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

 

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

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.

 

 

 

 

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)

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 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)

Dear WTA Players

by Karen

Dear WTA Players.

What an absolutely wonderful event you staged at Roland Garros over the past two weeks.  You ladies kept me glued to my computer screen and you actually made me late for work a few mornings.  On many occassions while I was at work, I was unable to watch matches, and so, for the first time in a long while, I actually had to go home and watch matches that had already been concluded during the course of the day’s event.

Your tournament was so good that I actually had to subscribe to additional channels because I just did not want to miss one ball during this 2 week event.  And I don’t even like clay season all that much.

However, and this where I am a little bit annoyed at you ladies.  I know your champion is an outlier.  I know that she is not very popular amongst her peers (hello, Judy Murray cheered on Naomi Broady when she went after her). I know she has a temper, but come on, did no one watch the final?  Did none of you get up out of your beds, no matter where you were in the world, and watch the match?  OK, so maybe it isn’t about Ostapenko.  Maybe it is about Halep, her opponent?  Maybe you were disgusted at Halep’s comments about equal pay?  If so, I can understand.  There were 2 of your colleagues playing that you don’t really like and so, you never even bothered to tune in … but … and here is where there is a big but … you ladies don’t even seem to do the same thing for Serena Williams either.

What is about the WTA athletes where congratulating an athlete on an accomplishment seems to go against some competitiveness etc. I know you ladies congratulate people and I know you ladies watch tennis matches.  The proof was the next day when you were all out in your numbers congratulating Rafael Nadal on winning 10 Roland Garros titles. See, this is where I sometimes don’t get the thought process behind who you ladies choose to watch and for whom you choose to show your support.

I have read interviews where some of you say that you don’t watch women’s tennis.  Where you say that you can’t think of having a female coach.  Where you think having a coach coming down court side to provide guidance is a good thing.  I get the mind set, but again, how does that benefit your sport?  There are men on the ATP who don’t agree that women should get paid the same as the men.  I can’t imagine why you would care to support someone whose thought processes are still stuck in the dark ages.  I don’t get it.  Help me out here.

Anyway, your Roland Garros champion is a joy.  She is young, athletic, disarming and very engaging.  Hopefully, you ladies can see fit to show her some love via social media (even if she isn’t on Twitter).

Thoughts

  • how great was it to see Jelena Ostapenko introduce herself to the tennis world.  54 winners, most of them from that huge forehand (and don’t forget her backhand) in the final and 289 winners overall.  She showed more than anything what belief really is.  Congratulations Jelena.
  • Simona Halep needs to rethink her life and her life choices.  Get rid of Darren Cahill.  He is a terrible coach.  There is nothing wrong with you getting emotional.  If it helps you in your every day life, I say go for it.  If smashing a racquet and cursing in Romanian get you through a match, then do it.  You are not a child and your coach is not your parent.
  • Caroline Wozniacki, please take a leaf out of Ostapenko’s book and ditch your dad as a coach.  You are back in the top 10 but you have done so by playing careful tennis. If you want to win that Major, you are going to have to change your mind set when it comes to your game and just go for it.  You did it earlier in the year but you have regressed.  Sort it out.
  • Angelique Kerber  (no words)
  • Elina Svitolina – not my pick to win but you don’t have match points, lose a tight tiebreak and then disappear in the third set.  Not for a place in the French Open.  You don’t do that.

I am sure that many have already put forward their thoughts on Ostapenko being coached by a woman.  What I loved about this is the story behind it.  Ostapenko is/was coached by her mother, also named Jelena.  The team decided that it might be a good thing to get another voice to work with the younger Jelena during the clay season.  The older Jelena took a backseat and allowed the coach that had been employed to work her magic.  The fact that the coach in question, Anabel Medina had no prior coaching history (at least none of which I am aware), and was only available because she has been sidelined with a shoulder injury, is a testament to both Jelenas having the wisdom to actually know their limitations and putting a plan in place to ensure that they brought in someone wiser and smarter than they were (Wozniacki, please take note of this).

All in all I enjoyed this year’s French Open.  My faves never got near the title but I am quite ecstatic at this new generation.  They are hitting fearlessly and cleanly and I for one am loving 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.