On A Mission

I never like to write about players who seen hell bent on trying to change the narrative of their careers. Whether it is trying to get to the top ranking, trying to break into the elite of elites and win a Major or even the simple act of trying to break into the top 10. I have always maintained that players already have it hard with the pressure that they place on themselves that they don’t need armchair pundits like myself adding to the pressure.

Caroline Wozniacki (courtesy USAToday)

I have tried not to talk or write about Wozniacki because she does seem to be on a mission. Whether that mission is to claw her way back to the top of women’s tennis or whether it is trying to win that elusive Major, Wozniacki has been hitting the ball as well or even better than when she was the top ranked woman in women’s tennis.

Don’t get me wrong her ability to play long grueling rallies during matches is still there but she is much more forceful on her forehand side and her serve which while good has never been outstanding has gotten even better. It would seem that with all the coaching changes that Team Wozniacki has experienced over the years they have taken a little bit of all those coaches to build a better tennis player. Wozniacki has now become Frankenwoz. Last night she was hitting from everywhere on the court with a 6-3, 6-0 drubbing of Rybarikova.

Her performance puts her into the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. The first time she has reached this round since 2011 when she made the semifinals. With her performance last night picking against Wozniacki might not be the best thing to do right now.

Today sees the top half of the women’s draw playing for a chance to get to the quarter rivals. Spin’s picks are below

Rod Laver Arena

Strycova v Pliskova (Pliskova has been doing a very good job of managing herself and her matches this tournament. No muss no fuss. The same could happen here but there is a little bit of history here what with a stolen coach smack dab in the middle of both women. Both players say there is no problem as it relates to the stolen coach, but social media posts always tell the true message, and Strycova, never one to be silent about things that bother her could still be fueled by being dumped by her coach. The tennis will probably be exciting and I am pulling for Pliskova to put her feelings aside and take this one)

Keys v. Garcia (this is a match that is the beginning of things to come.  2 big hitters, relatively young and healthy competing on the big stages.  Garcia has shown incredible mental toughness to come through her early round matches.  Keys has been hitting her backhand, forehand and serves as well as I have ever seen.  She clearly has put the US Open final debacle behind her and is playing with house money.  Garcia has much more variety in her game, and she also has firepower.  The only difference will be who can win more of the big points)

Hseih v. Kerber (Kerber has put 2017 behind her and has come out guns blazing in 2018.  She took Sharapova to the woodshed and she has been playing very well.  Hseih has also been playing well and while this match may be somewhat competitive I expect Kerber to take this match with little or no problems)

Margaret Court Arena

Halep v Osaka (after that marathon match against Lauren Davis can Halep feel her ankles? Osaka has been making her way quietly through the draw with little fanfare. A win over the very hot Aussie Ashleigh Barty could very well have been her coming out party. I am taking the youngster for this one)

 

A Drubbing and then some…

The Spin

61, 6-3 and it wasn’t even that close. I got up this morning and saw the scoreline and thought to myself, well at least the second set was relatively competitive, except it really wasn’t. I did want to mention that ever since Sharapova returned from her doping suspension, she has looked slow, unsure around the court and not as fired up as she was pre-meldonium ban. Without a doubt Kerber has improved this season, but Sharapova, title notwithstanding this year is a shadow of her former self.  Caught behind the baseline for much of the match, Sharapova kept lunging after balls and there seems to be no improvement whatsoever to her game.  She still can’t hit a traditional volley and while before she was known as the queen of 3 sets, now she appears exhausted after a straight sets match.  As someone opined elsewhere the fear factor, if there was ever one in the locker room no longer exists.

However, the match of the day was the 2 hour and 45 minute wonder that was the third set of Halep/Davis. Who knew that 2 players who barely scrape 5 ft, 6 could make an entire stadium rise to its feet in appreciation. After 3 hours, Lauren Davis held 3 consecutive match points on the Simona Halep serve. She failed to take any of them. Simona Halep by extension had to serve for the match 4 times before finally earning her first match point. There was a medical time out drama (broken toenail), heat exhaustion, mental issues, but both women kept going and going and going.

After listening to Pam Shriver bemoan the many breaks of serve in women’s matches, it was a bit of karmic justice that one of the best matches of this year’s Australian Open featured a match where neither player had a big serve, and neither player was able to serve out a match until Halep through sheer willpower managed to do so.

I was late for church this morning as I ended up watching my new favourite player, Su Wei Hseih do her thing.  In her match this morning against Radwanska, Hseih took control of the match from first to last ball.  I don’t know what is going on with Radwanska but her body appears to be broken.  In most if not of all her matches so far this year she has had to call the trainer to treat some injury or other.  I dubbed her match against Hseih Ninja v. Ninja, but it was like bringing a knife to a gunfight.  Just no competition.

Naomi Osaka with a new coach and looking fitter and leaner than I have ever seen her shut down the crowd on Margaret Court Arena by taking out Australia’s last female hope in singles in straight sets.  She served well but returned even better.  Her shot selection was on point and her attitude on court was sublime.

Today’s matches feature the bottom half of the women’s draw and has some players that no one had on their draw sheets. Spin’s Picks are below

Rod Laver

Kontaveit v. Suarez-Navarro (the more seasoned campaigner who has been down this road before against the big hitter who can go off the boil)

Rybarikova v. Wozniacki (the head to head matters but I don’t think it will feature in the results today. Wozniacki is on a mission to lift her first Grand Slam trophy. Rybarikova is looking to back up show that her run to the Wimbledon quarter-finals was not a fluke)

Allertova v. Svitolina (the qualifier v. the tennis pick. I loved the fight that I saw from Allertova in her previous match. She is match tough having come through qualifying. It is a night match so she will not feel the effects of the heat as she did in her last match. Svitolina looked good against her young countrywoman and made it look easy, but I feel as if the pressure to win a big title may come bearing down on her)

Margaret Court

Martic v. Mertens (2 women who no one expected to be here. My heart says Martic but my head is going with Mertens on this one)

Walking and Chewing Gum

One of the more popular pieces that I have ever written for this blog is a how to guide about covering women’s tennis. I am linking it again as a reminder to commentators and sports journalists alike that women’s tennis is not the forgotten stepchild of tennis, but is a professional endeavour undertaken in the same rigorous manner like the men. It is not to be ridiculed and frankly, it is not an aside or prelude to the main event, i.e. a men’s match.

Luksika Kumkhum

Last night there were some matches that were so entertaining that for a minute I wondered at the lack of tennis enthusiasts, commentators and journalists providing play by play commentary via social media. The first match on Rod Laver Arena featured qualifier Luksika Kumkhum and comeback queen Petra Martic. It was a match with its ups and downs, but the shotmaking was absolutely incredible. It is true that the match was slow going at first, but once Kumkhum took the second set, we all knew we would be in for the ride of our lives in the third set. Kumkhum played exceptionally well, so much so that at one point she had the fans in the stands on their feet with her athleticism, especially in the forecourt. During that match there was such a dearth of commentary on social media, I wondered whether I was the only person watching it.

Petra Martic

What made the match so exceptionally good was the fact that it was really hot, but you would never know it, apart from each player taking a little bit of time in the shade. Neither player made the heat an issue. Meanwhile, there was a men’s match being played at the same time, and from what I saw on social media, neither man was able to contend with the heat. One sports journalist suggested the quality of play was poor as the men were just trying to survive.

Ostapenko

Another match that provided great entertainment and is the focus of my commentary today is the match between Jelena Ostapenko and Annett Kontaveit. At the tail end of the first set, that doyen of women’s tennis, Pam Shriver spoke about the many breaks of serve in the women’s match, while comparing the fact that the men’s match only had 3 breaks of serve over 3 sets. The inference to be drawn is that the men’s game either had better serves or the quality of play was much better than the women’s match. Nothing could be further from the truth. Breaking your opponent’s serve is a part of the sport of tennis. You can’t win a tennis match if you don’t break serve, whether it is during a set or even during a tiebreak. At some point you have to lose serve. Why breaking serve is misinterpreted as a defect in the women’s game is beyond my comprehension.

Annett Kontaveit

Therein lies the rub for me. If commentators influence how people, who are scrolling through channels, view the women’s game, then the WTA is going to be hard pressed to build momentum for its sport. Rather than talking about the inability of the women to hold serve, how about we talk about the competitiveness of matches? Why cast a feature if the game in such a negative light?

Another narrative that has raised its head is how many women have the ability to leave the Australian Open wearing the No. 1 crown. Rather than spinning it as instability at the top, how about framing it as an indication of the depth of talent on the women’s tour? Would we rather see a Tour that increasingly relies on the fortunes of 2 players (Federer/Nadal) to gain large tv audiences, or would we rather have a Tour that has a slate of multiple players pushing each other forward. Once Federer and Nadal have left the men’s Tour (and yes hard to believe but they will eventually retire), the men’s Tour will be left with a group of men who will most likely jockey for position each week, even if some are devoid of personality and have already earned the ire of tennis journalists everywhere. Will we suddenly see a valuing of having a chase for number 1 among more than two players?

We have to move away from using the men’s game as a measuring stick for the women. The women’s game can be measured based upon its own merits, which may very well include the fact that women are capable of breaking each other’s serve.

Would we rather see a Tour that increasingly relies on the fortunes of 2 players (Federer/Nadal) to gain large tv audiences, or would we rather have a Tour that has some amount of stability to take it forward. Once Federer and Nadal have left the men’s Tour (and yes hard to believe but they will eventually retire), the men’s Tour will be left with some men who are devoid of personality and who have already earned the ire of tennis journalists everywhere.

Day 6 sees play from the top half of the draw and features some incredibly good matches. It is a long weekend where I am and so I will make sure to follow my mantry of sleep being for the weak. Spin’s Picks are below

Rod Laver

Halep v. Davis (battle of the little people. Experience takes this one)

Barty v. Osaka (how much more does Barty have left in the tank after those epic matches?)

Kerber v. Sharapova (this one I really don’t care too much about but rooting for Kerber)

Margaret Court

Bogdan v. Keys (again, experience over youth)

Safarova v. Pliskova (battle of the Czechs – Safarova is the more experienced competitor but Pliskova has bigger weapons)

Hsieh v. Radwanska (Ninja v. Ninja – who will prevail?)

Hisense

Sasnovich v. Garcia (the player with not only the bigger weapons, but who seems to be the far better competitor at this year’s event)

Court 2

Pera v. Strycova (the lucky loser with huge weapons against the experienced player with a whole host of weapons. I think the lucky loser still has one more match win in her)

Su Wei Hseih

One of the reasons why I cover the Slams moreso than regular WTA tournaments is because at the Slams you will see players that you normally never get to see during regular WTA events. Part of the problem is that the WTA product is not on tv on a regular basis, but part of it is that sometimes you just don’t have the time to watch many tennis matches.

Su Wei Hseih

The Majors allow you the opportunity to either watch matches when you get home in the evenings (the Australian Open) or in the early mornings (French Open/Wimbledon) before you leave for work. In addition, the Slams provide wall to wall coverage, with many courts being covered.

As a result of that I got to see a player who I have only ever thought of as a doubles specialist, play tennis in a way that in my view is under appreciated. Su Wei Hseih is relatively small compared to other players. I think she stands about 5 feet, 2 inches and probably weighs about 100 pounds soaking wet. She has no name brand clothes, and her tennis is for want of a better word unusual.

Last night in a match played on Rod Laver Arean, Hseih took apart the game of a 2 time Slam champion in Garbine Muguruza. I know that when most tennis writers talk about that match they will inevitably pull the Muguruza was injured card, but for me watching that match, Garbine was simply out played. Hseih used Muguruza’s power and athleticism against her. She redirected the ball every chance she got and she got Muguruza moving. Not afraid of the net herself, Hseih came in when the opporutnity presented itself and on the rare occassions when she was caught in long baseline rallies, she stepped up and hit cross court backhand winners that left Muguruza flat footed.

It was a fantastic match and shows everyone that you can win tennis matches if you employ guile and a deft touch.

Another player who did that last night was Aga Radwanska. In a match that she should have lost, Radwanska used all her considerable guile to outplay Lesia Tsurennko. It was a very disappointing end to the tournament for Tsurenko who actually served for the match and failed to get it over the line.

I have not yet had a chance to see the replay of the Barty/Giorgi match but it seems as if the player with the more nuanced game won. Hopefully Giorgi will not be too disappointed and will continue to improve.

As I write I am currently watching a replay of Halep/Bouchard and play and I will update this post.

#MeToo and #TimesUp

I have been watching, as has everyone with a social media handle and television set the rise of the MeToo and TimesUp movement.  The movement has been happening in journalism, entertainment, movies and now it has found its way into sport, most notably in women’s gymnastics.  Larry Nasser the doctor who treated female gymnasts at the USA Gymnastic facility has been convicted of numerous counts of sexual assault.  He is currently awaiting sentencing.  Currently we are hearing and reading about his victims as they take the stand at his sentence hearing to give their Victim Impact Statements.  The stories these women are telling are chilling, but it reminds me about tennis’ own MeToo and TimesUp movement that happened not too long ago.

It started with allegations against a Hall of Famer and it took months of reaching out to tennis personalities (including former players) before the authorities in South Africa even did any investigations. Recently, after Ilie Nastase made his racist remarks about the colour of Serena’s baby, Pam Shriver spoke about how Nastase had wanted to know if she was still a virgin.

I wondered recently when tennis would have its own MeToo and TimesUp moment.  Surely no one thinks that many of these young men and women who have had to leave their families, some from very poor circumstances to go to training academies, where sometimes they don’t even speak enough English, and wonder if some ne’er do well coach has not used the opportunity to play fast and loose.

Tennis, being the insular, incestuous, secretive sport that it is, I doubt if we will ever hear of anything like this happening, in the same way that USA Gymnastics is about to have its own moment of reckoning.  As will be the case a lot of people will say that these things do not happen, but if you have not already done so, you can read Jelena Dokic’s book or read about Mirjana Lucic-Baroni and know that while these instances of abuse were happening, no tennis journalist covering the sport at the time, or indeed any players came out in defence of any of these women.  In the same way, if these things are happening at academies, no one will ever speak out against it, because that is how tennis works.

Clearly, tennis now needs its own #MeToo and #TimesUp moment.

Today sees the bottom half of the draw play their third round matches and it promises to be compelling tennis. Spin’s Picks are below:-

Rod Laver

Kumkhum v. Martic(Kumkhum played Bencic like she belonged. Let us see how she fares against someone who seems just happy to be playing tennis)

Kostyuk v. Svitolina (battle of the Ukranians. It is weird that Svitolina is the veteran in this one but Kostyuk has more firepower and therefore produces more errors)

Bertens v. Wozniacki (Wozniacki struggled against an opponent ranked outside the top 100. She was overpowered. Against Bertens she will face similar firepower but a more steady opponent)

Margaret Court

Allertova v. Linette (Alertova has always been a fave of mine. Good to see her playing so well)

Bondarenko v. Rybarikova (my favourite of the Bondarenko sisters, again very happy to see her rebuild her career and playing with such joy and abandon)

Ostapenko v. Kontaveit (two of my faves battling it out against each other. This is going to be must watch tv … as the kids say bring your popcorn)

Hisense

Mertens v. Cornet (two women who shouldn’t even be here, but battling for a place in the fourth round of a Major. Good things happening to good people)

Court 2

Kanepi v. Suarez-Navarro (Kanepi is one of my favourite players to watch. Hits cleanly and crisply. If you can just listen to the sound that the ball makes coming off her racquet. Suarez-Navarro has been playing well, but don’t know if she has what it takes to take down Kanepi.

Being a Williams Sister is Hard

by the Spin

It must hard to be Serena Williams. I imagine it must be even harder to be Venus Williams.

Venus was the first of the Williams Sisters to make a Grand Slam final. She was the first to join the WTA Tour. She was the first to play with beads in her hair. She was the first to hit a swing volley. She was the first with a serve that was clocked the fastest in the world ever hit by a woman. There is a lot of firsts for Venus.

This year she was the first top seed to lose at the Australian Open. I am sure that is not something that Venus would like to herald from the mountaintop. The player who took her down in straight sets, went out in the same way to unheralded Kumkhum, a qualifer from Thailand. Most of us first became aware of Kumkhum when she took out Petra Kvitova in the first round of the US Open some years ago.

When Bencic took the court at Rod Laver arena to play Venus she brought the holdover swagger from winning the Hopman Cup. She had confidence and she let Venus know that despite the age difference and despite the fact that Venus was a top player, she was here not only to play but play to win. And she did just that.

I watched Bencic’s match against Kumkhum from start to finish. I expected her to pull a rabbit out of a hat, especially on her break chances. I expected her to win those long deuce games. I expected her to use her power and guile against Kumkhum in the same way she did against Venus. Instead, what I saw was the petulant, entitled Bencic who clearly needed someone to come down court side and hold her hand.

I sometimes do not wish to use the narrative that players play their best against Venus and Serena, but after watching last night’s performance, there is no other way to spin what can only be termed a disastrous showing by Bencic.

I went to bed during the second set of Wozniacki’s match against Fett. I woke up this morning to hear that Wozniacki came back from 5-1 and 2 match points to beat Fett 7-5 in the third. I have not seen the third set, but no doubt I will try and take the opportunity to see what happened. It was my first time seeing or even hearing about Fett, and apart from her unusual service toss which always makes me think she is going to double fault, there is a lot to like about her game.

In another match that finished very late Australia time, Gavrilova, up 5-0 in the first set, would go on to lose that set 7-5 to the always dangerous Elise Mertens and then end up losing the match in straight sets. I don’t know what Gavrilova needs to take her game to the next level, but bouncing around the court and trying to get the home crowd on her side against her opponent is not it.

Day 4 Picks

I am really looking forward to today’s schedule as there are some really good match ups and I am hoping that most of these matches live up to the hype.  Below is the schedule and Spin’s Picks

Rod Laver

Sharapova v. Sevastova (I am picking Sharapova only because I don’t believe that Sevastova has been playing at her usual high level since the end of last season)

Muguruza v. Hsieh (it could very well be that Hsieh pulls the upset here but I am doubtful)

Barty v. Giorgi (going with my pre-tournament pick to make the second week)

Margaret Court

Kerber v. Vekic (how good is Kerber playing and how confident is Vekic?)

Halep v. Bouchard (Bouchard won a tough first round match. Is she confident to take out the World No. 1? Halep has been struggling but will she remind herself that Bouchard has been on a losing streak?)

Hisense

Vondrousova v. Garcia (despite being in the top 10, Garcia has not looked or played like a top tier player. Maybe she will start to feel better now that she got past Witthoeft)

Haddad Maia v. Pliskova (struggled to close out her match in round 2. Look for her to come out firing on all cylinders)

Court 2

Konta v. Pera (the lucky loser loses here)

Court 3

Safarova v. Cirstea (Cirstea struggled against Diyas who barely has weapons. She will struggle against a fit and focused Safarova)

Court 7

Osaka v. Vesnina (playing very quiet and confident tennis)

Court 8

Tsurenko v. Radwanska (always dangerous, Aga’s run stops here)

Court 14

Arruabarrena v. Strycova (immovable object meets unstoppable force)

No Surprises

Day 2 is now done and dusted. The final match of the ladies first round saw a really good match between Barty and Sabalenka. The match showcased the raw talent that is Sabalenka who mixed it up quite nicely, coming in at every opportunity. It also showcased a player that I really enjoy watching, and that is Ashleigh Barty. Composed and skilled, Barty showed us why the great Justine Henin took her under her wing a few years ago in an effort to develop her talent. It is great to see her back on Tour and playing with such panache.

I barely watched any matches last night and it makes no sense to DVR the matches that happen overnight simply because ESPN prefers to showcase men’s matches and if they do feature women’s matches, it is usually some “marquee” name that I have no interest in watching.

Last night was no different as the featured match once ESPN came on air was Sharapova v. Maria. Clearly this caused social media to go all in on the fact that Sharapova was playing herself, a fact many people found quite funny. Chris Fowler and Chris Evert had the call and prior to my switching to something else, the consensus from Chris Fowler was that it was a poor look for tennis to actually have someone returning from a doping violation, a doping violation that was incurred at this event 2 years ago, to take part in the draw ceremony. He felt that it sent the wrong message. Chris Evert, ever the wannabe peacemaker opined that Sharapova had served her suspension. Fowler took the view that it was not a good look for the sport. He further went on to mention how tepid the response was by the fans in the stands when Sharapova was announced. Fans, despite what people might think are not being lead as sheep to slaughter.

Day 2 matches had little or no surprises. There wasn’t any match that stuck out to me. Petra Kvitova lost to Andrea Petkovic in what must have either been an error filled match or some clean ball striking. I have not yet had the opportunity to watch the match on replay.

Day 3 matches features the second round matches from the bottom of the draw. Spin’s Picks are below:-

Rod Laver Arena

Svitolina v. Siniakova

Wozniacki v. Fett

Gavrilova v. Mertens

Margaret Court Arena

Kostyuk v. Rogowska

Ostapenko v. Duan

Cornet v. Georges

Hisense

Pavlyuchenkova v. Bondarenko

Bencic v. Kumkhum

Court 2

Linette v. Kasatkina

Bertens v. Gibbs

Court 3

Flipkens v. Rybarikova

Kanepi v. Puig

 

Court 7

Zhang v. Allertova

Martic c. Begu

Court 8

Barthel v. Kontaveit

Suarez-Navarro v. Babos

Grunting Debate

It wouldn’t be a Slam if some idiot didn’t call out the women’s game for grunting.  This time around it is Todd Woodbridge, bygone doubles player from an era when tennis wasn’t even on tv.  Mr. Woodbridge, during the match against Aussie Ashleigh Barty and Belarussian Sabalenko, tweeted that until the women stop grunting perhaps the time has come for their matches not to be shown (or words to that effect).  In effect, he felt that the grunting was reason enough for tv to switch from showcasing a match featuring two talented women.

I know I say it all the time and I suspect I will have to keep saying it but tennis needs more women at the top of the sport where it counts.  We need more women in the commentary booth who are willing to call out the sexism when it happens in our sport.  Rather than enjoying the spectacle (which made me late for work), Mr. Woodbridge felt that the women (even one of his own) should be punished because someone was grunting during a match.  I suspect that Mr. Woodbridge will next be calling for the dismissal of the tournament announcer who felt it was his duty to mock Ms. Barty’s opponent after the end of the first set.

Continue being you tennis.  Continue being you.

Ready … Play

The Spin

These are the words that let tennis fans know that a match is about to start. For Venus Williams, she was like most of us who hear the alarm clock, decide to hit it and say just one minute more please.

There is no doubt that Venus’ first round opponent, Swiss Miss Belinda Bencic was on her game. We saw that during her Hopman Cup matches. Her net game was much improved. she was fitter than before she had her injury layoff but what impressed a lot of people was her return of serve. Prior to her injury layoff, Bencic would routinely lose matches and one key stat was her inability to return serve. One cannot forget her suffering through 15 aces by Sharapova at the Australian Open in 2016.

Venus on the other hand could not get a read on Bencic’s serve. She had multiple break point opportunities to get even in the first set and while most of those opportunities had to do with Bencic serving her way out of trouble, it also had to do with Venus’ sluggishness.

Last year another great champion got taken to task for skipping the whole clay season to focus on the grass season. This was a decision that paid off in the end as Federer ended up winning Wimbledon. Perhaps the time has come for Venus to start scheduling smarter. I am sure that Serena was quite upset about not being able to defend her title here this year but she took the view that it was better that she return when she is able to compete effectively rather than just seeking to defend points.

Venus needs to take that same view. The Australian Open is a tournament at which Venus has had some shocking losses. She has made the finals twice in her long and storied career and frankly I would not miss her if she never played it again. I think Venus and her team need to take the long view when it comes to her schedule. She is not a young player. She has health issues and in my honest opinion, if Venus expects to win big tournaments or any tournament she needs to schedule better. If that means dropping tournaments that are too close to the end of the season or too close to the start of the season then she needs to drop them. I believe she should start her season in the spring by playing smaller tournaments to get match fit.

American Carnage

They kept dropping like flies. Sloane, Venus, Coco, Falconi, Kenin, and Townsend. The men were not to be left out as both Jack Sock and John Isner were both sent packing (MAGA). Even Ryan Harrison barely made it through as Dudi Sela served for the match, but failed to do so.

Sloane Stephens has not won a match since winning at the US Open last season. In her match against Zhang, Stephens served for the match at 5-4 in the second set but would go on to lose the set in a tiebreak, get broken early in the third set and seemed to tire at the end. Reduced to chasing balls and being pulled from side to side, Stephens would try drop shots that did not make their over the net, and the constant looking at her coach for guidance became the hallmark of the rest of the match.

As someone else has opined elsewhere, the worst thing to ever happen to Sloane Stephens was winning the US Open. It is a travesty that similar to Kim Clijsters who returned to the Tour in 2009 rested and refreshed only to win the US Open that year, Stephens returned to the WTA Tour, recovering from a knee injury and returned refreshed and renewed.

Australian Open App

Usually, I never write about these things because I find it quite tiring but I have to register my disgust with the Australian Open App. It does not work. No live scoring. No results. No schedule. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Millions of dollars have been spent. A draw ceremony that left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Maybe the Australian Open has lost its way. Hopefully, the same amount of effort that went into getting Sharapova to stand there and smile and answer questions about “returning” to the Tour will be made into getting an app that actually does what it is supposed to do.

Day 2 Schedule

The top half of the draw plays today and the Spin’s picks are below:

Rod Laver Arena

Pliskova (Ka) v. Cepede Royg

Barty v. Sabalenka

Halep v. Alava

Margaret Court

Witthoeft v. Garcia (picking the higher ranked player but maybe an upset in the making if Garcia is not 100%)

Maria v. Sharapova (less said about this match up the better)

Muguruza v. Ponchet

Hisense

Konta v. Brengle

Kerber v. Friedsam (confidence is everything)

Court 2

Bouchard v. Dodin (while Dodin has not had much match play, Bouchard is not the picture of match toughness these days. It could very well be that Bouchard finds her game as she usually plays well in Australia. Pick at your own risk)

Petkovic v. Kvitova (which Petra shows up and has Petkovic peaked?)

Court 3

Safarova v. Tomljanovic

Mladenovic v. Bogdan (surely Kiki can get her game together on the big stage, but her first round opponent has a big game and is fearless. Look for the upset here)

Court 5

Jabeur v. Vesnina

Vikhlyantseva v. Tsurenko

Court 7

Cabrera v. Haddad Maia

Giorgi v. Kalinskaya (my dark horse pick to make it to week 2)

Court 8

Wang v. Keys

Pliskova (Kr) v. Radwanksa (it’s a Major, surely Aga will get her life together? The less famous Pliskova beat her earlier this year)

Court 10

Lucic-Baroni v. Rogers (one is injured, the other is in a bit of slump. Look for the slumping player to take this one)

Osaka v. Kucova (new coach, new outlook. Let us see if Big Sascha has what it takes to be a coach)

Court 12

Nara v. Vondrousova

Hibino v. Vekic (very tough match for Vekic who struggled in Hobart against Heather Watson. Let us see if the resurgent Vekic’s loss in Hobart was an anomaly)

Court 13

Lepchenko v. Sevastova

Putintseva v. Watson

Court 14

Ahn v. Strycova

Davis v. Cepelova (Lauren Davis has virtually disappeared since winning her lone WTA title last season in Auckland. Cepelova has been beset with injuries. This will be a match of who wants to get to the second round more)

Court 15

Gasparyan v. Blinkova

Hsieh v. Zhu

Court 19

Cirstea v. Diyas (Cirstea has been enjoying a fantastic resurgence. Can she make it past the very tough when she is on her game Diyas?)

Hercog v. Alexandrova

Court 20

McHale v. Sasnovich

Court 22

Arruabarrena v. Hogenkamp (neither player has shown good form over the past 12 months. Arruabarrena has regressed to obscurity. If she is on Hogenkamp will be sent packing, but I don’t see it)

A New Year but …

by the Spin

Firstly, let me wish everyone a Happy New Year. It has been some time since I last wrote about tennis, but life has gotten in the way of my tennis blogging. I do hope, however, that I will not be sidetracked in my enjoyment of tennis, including writing about it. This year my promise is to put out content content that is not only complimentary of the WTA, but uplifts the sport that I love so much.

2018 has started much as 2017 ended, with a little controversy. As many of you may now know, Serena Williams, after suffering through what can only be described as a traumatic delivery, has taken the decision not to compete at this year’s Australian Open. For fans of Serena the disclosure of her traumatic delivery (via caeseran section) and the accompanying health scare should make us all take a step back and breathe while we clamour for Serena’s return to the Tour.

With Serena’s absence, the organisers of this year’s Australian Open needed a WTA face for the draw and they went for what they undoubtedly perceived was the next biggest thing in women’s tennis and that was Maria Sharapova. Sharapova, never one to fail to insinuate herself into any conversation, no matter how controversial and no matter how it brings the sport she claims she loves into disrepute, jumped at the opportunity to walk with the Daphne Akhurst trophy as the representative of the women’s draw. The organisers, hoping to spin things to their benefit, indicated that they were celebrating the 10 year anniversary of Sharapova’s last win.

Much has said by others already, but I suspect that anyone who knew about Sharapova’s doping violation, knew that it occurred the last time she played at the Australian Open and did not come away thinking that wow, is this the sport that talks about how rigorous its anti doping efforts are, really celebrating someone who got banned for using a banned substance at their event?

I can never tell whether tennis actually takes itself seriously when it says and does stuff and I can’t imagine that Roger Federer, a player who epitomises all that is good in tennis, felt anything but abhorrence of having to stand there beside someone who he has condemned for using a banned substance. Again, the optics were not a great look for the sport. If last year’s finalist (Venus Williams), the champion of the previous year (Angelique Kerber) or any of the other semifinalists from last year’s event were unavailable, they could have gone with the junior girl’s champion from last year, or better yet, how about the women’s wheelchair champion.

Anyway, the draws have been made and you can feel free to review the women’s draw by reading Jon Wertheim’s Seed Report.

Early Round Winners

Tennis never rests and we already have some early winners heading into 2018. In Shenzhen, World No.1 Simona Halep got her side of the scoreboard moving by taking the Shenzhen trophy over Siniakova. Elina Svitolina won in Brisbane and Julia Georges beat Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets in Auckland. At the time of writing Hobart and Sydney are in the semi final stages and who knows what will happen. (Update despite the rain delays, especially in Hobart, Elise Mertens defeated buzarnescu in three tough sets and Angelique Kerber lifted her first trophy since winning the US Open in 2016. She defeated Ashleigh Barty in straight sets.

Early Round Favourites for the Australian Open

I will not be doing a draw analysis for the Australian Open but I can tell you that my eyes are on the following players to make some noise at this year’s event.

Camila Giorgi (seems to have a new coach in her corner and playing with confidence. She is currently in the semifinal of Sydney after taking out Radwanska quite easily). Has usually done very well in Australia.

Jelano Ostapenko (big hitter and French Open champ who took out Serena in an exhibition in Abu Dhabi. Loves the big stage and will be interesting to see how she fares now that she is a target)

Elina Svitolina (my pick to do very well here)

Siniakova (took out her idol Sharapova in Shenzhen. Her serve has never looked better than it did in that match, serving up 10 aces and defending her second serves)

Caroline Wozniacki (the in form player at the moment but can she run the table to the final and lift the trophy? Doubtful)

Garbine Muguruza (has there ever been a top player who no one has picked moreso than Garbine. One can never tell if she is healthy or just having a bad day on court)

Early Round Upsets

Simona Halep

Venus Williams (if she wants to remain in the top 10 she is going to have to manage her matches from first ball. Her first round match could not be any harder as she faces an in form and match tough player in Belinda Bencic)

Coco Vandeweghe

Sloane Stephens (what a disappointment she has been)

Kristina Mladenovic (is this an official slump)

Madison Keys (just not sure she is 100% healthy to compete)

First Round Matches to Watch

Bouchard v. Dodin

Sabalenka v. Barty

Cirstea v. Diyas

Cepede-Royg v. Pliskova (Ka)

Pliskova (Kr) v. Radwanksa (tough one for Aga)

Mladenovic v. Bogdan (tough one for the slumping Frenchie)

Putintseva v. Watson (Watson has been having a good run of form but if you are doing Suicide Pool do not pick this match)

Keys v. Wang (tough match for Keys who has not had much match play since losing in the US Open final)

Bencic v. Williams

Georges v. Kenin (tough one for both ladies)

Stephens v. Zhang (tough match for the slumping US Open champion)

Ostapenko v. Schiavone (potential match of the day)

Babos v. Vandeweghe

Views from the Fans

I asked some people to give me their final four and the eventual winner. The responses were interesting:-

Andreen (@A_Gallivant)

Semis (Ka Pliskova v. Kerber and Svitolina v. Wozniacki

Final (Svitlolina v. Kerber)

Winner – Svitolina

Steph (@stephintheUS)

Semis (Venus, Keys, Pliskova Ka, Wozniacki)

Final – Venus v. Keys

Winner: Venus

Master Ace (@TWMasterAce)

Semis: Pliskova Ka v. Kerber and Svitolina v. Vandeweghe (bold pick)

Final – Kerber v. Svitolina

Champion – Kerber

Day 1 play starts at 7:00 EST and for those of you who live in the Caribbean and Latin America you can watch matches via ESPNPlay. Check your local provider.

Day 1 OOP with the Spin’s Picks are set out below

Rod Laver Arena

Ostapenko v. Schiavone

Williams (V) v. Bencic

Gavrilova v. Falconi

Margaret Court Arena

Stephens v. Zhang

Stosur v. Puig

Buzarnescu v. Wozniacki

Hisense

Kenin v. Georges

Babos v. Vandeweghe

Court 2

Townsend v. Rybarikova

Cibulkova v. Kanepi

Court 3

Fourlis v. Rogowska

Jorovic v. Svitolina

Court 5

Flipkens v. Riske

Fett v. Eguchi

Court 7

Begu v. Makarova

Peng v. Qualifier

Court 8

Pavlyuchenkova v. Kozlova

Court 10

Duan v. Duque-Marino

Allertova v. Parmentier

Court 12

Krunic v. Kontaveit

Golubic v. Viktorija

Court 13

Brady v. Linette

Schmiedlova v. Kasatkina

Court 14

Niculescu v. Barthel

Kumkhum v. Larsson

Court 15

Cornet v. Wang

Bertens v. Bellis

Court 19

Sakkari v. Siniakova

Suarez-Navarro v. Frech

Court 20

Van Uytvanck v. Martic

Kuzmova v. Mertens

Court 22

Gibbs v. Tomova

Why I am Not Boycotting Twitter Today

by Karen

A few months ago there was a study that was published that said that young black girls were more likely to be considered sexual beings moreso than their white counterparts.

Earlier this week, Jemele Hill a black sportscaster at ESPN was suspended because she spoke the truth about the current resident of the White House, Donald Trump and his rantings regarding players in the NFL who are protesting police brutality in the US by kneeling during the national anthem.

Closer to home in tennis, Maria Sharapova in her published autobiography described Serena Williams in very caustic terms, relying on the usual stereotyping of black women by talking about her arms and legs and how intimidating she was and how Sharapova felt like a little girl when facing Serena across the net.

Last year, Leslie Jones, an American comedian and actress was the victim of a vicious social media smear campaign organized by so called white supremacists.  It got to the point where Ms. Jones had to suspend her  Twitter account because of the abuse.

Again last year in India there were multiple reports of young women being raped and sometimes murdered, some as young as 9 and 10 years old.

Why am I bringing up all these incidents on a tennis blog?  I am bringing them up because earlier this week it was reported that Harvey Weinstein of the Weinstein Company had been accused of sexual harassment to the point where he had reached agreement with multiple women as a result of his systemic abuse of them.  Rose McGowan (of Charmed fame) has been on Twitter on a daily basis calling out Hollywood and asking everyone to stand up and be counted regarding Weinstein’s sexual harassment and abuse.  As a result of Ms. McGowan’s stance, or as Twitter has said, as a result of her abusing Twitter’s terms of service, her account was suspended ostensibly because she had included a telephone number in a tweet.  Her account has now been reopened.

As a result of what has happened to Ms. McGowan, there has been a rallying cry for Women to Boycott Twitter.  As someone has said where was this movement when Jemele Hill was being targeted by the White House to the point where she is on the verge of losing her job?  Where was this movement when Maria Sharapova vilified Serena Williams’ body and where was this movement when young girls were being raped and murdered in India?

Is it the case that the only time that white women (yes I am calling them out by name) see the damage that is being done to the rest of society is when it affects them?  I don’t live in the US but I have friends and family who live there.  The decisions that white women have made have impacted the lives of many people who are not as well off or as educated as white women.  When 53% of white women watch a man speak loudly and clearly as Donald Trump did about taking what women have with no questions asked and still went into a voting booth and voted for him, telling people to boycott social media because you are oppressed makes me want to throw up.

Most of my family and friends are black. Most of them are immigrants.  None of them are wealthy people.  They are all hard working people who see the US as the land of opportunity.  Those of my friends who are born in the USA are proud to be Americans but again they are also oppressed by a system that marginalizes them and makes victims out of them.

From where I sit, white women have not spoken out against what is happening to many other women of colour in the US.  They have not been at the forefront at the fight for equality and they have surely not stood up for those women who are unable to defend themselves.

When Ilie Nastase made his racist joke about the colour of Serena Williams’ baby, everyone from the WTA to journalists all over spoke out definitively about how racist he was.  The WTA and ITF took action and banned him.  When Sharapova writes a book speaking derogatively about Serena Williams’ so much so that Serena had to write a letter to her mother opining about it and thanking her mother to give her the strength to deal with these kinds of comments about her body, I don’t recall seeing many white women (or a lot of other women) in tennis media speak out against that.

I read Joel Drucker’s piece recently where he reviewed Sharapova’s book.  In the almost 5,000 word count article, he did not once call out Sharapova for her racist comments about Serena’s body and why would he when the organisation with whom he works has basically been singing Sharapova’s praises since she returned from a doping ban.

Lest anyone thinks that I do not sympathise with Rose McGowan.  I do.  As a survivor myself I can speak to how hard it is to come out and do battle against those who would do us harm as women.  I have used my voice to give voice to those of us who don’t have a voice.  I have volunteered at shelters for women who are the victims of sexual abuse and I have used my platform at a law firm to secure legal services for women who are the victims of domestic abuse etc.

My preference would be that in the same way that white women can rally around a cause when they can identify with its victims, they should rally around a cause when they can’t identify with the victims.  

When championing a cause don’t wait until you see a victim that looks like you, speaks like you, travel in your own social circles etc.  Look for a victim who doesn’t look like you, whose story is one that you could never imagine relating to and look for a victim whose cause is just, even if you can’t imagine seeing yourself in those shoes.

I will not be boycotting Twitter today.  I did that yesterday. Until every victim is treated equally, and to coin a phrase #AllVictimsMatter then unfortunately no victims will matter.

US WOMEN = US OPEN

The Spin Team

American tennis administrators are celebrating.  Why are they celebrating?  They are celebrating the achievement of diversity and inclusion. They are celebrating women.  They are celebrating the changing of the guard and finally they are celebrating American women’s tennis.

For years when most journalists talk about tennis and especially American tennis, they invariably mean the men.  We have all read about someone taking over from the Sampras, Agassis and Roddicks and reaching for glory at Davis Cup and at the Slams.  This has not materialised as we have seen the one-dimensional one trick ponies in Isner, Harrison, Sandgren,  Sock etc who have not really amounted to much playing the big hitting American style of tennis, i.e. big serve followed by big forehand.

The women however have taken a different path.  They have learned to utilise the big serve and the big forehand, but they have also added nuances to their games.

A few years ago Coco Vandeweghe played a match against Yulia Putintseva which I am sure pushed her to do better.  She lost that match and Putintseva had some harsh words for Coco after that match.  Putintseva noted that all Coco had was a big serve.  At that time Coco was a ball basher extraordinaire with a mediocre backhand and a huge serve.  Fast forward a few years later and after working with Craig Kardon and now currently with Pat Cash, Vandeweghe has worked on her fitness, her net game and more importantly her court coverage.  She moves better.  She is more patient during rallies and while her on court demeanour leaves a lot to be desired she does have an all around game.

Madison Keys, a graduate of the hit hard, and when that doesn’t work hit harder club, has also added a lot of nuances to her game.  Her backhand has become a lot more reliable.  Her mental game and athleticism has improved tremendously.  Her shot selection during rallies has improved in that she doesn’t just go for big winners to end points quickly, but is willing to prolong rallies by using high loopy shots. Her big serve and forehand are still in effect, but they are not the end all and be all of her game.  The addition of Lindsay Davenport, former Grand Slam champion and one of the more even keeled players that I have ever seen has for me  helped Keys to maintain some amount of calm on the court.

Sloane Stephens was America’s answer to the great Serena Williams.  A player who belonged to the group called entitlement suffered a major setback when she injured her foot and had to have surgery.  Out of the game for almost a year, Sloane has fought her way back to relevance with her performance not only during this fortnight but during the US summer hard court season.  She has matured.  She has become patient during matches.  She has expressed frustration, but she has recovered well enough to gut out wins against opponents who are ranked higher.

Last but certainly not least  is the Grand Dame of American women’s tennis, Venus Williams.  Venus debuted at the US Open 20 years ago when she made her way to the final and lost against then No. 1 Martina Hingis.  There are really no words to describe what Venus is doing this tennis season.  From the beginning of the year she has made the finals of 2 Grand Slam finals (Australian Open [lost to Serena Williams] and Wimbledon [lost to Garbine Muguruza]).  Despite those setbacks Venus has been playing very well, managing her matches and playing within herself.  Her quarter final match against Petra Kvitova should be a must watch for juniors about how to manage yourself during tight matches.

Spin’s Picks

Venus Williams v. Sloane Stephens

Coco Vandeweghe v. Madison Keys

Final

Williams v. Keys

Winner:  Williams