No Surprises

Day 2 is now done and dusted. The final match of the ladies first round saw a really good match between Barty and Sabalenka. The match showcased the raw talent that is Sabalenka who mixed it up quite nicely, coming in at every opportunity. It also showcased a player that I really enjoy watching, and that is Ashleigh Barty. Composed and skilled, Barty showed us why the great Justine Henin took her under her wing a few years ago in an effort to develop her talent. It is great to see her back on Tour and playing with such panache.

I barely watched any matches last night and it makes no sense to DVR the matches that happen overnight simply because ESPN prefers to showcase men’s matches and if they do feature women’s matches, it is usually some “marquee” name that I have no interest in watching.

Last night was no different as the featured match once ESPN came on air was Sharapova v. Maria. Clearly this caused social media to go all in on the fact that Sharapova was playing herself, a fact many people found quite funny. Chris Fowler and Chris Evert had the call and prior to my switching to something else, the consensus from Chris Fowler was that it was a poor look for tennis to actually have someone returning from a doping violation, a doping violation that was incurred at this event 2 years ago, to take part in the draw ceremony. He felt that it sent the wrong message. Chris Evert, ever the wannabe peacemaker opined that Sharapova had served her suspension. Fowler took the view that it was not a good look for the sport. He further went on to mention how tepid the response was by the fans in the stands when Sharapova was announced. Fans, despite what people might think are not being lead as sheep to slaughter.

Day 2 matches had little or no surprises. There wasn’t any match that stuck out to me. Petra Kvitova lost to Andrea Petkovic in what must have either been an error filled match or some clean ball striking. I have not yet had the opportunity to watch the match on replay.

Day 3 matches features the second round matches from the bottom of the draw. Spin’s Picks are below:-

Rod Laver Arena

Svitolina v. Siniakova

Wozniacki v. Fett

Gavrilova v. Mertens

Margaret Court Arena

Kostyuk v. Rogowska

Ostapenko v. Duan

Cornet v. Georges

Hisense

Pavlyuchenkova v. Bondarenko

Bencic v. Kumkhum

Court 2

Linette v. Kasatkina

Bertens v. Gibbs

Court 3

Flipkens v. Rybarikova

Kanepi v. Puig

 

Court 7

Zhang v. Allertova

Martic c. Begu

Court 8

Barthel v. Kontaveit

Suarez-Navarro v. Babos

Grunting Debate

It wouldn’t be a Slam if some idiot didn’t call out the women’s game for grunting.  This time around it is Todd Woodbridge, bygone doubles player from an era when tennis wasn’t even on tv.  Mr. Woodbridge, during the match against Aussie Ashleigh Barty and Belarussian Sabalenko, tweeted that until the women stop grunting perhaps the time has come for their matches not to be shown (or words to that effect).  In effect, he felt that the grunting was reason enough for tv to switch from showcasing a match featuring two talented women.

I know I say it all the time and I suspect I will have to keep saying it but tennis needs more women at the top of the sport where it counts.  We need more women in the commentary booth who are willing to call out the sexism when it happens in our sport.  Rather than enjoying the spectacle (which made me late for work), Mr. Woodbridge felt that the women (even one of his own) should be punished because someone was grunting during a match.  I suspect that Mr. Woodbridge will next be calling for the dismissal of the tournament announcer who felt it was his duty to mock Ms. Barty’s opponent after the end of the first set.

Continue being you tennis.  Continue being you.

Ready … Play

The Spin

These are the words that let tennis fans know that a match is about to start. For Venus Williams, she was like most of us who hear the alarm clock, decide to hit it and say just one minute more please.

There is no doubt that Venus’ first round opponent, Swiss Miss Belinda Bencic was on her game. We saw that during her Hopman Cup matches. Her net game was much improved. she was fitter than before she had her injury layoff but what impressed a lot of people was her return of serve. Prior to her injury layoff, Bencic would routinely lose matches and one key stat was her inability to return serve. One cannot forget her suffering through 15 aces by Sharapova at the Australian Open in 2016.

Venus on the other hand could not get a read on Bencic’s serve. She had multiple break point opportunities to get even in the first set and while most of those opportunities had to do with Bencic serving her way out of trouble, it also had to do with Venus’ sluggishness.

Last year another great champion got taken to task for skipping the whole clay season to focus on the grass season. This was a decision that paid off in the end as Federer ended up winning Wimbledon. Perhaps the time has come for Venus to start scheduling smarter. I am sure that Serena was quite upset about not being able to defend her title here this year but she took the view that it was better that she return when she is able to compete effectively rather than just seeking to defend points.

Venus needs to take that same view. The Australian Open is a tournament at which Venus has had some shocking losses. She has made the finals twice in her long and storied career and frankly I would not miss her if she never played it again. I think Venus and her team need to take the long view when it comes to her schedule. She is not a young player. She has health issues and in my honest opinion, if Venus expects to win big tournaments or any tournament she needs to schedule better. If that means dropping tournaments that are too close to the end of the season or too close to the start of the season then she needs to drop them. I believe she should start her season in the spring by playing smaller tournaments to get match fit.

American Carnage

They kept dropping like flies. Sloane, Venus, Coco, Falconi, Kenin, and Townsend. The men were not to be left out as both Jack Sock and John Isner were both sent packing (MAGA). Even Ryan Harrison barely made it through as Dudi Sela served for the match, but failed to do so.

Sloane Stephens has not won a match since winning at the US Open last season. In her match against Zhang, Stephens served for the match at 5-4 in the second set but would go on to lose the set in a tiebreak, get broken early in the third set and seemed to tire at the end. Reduced to chasing balls and being pulled from side to side, Stephens would try drop shots that did not make their over the net, and the constant looking at her coach for guidance became the hallmark of the rest of the match.

As someone else has opined elsewhere, the worst thing to ever happen to Sloane Stephens was winning the US Open. It is a travesty that similar to Kim Clijsters who returned to the Tour in 2009 rested and refreshed only to win the US Open that year, Stephens returned to the WTA Tour, recovering from a knee injury and returned refreshed and renewed.

Australian Open App

Usually, I never write about these things because I find it quite tiring but I have to register my disgust with the Australian Open App. It does not work. No live scoring. No results. No schedule. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Millions of dollars have been spent. A draw ceremony that left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Maybe the Australian Open has lost its way. Hopefully, the same amount of effort that went into getting Sharapova to stand there and smile and answer questions about “returning” to the Tour will be made into getting an app that actually does what it is supposed to do.

Day 2 Schedule

The top half of the draw plays today and the Spin’s picks are below:

Rod Laver Arena

Pliskova (Ka) v. Cepede Royg

Barty v. Sabalenka

Halep v. Alava

Margaret Court

Witthoeft v. Garcia (picking the higher ranked player but maybe an upset in the making if Garcia is not 100%)

Maria v. Sharapova (less said about this match up the better)

Muguruza v. Ponchet

Hisense

Konta v. Brengle

Kerber v. Friedsam (confidence is everything)

Court 2

Bouchard v. Dodin (while Dodin has not had much match play, Bouchard is not the picture of match toughness these days. It could very well be that Bouchard finds her game as she usually plays well in Australia. Pick at your own risk)

Petkovic v. Kvitova (which Petra shows up and has Petkovic peaked?)

Court 3

Safarova v. Tomljanovic

Mladenovic v. Bogdan (surely Kiki can get her game together on the big stage, but her first round opponent has a big game and is fearless. Look for the upset here)

Court 5

Jabeur v. Vesnina

Vikhlyantseva v. Tsurenko

Court 7

Cabrera v. Haddad Maia

Giorgi v. Kalinskaya (my dark horse pick to make it to week 2)

Court 8

Wang v. Keys

Pliskova (Kr) v. Radwanksa (it’s a Major, surely Aga will get her life together? The less famous Pliskova beat her earlier this year)

Court 10

Lucic-Baroni v. Rogers (one is injured, the other is in a bit of slump. Look for the slumping player to take this one)

Osaka v. Kucova (new coach, new outlook. Let us see if Big Sascha has what it takes to be a coach)

Court 12

Nara v. Vondrousova

Hibino v. Vekic (very tough match for Vekic who struggled in Hobart against Heather Watson. Let us see if the resurgent Vekic’s loss in Hobart was an anomaly)

Court 13

Lepchenko v. Sevastova

Putintseva v. Watson

Court 14

Ahn v. Strycova

Davis v. Cepelova (Lauren Davis has virtually disappeared since winning her lone WTA title last season in Auckland. Cepelova has been beset with injuries. This will be a match of who wants to get to the second round more)

Court 15

Gasparyan v. Blinkova

Hsieh v. Zhu

Court 19

Cirstea v. Diyas (Cirstea has been enjoying a fantastic resurgence. Can she make it past the very tough when she is on her game Diyas?)

Hercog v. Alexandrova

Court 20

McHale v. Sasnovich

Court 22

Arruabarrena v. Hogenkamp (neither player has shown good form over the past 12 months. Arruabarrena has regressed to obscurity. If she is on Hogenkamp will be sent packing, but I don’t see it)

A New Year but …

by the Spin

Firstly, let me wish everyone a Happy New Year. It has been some time since I last wrote about tennis, but life has gotten in the way of my tennis blogging. I do hope, however, that I will not be sidetracked in my enjoyment of tennis, including writing about it. This year my promise is to put out content content that is not only complimentary of the WTA, but uplifts the sport that I love so much.

2018 has started much as 2017 ended, with a little controversy. As many of you may now know, Serena Williams, after suffering through what can only be described as a traumatic delivery, has taken the decision not to compete at this year’s Australian Open. For fans of Serena the disclosure of her traumatic delivery (via caeseran section) and the accompanying health scare should make us all take a step back and breathe while we clamour for Serena’s return to the Tour.

With Serena’s absence, the organisers of this year’s Australian Open needed a WTA face for the draw and they went for what they undoubtedly perceived was the next biggest thing in women’s tennis and that was Maria Sharapova. Sharapova, never one to fail to insinuate herself into any conversation, no matter how controversial and no matter how it brings the sport she claims she loves into disrepute, jumped at the opportunity to walk with the Daphne Akhurst trophy as the representative of the women’s draw. The organisers, hoping to spin things to their benefit, indicated that they were celebrating the 10 year anniversary of Sharapova’s last win.

Much has said by others already, but I suspect that anyone who knew about Sharapova’s doping violation, knew that it occurred the last time she played at the Australian Open and did not come away thinking that wow, is this the sport that talks about how rigorous its anti doping efforts are, really celebrating someone who got banned for using a banned substance at their event?

I can never tell whether tennis actually takes itself seriously when it says and does stuff and I can’t imagine that Roger Federer, a player who epitomises all that is good in tennis, felt anything but abhorrence of having to stand there beside someone who he has condemned for using a banned substance. Again, the optics were not a great look for the sport. If last year’s finalist (Venus Williams), the champion of the previous year (Angelique Kerber) or any of the other semifinalists from last year’s event were unavailable, they could have gone with the junior girl’s champion from last year, or better yet, how about the women’s wheelchair champion.

Anyway, the draws have been made and you can feel free to review the women’s draw by reading Jon Wertheim’s Seed Report.

Early Round Winners

Tennis never rests and we already have some early winners heading into 2018. In Shenzhen, World No.1 Simona Halep got her side of the scoreboard moving by taking the Shenzhen trophy over Siniakova. Elina Svitolina won in Brisbane and Julia Georges beat Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets in Auckland. At the time of writing Hobart and Sydney are in the semi final stages and who knows what will happen. (Update despite the rain delays, especially in Hobart, Elise Mertens defeated buzarnescu in three tough sets and Angelique Kerber lifted her first trophy since winning the US Open in 2016. She defeated Ashleigh Barty in straight sets.

Early Round Favourites for the Australian Open

I will not be doing a draw analysis for the Australian Open but I can tell you that my eyes are on the following players to make some noise at this year’s event.

Camila Giorgi (seems to have a new coach in her corner and playing with confidence. She is currently in the semifinal of Sydney after taking out Radwanska quite easily). Has usually done very well in Australia.

Jelano Ostapenko (big hitter and French Open champ who took out Serena in an exhibition in Abu Dhabi. Loves the big stage and will be interesting to see how she fares now that she is a target)

Elina Svitolina (my pick to do very well here)

Siniakova (took out her idol Sharapova in Shenzhen. Her serve has never looked better than it did in that match, serving up 10 aces and defending her second serves)

Caroline Wozniacki (the in form player at the moment but can she run the table to the final and lift the trophy? Doubtful)

Garbine Muguruza (has there ever been a top player who no one has picked moreso than Garbine. One can never tell if she is healthy or just having a bad day on court)

Early Round Upsets

Simona Halep

Venus Williams (if she wants to remain in the top 10 she is going to have to manage her matches from first ball. Her first round match could not be any harder as she faces an in form and match tough player in Belinda Bencic)

Coco Vandeweghe

Sloane Stephens (what a disappointment she has been)

Kristina Mladenovic (is this an official slump)

Madison Keys (just not sure she is 100% healthy to compete)

First Round Matches to Watch

Bouchard v. Dodin

Sabalenka v. Barty

Cirstea v. Diyas

Cepede-Royg v. Pliskova (Ka)

Pliskova (Kr) v. Radwanksa (tough one for Aga)

Mladenovic v. Bogdan (tough one for the slumping Frenchie)

Putintseva v. Watson (Watson has been having a good run of form but if you are doing Suicide Pool do not pick this match)

Keys v. Wang (tough match for Keys who has not had much match play since losing in the US Open final)

Bencic v. Williams

Georges v. Kenin (tough one for both ladies)

Stephens v. Zhang (tough match for the slumping US Open champion)

Ostapenko v. Schiavone (potential match of the day)

Babos v. Vandeweghe

Views from the Fans

I asked some people to give me their final four and the eventual winner. The responses were interesting:-

Andreen (@A_Gallivant)

Semis (Ka Pliskova v. Kerber and Svitolina v. Wozniacki

Final (Svitlolina v. Kerber)

Winner – Svitolina

Steph (@stephintheUS)

Semis (Venus, Keys, Pliskova Ka, Wozniacki)

Final – Venus v. Keys

Winner: Venus

Master Ace (@TWMasterAce)

Semis: Pliskova Ka v. Kerber and Svitolina v. Vandeweghe (bold pick)

Final – Kerber v. Svitolina

Champion – Kerber

Day 1 play starts at 7:00 EST and for those of you who live in the Caribbean and Latin America you can watch matches via ESPNPlay. Check your local provider.

Day 1 OOP with the Spin’s Picks are set out below

Rod Laver Arena

Ostapenko v. Schiavone

Williams (V) v. Bencic

Gavrilova v. Falconi

Margaret Court Arena

Stephens v. Zhang

Stosur v. Puig

Buzarnescu v. Wozniacki

Hisense

Kenin v. Georges

Babos v. Vandeweghe

Court 2

Townsend v. Rybarikova

Cibulkova v. Kanepi

Court 3

Fourlis v. Rogowska

Jorovic v. Svitolina

Court 5

Flipkens v. Riske

Fett v. Eguchi

Court 7

Begu v. Makarova

Peng v. Qualifier

Court 8

Pavlyuchenkova v. Kozlova

Court 10

Duan v. Duque-Marino

Allertova v. Parmentier

Court 12

Krunic v. Kontaveit

Golubic v. Viktorija

Court 13

Brady v. Linette

Schmiedlova v. Kasatkina

Court 14

Niculescu v. Barthel

Kumkhum v. Larsson

Court 15

Cornet v. Wang

Bertens v. Bellis

Court 19

Sakkari v. Siniakova

Suarez-Navarro v. Frech

Court 20

Van Uytvanck v. Martic

Kuzmova v. Mertens

Court 22

Gibbs v. Tomova

Why I am Not Boycotting Twitter Today

by Karen

A few months ago there was a study that was published that said that young black girls were more likely to be considered sexual beings moreso than their white counterparts.

Earlier this week, Jemele Hill a black sportscaster at ESPN was suspended because she spoke the truth about the current resident of the White House, Donald Trump and his rantings regarding players in the NFL who are protesting police brutality in the US by kneeling during the national anthem.

Closer to home in tennis, Maria Sharapova in her published autobiography described Serena Williams in very caustic terms, relying on the usual stereotyping of black women by talking about her arms and legs and how intimidating she was and how Sharapova felt like a little girl when facing Serena across the net.

Last year, Leslie Jones, an American comedian and actress was the victim of a vicious social media smear campaign organized by so called white supremacists.  It got to the point where Ms. Jones had to suspend her  Twitter account because of the abuse.

Again last year in India there were multiple reports of young women being raped and sometimes murdered, some as young as 9 and 10 years old.

Why am I bringing up all these incidents on a tennis blog?  I am bringing them up because earlier this week it was reported that Harvey Weinstein of the Weinstein Company had been accused of sexual harassment to the point where he had reached agreement with multiple women as a result of his systemic abuse of them.  Rose McGowan (of Charmed fame) has been on Twitter on a daily basis calling out Hollywood and asking everyone to stand up and be counted regarding Weinstein’s sexual harassment and abuse.  As a result of Ms. McGowan’s stance, or as Twitter has said, as a result of her abusing Twitter’s terms of service, her account was suspended ostensibly because she had included a telephone number in a tweet.  Her account has now been reopened.

As a result of what has happened to Ms. McGowan, there has been a rallying cry for Women to Boycott Twitter.  As someone has said where was this movement when Jemele Hill was being targeted by the White House to the point where she is on the verge of losing her job?  Where was this movement when Maria Sharapova vilified Serena Williams’ body and where was this movement when young girls were being raped and murdered in India?

Is it the case that the only time that white women (yes I am calling them out by name) see the damage that is being done to the rest of society is when it affects them?  I don’t live in the US but I have friends and family who live there.  The decisions that white women have made have impacted the lives of many people who are not as well off or as educated as white women.  When 53% of white women watch a man speak loudly and clearly as Donald Trump did about taking what women have with no questions asked and still went into a voting booth and voted for him, telling people to boycott social media because you are oppressed makes me want to throw up.

Most of my family and friends are black. Most of them are immigrants.  None of them are wealthy people.  They are all hard working people who see the US as the land of opportunity.  Those of my friends who are born in the USA are proud to be Americans but again they are also oppressed by a system that marginalizes them and makes victims out of them.

From where I sit, white women have not spoken out against what is happening to many other women of colour in the US.  They have not been at the forefront at the fight for equality and they have surely not stood up for those women who are unable to defend themselves.

When Ilie Nastase made his racist joke about the colour of Serena Williams’ baby, everyone from the WTA to journalists all over spoke out definitively about how racist he was.  The WTA and ITF took action and banned him.  When Sharapova writes a book speaking derogatively about Serena Williams’ so much so that Serena had to write a letter to her mother opining about it and thanking her mother to give her the strength to deal with these kinds of comments about her body, I don’t recall seeing many white women (or a lot of other women) in tennis media speak out against that.

I read Joel Drucker’s piece recently where he reviewed Sharapova’s book.  In the almost 5,000 word count article, he did not once call out Sharapova for her racist comments about Serena’s body and why would he when the organisation with whom he works has basically been singing Sharapova’s praises since she returned from a doping ban.

Lest anyone thinks that I do not sympathise with Rose McGowan.  I do.  As a survivor myself I can speak to how hard it is to come out and do battle against those who would do us harm as women.  I have used my voice to give voice to those of us who don’t have a voice.  I have volunteered at shelters for women who are the victims of sexual abuse and I have used my platform at a law firm to secure legal services for women who are the victims of domestic abuse etc.

My preference would be that in the same way that white women can rally around a cause when they can identify with its victims, they should rally around a cause when they can’t identify with the victims.  

When championing a cause don’t wait until you see a victim that looks like you, speaks like you, travel in your own social circles etc.  Look for a victim who doesn’t look like you, whose story is one that you could never imagine relating to and look for a victim whose cause is just, even if you can’t imagine seeing yourself in those shoes.

I will not be boycotting Twitter today.  I did that yesterday. Until every victim is treated equally, and to coin a phrase #AllVictimsMatter then unfortunately no victims will matter.

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

The Spin Team

One of the best things that I have found since starting this blog 8 years ago is how hard it is to find the right words to say in articles that let folks who are not huge fans of women’s tennis and those who are fans of the women’s game know how wonderful and glorious the women’s game can be.  Some days I believe I hit all the right notes as the feedback is very complimentary and the hits/views on certain topics is out of this world.  There are days however when I really just mail it in, not because there are no compelling storylines, but because there are so many and I really can’t find the words to express them, and I do believe that the women deserve so much more than just being a footnote on some itinerant blog.

Take for instance Ons Jabeur.  Before her incredible run at this year’s French Open, most of the time when I saw her name in a draw, WC was usually written beside it, and it was usually when she played in Doha or Qatar. This year there is a marked improvement in her fitness and her all around game has improved so much.  I don’t have access to Jabeur, but I do hope that those with access to her can find a story to write about this truly inspirational woman.

To take on America’s so-called Tennis Princess (ask Tennis Magazine how they came up with that one) under the lights on Arthur Ashe stadium and not freeze in the spotlight is a testament to her grit, and confidence.  Jabeur had many chances to take the first set and like so many before her she made poor shot selection choices.  2 years from now if she ever gets another chance.  At 6-4 in the breaker, Jabeur is way outside the doubles alley, rather than take a backhand cross court, she goes for the highlight reel point (down the line), misses long and lets her opponent back into the tiebreaker.  History says she should have gone cross court, trap Coco who was already moving to hit a forehand, get the defensive backhand slice,  and then go down the line, but history does not play tennis matches.

Opportunity knocks and when it does, you don’t just step through the door, you push down the person on the other side and walk all over them.  Gibbs took the first set over the No. 1 seed, Karolina Pliskova.  From that moment, with opportunity staring her in the face, Gibbs retreated to the back of the court (on some occassions she was pushed to play that game) and Pliskova never looked back.  Gibbs has had a tough go at it the past few years and while she may not have won that match, she did show that with a bigger serve, groundstrokes hit with a lot more power and a few forays to the net to take mid court balls, she can beat the best of the best.

Ostapenko, Keys and Svitolina all made short work of their opponents, but for me the match of the day has to go to Naomi Osaka.  It is all well and good to take out a top seed.  How about following it up. Osaka dropped the second set against Denisa Allertova.  She got broken serving for the match, but on her second attempt she made sure to play the brand of tennis with which fans love.  She took her destiny in her forehand and serve and got the win.

Despite what many people think Jelena Ostapenko is a fan favourite.  People love to see her play.  I have never seen an Ostapenko match where the crowds are not 3 deep. Its about time she makes her Centre Court debut (and not as a last resort.

Day 5 Preview

Day 5 sees 8 matches from the bottom half of the women’s draw.  These matches will determine the first set of Round of 16 matches.  Spin’s Picks are in bold.

Ekaterina Makarova vs Carla Suárez Navarro
Maria Sakkari vs Venus Williams (9) (If Venus is not careful, Sakkari may pull the upset.  Fleet of foot around the court, Venus has to ensure that she does not engaged in long rallies.
Petra Kvitova (23) vs Caroline Garcia (18) (The battle of the inconsistent big hitters.  Can Garcia hold her nerve and can Petra keep the ball in play?)
Magdalena Rybarikova (31) vs Garbine Muguruza (3) (Rybarikova has had a tough go of it but I think she is looking for a little Wimbledon revenge in this one)

Aleksandra Krunic vs Julia Goerges (30) (Krunic lives for these moments.  She is consistent, and speedy, the type of opponent Georges hates)
Ashleigh Barty vs Sloane Stephens (Sloane has been playing well. So has Barty.  A veritable pick em with this one but I am going for the player who has been mentally tougher right now)
Anastasija Sevastova (16) vs Donna Vekic (Vekic can run but Sevastova will make her run for miles.  Vekic has to step in and end points early if she hopes to have a chance.  I don’t think Sevastova will allow her to do that)
Sofia Kenin vs Maria Sharapova (The fairytale for cancer survivor Kenin ends here, which is a pity to be honest)

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)

The Hunter … Hunted

The Spin Team

In late 2015 to early 2016 Angelique Kerber was the hunter.  Fitness, speed, stealth, forehand, mentality.  Kerber became the complete package and in January 2016 she put that package together to do what only a handful of women have ever done, she took down Serena Williams in a  Grand Slam final in 3 very tough hard fought sets. While some would say that that win was a fluke, Kerber not only backed up that win, but she snagged another Grand Slam title in the same year when she came from a break down in the third set against current No. 1 Karolina Pliskova at the US Open.

She further cemented her legacy when she made the final of the WTA Year End Championships by playing consistent intelligent tennis.  While she did not win that event (lost to Dominika Cibulkova), Kerber showed everyone that she not just Wozniacki 2.0 but that she was a force to be reckoned with.

We are now almost at the end of the season and in what can only be called a forgettable year for Kerber, she was ousted in the first round of the US Open by an in  your face rising star Naomi Osaka of Japan.  Hitting huge serves, piercing down the line forehands, backhands that kissed the lines, Osaka was fearless against the defending champion.  The final score was 3 and 1 but it was not even that close.

What next for Kerber?  There have been no news reports that I have seen where she may be carrying an injury and it remains to be seen whether she will once again make a coaching change as she did before again hiring her current coaching team.

As for Osaka, this win was a statement win.  She mentioned during her on court interview the disappointment that she endured last year when she was up 5-1 against Madison Keys and lost that match.  Her sense of self is what has made me very respectful towards this young woman and I can only hope that her team, which looks like a solid one (despite my feelings for David Taylor) is experienced and used to managing player’s expectations, especially after huge wins.

Day 2 Preview

Most of the matches featured on Day 2 have been rescheduled thanks to rain.  Jelena Ostapenko, after losing the second set to Lara Arraburena bounced back to take it 6-1 in the third when her match resumed under the dome on Arthur Ashe stadium.  Someone needs to tell Ostapenko about managing her time on court during these big events.

Madison Keys had a bit of a struggle during her match against the very dangerous Elise Mertens.  While she was able to take the match in straight sets, she struggled mightily on serve and did not seem to be that match fit.

In what I can only term an upset, Lesia Tsurenko went out meekly to what must have been a very resurgent Wickmayer in straight sets.  Karolina Pliskova won in straight sets over Magda Linette and Strycova, Cirstea all won their matches easily.

Day 3 Preview 

Round 2 of the bottom half of the women’s draw will play today, as well as the remaining top half will complete Round 1 of play today.  Matches are below and Spin’s Picks are in bold.

Caroline Wozniacki (5) vs Ekaterina Makarova
Carla Suárez Navarro vs Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (29)
Maria Sakkari vs Arina Rodionova
Oceane Dodin vs Venus Williams (9) (tough one to call as Dodin is on a roll these days)

Petra Kvitova (23) vs Alize Cornet
Ekaterina Alexandrova vs Caroline Garcia (18)
Magdalena Rybarikova (31) vs Kristyna Pliskova
Ying-Ying Duan vs Garbine Muguruza (3)

Aleksandra Krunic vs Ajla Tomljanovic
Saisai Zheng vs Julia Goerges (30)
Ashleigh Barty vs Aliaksandra Sasnovich
Sloane Stephens vs Dominika Cibulkova (11)

Anastasija Sevastova (16) vs Kateryna Kozlova
Donna Vekic vs Shuai Peng (22)
Sofia Kenin vs Sachia Vickery
Timea Babos vs Maria Sharapova

Matches to Watch

Can Sloane Stephens continue her winning ways today.  If she plays like she has been doing all summer long, I am of the view that she takes out Cibulkova, who has been struggling.

Sevastova has lots of points to defend after her very good run at this event last year, and while she has not been winning matches as sharply as she usually does, she has been winning.

Babos struggled in her first round match, but she is a big match player and her second round opponent is also a big match player.  I think this one can either be a straight set drubbing by Sharapova or a long drawn out slug fest taken by Babos

Can Wozniacki continue her winning ways and can Makarova, who seems to have regained some amount of confidence in her game make this a match to remember?

 

Simona Halep … Almost

The Spin Team

SIMONA HALEP … ALMOST

I have been a  huge fan of Simona Halep since her junior days.  I have followed her career. Watched her rise to be in the top 10 of women’s tennis.  I have watched her evolution as a player.  I have been there through the disappointments. I have been there through the victories.  I get annoyed when she plays lights out against my favourites, only to falter against those who are not as good.

This year I watched the French Open and while I had pegged Ostapenko to do very well, I have to confess that I, like many, did not expect her to win.

I don’t know if many people remember this, but Simona Halep used to be a bit of a hot head.  She would throw tantrums on court.  She was “emotional” because she expected so much of herself.  She was fiery and that is what I loved most about her.  One of my faovurite Simona moments was when she made her way through qualifying all the way to the semifinals of Rome, taking out some incredible clay court players along the way.  During that tournament, she played amazing tennis.  Her balance on the court, as well as her shot selection was superb.

Then came the super coaches.

They bulked her up.  They unbulked her up.  They made adjustments to her serve to make it bigger and when that failed, they went for consistency of serve over power.  They tried to take her from playing 10 feet behind the baseline to a player who was coming to the net.  When that failed, they wanted to make her aggressive and when that failed, they sit in the stands with a look of amazement on their collective faces and wonder what went wrong.

Last night (28 August), Simona Halep, in the same way that Katniss offered herself as tribute for her sister Prim (Hunger Games), was put in the lions den of Arthur Ashe stadium as tribute to the return of Maria Sharapova, for a ratings pull and for the narrative of mentally tough opponent overcoming all kinds of obstacles to reach the second round of the US Open.

During last night’s commentary no mention was made that the reason why Sharapova was out for 15 months was due to a doping violation.  The “injuries” which led to her pulling out of 3 tournaments for which she had received underserved wild cards was however used as talking point fodder in order to project that she had overcome challenges.  This is what tennis does.  This is what tennis has always done and this is what tennis will always do.

Anti doping is a joke best left to comedians on Saturday Night Live. There are many who think that those of us who are hell bent on seeing Sharapova run out of the sport do not believe in redemption.  Frankly, there is not a bigger believer in redemption than me.  As someone who has gone through her own struggles and who has benefitted from being redeemed, I am a big believer in giving people a second, third and even a fourth chance.  However, in order for someone to be redeemed that person has to first of all own up to their wrongs.  They have to look everyone in the eye and say without equivocation that what I did was wrong and I am sorry. There is no but, or  however, or attempt to point and/or assign blame. You admit your wrong and you try to move on.  Sharapova has not done this.

I don’t think there is any tennis fan who would ever say that Sharapova has not been a great champion.  She is a fighter and that is what is so weird about this whole doping issue.  If Sharapova had gone the route of qualifying to enter a Major, I don’t think anyone would ever have been of the view that she was not deserving of her place in the draw.  The fact is that she did  not and it just adds to the whole issue of what her PR team puts out (hard worker) to the reality of the situation (willing to get a leg up).

Sharapova and her PR team craft her own narrative with the aid and assistance of the tennis media.  She is without a doubt the Ivanka Trump of tennis and the tennis media have colluded with her and her PR team to the detriment of the sport.

Day One Review

Separate and apart from the Halep match, there were other interesting matches from day one.  Venus Williams struggled through a 3 set affair with a player most folks had never heard of in Victoria Kuzmova.  The youngster played very well, out acing Venus along the way.  However, in the long run, she not only ran out of gas, but ran out of big serves.  She is definitely one to watch for the future and one can only hope that she sticks around.

Alexandra Krunic, Fed Cup stalwart, and forgotten Serbian, took Britain’s Joanna Konta out of the race for No.1 by defeating her in 3 sets.  Konta joins Halep as the first top seeds to exit the tournament.

Dominika Cibulkova struggled mightily against perennial giant killer Jana Cepelova in a tough 3 set battle.  Hopefully Domi will use the day off to fix whatever it is that ails her shoulders.

Sloane Stephens continued her excellent summer run, taking out Roberta Vinci. Sophia Kenin pulled the upset over the No. 32 seed Lauren Davis and Caroline Wozniacki, Garbine Muguruza and Petra Kvitova had little or no trouble with their opponents.

Day 2 Picks and Previews

Day 2 sees the top half of the women’s draw take to the courts with the No. 1 seed and current No. 1 player Karolina Pliskova opening against a pretty tough opponent in Magda Linette.  Spin’s Picks are in bold.

Karolina Pliskova (1) vs Magda Linette
Veronica Cepede Royg vs Nicole Gibbs
Risa Ozaki vs Danielle Lao
Sabine Lisicki vs Shaui Zhang (27)

Barbora Strycova (23) vs Misaki Doi
Jennifer Brady vs Andrea Petkovic
Taylor Townsend vs Ana Bogdan (may be a tough one for Taylor to pull out to be honest)
Monica Niculescu vs Kristina Mladenovic (14)

Agnieska Radwanska (10) vs Petra Martic (if Aga is not on her game, she might very well find herself on the next bus home)
Sofya Zhuk vs Yulia Putintseva
Ons Jabeur vs Brienne Minor
Alison Riske vs Coco Vandeweghe (20)

Anett Kontaveit (26) vs Lucie Safarova
Nao Hibino vs Catherine Bellis
Kurumi Nara vs Sara Sorribes Tormo
Marketa Vondrousova vs Svetlana Kuznetsova (8) (may very well be an upset on the cards here)

Elina Svitolina (4) vs Katerina Siniakova (if Siniakova plays like she did against Venus in  Canada, Svitolina could be out the door)
Evgeniya Rodina vs Eugenie Bouchard
Shelby Rogers vs Kayla Day
Allie Kiick vs Daria Gavrilova (25)

Elena Vesnina (17) vs Anna Blinkova
Madison Brengle vs Kirsten Flipkens
Tatjana Maria vs Ashley Kratzer
Elise Mertens vs Madison Keys (15) (this is a tough match for Keys and she will need to stay focused if she wants to pull this out in straight sets)

Jelena Ostapenko (12) vs Lara Arruabarrena (a very tricky opponent who will take advantage of the deficiencies in Ostapenko’s game)
Lesley Kerkhove vs Sorana Cirstea
Daria Kasatkina vs Qiang Wang
Christina McHale vs Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (19)

Lesia Tsurenko (28) vs Yanina Wickmayer
Kaia Kanepi vs Francesca Schiavone
Denisa Allertova vs Rebecca Peterson
Naomi Osaka vs Angelique Kerber (6)

USO 2017 – The Farce Continues

The Spin Team

It is the final Major of the 2017 tennis season.  There are lots of storylines to watch for the WTA, not the least of which is who will be No. 1 at the end of the tournament.  There are apparently 8 women in contention to occupy the keys to the WTA Penthouse and as a result the race for the last Major of the season is filled with numerous scenarios, not the least of which is who will be hoisting the trophy 2 weeks from now.

The Contenders

Karolina Pliskova

Angelique Kerber

Caroline Wozniacki

Simona Halep

Garbine Muguruza

Johanna Konta

Svetlana Kuznetsova

Venus Williams

If ever there was a time to be a fan of the women’s game, this is it.  However, in the midst of all of this, many fans are talking about the fact that perennial “I have a shot at No. 1 so let me find a way not to get it” is Simona Halep facing off against Ms. Privilege Wild Card herself,  Maria Sharapova in the first round.  Now I know that there are not a lot of Halep fans out there who think she should ever be No. 1, but when your  Tour awards you with their Ambassador Award for always putting the Tour above yourself, the least your Tour could do  is not have you open against the most privileged athlete to ever play the sport of tennis.

Since her return from a doping ban, Sharapova has received no less than 6 wild cards into WTA sanctioned events.  In all of those events, these are Sharapova’s results:  Stuttgart (lost to Mladenovic), Madrid (lost to Bouchard), Rome (lost to Lucic-Baroni by retirement), Stanford (lost to Lesia Tsurenko), Toronto (withdrew), Cincinnatti (withdrew).  The French Open declined to provide her with a wild card and she chose not to compete at  Wimbledon this year.   The US Open, after signaling its support for Sharapova’s return to the Tour decided that it would be a good idea to offer a wild card to her to compete. As a further slap to clean athletes, she is drawn to play against a player who has a losing record against her, who is held up as an Ambassador of the Tour, in a coveted night match slot, in order to once again have everyone in the booth sing the party  line that her Egg has provided them with.

I am a huge fan of Simona Halep.  I am not in lock step with a lot of her pronouncements (see equal prize money) and I dislike the fact that she seems dimwitted and clueless in matches that she should win.  I don’t like her reliance on a coach who I believe is more name than anything else and who seems to do better as a coach when he is behind the microphone being a Monday morning quarterback.  I think Halep’s game has changed, and not for the better, and unfortunately for her, she is being offered up much like a tribute on the Hunger Games.

Day One Preview

The day’s play starts in a little under an hour and here are the matches scheduled for today.  Spin’s Picks are in bold

Caroline Wozniacki (5) vs Mihaela Buzarnescu
Mona Barthel vs Ekaterina Makarova
Ipek Soylu vs Carla Suárez Navarro
Monica Puig vs Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (29)

Kiki Bertens (24) vs Maria Sakkari
Richel Hogenkamp vs Arina Rodionova
Pauline Parmentier vs Oceane Dodin
Viktoria Kuzmova vs Venus Williams (9)

Petra Kvitova (23) vs Jelena Jankovic
Heather Watson vs Alize Cornet
Anna Zaja vs Ekaterina Alexandrova
Tereza Martincova vs Caroline Garcia (18)

Magdalena Rybarikova (31) vs Camila Giorgi
Kristyna Pliskova vs Misa Eguchi
Claire Liu vs Ying-Ying Duan
Varvara Lepchenko vs Garbine Muguruza (3)

Johanna Konta (7) vs Aleksandra Krunic
Ajla Tomljanovic vs Johanna Larsson
Saisai Zheng vs Alison Van Uytvanck
Annika Beck vs Julia Goerges (30)

Ana Konjuh (21) vs Ashleigh Barty
Aliaksandra Sasnovich vs Julia Boserup
Sloane Stephens vs Roberta Vinci
Jana Cepelova vs Dominika Cibulkova (11)

Anastasija Sevastova (16) vs Carina Witthoeft
Irina-Camila Begu vs Kateryna Kozlova
Donna Vekic vs Beatriz Haddad Maia
Amandine Hesse vs Shuai Peng (22)

Lauren Davis (32) vs Sofia Kenin
Natalia Vikhlyantseva vs Sachia Vickery
Viktorija Golubic vs Timea Babos
Maria Sharapova vs Simona Halep (2)

Matches to Watch

Garcia v. Martincova

Muguruza v. Lepchenko (potential for an upset)

Stephens v. Vinci

Cibulkova v. Cepelova (who can cause all kinds of problems for top players not on their game)

Vekic v. Haddad-Maia (going with Vekic if only because she has some amount of confidence after winning a title this year)

Golubic v. Babos (could be a quick one for Babos or a long drawn out affair