. Two things have to happen: Tennis Australia has to stop giving him money and the ATP needs to heavily fine him and start denying him appearance fees if he gets them. The only language he understands is money. He can live large all he wants as long as he does the work that his job requires. Will anything be done? I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Thanks to Alizé Cornet the WTA had to remove it’s horrible Tweet regarding an article that supposedly showcased how happy WTA players are to see a convicted doper descend from the heavens back onto the Main Tour. It’s bad enough that the headline bore no resemblane to what was really being said in the article. The WTA was forced to take the tweet, and the article down. Ms Cornet, who is out injured, also deleted her tweet. Of course nothing ever dies in cyberspace so if you didn’t see the exchange here’s a screen shot:

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Right now the doper and her team, along with WTA head Steve Simon, are trying to strong arm the FFT (French Tennis Federation) into granting her a WC into the French Open main draw. More WTA players are ignoring the gag order the WTA imposed and speaking out. Even Angelique Kerber said something against the doper being shoehorned into Stuttgart. ATP players have joined in the fray. They may get what they want but it’s not going to be pretty.

By the way Steve where’s that WTA streaming platform we were promised? Maybe less time should be spent trying to rehab the image of a doper and more time spent making sure your product is visible to the fans you still have? Fans shouldn’t have to resort to low quality betting sites to see women’s tennis. Fans shouldn’t have to miss almost all of women’s play except for one match featuring one of the Blonde Brigade from Canada. What a joke.

Also, don’t think we’ve forgotten that post congratulating Kerber on regaining the number one ranking while Serena Williams is still in place at the top. It was unseemly. Uncalled for. Disrespectful. But hey, keep pushing that doper!

End Note

Francesa Schiavone was never considered marketable by the WTA. She’s not blonde. She’s got an aggressive on court demeanor. Her on court noise was not considered that of a competitor like another players. Until recently, she’s been one of the top ranked players. Age has seen her performance level drop. But fans, including this one, watch her matches. After all the nonsense yesterday this was the saddest thing I read, and a testimony to how low the WTA has fallen and how badly it treats it’s players.

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Many of us tweeted our support to Franny. Let’s see what her tour does.

The Rearview Mirror: The WTA in 2016

by Savannah

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

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

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

So, one at a time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©Savannahs World 2016 All Rights Reserved