PLAYER OF THE YEAR – KIM CLIJSTERS?

Today starts the first in a series of the list of contenders for WTA Player of the Year. Before we reveal the players, it is instructive to note what are the requirements for Player of the Year. These fall into 5 categories, namely:-

• Number of titles won;
• Win/loss record against top 10 opponents;
• Performance at the Grand Slams;
• Performance at the Tour level; and
• Still being talked about

Number of Titles Won:

This category is self-explanatory. It basically shows which player has been the most consistent. The most healthy and who has, despite the opponent across the net has battled through and won a given number of tournaments.

Win/Loss against top 10 opponents:

In this category, while most of the top 10 may not have reached the quarters onwards of most events, at some point, whomever is at the top of this category has shown some amount of consistency in her game and indeed in her approach to the game to be able to beat the majority of her peers on all surfaces throughout the year.

Performance at the Grand Slams:

Again, this is self-explanatory. Performance at the Grand Slams are different in that there is no one there holding your hand (on court coaching), there are no do-overs (you only get 4 chances) and your name will be written in history if you are able to bag one of the 4.

Tour Level Performance

Day in and day out you are there. You are consistently in the quarters, semis and sometimes even the finals of the regular Tour events. Your ranking, and indeed your status in the game shows what an incredible performer you are.

Still Being Talked About

What is the level of talk that surrounds you when you play? Did you hit a great shot? As fans reminisce about the year that was are they still talking about the shot that you hit in the early part of the season? Are fans and journalists still watching your matches on YouTube?

The first contender for Player of the year is none other than Kim Clijsters.

If there was a player who generates so much commentary from both fans and tennis journalists alike it would be Kim Clijsters. In her second career Clijsters has redefined her career. From a choker who could not finish at the Majors, Clijsters became a force to be reckoned with at the hard court Majors. This year she won her first Major outside of the US Open by winning the Australian Open. Clijsters has for better or worst (depending on who you speak with) somehow made us believe that getting married, having a family and playing tennis is a great accomplishment. As someone who has personally raised children all the while working, I wish someone had given me the kudos that Clijsters seems to have generated for herself just by doing what comes naturally.

In any event, Clijsters started the season on a positive note. She got to the finals of Sydney, where she played Li Na. Up 5-0 in the first set, Clijsters would go on to lose the next 6 games, losing the first set in a tie-break. She would then promptly go away for the second set, handing Li her first title of the new season.

Of course, this loss prompted the pundits to start revising their views as to whether she would finally win a Major outside of the US Open. She answered those questions comprehensively by playing an effective game plan through 6 rounds at the AO, where she raised the trophy and secured her place in the Hall of Fame.

Unfortunately for Clijsters that is where her season started and stopped. At the Paris Indoors she was beaten by young rising star, Petra Kvitova in straight sets in the finals and literally disappeared after that. She retired in her first round match in Marbella and did not show up for the rest of the clay court season, citing injury. She did not play the French Open and exited in the third round of Wimbledon. She returned to the Tour in Toronto and retired in her opening round match. She did not defend her title at the USO.

During the spring, citing the radiation concerns in Japan she informed the media that she would not be playing the Asian swing this year. While she has qualified for the End of Year Championships, I am not confident that Clijsters will play for the rest of the year.

I don’t see retirement coming in early 2012, but once the Olympics are over, I think that will be Clijsters’ swan song.

In assessing whether Clijsters is the WTA Player of the Year we look at whether she has met any of the criteria mentioned above:-

• Number of titles won – 1 – Australian Open

• Win/loss record against top 10 opponents – 2

• Performance at the Grand Slams – on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being exceptional, you would have to give her a 3 having regard to her win at the Australian Open.

• Performance at the Tour level – due to injuries sustained over the season this was negligible at best.

• Still being talked about – unfortunately Clijsters is being talked about for all the wrong reasons, as most of the talk is centered around whether she will indeed retire before or after the Olympics.

THIS AND THAT

Usually the time after the US Open is when tennis goes into the doldrums but due to the constant whining of some of the top players on the men’s tour, tennis is in the news now more than ever.

STRIKE, STRIKE, STRIKE

I have always taken exception to millionaires griping about how life is unfair. I usually say, wail and gnash your teeth to me when you are unable to pay your utility bills or when you have to look at your children dying for hunger. Same thing applies in tennis. While the top male players gripe about the schedule and threatening strike action, I can only say to them, in the words of Michael Stich (and it really pains me to agree with him, especially knowing his views on female tennis players) but these young professional male players really need to just shut up and play.

A quick glance at the amount of money earned by the top 4 players on the ATP, as against the rest of the field, makes you realise that these players who are complaining about scheduling and in the case of Murray stating that if they had to play for longer periods they would need to get more money, stops short of being greedy, not really in tune with what is happening in the world of economics, and indeed supposes that men’s tennis is all about the top players.

One of those 4 guys who are complaining so vociferously about the schedule and prize money should go and talk to Dennis Kudla who has only made 33,000 for the year. Andy Murray has made 3.5M, Rafael Nadal has made 6.2M, Djokovic 10M and Federer 3M. Compare that to even the rest of the men in the top 10 and one wonders what Murray and Nadal are complaining about.

SERENA AND THE USO

In today’s Mailbag, L. Jon Wertheim intimated that as with criminals, your past is taken into account when judgment is being passed. Judges, he posits, look at the records of criminals before them in order to consider whether some type of leniency or whether they should throw the book at repeat offenders. In this regard, one would think Serena Williams’ history of professional conduct would mitigate her in the public’s eye in terms of her behaviour. Apparently, that is not the case, because according to L. Jon Wertheim, Serena’s behaviour has been so egregious on the 2 occassions that it has occurred that the book should be thrown at her.

In the same breath, Mr. Wertheim is of the view that because Serena is a star of tennis, her behaviour, because it takes place on a show court, on public television is a more serious violation in tennis, than Mike Bryan allegedly hitting an official on an outside court.

The question I have to ask Mr. Wertheim is this, if a woman is assaulted in the dead of night where no one sees what happens and another woman is assaulted in broad daylight, is it not the same assault? What makes one assault more poignant than the other. As far as I am aware the rules of tennis are the same regardless of which court you are on.

Mike Bryan’s fine was swept under the carpet by journalists because they did not consider it newsworthy, plus the Bryans have a reputation as good guys. Serena on the other hand has a reputation, ill deserved of being an aggressive, angry player who uses her power to dominate opponents. I have never seen an article written by any journalists that describes the way that Serena plays as anything but dominating, overpowering, savage, brutal, etc. I guess that is one way of sticking to the narrative.

SHRIEKING, GRUNTING, WHATEVER

The hindrance rule was put into full effect during this year’s USO. There were a number of decisions that invoked the hindrance rule, none of which involved players who shriek, grunt, scream or otherwise release air upon contact with the ball. There were numerous cries of come on, vamos, allez or any other words that players use to pump themselves up during a match. It is important to note that the only time a hindrance rule was called on a come on was during the Stosur/Williams match. I understand that a hindrance call was also made during Bartoli’s match. We are not told just what the hindrance was.

The calling of the hindrance rule has renewed calls for the WTA to take action regarding the shrieking, grunting or other exclamations of air that players use during matches. It is instructive that no calls are being made for this rule to go into effect for the men. In case you are not aware of the men who actually do grunt, shriek or otherwise exhale upon contact with the ball, here are their names:-

Rafael Nadal
Novak Djokovic
Andy Murray
Every single Spanish player
Gael Monfils

If you know of any male player who grunts, shrieks or otherwise releases air while playing, please tweet those names to the ITF, journalists, and to anyone who is interested.

There is a concerted attack on women’s tennis. I think it is unfair that the cries to silence the women is being met with silence when questions are raised about the men. If tennis is to go silent, then I say in this day and age of equality, silence the men as well.

There are women on the Tour who are powerful. They command millions of dollars in sponsorship dollars. They are affiliated with sporting goods companies that are worth billions. These women need to take to social media and stamp out this unfairness in sports journalism.

Silence everyone. Not just the women