US WOMEN = US OPEN

The Spin Team

American tennis administrators are celebrating.  Why are they celebrating?  They are celebrating the achievement of diversity and inclusion. They are celebrating women.  They are celebrating the changing of the guard and finally they are celebrating American women’s tennis.

For years when most journalists talk about tennis and especially American tennis, they invariably mean the men.  We have all read about someone taking over from the Sampras, Agassis and Roddicks and reaching for glory at Davis Cup and at the Slams.  This has not materialised as we have seen the one-dimensional one trick ponies in Isner, Harrison, Sandgren,  Sock etc who have not really amounted to much playing the big hitting American style of tennis, i.e. big serve followed by big forehand.

The women however have taken a different path.  They have learned to utilise the big serve and the big forehand, but they have also added nuances to their games.

A few years ago Coco Vandeweghe played a match against Yulia Putintseva which I am sure pushed her to do better.  She lost that match and Putintseva had some harsh words for Coco after that match.  Putintseva noted that all Coco had was a big serve.  At that time Coco was a ball basher extraordinaire with a mediocre backhand and a huge serve.  Fast forward a few years later and after working with Craig Kardon and now currently with Pat Cash, Vandeweghe has worked on her fitness, her net game and more importantly her court coverage.  She moves better.  She is more patient during rallies and while her on court demeanour leaves a lot to be desired she does have an all around game.

Madison Keys, a graduate of the hit hard, and when that doesn’t work hit harder club, has also added a lot of nuances to her game.  Her backhand has become a lot more reliable.  Her mental game and athleticism has improved tremendously.  Her shot selection during rallies has improved in that she doesn’t just go for big winners to end points quickly, but is willing to prolong rallies by using high loopy shots. Her big serve and forehand are still in effect, but they are not the end all and be all of her game.  The addition of Lindsay Davenport, former Grand Slam champion and one of the more even keeled players that I have ever seen has for me  helped Keys to maintain some amount of calm on the court.

Sloane Stephens was America’s answer to the great Serena Williams.  A player who belonged to the group called entitlement suffered a major setback when she injured her foot and had to have surgery.  Out of the game for almost a year, Sloane has fought her way back to relevance with her performance not only during this fortnight but during the US summer hard court season.  She has matured.  She has become patient during matches.  She has expressed frustration, but she has recovered well enough to gut out wins against opponents who are ranked higher.

Last but certainly not least  is the Grand Dame of American women’s tennis, Venus Williams.  Venus debuted at the US Open 20 years ago when she made her way to the final and lost against then No. 1 Martina Hingis.  There are really no words to describe what Venus is doing this tennis season.  From the beginning of the year she has made the finals of 2 Grand Slam finals (Australian Open [lost to Serena Williams] and Wimbledon [lost to Garbine Muguruza]).  Despite those setbacks Venus has been playing very well, managing her matches and playing within herself.  Her quarter final match against Petra Kvitova should be a must watch for juniors about how to manage yourself during tight matches.

Spin’s Picks

Venus Williams v. Sloane Stephens

Coco Vandeweghe v. Madison Keys

Final

Williams v. Keys

Winner:  Williams

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)

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 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.

 

Dear WTA Players

by Karen

Dear WTA Players.

What an absolutely wonderful event you staged at Roland Garros over the past two weeks.  You ladies kept me glued to my computer screen and you actually made me late for work a few mornings.  On many occassions while I was at work, I was unable to watch matches, and so, for the first time in a long while, I actually had to go home and watch matches that had already been concluded during the course of the day’s event.

Your tournament was so good that I actually had to subscribe to additional channels because I just did not want to miss one ball during this 2 week event.  And I don’t even like clay season all that much.

However, and this where I am a little bit annoyed at you ladies.  I know your champion is an outlier.  I know that she is not very popular amongst her peers (hello, Judy Murray cheered on Naomi Broady when she went after her). I know she has a temper, but come on, did no one watch the final?  Did none of you get up out of your beds, no matter where you were in the world, and watch the match?  OK, so maybe it isn’t about Ostapenko.  Maybe it is about Halep, her opponent?  Maybe you were disgusted at Halep’s comments about equal pay?  If so, I can understand.  There were 2 of your colleagues playing that you don’t really like and so, you never even bothered to tune in … but … and here is where there is a big but … you ladies don’t even seem to do the same thing for Serena Williams either.

What is about the WTA athletes where congratulating an athlete on an accomplishment seems to go against some competitiveness etc. I know you ladies congratulate people and I know you ladies watch tennis matches.  The proof was the next day when you were all out in your numbers congratulating Rafael Nadal on winning 10 Roland Garros titles. See, this is where I sometimes don’t get the thought process behind who you ladies choose to watch and for whom you choose to show your support.

I have read interviews where some of you say that you don’t watch women’s tennis.  Where you say that you can’t think of having a female coach.  Where you think having a coach coming down court side to provide guidance is a good thing.  I get the mind set, but again, how does that benefit your sport?  There are men on the ATP who don’t agree that women should get paid the same as the men.  I can’t imagine why you would care to support someone whose thought processes are still stuck in the dark ages.  I don’t get it.  Help me out here.

Anyway, your Roland Garros champion is a joy.  She is young, athletic, disarming and very engaging.  Hopefully, you ladies can see fit to show her some love via social media (even if she isn’t on Twitter).

Thoughts

  • how great was it to see Jelena Ostapenko introduce herself to the tennis world.  54 winners, most of them from that huge forehand (and don’t forget her backhand) in the final and 289 winners overall.  She showed more than anything what belief really is.  Congratulations Jelena.
  • Simona Halep needs to rethink her life and her life choices.  Get rid of Darren Cahill.  He is a terrible coach.  There is nothing wrong with you getting emotional.  If it helps you in your every day life, I say go for it.  If smashing a racquet and cursing in Romanian get you through a match, then do it.  You are not a child and your coach is not your parent.
  • Caroline Wozniacki, please take a leaf out of Ostapenko’s book and ditch your dad as a coach.  You are back in the top 10 but you have done so by playing careful tennis. If you want to win that Major, you are going to have to change your mind set when it comes to your game and just go for it.  You did it earlier in the year but you have regressed.  Sort it out.
  • Angelique Kerber  (no words)
  • Elina Svitolina – not my pick to win but you don’t have match points, lose a tight tiebreak and then disappear in the third set.  Not for a place in the French Open.  You don’t do that.

I am sure that many have already put forward their thoughts on Ostapenko being coached by a woman.  What I loved about this is the story behind it.  Ostapenko is/was coached by her mother, also named Jelena.  The team decided that it might be a good thing to get another voice to work with the younger Jelena during the clay season.  The older Jelena took a backseat and allowed the coach that had been employed to work her magic.  The fact that the coach in question, Anabel Medina had no prior coaching history (at least none of which I am aware), and was only available because she has been sidelined with a shoulder injury, is a testament to both Jelenas having the wisdom to actually know their limitations and putting a plan in place to ensure that they brought in someone wiser and smarter than they were (Wozniacki, please take note of this).

All in all I enjoyed this year’s French Open.  My faves never got near the title but I am quite ecstatic at this new generation.  They are hitting fearlessly and cleanly and I for one am loving it.

 

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