Rise of the Big Hitters

The Spin Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 3 Review and Recap

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

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

Day 4 Preview

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

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

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

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

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

COMBINED EVENTS – ARE THEY DESTROYING THE WTA PRODUCT?

In recent times there have been much ado about the fact that many big tournaments are now combined events. This means that events which feature both men’s and women’s events and which would be held in back to back weeks, they are now incorporating these events and they are held in the same week.

The Canadian Open, aka The Rogers Cup is now a combined event. They have made this happen by holding the men’s event in Montreal as well as the women’s event in Toronto taking place at the same time. As with all combined events, the women’s event usually gets shafted in favour of the men.

Thanks to Eurosport I have been able to enjoy some of the women’s matches, but for the matches which are played in the evenings, the women’s event gets shafted in favour of the man of the moment who may be playing.

Last night was a case in point. If not for the rain delay which was happening in Montreal, most of us would never have seen Sharapova’s match against Jovanovski and forget about seeing Azarenka against Dubois. Livestreaming was your friend last night in order to even see that particular match.

The disappointment in the voices of the commentators was palpable when they had to keep announcing a rain delay happening in Montreal.

I have no idea whose bright idea this was to have 2 simultaneous large events, happening in the same country and expect that both tournaments would garner the same level of enthusiasm amongst fans.

Even worse, if it was not bad enough that the women get short shrift in terms of television coverage even when they are on their own, how is it possible that they would get equal coverage when the so-called “big names” of men’s tennis are playing at the same time.

Next week there is another combined event in Cincinatti and again I am not optimistic that the women will get equal coverage at this particular event.

While most of us who are tennis fans realise that the economy is in a downward spiral and that there is not much money in the pockets of fans to attend tennis tournaments, the fact remains that the product that the women produce is equal to or even surpasses that of the men. The accomplishments of the top women are on equal footing as that of the men. However, you cannot tell this when you have combined events as not only does the coverage for the men’s events overshadow that of the women, but the voices of those in the booth lends credence to the fact that the women’s tour is weak.

Take for instance what has been happening in both tournaments. During the first few days both tournaments lost top ranked players. The men losing the No. 4 and No. 2 seeds, while the women have lost the No. 1 and No. 2 seed. The narrative that has been written is that the No. 4 seed was having a post Wimbledon lull while the No. 2 ranked player was having issues with his foot, his opponent played out of his mind and he had a cold. The narrative written by the loss of the top seeds on the women’s side went something like this: weak No. 1 who could not handle the conditions or her opponent and for the NO. 2 seed – this may well spell her retirement. There were also talks about the depth in men’s tennis but for the women it was about a bunch of head cases who cannot string 2 points together.

Commentators, both those in print and electronic have consistently berated the women’s game. They find nothing exciting about the new crop of players and they spend most of their time writing about the screaming, grunting and otherwise peripheral things of women’s tennis, while on the men’s side the narrative is always about how tough and focused certain players are and the diversity at the top of men’s tennis.

On tap at today’s events, there are 14 matches scheduled that fans will be able to watch. Of those 14, 4 of them are women. They have even scheduled a doubles match with the men for viewing.

It would be good if at some point the narrative changed, but I doubt that will happen anytime soon.

This is today’s Order of Play