WTA NAYSAYERS

In the middle of a very exciting match today with No. 1 seed, Simona Halep and No. 3 seed Caroline Wozniacki, Matt Cronin tweeted this gem  



This was after I suppose watching the amazing match between Karolina Pliskova and Garbine Muguruza.  Both women battled hard for almost 3 hours with Pliskova eking out a 7-5 in the third set win.
I am hoping that Mr. Cronin did not just tune in to see if anyone was in the stands, because if he had surely he did not miss the fact that there were so many people there who were cheering for their favourite player to get the win.  However, separate and apart from the tweet about the lack of fans stands, there is something that I have begun to see more and more of when writers or journalists or whatever it is they call themselves these days commentate on women’s matches.
From the grunting debate that real tennis fans are now basically ignoring, to the talk about emotions, to how women can’t hold serve, to even going so far as to state how one dimensional the women are, from time to time you see it creeping into the conversation and if you are like me, and you love the women’s game, you start to think, well, if the women’s game is so poor, how then can the WTA publish the below numbers:


Top 5 tournaments in terms of largest cumulative TV and digital audiences in 2014:
1.     BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global: 26,928,804
2.     Miami Open presented by Itau: 23,065,116
3.     BNP Paribas Open (Indian Wells): 22,975,675
4.     Rogers Cup (Toronto): 20,271,499
5.     Mutua Madrid Open: 18,659,536
 (source: WTAtennis.com)

With numbers like the ones above, you would think that journalists would talk about the strength of the women’s Tour. Nope, the same narrative on women’s tennis usually raises its head, notwithstanding the numbers, which is what people who are important to tennis really look at. 
Forget about the regular WTA Tour events for a minute and let us revisit another issue.  For the past 3-4 years, the women’s finals at the ITF sanctioned Majors have consistently outperformed the men, or come close to outperforming the men in terms of ratings.  As recent as this year’s Australian Open, the women’s final posted a higher rating than the men, 0.7 to 0.5 (Paulson Media)



This uptick in interest in the women’s game has emanated from many quarters, not least of which is the fact that a lot of it has been driven by the continued resurgence of the great Serena Williams.
While there are many who will discount Serena’s input in making women’s tennis watchable again, the numbers do not lie.  In the top 5 matches of 2014, Serena Williams featured in 3 of them (WTA Finals, Miami Open and Rogers Cup).  The recent uptick in interest in women’s tennis could also be laid at the feet of a young Romanian who has taken the tennis world by storm.  I am speaking of the fantastically gifted, Simona Halep.  There is also no discounting the contributions of the emergence of players such as Eugenie Bouchard, the consistent rise of Maria Sharapova and the fact that there are so many players with a variety of game styles that are consistently at the later rounds of major WTA Tour events, as well as at the Grand Slams.
I have always found as soon as there is news about the interest that is being seen in women’s tennis there are those who would discount this by trying to focus on things that are not relevant to tennis, or at least not relevant to the facts.  It is unfortunate that there are those out in the media who believe that their job is to spout nonsense about the women’s game and try to throw shade at the accomplishment of the WTA.  The tweeting of empty stadiums during a women’s match seems to be the new thing.  


In an effort to be equal in this endeavour, I will once again start posting pictures of the empty stadiums to which the men play as well.  It is only fair that in all things we practice equality.

But back to Dubai and the fantastic outpouring of support that the women receive.  I have been watching tennis for going on 20 years or more and I can safely say that I have never seen or heard fans shout a player’s name in the way that they did for Simona Halep during last week’s event.  It was akin to being at a football match and hearing the constant shouting of player’s names throughout the stadium.  It was electric, vibrant and just shows the popularity of this particular player.  I can only imagine what will happen when she wins her first Major.  For now, she has 10 WTA Tour titles. She is without a doubt the most popular player on the WTA Tour.  She has a huge fan base and she will no doubt become even more popular as her career progresses.  Well done  Simona. 



This and That 

Victoria Azarenka is now being coached by Wim Fissette, formerly the coach of Simona Halep, briefly of Madison Keys and most famously of Kim Clijsters.  

Rafael Nadal in losing to Fabio Fognini in Rio allegedly stated that he will ensure that Carlos Bernardes, one of the most respected umpires in tennis never works at one of his matches ever again.  The Spin will no doubt be keeping our eye out on this one, because let us face it, this should be interesting and could be another “unattractive inside” moment in tennis. 

One of my favourite follows on Twitter, StephintheUS has a new project called http://www.protennradio.com/.  Please give a listen when you get a chance.  Steph is one of the more ardent supporters of women’s tennis and is quite knowledgeable about the women’s game.  

I had occassion to listen to the always brilliant NCR Podcast recently.  If you have never listened to this podcast you should.  One thing that struck me in  Episode 98 which spoke about the return of Serena Williams to Indian Wells was the fact that journalists were forboden from speaking about the absence of the Williams Sisters and apparently journalists complied with such a request.  While I can understand journalists trying to retain their credentials at such a prestigious tournament, I can’t help but be quite disappointed that Indian Wells and the journalists who cover this event thought it would be a good idea to censor the coverage of this event. 

Finally, when so-called tennis fans send nasty messages to players on Twitter they are called trolls.  However, when journalists do it, what do you call them?  The following 2 tweets sent directly to Karolina Pliskova by Barry Flatman has caused a furore (as it should) in social media.  




I wonder what sanctions, if any, will be levied against Mr. Flatman.  As of the time of writing this post, I have not seen an apology directed to Ms. Pliskova.  I am sure Mr. Flatman is busy drafting something to post in 140 words or less. 

WTA WEEK 6 REVIEW

Last week, there WTA events in Antwerp, Belgium and Pattaya, Thailand. There were some exciting matches with the semifinals and finals in Pattaya being three set affairs with Daniela Hantuchova taking the title. In Antwerp, Andrea Petkovic, unlike Eugenie Bouchard and Angelique Kerber, almost lost her first match but managed to win saving eight match points in the second set against Alison Van Uytvanck. She managed to take advantage of the situation by winning the title over Carla Suarez Navarro, who withdrew due to neck issues. This week, the ladies have moved on to Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Dubai had a Sunday start which Alize Cornet managed to win over Kirsten Flipkens in three hours and ten minutes and in that match, Cornet bageled Flipkens in the first set and won the last six games of the match.

Player of the week is Daniela Hantuchova, who continued a theme of older players on tour winning events. Before season started, Carlos Rodriguez was hired as her coach. During the week she won  3 three set matches against Zarina Diyas, Marina Erakovic and Alja Tomljanovic, who won a three set semifinal match against Monica Puig to make the final.

 

Honorable mention

(1)    Andrea Petkovic – She continued her Fed Cup winning ways by taking the title in Antwerp. In the seven sets she played, five of them went to a tiebreaker where she won four of them. After the final walkover, she lost a one set exhibition to Kim Clijsters, who is the tournament director.

(2)    Francesca Schiavone – Making the quarterfinals in Antwerp starting off by playing in the qualification draw where she won a total of five matches capped off by losing only two games to Kerber in second round. When she defeated Kerber, it was her first win against a Top 10 player since making the finals at 2011 French Open. Also, since that 2011 French Open, she played two Top 20 players for the first time in the same tournament.

JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT YOU COULD TAKE A BREAK

by Karen 

Just when we were all catching up on our collective sleep patterns and trying to earn a living doing the things that allow us to enjoy tennis, here comes news this morning that rocked the tennis world.  



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Reigning World No. 1 Serena Williams announced today via a personal letter penned in TIME magazine that she would be returning to Indian Wells, the site of the infamous racist booing incident that accompanied her match against Kim Clijsters in the final.  I am sure that myself and many others have our own views on this, but in the words of Serena she now knows what true forgiveness really is. 



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As a Christian myself, I know how hard it is to turn the other cheek.  Of all the Christian teachings that I have ever learned as a child growing up, forgiveness is one of the hardest. I don’t believe that it is inherent in man’s nature to forgive, much more to turn the other cheek.  I have always been jealous of people who are able to forgive and forget and seriously move on.  I can really understand therefore why the message of forgiveness in Serena’s message has resonated with me and quite a few other people in the tennisphere. 

As part of our return to Indian Wells, Serena is partnering with OMAZE, a legal advocacy group that helps convicted felons obtain justice.  This is a remarkable initiative and I am sure that the donations will go a far way to easing the burden of many persons who have been unfairly convicted. 

There are many who will try to demean Serena’s return to Indian Wells by talking about money etc., but to those haters I say no one wants to hear your nonsense right about now.  This is a time of renewal and rebuilding.  It is also fitting that Serena would announce her return to Indian Wells while we are celebrating Black History Month and also at a time when women’s tennis is going back to the halycon days when it outpaced the men’s tour by a very wide margin. 



Think I am wrong, the overnight ratings numbers are now out for both the men’s and women’s finals.  The link to Sports Media Watch is here.  This is not the first time and it certainly will not be the last that the women’s event has garnered more mileage than the men.   For the last few Grand Slam tournaments the women’s ratings have far outweighed the men.  Perhaps entities like Tennis Channel should take note of this.  People are not tuning in to see Djokovic and Murray and despite the calls for the end to shrieking, people still got out of bed at 3:00 a.m. in the morning to watch 2 women who shriek, grunt or whatever, play tennis.   

This and That 

There was an article penned by doubles specialist Sania Mirza about the weight of expectations that is placed on the shoulders of young players, especially those who come from traditional tennis playing nations.  

I agree wholeheartedly with Sania’s reflections in the article and it should really be required reading for all tennis federations.  There is without a doubt some amount of undue pressure placed on these young children to perform and not only perform but to perform at their optimum best.  This not only leads to burnout but it also leads to early career threatening injuries, some of which players never recover from.  There is a reason why Venus and Serena have had such long careers.  Apart from the fact that they have paced themselves during their professional careers, but I believe the fact that their family withdrew them from junior tennis, and the fact that both Sisters have taken the route of seeking higher education and becoming involved in so-called outside interests has led to their longevity in tennis. 

REAR VIEW MIRROR – AUSTRALIAN OPEN EDITION

by Karen

Sleepless nights.  Dragging myself through the office door.  Drinking lots of coffee to stay awake.  The Australian Open is one of the worst tournaments and one of the best tournaments for tennis fans.  I have been sleeping on the couch for the last 2 weeks. It was fun for the first few days but the longer I slept on the couch the more my poor, old tired body started to feel the strain of not having my bed so that I can have room enough to turn.  It did not help that the newest addition to the family, Billy the Terrier mix decided that it was fine to try and snuggle up under the covers in the couch with me.  It was all I could do not to squash him most of the time.

As far as the women are concerned the 2015 edition of the Australian Open is now over.  There were winners and losers and some huge disappointments.  Here are the Spin’s winners and losers  as we head to Fed Cup play over the next few days.  Ace will have his Fed Cup preview post up in the next few days. 

Winners

  • Serena Williams continuing to set the bar really high 
  • Maria Sharapova showing us that if but for Serena she would be in the WTA Penthouse
  • Venus showing us that age is nothing but a number 
  • Garbine Muguruza, the talent is there, everything else needs to catch up
  • Elina Svitolina, again the talent is there, just needs to show more on the bigger stages
  • Ekaterina Makarova – you make the semifinals of back to back hard court Majors, you are a winner but …
  • Madison Keys, firing on all cylinders with weapons aplenty. If only she could get fitter.
  • Dominika Cibulkova – she lost in the quarters and her ranking is headed south, but she played one of the best matches of the tournament 
  • Victoria Azarenka – welcome back.  Tennis missed you
  • Irina Camelia Begu – little known Romanian made it all the way to the fourth round 
  • Julia Georges – great to see her playing great tennis again.  Here’s hoping that she has truly found her game. 
  • Lucie Hdrackea – she came through qualifying and pulled the biggest upset of the tournament in taking out Ana Ivanovic in the first round.  
  • Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova, Australian Open doubles champs.  Maybe this will spur Lucie on to greater heights. 
  • Yanina Wickmayer played one of the best matches of the tournament against Sara Errani.  This match was barely shown on tv but it was enthralling if only for the fight shown by both players.  Maybe this match will somehow revive Wickmayer’s career. 
  • Jarmila Gadjosova – she finally won a match at the Australian Open.  I guess that should be in the winners column 
  • Madison Brengle – much was made of another Madison, but Brengle, who usually slugs it out in the outer limits of tennis, came back from a cancer scare, made it through qualifying in Hobart and got to the final and then made it to the fourth round of the Australian Open.  Well done.  

Losers 
  • Tennis Australia – you do not under any circumstances call a press conference with one of your most decorated sporting icons to announce his retirement especially during a women’s match, and certainly not when it is a match as important as a women’s semifinal of a Grand Slam.  It was in poor taste and showed the ultimate disrespect to the women. 
  • Angelique Kerber – our 2014 Almost is back to her tricks again in going out in the first round 
  • Petra Kvitova – I don’t care how hard Keys was hitting the ball,  your experience should have pulled you through that match 
  • Simona Halep – failing to turn up for the second set of your quarterfinal is embarassing
  • Ekaterina Makarova – you have been down this road before, you should know what to expect and how to deal with it 
  • Caroline Wozniacki – no way you should have lost to someone who had only played one match all season long
  • Sloane Stephens – seriously?
  • Ana Ivanovic – again seriously?
  • Umpires – if you are going to call out illegal coaching, you need to do it to everyone, not just a chosen few 
  • Court assignments – we note with some amount of displeasure the fact that some players got every single match on Rod Laver Arena while the No. 1 ranked women’s player in the world and now 6 time champion started her campaign on Margaret Court Arena.  
  • Its a little thing but it can become a big thing.  Canadian Eugenie Bouchard needs to learn how to behave professionally.  Yes, we know you are hungry and yes we know you are disappointed about losing but there was absolutely no need for you to act like this because you lost a match.  


  • If you are in doubt as to how to shake hands after a tough loss, go pull up a YouTube video of Venus Williams or just Google Venus Williams handshake and you will see how it is done. 




  • Aga Radwanska – new coach, same problems.  It is all well and good to beat up everyone with bagel sets.  It is quite another to go away completely in a match without putting in a bit of effort. 
  • The German Fed Cup team – Petkovic, Lisicki and Kerber. Blink and you missed them.
  • Bencic – while it was good that she was seeded and Georges played a terrific match, I have no idea what happened. 
  • Martina Navratilova – her on air critique of Aga Radwanska was “low rent”.  The fact that your charge did not follow your game plan or look at you during her match is no reason to go on air and criticise her.  Apalling behaviour. 
  • Conflict of interest in tennis – seeing Lindsay sitting in Madison Keys’ player box and then providing commentary from the Tennis Channel irked me.  
  • Sam Stosur won a few matches in Australia.  This is a good thing.  She lost to Coco Vandeweghe in the second round. This was unacceptable.  Maybe Tennis Australia should consider putting her on an outside court so that the Fanatics can cheer her on. 

This and That


  • Women’s tennis is in a pretty good place right now.  The matches from round 1 to the finals was a testament to the talent and depth on the women’s Tour.  No doubt as the season progresses we will see more breakout players and some even more compelling matchups. 
  • Tennis commentary needs to evolve.  I, and for what its worth many tennis fans have now become aware of the tennis memes and frankly many of us have become tired by the same old lines. 
  • It cannot be stated enough how uncomfortable tennis fans have become with the blatant conflicts of interest in tennis.  Frankly what gets me is the fact that the outrage seemed to only be directed at one person, i.e. Mary Jo Fernandez and her friendship with Roger Federer.  To my mind the conflict that exists over at Tennis Channel and to a lesser extent ESPN is even more blatant and flagrant.  It needs to stop.
  • Eligibility for the 2016 Olympics is in full swing.  The marquee names who are suiting up for Fed Cup, especially after the end of a a Grand Slam tournament has brought out the rolling eyes from me and many others.   The fans of the sport will however benefit from seeing people like Serena and Venus Williams all the way over in Argentina and Maria Sharapova playing in Krakow, Poland.