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)

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.