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)