It’s Happened

by Savannah

The US tennis establishment is crowing about four US women making it to the quarter finals of the 2017 US Open. Venus Williams, Madison Keys, Colleen Vandeweghe and Sloane Stephens will be facing four women from Europe. It’s a wonderful moment right? Does it vindicate the approach the USTA has made regarding it’s women players? Have US women finally proved themselves deserving of the respect that has eluded them (with two exceptions) for years now?

Short answer: No.

The level of play among the women has been steadily falling over the last five years or so. There is no variety. Achieving the top ranking has become a matter of point counting and not level of tennis. Being number one used to mean you were the best at that moment in time. Not today. The women who have won Slams (Venus Williams and Petra Kvitova) are not contending for the top spot.

As is often said you can only play whoever is across the net from you. When that becomes the rationale for not only Slamless number one’s but for asserting a resurgence in your tennis program that is nothing to celebrate.

By all means celebrate the fact that four US women are contending for the Final. Just don’t make it seem as if it’s a renaissance.

©2017 Savannahs World Tennis 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

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

Serena Williams

by Savannah

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via Tennis Australia

She did it. Despite all the hate directed at her and her sister, despite the ones who prayed she would not be able to win again, despite the lax attitude of her association, Serena Williams  won the women’s title at the 2017 Australian Open.

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It’s probable that Serena will win one more Slam this year, barring injury, and that we won’t have to hear Margaret Court’s name again. Don’t forget you never heard it until Serena started knocking on the door that would let her pass Steffi Graf. Make no mistake about it. If the current crop of “best” is what women’s tennis has to look forward to no one will surpass whatever records Serena goes on to claim for her own.

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There were whispers though, the same ones that have dogged Serena and her sister Venus Williams since they began their take over of women’s tennis. Venus would “let” Serena win. Venus will be a good big sister and not stand in her baby sister’s way. Richard no longer travels with his daughters and Oracene Price wasn’t seen in Melbourne this year. They wouldn’t dare say anything about Patrick Mouratoglou or David Witt so the collusion would have to be between the sisters. Yeah. That’s why Venus played as best she could against Serena. Both were tense to open the match but once they settled it was clear who would win.

Congratulations to Richard Williams and Oracene Price, who set their daughters into unchartered territory in a racist and hostile environment and who have lived to see them once again stand atop women’s tennis. You don’t get there because you want to. You get there with hard work and sacrifice and they will be a tough act to follow.

End Notes

I want to apologize for some factual errors in my blog post about the Next Gen an Rising Stars in the ATP and the WTA respectively. I’m not succumbing to or trying to distribute alternate facts. Again, I’m sorry.

© 2017 Savannahs World All Rights Reserved except where indicated. None of the pictures are mine

Next Gen? Rising Stars? They’ve Got Work To Do

by Savannah

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Let’s go way back when. Back to 2008 to be precise when the four people pictured above played in the most prestigious tennis final of all, the Wimbledon Final. Fast forward nine years and who do we find playing in the final of the 2017 Australian Open? You got it! The same four people. The two top ranked players of the ATP are off doing other things. The top WTA player is doing other things too while the WTA #2 and #9 are playing a Grand Slam final both were widely reported to be no where near capable of contending for.

So what happened? Why didn’t any of the up and coming younger players make it near the Final? Yes Milos Raonic ( who is technically too old to be next gen) was in the quarter finals. So did Johanna Konta whom many, for some strange reason, thought would hit Serena off the court. That, my friends, gets to the heart of the matter.

During one of her on court interviews Venus Williams, in response to a question, said “I know how to play tennis”. There is a world of wisdom in those words. The men and women pictured above know how to play tennis. And that means they know more than how to hit the ball hard. They know how to adjust to what is happening across the net. They know how to think their way through a problem, a question being asked by their opponent. They know the hype ends when they step on court. If you watched Konta vs Serena you saw the look of absolute shock on her face when she realized that what she’d been told had nothing to do with what the woman across the net from her was doing. It was the same with Colleen Vandeweghe. She realized that all the smoke that had been blown up her ass about Venus – too old, physically fragile – was just that, smoke. In the end there is the one intangible no one can coach against, and that is will. It was will that won Rafael Nadal his match vs tennis insider favorite Grigor Dimitrov, a man who many have tapped as the next big thing for several years now. In the end he doubted himself, blinked, and the match was over. Vandeweghe and Konta know the feeling Grigor.

I didn’t watch the Roger Federer vs Stan Wawrinka match because the winner of that match, no matter the attempts to make it seem competitive, was a foregone conclusion. The hard court record between the two men is now 13-0 in Federer’s favor. Nothing to see there at all. It was 12-0 coming into the match.

“I know how to play tennis.” Think about those words the next time some pigtailed young woman or fresh faced young man is declared the next big thing. Some young barely out of puberty boy or girl who hits the cover off the ball is poised to become the next Grand Slam winner. Think about that in a few years when the four above have been consigned to the geriatric ward of tennis by tennis experts and somehow, every now and then they display the magic only they can. When some of the new jacks can make the statement Venus made and it rings true, then, and only then, we can talk about “Next Gen” or “Rising Stars”.

© SavannahsWorld 2017 All Rights Reserved except where indicated

Why Now?

by Savannah

It’s ironic that three of the athletes who had their personal medical information leaked today were women of color and the one woman who wasn’t a woman of color is a lesbian. Make of that what you will.

Here is the WADA statement.

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Ironically the information released shows all four women: Simone Biles , Serena Williams , Venus Williams and Elena Delle Donne followed the rules and notified anti doping agencies of their prescribed use of substances on the banned list, mostly out of competition. Biles was and is being treated for ADHD and has a TUE (thereputic use exemption). No rules were broken. None of them are guilty of anti doping offenses committed during the recently completed Olympic Games in Rio.

If anything this shows that top competitors follow the rules and perform at the top of their abilities.

I don’t understand why this information has been leaked now.

© 2016 Savannahs World All Rights Reserved

This and That

by Savannah

It’s no secret Taylor Fritz is the current fair haired boy in US tennis circles. He’s tall, with dark good looks, rich and his mother once played at the pro level which automatically gives him an in. Being the chosen one he’s gotten every opportunity to hone his game and develop a following. You can tell by the reverent tones of the comms when talking about him he’s the person the US is tapping for future stardom.

Fritz is playing the CitiOpen in Washington, DC and is scheduled to face Alexander Zverev next round. The match will be a good barometer of where Fritz is at the moment. He won his first round match against Dudi Sela by playing the big points well. It’s a cliché statement but that is what happened. Zverev didn’t look good at all when I last saw him but I’m sure he’ll be up for this match.

Meanwhile Francis Tiafoe, another up and comer,seems to have developed his grown man’s body but he’s still playing Junior level tennis. To say his match against Adrian Mannarino of France was disappointing was an understatement. Tiafoe was up at least a break in both sets and yet managed to lose in straight sets. Every time Tiafoe got a lead he seemed to think his work was done and checked out of the match. Mental lapses like that and his inability to push through to close out sets/matches shows that he needs to play more tennis. He was in the Main Draw via a Wild Card. As someone said a Qualifying Wild Card would’ve been better for him. Of course it’s easy for me to say what he should and shouldn’t be doing. Without the total support of his Federation it would be hard for Tiafoe to travel and play events that would help his game mature. As I said above Taylor Fritz is inhaling all the air and there might not be enough left over for a promising player like Tiafoe. I don’t know. I do know that if Tiafoe isn’t able to lift the level of his play he’s going to join the scrap heap of US mens tennis.

A couple more things about the Citi Open. It seems the women are playing in the hottest part of the day while the men’s featured matches begin after 4p in the afternoon. Does the WTA have no clout at all? Ther were late night women’s matches yesterday because of the weather.

Venus Williams is playing Stanford along with some women who can also be placed in the generation next category.

I watched a match last night between newly minted pro Carol Zhao of Canada and Nicole Gibbs who is popular with the US tennis establishment. I think the phrase du jour is “dumpster fire” to describe a match like this one last night. Early in the first set Zhao had a point she’d set up nicely and came to the net after her shot. The entire court to the right was open. So of course she tried one of those thread the needle passing sots that are so beautiful when they work and horrible when they don’t. It didn’t and despite Gibbs less than stellar efforts it was clear that she would go on and win the match which she did. I know I’m hard on North American players but they lack the one thing European trained players have and that is court sense. They truly don’t know how to construct points (still) or think clearly and consistently on court. It seems adjusting their game if the other player is doing something that stops you from doing what you want doesn’t occur to them. Eugenie Bouchard  inexplicably lost a match to Camila Giorgi this afternoon mainly because she couldn’t adjust to Giorgi’s aggression. It’s really weird to see and makes you wonder if instead of older coaches working with players who have already made names for themselves they’d work with up and coming US/Canadian players. Something is wrong with the level of coaching they’re getting now and no one seems to have a clue what to do about it.

Accountability and Tennis Media

The match presser after a loss has to be one of the worst experiences ever. How would you feel if you were Eugenie Bouchard and someone asked you this question:

“Are you surprised Vika is pregnant? And are you surprised she found someone to be pregnant with?” Actual question to Genie Bouchard in D.C.

Tumaini Carayol posted the question on Twitter without identifying who asked it. The question is insulting on so many levels in my very humble opinion the person who asked the question should be made known. No one ever asked a male player how they managed to romance a woman who looks like a model. Fans may have snarked about how a particular player pulled a particular woman but no one has ever been asked a question with all the assumptions underlying the question about Ms Azarenka.

Tennis is the only sport where there are either no transcripts or transcripts omit the name of the journalist asking the question. Yet tennis wants to be taken seriously. As I type this the “journalist” has not been identified.

©SavannahsTennis 2016 All Rights Reserved