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.

 

 

 

 

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)

Mutua Madrid Open – Another Nail in Women’s Tennis

The  screen up top is what greeted millions of fans of women’s tennis the world over today when Caroline Wozniacki took the court against rising German star Mona Barthel and Serena Williams started her match against Anastasia Pavlychenkova.

Fans were eager to see how Wozniacki, who injured her ankle on the first day of play would do against the big hitting German star. Pavlychenkova, even though she was currently in a slump, having only won 3 matches this season, pushed Serena hard at the 2011 US Open, so fans were understandably eager to see how these 2 matches would fare. Unfortunately, there was absolutely no coverage to be found of either of these matches.

 Prior to today’s debacle, yesterday, Venus Williams, she of the Sjorgen’s Syndrome, who is trying to raise her ranking to compete at this year’s Olympics at her favoured tennis site, Wimbledon, played another up and coming young German in Angelique Kerber. In addition to that match, 2011 US Open champion Sam Stosur was pushed to 3 sets by promising young American Christina McHale. Again, fans the world over were denied access to either of these matches. To compound the situation, I understand from veteran journalist, Matt Cronin that none of the journalists on site in Madrid chose to request an interview with Venus after her loss (but more on that in another post).

 I started this blog in 2009. Since I began writing, the majority of my posts have  been about the fact that the women’s matches at these combined events are usually sidelined in favour of some of the more mediocre men’s matches. It pains me to say this, but there are only 4 men in men’s tennis. The storylines are the same tournament in and out. It gets even worse  during clay season as apart from the anomaly that was Novak Djokovic in beating Nadal on clay last season, the story lines have remained the same. There are 9 Masters events, and no one outside of the top 4 have won any of them dating back to Soderling’s win in Paris, Bercy in 2010. Despite this, at every combined event, from here to eternity, the women are constantly pushed into the background or, even when their matches are scheduled for the tv viewing audience, it is early in the morning to empty stadiums.

 Many fans forget the heady days of the early 2000s when the men’s tour was headed  by a No. 1 who decided that the best way to go about the Tour’s business was to sue a body that was virtually his employer. In those days when Venus, Serena, Martina, Lindsay, Jennifer, Justine and Kim ruled women’s tennis, when ratings for the early rounds of the women’s matches were drawing big numbers, the ATP approached the women’s tour to try and ride on the coat-tails. Today, it is the WTA, who while not riding on the coat-tails of the ATP, seem to not understand that they have an audience of millions who are dying to spend money to watch the women of the Tour play.

 At last year’s Wimbledon, unless you were an ardent fan of women’s tennis, you had no idea who Petra Kvitova was. Commentators were at pains to try and find information about her to relay to viewers. Apart from her semifinal match against Azarenka, Kvitova never made it to ESPN2/NBC’s broadcasts of the early rounds of Wimbledon. Fans knew who she was and of what she is capable. Fast forward to this year’s Australian Open and the commentary that accompanied Azarenka’s her triumph  Melbourne Park had more to do with her emotional and injury meltdowns of the past and not with her maturity and the strength of her game and how she commanded the court in her first Grand Slam final.

 As a result of the negative commentary on women’s tennis, the shrieking, the fist pumping, the so-called WTA Rules as opined by Juan Ignacio Chela (more on that at another time), fans of the women’s game are not being given equal measure. We have been informed that the 4 top men of the ATP met with the organizers of the 4 Grand Slams to discuss prize money increases. They suggested and this was later adopted by all 4 Grand slams that any increase in prize money should be given to the lower ranked players. 

When Venus Williams met with the All England Club in 2007 she spoke eloquently to them in relation to her case for equal prize money. She would later go on to win the whole thing. I would really love if Venus, Serena, Sharapova and the many other women of the WTA who have millions of fans worldwide and who dominate social media with their presence could find a way to approach Tennis Channel, ESPN, Eurosport and any other media entity to have some form of partnership with the WTA in terms of media coverage for matches. Perhaps, like the ATP, the top women, whose matches already receive lots of media attention, could perhaps allow fans to see lower ranked players or even to have some kind of partnership where fans would pay to see the women at these combined events.

 Fans of the women’s game are disgruntled. There were many tweets from journalists, coaches and many others complaining about the lack of coverage of the women at this year’s Madrid tournament. As I said on twitter, it makes no sense for the Darren Cahills of this world to tweet their displeasure at the likes of me. Cahill and others are  in a position to bring their views to the powers that be. I am sure that he, and many others like him were inundated with tweets from many fans today expressing their displeasure at the fact that only 2 matches for the women were shown.

 As to Tennis Channel, why I continue to spend  money to have this channel is beyond me. On some level it is the only way that I get to watch tennis, especially where I am located. As I subscribe via Dish Network, and as I had to install an extra satellite dish just to get the damned thing, I am stuck like chuck.

 I, as an ardent fan of the women’s game am sick and tired of not being able to watch the matches that I know can be shown. It is time for fans of the women’s game to stand up. Perhaps a twition to the players on twitter as well as the media houses on twitter to let them know just how unhappy we are with the lack of coverage of the women’s events at these combined events. Lest anyone forget, women’s tennis is the largest global sport for women. It is time that the women of the WTA recognize their power and start wielding it. In another 2 weeks we will head to Rome, another combined event. Something tells me that if we stand up and fight, maybe, just maybe, things will change. Until then …