What’s That on the Windshield?!

by Savannah

It’s almost mid January. There’s a cold snap in the area of the north east United States where I live and it’s summer in Melbourne, Australia. I haven’t written about tennis since the 2018 US Open. It’s not that I haven’t been following tennis it’s just that when your day to day life is lived in existential dread why pile more angst onto the pile of stuff on the bed? The official end of the tennis calendar year has come and gone and the new calendar has started. The people who run tennis want all of us who love the sport to focus on the Australian Open and I will but right now I’m going to start sorting through the pile of stuff and get to what “they” don’t want you to focus on.

Let’s start with the newly unveiled ATP Cup that  will be taking the place of Hopman Cup. I admit I never used to pay attention to the Hopman Cup because in my mind it was an exhibition and all exhibitions are hit and giggle events no? If what I saw this year was what usually goes on at Hopman Cup I’ve been mistaken about what it was and missed out on some great tennis. The powers that be have decided that the ATP Cup is a much more exciting venture and will bring more fans to the sport. I read the announcement by TD Craig Tiley – there will be more on him later – and read it again. I mean it’s called the ATP Cup. What will the WTA players be doing while this fabulous new event is taking place? Tiley said in passing that they would figure something out with the WTA. Figure something out.

Steve Simon has proven himself worse than the person who preceded him Stacey Allaster. She played her favorites – Genie’s Army anyone? – but nothing much got past her on the business side. Yeah I know the whole Asian thing is looking like a bust but I don’t think the ATP Cup would’ve gone right by her. Lindsay Davenport on Tennis Channel the other day went on a mini rant about how reactive and not proactive the WTA has become. I know that there is a WTA Player’s Council but have they spoken up? Then again why should the players have to carry their own water when there are men and women making pretty decent salaries swanning around the world (I love British expressions. They somehow get right to the heart of things) taking pictures and giving each other awards while the women’s tour sinks into oblivion. The WTA has two marketable stars, neither of whom is a doper, and they treat them like stepchildren with red hair. When they retire who is going to bring the fans to the yard so to speak? (Sorry Kelis). Are people lining up to see the current top ten with one or two exceptions? Is there any player people will line up for the way fans line up for someone like Stefanos Tsitsipas or Denis Shapovalov?

One of the reasons I haven’t written about tennis is because I feel like I’ve been saying the same thing for over ten years. The WTA does not know how to market women’s tennis. I could spend an hour or more talking about why there are no Shapovalov’s or Tsitsipas’ in the WTA but when it all comes down to it it’s poor marketing and homogenization of the sport and the lack of coherent plans to market players people may want to see like Aryna Sabalenka or Maria Sakkari. Who outside of tennis fanatics even knows who they are? Who outside of tennis fanatics knows who Simona Halep is? Someone called Halep a media darling the other day. Really? Not in my neck of the woods. The latest issue of Tennis magazine doesn’t have her as part of its photo montage cover. Instead of promoting these young women they’re spending all their time promoting a doper who should’ve had her Slam wins taken away from her as some advocated for. It’s painfully obvious that without her special medicine she wouldn’t have been able to win them.

When professional basketball became a majority African American sport there were whispers that it’s days were numbered. Instead it became a world wide phenomenon that has players from all over the world clamoring to play. The people behind the marketing of the NBA showed how to turn a potentially bad situation into one that is making money hand over fist. It did not become a league of Harlem Globetrotters, sports entertainment. It became a one of the pre eminent sports leagues in the world right up there with pro soccer and the NFL. Right now it seems that once the older generation of women tennis players retires the WTA will turn into a sports entertainment outfit, an afterthought. I don’t think that’s what the pioneers had in mind when the WTA was created.

A Malign Influence

Justin Gimelstob has been a malignancy on tennis for many years now. From the time he suggested that his brother should sexually assault -rape – Anna Kournikova to now when he faces serious assault charges and will be in court on January 31 after the Australian Open professional tennis has looked the other way. It’s only now coming to light that he’s been a one man crime spree for many of the years he’s spent climbing the ranks from a mediocre, forgettable player to a power behind the scenes. If it weren’t for Simon Briggs of the British newspaper the Telegraph tennis fans would have no way of knowing the role Gimelstob is about to play in controlling who runs the ATP. Briggs article lays out exactly why this dangerous individual should’ve been expunged from professional tennis years ago. Here is a LINK to Briggs update. If you live in the States the so called tennis journalists have been almost completely silent. If they have spoken out they’ve said “let’s wait and see”. These same people have no qualms about trying to destroy the career of the most dominant player in tennis, male or female, though.

While Lindsay Davenport deserves praise for calling out her own Association fans should not forget she defended Gimelstob when he made the comments about Ms Kournikova.

This And That

What does it mean when a man who runs his nation’s tennis association, is tournament director of it’s Slam, is so closely tied to a player and his agent that it’s hard to separate his actions from the wants and needs of said player and that player’s agent? Once again tennis “journalists” are standing on the sidelines while fans are exposing the situation and asking the questions that need to be asked. Yes I’m talking about Craig Tiley. I don’t think he’s the only one but he’s the one who hasn’t bothered to try and cover his tracks. It doesn’t matter that the fans exposing this situation represent a particular fandom. It matters that nothing they have said has been denied or proven wrong. If we had better journalists working the tennis beat fans wouldn’t have to do their own digging.

Remember quality points?  Several years ago now it mattered not that you won but who you defeated. Beating someone ranked #150 in the world didn’t count as much as beating someone ranked #5. I know people will dispute this but the rules changed when Venus Williams and Serena Williams began beating everyone regardless of rank and rocketed up the rankings. The then powers that be decided that a point system based on number of tournaments played and how many matches you won minus quality points would benefit players. The dropping of quality points resulted in the slew of slamless number one players on the women’s tour. I have advocated in this space for some time that quality points need to be reinstated and was pleasantly surprised to see a fan make the same observation a few days ago. Then again if women’s tennis is practically invisible I guess reinstating quality points isn’t the top priority now.

The Australian Open – 2019 Edition

The draws have been released. Warm up events have been played and Sunday night here in the US tennis fans will be glued to televisions, PC’s, and mobile devices watching the sport we love.

The draws are pretty much as expected. Yes Venus and Serena are in the same part of the draw. Yes there are joke sections of the draw. It’s crazy that the bottom of the top half and the top of the bottom half are where the knife fights will take place for the men and that the bottom half of the women’s draw is pretty soft but hey, it’s Grand Slam tennis and given the circumstances none of the above should surprise anyone.

I for one will be paying close attention to the daily schedules and see if any sense of fairness exists after all that’s been said about scheduling here. I doubt it but it’s nice to dream.

My windshield is pretty messed up at the moment though and the windshield wipers aren’t getting all the crap off.

© 2019 Savannahs World Tennis unless otherwise indicated

 

 

 

 

The Rear View Mirror: US Open 2018

By Savannah

There’s a hell of a lot to unpack from the 2018 version of the US Open that completed a week ago today so this might be a pretty long post.

The Shot Clock

The USTA has been pushing hard for a shot clock and it was unveiled during the US Open series this year.

Long story short it was a bust. The matches did not become shorter; instead they lasted about the same time as they do elsewhere. So, what was/is the point? It really looks more and more as if the shot clock is aimed at players who take time to think about their next shot instead of gripping and ripping, a style favored by US players. Tennis is much more exciting when you know a player has a strategy and that if it’s not working he/she takes time to work out a different one and try it out. They’ll never admit that their big idea is a waste of time (no pun intended).

Three vs Five Set Slams

This idea, like the shot clock, should be quietly put to bed. This seems to be an idea pushed by those who believe the upcoming generation is not able to focus long enough to make a best of five set match interesting. That sounds like a problem that needs to be faced by Federations, training facilities and coaches not Slams. Again, this is a solution looking for a problem.

The New Stadiums

They finally got it right. The new Louis Armstrong Stadium is a work of art. It’s fan friendly – there are vents built into the structure to allow as much heat as possible to escape during a match. I read that some players complained about the acoustics on court but that was not a complaint I heard a lot. Yes, there are more paid seats in this larger stadium but the “cheap seats” are really one of the best bargains at the Open. AND if you go in via the right gate you will be in shade for your entire stay. Compared to the other new stadiums and courts that is a blessing. Also you can see the tennis quite well which of course is the reason you’re there in the first place.

Take, for example, Court 17. If any court was designed to maximize the torture both fans and players this is the court. There is literally, no shade for any living thing until late afternoon when the sun starts to go down. If being roasted to death is your thing this is the court for you.

Then there’s the new Grandstand.. It’s not as bad sun wise as Court 17 but it’s better to visit that court in the late afternoon.

As most of you know the outer courts, smaller courts nestled into a leafy environment have been replaced with modern concrete ones fully exposed to the sun. There really isn’t a bad seat in them but again, bring plenty of sunblock and a big hat or an umbrella.

Cooling Centers

Last year Chase Bank set up a cooling center where preregistered fans could escape the heat and grab a free bite to eat. This year the free bite to eat was gone and replaced by offerings of fruit and soft drinks. There are also big screen tv’s in the lounge area as well as rest room facilities. The only grumble I had was that there was nothing good for this diabetic to eat. So after cooling off it was off to the AmEx pavilion to get my bracelet and to Armstrong.

The Nike Pavilion

This is sorely missed. Part of the fun of going to the Open was buying the latest shirts, hats or other gear trademarked with the logo of your favorite player. Yes it was expensive but when you consider the Open is already an expensive vacation for many people dropping a lot of money on casual wear you will have for a long time was worth it.

I don’t know why Nike is gone. Its space has now been taken over by Mercedes Benz. They have some fan centered things set up inside that pavilion but if you want a souvenir you can wear all you can buy is USTA stuff. Generic, boring USTA stuff. The same stuff they’ve been selling for years. I hope the situation can be worked out so that no matter who your fave is you can buy replicas of their gear without paying shipping charges.

The Tournament

As usual the USTA made money. The crowds were bigger than ever. As usual there was drama. I’m going to try to go step by step in somewhat chronological order, starting with the heat.

The best innovation of this tournament was the heat rule being instituted for ATP players, something I’m sure will be replicated for the Australian Open. Anyone who has attended the US Open can tell you war stories about their battles with the heat and humidity of New York City in the summer. There was one year where no matter how much water you drank you didn’t have to go to the bathroom. But I digress.

It was no secret that the weather that prevailed during Fan Week was not going to last. To go a bit off topic a big shout out goes to Katrina Adams  for giving this week a name and scheduling events for the many fans who come to watch not only the Qualifying Tournament but see the top players walking around and drop in on practice sessions to see what players and their coaches are working on and how that work translates to their match play.

Back to the weather. New York City government had been issuing heat advisories since the weekend. Still it took the spectacle of those “manly men” dropping like flies to make officials jury rig a heat protocol for the men. It doesn’t matter why they did it. It matters that they did. We went on Wednesday of week one, the “cooler” of the first few days and it was miserable. Armstrong’s vents work fine if there’s a breeze. If there isn’t one you bake in there too. Not like you would in Ashe but it gets quite warm. We made it through one match and decided to try and find some shade in the food court and eat before leaving.

The officials also took the health of junior players into account and began to start their matches in late afternoon instead of late morning when there is no escaping the brutal sun and heat.

The Draws

There isn’t much to say about the draws, especially since the tournament is long over. I thought that they were par for the course these days where one part of the draw is murderer’s row and the other is a cake walk.  I’ve seen worse. The good news is that the ITF has decided dropping the number of seeds from 32 to 16 is a really bad idea.

When the Umpire Becomes the Story

One fan site I like has a thread that documents the “best” racquet destructions for the calendar year. The winners of this little “contest” are mostly men. And yet despite their antics the men rarely face any consequences.

Then we had the unbelievable display by Karolina Pliskova. She didn’t like calls made by the chair umpire during her match vs Maria Sakkari. As she walked ahead of her opponent according to tennis protocol she began to hack away at the supports of the chair the umpire was seated in. Yes, the umpire was sitting in her chair while an enraged player hacked away at its foundations. Pliskova’s opponent needed to execute some fancy footwork to get out of the way of the flailing racquet and avoid injury herself. Was there outrage? Threats of a boycott? A heavy fine? None of that happened. Her rampage was not condemned and there were no demeaning cartoons published in the wake of her attack on the chair umpire. If the umpire had not been in her seat this would’ve been a different situation but the umpire was in her seat and faced potentially serious injury from either the player herself or as the result of her damaged perch collapsing. But tennis officials felt it was a justified reaction I guess and Ms Pliskova the elder was fined $4,000 and her reputation remains intact among tennis officials and journalists, at least publicly.

Fast forward to the Women’s Final at the US Open. A player, frustrated with herself, broke her racquet. That is a common occurrence in tennis, especially by ATP players as has been mentioned. She was given a warning. While she was putting herself back in position to play her coach made a gesture that she couldn’t see and the player was given a coaching violation.

Let’s stop here a minute. I watch a lot of tennis and have for a very long time. Back in the day Justine Henin looked to her coach for guidance no matter if she was serving or receiving serve. If she was on court her coach was visibly coaching her. She was never ever given a coaching violation.

Actually you don’t have to go to the past. Sloane Stephens coach does the same thing Henin’s did. He even talks to her throughout the entire match. He’s been shown doing this whenever she plays. Never has Stephens been hit with a coaching violation. But one gesture from Serena Williams coach, one she didn’t even see, caused her to be assessed a coaching violation.

If you’re new to tennis and don’t know the history of the Williams family and the sport that they play better than almost anyone in two tennis generations I’ll give a Cliff Notes version of what they’ve been subjected to.

From the time they began to dominate the sport both Serena and Venus Williams were accused of cheating in some shape form or fashion. Either their father was dictating who would win or lose if they were playing each other, or that something else was irregular about their ascent. There were whispers of doping yet neither has ever failed a drug test. There is excessive drug testing while other top players are rarely tested. And the tests have found nothing. Their medical records were hacked and it was shown that after serious injury medically approved drugs were part of the treatment of said injuries and approved under the TUE process. But some have sought to characterize this as cheating.

Knowing this background it makes perfect sense that Serena would bristle at being labeled a cheater when illegal coaching seems to be all right for some players. The family has worked very hard to maintain public cool in face of the false accusations hurled at them over the years but sometimes enough is enough. Pointing a finger at someone and defending your honor are categorized as “aggression” towards the chair umpire while an actual physical attack that could’ve resulted in physical harm to an umpire was excused as a fit of pique.

For some reason the anger of African American people is seen as more threatening than a physical attack by a European player. This blog is not the place to get into the whys of that but it has to be mentioned as a possible explanation for the reaction of the chair umpire who has been cursed at by male players from top to bottom and has never given a game penalty against any of them. If a man had done what Serena did there would’ve been some head shaking and nothing more.

Where do we go from here? Thanks to Carlos Ramos who hasn’t done a major men’s match in ages, all chair umpires are going to have to become “sticklers” for the rules and apply them equally whether the player is male or female, number one in the world or number one hundred in the world. The rules will have to be applied whether the player is a main tour staple or a junior just beginning a professional career. The rules must be applied whether the player is a favorite of tournament officials (yes that happens kiddies) or not.

During Davis Cup play on Sunday September 16 Marin Cilic broke his racquet to pieces on a red clay court. I asked if he got a warning, a point penalty or a game penalty. I haven’t gotten an answer.

Naomi Osaka

A few years ago I was half asleep watching a stream of the junior tournament held before the YEC in Singapore. I had heard about a player named Naomi Osaka and figured I could get a glimpse of her before falling asleep. Imagine my surprise when I saw her. I stayed awake for that match and her winning match in that tournament. As best I could I followed her progress after that.

When she came to New York to play the US Open in the Main Draw we saw her on the old Grandstand court. We were impressed and became bigger fans.

Last Saturday she was the better player but I was afraid that her confidence would waver, something I’ve seen happen to her before, and that the match would go three sets. Instead she held her nerve and at the age of 20 won the 2018 US Open. I can’t tell you how happy I am for her and her family. I thought she’d accomplish a Slam win in another couple of years but I’ll take it.

Congratulations to her, her father and mother, her coach Sascha Bajin, and her team from Japan. Knowing tennis the Japanese members of the team will become household names.

End Notes

More than a million more people watched the US Open Women’s Final than watched the men’s final. As much as tennis seems to hold a grudge against the Williams family the casual fan they claim to be trying to attract tunes in to watch either sister play. I know in my family my younger sister who never watches tennis always watches when a Williams sister is playing. This year she’s decided she likes Naomi too.

It’s too bad that outside of the Slams finding women’s tennis is practically a full-time job. I broke and subscribed to WTA TV because despite its lousy platform it’s the only way to be assured of seeing women play tennis. The streaming platform for men’s tennis, TennisTV is superior in every way. It was foolish for the WTA to leave that platform and have nothing decent to replace it with.

Future Stars

It’s going to be interesting to see how Aryna Sabalenka does in Asia. Those are hard court tournaments and with proper pacing and rest between events she can continue to impress with her play. The same can be said for Maria Sakkari. Neither woman fits into the mold the WTA prefers it’s players to fit into but both had excellent summers and can do major damage as tired players move on to play in Asia.

I’m starting to be concerned about the career path of young Cori Gauff. Believe me I understand the financial pressures of tennis on a “regular” family and that it would be nice to recoup some of the money that has been invested in a child’s career. Gauff has great potential. At 14 she is still growing and promises to be taller than Venus. Parents see the success of Venus and Serena and want it without realizing that Richard Williams and Oracene Price stuck to a plan about their daughters. Neither one of the sisters played a lot of junior tennis and so they were in their late teens when the began to play on the main tour. I for one am glad Cori’s success has been limited. It means that she will have to continue to grow and play more mature tennis as she does so. The fact that so much talk centers on Cori and not Whitney Osuigwe is telling.

Another potential US star is Amanda Anisimova. At 17 she is being given the star treatment by both the USTA and the WTA. I see that she can hit the ball hard and has a highly developed forehand like most US players but when faced with someone who is not going to let her dictate play, who is going to ask her the difficult questions during a match she falls apart.

The big star on the men’s side during the Open was Stefanos Tsitsipas. At 20 he is already ranked in the top 20 after a great summer and should be looking ahead to the European indoor and Asian outdoor events to try and move up the ranks leading up to the Australian Open in January. He has an interesting game and if he is managed correctly on and off court has the potential to become a star of the men’s tour.

There was one other youngster who impressed me. His name is Thiago Seyboth Wild. He’s 18 and was born in Brazil. He convincingly beat the boy who won both the French Open and Wimbledon boys crowns,  Tseng Chun Hsin. He’s got a big game but he’s not a ball basher or serve bot. Remember you first heard about him here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The One That Got Away

by Savannah

A few years ago someone at the USTA, most likely someone in their Player Development sector, made a decision about a young player named Naomi Osaka. Ms Osaka, her family was told, was not eligible (worthy) of their strong support. Ms Osaka’s father, Leonard François, had a Plan B. His wife, and the mother of his two daughters, was born in Japan. Naomi had an option to play for the Japanese Tennis Federation and took full advantage of that option. The Japanese Association was more than happy to have her. That is why after her huge win – mark my word it’s huge – at the BNPParibas Open (Indian Wells) Ms Osaka posed with the flag of Japan instead of the stars and strips of the United States.

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via Instagram

In hindsight the USTA passing on Naomi was probably the best thing that happened to her. I’m sure it didn’t feel that way at the time. After all Ms Osaka has lived in the United States most of her life despite being born in Japan. She still lives mainly in Florida. However, the USTA hasn’t produced a dominant player in many years. Venus Williams and Serena Williams also came up outside of the USTA’s clutches for many years. Andy Roddick, the last US male player to achieve anything, retired several years ago. Away from the USTA Ms Osaka learned the craft of tennis. How to think. How to play using the entire court. Instead of being a serve bot she has a good serve that her coach, Aleksandar (Sascha) Bajin, will make even better.

Last year Mary Jo Fernandez was saying that Ms Osaka has until she turns 21 to make a firm decision about what country to play for, hinting that the USTA was now interested in having her play for the country she was raised in. I will be very surprised if that happens. The USTA made its decision years ago. Now they will have to live with it.

©Savannahs World Tennis 2018 All Rights Reserved except where indicated

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.

sloane-stephens-us-open-final-win-madison-keys
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

 

 

 

 

 

Somewhat Idle Chit Chat

by Savannah

The WTA will crown a new #1 player on Monday, the fifth top player of this year. Let’s look at the previous four women before we talk about the newest number one.

Serena Williams started out the year ranked in her customary number one position. She of course hasn’t played since the Australian Open due to one Little Miss Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.

Angelique Kerber found herself ranked number one on May 15 after Serena went on maternity leave. She won two Slams in 2016 but had not shown much this year.

Karolina Pliskova took the top spot from Kerber on July 17 and held on to the top spot until September 10.

Garbiñe Muguruza‘s reign began September 11 and ends today, October 8.

Simona Halep‘s time as WTA #1 begins Monday, October 9.

To be fair to Halep the grumbling about Slamless WTA Number One’s began when Pliskova reached the top spot. Was she the best player? Not by a long shot. Did she bring excitement to the sport? That depends on how you feel about laid back personalities and since that is a matter of taste there is no need to dwell on her on court persona. It is fair to look at her game though. She can hit powerful ground strokes and if given the chance she can overpower an opponent especially when she can move around on her own terms. To say that she is not a good mover is putting it mildly. She also seems unable to bend her knees. If an opponent keeps the ball low and places it where she has to run to get it she stands a good chance of frustrating her and beating her. Fans argued about whether she deserved to be number one as fans will do these days. She won three titles in 2017: Brisbane, Qatar, and Eastbourne. The argument raged about her less than stellar game and lack of big wins at majors.

Muguruza was hailed as the best player of them all. She is a decent mover and won a Slam this year. Essays were being written about how she would dominate women’s tennis for years to come. And yet there were the inevitable “issues”. Her temperament on court when she was put under pressure left a lot to be desired. Winning matches isn’t about your opponent letting you win because you’re you. She’s there to win and in order to do that she’s going to do everything she can to stop you from winning. When this would happen Mugu seemed to be taken by surprise and in the end she was just as likely to raise the level of her game as to pout her way to a loss. Not exactly the behavior you expect from a number one ranked player.

While Muguruza and Pliskova were going through their changes Simona Halep was waiting in the wings. She had more than one chance to take over the top spot but always seemed to fall just short. The problem with Halep, as I’ve said here before, is that she simply doesn’t handle pressure well. Her French Open loss is embedded in my mind. She literally slumped her shoulders and hung her head while meekly surrendering to her opponent, Aljona (Jelena) Ostapenko. Yet somehow she was still in the running for the top spot. As of tomorrow she will be the WTA #1. As of tomorrow she has won exactly one title this year. It has to be mentioned that she got enough points to become number one during her semifinal match at Beijing. She promptly lost the Final.

I’ve been arguing for years that the WTA has to find a way to use some version of quality points again. Simona is a good player. She’s not a great player. You can argue that she’s not a number one player and wouldn’t be except for the fact that the WTA’s ranking system allows a player to get to the top spot by accumulating enough points.. I’m aware of the problems with using quality points but a player shouldn’t be able to simply pile up  points over a season and become number one.

To make matters worse there is an outside chance Elina Svitolina can become the top player without even getting near a Slam final.

I don’t dislike any of the women who are competing for the top spot. It’s obvious they’re doing the best they can and being rewarded very well for it. Is it too much to ask that a top player be able to play top level tennis both mentally and physically? That a top player doesn’t need her hand held by a coach or family member to make it through a match? That skill, and not attitude, is the measure of a top player?

I said a few years ago that when the older generation (not just Serena Williams and Venus Williams) leave the stage the WTA would be in trouble. I just didn’t hink it would happen so soon. It’s no accident that older players are coming out of retirement now. If I can see the drop in the level of tennis being played surely ex pros can see it and say “why not?”

The ATP is going to be facing the same problem in two or three years. It doesn’t look like it yet because the older players are still able to compete at a high level and their fandoms still dominate the conversation. When they leave the stage the generation right behind them is not going to play the same high quality tennis ATP fans have become used to. The generation behind those men, barring injury or off court issues, seems poised to step into the large footprints the current leaders are leaving and right over the players who should be next in line. The only hindrance will be how quickly they mature mentally.

End Notes

The WTA has gone out of its way to pretend that a player returning from a doping suspension was away on a break. I think that those chickens are going to come home to roost soon. If a player admits to doping for ten years prior to her suspension how are her records against players valid? Some fans are already raising the issue in regards to Simona Halep’s record against her. Yes it would’ve been messy to take all her titles away. Yes it would’ve been messy to take her winnings away. But would you rather that or the situation that exists now where those impressive H2H’s are going to be questioned and believed to be invalid?

The fall out from the Laver Cup continues. Was it a “real tournament” and not simply an “exhibition”? Since it’s second installment will take place in Chicago in 2018 who will the players be?

It’s not too soon to ask how has the Laver Cup affected the Davis Cup is it? If the top players can make time in their schedules for the Laver Cup why can’t they play for their countries during Davis Cup?

The WTA hasn’t said a word about whether it will or won’t stage its own event or piggy back on the Laver Cup’s already established drawing power. I don’t think any of the current to WTA players has the drawing power of the top ATP players so any similar event would be problematic in terms of sponsorships if it’s not paired with a men’s event. If the WTA did a better job of promoting the SPORT of women’s tennis and not individual personalities there’s a chance the WTA would be able to pull off it’s own version of the highly successful concept.

Speaking of Davis Cup and Fed Cup Spain’s RFET fired Conchita Martinez who was acting as captain of both teams. Sergei Brugera and Anabel Medina Garrigues were announced as her replacements.

Things are going to be very interesting in Sloane Stephens camp the next few weeks. I didn’t see her play in Asia but fans were visibly surprised at her physical condition. I’m not sure why they weren’t surprised at her physical condition at the US Open but since she managed to win I guess the discussion was deferred. With her reputation of being lazy and undisciplined the US Open comms made it clear that coach Kamau Murray would not stay around if she reverted to her old habits. She’s arrogant enough to think that she doesn’t have to do any more because she’ll always be a Slam winner. That’s what I mean about being a tennis great and being great for tennis has more to do with pride in yourself and the sport that is paying you than having an attitude.

We’ll see about Ms Stephens won’t we?

I haven’t done a year end summary of the two players I picked as up and comers for this year. Sadly, I barely remember who I picked. I know the young woman was Louisa Chirico. I’ve seen her name around but she has had an off year.

I think I picked one of the young US men, probably Taylor Fritz. He’s doing okay for a US player his Federation is pushing.

As for next year I haven’t seen anyone tennis hasn’t already seized on as an up and comer to watch. As a result I’m thinking of changing my criteria a bit and picking someone who has already gotten themselves on everyone’s radar and seeing how they perform next year, how they handle the pressure. If that is my final decision I I’ll let you know just before play begins in Australia at the end of December.

©2017 Savannahs World All rights reserved

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