Waning Venus?

The Spin Team

As is the case when Venus loses a match, there is the inevitable write up about when she is going to retire and how much longer she can continue.  I reached out to a tennis friend of mine to get her perspective on this loss and where Venus goes from here. Her words presented without edit “I am bummed but she’s still competing hard. I’m not one to tell her what she should do but as long as she’s (on) the court I will support! I’ve seen too much nonsense from ‘fans’ this year who are so critical of nearly every move she makes. Some of my early faves had no choice in when they had to leave the game and so I’m just not here for that kind of attitude towards Venus”

I completely understand her point of view but as a Venus fan, and the long lost Williams Sister and so not only am I going to give my 2 cents, but I am also going to offer some career advice.

My 2 favourite players of all time are Venus and Federer.  I know that Federer takes a lot of heat for skipping the clay season and there are many people who believe that as an icon of the sport he should show up, not only because, it makes tennis a lot more interesting (whether you are a fan or not), but it also offers tournaments the opportunity to make some money as he is without a doubt the biggest name in tennis.

In addition to skipping the clay season, Federer also plays a very limited schedule during the season.  Venus needs to adopt that mindset. Before anyone says it, I know that both players are different and that each player needs to do what works for them, but when your results are beginning to tank, and when you seem disinterested in what is happening on court and are forced to play 3 set matches earlier on in tournaments, especially the big events, then you really need to take a step back and consider your options.

Venus has Sjorgen’s Syndrome.  It is a debilitating auto-immune disease.  It affects her whole body and causes muscle pain.  It also causes fatigue and for someone who plays professional tennis, it is important that you get adequate rest.  Venus is not getting that. In addition to the health issues, let us not forget that Venus is closer to retirement and getting a pension than she is to the start of her career.

We know she plays to win.  We know that she will retire on her own terms, but it would be good if she rejigs her schedule to take account of her issues.

Finally, 2 people who are also big Venus fans have mentioned to me her behaviour during press conferences.  One person has described it as disrespectful and another as sullen and rude. These are people who would never in a million years say a bad word against Venus and for them to mention these things shows that even fans are noticing that something does not seem right with Venus.

Onwards

Bertens played a fantastic match yesterday.  She served well and she played even better. Not known for her grass court tennis, Bertens was amazing yesterday.  Venus was amazing in spurts, but at this level you have to be good every step of the way.

In another match featuring a Kiki, that Kiki started well. She served for the first set but credit to her opponent, Serena Williams, who raised her level when she needed to do so.  Serena is through to the round of 16 and on a 17 match grass winning streak. Take that for whatever its worth.

Tomorrow’s matches (today) feature Halep and Hseih (which will be very good), Ostapenko v. Diatchenko (which will also be very good and the match I am looking forward to watching).  Bencic going up against Suarez-Navarro (the great grass court player according to ESPN) and Osaka against Kerber (which will be good if Osaka stays focused).

Enjoy the tennis.  It will be good

 

What’s In A Name?

The Spin

I could see it coming a mile away. It was the minute I watched the Serena Williams’ video of her post match interview after her second round win. A reporter asked Serena about the All England’s proclivity of using the married names of the women at the time they won events.  Serena, as you know recently got married, and she is now addressed as Mrs. Williams.  Some have opined that this is because she has not taken her husband’s name.  I don’t know when Serena revealed this little tidbit (or if she ever did), but that is the story going the rounds.

The names of players like Evonne Goolagong, Billie Jean King and Chris Evert, are engraved on the Wall of Champions.  Their names reflect their marital status at the time when they won their titles.  The Wall of Champions not only provides us with the historical information of who won the trophy, but their names at the time they won their trophies.  It is now 2018 and apparently it is now the thing to go back in time and right all the wrongs of the All England Club, starting with how the names of the players are engraved on the Wall of Champions.

The article written in the New York Times seems to suggest that the husbands of the women who won titles while they were married were being given credit for the women’s achievements.  I had to read the article a few times to make sure that I was not missing the point of the article.

In the Caribbean (where I am from), women are now holding on to their maiden names (and yes until there is a different name for it, that is what it is) even after they are married.  They do so to honour their parents (if their parents were married).  For some women their maiden name has long been their identity.  If you practice law, the name under which you were admitted to practice law does not change once you get married.  As a matter of fact, once you are married, it is a long convoluted process to get your professional name to reflect your marital status, so many women who are professionals have 2 names: professional and personal.

I have always liked that the umpires at Wimbledon refer to the women as either Ms. or Mrs.  Call me old fashioned but there is just something very genteel about that.  If the women had a problem with it, I am sure at some point this issue would have been raised.  By contrast, I find the way US Open’s way of referring to the women just by their last names particularly crass. Perhaps the reason for this is after watching tennis for about 3 months during the European swing, where all the women are referred to as Mademoiselle/Madame (French) and then Ms/Mrs (UK), my ears have become attuned to the way in which the women are addressed.  During the American summer hard court swing, the women are referred to by their last names, which just takes away a little bit of flavour from the whole proceedings (maybe it is just me).

These days as part of the MeToo movement, people seem hell bent on going back in time to try and right all the wrongs.  It started a few years ago with people getting upset over a Dean Martin song (Baby Its Cold Outside).  I like that song.  I have always considered it a song about a man trying to convince a woman to stay with him rather than going outside in the cold.  Unfortunately, once someone had embedded in my mind that this song reflected rape culture, I no longer enjoyed listening to it, because now I listen to the song, and think damn, he is trying to drug this poor woman.

What I find particularly galling about this whole situation about how female players are being addressed is that there are other married women who are playing and I can’t think of any of them who have been asked this question.  Dominika Cibulkova is styled as Mrs. Cibulkova.  Tatiana Maria is also married and she is styled as Mrs. Maria and let us not forget Li Na who was also styled as Mrs.  I don’t recall anyone asking any of these women what they think about being addressed as Mrs. and Wimbledon’s usage of women’s married names on the Wall of Champions.  It seems to me that reporters think that all the hard hitting questions should only be asked of Serena Williams and that she should provide them with content.  Frankly, it would be good if they asked all the women who are currently engaged to be married about how they would like their names to be engraved on the trophy and the Wall of Champions if they win. Isn’t one of the points of the #MeToo movement about giving women opportunities to express and tell their stories? Isn’t it about helping women have a voice instead of creating another box for them to check or fit into to suit our way of thinking?

And while I am on this topic, from scanning through transcripts it seems as if the only player who was asked about whether tennis needs a #MeToo moment is Venus Williams.  Why is this question not important to put to all the players who are now sitting on the Players Council?  Why are these questions only addressed to Venus and Serena? Is it that no one else is qualified enough to answer them or is it something else? Why are they being asked to do the labor for the other women?

Finally, I notice that everyone is celebrating the fact that Wimbledon has placed double the number of women’s matches on the show courts.  It would be nice if ESPN decided that players who are highly ranked deserved more than highlight reels of their matches or a breakdown by some analyst as to what worked and what didn’t.

Upsets Again

The defending champion on the women’s side is out, going down to the very talented Alison Van Untvanyk.  I would say that this is an upset.  While Alison has been playing good tennis for the past couple of months, Muguruza should and could have done more.  She has been here before and it seems as if her champion’s mentality completely deserted her.  I don’t know where she goes from here but no doubt there will be a parting of the ways with her coach Sam Sumyk in the near future.

Moving on today was mini-giant killer Diatchenko, Halep (who is looking really good), Bencic who saved multiple match points against grass goddess Alison Riske and Dominika Cibulkova who played a superb match against last year’s semifinalist, Britain’s Joanna Konta (what has happened to her?).  Also moving on were Suarez-Navarro (who I understand is a great grass court player – Lord help me), as well as Angelique Kerber.

Tomorrow’s matches (or rather today’s matches) feature Madison Keys, Venus and Serena Williams and I am hoping to catch a bit of Giorgi going up against Siniakova. Safarova also plays against Makarova, and one wonders whether Makarova can continue her winning ways.

Enjoy the tennis folks.

 

What Happened Was …

The  Spin

When Courtney Nguyen left Sports Illustrated to take up her current post with the WTA as the Insider, I spoke with her when she appeared on the Realz podcast.  At that time I raised with her the issue of why it is that commentators seemed to know next to nothing about the then current crop of young tennis players. Courtney told us that at every tournament, commentators are provided with a stat sheet and information on every single WTA player.  Tournaments they have won, their win/loss record, what they like and don’t like. Everything. At that time we were all stunned that commentators actually got this information because you would never know from listening to matches.

Why am I writing this?  Because I am currently at home and rewatching matches that I taped and John McEnroe (who everybody has a go at because of his ignorance), asked Chris Evert to provide him with the names of some women tennis players that she felt could make a run to the title.  I was embarassed for Chris. Embarassed for her because not only does she run an academy, but she more than anyone should have an idea of the talent that is currently out there on the women’s side. The only player that she could come up with was Madison Keys. McEnroe wanted her to tell him about players that he had never heard of, and Evert failed to do this.

Commentators need to do better.  Chris Evert needed to be better.

Day 2 Recap

Out:  Sharapova, Kvitova, Garcia (not an  upset), Pavlyuchenkova (again not an upset). 

Moving on:  Cibulkova, Muguruza, Suarez-Navaroo and to my surprise Sofia Kenin over Maria Sakkari.

As I write this, I am in the third set of the replay of the Kvitova match. She is running and running and running and running.  She is absolutely exhausted.  She is not going after balls and Sasnovic is hitting winners every which way.  At her press conference, Kvitova said she was not feeling well. I suspect this might have something to do with her opponent, who stayed focused in order to close out the match.

It was good to see Belinda Bencic recapturing the form that she showed earlier in the season.  While her win over Garcia is an upset in terms of ranking, in terms of whether a seed got upset, I just don’t think it will  have that big a ripple effect in the same way of Kvitova going out to Sasnovic.

Day 3

Day 3 has some very good match ups.  I have to confess that I have never heard of Serena’s opponent before and so I will be interested to see her play the younger Williams tomorrow.  Venus plays Dulgheru, a player who is not known for her play on grass, but as I understand it Wimbledon is playing like a clay court and if Venus is not careful she could find herself in another three set match.

Other matches to watch Pliskova (Ka) up against Azarenka.  I don’t have much confidence in Azarenka’s game right now.  She was lucky to get out of her first round match, as was Pliskova.  It should be a good one.

Wozniacki made quick work of Lepchenko.  She will perhaps have a bit of a problem with Makarova but the  Russian has been slumping of late, and so I don’t expect her to cause the Dane too much trouble.

The match of the day is no doubt going to be Kumkhum v. Keys.  Keys will need to stay focused if she hopes to win this match as Kumkhum cherishes these big moments.

Enjoy the tennis folks.

You Will Pay

The Spin

You have perhaps seen the complaints on social media.  It is Day One of the Championships and as is normal tennis fans knowing that they can’t watch tennis on tv, need to turn to their laptops and other devices in order to watch the tennis.  Except, this year, with the introduction of ESPN+ they will have issues doing so.

If you subscribe to ESPN via your cable provider (like I do), you get WatchESPN or ESPN3 or if you are outside the US, you get ESPN Player (Europe and Latin America). It is a valuable tool and it really does allow you to not rely so much on your tv.  This year, ESPN has introduced ESPN+ and guess what, if you want to watch Wimbledon, you will basically have to pony up and pay the 4.99 in order to do so.  If you refuse to do that you are left watching matches on tv that you have zero interest in, like Sam Querrey and someone named Thompson (both Americans).  I don’t even think Americans have any interest in watching a Sam Querrey match.

However, how did we come to this?  I opined years ago that with the increased fees that players were demanding, coupled with the increased costs that broadcasters were being made to pay to cover events, at some point, fans would have to foot the bill.  This is now coming to pass.  The money has to come from somewhere and at the end of the day it is the end users who will end up footing the bill.

It will be interesting to see whether ESPN, who have been  having challenges over the last few years, to the point where they have laid off staff, will be able to turn a profit with the introduction of ESPN+

Day 1 Recap

Reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens was ousted in the first round by Donna Vekic.  This was not really an upset in my  honest opinion.  Vekic has been playing very well on the grass, a surface which suits her game.  Sloane was playing her first match since her French Open loss.  What struck me was that Stephens did not seem to have a Plan B.  As a tennis friend of mine said, Sloane was not playing grass court tennis.

Venus Williams struggled in her first round match against Johanna Larsson but eked out a win (6-1 in the third). Five 3 set matches took their toll on Eastbourne finalist, Aryna Sabalenka as she lost in the first round to Buzarnescu.  Svitolina, who has never done particularly well on grass was also ousted, this time by Mallorca champion Tatiajna Maria.  Aga Radwanska survived 6 match points to get past qualifier Ruse and Coco Vandeweghe lost out to Siniakova, 8-6 in the third.

Serena Williams made her return to Wimbledon, 2 years since her last appearance. Decked out in white, that was where the similarity with other players ended.  As someone who is diabetic and suffers from poor circulation (prior to my lifestyle change), one of the items that my podiatrist mentioned that I may have to wear was compression stockings.  That is the only reason why I get up in the mornings and go walking. I am told that they come in sheer these days but no matter how you dress them up, they still look awful.  The fact that someone as image conscious as Serena is wearing these, it shows in stark terms the difficulties that she has been experiencing since giving birth.

I have never been able to watch any episodes of Being Serena (HBO in my area does not offer this) but I have seen clips where Serena discussed the issue of breastfeeding as a weight loss measure.  I looked at her today and to my mind she looks a lot heavier than she did at the French Open.  In addition, she does not seem to be as fleet of foot as she used to be.

I know that there are many people who believe that we should not have these conversations about women’s bodies, but I think it does a great disservice to women when we do not have these conversations.  I recall when I gave birth, I was told that breastfeeding would make my womb repair itself, it would allow me to drop the baby weight and it would also act as a birth control mechanism.  None of that is true (or if it is, it does not work for every woman).  Serena, one of the fittest athletes to ever play professional sport, is showing us in more ways than one that every woman is different.

We look at professional female athletes like Misty Traynor or even Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce who have both returned to professional sports after giving birth.  They make it seem easy but every woman’s body is different.  Serena will have to no doubt play her way into shape.  I can’t imagine what her sleep patterns are like these days, because unlike Roger Federer who told us that his kids sleep in a different suite of rooms than him during competition, Serena is a mother in this particular situation and she seems to be a hands on mother.  On that basis, she is perhaps the one who is doing the feedings, ensuring that diapers are changed, making sure that Olympia gets everything that she needs and spending quality time with her.  The guilt that she is feeling (is what every mother feels), when you have to leave your child and go to work. As the baby gets older and becomes a bit more independent, Serena will find it a bit easier to leave her with caregivers so that she can be more focused on her job.

On that basis, let me reiterate again, what I wrote in a piece earlier this year.  If you are a Serena fan, lower your expectations.  It is going to be hard for her to lift another trophy, let alone another Grand Slam trophy.  She has been gone for sometime and the competition has not wavered.  The women are fitter than before and like sharks they are circling the water, ready to notch a win over Serena, or even better, lift one of those many trophies.  Serena needs time and we should give it to her and she should give it to herself as well.

Day 2 kicks off tomorrow and of course the trend of tasty match ups is coming your way. The Spin’s matches to watch are:  Halep v. Nara, Hsieh v. Pavs, Cornet v. Cibulkova, Ostapenko v. Dunne (or just Ostapenko against anyone), Kenin against Sakkari, if only to see how fast Kenin plays or how slow Sakkari plays.  Diatchenko v. Sharapova (just to see if the youngster can pull the upset.  Gavrilova against Lucky Loser Dolohide (big hitter against grinder). Kerber v. Zvonreva, if only to see Zvonreva with a towel over her head and Niculescu against Osaka (object and force clash).

Day 1 results can be seen here and Day 2 Schedule can be seen here

Enjoy the tennis folks.  It should be good

THE CHAMPIONSHIPS

The Spin

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The Championships … Wimbledon.

Each year as I type those words I get goose pimples.  It is the only tennis tournament where I rarely post, because I just want to enjoy the tennis. This year will be no different. I know that there are a lot of stories out there, not least of which is the fact that Serena Williams was awarded a seeding, supposedly at the detriment of Dominika Cibulkova.  I don’t know if this is true or not, but word is that Cibulkova is not the happiest camper out there.  That was always going to be the case in this situation, which is why I have always been against this seeding issue.  Frankly, there did not need to be a huge media campaign about awarding Serena a seeding.  Let Wimbledon do what it normally does. Not only did this whole maternity leave situation get blown out of proportion, but it now comes across as Serena asking for preferential treatment.

The WTA did not have a policy and I suspect now they do have a coherent policy on how to address the issue of players returning from maternity leave.  As the longevity of careers is now cemented in tennis culture, it is now important for the WTA to look at other aspects of the players’ career (or rather for players to work in conjunction with the WTA to explore options for the working mother, similar to other organisations).

Professional sports has always been a different work culture than other organisations. WTA players as we are often told are independent contractors.  They determine which tournaments they play.  They have their own teams.  I am assuming they determine their work contracts.  As such, an issue such as maternity leave, as well as sick leave (injuries I suspect) should now be embedded as part of the arrangements between players and the Tour.

Anyway onwards to the tennis:

I am looking to see quite a number of players do well at this year’s Wimbledon.  I am yet to look at the draws (or listen to the Realz podcast) but I am sure that Venus got a crappy draw, but I would be glad if she at least defends her points from last year.

I have been enjoying Sabalenka this grass season.  Wozniacki looks good as usual in the lead up tournaments to  Grand Slams.  Its good to see Radwanska back on the Tour, but I am not holding out much hope for her.  Ostapenko after her debacle in Paris looked strong, except when she didn’t.  I see that she has been working on her second serve but the over hitting which was a hallmark of her career a few years ago, seems to have returned in spades.

Muguruza has been MIA, so too has Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys and Coco has not done well this grass season.  Donna Vekic should make some moves during Wimbledon as she loves the grass and she has been playing well.

Of the youngsters, I am looking to see how the following players do.  They have big games and they have been making big moves this year:-  Vondorousa, Diatchenko (who has a first round match against Sharapova), Sasnovich (who plays the journalist’s pick to win, Petra Kvitova), Osaka (who has drawn the worst player for a young player in Niculescu).

First Round matches to Watch

Hseih v. Pavylyuhchenkova (come for the spins, stay for the volleys)

Halep v. Nara (Halep could be upset if she is not careful)

Cornet v. Cibulkova (if only because their matches are always dramatic)

Collins v. Mertens (Collins is having a bit of a slump after her heroics on American hard courts.  Mertens loves this surface and has done well here)

Watson v. Flipkens (home favourite v. former semifinalist)

Enjoy the tennis everyone

Parting Shots from Roland Garros

The Spin Team

The 2018 French Open has followed a familiar yet enthralling pattern from the past five years on the WTA tour: the emergence of new champions.

Last year when Jelena Ostapenko was on her march to the title, every single match that she played was jam packed. It was as if the crowd had already chosen its winner. She was blazing winners left and right and moving as if she was born to play on the clay.  The same thing happened when Caroline Wozniacki won her maiden title at the Australian Open and who can forget that the 2017 US Open women’s final sold out when 2 young African American women (not named Venus and Serena) played for the title?

Women’s tennis, in my humble opinion, remains the heartbeat of the tennis tours.  I have been tuning in for over 20 years and while there are times that I will become invested in men’s tennis as my love affair with all things David Nalbandian and Roger Federer will attest, women’s tennis will always be my first love.  Women’s tennis is full of new and emerging characters, while men’s tennis relies on 4 people to keep it going day in and day out. At some point, something will have to give.

In contrast, as much as I love Venus and Serena Williams, they are not women’s tennis. For Americans who just tune into tennis on a semi regular basis they are the epitome of the sport (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that), but for those of us who tune in to watch women’s tennis all year long, we are always heartened when we see someone new and different.  We are even more joyful when we see players for whom we have long been cheerleaders finally come into their own.  This is why when Simona Halep lifted her maiden Grand Slam trophy, I was extremely happy for her as I was when Sloane raised her trophy last year.

There is a saying that goes “hardships there are, but the land is green, and the sun shineth”.  These are the words that attest to the meaning of the Jamaican flag.  I find that it is a poignant commentary on players who have persevered through thick and thin and lived to claim the biggest title that their sport has to offer.

Onwards

The Pliskova sisters need a lesson in not only humility but also in what sells.  Destroying an umpire’s chair is the way to get your name listed on the list of players who promised much and never delivered.  When your claim to fame is being the sibling who is not as popular, then when you are given the chance to comment on the outfit of a player whose career you can only dream about, you don’t become that girl.  That girl who no one knows and no one cares to know.  You don’t sit there smirking and offer outfit advice when your own outfit looks as if it was sewn together in a bit of a hurry.  You just don’t.

Karolina Pliskova was absolutely humiliated in her match against Maria Sharapova.  Barely able to hold serve, her lack of movement on the clay was there for all to see.  One can only hope that Pliskova will find a way to recover from this monumental beatdown.

As for Sharapova, no doubt she was gearing up for what was considered to be the match of the tournament, but Garbine Muguruza, herself not a slouch had other ideas.  Surely with maximum points to defend at Wimbledon, Garbine will be able to recover from her loss to the eventual champion at Roland Garros.

Defenders

It must be hard to have points to defend.  A wise person once said, it is hard to be the chaser, but it is even harder to be chased.  Ostapenko had zero expectations last year.  This year as a top 10 player she had a monumental trophy on her back.  She cracked under the pressure.  Elina Svitolina also cracked.  One wonders if Svitolina will be this generation’s Dementieva.  Racking up the big titles but failing at the final hurdle every step of the way.

Daria Kasatkina seems to have lost momentum from the green clay season.  Angelique Kerber seems to have found new life in her bones.  Could we see Kerber raising her third Grand Slam title at Wimbledon or a repeat of her run to the US Open finals?

Victoria Azarenka needs a lot of time and patience to ascend to the top of women’s tennis.  Either that or a serve will do.

Serena Williams needs time and lots of it.  Having a C-section for a normal person is hard.  Having a C-section as a professional athlete whose game relies so much on core strength is going to be even harder.  We should lower our expectations of Serena’s return until at least a year after giving birth.

About the tennis coverage…

I like to remind folks that long before there was talk of sexism in tennis and long before there was any talk of the lack of coverage of women’s matches on TV, this blog, which first started as Women’s Tennis on TV has been sounding the alarm about the lack of visibility of women’s tennis on TV.

In 2009, Kim Clijsters’ return was heralded as a return of the Golden Era of women’s tennis.  That period when you had Davenport, the Williams Sisters, Sharapova, Hingis, Henin and Clijsters (and many more) competing for the biggest titles in women’s tennis.  Every player had a role to play.  The Williams Sisters, and Davenport were considered the power players.  Sharapova the pretty girl with the huge game. Hingis was the crafty one.  Henin was filled with variety and then there was Clijsters, the smiling  bridesmaid.  The player who turned up at every tournament at which there was a net and gave her all to the WTA Tour.  She also made sure to give journalists everything they ever needed at press conferences. At that time, there was barely any coverage of the women’s game on tv.  Many will recall that Indian Wells match featuring Ivanovic and Clijsters that many of us “watched” via scoreboard and updates on message boards.  That was women’s tennis on tv.

These days the articles that are written about women’s tennis remains unchanged from that era. It’s not that women’s tennis hasn’t changed, it’s that the same people tasked with writing about women’s tennis keep trying to cast the current women’s game with an eye towards the past. It’s time to abandon the usual chatter about the lack of variety in the women’s game and focus on telling stories about the new and emerging champions that continues to evolve women’s tennis.

Things I wish I didn’t have to say…

The Men’s French Open Champion

I am not going to jump on the bandwagon of sexism and berate Rafael Nadal for his comments regarding equal prize money.  Nadal for all his accomplishments is a mini dinosaur when it comes to these things.  His views and takes on issues that affect women’s tennis should be given short shrift.  However, the views expressed by the World’s No.1 Simona Halep and Roland Garros winner should get the media’s attention.  If the World’s No. 1 player on the women’s side does not believe that she should be treated equally as her counterparts, it is a problem. If she believes the men’s game is more popular and therefore deserves to have its player get more pay, she just might deserve the vitriol that comes her way.

 

 

 

 

SIMONA HALEP … FINALLY!!!

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For those of us who have been fans of the 5 ft 7” Romanian, Saturday 9 June 2018 will be historic

It was on this day that the Halepenos of the world united behind the World No. 1 to watch her lift her first Grand Slam trophy and for her to do this at her beloved Roland Garros.  The same place where 10 years ago she lifted the Girls’ trophy.

It has been a long, difficult and complicated journey for Simona.  She has suffered some agonizing losses, the worst of which was at her first Grand Slam final against Maria Sharapova.  Then she lost a heart breaker last year after being up a break in the third set and then this year she lost to Caroline Wozniacki at the Australian Open by not only running out of ideas but running out of breath.  To see her lift her first Grand Slam trophy against a current Grand Slam title holder made it even sweeter.

I know most of us tennis fans don’t necessarily agree with Simona Halep and her world views, but for today, can we, as Sloane Stephens said in her press conference, celebrate a player who has, despite adversity, found her light.

For those writers out there who will be doing their recap, can we for once, forget about Simona’s coach and just celebrate the achievement of this particular young woman.

I know I for one will be eating some Halepeno this weekend because I am incredibly happy.

 

More to come …

Fandoms and Bandwagons

The Spin
We have seen it all before.  A young up and coming player whom no one has ever ever heard of (unless you are truly a fan of the WTA) comes out smoking and takes down some big name players.  Young player is fearless.  She has a huge serve, big groundies and just seems unfazed by the moment.  We have seen a lot of those over the past few months: Kasatkina at Charleston last year, Anisimova at Indian Wells, Keys at the Australian Open a few years ago, Kerber when she made it to the US Open semis, Stosur when she took down Serena, Muguruza at the French Open, Ostapenko at last year’s French Open and more recently Osaka at Indian Wells this year.  All of a sudden we are amazed at this young player.  We are following that player on  Twitter and Instagram and we just can’t get enough. That is until that player takes down our fave.
Yesterday at the Miami Open, Naomi Osaka, who is currently being coached by former hitting partner of Serena Williams, faced off against her childhood idol, Serena Williams.  One of the hardest things for any athlete to do, or indeed anyone who has idols is to finally meet that idol in person.  There are two things that can happen.  Either you turn yourself into a national embarassment by babbling incoherently or if you are an athlete you play so poorly that your idol dismisses you.
Neither of those things happened yesterday.  Osaka played fearlessly.  She stood on that baseline and she beat Serena Williams like she stole something.  If you are a Serena Williams fan you were no doubt disappointed.  You felt anger and you resented Osaka, because guess what, Osaka is what Serena Williams used to be when she was that age.
Serena was fearless and she was able to come up with big shots under pressure.  Yesterday she wasn’t able to summon that reserve of energy and strength that is the hallmark of her career.  Osaka had a lot to do with that, but the Spin would be lying if we didn’t mention what is happening in the background with Serena.
I have one live birth and one miscarriage.  My live birth was a terrible pregnancy.  I was sick for most of it.  Had to be in and out of the hospital countless times.  Was fed intravenously for the first 5 months and the thought of food made me sick to my stomach.  To this day I can’t use Palmolive dishwashing liquid, neither can I stand the scent of Coast bath soap.  My live pregnancy was 31 years ago this year.  For my miscarriage the post partum lasted a very long time.
Serena Williams gave birth 6 months ago.  Her breasts indicate that she is still lactating.  Her body is not what it used to be and it won’t be for quite some time. We all know that Serena is as stubborn as they come.  I understand from social media that her team felt that she was coming back too quickly.  People pointed out that her father was on site during her practice session and not her mother as is usual.
I won’t continue to speculate about the inner workings of Team Serena, but from where I was sitting in my office yesterday and watching the match, Serena is a step slow and she is not reading the game very well.  Her serve is not as potent as it used to be.  Osaka knew Serena’s game inside and out, not because she idolised her but because she was prepared.  When you hire as your head coach the person who prepared Serena for matches for close to 10 years, you get an insider’s look at Serena.  You get to see inside her head and be prepared for anything.  Osaka was prepared and that had a lot to do with her coach, but it also had a lot to do with Serena as well, who was undoubtedly unprepared for the onslaught that she faced on court.
What Next for Serena?
 
Practice, practice and more practice.  Serena is going to have to get accustomed to losing matches.  She is going to have to find that reserve of mental toughness that is and was the hallmark of her career.   She is going to have to be prepared to fight for points like she has never done before.  She is going to have to go into matches thinking that if I don’t win this next point I am out of the tournament.  It will take time for her to come back as a full force on the Tour, but I strongly believe that she can.
As for those tennis fans who continue to be bandwagon fans, Osaka is a fantastic player.  She has grown not only mentally but also physically.  Her game now has more variety in it that it used to and she is a much fitter player.  I watched her matches in Indian Wells and I thought perhaps she played better because the conditions were slower, but in Miami she was moving fantastically well.
I am a fan of the WTA.  There are some players who I really can’t stomach but all in all I enjoy watching women’s tennis. I find the women to be intriguing and their back stories are inspiring.  If you are just a fan of a player because they have beat a player that you hate, then you need to be a fan of that player when they beat your faves as well.
The amount of vitriol that I saw spewed on social media yesterday breaks my heart.  My only issue that I have with Osaka is that she needs a bit of PR/Media training.  While her acceptance speech at Indian Wells was cute, a friend of mine who was watching the match with me at home and is not a fan of tennis, thought that she was 16.  When I told her that she was 20 she was embarassed for her.
Yesterday after her match, while the reception from the crowd at seeing Serena lose was lukewarm, Osaka’s comments, while endearing, came out as someone being a bit clueless.  She doesn’t need to become a Sharapova well oiled machine, but she should be able to string two sentences together so that they make actual sense.
In Other News
It was great to see Victoria Azarenka back on court.  One can only hope that she will be allowed to travel soon and resume her career full time.  I know that many people have speculated over the issue that Azarenka currently faces regarding the custody battle between herself and her child’s father.  I will only say that the father has rights and deserves to be a part of his child’s life.  Someone needs to make allowances for that.
In this day and age families come in all shapes and sizes.  Many women are the main breadwinners and they pay child support.  It is not a stigma on your life if you do not have primary custody of your child.  It means that you made the best decision for your child.  I don’t see anything wrong in Azarenka coming to some form of agreement with the father of her child which allows her to travel all over the world sans child, or better yet, she has a profession that allows her to choose her tournaments so that she can spend as much time as possible with her son.
It is a hard decision to make and I am sure that someone, somewhere has advised Azarenka accordingly, but she needs to make a decision and in this 21st century it is not about choosing a career or a family.  It is making the right decision that benefits everyone.

Infantilizing Women

The Spin

Why does tennis continue to infantilize women or make them seem as if they are unable to walk and chew gum at the same time?

Why must we continuously have these discussions about women as if they are not strong enough to withstand any and everything?

Why must we be continually defending women who are professionals in their own right with the power to hire and fire as they please, as if they are unable to make decisions for themselves.

I recently had a discussion on social media regarding how we discuss the bodies of female athletes.  I commented that Caroline Dolehide, an aggressive young tennis player either had really big breasts or the tennis kit that she was wearing was so ill fitting as to make her bust seem quite large.  Clearly there were other people who had similar views, most of whom did not express their views in the way or in the manner that I did.  Many,  as they are wont to do focused mainly on the size of her breasts.  That was sexist. Commenting on her physique and her fitness level, the ill fitting kit that she was wearing, was in my opinion fair commentary game, but apparently that is not the case in tennis world.

 Recently Darren Cahill tweeted that women who take a break from the game to start a family should be afforded the opportunity to retain their ranking when they return, or in essence should not be penalized for starting a family.  My question to Mr. Cahill is this, what about the other women who chose to continue their careers and not pause to have a family? Will they not be penalized for losing their ranking when Serena or whomever else returns from maternity leave?  How is that fair to those women?

 It seems as if it is only in tennis that these conversations happen.  Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce, a multiple Olympic gold medalist from Jamaica who was crowned Jamaica and the world’s Sprint Queen took time away from the sport to start a family.  She has just started training again and once she is ready to compete, she  will have to go through the same selection process that everyone who wishes to represent Jamaica has to go through.  If she fails in qualifying to represent Jamaica then she will have to hope that the selection committee looks at her overall record and appoints her to the team, to the detriment of someone who has posted faster times and who has a better chance of medaling.   In that scenario it is not  because the selection committee doesn’t believe in Shelly-Ann’s abilities, but that she didn’t meet the threshold to qualify.  Chances are if Shelly-Ann ends up in that situation, she will not make the cut to compete for Jamaica.

 Serena Williams is playing her very first competitive tournament after being away from the sport for 14 months.  In the match that she played against her sister Venus on Monday night, the rust was quite apparent.  The rust has been apparent from her very first match.  Simona Halep by contrast, the No. 1 player in the world, while she has been frustrated with her game, is hitting a better ball and performing at a higher level than is Serena.  Should we then have relegated Simona Halep, a player who reached the final of the first Grand Slam tournament of the year to a lower seeding just because Serena is back?  Simona seems to think so, but I would suggest that she is only doing so because of the views held by her coach.  Simona’s own thought process as it relates to the equal treatment of female athletes is well known to most of us who follow tennis as she has said in no uncertain terms that the men deserve to be paid more than she does. One wonders if that is also the view of her coach.

 Serena struggled, as was expected.  She faced an opponent who was match tough and whose game, while a bit shaky at times was more nuanced.  Half the time in her match against Venus, Serena was left flat and/or wrong footed.  There is no doubt in mine or anyone else’s mind that Serena will probably get back the No. 1 ranking, but to gift it to her just because she returned from maternity leave is a slap in the face to not only Serena but to all the other women who have worked their asses off to attain a higher ranking.

 Serena currently has an ad out that says there are many ways to be a woman.  I am going to add that one of the ways in which to be a woman is the ability to be able to figure things out for yourself.  Most women will tell you that in order to accomplish some of the greatest things in life they have had to rely on themselves moreso than anyone else.  Neither Serena or Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce or any of the countless professional female athletes in the world need anyone, least of all some administrator to give them something that they themselves can earn.

In an effort to be seen as equitable people seem to be adopting a paternalistic approach to the issues that affect female athletes.  It needs to stop.

Other News
Maria Sharapova has parted ways with her coach Sven Gronefeld.  After a string of disappointing results, the team put out mutually complimentary statements.  While some are hailing Sven for sticking by his charge during her doping suspension, the problem could be as simple as he was being paid to stay around to dispel any negative publicity that his leaving would engender.  Team Sharapova is all about PR optics.
In her statement regarding the parting of ways Sharapova mentioned the fact that she has not been able to get much match rhythm. May I suggest that perhaps Ms. Sharapova should have considered starting at the bottom of the pile to rebuild her game, for example, at the ITF level and then possibly going through qualifying.  Serena Williams played an exhibition match against a young opponent in Dubai to test her match fitness.  She realised at that point that no matter how her head was saying she was ready, her body had a different idea of readiness.
I am interested to see who she chooses next and what they will bring to the table.  For my money I think she should go back to Thomas Hogstedt.  He improved her game tremendously, especially in relation to her footwork and shot selection.  He brought consistency to her groundstrokes and perfected those aspects of her game (net play etc) that needed improvement.