WTA : WEEK TWELVE

WTA has reached the midway point at Miami, United States and there has been some interesting results along with rain ending play on Friday. Maria Sharapova came into the tournament trying to win for the first time in her career making the finals five time in the process. Now, Sharapova will have to try again in 2016 as she lost her first match to Daria Gavrilova in straight sets. Other than Serena Williams, that loss was the first time she lost before the finals since 2003. Flavia Pennetta won in two tiebreak sets over Victoria Azarenka making the fourth round for the first time in her career. Sabine Lisicki has continued her good form from Indian Wells defeating Ana Ivanovic in two tight sets.  Simona Halep, who is trying to be the first player to win Indian Wells and Miami since Kim Clijsters in 2005, won her first two matches despite playing tricky opponents in Nicole Vaidisova and Camila Giorgi.

 Player of the week is Sloane Stephens.  She is beginning to show why she was a semifinalist at 2013 Australian Open and made second week in Slams six consecutive times. She won easily over Yanina Wickmayer, had a statement win over Madison Keys, who made 2015 Australian Open semifinals, and Johanna Larsson, who had defeated Stephens in their first two meetings.

Honorable mention

(1)    Daria Gavrilova. She pulled off the upset of the tournament defeating Maria Sharapova in straight sets then made the fourth round consolidating her win over Kurumi Nara. The Russian, who is based in Melbourne, Australia, is in the process of getting Australian citizenship.  She missed the first part of 2014 due to an ACL injury.

(2)    Belinda Bencic. Before Indian Wells, she won only one WTA main draw match. For the second consecutive tournament, she made the fourth round defeating Daniela Hantuchova, Casey Dellacqua and Tatjana Maria, who defeated Eugenie Bouchard

Previous player of week

Week 11: Simona Halep – Indian Wells winner defeating Jelena Jankovic

Week 10: Heather Watson – Getting first Top 10 win of career defeating Agnieszka Radwanska

Week 9: Timea Bacsinszky – Monterrey winner defeating Caroline Garcia

Week 8: Lucie Safarova – Doha winner defeating Victoria Azarenka

Week 7: Karolina Pliskova – Dubai finalist losing to Simona Halep

Week 6: Daniela Hantuchova – Pattaya winner defeating Ajla Tomljanovic.

Week 5: Andrea Petkovic – Led Germany to Fed Cup semifinals

Week 4: Serena Williams – Australian Open winner defeating Maria Sharapova

Week 3: Madison Keys – Defeated two seeds including Petra Kvitova, who was seeded 4

Week 2: Heather Watson – Hobart winner defeating Madison Brengle

Week 1: Venus Williams – Auckland winner defeating Caroline Wozniacki

THE RISE OF HALEP(ENO)



At the end of 2013 when the WTA was handing out its annual awards they named Simona Halep, a little known Romanian as its Most Improved Player.  Journalists, bloggers and drive by fans, not knowing who she was, were in high dudgeon as to the WTA’s reasoning for making this little nobody its Most Improved Player. They felt that this title should have gone to the American Sloane Stephens.  Their reason for this is that Stephens had performed better on the biggest stages of the sport, i.e. the Grand Slams, something Halep had not done.  All Halep had done was win 6 titles.  They were not big titles, but they were titles.
In an interview with Tennis Channel, Stephens indicated that Halep had done well in the “small tournaments”, implying that she Stephens had done well on the bigger stages.  That was all true, but as we say in the Caribbean, you have to learn to creep before you can walk. At the time of that interview, Stephens was on the cusp of the top 10 (ranked No. 11).
Since that time Halep has made slow but steady progress up the rankings.  From winning 6 small tournaments, she eventually made the quarterfinal of her first Slam (Australian Open 2014), the semifinal of her first Slam (Wimbledon 2014) and her first final (French Open 2014).  In addition to those accomplishments, she has been racking up titles as if she is ticking off a to do list of accomplishments. 



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2 weeks ago she hoisted the biggest trophy of her career winning the Dubai Duty Free title (Premier).  She has now eclipsed that accomplishment by winning the biggest title of her career, the BNP Paribas Open trophy (Premier Mandatory), a title just below that of a Grand Slam, by outlasting former champion Jelena Jankovic in a 3 set marathon.  Halep has now won a title at every level of the WTA Tour and there is no doubt that she and her team are now focused on bringing this renewed focus and energy to the Grand Slam stage.   For the first time in a long while I can’t wait for the clay season to start.
This and That

Louise Thomas has an amazing piece in Grantland on Serena’s return and ultimate withdrawal from the BNP Paribas Open trophy.  In case you have been living under a rock, Serena Williams, after a 14 year boycott returned to Indian Wells but had to withdraw from her semifinal match against Simona Halep. As they did in 2001, the Tournament chose not to inform fans that there would be no second women’s semifinal played due to a withdrawal.  In this instance however, the court announcer Andrew Krasny took to the court with Serena Williams to announce that Serena would not be playing due to an injury.  


While there were many who mentioned how classy Andrew Krasny dealt with the situation, my thinking is that the more things change, the more they remain the same.  Frankly, why could Serena not have walked out on court, with the announcer in tow, to let the fans know that she would not be playing tonight due to an injury.  I can understand the disappointment, but am I the only one missing how hard Mr. Krasny had to work to set up this moment?  I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but it is as clear as day that if Mr. Krazny had not been present, the situation could have turned ugly pretty quickly.  The fact that there were reporters on the ground who heard boos just goes to show that nothing much has changed where this tournament is concerned. 

It was reported a few days later that Serena has had cortisone shots in her knee to aid her in playing the Sony Open or Miami Open or whatever it is called these days. 

Sloane Stephens has either got her mojo back or she does what she does best and get it up for the top players.  I am hoping that it is the former.  

Master Ace has done a quick preview of the Miami Open draw and his predictions are below:


QF 1: S Williams vs Muguruza
QF 2: Azarenka vs Stephens
QF 3: Suarez Navarro vs V Williams
QF 4: Zahlavova Strycova vs Sharapova

SF 1: S Williams vs Azarenka
SF 2: V Williams vs Sharapova

F: S Williams vs Sharapova

W: S Williams

WTA : INDIAN WELLS REVIEW

WTA has concluded play at Indian Wells, United States where Simona Halep won her first premier mandatory title. Serena Williams, who was playing for the first time in fourteen years, withdrew from the tournament in the semifinals due to a right knee injury which gave Halep a walkover to the final. She addressed the crowd explaining the reason for not playing. In the final, Halep was playing on three day rest and it showed in her play throughout the entire match against Jelena Jankovic. She managed to find a way to win the match on determination despite being a set and a break down three times in the second set and a break down two times in the third set. Halep got a medical timeout after the first set due to injuring her left ankle. Jankovic admitted after the match that she got nervous when she served for the match in the second set. Now, the WTA moves to Miami, United States where Halep is going to attempt to win Miami. If she wins Miami, she would be the first person to accomplish the goal since Kim Clijsters in 2005.

 Player of the week is Simona Halep. She won her first career premier mandatory event. There were questions on whether she was going to play due to the death of her cousin reported to have committed suicide. This tournament may give her the confidence that she can win despite not playing her best. She said she learned a lesson after not fighting for every point in her loss to Ekaterina Makarova at Australian Open.

Honorable mention

(1)    Jelena Jankovic – After coming to tournament with a record of 2-4 and dealing with an injury, she made the finals winning four of her matches in three sets highlighted by her win over Madison Keys, who made the Australian Open semifinals.

(2)    Sabine Lisicki – She came into the tournament with a record of 1-6 and no career match wins in Indian Wells.  She made the semifinals and in the process, she defeated three Italian players including the defending champion, Flavia Pennetta, who got the upset of the tournament defeating Maria Sharapova.

 

Previous player of week

Week 10: Heather Watson – Getting first Top 10 win of career defeating Agnieszka Radwanska

Week 9: Timea Bacsinszky – Monterrey winner defeating Caroline Garcia

Week 8: Lucie Safarova – Doha winner defeating Victoria Azarenka

Week 7: Karolina Pliskova – Dubai finalist losing to Simona Halep

Week 6: Daniela Hantuchova – Pattaya winner defeating Ajla Tomljanovic.

Week 5: Andrea Petkovic – Led Germany to Fed Cup semifinals

Week 4: Serena Williams – Australian Open winner defeating Maria Sharapova

Week 3: Madison Keys – Defeated two seeds including Petra Kvitova, who was seeded 4

Week 2: Heather Watson – Hobart winner defeating Madison Brengle

Week 1: Venus Williams – Auckland winner defeating Caroline Wozniacki
 
There will be another post by The Spin team discussing the draw at Miami as main draw play starts on Tuesday.

TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION? DOES TENNIS NEED IT?

by Karen 
Forgiveness
I am a practicing Christian.  Not always a good one but like many people of faith, we struggle.  One of the struggles we have is how to forgive.  In the Bible there are many references to forgiveness and forgive.  During this Lenten period as many Christians begin that period where they cast off those things of the world, repent and walk towards a newness of spirit with our Lord, the issue of forgiveness usually comes up.  In the Old Testament one could not expect to come into the Holy of Holies without first forgiving his brother for any wrongs that he may have done to him.
In the New Testament with the coming of our Saviour we come to our Lord in repentance and we forgive our brothers and sisters as many times as it takes (Matthew 18:22)
Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”22Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
Many people forget that Serena Williams is a practicing Christian (Jehovah’s Witness).  Upon her return to Indian Wells, Serena indicated that she was doing so in a spirit of forgiveness.   Many have asked just who is Serena forgiving and why.  Has someone asked her for her forgiveness?  I don’t know what spiritual journey Serena has embarked upon (and for me there is no doubt that she is on a spiritual journey), but perhaps Serena is forgiving those who wronged her and her family 14 years ago.  Here is my list:-
  1. Elena Dementieva for implying that matches between the Williams Sisters were fixed; 
  2. Charlie Pasarell for stating that Venus should have attempted to play;
  3. The Tournament Organisers for not informing patrons that Venus had withdrawn from the match from earlier in the day; 
  4. The fans who attended on that day for their boorish behavior; 
  5. The media for not calling out the tournament organizers when the incident happened and especially for not doing so over the course of 14 years;   
  6. The WTA for standing by and doing nothing when this happened.  The tournament should have been sanctioned;   
  7. The ITF for not issuing a statement condemning the actions (or non-actions) of the tournament organizers; and 
  8. The players, both ATP and WTA who stood by and said absolutely nothing about this.

Tennis needs to use this particular incident as its truth and reconciliation moment.  No one is bigger than this sport but Serena Williams has proven to the world that she is indeed bigger and better than the people who own the BNP Paribas Open.

On Court Coaching – The Shifting Target
It used to be that the commentary booth would be filled with derisive laughter whenever a WTA player would bring her coach down courtside for a visit during WTA matches.  How many of us can forget many of the women in the booth stating unequivocally how it made the women look weak, especially at a time when the WTA was showing just how strong these women are.  Mary Carillo, herself no fan of on court coaching would go on and on about it and there were others like Lindsay Davenport who was no fan of this rule.  I have always felt and I have opined on this before that most of the backlash with on court coaching was usually reserved for the lesser lights.  Whenever players such as Wozniacki called her father down, it was usually seen as a sign of weakness.  However, when players such as Sharapova called her coach down, it was usually because she needed to be reminded of what she needed to continue doing. 
Who can forget Toronto 2013 when Sorana Cirstea made it all the way to the finals of that tournament on the supposed strength of her coaching visits with Darren Cahill.  At one point most of us were of the view that it was Cahill playing a match and not Cirstea.  It did not help that during the trophy ceremony after being thrashed by Serena Williams that Cirstea thanked her coach for his help during the week.  Most of us rolled our eyes at that and continue to do so.
Lindsay Davenport has now joined the ranks of celebrity coaches as she now coaches Madison Keys.  Keys who made it to the semifinals of this year’s Australian Open on the strength of her big serve and forehand lost in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open to former champion Jelena Jankovic.  After losing the first set (a set she should have won), Keys called her coach down courtside.  Immediately, the mood in the booth changed.  From trashing on court coaching as a sign of weakness to praising the coaching skills and advice of Davenport, Keys would go on to lose the match, losing from being up a break in the third set, she would go on to lose 5 of the next 6 games. 
While those in the booth kept praising Davenport’s coaching skills and advice, her charge was basically disintegrating before our very eyes.  Unable to keep the ball in play, Keys would succumb to the steadiness of Jankovic amidst a rash of UFEs mostly committed from her backhand. 
By the same token, Maria Sharapova, no stranger to on court coaching visits, lost her match after being up a set against Flavia Pennetta.  During her coaching visit, super coach Sven Groneveld reminded her of what she needed to do.  I can’t say that he gave her any effective strategy except to keep shuffling her feet.  She clearly did not hear him as she would lose the third set going away.
In her first match in 14 years at Indian Wells, Serena Williams, no fan of on court coaching herself, signed on for on court coaching.  This was understandable as this was without a doubt going to be a very emotional match and she no doubt felt that she would need that emotional support during the match.  However, in the almost 2.5 hour match, despite struggling with her game and her opponent, Serena did not call her coach down. 
The commentators would take heed to listen to Serena Williams and her views regarding on court coaching.  Serena regarding on court coaching “He doesn’t do any coaching at all. For me, it’s my moment out there. I just kind of have to really figure out, if I’m losing, a way to win; or if things don’t go right, I have to figure out a different way. It’s a good, mature thing for me more than anything.” [Tennis World USA]
In case you are wondering why I am revisiting this issue, its because the same people in the commentary booth who seem to be singing the praises of Lindsay Davenport and her coaching skills are the same people who derided other women for doing the same thing.  Makes you wonder whether it has more to do with who is doing the coaching, the person being coached and the audience.  A few years ago Bruce Jenkins wrote a piece on Sports Illustrated in which he basically castigated the women for this failed venture.  One of the persons who was scathing in her criticism was Mary Carillo.  This was Carillo’s 2 years ago:
“I find that to be so sexist,” she said. “Men don’t have it, but the women are allowed to say, ‘Daddy, she’s breaking my serve’? Are you kidding me? This is the biggest women’s sport in the world. We’ve had decades of mental toughness. It was always, ‘Give me the ball, I’m going to figure a way to walk off winning this. I refuse to lose.’ That’s the whole, beautiful point of it. Here’s a sport with a chance to show young girls what a strong and independent woman can do, yet you get this — basically saying, ‘I can’t figure this out by myself, I’m just a woman.’ That galls me.”
I don’t have a recording of the Tennis Channel airing of the Keys/Jankovic match, but suffice it to say that Carillo, while not fully endorsing on court coaching seems to have toned it down a bit.  Whether that was because it was her colleague (aaah that conflict issue L) or it was as a result of 2 Americans on court, but the results to my mind were the same.  The visit was a complete failure.  While many applauded Davenport’s coaching visit (there were cheers from the stands), I think that had more to do with who was doing the coaching visit, rather than coaching itself.
Madison Keys is a talented young player.  She has the firepower and the mentality to be one of, if not the best of this young upcoming generation, but to my mind, she has to learn to rely on Madison.  She has to know that no matter what happens out there, the onus will be on her to perform.  For better or worse, your worth as a tennis player is tied towards how many Grand Slams you have won.  I know there are many who will disagree but the Grand Slams are the hallmarks of our sport. In much the same way that baseball has its World Series, football (real football) has the World Cup, so too does tennis have its Grand Slams.  They are a benchmark of competition and they truly show how much one has matured as a player, as it takes a certain type of mentality to win even one Major.
For me one of the reasons why Simona Halep is heads and tails above many of her peers is her continued refusal to allow anyone down courtside for those visits.  As Serena Williams opined above, this is her moment to shine, not her coach’s and if many other players looked at those coaching visits in that way, maybe they will realize that the coach has been getting much of the compliments rather than the person who has to go out there and execute. 
The Grunting/Shrieking (Exhalation of Breath) Debate
I have no idea when this will end but clearly it will never end.  I saw in Jon Wertheim’s Mailbag this week a question on the everlasting grunting/shrieking (or as we at the Spin call it “exhalation of breath”) debate.  In response to a question from a reader about Vesnina’s grunting he responded as follows:
“… this isn’t hugely offensive to me. But it’s deeply offensive to many fans (I have hundreds of emails to prove it) and former players. (Anyone catch Mary Carillo talking about this the other night?)”
Apart from the fact that Carillo’s words hold no water with me (see her views regarding on court coaching which changes as fast as the wind), I just have one question.  Is it that most of the people who write in to complain about the grunting in women’s tennis tune in specifically to matches that involve players who grunt?  The top 20 in women’s consists of the following players.  I have indicated where necessary those who vocalize when they play:-
  1. Serena Williams – intermittent grunts 
  2. Maria Sharapova – grunts 
  3. Simona Halep – only when points get long  
  4. Petra Kvitova – no 
  5. Caroline Wozniacki – no  
  6. Ana Ivanovic – no 
  7. Eugenie Bouchard – no 
  8. Agniezska Radwanska – no 
  9. Ekaterina Makarova – no 
  10. Andrea Petkovic – yes
  11. Lucie Safarova – no 
  12. Sara Errani – yes 
  13. Carla Suarez-Navarro – no 
  14. Angelique Kerber – no 
  15. Karolina Pliskova – no 
  16. Flavia Pennetta – no 
  17. Venus Williams – yes 
  18. Madison Keys – no 
  19. Peng Shuai – no 
  20. Barbora Strycova no

I assume when someone says top player they are talking about the top 20.  From the list above we can safely say that approximately 30% of the top women grunt.  That means that 70% of them do not.  At any given tournament you are not faced with 30% of the top women playing at the same time. That means it is either that people are tuning in to see a specific player, and inevitably that specific player is someone who grunts. To my mind, if it is that you really want to enjoy women’s tennis and not have to listen to the grunting then you need to look at the other 70% of women in the top 20 who don’t grunt.  Who knows, you may just find a player that you appreciate who does not grunt.
In the same Mailbag, JL of Newton, MA had this question/observation about Serena
“Yes, it was momentous that Serena decided to play again at Indian Wells. But really, after watching the match against Monica Niculescu, I was appalled at the histrionics after Serena missed a shot. You’d think she was defending a Wimbledon crown, rather than playing a first-round match against a 68th-ranked opponent. I get it—she’s emotional at playing the tournament again. But the drama queen act is demeaning to her stature as the World No. 1 and to her opponent. And not one commentator calls her out on it, lest she appears to be questioning Serena’s “virtuous” appearance at the tournament. (Yes, I’m calling out Mary Carrillo, Mary Joe Fernandez and Tracy Austin.) Serena had a chance to act like the champion she is. If only she took it.”
Hey JL, try getting booed and vilified at your next job.  Try having people attempt to tar and feather you and the world is watching.  Try being attacked and not knowing what you did to deserve that attack. Try having your peers, colleagues and everyone associated with your job accuse you and your family of cheating to win matches.  You then resign your job because what you are experiencing is akin to harassment on the job.  14 years later you are at the top of your game but you still have doubts about just how good you are because 14 years ago some idiot at your job who had more power decided that you were not good enough to do the job that you were qualified to do.  It did not help that one of your colleagues told the media that you got where you were not on merit but otherwise.   Every year you are filled with an overwhelming sense of how can I make this right, even though you have done nothing wrong. 
That is what Serena Williams and her family experienced at Indian Wells.  You tell me now JL whether or not you would be able to perform at a premium. If you are then clearly you are a better person than many of us.  Serena did the best she could.  It was not pretty.  She wanted to show her best tennis to the fans who came to see her after 14 years.  She got frustrated because nothing was working.  Credit to her opponent who decided that she would play the match of her life.  Give the woman a break. 

Finally JL, you obviously have not watched many Serena matches.  She wants to perform at her best 100% of the time, whether it is defending a Wimbledon crown, playing the first round of the tournament in her backyard, the Olympics or anywhere else, as a professional competitor she wants to do her best every single time.  It is not always possible to do so, but she wants to and that clearly is where you and Serena will differ.  You placed little or no importance on a match against an opponent ranked No. 68 in the world. Serena surely did not.  She respected her opponent enough to want to bring her best tennis.  She owed it to the fans to show them her best tennis.  Would that every professional had this mindset. 

WTA – WEEK 10

WTA is playing at Indian Wells where the first three rounds have been played. Serena Williams is playing for the first time since 2001, Maria Sharapova won a blockbuster match over Victoria Azarenka, Agnieszka Radwanska continues to struggle, Caroline Garcia defeated Ana Ivanovic in a two week span, Ons Jabeur put on a drop shot display against one of the better defenders in Caroline Wozniacki, Flavia Pennetta, defending champion not getting media attention, is progressing nicely in the draw, Timea Bacsinszky rallying from a set and a break deficit in set 2 and an 0-3 deficit in the third to extend her winning streak to 14. After the match, Bacsinszky withdrew from Miami basically citing fatigue.

 Player of the week is Heather Watson. Earlier this year, she won the Hobart title. Before this year, she has never made it to the third round. This year, she has made it to the fourth round defeating Julia Goerges, Camila Giorgi and Agnieszka Radwanska. When she defeated Radwanska, the win was her first one against a top ten player.

Honorable mention

(1)    Lesia Tsurenko – She made the main draw from qualifying and has won a total of five matches. In the main draw, she has defeated Annika Beck, Andrea Petkovic and Alize Cornet. She and her countrywomen, Elina Svitolina, has made Ukraine proud of their performances.

(2)    Sloane Stephens – Made the fourth round defeating Chanelle Scheepers, Angelique Kerber and Svetlana Kuznetsova.  

Previous player of week

Week 9: Timea Bacsinszky – Monterrey winner defeating Caroline Garcia

Week 8: Lucie Safarova – Doha winner defeating Victoria Azarenka

Week 7: Karolina Pliskova – Dubai finalist losing to Simona Halep

Week 6: Daniela Hantuchova – Pattaya winner defeating Ajla Tomljanovic.

Week 5: Andrea Petkovic – Led Germany to Fed Cup semifinals

Week 4: Serena Williams – Australian Open winner defeating Maria Sharapova

Week 3: Madison Keys – Defeated two seeds including Petra Kvitova, who was seeded 4

Week 2: Heather Watson – Hobart winner defeating Madison Brengle

Week 1: Venus Williams – Auckland winner defeating Caroline Wozniacki

TENNIS MEDIA AND THE WTA

by Karen

Maybe its just me.  Maybe because I am a blogger who does this out of love of the sport why I become so affronted.  I don’t need clicks in order to pay the bills.  I don’t make my living from tweeting out headlines that make people want to read what I have written.  Maybe I grew up in an era where I have always respected journalists.  Real journalists.  People who went out and did their investigations and came back and reported on what they had investigated.  People who were not afraid to go after the movers and shakers.

As most people know I am from Jamaica.  During my early years I worked at one of the largest media houses in Jamaica, the Jamaica Gleaner.  That newspaper has been around since the 1800s.  I grew up reading articles by the great Wilmot Perkins, Morris Cargill, Dawn Ritch and many others.  These were journalists who had integrity.  I have to say that after reading those journalists, and ensuring that my little blog has some amount of integrity, I continue to be aghast at what passes for journalism in tennis circles.

Tennis journalism has always seemed to do whatever it feels like doing.  It exposes those that it does not like or care for (see Neil Harman) and it belittles what others are trying to build (see Melissa Isaacson’s article on the return of Serena Williams to Indian Wells) and covers up those that it considers a part of the fraternity (see the concealing of the name of the reporter who asked the ridiculous question about forgiveness at Serenas’ pre-tournament press conference).

Part of what contributed to the debacle of Indian Wells 14 years ago was led by the media and how it chose to report the story.  Durign the years when neither Venus or Serena played the BNP Paribas Open, journalists, some of whom can’t seem to afford a tournament ticket on their own dime lay in bed with the tournament and wrote nasty articles about the Williams Sisters. In this the year of Serenas’ return to Indian Wells, at a time when tennis is embarking on its own truth and reconciliation tour, here comes the most nonsensical set of questions asked to a player, done only to fuel speculation and create a dangerous rift between Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens.

It is disconcerting to me as a black woman that white tennis media continue to fan the flames, or try to stir animus between 2 black women.  It is disrespectful to both women and only continues the narrative that black women seek only to have battles amongst each other and cannot be colleagues who compete and are respectful of each other. 

If it was a case that tennis media, made up mostly of old white men, were really all about being good journalists who want the best for the sport, they would not hesitate to name the idiot amongst them who decided that a really good introduction to his question was to intimate, nay state unequivocally that “both sides” were to be blamed for the 2001 debacle of Indian Wells. 

I am disappointed in Sloane.  Truly disappointed.  On an occassion such as this where Serena Williams has been preaching forgiveness and striving to create her own narrative and for a player such as Sloane who has been struggling for going on a year to win matches, the response to the question about social media and her relationship (or lack of it) with Serena Williams should have begun and ended with the fact that she and Serena are colleagues. 

Social media can be a cruel place.  It is akin to schoolyard bullying.  As a blogger and fan of tennis, I too used to feel bullied when persons would subtweet me.  It is a nasty way of telling everyone that you are not important enough to be heard.  That was 5 years and a lifetime ago.  Today, I could give a shite whether anyone reads what I write.  After all, my life does not depend on it.  I am however very grateful that people follow me on Twitter and read my rantings.  I am grateful for the many social media friends that I have made via Twitter.  In this day and age when persons value themselves more about their social standing rather than their accomplishments, it is unfortuante that a player such as Sloane, a talented player and someone who many persons of colour expect to do well in her professional career, should feel the need to lash out during a press conference about those fans, and in particular fans who she believes are alleged Serena Williams fans.  

Tennis writers have a responsibility to not only provide those of us who do not have access to the sport in the way that they do that they give a true and honest representation of the sport.  Media in other sports provide context, information and do not resort to gutter reporting in order to generate interest.  Tennis is an interesting beloved sport.  The women of the WTA bring their own sense of intrigue in their matches.  They do not need journalists to craft a different narrative, especially when that narrative is about females behaving badly. 


14 YEARS LATER

by Karen

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There were screams, shouts, cheers, groans and words of encouragement.  It was a far cry from 2001 when Serena Williams last played the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.

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 On this night, there were shouts of “Come on Serena”, “move your feet” and many signs saying “Welcome back Serena” and “Straight Outta Compton”.

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 In the stands were Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle and owner of this tournament.  John McEnroe a tennis legend in his own right. Bill Gates former CEO of Microsoft.  Further up in the stands were Serena’s family.  Her sister Iysha, brought to tears by this moment.  Her mother Oracene, looking as always the diva in her dark glasses, hiding her emotions, Jill Smoller her longtime agent, and the man who has helped her on her way to securing legendary status, the Mastermind himself, Patrick Mouratogolu.  There were rumours that Serena’s former hitting partner, Sascha Bajin was on the grounds watching her match.  I would not be surprised if that were true.

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The match will not go down as one of Serena’s best. There were errors aplenty, some of it caused by her opponent, but the majority from Serena’s racquet.  The over 2 hour long match was filled with drama, exciting ralllies and introduced people to the wonders of the Nicolescu sliced forehand.  An incredible shot that really needs its own social media page. After all Milos Raonic’s hair has its own twitter handle..

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This night, this wondrous night belonged to Serena Williams.

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I berate Tennis Channel all the time for the cluelessness that they exhibit when it comes to the members of the broadcast booth, but in this, in this retelling of the Serena Williamms return to Indian Wells they hit the ball out of the park.  They were respectful and truthful.  They dealt with the facts and they commended where they should.

Serena said that her aim was to create new memories.  She also said that she did not need to win the touranent in order to feel as if she had won a victory (and everyone in the locker room breathed a sigh of relief), but for me this is when Serena will become even more dangerous.  She has shaken the proverbial monkey off her back. The fear and the anxiety that she experenced after deciding to play in Indian Wells is gone.  She has survived her worst nightmares.

Let the games begin. 

BNP PARIBAS OPEN AND TENNIS MEDIA

by Karen 



I have had Tennis Channel for going on 9 years now. I have ESPN for a lot longer.  As far as I can tell, I have been a serious tennis fan for going on 20 years now.  Frankly ever since I first heard about the Williams Sisters and the fact that their braids were done by someone with Jamaican roots. 
Since that time I have come to love and admire a great many other players, but my first love has always been the Williams Sisters.
When the 2001 incident happened at Indian Wells (the “Incident”), I did not know about it.  I read about it but seeing as I lived in a country where access to these matches were never shown at a time when I could watch, I missed the episode entirely.  In any event, it was always the Sony Open that was viewed by myself and many others who lived in the Caribbean.  Indian Wells always seemed so far away and frankly it was not as prestigious as the Miami event.
When I got into serious tennis watching and blogging the Incident became one that was talked about but only in the context of the fact that the Williams Sisters did not play the event.  At the time if you wanted to see tennis matches that you hear people on places like Tennis Forum or Pete Bodo’s Tennis World you had to go to the Daily Motion site.  Downloading a grainy video of the Incident on Daily Motion back in those days did not help as internet speeds are not what they are now and frankly, I had no clue how to use the internet.  Fast forward and not only am I much more proficient at using the internet, but with the advent of YouTube there are more and more videos available of historic tennis matches, including the 2001 match. 
A few years ago I finally sat down and watched the match in its entirety.  Funnily enough I think the broadcast that is currently on YouTube is a delayed broadcast on CBS (goes to show how unimportant that tournament really was).  I was shocked at what I witnessed.  It is hard enough when someone tells you about an incident.  To experience that incident with your own two eyes really brings it into focus.  Remember that saying “walk a mile in my shoes?”.
When the WTA Tour brought in the Roadmap in 2009 it mandated 4 Premier Mandatory tournaments.  As the name suggests, these 4 tournaments had to be played by every played ranked in the top 10 on the WTA Tour (barring injury).  Prior to the Roadmap coming into play neither Venus or Serena Williams had played the Indian Wells tournament since the Incident.  Every year writers would either rain down fire and brimstone on the heads of the Williams Sisters for not playing the event with calls for the WTA to sanction the Williams Sisters, or there were other cooler heads who felt that the Williams Sisters should continue to stand by their beliefs.  Fans were also divided about whether the women should play the event or not.
As the years passed and the Indian Wells tournament became bigger and bigger, the absence of the Williams Sisters was glaring.  You could not help but think that the tournament lost a little bit of its luster each year, especially when the Miami tournament would shout from the rooftops that they had the No. 1 women’s player in the field, while the BNP Paribas Open (as it is now called) did not.
One thing that has always shocked me was the fact that during all of the tournament interviews during and after the tournament was the fact that no journalist on site ever seemed to ask the question as to the continued absence of the Williams Sisters.  Fellow players were never asked that question and no one had an opinion as to how the tournament was affected, if any, with the continued absence of both Williams Sisters.
Fast forward to 2015 and as everyone now knows Serena Williams is returning to the BNP Paribas Open.  It has been a long time and again there are mixed views about her return.  As of the date of this writing, Venus Williams will not be playing the event.  It remains to be seen whether Richard Williams and Oracene Price or other members of the Williams Family will attend the event (update word is that Oracene is in Indian Wells with Serena).
One of the reasons why I am writing this piece is because of the hypocrisy (maybe too strong a word) or downright cowardice of tennis media.  While listening to a recent podcast, I learned about the rules that have been set in place by the tournament which dissuades journalists from mentioning the Williams Sisters and their participation (or lack of participation) in the tournament.  As I have opined elsewhere, it is all well and good to comply with the directives of a tournament, but how seriously would the event have suffered if journalists were allowed the option of asking fellow players their views on Serena and Venus’ absence from the tournament?  Frankly speaking after 14 years, the story would write itself.  Tennis players are not known for giving the most captivating interviews and separate and apart from a few players who are outspoken, I doubt journalists would get much in the way of a sound bite from them.  However, I was disappointed that journalists capitulated so readily to the tournament on an issue that is of such great significance and importance. 
I am conflicted about Serena’s return to the BNP Paribas Open.  On the one hand I am glad that she is going to be a part of the line up and that fans of the women’s game and fans of Serena will finally get to see her play her home tournament once again.  On the other hand I am afraid if once she steps on the court there will be some in the stands who will be of the view that they should heckle and boo.  I sincerely hope that the majority of the fans who are there will point him out in much the same way as the fans in Miami did to this guy in 2007.  At her press conference Serena intimated that she felt much the same way as I did.  I can’t imagine how she is trying to calm herself prior to taking the court for her first round match.  
Now that the tournament has officially started, the tennis media have been all over themselves in doing think pieces regarding Serena’s return.  I have to confess that I am yet to read an article that addresses one aspect of that day and the events surrounding the Incident that actually looks at how the tournament and the organisers behaved at that time. 

Many will recall that Venus has always insisted that she had given due notice long before the scheduled match that she would not be playing due to tendinitis in her knee.  In none of the articles that I have seen since then has anyone actually addressed this issue.  Frankly, the more I read about the Incident, the more it seems as if Venus withdrew mere minutes before the match was scheduled to take place, which then invited the vitriol that was spewed against the Williams Family. 

In one article that I have read the Williams Family seemed to be blamed for the Incident and nowhere has the tournament taken responsibility for the role in one of, if not the biggest disgrace that has ever happened in tennis. 

Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle took over as the owner of the BNP Paribas Open in or around 2009. If this article is to be believed, Mr. Ellison made no attempt to reach out to the Williams Family and have them return to Indian Wells.  It would seem from reading Mr. Bryant’s article that it was Serena, via the WTA Tour who first reached out to the tournament and indicated her willingness to return to Indian Wells.  A reading of what transpired to have Serena back playing Indian Wells makes for very depressing reading.  

I completely understand the story of forgiveness, but one would have hoped that the owners and organisers of the so-called “Fifth Slam” would have taken the lead in ensuring that Serena (and frankly Venus Williams) were invited to participate in the BNP Paribas Open. 

For years we have been told how wonderful the Indian Wells Tennis Garden is.  I know.  We get it.  There is no need for commentators, players, fans and everyone and their mother to keep shouting it from the rooftops.  Enough already.  The fact that it is beautiful does not belie what happened there in 2001.  As with most things in nature that are beautiful, they usually hide a pretty deadly poison.  

Serena Williams plays her first match in 14 years at the BNP Paribas Open tonight at 7:00 p.m. local time (9:00 EST) against Monica Nicolescu.  I am hoping that just as there were fellow tennis players in the stands for Mardy Fish’s return, I am hoping that there are fellow tennis players in the stands supporting Serena Williams’ return.  I am not holding my breath for this one.  

Finally, after all this time the players are being asked their views on Serena’s return to the BNP Paribas Open.  I guess better late than never.  However, some people should never be asked to opine on issues on which they have no knowledge and/or experience.  Eugenie Bouchard’s comment borders on someone from the movie Clueless would have said.  She is reported to have said “the past is the past”.  She also indicated that she thought “twirl gate” was overblown.  I think Bouchard has missed the point on both issues.  In the case of the 2001 Incident, the past is really not the past.  If it was, then we would have learned nothing from what happened in 2001.  In terms of twirl gate, if but for the fact that many tennis fans did not raise a hue and cry about the sexism that permeates tennis commentary, you Ms. Bouchard would never have been able to say that being asked to “twirl” was overblown.  

It is hard when today’s players have no idea how much they have benefitted from the fight that others have undertaken in the past just so that they can dismiss important events in tennis history as “the past is the past” and that something as offensive as being asked to “twirl” to show off your outfit is not sexist.  As a paralegal with a law firm, if I came to work one morning and was told that I should twirl so that the men in the office could look at my outfit, I can tell you that there would be a harassment suit filed.  Clearly, some athletes are of the view that because they are athletes different rules apply to them and the way they are treated.  Anyway … moving on. 

Finally, I note that I may have to revisit the same old issue of court assignments.  On Days 1 and 2 when it was only women’s matches that were being played, the women took centre stage.  Today however, we are back to shoving the women onto the outside courts (read non-tv).  Of the 18 matches scheduled today on tennis tv, only 8 women’s matches will be shown. I would think that in the spirit of equality the 4 tv courts could have been divided equally allowing for 9 men’s and women’s matches to be shown.  But that is just me. 

As it is Lent I won’t be able to raise a glass of wine or sip my beer during Serena’s match tonight but I will be cheering and fist pumping after every shot and rooting her on from my living room.  I know without a shadow of a doubt that there are many others who will be doing the same.   



FROM MEXICO TO CALIFORNIA

Last week, there were WTA events in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Monterrey, Mexico. Caroline Wozniacki won her first title since Istanbul in July last year and Timea Bacsinszky completed the Acapulco/Monterey double defeating Caroline Garcia in back to back weeks to clinch her third career title.  


The Spin’s Player of the week is Timea Bacsinszky. She became The Queen of Mexico when she won Monterrey a week after winning in Acapulco.  In her run to the title, she won four three set matches with her last two being over Sara Errani and Caroline Garcia, whom she defeated easily in Acapulco final. Timea’s ranking has now gone up to No. 26 which means that she will be seeded for both the French Open and Wimbledon.  An excellent improvement for a player who had left tennis and was thinking of a career change a few years ago. 

Honorable mention

(1)    Caroline Garcia – Made consecutive finals in Acapulco and Monterrey. After winning only three games in Acapulco final, she was able to take a set in the final from Bacsinszky. In the semifinals, she got the signature win of the tournament defeating Ana Ivanovic with relative ease.

(2)    Alexandra Dulgheru – Made the final at Kuala Lumpur defeating seeded players Sabine Lisicki, Julia Goerges and Jarmila Gajdosova. In the final, she was able to take a set from Caroline Wozniacki, who cruised through her first four rounds.

Previous players of week

Week 8: Lucie Safarova – Doha winner defeating Victoria Azarenka
Week 7: Karolina Pliskova – Dubai finalist losing to Simona Halep
Week 6: Daniela Hantuchova – Pattaya winner defeating Ajla Tomljanovic.
Week 5: Andrea Petkovic – Led Germany to Fed Cup semifinals
Week 4: Serena Williams – Australian Open winner defeating Maria Sharapova
Week 3: Madison Keys – Defeated two seeds including Petra Kvitova, who was seeded 4
Week 2: Heather Watson – Hobart winner defeating Madison Brengle
Week 1: Venus Williams – Auckland winner defeating Caroline Wozniacki

The WTA season is beginning to look a lot like migratory birds.  Starting in Australia where it is summer and the weather was really nice for all events, then to the Middle East where you had sandstorms, heat, wind and rain, hopping over to South and Central America for the clay/hard court swing (some took a detour and went to Asia … Kuala Lumpur) and then jetting over to California for the start of the Indian Wells and then on to Florida for the Miami event. 

The draw for Indian Wells has been made and it is highlighted by the return of Serena Williams who will play her first match since winning the title in 2001 on Friday at 7 PM local time. The only top players not in the draw is Venus Williams and Petra Kvitova, who withdrew due to fatigue.  Timea Bacsinszky, who recently became the Queen of Mexico in consecutive weeks, and Karolina Pliskova lead the WTA in wins with 18. 

In the third round past winners, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka are scheduled to face off.  If it happens it will be must see tv.  Flavia Pennetta is the defending champion and she has a pretty tough draw to try and defend the biggest title of her career.  In my opinion, the toughest quarter is led by Simona Halep while the softest quarter is led by Caroline Wozniacki. When the tournament ends, I believe Serena Williams will be the first three time winner of the event.
Predictions
QF 1: S Williams vs Makarova
QF 2: Halep vs Suarez Navarro
QF 3: Bouchard vs Wozniacki
QF 4: Ivanovic vs Azarenka
SF 1: S Williams vs Halep
SF 2: Wozniacki vs Azarenka
F: S Williams vs Azarenka

W: S Williams

Karen will have a post up later this week regarding the media coverage of the return of Serena Williams to Indian Wells after a 14 year absence.  

Main draw play starts at 11:00 a.m. local time (1:00 p.m. EST).  If you don’t have it, I strongly suggest that you get a subscription to tennistv.  It is so worth the money if you are an avid tennis fan.  

WTA WEEK 8 AND 9 REVIEW

Week 8 Review


The Spin Team apologises for the late reviews of the Dubai and Rio de Janiero tournaments.  This was due to the day jobs getting in the way of blogging.

Simona Halep – Dubai Duty Free Champion 
By now you would have known Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova played a really good match in Dubai with Halep winning her biggest title to date (she does this in increments doesn’t she) and Sara Errani winning the tournament over in Rio de Janeiro, defeating first time finalist Anna Schmiedlova.

Sara Errani – Rio de Janiero Champion
There were some mild surprises in Dubai with most of them happening in the third round where Venus Williams, Petra Kvitova, Ana Ivanovic, Angelique Kerber and Agnieszka Radwanska were sent packing. However, the quality depth of the WTA surfaced as they lost to other Top 20 players in Lucie Safarova, Carla Suarez Navarro, Karolina Pliskova, Flavia Pennetta and Garbine Muguruza.  This week, the ladies have moved on to Doha, Qatar and Acapulco, Mexico.
Spin’s Player of the week is Karolina Pliskova. Despite losing in the final to Simona Halep, she is continuing to show why she has the potential to be an elite player. In her first career Premier 5 final, she could have wilted under the pressure from playing a lot of matches to begin the year but she showed resolve. During the week, she won two three set matches against Lucie Safarova and Garbine Muguruza. Her match against Muguruza has the possibility of being a Slam final in the next five years.
Honorable mention


(1)    Simona Halep – Defended her Premier 5 title by winning a tight two setter in the final and two three set matches against Caroline Wozniacki and Ekaterina Makarova. With the help of the crowd in her match against Makarova, Halep buckled down and got her revenge for Makarova winning their encounter at the Australian Open. The third set between Halep and Makarova may be the best set of the entire 2015 season.
(2)    Sara Errani – Winning her first title in 2 years at Rio. Along the way, she saved three match points against Beatriz Haddad Maia.

Previous players of the week

Week 6: Daniela Hantuchova – Pattaya winner defeating Ajla Tomljanovic.
Week 5: Andrea Petkovic – Led Germany to Fed Cup semifinals
Week 4: Serena Williams – Australian Open winner defeating Maria Sharapova


Week 9 Review

Lucie Safarova – Doha Champion
The tournaments are coming fast and furious during this usual quiet month of February.  Over in Doha, Victoria Azarenka secured her first win over Venus Williams, displaying some of the wonderful tennis that we all know that she is capable of producing.  While I am saddened that Venus lost, I am also equally happy to see Azarenka playing good tennis once again.  Unfortunately, after that signature win, Azarenka apparently picked up an injury (she was struggling with her right leg during her semifinal match) and went out to last year’s Almost title holder (who is Almost no more), Lucie Safarova.  I have to say that I cannot explain this resurgence by Lucie Safarova.  I think at some point in time someone will have to ask her what has led to her newfound confidence but for the last 18 months Lucie has been playing exceptionally good tennis.  Unfortunately, she would usually lose these matches, rather than win them and it was really good to see her lifting the biggest title of her career and over an accredited opponent such as Azarenka.  


Timea Bacsinszky – Acapulco Champion

Over in Acapulco, Timea Bacsinszky who had left tennis to pursue a career in hotel management, won her second title of her career, beating Caroline Garcia by the score of 3 and 0.  What was surprising about that scoreline is the fact that Garcia clearly had no strategy when it came to playing Bazsinsky as she kept sending most of her shots to the Bazsinsky backhand.  The fact that Garcia ended up in tears at the trophy ceremony will live on in tennis lore for all time.

Week 9 Player of the Week


Lucie Safarova for her wonderful all court display in winning her biggest title to date.


Tie between Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka for showing us wonderful all court tennis.  

Week 10 tournaments see players competing in Kuala Lumpur (Wozniacki No. 1 seed), Monterey (Ivanovic No. 1 seed).  

This and That

Angelique Kerber has parted ways with her long time coaching. This after suffering a defeat against Victoria Azarenka in Doha where she lost 0 and 3. The Spin will wait to see who she picks as her replacement.

Aga Radwanska continues to have a crap season. Despite taking on uber coach Martina Navratilova, Aga has yet to make it past the quarterfinal of any tournament this season (Hopman Cup does not count).

Eugenie Bouchard, seeded No. 2 at this week’s Monterey tournament has pulled out. No one knows why and no announcement was made (at least up to the point of writing).

Sloane Stephens continues to defy any expectations by losing first round in Acapulco. Come on Sloane, show us what you got.

Maria Sharapova, seeded No. 1 in Acapulco, pulled out of her semifinal against Caroline Garcia citing a stomach bug.