The Anna Kournikova Effect

by Savannah

Main tour play begins today in Key Biscayne, Florida for the WTA, marking the end of the US spring hardcourt swing. The two tournaments, both more than a Masters 1000/Premier Mandatory but less than a Slam, that make up the swing are places where players, big names and not so big names, can pause and assess how their year is going. It’s also a time for both tours to trot out the best of the up can coming players, the people being groomed to take over not only the sport but the lions share of endorsements, clothing contracts, etc. At this time, just as the spring swing ends and the European clay season is about to begin I think a general review of what is ahead for tennis as a sport played by individuals who garner followings for their desire to win, their style, or way of going about winning tournaments, charisma.

Ah that word charisma. Let’s look at some past greats. Bjorn Borg had it with his long blond hair and business like approach to his game. Chrissie Evert, cute, blonde and feminine, had it. Monica Seles, at that time a pudgy young woman from Eastern Europe was deemed not to have it. Steffi Graf, lately an icon, didn’t have it. Neither did Martina Navratilova.

The one player, the one who has had the most influence on women’s (and men’s)tennis is a woman who barely won on the tour. She was plucked from the many to become the face of women’s tennis. If you look at how so many young women players today present themselves it’s obvious that she’s still the template. There’s even been talk of putting her in the Tennis Hall of Fame. For what? Being cute and blonde? If the effort succeeds instead of trying to elbow its way into being recognized as a major world sport tennis will be doing everything it can to show it’s still a sport bound by the social mores of a bygone era.

I’m sure you all think I’m picking on the women but I’m not. Let’s look at the mens tour and some of its past greats. It’s not all about looks there. With the ATP it’s a bit more subtle but no less toxic.

There are many people in and around mens tennis behind the scenes or in its management who want to return to the era of wooden racquets? Why? Because it’s what they know. They want to return to lightning fast courts as well. They’d like the clay court season to be shortened. That would mean a return to the days when Roland Garros could be ignored by the tennis federations of the US, Britain and Australia, the three countries that have suffered the most by the ascension of modern technology and players who play a style of tennis they can’t (or won’t) understand.

And that is really what this column is about.

A year or so ago I wrote about there being too much money in junior tennis, and that it’s warping the play of those who are supposed to be assuming the mantle of greatness from today’s top players. To long for the past, before this time period that has been described as a golden age, is a bit telling about where tennis is right now..

It’s not only that the young men and women of today don’t score high in the charisma department (with exceptions of course). It’s that for the most part they play mediocre, paint by the numbers, tennis. There are no innovators. No players who present something new for fans. Instead we’re seeing big servers from the US, quick players from Australia, fancy players from France and barely above average from Great Britain.

The fault for this lies with the Federations. Instead of encouraging innovation and creative play they want to roll out players who play the “style” of their country. Germany has found a player who can bring more to the table, a mobile big man, in Alexander Zverev and so has Australia in Nick Kyrgios although he plays great tennis only when he feels like it. Their other great hope is a money pit they can’t get rid of. The US has two big men, Reilly Opelka and Taylor Fritz. Fritz is the more mobile of the two. That should tell you all you need to know. Great Britain has Kyle Edmund and one other player whose name escapes me at the moment.

Women? Well the US is really pushing Madison Keys who seems to get injured quite a bit but they’re very excited about Kayla Day, who has the Patty Schnyder gangsta walk down but is still developing her game. If it wasn’t for Johanna Konta there wouldn’t be anyone to talk about. The French have Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic. Otherwise there are a lot of long blonde braided ponytails.

What do all these players have in common aside from being boring? They’re getting major clothing and commercial deals without having accomplished much on court. It used to be that you had to have accomplished something before you started rolling in the dough. Now, all you need is the right “look” and the proper management company and you’re rich. Never made it to a final of a big tournament? No big deal. The way you look is enough. By the time fans figure out you’re not even a flash in the pan you’ll be rich in your own right.

Federations need to be supportive of their players. Tennis is an expensive sport and even wealthy parents need some help along the way. When Federations dictate how a player should play the sport is not being advanced but held back and interest wanes even among fans. For example I subjected myself to a match between Taylor Fritz and Jack Sock at last years US Open. I barely made it a set. Forehand, forehand, forehand, forehand, error. Rinse and repeat. Both men made beautiful shots but the tennis was boring.

Who do I think will be a star? I picked Zverev the younger two years ago, before the bandwagon began. Many of the other players seem to be stuck, among them Borna Coric who seems to have no idea how to move his game forward. As for the women I keep hearing names like Ana Konjuh but I’ve yet to see her play an impressive match. The latest blonde is Anastasia Potapova. I’ve yet to see her play but I have seen action shots of her long ponytail streaming behind her as she celebrates a winning shot. The (new) future of tennis.

The best match at Indian Wells/BNPPO 2017 was between two veteran women neither of whom has ever been given the star treatment by the WTA. Svetlana Kuznetsova played Elena Vesnina in a match that showcased court sense, strategy, and good bordering on great tennis. Sveta is 31. Elena is 30. Neither has ever graced the cover of any edition of Vogue. You could tell that people started tuning in during the match by the number of mentions by tennis twitter as it progressed because people were raving about the quality of the match. People have come to expect mediocrity and when they get good play they will watch. For some reason the young players seem to think all they have to do is show up on court in the latest and greatest in tennis gear and headphones and play, no offense, club tennis. Until we get players who want it bad enough to play through pain, in sweat sodden clothes, for hours if need be, we’re not going to see the level of tennis we’ve gotten used to for a long, long  time.

It seems we’re entering another Kournikova era in tennis, where winning doesn’t matter, where image is once again everything, and the future greats toil away in anonymity.

 ©2017 Savannahs World All Rights Reserved

 

Dominika Cibulkova – 2016 WTA Champion

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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