US WOMEN = US OPEN

The Spin Team

American tennis administrators are celebrating.  Why are they celebrating?  They are celebrating the achievement of diversity and inclusion. They are celebrating women.  They are celebrating the changing of the guard and finally they are celebrating American women’s tennis.

For years when most journalists talk about tennis and especially American tennis, they invariably mean the men.  We have all read about someone taking over from the Sampras, Agassis and Roddicks and reaching for glory at Davis Cup and at the Slams.  This has not materialised as we have seen the one-dimensional one trick ponies in Isner, Harrison, Sandgren,  Sock etc who have not really amounted to much playing the big hitting American style of tennis, i.e. big serve followed by big forehand.

The women however have taken a different path.  They have learned to utilise the big serve and the big forehand, but they have also added nuances to their games.

A few years ago Coco Vandeweghe played a match against Yulia Putintseva which I am sure pushed her to do better.  She lost that match and Putintseva had some harsh words for Coco after that match.  Putintseva noted that all Coco had was a big serve.  At that time Coco was a ball basher extraordinaire with a mediocre backhand and a huge serve.  Fast forward a few years later and after working with Craig Kardon and now currently with Pat Cash, Vandeweghe has worked on her fitness, her net game and more importantly her court coverage.  She moves better.  She is more patient during rallies and while her on court demeanour leaves a lot to be desired she does have an all around game.

Madison Keys, a graduate of the hit hard, and when that doesn’t work hit harder club, has also added a lot of nuances to her game.  Her backhand has become a lot more reliable.  Her mental game and athleticism has improved tremendously.  Her shot selection during rallies has improved in that she doesn’t just go for big winners to end points quickly, but is willing to prolong rallies by using high loopy shots. Her big serve and forehand are still in effect, but they are not the end all and be all of her game.  The addition of Lindsay Davenport, former Grand Slam champion and one of the more even keeled players that I have ever seen has for me  helped Keys to maintain some amount of calm on the court.

Sloane Stephens was America’s answer to the great Serena Williams.  A player who belonged to the group called entitlement suffered a major setback when she injured her foot and had to have surgery.  Out of the game for almost a year, Sloane has fought her way back to relevance with her performance not only during this fortnight but during the US summer hard court season.  She has matured.  She has become patient during matches.  She has expressed frustration, but she has recovered well enough to gut out wins against opponents who are ranked higher.

Last but certainly not least  is the Grand Dame of American women’s tennis, Venus Williams.  Venus debuted at the US Open 20 years ago when she made her way to the final and lost against then No. 1 Martina Hingis.  There are really no words to describe what Venus is doing this tennis season.  From the beginning of the year she has made the finals of 2 Grand Slam finals (Australian Open [lost to Serena Williams] and Wimbledon [lost to Garbine Muguruza]).  Despite those setbacks Venus has been playing very well, managing her matches and playing within herself.  Her quarter final match against Petra Kvitova should be a must watch for juniors about how to manage yourself during tight matches.

Spin’s Picks

Venus Williams v. Sloane Stephens

Coco Vandeweghe v. Madison Keys

Final

Williams v. Keys

Winner:  Williams

The Spin Team

One of the best things that I have found since starting this blog 8 years ago is how hard it is to find the right words to say in articles that let folks who are not huge fans of women’s tennis and those who are fans of the women’s game know how wonderful and glorious the women’s game can be.  Some days I believe I hit all the right notes as the feedback is very complimentary and the hits/views on certain topics is out of this world.  There are days however when I really just mail it in, not because there are no compelling storylines, but because there are so many and I really can’t find the words to express them, and I do believe that the women deserve so much more than just being a footnote on some itinerant blog.

Take for instance Ons Jabeur.  Before her incredible run at this year’s French Open, most of the time when I saw her name in a draw, WC was usually written beside it, and it was usually when she played in Doha or Qatar. This year there is a marked improvement in her fitness and her all around game has improved so much.  I don’t have access to Jabeur, but I do hope that those with access to her can find a story to write about this truly inspirational woman.

To take on America’s so-called Tennis Princess (ask Tennis Magazine how they came up with that one) under the lights on Arthur Ashe stadium and not freeze in the spotlight is a testament to her grit, and confidence.  Jabeur had many chances to take the first set and like so many before her she made poor shot selection choices.  2 years from now if she ever gets another chance.  At 6-4 in the breaker, Jabeur is way outside the doubles alley, rather than take a backhand cross court, she goes for the highlight reel point (down the line), misses long and lets her opponent back into the tiebreaker.  History says she should have gone cross court, trap Coco who was already moving to hit a forehand, get the defensive backhand slice,  and then go down the line, but history does not play tennis matches.

Opportunity knocks and when it does, you don’t just step through the door, you push down the person on the other side and walk all over them.  Gibbs took the first set over the No. 1 seed, Karolina Pliskova.  From that moment, with opportunity staring her in the face, Gibbs retreated to the back of the court (on some occassions she was pushed to play that game) and Pliskova never looked back.  Gibbs has had a tough go at it the past few years and while she may not have won that match, she did show that with a bigger serve, groundstrokes hit with a lot more power and a few forays to the net to take mid court balls, she can beat the best of the best.

Ostapenko, Keys and Svitolina all made short work of their opponents, but for me the match of the day has to go to Naomi Osaka.  It is all well and good to take out a top seed.  How about following it up. Osaka dropped the second set against Denisa Allertova.  She got broken serving for the match, but on her second attempt she made sure to play the brand of tennis with which fans love.  She took her destiny in her forehand and serve and got the win.

Despite what many people think Jelena Ostapenko is a fan favourite.  People love to see her play.  I have never seen an Ostapenko match where the crowds are not 3 deep. Its about time she makes her Centre Court debut (and not as a last resort.

Day 5 Preview

Day 5 sees 8 matches from the bottom half of the women’s draw.  These matches will determine the first set of Round of 16 matches.  Spin’s Picks are in bold.

Ekaterina Makarova vs Carla Suárez Navarro
Maria Sakkari vs Venus Williams (9) (If Venus is not careful, Sakkari may pull the upset.  Fleet of foot around the court, Venus has to ensure that she does not engaged in long rallies.
Petra Kvitova (23) vs Caroline Garcia (18) (The battle of the inconsistent big hitters.  Can Garcia hold her nerve and can Petra keep the ball in play?)
Magdalena Rybarikova (31) vs Garbine Muguruza (3) (Rybarikova has had a tough go of it but I think she is looking for a little Wimbledon revenge in this one)

Aleksandra Krunic vs Julia Goerges (30) (Krunic lives for these moments.  She is consistent, and speedy, the type of opponent Georges hates)
Ashleigh Barty vs Sloane Stephens (Sloane has been playing well. So has Barty.  A veritable pick em with this one but I am going for the player who has been mentally tougher right now)
Anastasija Sevastova (16) vs Donna Vekic (Vekic can run but Sevastova will make her run for miles.  Vekic has to step in and end points early if she hopes to have a chance.  I don’t think Sevastova will allow her to do that)
Sofia Kenin vs Maria Sharapova (The fairytale for cancer survivor Kenin ends here, which is a pity to be honest)