SIMONA HALEP … FINALLY!!!

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For those of us who have been fans of the 5 ft 7” Romanian, Saturday 9 June 2018 will be historic

It was on this day that the Halepenos of the world united behind the World No. 1 to watch her lift her first Grand Slam trophy and for her to do this at her beloved Roland Garros.  The same place where 10 years ago she lifted the Girls’ trophy.

It has been a long, difficult and complicated journey for Simona.  She has suffered some agonizing losses, the worst of which was at her first Grand Slam final against Maria Sharapova.  Then she lost a heart breaker last year after being up a break in the third set and then this year she lost to Caroline Wozniacki at the Australian Open by not only running out of ideas but running out of breath.  To see her lift her first Grand Slam trophy against a current Grand Slam title holder made it even sweeter.

I know most of us tennis fans don’t necessarily agree with Simona Halep and her world views, but for today, can we, as Sloane Stephens said in her press conference, celebrate a player who has, despite adversity, found her light.

For those writers out there who will be doing their recap, can we for once, forget about Simona’s coach and just celebrate the achievement of this particular young woman.

I know I for one will be eating some Halepeno this weekend because I am incredibly happy.

 

More to come …

Parting Shots from Roland Garros

The Spin Team

The 2018 French Open has followed a familiar yet enthralling pattern from the past five years on the WTA tour: the emergence of new champions.

Last year when Jelena Ostapenko was on her march to the title, every single match that she played was jam packed. It was as if the crowd had already chosen its winner. She was blazing winners left and right and moving as if she was born to play on the clay.  The same thing happened when Caroline Wozniacki won her maiden title at the Australian Open and who can forget that the 2017 US Open women’s final sold out when 2 young African American women (not named Venus and Serena) played for the title?

Women’s tennis, in my humble opinion, remains the heartbeat of the tennis tours.  I have been tuning in for over 20 years and while there are times that I will become invested in men’s tennis as my love affair with all things David Nalbandian and Roger Federer will attest, women’s tennis will always be my first love.  Women’s tennis is full of new and emerging characters, while men’s tennis relies on 4 people to keep it going day in and day out. At some point, something will have to give.

In contrast, as much as I love Venus and Serena Williams, they are not women’s tennis. For Americans who just tune into tennis on a semi regular basis they are the epitome of the sport (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that), but for those of us who tune in to watch women’s tennis all year long, we are always heartened when we see someone new and different.  We are even more joyful when we see players for whom we have long been cheerleaders finally come into their own.  This is why when Simona Halep lifted her maiden Grand Slam trophy, I was extremely happy for her as I was when Sloane raised her trophy last year.

There is a saying that goes “hardships there are, but the land is green, and the sun shineth”.  These are the words that attest to the meaning of the Jamaican flag.  I find that it is a poignant commentary on players who have persevered through thick and thin and lived to claim the biggest title that their sport has to offer.

Onwards

The Pliskova sisters need a lesson in not only humility but also in what sells.  Destroying an umpire’s chair is the way to get your name listed on the list of players who promised much and never delivered.  When your claim to fame is being the sibling who is not as popular, then when you are given the chance to comment on the outfit of a player whose career you can only dream about, you don’t become that girl.  That girl who no one knows and no one cares to know.  You don’t sit there smirking and offer outfit advice when your own outfit looks as if it was sewn together in a bit of a hurry.  You just don’t.

Karolina Pliskova was absolutely humiliated in her match against Maria Sharapova.  Barely able to hold serve, her lack of movement on the clay was there for all to see.  One can only hope that Pliskova will find a way to recover from this monumental beatdown.

As for Sharapova, no doubt she was gearing up for what was considered to be the match of the tournament, but Garbine Muguruza, herself not a slouch had other ideas.  Surely with maximum points to defend at Wimbledon, Garbine will be able to recover from her loss to the eventual champion at Roland Garros.

Defenders

It must be hard to have points to defend.  A wise person once said, it is hard to be the chaser, but it is even harder to be chased.  Ostapenko had zero expectations last year.  This year as a top 10 player she had a monumental trophy on her back.  She cracked under the pressure.  Elina Svitolina also cracked.  One wonders if Svitolina will be this generation’s Dementieva.  Racking up the big titles but failing at the final hurdle every step of the way.

Daria Kasatkina seems to have lost momentum from the green clay season.  Angelique Kerber seems to have found new life in her bones.  Could we see Kerber raising her third Grand Slam title at Wimbledon or a repeat of her run to the US Open finals?

Victoria Azarenka needs a lot of time and patience to ascend to the top of women’s tennis.  Either that or a serve will do.

Serena Williams needs time and lots of it.  Having a C-section for a normal person is hard.  Having a C-section as a professional athlete whose game relies so much on core strength is going to be even harder.  We should lower our expectations of Serena’s return until at least a year after giving birth.

About the tennis coverage…

I like to remind folks that long before there was talk of sexism in tennis and long before there was any talk of the lack of coverage of women’s matches on TV, this blog, which first started as Women’s Tennis on TV has been sounding the alarm about the lack of visibility of women’s tennis on TV.

In 2009, Kim Clijsters’ return was heralded as a return of the Golden Era of women’s tennis.  That period when you had Davenport, the Williams Sisters, Sharapova, Hingis, Henin and Clijsters (and many more) competing for the biggest titles in women’s tennis.  Every player had a role to play.  The Williams Sisters, and Davenport were considered the power players.  Sharapova the pretty girl with the huge game. Hingis was the crafty one.  Henin was filled with variety and then there was Clijsters, the smiling  bridesmaid.  The player who turned up at every tournament at which there was a net and gave her all to the WTA Tour.  She also made sure to give journalists everything they ever needed at press conferences. At that time, there was barely any coverage of the women’s game on tv.  Many will recall that Indian Wells match featuring Ivanovic and Clijsters that many of us “watched” via scoreboard and updates on message boards.  That was women’s tennis on tv.

These days the articles that are written about women’s tennis remains unchanged from that era. It’s not that women’s tennis hasn’t changed, it’s that the same people tasked with writing about women’s tennis keep trying to cast the current women’s game with an eye towards the past. It’s time to abandon the usual chatter about the lack of variety in the women’s game and focus on telling stories about the new and emerging champions that continues to evolve women’s tennis.

Things I wish I didn’t have to say…

The Men’s French Open Champion

I am not going to jump on the bandwagon of sexism and berate Rafael Nadal for his comments regarding equal prize money.  Nadal for all his accomplishments is a mini dinosaur when it comes to these things.  His views and takes on issues that affect women’s tennis should be given short shrift.  However, the views expressed by the World’s No.1 Simona Halep and Roland Garros winner should get the media’s attention.  If the World’s No. 1 player on the women’s side does not believe that she should be treated equally as her counterparts, it is a problem. If she believes the men’s game is more popular and therefore deserves to have its player get more pay, she just might deserve the vitriol that comes her way.

 

 

 

 

Fandoms and Bandwagons

The Spin
We have seen it all before.  A young up and coming player whom no one has ever ever heard of (unless you are truly a fan of the WTA) comes out smoking and takes down some big name players.  Young player is fearless.  She has a huge serve, big groundies and just seems unfazed by the moment.  We have seen a lot of those over the past few months: Kasatkina at Charleston last year, Anisimova at Indian Wells, Keys at the Australian Open a few years ago, Kerber when she made it to the US Open semis, Stosur when she took down Serena, Muguruza at the French Open, Ostapenko at last year’s French Open and more recently Osaka at Indian Wells this year.  All of a sudden we are amazed at this young player.  We are following that player on  Twitter and Instagram and we just can’t get enough. That is until that player takes down our fave.
Yesterday at the Miami Open, Naomi Osaka, who is currently being coached by former hitting partner of Serena Williams, faced off against her childhood idol, Serena Williams.  One of the hardest things for any athlete to do, or indeed anyone who has idols is to finally meet that idol in person.  There are two things that can happen.  Either you turn yourself into a national embarassment by babbling incoherently or if you are an athlete you play so poorly that your idol dismisses you.
Neither of those things happened yesterday.  Osaka played fearlessly.  She stood on that baseline and she beat Serena Williams like she stole something.  If you are a Serena Williams fan you were no doubt disappointed.  You felt anger and you resented Osaka, because guess what, Osaka is what Serena Williams used to be when she was that age.
Serena was fearless and she was able to come up with big shots under pressure.  Yesterday she wasn’t able to summon that reserve of energy and strength that is the hallmark of her career.  Osaka had a lot to do with that, but the Spin would be lying if we didn’t mention what is happening in the background with Serena.
I have one live birth and one miscarriage.  My live birth was a terrible pregnancy.  I was sick for most of it.  Had to be in and out of the hospital countless times.  Was fed intravenously for the first 5 months and the thought of food made me sick to my stomach.  To this day I can’t use Palmolive dishwashing liquid, neither can I stand the scent of Coast bath soap.  My live pregnancy was 31 years ago this year.  For my miscarriage the post partum lasted a very long time.
Serena Williams gave birth 6 months ago.  Her breasts indicate that she is still lactating.  Her body is not what it used to be and it won’t be for quite some time. We all know that Serena is as stubborn as they come.  I understand from social media that her team felt that she was coming back too quickly.  People pointed out that her father was on site during her practice session and not her mother as is usual.
I won’t continue to speculate about the inner workings of Team Serena, but from where I was sitting in my office yesterday and watching the match, Serena is a step slow and she is not reading the game very well.  Her serve is not as potent as it used to be.  Osaka knew Serena’s game inside and out, not because she idolised her but because she was prepared.  When you hire as your head coach the person who prepared Serena for matches for close to 10 years, you get an insider’s look at Serena.  You get to see inside her head and be prepared for anything.  Osaka was prepared and that had a lot to do with her coach, but it also had a lot to do with Serena as well, who was undoubtedly unprepared for the onslaught that she faced on court.
What Next for Serena?
 
Practice, practice and more practice.  Serena is going to have to get accustomed to losing matches.  She is going to have to find that reserve of mental toughness that is and was the hallmark of her career.   She is going to have to be prepared to fight for points like she has never done before.  She is going to have to go into matches thinking that if I don’t win this next point I am out of the tournament.  It will take time for her to come back as a full force on the Tour, but I strongly believe that she can.
As for those tennis fans who continue to be bandwagon fans, Osaka is a fantastic player.  She has grown not only mentally but also physically.  Her game now has more variety in it that it used to and she is a much fitter player.  I watched her matches in Indian Wells and I thought perhaps she played better because the conditions were slower, but in Miami she was moving fantastically well.
I am a fan of the WTA.  There are some players who I really can’t stomach but all in all I enjoy watching women’s tennis. I find the women to be intriguing and their back stories are inspiring.  If you are just a fan of a player because they have beat a player that you hate, then you need to be a fan of that player when they beat your faves as well.
The amount of vitriol that I saw spewed on social media yesterday breaks my heart.  My only issue that I have with Osaka is that she needs a bit of PR/Media training.  While her acceptance speech at Indian Wells was cute, a friend of mine who was watching the match with me at home and is not a fan of tennis, thought that she was 16.  When I told her that she was 20 she was embarassed for her.
Yesterday after her match, while the reception from the crowd at seeing Serena lose was lukewarm, Osaka’s comments, while endearing, came out as someone being a bit clueless.  She doesn’t need to become a Sharapova well oiled machine, but she should be able to string two sentences together so that they make actual sense.
In Other News
It was great to see Victoria Azarenka back on court.  One can only hope that she will be allowed to travel soon and resume her career full time.  I know that many people have speculated over the issue that Azarenka currently faces regarding the custody battle between herself and her child’s father.  I will only say that the father has rights and deserves to be a part of his child’s life.  Someone needs to make allowances for that.
In this day and age families come in all shapes and sizes.  Many women are the main breadwinners and they pay child support.  It is not a stigma on your life if you do not have primary custody of your child.  It means that you made the best decision for your child.  I don’t see anything wrong in Azarenka coming to some form of agreement with the father of her child which allows her to travel all over the world sans child, or better yet, she has a profession that allows her to choose her tournaments so that she can spend as much time as possible with her son.
It is a hard decision to make and I am sure that someone, somewhere has advised Azarenka accordingly, but she needs to make a decision and in this 21st century it is not about choosing a career or a family.  It is making the right decision that benefits everyone.

Infantilizing Women

The Spin

Why does tennis continue to infantilize women or make them seem as if they are unable to walk and chew gum at the same time?

Why must we continuously have these discussions about women as if they are not strong enough to withstand any and everything?

Why must we be continually defending women who are professionals in their own right with the power to hire and fire as they please, as if they are unable to make decisions for themselves.

I recently had a discussion on social media regarding how we discuss the bodies of female athletes.  I commented that Caroline Dolehide, an aggressive young tennis player either had really big breasts or the tennis kit that she was wearing was so ill fitting as to make her bust seem quite large.  Clearly there were other people who had similar views, most of whom did not express their views in the way or in the manner that I did.  Many,  as they are wont to do focused mainly on the size of her breasts.  That was sexist. Commenting on her physique and her fitness level, the ill fitting kit that she was wearing, was in my opinion fair commentary game, but apparently that is not the case in tennis world.

 Recently Darren Cahill tweeted that women who take a break from the game to start a family should be afforded the opportunity to retain their ranking when they return, or in essence should not be penalized for starting a family.  My question to Mr. Cahill is this, what about the other women who chose to continue their careers and not pause to have a family? Will they not be penalized for losing their ranking when Serena or whomever else returns from maternity leave?  How is that fair to those women?

 It seems as if it is only in tennis that these conversations happen.  Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce, a multiple Olympic gold medalist from Jamaica who was crowned Jamaica and the world’s Sprint Queen took time away from the sport to start a family.  She has just started training again and once she is ready to compete, she  will have to go through the same selection process that everyone who wishes to represent Jamaica has to go through.  If she fails in qualifying to represent Jamaica then she will have to hope that the selection committee looks at her overall record and appoints her to the team, to the detriment of someone who has posted faster times and who has a better chance of medaling.   In that scenario it is not  because the selection committee doesn’t believe in Shelly-Ann’s abilities, but that she didn’t meet the threshold to qualify.  Chances are if Shelly-Ann ends up in that situation, she will not make the cut to compete for Jamaica.

 Serena Williams is playing her very first competitive tournament after being away from the sport for 14 months.  In the match that she played against her sister Venus on Monday night, the rust was quite apparent.  The rust has been apparent from her very first match.  Simona Halep by contrast, the No. 1 player in the world, while she has been frustrated with her game, is hitting a better ball and performing at a higher level than is Serena.  Should we then have relegated Simona Halep, a player who reached the final of the first Grand Slam tournament of the year to a lower seeding just because Serena is back?  Simona seems to think so, but I would suggest that she is only doing so because of the views held by her coach.  Simona’s own thought process as it relates to the equal treatment of female athletes is well known to most of us who follow tennis as she has said in no uncertain terms that the men deserve to be paid more than she does. One wonders if that is also the view of her coach.

 Serena struggled, as was expected.  She faced an opponent who was match tough and whose game, while a bit shaky at times was more nuanced.  Half the time in her match against Venus, Serena was left flat and/or wrong footed.  There is no doubt in mine or anyone else’s mind that Serena will probably get back the No. 1 ranking, but to gift it to her just because she returned from maternity leave is a slap in the face to not only Serena but to all the other women who have worked their asses off to attain a higher ranking.

 Serena currently has an ad out that says there are many ways to be a woman.  I am going to add that one of the ways in which to be a woman is the ability to be able to figure things out for yourself.  Most women will tell you that in order to accomplish some of the greatest things in life they have had to rely on themselves moreso than anyone else.  Neither Serena or Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce or any of the countless professional female athletes in the world need anyone, least of all some administrator to give them something that they themselves can earn.

In an effort to be seen as equitable people seem to be adopting a paternalistic approach to the issues that affect female athletes.  It needs to stop.

Other News
Maria Sharapova has parted ways with her coach Sven Gronefeld.  After a string of disappointing results, the team put out mutually complimentary statements.  While some are hailing Sven for sticking by his charge during her doping suspension, the problem could be as simple as he was being paid to stay around to dispel any negative publicity that his leaving would engender.  Team Sharapova is all about PR optics.
In her statement regarding the parting of ways Sharapova mentioned the fact that she has not been able to get much match rhythm. May I suggest that perhaps Ms. Sharapova should have considered starting at the bottom of the pile to rebuild her game, for example, at the ITF level and then possibly going through qualifying.  Serena Williams played an exhibition match against a young opponent in Dubai to test her match fitness.  She realised at that point that no matter how her head was saying she was ready, her body had a different idea of readiness.
I am interested to see who she chooses next and what they will bring to the table.  For my money I think she should go back to Thomas Hogstedt.  He improved her game tremendously, especially in relation to her footwork and shot selection.  He brought consistency to her groundstrokes and perfected those aspects of her game (net play etc) that needed improvement.

Victims and Vanquishers

The Spin

I don’t normally write about men’s tennis, but sometimes there are things happening on the men’s side that impact the women’s game. Most of the time it is about the issue of equal prize money, which often reflects the sexism and misogyny that permeate tennis coverage by men who grew up in an era when men dominated in professional tennis and the women’s game was an afterthought.

Unless you were living under a rock the recent exposing of white supremacist beliefs espoused by some male American tennis players has found its way into women’s tennis. Ever since the election of Donald Trump as President, some tennis fans, who have long held the view that most of the white men that play professional tennis are racists and misogynists, have had their concerns confirmed by the writings and commentary espoused via social media by John Isner, Ryan Harrison and now Tennys Sandgren.

Tennys Sandgren, by dint of his run to the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, had his whole life exposed for the world to see. He was finally asked about his beliefs and his penchant for following alt-right and white supremacists on Twitter. In addition, in 2013, he tweeted about the Greatest of All Time, Serena Williams (post screencap here)

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Someone needs to tell Mr. Sandgren that when you come for Serena, you basically take on all of tennis. I will not use this medium to defend Ms. Serena Jameka Williams, first of her name, because goodness me the woman is quite capable of doing that all on her own as she has been doing all her life.

As a case in point, Mr. Sandgren chose to issue a general apology today and Ms. Williams responded https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js“>in kind.

Lack of Media Training

What I wish to address is the clear lack of PR training that seems to go on in men’s tennis. Gone apparently are the days when media training seemed to be an essential tool in selling men’s tennis. Today, you find all kinds of views being espoused by all and sundry. It used to be that one would only know a racist by their behaviour, but through social media these men openly declare their racist, homophobic, and sexist views through their interactions with those holding such views. It has become another space for players to reveal themselves.

This morning (24 January), John Isner labelled people who cite racism, sexism and homophobia as victims. This is the same John Isner who felt betrayed because people in New York City chose to cheer for Frenchman Gael Monfils in a match against him. To compound that issue, his good friend, Mr. Sandgren felt the need to declare that New York City, the greatest City (apart from Kingston, Jamaica) that was ever built, probably should not have the privilege of hosting a Grand Slam event. Who is the victim in this scenario?

The world has been watching what has been happening in the United States, a country previously defined by its generosity of spirit as it welcomed people with open arms, begin to close its borders. Men, ugly inside and outside, whose families have benefitted from the largesse of immigrants from countries who helped to build that great nation are suddenly making policies that benefit only people of a certain colour.

Tennys Sandgren traces his roots back to South Africa, a country so steeped in apartheid and racial segregation that once the back of that oppressive regime was broken, most white people who still believed that black people were inferior to white people and that apartheid was God given made their way to places like the United States, Canada, and England. I can tell you first hand that some have tried to make their home in the Caribbean, but without success. These people espouse a doctrine and a belief that is an anathema to social equality. Yet, they have found comfort in espousing these views in certain corners.

While many who cover tennis continues to make excuses for Tennys Sandgren, citing his age etc (hello Nick Kyrgios), they are also revealing their feelings about equality. It is important for all of us to listen very keenly to the excuses that are being made about Mr. Sandgren and his social media leanings. It is important for us to listen very keenly as journalists try to construct a narrative of excuses for a young man who clearly grew up in a home that lacked diversity and an understanding of its value. We need to take note as they defend a man who felt it was ok to denigrate minorities on a social media platform and then retreat into talks about his Christian beliefs and about following Jesus’ teachings when his beliefs were challenged.

Well, Mr. Sandgren, let me tell you about Jesus, because I am also a Christian. I am not just a warmer of benches on Sundays, but I follow the teachings of Christ to the letter. The Jesus that I know and love and which many people, including Serena Williams, know and love were taught to love everybody, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation or country of origin. We love all equitably. If you wish to know that Jesus, you are welcome to come to my church and join us so that you too can know this Jesus.

Back to the Tennis

I missed last night’s match with Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova but I intend to watch it today. I have no idea what happened but I am sure that Karolina Pliskova and her coach are also wondering what happened.

In the other quarter final, Angelique Kerber seems to be finding her groove. Madison Keys had no answer, but it was good to see her smiling even during her loss. It can’t have been a happy outing for her. Caroline Wozniacki suffered another scare when it took her 3 sets to take out Carla Suarez-Navarro and Elise Mertens absolutely demolished Elina Svitolina. Svitolina has cited a hip injury for her loss, but we all know that even if she didn’t have that hip injury she was being outplayed from every part of the court. A good hip would not have saved her.

I will be back later today with my semifinal write up and Spin’s Picks.

Into the Quarters

The Spin

I have always maintained that the WTA puts out a better quality product than the ATP. I have always believed that commentators and journalists always take the low hanging fruit when they attempt to craft a narrative surrounding the women who play professional tennis. They either reinvogorate the grunting debate, talk about the instability on the Tour and the mental fragility of the top players or they  bemoan the loss of top seeds in Grand Slam tournaments, never ever thinking that the reason why there is a loss of top seeds is because of the depth that permeates the women’s Tour. This Australian Open, I believe they finally saw it (or did they).

The revelation of this year’s Grand Slam is not the resurgence of Angelique Kerber or the fraility of Sharapova 3.0, The revelations during this year’s Australian Open is that despite what many may think, the WTA Tour will do just fine once the marquee names have hung up their racquets.

Many times either Venus or Serena will opine and tell journalists that from the first ball at a Grand Slam event you have to be on your game. We saw that manifest itself with many of the top seeds being under the gun, with some being taken out in straight sets by their young upstarts. While the ATP struggles with trying to recraft the fact that the Tour has been infiltrated by its very own neo-Nazi, white supremacist dude and while tennis journalists try to tell us that he is thoughtful and his answers in press conferences showcases his humility and empathy, let us take a look back at what was a fantastic week for the women.

Hseih Su-Wei – there are no words left to talk about this young woman from Thailand who had the crowd on its feet with her uniquely artistic game. She showed that her take down of Garbine Muguruza was not a fluke and despite pulling double duty during this year’s tournament she gave as good as she got up to the round of 16. Take a bow Ms. Wei and don’t stay in the corners, let your light shine for everyone to see.

15-13 in the third. 3 match points come and gone. After the match both women embodied sports. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Lauren Davis will replay those 3 match points on Halep’s serve. Halep, getting a day off would clean up her game and play forceful tennis in taking out Osaka. The No.1 is finally believing that she is No. 1.

Caroline Wozniacki – her narrative being No.1 without winning a Slam. She showed us that the mental toughness that was a hallmark of her game when she was No.1 was still in full force and effect. Fighting back from 5-1 down, Wozniacki would save 2 match points to reach the quarter finals.

Carla Suarez-Navarro – the forgotten Spaniard. Her doubles partner has reigned supreme. 2 Grand Slam titles. Accolades galore. The Spaniard with the beautiful backhand has had trouble closing out matches. This time around she showed toughness in taking out Kontaveit. I have never seen her battle as hard as she did in this match. Is this a sign of things to come?

On one of the biggest stages in tennis, Madison Keys, the heir apparent to Venus and Serena Williams suffered a bagel in her first Grand Slam final. How would she deal with that let down. She did so by presenting herself into the last 8 by walloping Caroline Garcia in straight sets. Never getting down on herself. Never taking a moment to question what she was doing out on court. Keys played like I have never seen her play before.

Day 9 sees the bottom half of the women’s draw play the first set of semifinals. Spin’s Picks are below:-

Elise Mertens v. Elina Svitolina – I watched Svitolina during her run to the Brisbane title and what impressed me more than anything was her serve. I recall in one of her matches, she hit 10 aces, something that I can never recall her doing. Her second serve is still a challenge, but she is hitting her first serve better than I have ever seen her hit it. On the other hand her opponent Elise Mertens is one of the quickest players on Tour. In looking at the stats for both players from their previous matches, Mertens is going to be in a whole lot of trouble just from the return of serve. In her previous match Svitolina got almost 90% of her opponent’s serve in play and she won more return points than her opponent. In addition, Svitolina’s average serve speed was 110/89 (first and second respectively). Look for this to be a quick match, running notwithstanding.

Carla Suarez-Navarro v. Caroline Wozniacki – how much does Carla have left in the tank after her marathon match against Kontaveit? Will her backhand hold up under the constant onslaught from Wozniacki? How will Wozniacki’s legs hold up if Carla gets a chance to use her angled backhand cross court? This is a pick em match but I am looking to see Wozniacki prevail and in straight sets.

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)