RG 2017 – The Rear View Mirror

by Savannah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Champions List

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

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

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

A Look Back and A Glance Forward

by Savannah

A Look Back

Serena Williams won the Ladies crown at Wimbledon. Andy Murray won the gentlemen’s title. One was never in doubt. One was expected but not a sure thing. It wasn’t until after the dust settled that we found out that Serena and her sister Venus Williams were playing through pain and with added determination.

Lakeisha Williams, their father’s wife, announced to the press that her husband had suffered a stroke while his famous daughters were in London. She made it clear that he wanted to be home and that while he had some issues including memory problems he was determined to live as if he were fine and that nothing serious had happened.

Keep in mind it was Lakeisha, not either of his tennis champion daughters, who made the announcement. Left to their own devices the public wouldn’t know Mr. Williams, arguably the best tennis coach of the modern era, had fallen ill. The closest Serena came to saying anything was a Snapchat showing her and chip sitting with her father.

If it had been publicly known that Mr. Williams was ill the women’s title would’ve never been in doubt. Serena dressed and played like the champion she is playing glorious tennis from beginning to end.

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It’s rare to see someone play with little to no physical let down during a Slam, especially when playing both singles and doubles. There were some sketchy moments during doubles – don’t get me wrong – but watching it was clear the sisters were on a mission, Serena saying at one point that she wanted to win the (doubles) title for Venus.

It seems both women went directly from London to their father. I wish them and their family the best and respect the privacy they’ve always surrounded themselves with.

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The winner of the men’s crown was never in doubt especially after the ATP #1 crashed and burned early despite the soft draw he was given. The second softest draw was given to Andy Murray and beating himself would be the only way he was going to lose. He didn’t. The only drama would’ve been if somehow Roger Federer was on his side of the draw and he wasn’t. The US/Canada hype machine wants Milos Raonic to happen but right now he’s not an elite player. He’s not just a serve bot anymore but he’s not a good mover either and he’s not very creative on the court. Can he be? Maybe. He’ll never be as mobile as Alexander Zverev and that could stop he from being truly elite.

It’s for those reasons I didn’t think Murray would lose the final no matter who was coaching him from the booth or court side. In fact one can argue if Murray himself is an elite player or if he would be considered one if he wasn’t a Brit.

Still the Wimbledon 2016 Gentleman’s Final is the first major final I’ve watched in a long time. It was okay. It wasn’t great tennis but Murray didn’t need to be great he just needed to be very good. And he was

A Glance Forward

So where is tennis now? Are there rising stars on both tours?

There is a lot of hype around Dominic Thiem right now. He’s young, photogenic and plays within the parameters that many in the tennis hierarchy find acceptable. I find him incredibly dull but that’s me. I guess I’m missing something especially since when I saw him at the US Open last year he was even duller. I guess that’s an improvement but I don’t think he’s going to set the world on fire although he may play often enough to get close to number one.

Alexander Zverev is also on a lot of people’s radar now. Readers will know that I picked him as one to watch last year. As I mentioned above he’s got movement most big men envy and he’s developed not only court smarts but the ability to innovate that by the numbers players never develop. He’s gotten better if not total control over his emotions on court and that can only be a plus.

Borna Coric seems to be running in place at the moment. To say he’s been unimpressive the last few times I’ve seen him is putting it mildly. He doesn’t seem to have moved his game up a level and at the moment doesn’t seem to know how to. I never advocate coaching changes but it may be time for him to think outside the box and look for another individual who will provide new eyes and thinking for him.

Grigor Dimitrov has become a cautionary tale. If anyone was badly affected by hype it’s him. In my opinion all the “Baby Fed” blather has hindered his development and he’s boxed into a corner that he has no idea how to get out of at the moment. Should he get new a new coaching team? Maybe? I think that he needs to rethink his entire approach to the game and where he fits in as Grigor Dimitrov not as a newer version of Federer.

As for the WTA there is Serena Williams and the rest of ’em. To look at the WTA you have to look below the the top ranked player because as was said during the Ladies Final Serena at her best beats everyone else at their best.

There was a lot of cheering for Angelique Kerber to repeat her Australian Open feat but as we now know Serena was not having it. The last time I saw Kerber live was during a practice session two years ago at the US Open (Qualie Week y’all! It’s FREE!!!) I didn’t like this hitch she had in her serve and to be honest I haven’t paid enough attention to her to see if it’s still there. Also being honest she’s been quiet since the Australian Open.

Agnieszka Radwanska has made no secret that she not only wants but feels she should be number one in the world. She’s dropped to Number Four behind Kerber and Garbiñe Muguruza but there point difference between the three of them is small. Aga needs a draw heavy on wannabe’s to go deep in a tournament. The more experienced players know all about her tricks and how to frustrate her. That doesn’t stop her from trying though and while her matches have featured more offense from her side of the net she still doesn’t have the stamina to get through a long physically demanding match. We all know what she and her coach have said about that. It’s their choice and it will continue to be an issue for her.

Muguruza is a different story. She already thinks she’s an elite player and acts accordingly. The thing is she’s come very close (Roland Garros 2016 champion) but hasn’t grabbed the brass ring yet. In terms of marketing she’s attractive, her name is fun and catchy enough to make a casual fan stop and ask themselves who this woman with the odd name is. But thinking you’re the shit and being the shit are two different things. Being publicly nasty to your coach (thank you WTA for micing on court visits) and as I said carrying yourself as if you’re the top of the heap doesn’t make you the one. Despite what she thinks she’s not that mentally strong. She can look awesome in a given situation but as we saw during Wimbledon Bad Garbiñe is still lurking inside of her. Every player has a “Bad” side. Some know how to work themselves out of her grip and others can’t. (this applies to the men too).
I need to see more consistency, more fight not only at majors but at the titles you think don’t mean much. A win is a win. Winning makes you stronger and the more of it you do the better you play.

Then there are Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova.

I watched a Simona Halep practice session last year and came away thinking that Halep is allergic to the net. Coach Darren Cahill tried to work in about five mintues of net play and to say it was disastrous is putting it mildly. You could see that Halep couldn’t wait to get back to the baseline. But today she bagelled her opponent in Bucharest Anastasija Sevastova who was seeded seventh there. I don’t think there’s any secret about why she’s able to play so well in Romania and meh everywhere else. She’s comfortable at home. She’s never made a secret of that. I get the feeling if it was left to her she’d never leave her country. I don’t think there’s much any coach can do about that. She also has a problem with stamina especially in the heat.

Petra? Or “P3tra” as some of her fans call her? I don’t think she gives a shit. I really don’t. She plays well when she wants to and if she doesn’t so what? I really feel sorry for her fans because I think under the veneer of looking fit she’s really not. The gut is gone but the wandering brain isn’t. We all know she can but doesn’t so the only thing this observer can conclude is that she doesn’t care. Shame.

Wedding Season

Congratulations to Ana Ivanovic and Bastian Schweinsteiger on their wedding.
Congratulations to Flavia Pennetta and Fabio Fognini on their wedding.
Congratulations to Tsvetana Pironkova and former soccer player Mihail Mirchev. PIronkova looked beautiful.

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via podtepeto.bg

End Notes

It’s amazing how ignorant of female anatomy some tennis fans are. When Victoria Azarenka announced her pregnancy and that she would be giving birth the end of the year (no month given) there was a lot of talk of an unplanned pregnancy. In the 21st century? Really people? I guess it never occurred to these folks that what was announced as injury could’ve been precautionary due to the early weeks of her pregnancy. As it is it seems she played pregnant if the due date is sometime around December as has been speculated.
The person who loses the most in the scenario is Sascha Bajin who left his previous employer because of the chance he could become a coach and not just a hitting partner. He gambled and lost. I’m sure he’ll find employment somewhere.

A lot of the folks whining about how Azarenka’s pregnancy wreaks havoc with the WTA top ten comes from those who want someone, anyone, to dethrone Serena.

Congratulations to Victoria. I wish her a healthy pregnancy and safe birth.

The summer US hard court season is underway with several big tournaments leading up to the US Open. There’s also a little competition known as the Olympics coming in the middle of what is called the US Open Series. Many mid level players have opted out of the Olympics citing health concerns that have mainly to do with the fact the Olympics isn’t offering points. Fans have pointed out that some of the players who are terrified of an insect born disease in the middle of what is winter in South America played there in the summer (February).
Still, it’s their right to decide what’s best for them and their careers and I don’t think anyone has the right to criticize them. Will there be surprise winners at the Open? I think there will be surprise winners in Canada and Cincy. Everyone should be rested up for the US Open.

©2016 SavannahsWorld All rights reserved except where indicated