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)

I HAVE A SADZ

It has been sometime since I wrote about tennis.  I have tried writing a few times but there seems to be a bit of a writer’s block  that is happening to me.  I think this has to do with the fact that I am disgusted by the sport and the efforts that seem to be at play  in making women’s tennis seem like a second class citizen to the men’s game.
The Australian Open women’s final gained its highest viewership in quite some time with the final featuring Venus and Serena Williams.  While I was giddy at Venus making the final, I did become a bit disappointed that she was not able to cross the finish line ahead of her sister, but as some of my tennis buddies have said, a Williams won, so that is all that matters.
The WTA should have been riding that euphoric high all throughout the season, but then we recalled the news that the online streaming platform TennisTV would no longer be broadcasting women’s tennis.  There began a fight amongst tennis watchers to figure out how to watch the women’s game.  Some of us have figured it out but it has been like seeking for gold in them there mountains.
As I am writing this we are in the midst of the BNP Paribas Open (Indian Wells) and while I have barely watched any of the women’s matches, from my social media timeline I can see that folks both in the US and outside the US are experiencing problems in watching the women’s portion of this event.  I live outside the US and I have ESPN Play.  While that platform does have Indian Wells on, there are no women’s matches being shown.  As part of my Dish Network package, I do have Tennis Channel, but as the only women’s matches they are showing are American women, I have decided to not tune in (except for Venus from time to time).
When someone is unable to view your sport, it decreases interest.  I was out of the office on Monday and Tuesday of this week and rather than sit at a computer screen watching tennis, I chose to sit in front of my 55” Samsung Smart TV and binge watch Bones on Netflix.  I am a diehard supporter of the women’s game, if I prefer to watch Netflix rather than find a livestream which may be dodgy at best to watch women’s tennis, then I can’t imagine  how those fans who only have a passing interest in the women’s game are faring. Why are we still struggling to watch the women’s game in 2017?
The other issue that has left me repeatedly angry and depressed is the return of Maria Sharapova to professional tennis.  For those who have been living under a rock, Ms. Sharapova will be coming off a 15 month ban for a doping offence.  As a result of this doping ban she will not have a ranking when she returns next month.  The issue that has stirred up quite a bit of controversy is Stuttgart granting Sharapova a wild card while she is banned for a doping offence. In order to facilitate the wildcard, the event has scheduled her first match at the tournament a day after her doping ban ends.   As we say in the legal field, the Stuttgart organisers have endured the letter of the law, if not the spirit.

Angelique Kerber, the current No. 1 has taken the view that awarding Sharapova a wild card has taken away the opportunity from a German who could perhaps use that wild card to advance her career.  I agree.  Following Stuttgart’s lead, both Madrid and Rome announced that they have awarded Ms. Sharapova a wild card into their events.  In addition, the French Tennis Federation has announced that Ms. Sharapova has reached out to them and has met with that organisation to secure a wildcard into the French Open this year.  Both the FFT and the AELTC have adopted a wait and see approach regarding requests for a wild card from the Sharapova camp.

Many may have forgotten that at the ITF hearing, Ms. Sharapova’s team stated that:

“It is argued that any period of ineligibility would disproportionately affect Ms Sharapova in causing her a very substantial loss of earnings and sponsorships, exclusion from the 2016 Olympics, and irreparable damage to her reputation. There is nothing unfair in the rules being fairly and equitably applied to this player as to any other athlete subject to the WADA Code, whether professional or amateur. The rules are clear in stating:  “ … the fact that a Player would lose the opportunity to earn large sums of money during a period of Ineligibility, or the fact that the Player only has a short time left in his or her career, or the timing of the sporting calendar, would not be relevant factors to be considered in reducing the period of Ineligibility under Article 10.5.1 or 10.5.2.” The rules cannot be circumvented by invoking the principle of proportionality. It would be contrary to the principles underlying the code, in particular respect for the rules which must apply equally to all, to allow an unprincipled exception to or waiver from the rules on the grounds of proportionality of sanction as it affects the particular circumstances of this player.”

I know that many people have taken exception to the ITF’s ruling and it would seem as if Ms. Sharapova and her team are more determined to pick up where they left off in terms of the money that can be made by Ms. Sharapova.

For years we have heard about Ms. Sharapova’s fighting spirit.  We have heard about her capacity for hard work and her mental toughness.  We have also heard about her ability to come back from adversity and how important it is for her to play tennis.  I therefore have a few thoughts on a comeback that would be so much better for her image (which seems to be everything) and would be a guaranteed path to Hall of Fame glory.

·         Play the ITF Challenger/Futures circuit – how fitting would it be for an icon of the sport to highlight the plight of players who play the Challenger/Futures circuit? I recall watching Challenger tennis when Nicole Vaidisova was staging her comeback to tennis.

·         Play qualifying events.  It would show Ms. Sharapova’s capacity for hard work.  If she fails to make it through qualifying, try and go in as a lucky loser.  With her skill set she would be able to vanquish her opponents.  Recall 2007 when Serena Williams who was ranked 81 when won the Australian Open

·         Recently, Francesca Schiavone, a decorated athlete who has made her mark on the sport in more ways than one played qualifying at the Australian Open.  Schiavone has represented herself and her country and has been at the forefront of one of the most dynamic Fed Cup teams in history.  She will probably need a wild card to play in her home tournament in Rome later this year.  Why not take a page from that book?

I, like many tennis fans, love to hear and see a comeback story.  One of the reasons why  most people hate on court coaching is that it seems to give an unfair advantage to the player who calls their coach down mid match.  This is how I and I know many others view this wild card situation with Ms. Sharapova.  We view it as her being given an unfair advantage, in much the same way that her use of meldonium gave her an unfair advantage.

It is a smack in the face of other players who have played fairly for all their careers, to now be tasked with competing against a player who is being given a leg up because of who she is or who she used to be.  How Sharapova returns to the sport she claims to love can either elevate or damage its reputation. It would do the tennis a world of good if they helped Sharapova do the former rather than the latter. However, I suspect that like Sharapova, they will let money rather than integrity guide their decisions.

PARTING SHOTS FROM THE USO AND RIDING INTO ASIA

Just how great is Serena Williams these days?  She won her 17th Grand Slam title from 53 appearances. To show just how good she has been and still is, Martina Navratilova played 67 Grand Slam singles events and Chris Evert played 56.   They both have 18 singles titles.  Serena is one win away from tying them.  Most people think that it will happen at any of the 4 Grand Slams next year. 

For the second year in a row, Victoria Azarenka has shown that she is worthy to be called a rival of Serena Williams.  I am not minded to call her that having regard to their head to head, but Azarenka makes a very good case as to why she should be called a rival to the woman who now occupies the WTA Penthouse.  She has shown that she has the game and the mentality to stay with Serena come what may.  


Here are Spin’s and Ace’s Parting Shots.  As with most of the Majors, the Spin will focus on the women and in no particular order of their importance. 

  • How great is the WTA product looking these days?  With so many young women coming up from the juniors and so many of them making their names in the Majors this year, I think the WTA is putting itself in a position where it could very well be that they will again draw even bigger ratings than the men.  
  • Caroline Wozniacki.  It was just a few short years ago that she ruled the WTA. I have no idea what has happened but it is remarkably frustrating to see her not even make the second week of a Major. Believe this was her last chance to make a Slam semifinal as she was given a kind draw.
  • Welcome to prime time Camila Giorgi. 
  • What has happened to Julia Georges? 
  • Sabine Lisicki is becoming the next Tsevtana Pironkova and that is not a title that a player with the game of Lisicki should ever aspire to become. 
  • The non-retirement of Marion Bartoli.  Why not just take a break and savour the moment of fulfilling your life’s work?
  • I don’t know if I missed it but it was great to listen to the commentary on a women’s match and not ever hearing anything about the shrieks, grunts, howls etc.  The commentary was about the 2 women on the court giving their hearts and soul in order to capture a Major title.  I am happy. 
  • Venus Williams is a Legend.  She may not have the career of her little sister, but what she brings to women’s tennis cannot be measured in terms of titles or monetary value.  When you become a role model and mentor to young women without having to try very hard, then you know that you have come a long way baby.  
  • Victoria Duval is an amazing young woman, poised, articulate and so focused.  Lots of work needed on her game but taking out the 2011 USO champion, no matter how poorly Samantha Stosur played, says a lot about her mentality.  The fact that she aspires to become something other than a tennis player is remarkable as well. 
  • Sloane Stephens.  She played the first 4 games of her match against Serena like the Sloane that we all know can become the next big thing in tennis. She says that her aim is to finish the year in the top 10.  It seems that Sloane is more about rankings watch than she is about standing on the podium receiving the top prizes. Baby steps are required, but I would have preferred if she spoke about results, rather than the ranking.  If the results are there the ranking will come. 
  • Flavia Pennetta is not my favourite player but how awesome was it to see her playing again and doing so well.  Losing in the semifinals to the second best hard court player this year is nothing to sniff at. 
  • Simona Halep. I think she was very disappointed with her results at the USO.  Perhaps no New Haven and she could make a run for it next year. 
  • Petra Kvitova 😦
  • Andrea Hlavackova – She won the doubles title with her partner and fellow Fed Cup Czech mate Lucie Hradecka defeating Serena and Venus along the way. Also, she won the mixed doubles with Max Mirnyi, who won his first two with Serena and Vika. First player to win both in a Slam since Cara Black in 2008 (doubles with Liezel Huber) 
  • Daniela Hantuchova – She made the quarter-finals which is a good accomplishment after losing in the first round for five straight Slams even though her draw was not difficult.
  • Victoria Azarenka – Despite losing again in the final to Serena, she did well by making the final despite not playing her best tennis.
  • Alison Riske – She received a wild card and made the organizers proud by making the fourth round defeating Petra Kvitova in the process.
  • Until the final, the match of the tournament was between Carla Suarez Navarro and Angelique Kerber where a third set tiebreaker determined the winner and the raw emotion of Suarez Navarro after winning.

The WTA Tour now moves to Asia and already we have seen some surprising results.  Spin had a chance to watch a few matches from Korea as well as China.  I watched the semifinal match between  Zhang and Meusberger.  It was my first time watching Zhang, a WC recipient play and I was very impressed.  I am thinking from the little that I have seen, plus the fact that her opponent, Vania King, a qualifier had to go 3 sets to take out Jheng Jie in her semifinal, will have Zhang winning her first WTA title from as many starts. 

Ace’s preview of the Japan Open is below

Since the United States Open has concluded, the tour has moved on to the continent of Asia. This week the tour lands in Tokyo, which is hosting a Premier 5 event for the last time as it will move to Wuhan in 2014. Serena Williams was scheduled to play but withdrew due to fatigue. Also, Maria Sharapova, Sabine Lisicki, Nadia Petrova, 2012 champion, and Maria Kirilenko has withdrawn due to injury. Top seed is the reigning two-time Australian Open champion, Victoria Azarenka, who has defeated S Williams twice on hard courts in Doha and Cincinnati. Azarenka will be the favourite to win.

 
First quarter – Azarenka leads this quarter but her first opponent could be Venus Williams. Sloane Stephens will be trying to improve her record in WTA tour events in a push to finish 2013 in the Top 10 while Jelena Jankovic will be continuing her good play.
 
First round matchups to watch: Eugenie Bouchard vs Monica Puig
 
Second quarter – Sara Errani leads this quarter but admitted that the pressure of being a top seed got to her during the US Open. Petra Kvitova has the ability to win this title but she can be very inconsistent and will her love for Radek Stepanek, who won the US Open doubles with Leander Paes, linger on every match she plays.
 
First round matchup to watch: Julia Goerges vs Sorana Cirstea
 
Third quarter – Caroline Wozniacki leads this quarter and has won this title in 2010. She has a tough first round match playing the winner of Daniela Hantuchova/Flavia Pennetta. When the media thinks that Roberta Vinci will falter early in draws, she finds a way to make quarterfinals or semifinals.
 
First round matchup to watch: Daniela Hantuchova vs Flavia Pennetta
 
Fourth quarter – Agnieszka Radwanska leads this quarter. If A Radwanska, who won this title in 2011, is playing in Seoul on Sunday, she will have only one day to travel as her first match will be on Tuesday and the further she advances, she may feel the effects.
 
First round matchup to watch: Aleksandra Wozniak vs Francesca Schiavone 

Ace’s Tokyo Predictions
 
Q1: Azarenka vs Stephens
Q2: Cirstea vs Kvitova
Q3: Vinci vs Pennetta
Q4: Ivanovic vs A Radwanska
 
S1: Azarenka vs Kvitova
S2: Pennetta vs A Radwanska
 
F: Azarenka vs A Radwanska
 
W: Azarenka

SPIN’S AO DAY 5 PICKS

Spin is still celebrating her almost 100% win in yesterday’s picks.  I can’t help but be happy for her.  However, new day, new challenges.  Below are Spin’s Picks for Day 5 of the Australian Open.

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
Julia Georges
Jie Zheng
Giant killer Zheng up against one of the most inconsistent players on Tour.  I take Zheng in 3.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.

Have fun guys