TENNIS BROKEN RECORDS

Pete Sampras – 14 Grand Slam titles.  Most of all time. Broken
Roger Federer – 21 straight Grand Slam semifinals.  Most in the Open Era.  Broken
Serena Williams – 46 straight Grand Slam victories in the first round of Majors.  Broken
The third item in this list is one of the most significant and underrated achievements in all of tennis. Much like the story of Serena Williams.  At times glorified, but most of the time vilified by tennis pundits (who wish they could be her). By tennis fans (because of what she has done to their faves) and general disliked because of the colour of her skin, Serena Williams has made her mark in the world of tennis, so much so that today when she lost her opening round match on Court Philip Chartier, it was Breaking News by every major news network in the world.  That is the power of Serena Williams.
I watched this match from beginning to end with points in between when I turned it off as I, like most fans of  Serena Williams, became disconsolate at her performance during this match. Looking back you could tell that something was not right with Serena. 
If you are a fan of this woman you know her history.  You know what she brings to the court of tennis. You know her aura and you know her game.  Every player in the locker room knows it as well. If you want to beat Serena, you don’t listen to the pundits. You don’t listen to the coaches.  You don’t listen to the noise. You listen to yourself.  You close your eyes and you swing for the fences, and you pray to whatever deity that you believe in that Serena is off her game by just a notch, and you will hear your name echoed for all the ages.
The French Open has not been a pleasant stomping ground for Serena.  She won this title in 2002 on her way to the Serena Slam (holding all 4 Majors though not in a calendar year).  Since that victory, she has only made it to the semifinals one time since then where she lost to Justine Henin in a hard fought match, where it was revealed by Henin that yes she did cheat to win that match.
Serena lost that match to a chorus of boos and jeers from the French crowd, and if there is ever any doubt that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not a disease or not evident amongst professional tennis player, one need only look at Serena’s career at Roland Garros.
If she wins, it is greeted with a smattering of applause.  If she loses it is met with resounding cheers.
Today, 29 May 2012, in her first round match, Serena, for the first time in her career lost in the first round of a Major.  She lost to Virginie Razzano, a French player ranked 111 in the world and who has herself seen tragedy, having lost her fiancée/coach last year to cancer.
After the match, Serena walked across the net and shook her opponent’s hand. I will not recap the match here as I am sure that everyone in tennis land has seen it, but suffice it to say that Serena could have played a lot better and Virginie could not have played any better than she did.
Is this the end for Serena? I doubt it. She showed an amazing sense of calmness in her post-match press conference.  She did not seem too perturbed by it. It was a bit as if she was almost too accepting of her loss.
Since her return to competitive tennis after her life threatening illness, Serena has seemed a bit complacent in relation to the Majors.  She has taken some hard losses since her return, but what has been lost in the equation is the way how her opponents have played.  The media would like us to think that Serena has lost her aura.  I say that the media needs to stop and take stock of the way in which Serena has lost.  Players have had to bring their A+ games in order to dethrone Serena.
Today, Serena fought and she fought hard.  She was not on her game, but that does not take away the fact that Razzano, with the French crowd solidly behind her did what 46 other women before her could not do.  She defeated Serena Williams in the first round of a Major for the first time in her stellar career.  Does this mean that Serena Williams is done.  No. All it means is that Wimbledon is a few weeks away and by that time Serena’s game should have caught the flight from Florida and made its way to  Europe.
OTHER STUFF
Today, Maria Sharapova had a practice session on Suzanne Lenglen. Alexandra Cadantu needs to join the Futures circuit.  She has no business playing on the WTA Tour. Fans joked on twitter that Cadantu told Sharapova thank you at the net.  Some joked that they were sure that Sharapova passed her $20.00 for the practice session.  I wonder if fans asked for their money back.  They probably should.
Tennis writers really need to chill out a bit.  It is only tennis.
The International Tennis Hall of Fame needs to continue its investigation of Bob Hewitt, and preferably remove him from the Hall of Fame pending its investigation.  If you agree, sign this Petition and make the suffering that these women endured at the hands of a man who “carried a tin of Vaseline” with him whenever he went on coaching sessions with young girls go away. 
Venus Williams is a Legend.  There is no denying that.  She is the epitomy of what a champion of this sport is.  As someone who also suffers with an anti-immune disease I can relate to what Venus is currently enduring.  Stay strong my champ.
I personally find Mary Carillo and Martina Navratilova to be 2 of the most negative and least influential in the sport of tennis, with Pam Shriver running a close third.  Neither Carillo or Navratilova have contributed to the development of women’s tennis in the way that Billie Jean King has done.  Their negative views on the state of women’s tennis leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The constant chattering about the shrieking/grunting etc of professional female athletes, leaves me to think that they have nothing else to talk about, or they just want to be one of the boys.   Say something positive about women’s tennis or shut up.
Venus plays her second round match tomorrow against Radwanska.  That is the only match that I am interested in.  Go Venus!!!

CHAMPIONS ADJUST
Those were the words attributed to one of the founders of the women’s tour in response to the many complaints by the players, mostly the men following the change to blue clay at this year’s Mutua Madrid ATP Masters event and the WTA Premier Mandatory event.
Ion Tiriac, the tournament director of this event, decided with the ATP’s blessing to change the colour of the court to blue. The reason for the change was to aid fans who were watching at home to be able to see the ball.  Peronsally speaking, it worked for me.  It was a novel approach to tennis and apart from the slipperiness of the court, I thought that the level of tennis that was played by both the men and the women was fantastic to watch.
 Defending champion Novak Djokovic and defending finalist Rafael Nadal, along with a few other players, were vocal in their condemnation of the court.  There were complaints that not only was the court slippery but that it prevented these 2 men who play a more defensive style of play to play without risking serious injury, especially because it was close to Roland Garros.
Serena Williams, 13 time Grand Slam  champion and the eventual winner of this event, called the men weenies for their constant complaints about the court. 
As Billie Jean King said, champions adjust.  Federer, the eventual winner of the men’s event, served and volleyed in his first match on the surface as he told reporters that it was too slippery at the back of the court to comfortably play from the back of the court.
One thing that was notable in Madrid was the fact that there were no reports of injuries.   The winner count was quite high and the unforced error count was way down.  I noticed that players who were used to grinding ensured that they got themselves into position quickly in order not to have balls whizzing by them.  All in all I think most tennis fans are in agreement that Madrid was a success, albeit that there is room for improvement.
The brouhaha surrounding blue clay courts reinforces in my mind how slow tennis is to change and how much tennis fans themselves are resistant to change.  From the use of Hawkeye, to on court coaching (which really needs to go as it adds nothing to the women’s game), to the tiebreak, tennis and the fans who are ardent supporters of the game are hesitant to embrace change.  Next year Mr. Tiriac says that it will be fluorescent balls.  I believe he may be joking, but what if he isn’t?
Television Coverage
As I have posted before the coverage of the women’s side of these combined events, and in particular in Madrid, left a lot to be desired. 
The next stop on the road to Roland Garros is Rome and coverage starts tomorrow, Monday 15 May on Tennis Channel with the men.  However livestreams for the women will be available and I understand that ESPN3 and Eurorsport will have live coverage of the women from  Rome. This is a vast improvement over what fans of women’s tennis had to endure over the past week and a half from Madrid.
Congratulations to Serena Williams on her 41stcareer title and her second of the season.  Congratulations are also in order for Victoria Azarenka.  While she may have lost and lost badly, one hopes that her 2 most recent losses in finals will not make her dejected in her quest to win a second major this year.   She has been the player to beat this season and while she has suffered at the hands of Sharapova and now Williams, one can only hope that she will take lessons from these 2 losses.  I am sure that Sumyk and Mauresmo will be working hard to combat the ineffectiveness that is her second serve. Either that or they need to speak with the tennis gods about keeping these 2 women away from Azarenka.
Women to Watch
I will have my eye out on some of the women during this week’s Rome tournament in order to see who has the momentum heading into Paris.  There are some players who, while they are doing well day to day, do not seem to be able to lift their games to the next level:-
Sam Stosur – since winning the US Open Stosur has made only one final where she lost to Azarenka in straight sets.  She is now on what many consider to be her favourite surface.  It will be interesting to see  how well she does here.
Ana Ivanovic – one step forward , 5 steps backward.
Maria  Sharapova – despite winning in Stuttgart under favourable conditions (no wind, no sunlight, no Serena), Sharapova took 3 steps backward in her loss to Serena in Madrid. 
Victoria Azarenka – despite making the finals of the Tour’s first 2 clay events, Azarenka did not take a set from any of the eventual champions.  Most of us knew that clay was Vika’s worst surface, and it will be interesting to see how she recovers in Rome.
Caroline Wozniacki – at this time last year Wozniacki was the No. 1 player in the world and feeling the pressure of winning her first Grand Slam.  Wozniacki lost to Sharapova in the semis of Rome last year and while her performance against Serena was not bad, she lost the match down the stretch and seemed to run out of ideas.  She needs to rebound here if she does not wish to become a statistic.
Jelena Jankovic, Julia Georges and Agnieska Radwanska.  These 3 women need to rebound from the disaster that is the clay season so far.  I doubt that they will.

Mutua Madrid Open – Another Nail in Women’s Tennis

The  screen up top is what greeted millions of fans of women’s tennis the world over today when Caroline Wozniacki took the court against rising German star Mona Barthel and Serena Williams started her match against Anastasia Pavlychenkova.

Fans were eager to see how Wozniacki, who injured her ankle on the first day of play would do against the big hitting German star. Pavlychenkova, even though she was currently in a slump, having only won 3 matches this season, pushed Serena hard at the 2011 US Open, so fans were understandably eager to see how these 2 matches would fare. Unfortunately, there was absolutely no coverage to be found of either of these matches.

 Prior to today’s debacle, yesterday, Venus Williams, she of the Sjorgen’s Syndrome, who is trying to raise her ranking to compete at this year’s Olympics at her favoured tennis site, Wimbledon, played another up and coming young German in Angelique Kerber. In addition to that match, 2011 US Open champion Sam Stosur was pushed to 3 sets by promising young American Christina McHale. Again, fans the world over were denied access to either of these matches. To compound the situation, I understand from veteran journalist, Matt Cronin that none of the journalists on site in Madrid chose to request an interview with Venus after her loss (but more on that in another post).

 I started this blog in 2009. Since I began writing, the majority of my posts have  been about the fact that the women’s matches at these combined events are usually sidelined in favour of some of the more mediocre men’s matches. It pains me to say this, but there are only 4 men in men’s tennis. The storylines are the same tournament in and out. It gets even worse  during clay season as apart from the anomaly that was Novak Djokovic in beating Nadal on clay last season, the story lines have remained the same. There are 9 Masters events, and no one outside of the top 4 have won any of them dating back to Soderling’s win in Paris, Bercy in 2010. Despite this, at every combined event, from here to eternity, the women are constantly pushed into the background or, even when their matches are scheduled for the tv viewing audience, it is early in the morning to empty stadiums.

 Many fans forget the heady days of the early 2000s when the men’s tour was headed  by a No. 1 who decided that the best way to go about the Tour’s business was to sue a body that was virtually his employer. In those days when Venus, Serena, Martina, Lindsay, Jennifer, Justine and Kim ruled women’s tennis, when ratings for the early rounds of the women’s matches were drawing big numbers, the ATP approached the women’s tour to try and ride on the coat-tails. Today, it is the WTA, who while not riding on the coat-tails of the ATP, seem to not understand that they have an audience of millions who are dying to spend money to watch the women of the Tour play.

 At last year’s Wimbledon, unless you were an ardent fan of women’s tennis, you had no idea who Petra Kvitova was. Commentators were at pains to try and find information about her to relay to viewers. Apart from her semifinal match against Azarenka, Kvitova never made it to ESPN2/NBC’s broadcasts of the early rounds of Wimbledon. Fans knew who she was and of what she is capable. Fast forward to this year’s Australian Open and the commentary that accompanied Azarenka’s her triumph  Melbourne Park had more to do with her emotional and injury meltdowns of the past and not with her maturity and the strength of her game and how she commanded the court in her first Grand Slam final.

 As a result of the negative commentary on women’s tennis, the shrieking, the fist pumping, the so-called WTA Rules as opined by Juan Ignacio Chela (more on that at another time), fans of the women’s game are not being given equal measure. We have been informed that the 4 top men of the ATP met with the organizers of the 4 Grand Slams to discuss prize money increases. They suggested and this was later adopted by all 4 Grand slams that any increase in prize money should be given to the lower ranked players. 

When Venus Williams met with the All England Club in 2007 she spoke eloquently to them in relation to her case for equal prize money. She would later go on to win the whole thing. I would really love if Venus, Serena, Sharapova and the many other women of the WTA who have millions of fans worldwide and who dominate social media with their presence could find a way to approach Tennis Channel, ESPN, Eurosport and any other media entity to have some form of partnership with the WTA in terms of media coverage for matches. Perhaps, like the ATP, the top women, whose matches already receive lots of media attention, could perhaps allow fans to see lower ranked players or even to have some kind of partnership where fans would pay to see the women at these combined events.

 Fans of the women’s game are disgruntled. There were many tweets from journalists, coaches and many others complaining about the lack of coverage of the women at this year’s Madrid tournament. As I said on twitter, it makes no sense for the Darren Cahills of this world to tweet their displeasure at the likes of me. Cahill and others are  in a position to bring their views to the powers that be. I am sure that he, and many others like him were inundated with tweets from many fans today expressing their displeasure at the fact that only 2 matches for the women were shown.

 As to Tennis Channel, why I continue to spend  money to have this channel is beyond me. On some level it is the only way that I get to watch tennis, especially where I am located. As I subscribe via Dish Network, and as I had to install an extra satellite dish just to get the damned thing, I am stuck like chuck.

 I, as an ardent fan of the women’s game am sick and tired of not being able to watch the matches that I know can be shown. It is time for fans of the women’s game to stand up. Perhaps a twition to the players on twitter as well as the media houses on twitter to let them know just how unhappy we are with the lack of coverage of the women’s events at these combined events. Lest anyone forget, women’s tennis is the largest global sport for women. It is time that the women of the WTA recognize their power and start wielding it. In another 2 weeks we will head to Rome, another combined event. Something tells me that if we stand up and fight, maybe, just maybe, things will change. Until then …