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

 

 

 

 

 

Who Will It Be?

by Savannah

Jelena Ostapenko
Caroline Wozniacki
Kristina Mladenovic
Timea Bacsinszky
Elina Svitolina
Petra Martic
Carla Suarez Navarro
Simona Halep
Alizé Cornet
Caroline Garcia
Veronica Cepede-Royg
Karolina Pliskova

Prepare yourselves hard core tennis fans. Memorize the names listed above. Bone up on their head to heads and past achievements. Their quirks. Their looks. Their games. The burden rests on our shoulders. No one outside of tennis cognoscenti will have a clue as to who any of these women are. If they’re golf fans they may have heard of Caroline Wozniacki but that’s it. The WTA has done such a fine job of promoting women’s tennis that whoever makes it to the Final is guaranteed the lowest US TV ratings ever. The good people at NBC must be seething that Venus Williams couldn’t do it today. There was a chance she’s make the Final but clay is her worst surface. Still she did very well in Paris. I’m a big fan but I always thought it was a long shot for her to go deep in the second week.

Wozniacki vs Ostapenko and Mladenovic vs Bacsinsky are already set for the Quarter Finals. The remaining women’s matches remain to be played. If the seeding holds it’ll be Svitolina vs Halep and Pliskova playing the winner of Garcia vs Cornet, a match either woman can win.

People  talked alot about there being no previous Slam winner in the bottom half of the draw. Now there is no previous Slam winner in either half. And since the WTA has done such a great job of promoting women’s tennis (Yes I’m saying it again)  people will be tuned in to watch and hang on every shot. I know I will. But then again I’m one of those people who know who most of these women are because I spend a lot of time following tennis. The casual fan will probably pass. And that is sad.

All of these women, household names or not, played their asses off on the most demanding of surfaces. They defeated whoever was across the net from them, household name or not (You can argue that the only real household name left was Venus but this column isn’t totally about that). They don’t deserve their matches going forward being called a “Scrub Bowl”. Whoever wins will have her efforts diminished because “quirky” results often come from Roland Garros.

The players are not to blame for this happening. They belong to the Women’s Tennis Association. It’s the WTA’s  job to make sure their members names are front and center. Women’s tennis is the most successful of women’s sports and yet few outside of hard core fans can discuss any of the women listed above with any knowledge. Add to that the fact the the WTA is virtually invisible on television in any shape form or fashion and you leave sports fans with the impression that women’s tennis is a side show, a lesser part of the tennis world while hey, what about those Next Gen guys huh?

We’ll know more soon. Best of luck ladies.

©2017 Savannahs World All Rights Reserved

Will Lack of Fitness & “Courtsense” Finish Off the WTA?

by Savannah

We’re barely through the first week of the French Open at Roland Garros and already some things are standing out for me as a result of watching both ATP and WTA matches. As you can tell by the title of this post the most blatant things are related to the WTA and it’s crop of new players.

In what was arguably the worst match of the event so far Kristina Mladenovic, as thirsty a player as exists in competition today, played Jennifer Brady on Court Philippe Chatrier that by the end had me screaming “I don’t care who wins get off the damn court! Close it out!” Mladenovic was playing with back issues per the comms and you could see her grimace in pain from time to time. You could also see her desperately looking to the stands for help. She very much wanted to call her coach down but of course the ITF doesn’t allow on court coaching (OCC) so she had to figure it out for herself. It was not pretty.

It also made me appreciate the older generation of players more. They didn’t cry and ask for someone to come down from the stands to hold their hands. They had to think their way through, adjust to what their opponent was doing, and soldier on.

Garbiñe Muguruza was also desperate to call down her coach during her match against Anett Kontaveit but she may have surprised herself by buckling down and eventually winning without her having to not listen to what her coach says while disrespecting him. I’ve railed against OCC for quite sometime now but with the current crop of players, many of whom began playing the main tour when OCC was in full effect the amount of whining and tears and temper tantrums seems to have increased. With it has come a huge drop in the level of tennis, one that will only get worse unless OCC is seen as the detriment to the sport it is and is discontinued.

Fitness? Most of the women are thin so they’re fit right? Wrong. You can be thin without being fit. The rash of injuries are coming about because, in my opinion, they’re dieting but still trying to look “feminine”. Remember Aga Radwanska‘s coach going on a rant about that a few years ago? That’s a nice collection of Slam trophies Aga has isn’t it? If you don’t build up strength – and muscle tone – the exertion of a three set match on clay, or any surface really, will bring you down. When your lungs are burning, your arms are heavy and your legs are jelly it’s hard to focus on what’s happening across the net if you can barely hold it together physically.

Some are nostalgic, and have been for a long time, for a return to the style of play exhibited by Martina Hingis in her day and it seems they’re going to get it if trends hold. I guess it’s been long enough for people to forget how boring that style of play is. It was also a time when women’s tennis was ridiculed for not being “real tennis” and led to the idea that it was “less” than men’s tennis, an idea that is still alive and widespread in the world of tennis.

There’s nothing wrong with strength of mind and body. There’s nothing wrong with being physically able to play a sport that makes so many demands on your body and mind. There’s nothing wrong with being able to adjust what you’re doing without someone dashing down from the stands and holding your hand. Both Muguruza and Mladenovic showed that they can do it. Sadly I don’t think their exhibition of mental toughness will be evident past Roland Garros when it’ll be back to hand holding and tears from athletes who are much better than that.

© 2017 Savannahs World All rights Reserved

The 2017 Roland Garros Draws

by Savannah

Every tennis head as seen the draws but I’ll post them in case you haven’t starting with the ATP Singles Draw.

A. Murray [1] vs A. Kuznetsov
WC L. Lokoli vs M. Klizan
M. Baghdatis vs N. Almagro
Qualifier vs Jm. Del Potro [29]

J. Isner [21] vs J. Thompson
P. Lorenzi vs R. Berankis
K. Khachanov vs Qualifier
Jl. Struff vs T. Berdych [13]

A. Zverev [9] vs F. Verdasco
Ph. Herbert vs J. Donaldson
D. Dzumhur vs N. Kicker
Qualifier vs P. Cuevas [22]

S. Querrey [27] vs H. Chung
E. Escobedo vs D. Istomin
R. Albot vs J. Chardy
T. Kokkinakis vs K. Nishikori [8]

S. Wawrinka [3] vs Qualifier
A. Dolgopolov vs C. Berlocq
Qualifier vs A. Seppi
F. Tiafoe vs F. Fognini [28]

R. Gasquet [24] vs Qualifier
Qualifier vs V. Estrella Burgos
T. Monteiro vs WC A. Muller
D. Brown vs G. Monfils [15]

Jw. Tsonga [12] vs R. Olivo
K. Edmund vs G. Elias
K. Anderson vs M. Jaziri
P. Kohlschreiber vs N. Kyrgios [18]

D. Ferrer [30] vs D. Young
F. Lopez vs Qualifier
K. Kravchuk vs F. Delbonis
E. Gulbis vs M. Cilic [7]

M. Raonic [5] vs S. Darcis
R. Dutra Silva vs M. Youzhny
Qualifier vs WC Q. Halys
G. Garcia-Lopez vs G. Muller [26]

P. Carreno Busta [20] vs F. Mayer
Qualifier vs J. Janowicz
T. Robredo vs D. Evans
S. Robert vs G. Dimitrov [11]

J. Sock [14] vs J. Vesely
A. Bedene vs R. Harrison
M. Kukushkin vs WC T. Sandgren
J. Millman vs R. Bautista Agut [17]

G. Simon [31] vs N. Basilashvili
V. Troicki vs E. Donskoy
R. Haase vs WC A. De Minaur
B. Paire vs R. Nadal [4]

D. Thiem [6] vs B. Tomic
Qualifier vs N. Mahut
WC M. Bourgue vs B. Coric
Y. Sugita vs S. Johnson [25]

I. Karlovic [23] vs Qualifier
H. Zeballos vs A. Mannarino
Yh. Lu vs Qualifier
Qualifier vs D. Goffin [10]

L. Pouille [16] vs WC J. Benneteau
T. Bellucci vs D. Lajovic
WC B. Bonzi vs D. Medvedev
Qualifier vs A. Ramos-Vinolas [19]

M. Zverev [32] vs Qualifier
Qualifier vs D. Schwartzman
J. Sousa vs J. Tipsarevic
M. Granollers vs N. Djokovic [2]

Here is the WTA Singles Draw.

A. Kerber [1] vs E. Makarova
L. Tsurenko vs Qualifier
L. Chirico vs J. Ostapenko
M. Puig vs R. Vinci [31]

S. Stosur [23] vs K. Kucova
K. Flipkens vs M. Minella
Qualifier vsE. Rodina
J. Boserup vs P. Kvitova [15]

C. Wozniacki [11] vs WC J. Fourlis
Qualifier vs WC T. Andrianjafitrimo
C. Bellis vs Qualifier
A. Tomljanovic vs K. Bertens [18]

S. Zhang [32] vs D. Vekic
V. Golubic vs A. Sasnovich
C. Giorgi vs O. Dodin
C. McHale vs S. Kuznetsova [8]

G. Muguruza [4] vs F. Schiavone
A. Kontaveit vs M. Niculescu
J. Larsson vs N. Vikhlyantseva
WC M. Georges vs Y. Putintseva [27]

M. Lucic-Baroni [22] vs C. Buyukakcay
M. Erakovic vs S. Rogers
Qualifier vs M. Doi
J. Brady vs K. Mladenovic [13]

V. Williams [10] vs Q. Wang
WC A. Anisimova vs K. Nara
J. Jankovic vs Qualifier
E. Mertens vs D. Gavrilova [24]

T. Bacsinszky [30] vs S. Sorribes Tormo
M. Brengle vs J. Goerges
Qualifier vs Qualifier
L. Arruabarrena vs D. Cibulkova [6]

E. Svitolina [5] vs Y. Shvedova
M. Barthel vs T. Pironkova
WC A. Lim vs M. Linette
D. Kovinic vs A. Konjuh [29]

A. Sevastova [17] vs A. Beck
R. Ozaki vs E. Bouchard
K. Bondarenko vs Qualifier
A. Barty vs M. Keys [12]

E. Vesnina [14] vs Qualifier
V. Lepchenko vs A. Petkovic
S. Cirstea vs S. Peng
M. Sakkari vs C. Suarez Navarro [21]

D. Kasatkina [26] vs Y. Wickmayer
Qualifier vs WC A. Hesse
Yy. Duan vs T. Maria
J. Cepelova vs S. Halep [3]

J. Konta [7] vs Sw. Hsieh
Qualifier vs T. Townsend
WC C. Paquet vs K. Pliskova
N. Hibino vs C. Garcia [28]

B. Strycova [20] vs A. Riske
A. Cornet vs T. Babos
N. Osaka vs Qualifier
WC F. Ferro vs A. Radwanska [9]

A. Pavlyuchenkova [16] vs Pm. Tig
V. Cepede Royg vs L. Safarova
M. Duque-Marino vs I. Begu
M. Rybarikova vs C. Vandeweghe [19]

L. Davis [25] vs C. Witthoeft
I. Khromacheva vs P. Parmentier
E. Alexandrova vs K. Siniakova
S. Zheng vs K. Pliskova [2]

 I’m beginning to think more and more of Grand Slam draws as snapshots, a rendering not only of ranking but of what has been happening in tennis in the months leading up to these events that are called “majors” in tennis.

Both tours are coming to this event in states of flux. At the present time neither tour has a dominant number one, someone that everyone wants to beat even if it means they’ve expended so much energy that they lose badly in the next round.

Tennis commentators are always talking about the element of fear in the locker room and how that affects on court play. That player everyone fears and loathes is usually ranked number one. Going by that standard both the mens and women’s tours are afraid but for different reasons. On the ATP side the British finally has a male player ranked number one. Unfortunately talk of illness has dogged him of late and it’s a legitimate question as to whether he’s physically up to a grueling seven match march to the final of the tournament held on his least favorite surface.

Then there’s the somewhat astounding mental and physical collapse of the man who had been dominating the tour before Andrew Murray took over the top spot. It’s as if we’re watching the previous incarnation of the man when he would begin to falter and fade physically during a match. It’s all happened rather suddenly and there is no easy explanation for why it happened. Some are pointing to a self declared guru who now travels with him especially since he fired not only his long time coach but his trainer and everyone else he’s been working with for years. Personally I don’t see what someone like Andre Agassi can do to help him. I know some will argue that people said that about Ivan Ljubicic and Roger Federer. Everyone loves a good story though and in the final analysis this work with Agassi seems to be more about Agassi and his family getting an all expenses paid trip to Paris than him seriously going back to the grind of traveling. It also gives the USTA the chance to brag that’s it’s former champions, who never played the modern game for more than a short period of time, do have something to contribute. We’ll see.

There are some young players who could surprise, among them Alexander Zverev. He’s in the top of the top half of the draw and his immediate section, aside from the tricky Pablo Cuevas, shouldn’t present too many problems for him. If he ends up facing Nishikori Kei that will be his first really big test.

It should be mentioned in passing that the ATP has done a good job promoting the young “Next Gen” players. I don’t think any of them is ready to do major damage at this, the most demanding of the Slams, but they could do enough to ruin some players day.

And now to the WTA.

The only player they’ve been promoting will not be playing at Roland Garros, and rightly so. When she and her agent couldn’t strong arm the FFT or the AELTC for that matter the WTA was left scrambling to get a good PR push going for its other players, you know, the ones who haven’t doped. They could’ve promoted their number one but she’s gone back to being the player she was before winning two Slams in a year. It’s almost by default that they’re now pushing Petra Kvitova who is coming back, I hope not prematurely, from an injury sustained during a home invasion.

So who has a chance? Top of my list would be Elina Svitolina. She’s got the game and if she can hold up has a good chance of going deep. Keep in mind the French Open is about endurance and sometimes those with good games can’t physically hold up.

Garbiñe Muguruza? As I’ve said before I saw her play live a couple of years ago now and she almost lost to Carina Witthöft. Since her French Open win she’s done nothing to write home about. Her opening match against Francesca Schiavone, a previous French Open champion as well, should give her a good work out and give us an idea what her chances are of repeating her title run. I think if she could get it through her head that no one is really afraid of her she would be able to raise her level of play and commit to what she needs to change. She must like having a celebrity coach though. If I were Sam Sumyk I would’ve told her long ago to kiss where the sun don’t shine and gone away although after the crappy way he treated Victoria Azarenka his stock may have gone down a bit. He needs her to do well as much as she needs to do well.

I’m not ready to get on the Kristina Mldenovic bandwagon just yet. The woman wants it and wants it bad. I’m not sure that will be enough to get her through though. She still has those little mental lapses that you can’t afford to have in best of three matches on the premier clay court in the world. You can make corrections in a best of five match. A mental lapse in best of three can break you in more ways than one.

Karolina Pliskova? She may end up in the top spot by default but she has too many problems with her game to be a favorite to win in my mind. She doesn’t bend her legs. She doesn’t like the low ball. Her movement is shit and that’s after she says she’s been working on it. With the weakness of the WTA tour right now she could still find herself in the semi’s or even the Final though. To me she’s a younger version of Daniela Hantuchova, another player who needed to dominate using her serve to control the center of the court.

By the way I read a fan comment saying that Karolina’s legs are too long for clay. The world wide web has room for every body.

The only other name I want to mention is Johanna Konta. I don’t get it. I don’t see it. I can never get past that horrible service motion of hers which for some reason always goes unmentioned by the tennis comms I’m used to hearing. I think that her heart is set on Wimbledon but again, the weakness of the WTA could see her wind up playing in the second week.

I’m starting my French Open with a breakfast of croissants with butter and honey. Or maybe thick cut English marmalade. The sleep deprivation won’t be as bad as it is during the Australian Open but it will be real.

End Note

There’s been a lot of controversy about the latest homophobic comments by Margaret Court, a relic of a bygone era and a fundamentalist preacher of some kind. Ever since her importance to tennis was raised by some who wanted the current GOAT to have another hurdle to overcome she’s been opening her mouth and breathing sulfur all over the tennis landscape. You lay down with dogs you get up with fleas. The tennis world gave her this platform and like any preacher she’s going to shout her message from the rooftops. It’s the height of hypocrisy to act as if you’re shocked and appalled by what she says especially if you’re part of the contingent that opened the door of her cave and let her out. People are calling for the arena named after her to be renamed. They’re asking that she stop being invited to Slams outside of Australia. I doubt if any of this will happen.

 

2017 Indian Wells This and That

by Savannah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

End Note

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

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

Is It Incompetence?

by Savannah

Monday, September 26, 2016 the paid subscription site, TennisTV announced that beginning in January 2017 it would no longer carry WTA events explaining that the WTA would be streaming its matches via a different platform. It also provided a Q&A
for users who may want to cancel or amend their subscriptions to the service. It should be noted that earlier in the year TennisTV announced that it would become available on streaming devices – AppleTV, Roku, etc – in January 2017.

There are many fans who prefer one tour over the other and many who prefer the WTA threatened to cancel existing subscriptions or not renew when it became time to do so. There were also a lot of questions about what the new WTA platform would be, what it would be called (WTATV?) and where it will be found.

I remember being upset when what was MastersTV, an ATP only platform, added the WTA to it’s stable and became TennisTV. I’ve gotten used to it though, enjoying the one stop shopping and making it unnecessary to watch dodgy streams where the person controlling the stream might decide he or she wanted to watch something else in the middle of a match causing the viewer to have to scramble and find another one. I didn’t like the geo blocking that became common but looking at the overall picture there were often other options available to watch whatever TennisTV wasn’t showing. Am I upset now? I’d have to say no. Surprised is more like it. I don’t understand why, just when TennisTV is finally expanding to streaming devices, an important move especially in the US market, the WTA would opt out of the service.

I live in the States so I can only talk about the status of women’s tennis in the country I reside in. To say it’s disrespected is an understatement. The top commentators (whether I think they’re the best is another matter) are always reluctant to call women’s matches unless they’ve played women’s tennis and still keep up with it. When someone like John or Patrick McEnroe are forced to call a women’s match the bulk of the commentary ends up being about the ATP tour. They show no shame in not having a clue about what is going on in the women’s tour. During a mixed event like the upcoming Beijing tournament the women get the worst of the scheduling both on court and on television. Even with TennisTV only the top ranked women’s matches would be available during a mixed event. I can understand the frustration of WTA fans about this. I’ve been annoyed about it myself at times. But to pull your already poorly marketed product off of the best streaming platform available, one with a world wide reach, is sheer lunacy in my opinion.

It’s even worse when you realize that millions of people in the States have cut the cord and no longer use television, network or cable, in the traditional sense. Honestly once you have a streaming device there is no need to use broadcast TV in any of it’s iterations. Every network, cable or broadcast, has an APP on these devices and the viewer can pick and choose what they want to watch. Ironically Tennis Channel beat TennisTV to the punch in making it’s content available for streaming. Tennis Channel is a purely US service though. TennisTV has world wide exposure.

I held off writing this column because I figured that the WTA would make its announcement if not yesterday when it should have, then no later then today so that fans would not be left hanging. There’s no doubt that a separate platform will cost money. When you add in production costs, the salaries of on air talent, etc the new service will not be cheap. Some are hoping for day to day or match per match pricing but in the end that is more expensive than buying an annual subscription.

Whatever the WTA decides to do they can’t put off an announcement much longer. To do so says to fans of women’s tennis that WTA officials were either blindsided (I doubt that since a decision like this isn’t taken overnight),that their decision to opt out was made in haste, or that they don’t think the value of their product is equal to that of ATP. If none of that then the only answer left is that they’re incompetent, that they decided to opt out without a definite plan for what the next step would be. I’d hate to think it’s the later.
Fans of women’s tennis deserve better.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands and DHEA – A Love Story

by Savannah

TUE-Gate is still going on. So far three top African American females and one lesbian WNBA player’s record releases have gooten the most coverage from the media. That said media obviously doesn’t understand what “out of competition” means or that an opiate (think heroin, morphine, oxy) would give no in competition advantage to anyone their mewlings can be dismissed out of hand.
What is interesting is that the press, with one exception, has ignored a much bigger story. It involves the US tennis player Bethanie Mattek-Sands and her attempts to get a TUE for her use of male synthetic hormone (testosterone) due to the imminent collapse of her adrenal system (kidneys).

Yesterday on a fan site someone calling themselves “Marlene” released a heavily redacted CAS hearing result on an athlete. We know it was a woman due to the conclusions drawn. We know it was an United States citizen because the doctor involved resides in Arizona. It soon became obvious who the athlete was since the TUE she requested had been made public.

The CAS report is a sobering read on how an athlete can try and game the system and how in the end, the system of checks and balances did work. The report is seventeen pages long so I will excerpt from the conclusions only.

6.15 In her submissions as part of the TUE application process and this proceeding, both Dr.
Serrano and Dr. Larrimer attributed the Appellant’s symptoms to hypopituitarism. Dr.
Serrano, in his August 17, 2014 letter to the 1TF TUEC wrote “{mjy initial opinion was
and still is that of hypopituitarism,” while Dr. Larrimer concluded in his July 25, 2014
letter, “Ida believe she has Hypopituitarism, “1

6.16 The Respondent challenged the accuracy of that diagnosis in its Answer and at the hearing, on a number of grounds, including submitting evidence that:
• Hypopituitarism is a malfunction between the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. The
relationship between the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland plays a critical role in the
secretion of several hormones in the body, including the production of Cortisol through the
adrenal gland. If this relationship was malfunctioning, one would expect that secretion of
all, or at least several, of these hormones would be inhibited. The inhibited productions
would be demonstrable in blood tests. However, in the blood tests collected closest in time
to the Appellant’s doctors’ diagnosis of hypopituitarism, nothing indicates that any of the
hormones that rely on the pituitary gland, other than Cortisol, which as discussed appeared
depleted beginning in 2013, were at all deficient This is inconsistent with hypopituitarism,
• The effect of hypopituitarism would be that the adrenal gland could not function without
lifetime treatment. This is paradoxical to the Appellant’s doctors’ assertions that, under
the proper supervision and circumstances, the Athlete could been weaned off of
hydrocortisone or other Cortisol supplementation.
6.17 At the heaving, Dr. Serrano acknowledged that he was not an expert in endocrinology, but
conceded a number of the criticisms levied by the Respondent. He also seemingly
attempted to backtrack from his own diagnosis of hypopituitarism by suggesting that his diagnosis was based on Dr. Larrimer’s diagnosis of the same. Two troubling aspects of this position are that (i) it is at odds with his contemporaneous submission in which he
stated that his initial opinion, presumably dating back to 2012, was that the Appellant
suffered from hypopituitarism, and (ii) despite apparent rehance Dr. Larrimer’s diagnosis, he was Unable to offer any insight into how Dr. Larrimer came to his conclusion.3
6.18 Accordingly, there is serious doubt that hypopituitarism could be the proper diagnosis of the Appellant’s adrenal insufficiency, regardless of when said deficiency manifested itself, meaning that the Appellant has likely still not yet been properly diagnosed.4

C. DHEA and Symptoms

6.19 Finally, one matter that raises doubts about the appropriateness of DHEA specifically as a treatment for the Appellant, that has yet to be adequately explained by the Appellant or her expert, is the juxtaposition of the timing of the manifestation of her symptoms, her DHEA use, and her objective blood and salivary tests.

6.20 By her own account,^ B symptoms began in 2010 and continued on and
off for 2 years before she saw Dr. Serrano and before she was a granted the HC TUE in December 2012.

6.21 But as discussed above, the blood and salivary tests from September and November 2012, the period of time before the Appellant began taking HC, unequivocally show that the Appellant’s Cortisol and DHEA levels were within, or above, the reference range for her demographic. In other words, during one of the periods when the Appellant’s impairments were at their worst, her Cortisol and DHEA levels were not depleted, Without questioning the Appellant’s veracity in stating that she felt better while talcing DHEA, it is difficult then to reconcile the objective evidence with her doctors’ recommendations that simply increasing her DHEA levels back to normal level today should cure her symptoms (notwithstanding any other potentially beneficial medical reasons to do so).
6.22 Considering all of these points, the Sole Arbitrator must conclude that the lack of a clear diagnosis of an existing medical condition is fatal to the Appellant’s appeal.

6.23 Because the failure to adequately identify a medical condition in itself precludes the granting of a TUE, there is no need to address the remaining standards at this time. But nothing in this opinion should be interpreted to suggest that, should the Appellant undergo further examination and receive a verifiable diagnosis – which the Sole Arbitrator strongly
advises her to do – any treatment options are precluded, as the Appellant’s health is obviously of Critical importance.
6.24 In this connection, the Parties agreed that an abrupt termination of the Appellant’s HC treatment could adversely affect her health. As a result, she must be given some time to reduce her current intake of HC and replace it by a treatment that addresses her properly diagnosed indication, subject to the cumulative conditions for granting a TUE set forth in Article 4.1(a)-(d) of the International Standard. The Sole Arbitrator considers that the
Appellant would have sufficient time to achieve this by April 30.2015.
6.25 The Appellant must therefore be authorized to continue to take HC, at levels no higher than permitted in the Appealed Decision until the Appellant is granted a new TUE by the ITF TUEC, based on a proper medical diagnosis but in any event no later than April 30. 2015. For the avoidance of doubt, the Appealed Decision’s revocation of the DHEA TUE is confirmed.

If that is too much for you here’s my summary:

The unnamed athlete went to her governing body, the ITF, and presented documentation that showed she had serious adrenal issues and that she needed hydrocortisone to stop the deterioration of her physical condition. The athlete and her doctor then said that the HC was not sufficient and he recommended adding DHEA to her course of treatment. The ITF approved the diagnosis and proposed treatment and routinely sent the information to WADA where cooler heads prevailed and the addition of DHEA was denied. Further investigation showed that the original doctors statements were contradictory and the conclusion was reached that the athlete had still not received a proper diagnosis of what the root cause of her stated symptoms were. The CAS also asked for the athlete to pay for all costs associated with her appeal.

There were whispers about who the athlete was (don’t forget this report is from 2015) but no one seemed interested in pursuing the publicly available, non-redacted report until now.

You can like or dislike a journalist but when he/she is doing a public service you have to give him or her credit for what they’ve done.

In his report for the New York Times Ben Rothenberg not only named the athlete, <strong> Bethanie Mattek-Sands </strong> but revealed some information about her doctor. No one has challenged his report. Instead there’s been deafening silence from the ITF, the USTA and the WTA. Despite her TUE being denied Mattek-Sands played for over a year using DHEA, “an endogenous steroid hormone.” WebMD says the following “it functions as a precursor to male and female sex hormones, including testosterone and estrogen.”

Meanwhile the campaign to try and discredit the four women who were first outted by the hack continues unabated.

Tennis fans need answers. How could the ITF grant exemptions in this situation when the medical reports didn’t jibe with any known medical results. It’s very clear. If “A” is happening then so should “B, C or D”. If B, C or D isn’t happening then how can “A” be happening? It’s not rocket science.

Secondly how the hell wasn’t this made public and Mattek-Sands not receive some kind of discipline from her Federation (The USTA) or the WTA tour where she remains a top doubles player. If she was penalized in any way by either organization they’ve been very quiet about it. It’s situations like this that allow internet trolls to push meme’s saying the entire system is rotten in order to make one player’s situation appear normal and not out of the ordinary.

So what about it USTA? What about it ITF? What about it WTA? Are you all running around a room screaming and pulling your hair out by the roots? This report is over a year old and to this fan nothing whatsoever has been done to Ms Mattek-Sands. I wonder if the same “hands off let’s pretend it didn’t happen “attitude would have prevailed if some other athletes had done the same thing.

So far this is the only report that shows how an athlete tried to game the system. That the system worked in the end is small consolation.

©2016 Savannahs World Tennis all rights reserved