And Then There Were 2

by Karen

Yesterday, when I wrote about the final 4, I used my heart, rather than my head to pick Venus over Coco.  As a Venus fan for most of my tennis life (as long as Venus has been playing tennis), I usually pick Venus over everyone else.  Publicly I am an ardent Venus fan, but privately I never thought I would see Venus in the final of a Grand Slam ever again.  I have been one of those fans who doubted that she would ever be a factor in winning tennis’ biggest titles and there were times when I wished for her to retire gracefully and become either a coach or perhaps run the WTA.

I am happy to admit that I was wrong.

Because I had to work, I went to bed after the first set.  I was devastated that after playing so well during the whole tournament, never losing a set, she would lose a set in the biggest match of the tournament for her.  I went to bed with a heavy heart.  However, I could not sleep, so I grabbed my phone and started score boarding. When I saw that she was up 4-1 in the second set, I smiled.  I fist pumped and  silently said ‘come on Venus’. Watching the score board with my little tennis watching buddy beside me, I felt heartened when I saw that she managed to win the second set.

I wondered to myself should I get up and watch the rest of the match.  It was now going 1:00 a.m. in the morning and I had to try and get some sleep.  I wrestled with that decision but ultimately sleep won.  It was restless and I got up again and checked the score and saw that Serena was up an early break in her match. I switched to completed matches and saw that Venus won 6-3 in the third.  My heart raced and I became overwhelmed. I checked my Twitter feed and was greeted by this moment

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>I love Venus Williams' unbridled joy at reaching another grand slam final — her 1st in 8 years — at age 36 <a href=”https://t.co/YmLapywyo0″>pic.twitter.com/YmLapywyo0</a></p>&mdash; Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) <a href=”https://twitter.com/BraddJaffy/status/824496380991434752″>January 26, 2017</a></blockquote>
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The unbridled joy.  I saw the hair on her arms stand up.  The smile.  The holding of her heart.  I have never seen Venus this happy to win a tennis match as she seemed to be here. All the hard work.  All the disappointments.  All the doubts.  All the fears.  All of these vanquished.  I admit that I have never seen Venus drop a racquet, but drop it she did.

While watching the replay in its entirety this morning, on her fourth match point, there was silence in the Tennis Channel booth.  I believe Lindsay Davenport was in tears.  Mary Carillo who always seems to have something to say was left dumbfounded.  That is the impact that Venus Williams, at 36 years old gave to folks upon reaching the Australian Open final. For her troubles she faces her younger sister Serena Williams.

It seems as if Serena is always playing for some historical moment or another.  The last time they met, which was the 2015 US Open, Serena was going for the calendar year grand slam.  This year she is seeking to regain the No. 1 ranking and bag her 23rd Grand Slam title.

Serena looked devastatingly good in her last 2 matches.  She outplayed Lucic-Baroni in every facet of the game, much like she did against Konta.  I expect that she will perhaps do the same to her big sister, but I am hoping against all hope that Venus will finally be able to lift the Daphne Arhurst trophy for the first time in her outstanding career.

Final prediction

Venus over Serena in 3 tough sets

Australian Open Final Four

When the 2017 version of the Australian Open draw came out, if you were a fan of Venus Williams, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni and Coco Vandeweghe, I bet you had no idea that these 3 women would be three quarters of the final four women standing in Melbourne.  Just about everyone had Serena Williams pencilled in so for her to make the final four is in my opinion not outside the norm.

Each woman has their own compelling story to tell

Venus Williams – 36 years old young and playing some of the best tennis of her life. She has not been to this round of the Australian Open since her run to the final in 2003, approximately 13 years ago. Everyone knows the story of Venus.  Her struggles through Sjorgen’s Syndrome.  Her early exits from this particular tournament.  The many injuries that has kept her from playing, and in one case, led to her retiring, to a chorus of boos from the fans who were looking forward to a match against the hard hitting Andrea Petkovic a few years ago.  Venus, when asked by Rennae Stubbs earlier this year how does she manage to overcome these younger players and triumph, said “girl, I don’t know but I do know how to play tennis”.  I think we can all agree that Venus does know how to play tennis.  Venus will take on

Coco Vandeweghe – the youngest of the 4 semifinalists, Vandeweghe has not endeared herself to tennis fans, partly due to her on court demeanour, but more about her support of Donald Trump.  In fact, Vandeweghe has never been a fan favourite and she has now cemented herself to be among those players who tennis fans abhor, similar to what Ryan Harrison and John Isner have managed to do. Forgetting about her ill advised politics for a moment, Vandeweghe has the game that can trouble Venus if she is not on her game.  She has been moving well, hitting her backhand with depth and being mentally tough in the big moments.  In her match against Bouchard, she showed resilience in coming back from a break down in the third set and holding her ground through a multiple deuce game to hold and then break serve to finish the match.  In her match against Kerber, she simply outplayed the World’s No. 1, hitting with pace and depth.   I expect that she will try to do the same against Venus, and perhaps she may be successful.  However, she has never been to this end of a Grand Slam before and I expect Venus to use her considerable amount of experience and tennis skills to overcome this challenge and make her way to the Australian Open final.

In the bottom half of the draw stands the story of the tournament (no disrespect Venus fans, including myself), but is there a better story in tennis right now than Mirjana Lucic-Baroni?  We have all heard the tale of players coming back from multiple injury breaks (Andrea Petkovic), players who were close to giving up (Szhai Zheng) and players who had to endure abuse (Jelena Dokic), but who persevered for one more chance.  Mirjana Lucic-Baroni is all those players and then some. Consider that Lucic-Baroni had not won a match at the Australian Open in 17 years.  Consider that for almost 10 years she never competed on the WTA Tour.  Consider that she suffered considerable alleged abuse at the hands of her father and that many people turned a blind eye to this abuse.  Consider then that after 17 years, Lucic-Baroni has made her way to the semi-finals of a Grand Slam tournament.  She took out the No. 5 seed, and many people’s pick to win it all, Karolina Pliskova.  For her troubles, she gets

Serena Williams.  I admit that I was anxious about the match between Konta and Serena. Not because I felt that Konta had the game to beat Serena, but that Serena would become anxious about the match, start spraying errors and lose.  That was not to be.  The narrative that I am seeing is that Serena was more focused because she knew the strength of her opponent.  I beg to differ. I think Serena was what she always is at the tail end of Grand Slams. More focused.  Her game is more honed.  She plays as close to perfection as only she can.

During most of Konta’s matches, her confidence is overflowing.  In her match last night against Serena, the looks to her box, the hands in the air and the inability to hit through Serena proved her undoing.  At the end of the day, Serena won because she is the better player and Konta, as much weapons as she has, was just not able to maintain her game for any stretch of time. I suspect it will be back to the drawing board for her and her new coach Wim Fissette.

Spin’s Picks

Venus over Coco

Serena over Mirjana

Final

Venus over Serena

 

2016 and Looking Into 2017

by Karen

Happy New Year to everyone.  I do hope that your Christmas or whatever holiday you celebrated in December was enjoyable.  All the best to my loyal readers for 2017.

I really wanted to start the New Year on a positive note.  I made a conscious decision not to write about the debacle that is the lack of women’s tennis on the streaming platform, TennisTV and I decided not to engage in the maligning of TennisTV for their lack of coverage of the events leading up to the Australian Open on the men’s side.  As with anything in tennis, no one ever really knows the full story. Until I get both sides as well as a third person’s side in any tennis argument, I will not proffer an opinion.

However, I will call out those who seem hell bent on destroying women’s tennis, either by their callous treatment of the women who play this game, or the so called fans who think that they are being cute when they reference ridiculous stats or post pictures of empty stadiums to reflect how the women’s game is suffering.

First up is Steve Simon. In case you have been living under a rock, Steve Simon, former tournament director of the BNP Paribas Open (otherwise known as Indian Wells) took over the stewardship of women’s tennis after Stacey Allaster stepped down due to family reasons.  Since his appointment, we have had the Maria Sharapova doping offence (which apparently the WTA knew nothing about); Ana Ivanovic retiring (which seemed to come as a bit of a shock to the WTA); and TennisTV’s email to its subscribers (me included) telling us it would no longer carry WTA content. The WTA only issued a Frequently Asked Question 2 months after the announcement, which raised even more questions than it purportedly tried to answer.

It has been so difficult to track how to watch tennis that a person started a blog called Tennis Watchers just to tell fans of women’s tennis, particularly those in the US, where they can watch tennis. I understand from social media that Mary Carillo stated on Tennis Channel that the WTA had sold its rights to the women’s game to another entity.  That entity is beIN sport.  For the above transgressions, senior management in any other organisation would have done the right thing and stepped down, but not in tennis.

As an aside, I have beIN sport as part of my Dish Network package.  On the day of the women’s final in Brisbane I was treated to a comprehensive infomercial about a pot.  I scrolled through the programme guide but I did not see it.  In terms of the Sydney final, I woke up and noticed that the match was still going on so I hopped out of bed and turned on the tv, went to beIN sport and there it was again the infomercial about the pot.  I wondered whether I had seen a tweet that was old and was only just showing up on my timeline, so I went to my scoring app.  Nope, match was still going on but was nowhere to be seen.  Apparently, you had to watch those matches on beIN Connect.  A service which I don’t have.

Second, top players losing.  Sometimes they lose badly despite their best efforts.  Sometimes they win despite the best efforts of their opponents. I woke up on aWednesday morning to news that Serena Williams had lost her match against Madison Brengle.  She didn’t lose in straight sets and she did not get a bagel.  She lost in 3 tough sets in what can only be described as terrible playing conditions.  This was Serena’s second match since losing at the US Open in September last year.  Serena Williams is ranked No. 2 in the world.  She is 35 years old.  When I listened to Justin Gimelstob and company on Tennis Channel, I had to do a double take because I wondered, is this woman not allowed to lose a match?  For someone of the non-caliber of Gimelstob calling Serena out for losing a match would make me laugh if it wasn’t so damn serious.  For almost 4 years, Serena held the No. 1 ranking.  To do so, she has had to play consistent no holds barred tennis.  During that time every single player has had to work harder to play catch up.  The fact that she lost to Brengle is for me a sign that she is not yet match fit and that she needs to work on things.  It is not an indication that the field is catching up and not an indication that she feels that she does not need to prepare for these matches.

For commentators to keep rehashing the same tired lines about Serena turning up at the big events unprepared is a testament to the laziness of those in the commentary booth.  I think the only tournament at which Serena does not play warm up events is Wimbledon.  If you look back at her seasons for the past 3 to 4 years, she has played a warm up event before every single Major. The time has come for commentators to not only write better copy about one of the sport’s greats, but also try and find a way to speak about her work ethic or her ability to come back from the abyss. They have to do it without making Serena seem unbeatable or seem as if she does not work hard enough.

Other top players also lost in their warm-up tournaments. Radwanska lost in Shenzhen, as did Halep. Both Kerber and Cibulkova lost in Brisbane and the top seeds in Auckland, Venus (withdrew), Serena and Wozniacki are also out. However, I don’t think those losses indicate a lack of motivation by these women. Whenever I see a top player being beaten by a player who is relatively unknown, it makes me want to find out more about that player, hence my love for players like Misaki Doi, Kurumi Nara and Zarina Diyas. These are players who have interesting games and personalities who I really love to watch play tennis.

Third and finally, a friend of mind shared this article with me from Fox Sports.  It speaks about the Serena loss and how the tournament director and the tournament itself will feel the burn.  It is an article that is most assuredly written by a hack.  To compare Sharapova’s attendance to Serena’s is like comparing apples to oranges.  Sharapova always has something that she needs to sell hence her willingness to be out in front of a camera all day long.  None of us know what the arrangement was between Serena and the tournament.  Perhaps there was to be no sponsor obligations etc.  We don’t know.  In addition, the tournament itself has benefitted from Serena’s presence as for the first time since its inception, tickets were sold out for the women’s events, even before the men.  That is what Serena needed to do for the tournament and she did, but seeing as we are looking to create a narrative for Sharapova’s return to the Tour, more power to you Fox Sports and Mr. Tournament Director.

This year as the new tennis season starts, we might not be able to watch our favorite ladies hitting balls and screaming and fist pumping the way we would like, but that does not mean that we can’t try really hard to be passionate without being condemning of the women’s game.

Early Tournament Results and What They Mean

I have to confess that I wrote the top part of this article long before results of the various warm up tournaments had concluded and long before the first round of the Australian Open started.  Lauren Davis who was never known for being a power player, hit Ana Konjuh off the court to claim her first WTA Tour title.  She subsequently fell in the first round of the Australian Open to unseeded Samantha Crawford, 6-0 in the third set.  Shenzhen champion, Siniakova also fell in the first round to Julia Georges of Germany.  I won’t say that results in lead up tournaments don’t matter, but I don’t think we can truly gauge a person’s chance at the first Major of the year by their results in lead up tournaments.

However, of all the wins at the Australian Open which put a smile on my face this morning it was the result of Carla Suarez-Navarro who took out Jana Cepelova in straight sets.  For someone who was iffy to play the Australian Open, it was good to see Carla getting a good win against an opponent who can cause trouble for top players.

Venus Williams looked delightful as always and although she seemed to struggle in the heat, she  used all of her experience to beat her younger opponent.  Well done Ms. Venus.

On  Coaching Changes 

I am not one to speculate as to what makes a good coach, but I think the time has come for all of tennis to state without a shadow of a doubt that possibly one of the most over rated coaches in tennis is Darren Cahill.  I can’t imagine why he gets so much positive press from tennis fans and journos alike, but I am trying really hard to recall when he ever had success with any player, male or female.  From his time with Lleyton Hewitt, to Agassi, to being part of the Adidas Player Development Program, Cahill has been all talk and not much to back it up.  Don’t get me wrong, I quite like his take on tennis.  He is an excellent commentator, is quite fair to the players and he has a wealth of knowledge about the game.  However, I just don’t think that that knowledge translates very well to players, or maybe he only communicates effectively when he is in the booth.

Since teaming with Simona Halep, he seems to have a one size fits all solution to her problem.  Ger a bigger serve.  Get fitter.  Hit the ball harder.  For those of us who have been fans of Halep for quite some time, she is a grinder.  Her movement is what set her apart from everyone else on Tour.  She played absolutely beautiful tennis.  Her run to the semifinals of Rome a few years ago is must watch tennis.  Even if you can’t find those matches, her run to the 2014 French Open final should give you an indication of the type of tennis of which Halep is capable.  However, for whatever reason she has added muscle, has a bigger serve, which is quite unreliable, and her backhand which used to be her money shot seems to have disappeared in favour of a forehand down the line shot, which seems on its best day to be hit and miss.

As I said during her match, I am no longer emotionally invested in the outcome of her matches, but she is a player that I quite enjoy watching, especially when she is playing well.  It was frustrating to see her huffing and puffing on Rod Laver Arena and seeing balls whizz past her.  Even more disconcerting was seeing her being out  hit by Shelby Rogers,  who while a good player, is not someone that I would bet money would take Halep to the cleaners.

I don’t know what the solution is, but perhaps the time has come for Halep to get herself a female coach, someone along the lines of Chris Evert who can help her regain her confidence and bring her back to her style of tennis.