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)

I Watched WTA TV. My Thoughts

by Karen

After months of silence and fans sitting around and waiting to find out where they can watch the WTA product, they were rewarded for their patience with the announcement of the launch of WTA TV.  At the time of writing, I have subscribed to this online streaming service and I am currently watching Mertens and Krunic battle it out in Bastad, Sweden.

A few years ago I wrote a piece in which I called on the WTA to launch its own tv service.  I posited the view then that outlets like Tennis Channel were holding the WTA to ransom by neglecting to show its product and asking fans to pay extra to watch the WTA by subscribing to TC Plus, Tennis Channel’s online streaming platform.  Many tennis fans, especially those in the US not only had to pay extra on their cable or satellite network to get Tennis Channel, but then they had to pay more money just to get to see the women.  To compound matters even more

So as a public service to all the tennis fans out there, I have taken it upon myself to review WTATV.  As part of the review process, I have done the following:-

  • Checked App availability on iOS
  • Checked App availability on Android
  • Checked browsers (Chrome, Firefox and IE)
  • Reviewed the various features on the site itself

App Availability

As at the time of writing this piece (between 27 and 31 July), the WTATV app is not available as an app.  I have checked on my iPhone and my Samsung and it is not available as an App.  I have also asked the question of tennis fans on social media and I can confirm that as of now there is no app.  The WTA website indicates that WTA TV is available on your mobile phone, tablet and computer, however, when you click the images on the site it does not take you to an app. As a matter of fact it takes you nowhere.

Browsers

The big complaint that I have received from many fans is that the WTA TV site has been marked as a phishing site and that you should not plug in your credit card information as it will get stolen.  I have told folks that I got the website by clicking the WTATV link on the WTA website and it took me straight to the web page where I was able to sign up.  Unfortunately, over the weekend, I checked all three browsers and this is what I am getting.

Internet Explorer

 

Firefox

00749802.DOC

 

Google Chrome

00749800.DOC

I note that you cannot just input wtatv.com or https://wtatv.com in your browser window and get to WTATV.  You will either have to search for it and then either enter through the WTA website or scroll down to the site itself, as I did in this test.  Surely, there can’t be that many WTATV sites around.  The WTA should do more to ensure that the site is easily found on all search engines and that it is not blocked as a phishing site to most web blockers.

This leads me to the biggest issue that I have with the service so far, the fact that one cannot access the site via an app.  The WTA has had the better part of a year to get this done.  The WTA surely did not decide to drop TennisTV and launch its own web based service.  It must have had meetings with website designers as well as persons in the know about how to launch a product that would be the face of women’s tennis.  To not even have an app either in development or indeed ready to launch is yet another indictment on Steve Simon and the WTA and its intention regarding women’s tennis.

Features

One of the things that I was expecting to see more than anything on WTATV were historical matches.  It did not need to go back to the start of women’s tennis, but it would have been nice if the WTA had some of its classic matches.  On the TennisTV website, one can watch classic ATP tennis matches that go back all the way to 2001.  It would have been nice if the WTA TV site at least provided classic matches for the last 5 years of the WTA. Some quick pointers on what is available. Under the features tab, there are interviews with the players from various tournaments during the course of this year.

Live

I like the fact that under the matches that are going to be shown live, there is a count down clock which tells you how long until you can watch matches.  For those of us who live outside the US, it is sometimes hard to know when matches starts in the different US time zones.  This is quite helpful.

On Demand

Under the On Demand tab, you can find match highlights for most of the WTA events that have been held this year.

Tournaments

Under this tab is a Q&A on what tournaments are available.  If you have no idea of the various WTA events, this is as good a place as any to get started.

Verdict

All in all I am about 50% happy with the site.  I wish there was more in terms of classic matches, and more archival information.  The Q&A which is posted on the site is as unhelpful as anything I have ever come across.  It would bode the WTA well to look at the spelling errors on the website, especially in the Q&A section.

As one of those people who have always been of the view that the WTA should have its own dedicated television channel and streaming service, I am quite happy that it has finally done so. I know a lot of tennis fans are of the view that they should not be paying 2 different sums of money in order to watch either men’s or women’s tennis, unfortunately, that is the word that we now inhabit.  One can only hope that the powers that be in tennis will at some point get their lives together and realise that at no point should tennis fans have to spend at a minimum US$150.00 per annum just to be able to watch tennis.

Tournaments This Week

The Tour as most folks know kicks off the US Open Series which is apparently without a title sponsor this year.  This week we get to see for the first time matches from Day One at the Citi Open, which features Simona Halep as the top seed.  On the other side of the country, is the Premier level Bank of the West Classic, which sees Garbine Muguruza as the top seed.  Both tournaments have the requisite big names, some of whom will be looking to jump start their seasons with a much a much needed win.

Also returning to the Tour from a hip injury is Maria Sharapova, who will be competing at the BOTW courtesy of a wild card.

Victoria Azarenka who was also scheduled to compete at the BOTW has withdrawn due to a viral illness.

 

 

 

Anyone Up for Some Tennis

by Karen

This morning, I received the below email from bet365.com

“We are contacting you to advise that you have funds in your bet365 account. As stated in our Terms and Conditions, your account will be subject to an ongoing administration fee which will be deducted 28 days from now and every 28 days thereafter until your balance reaches zero. No further charges will then be applied.  To avoid this fee simply log back into your account and place a bet, make a deposit or withdraw your full balance. Please note, we will need to verify your account before you are able to withdraw. The easiest way to do this is to log into the bet365 website, select Services in the top right corner, click on Members, choose My Account and select Know Your Customer (KYC). If you have forgotten your login details, refer to the Lost Login also in the top right corner of the website. If you have any questions regarding this please see our Terms and Conditions, or alternatively Contact Us to speak with a member of our Customer Service team.”

I have had a bet365 account for going on 10 years.  I don’t gamble but I find it to be one of the best ways to watch tennis, especially tennis that is not streamed in the US.  It is a very safe site.  I was referred to it a few years ago by one of my tennis buddies that I met on the old Tennis World chat room (thanks Cracked Gem).

When I first got this account, I deposited my US$10.00 and it stayed there for months at a time with no problem.  Then they started to take administrative fees if they perceive that there is no activity on the account.  As you can see, activity has to include betting or topping up your account.  I will be topping up my account before the expiration of the 28 days and unfortunately, it seems as if I will have to continue topping up my account every 28 days in order not to lose the benefit of the live streaming on this site.

Why am I writing about this?

We are entering the time of the year when the Tour moves from Europe and settles in North America.  There are a great many big tournaments coming up, and while the men’s Tour will have the benefit of TennisTV, the WTA Tour will be languishing in now you see me, now you don’t hell. Fans of the WTA will have to either follow the hot shots from the WTA Twitter handle or log on to illegal streams (if they even exist any more) to try and see the women over the course of this  summer.

Unless I missed it,  I have not seen any statements issued by the WTA and its missing CEO since he came out defending Sharapova for not getting a WC into the French Open.  At some point in time, either Mr. Simon needs to let us know where streaming rights for the sport has reached, or he needs to relinquish what is no doubt a high paying job with lots of benefits.  The consumers, i.e. the fans, have  become disgruntled and it is affecting how fans see the women’s game.  If this were any other industry, surely Mr. Simon would now be out of a job.  Surely, someone, somewhere would be held accountable for what can only be described as a debacle in relation to the disappearance of the WTA product from the airwaves.

The USO Series will be starting soon. The tournaments are currently advertising the big names who will be competing in the various tournaments.  It makes no sense that they are doing this, when fans far and wide, who absolutely adore the women’s game, are left wondering well how do I get to see so and so play if I can’t pull up a stream.  Surely the WTA owes its millions of fans an explanation. Surely the journalists who cover this sport must  force Mr. Simon to come to the table and tell the fans the truth about the lack of visibility of the WTA.  Surely someone somewhere cares about tennis fans.

I did a recent survey amongst tennis fans and one of the biggest concerns that arose from that survey is the fact that people want to see more tennis on tv.  What was even more surprising about that survey is the fact that most people preferred the women’s game over the men and thought the women’s game had better storylines than the men, despite most fans not being able to tell what is the WTA’s current marketing campaign (for what its worth, I have checked the WTA’s website, but I can’t find any evidence of their current marketing campaign).

Women’s tennis is a literal gold mine.  It hurts to see people who have been put in power over a product that sells itself, do so much harm to the product.  I know that folks like David Kane and Courtney Nguyen have done yeoman’s service to get women’s tennis to the forefront of people’s minds.  The WTA has won the social media war as both persons are engaging and have used Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to promote the women’s game.  The women themselves have also embraced social media and have added their names to issues that affect women, most especially, Madison Keys’ effort against online bullying.

With all the women doing their best to ensure that the Tour is relevant, and popular, it is even more disheartening when you can’t get to see them at all.

Steve Simon it is time to either put up or get the hell out.

 

Narratives and Storylines

Tennis loves its narratives.  It also loves storylines.  There are the tried and true versions.  Comeback from illness, injury, race to be No.1., race to win a Grand Slam for the first time.  Youngest/oldest to ever do something extraordinary since aeons before we had television.  It is how sport sells itself and it is how tennis in particular sells its product.

This year, on the WTA side the storyline has been the Race to No.1. Since the start of the clay season with Serena announcing her pregnancy, the story has been about the No. 1 ranking.  I think tennis needs to start talking about players coming back when all is done and dusted.

I know most people will say well what about Kvitova?  Well what about Kvitova?  She suffered a terrible injury and the narrative about her return has been about her overcoming the attack to return to tennis.  A very good storyline, in and of itself, but let us talk about some players that most folks have never heard of and who have had some horrific injuries in the past.

One of these is Petra Martic, a favourite of mine in years gone by.  Martic suffered back injury after back injury.  Today, for the first time in a long while, Martic made her way to the third round of Wimbledon with a straight set victory over Denisa Allertova.  It was a very good win against a very good player with lots of upward momentum.  I for one am glad to see Petra doing so well.

On the flip side, most folks will be talking about Magdalina Rybarikova, the Slovak who today on Centre Court played truly exceptional tennis to take out the No. 3 seed and firm favourite to not only win the title but also to ascend to the WTA Penthouse, Karolina Pliskova.  Rybarikova showed us why she was considered one of the Slovak Republic’s best chances to win big titles a long time ago.  Her game filled with slices, and big hitting had Pliskova flustered.  Her net game, which has always been an untouchable part of her game was on show today for the Centre Court crowd.  There were points that had the fans in the stands oohing and aahing in amazement as she pulled off tough volleys against an opponent who first came to the attention of tennis fans via her doubles play with her twin sister.

Another player who I have always loved watch play and who has suffered from injuries is Zarina Diyas.  Today she struggled in her match but in the end came out on top against a very game Arina Rodionova.

There is also Lesia Tsurenko.  I don’t think I have ever seen Tsurenko and some part of her body is not wearing tape.  It is as if she is patched up together by her team prior to taking the court.  A hard worker Tsurenko is also beset by injuries.  Shoulder, back, legs, thighs, stomach.  Frankly every part of her body has worn tape at some point or another.  Today she struggled in the heat but came out the winner.  Finally, and not to be outdone there is Sorana Cirstea. Mostly known as Ana Ivanovic’s best friend, Cirstea was the Romanian who many thought would either be a Slam champion or be ranked in the top 10.  Unfortunately for her injuries and a lack of mental belief got in the way.  In addition, an experiment with muscles torpedoed her career, but it is great to see her back and playing tennis again.  Sorana you have been missed.

From the women above Rybarikova, Tsurenko, Martic and Diyas will be a quarterfinalist at this year’s Wimbledon tournament.  This is one of the reasons why I absolutely love this sport.  It takes a certain amount of belief in an athlete to believe that they can return to active competition after suffering in some cases career ending injuries.

I write this in the hope that folks out there who read this blog and who are fans of women’s tennis will take heart in Bethanie Mattek-Sands’ horrific knee injury today during her match against Romania’s Sorana Cirstea.  It would seem as if Ms. Mattek-Sands’ knee has been displaced.  If that is the case, then there is no doubt that she is going to require extensive surgery and rehab in order to return to playing tennis.  I pray that she will indeed recover and return to the sport that she loves and which loves her.

I have found that doing recaps during Wimbledon is a complete non-starter especially on the women’s side.  The matches are flying so fast and furious and there have been so many wonderful outcomes that it is hard to catch one’s breath let alone write about matches.  Suffice it to say that today, Magdalena Rybarikova took to Centre Court and played one of the most beautiful matches I have ever witnessed against the No. 3 seed Karolina Pliskova.  It was throwback grass court tennis, mixed with a lot of power and flair.  Both women had the Centre Court crowd on its feet during numerous points and the standing ovation after the match said it all.

All of this outpouring brings me to a very sore topic.  The lack of WTA TV during Tour events.  The women have  been doing their part in generating maximum interest in their sport.  At the Majors we have had storyline after storyline that has piqued the interests of fans who only tune in during the Majors.  If fans and drive bys are inspired by someone like Jelena Ostapenko winning the French Open hitting winner after winner or perhaps seeing someone new (at least new to them) like Rybarikova playing such amazing tennis, surely these folks will want to see these players again and again.  The WTA really  needs to sort itself out.  If not, Steve Simon will have to go.

 

Future of the WTA



This blog is predominantly about women’s tennis. It is usually about the lack of respect shown to women’s tennis by the media in terms of how women’s tennis is covered. However, today, I am going to talk about the diversity of women’s tennis.

A few weeks ago the WTA took time out to celebrate the commencement of the WTA. Players from all over the world paid their respect to the 9 women who sacrificed their careers and their future in establishing the Women’s Tennis Association by signing a contract for $1.00 and starting what would become one of the most successful and viable franchises in sports history.

Since that time, we have seen the growth of women’s tennis on a par with most sports that are more focused on men. Why then does the growth of women’s tennis is not tied to the performance of the athletes but rather tied to how they look. Even worse, why is that it is only a certain demographic of women’s tennis is represented by advertisers.

We are constantly being told that Hispanics and African Americans are the biggest growing markets in North America. We are told that Asia is the fastest growing region for the sport of tennis. Yet, when we look at the players who are getting the multi-million dollar contract, there is hardly a Na Li or a Serena Williams out there raking in the big bucks.

Even worse, a look at the top 100 rankings of women’s tennis and the paucity of minorities who are embracing this sport leaves people like me, who are a minority, and who were drawn to the sport by two of the biggest stars to ever play the game, Venus and Serena, feeling quite disconsolate.

I listen and I watch lots of women’s tennis. The feedback I get from commentators is that tennis needs people like Ivanovic, Wozniacki, Sharapova, Clijsters, Azarenka and the list goes on and on, not because they are great players, but because of their looks and personality and what they bring to women’s tennis. In the same breath, the strength of character, the will to fight, the competitiveness and drive of a Serena Williams, the longevity of a Venus Williams, the artistry of a Justine Henin are laid by the wayside.

These veterans of the Tour may not have the looks that the Ivanovic’s and Wozniacki’s of the tennis world, but they are 3 of the most accomplished players in this generation of tennis players.

What really galls me more than anything else is that the 9 women who were recently celebrated for having the initiative and drive to buck the system are not what we would call celebrated beauties. In their own way they are beautiful women, but would Madison Avenue consider them women who could sell phones or tennis clothes, handbags, shoes etc. I don’t think so.

Sania Mirza is one of the few women of ethnic origin who has garnered a great deal of sponsorships based on her looks. If you have never seen Sania Mirza, here is a picture of her.

This is a call for minority women from all over the world to go out there and let your face be seen. Let your racquets start doing the talking. Give us the next Serena and Venus Williams. Let us see the next Na Li. The next Sania Mirza.

Lack of tennis coverage

OK, I know that there are hundreds of tennis blogs around, but this one is going to be very different. This one is about waking up the powers that be to the fact that there is absolutely no tennis on tv.
I am an avid tennis watcher. I play the game. I log on to message boards and post my opinions. I pose questions to question and answer forums and a lot of people know me because of my writing on other people’s blogs. However, one thing that struck me recently was how many fans in the United States and other parts of North America (Canada) as well as those of us in the Caribbean (where I am from) who rely on North American networks for our daily tennis fix, are unable to watch matches. Separate and apart from calling out the powers that be for their lack of coverage, I will be offering suggestions as to how we can get tennis to the fans.

First of all, we are now in the season called the USO Series. That is the US Open Series. This is supposed to be a slew of tournaments which starts the North American hardcourt swing and ends at the US Open. The Series starts with a women’ s event at Stanford called the Bank of the West Classic, then went to LA and then onwards to Cincinnatti, then Toronto, New Haven and finally New York. The men’s events started in LA, moved on to Washington, D.C., then to Montreal, Cincinnatti, New Haven and finally ends in New York.

Now you would think that with all these tournaments all over North America folks would finally get to see some tennis. That would be too easy. The only tennis we saw were selected matches from the quarter finals onwards of all tournaments played to date. In addition, unless the players were American, or Sharapova, then you never got a chance to see other players. Anyway, for tennis fans, they will watch 2 dogs playing tennis to no tennis at all.

Today, 10 August is the start of a Masters Series event for the men in Montreal and a Mandatory event in Cincinnatti for the women. Lo and behold, the only tennis you get to see is via live streams, a phenomenom that I will address later in this post.

It is absolutely ridiculous that we have Tennis Channel, ESPN (along with every variation thereof) and we still cannot get tennis on tvs in North America. The Tennis Channel was recently inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame for its contribution to the growth of tennis. I am not sure that that induction was worthy as recently all we have seen are repeats of Murphy’s Guide and Mika jetting around on Destination Tennis. These days Tennis Channel advertises itself as the Grand Slam network, but the only grand slams you see are Grand Slams from the 70s. Prior to whatever contractual considerations between Tennis Channel and their broadcast partners, the coverage of the Grand Slams was second to none. These days, for those of us who actually have jobs and who look forward to seeing repeats of matches played in the day, you will be out of luck these days, as it would seem that if the match was not shown on Tennis Channel, then they apparently cannot show a repeat.

Live Streams – I visit many blogs on the internet. One of the requests that you hear on every single blog devoted to tennis, and this is coming from folks in North America, the Caribbean and many other countries is this “anyone have a link?”. Now I am a Dish Network subscriber in the Caribbean. I installed a second dish just to be able to get 1 single channel, the Tennis Channel. Imagine my dismay now when I hardly get to see any tennis on my HDTV or really enjoy tennis as hardly any tennis is on the tv.

Now, I am not about laying blame without making suggestions. Is it possible that CBS, NBC, ESPN and Tennis Channel could come together and have a highlight show during tournament play. Clearly, there is some form of financial consideration which prevents Tennis Channel from providing round the clock coverage of events that are being played. In this time of cut backs, I can understand that. However, what I cannot understand is why is it that there are countries in Europe who are able to see the current Masters Series event in Montreal on their tv, as well as coverage of Cincinnatti and people in the United States are unable to see it. This is after all the USO Series. We are told that every single time that the powers that be decide to show a match. If only we fans could see it then we would not think it is a figment of our imaginations.