LOSSES, LOSSES AND MORE LOSSES

Where to begin. Manic Mondays or that should Mundane Mondays or Muck-Up Mondays. That is the way I am feeling right now after the events at Wimbledon today. Today, 2 of the biggest stars that women’s tennis have ever witnessed were sent packing from the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon. It is ironic that they were sent packing by 2 players who have between them 4 WTA titles and 1 appearance in a Grand Slam.

Pironkova, she of the forehand slice, deceptively accurate serve and lethal backhand showed that her win against Venus Williams in the quarter finals of the Championships in 2010 was not a fluke. Having gone 6-15 for this season, Pironkova turned up at the Championships, apparently to defend the points (which according to her she had no idea that points were awarded for going far in tournaments) turned up a deadly performance in ousting the 5 time Wimbledon titlist and WTA Tour veteran, 6-2, 6-3 in what can only be called a command performance.

Earlier that day, Venus’ little Sister, defending champion and 13 time Grand Slammer, Serena Williams was also ousted from the Championships by Marion Bartoli. Fans of women’s tennis will remember that Bartoli was the player who sent Justine Henin packing in the semifinal of Wimbledon in 2007. Today, she backed up the potential she showed by staying strong and serving lights out to take out the defending champion. Serena however showed why she is indeed the toughest woman in tennis as it took Bartoli 5 match points before she could finally put away Serena Williams.

Fans of Caroline Wozniacki will have to wait until the US Open for the World’s No. 1 to win a Major as she was ousted today in three tough sets by Cibulkova. Cibulkova hit winners from every side of the court but especially from her forehand side. She made the world’s No. 1 look pedestrian in her victory today. Cibulkova has now taken out 2 of the biggest contenders for this title and she will now face the woman that many have picked to win these Championships, Maria Sharapova.

The others left in the tournament are Petra Kvitova, Tamera Paszek, Victoria Azarenka, Wild Card Sabine Lisicki and Marion Bartoli. It will be a very interesting quarter final from the ladies and we may very well have a very new Grand Slam champion on the women’s tour.

Today’s round of 16 losses by both Williams Sisters marks the first time that either woman has lost in this round at Wimbledon. The loss does not seem to have affected Serena in the same way that it seems to have affected Venus. In her post match presser Serena seemed almost defiant in her loss as she said that she can only get better and actually threw down a challenge that the rest of the women’s tour should watch out. Venus on the other hand, while sounding stoic in her loss, seemed quite bemused that she could not find a way to get past Pironkova today.

She indicated in her presser that she does not know why she cannot seem to play her best against Pironkova. As I sit here and write this, I am watching the match on mute and I can tell Venus the reason why she does not play her best against Pironkova. Pironkova believes. She has no doubt in her mind that she can beat Venus. Venus, on the other hand knows that Pironkova can beat her and as a result she is not able to play without fear.

I remember years ago when Venus first came on Tour every woman on Tour did not like to play against her. She was as tough as they came. She had to fight tooth and nail for all that she has attained. From media critics about her game, to the anti-Williams sentiment that permeated the Tour at that time. Every player even her fellow Americans did not know what to make of her and her sister, and indeed the rest of the Williams Family. I strongly believe that as a result of having to stay strong during those tough moments early in their careers, Venus and to a lesser extent Serena, became extremely tough and competitive opponents.

Today, after achieving so much, maybe the desire to prove themselves is no longer relevant. Maybe, the fact that they are now acknowledged as being great players in their own right and maybe as a result of their accomplishments both on and off the court, the fire to compete is no longer there. I don’t know but the Venus from even 2005, the Venus who stared down match points on so many occassions, the Venus who would look across the net at her opponent and tuck her weave behind her ears and adjust her Diane von Furstenburg dress was nowhere in sight today.

Today, I saw a woman who gave up and that is not my Venus.

I am hoping that with more match play, less injuries and that bravado that she has where she has ruled SW19 for so many years will return. I know that many of her fans would like to see that again.

On another more humours note, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, winner of zero WTA singles titles, black eye-liner, and who spends more time on her bizarre outfits and who never even made it past the first round is now the top female American player. Even more humourous, Melanie Oudin, she of the “I cannot win a first round match to save my life” is now ranked ahead of Serena Williams.

Take a drink folks, the ride is only going to get better.

WIMBLEDON, SCHEDULING AND OTHER STUFF

Wimbledon. Grass court tennis. The Williams Sisters. The lawns. Rain delays. The roof. All of these signify the return of my favourite time of the year. I love grass court tennis and I love Wimbledon. However, there are days when I do hate Wimbledon. I do hate their out-dated scheduling polices and I do hate that the All England Club continues to pander to the least common denominator in joining those who continue to condemn the women game. I also condemn the professional women of tennis who continue to suck up the type of behaviour that is constantly being meted out to the women’s tour.

Since the commencement of the tournament the standard policy of scheduling one women’s match on Centre Court, along with 2 men’s matches continues. However, the schedule for tomorrow, Thursday 23 June is what has me really upset. Serena Williams, she of the 13 Grand Slam titles, the 2 time defending champion has been shifted to Court No. 2. I don’t care what anyone says. Court No. 2 has been given the name the “Graveyard of Champions” for so long that most fans of tennis will tell you that they hate to see their favourites scheduled for that particular court. The AEC has informed us that the old Graveyard Court has been demolished and this is a new and shinier version of the Graveyard Court. In that case, why not schedule the men’s matches for that particular court?

In what universe is Robin Soderling, a 2 time loser at Grand Slam finals, where he never even won a set, and Lleyton Hewitt, albeit a former champion at Wimbledon (so long ago that most fans don’t even remember) command Centre Court on Thursday’s schedule and Serena Williams gets to go on an outside court. Even worse, how is it that Sharapova, she who has not been to the final of a Grand Slam for going on 3 years, and who has not won at Wimbledon since 2004 gets to play on the Court No. 1 and Serena gets Court No.?

I can understand Na Li playing on Centre Court. After all she is a newly minted Grand Slam champion and one of those who the experts have picked to make it far, or even win this tournament, but again, I ask, why is the 2 time defending champion and the woman who has made the finals 3 years running, playing on Court NO. 2 and not on a main show court?

Interview Transcripts

I am happy that the AEC has saw it fit to prove interview transcripts on their website and not follow the lead of the French Federation in bowing to the journalists’ association in putting a 24 hour hold on these transcripts. I have been reading through the transcripts and I have always asked myself the question, what if you were a journalist and had the opportunity to interview some of today’s big name players, what questions would you ask. I have made up a list of questions and I am hopeful that some enterprising blogger or journalist who reads this little blog could perhaps ask one of our top ladies any of the following questions:-

As a top player, do you believe that the WTA Tour is doing all that it can in promoting women’s tennis?

Do you believe that in this age of equality that the AEC should dispense with its credo of placing 2 men’s matches on the main show courts and relegating the women, despite their records and pedigrees, to the outside courts?

Do you think that the constant criticism of the women’s tour in relation to the issue of grunting is an issue that could become detrimental to the women’s tour, and if so, what do you think the Tour and players could or should do to address this issue?

Do you think that the Players Council should address this issue publicly? If not, why not?

With not so many teenagers coming up through the ranks, do you think the WTA should lower the eligibility requirements, and if so, to what age?

Do you think in order to promote the women’s game more it would be better if the WTA started its own commercial television station and start partnering with the various tour stops in an effort to fully promote the sport?

If you were given the job of CEO of the Tour, what if any changes would you implement in order to benefit the women’s game?

Do you believe that on court coaching has had a negative or positive impact on the younger players? If so, why and if not, why?

WIMBLEDON

Just typing that name tells me that my favourite time of the tennis season is here.

I have nothing against clay court and hard court tennis, but there is just something so tranquil and spectacular about seeing players dressed all in white, playing against the beautiful backdrop of green grass. This year, 2011 the grass will be especially green as England has been an enjoying a really spectacular summer with lots of rain, interspersed with lots of sunshine. As is the norm during this time of the year, we have seen lots of rain delays and/or matches having to be rescheduled to the next day, but for tennis fans like myself, we don’t care. We know that while this season is short, the gold at the end of the rainbow is the crown jewel in our tennis world. To be crowned a Wimbledon champion.

I was talking to one of my tennis buddies and we started to talk about who we thought had a chance at winning this tournament on the women’s side. There were a lot of potentials thrown out there. We had, of course, Sharapova who won Wimbledon in 2004. We had Petra Kvitova, who made the semis last year. We had Azarenka, perennial quarter-finalist at the Majors, who lost last year in the third round to Petra Kvitova. We also spoke about Vera Zvonreva, even though we were not optimistic that she would repeat her efforts from last year. Too many changes in her camp since that Wimbledon run. How about Clijsters, she of the 4 Major titles, but who seems to want to spend more time with her husband and child, rather than playing the regular Tour? I seem to recall that when Clijsters made her exit from the sport in 2007, she spent quite a bit of time telling everyone who would listen how she was more prepared to just sit at home with her dogs and count her beads, rather than being on Tour. Seems to me like since coming back, Ms. Clijsters has now reverted to type.

My tennis buddy and I also spoke about Marion Bartoli. Bartoli was a finalist in 2007 where she lots to Venus Williams, she of the 5 Wimbledon crowns and without a doubt the best grass court player of her generation. However, there is the matter of that other Williams sister, Serena Williams.

Now here is where our conversation took a different turn. You will note that nowhere in this conversation did we speak about the current World’s No. 1, Caroline Wozniacki. Wozniacki has not done well in the Majors since making the final of the USO in 2009. However, it was not about Wozniacki’s lack of performance at a Major that brought about a discussion. It was the seedings.
My friend took the opportunity to visit the Wimbledon website to get an idea of what the criteria was for seedings. Turns out that the way the seeding is done by the Wimbledon organizers for the men is totally different than how it is done for the women.

For the men the Committee that oversees the Championships uses 75% of their best results in the past year and 100% of their results from the year before to determine their seedings. For the women, the same criteria is in place, except that the Committee has the right to use its discretion in order to establish a fair and balanced draw.

The seedings for the men will, in my view, be fairly straightforward. It is the women however who will generate the most headlines when the seedings are announced.

If the Wimbledon Committee uses the seeding criteria, we could see, Serena Williams, who has not played a tournament since winning Wimbledon in 2010 be the No. 1 seed. How, you ask could that possibly happen, having regard to the fact that Serena has not played a tournament since Wimbledon 2010 (she is scheduled to play Pironkova in Eastbourne on Monday 13 June)? Well that would happen because of Serena’s performance at Wimbledon over the past 2 years.

Many of you will recall that Serena made the final in 2008 where she lost to her sister, Venus Williams. In 2009, she returned and won the title, beating her sister in the final. In 2010, she returned to the final again, beating Vera Zvonreva for the title. As can be seen, since 2008, there has not been a player more dominant on this surface than Serena Williams. If the organizers of the Championships decide to, they could, in all fairness seed Serena Williams, holder of 13 Grand Slam titles at No. 1. This should make all the other women on Tour breathe a sigh of relief, because let’s face it, no one wants to meet her in the first round of a major, if she is seeded at her current ranking, which is currently in the low 20s.

One of the things that will make these Championships so enjoyable once again on the women’s side will be the same thing that happened at Roland Garros a few weeks ago. The unpredictability of who will come out of the women’s side holding up the Venus Rosewater Dish.

Just as we had no idea who would be holding up the Suzanne Lenglen trophy on the women’s side at Roland Garros, so we do not know and that is what makes the anticipation so much better.

The Wimbledon Seed Report will be on 15 June. Qualifying rounds start on Monday 13 June.

Get ready for the Grass Court Ride of your Life