Ready … Play

The Spin

These are the words that let tennis fans know that a match is about to start. For Venus Williams, she was like most of us who hear the alarm clock, decide to hit it and say just one minute more please.

There is no doubt that Venus’ first round opponent, Swiss Miss Belinda Bencic was on her game. We saw that during her Hopman Cup matches. Her net game was much improved. she was fitter than before she had her injury layoff but what impressed a lot of people was her return of serve. Prior to her injury layoff, Bencic would routinely lose matches and one key stat was her inability to return serve. One cannot forget her suffering through 15 aces by Sharapova at the Australian Open in 2016.

Venus on the other hand could not get a read on Bencic’s serve. She had multiple break point opportunities to get even in the first set and while most of those opportunities had to do with Bencic serving her way out of trouble, it also had to do with Venus’ sluggishness.

Last year another great champion got taken to task for skipping the whole clay season to focus on the grass season. This was a decision that paid off in the end as Federer ended up winning Wimbledon. Perhaps the time has come for Venus to start scheduling smarter. I am sure that Serena was quite upset about not being able to defend her title here this year but she took the view that it was better that she return when she is able to compete effectively rather than just seeking to defend points.

Venus needs to take that same view. The Australian Open is a tournament at which Venus has had some shocking losses. She has made the finals twice in her long and storied career and frankly I would not miss her if she never played it again. I think Venus and her team need to take the long view when it comes to her schedule. She is not a young player. She has health issues and in my honest opinion, if Venus expects to win big tournaments or any tournament she needs to schedule better. If that means dropping tournaments that are too close to the end of the season or too close to the start of the season then she needs to drop them. I believe she should start her season in the spring by playing smaller tournaments to get match fit.

American Carnage

They kept dropping like flies. Sloane, Venus, Coco, Falconi, Kenin, and Townsend. The men were not to be left out as both Jack Sock and John Isner were both sent packing (MAGA). Even Ryan Harrison barely made it through as Dudi Sela served for the match, but failed to do so.

Sloane Stephens has not won a match since winning at the US Open last season. In her match against Zhang, Stephens served for the match at 5-4 in the second set but would go on to lose the set in a tiebreak, get broken early in the third set and seemed to tire at the end. Reduced to chasing balls and being pulled from side to side, Stephens would try drop shots that did not make their over the net, and the constant looking at her coach for guidance became the hallmark of the rest of the match.

As someone else has opined elsewhere, the worst thing to ever happen to Sloane Stephens was winning the US Open. It is a travesty that similar to Kim Clijsters who returned to the Tour in 2009 rested and refreshed only to win the US Open that year, Stephens returned to the WTA Tour, recovering from a knee injury and returned refreshed and renewed.

Australian Open App

Usually, I never write about these things because I find it quite tiring but I have to register my disgust with the Australian Open App. It does not work. No live scoring. No results. No schedule. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Millions of dollars have been spent. A draw ceremony that left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Maybe the Australian Open has lost its way. Hopefully, the same amount of effort that went into getting Sharapova to stand there and smile and answer questions about “returning” to the Tour will be made into getting an app that actually does what it is supposed to do.

Day 2 Schedule

The top half of the draw plays today and the Spin’s picks are below:

Rod Laver Arena

Pliskova (Ka) v. Cepede Royg

Barty v. Sabalenka

Halep v. Alava

Margaret Court

Witthoeft v. Garcia (picking the higher ranked player but maybe an upset in the making if Garcia is not 100%)

Maria v. Sharapova (less said about this match up the better)

Muguruza v. Ponchet

Hisense

Konta v. Brengle

Kerber v. Friedsam (confidence is everything)

Court 2

Bouchard v. Dodin (while Dodin has not had much match play, Bouchard is not the picture of match toughness these days. It could very well be that Bouchard finds her game as she usually plays well in Australia. Pick at your own risk)

Petkovic v. Kvitova (which Petra shows up and has Petkovic peaked?)

Court 3

Safarova v. Tomljanovic

Mladenovic v. Bogdan (surely Kiki can get her game together on the big stage, but her first round opponent has a big game and is fearless. Look for the upset here)

Court 5

Jabeur v. Vesnina

Vikhlyantseva v. Tsurenko

Court 7

Cabrera v. Haddad Maia

Giorgi v. Kalinskaya (my dark horse pick to make it to week 2)

Court 8

Wang v. Keys

Pliskova (Kr) v. Radwanksa (it’s a Major, surely Aga will get her life together? The less famous Pliskova beat her earlier this year)

Court 10

Lucic-Baroni v. Rogers (one is injured, the other is in a bit of slump. Look for the slumping player to take this one)

Osaka v. Kucova (new coach, new outlook. Let us see if Big Sascha has what it takes to be a coach)

Court 12

Nara v. Vondrousova

Hibino v. Vekic (very tough match for Vekic who struggled in Hobart against Heather Watson. Let us see if the resurgent Vekic’s loss in Hobart was an anomaly)

Court 13

Lepchenko v. Sevastova

Putintseva v. Watson

Court 14

Ahn v. Strycova

Davis v. Cepelova (Lauren Davis has virtually disappeared since winning her lone WTA title last season in Auckland. Cepelova has been beset with injuries. This will be a match of who wants to get to the second round more)

Court 15

Gasparyan v. Blinkova

Hsieh v. Zhu

Court 19

Cirstea v. Diyas (Cirstea has been enjoying a fantastic resurgence. Can she make it past the very tough when she is on her game Diyas?)

Hercog v. Alexandrova

Court 20

McHale v. Sasnovich

Court 22

Arruabarrena v. Hogenkamp (neither player has shown good form over the past 12 months. Arruabarrena has regressed to obscurity. If she is on Hogenkamp will be sent packing, but I don’t see it)

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>
//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

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

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.

 

 

AO DAY 5 RESULTS AND DAY 6 PICKS

It has been incredibly hard to get up the fight to do a picks and results thread today.  Seeing Venus losing so miserably against Sharapova made my blood boil. I was even angrier at the post match celebration of Sharapova.  As someone said, clearly she  mistook beating Venus for beating Serena.  Onwards.
Of the 8 matches played yesterday, Spin had a win rate of 75%.  Bartoli served to stay in the match in the third set but got broken and Zheng, channelling her inner Stosur, served for the match at 5-4, got broken and would not win another game, losing 7-5 in the third.

PLAYER A
PLAYER B
SPIN’S PICKS
RESULTS
Na Li
Sorana Cirstea
Na Li – too much firepower from Li. Cirstea, if she plays well and cuts down on the UFEs could take a set, but I doubt it
Li
Julia Georges
Jie Zheng
Giant killer Zheng up against one of the most inconsistent players on Tour.  I take Zheng in 3.
Georges
Ana Ivanovic
Jelena Jankovic
Battle of the Serbians.  If this is not a pick em I don’t know what is.  Neither player is consistent.  Both ladies have struggled during this tournie.  I am going with Ivanovic, if only because she will have more crowd support
Ivanovic
Heather Watson
Agnieszka Radwanska
Radwanska – the 4th seed will have too much tricks in her arsenal to be swayed by Watson, who is coming off a brutal 3 setter
Radwanska
Angelique Kerber
Madison Keys
Kerber – this is where the journey ends for the young American.  While she has served and played well through her opening rounds, Kerber’s get the next ball back will prove to be too much for her to handle.
Kerber
Ekaterina Makarova
Marion Bartoli
This should be a very fun match to watch, if only to see Bartoli jumping around during Makarova’s serve.  Bartoli in straights
Makarova
Valeria Savinykh
Kirsten Flipkens
Flipkens – if only because Savinykh has to face reality.  She has played a lot of matches this AO, having qualified into the main draw. The journey ends here.
Flipkens
Venus Williams
Maria Sharapova
While this blog will sentimentally pick Williams to win this one, on form alone, I think Sharapova will win this one.  The Russian is on a no games lost win streak for 2013, but look for Williams to at least win a game each set.
Sharapova

Today’s picks are below.  Have fun
PLAYER A
PLAYER B
SPIN’S PICKS
RESULTS
Victoria Azarenka
Jamie Hampton
Azarenka – the World’s No. 1 will be too consistent for the youngster
Elena Vesnina
Roberta Vinci
Vesnina – I believe the euphoria of winning her first title will end here as the Italian veteran will work over Vesnina to frustration
Caroline Wozniacki
Lesia Tsurenko
Wozniacki – a pick em if I ever saw one.  Is Wozniacki on her way back or is she just reaping the fruits of her lucky escape from Lisicki?
Svetlana Kuznetsova
Carla Suarez Navarro
Navarro – Navarro will frustrate Kuznetsova into errors if Sveta cannot find a way to hit through her
Serena Williams
Ayumi Morita
Williams – a red flag has been raised.  Unless Williams has done something new to herself on her day off, I see this one being a beatdown
Yanina Wickmayer
Maria Kirilenko
Kirilenko – the consistent Kirilenko will frustrate Wickmayer. The 2 have never played before, which I find surprising.
Kimiko Date-Krumm
Bojana Jovanovski
Krumm – the veteran will give the youngster all she can handle. 
Sloane Stephens
Laura Robson
The battle of the young ones.  The 2 played a reasonably good match in Hobart with Stephens coming in straight sets.  Whether Robson has recovered from her long 3 set match against Kvitova will play a role.  Stephens has sailed through her first 2 rounds here.  Look for  Stephens to continue her march to the second week

2010 – New Year – Same Crap

Hello All. It is a new year and I am back. I promise that this year I will be blogging more than ever to bring to the eyes of the world all things tennis all the time, at least that which I can get on tv. I have now relocated to Jamaica and one of the things I do not have is Tennis Channel. Now that may be a good thing or it may be a bad thing. For right now it is a bad thing as Tennis Channel usually has good coverage of MS events, but little or no coverage of the women’s events, you know the ones, Mandatories, Premiers etc. Anyway, I now have TSN (that is Canada’s response to ESPN). I also have a ESPNI as well as a host of other ESPNs. The only problem is that because I am in Jamaica all of these channels are geared towards the Latin American market. Now I have nothing against that if but for the fact that I get to watch football (soccer to you North Americans) all the time. That would have been great except I do not particularly like soccer, so there you go.

Anyway, the new year has started and already message boards are abuzz with tennis being played. Live streams seem very hard to come by these days as folks over at tennis.com were visibly frustrated last night and early this morning with the Hopman Cup streams. I see from the tv schedule that Hopman Cup should be up on the tv by 4 January so I will be looking out for that. Oh, I am in Cayman now and back in front of my HDTV and Tennis Channel, so hopefully I will catch a little bit of it before I have to head back to Jamaica.

In December I watched via a livestream the playoffs for the Australian Open wildcard. I have to say that I am sorry a player that I had never seen much except for that one match against Dinara at the USO (Olivia Rogoskwa) but I like the mentality that she displays on court. In addition there was no drama to her, no fist pumps, no grunting, no smashed racquets. She just stepped up to the line and did her thing. What I liked about this match was not the play of the players themselves but that a Federation thought it would be a good thing to livestream their wildcard playoffs for all the world to see. Kudos to you Tennis Australia. I hope that other Federations take a leaf out of that book as it would be good to see the up and coming talent before it hits the big time.

Brisbane is on right now. I have not seen a ball being hit just yet but this is only the third day of the year. Tennis Channel is showing Davis Cup and WITC matches from days gone by. I would have thought they would have shown Classic AO matches in order to generate interest in the upcoming AO, but that would have been too easy. Anyway, maybe there are plans to do so. I will write them and enquire as to whether fans of tennis will be able to see Classic AO matches. Will keep you informed if I get a response but please do not hold your breath.

Until then have a happy new year and all the best for 2010 and beyond for tennis.