Rise of the Big Hitters

The Spin Team

It started with Monica Seles.  The female player who hit the ball hard and fast.  I didn’t watch tennis during the Seles years.  I knew of  her but back in those days tennis was not shown in Jamaica in the way it is now.  The only time we ever saw tennis on tv in Jamaica was during the Navratilova/McEnroe years.

My first introduction to the big hitters started with the Williams Sisters and it has continued until now.  I know folks will cite players like Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati and many others, but the real big hitters in my view started with Venus and Serena Williams.

Over the past few days I am seeing a resurgence of the big hitters of tennis.  Venus Williams has faced 2 of them so far in Viktoria Kuzmova of the Slovak Republic and Oceane Dodin of France.  While both women may have lost their matches, they are showing, at least in my opinion a return to the time when WTA players had huge serves and hit deep and hard groundstrokes.

While Karolina Pliskova has a huge serve and hits big off the ground, for some unknown reason I can’t quite put her into that category. Maybe it as a result of her penchant to slice her forehand or maybe it is because she does not move very well.  Dodin, not a very good mover herself, showed a marked improvement over the player that I saw struggling in matches a few years ago.  One can only hope that she keeps on improving as I absolutely love her game and her on court demeanour is a far cry from the usual helplessness that sometimes permeates the Tour.

Caroline Wozniacki in what I suspected would be a tough match had words about the court scheduling.  I agree with her.  Wozniacki has fought her way back from the depths of irrelevance. She has done all the hard work. She is a former No. 1 and yet she had to wait all day before playing her second round match, whilst a player who is returning from a doping suspension gets another Centre Court assignment.  It stinks to high  heaven.

I know that there are tennis fans out there who are championing the money aspect of this but at some point in time we need to look at the optics of this whole situation.  Are we that willing to make money to the detriment of our sport?  The French Open and Wimbledon did not lack star power (even with the absence of Serena Williams from both events) on the women’s side. The story lines during those tournaments was amazing and especially at the French Open, the crowd size to watch Ostapenko’s matches was something to behold.

Sharapova has been out of action for 15 months.  During that time, fans of the women’s game never even had the opportunity at times to watch regular Tour events.  While the Tour may have suffered somewhat, people still found a way to tune in.  They hunted streams and we even got a fan setting up a brilliant tennis site (Tennis Watchers) so that fans could determine where to watch women’s tennis. Clearly, tennis fans not only have very short memories, but they also lack some amount of credibility when it comes to taking a stand. I would compare them to Trump voters, but that would be mean.

Day 3 Review and Recap

Sloane Stephens in what I suspected would be a tough match overcame Dominika Cibulkova in 3 thrilling sets of tennis. One of the biggest upsets of the day was Bellis going down to Hibino.  Bellis had been playing exceptionally well in the summer tune ups and this loss will be a disappointment to her and her team, especially after she had the opportunity to serve for the match at 5-4 in the third. Taylor Townsend ran out of gas against Ana Bogdan.  I would say more but I am really trying hard here to be nice to Taylor.

Sabine Lisicki got her clock cleaned by Zhang 6-0 in the third.  I did not watch that match but no doubt I will need to see the third set to find out what the hell happened.

Day 4 Preview

Day 4 sees the top half of the women’s draw play their second round matches, with some of the women having to play back to back days.  Spin’s Picks are as usual in bold

Karolina Pliskova (1) vs Nicole Gibbs
Risa Ozaki vs Shaui Zhang (27)
Barbora Strycova (23) vs Jennifer Brady 
Ana Bogdan vs Monica Niculescu

Agnieska Radwanska (10) vs Yulia Putintseva
Ons Jabeur vs Coco Vandeweghe (20)
Lucie Safarova vs Nao Hibino
Kurumi Nara vs Svetlana Kuznetsova (8) (Sveta was very lucky to come out of her previous match.  Nara can be a tough opponent and she hasn’t had consistent back to back wins in quite some time.  Interesting to see how this one turns out.

Elina Svitolina (4) vs Evgeniya Rodina (I think Svitolina escaped the upset bug.  I don’t think she will in this match)
Shelby Rogers vs Daria Gavrilova (25)
Elena Vesnina (17) vs Kirsten Flipkens
Tatjana Maria vs Madison Keys (15) (I wasn’t overawed at Keys’ play in her first match.  If Maria’s backhand slice is working, it could cause Keys all kinds of problems)

Jelena Ostapenko (12) vs Sorana Cirstea (battle of the young big hitters.  In a tale of 2 players who can be inconsistent, I will take the player who is less inconsistent)
Daria Kasatkina vs Christina McHale (this one is a tough one to call.  McHale did well to take out Pavs, but Kasatkina is consistency herself.  US fans if they are on the ground will help in this one)
Yanina Wickmayer vs Kaia Kanepi (It is good to see Kanepi back in a tennis draw.  She struggled in her match against Schiavone but hopefully she can find something left in the tank after that marathon battle)
Denisa Allertova vs Naomi Osaka (all well and good to pull the upset.  Let us see if young Naomi can back it up)

The Hunter … Hunted

The Spin Team

In late 2015 to early 2016 Angelique Kerber was the hunter.  Fitness, speed, stealth, forehand, mentality.  Kerber became the complete package and in January 2016 she put that package together to do what only a handful of women have ever done, she took down Serena Williams in a  Grand Slam final in 3 very tough hard fought sets. While some would say that that win was a fluke, Kerber not only backed up that win, but she snagged another Grand Slam title in the same year when she came from a break down in the third set against current No. 1 Karolina Pliskova at the US Open.

She further cemented her legacy when she made the final of the WTA Year End Championships by playing consistent intelligent tennis.  While she did not win that event (lost to Dominika Cibulkova), Kerber showed everyone that she not just Wozniacki 2.0 but that she was a force to be reckoned with.

We are now almost at the end of the season and in what can only be called a forgettable year for Kerber, she was ousted in the first round of the US Open by an in  your face rising star Naomi Osaka of Japan.  Hitting huge serves, piercing down the line forehands, backhands that kissed the lines, Osaka was fearless against the defending champion.  The final score was 3 and 1 but it was not even that close.

What next for Kerber?  There have been no news reports that I have seen where she may be carrying an injury and it remains to be seen whether she will once again make a coaching change as she did before again hiring her current coaching team.

As for Osaka, this win was a statement win.  She mentioned during her on court interview the disappointment that she endured last year when she was up 5-1 against Madison Keys and lost that match.  Her sense of self is what has made me very respectful towards this young woman and I can only hope that her team, which looks like a solid one (despite my feelings for David Taylor) is experienced and used to managing player’s expectations, especially after huge wins.

Day 2 Preview

Most of the matches featured on Day 2 have been rescheduled thanks to rain.  Jelena Ostapenko, after losing the second set to Lara Arraburena bounced back to take it 6-1 in the third when her match resumed under the dome on Arthur Ashe stadium.  Someone needs to tell Ostapenko about managing her time on court during these big events.

Madison Keys had a bit of a struggle during her match against the very dangerous Elise Mertens.  While she was able to take the match in straight sets, she struggled mightily on serve and did not seem to be that match fit.

In what I can only term an upset, Lesia Tsurenko went out meekly to what must have been a very resurgent Wickmayer in straight sets.  Karolina Pliskova won in straight sets over Magda Linette and Strycova, Cirstea all won their matches easily.

Day 3 Preview 

Round 2 of the bottom half of the women’s draw will play today, as well as the remaining top half will complete Round 1 of play today.  Matches are below and Spin’s Picks are in bold.

Caroline Wozniacki (5) vs Ekaterina Makarova
Carla Suárez Navarro vs Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (29)
Maria Sakkari vs Arina Rodionova
Oceane Dodin vs Venus Williams (9) (tough one to call as Dodin is on a roll these days)

Petra Kvitova (23) vs Alize Cornet
Ekaterina Alexandrova vs Caroline Garcia (18)
Magdalena Rybarikova (31) vs Kristyna Pliskova
Ying-Ying Duan vs Garbine Muguruza (3)

Aleksandra Krunic vs Ajla Tomljanovic
Saisai Zheng vs Julia Goerges (30)
Ashleigh Barty vs Aliaksandra Sasnovich
Sloane Stephens vs Dominika Cibulkova (11)

Anastasija Sevastova (16) vs Kateryna Kozlova
Donna Vekic vs Shuai Peng (22)
Sofia Kenin vs Sachia Vickery
Timea Babos vs Maria Sharapova

Matches to Watch

Can Sloane Stephens continue her winning ways today.  If she plays like she has been doing all summer long, I am of the view that she takes out Cibulkova, who has been struggling.

Sevastova has lots of points to defend after her very good run at this event last year, and while she has not been winning matches as sharply as she usually does, she has been winning.

Babos struggled in her first round match, but she is a big match player and her second round opponent is also a big match player.  I think this one can either be a straight set drubbing by Sharapova or a long drawn out slug fest taken by Babos

Can Wozniacki continue her winning ways and can Makarova, who seems to have regained some amount of confidence in her game make this a match to remember?

 

Simona Halep … Almost

The Spin Team

SIMONA HALEP … ALMOST

I have been a  huge fan of Simona Halep since her junior days.  I have followed her career. Watched her rise to be in the top 10 of women’s tennis.  I have watched her evolution as a player.  I have been there through the disappointments. I have been there through the victories.  I get annoyed when she plays lights out against my favourites, only to falter against those who are not as good.

This year I watched the French Open and while I had pegged Ostapenko to do very well, I have to confess that I, like many, did not expect her to win.

I don’t know if many people remember this, but Simona Halep used to be a bit of a hot head.  She would throw tantrums on court.  She was “emotional” because she expected so much of herself.  She was fiery and that is what I loved most about her.  One of my faovurite Simona moments was when she made her way through qualifying all the way to the semifinals of Rome, taking out some incredible clay court players along the way.  During that tournament, she played amazing tennis.  Her balance on the court, as well as her shot selection was superb.

Then came the super coaches.

They bulked her up.  They unbulked her up.  They made adjustments to her serve to make it bigger and when that failed, they went for consistency of serve over power.  They tried to take her from playing 10 feet behind the baseline to a player who was coming to the net.  When that failed, they wanted to make her aggressive and when that failed, they sit in the stands with a look of amazement on their collective faces and wonder what went wrong.

Last night (28 August), Simona Halep, in the same way that Katniss offered herself as tribute for her sister Prim (Hunger Games), was put in the lions den of Arthur Ashe stadium as tribute to the return of Maria Sharapova, for a ratings pull and for the narrative of mentally tough opponent overcoming all kinds of obstacles to reach the second round of the US Open.

During last night’s commentary no mention was made that the reason why Sharapova was out for 15 months was due to a doping violation.  The “injuries” which led to her pulling out of 3 tournaments for which she had received underserved wild cards was however used as talking point fodder in order to project that she had overcome challenges.  This is what tennis does.  This is what tennis has always done and this is what tennis will always do.

Anti doping is a joke best left to comedians on Saturday Night Live. There are many who think that those of us who are hell bent on seeing Sharapova run out of the sport do not believe in redemption.  Frankly, there is not a bigger believer in redemption than me.  As someone who has gone through her own struggles and who has benefitted from being redeemed, I am a big believer in giving people a second, third and even a fourth chance.  However, in order for someone to be redeemed that person has to first of all own up to their wrongs.  They have to look everyone in the eye and say without equivocation that what I did was wrong and I am sorry. There is no but, or  however, or attempt to point and/or assign blame. You admit your wrong and you try to move on.  Sharapova has not done this.

I don’t think there is any tennis fan who would ever say that Sharapova has not been a great champion.  She is a fighter and that is what is so weird about this whole doping issue.  If Sharapova had gone the route of qualifying to enter a Major, I don’t think anyone would ever have been of the view that she was not deserving of her place in the draw.  The fact is that she did  not and it just adds to the whole issue of what her PR team puts out (hard worker) to the reality of the situation (willing to get a leg up).

Sharapova and her PR team craft her own narrative with the aid and assistance of the tennis media.  She is without a doubt the Ivanka Trump of tennis and the tennis media have colluded with her and her PR team to the detriment of the sport.

Day One Review

Separate and apart from the Halep match, there were other interesting matches from day one.  Venus Williams struggled through a 3 set affair with a player most folks had never heard of in Victoria Kuzmova.  The youngster played very well, out acing Venus along the way.  However, in the long run, she not only ran out of gas, but ran out of big serves.  She is definitely one to watch for the future and one can only hope that she sticks around.

Alexandra Krunic, Fed Cup stalwart, and forgotten Serbian, took Britain’s Joanna Konta out of the race for No.1 by defeating her in 3 sets.  Konta joins Halep as the first top seeds to exit the tournament.

Dominika Cibulkova struggled mightily against perennial giant killer Jana Cepelova in a tough 3 set battle.  Hopefully Domi will use the day off to fix whatever it is that ails her shoulders.

Sloane Stephens continued her excellent summer run, taking out Roberta Vinci. Sophia Kenin pulled the upset over the No. 32 seed Lauren Davis and Caroline Wozniacki, Garbine Muguruza and Petra Kvitova had little or no trouble with their opponents.

Day 2 Picks and Previews

Day 2 sees the top half of the women’s draw take to the courts with the No. 1 seed and current No. 1 player Karolina Pliskova opening against a pretty tough opponent in Magda Linette.  Spin’s Picks are in bold.

Karolina Pliskova (1) vs Magda Linette
Veronica Cepede Royg vs Nicole Gibbs
Risa Ozaki vs Danielle Lao
Sabine Lisicki vs Shaui Zhang (27)

Barbora Strycova (23) vs Misaki Doi
Jennifer Brady vs Andrea Petkovic
Taylor Townsend vs Ana Bogdan (may be a tough one for Taylor to pull out to be honest)
Monica Niculescu vs Kristina Mladenovic (14)

Agnieska Radwanska (10) vs Petra Martic (if Aga is not on her game, she might very well find herself on the next bus home)
Sofya Zhuk vs Yulia Putintseva
Ons Jabeur vs Brienne Minor
Alison Riske vs Coco Vandeweghe (20)

Anett Kontaveit (26) vs Lucie Safarova
Nao Hibino vs Catherine Bellis
Kurumi Nara vs Sara Sorribes Tormo
Marketa Vondrousova vs Svetlana Kuznetsova (8) (may very well be an upset on the cards here)

Elina Svitolina (4) vs Katerina Siniakova (if Siniakova plays like she did against Venus in  Canada, Svitolina could be out the door)
Evgeniya Rodina vs Eugenie Bouchard
Shelby Rogers vs Kayla Day
Allie Kiick vs Daria Gavrilova (25)

Elena Vesnina (17) vs Anna Blinkova
Madison Brengle vs Kirsten Flipkens
Tatjana Maria vs Ashley Kratzer
Elise Mertens vs Madison Keys (15) (this is a tough match for Keys and she will need to stay focused if she wants to pull this out in straight sets)

Jelena Ostapenko (12) vs Lara Arruabarrena (a very tricky opponent who will take advantage of the deficiencies in Ostapenko’s game)
Lesley Kerkhove vs Sorana Cirstea
Daria Kasatkina vs Qiang Wang
Christina McHale vs Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (19)

Lesia Tsurenko (28) vs Yanina Wickmayer
Kaia Kanepi vs Francesca Schiavone
Denisa Allertova vs Rebecca Peterson
Naomi Osaka vs Angelique Kerber (6)

USO 2017 – The Farce Continues

The Spin Team

It is the final Major of the 2017 tennis season.  There are lots of storylines to watch for the WTA, not the least of which is who will be No. 1 at the end of the tournament.  There are apparently 8 women in contention to occupy the keys to the WTA Penthouse and as a result the race for the last Major of the season is filled with numerous scenarios, not the least of which is who will be hoisting the trophy 2 weeks from now.

The Contenders

Karolina Pliskova

Angelique Kerber

Caroline Wozniacki

Simona Halep

Garbine Muguruza

Johanna Konta

Svetlana Kuznetsova

Venus Williams

If ever there was a time to be a fan of the women’s game, this is it.  However, in the midst of all of this, many fans are talking about the fact that perennial “I have a shot at No. 1 so let me find a way not to get it” is Simona Halep facing off against Ms. Privilege Wild Card herself,  Maria Sharapova in the first round.  Now I know that there are not a lot of Halep fans out there who think she should ever be No. 1, but when your  Tour awards you with their Ambassador Award for always putting the Tour above yourself, the least your Tour could do  is not have you open against the most privileged athlete to ever play the sport of tennis.

Since her return from a doping ban, Sharapova has received no less than 6 wild cards into WTA sanctioned events.  In all of those events, these are Sharapova’s results:  Stuttgart (lost to Mladenovic), Madrid (lost to Bouchard), Rome (lost to Lucic-Baroni by retirement), Stanford (lost to Lesia Tsurenko), Toronto (withdrew), Cincinnatti (withdrew).  The French Open declined to provide her with a wild card and she chose not to compete at  Wimbledon this year.   The US Open, after signaling its support for Sharapova’s return to the Tour decided that it would be a good idea to offer a wild card to her to compete. As a further slap to clean athletes, she is drawn to play against a player who has a losing record against her, who is held up as an Ambassador of the Tour, in a coveted night match slot, in order to once again have everyone in the booth sing the party  line that her Egg has provided them with.

I am a huge fan of Simona Halep.  I am not in lock step with a lot of her pronouncements (see equal prize money) and I dislike the fact that she seems dimwitted and clueless in matches that she should win.  I don’t like her reliance on a coach who I believe is more name than anything else and who seems to do better as a coach when he is behind the microphone being a Monday morning quarterback.  I think Halep’s game has changed, and not for the better, and unfortunately for her, she is being offered up much like a tribute on the Hunger Games.

Day One Preview

The day’s play starts in a little under an hour and here are the matches scheduled for today.  Spin’s Picks are in bold

Caroline Wozniacki (5) vs Mihaela Buzarnescu
Mona Barthel vs Ekaterina Makarova
Ipek Soylu vs Carla Suárez Navarro
Monica Puig vs Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (29)

Kiki Bertens (24) vs Maria Sakkari
Richel Hogenkamp vs Arina Rodionova
Pauline Parmentier vs Oceane Dodin
Viktoria Kuzmova vs Venus Williams (9)

Petra Kvitova (23) vs Jelena Jankovic
Heather Watson vs Alize Cornet
Anna Zaja vs Ekaterina Alexandrova
Tereza Martincova vs Caroline Garcia (18)

Magdalena Rybarikova (31) vs Camila Giorgi
Kristyna Pliskova vs Misa Eguchi
Claire Liu vs Ying-Ying Duan
Varvara Lepchenko vs Garbine Muguruza (3)

Johanna Konta (7) vs Aleksandra Krunic
Ajla Tomljanovic vs Johanna Larsson
Saisai Zheng vs Alison Van Uytvanck
Annika Beck vs Julia Goerges (30)

Ana Konjuh (21) vs Ashleigh Barty
Aliaksandra Sasnovich vs Julia Boserup
Sloane Stephens vs Roberta Vinci
Jana Cepelova vs Dominika Cibulkova (11)

Anastasija Sevastova (16) vs Carina Witthoeft
Irina-Camila Begu vs Kateryna Kozlova
Donna Vekic vs Beatriz Haddad Maia
Amandine Hesse vs Shuai Peng (22)

Lauren Davis (32) vs Sofia Kenin
Natalia Vikhlyantseva vs Sachia Vickery
Viktorija Golubic vs Timea Babos
Maria Sharapova vs Simona Halep (2)

Matches to Watch

Garcia v. Martincova

Muguruza v. Lepchenko (potential for an upset)

Stephens v. Vinci

Cibulkova v. Cepelova (who can cause all kinds of problems for top players not on their game)

Vekic v. Haddad-Maia (going with Vekic if only because she has some amount of confidence after winning a title this year)

Golubic v. Babos (could be a quick one for Babos or a long drawn out affair

 

Tennis and Anti Doping

The Spin Team

Tennis and Anti Doping.  More and more we should now be convinced that these 2 things do not go together.

First there was the Pamela defence used by Richard Gasquet. In case you forgot, he went to a club, kissed a girl named Pamela and subsequently tested positive for cocaine.  Then we have the “my mother purchased the wrong medication” used by Marin Cilic.  Let us not forget the “I did not check my emails and even if I had checked my emails, it was a different name than the one I am used to  using” defence that was used by Maria Sharapova and the nail in the coffin “my mother’s cancer drug got into the tortellini soup” currently used by Sara Errani.  The excuses being used by tennis players would be funny if it were not so damn serious.

I don’t know what excuse British born xenophobe Dan Evans will use, but knowing him, he will probably blame an immigrant for his cocaine troubles.

The time has come for tennis to take a stand, but unfortunately, that is not going to happen.  The same ITF that granted a player a TUE to take a performance enhancing drug which was later appealed by WADA, is the same ITF which apparently listens to these ridiculous excuses for doping and thinks that they are at the forefront of the anti-doping efforts.

The ITF needs to finally and conclusively let everyone know that their anti doping efforts are a farce, that they will allow any performance enhancing drug to be used, as long as it is not used during competition or perhaps sets a guideline for the use of performance enhancing drugs.  It is foolhardy for any tennis fan with any modicum of intelligence to actually believe that these so called anti doping efforts are to be taken seriously.

How is it possible that athletes, some of whom have whole teams are able to hire lawyers, are able to stand before a tribunal of apparently sensible people and put forward these ridiculous excuses for being caught using banned substances?

We all know that there is a protocol that has been well established for the use of banned substances.  We saw evidence of this during the period when the ITF was hacked.  We saw from the medical information provided that athletes like Venus and Serena Williams followed the proper protocol in establishing the injury and receiving approval to use substances that are otherwise prohibited.

Whether or not the ITF accepted the tortellini defence, the fact that an athlete could actually think that bringing her parents to the ITF hearing, and proffer this defence, speaks to the disdain in which athletes hold the ITF.  The fact that Errani only received a 2 month doping suspension, again speaks volumes.  The fact that her Federation thought it would be a good thing to stand with her on this says everything you need to know about tennis.  As one of my followers on social media pointed out to me, the Italian Federation granted a WC to Errani, knowing she had failed a drug test in February, and allowed another Italian, Francesca Schiavone to not get the opportunity to play in her home tournament this past May.  The fact that the Italian Federation provided 2 wild cards to 2 players who had been caught doping tells you everything you need to know about this particular Federation.  It is disgraceful and an affront to everyone else who is fighting for clean sport.

WTA TV

WTA TV is up and running.  I have provided my thoughts on the service so far.  While I am happy that the subscription service is now up and running, I am hoping that as time goes on, the suggestions for improving the service that many persons have made will be taken into consideration.